My ride to Monte Penice did not fail to disappoint! At an average of 5% over 15km the climb was not so difficult, however since I had already ridden around 25km uphill to get to this point things were not so easy! I was passed by a father with his young son who both approached Monte Penice with a certain trepidation, though they were still faster than me.
I was also overtaken by a few club riders who sailed up the climb like it was just a teaser. Maybe it was a teaser, but I was weighed down by day pack and an overnight bag. That's my excuse anyway! Just like with any road that has lots of switchbacks on it, there were lots of motorbikers around who were really enjoying the hairpins. If only I could have had a small piece of their engine!
I must admit, this climb was beginning to test my force of will. I had already been climbing for 3 hours getting over the initial section of the Oltrepo Pavese, and I was beginning to get bored of being in the same old granny ring. I needed a new faster ring that would be easier to pedal - a suppergranny ring! Also, I had gotten my fill of cute hilltop villages that I could only look at without touching. They were beginning to lose their charm, as I began to struggle upwards. Where are the boring flatlands when you need them?
I stopped at the side of the road for a snack, while mentally regrouping. Nearby, a wedding reception was taking place in an old palazzo. If only I could have snuck in and joined the celebration. My ride was no longer that joyful so I could have done with a happy occasion! Not knowing when I would reach the summit of this beast was getting rather frustrating.
Finally, just when I wondered how much more I could take, the road levelled off and began to descend. This was no false alarm either, since the sight of other cyclists in coats and longs riding in the opposite direction showed that there would be a significant amount of downhill to ride. I had reached Monte Penice -yay! At last, my legs could get some respite!
I savoured every moment of the descent. I had a permanent smile on my face as the bike sailed around the smooth curves in the road, all the way down to Bobbio.
The mountain gateway village of Bobbio was a meeting point for all travellers - motor bikers, motorists, walkers and of course cyclists. I would have loved to have stayed to visit the cathedral and the abbey in this old town which apparently forms the backdrop to Leonardo di Vinci's Mona Lisa painting. But time was marching on. In fact, so much time had passed, and as the clock struck half past four I wondered if I should call it a day and maybe just stay in Bobbio.
By now, I was 70km from Genoa and it was touch and go as to whether or not I would reach my hotel in Rapallo before dark. Even worse was that where I had thought the road would be downhill from Bobbio, it was actually climbing! Oh God!
Feeling that it was too early to stop, and not wanting to throw away my 70 euro hotel reservation money so easily, I continued along the road to my next milestone, Montebruno. Surely this place would be so close to the coast that from that village it would be just a 1-hour mad descent to the coast. Yes, that would be something to look forward to.
In the meantime I would content myself with a false flat along the SS45 road which meandered round rocks and gorges, following the river and occasionally dropping under crags.
If I hadn't felt in a stressed out rush I would have really appreciated this area known as Val Trebbia. Many people had stopped to go sunbathing or bathe in the thermal springs. Oh well, this would be yet another venue to note on my increasingly long list of places to return to in the future!
En route I rang the hotel to tell them I would be late and that my estimated time of arrival would be 9pm. When I mentioned to the receptionist that I was on a bicycle about 5 miles from Montebruno she didn't seem phased and said that my ride would be downhill after the village.
Of course it would be downhill. After all, I was in the mountains and Rapallo is right by the sea! It would be a piece of cake getting to Rapallo once I reached Montebruno. I was really looking forward to arriving at Montebruno, knowing that once I arrived there it would be the end of my hard work.
Just as night fell I reached Montebruno. It was a quarter to nine. Okay, so I was going to arrive in Rapallo an hour later than scheduled. I may have missed dinner but I was sure I would find a late-night snack-bar in the town somewhere if room service had finished.
According to my map, a left hand turn in Montebruno should have taken me towards my destination. But the lane I saw was too small to be a real road. There weren't even any streetlights.
I asked directions from a local, and he confirmed my fears.
"Sure that's the right road for Rapallo. Just go over the climb and follow the road. You'll get there."
"Go up?" I asked, bemused. "Don't I go down?"
"Oh yes, you go down - after you've done the 10km climb. You look strong, you'll be fine!"
My heart sank. I couldn't believe it. I'd managed to hang in there, thinking that things would be plain sailing after Montebruno, and here I was faced with another long climb!!