To think I thought the SS 228 from Ivrea to Vercelli was straight and flat. At least I was passing rice fields with unique irrigation channels to look at. By way of contrast, however, the SS 9 - which runs from Piacenza to Parma - is, until it reaches Fidenza, 37 km of straight unadulterated boredom and flat. It doesn't even offer the courtesy of a view of anything scenic, passing through one satellite town after another, past one more "salumi" factory after another. It would be dull in an air conditioned car doing 130 kph listening to Metallica so you can only imagine what it is like on a bike doing 21 kph with the wind whistling into you, and trucks drivers too tight to pay up for the Autostrada toll whistling past you.
The only highlight of that 37 km came when I detoured into Fiorenzuola D'Arda. Actually three highlights.
1. It's a town twinned with, among others, a town in Cuba. There's a first I had never seen before. Speaking of which.... technical question here.... how can you "twin" yourself to more than one other city as they have done here?
2. It has a 400 metre outdoor Velodrome. It circles the local semi-professional football pitch. Now I have ridden the Lee Valley Velodrome which was host to the 2012 London Olympics. It's wooden and it's steep, which at least has some give and slide in it should you fall. This track at Fiorenzuola is concrete and just as steep. Last time I looked, concrete has all the slide capabilities of coarse sand paper! My hat off to those that race on it. It didn't prevent me - of course - from doing a leisurely lap inside the "blue line" cheered on raucously by the two gardeners who downed tools to witness possibly the slowest lap ever done there.
3. The town centre is quiet and picturesque and with a lovely cafe in the shadows of the local church I took a croissant and morning coffee and sat admiring the views under a cloudless sky. And it only cost 2 EUR.
It was a joy to leave the SS 9 at Fidenza because moments earlier I had one of those unique moments you think about later in the sense of "what if?".
Time: 12:54 p.m.
Location: 6 km west of Fidenza on the SS 9
Thought process: WHAT THE F**K !!!!!! (Multiple exclamation marks and caps intended)
Situation : As I am heading east along the SS 9 I notice that a car in the distance has pulled out to overtake a truck as both head towards me. In another world that would be fine. No-one heading towards him in my lane and it's a long flat straight piece of road. But not in this world. Lo' and behold another car pulls out to overtake the car that's overtaking the truck. Now my maths ain't great but on a single-lane-each-way piece of road, two cars, a truck and a bike do not fit. The car overtaking the car that's overtaking the truck is now on the hard shoulder on the wrong side of the road. Which incidentally is my side of the road. He is thundering towards me. Again, like my maths, my physics ain't great but when one kinetic force weighing half a tonne doing 130 kph meets another kinetic force weighing 130 kg coming at it from the opposite direction doing 21 kph , the former is usually going to obliterate the latter. I don't hang about to discover if Mr. Wells (my science teacher in year 12) was right in his teachings.
Self preservation kicks in and, before I know it, I am hanging onto the handlebars, teeth clattering, as I go off road and through knee-high grass, still doing about 15 kph. Car over taking truck has pulled back in behind truck but car overtaking the car and the truck just motors on.
Along with the gorge incident earlier in the week leaving the D'Aosta Valley this was sphincter contraction episode no.2
The roads after Fidenza turn south near Parma and into the sort of roads you imagine when thinking of a cycling trip through Italy. Undulating, quiet and surrounded by wheat fields it's a scenic ride towards Fornovo Di Taro.
I just keep rolling on ....
You pass by numerous quaint villages all with their own churches and though I am not religious some of them do strike a chord with their simplistic beauty set against the stunning spring sky.
All afternoon the only sobering thought is the spectre of what looms over my right shoulder in the distance and which I hit tomorrow. The Apuan Alps, which host over a dozen ski fields. OK they're not as vicious as the Swiss Alps but at their highest point they reach 6,385 ft which is "only" 925 ft lower than Australia's highest peak. I will be climbing about 4,000 feet tomorrow before dropping down to the Mediterranean Sea on Friday.
Some say the second town on the board isn't the most exciting place to live.
I was amazed at the quality of road today... tarmac was lovely... newly laid and guess what... the Giro d'Italia is going from Parma to Piacenza and finishing in Tortona tomorrow on the EXACT same piece of road (but in the opposite direction). What a coincidence!