TUES MAY 31
08:16 – No! There’s some faffy issue with the hotel bill which involves having to wait for people back in England to arrive at their offices, better known as 10am Italian time.
10:15 – Out into the Sassari traffic. Usual Italian melee of honks and vehicular barging. Positioning Valdis in a prominent position in our formation shames the locals into giving us a decently wide berth. Birna – pink basket on the handlebars, floral skirt flapping in the breeze – still looks like a West London school teacher who’s got hopelessly lost on the way to work.
11:15 – Kristjan notices a bunch of desiccated flowers lashed to a death-crash tree by a bridge. It looks familiar to him, and when he points this out, suddenly the entire surrounding landscape looks familiar to all of us. Somehow, the satnav has decided that Castelsardo, our destination, is actually Alghero airport, where our journey began. We have just retraced a decent proportion of yesterday’s ride. The air turns bluer than the sky. Then the sky turns greyer than my temples. Big fat drops of hot rain splatter down and steam on tarmac and faces. Birna buys a map.
12:15 – Thank all that is good and holy for Italian ice cream. We are smiling again.
13:15 – Hit the north coast at Marina di Sarso, and make steady process along it into an only slightly irksome headwind. The air smells appealingly of pine and thunder. The rain holds off. We see our first rival groups of cyclists – a slick peloton on fancy road bikes and pro kit. They give us the thumbs up. We are idiotically delighted by this recognition. So idiotically that Kristjan nudges Lilja’s back wheel and sends her sprawling into the gutter. Light abrasions and an air-clearing exchange of views ensue.
14:30 – This entire area has a winningly overlooked air. Miles and miles of Mediterranean coast with almost nothing on it but old olive groves and the occasional beach pizzeria. We wind up round a cliff and swoop into Castelsardo, a coastal hill of red and ochre walls looked down on by a glowering old castle. There are three or four hotels and a small beach, but we appear to be the only tourists. No neon, no arcades, no shopfronts full of inflatable seaside crap. It’s like going on holiday in 1957.
16:00 – Kristjan goes up to his hotel room to revise for the forthcoming A/S levels. Later confesses he’d flopped onto the bed and lapsed into a fatigued coma. Am I pushing them too hard? 30-odd km today including our stupid, hateful wheel-track retracing. Also realise we’ve somehow forgotten to eat lunch.
While righting this wrong at a cosy bamboo-walled café on the beach, the girls fold out Birna’s map and ask me to point out tomorrow’s itinerary. I stall them with another Sprite but they ask again. When at last I stab my finger on Tempio Pausania, baleful stares bore into me. There is no avoiding the obvious fact that the distance between our origin and destination is at least a third larger than it has been on previous days. Nor that the roads linking the two flail about like the dying snakes we’ve been seeing in the gutters. Mountain hairpins all the way. Lilja offers her concise thoughts: “ABSOLUTELY NO WAY.”