To be fair, we were warned. Curious townspeople exclaimed, “Italia? Tutto a bicci?” with an eye jumping to the sharp range of impressive giants to the east. We knew it would come today and again after Firenze. And by golly, we found some Italian mountains!

There hasn’t been a climb yet to match Yosemite’s Tioga Pass, exactly, but switchbacks give the demoralizing aspect of a long climb a sadistic twist. Back and forth, up and up, finally to reach the top of the range and the start of the road we meant to ride… into the thick of the mountains. Porca vacca! Damn! Mountain rides make a day very fulfilling, however, as each climb is a great success and often gets rewarded with a happy, cooling descent. We truly enjoyed and powered through 75 kilometers of winding roads, cloud-topped summits, and coastline helicopter views.

So here we are in La Spezia, a day’s journey from Lucca or Pisa, depending on our mood tomorrow. And it’ll be pretty flat from here on out.

We started early, waking at six from our makeshift shelter in a furniture merchant’s tent in the town square of Chiavari. We are experimenting with wild camping, urban style, and Italy is not quite as camping accessible as Spain or Portugal was. Certainly not by the coast. The sleep was admittedly poor, cramped, and on viciously hard stone, but being young and cheap, we simply made notes on how to pick a better spot, shook the pain from our hips, revived with a cappuccino (me- and oh! how clear it is that coffee was perfected here), and chalked it up as a less than ideal night. I can practically read my parents rolling their eyes.

We have not yet picked a spot to camp tonight. Possibilities include Baia Blu, a tiny beach a few miles on, Park Falcon, a tiny park next to it, and, if necessary, the two official campgrounds nearby. But it’s 25 euros a night, so…

Among the quintessential Italian sights today- a pair of older men riding a horse and wagon on the main highway in the mountains; graffiti ranging from half-hearted anarchy to wildly passionate love confessions; and a small mountain town restaurant staffed by two young men, whom we roused from their cigarettes to cook some pesto and spaghetti, our chef donning a blue floppy hat and apron to do so. Frescoes are giving way to true baroque metalwork. The temperature remains absolutely beautiful and not a bit too hot.

Greg is doing magnificently. He has fully adopted the clipped in lifestyle and shifts gears like a pro. We are working on our shorts tan and navigating Italian menus with schizophrenic success. Who knew (besides Italian speakers) that mela would not mean melon, but apple? Greg’s dessert appeared in golden delicious whole fruitiness on a plate with a knife. Voila.

We’re off to find food and a campsite. Gelato dinner? Don’t mind if I do.