Day 58 – Springtime in Sicily

San Fratello, atop a hill

At 5 am all the town’s dogs are barking. At what, we’re not sure, but they’ve decided to sound the alarm a full hour before daylight. We stretch in the tent. We have a long day cycling ahead of us, but we’re still tired from yesterday’s climbing. Around 6:30 we hear human footsteps crunch outside the tent; it’s unsettling since we thought we had chosen a very secluded spot behind the church garden. We decide to pack up and head out.

 

At 7:30 we’re in the only café that’s open. It’s functional with metal tables and chairs and annual photos of the local soccer team line the walls. We pour over the route as we drink our coffees.

 

The coastal road in Sicily is heavy with traffic. We decided to avoid it, to delve into three of the island’s national parks: Madonie, Nebrodi and Mt. Etna. Today is the third day of this expedition. We’ve already ridden through Madonie park, climbing 2500m in altitude over two days, awakening to birds and soft frost on the ground. Though our legs are tired, today in Nebrodi park we’ll be reaching the highest altitude since we began in January.

 

Nebrodi Park, deep in the snow

 

As we climb into the park we see more ghosts of ancient shepherds than we do real cars. The forest is still hibernating, the trees tucked in by snowy blankets. By 10am we’re high up enough that the snowbanks are taller than our bicycles. Some brave trees have already opened their first tender leaves of spring time, but most have only just revealed their buds. After three hours of strenuous cycling up we reach the highest point of our trip – Maraglia Pass, 1520m above sea level. We celebrate by lounging out on the rocks and eating until we’re stuffed. Pasta salad with chickpeas, red onion, fennel, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, anchovies. Fat slices of fresh bread, and a blood orange each. Quentin says we eat these oranges to keep our vitamin C and energy up, but this is an excuse to glutton ourselves on their sweet and juicy flavor. We digest our lunch on the road in the hopes of reaching a campsite with a view before sunset.

A campsite with a view…

Admittedly yes, all campsites have a view. But we want an amazing view. Rounding a turn on the ride down from Nebrodi, we’re slapped with our first view of Mt. Etna. Even from 30km away, we can see the snow on top and the smoke fuming out of the crater from the volcano deep below... Riding towards the massive volcano, the pink flowers of the almond trees make us feel like we’re staring at Mt. Fuji in Japan, not in Sicily. We find a campsite on the edge of the lava fields. There are some kids on their bicycles exploring the grottos nearby, but just before sunset they grab their bikes and race home, probably to avoid getting in trouble with mom. We set the tent up in the black night; it was too tempting to observe the pink and purple hues dance on the white face of Etna until dark. Inside the tent we tuck into our duvets to warm up and fatigue creeps up our necks and down our thighs. We’re too tired to even light the stove and eat leftovers automatically, our brains already shutting down for sleep.