Asti To Bologna

From Asti we had an easy but dull ride on the flat. The roads were poorly maintained and full of long crack, sometimes wider than my tires. In the distance we could see the mountain and that were we were heading. Inevitably our final destination required us to scale a massive hill. For ages we climbed and climbed, it seemed to never end. I stopped to eat figs off a tree overhanging the road, and stopped again to admire the view. Eventually we were there, the Valli Unite organic argicultural co-operative.

Land and Life - graffiti at the entrance to Valli Unite

Our bikes surrounding the guest house... but it wasalready occupied!

Camping in the clouds at Valli Unite
Stamping on the first harvested grapes – only a kids’ workshop :(

Bike-inspired screenprint !

We stayed for the entire weekend as volunters for the annual festival that’s been taking place there for twenty odd years. We didn’t get a kind of group presentation so I can’t tell you anything about the project accept that they grow tomatoes, potatoes, onions, make bread, raise beef, produce cheese, and make wine.

The weather was attrocious. The rain meant less people came to the festival than the organisers hoped. It also meant we had wet tents, some of us also ended up with wet sleeping bags.

It was pissing down with rain again in the morning when we wanted to leave. We proscratinated and delayed and ended up staying for lunch. When we finally left we got to enjoy a long down hill run as we coasted down the valley heading north out of the mountains.
For a while the road ran parallel with a bike path but it looked in even worse condition than the road so most of us avoided it.

We experienced more annoying police hassle when we stopped for icecream and coffees in the last town before we’d find somewhere to camp. The cops wanted IDs but most of us headed out of town rather than cooperate. Not long after we found the scouts who had found somebody who’d offered their field for us to camp in. In one corner was an empty concrette shed measuring four by three meters and it was pressed into service as a kitchen when it started to rain again while we were cooking the evening meal of rice and egg plant. Six of us choose to sleep in the shed rather that face our wet tents.

As we passed through the big city on route, we lost one of our riders as he took a train back to switzerland and we also got literaly lost as many of the riders couldn’t find the bike tour signs on the road. When we finally all congregated in the next town for lunch we took the opportunity to spread our tents out to dry in the park during a rare period of sunshine. Albanians played dominos while we prepared food.

We get so used to drawing biketour signs...that we can't stop!
We get so used to drawing biketour signs…that we can’t stop!

Independently, two scouts were directed by different locals to the same place were we could camp just as the sun began to set. The location was a boat house next to the river which meant we had a roof over us which was very fortunate as a big rain storm hit us just as we arrived. Sadly we left it just minutes to late to hope to gather dry firewood for the rocket stive so cooking took ages. Eventually we ate stew and slept dry and covered.

Morning brought us breakfast of sweet polentta with skipped fruit. It was a very overcast day with occasional spots of rain. We cycled most of the morning on cycle paths built on top of dykes near the river. We’d grown tired of cycling on main roads with fast cars but instead we had to share the cycle paths with swarming columns of flying ants. Breathing through the nose reduced the number swallowed. Closing one eye kept one good eye in reserve when blinded by a flys in the eye. Keeping your head down helped too although massively increasing the number of flies you’d later need to wash or brush out of your hair.

We lunched on salad just over half way before returning to normal roads to complete our journey to La Collina. Two new riders joined us bringing our number back up to twenty. We had a tour and learned about the history of this organic bio-dynamic cooperative with an extra social twist. After, we settled down to a amazing meal of pumpkin and pasta with panacota for desert. A new proposal emerged, stay a while longer to help harvest or plant. A circle (the first in ages) thrashed out the pro’s an con’s and eventually we reached consensus to arrive in Bologna a day later than planned. Sadly that means missing a very special market at the squat we will stay in but hopefully we’ll find somebody who can tell us all about it.

A quick breakfast and most of us went off to help in the fields while others took the chance the do some laundry. The cloudy sky is gone and the sun is back! Also back is Emma who is rejoining the biketour after stopping longer at one of thre projects in France to help out. We had an amazing cooked lunch of roast potatoes, eggplant and tomatos before we left – followed by fresh from the oven pumpkin cake. Then we set off on what was variously a 25km or 45km ride depending on who was saying it. In reality it was certainly even more. We rode through to Moderna on busy main roads (some of us stopping for some stunning icecream yet again).

One of our bike trailers

Once in Modena things got a bit messed up. The people arriving first met a guy on another tall bike and ended up getting shown to a bike workshop that happened to open that night. Meanwhile the following groups found no signs to help them find the route for asked locals. Amazingly, three different locals on bikes ended up guides three different groups of cyclists through to the bike lane which would take us the final 15km to our destination. The tail ended up being amoung the first group to arrive and the scouts the last. It was well past sunset before we arrived and dinner was late and quite restricted as the last bike to arrive was the one carrying the vegetables.

Our destination was the house of a guy who promotes products made from hemp. He has also built his home entirely from recycled items. We learn a great deal about the potential uses for hemp and some of the story as to how and why its cultivation has be supressed by Du Pont and the USA. We left with hemp oil and crushed hemp seed to give our diet a boost in omega 3 fatty acids and prepared for the last 25km to Bologna.

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