We were told that the ride to Lucca would be 116 miles long and only include 2,500 feet of climbing. Given that a regular training ride of mine from my home in Islington to Saffron Waldon and back is 100 miles but even over the pancake flat land on the borders of Essex and Hertfordshire the total climb is 4,500 feet, this was going to be very flat, apart from the 6,000 feet of descending.
I suppose that I should have done some sums. Given that we were starting at a point at 3,000 feet at most and would climb 2,500 feet, Lucca would have to be well below sea level; and it isn't.
Some were very confident about the day. They were planning a lie in after Richard Jones' birthday celebrations. I had an early night. Even Richard was up ready to leave by 7:30.
Six of us set off. The weather seemed decent although the valley below was shrouded in cloud. We started to climb, a strange thing to do from a hill top town but there were still feet to be gained. And then we descended.
The road was closed and we skirted the barrier and soon discovered why. Huge sections of the road hd dropped away. The passable part allowed one bicycle at a time. It was starting to rain.
The descent down a broken road built where no road should have been built was hairy. The rain made it hairier.
My cycling glasses fogged up. I could hardly see.
We made it to the valley and the rain fell more heavily. I was reminded of childhood holidays in the west of Ireland when we would sit in the car looking at the beach wrapped in jackets and extra jumpers, in August. This was September in Italy and it felt as cold.
The route took us up and down hills through the freezing rain. We stopped at a cafe to warm ourselves and then rode nn getting wet once more.
It was looking very bleak.
Suddenly someone observed that there was a light patch forming n the sky before us. We hoped but in reality all believed that the weather was stuck in for the day.
Around this time a decision was taken back at the start to call off the ride for the day and hire a coach to take everyone to Lucca. We were called and told that we would be on our own as three riders who set off just after us were to be picked up but that we would have to fend for ourselves. There was no room for us.
We wouldn't have abandoned. We were through the worst but it meant that we wouldn't have access to our lit for the day. I didn't have my rain jacket on. The others who were wearing them, were as cold as me.
We stared at the glint of light in the sky as we climbed and descended. Climbs were better as they warmed us up. Descents, particularly in my near blind state, were scary.
Blue sky appeared but the sky to our right was dark and menacing. The blue started to spread. I calculated that we would reach it in half an hour. We pedalled harder.
The rain stopped. We were still soaked and cold but no longer adding more rain to the situation. I saw my shadow. My mood lifted.
As we went further, the sun shone. Our clothes and even our shoes dried. 50 miles of wet and hills; far more hills that our 2,500 feet allowance and then it got flat.
We made swift progress in the warm sun on flat roads, the surfaces of which appeared to improve with each northerly mile. We started to discuss lunch.
Luckily we agreed to wait until the short climb at the 70 mile point. It turned out to be the toughest climb we had yet encountered on the ride. 15% and then a bend and then 20% and then another bend and 20% more.
We descended and found somewhere to grab a quick lunch before moving on.
Other than a few short sharp climbs, much of the rest of the route was flat, some of it on fairly busy roads, but always through beautiful Tuscan countryside.
Finally we reached Lucca and found out what had happened to the others. A decision had been taken to abandon and they had waited until 2 pm for a coach to arrive. They were frustrated. As they had waited, the weather cleared but too late for them to start a 116 (or so) mile journey.
Despite the hypothermic and hazardous conditions we had suffered, we were the lucky ones.
Two days left. In the morning we head for the coast and Genoa.