Jack's Retirement Challenge May 2011 travel blog



Arrived in Palermo after an exhausting series of flights and airport lounges. The less said about that the better. In Rome as I queued to clear customs, I finally met up with my first fellow rider. By coincidence he was Andrew, the only person with whom I had made contact before the trip. We were going to catch up for a training ride but didn't manage it. He was on a different flight to Palermo and, as I waited in the departure lounge for my flight, I was approached by Tom, Marek and Libby, all from Maleny in Queensland, who spotted me as a fellow rider. Upon arrival in Palermo, on a delayed flight, we retrieved our bicycles and luggage and Marek, who had the phone number of the Hotel Palm Beach, rang to arrange a vehicle. We checked in at about 8.30 pm and went off to a nearby restaurant for a small pasta and drink. During the night I struggled to get to sleep so I got up at 3.00am and put my bike together. This took about an hour and a half and everything on the bike seemed to be OK. I went back to bed but was unsuccessful in getting to sleep so I rose early to a nice continental breakfast. After breakfast we waited till the shops opened and a small group of us went out for a coffee and to find a hole-in-the-wall. The town of Terrasini is quaint with narrow streets and typical houses with front doors right on the street. I also obtained a local SIM card, and to my surprise, just stuck it in my phone and it worked. Lots of other with iPhones were struggling to get their local cards working. One guy just bought a local phone for 29 euro. Lunch was a panino and coffee although some people experimented with a variety of cold serves of interesting looking food. I may be brave next time and do the same. After lunch about 10 of us went for a shakedown ride around the town to make sure that the bikes were running smoothly. All seemed well with our machines. At 4.00pm we had our briefing which was both interesting and entertaining. Here we met the team and our fellow riders. The map of the first day's ride was handed out. After an early evening meal we went to bed for an early start.

Day 2 dawned to a beautiful sunny morning. We broke fast and packed our bags early then set up our bikes for the 103 km journey. At 8.00 the whole group gathered on the terrazzo for the obligatory group photograph. 21 cameras were triggered by Wilbert and Richard, the mechanic. The exit from town was sedate and we followed Blake, an Aussie member of the team, who has done the ride as a paying guest twice before and now works for the company. The first 30 kms were on relatively quiet roads with a good surface. Some of the Dutch riders, with a few younger Aussies, shot off ahead and were never seen again until the finish. Due to unseasonably good rains the previous winter the countryside was lush and green with heaps of wild-flowers popping up on the road verges. There were fascinating rock formations and little villages which looked like they had been there since time began. The next stretch of road to the town of Corleone was dreadful with gravel sections, potholes and poor alignment. By the time we stopped for lunch the sun was making its presence felt and we sought shade where we could find it. The kitchen team had done a great job of finding fresh bread rolls and, with the sliced meat, cheese and vegetables, gave us a welcome repast. But something was missing; a coffee. A quick trip ensued to Corleone, no Godfathers to be seen, and a coffee shop was quickly found. Unfortunately the self proclaimed leaders of our ride group were so busy looking for a coffee shop that they neglected to read the map and, as a result, when we headed off we went the wrong way. We ended up at a great view point but also with at least a couple of kms extra riding uphill to do. We found a number of roadside water 'fountains' mostly dedicated to saints where we could empty the warm water from our water bottles and replace it with icy cold and very tasty water. The remaining 40 odd kilometres went smoothly on relatively good roads until we were one kilometre from our destination. The last kilometre started uphill with a steady 9% gradient but, as we turned the hairpin to ascend to the hotel we were faced with 200m of hard climb with a gradient reaching up to 20%. To the best of my knowledge everyone managed to ride up. The Pigna d'Oro Country Club Hotel tuned out to be really nice and we were served with a four-course meal, I left something of each course, except desert of course, on the plate. This place is nearly 1000m above sea level so we expect a cool night, great for sleeping which most of us are ready to do even though it is only 9.15pm. Sorry about few photos I still need to sort that part out.

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