The day was pleasantly warm and still in the Serchio Valley. The road that hugged the valley’s identifying river rose imperceptibly yet surely through the verdant sheer walls towards the towering Tuscan Apennines off in the blue-skied distance. It was one of those silky smooth roads that lulled you into the false sense that you were actually pedaling slightly downhill despite the slight upwards incline- a very rare and enjoyable variety of road indeed! After about 30km – plus a coffee & pastry stop in the little mountain run-off straddling town of Bagni Di Lucca – we turned right and began climbing into the peaks proper. Our route took us up over into the next valley via a meandering 10km climb that threaded its way away from the babbling rivers below and steadily into the skies. The hairpin corners offered ever more stunning vistas, revealing remote villages of winding, grey stone and terracotta roofed streets and church towers clinging lazily to the imposing mountainsides. Wood stores were already well stocked against the harsh and sometimes imprisoning winter that the turning leaves of autumn whispered was on its way. Finally, at a weather worn villa, all green shutters and yellow washed walls, so typical of Italy, a faded tricolore flag hanging limply from its loft, the road crested. I paused amongst dense, shading foliage and I pulled on the thin, windproof gilet which I had folded into the rear pocket of my jersey in readiness for the mesmerising descent which was to follow.
I rolled downwards, slowly at first, savouring the view that fell away into the valley below, the valley that I was about to dive headlong into, drinking in the grandeur and the stillness. In only a few second’s time I would need to devote my full attention to the task at hand.. I let the brakes relax away from the rims of the wheels and picked up speed quickly. The wind chill built against my neck and I snugged the zipper up for comfort as the perspiration of the ascent cooled on my skin. The bike beneath me fell into its dance with the mountainside as curves and straights struck up their maizy, lilting tempo. Attention gave way to complete immersion as I succumbed to the rhythms and nuances of the twsiting, spiralling ribbon of tarmac that was guiding me to the valley floor hundreds of metres below. Flying, weightless.. soul soaring.