Meanwhile Howard has just landed in Milan from Istanbul and begins the process of recovering his bike from Milan customs. He then plans to take the train to Lucca via Firenze, so its a 4 hour train trip for Howard versus a 3 hour drive for us. Who will win? Things soon turn pear shaped for the van on the now gridlocked autostrada, but that is nothing compared to Howard's progress at Milan customs.
The bike appears lost and so Howard starts a 4 hour sit in protest. The Milanse customs officers refuse to look for his bike, clearly they have never heard of Howard Draper QC - Barrister at Law! Goodwill is finally restored when Alan diplomatically brokers a peace making deal over the phone from from Lucca.
So after oiling some wheels and greasing the palms of the local authorities Howard finally gets his bike and he's off. Armed only with a phrase book, a fistful of Euros and an enormous bike bag, like some Race Around the World contestant Howard finally heads for Lucca. The precise details of the rest of this harrowing train journey are too distressing to write, but at 1.00am Howard finally staggers into our hotel and collapses.
Earlier that same day the autostrada traffic clears but we miss the turnoff to the coastal autostrada. No matter because up ahead is a 6 lane tollbooth and our driver Steve has seen enough car chase movies to solve this dilemma. 100 metres from the tollbooth Steve throws on the hand brake, swerves across 6 lanes of traffic and bunny hops the Fiat behemoth across a barrier. Suddenly we are heading in the right direction again. The local Carabinieri nervously finger their Glocks but thankfully decide not to give chase. Thelma and Louise have nothing on us. We are back on track but thanks to a couple of Auto Grille stops well behind schedule.
We finally reach Lucca at 3.30pm where its a mild 40 degrees. The advance TDL landing party greet us and are champing at the bit for their first ride. Not feeling too great after 30 hours of travel Graham and I decline but Steve and Jim saddle up and head for Pisco Nino the local equivalent of Mount Dandenong, complete with TV towers but alas no Devonshire Tea Rooms.
Back in Lucca Hans, Big John, Graham and myself head for an outdoor bar where Graham and I conduct an experiment on rehydration and jet lag recovery using 1.5 litres of beer. The experiment predictably ends badly and so we commence stage 2 of the experiment and share a piping hot Gorgonzola pizza. For some reason our coordination is not functioning and a most of the hot gorgonzola ends up on us. If anyone is wondering how you remove solidified gorgonzola from chest hair simply watch one of those You Tube clips on Bikini Waxing.
Our hotel is sensationally located right next to the main outdoor concert stage where Billy Idol will play tomorrow night. The great thing about this location is we get to hear all the concerts plus the 100,000 megahertz sound checks for free. This is terrific in the late afternoon at siesta time. Some of Billy Idols entourage are staying in our hotel and invite us to the backstage after party. Fortunately they were not offended when we said we had to go to bed early so we could bike ride in the morning.
Our first days real ride starts well with big climb out of Lucca into the mountains. At the end of the second climb we stop to regroup and wait for Big John. Sadly the sprint king has missed the time cut off and its the end of the tour for the big fella. No matter, he heads back to Lucca to research restaurants and book that night's dinner. We continue to climb stopping only long enough to enable Alan to negotiate extended trading hours at the local cafe in the charming but sleepy mountain village. The lunch is sensational and the cafe owner makes her annual profit in 1 sitting, its a win win.
There is 1 more climb to do before we head back and Jim has somehow found the steepest road on the mountain. At the end of the climb there is a convent where the Sisters of Assumption have taken a 10 year vow of silence. The sisters have thoughtfully placed a water tap out front for weary travellers. Just as we are enjoying the water and baptising Howard one of the nuns throws open the front door and yells "for christ's sake shut up". At least that what it sounded like in Italian. Sadly that nuns silence has been broken and she will have to restart her 10 year vow.
Our next day's ride is event filled from start to finish. After 2 train rides we are in the mountains and heading over a couple of big mountain passes. These 2 big climbs deliver us to our lunch spot at the start of the "real" climb to the Croche Arcane pass. All goes well until we regroup just before the summit and learn that the bitumen soon runs out and its a rocky gravel ride for the next 10km over the summit. No matter we are pretty tough and determined to push on.
The gravel is treacherous and we have to push our bikes in the worst bits. The hot day has taken its toll on Howard and he cramps badly while walking. While he is writhing on the ground in agony we flag down a passing motorist, Matteo, to drive him to the summit. Graham and I then commence the long walk pushing 3 bikes. Howard develops a man crush on his rescuer and promptly invites Matteo to Melbourne to marry one of his daughters. 2 kilometres from the summit we meet Steve who has walked down to find us. We can now ride again and finally regroup with the team only 2 hours behind schedule.
A 4 kilometre descent on gravel gives us a taste for mountain biking, sadly our bikes do not adapt as well and a few kilometres later Alan punctures twice. We are now so far behind schedule that the final climb of the day is abandoned and its a race against the clock to get back to Lucca in time for Elton John. Whether its divine intervention or Jim's mastery of the Italian train system we get home in time, where Hans has organised dinner next to the concert venue and we sit in our seats 1 minute before Sir Elton sits at his piano. Alan strikes up a conversation with Elton John's roadies in the hotel communal shower yet on this occasion somehow fails to secure an invitation to the backstage after party.