We spent last night at an ancient stone farmhouse. It was technically a hotel, but it felt like we were staying in someone's home. The family served all the meals, and entertained us with stories translated through the daughter. The food was exceptional: cheese from the family's flock and herd and homemade bread, cake and jam at breakfast.
Il Casale de San Lorenzo mostly caters to pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. We lucked out: they only have three rooms and they were all available, providing us with the best rest of the entire trip. We're in farm country, and this place is every delightful cliche of rural Italy.
Cerro al Volturno to Santa Elena Sannita was the sixth stage of the Giro Donne in 2009.
The route climbs and dips, climbs and dips, then climbs for about 12 miles through a national park that seems to be on either the Camino or some other pilgrimage route. There are white stone markers along the road for most of its length. It's broiling hot. A roadside fountain provides instant relief—and an ice cream-style headache.
Out of the park, we are in classic Italian countryside—terracotta roof tiles, olive oil farms, and sweeping views of gentle countryside. We pedal winding narrow road and, for a change, the only traffic is tractors. It's the kind of ride where you stop thinking and just pedal. Between the mesmerizing scenery and the heat somehow we get lost and end up in Agnone during the Italian siesta.
It's 104 degrees. Gelato is the only antidote. The doors to Bar 2000 are open, but the shop is dark. The sleepy owner reluctantly scoops up lemon, coffee, pistachio, chocolate, watermelon, hazelnut and chocolate chip gelato.
Temporarily cooled, we pedal out of town, crossing a long span of raised highway that is architecturally spectacular while curiously out of place. Then it's uphill for another 10 miles.
Rob has us ride five abreast downhill, fast. The oncoming traffic is intense. My handlebars momentarily lock together with Eryn's then release. Trust and a steady line are key here.
It's a sprint finish for the camera, and though we've trimmed the ride short on both ends, we're all snoring in the car, exhausted from the heat and five days of intense riding.
The adventure continues. Amazingly, I feel better on the bike each day, and though my quads cramp when we blast out first thing in the morning, I haven't been sore. There is nothing like loads of riding to take the fitness you thought that you had to a new level.
Today's stats: 38 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, 104 degrees.