This morning's ride — both parts of it — was one of those times that really tests you. If you want to do something big, you have to expect to be challenged at some points — and in my big Sicilian ride, this was one of those points. Part one of the ride was a battle against various odds: rough and confusing roads; a cold battering wind; and angry roadside dogs without relent. Part two was simply a question of pure, uphill determination: the ascent to the mountaintop village of Erice, located 750m asl, was not for the faint-hearted. But I endured, and I persisted, and I told the dogs where to shove it; and I made it through. And proud to have done it, too.
By the time I was done visiting Segesta this afternoon, I had very little daylight left, and thus precious little time for stopping and finding a campsite. Thankfully, however, I didn't need to go very far, or to look very hard: all around Segesta was rolling farmed countryside, much of it perfect for rough camping, and packed with little dirt trails and often-unfenced fields. So I only rode for about 20 minutes more — crossing under the nearby autostrada and train line in the process — before I found a spot that was just right for me. Nothing grand: just a little vineyard, with a long road leading into the heart of the fields, and with a fence that was missing in many places; and with plenty of nice, green space amongst the vines for pitching my tent, and far enough away from the farmhouses to afford some privacy as well.
After a great breakfast at my lucky find, this morning I headed out of the Sicilian capital, and found myself back on the road. I didn't really see much of Palermo — although I was here almost 24 hours, all I did was relax and catch up online — but I don't think I missed that much: apart from a few nice churches and museums (which are everywhere in Italy), it's really just a big and chaotic city. From Palermo, I headed south-west, uphill past the town of Monreale, and over a small set of mountains to Partinico. The weather was perfect when I first headed out, although it quickly deteriorated into a cold, light drizzle; and to some extent, the dreaded wind of previous days came back with a bite.
Today's cycling was still very windy, and quite cold. But it was very short, and it was downhill virtually the whole way. From last night's field near Corleone, it only took me about 2½ hours this morning to ride north out of the mountainous Mafia heartland; and down to Palermo, the capital and largest city of Sicily. It took a little while to get into the centre of Palermo — plus, I was forced for the first time to cycle on the autostrada (freeway), as there seemed to be no other way to reach the city centre (I don't think bicycles are allowed on the autostrada — but what the hell). Seeing as it was such a quick ride to the capital, I guess I can spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering from my rugged time in the hills.
After meeting the locals in Prizzi, I continued my tour of Sicily's mountainous Mafia heartland this afternoon, by riding through the town of Corleone. Despite the fact that the town's name is infamously recognised worldwide — thanks to the classic Mafia book and movie, The Godfather — there really ain't much to see here. Basically, I rode through Corleone, and now I can say that I've been to Corleone; that's about all, as it's a plain and unexciting (and somewhat run-down looking, in my opinion) highland town. From Corleone, I continued cycling for as long as I could this afternoon, until the day grew dark, and I found an empty field on the side of the road in which to camp it rough for the night once again.
There's one thing that stands out in my mind, more than anything else, about today: it was really bloody windy! Today's riding was plagued by the worst, the strongest, and the most unpleasant head wind imaginable; and it stayed with me all day long. As I rode west from Lercara to Prizzi, through the Sicilian Mafia highlands with my semi-flat tyre; as I continued north to the infamous town of Corleone; and as I set up camp in an empty field for the night. Always, the wind was there: it was utterly relentless; and it battered not only my body and my bike, but also my spirit. Bad wind is the worst thing I've come across so far on this trip, and all I wish for is that it will end soon. It feels like every metre forward is a struggle against the forces of nature, which are impelling me to just give up and go home. Arghhh!