August 30 – Camp Aosta to Spinetta Marengo, Italy (174 km, 108 miles)

August 30 Route Map

Today was my longest ride to date on the trip – 174 kilometers, or 108 miles. This was possible because everything went my way today. The first part of the ride was pretty much all downhill from the campground in Aosta to the point where I got out of the mountains and hit the flats of a large agricultural valley between the Alps and the smaller mountains along the Mediterranean coast. In addition to the downhills and flats, throughout the day I had a 20 km/hour tailwind helping me along as well. So the ride was quite enjoyable. And to top it all off, it was sunny all day long and not too hot.

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The Forte di Bard (Fort of Bard) is situated on a hill overlooking the Dora Baltea River in northern Italy. This has been a strategic military location since about the 5th century. On May 14, 1800, Napolean's army of 40,000 soldiers was held at bay for two weeks by only 400 soldiers at this fort. It ruined his plan for a surprise attack on the Po Valley and Turin, but eventually he overcame the strong defenses of the fort and ordered it destroyed. It was rebuilt in its current configuration in the 1830s. ^

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View of a small farming village in northern Italy. ^

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As I was crossing the flat valley I kept looking back at the Alps and the huge cloud bank that covered them from east to west as far as you could see. Apparently the forecast was correct, and there was a significant snowfall over St. Bernard Pass. So I’m really glad I got a ride from Florence to the pass, so that I could cross over the Alps without being delayed. I’m now only about 80 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea – I’ll be there tomorrow. And I saw the first palm tree today, 90 kilometers from St. Bernard Pass.

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Looking north back to the Alps. The blanket of clouds stretched from east to west as far as you could see. It's a good thing I passed over the Alps yesterday - it doesn't look like a good day for biking up there today. In the foreground are the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant^

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There aren’t many campgrounds in this part of Italy, so when I passed by a hotel at 6:30 pm and the nearest campground was still 45 kilometers away, I opted for the hotel. I needed to recharge my camera and GPS batteries anyway, so it seemed like a logical choice. I had an interesting time checking in, which was unexpected because the clerk at the front desk spoke English quite well. I asked him where I could store my bicycle for the night and he somehow thought I meant that I wanted to go to a store. He directed me to a cluster of shops two kilometers away. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to go shopping, but that I needed to put my bike someplace at the hotel for the night. We went around and around for about minutes before he understood, at which point he took me around to the back of the hotel and used his remote to open the garage door. He said I could store my bike in the garage overnight. Great. So I went in, he went back to the front desk, and I locked up my bike. But before I was done, the garage door automatically closed, and there wasn’t a switch inside to open it. Great – I’m locked in the garage. But after a bit of searching I found a service elevator that took me up to a storage room, and then out to the hallway.

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I call this "Cracking a Smile". It's part of a billboard ad for a circus. It was on a concrete wall under a bridge that had been used for numerous other ads. This one was layered on top of at least 10-15 other ads and the layer of paper was so thick that it had started peeling, wrinkling, and cracking. ^

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Tomorrow – the Mediterranean!

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