We woke up in the morning to good weather, and after packing and breakfast, were happy to get going on the road again. The charge for dinner, breakfast and lodging was 93 Euros, confirming the value of the OCD guide's recommendations.
We discovered that the night before, we were only 4km short of Tende, and once past Tende, the climb wasn't very steep and things went along quite swimmingly. Soon enough, we saw signs for the Tende tunnel, which we knew we could not use. About 1000m from that, however, there was a fountain on the left side of the road, which we used to fill up our water bottles and to take a break. At the second hairpin turn after that, I spied a little spur of a road which looked like a driveway, and turned left onto it, suspecting it was the old road over the Col. I sent Mike back to look at a tiny wooden sign I had seen from the corner of my eye, and I heard "13km ... Tende." He came back and gave the thumbs up, so off we went.
Mike doesn't have gearing as low as mine, so he plowed ahead to use his momentum to go as fast as he could. The initial bit of pavement quickly turned into dirt, which while finer than what we saw on Col du Parpaillon, was still slow going. I took it easy (the OCD guide said 90 minutes without rushing), stopping occasionally to take pictures. After 90 minutes or so with no sign of the grade easing, I took a Gu, guessing that 90 minutes was an estimate given by someone much stronger than I was (and remembering the Col du Parpaillon was called "easy"), but 2 hairpin turns later I was at the top where Mike was waiting.
"That wasn't 13km," I exclaimed. "Oh, the noise must have covered up my later statement --- it turned out that was how far it was to Tende the town, not the Col." At 1871m, Tende wasn't super high, but it felt like just as much work as any other col. Fortunately, the descent on the Italian side was paved, so I we went down fast. Finding it to be 11:30, we opted not to stop in Limones but to descend as fast as possible to the outskirts of Cueno for lunch.
Midway down the descent, at 50kph with the opposing lane empty, I was buzzed by an Italian motorist, giving me an excellent reminder of why I hated Italy and Italian drivers. If there's any question to my mind as to why there aren't that many great Italian cyclists nowadays, the Italian driver must be a prime reason. We descended quickly into Robilante where we had lunch at a cafe that served an inadequate amount of food which looked like it came out of a TV dinner package. With that, we opted to leave town and look for a supermarket.
We followed the signs to the outskirts of Borgo S. Dalmazzo, where we skirted the town by looking for signs towards Vignolo and Caraglio. We rode fast, with the downhill providing us with an assistance that allowed us to ride regularly at 28kph to 30kph. I had the appropriate page of the map open on my map case, and I would work through towns by following directions to the next town, smoothly and quickly without pausing. For those following our route on a map, here are the towns we rode through: Busca, Villafalleto, Savigliano, S. Bernado, Cavallermaggiore, Caramagna Piemonte, Carmagnolo, Poirino, Chieri.
On the outskirts of Vignolo, however, on a particularly bumpy stretch of highway I heard a clack, and Mike shouted that something had fallen from my bike. I pulled over, ran back, and found that my tail light had broken at the bridge and fallen off. This was something easily fixed with some superglue, so I kept the light and we rode on.
Kilometer after kilometer followed, one blurring into the other, yet we saw no signs of supermarkets or stores of any kind that were opened. Fortunately, traffic seemed to be fairly light as well, since I picked the smallest road I could find. Finally, at a roundabout, Mike said he was out of water. We paused at a cafe and bought some water. Mike mentioned that he needed something to eat as well, and I said why not buy some ice cream, something we proceeded to do quickly. There were two young ladies sitting outside the cafe, so I asked them if there were any supermarkets opened nearby. They said they knew of a place, but it wasn't open until 3:00pm. I looked at my clock which said 2:00pm, so we had naught to do but to go on.
We started riding as though we were in an epic. The roads were narrow enough that I asked Mike to stay at least 2 feet from the edge of the roadway, so that the crazy Italian drivers would be forced to take the next lane if they wanted to overtake. Whenever I drafted Mike, the speed would go up to about 30kph, but when I was leading it would be only 28kph, showing you how strong Mike was.
The weather changed around us, as did the position of the Sun, but I was so focussed on navigation that I ignored it all. Neither Mike nor I said a wod. At some point I felt a bit of sprinkle on my face, but there was no question --- we would keep riding. I felt a slight headwind, but it wasn't nearly enough to slow us down. There was one thing that was consistent, though: every supermarket we went to was closed. If it was 3:30, it would open at 4:00. If it was 4:00, it would open at 4:30. We even found one that would only open at 5:30. It made me wonder how anybody ever bought anything in Italy.
Eventually, though, in the town of Carmagnola, we found a supermarket that was open, at 5:50. Some nutso Italian outside the supermarket tried to convince me that it was closed, but I ignored him, walked in and found it to be opened. We bought bananas, chocolate (which had melted in the store when we opened them up outside the store --- clearly the idea of refrigeration for chocolate hasn't yet occured to Italians), sports drinks (the one thing we were grateful for), and ate and downed all but one of the bananas each. I poured the sports drink into my bottle.
At 6:00pm, we got going again. I had set my sights on Chieri as the place we would stay for the night, since there were a few small hills North of Chieri that looked like they might be good riding. Around 7:00pm, we rolled into Chieri, but there were no signs pointing to hotels, unlike other towns we had visited! We rolled to the downtown cobblestone area and asked folks for help, and one of them pointed us to the Park Hotel and gave us directions.
We arrived at the Park Hotel, and all they had was a room with one King bed. Having done 162km, Mike felt like we could sleep next to each and still be reasonably assured of rest, so we agreed to take the room for 65 Euros. (Italy and cheap does not always go together) After the requisite showers, I discovered that I had left my off-bike shirt back at the Le Terminus, and was now forced to wear the next day's jersey for the evening. We were pretty hungry and walked around looking for restaurants. We walked past a pastry shop, a chinese place, and a bar, but didn't find anything. A local woman pointed us at another restaurant, but when we got there they said they were closed and weren't serving dinner (though we bought breakfast from them). Since the only other choices were a few stands that were selling micro-wave heated pizzas, we opted for the Chinese place. At least I'd be able to have a conversation with the waitress!
Indeed, the waitress spoke Mandarin, but explained to me that they didn't cook Chinese food, just Italian food Chinese style. We asked her for suggestions and mostly just followed her recommendations, which were actually pretty good. Much better than the last Chinese restaurant I went to in Italy anyway.
We slept easily that night.