We’ve shrugged off making stoves and searching for alcohol, content in our cold meals—cheese, olives, apples, flat bread, tomatoes and avocados, peanut butter on crackers, local honey and divine cherries, Jack sometimes gnaws on a salumi—and some days stopping in towns for something prepared. It works splendidly, and we don’t miss the cooking. Here at the Italian border in a tiny hilltop town we’re sitting in the shade, sipping juice and eating crepes, mystified at the two French sisters running the cafe. Jack sips an espresso, I contemplate the advisability of drinking a beer before 10. Long tables under flowered trestles and the sleeping cat and the guy in knee high mud boots explaining that he has to move the pigs into the barn where the sheep are, and the sheep into the pasture, we see him doing it with the glint eyed help of a collie.
The border itself is a shuttered control post, stenciled with inscrutable marks of the divisions of country that once were, we pedal through, picturing the uniformed Carabinieri that once stood here. A gravel descent that we take, it’ll drop to the river in a snaking shaking grinning pitch, walnut sized stones and water bars, tight switchbacks, picking up speed and craved for breeze, all of which which we’ll rue in an hour when we’re climbing back up it because we’ve made a wrong turn, realized as I say, “wait, how can Slovenia be on our right?” The glare glints through our sweat, shimmery heat and still of the trees that even in their height can’t stop a midday bolt during the silent retrace.
Route fixed, gassed from the ascent to a set of rollers, drop down again this time the wide open plains. Unmistakably Italy, the hilltops in every distance with a villa, spruce lined approaches, groves. The cars seem a little fancier, a more prosperous grocery store. We pass going in the other direction a determined cheerful peloton of women and men with a remarkable span of ages, some teenagers, plenty of riders in with white hair, everything in between. Smile at the open joy of their bike riding, even as I shudder at the local sartorial abomination of riding with sleeveless jerseys.