(written by Dave)
Today was one of those days on the bike that you want to put in a bottle, store in a safe place and save so that you can pull it out and enjoy it over and over again. Riding SR298, we had 7k of uphill right out of the hotel. We knew this was coming but it was still hard with some sections reaching 11% on my bike computer. No walking required (for the bike geeks out there we have a 26 front and 28 back – more would have been nice today, but we did it). The top was particularly steep but it was all pretty hard. The route takes you through a narrow canyon meaning we had very little sun until the top.
The top of the pass was at 780 meters (2,560 feet). That’s not super high, but it was the highest point of our trip through Italy. The weather was great, nothing but blue skies. There was still some snow on the top of the pass but not much. There was a memorial at the top with a plaque that indicated it was a dividing range, with water running down one side to the Mediterranean and down the other side to the Adriatic.
The scenery was fantastic, alternating alpine meadow views with distant mountains as we descended almost 30k with only one little uphill and a smattering of flats. It would have to be one the most scenic and memorable descents that we’ve ever ridden.
We stopped for morning coffee about 15k down the pass just past Scheggia. From here the scenery got even more spectacular as we descended on route 360 through a series of gorges in the national park Parco del Monte Cucco. There were almost no cars and those that we saw took it very slow through the gorges – many of them honking as they rounded the sharper corners to alert cars coming the other way. We made another stop for coffee and a snack in a little town after we came out of the first set of gorges, expecting that we would have another climb before we bottomed out on the flats toward Ancona. Instead we headed around a bend and into another stunning set of gorges through another national park, Gola della Rossa e di Frasassi. Beautiful scenery, including a grotto way up in the rocks and a set of caves that you could tour.
We finally came out of the gorges at Sassoferrato, where we stopped for a lunch of fresh parma and cheese sandwiches while we sat in the sunshine. From there we worked our way back and forth over the motorway. We had expected to have to go through at least one tunnel but were able to stay on the quiet side road so were able to avoid all of them. We went by two big rock (maybe marble) quarries that went straight up the side of the mountain.
Eventually we found our way out of the mountains and into the plains heading towards Ancona. We pulled up 35k or so outside Ancona in a quiet town called Jesi. They have a campground but it is closed so we are in a hotel again (Hotel Mariani). Nancy was pretty happy to have the seldom used tent on her bike this morning as we climbed out of Gubbio.
Tomorrow we head to Ancona for our last day in Italy. We have booked ferry tickets to Patras Greece for Friday. Anyone who knows one of the Petersons will not be surprised to know that Nancy is already starting to hoard plastic bags for the trip and making plans to by saltine crackers and other items to fight the anticipated motion sickness – we already have some Dramamine that she bought before we left Nice. We will have our own cabin so at least she can suffer in relative privacy… I of course will help as much as I can…[Editor’s note – hahaha, Dave usually just gets as far as possible from me when motion sickness starts to hit so we’ll see how it goes this time. Not really looking forward to 24 hours on a boat but perhaps I’ll just take a double dose of Dramamine and sleep through the whole thing.]