While riding through the mountains on July 18, I heard a odd clanging off bells in the distance. As I turned a corner, I saw a single cow in the road with his herd of friends in the field behind. I wasn’t sure if he’d just let me pass, but there really was no choice, so I slowly rolled by, realizing that he could care less about my presence there.
After passing, I pulled over to take some shots, enjoying the peaceful sound of the cowbells as they roamed around.
There was no one around … for miles! (kilometers?) I guess the bells make it easier for the owners to find the herd as they wander all over the mountains… since there are no fences!
That’s when I noticed this guy! A whole herd of cattle, alone in the mountains, except for their collie watching over them. He did a good job too, coming over to me and gently letting me know that I’ve spent enough time stalking his herd and that it was time to move on. Good boy!
Enjoy the video of the Italians cows!
Well, I’ve been home now for a few days and while my sleep schedule isn’t quite back to normal yet, I am ready to write a few words about my experience before I head out on another adventure (this time WITH Toby!) later today. It’s been a whirlwind July and I’ve not quite wrapped my head around everything that happened! So, tonight I am going to get away for a couple of days and process my trip before life gets in the way and everything starts to fade.
I’ve got more stories and pictures to share over the next few weeks but I wanted to take a second and reflect on the big picture of what just happened.
I finished my first self-supported bike tour!
This is something that I’ve dreamed about since crossing most of the US with the Bike the US for MS team last summer. As difficult as it was to ride 50-100 mile days back to back, we were always reminded how easy we actually had it when we crossed people doing the same ride with all of their gear strapped to their bikes. They crossed the same mountains, faced the same headwinds and tried to outrun the same dogs without the benefit of having s support team and two vans. Seeing folks of all ages, body types and ability levels made me realize that I could actually do that too! I had the bike, I had the equipment and I had the desire.
So, when planning my 2017 summer adventure, I knew it was time to go big, and that’s how this whole trip unfolded. For the past three years, I’ve been driven to ride for those that can’t, and while there are many worthwhile organizations that do these fundraising rides, my efforts have all been towards multiple sclerosis.
*Spoiler alert* I was married for a little while, and this happened in Italy – the same town that my Nonno and Nonna were married and lived. My Aunt Alba planned and executed this whole thing, while struggling with the complications of having MS. Her strength and her positive attitude throughout the whole process really inspired me. She wasn’t letting this disease get in the way of anything.
So, in 2014, as a way of saying “Thank you” to my dear Aunt, I registered, trained and rode the two-day, 175 mile Bike MS: Waves to Wine Ride in San Francisco. The fact that I was a Top Fundraiser, pulling in over $3000 made me realize that I am not the only one that wanted to do something amazing to honor Aunt Alba. Family and friends came out of the woodwork to contribute in support of this amazing woman.
To date, we have raised $11,753 for MS efforts!
For me, however, the lesson isn’t just about bringing people together to raise money for a good cause, or about bringing awareness to a disease that affects so many, yet is talks about so rarely.
The lesson is also about willpower, strength, determination, confidence, teamwork and accomplishment. These are the things that Aunt Alba impressed me with back in 2013 and are also the things that it takes for these long bike rides.
Italy taught me that I can do anything. We all struggle with doubt, shame and negative thoughts from time to time, even though we rarely share these dark moments with each other, or maybe only with our closest people. I consider myself a pretty confident person, sometimes borderline narcissist (It’s true I’m a big fan of myself!) but I’ve failed, at many things and many times. Who hasn’t, really?
This trip had so many opportunities for failure. There were actually some moments when I had no clue what was going to happen next or how I was gonna get through, but it all worked out. I remember stepping out of the airport in Rome, turning on my Garmin GPS with all of my routes and maps pre-loaded, waiting to find out if it would actually work in Italy. This same GPS had just let me down a few days earlier when I was riding in Hollywood, because I missed an important step in the setup of the device. Now, here I was, alone, on the other side of the planet, waiting to find out if I was going to have sweet turn-by-turn directions or if I’d be digging through my bags trying to find the pages of maps and directions that I printed out “just in case”. Fortunately, the unit worked like a charm. I didn’t really even have to think about where I was going since the GPS did all the work for me.
At the beginning of my trip, I was suffering. I wasn’t prepared for the heat and humidity and I pushed myself a little too hard with an 80 mile day in the mountains. I made it, but I was seriously questioning my ability to push though to the other side of the country. The outpouring of advice, well wishes and support from my friends, however, touched my heart and pushed me into the next few days. It’s an amazing feeling to be loved and encouraged. Thank you.
But the best part was how much life slowed down. Between the bike riding and the hanging out with family in Porto San Giorgio, Italy showed me that it’s okay to chill out a bit and enjoy life. That we should take time to enjoy our meals instead of eating and rushing to the next thing. That we can be without an internet connection for a few hours or even an entire day (gasp!) and everything is going to be okay! That (and this is a tough one for me) we don’t necessarily need to plan out every second of the day. When Uncle Ferruccio (who only speaks Italian) offers for you to go with him, you say yes. Even though you don’t know where you are going, how long you are going to be gone and what is going to happen, you jump in the van and you go. And you have a blast, even if it’s not on the itinerary. And most importantly, that our life is limited. We can’t go everywhere, we can’t do everything and even if we do find a way to do it all, for many experiences it’s a one time thing. The cities I rode through and the strangers I met, I very likely will never see them again. There are other countries and places that I want to see. The experiences are unique, with a certain group of people, in a certain place at a certain time that will never be repeated. Everything is unique. So, don’t put off what you can do today. Take the trip. Do the challenging thing. Say yes to adventure.
Italy was such a special place… Can’t wait to share all my other stories with you! Thank you for coming along for this adventure, I hope it inspires you to do something amazing and share it with me too!
… if you never ask.
People are generally pretty cool, at least the people I’ve come across in life. Doesn’t matter what they’ve achieved, how popular they are, what their rank is, they are still just the same as you and me.
Last year, when I was getting ready to fly to VA to ride the TransAmerica bike route with Bike The US For MS, I watched a documentary called “Inspired to Ride” on Netflix. It followed the first TransAm bike race, going in the the opposite direction than we were going to travel. Unlike our ride though, they were not only racing, but they were riding it unsupported. This meant that they did it alone, carrying everything they need on their bikes for the entire ride, without a team. Featured in this documentary is the professional ultra-cyclist Juliana Buhring. She came in 4th overall, 1st for women. She also was the only female to participate in the inaugural TransContinental race from London to Istanbul and she finished 9th overall. Oh, she also holds the world record for fastest female to circumnavigate the globe on a bike. 18,000 miles in 152 days. Women’s Cycling Magazine calls her one of the strongest female endurance cyclists in the world.
That’s all impressive and everything, but what grabbed my attention the most was her reasons for cycling: her story. She had a difficult childhood. You can read all about it in the best-selling book she wrote with two of her sisters. She also experienced the loss of someone very close to her. I believe that loss was what propelled her to cycling. She didn’t start cycling until 2011, when she decided she was going to ride around the world. She only trained for a few months and then in 2012, off she went. The TransContinental race was in 2013 and the TransAm was in 2014.
In the documentary she says the ride around the world was an “escape from the world but at the same time to discover it … or discover my place in it.”
I’ve said before that I think cycling has healing powers. For me it’s not about speed or even distance, it’s about overcoming challenges, pushing myself, meeting people and discovering my own potential. Cycling isn’t hard. It takes a great deal of mental fortitude at times but really it’s just rolling down the street… Or up a hill. And when you get really tired, you pull over and stop for a while. Then, you get back on.
Since my trip ended in the Sorrento Peninsula, home of Juliana Buhring, I reached out to her on Facebook and asked if she’d have time to show me around. I’m not sure if that’s a request that she gets all of the time, but she didn’t hesitate to say yes, depending on if she was going to be in town. Well, she was, and yesterday morning we met for a ride around the peninsula. And it was incredible. She was riding Flash, the bike that she recently rode across Australian in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race. We finally met in Positano after riding around for an hour trying to find each other and she took me up, up, up. We climbed and I tried my best to stay right behind her. It was great riding with her and great getting to know her, even just for a bit. Riding with someone is very different than sitting down to a meal or an espresso. But, I think I got so much more out of the time we spent riding. She showed me probably the most amazing point in the peninsula, the point where you can see both sides from above. I’m not sure why I don’t have a picture of that…. Too out of breath, too overwhelmed…. Whatever…. It was cool!
We rode together until noon and then she had to turn around and get on with her day. I continued on to more riding which included a swim at a beach 1000 feet down (which meant climbing out from there after!)
I’m not a huge fan of small talk, so for me, this was an excellent way to spend a few hours with someone that inspires me as well as so many other cyclists. What a great day!!!
Well, I guess this is why this is called an adventure.
Tomorrow I fly home, hopefully with my bike Kip. A couple of things happened today. First, when I messaged the bike shop in Naples that was going to provide a box for me, they replied that they had no boxes but they would see what the day would bring. Awesome. Then, while biking with a friend around Sorrento (more about this later), she hooked me up with a bike shop here in town that would box up my bike for me. Problem is the bus service that provides transportation to the airport won’t take a bike box because there is not enough room on the bus.
So, that leaves me to ride my bike to Naples tomorrow, get to the bike shop when they open at 9am and see what happens.
I have no clue what is in store and if you know me, I love to plan every detail. I don’t like not knowing what will happen. If they have no box, then I will have to ride to the airport and see if I can figure something out to get Kip on the plane. Chances are I will not be able to wheel him up to the desk and say, here ya go! Even if that did work he probably wouldn’t come home in one piece.
This is nerve-wracking, I won’t sleep a wink tonight! This is why I contacted that bike shop a month ago — to avoid situations like this. I just want to be sitting in my tiny cramped seat, on my way back to San Francisco. Actually, I want to be home…. with Toby. I have one more adventure left and let’s all keep our fingers crossed that everything works out the way it should.
Tomorrow night, I have a 14 hour layover in Turkey. 14 HOURS. Maybe then I’ll update ya’ll with some blogs.
So I’m not technically in Sorrento yet. My hotel is a B&B and is in Vico Equense, which is along the Sorrento coast. It’s so beautiful here!
The ride in was very pleasant but the roads got narrower and the traffic more hectic. Slow and steady was the key. I’m not sure how I made it here in one piece, I imagine it has something to do with doing my best to predict the moves of the drivers around me. More about that later.
I’m here, it’s beautiful, there is so much on my mind to share but I have more biking to do today! I must explore this area!
Tonight I am in Caiazzo, Italy. After last night’s non-adventure in a tiny country village, this is a real treat: a city with stores and restaurants and people!! I arrived at 1pm, realizing that I told the owners of the apartment that I’d arrive at 3pm. So, I changed in the alley into some appropriate dining attire and made my way to the restaurant around the corner.
Halfway through my meal, the waiter said the B&B owner was sending over the keys and that he would walk me over and check me in after I finished lunch. I guess in a small town like this, everyone knows everyone.
After checking in, my usual routine commenced: shower and nap. I am really starting to love this life! Bike all day, sleep all evening and then check out the town at night. The towns out here really come alive at night!
Looking back in the direction from which I traveled, I was thinking how amazing it is to travel by bike. When I have visited in the past, I’d either ride the bus or rent a car, always traveling with someone else. It’s one thing to share this experience, but it’s really cool to do this alone. Riding through these small towns and being forced to communicate in order to get food, directions or to do something as simple as checking into a hotel is really fun. Taking the back roads, for the most part has been the perfect experience. Today, however, was a little different. Today was big ass truck day. Gone are the quiet mountain roads with cars passing slowly every 10 minutes or so….. I could definitely tell I was leaving the mountains and getting closer to the big cities by the amount of traffic I was experiencing. For the most part, cars and trucks have been respectful but more than a couple of times trucks whizzed by me with little concern for the amount of room between us. And the roads aren’t very wide to begin with!! There are no shoulders in Italy!
Trucks going up a 10% grade and a truck coming down… Not enough room for both so I pulled over to let them figure it out.
As white knuckled as today was, I am going to miss the streets of Italy. They’ve challenged me and rewarded me time and time again.
Tomorrow, after 50 quick miles, I will arrive in Sorrento. I’m not ready for this trip to end, but it’s time. I miss Toby and I miss my bed. I’ve also been dealing with some work issues today which is a reminder that it’s time to go home.
I am eating my way across Italy!!! Good night, friends!