Trip update: The last week included a fantastic mountain ridge ride – my last long spin around the Sangro River Valley, then virtual imprisonment for four days. On Sunday, I struck out for the Adriatic, turned south to the wine town of Casalbordino, then headed back to Atessa, the town that looks down on the Sangro River from the south. From the coast to Atessa (22 km), I climbed 476 m, then blasted down to the valley floor in less than five km. Monday, I did a final load of my own laundry. Wednesday, I changed the bed and washed all the linens belonging to the house. The rain started while the laundry was running. It took two days to dry, using a rack indoors.
Thursday evening, I picked up a little Hyundai hatchback from my friend and colleague, Denise Muir, and loaded all my stuff. Those who have followed this blog for a while know that it has taken me a couple of years to reduce my worldly goods to the contents of a small car. On Friday, I loaded my bike on the back of the car, and drove the whole mess to my new flat in Formia. Friday night after returning the car, Maria and her family (the whole apartment building) had a farewell party for me, a bittersweet affair, because I have felt more at home here in just six months than I have in many other places over years.
This morning I boarded the Di Fonzo bus for Rome, and caught the train to Formia. I am now in my new base of operations, setting it up for my next big tour, the Intercontinental 2016. When you read where I plan to go, the name will make sense. The “new” flat is in the historic center of this ancient town, making it a very different experience already.
There are some questions that I hear repeatedly, which will need to be answered more than once. This week, I address one of them by editing a post that appeared exactly two years ago, entitled “Why do I ride?”
I could shrug and say, “I don’t know,” but that would not be true. Long rides give me time to think, and sometimes I think about this question.
Of course, it’s fun. That does not always mean that it is pleasant or comfortable. But I do derive great satisfaction both from the feel of riding a pleasant road and the accomplishment of getting where I am going under my own power. The fun of bicycling goes back to my childhood, when the bicycle gave me mobility and independence, and the ability to explore any place that I could reach in the two hours or so after school before my mother came home from work (she never suspected that I wasn’t home — really). Later it allowed me to hold down jobs after school, to go to friends’ houses to do homework, and to socialize where my friends met, which was never in my neighbourhood.
I never lost the excitement of growing up in Rome, and making my way among the cars, motor scooters, motorcycles, trams, bicycles, trucks, handcarts, horses, mules, dogs, and pedestrians that clog the streets of Old World capitals.
So why do I ride in lousy weather? Why do I ride when I’m sick? Well, maybe it’s the same reason that I enjoyed frostbite sailing at the Naval Academy. It’s one thing to take a fine sailboat for a cruise on the Chesapeake Bay when the sun is shining. It takes a different kind of sailor to check out a 12-foot open sloop, and race among ice floes and sleet.
After the Naval Academy, I joined the surface Navy, specifically cruisers and destroyers, because I wanted salt spray in my face and water over the bow. I wanted to pull liberty in the little ports, where the aircraft carrier could not go.
It does not hurt that riding a bicycle is about the greenest thing I could do. But I have to admit that if I did not enjoy it so much, my environmental consciousness would not have gotten me through the Southern Swing 2013, the Northern Trek 2014, or Europe 2015.
As an engineer by training, I can appreciate the fact that the bicycle is the most efficient form of personal transportation there is. I have certainly proven that with the numbers. It costs me 8¢/km (13¢/mile) to operate my bicycle. It used to cost me 37¢/km (59¢/mile) to operate a car. I ride 10,000 km per year on my bicycle; but drove only 700 km per year for the last four years. No wonder I finally sold the car.
The bicycle keeps me alive. My health team agrees unanimously that riding has saved my life more than once. Not just the practice that allows me to dodge crashes with automobiles, but the general good health and immunity that allows me to recover quickly from injury and disease. That this cardiac patient with prostate cancer can look forward to each day with joy and expectation is in no small way the result of the cycling lifestyle. I hate exercise and workouts. Without the bicycle, there is no way that I would have maintained my health all these years.
And finally, the bicycle gives me hope. For every cold, rainy headwind, for every bumpy, broken road, for every impossible hill, there is a smooth, level highway and a stiff tailwind somewhere up ahead. I know this, and it is why I ride.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,