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2004 Italian Cycling Tour Diary

"You are old, Chairman William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white:
and yet you incessantly ride your bike hard.
Do you think, at your age it is right?"

"In my youth," Chairman William
said after he was done,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
why I do it again and again."

(Apologies to Lewis Carroll)

Since there can be no more harm, it's time to ride. Lucky dog that I am, I've managed to sweet-talk (OK, conned) my wife, Carol, into spending 10 days in Italy. The plan: riding every day to utter exhaustion, eating pizza and spaghetti in unconscionable quantities and swilling whatever drink is at hand. If, after this debauchery, the slightest touch of sentient consciousness remains, perhaps to explore the magnificent legacy of Italian culture that draws me to Italy over and over and over again.

Italy's greatest prose writer, Giovanni Boccaccio, said it best 700 years ago. The characters in his The Decameron were discussing going to the countryside, "taking such pleasance and diversion as the season may afford. There may we hear the small birds sing, there may we see the hills and plains clad in green and the fields full of corn wave even as doth the sea: there may we see trees, a thousand sorts; and there is the face of heaven more open to the view, which angered against us though it be, denieth not unto us its eternal beauties".

So, to Italy to take such pleasance and diversion as the season may afford. In Tuscany, at the end of March and the beginning of April, the grapevines are just beginning to bud. The meadows are covered with grass, made thick and rich from the rains. With the exception of Florence, the tourists have not yet filled the tiny, ancient towns and again rubbed the rough edges of real life dull and smooth. The weather is unpredictable. A bright, sunny day can quickly change into a freezing hailstorm, then clearing to a returning warm sun. Going to Italy at the end of March is playing chicken with the weather.

I have no choice. The bicycle selling high season is almost here and to wait longer is impossible. I picked three cities. At each city we would linger for a few days, riding in the morning and doing as we wished in the afternoon.

Our first city would be Urbino, in the coastal Adriatic region of Le Marche, or in English, "The Marches". I love it here. The roads are lonely, the hills are merciless and the scenery unbeatable.

Spoleto, in southern Umbria was next. There is a gentleness and spirituality to Umbria that makes any visit pleasant.

For our third city, we headed north to Pistoia, about 25 miles west of Florence. A day trip to Florence would be a snap and it looks as if there is plenty of riding both to the north and to the south.

Looking at the schedule, I realized that I was far smarter than my fourth-grade teacher thought. Actually, she told my rather upset parents I was retarded, so that bar is set pretty low. From Urbino, we could take a day trip to Ravenna and see the Byzantine mosaics. In Spoleto, we could go to Assisi and see The Cimabue and Giotto frescoes. These represent Late Gothic, or International style painting, at its finest.

Then, in Florence we could see the Renaissance and the beginning of Baroque. The cities were in such an order that would could see the unveiling of the modern, a city at a time.

Saturday, March 27: Here we are, in the Mondonico workshop. Carol and I missed a connecting flight to Milan so we came in over four hours late. Kind and helpful Mauro Mondonico waited at the airport from 11:00 in the morning until it was time to leave with us in the evening. He completely wrecked his day on our behalf. And of course, as is in keeping with his generous, gracious nature, he didn't utter a single word of complaint. I should try to be like him.

So who was here? Of course, I was here with my wife, Carol. Also, the famous and brilliant syndicated cartoonist, Jef Mallett and his also brilliant and far better looking wife, Patty. Mallett, readers of this web site (and readers of the comics) know, is the creator of "Frazz" which appears in over 100 American newspapers.

They had arrived at 11:00 in the morning and had been ever so patiently waiting for us. Bruce Schwab, owner of Schwab Cycles in Denver, with his wife Ardis, agreed to fill out our little pack. Sometimes after you spend time with someone, your only regret is that you did not know them earlier. That's how I felt after a week with the Schwabs.

As I stood there in the Mondonico shop I was again struck by my extreme good fortune. I am grateful for what the bicycle has given me. In addition to a fair living, it has given me health because it is such a pleasurable way to get exercise. It has allowed to me meet and know so many wonderful people in many different countries. The bicycle has given me the means and the impetus to travel and learn. Here I was, in Italy, ready for adventure with a varied and interesting group of friends. I wouldn't know any of them without my passion for the bicycle. Perhaps squash and hockey players and tractor-pull fans can get the same enrichment from their sports. But I doubt it.

This trip was going to be different in one way, and not at all for the better. Mauro could not join us. He has a second job working for the organization that promotes the Giro. With the Giro coming up in just a few short weeks, they asked him to help with the final planning of the route. For all of us, his absence was a terrible disappointment.

My Torelli Super Countach bike was all spiffed up and waiting to go. I keep this bike at the Mondonicos, saving me the trouble of transporting a bike each time I come over. It's all steel and rides and handles like a dream. Antonio and Mauro had gone over it. They cleaned and tuned it up after its last trip in the Dolomites where it crossed the Stelvio and the Gavia. They took off the 26 I needed for the monster passes and put on a 13-23 for riding in the Apennines. They even put on spiffy new handlebar tape (Torelli Moda Chunky, of course). These guys spoil me.

Bruce had a brand-new Torelli Stiletto all decked out in Campy Record 10. Tres chic. Jef had a Brand "T" bike and we gave him no grief over it. OK, I'm lying. A little grief.

Starting late, we got our bikes assembled and the cars loaded and hauled across the Emilian Highway to Urbino. I think there is only one boring road in Italy and this is the one. If we had to drive an Italian road in the dark, it might as well be this long stretch across the farmland of northern Italy. My companions were not missing much.

Before I continue, I must thank a very kind, unknown man. After getting off the Autostrada (the Italian toll freeway) for the final 30 kilometers to Urbino we took a wrong turn and ended up God-knows-where. We pulled into a self-serve gas station and asked a man filling his tank for the road to Urbino. He gave us a series of very complicated directions. He could see that we were having trouble remembering and understanding exactly what he was telling us. Complex directions in Italian are not my strong point.

"Never mind," he said. "Follow me."

"Are you going to Urbino?"

"Don't worry about it. It's only three kilometers out of my way".

So we followed him, going the wrong way up a one-way street for a bit. A policeman waved at us, but since I was unaware of my error, I thought he was merely being friendly. Thankfully, he didn't come after us.

After a while, we saw a road sign that was beautiful to behold: "Urbino, 7 Kilometers".

Our kind benefactor waved to us and drove off into the distance. What a nice guy. I'll remember that act of kindness the rest of my life. We were so tired and so lost. This merciful man appeared just when we needed him.

We arrived at our favorite hotel in Urbino, the Mamiani, at midnight. Once there we were told that the clocks had to be set ahead tonight. After everything else, we lose an hour's sleep right from the gun. Ah, the romance of the road.

By the way, none of my traveling companions bitched, whined or complained in any way even though they were all exhausted beyond toleration. They looked pretty grey as they quietly marched off to bed. I know how to show people a good time.

Sunday, March 28: A cold, overcast day. But this is a bargain. Rain with a possiblity of snow was predicted. Cold and overcast was fine with us. Full of food and bundled up, snowmobile gloves and booties on, we rolled out the door into the slightly above-freezing air.

Our first goal was to leave town. Easier said than done. We wanted to go to Urbania, the biggest city next to Urbino. One would think that it would be the easiest thing. For some reason, the good people of Urbino think it best to keep the way to Urbania a secret. I have tried several times over the years to find the road to Urbania. I have never succeeded without getting lost. Every time I try, I have to wander through little streets, asking directions of everyone I meet until I find my way out of the maze.

Carol drew up a map for me with all the information I needed. No good. I still missed the first turn. Of course we asked the first men we met for directions. We were asking for the road to the nearest good sized city, one with an internationally famous language center. A city that had existed since Roman times. We got blank looks at first, then disagreement among our advisors. Then, finally, consensus. They agreed to send us on the wrong road. Unintentionally, of course, but the wrong road, nonetheless.

Next, a nice lady looked at my map. A completely blank look again. If I had shown her a map of Peking, the same blank look would have registered on her face. This is one of the enduring mysteries of Italy. Whenever confronted with a local map, designed and printed in Italy by the Touring Club Italiano, an Italian will twist and turn the map, completely unable to comprehend what the map is for. Sometimes, after time, recognition sets in, but not always. We persevered. After several wrong turns, we made our way out of the maze and found ourselves on the road to Urbania, along the ridge of the hills leading to Urbino.

Looking back, we could see Urbino fading quickly in the distance. The air was heavy with moisture, making distant objects obscure. Pellucid, crisp, clean air, such as Americans are used to, is the exception in Northern Italy at this time of the year.

There is a sharp switchback descent into Urbania. I got my first taste of what was to come. Bruce dropped effortlessly with Jef on his wheel. I came much more slowly; prudent, cowardly fellow that I am. I think it was D.H. Lawrence who said that physical cowardice is a sign of intelligence. I must be a very smart bike rider.

We rolled into ancient Urbania. Poor Urbania. I think this little town has been destroyed at least four times in its long, troubled history. I know it was leveled twice in a twenty-year period in the mid 500's during the "Gothic Wars". Justinian, the Roman emperor in Constantinople, tried to recapture Italy for the Roman Empire after it had been lost to the Goths. The brilliant general Belisarius ranged (and raged) up and down the Italian peninsula fighting a brutal war with the Goths. The destruction to Italy during this tragic period did far more damage to Italy than any of the other previous barbarian invasions that are so often credited with destroying the classical world. Urbania was not yet out of the woods. Even during the Renaissance, this poor burg was wrecked at least two more times. Sometimes I think history is nothing more than the story of the resilience and patient industry of man

But, I digress. I am reminded of a French play written in the 1500's in which a shepherd litigates to get his sheep back. The opposing lawyers try to obfuscate the subject with digressions. The frustrated judge tried to get back to the matter at hand, over and over saying "Revenons a ces moutons". Let's get back to the sheep.

So, Revenons a ces moutons.

From Urbania, we headed west to follow the Metauro River and then head up into the hills. We were in a pretty valley, headed upstream, hence uphill. Not a tough uphill, but we had to work. Bruce was feeling frisky, so Jef and I were content to take a mild pounding from him as we made our way up the valley floor until we came to little Borgo Pace. We headed north, into the hills. We were immediately greeted with a switchback climb. Welcome to Italy, now work and sweat.

As we climbed, I felt that we were really in Le Marche that I love. The patchwork fields, tilled and planted to fit the countours of the hills make a picture that never bores me. Most of the fields are devoted to pasturage with some vineyards and olives. Some fields lie fallow. It was still too early and too cold for the grapevines to start budding. The cool air was still. The trip, with all of its little frustrations forgotten, seemed perfect. It was all worth the trouble. I don't think a person can find a better way to spend a morning than riding a fine, hand-made Italian bike along a narrow, lonely road in northern Italy.

At one point as we descended a hill, the pavement ended. Our descent was on hard-packed dirt road. I think Bruce the cyclo-crosser actually went faster down the unpaved descent. All the traction of smooth pavement can mess him up and slow him down.

The road took a slight turn to the north for Sassocorvaro. That meant, as I remembered from previous rides in the area, a serious, short, very tough climb.

Arriving in Sassocorvaro, you think you have made it to the top. No. The ever so generous mountains have more to give. We climbed some more, and then

descended. The final 20 kilometers were beautiful as we spent a lot of the time along the ridge of the hills. The Italian road engineers kept sending us down and then up again. We pulled into Urbino with only 62 miles (100 km). The climbing kept our average speed way down. The piddly 100 kilometers took us 4 hours.

The best picture I could get of Bruce descending

While we were riding, our wives did the intelligent thing and went into Urbino for a tour of what was, at one time in the 16th century, the most elegant, cultured spot in the western world. The last of the Montefalco dukes, Guidobaldo and his wife Elisabetta, turned their court into a salon that would not be equaled or excelled until late 18th century France. Gathered here were Bembo, Castiglione and assorted thinkers, diplomats, generals. Here were the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance perfecting the art of gentle conversation. This wonderful moment, like most of the rare, little sparks of civilization that seem to accidentally occur in the history of man, was very short lived.

Pope Alexander VI, father of Lucrezia Borgia and Cesare Borgia, wanted to recapture Le Marche for the Catholic Church. Ever since Pepin (father of Charlemagne), the popes had ruled varying and highly changeable portions of central Italy. The Church pitted the various city-states of Italy against each other to preserve her own power in the face of stronger neighbors. Even in 1849, the Pope called in French soldiers to take Rome back from the rebellious citizens This is the major reason Italy did not become a unified country until Garibaldi in the late 19th century.

Revenons a ces moutons.

Pope Alexander found that his son, Cesare was well named. He was a brilliant general. In a series of breathtaking moves, he recaptured most of the Papal states from the various petty despots scattered though central Italy.

Guidobaldo in Urbino thought he was an ally of the Pope. He even lent the Pope some cavalry. So, as Cesare moved his army north, he kept sending notes of reassurance to Guidobaldo. "I love you, man". Guidobaldo felt comfortable with Cesare's warm promises of alliance. Then, just as he was passing little Urbino, Cesare turned sharply right and snapped up the city for his father. It was a beautiful piece of military strategy that left Machiavelli in admiring awe. But, this was the Church, the apostolic successor of Jesus Christ. Should they be lying and killing? Even at the time, when ruthless, brutal tactics were the accepted norm, many were troubled by this faith-based initiative. The ensuing events, being Italian politics, were extremely complicated. The net result was that the beautiful art that the Montefalcos had collected was put in wagons and driven to Rome. End of the Italian Camelot.

I have a rule. If I am reasonably close to a Michelin Three-Star site, I do whatever I can to get there. Being in Urbino, we were little more than an hour away from Ravenna, the last western capitol of the Roman Empire. Ravenna has the finest Byzantine art in the western world.

We had a late start for the morning ride because of our late arrival the night before. Our ride had taken far longer than planned. It was already mid-afternoon. The chances of actually getting in to see anything before they closed were iffy, but worth a shot. We piled into the car and headed off to Classe, the little town that used to be the harbor for Ravenna. The coast has since moved east and left the town landlocked. Our goal, the church of St. Apollinare in Classe.

Mosaic in the apse of St. Apollinare in Classe

It looks almost dumpy on the outside, with unadorned, plain brick. This is quite intentional. The outside symbolizes this present dreary, sinful world. But, walk inside this 1,500-year-old church. There, decorating the apse, behind the altar, is a huge, beautiful mosaic. As we were looking at it, the sun went lower in the sky and the light could come streaming in the door. The beautiful mosaic glowed and glistened in the low afternoon light. We had entered a higher, more spiritual place. This was worth the drive.

On the sides on the church were several ancient sarcophagi, richly carved. At one time they had held, in Hawthorne's words, famous dust.

By the time this church was built in the 6th century, the ability, or perhaps also the desire, to create life-like pictorial representations had long been lost. Compared to the high Roman and Greek art of three hundred years before, this mosaic is crude and almost childlike. Yet, its power and beauty are undeniable. The artists may not have had the artistic tools of their predecessors, yet they were artists nontheless.

From the classical world of Greece and Rome, the mosaic we were looking at symbolized an enormous change in the thought of western man. We were in the Middle Ages (roughly from Constantine in the early 300's to Columbus in the late 1400's). To be more specific, the Dark Ages (from Boethius in the 500's to Abelard in the mid 1100's). If I can paraphrase the description of Spinoza, the world was now utterly God-intoxicated. Not that it made any one behave any better. Now, men would worship a jealous God. A narrow intolerance would rule the minds of western man.

Without meaning to sugarcoat the brutality of the ancients, this is very different from the classical world. A passage in the Greek historian Herodotus is telling. When he went to Egypt, the priests there told him about their religion and described their various Egyptian gods. Herodotus explained how each Egyptian deity was analogous to a particular Greek god. The whole thing made sense to everyone.

Can you imagine a Christian and a Muslim having the same genial conversation today?

Revenons a ces moutons

There was more art in Ravenna, but the day had passed. We got lucky. We did manage to squeeze in something really unforgettable on top of a wonderful day of riding. This vacation was turning out rather well.

Sunday, March 28. We decided to ride east today. The map showed a little, winding road going from Urbino to Fossombrone. This road, the most insignificant, tiny road out of Urbino, was simple to find. Once we were on it I stopped to ask a man driving an electric company truck if we were going the right way. He tried to talk us out of it, telling us that the road was "bruto", or ugly. Theresa, the hotel concierge had told us that the road was beautiful and that legend held that it was haunted. We stuck to our guns and climbed out of town on our chosen road. The road became narrower. Finally, it became the width of a little Fiat as we passed through a dense pine forest.

As we climbed, we came to a house with a spectacular setting with a fantastic view of the hills and valleys. Jef said he felt sorry for the owner.

"If you live there, where would you go for vacation?", he asked. Then Jef started to speculate about offering to trade homes for a while so that the unfortunate owner of this Italian aerie could see some of beautiful Lansing, Michigan. This is why I love Jef. He is always filled with generous, selfless impulses.

It was all quite pretty and very different from any road we could ride in the U.S. We started our descent. We had to stop. The road came to the edge of the mountain with a sharp drop to the valley below. We couldn't

believe our eyes. The view was spectacular. I will never forget it because it was both fantastic and completely unexpected. The valley floor was about 2,000 feet below. The hills on the far side were green with a huge gash in the center massif showing the raw rock. On the valley floor, The Flaminian Highway, a route used since ancient times, was dotted with what looked to be toy cars and trucks. After drinking in the scene at some length we finally got back on our bikes and continued downhill.

Yeehaw! 20% and more on the downhill! Two thoughts immediately came to mind. First, I'm glad we're going down and not up this side. And second, how lucky we are to have modern, powerful dual-pivot brakes. This was crazy steep. I would hate to try to go down this hill with the brakes of twenty years ago, the brakes of Coppi or Girardengo? I think I would rather walk down the hill. Those racers of the past were truly iron men with wooden rims.

Upon landing in Fossombrone after a couple of miles of near free-fall, we headed north up the busy Flaminian highway and headed back at Ponte degli Alberi. From there, we rode the gently rising and falling road passing through farm land. If I could figure out some way to take care of the three meals-a-day and a roof problem it would be easy to move here.

The ride was shorter, only about 40+ miles. But again, the constant climbing kept our speed down and our time up. We were out for about three hours. Since we were checking out of the hotel and heading to Spoleto in southern Umbria, we had to keep the ride short. Drat.

The drive south wasn't too long and we arrived in our Hotel easily.

Our first concern is always to make sure the bikes are kept in a secure, locked place. I try to make sure everything is understood in advance so that there is no trouble. Most European hotels have had plenty of damage done to their rooms by unthinking cyclists and want no more of it. Tires scrape and blacken walls. A chain brushes up against a bedcover or sheet and the item is ruined. And of course, there are those morons among our fraternity who clean their bikes with the hotel linen. Because of this, taking the bikes up into the rooms is normally forbidden.

We were shown a nice garage, open to the public square, easily accessible to any thief. I started to protest the complete insecurity of the place when who should show up, but good buddy Valeria Paoletti. She had driven up from Salerno to join us for a couple of days. Valeria's sister, Francesca, is the gifted cartoonist who draws the "Torelli Comix" on our web site.

I explained the situation to Valeria, who in her kind, native Italian, got us permission to bring our bikes to our rooms. It was nice of the Hotel Charleston staff to trust us. It made the whole trip much more enjoyable knowing that bikes were safe.

Tuesday, March 30: A three hour tour. We were pretty sore from two days of climbing in Le Marche. Today, it would be just Bruce and I. Jef wanted to take the day off. Since Bruce wanted to be back by noon. I picked out what looked to be an easy route that would have us back after a pretty ride.

We managed to get out of town easily, which really surprised me. I do not plan the routes of my cycle rides in advance. I just pick out what look to be a promising route and go. That's why I'm always asking for directions. Each trip is a ride of discovery. So far I haven't fallen off the edge of the earth.

We headed almost due north for Montefalco, the "Balcony of Umbria". We would only have to go from 240 meters up to about 500 meters elevation. Then, we would circle back down to the west and south, making a big, backwards "D" on the map.

We started out beautifully, finding all the right roads. All the roads were perfectly marked. In no time at all, we ended up in Montefalco with a beautiful view of the country. I suggested that we add a little mileage to the ride and head further north to Bevagna. At that point, the trip started to fall apart. Can you hear the Greek Chorus in the background warning of certain and inevitable doom? We rode to our destiny.

We missed the turn to Bevagna at the bottom of the descent and had to ride all the way to Foligno. We were able to find a road back to the planned route and made it to Bastardo. The roads out of Bastardo are a bit complex, but we found our way without too much trouble. As we blithely rolled along, it got steeper.

And steeper.

And steeper.

We made it to Giano dell'Umbria. I, the Genius Navigator, thought this would be the end of the climbing.


We kept climbing. My heart-rate monitor said 180. 180! It was so steep that if I slowed, I would fall off my bike. I couldn't back off.

Then, I made a terrible judgement call. The sign at a fork in the road Monte Martano and Massa Martana. I thought we had ridden beyond where we were and so I advised against taking that road.

The tiny bikes were tossed.
If not for the courage
of our Chairman Bill,
The Torelli's would be lost.

We passed a farm house with dogs that sounded as if their last meal of human flesh had been a week ago and they wanted more. We continued up the switchbacks and the pavement ended. We could see that the top of the mountain was within reach. We kept on, now riding on a dirt road, with my confident urging that the end was in sight. We arrived at the top to find a man enjoying the view. We asked him about the roads. He told us that we were at a dead end and that the turnoff at which I had turned up my nose was the right road. Our new friend pointed way down the hill to the road we should be on. Way down the hill.

"Give me that map, " Bruce said. His faith in my brilliant navigational skills seems to have become a bit eroded.

Bruce didn't kill me on the spot. Amiably, he mounted his bike and we headed down hill. Of course, Bruce dropped like a stone and was quickly out of sight.

We had to pass Cerberus and his equally angry canine companions who were now running loose to get to our road. I didn't see Bruce anywhere. He probably had his flesh ripped from his still living and quivering body as he tried to get past them. Unlike Aeneas, I didn't have any special little cakes with stupefying drugs for the dogs. My decision was to cut across the switchback on foot, a la Lance Armstrong. Down below, waiting for me was Bruce, amazingly alive. He found my technique of getting past the dogs a subject of mild amusement.

"You just have to stare them down and let them know who is boss", said the Alpha Wolf.

"They know who's boss; the big one with the solid ivory fangs dripping with the blood of his last kill", I replied.

"They can smell fear", Bruce the Alpha Wolf explained to me.

"And they had a lot to smell, " I, the Omega Wolf replied

The entire descent was a very rough dirt road. For about 6 kilometers we bounced and bumped our way down the hill. Bruce, being a superb cyclo cross man, handled the terrain with confidence. I handled it with intelligence. It went on forever. I was glad it hadn't rained in days. That would have been trouble. Bruce opined that it would have made things interesting.

We got off the steep part of the hill and fund ourselves in little Montemartano. We needed to ask somebody for the road to Roselli, the next small town. The town seemed deserted. I spotted a lady who appeared to have interrupted herself in the process of dying her hair.

"Mi scusi. Dove la strada per Roselli o Spoleto?"

As usual, she looked at our map as if it were written in Urdu and us as if we had underwear on our heads. But, she eventually understood our quest. She pointed up another road. Please note, I said up.


Si, salita.

Quanti kilometri?

E niente. Quatro kilometri.

Bruce understood the conversation. We had four kilometers of climbing ahead of us. We did not cry. It would have been bad form. But a tear, generated by despairing, sore legs did well up. We thanked the nice lady and headed up the road. After the first, short climb, it turned out to be just a rolling road. It was strange to see the speed climb to over twenty miles an hour. We started to eat up the pavement. We hit the turn for Spoleto with seven kilometers to go.

Bruce could smell the oats in the barn. He put in in the one-hundred and fifty inch gear and pounded home. I wouldn't want to be in his way. Sitting on his wheel my heart rate was 160 as he pulled me, never looking back, all the way to the hotel.

Total distance for the day, 62 kilometers in five and a half hours. We set no land speed records today. And as I write this, Bruce has yet to do or even threaten me with any serious injury.

By the time we were showered and disinfected, the restaraunts were closed, so we headed for a sandwich shop. We met Jef and informed him of our gentle romp through the hills of Umbria. For some reason, the idea of being lost and wandering among leg-busting mountains, threatened by blood-thirsty canines, unsure of any particular way to get home, excited him. He expressed his deep regret that he had not shared in our adventure. Maybe that's why he draws cartoons for a living. From that moment on, I have been watching him for any other signs of suspect mental health.

The city of Spoleto is a pretty, quaint, ancient Umbrian hill town. I wasn't here for any particular reason. I had never been here before, but it seemed as nice place as any to spend a few days. We were right. I don't think I would come back for cycling because the roads just don't work out as well as they do out of other Central Italian cities. As a place just to spend a few relaxing days, it has few peers.

Spoleto in the evening. Valeria Paoletti photo

The ancient cathedral, built in the 12th century, has been updated now and again. It was given a baroque interior and a Renaissance portico. The artistic attraction inside is a cycle of frescoes by Fra Filippo Lippi and his helpers. There is one, an annunciation, that is first-rate. The golden colors and faces are reminiscent of Botticelli. The others are, in my opinion, poorly drawn and executed. Bruce's comment is telling. "It looks like he was in a hurry".

Lippi died before finishing the job. Some say that he was poisoned by the outraged relatives of a woman he seduced. Given Lippi's history, this is not unbelievable.

There is a story about Lippi in Vasari, who in the 16th century was the original collector of the histories of the great Renaissance artists. Lorenzo the Magnificent, de facto ruler of Florence, who really loved Lippi, was running out of patience with the slow progress Lippi was making on a commission. The pretty Italian girls were too much for the good Fra to resist. Lorenzo decided to lock Lippi up in his studio until the job was finished. Lippi managed to escape and didn't return for quite some time.

Lorenzo resigned himself to living with Lippi's misbehavior after that. But, it seems that the good people of Spoleto were in no mood for Fra Wild Oats to have his way with their women.

Revenons a ces moutons

Spoleto has a magnificent castle, built by the Popes for the purpose of occupying and controlling the area. The big sight in Spoleto is the magnificent bridge that spans a deep gorge next to the castle. Built on top on an ancient Roman aqueduct, the tall, graceful arches rising out of the deep valley are wonderful to behold.

Wednesday, March 31: It's wet and very overcast. The weather forcast was for rain today. I looked at my wary riding companions.

Do you feel lucky, punks?"

"What the hell. Let's give it a try".

We bundled up, put hot sauce and oil on our legs and headed east for the old town of Todi. We didn't plan a long ride. Yesterday had drained any enthusiasm for epic efforts from our legs. As soon as we got out of Spoleto, the area again turned to the classic Umbrian countryside of rolling hills with patchwork pastures and olive groves. Whenever I am out here I think of the painting of "The Ecstasy of St. Anthony" by Giovanni Bellini. The colors and landscape Bellini evokes in his brilliant painting, even though Bellini was a Venetian, are pure Umbria.

The weather remained overcast, but so far, no rain. We tackled the big climb that stood in the way of our first city along the way, Aquasparta. I couldn't believe it. I still had the strength to ride comfortably. As we crested the top a big truck insisted on passing us. Bruce and Jef took the point and had to follow the truck all the way down the three kilometer descent. As we neared the bottom, the raindrops started to fall. First a little, then more. At the bottom it was real rain. The locals had out their umbrellas. We turned our bikes around and scooted back up the hill. A kilometer up the hill the rain stopped.

As we high-tailed it back to Spoleto, the rain chased us. We stayed just on the edge of the storm, rainsurfing, in Jef's words. We managed to get back to the hotel dry. Only 30 miles in two hours today.

Thursday, April 1: Una Giornata Bruta. An ugly day, in the words of the barista in the local bar. It's foggy and drizzly with no promise of improvement.

We blew off the morning ride. We loaded up our bikes and luggage and headed to our next city, Pistoia, just about 20 miles west of Florence. It was only 3 in the afternoon when we arrived. We checked in, aired up our tires and headed for the hills. Instead of the cold and wet, it was 22C (72F), sunny and beautiful. Here was the Sunny Italy I was looking for. The Italians like to sing "O sole mio". They damn well better trot out ol' Sole and warm things up around here.

We easily found our way out of town and headed almost due North. We came to a fork in the road with ambiguous signs. The jolly men at the local car wash sent us up what looked to be the right way. Bruce and Jef noted the hand gestures our helpers made as they were giving me directions. All were of arms and hands pointing up, describing a steep slope.

After a while, it became clear that we were on the wrong road. But it was as fine a wrong way to go as anyone could ask for. It climbed into the mountains that lay between Florence and Bologna. Soon we could see the entire city of Pistoia. The hillsides were covered with olive groves. Their leaves were still. There was no wind. We made it to the Passo de Collina and then passed through a kilometer-long tunnel.

I hate riding in tunnels. They are dark, narrow and cold. These are adjectives used for three qualities I rarely like in anything. When you apply it to a road, cube it. But it was just a kilometer. Before the road crested and turned down Bruce spotted a little turnoff that climbed to the left. He wanted to take a look. It turned out to be a nearly deserted road that had been abandoned by most traffic when the tunnel had been bored through the mountain.

We had climbed high enough to have snow on the road beside us. We were in our own private cyclist's paradise. No cars, just the woods, still brown from winter. We could hear the songs of the birds trying to convince a reluctant world that spring had, indeed, arrived.

Beautiful, warm, sunny Italy

With the sun getting low, we asked an old man in a Fiat the way back to Pistoia. The time was getting late and we had no jackets. We didn't want to get caught in either the cold or the dark. He told us that he was going to Pistoia and that we should follow him. Nice guy. We bombed on down the hill and headed for the showers and the pizzeria.

Friday, April 2: Rest day. Since we were just a few miles west of Florence, we decided to make our rest day a day trip into Florence. I have written about the city and my visits at length in earlier diaries, so I won't give a blow-by-blow discussion of the visit. I did have a quest, however, in going to Florence. I was seeking a greater understanding of what actually constitutes Renaissance art.

My particular conception of the Renaissance was probably no different than that of the patient reader of this diary. To summarize this view: in the 1300's, the poet-scholar Petrarch and writer Boccaccio inaugurated a desire to rediscover the largely lost thought and art of the Classical world. The Italians, living with the ruins and relics of the ancient world, were particularly interested in learning about their long-dead ancestors. Stimulated by the enormous wealth that Italy had accumulated through banking, manufacturing and trade, the various city-states of Italy felt a profound desire to excel each other. To get an idea of the scale of income we are talking about, Lorenzo's Florentine government had a greater income than all of Henry VIII's England.

Italy had never been really feudalized, so her cities were far freer than the cities and residents of France, England and Germany. Italy had, by virtue of her position in the center of the Mediterranean, been trading with the sophisticated Moslem world for centuries. The dogmatism of the Middle Ages had been blunted by this contact. So fueled, the scholars and artists, financed by the despots and free city governments looking for glory, sought to rediscover and recreate the lost world whose remnants seemed so magnificent.

Cimabue and Giotto in paint and the Pisano family in sculpture were the first artists of the Renaissance. They wrought a revolution in art by giving a new depth and life-like character to their creations. Their ultimate fulfillment was in Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian.

I now question this view. I hope the following discussion doesn't degrade into a mere quibbling about definitions.

More knowledgeable people have explained a more nuanced Renaissance to me. The Gothic style had many variations as it was adopted all over Europe. At its high point, a consensus was achieved and all of Europe adopted a variation of Gothic called "International". These first artists that I had credited with being the first Renaissance artists were actually the culminating visionaries of Gothic and International art. The present view is that we must credit the very beginnings of the Renaissance Style of Art (as differentiated from "The Renaissance", the complete rebirth of culture) with the great, the brilliant Bunelleschi, the man who domed the Florence Cathedral. When he was in Rome in the 1400's he wanted to draw the ancient monuments in order to gain a greater understanding of the Classical achievement. Shackled by the current state of the art of drawing, he could not achieve a satisfactory result. The solution? This incredible man developed the first rules of perspective. Now, with the new tool of perspective, an artist could, in two dimensions, recreate a world of three dimensions.

The next step was in sculpture. And this is why I wanted to go to Florence. Donatello, building on the work of the Pisano family, almost single-handedly created modern monumental sculpture. He made statues that were not intended to be part of a niche in a wall. They were freestanding and lifelike. The clothing draped and hung from real bodies. The bodies were lifelike. He is said to have yelled at one sculpture whose creation took a huge personal toll, "speak!" To Donatello and the rest of Florence, his creations were almost living beings.

I have passed the famous church Orsanmichele many times and admired the sculptures that stand in niches on all four sides of the church's exterior walls. I never really understood that Donatello's "St. George" and "St. Mark", quietly sitting in these niches were Molotov cocktails thrown into the art revolution Brunelleschi had started.

Donatello's St. George

In addition to creating a modern, lifelike art of freestanding sculpture, of which these are the first examples, Donatello advanced the art of two dimensional presentation. Below the statue of St. George, there is a panel, called a "Predella". This is, for its time, a very advanced picture. It is a bas-relief, carved in stone. To enhance the sense of distance, Donatello even used atmospheric perspective in which things become obscured in the distance. No painter working at the time could do what the great Donatello had done in stone.

To this day, St. George sits in his niche in a largely forgotten alley quietly proclaiming the great art revolution of the Renaissance. It was to see these statues with new eyes that I came to Florence.

The final and culminating step was to combine all of these advances and apply them to painting. This was done by Masaccio, a genius of a young man. His paintings had a solid, three-dimensional quality never before achieved. The world was now ready for Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. This, then, was the true beginning Renaissance art as I now understand it.

The scholars of the Renaissance wanted to recreate the Classical world. It couldn't be done. In a tournament, Lorenzo had enscribed "Le temps revient" (The golden age returns) on his armor. Things had changed too much. Not only, as I wrote above, had the spiritual world changed with the adoption on the monotheistic jealous god. There was something else missing. The Greeks understood that there was an animal aspect to human character. They felt that this part of us was not inherently evil. The worship of Bacchus, Dionysus and Pan all celebrated the faun in us in a frank understanding and acceptance of our nature. This sophisticated psychological insight came thousands of years before the modern evolutionary biologists who are now looking into the pre-human roots of our behavior. The Greeks knew it and celebrated it.

In Renaissance Italy, as in all western societies, this part of human nature (Nietsche called it "Dionysian"), was suppressed and considered the source of sin. It is the result of our fall from grace. Many Latin counties give a little vent to it in Carnaval, but then this 'evil' part of us is smothered for another year.

Therefore, the uncovering of the works of the classical world was supervised by the church and the various governments with some care and trepidation. The old world was gone and they wanted to make sure that the new one was to their liking.

While classical revival was the theme of the Renaissance, the Renaissance was an entirely new, original, bold and magnificent culture

Saturday, March 3: There are days one feels so lucky to be alive, it's impossible to believe the good fortune a kind fate has bestowed. The air was clear and warm. We had a visitor. Paolo Guerciotti had driven from Milan across northern Italy through the night, getting in to our hotel at 1:30 in the morning. He drives a Ferrari 360: red, of course. The trip from Milan was done, I suspect, at a speed more than slightly in excess of the state-set limit.

Years ago Paolo was speeding on the Autostrada (the Italian Freeway) on a motorcycle. He was going so fast the police stopped him and confiscated his motorcycle on the spot. He was stuck there, in his leathers, until someone came to get him.

As late as he was arriving in town, there he was in the breakfast room at 7:30 in the morning. He looked better than ever. To paraphrase Paul "Let's Polka" Scarpelli, Paolo Guerciotti has absolutely no right to look that good at 58 years old.

We set out a little after eight and headed west for Montecatini. With Paolo along, those drivers who were not absolutely perfectly behaved received a thorough verbal thrashing with all of the energetic hand gestures necessary to completely reform the driver.

As we rode along, Paolo and I discussed many things. One of the most important was explaining to Paolo some of the important subtleties of the English language. To wit, the difference between boogers and snot. "Boogers are the hard ones, snot is the runny stuff", I said. In Italian, according to Paolo, it's all the same.

As we pulled into Montecatini, a small group of riders smoothly cruised by us. We had seen several packs coming the other way, this being Saturday morning. Boy, they all looked sharp. After they caught and passed us, they slowed down a bit. We caught them, introduced ourselves and rode with them for a while. With foreign visitors in their pack, they cranked up the speed. With a slight headwind, we rolled through Montecatini's suburbs at almost 25 miles an hour. Italian riders act just like American riders. They look better, of course.

After a few kilometers we separated from our Italian friends and rode across and virtually flat Tuscan landscape, heading south and east. Riding with Paolo is efficient in another way. He just shouts questions about directions and the road ahead to people. Their answers are faint as we speed on by.

"Just follow me. Sono il navigatore," Paolo said.

As we rode, I mentioned that my legs were feeling the effect of 5 days of riding. I had noticed that in the last few years my ability to recover from hard physical efforts was not as good as it was. I think recovery is the first thing to go in an endurance athlete. That's why there are many fine pros who can win one-day races even when they are in their late thirties. I think there is only one post-war Tour winner over 32.

As I whined about my increasing fatigue and soreness, Bruce started singing "Someone's getting older". Charming man. I can see that it won't be many years before I have to take off the 23 low sprocket and put on a 25. I hate it.

Just outside Fucecchio we met a sharp looking trio. Again we introduced outselves as three Americans and one Italian. We told them our plan was to ride to Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo, and then home to Pistoia. They were from Prato, the next city to the East. Luciano, Graziano and Andrea were their names and a finer, friendlier and better group of men would be hard to find.

As we headed north, the road rose. These boys were strong. I looked over at Andrea. His hair was pure white, but he had the smooth legs and power of a young man. They not only rode strongly, they rode skillfully. Riding is a pleasure when one's riding companions are both capable and considerate. After Vinci, the hill started to really bite.

We were going slowly, taking off our arm warmers and jackets. A couple of fellows from another club passed us. Our Italian lead trio didn't jump after them. They waited until we were all sorted out and our outerware was stowed. Then slowly, Indurain style, they increased the speed. In no time were up to the duo.

I mentioned to Luciano that I would like to get a picture of all of us.

"No, wait until the top. It is a very special place."

Slowly, the speed and intensity kept increasing. I watched my heart-rate monitor: 165, 166, 170, 175. I try to make it a rule not to spend any time over 170 so that I can ride all 8 days of my vacations without being wrecked. This time was special. 178. Jef looked back, completely surprised to see me. He expected me to keep to my vow of moderating my effort. 179.

180. Ka-Blowie. There go my legs, my heart, my lungs. Jef eased up for a second. I recovered a bit in just a couple of seconds. The boys up front had slowed a bit, as lead groups often do when a couple of riders are spit out. Jef and I pounded after them, slowly closing the gap. Dang!. We ran out of hill before we ran out of gap.

We were at the top of San Baronto. Clearly, this is where all the area cyclists ride. Brightly colored packs of Saturday riders passed in both directions. Luciano, Graziano and Andrea insisted upon buying us coffees at the hilltop bar. I know it isn't a big thing. But when you are 6,000 miles from home and a trio of near strangers adopts you and helps you along the way and finally gives you a warming cup of hospitality, it's hard not to be moved. And they rode like men.

At the top of San Boronto, from the left: A new friend met at the bar, Andrea in red and white jacket, Graziano, Luciano mostly obscured, Paolo, Bruce, Jef, Chairman Bill

We had piled our bikes against a fence across the street from the bar. Our Italian friends untangled them and handed them out. As each bike was passed on to its owner, the melismatic, euphonious name of the bike was called out. Torelli, Guerciotti, Torelli, De Rosa, Pinarello, and..... Trek. Our Italian friends were courteous but the word Trek just doesn't flow smoothly from the Italian tongue. The word was pronounced with just the tiniest, lightest touch of disdain. Serves Jef right for bringing all of those consonants to Italy.

The north side of the mountain looked foggy so we put our jackets on and did a smooth, pleasurable descent. From there it was an easy cruise into Pistoia for a very fine 52 miles.

Lunch with Paolo Guerciotti is always a very lively and enjoyable time. He has been involved with bicycles all of his life, at every level: racer (and Pro Champion of Italy), frame manufacturer, distributor, exporter and pro team sponsor. When you sit down with him, the stories just keep flowing.

After we ordered the food, he pulled out his cell phone. He called up the great... no, immortal, Franco Bitossi. It had been Paolo's plan for us to have either a dinner or lunch with this winner of 90 pro victories, but the logistics couldn't be worked out.

Paolo handed the phone to me and for the first time in my life I heard the voice that went with all of those pictures I had seen and admired in my earlier racing days. To me, Bitossi has a special place in the Pantheon of cycling. He was a complete rider, always racing with his head as much as with his legs. And those legs. He won the climbing jersey in both the Giro and the Tour. Then, just to show what he could do, he also won the sprinter's purple jersey.

The voice on the other end of the phone was both kindly and firm. I told him in my poor Italian that I planned to come to Tuscany next year and hoped to break bread with him then. He generously said that he hoped this wish of mine would come true.

While we were eating and talking, Jef worked on a picture of Paolo, turning Paolo into a Mercury on two wheels.

Jef Mallett's drawing of Paolo as Mercury, Bringer of Curses to Bad Drivers

Paolo then told the great story of Bitossi's near win of the world championship at Gap in 1972.

With 15 kilometers to go, there was a lead group containing the greatest riders of the era, Bitossi, Merckx, Ocana, Basso and Guimard. Bitossi took off by himself and got 50 seconds.

Merckx and the others chased. With each kilometer that passed, that gap narrowed. Then, with a kilometer to go, the flat road became a slight incline. Still Bitossi soldiered on, with only a few seconds in hand. Merckx was punishing his bike, desperate to catch the powerful Tuscan. With 400 meters to go, Bitossi was still, just barely, away. Merckx dug deeper. As it looked like Merckx would catch Bitossi, Marino Basso came of the Belgian's wheel and beat Bitossi by width of 2 tires.

Paolo saw the entire set-piece on TV. He said watching it was so exciting it made the hair on his arms stand up. He told the story as if it happened yesterday.

A few weeks after the race, Paolo met Bitossi and asked him about it. "I can't talk about it," Bitossi replied. Paolo said that for weeks Bitossi dreamed and replayed in mind, over and over, those fateful 8 kilometers.

Bitossi had a different bite of the apple at the world championships at Imola in 1968. Bitossi was, by far, the strongest man in the field. Vittorio Adorni was in a break with another Italian, Michele Dancelli. Bitossi had to sit in and defend his fellow Italians' lead. When it came to the field sprint, Bitossi easily won it.

Paolo said that even to this day, even though it has been a generation since the great man retired (1978), Italians are devoted to and love this great athlete.

After lunch, Paolo and his sweet wife, Mary, crammed their luggage and the bike into the Ferrari. This wasn't easy and took a while.

Patty Mallett is ready to roll. Paolo, do you know where your keys are?

Carol and I set out to explore Pistoia.

Pistoia isn't a tourist town. Although very close to Florence, Pistoia doesn't have 'blockbuster' art. A few tourists come here, but not in the numbers of other old Italian cities.

In the late afternoon, Italians participate in a wonderful ritual called the "passeggiata". Generally the residents go for a stroll in some part of the town, preferably a sector that has banned cars. Can you think of a nicer, healthier, more friendly way for a city to get a sense of itself? In Pistoia, during the passeggiata, the streets are filled with the locals of all ages. Old men rest on benches, arguing politics and watching the pretty young Italian girls go by. Others walk along, meeting friends, looking in store windows, gettng a gelato, talking for a while before moving on. By coming to a town like Pistoia one can get a real feel of how life in Italy is lived.

Pistoia's artistic wealth, as in most Italian cities, is in her churches. The Catholic Church was Italy's major art patron for centuries. She used Italy's gifted artists to tell over and over again, in thousands of different ways, the story of a god who came to earth to be killed, and the beautiful story of his mother who gave birth to him, reared him and received his crucified body. It was only with the rise of a wealthy, powerful middle class that secular art became important, But this came after the Renaissance had faded.

Pistoia's churches have a strong stylistic uniformity. Whether they are Tuscan Romanesque (for simplification, think round arches) or Tuscan Gothic (think pointed arches), the style is there and easy to spot. The real Florentine artistic revolution of the 1400's passed Pistoia by. There are a few interior renovations of older buildings that reflect the changes of the 15th century. But, by and large, Pistoia's artistic heritage is from the 1200's and 1300's. To see these beautiful churches and their works of art in an uncrowded, reasonably quiet city allows one to contemplate and enjoy them as they were intended.

Sunday, April 4: Another beautiful day in Italy. This was our last full day of riding. We decided to make the most of it. I planned a long, hard, out-and-back ride to the northeast that would take us up into the Apuan Alps, north of Lucca. We set out almost due north. Before we got out of town, we went by a bar with several dozen local riders gathering for the Sunday ride. I asked them where they were going. One of the riders said that the group would split up almost immediately and go several different ways. I had hoped for a good club ride, but this started to get complicated. We kept to our original plan.

We managed to find the right turn this time and were on our merry way to Abetone with its pass summit at 1300 meters. Back and forth up the switchbacks we rode. This was hard. I could tell that this was the seventh ride of the trip. The air was just a bit foggy. It kept us cool. The mist obscured the valleys and far hills. The climb was stiff enough to require the 23 almost the entire time.

At Le Pistre (750 meters elevation) we came to a fork. To get to Prunetta, the next town, we had to go around a mountain. One road went around the mountain to the north, the other did it by going south. We got lucky and chose the path less traveled. We were rewarded with a lonely, beautiful road that didn't punish us too much. The road descended a bit. We knew there was more climbing. We were drunken sailors, spending our hard-earned elevation. Sure enough, at pretty Prunetta, we again slowed to nine miles an hour as the steep gradient started again..

Ah, here's the summit. I thought the next city we wanted was San Marcello. As we rode, I would occasionally check with a local standing on his porch.

"San Marcello?"

Silently, each respondent would wave his hand in the direction we were going. I was pretty sure we were on the right road. But when each kilometer is gained with so much effort, I hate to make a mistake.

Down the other side of the mountain. The mist was burning off and the air was getting a little more clear. It is useless to use my poor writing skills to describe the big, beautiful vistas we saw. Please, just trust me. I hope that you, the reader, will someday take the time from your busy life and see what I have seen, and not from a noisy car.

Asking a motorcyclist at another fork, we were directed to San Marcello, just up the hill. Yes, just UP the hill. In San Marcello, we realized that I had made a mistake. We had been out for over 2 hours and had covered little more than 20 miles. So far, no one suggested killing the genius navigator.

So, back down the hill. There was the sign, Route 12 to Lucca.

We were going the right way, 24 kilometers down the Lima River Valley. On either side, the cliffs were tall and came close to the side of the road. Paradise.

Halfway down this road I stopped and asked for a conference. I didn't feel that I could get back over the mountain in a reasonable time. It was possible, but I was rather unsure about my physical reserves. I proposed that we continue on this road and then go down the Serchi river valley to Lucca.

One good road is as good as another.

When we got to the southward road to Lucca, we were cheated. I knew it would be downhill. I thought this would be part of a good finish for the hard morning's work. Alas. We had a stiff headwind with the flags fully horizontal and flapping.

We got lucky again. We saw the small sign for the best way back east to Pistoia, through Pescia and Montecatini. And more than the correct road home and more than the Ginsu knives, we got a stiff tailwind.

77 tough, miles in just about exactly 5 hours.

Monday, April 5: The last day of riding is always a bit bittersweet for me. My legs are so tired I can barely turn the pedals. There isn't really any point in extending the vacation. Yet, I still feel a bit sad knowing such a good time has about to end. I feel the same way I did almost 50 years ago when Jimmy would sing the good-by song on the Mickey Mouse Club. Jef and I decided on a flat ride to the south.

We asked the hotel clerk for directions to the road out of Pistoia to Olmi.

"Olmi? Why would you want to go there. There is nothing there and the road is not interesting. You should not go there."

"But we just want a simple, flat road. We can go out of a little over an hour and turn back. We need to be back in time for the hotel checkout time of 11:30," I answered.

He protested a bit more, not wanting us to waste our precious time on a ride to Olmi.

A hotel guest joined the discussion, looking at the map, frowning, also worried about our going to a place like Olmi.

Finally, we prevailed. The clerk drew us a map and we were on our way.

This was the quintessential Italian encounter. The hotel clerk sincerely wanted our ride to be good. He cared about us. His motivations were as pure as the driven snow. We thanked him for the directions, but more than that, we thanked him for his care.

We left Pistoia after getting chewed out by a policeman for riding our bikes the wrong way on a one-way street. We can thank the Genius Navigator for that little intersection with law enforcement.

The hotel clerk was right about the road to Olmi. It is a boring road with a little too much traffic. It was my plan to turn from Olmi into the country and play in the hills as much as my crippled legs would allow. We turned to the little town of Quaratta and thought we found the little road we were seeking.


We turned back and went into town.

We showed our map to a kind policeman. He studied it and, as usual, could not understand it and wanted to send us somewhere else. I finally was able to make him understand the road we were seeking. Again, the Italian, kind, well-meaning gene kicked in. "You don't want that road. It is very small," he said. We convinced his that that was exactly what we wanted. He then gave me a very complex series of directions.

"So", I replied in my poor Italian. "You are telling me that it is impossible to get to the road."

"Per ti, si."

Resigned, we headed back.

And there, up the road! A cycling club. We sprinted up to them and sat on. I introduced myself and had something happen that had never happened before. They were rude and uncaring. It was a very young group, and we were not invited guests. They made it clear that things would be better if we were not around. Oh well, we turned off.

As we continued our Brownian motion on bikes, we saw the signs to the ancient town of Prato. What the Hell. We rode on in and made our way to the city center. We rounded a corner and found ourselves before the giant cathedral. Well, that's a good enough payday for me. We asked a passerby to take our picture. He turned out to be an official of the Italian Cycling Federation. He didn't introduce himself any more fully than that, but it was an unusual coincidence.

We headed back to Pistoia to hang up our chamois' for the trip. 32 miles and we're done riding.

Our next appointment was lunch with Mr. Parentini of Parentini clothing. After following little Fiat Pandas and Citroens driven by little men hunched over their steering wheels blasting across Tuscany at 40 kilometers an hour, we made it to his factory an hour late.

He informed us that his favorite restaraunt was closed. I told him that all we needed was a bowl of bean soup. We had come for his company, not for a special meal. Mr. Parentini is too much of an Italian and too generous not to be a perfect host. He took us over to the next town to a very nice place. They greeted him as if he were a returning god. Mr. Parentini is a serious gourmet. His welcome told me that he had done his part to keep the wine and lasagna at this place flowing.

We were not disappointed. I don't know what they put in the ravioli, but I would have it again and again.

Back to the Parentini factory. I had the good fortune to see a run of Team Torelli clothing getting sublimated. I pointed out to Bruce that he could see that Mr. Parentini was actually using fine Italian seamstresses to make the clothing instead of unloading boxes from eastern Europe or China. The clothing really is made in Tuscany by caring, thoughtful people.

Then, a drive back to Milan to get the bikes boxed and ready for the flight home. Again, we were running late. The Mondonicos accommodated our hectic pace. They got us boxed up and out in no time.

The trip is over. We all have to go home and become grownups again.

As usual, I'm already turning over in my head a plan for next year.

Thanks, patient reader, for going the distance with me.