The Italian government is letting ordinary "civilians" take over old historic buildings. Nine of these properties are along via Appia!

The Italian government is letting ordinary "civilians" take over old historic buildings.

Nine of these properties are along via Appia!

Here's the deal. They want to encourage tourism in the lesser-known regions of Italy. They want to create a market for local cuisine and products. They want to attract tourists to the bikeways and hiking paths.

They want passionate dreamers like me (and maybe you) to renovate abandoned old buildings, convert them into hotels, hostels, AirBnB places. They want marketing plans that will bring commerce to the towns and regions that surround these romantic buildings.

In return, they'll let us (me and my team, which may include you) lease the building for free or at low cost. While it will be run as a commercial venture, we will have our own "private quarters" on site.

So what's in it for you? Two things.

First, if you've ever wanted to know how something like this works, I'll be recording all my steps and efforts right here in this blog. I'm creating a new category for these posts, so you can search under "renovation."

Second, this is going to be a team effort. If you'd like to join me, leave a comment and we'll get in touch.

 

What's your vision of a perfect life, a perfect world? If you're in Los Angeles, you can help make it all happen.

What's your vision of a perfect life, a perfect world?

Mine would have a lot of wonderful requirements, but here are my top five:

1. Health. A pollution-free environment, and healthy people who get lots of fresh air and exercise. If they want it. I would want it.

2. Friends. Lots of relaxed adventures with cool, interesting people

3. Coffee. Lots and lots of caffeine every day. Preferably organic, shade grown, fair trade, and hand-packed by members of an autonomous collective of indigenous transgender people of color who donate a portion of their profits to help underserved communities of dolphins with special needs.

(Okay, maybe I've had too much coffee...)

4. Books. Lots of books. And time to read them. Even if it's just a page, read out loud on a busy street.

5. A healthy dose of silliness. Laughter at my expense is okay. I probably did something to deserve it.

You can help make this vision a reality!

If you're in Los Angeles, you can help make it all happen.

Group bike rides cover most of this. And there's a new one that's having an impact at least twice a month.

This bike ride has an immediate positive impact on your health, and you're reducing pollution by getting around on your own power. You'll meet lots of interesting people, and the ones you're not ready to throttle by the end of the ride will probably become friends.

Still not convinced? Well, there's going to be coffee at the beginning of the ride. Probably more in the middle of the ride. And usually at the end of the ride, unless we drink wine instead. (I guess that should be #6 above)

Nick stocks books on the Street Librarians' Ride

There will be books. In fact, we'll be stocking the free boxes of L.A., providing fine literature for readers all over the city. There will be a dramatic reading at every stop. You can read one too, if you want.

That covers everything on the list except the silliness. But this is the Street Librarians Ride, created by stand-up comedian and journalist Nick Richard. So you should probably be ready for some silliness.

Are you in? We meet on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of every month. Usually 12:30 at Stories Book Cafe in Echo Park. But check the Facebook page to make sure:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/livebiketalk/events/

The books we leave behind always get picked up, so you know someone is reading them. It's good to know there are still people in L.A. who read books. Let's encourage them. Street Librarians Ride!

I want to help you experience the magic. Especially if you’re the kind of person who dreams about a journey like this, but you’re frightened to try.

overcome_obstaclesIt won’t be easy. It may take longer than you thought.

If you can do the one thing that you think isn’t possible, if you can cross that mountain range, it will change you forever. You will be able to do anything, and you will know it.

Some of the obstacles you think are holding you back will melt away as soon as you push back against them. Many of the things you fear and worry about will never materialize.

I'm going to help you overcome those obstacles. Let me explain.

If you’re a seasoned, confident bike tourist then I would love to have you along next spring. But if you think there’s some insurmountable obstacle that would make the journey impossible, no matter how badly you want to go, then this post is for you.

This post is for you if you’re interested in biking via Appia but you aren’t doing it because you think:

  • You can’t afford it
  • You’re too young
  • You're too old
  • You’re not in shape
  • You’re afraid of being in the wilderness in a foreign country
  • There is some other reason holding you back

You can do it. And I’m going to help you. Here’s why:

10 years ago, at the Leo Carrillo State Beach hike and bike campground, I met a man who took a group of developmentally disabled teenagers on a bike tour. They rode north from LA to San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge, fighting the wind all the way.

Below Golden Gate Bridge

I met them on their way back home. The kids were confident and street-smart. I got the feeling they could go anywhere they wanted. And they knew it.

“The ride up was brutal,” the guy told me. “The only thing that kept these kids going was the idea of riding across the Golden Gate Bridge. You should have seen their faces when they finally did it.”

Ever since then, I’ve hoped to meet another person like that. Maybe it’s time to become someone like that, at least in my own small way.

So here’s the deal.

I’m going to do another bike tour of via Appia in May, 2017. I'm looking for people who have a burning desire to come along, but something is stopping you.

I will help you.

I can’t buy your plane ticket for you, but I can show you a number of ways to raise the money you’ll need.

I’m not a doctor or a physical therapist, but I can direct you to resources for strengthening your mind and body. In fact, if you think you’re not in shape for a trip like this, that makes two of us! We’ll hold each other accountable as we get in shape (and to tell you the truth, this tour isn’t superhard as far as bike tours go).

If you have a specific physical challenge that you think is going to stop you, I’ll look for someone who can build a bike that’s adapted to your needs.

I will personally coach you on getting into shape, making money, even learning Italian if that will make you more confident. We’re gonna make this happen!

Maybe you’re not especially interested in a bike tour of Italy. There’s still something in this for you.

Over the next several months, you’re going to hear stories of people overcoming their fears, their doubts, and their limits. Hopefully these stories will inspire you to do that one thing that you dream of, the one thing you think is impossible.

If you are interested in biking via Appia with me next spring, here are just a few of the things you’ll get to do as a result of this journey:

  • Tap into hidden physical and mental powers you didn’t know you had
  • Build lasting friendships with extraordinary people
  • Bring back stories and experiences that will change the way you look at the world
  • Grow stronger and healthier than you dreamed possible
  • Give yourself the classical education you always wanted

This journey will change you forever. I challenge you to join me. I dare you.

In fact, I beg you.

You see, by coming along on this trip, you’ll give me a chance to face down one of my own big fears.

Gravina in Puglia bridgeI’ve biked the entire Appian way from Rome to Brindisi already. I know enough about Italy and Italian to fix most problems that I can’t avoid in the first place. I’ve done bike tours that are longer than this.

But now I want to help you experience the magic. Especially if you’re the kind of person who dreams about a journey like this, but you’re frightened to try.

If I commit to helping you do it, then I have to face my own fear of failure, that maybe I won’t succeed in getting you to Italy and across the finish line.

But I accept the challenge. I will teach you to overcome any obstacle, and you’ll ride triumphantly into Brindisi like an ancient Roman noble.

Let me be clear about this offer, and especially what I am not offering to do.

This is not a free ride. I can’t pay for your airplane ticket or your AirBnB. (I would like to buy you a coffee, or maybe something stronger, while we’re in Italy.)

I’m not a doctor, physical therapist, or psychologist.

But what I do bring to the table is experience, creativity, a lot of good ideas and the will to help you carry them out.

Are you in? Fill out the form below, and we’ll be in touch.

If you're over 40 or will be someday, you need to fight back against the slow erosion of time. There are guys 20 years older than me who can beat me without breaking a sweat. But now I know their secrets.

My last bike tour crippled me.

I was fighting a strong headwind for most of the first day, and when the weather improved I didn’t. My left knee was swollen and sounded like a blender full of ice cubes. I turned back less than halfway through the tour, and I took a bus the last ten miles back home because it hurt too much to ride.

I’m better now, but this trip was my first sign of middle age. Although it’s not just about the years (or even the mileage).

I know a lot of people 20 years older than I am, who could ride circles around me all day and wake up ready to do it again tomorrow. I want to be like them, and now I've learned their secrets.

I’m writing this because you might be in the same situation. If not today, then someday…

For my birthbike tour california mountainday, my wife bought me Roy Wallack’s book, Bike For Life: How to ride to 100--and beyond. If I had read this book a year ago, I wouldn’t have been defeated on my tour. The chapter on knee pain taught me how to fix my problem in less than a month.

I’m not going to give away all of Roy’s secrets. There are some tools, techniques and exercises in this book that haven’t been discussed anywhere else that I’m aware of. But there are some very useful concepts I think you should know about.

The biggest take-away was the importance of maintaining your fast-twitch muscles as you get older. These muscles are the first to go, and that’s a big part of the reason old people lose their balance, coordination, and reflexes.

(For a quick primer on fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles, check out this BBC article.)

You build fast-twitch muscle fibers by lifting very heavy weights. There’s a science to this, and a specific way to do it,* which he explains in detail in the book. I had never done this kind of exercise before. It’s been a game-changer for me after just a few weeks.

Roy Wallack also reminds you that you have a life off the bike as well as on it. Bike for Life teaches you a handful of critical exercises that reverse the damage caused by cycling. (Yes, riding a bike can be bad for you, just like too much of anything) Your posture and your back muscles need extra attention.

The flip side is that everyday life tears down your body in ways that make you weaker and slower on the bike. Bike for Life has 10 longevity stretches and another set of exercises that make you stronger and faster.

This book is packed with a ton of other great tips that I can’t get into here: Yoga routines that help your biking, detailed workout plans designed to put you at your peak for a ride or race on a specific date months in the future, tips on attacking hills and a lot more.

Roy also implies that you shouldn’t take his advice as absolute truth. Throughout the book he interviews “mature” cyclists who sometimes win races by doing the exact opposite of what he suggests. He’s also candid about his own embarrassing mistakes.

Early on, the book recommends that nobody over 40 should ever go on a bike tour. I’ve already broken that rule many times, and I intend to do so for decades to come.

Thanks to this book, I’ll be able to.

*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice. This information is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease. The activities described are potentially dangerous. Consult a physician before engaging in any kind of exercise regimen.

I left out a lot of the loneliness, the confusion, the shameful and foolish decisions I made that still haunt me years later. I didn't tell you what I was really thinking about in Taranto, the last night of the journey.

When I re-read the first draft of my book, a lot of it just didn't ring true.

I sound like a pretentious schmuck who likes to brag about the places I traveled. That's a big part of who I was when I biked the entire length of the ancient Roman road, via Appia. But it's mostly just show.

In the first draft, I left out a lot of the loneliness, the confusion, the shameful and foolish decisions I made that still haunt me years later. I didn't tell you what I was really thinking about in Taranto, the last night of the journey.

Most of the emails I get about via Appia come from people who probably haven't done an extended solo bike tour. So I'm rewriting the book. I want to show you the dark side of pursuing a dream.

This book will still tell you where to go, what to see and do, where to eat and even advice on picking up Italian women.

via Appia gravinaq fountain

I'll give you good information about the route, in case you ever want to do a similar trip. You'll hear a lot of local history and stories, and you'll meet many of the Italians who made my journey unforgettable.

But I want to write something more than just a travelogue or a guidebook. So I'm putting back a lot of embarrassing things I cut from the first draft. Entries from my journal that will help keep it real.

This book is also my confession. I will share my deepest regrets about the journey. If I can help save you from some of the mistakes I made, this book will be worth writing, and hopefully worth reading.



If there's a story in you it sometimes might be better to let it ferment. Seal it in the oak barrel for a few months, bottle it an store it in your wine cellar until it's a properly aged vintage. I'm giving you the highlights, concentrated and distilled over ten years, and if it stuck it's probably important.

mediterranean_mosaicIt has been ten years since I biked the via Appia, and I'm only beginning to get serious about publishing the story.

What kept me so long? Excuses, hundreds of endless lame excuses.

And yet if there's a story in you it sometimes might be better to let it ferment. Seal it in the oak barrel for a few months, bottle it an store it in your wine cellar until it's a properly aged vintage.

That's what I did with this story and now I might have something worth reading. At least I have something worth remembering, because after all these years the best parts of the story are the only ones I can really remember.

Anything that has fallen away was almost surely less important. I've waited ten years to give you just the highlights.

In fact, one of my big frustrations in writing this book is that it's been too short. There isn't even one tiny thing to add in here that could make it longer without somehow ruining the book.

I tried for months to pad the book with extra words, new ideas, more plain old stuff but sometimes less really is more.

Are people going to pay the same price for an 80-page book as they would for a 200-pager? Maybe more. I'm giving you the highlights, concentrated and distilled over ten years, and if it stuck it's probably important.

The good stuff always sticks.

I've got a manuscript that's been commented on and rewritten and is nearly done. But I want to do this right. That means an audio version, proper formatting, and  professional  editing as soon as I can afford it.

In the meantime life gets in the way. I'm building a bathroom. I'm helping a friend sell his house. I'm caring for neighborhood trees and eight (yes, eight!) cats and writing all the copy for a website for one of my clients.

In a few weeks I'll be looking for a job.

But all that said, I'm still going to get this book published someday some year. And you'll be (hopefully) around to read it when I do.

There’s something you want to do, but you’re afraid to do it. So, what are you really afraid of? What are the odds of that terrible thing actually happening?

You know the risk. Get out there on a bike, and you could be hit by a car. You could catch a wheel in a storm sewer, crack your head against the concrete, and suffer permanent brain damage or death.

Add the risks of poisonous snake bites, death by heat exhaustion, heart attacks, being shot, and a zillion other dangers. Why would you ever go out on a bike ride? What are you thinking?

You’re thinking in a probabilistic way. All of those things could happen, but the probability of any of them happening is so tiny that you can probably ignore it.

You could bike every day for the rest of your life and probably never have to encounter any of the dangers we just mentioned.

Probabilistic thinking is one of the things that puts you on your bike in the first place, and it can serve you well in many other aspects of your life.

There are many people out there who might like to bike more, but they live in terror of the risks. They’re making an assumption. There are two possible outcomes: A) You could have a wonderful time, or B)You could die.

For the person who is afraid of a bike ride, both A and B are equally probable. They’re suffering from a big misunderstanding.

If there were equal odds of enjoying a good ride or dying a horrible death, you’d probably think twice before going on a bike ride. But the odds are not equal. Probabilistic thinking enables you to enjoy your bike ride, knowing that the chances of a fatality are somewhere in the ballpark of being struck by lightning or winning the lottery.

Now let’s apply this probabilistic thinking to some other part of your life.

There’s something you want to do, but you’re afraid to do it. But what are you really afraid of? What are the odds of that terrible thing actually happening?

Biking can help you cross a bridge of fear
Biking can help you cross a bridge of fear

I’ll give you a few examples. I used to be afraid of singing in front of people. I thought I would sound terrible and people would boo me off the stage.

This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but let’s assume it would be the end of the world. It’s still worth singing, because the odds of having an audience that rude and boorish is minuscule. If you ever sing in public, most of the audience will be fans, friends, and family who love you.

What are you afraid of? Talking to that good-looking person, or finally asking them out?

Okay, here the odds of success might be against you (but then again, you may be surprised). But the odds of a really terrible outcome are still small enough to ignore. Worst-case scenario, this person might politely turn you down.

Unless you have really bad judgement, your immediate future probably won’t include a drink in your face, a restraining order, or even a terribly awkward moment.

Now let’s look at even bigger things.

Have you ever thought about creating something big for the world, something that might change your life and other lives as well? Maybe you’ve got a book you want to write, an idea for a new game or an entire business. Maybe you’re thinking about a long and dangerous journey.

How dangerous could it be?

Here’s where you apply your probabilistic thinking skills.

Whatever you want to do, you can probably think of several bad outcomes. But how bad are these outcomes, and what are the chances that they’ll really happen?

Most of the dangers you list will fall into one of these two categories. First, they’re not so bad. You can live with them, and you’ll be able to dust yourself off and carry on. Or second, they are pretty grave and serious, but the probability that they’ll ever happen is low.

Once you understand probability, you can take on challenges that may have seemed much harder before. Buy a house. Go after a better job, or start your own business. Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Find the love of your life, or at least test-drive a few candidates.

Since you’ve involved yourself in biking, and maybe bike touring, you already have mad skills when it comes to probabilistic thinking.

Use what you’ve got, and soon you’ll start getting all the other things that you want out of life.



This is one way you can boost your memory on a bike ride.

I wrote about this a while back, but here's a video I made about how riding a bike can improve your memory. I hope you enjoy it.

If you're young and British and ready to get out and see the world on a bicycle, the Janapar Grant is probably one of the best things that could happen to you.

I'll fill you in on the details below, but if you can't wait, then here's the link: http://janapar-grant.org.uk/

The Janapar Grant was started by Tom Allen, after his own multi-year bike tour around the world (you can watch the film by the same name here

The applications are being accepted "In early 2016," but as of today all they have is a form where you can leave your email if you're interested.

All I can say is, if you are between the ages of 18 and 25, live in the UK, and don't have any work-related conflicts, you should be interested.

If you are accepted, you'll get all the equipment you need: bike, tools, panniers, tent, sleeping gear, and cook set. Better yet, you'll be mentored by some of the best-known names in bike touring, including Emily Chappell, Tom Allen, and several others.

If I qualified, I would jump on this. Just the application itself will get you thinking about your trip, planning, and sorting out both your route and your motivation.

Alas, I'm not British, and I'm nearly double the maximum eligible age. Still, old geezer that I am, whenever I set off on another journey I feel the same excitement and joy that I felt in my twenties--maybe more. Bike touring is a lifelong passion. But if you're reading this you probably already knew that.

Once again here's the link to the Janapar Grant:

http://janapar-grant.org.uk

By the way, what would happen if you didn't see this blog post and missed out on your chance to apply for the Janaper Grant?

Lucky for you, whenever I have a really important post, especially one that's going to improve the quality of your life, I email it to everyone on my tips list. If you're not on that list, you could have already missed out! Be sure to sign up below, or in the box to your right.

One of these days, a dead battery or a weak signal will turn your smart phone into a mere decoration for the inside of your pocket. Then it’s time for you to take control and use the resources you have. That means your bike, your body, and your brain.

You might get lost the first time you try a new a bike route.  But chances are you’ll never get lost in the same place a second time.

On the second bike ride, you’ll remember where to go, what the route looks like, and definitely how steep the hills are. Certain landmarks will look familiar. Even if you don’t go back there again for a week, you’ll remember where to go.

Compare this to reading an article or a chapter in a book. How much do you remember a week after you read it?

Reading and memorizing facts are difficult tasks for your brain. But your visual memory is extraordinary.

For tens of thousands of years, human beings had to find their way around without maps or GPS. To this day, we’re still pretty good at learning our way around in one sitting. Your brain is hard-wired to detect visual cues and physical locations.

One of the great secrets to a better memory is to harness that visual memory to perform the more difficult tasks.

bike ride memory
Riding a bike creates memories

The story goes that the Greek poet Simonides once did a recitation in front of a room full of dinner guests. When he finished, he thanked his audience and left the building.

Moments later, an earthquake struck, and the building was reduced to rubble. Simonides was incredibly fortunate to survive, but an even greater fortune was the discovery he made about the human mind that day.

The Greek building was made of heavy stone and marble. Not only were the guests instantly killed, but it was virtually impossible to identify their remains.

This is where Simonides came in to help. He remembered what everything looked like as he stood before his audience. He could visually recall where each guest was seated, and he could lead their loved ones directly to the spot.

This event led to the development of the "memory palace" technique. You substitute visual data that's easy to recall with difficult information that you want to remember.

We'll illustrate this with a bike ride.

Let’s say you have to learn a list of Italian verbs. You can associate them with different places on your route, and you’ll be able to remember them about as easily as you can remember the route itself.

Let’s say I start by riding out of my driveway into the street. My first Italian word is calciare, which means “to kick.” So I picture my neighbor’s SUV parked in the street, and I stop and give the tire a big kick.

Next I ride down to the main street, where there’s a bike trail that goes along the railroad tracks. The second word is “attraversare” which means “to cross,” so I imagine crossing the tracks.

I leave the bike trail and take a road that winds up into the mountains. Pretty soon I’ve worked up a sweat, so I add the word “sudore” which means to sweat. The next word is “stappare” to “unstop.” It’s like the motion of uncorking a wine bottle, so I “stappare” my water bottle and pour half of it over my sweaty shiny bald head. Then I drink the rest, remembering the word “bere” which means to drink.

I’m just getting warmed up at the beginning of the bike ride, and already I’ve memorized half of my list.

Why am I writing about Jedi mind tricks in a bicycling post?

The bicycle is one of those things that can liberate you from what I call the soft perils of 21st century life. Already you're probably healthier than a lot of your peers, because you often travel on your own physical power. Why not give your mind the same freedom?

One of these days, a dead battery or a weak signal will turn your smart phone into a mere decoration for the inside of your pocket. Then it’s time for you to take control and use the resources you have. That means your bike, your body, and your brain.

Limits of the Memory Palace

I showed you how to memorize a bunch of verbs. But that's a far cry from being able to speak a foreign language. The truth is that memory is just a foundation. There's a lot more to learning.

But riding your bike will help you with other thinking processes such as fluency, synthesis, and creativity. We'll get to that in another post.