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Dottore Pascuale Grello was incredulous when I showed up at his office unannounced one morning and told him what I wanted to do.

"Impossibile!" he insisted, pronouncing the word with long vowels: eem-poh-SEEEEEE-bee-lay!Matera via Appia Italy tour

Nobody knows how many millions of nobles, senators, philosophers, soldiers, merchants, prisoners, slaves, poets and bandits have followed the route of the Appian Way from Rome to Brindisi or vice versa. They've been doing it for 1,300 years, on foot, in litters, by wagon, buggy, horse, pony, mule, and more recently in cars, motorcycles and trucks.

Surely one enthusiastic biker could make the journey.

Dr. Grello is, as far as I can tell, the chief archeologist for the Parco Reggionnale dell'Appia Antica on the outskirts of Rome. If you try to sneak out of Rome behind the Coloseum, through the ancient walls at the Port of St. Sebastian, you're at the start of the Appian Way, and you'll soon see these park headquarters on your right.

Even if you're not planning to ride the via Appia by bicycle, if you're in Rome this park is well worth stomping around a bit. They close the road to motor vehicles on Sunday, and you can usually find someone offering bikes for rent near the Colosseum.

I went to the park headquarters and asked in uncertain Italian if I could talk to the leader. A young woman barely set down her lipstick-stained cigarette as she directed me to Dr. Grello.

When I explained that I wanted to bike the entire length of the Appian Way, and he finished assuring me that it could not be done, he asked why I would ever want to do such a thing.

This is the hardest question to answer, even in English. I did my best to explain my fascination with the Mediterranean, ancient history, and the desperate need we have (I think) in the USA, to rediscover some common roots. Archeologists will never finish scraping the ancient world out of the soil and gluing it back together, but there's always still an energy you can feel when you're alone in these ancient places.

I want to see marble columns rising out of misty fields in the dawn, and remember what the Romans forgot when they became too powerful as a civilization and too weak as individuals, the power the barbarians came to understand when the Romans had forgotten and the Greeks were just a memory.

When you travel by bicycle you don't just "see" things behind the glass of a museum display or a windshield. You feel the air and the moisture and the contours of the land. You're exposed to the people and the energy of the place. You drink in the nectar of the world, and anything is possible.

Halfway through my rant, Dr. Grello understood. You could see it in his face. And here's a secret to communicating with Italians. Even if you don't know the right words, if you speak with passion and move your hands around in big circles most Italians can read your mind and they'll usually produce whatever you want on the spot.

My new archeologist savior was already pulling out topo maps, old photos and drawings, and giving me a stream of directions and names and numbers in rapid Italian. He told me that a lot of the Appian Way was on private property, covered over by new roads, even freeways. He mentioned floods and swamps and mountains. Also many places where people simply don't know where the via Appia ran.

I frantically scribbled as much as I could understand in my notebook. I wasn't looking for perfection, just adventure and fun and new learning and experience. If I couldn't retrace all of the Appian Way, I would still see most of it, do the best I could.

Dr. Grello assured me once again that I was attempting something impossible. The he shook his head, shook my hand, and solemnly wished me good luck.



"In Appia is my salvation," I wrote in a journal entry shortly before I rode diagonally across the southern half of Italy, from Rome to Brindisi, following the historic route of the via Appia as accurately as possible.

Why do we make these trips, anyway? You've got your own personal reasons when you travel by bicycle. The more obvious benefits, like saving money, saving gas, cutting pollution and possibly improving your health are just icing on the cake. That's not why you really do it.

Maybe you've been through something like this. I was in a confusing period in my life, where everything I wanted or thought I needed was either too easy or completely out of reach.

In times like that you need something to take you outside the box you've built around your life. You need challenge and adventure, the possibility of romance, a little bit of danger and a lot of fun. Touring southern Italy by bicycle, riding down the Appian way, gave me all of that and more. That's why we do these things. That's probably why you're reading this.

Either you've done this route or something similar, or you have a craving for it. I'll tell you the whole story on this blog, in little installments. You can follow along, get good route notes, and hear the tale, warts and all. "In Appia is my salvation," I wrote, and I was right.

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