A few thousand years ago, something happened at a place in southern Italy called Maleventum.
Maleventum means a bad wind or a bad event. At Maleventum, the Roman republic had its final confrontation with Pyrrhus.
Pyrrhus was a conqueror who wanted to turn the Italian peninsula into his own private dictatorship. He beat the Romans in several battles.
Pyrrhus was the only thing that kept Rome from realizing her vision for a true republic.
The Romans never defeated Pyrrhus, but at Maleventum they put up enough resistance to convince him that conquering Italy wasn’t worth the cost. He packed up and left for greener pastures.
This is the origin of the term “Pyrrhic Victory,” and Maleventum was renamed to Beneventum, or “good event.”
Your own personal Pyrrhus
You have a personal Pyrrhus that is holding you back. Pyrrhus is the obstacle that is keeping you from your destiny.
Your Pyrrhus could be your self-talk. Your fears and insecurities. It might be a real, tangible disadvantage.
Your Pyrrhus could be something you were born with, or something that happened to you. Your Pyrrhus probably seems like something you can never overcome--and that’s the key.
You can fulfil your destiny as soon as you realize you don’t actually have to defeat Pyrrhus.
How to rise above any obstacle
In 279 BCE, Pyrrhus sent envoys to Rome, demanding they surrender.
Appius Claudius delivered Rome’s answer, and it’s one of the most memorable things he did. In a public speech that promised Rome would never give up, Appius Claudius said, “Every man is the architect of his own fate.”
Romans were inspired to rise up, to be the best that they could be. So they kept on fighting Pyrrhus, but they also kept on building roads and aqueducts, growing crops, trading and farming and legislating.
They became so good at being Romans that Pyrrhus eventually didn’t matter. The battles he won didn’t have any significant impact on the lives of most Roman citizens. So Pyrrhus left, undefeated but ineffective.
You, too, can rise above an unbeatable obstacle. Do the best you can, be the best you can, wherever and whenever you can. Your problems won’t go away, but they will become far less important.
You obstacle might be a huge stone that refuses to budge. But you can become a surging river, flowing right over and around the immovable stone. Does the river even notice the stone?
Your Pyrrhus doesn’t matter. It has no power over you.
When you discover you are no longer held back by Pyrrhus, you are having your Benevento Moment. You have endured and prevailed. You have found your fire.
My Benevento Moment
Benevento is the crossroads where I had to make a choice and a commitment.
One of the most famous monuments in Benevento is Trajan’s Arch. It commemorates Trajan’s victories and accomplishments, but it also marks the beginning of a new road that branches off from the Appian Way.
This new road is the via Traiana (Trajan’s Way), and it follows the Adriatic coast to Benevento. This is a flatter, shorter, and easier route. The way is better known and more clearly marked. There are more places to find food and lodging, and you’re never far from a beach!
I was tempted to take via Traiana the rest of the way. It would mean a safer, easier, possibly shorter route.
I’m a timid traveler. I usually favor comfort and security over the unknown. But my goal for this journey was practically the opposite. Did I want to shorten my trip, get back to Rome a few days early, just to wander around old paths I’d been down many times before, trying to relive my youth and my past?
It only took a few minutes to move beyond the temptation. I continued on the most uncertain and remote part of the Appian Way, into the Apennine Mountains. This choice led to some of the most memorable parts of my journey.
A decision awaits you at your Benevento moment. What choices will you have to make? You may be tempted by an easier, safer path. Will it bring you what you want?
WARNING: Some of this story might qualify as Too Much Information. If you think so, you should probably skip it. You’ve been forewarned.
“Non e’ difficile,” said Francesco. It's not difficult. He was telling me how to get an Italian girlfriend.
Francesco had an eagle's head tattoo on one of his muscular arms. He stood beneath a “No Smoking” sign, rolling cigarettes and smoking them one after another.
“Irene, do you think I can teach this American how to pick up Terracina girls?” Francesco asked a young woman who was sipping a cappuccino. He pronounced her name ee-RAY-nay.
She put her hands together as if she were praying, and said “O Dio mio.”
For the next minute or so she looked at me, wide-eyed, shaking her head and her index finger, and mouthing the word “no,” while Francesco tried to impart his favorite observations and techniques.
Ask almost any Italian woman, and she’ll tell you Italian men are pigs. But the truth is, they’re the same as any guys anywhere. They’re just more transparent about it.
I wouldn’t recommend most of what Francesco told me that day in a bar in Terracina. But during my years in Italy I dated three--yes three!--Italian women.
If you're interested, you're about to learn a secret to picking up Italian women. Or any women, really. This could probably work on men, too.
You see, in Los Angeles, I'm just an ordinary dude who talks too much. But in Italy I'm a foreigner with an accent.
When someone speaks to me in Italian, I have to try really hard to follow along. Sometimes the only conversation I can manage is an awkward smile while I nod and say, “si’.” If I need to say much more than that, there’s a long pause while I struggle to remember the Italian word for peanut butter or how to conjugate the verb spalmare.
Apparently my weak language skills come across as intense concentration. My awkward pauses make me look thoughtful. To Italians, I appear to be a good listener.
It turns out many women can't resist a good listener, especially if he has a foreign accent.
Using my foreign accent mojo, I had once met a young woman who lived in a small town in central Italy. We were kindred spirits. In better economic times, she had traveled far, and had seen and done many interesting things.
She broke up with me over the phone about a week before I arrived in Italy to bike the via Appia. Then, the night before I started riding, she texted me and wanted to meet for coffee.
Now here I was, at the beginning of one of the coolest adventures of my life, and all I could think about was this girl. When I looked at Irene, and whenever I looked at just about any Italian woman on this trip, I was really thinking of her.
All I needed to do was alter my travel plans a little, and maybe I could rekindle an old fire. Would I call her? Or would I just keep going, and run away from another relationship?
I’m not an expert at this stuff, but I do have a litmus test. If the relationship makes you stronger, if the person helps you and encourages you to pursue your goals, especially if the two of you pursue your goals together, then you’ve found a winner.
If the person makes you feel insecure and confused, especially if that distracts you from enjoying the fulfilment of whatever really matters to you, then walk away.
On that day in Terracina, I didn’t know if I wanted to embrace the relationship or walk away. Maybe she didn’t, either.
As I write this now, I’m married (to someone else), and all those old issues have disappeared. I just want you to know the truth about my trip. I traveled across half of Italy with only half my mind and half my heart, because I could neither embrace nor let go of the relationship I was in.
If you ever do a solo bike tour, keep in mind that your emotional baggage will color your adventure in unpredictable ways.
If you enjoyed this article, you'd be crazier than a young Caligula not to sign up for the newsletter. When you do, I'll send you a free copy of my travel notes from the latest bike tour along via Appia.
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.
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.
I’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On a bike trip in Colorado, I got my butt handed to me on a Frisbee by guys who were 15 years older than me.
I blamed it on the altitude. And it's true that after a few days I could almost keep up with them. At least close enough that they mostly stopped making fun of me.
This was my introduction to middle age. I thought I was in great shape, but really I've been turning into a bike potato.
For years I scorned people who deliberately trained. "Just get on your bike and ride," I thought.
I also avoided any talk about racing. I'm all about bike touring, not racing.
Now I've done a bit of reading, and I learned the shocking truth: Bike touring can be an emasculating, power-sapping habit. It can turn your strong, youthful body into a flaccid meat suit.
A physical therapist told me I should never do another bike tour again after the age of 40. I will not be following his advice.
If you're a stubborn fanatic like me, and you insist on bike touring, here are the dangers and how to reverse them.
Danger #1: Repetitive Stress Syndrome
If you take a short bike ride that lasts a few hours, you're going to gain a lot of physical benefits. Bike touring is different.
On a bike tour, you're in the saddle for hours on end. Probably six hours or more. Maybe 10 or 12 if you're a fanatic. I've done this on bike tours of Italy.
During that time, your back and shoulder muscles are straining to hold up your head. Your arms are locked on to the handlebars. Your knees are grinding along, over and over, with continuous pressure on the exact same spot.
In a more natural activity, you would be moving around a lot, using different muscles in different ways, shifting your weight around onto different joints, and generally stimulating and using most of your body.
On a bike tour, you're concentrating all the effort and all the strain. Many muscles are cramped far inside their normal range of motion. Other muscles aren't used at all.
Danger #2: Depletion of Your Reserves
You have a limited amount of glycogen stored in your muscles and your liver. On an extended bike tour, you may not have time for your muscles to recover. Your glycogen may be used up without sufficient time to replace it.
When this happens, you might start burning protein instead. Keep this up for too long, and you can end up with a loss of muscle mass.
You may have noticed the skinny leg syndrome that some people have on a bike tour. Over time, you'll lose power and stamina because of the loss of muscle.
Danger #3: Inertia
If you're on a bike tour, you're probably trying to cover a lot of ground each day, and you'll likely have an interest in conserving your energy.
You're probably also thinking of the bike tour as a vacation, which means you'll be more relaxed.
These two factors have a tendency to make you ride more slowly. The problem is, you're essentially training yourself to ride slowly. A slow rider tends to get slower.
One of the most useful and practical bits of advice I've found is from Roy M. Wallack in his book, Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100--and Beyond. (see below) He suggests taking shorter tours.
This is great advice for many reasons. First, it minimizes the damage of the three dangers. If you're only touring for 3 days, a lot of the problems with bike touring simply won't have time to develop. It's also useful against the mental and psychological damage that bike touring can inflict.
Short tours are also more practical. You can fit them into a busy life. Do a weekend bike tour, and you won't have to miss work.
Better yet, you can turn a long tour into several short ones. For example, when I bike the via Appia next time, my plan is to ride for a day or two, then stop in one place and take a few days to really explore, talk to the locals, and have a learning/cultural experience while my body recovers.
One of my dreams is to tour around the entire Mediterranean sea. Realistically, my wallet and the geopolitical situation won't allow it. But maybe I'll reach my goal over several years, one country at a time. Turns out this will be good for my health, too.
Another way to defend yourself from the ravages of bike touring is to tour the way you train. Alternate long tours with short tours. Have days when you ride as fact as you can, or at least include sprints into part of your journey. Make a conscious decision whether to attack a hill all-out or to merely endure it.
Finally, add some cross training into the tour. Stop for a day and go hiking. If you're strapped for time, just do a bunch of push-ups in the morning, or take a 20-minute yoga break when you find a good spot along the route.
A bit of thoughtfulness will let you reap all the benefits of bike touring while avoiding the dangers. You may even finish the tour feeling fresh and invigorated.
You can upgrade yourself and your situation by simply deciding on a new "normal."
There are probably things you're not happy about, but you've been silently accepting them for a long time. They've become normal. What happens if you chose a new "normal?"
Right away, you start thinking about how to make improvements. Things you took for granted are no longer acceptable. All kinds of clever ideas pop into your mind. And you feel a surge of energy to start implementing some of those ideas.
If you've done much bike touring, you're probably able to travel great distances on your own power. Very few people would consider this normal. You've changed the rules, and you're in good company. This is the secret to many great accomplishments.
When Appius Claudius built the Appian Way, he had to take power by redefining normal. He broke so many rules that Roman historians complained about him, and his co-consul resigned in frustration.
But we still know his name today. And he set the stage for game-changers like Julius Caesar.
In fact, all of the extravagant debauchery of the later Roman emperors was made possible because each emperor went beyond what was considered "normal."
How to Change Your Life in 5 Seconds
You can upgrade yourself and your situation by simply deciding on a new "normal." Your brain is an incredibly powerful problem-solving machine.
There are probably things you're not happy about, but you've been silently accepting them for a long time. They've become normal. What happens if you choose a new "normal?"
Right away, you start thinking about how to make improvements. Things you took for granted are no longer acceptable. All kinds of clever ideas pop into your mind. And you feel a surge of energy to start implementing some of those ideas.
Here are three steps to help you get started:
Step 1: Define your new Normal
About a year ago, I asked myself, "Is it normal to sleep less than 6 hours a night and try to keep functioning by constant caffeine infusions?"
I had been reading about the bad effects that sleep deprivation can have on your brain, your memory, reflexes, the immune system, muscle growth, speed, and even hormone levels.
At the time, sleep deprivation was my Normal, and a good-night's sleep was the exception. I had to reverse this.
Step 2: Enforce the new Normal
For a month I made sure I slept for 7-8 hours every night. Some chores went unfinished. Some friends and family members may have felt neglected. But I was creating a new Normal.
When you enforce the new normal, you won't have to be a fanatic about it forever. Just get it established at the beginning.
Step 3: Don't stress the exceptions
Now I can go without sleep once in a while if I need to get things done. It's the exception, not the rule. The next day I'll feel tired and weak, irritable and confused, sometimes even nauseated. But then I remind myself that I used to feel that way all the time. It was normal. Now it's just weird.
Let's say you decide to bike a century twice a week, or study Spanish for 2 hours every evening. Once it becomes part of your routine, you don't have to worry if you miss out every once in a while. It will be easy to get back into the swing of things, because you've made it the 'normal' thing to do.
Challenge the Normal
What do you consider normal that you should re-examine?
Is it "normal" to have a job that keeps you from spending time with people and activities you care about? Shouldn't it be normal to give yourself a full month every now and then to go on an extended long bike tour? Is it normal to have back pain, to eat junk food, to watch TV shows that don't really entertain you?
Are you hurting yourself by what you think is normal? Is your Normal holding you back? Who told you this was normal? Are you required to spend your life according to someone else's Normal?
I challenge you to redefine your Normal. It's a beautiful and terrifying power, and it's yours. You can do anything. I'm almost finished with a book about bike touring on the Appian Way. If you would like to read the entire book, or even join me on a future bike tour of via Appia, subscribe below and I'll keep you up-to-date. Your email will not be published, and I will never share it with anyone.
Archeologists will never finish scraping the ancient world out of the soil and gluing it back together, but there's still an energy you can feel when you're alone in these ancient places. I wanted 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. Surely one enthusiastic biker could make the journey.
I have a gift for you, and a small favor to ask in return.
This post is the first chapter of my new book on biking the via Appia. Do you want to read more? Do you have any suggestions on how to make it better, or do you think I should just scrap the whole project? Please leave a comment at the end of this post, and tell me what you think.
Chapter One: Impossibile
Once upon a time, a happy nation of farmers and artisans and philosophers were all going to die.
A ruthless Greek general was trampling over Italy with an army of nearly thirty thousand warriors, horses, and elephants. Fields were burned, slaves were taken, and one by one the tribes and colonies surrendered to him, or even joined him.
But in the nick of time, one grumpy old man stood up to the bully and called his bluff.
Old Appius Claudius wasn't usually a hero, and the history isn't as black-and-white as I'm presenting it. But in the speech that rallied young Rome against her enemies, he said, “Every man is the architect of his own fortune.”
This book is mostly about you and me and becoming the architect of your own fortune. But I promise I'll get back this story and tell you more about the general, the elephants, and especially Appius Claudius.
Above all, there's one thing you need to know about Appius Claudius.
The speech was one of his last public acts, but he is better known for one of his first. When Appius became Censor, he nearly bankrupted the treasury to build a road into the uncertain wilderness of the south. And as the keystone of a career that was built almost entirely on sheer chutzpah, he named the road after himself.
Two thousand, three hundred and seventeen years later, on that same road, every motor vehicle in Italy was trying to mash me into pesto.
Just after the via Appia leaves Rome through the Porta San Sebastiano, the shoulder disappears. Two brick walls guard the road, turning it into a roofless tunnel where every cyclist is at the mercy of every driver.
Commuters in Fiats, late to work, pronounced vulgar curses against my ancestors. Produce trucks threatened to scrape me against the walls, an olive between two millstones. Tour buses nearly crushed me like a bunch of newly harvested grapes.
Soon I would be ground apart and made into pesto, olive oil, and wine. The tricolore of Italy. This adventure would end before it began, and a foreigner would become national cuisine.
But somehow I made it to the Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica. At a small building that provided tourist information, I asked if it would be possible to speak to an archeologist.
A receptionist set down her lipstick-stained cigarette and directed me to Dr. Grillo. His office was up the stairs, first door on the right. The door was open, and a grey-haired man, impeccably dressed, stared at me over a tiny cup of espresso. He seemed uncomfortable with the fact that a sweaty American, wearing shorts and clutching a bicycle helmet, would enter his office this early on a weekday.
In my best Italian I told him I wanted to ride the via Appia Antica from Rome to its end in Brindisi. From the surprised confusion in his face, you would think I had just volunteered to be a nude model for his next marble sculpture.
"Impossibile!" he insisted, pronouncing the word with long Italian vowels: eem-poh-SEEEEEE-bee-lay!
Nobody knows how many millions of nobles, senators, philosophers, soldiers, merchants, prisoners, slaves, poets and bandits have traveled on the Appian Way. They've been doing it for more than 2,300 years on foot, in litters, by wagon, buggy, horse, pony, donkey, elephant, mule, and more recently in cars, motorcycles and trucks.
Surely one enthusiastic biker could make the journey. I had already decided to make the trip, with or without anyone's help. But I wanted some advice from an expert, if I could get it.
I wanted 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.
Dr. Grillo assured me that it could not be done. Much of via Appia was buried on private property. He mentioned floods and swamps and mountains. Also many places where we simply don't know where via Appia went.
But I knew I had him when 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 still an energy you can feel when you're alone in these ancient places.
Grillo understood. Or at least I think he had stopped deliberating whether to call security or throw me out himself.
When you travel by bicycle, I tried to tell him, 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.
Italians all gifted with a powerful intuition. Even if you don't know the right words, if you speak with passion many of them will read your mind and give you exactly what you want. As I spoke, my new archeologist savior was already opening drawers and pulling out topo maps, old photos and drawings.
When I finished, he gave me a stream of directions and names and numbers in rapid Italian. I frantically scribbled as much as I could understand in my notebook. I wasn't looking for perfection, I told him, 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, and do the best I could.
Dr. Grillo assured me once again that I was attempting something impossible. “Le machine ti pestaranno,” he warned. The cars will pound you into pesto. That's good. I'll use that.
He shook his head, and shook my hand. “In bocca al'lupo,” he said. In the mouth of the wolf, a Roman way of saying “good luck.”
“Creppi lupo,” I replied.
There’s something in human nature that won’t let us stare too long at an unclimbed mountain, an uncharted wilderness, or an unanswered challenge. This is why people skydive and sail across oceans.
This is why, after staring down a 2,300-year-old highway, I found I could no longer try to run a business or be a teacher or fulfill any of the other roles the world put before me until I rode my bike to the end of the road, just to see what would happen.
Dr. Grillo wasn't the only person who said it couldn’t be done. Others predicted I would be robbed, kidnapped, bitten by snakes, infected with malaria and maybe trampled by water buffalos before I reached Terracina. One well-meaning blog reader sent an email to warn me, “You’ll destroy your arse in the first 10 kilometers.”
A crotchety old park superintendent muttered “E tutto nascosto.” It's all hidden.
Everything they told me was true. The Appian Way is fraught with peril, a 400-mile gauntlet of knee-grinding climbs, bone cracking pot holes, sheer drops in the fog, bad weather, hostile natives, robbers, murderers and things far worse than that. When you venture along the jugular vein of ancient Rome you’re going to encounter the best and the worst of Italy.
But there’s a reward for trips like this, something you know intuitively before you begin. You’re going to find the secrets that are tutto nascosto, hidden away in your own heart.
A journey like this is going to change you. It must. There are too many lonely miles for it not to happen.
If you enjoyed this and you think I should write the rest of it, please let me know! I'm also open to suggestions on how to make this book better.
Try it. For the first few day's you'll feel like Einstein. You never knew you were this creative, did you? I don't think James Altucher has ever done a bike tour, but bike touring adds a powerful twist to his most important secret.
James Altucher is a genius. He's an acknowledged chess master, the author of several books, a speaker on TED Talks, he's produced shows for HBO, and he's gone from poverty to making millions of dollars from his ideas.
I want to be just like him. Lucky for me, he's written a book on how to do it called Choose Yourself!
I don't think James Altucher has ever done a bike tour, but bike touring adds a powerful twist to his most important secret.
If you do nothing else, according to Altucher, you must take care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual health and then do one more thing every day: Write down 10 new ideas.
It's the ten ideas that lead to greatness. After a year, you'll have 3,650 ideas. There's got to be at least one of them that will make you rich, famous, or happy.
Try it. For the first few day's you'll feel like Einstein. You never knew you were this creative, did you?
After a few weeks, though, your ideas start to look the same, feel the same. And it's no surprise. On most days you more or less follow the same routine, think about the same things, talk to the same people, go to the same places.
But once in a while something new will happen, you'll go to somewhere you don't normally go, talk to someone interesting, read a book or watch a movie that really impressed you. Suddenly your ideas will speed off in new directions.
I call this the Roman phenomenon. As the ancient Roman empire expanded, the people were exposed to new languages and cultures. New foods. Exotic landscapes. They built temples to new gods, and raised monuments inspired by the things they saw and did far from home.
The vast potential empire of your mind works in the same way. As you expand your experience, you have more to draw upon in your ideas. You become more creative.
You probably already know from experience that few things goose your creativity like a bike tour.
You see new places in a way that few people ever get to do. When something goes wrong (and it often does), you have to exercise your imagination and come up with a new plan, figure out where to sleep, maybe even do an emergency repair without the right parts or tools.
I recommend following the daily practices of Choose Yourself! Especially if you like bike touring. Your innate creativity, combined with a tour, creates a powerful mix that hasn't been tested yet. It might be dangerous.
Use your powers for good. I think you're destined for extraordinary things.
This is an excerpt from the draft of a book I'm writing about a bike tour of the Appian Way from Rome, Italy to Brindisi. The full book should be available for download in late 2015. If you'd like a copy, leave a comment with your email and I'll let you know when it is ready. (Your email will not be published and I will never share it with other parties)
After I ride my bike into the hills for a few more miles, I see a huge fortress up ahead to my right. It’s just past sunset, and I know that if I want to explore I’ll have to stay in this area.
Where the road passes to the right of the castle, there’s a small town on my left. It only takes a few minutes to find a decently-priced hotel, and after some questioning I find out there’s good pizza nearby.
The decision is made. The hotel owner barely leaves off the conversation with her friends (all are sitting around a table covered with bread, coffee, and cigarettes) to get me registered, stash my bike in a back room, and welcome me to the town of Itri.
After a hot shower and pizza, some of the locals inform me that this town, Itri, got its name from the Hydra of Greek mythology, which Hercules fought in the swamps nearby. Hydra is often pronounced “Idra” or “Itra” in Greek and Italian, leading to the name.
Alessandra, who served me my pizza, told me that the castle was built up over a much older Roman edifice. There were a lot of battles over this spot, because of its strategic position on a mountain pass between two sea ports. She said the name of the town comes from the Latin word “Iter,” which means the route or the way, because of Itri’s placement on the via Appia. When I ask her about the word “Idra” she laughs and says, “That’s just mythology.”
When I’m done eating I wander around the castle in the dark. Much of the palace was demolished by allied bombing during World War II, but it’s still a vast labyrinth inhabited by scores of wild cats. Every friendly “Meow” sounds something like an Italian greeting of “Ciao.”
But the dark passageways and deep shadows are creepy, and I wish I had some company besides the cats.
Travel tip: Visit Itri on the festival “Day of Corpus Domini” (usually in June). The Itrani decorate the main street of the town with colorful mosaics made from flower petals. Almost better is the Olive Festival on the first Sunday in August. It’s a great day to taste olives, olive oil, olive bread, bruschetta, and of course there’s plenty of wine to wash it all down.