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This is the real Roman road. Huge hexagons of basalt rattle underneath my wheels. This choppy road tapers off into the Alban hills along the horizon. These are the same stones that ancient Romans crossed—I keep getting stuck in the ruts left by their chariot wheels.

This post is a chapter from my new book, Tutto Nascosto: A bike ride down the Appian Way. I'm publishing the book a chapter at a time on this blog, and a Kindle-friendly version will be available later this year. If you're interested in getting the complete book, leave a comment at the end of this post, and I'll make sure you get a copy(only I will be able to see your email, and I'll never share it with anyone else)

“It’s good for the bones,” an old man says in Italian as he fills his bottles from an old fountain. The bubbling water appears carbonated and smells like sulfur.

After filling a number of plastic jugs and packing them into an old and dented Fiat, he gestures to me. “Bevi!” he commands me to drink.

So I do as the Romans do. I follow his lead, fill my bottle, and gulp down a few swallows. It tastes like the mineral-rich sparkling water that shows up at your table in expensive bars and restaurants all over Italy and the world. Drink some when you pass this way. It’s good for your bones.

I began my bike tour on a Sunday, and there’s a good reason to do it this way. Every Sunday the City of Rome shuts down the roads in the historic center of the town. Bikers and pedestrians take over the Via dei Fori Imperiali, street musicians fill the sunny air with music, and vendors’ carts filled with good things to eat rattle across the cobblestones.

Fori Imperiali runs through the forums, connecting the big white monument at Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum. This was Mussolini’s parade ground, and it’s a great way to start a bike tour, heading to Rome’s famous icon with the imperial forums on your left and the republic’s forums on the right, dodging tourists and locals enjoying the scene.

Two thousand three hundred and seventeen years ago, most of this wasn’t here. The only highway to the south of Rome was a series of well-trodden dirt paths, and this land was the domain of a complex league of tribes known as the Samnites.

This was the Rome in which a cantankerous Roman named Appius Claudius was elected Censor and ordered to “guard the public morals.”

Claudius used his position to upset the status quo. He appointed the sons of freed slaves to the Senate, a privilege reserved for wealthy landowners. He gave administrative positions to poor and landless citizens, and broke the power of lawyers by making copies of the sacred “Twelve Tables” available to the public.

But the deed for which Appius Claudius will always be remembered is the construction of the road that bears his name.

At the time, it seemed like a good idea. The military and political situation to the south was precarious. Rome had established a loose peace with the local Samnites, but Roman citizens had begun to colonize the land. Perhaps Claudius knew that a permanent, all-weather road was the key to stability.

A road would allow the movement of armies and supplies to support the colonies and subdue the Samnites, if necessary. The added commerce would help both sides prosper, so that war would be less desirable. And the road could eventually be expanded as an artery for control of the entire Italian peninsula.

Appius got his road, ensuring that his name would last for millennia. One thousand six hundred and eighty-eight years later, I stepped on the Appian Way for the first time.

ruts from wagon wheels on ancient via Appia in Minturno

If you’re looking for the via Appia Antica, start out by heading southeast from the Colosseum, past the baths of Caracalla. You’ll go through a busy 6-lane road past a park called “Piazza di Porta Capena.” This was the original start of the Appian Way, and you’ll see a small bit of bricks and concrete—all that remains of the original gate.

When the road branches in three directions, take the middle.
 
The first ten miles outside of Rome are a laundry list of tourist attractions that I’ve visited too many times and never enough. Everyone from Saint Peter to Mark Anthony to Spartacus passed this way. Jesus himself is said to have left his footprints nearby.

The road here is lined with stone walls, giving you less than 2 feet of shoulder space. Cars rush me head on as they try to pass each other. I will myself, my bike, and my panniers to become pizza crust flat as I dodge cars and buses and even an ambulance wailing its siren.

At the Gate of Saint Sebastian, where the Appian Way officially leaves Rome today, there’s a museum where you can step up onto the top of the wall and patrol the battlements like a defender of old.

But don’t get carried away. This is where things really start to get interesting, and if you want to avoid the baby strollers and dogs, take a short cut through (actually over) the catacombs.

Once you’re in the park, the cars disappear but the road gets rougher. People relax in the grass along either side of via Appia. A group of kids playing soccer all stop to watch me pass, and a bunch of them give me the thumbs up sign.

This is the real Roman road. Huge hexagons of basalt rattle underneath my wheels. This choppy road tapers off into the Alban hills along the horizon. These are the same stones that ancient Romans crossed—I keep getting stuck in the ruts left by their chariot wheels. 

Along the first ten miles via Appia treats you to a garish display of tombs and monuments to rich dead people. But somehow, being on the Appia makes you feel alive. Archeologists will never finish scraping the ancient world out of the soil and gluing it back together, but there’s always an energy you can feel when you’re alone in these  places.

In 1998 I stumbled into the park, slowly recovering from a late night wine-filled orgy with Romans, French, and ex-pats from just about every English-speaking country on the map. A warm spring breeze soothed the pounding in my head. As I wandered past old statues and crumbling walls, Roman ghosts promised they would haunt me until I fulfilled a quest.

I’m not an especially big fan of roads. I once got in a lot of trouble for protesting the government’s effort to build a road through a pristine wilderness in Idaho. If I had lived in ancient Rome, would I have tried to block the Appian way? Maybe. Hannibal did it.

The preservation and survival of old things is always a big question. But the remains of ancient Rome remind us what is best and worst in human nature. That’s the whole reason the Renaissance happened.

Two thousand years ago, a crazy wealth of power was concentrated in the hands of a small political body. The result was corruption and excess and horrible misdeeds. But Rome also created opportunities that had never existed before. Some people rose to the challenge and discovered greatness.

When you follow via Appia on your own power, you’ll feel the spark of your own potential for good or bad. The Appian way is one of those very old reminders of what we can do—and it’s a warning of the same.

If you ever come this way, you’ll want to become part of this millennium-long story. Add your voice to it in a personal way. I did. I have my own way of bonding with a place. I caress it from the back of a bicycle. And on that haunting, hung-over springtime walk long ago, I knew that someday I would ride my bike from one end of the Appian way to the other.

It took me seven years to gather up the time, the money, and most of all the confidence to make the trip. But the idea was never far from my mind.

Seven years later, I followed a series of roads out of the park, roughly following the old route through suburbs, farmland, and vineyards. The air smelled like sulfur, and I found an old fountain spewing a bubbly, smelly water. An old man told me this water was good for the bones, so I drank to the skeleton of an ancient road that was going to show me her hidden secrets, and unveil some of my own.



4

There’s a reward for trips like this, something you know intuitively before you begin. A journey like this is going to change you—it must—there are too many lonely miles for it not to happen. When you venture along the jugular vein of ancient Rome you’re going to encounter a lot of ghosts, that’s a given, but more than that you’re going to find the secrets that are tutto nascosto, hidden away in your own heart.

This is a chapter from my new book, Tutto Nascosto: A Bike Ride Down the Appian Way. I'll be posting a chapter at a time, and the full length book will also be available as a downloadable ebook when it's finished. Leave a comment below, and I'll make sure you get a copy of the book (Your email will not be published and I will never share it).

Introduction

There’s just 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 other people climb mountains and jump out of airplanes.

This is why, after almost 7 years of 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 where it went.

Other people said it couldn’t be done. That I would be robbed, kidnapped, and mashed to a pulp beneath the wheels of a truck 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 500-mile gauntlet of knee-grinding climbs, bone cracking holes, sheer drops in the fog, bad weather, hostile natives, robbers, murderers and things far worse than that.

But there’s a reward for trips like this, something you know intuitively before you begin. A journey like this is going to change you—it must—there are too many lonely miles for it not to happen.

When you venture along the jugular vein of ancient Rome you’re going to encounter a lot of ghosts, that’s a given, but more than that you’re going to find the secrets that are tutto nascosto, hidden away in your own heart.

If you look at a road map of modern Italy, you’ll see that Rome looks like a pizza. I don’t think this is a complete accident, but there’s a practical reason the Italians designed their freeway system like this. A main highway, the Grande Raccordo Annulare, circles the entire city at a far enough distance to avoid plowing through any of the most important and popular archeological sites.

The “exits” off this freeway are mostly straight lines leading straight into the center of Rome, like spokes leading into the hub. They divide the city into pizza wedges, but the really cool part is that almost all of these inward-bound roads were built over a thousand years ago. Or at least built on top of the original road bed, or near it.

The via Appia, or the Appian Way, is one of the oldest and most famous of these roads. It runs diagonally down the southern half of Italy, across the Apennine mountains, and down to the ancient port of Brindisi at Italy’s heel. This was the main highway in ancient times, leading from the capital of the empire to the port that was a gateway to Greece, Egypt, and Africa. This was the door to the farthest reaches of the Roman empire.

If you made a list of famous leaders, warriors, poets, philosophers and artists of ancient Rome and even the centuries beyond, you’d find that nearly every one of them has had a journey, an experience, maybe even a death or a tomb along the Appian Way.

Even today, the land along the via Appia that isn’t controlled by the government is an Italian Beverly Hills dotted with the mansions of celebrities and moguls.

But the road itself is preserved in all her glory. Just a quarter mile past the Colosseum, there’s a casually hidden (nascosto?) entrance to the Park of the Ancient Appian way. If you happen to be in Rome on a good day, you can hike or ride a bike on the original basalt road, and stop to visit some stunning catacombs and ruins along the way.

This is an awesome adventure in itself, and it’s about as far off the beaten path as you can get in Rome.

After 10 miles or so, the way is harder to find. Nobody knows the exact route of via Appia with 100% certainty.

For me, that simply added to the adventure. We know where it starts, where it ends, and a lot of specific points it touches along the way. So seven years after my first visit to the park, I set off on my bike to connect the dots and plot my own course.

This is a chapter from my new book, Tutto Nascosto: A Bike Ride Down the Appian Way.



Whatever your dreams are, don't put them off. If you want to tour the Appian Way (or anyplace else), you'll always manage to find a place to sleep. Unexpected help (and adventure) will come to you along the way. And the lessons you'll learn--about Italy, about Italians, and most of all about yourself--are priceless.

 "Impossibile!" was the Roman archeologist's first response. But this kind of bike tour is actually very doable.

I mention Dottore Grello again because I've been thinking about him a lot. Without knowing it, he forced me to stand up for myself and my dreams. I convinced him on the spot, and this gave me that last little boost of confidence I needed to make it happen.

3 tips and 2 books for touring the Appian Way

I'm writing this post because I got two more emails this week from people who want to tour southern Italy by bicycle. If you're ready to explore the Appian Way, all I can say is, "You can do it!" It's not terribly hard as far as bike touring goes--you're crossing the Apennines, not the Rockies.

Whatever your dreams are, don't put them off. If you want to tour the Appian Way (or anyplace else), then learn a bit about the terrain, get your bike and your gear in order, and jump in.

You'll always manage to find a place to sleep. Unexpected help (and adventure) will come to you along the way. And the lessons you'll learn--about Italy, about Italians, and most of all about yourself--are priceless.

Two books that changed my life 

Dr. Grello gave me a chance meet the author of one of the most motivating books about the Appian Way. It didn't work out, but the book itself was worth many times the price.

On the surface, it looks like Ivana Della Portella put together a "coffee table" sort of book. If that were all, it would be good enough just for the bragging rights. Some day your friends will open it up to an impossibly gorgeous landscape shot and you'll tell them, "I was right there, sitting with my back against that pillar, eating olives."

But the real value of The Appian Way comes before you even set out. I always like to start out with a constellation of points I'd like to go to on my bike. Once you're on the road, connecting the dots is the most exciting part of the journey.

Since it's light reading with a lot of photos, Dr. Portella sets the scene in her book--she gives you a roadmap by not giving you a roadmap.  

If you're serious about touring via Appia, I recommend The Appian Way: A Journey by Dora Jane Hamblin and Mary Jane Grunsfeld. This is the book I referred to the most on my first bike tour in Italy, and I slowly became an expert on the Appian Way by reading through all the references they include in the back.

Most of all, it's hearwarming to read the authors' concerns about ancient Roman ruins that were disappearing due to vandalism and neglect when the book was written. Heartwarming, because 30 years later you get to ride your bike to these very places and see them restored and protected.

I plan to outdo these authors with my own book (which I'll post on this blog one chapter at a time starting in January 2011) but in the meantime I think this is the most thorough, informative, and entertaining book about the Appian Way available in English.
 

3 bits of advice

I promised some advice about a bike tour through southern Italy. But what I realized as I started writing this is that the advice I would give you is the same for any bike tour, anywhere. But here goes:

  1. Talk to the locals. You're guaranteed to dispel loneliness, at the very least. But more often you'll learn about the best places to eat, hear an interesting story, see things that aren't in any guidebook, and maybe even get invited for dinner.
  2. Keep your itinerary and schedule open. If you're planning a 10-daybike tour, make it a route you can do in 7 or 8 days. This leaves you time for delays problems, and also for the unexpected discoveries that are more likely still
  3. Just go for it.  

If you really need more information before you're ready to down your first shot of limoncello, check out the rest of my blog.



I just read a good blog post by a teacher and mom who took her kids across the globe on bikes:

http://familyonbikes.org/blog/

This got me thinking about lifestyle, adventure, freedom, bike touring, and how it all ties together.

Today is Easter, which I don't celebrate, but it's a holiday about rebirth and renewal. I spent most of the day staring at a computer screen, working on a new business scheme and preparing for a challenging job I've come to both love and hate.

It's good to know there are still people out there who are willing to let the job coast for a while, get out the bike and ride to some far-flung destination. That this action is always rewarding is a given--what people forget is that it sometimes takes a tremendous amount of courage to stop doing all the things we're told we have to do.

Over the past year or so, I've been posting a lot less, also riding my bike a lot less, and I really should know better. (You should, too, in fact! If you're reading this, why aren't you out doing something adventurous instead?)

I'm feeling wistful for southern Italy. I want to cycle over steep green hills, my fingers stained with the oil of black olives, and quench my thirst with spring water gushing from stone fountains.

After today I know I will.

We all make New Year's resolutions, but I'm going to make an Easter resolution. More bike rides, more touring, more time listening to the heart instead of the brain.

One last thumbs up for whoever is reading this. If you have a blog of your own, remember that you never know who's going to be inspired by your creativity and courage. I got a badly needed pep talk from a farsighted teacher who decided one day to take her family on a bike tour. Good stuff!

4

Sometimes you have to be a ninja. Last week I was cruising down the Rio Honda bike path in the rain.

Big, bucket-sized globs of water streamed down my face and into my eyes. My waterlogged shoes sloshed and drooled out excess water at every stroke.

When I got to the exit where I wanted to leave the bike path, the gate was locked.

No problem. I just hoisted my panniers, my bike, and myself over the fence. But it got me thinking.

When you're riding your bike as your main source of transportation, you're basically subverting the dominant paradigm. Lots of times you have to bend the norms and rules of  society, because the cards are stacked against you.

How many times have you had to swerve out of the bike lane to avoid catching your wheel in a sewer grate? Stealth camp because there was no reasonable place to stay within riding range?

I suspect almost every serious bike traveler has a list of minor traffic violations, walls and fences climbed, illicit camping and maybe more. And I'm pretty sure most of you are proud of your opportunistic improvisations.

I'm not going to preach any kind of morality. One could argue both sides. You could say it's important to be a law-abiding citizen to give bike tourists a good reputation. You could claim a higher right to special privileges, as someone who is using their own physical body to alleviate global warming.

These arguments are irrelevant once you're out somewhere cold, hungry, wet, and far away from where you should be. Then it's a matter of survival, or at least prospering.

In addition to stealth camping and climbing, it wouldn't hurt to have several wilderness and urban survival skills. Building a fire, catching a fish, dumpster diving all come to mind. Even hopping a freight train might save you some day.

Any other skills to have in your bike traveler repertoire?

Terracina roughly translates into "little piece of land" but it's hard to understand where they got this title from. Everything here seems big, towering, rocky to the extreme.  The craggy top of the place once housed a fortress called Anxur, and the temple to Jupiter/Zeus/Jove is called the temple of Jove in Anxur.

The top of the city is a sheer delight for an amateur history buff like me. The original Appian Way is clear and obviously marked in the main piazza of the town, running right between the venerable duomo and an excellent bar where the espresso will do wonders for an exhausted bike tourist.

The walls of the duomo are made of building materials filched from other, far older structures. So you see all kinds of tiles with latin inscriptions, chunks of marble, bits of bas-relief and artwork. These 3-dimensional collages are actually fairly common all over Italy, and they're one of my favorite things to look at.

But when you reach the Piazza dei Paladini and the Temple of Jove in Anxur, you're in for a sight. The fortress town of Terracina is dwarfed by the mountainous cliffs, the rolling countryside far below, and the shimmering Mediterranean rippling off into the distance.

Most of all, you see the via Appia clearly marked in both directions. The original road has been preserved as a park going out of Rome, and when this gives way to Strada Statale 7 (SS7) it still runs through the Pontine Marshes in a straight line, flanked by umbrella pines. From Jove's lofty perch you have a dark green line showing you the way.

In fact, the umbrella pines are almost always a reliable marker. Throughout my trip, whenever I was unsure of the way, I would get somewhere high up and look for the pines. Even in the most dry and dusty sections of Puglia and Basilicata, it wasn't that unusual to pass a lonely umbrella pine marking the remnants of Rome's most famous road.

As you leave Terracina heading south, you'll see the famous cut through the rock that eliminated the need to take the steep slope over the mountain and saved hasty Romans an entire day of travel.via Appia remains outside Terracina

The road leaving Terracina takes you along some of my favorite parts of the journey. As you weave up the switchbacks towards Fundi and Itri, you'll come across some well-preserved ruins of the Appian Way.

On my last tour a farmer was selling olives from a wooden cart on the side of the road. I munched on these as I walked along the old via Appia, and wondered where I would find myself next.

I'd love to see a world where things like the current mess in the Gulf of Mexico didn't happen. Where the oceans and mountains and forests and their inhabitants could just coexist with us crazy bike-riding, car-driving apes and all living beings could at least count on breathable air and drinkable water.

I don't ride my bike because I feel this way. I think I feel this way because I ride my bike.

My sweetie and I just spent a few days riding through the mists of the California Coast. Lots of great scenery and wildlife and some wonderful food, hikes, and all the other good things you'd expect on a bike tour.

But we also spent a lot of time picking up trash. There are so many people, it seems, who "enjoy nature" by driving to a beautiful spot, feasting and drinking, and then getting back into their cars to go home. Nothing wrong with the first two, but the last is inexcusable. Especially where there's a trash can just a few yards away.

In the end, Johana and I had to set limits on how much trash we could clean up. We set up a sort of triage, focusing on plastic and other dangerous litter, and leaving the worst messes that were beyond hope.

It seems like the worst perpetrators drink Budweiser Lite.

Maybe if you rode your bike to the party, really earned your way there with sweat and possibly blood, you'd appreciate the remoteness and not always trash the place.

1

If you've done any bike touring in the last couple of years, you've probably noticed that a lot of the California Hike/Bike campsites have been moved, restricted, or closed.

The two reasons given for this are budget cuts and problems with transients. I won't argue either of these points now, even though I have a lot to say about them.

But there's something wrong with the attitude that many California state parks employees have towards bike tourists. In my travels this week, it seems that every time I pull into a state beach on my bike, the people in the kiosk roll their eyes and act as if I'm a drug-addicted, homeless serial killer. Or at least a nuisance.

This really hurts because I'm a member of the California State Parks Association, I volunteer for eco-restoration projects in the parks, and I'm constantly telling everyone how much fun it is to tour the California coast by bicycle and camp out in the state parks.

Worse still, a lot of the bike tourists I meet are from other countries, and this might be their overriding impression of the United States, and of California in particular. What are we telling them about ourselves?

It used to be fine to arrive at your campsite in the early afternoon and avoid the heavy coastal winds. You could unload your bike, set up your tent, and then hit the beaches, the town, or the hiking trails.

Now most places won't let you set up until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. It's like you can only eat and sleep, but you're not allowed to enjoy the park itself. And that's not all.

When I registered at a certain campground, the ranger took it upon himself to remind me that I can only stay for one night, there's no alcohol allowed, and check-out time is 9 a.m. As I set up my tent he came by to double check that I paid the fee, and reminded me again of all the rules and policies.

As I left Pismo Beach, the woman in the kiosk demanded to see my receipt, asked me the number of the campsite I had stayed in, and wanted the names of the other people who had been there.

This suspicious attitude might be reinforced by the bad behavior of a few bikers, and possibly one or two real problems. But I suspect it's an attitude that people have overall towards bikers.

A lot of people still think that if you choose not to travel by car it means you can't afford to and that this automatically makes you a moocher, or worse.

The truth is, I've spent a lot of time picking up beer cans and other trash left behind by the "normal" people. I've seen car campers exhibit some of the worst behavior you can imagine, while us bikers quietly went about our business.

A few days ago I even watched an angry woman yell at the ranger and demand a refund because it was raining.

I've been having a great time this week, with some amazing experiences. But when I sit down to write, this anti-bike bummer is what comes to the front of my mind. Here are a few things I wish the state parks employees understood about bike travelers:

  • We're generally quieter, cleaner, and leave our campgrounds in better condition than the typical visitor
  • We're environmentally aware, and chances are we give a lot of our time and money to the park system, either directly or indirectly
  • We help the economy by spending our travel budget at local stores, restaurants, bike shops and other businesses
  • A lot of us are bloggers, reporting our experiences to the world

3

The first time I tried to bike the entire via Appia, I wanted to be as faithful as humanly possible to the original roadbed, even though local archaeologists and history buffs insisted this could not be done. They were only partly right.

I'm getting ready for a new bike tour next week, roughly following El Cammino Real, the Royal Highway, which is (or was) California's Appian Way. But when I did my research, I learned something interesting that maybe should have been obvious.

There never was a single road.

Max Kurillo and Erline Tuttle wrote a book about this route, the efforts of historians to preserve it, and the bells that mark the way. They also made an important point that El Cammino Real is more of a corridor than an actual road.

There's a general swathe along the California coast where people traveled consistently along footpaths, trails, riverbeds, and (much much later) primitive roads.  It changed its course like a river in a broad valley, and one voyager's footprints could easily be overgrown or swept away at high tide.  The route was never marked except by the convenience of each individual traveler.

I would add that the most accurate reconstruction we know of today essentially follows the 101 Freeway, and choosing this as your bike route would just give you a miserable bike tour without a chance to experience the real California.

Ditto for via Appia, as I quickly learned. In some places the route is better known (if only because the ancient Romans were more anal than the colonial Spaniards) but it's not always the best way to travel. The key, even thousands of years ago, was to follow the general area.

In Rome, I did as the Romans do. I was true to the Appian Way most of the time, visited all the ancient cities and ruins and Roman temples. But I also detoured when it was a choice between a park and a freeway. I stayed at agriturismi, which are more like the lodging a traveler would have found along the via Appia in ancient Roman times. I talked to people, took hikes, ate at mom-and-pop restaurants and drank with the locals at their favorite bars.

Tracing the Royal Highway next week, I'll stay in the corridor, but I won't worry too much about whether or not I'm bicycling over Portola's footprints. I'll visit the missions, taste a lot of wine, swim and camp at many beaches, talk to farmers and ranchers, and prove that what's just off the 101 is far more interesting than what used to be on it.

My original intent was to tour the missions. But after I started reading a few books about the missions and their history, I saw that there are far more interesting things to see and do on a bike tour. I'm looking forward to this, and I hope I'll have something worthwhile to tell.

3

This is another benefit of biking that you don't usually hear about. It's a ritual that gives you an intimate connection with the places you ride. In the short time I've lived in LA, I've learned my way around better than many people who have been here all their lives.

About a million years ago when I was a tour guide out of Rome, there was an 85-year-old man named Doug in the group that I was leading around Europe. Doug always seemed to disappear whenever we went into a museum or started a tour. Italy bike tour Appia Matera

I quickly learned where to find him. He would inevitably be sitting at an outdoor table at a nearby cafe, sipping a pint from a big glass mug. He'd grin at you from underneath the bill of his Oakland A's baseball cap and say, "I decided to just sit down and have myself a beer."

This man fought in the Second World War. He worked grain elevators, assembly lines, and forklifts. I can't ever really know what was going on in his head, but I would imagine that sitting casually, drinking a beer outside the Louvre, the Colosseum, the Ponte Vecchio or the Acropolis must have really felt like he'd finally arrived, after a long life of struggle.

Or maybe there was even more to it than that.

A few years back there was a guy on YouTube who traveled all over the world and filmed himself dancing in front of famous landmarks and in exotic settings. That was his way of sealing the experience, saying "I'm here." And when you thing about it, we have something like that when we travel.

Dean Karnazes, who once ran 50 miles in 50 days, hints at this in his book. He sees a beautiful vista in Hawaii, Costa Rica, or wherever and he just has to run to feel one with the place, to grok it.

We take the picture, buy the souvenir, but usually there's something deeper and more personal, even if it's simple. I go to a new place and try the local coffee and dessert, such as it is. One of my friends lights up a small pipe with a special green herb burning inside. Doug sits down and has a beer.

This is another benefit of biking that you don't usually hear about. It's a ritual that gives you an intimate connection with the places you ride. In the short time I've lived in LA, I've learned my way around better than many people who have been here all their lives.

Now you have a chance to experience Italy in a way that most tourists never get to do, not even Doug. I'm retracing the Appian Way next spring, and I'm looking for companions. This is a tour of rural, heartland Italy, and you'll get to know her in your heart, your legs and your knees.

Crossing the land on your own power (as very few people have done since the centurions), you'll feel every gust of air and every curve and contour of the road. You'll eat the food that was grown, raised, or caught on Italian soil. Make friends with the locals who can sometimes trace their ancestry to pre-Roman times.

Leave a comment if you want to come along, or shoot me an email: jacob {at} bicyclefreedom.com. (You know where to put the @ symbol).