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There's a fierce cold wind blowing through LA today. Riding against it this morning reminded me of a similar day crossing the Apennines on my last Italy tour. I made a bad decision on a rainy day, based on something I thought I'd remembered reading about Aquilonia.

They say when your blood sugar is low, the first thing to suffer is your judgment.

Anyway, I wound up arriving in Aquilonia in the dark, cold and exhausted and a little bit disoriented after a wet day fighting the wind. But Aquilonia turned out to be possibly the most hospitable town in the world. That's another story, but here's the point I'm getting at.

Italy bike tour Appia hills Aquilonia

There's a shield in the Pro Loca headquarters of Aquilonia that shows a warrior holding his hand in the fire and the words "Aut vincit aut morem." Victory or death.

The story is that Aquilonia was Samnite territory, and the site of the Samnites' last stand against the Romans. They put their hands in the fire and made the oath to defeat the Romans or die in battle. They were killed almost to a man, but today their descendants live on in fierce defiance.

"We are not Italians," some of the locals told me. "We are Samnites."

"Do or die" can sometimes turn out to be both, it seems. Like in our case, for example.

My 2009 trip through Italy will be in the fall, not the usual springtime bike tour. But I'd like to tour the Via Appia by bike in the spring of 2009, as originally planned, if you can help to make it happen.

If I can get 10 people to agree on a time to go, I can get us group discounts on plane tickets and a lot of our food and lodging. I'll help you get your bike in the plane, or buy one in Italy, as I plan to do.

You may have some economic reasons not to do this trip just now, but here's something to consider.

First, unless you're really losing your home or applying for food stamps, a lot of the doom and gloom is self-fulfilling. This is going to be an inspiring journey that will change your life forever. You'll come back with a sense of renewal, the fire back in your eyes, and the strength and spirit to do whatever it takes to prosper in your business or your career.

This is a vacation, but it's also an investment. It's worth at least as much as a personal trainer or a life coach. It will cost much less, and give you bragging rights to boot.

Do whatever it takes to make this happen. It will be a victory over the pessimism that's ruining our economy, a conquest of the fears and self-doubts that are holding you back from living the life you want. If this kind of travel is part of your dreams as much as it's a part of mine, you have to do it or a small part of your spirit will die inside.

Victory or death. You don't have to be a Samnite to know what's at stake here. Ten of us are going to have a blast! I hope you're part of the team. Send an email to jacob "at" bicyclefreedom.com to get more info about this journey.

Yeah, I know, you should be out riding instead of sitting in front of the computer. Me too.

But if you find yourself indoors this weekend, you've absolutley got to check out Darren Alff's historic event, "Bicycle Travel as a Modern Lifestyle Choice." Basically he's gathered a group of big names and brands in the biking world, and this weekend, November 22nd and 23rd, they're going to offer up their expertise through videos, interviews, and Live Q and A sessions. Here's an impressive short list of some of the people and organizations he's brought together:

  • Joe Kurmaskie (athor of The Metal Cowboy)
  • BikeCommuters.com
  • Bike Friday
  • CycleAware
  • MomentumMagazine
  • CrazyGuyOnABike.com
  • The Adventure Cycling Association
  • WarmShowers.org

This is a really cool idea, and as far as I know, nobody has ever done anything like it before. If you want to know anything about bike touring, bike commuting, or just generally just building a lifestyle around biking, you'll probably get some good advice and ideas here.  Go to www.bicycletouringpro.com to get the schedule.

By the way, I haven't been posting much lately because I've been working on the survey and biking tips, and organizing an Italy tour for a group of teachers next summer. If you live near Los Angeles and you want to add your input for a new biking group that's starting soon, take the 5-minute survey.

I just heard the bad news about Ian Hibell. If you don't know about him, and you ride a bike, check out this link. Better yet, check out his book, Into Remote Places. It's a classic.

I can only hope that when I'm 74 I'll be able to ride from the UK to Greece, as Ian was doing when the fateful hit-and-run did him in. RIP, Ian.

For the rest of us, drive carefully. Ride free.

Italy bike tour Appia Aeclanum archeology

I woke up to a cold fog, and couldn't wait to get back on my bike and start moving. I was in the Pontine Marshes, and the Romans were in a hurry to get through, too, when they built the via Appia.

Here the Appian Way shoots forward in a perfectly straight line.  the Romans probably could have established a winding route along sections of dry ground, but instead they pounded strong pilings into the water to support the road where they wanted it to go.

Two straight lines of Umbrella pines flank the road on either side, and I wonder if the Romans originally planted pines as shade for their travelers. Throughout my trip, these trees always seemed abundant along the roadside, and whenever I was unsure of the way I could go up on a hill and look for the clear green lines cutting across the land.

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The Pontine marshes are drained now, and mostly used for agriculture. A drainage ditch runs along the road just beyond the trees.

It would have been easy to die here. Trucks emerged from the early morning fog, and there was no room for them to pass, and no space to get out of the way. The trees and bushes grow up flush against the roadway in most places. Lots of flowers and other monuments to the fallen dot the roadway.

I could have taken a parallel route about 10 miles south, through a national park. I recommend this to anyone else. But I'm a purist, and I wanted to follow the Via Appia as faithfully as possible.

Luckily, some of the most considerate drivers I've seen in my life drove the Appian Way. They would slow down and follow me, sometimes for as long as 15 minutes, until it was safe to pull over and let them go by. People are generally in less of a hurry in Italy, even on the Romans' most important highway.

Beyond the thin ditch of water and the umbrella pines, endless pastures, crop fields, stone walls, vineyards and olive groves roll out among the occasional milestone or chunk of marble. It's as if nothing has changed over the centuries The cars are an anachronism, as if some mischievous god dumped a layer of asphalt over the whole thing and let the drivers in as a great circus to entertain the masses.

Long before you get to Terracina, you see the Temple of Jupiter Anxur at the top of Mount Sant'Angelo.

I was destined to get to know Jupiter very well (to be continued...)

There are true heroes in this world. If you want to meet one, check out Ted, who is doing something very few people have tried. There have been a lot of bike rides to raise money and awareness to fight diseases, but these have always been for the benefit of two-legged creatures.

Now there's a biker who is riding for the life of animals. When a person gets cancer, they have a lot of options. For animals, sometimes the best they can hope for is to be drugged beyond the reach of pain. But when Ted's dog came down with cancer, he sought out cures and treatments, and wrote a book for other dog owners.

But now he's doing something great. He's riding his bike across the country to raise money to help dogs with cancer. On his website you can learn more about the story, and the scores of fellow dog owners who are grateful for his work. You'll see some videos of the ride, and you'll have the chance to donate funds to help dogs who have been stricken with this disease.

Here's the link: http://www.dogcancerride.com

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OK, this has bummed me out as much as it has a lot of you. After looking at the euro vs. dollar exchange rates, seeing how much touring Italy by bicycle is going to cost right now, and considering some interesting and exciting business prospects I have right now despite the general economic doom and gloom, I've decided to postpone this trip for at least a year.

If you still want to go, drop me a line and I can give you a lot of advice from personal experience touring southern Italy and Rome, especially. And there's more.

via Appia gravinaq fountain

If you're not from the United States, this is a great time to visit our country. Everything will be unusually cheap, and the people will be really nice to you. I'll be blatant. We need your tourist euros and other currency.

I shouldn't have to say this, but if you're in the USA and facing financial hardships, your bike can be a fun and healthy way to stay out of the mess. It's much cheaper to buy, power, and maintain a bike than a car, and it's a great way to cut corners, especially if it doubles as your workout.

Speaking of workouts, I'm going to be posting a lot more in the future about the benefits of bike exercise, and also a total body workout to keep your arms, shoulders, and core up to par with your legs and cardio, which are probably already rock solid if you're biking even moderately.

I also have a surprise this coming summer that should be a huge benefit to travelers anywhere in the world, whether or not you travel by bicycle. So keep in touch.

As I post this, oil is $100 a barrel. Gasoline is still half what it costs in Italy, probably because of some irrational taxation/subsidy patterns on both sides of the globe. We're living in interesting times, and that can seem like a curse but often be a blessing.

I'm just months away from my 40th birthday, and I had planned to bicycle around the Mediterranean sea as a present to myself. Now it looks like I'll have to put it off for a few years but it's not over yet. If I keep in shape I could probably still do it when I'm 50, and I don't give up.

Don't you give up either. Your bicycle can be cure for so many problems that plague the world today--global warming, pollution, peak oil, economic excess, poverty, even a lot of health problems and crisis.

I long for easier, happier days, such as, for example, the way things were ten years ago. But we cannot choose the times we live in. As Gandalf said, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

Enjoy these big hills that can only lead to easier times in the future. Ride swift and free, and remember it's all about the journey. In fact, you don't even know the final destination.

If you’re Canadian, British, Australian or from any English-speaking county other than the United States you can probably ignore this post.Italy bike tour Capua repairs

But if you’re from the USA, and you want to tour Italy by bicycle, you may be worried about how much (or how little) your dollars will buy when you exchange them for euros.

Good news. When it comes to bike touring, you’re in a separate category of travel. Here’s why.

Bike touring is inherently cheaper than most other kinds of travel. You spend more time in small towns where things are less expensive, and you have more options because of your mobility (think of the typical backpacker who has to rely on bus and train schedules).

I would add that bike tours tend to involve more camping, but the truth is you really might want to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. Good news here, too.

You see, in the late 1990s a lot of new tour operations opened up in Italy with the intention of serving middle class Americans made rich by the dotcom bubble. The dollar was strong, flights were cheap and convenient in the pre-9/11 era, and middle class tourists swarmed to Italy. (I was a tour manager in Rome, and it was possibly the best time ever to be an American living abroad.)

Now those hotels, restaurants, pensioni and other services are struggling for new and different clientele. When you show up there, you are a rare and welcome guest. You can’t expect the prices to be lower, but you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

Italians don’t treat you like a customer, but a guest. On recent bike tours in Italy I’ve been invited to dinner, taken on tours of small Italian villages, and offered lots of amenities for what was only a slightly pricey hotel room.

And this is part of the joy of bike riding on tour. You get all kinds of unexpected gifts and surprises from the locals.

Food also gives you a new level of class when you tour Italy by bicycle. You may not be able to eat in a Euro-grade restaurant on a dollar budget, but you can get fine bread and cheese from a deli, and then take it somewhere exotic with your bike.

Sit up on a wall or in the courtyard of a castle while you feast on wine, cold cuts, cheese and grilled eggplant doused in olive oil. Have a picnic in a green field dotted with wild flowers, as you lean against a crumbling aqueduct. I’ve done this, and I’ll do it again soon. No matter what the exchange rate happens to be.

If anything, this might be the best time for touring Italy by bicycle if you’re creative and adventurous. And you are, or you wouldn’t be thinking about this trip, would you?

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I just got back a few days ago from a class put out by the Adventure Cycling Association--on how to "lead" a bike tour.

The takeaways are pretty well in line with what I'm planning for the bike tour in Italy this coming spring:

You don't really lead as much as you provide support and guidance so everyone can find their way home at night and have a good meal waiting for them. I promise I'll do at least this for you if you want to tour Italy by bicycle.

The Adventure Cycling Association's philosophy really fits in well with my own concept of what a bike tour should be. You have a lot of fun and see some cool places, but that's almost window dressing compared to the experience and personal growth that happens on a good bicycle tour.

I got an incredibly positive evaluation from the course instructor, who said he's going to recommend me as a tour leader for Adventure Cycling. So if you want to bike through southern Italy with me, you know you're in good hands--verified by an independent third party.

We're going to push the limits when we bike the via Appia. You're going to learn and grow in all kinds of incredible ways. You'll learn a lot about Italy, but you'll learn even more about yourself. And did I mention--we're going to really have fun!

If you want to find out more about touring Italy by bicycle, click here or leave a comment.