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If you've done this already, I congratulate you--and I have a little bit of envy too.

It feels like every aspect of life--your work, your family, your health, your dreams, your passions are strong wires pulling you in different directions, competing for your time and energy.  There's a tug of war going on, and usually when you try to enhance one part of your life there's a sacrifice or a trade-off somewhere else.

But what if your life could be a wheel? You're the hub, the different things that pull on you are the spokes, and if you get them integrated you have a perfect, smooth-spinning wheel?

This isn't just vague theory, I'm finding ways of making it happen. I'll share some of these if there's an interest. But what about you? Leave a comment if you've found ways that biking can enhance other parts of your life, and that life can enhance your biking.

You've no doubt heard the frightening news these past two weeks about the outbreak of swine flu.

Luckily the danger seems to be subsiding, even while the World Health Organization is still debating whether or not we have a pandemic on our hands.

Still, there are a few things you should know about riding a bike and the way it affects your resistance to disease.

First the good news. Obviously, if you spend time on a crowded bus or subway, crammed up close to people who are coughing and sneezing, touching the rail that hundreds of other people have touched...well, you get the picture.

If you commute on a bike instead, you've got your own personal space, and you won't have a lot of sick people breathing their germs in your face. It that's not a good enough reason to ride your bike to work, then here's some more.

There's mounting evidence that regular, moderate exercise boosts your immune system. While you're biking to work, or anywhere else, you're setting off a lot of changes inside your body that make it harder for germs to get a foothold.

I'll spare you all the technical stuff, but if you want to know more, here's the link to an article about the health benefits of bike exercise.

But that doesn't mean you should go out and do a double century every day. The other thing the research has shown is that overtraining can actually have the opposite effect, and weaken your immune system.

In other words, take it easy, but don't be idle.

The broad use of antibiotics, overcrowding as more people move to cities around the globe, the transportation of food and animals from continent to continent, and general environmental degradation are having an impact. We're breeding superbugs that are more infectious and harder to fight.

Riding a bike is one way to help restore some sanity and balance to the world. It's a big first step in creating a sustainable future for humanity.

At the very least, it will keep you much better equipped to deal with the hazards of an uncertain future.

Ride on, and keep your spirits up!

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I'm fleshing out the details for next year's bike tour of via Appia. A lot of people have been emailing me about where, exactly to ride, so here's the basic gist of it. If you're not coming with us next year, you can connect the dots and have a good basis for your own southern Italy bike tour:

Day 1--Rome to Ariccia. This is a slow, easy route that gives you time to enjoy the Appian Way Regional Park. It's worth spending most of your day siteseeing, even if you only ride 15 miles.

Day 2--Ariccia to Terracina. Another short but scenic route. We're going to veer off the Appia and go through the Circeo National Park. More trees, fewer cars, and we'll still get to Terracino in time to check out the Temple of Jupiter in Anxur

Day 3--Ride in the mountains with the Terracina Cycling Club. I can't promise this will happen, but I made friends with several local bikers in Terracina on my last bike tour. I'm hoping we can stash our panniers for a day and ride around in the mountains near Itri and Fondi with the locals. The weather should be perfect, and we'll be greeted with bright silver-green olive trees and wildflowers in every color imaginable.

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Day 4--Terracina to Minturno. This is a scenic ride through the mountains, passing another park where a section of the Appian way has been restored. As we come down the mountains towards Formia we'll pass the so-called "Tomb of Cicero," although Cicero is almost certainly not buried there. I'll tell you the story when we get to it. Minturno is a fascinating town with a lot of interesting archeological sites.

Day 5--Siteseeing in Minturno. We'll give our legs a rest as we camp out on the beach and spend most of the day checking out the remains of the ancient Rpman city of Minturnae and the 3 bridges that cross the river into Campagna. If you've got the energy, you can ride up to the medieval hill town of Minturno proper for breathtaking views of land and sea, or hike the swampy backcountry to the legendary Ponte Degli Aurunci.

Day 6--Minturno to Santa Maria Capua Vetere. This won't be a very interesting ride, but we'll pass through the city of Capua, home of the nicest people in the world, and on to the site of the original Capua. This was where gladiators were trained, and was the beginning of Spartacus' famous rebellion. Lost of Amphitheaters and old Roman ruins. Can't get enough of 'em!

Day 7--Detour to Benevento. We're going to circle around north of the traditional via Appia route to avoid a boring drudge of slow heavy traffic and industrial wasteland. Instead we'll ride through some mountains, and visit the beautiful town of Sant'Agatha dei Goti. We'll probably spend the night in an agriturismo spot outside Benevento.

Italy Appia Benevento theater

Day 8, 9, 10--Over the Apennines. There are a lot of possible routes over the Apennine mountains, and the scholars are all in disagreement on where the via Appia actually ran. I'm still looking into lodging opportunities. This will to be one of the most memorable parts of the trip, so I want to get it just right! We'll end up around Venosa or Gravina--both places we're going to spend some time.

Day 11--The Sasse. Throughout the rocky plains of Basilicata and Puglia, people turned to the many caves for shelter, cover, and religion. You'll see some breathtaking frescoes on the living rock in Gravina and Matera. We'll probably even get to spend the night in furnished caves (with the addition of beds, electricity, and running water).

Day 12--Taranto. Back on the coast of the ionian sea, we'll get to relax, eat, and maybe even check out some more Roman ruins if you're not tired of them.

Day 13--Taranto to Brindisi. This last, easy ride includes a stop halfway for some hand-made gelato in the fortress town of Oria. We'll have time for some photo-ops at the pillar that marks the end of the via Appia, and we'll top off the day sharing some well-earned food and wine with fellow travelers at a hostel nearby.

Day 14--Brindisi to Rome. Yep, it's weird backtracking all the way. I'm going to try to bike at least part of the way back on the via Appia-Traiana if you want to come with me.

Day 5--Mintu

Even though I'm a self-employed entrepreneur (and therefore broadly pro-business) I've always had a left-leaning political tendency.

But yesterday I joined the conservatives I usually argue with, and took part in a nationwide re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party. As a raving bicycle fanatic, this makes a lot of sense, because we were addressing another facet of the same problem. Let's look at this.

For the last 10 years, America has been partying. The past 6 months have been the hangover. Our government, the banks and corporations, but also individual consumers and me and you have been overspending.  We've gotten way over our heads into debt, and developed some bad habits that will make it harder to get out.

As an individual, this is a bad situation, but it's tolerable. At some point you'll bite the bullet, spend less, look and feel bad for a while, maybe even go into bankruptcy or foreclosure but you'll live.

But when large institutions make this mess, everybody feels the pain. Not only that, but your kids and grandkids and great grandkids will still be cleaning up the mess. That's what yesterday's protests were about. Bush ran up an unheard-of deficit in eight years, and Obama is fixing to do the same thing in a matter of months.

I voted for Obama with a passion, but if his change is just a continuation of Bush's failed policies, we're screwed.

That's the money story, and the reason why I joined in the tea party yesterday. But the economic pain is only a piece of a much larger problem. We're not just spending our grandchildren's money. We're destroying the very basis for them to support themselves and pay the debt back.

The average temperature of the earth has risen by a degree in the past century, and many climatologists are predicting it will rise another 3-9 degrees in this one. Doesn't sound like much, but that single degree has caused the disappearance of massive ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica. With possible serious consequences.

 Our bad habits and mindset are the real problem

While scientists debate the causes and effects of global warming, while economists argue about global finance and how to fix it, and while politicians bicker over what really went wrong and how to fix it, there's a simple answer to most of the questions. Extravagance. We've gone overboard. We consume too much, use too much, spend too much, burn too much, eat too much.

We're wreaking havoc on our economy, our environment, and even our own minds and bodies.

I'm proposing a small solution. This isn't going to save the world, but it's going to give us a giant step in the right direction.

Go for a bike ride, and get someone else to join you.  Seriously.

One of the big stories we've been trained to believe is that everything has a cost. If you want security, fun, or you want to solve a big and troubling problem, you have to make sacrifices.

But riding a bike is the exception to this rule. You can accomplish all of those things and so much more--and it's free.

That's why you should be out there on a bike. It's the easiest way to shatter the paradigm we're caught up in. It will change your thinking, it will change your outlook, and it will change the world.

A bike ride will help in many ways:

  1. You'll get some instant relief from whatever stress you've had to deal with recently
  2. Every mile you ride instead of driving will save about a pound of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. When you bring a friend along, the benefits are doubled.
  3. While you're out, you can turn of the lights, computer and TV, saving more energy and cutting your carbon footprint.
  4. You'll actually feel the wind and sun and contours of the land. You'll connect with landscapes and neighborhoods. This is far more entertaining than the mindless, wasteful consumption most people are used to.
  5. You'll save money that can be used to get out of debt, invest for the future, or support your favorite causes.
  6. You'll get great ideas on all kinds of things while you're riding your bike. If you execute some of these ideas into, you'll improve your life, your job, your relationships, your income, and help out the world to boot!
  7. You won't be listening to the depressing stories that the media pumps into your brain 24/7
  8. You'll become stronger, leaner, sexier and have more energy.

Try it. Please.

Call me biased. When I go biking in Italy, I sometimes get caught up in the picturesqueness, the good food after a long hard bike ride, nostalgia for history (both Italy's and my own), too much coffee and not enough sleep. Then the blinders go up, and Italy seems perfect and can do no wrong.

It's time to fess up. Italy has her flaws, just like everywhere else, and if you're planning to tour Italy by bicycle you should know about some of the problems that await you.

An article in The Telegraph points out the racism that is all too present in Italy. The city of Foggia in Southern Italy recently set up a separate bus line for immigrants. The two buses follow approximately the same route, but only one of them makes stops in an Italian neighborhood, while the other goes to a quarter where most of the residents are immigrants.

Nobody is being forced to ride one bus line over another, so comparisons to Apartheid or the segregated buses of the south in the 1950s aren't fair. Still, this story points out a significant problem.

The immigrant bus line was set up because of friction between Italians and non-EU citizens, and the idea was to keep the two groups away from each other. That there's even a need to do this shows the level of animosity that a significant number of Italians have towards outsiders. An animosity so strong that someone in the local government felt a compelling need to separate these two groups.

This isn't the first time I've encountered racism in Italy. I once turned down an apartment in Rome because the landlord told me they didn't allow "dark-skinned people" in the building.

If you come to Italy for a bike tour, you probably won't be harassed by anybody. I've been through Foggia on a bike, and I also happen to look like an Eastern European, one of the ethnic groups that are often the target of a lot of hate. Yet I never had any problems.

More than 99.9% of the Italians I've met are kind, generous, unbiased and friendly people who will welcome you with a big smile, especially if you've come by bike and you're there to spend money. But be aware. Like the rest of the world, Italy isn't perfect.

Before anything else, here's the link to donate to the Italian Red Cross: http://www.cri.it/donazioni/index.php?mode=form

I've done a lot of bike touring in Italy, and I woke up this morning to the news that a lot of Italy is now collapsing. Abruzzo got hit hard around 3:00 a.m. by an earthquake that measured either 5.8 or 6.3 on the richter scale, depending on different sources. People were crushed and buried in their beds.

Imagine you're huddled in blankets or dusty clothes, gazing at the ruins of your house. Or maybe you're dragging boulders away, trying to dig out your friends and family who are still buried underneath the rubble.

The gorgeous cathedral that has been around since before your grandparents' great grandparents were born is crushed. And so is everything you knew. The very ground beneath your feet is no longer solid. It's unreal.

But people pull together in times of crisis. Your neighbors are out there with you, sharing their food, their clothes, their muscle to help rescue those who are still trapped.

For me, this is personal. I had roommates from Abruzzo, where the earthquake hit. My old colleague from Rome hasn't heard from his family in Casano, and he doesn't know if they're okay.

If I could do it, I would go there myself and help with the rescue, give first aid, cook food or clean toilets--whatever was needed. But since I can't, I plan to help those who can. If you'd like to help too, here's the link to the Italian Red Cross: http://www.cri.it/donazioni/index.php?mode=form 

And the American Red Cross: http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main&s_subsrc=RCO_RedTab&s_src=DRF

Apologies in advance for the rant. I just get really pissed off sometimes because L.A. could easily become one of the most beautiful places in the world. It probably was, a few hundred years ago.

Now the City of Angels has suffered from short-sighted planning and simple human apathy. But today, at least, some people tried to do something about it.

I was riding down Vermont Avenue (never a good idea) and right at the bridge over the 101 freeway a band of Greenpeacers were protesting global warming.

bicycle global warming 015

I thought it was kind of ironic that they were holding up "stop global warming" signs under a street sign that said "No Stopping Any Time." Weirder still, but understandable, were the passing motorists who honked and cheered as they drove along, contributing to global warming.

I know most people don't have a choice, but if we had infrastructure that made it possible to cut back on driving at least some of the time, maybe it would make a dent.

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The final irony, not directly related, is that the Global 20 are meeting today. The leaders of the world's largest, most powerful nations are getting together to talk about solving some of our global problems...on April Fool's day.

Just in case you wanted to see, here's a shot of the demonstration on the Vermont Avenue 101 overpass:

global warming protest

Below you'll see the endless river of cars, crawling along like blood in the clogged arteries of an overfed bacon addict.  And this shot was around 4 in the afternoon, when most people are still at work.

I get pissed off like this sometimes because L.A. has the potential to be such an amazing, beautiful place! If you look closely you can see the Santa Monica Mountains, nearly obliterated by smog.

bikes and fossil fuel alternatives

Any ideas on how to make riding a bike so cool and so much fun that everybody wants to do it as much as they can?

I wish I'd thought of this sooner. I want to make this trip happen, and I want it to be affordable for you to come along. I finally figured out a way to get this happen, do some good for the world, help the global economy and have even more fun, to boot!Italy bike tour Appia archaeology Minturnae

I'm going to team up with a nonprofit group, and the Italy bike tour will be a fundraiser. I see it working like this: You go to all your friends and family and colleagues and get them to sponsor you on this tour, which will raise money for a cause.

I'll come up with a clear estimate of the cost for this trip, and we'll round it up to create a fundraising goal. Let's say the total cost of the tour is $1400. Your "goal" would be to raise $2,000.  The first $1400 would fund your tour, and the remaining $600 would go to the non-profit we're supporting.

Of course we'd have to be honest and aboveboard about this--tell your donors that most of their money is going to support your ride. It's all on the honor's system, too, because they'll be handing you the cash and it's up to you to allocate the right amount to the non-profit.

This should be OK, because most of you won't cheat. A few may not be able to raise the full amount, but the non-profit won't be cheated because other riders will raise more money than the official goal. Also, some of our fellow bike tourists may choose to pay for some, or all, of their bike tour out of their own pocket, leaving more funds for the nonprofit.

And anyway, the nonprofit group will benefit from the publicity, and the tour itself is a good cause to support, as I'll explain in a moment.

So, which cause are we supporting?

I just thought of this, and haven't actually contacted any nonprofit organizations yet. I have a few in mind, and I'm open to suggestions. (Post yours in the comment section, below!)

I'd like to support a group that's focused on ecology, sustainability, biking, alternative energy, or international understanding. This seems appropriate for a bike tour in a foreign country.

The tour itself is going to be a call to action, showing people that you can get around on your own power. Just doing this is going to get a lot of people thinking about getting around on their own power, especially when we publicize the bricks out of it.

This is also going to be a big push for small mom-and-pop businesses and farms in Italy. I'm contacting pro loco goups all over southern Italy (they're sort of like a Chamber of Commerce for tiny rural villages and hill towns) to make the most of festivals and local small businesses. We'll stay in agriturismo sites, small campgrounds and family-owned bed and breakfasts.

I'm also getting in touch with other bikers I met on my last trip, like the members of the Terracina Cycling Group. We'll ride together, and maybe take a day off to stash our panniers and ride fast in the hills with Italian cyclists.

Anyway, I'm getting really excited about this and I hope you are too. I'm thinking May, 2010 as the date of the bike tour because that gives us a year to hook up with all the groups and make things happen.

My recent martial arts quest has had an interesting economic side effect. My girlfriend and I have spent hundreds of dollars at a local martial arts store, and it occurred to me that any time you pursue a hobby or persuade others to do so, you're stimulating the economy.

Right now, somewhere in your city there's a manager crunching the numbers and saying, "If we don't make x dollars this month, we'll have to let someone go." The extra $30 one customer spends might end up saving someone's job.

Next time you buy a new set of bicycle tires or a jersey, you might ensure that someone in your neighborhood still has a job. When you and your buddies meet for coffee before a Sunday ride, or grab some beer and pizza at the end of the trek, you've just helped keep a restaurant open.

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So get out there and ride your bike, or follow whatever other passions excite you. Encourage your friend and neighbors to do the same. Thousands of these tiny ripple effects all over America might accumulate into one big mighty wave that can release an economy that has run aground, and get things moving again.

And biking especially has this stimulating, life-giving force. It keeps your energy levels high and your stress levels low. It saves you money on gas and doctor's bills. The light you share with the world is contagious. Just riding out there on the street is an inspiration.

It's exactly what we need right now. Ride on!

There's a new movement going on in L.A. for new bikers. Bike Sages are training newbies to ride fearlessly on the streets of Los Angeles. If you're here, and you've ever thought about biking in LA but you were worried about the traffic and other dangers, you can get a personal mentor to help you find fun and safe routes near your home and job.