Skip to content

1

It's about following through on your dreams, no matter how late and slow you are, and no matter how foolish the dream. That must be it. Be the architect of your own fortune, better late than never.

In trying to publish a book about the via Appia bike tour, I'm following James Altucher's Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing.* He has a checklist of 20 items meant to get you through the whole process, from the idea to the finished product.

I'm hung up on step 2.

The first item on the checklist is, "Write every day." Over the past six months, I've been close. Now I have a calendar in front of my computer where I get to put a yellow slash each day I write, and the number of days in a row.

It's heartbreaking to get to 30 or 40 days, then skip a day and have to start over again at zero. This keeps me motivated. This might be a good training tip, come to think of it. If you're getting ready for a bike tour, and you want to exercise every day, you could use this same process to stay on track.

But that second item on the list is a killer, at least for me: "Decide what the book is about."

There's an easy answer, or at least an obvious one. It's about a bike tour of the ancient Roman road, the Appian Way. But I want the book to be about more than just this.

The book is about pursuing your dreams. Pyrrhus shows up a lot in my story, because he had a dream of becoming rich and powerful by conquering sections of Italy. He was essentially stopped by Appius Claudius, the builder of the via Appia who famously said, "Every man is the architect of his own fortune."

Appius Claudius had a dream of building aqueducts and roads that would make his name immortal. He achieved all this relatively early in his career.

Claudius and Pyrrhus were notorious for their ability to "just do it." When they had a dream, they would go for it.

I'm not a Pyrrhus or a Claudius. I first stumbled onto via Appia while trying to walk off a hangover after a night of partying in Rome. That very day I fell in love with the road and the idea of taking a bike tour along her entire length.

It was seven years before I did anything about it.

But it turns out it truly is better late than never. I did follow my dream, however belatedly, and I made that first bike tour seven years after I first got the idea.

Now the new dream is to write a book. Or rather, to publish it. I've been writing for years. A lot of the manuscript came directly out of a journal that I kept during the bike tour, a bunch of papers held together (ironically) with rubber strips taken from old inner tubes.

I think I've got a decent manuscript for the book now, but what is the book really about? I want it to be meaningful for someone who never plans to do a bike tour in Italy.

It's about following through on your dreams, no matter how late and slow you are, and no matter how foolish the dream. That must be it. Be the architect of your own fortune, better late than never.

Step 3 in Altucher's Checklist is simply this: "Write it well." Fair enough. I think the first draft is decent, and I've generally gotten good reviews along with a lot of constructive criticism from people who've read the manuscript.

But can I really write it well if I'm not clear on what the book is about?

It feels like I'm at the beginning of a steep hill at the start of a long bike tour. I'm in the lowest gear standing in the saddle, just to get past steps 2 and 3 on the checklist.

There are 20 items I need to check off in total. Maybe in another seven years I'll be able to tick them off and be a self-published author.

Here's the good news. Becoming the architect of your own fortune is just like pushing yourself forward on a difficult ride. You'll get there.

I can almost guarantee you'll get there faster than I will.

This was a rant about my new book on biking down 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.



*I didn't include a link to James Altucher's guide at the top because it's not as simple as going to Amazon. As far as I know, James will give you the book for "free" but you have to pay for a subscription to his newsletter. Alternately, you can download the checklist at no cost in exchange for signing up for his email list. That said, I'm a paid subscriber and a big fan of James Altucher. If you're interested in quitting your job and having more time for bike tours and other things you love, I recommend reading his stuff. Just be ready for a sales pitch. Here's the link (Once you're there, scroll down a bit if you just want the free checklist.)

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

bike tour california mountainYou 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.

The Solutions

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.

Mentioned in this post:

I've got a book title. Here's how I did it.

Bike touring can mean a lot of different things.

For months I agonized over what I really wanted to say in this book. I wondered whether it was even worth putting out there.

I know I didn't want to write another travelogue. I hope if you'll read it you'll set out on many glorious journeys of your own, but I can't expect you to care very much about mine. I tried to serve up nuggets of history, tips, and suggestions seasoned with a sprinkling of local color and personal experience.

What finally came out was a big surprise.

bike-tour-colosseumTo make a long story short, I finished the whole thing but I didn't know what to call it. So I let the public vote with their clicks.

The rest of this post is about how I did it. If you've ever thought about writing a book of your own, the rest of this post might be useful. If not, then you can skip it. Save your time, and go for a bike ride instead.

How to Select a Best-Selling Title for Your Book

I had a lot of things I wanted to say in this book, so it was easy to come up with over a dozen titles. The first step was to narrow it down a bit, so I talked to a lot of people and threw out the titles they thought were the worst.

I finally pared it down to these three, which are pretty straightforward:

Biking the Appian Way
Biking via Appia
Biking Rome to Brindisi

I paired each one of these with a subtitle, and repeated them without the word "biking."

Next I created a google adwords campaign.

If you've never done this, it's pretty simple. You start by picking a batch of keywords. I used things like "bike touring Italy" "ancient Roman roads," and the names of various cities and towns along via Appia.

Once you have your keywords, you create your ads, which have a main headline and two subheadings. I simply used my titles and subtitles, and I was good to go.

When people search for your keywords, a lot of them will see one or more of your ads (Google shows them at random). You get data showing how many times an ad was seen, how many clicks it got, plus a lot of other useful information.

One title and subtitle of mine got nearly twice the clicks of any of the others. Within days, I had a winner:

Biking Rome to Brindisi: How traveling the ancient via Appia saved me from a life of quiet desperation

If you want to read the pre-publication edition, contact me by leaving a comment below.

Last night that venerable Italian boot gave me a solid kick in the head. "Use this, you fool!" it said to me. Here's a great way to boost your memory, using the shape and layout of different places.

Ask almost anyone to find Italy on a map of Europe and they can do it.

It's shaped like a boot.

Arch of Trajan Italy bike tour
Arch of Trajan. Celebrate your triumphs!

Last night that venerable Italian boot gave me a solid kick in the head. "Use this, you fool!" it said to me. Here's a great way to boost your memory, using the shape and layout of different places.

Let's say you're taking a biochemistry exam, and you have to memorize the different groups. That's a hard task, so let's turn it into something easy.

Let's say you have to walk to your friend's house. Your friend only lives a few blocks away, and you've walked there once already. You know the way. After just one try.

Your brain is very good at finding its way around. Your ancestors were walking back from the lake to the cave 10,000 years ago, and you've inherited their skill.

Now let's apply that skill to learn biochemistry. Here's how it works.

Imagine that walk to your friends house. There are certain landmarks you'll see along the way. All you have to do is attach each biochemistry group to one of those landmarks.

For instance, one of the houses you pass has a big cardboard box on the porch. You imagine a car speeding around the corner, crashing into the box. The car-box. The carboxyl group. You could even imagine the car spews carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and a boxer comes along and punches the driver in the face.

The more personal, vivid, and strange your images, the more likely you'll remember them. Let's move on.

As you're walking, you pass a chain link fence. You could imagine it is a long chain of smaller molecules, a polymer. I like to picture it as DNA. Then a guy (or a girl) comes along and chains his/her bike to the fence. The cyclist uses a very strange method to lock up the bike, involving a whole group of locks. Method, methyl. The methyl group is attaching to the DNA molecule.

You get the idea, I hope. I'm using this to memorize all the Roman emperors. For me, that's tougher than biochemistry. How can you use this?

  • As a checklist before your bike tour, to make sure you don't leave anything behind
  • As a reminder of crossroads and important sites on your bike route
  • To remember names of people you meet on a bike tour
  • If you can't get to a journal or blog, this could help you remember the highlights of your trip so you can share them later on

I'm memorizing the Roman emperors because I want to be an expert on via Appia, the ancient Roman road that ran from Rome to Brindisi. I biked the entire route, and I'm planning another trip in a year or so. I'm also publishing a book about via Appia this year.

If you want to hear more about these things, including where to find the book or how to join me on the next tour, all you have to do is sign up for my email list below. I'll never share your email with anyone.



1

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.

Gravina in Puglia bridgeWhen 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?

Roman monument on via AppiaIs 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.



A heavy block of lead was dumped on me this week. My first response was to take the concept of "temper tantrum" to a whole new level. But my wife convinced me to take a hike with her, talk things through, and look at new possibilities.

About two hours later I had turned the lead into gold. Here's what happened.

My latest quest is to finish the via Appia book, get a cover designed, record the audio version and upload everything to Amazon. I was all set to do this over a small vacation later this month. But my employer had other ideas.

I was offered an "opportunity" this week. Terrible things will happen to a lot of people if I don't accept the new responsibility.

Now the vacation has been postponed to December, but that's not all. Over the last few months I've managed to set aside an hour or two to write each day. Now I'll have to use that time to plan and prepare for my new job "opportunity."

However, I'm not complaining anymore. I'll get the book finished a little bit later than planned. More importantly, I've figured out some ways that my new job responsibilities (which don't come with any additional money by the way) can actually help me finish and promote the book. This may even help me get more time for bike touring in the future.

The lesson here is not "buck up." The lesson is "transform."

Gold bars
Photo: "Gold Bars" by Agnico-Eagle - Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Alchemy and bike touring

A long long ago, there were wizards who could turn lead into gold.

At least that's the old popular legend. The modern popular legend is something like Paolo Coelho's famous book, The Alchemist. The hero has a dream, and he goes out and pursues it. I won't spoil the story, but let's just say if you're interested in bike touring you'll find a lot in The Alchemist that will resonate.

If you're reading this, you're probably on a similar path, chasing down a dream. Or you're going to be there soon.

But sometimes heavy obstacles will come along and block you, or weigh you down. Just when you're close to the goal, annoying things like recessions, back injuries, and broken spokes get in your way. They'll trip you up every time. Which brings me back to alchemy.

The obstacles are the raw materials that refine you and shape your destiny. They are the painful chunks of lead that you will turn into gold.

You've probably run into a problem before. If nothing else, think about when your bike broke down in the middle of a ride or worse yet in the middle of a tour. You probably figured out how to fix it. You'll get amazingly creative on a bike tour.

Better still, whenever you sacrifice comfort and convenience, you are compensated with adventures and discoveries. This is what happened to me at work this week.

And this is what brings me to the real secret of alchemy.

You're always going to run into problems. Even when you're not trying to travel hundreds of miles balanced on this wheels and propelled by nothing but your own force of will.

Bike touring is a great way to train for all the rest of life, because you have to deal with whatever happens, and you'll usually come out better off. If nothing else, you'll have a good story to tell everyone over dinner.

If you remember this, you can develop superpowers. The next time you're dealing with petty, frustrating people, you can think back to that broken chain link on the mountain pass, or the wrong turn you didn't discover until two hours later.

The troubles and obstacles you encounter in life are the lead, the gross matter that you can transform. The unexpected rewards, maybe the act of transformation itself, are the gold.



Mentioned in this post:

These changes don't just enable you to do the impossible once. They help you learn faster, so that you can redefine what is possible and what is impossible.

Note: There's a free prize at the end of this post!

Are you looking for a new bike ride?

Here's a way you can have a good ride anytime, anyplace, anywhere in the world. Try this technique and you'll never get bored. You'll get some good exercise, make new discoveries, and... well, I'll save the third thing, the big bonus prize, the absolute number one reason you should try this out, for the end of the post.

Bikesharing depot in Rome, ItalyFirst of all, try these steps (and don't forget the free prize at the end of this post):

  1. Open up Google maps or some other mapping browser and look up your own address.
  2. Put it right in the center of your screen.
  3. Zoom out once or twice. The more ambitious you are, the more you'll zoom out
  4. Figure out a tour that takes you through the safest, most challenging, most scenic areas on your screen. If you don't know what they are, go out and find them!

It's up to you what you'll include in step 4, but here are few things that come to mind: Coffee shops, parks, museums, places you're not supposed to ride but you'll do it anyway, steep hills, your favorite place.

I just made this up. As far as I know, nobody else has talked about it. Maybe there's a reason for that.

Try it out, and tell me what you think. I'll share mine in a future post.

Now for your free prize:

I'm reading a book called The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler. It's about how to achieve "flow," a very powerful state of mind where you can do things that are normally out of human reach.

Think riding your mountain bike off the roof of a skyscraper, landing on a slanted roof farther down, which you use as a ramp to propel yourself into the air where you do a double backflip before opening your parachute and gliding to a perfect landing on the front lawn of the Embassy.

Kotler writes about the conditions that can put you in that state of mind in a "normal" day-to-day world. If you get there, you can move beyond your limits as a musician, photographer, dancer, or stock trader. You can take something you're good at and become extraordinary in a short amount of time.

One of the key conditions is novelty. There's a reason the best athletes, artists, and professionals are always pushing the envelope. Whenever you stimulate your mind with something new, it creates physical, chemical, and electrical changes in your brain and in your entire nervous system.

These changes don't just enable you to do the impossible once. They help you learn faster, so that you can redefine what is possible and what is impossible.

If you start seeking out new bike routes in your old neighborhood, you might discover that you have more energy, or you're communicating with people more easily. You'll think more clearly, even when you're dealing with issues that have nothing to do with bike rides.

When you bike a new route, you're on your way to developing superhuman powers.



2

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. Roman monument on via Appia

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.

FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/AppiaBike
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheJacobBear

If you want to get the latest updates on the book, the journey, and lots of juicy bits on how to be the architect of your own fortune, sign up here:




Thanks for reading!

Jacob

Could this be the answer to all of my dreams, or would I just die of heat stroke?

Ponte degli Aurunci arch
One of the 21 arches of the Ponte degli Aurunci--the Aurunci Bridge. Photo copyright Jacob Bear

A long time ago, a mysterious tribe lived in central Italy. The Aurunci were big and powerful when Rome was just a small town. They ruled a confederation of five great cities—Suessa, Ausona, Minturnae, Sinuessa, and Vescia.

Only a town called Suessa remains today. Her people suffered terribly for this privilege, as you'll see.

The Romans built via Appia to make war on the Aurunci and their allies. Twenty five years later, they defeated the Aurunci and destroyed their cities.

Minturnae was rebuilt as a port. But all that's left of the Aurunci is the modern town, Sessa Aurunca, which was named after Suessa.

And there's one more reminder: The ancient Romans built a great bridge across the Travata river. It connected Sessa Aurunca to the via Appia. It took 21 arches to cross the river and keep the whole thing up. That would be hard to do today, and they built all those arches with hand tools. It was called, and is still called, the Ponte degli Aurunci, the Aurunci bridge.

Via Appia Antica at Minturno. Photo: copyright Jacob Bear
Via Appia Antica at Minturno. Photo: copyright Jacob Bear

A thousand years later the Empire crumbled. All the important political action was happening far away in the East. Fewer travelers made use of this bridge.

The local inhabitants began to use the arches for shelter and storage. Eventually someone discovered that the tiles which decorated the bridge were perfect for baking bread. Villagers stripped away its façade.

Over the centuries, the Ponte degli Aurunci was overgrown with vines and weeds, until it became an abandoned place of myth and superstition. A few people from Sessa Aurunca may wander there in search of solitude, but most outsiders never bother.

Yet every year, a handful of archeologists make their way to the Ponte degli Aurunci, just to see an interesting part of the past. I, too, made this pilgrimmage. The bridge is phenomenally well-preserved, and even more phenomenally well-hidden.

As I left Minturno, I knew I would pass the bridge in a few hours. I asked several people the way. Late that morning, when I stopped to cool off by pouring a bottle of water over my head, a pottery merchant told me the 3-way intersection was just a kilometer up the road.

“Look for the fourth way,” he said. “The strada vecchia,” the old street.

The paved road continued straight ahead. Beads of sweat trickled down my arms and neck, but I found the intersection.

There was a smaller road on the right that headed towards some houses. To my left I could see a gravel road leading off through an olive grove. The shiny silver leaves flickered in the sun.

The area was blocked by a chain link fence, but the gate was open. It didn't look like an old road. It looked brand new. Still, I chained my bike to the fence and went in.

Around a bend, I saw a large white house with flowers planted around the sides and a shiny red Fiat parked in the driveway. I called out but nobody answered. This didn't seem like the right place, so I went back to the main road.

Was I wrong? Would there be another intersection farther up? Across the street, a woman and a girl were watching me from their porch. I walked towards them and greeted them with a friendly “Ciao!” The woman, presumably the mom, was not amused.

“What is it?” she asked. Che c'e'?

I put on what I hoped was a friendly smile and asked her to excuse the ignorance of a crazy foreigner who was in search of the Ponte degli Aurunci.

The girl laughed and the mom just shook her head in disbelief, fanning herself with a newspaper. But she patiently explained to me that there was an old road, completely hidden, less than a meter away from the fence. I thanked her and walked off.

“Watch out for snakes,” warned the girl. She said something else in dialect that I couldn't understand, but it made her mother laugh. As I crossed the main road again, I could still hear their chuckles in the distance.

At the edge of the fenced area, the road was bordered by thick brush and grasses. A million thorny plants taunted me, daring me to snare my clothes and my skin on their sharp needles. I couldn't see any sign of an old road. The ladies probably lied just to get rid of me.

Then I saw a spot that looked a little bit trampled. It wasn't a road. Not even a footpath. But it did look like maybe a small dog could have had laid down there a month ago. The brush wasn't quite as thick in this one place. I pushed aside a branch that was probably poison ivy, scratched my legs on thorns that were made of barbed wire, and stepped into the vegetation.

The temperature dropped ten degrees. I was in a dark, shady sea of green.The ground was moist, and there was more space to move around. Wild blackberries and figs offered up their fruit, and vines draped themselves over the branches of small, dense trees.

There wasn't any kind of path, but I decided to explore a little bit. The ground sloped gently down, getting softer and more muddy as it went. Nettles stung my ankles, and in a few days I would have yellow blisters of poison oak on the back of my hand.

Shaded road to Aurunci bridge
The Old Road leading to the Aurunci bridge. Photo: copyright Jacob Bear

I was scratched and beaten, my feet soaking wet, when I stepped on a single basalt stone covered in a millimeter of muddy water. I looked around, and saw another one farther up. It felt like a trail of breadcrumbs luring me deeper into the woods. I expected to come across a gingerbread house, a cottage full of dwarves, or a talking wolf in this tangled, fairytale forest.

Then I saw two more paving stones, and a clump of them up ahead. The Strada Vecchia! This was the Old Road.

A few minutes later the road started to rise. The stones were dry and more numerous. Suddenly I was out of the shade and up on a sunny arch of the bridge. The nearly dry riverbed, rich with vegetation, meandered off into the scrub in the distance. The road crossed the bridge and disappeared into some trees on the other side. I followed along until I startled a young couple kissing in a parked car on the other side.

I left quickly to give the lovers their space. But it's probably worth hiking the rest of the road, if you're ever in that part of the world. In fact, from maps I've seen it looks like there is a road from Sessa Aurunca that leads to the bridge. I've never explored this route, but it's probably easier than the way I found the Ponte degli Aurunci. And it's probably scenic, too.

Personally, I'm glad I found it the way I did. The hunting and scrambling, consulting the locals and getting fragments of information out of old books all turn the visit into a quest.

The first time I went to Rome, I loved to wander the narrow streets and alleys of the historical center without a guidebook. I preferred to do this at high noon, in the middle of summer. Most of the tourists and the Romans themselves would retreat into bars to avoid the hot sun. I had the city almost to myself.

Once I stumbled upon a huge, oval-shaped piazza with three fountains adorned with beautiful sculptures. I knew at once it was someplace important. In fact, it was Piazza Navona, and any map or guidebook would have led me directly to it. But it has always seemed more special to me than many other tourist sites, because I found it on my own.

This is the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. Would you rather consume an experience that someone created for you, or discover it alone by your own luck and wits?

Anyway, I haven't yet been to Sessa Aurunca but it's an important archeological site as well. It's another chance to get out of the tourist traps and see something real.

By the way, Sessa Aurunca gets its name from the ancient name Suessa Aurunca. It was given this name to distinguish it from Suessa Pometia, the city of the Volsci.

The Volsci were another tribe that joined forces with the Aurunci in their war against the Romans. An Italian archeological website explains what happened to the unfortunate Volsci of Suessa Pometia. Here's my imperfect translation:

Suessa Pometia, aligned with the Aurunci, was tempestuously stormed by the Roman legions. The city was destroyed by the Romans, who spared neither people nor the city itself. The leaders were decapitated, the citizens were made into slaves, and the city was razed to the ground.

It's the old story of one group conquering another. But it's also easy to picture entire populations fading away into the thick, quiet forests of central Italy, surviving in obscurity.

There must be something of the Aurunci that lives on. There are other pre-Roman tribes who have kept their identity and kept their ways, even today, thousands of years after the Romans began their decline.

It would be my privilege to meet some of these survivors, before my journey was over.

This post was excerpted from a book I am writing about biking the via Appia. If you want to read it, or maybe even join me on a future bike tour of the Appian Way, subscribe below and I'll keep you up to date.



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!

via Appia gravina fountainI 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.

Shift Gears!

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.