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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).

It was still morning when I got to Terracina. It's like Venice Beach with a giant walled city on a hill. A steep road leads to a foreboding gate the gives entrance to the walls of the city. The Appian Way went right through the city and even higher up to the Piazza Dei Paladini and the Temple of Jove Anxur. At least for a time.

Those busy Romans, always on the move, built their own shortcut during the reign of Emperor Trajan. The city and temple rest on a giant point that juts out into the sea, and the Romans cut a road straight through the lowest, softest part of the point. It's daunting when you see it up close and imagine them hacking away at the rock with nothing but shovels and picks.

Italy bike tour Terracina temple

The Roman numbers etched into the cliff face represent the depth of the cut, and go from C to CX to CXX.

This unnatural detour saved the typical Roman a day of travel on the way to or from Rome, and it could have saved me a few hours, but I had other plans.

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You just can't go to Terracina on a bike and not climb the old, cartilage-scraping route that plagued the hooves of untold  herds of mules and other pack animals. Not to mention, I had to pay my tribute to Jove.

But first I needed coffee.

I bought a mini pizza and washed it down with espresso at a bar near the edge of town, run by a guy named Francesco. He was a cyclist himself, and asked eager questions about my planned journey.

"E' facile," he concluded. It's easy. Clearly he had never talked to any of the archeologists in Rome.

I asked him about riding up to Jove Anxur by way of the "high Appia" and he assured me "It is not steep." So we parted ways, and I rode confidently up the knee-grinding street.

As far as old ruins go, the temple was a bit of a disappointment. The view was not. You could see the southwest coast of Italy rolling away along the Mediterranean, with the Alban Hills in the distance, the cradle of this ancient city that was the cradle of modern Western civilization.

And you couldn't mistake via Appia for anything else. A dark green line of umbrella pines cut across the landscape, shooting back to Rome in an impossibly straight line. The southwest route away from Terracina and Rome was almost as straight as it marched up into the hills, but for most of this section I would have to take the modern road which crossed the Appian Way in endless switchbacks.

This was my second day on the Appian way, I only had one small worry. Francesco's optimistic view was in question. He had told me the route to Jove Anxur was "not steep," but I felt certain that my knees had lost at least a centimeter of cartilege.

In the old days, before the "Appian slash," travelers had to climb almost a thousand feet on a steep narrow roadbed. The rest and the view at the top, in a flat area called Piazza dei Paladini must have been a welcome site.  It was for me.

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...)

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Riding out of Rome on an old Raleigh 10-speed, you're going to feel like a gladiator that just walked out into the ring. It's a battle getting out.

In fact, you are in a ring, the Grande Raccordo Annulare, the highway that circles the outskirts of Rome. Several main roads cut across this ring and merge in the center of the city, dividing all the area into wedges like a giant pizza.

I almost became road pizza. There are places where the Appian Way has no shoulder and there's a sheer stone wall on each side. So you literally can't get out of the way of a moving vehicle.

Eventually you'll reach the Porta San Sebastiano, the port of St. Sebastian in the Aurelian Wall. If you happen to be there between 9 and 2, look for a door with a buzzer on the right. If you push the button they'll let you into a museum dedicated to Roman engineering. But the best part is you can climb up to the battlements on top of the wall and walk along it for a good kilometer or so. Watch out for Sabines, Samnites, and Barbarians!

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A bit further on you'll be at the Catacombs, and you can cut through the catacombs of St. Calixto to get out of the traffic for a while. This takes longer, but you'll be looking at gardens instead of stone walls, and you'll have clean air and some shade.

bike tour Italy colosseum RomeOn my trip I got past the catacombs and headed into the via Appia park, where the original road bumps along for almost 10 miles, past fields of wildflowers and crumbling Roman ruins. This park is the history buff's dream!

If you go there you'll see the tomb of Cecilia Metella that looks like a castle, the stone skeleton of an early Church, aqueducts and endless monuments to people who died centuries ago. You can stop at the "Domine Quo Vadis" church and see footprints in the marble--thought by true believers to be the footprints of either Christ or St. Peter. You'll see the ruins of old houses and villas and you might even get a wheel caught in the ruts left by hundreds of thousands of carts and wagons.

When the Appian way hit a dead end (actually the route was still in a straight line but it was closed off by walls and fences), I took a few side streets that I knew would lead to SS7, the modern highway equivalent of via Appia.

There was a strong stench of sulphur coming from a fountain at the intersection. The water was pierced with tiny bubbles and tasted tart. An old man told me these natural minerals are good for the health. I'm still alive.

I had lunch in a small park with a picket fence. A sign on the fence informed me that this was "A place clean and civil."
The afternoon was a whirlwind of vineyards and fields of crops and a huge viaduct at Ariccia.

Just outside Genzano, another long section of the original roadbed was exposed, and I followed this past still more crumbling marble pillars.

When Seneca traveled the Appian Way, he often camped, saying, "The mattress lies upon the ground, and I upon the mattress."

I ended my first day the same way, pitching my tent in an empty field.

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Dottore Pascuale Grello was incredulous when I showed up at his office unannounced one morning and told him what I wanted to do.

"Impossibile!" he insisted, pronouncing the word with long vowels: eem-poh-SEEEEEE-bee-lay!Matera via Appia Italy tour

Nobody knows how many millions of nobles, senators, philosophers, soldiers, merchants, prisoners, slaves, poets and bandits have followed the route of the Appian Way from Rome to Brindisi or vice versa. They've been doing it for 1,300 years, on foot, in litters, by wagon, buggy, horse, pony, mule, and more recently in cars, motorcycles and trucks.

Surely one enthusiastic biker could make the journey.

Dr. Grello is, as far as I can tell, the chief archeologist for the Parco Reggionnale dell'Appia Antica on the outskirts of Rome. If you try to sneak out of Rome behind the Coloseum, through the ancient walls at the Port of St. Sebastian, you're at the start of the Appian Way, and you'll soon see these park headquarters on your right.

Even if you're not planning to ride the via Appia by bicycle, if you're in Rome this park is well worth stomping around a bit. They close the road to motor vehicles on Sunday, and you can usually find someone offering bikes for rent near the Colosseum.

I went to the park headquarters and asked in uncertain Italian if I could talk to the leader. A young woman barely set down her lipstick-stained cigarette as she directed me to Dr. Grello.

When I explained that I wanted to bike the entire length of the Appian Way, and he finished assuring me that it could not be done, 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 always still an energy you can feel when you're alone in these ancient places.

I want 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, the power the barbarians came to understand when the Romans had forgotten and the Greeks were just a memory.

When you travel by bicycle 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.

Halfway through my rant, Dr. Grello understood. You could see it in his face. And here's a secret to communicating with Italians. Even if you don't know the right words, if you speak with passion and move your hands around in big circles most Italians can read your mind and they'll usually produce whatever you want on the spot.

My new archeologist savior was already pulling out topo maps, old photos and drawings, and giving me a stream of directions and names and numbers in rapid Italian. He told me that a lot of the Appian Way was on private property, covered over by new roads, even freeways. He mentioned floods and swamps and mountains. Also many places where people simply don't know where the via Appia ran.

I frantically scribbled as much as I could understand in my notebook. I wasn't looking for perfection, 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, do the best I could.

Dr. Grello assured me once again that I was attempting something impossible. The he shook his head, shook my hand, and solemnly wished me good luck.



"In Appia is my salvation," I wrote in a journal entry shortly before I rode diagonally across the southern half of Italy, from Rome to Brindisi, following the historic route of the via Appia as accurately as possible.

Why do we make these trips, anyway? You've got your own personal reasons when you travel by bicycle. The more obvious benefits, like saving money, saving gas, cutting pollution and possibly improving your health are just icing on the cake. That's not why you really do it.

Maybe you've been through something like this. I was in a confusing period in my life, where everything I wanted or thought I needed was either too easy or completely out of reach.

In times like that you need something to take you outside the box you've built around your life. You need challenge and adventure, the possibility of romance, a little bit of danger and a lot of fun. Touring southern Italy by bicycle, riding down the Appian way, gave me all of that and more. That's why we do these things. That's probably why you're reading this.

Either you've done this route or something similar, or you have a craving for it. I'll tell you the whole story on this blog, in little installments. You can follow along, get good route notes, and hear the tale, warts and all. "In Appia is my salvation," I wrote, and I was right.

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"I've got a nasty secret on how you can blow 75% right off of your international flight." Click Here!
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Rome tour night forum Italy

I've been getting a lot of emails (as well as a few comments added to old posts) from people wanting tips and advice on biking in southern Italy. Some of you are riding (or even hiking!) the Via Appia, and it's a shame that it's so hard to get a group of people together when our schedules, wills, and finances are all in alignment.

We're basically all doing prettymuch the same ride, just not at the same time. So... ...continue reading "Now you can ride with me in Italy, even if you don’t ride with me"

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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.

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Via Appia is a hidden bicycle touring treasure. It's easy enough for beginner cyclists to handle, and exotic enough to prove a high adventure for advanced cyclists.

We'll be going there next spring, and you can go to the Touring Italy by Bicycle category to find out more.Italy bike tour Trajan Arch Benevento

Many sections of the original ancient Roman Appian Way, or via Appia in Italian, are still intact. The first 10 miles or so are an archeological park that starts at the very gates of ancient Rome, near the Colosseum.

After that, long sections sit unnoticed amid green fields and wildflowers. Sometimes a modern road slips by just a few yards away, but most motorists are going to fast to look closely at the flowers. That is why we ride.

In some places, the Via Appia was built so well that modern engineers have paved over it. Major highways follow the course of Via Appia, giving you easy access to fallen pillars, old ruins, charming hill towns and castles. Driving lets you cover more ground, but you miss a lot of detail and you're isolated from a lot of the sites and sounds, not to mention the people. That is why we ride.

This is an important, often neglected, piece of Western history. Via Appia was the main artery from Rome to Brindisi, the port that gave the Romans access to the Southern and Eastern edges of the Empire.

Augustus followed this route when he pursued Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Many of the indigenous tribes of the Italian peninsula made their last stands against the Romans along this corridor. Murderers and bandits did their most evil deeds on this highway. Poets and philosophers found inspiration and adventure here. Soldiers and gladiators marched to victory and doom on the Via Appia.

The ancient Romans followed the Via Appia on foot, or at best with the help of mules or horses. I want to experience this as they did. Important leaders built their monuments and tombs here. The rich lined the Via Appia with their villas. This place deserves to be remembered, honored, or at least understood. It is the key to so many other things. That is why we're following the Via Appia on a bike.

If you want to come along, leave a comment or send an email to jacob "at" BicycleFreedom.com

If you want more information, look at the other posts in the category "touring Italy by bicycle" or ask your question as a comment. You can also find out more on this page.

Bike across Italy next year, if you dare to.

A lot of the people I've been talking to are into the idea. My High School reunion last week put me over the edge.

via Appia RomeI'll be putting up a lot of information on the Bike tour of southern Italy FAQs page, including the long answers to all of your questions.

In the meantime, here are the short answers to most of the things people are asking me:

How much will this bike tour cost?

Less than you think. 😉

How long will the journey last?

Between 7 and 10 days each way (but you don't have to ride your bike both ways), with some optional site seeing days at each end.

Where are we going?

[tag-tec]Southern Italy[/tag-tec], far off the beaten path for most tourists.

When is this epic bicycle voyage going to take place?

May, 2008

If you want to know more about the trip, check out the Bike tour of Southern Italy FAQs (click here).

I shopped the idea around at my High School reunion this past weekend, and was surprised at how many people were into the idea of [tag-tec]touring Italy by bicycle[/tag-tec]. (Thanks to all of you who trust me to guide you through a foreign land, when the last time you saw me I couldn't even get a license to drive my date to the prom.)

I've done this route before, as well as several other [tag-tec]bike trips[/tag-tec] all over [tag-tec]Italy[/tag-tec], and I speak Italian fluently, so there shouldn't be any serious logistical/navigational problems. My goal is to organize and write about these tours for a living within a few years, so I'm doing whatever it takes to make sure everyone is comfortable and happy.

That said, this is Italy, so you can expect a few mishaps and surprises, just enough to make a good story when you get back home.

There are more details posted on the FAQs page, or you can leave a comment if you have any questions.