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There’s something you want to do, but you’re afraid to do it. So, what are you really afraid of? What are the odds of that terrible thing actually happening?

You know the risk. Get out there on a bike, and you could be hit by a car. You could catch a wheel in a storm sewer, crack your head against the concrete, and suffer permanent brain damage or death.

Add the risks of poisonous snake bites, death by heat exhaustion, heart attacks, being shot, and a zillion other dangers. Why would you ever go out on a bike ride? What are you thinking?

You’re thinking in a probabilistic way. All of those things could happen, but the probability of any of them happening is so tiny that you can probably ignore it.

You could bike every day for the rest of your life and probably never have to encounter any of the dangers we just mentioned.

Probabilistic thinking is one of the things that puts you on your bike in the first place, and it can serve you well in many other aspects of your life.

There are many people out there who might like to bike more, but they live in terror of the risks. They’re making an assumption. There are two possible outcomes: A) You could have a wonderful time, or B)You could die.

For the person who is afraid of a bike ride, both A and B are equally probable. They’re suffering from a big misunderstanding.

If there were equal odds of enjoying a good ride or dying a horrible death, you’d probably think twice before going on a bike ride. But the odds are not equal. Probabilistic thinking enables you to enjoy your bike ride, knowing that the chances of a fatality are somewhere in the ballpark of being struck by lightning or winning the lottery.

Now let’s apply this probabilistic thinking to some other part of your life.

There’s something you want to do, but you’re afraid to do it. But what are you really afraid of? What are the odds of that terrible thing actually happening?

Biking can help you cross a bridge of fear
Biking can help you cross a bridge of fear

I’ll give you a few examples. I used to be afraid of singing in front of people. I thought I would sound terrible and people would boo me off the stage.

This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but let’s assume it would be the end of the world. It’s still worth singing, because the odds of having an audience that rude and boorish is minuscule. If you ever sing in public, most of the audience will be fans, friends, and family who love you.

What are you afraid of? Talking to that good-looking person, or finally asking them out?

Okay, here the odds of success might be against you (but then again, you may be surprised). But the odds of a really terrible outcome are still small enough to ignore. Worst-case scenario, this person might politely turn you down.

Unless you have really bad judgement, your immediate future probably won’t include a drink in your face, a restraining order, or even a terribly awkward moment.

Now let’s look at even bigger things.

Have you ever thought about creating something big for the world, something that might change your life and other lives as well? Maybe you’ve got a book you want to write, an idea for a new game or an entire business. Maybe you’re thinking about a long and dangerous journey.

How dangerous could it be?

Here’s where you apply your probabilistic thinking skills.

Whatever you want to do, you can probably think of several bad outcomes. But how bad are these outcomes, and what are the chances that they’ll really happen?

Most of the dangers you list will fall into one of these two categories. First, they’re not so bad. You can live with them, and you’ll be able to dust yourself off and carry on. Or second, they are pretty grave and serious, but the probability that they’ll ever happen is low.

Once you understand probability, you can take on challenges that may have seemed much harder before. Buy a house. Go after a better job, or start your own business. Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Find the love of your life, or at least test-drive a few candidates.

Since you’ve involved yourself in biking, and maybe bike touring, you already have mad skills when it comes to probabilistic thinking.

Use what you’ve got, and soon you’ll start getting all the other things that you want out of life.



If you're young and British and ready to get out and see the world on a bicycle, the Janapar Grant is probably one of the best things that could happen to you.

I'll fill you in on the details below, but if you can't wait, then here's the link: http://janapar-grant.org.uk/

The Janapar Grant was started by Tom Allen, after his own multi-year bike tour around the world (you can watch the film by the same name here

The applications are being accepted "In early 2016," but as of today all they have is a form where you can leave your email if you're interested.

All I can say is, if you are between the ages of 18 and 25, live in the UK, and don't have any work-related conflicts, you should be interested.

If you are accepted, you'll get all the equipment you need: bike, tools, panniers, tent, sleeping gear, and cook set. Better yet, you'll be mentored by some of the best-known names in bike touring, including Emily Chappell, Tom Allen, and several others.

If I qualified, I would jump on this. Just the application itself will get you thinking about your trip, planning, and sorting out both your route and your motivation.

Alas, I'm not British, and I'm nearly double the maximum eligible age. Still, old geezer that I am, whenever I set off on another journey I feel the same excitement and joy that I felt in my twenties--maybe more. Bike touring is a lifelong passion. But if you're reading this you probably already knew that.

Once again here's the link to the Janapar Grant:

http://janapar-grant.org.uk

By the way, what would happen if you didn't see this blog post and missed out on your chance to apply for the Janaper Grant?

Lucky for you, whenever I have a really important post, especially one that's going to improve the quality of your life, I email it to everyone on my tips list. If you're not on that list, you could have already missed out! Be sure to sign up below, or in the box to your right.

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.



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.



4

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

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

Introduction

There’s just something in human nature that won’t let us stare too long at an unclimbed mountain, an uncharted wilderness, or an unanswered challenge. This is why other people climb mountains and jump out of airplanes.

This is why, after almost 7 years of staring down a 2,300 year old highway, I found I could no longer try to run a business or be a teacher or fulfill any of the other roles the world put before me until I rode my bike to the end of the road, just to see where it went.

Other people said it couldn’t be done. That I would be robbed, kidnapped, and mashed to a pulp beneath the wheels of a truck before I reached Terracina. One well-meaning blog reader sent an email to warn me, “You’ll destroy your arse in the first 10 kilometers.” A crotchety old park superintendent muttered “E tutto nascosto.” It’s all hidden.

Everything they told me was true. The Appian Way is fraught with peril, a 500-mile gauntlet of knee-grinding climbs, bone cracking holes, sheer drops in the fog, bad weather, hostile natives, robbers, murderers and things far worse than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Even if you just have a few hours free, you can jump on your bike and have an adventure. There's a small residential road that I had never explored, but on the maps it looked like it continued on for a while.

I had a free afternoon with just about three hours until sundown, so I took a bike ride down the mystery road to see where it would go. It turns out this particular section of Olive street intersects with El Camino Real, the Royal Highway of "New Spain."

I ended up in the historical center of San Gabriel. The road went almost in a straight line to one of the early California missions. People from the San Gabriel Mission went on to found the city of Los Angeles, so this bike ride took me to some of the roots of LA's history.

I even got to see one of the first and oldest grape vines in southern California, and later on I tasted some California wine to celebrate.

If your a biking newbie, this just reinforces the point: It doesn't matter how far you want to ride or how much time you have. Just get on your bike and explore. You'll run into something interesting you've never seen before, or discover a new bike route to places you've already been.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3

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

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

There never was a single road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5

Somewhere between Terracina and Formia, you'll find it. There's a stark pillar along the side of a winding mountain road. I assume it's either a milestone or the remains of one of the many monuments that line the Appian way.

Italy bike tour Appia milestone ItriThe bike ride to this pillar is phenomenal, and there are at least three good reasons to make the trip. First is the "Tomb of Cicero" at one end of the bike route. Most experts agree that this isn't the really the tomb of Cicero, but it's near the spot where he died and that's enough for most people.

Better than Cicero's tomb, the bike ride from Terracina to Formia passes through a park which includes the original remains of the via Appia, as well as several ancient Roman and Medieval buildings.

In fact, if you're riding your bike on the main road, you'll pass through the park several times. The road winds up the mountain in endless switchbacks, while the Appian Way shoots up in the classical straight line, defying gravity just as easily as she defied the Pontine marshes. You can ride your bike up this way if you choose to. I didnt.

But my favorite thing about this section of the Appian bike tour is the town of Itri. I hadn't meant to stay there, but I was intrigued by the scenery, the friendly locals, and the castle. After taking a long hot shower and stuffing my gullet with fresh pizza, I spent hours wandering around the dark, twisting alleys of the immense fortress on the hill overlooking Itri.

I can't tell you much about the history of the castle, but I'll introduce you to someone who can. On our next bike tour through southern Italy, one of my local contacts has offered to hook us up with an archeologist in Itri who can give a tour of the place. I asked him how much something like that would cost and he said, "some cafe in a bar, I assume, but not more..."

So if you're up for an expert tour of Itri for the price of a cup of coffee, not to mention a zillion other great experiences that you can read about all over my blog, get in touch with me and join us on this trip. The dates are May 15th-June 1st 2010, approximate cost is $1500 plus airfare and bike (rental, purchase, or transportation of your own rig), and I'll be happy to answer your other questions by phone or email.