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If you’ve been in this world for more than a decade or two, surely a few of your most beloved haunts have disappeared or changed forever.

Once there was a tiny bar near a bus station in Rome, where an old man made the best cappuccino in the world.

He would drop the saucer on the counter at an angle, so it spun for a few seconds, rattling faster and faster as it settled in front of you. He whipped the steamed milk with a loud clattering flourish, folded it into your coffee with a wire whisk, and poured out the last bit of foam into spiral shapes that would turn into a heart, a smiling face, or the colosseum.

Any barista could use this kind of artistic display to mask a mediocre coffee, but this guy didn’t need to. The cappuccino itself was even better than the performance. Rich flavors arose from a perfect balance of espresso and milk. There was a subtle hint of sweetness, and the temperature was always just right.

This place was too far from my apartment for a daily visit, but I know the owner had a lot of regulars. The maestro would greet many of his visitors by name, and get into long, interesting conversations.

I loved to sit and listen in as I sipped my cappuccino. And I could do it, too, because this was one of the few bars in the center of Rome that didn’t charge you extra for sitting down.

Today the old man has long since retired, and now his bar is just another random place to get average coffee.

I’m telling you about this because you probably know a few hidden gems like this, too. It could be an old reliable hangout where everybody knows your name, or a place where you find silence and solitude, or maybe somewhere you only go every now and then as a special treat.

Cherish these places, because they may not last forever.

I could write an entire book about old bars and cafes up and down the coast of California, places where friendly people laughed and shared jokes, places that have gone out of business. I’ve danced in crowded old buildings to live music that you’ll never hear on Pandora, in buildings are now banks or corporate headquarters, or worse yet chains such as McDonalds or Starbucks.

This is all a smaller ripple in the trend that is reshaping the planet. In my youth I hiked and played in wild forests. I saw the trees cut down and the ground criss-crossed with roads and construction. This happened in my backyard in Illinois, it happened where I went to college, and it’s happened to many of my favorite places.

And what about you? If you’ve been in this world for more than a decade or two, surely a few of your most beloved haunts have disappeared or changed forever.

In Minturno I had a favorite place, a place that was vanishing. What’s different is it became a favorite even before I ever got to see it first-hand.

A book called The Appian Way: A Journey has a photo taken in the early 1970s.

The picture is in black and white, but you can see the sparkle of the leaves in the sunlight. It's easy to imagine the bright colors of flowers basking in the sun. You can feel the breeze, and hear the stalks and leaves whipping in a gentle wind.

But a skeletal arch looks like it's ready to fall down. Broken pieces of marble are hiding in the tall weeds.The earth is slowly absorbing the familiar basalt road bed.

This is the site of the ancient Roman city Minturnae.

People lived here. They felt things. They loved, labored, suffered, thought, and dreamed. Now all that's left of their life is a stone boneyard in a field of wildflowers, and that won't last.

The photo shows the effects of ecological succession. Bits of grass take root in the cracks between the bricks. They die, decompose, and turn into soil that can hold deeper roots and nourish slightly larger plants.

The weather goes to work on the rock, releasing minerals into the soil. Soon bigger plants move in, their seeds carried by birds and wind. These plants attract insects, which become a food source for birds and other animals.

All of this biological activity produces acid and moisture, which slowly wear down the rock and widen the cracks even more.

The land changes from the ground up. Plants, bugs, birds, and their droppings decompose and form more soil. Every trace of human work is slowly dissolved by the ages.

Normally I’m a big fan of this regeneration. It gives me hope for our future. Not just for humanity, but also for the millions of other species who share the world with us. But I wanted to see this lonely, man-made city before nature reclaimed it forever.

The Appian Way: A Journey talks a lot about the natural decay of human monuments. The authors Dora Jane Hamblin and Mary Jane Loeb Grunsfeld spent years driving and hiking along the Appian way. Their verdict on Minturnae, in the 1970s: “It will not last another decade.”

Their photos of Minturnae charmed me into dreaming up a bike tour down the Appian Way. I have to see it, I told myself. Even if all I see is a half-buried pillar like the skeleton of some giant reptile, I have to see it.

But I may already be more than thirty years too late.

I was in a hurry, but I still stopped in Formia for a shot of espresso. I went to lean my bike against the wall outside a cafe, where three old men sat around a table playing dominos. This scene could have taken place back in Itri, or Terracina, or really anywhere in the Mediterranean. The drink in their glasses did not look like coffee.

“Posso?” I asked permission. “Can I leave my bike here?”

“Only if you stay for at least an hour and a half,” one of them joked.

“But I have to go sooner,” I told them in the best Italian I could muster. “I'm looking for the via Appia Antica.”

This caused a flurry of inebriated laughter.

“Ragazzo,” insisted one of the men, “la via Appia Antica e' proprio qui!” and he swept the back of his hand towards the busy street a few yards away. “Via Appia is right here.”

Inside the bar, I bought five tomato and mozzarella tramezzini, triangular sandwiches made of white bread with the crusts cut off. The tomatoes were green. An Italian had once explained to me that green tomatoes keep longer, and they don't make the bread wet. Best of all, they're crisp as lettuce.

I wanted to sit down, talk to the old men some more, and eat my sandwiches here. Everyone I met in Formia was unusually friendly. In fact, it felt like the town didn’t want me to leave. But I was impatient to keep moving.

This quiet, friendly place offered peace, companionship, and good food. This was the real Italy, the country I had called my home for several years. But I barely stopped for a coffee.

That photo of ancient Minturnae, that fear of missing out, that’s why I zipped through Formia and rode hard enough to make my quads burn. I was so close, and I was certain the last glorious marble columns of Minturnae would melt away forever in the next two hours!

By the early afternoon I reached a campsite outside Minturno, the modern town near the ancient city. The couple who ran the campground offered me a coffee and asked about my travels.

I was anxious to find whatever was left of Minturnae, but as we finished our coffee, the husband told me we were close to the river that marks the border between Lazio and Campagna.

Italy is divided into 21 regions, in the same way the USA is divided into states. Lazio is one of these regions, from the ancient “Latium,” the land of the Latins with Rome in the center. The region of Campagna, which just means “countryside,” is best known for Mount Vesuvius.

The Garigliano river separated these two regions, Lazio the Eternal City and a center of civilization, and Campagna the home of nature in all her savage glory.

Over the ages, Italians built half a dozen bridges at across this river. The ancient Roman bridge is now underwater. Today, the Via Appia now runs across a 19th century bridge that was destroyed in World War II and restored in the 1990s. The bridge is suspended by thick black chains, and guarded by a pair of stone Sphinxes.

Just to the west of this bridge, you'll find what’s left of Minturnae.

In the early 1980s, the locals decided to do something about the burglars who were carrying off the remaining stones of ancient Minturnae. Today, the site is protected by a tall steel fence. Skilled and caring hands have restored and protected the place.

It turns out the writers who brought me here were wrong in their predictions. As I followed the river to the site of Minturnae, marble columns and a large amphitheater waved at me from above the shrubs.

Minturno has seen thirty years of economic growth, along with a growing interest in preserving ancient historical relics.This has led to improvements, not destruction. The Appian Way runs on through an expanded and restored Minturnae, which is carefully guarded and proudly promoted.

I gladly paid a few Euros towards the cause, and bought a ticket to walk inside among the ruins. Clean basalt and sun-baked travertine gave off their warmth. Insects scurried along the stones of the amphitheater. I walked the old Appian Way where it passed through Minturnae, complete with deep ruts carved by centuries of wagon wheels.

I should have been thrilled, but I surprised myself.

Here’s the problem. Today we enjoy a level of comfort and convenience that most people couldn’t have imagined a century ago. But we also need mountain bikes, skateboards and all kinds of games to maintain a sense of adventure.

Bike tours are my way of escaping the comfort zone and entering the untethered universe where anything can happen. This beautiful, chaotic place is the real world. It’s unpredictable and dangerous, but going there is a necessity if you want to feel alive.

Reconstructed Minturnae has been tightly insulated from the real world. Gone are the gorgeous, tragic scenes of the old photo images. Instead, ropes and chains guide you along a pathway through the site. A team of experts have designed every inch of it. They dictate exactly where you can walk and exactly what you’ll see.

Minturnae would have been gone in a decade without the help of these archeologists. But when I planned this trip, I had pictured muddy treks in search of unfettered ruins. I had imagined seeing ancient walls and arches without the benefit of a guide or a guardrail.

Minturnae really is gone forever, replaced by a museum. I love museums, but I have to report a sad conclusion to Hamblin and Grunsfeld’s story: Minturnae has fallen victim to the ancient trade-off between freedom and security.

I want to help you experience the magic. Especially if you’re the kind of person who dreams about a journey like this, but you’re frightened to try.

overcome_obstaclesIt won’t be easy. It may take longer than you thought.

If you can do the one thing that you think isn’t possible, if you can cross that mountain range, it will change you forever. You will be able to do anything, and you will know it.

Some of the obstacles you think are holding you back will melt away as soon as you push back against them. Many of the things you fear and worry about will never materialize.

I'm going to help you overcome those obstacles. Let me explain.

If you’re a seasoned, confident bike tourist then I would love to have you along next spring. But if you think there’s some insurmountable obstacle that would make the journey impossible, no matter how badly you want to go, then this post is for you.

This post is for you if you’re interested in biking via Appia but you aren’t doing it because you think:

  • You can’t afford it
  • You’re too young
  • You're too old
  • You’re not in shape
  • You’re afraid of being in the wilderness in a foreign country
  • There is some other reason holding you back

You can do it. And I’m going to help you. Here’s why:

10 years ago, at the Leo Carrillo State Beach hike and bike campground, I met a man who took a group of developmentally disabled teenagers on a bike tour. They rode north from LA to San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge, fighting the wind all the way.

Below Golden Gate Bridge

I met them on their way back home. The kids were confident and street-smart. I got the feeling they could go anywhere they wanted. And they knew it.

“The ride up was brutal,” the guy told me. “The only thing that kept these kids going was the idea of riding across the Golden Gate Bridge. You should have seen their faces when they finally did it.”

Ever since then, I’ve hoped to meet another person like that. Maybe it’s time to become someone like that, at least in my own small way.

So here’s the deal.

I’m going to do another bike tour of via Appia in May, 2017. I'm looking for people who have a burning desire to come along, but something is stopping you.

I will help you.

I can’t buy your plane ticket for you, but I can show you a number of ways to raise the money you’ll need.

I’m not a doctor or a physical therapist, but I can direct you to resources for strengthening your mind and body. In fact, if you think you’re not in shape for a trip like this, that makes two of us! We’ll hold each other accountable as we get in shape (and to tell you the truth, this tour isn’t superhard as far as bike tours go).

If you have a specific physical challenge that you think is going to stop you, I’ll look for someone who can build a bike that’s adapted to your needs.

I will personally coach you on getting into shape, making money, even learning Italian if that will make you more confident. We’re gonna make this happen!

Maybe you’re not especially interested in a bike tour of Italy. There’s still something in this for you.

Over the next several months, you’re going to hear stories of people overcoming their fears, their doubts, and their limits. Hopefully these stories will inspire you to do that one thing that you dream of, the one thing you think is impossible.

If you are interested in biking via Appia with me next spring, here are just a few of the things you’ll get to do as a result of this journey:

  • Tap into hidden physical and mental powers you didn’t know you had
  • Build lasting friendships with extraordinary people
  • Bring back stories and experiences that will change the way you look at the world
  • Grow stronger and healthier than you dreamed possible
  • Give yourself the classical education you always wanted

This journey will change you forever. I challenge you to join me. I dare you.

In fact, I beg you.

You see, by coming along on this trip, you’ll give me a chance to face down one of my own big fears.

Gravina in Puglia bridgeI’ve biked the entire Appian way from Rome to Brindisi already. I know enough about Italy and Italian to fix most problems that I can’t avoid in the first place. I’ve done bike tours that are longer than this.

But now I want to help you experience the magic. Especially if you’re the kind of person who dreams about a journey like this, but you’re frightened to try.

If I commit to helping you do it, then I have to face my own fear of failure, that maybe I won’t succeed in getting you to Italy and across the finish line.

But I accept the challenge. I will teach you to overcome any obstacle, and you’ll ride triumphantly into Brindisi like an ancient Roman noble.

Let me be clear about this offer, and especially what I am not offering to do.

This is not a free ride. I can’t pay for your airplane ticket or your AirBnB. (I would like to buy you a coffee, or maybe something stronger, while we’re in Italy.)

I’m not a doctor, physical therapist, or psychologist.

But what I do bring to the table is experience, creativity, a lot of good ideas and the will to help you carry them out.

Are you in? Fill out the form below, and we’ll be in touch.

I left out a lot of the loneliness, the confusion, the shameful and foolish decisions I made that still haunt me years later. I didn't tell you what I was really thinking about in Taranto, the last night of the journey.

When I re-read the first draft of my book, a lot of it just didn't ring true.

I sound like a pretentious schmuck who likes to brag about the places I traveled. That's a big part of who I was when I biked the entire length of the ancient Roman road, via Appia. But it's mostly just show.

In the first draft, I left out a lot of the loneliness, the confusion, the shameful and foolish decisions I made that still haunt me years later. I didn't tell you what I was really thinking about in Taranto, the last night of the journey.

Most of the emails I get about via Appia come from people who probably haven't done an extended solo bike tour. So I'm rewriting the book. I want to show you the dark side of pursuing a dream.

This book will still tell you where to go, what to see and do, where to eat and even advice on picking up Italian women.

via Appia gravinaq fountain

I'll give you good information about the route, in case you ever want to do a similar trip. You'll hear a lot of local history and stories, and you'll meet many of the Italians who made my journey unforgettable.

But I want to write something more than just a travelogue or a guidebook. So I'm putting back a lot of embarrassing things I cut from the first draft. Entries from my journal that will help keep it real.

This book is also my confession. I will share my deepest regrets about the journey. If I can help save you from some of the mistakes I made, this book will be worth writing, and hopefully worth reading.



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.

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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.

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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

16

The modern road, SS7, zig-zags through switchbacks as it winds up into the mountains. Each time around, I notice the route coincides with the remains of an older, grass-covered road bed. This is the true Appian Way.

This is an excerpt from my new book, Tutto Nascosto: A Bike Ride Down the Appian Way. If you would like to download the entire e-book, leave a comment below and I'll make sure you get a copy. Your email will not be published, and I will never share it with anyone.

The archeologist in Rome told me my bike trip would be impossibile. Francesco assured me non e’ difficile. Leaving Terracina, I hope the journey will be easy but not too easy. It’s been a good bike tour so far, but I feel like I’m waiting for something to happen.

The ride out of Terracina starts to climb into the hills, and pretty soon I’m winding my way upward through a glittering jewel box of flowers, oak trees and olive groves. When I meet a farmer selling black olives on the roadside, I buy a whole bag and greedily devour them on rest stops.

The modern road, SS7, zig-zags through switchbacks as it winds up into the mountains. Each time around, I notice the route coincides with the remains of an older, grass-covered road bed. This is the true Appian Way.

The old road is undaunted by the mountain. It plods straight up the grade, unstoppable like the armies that used to use it. Riding up the modern road is challenging enough, but not daunting, and I’m thinking seriously about braving the weeds and stones of via Appia antica on my bike.

Traces of the Appian Way between Terracina and Itri
Park-preserved traces of via Appia

As if on cue, I wheel up to the entrance of an archeological park. Inside, I follow the usual basalt paving stones of the Appian Way, along with the remains of buildings from ancient Rome, the middle ages, and the Renaissance.

As in many places in Italy, the architecture here is a hodgepodge of different periods and styles. Each building is built up over an earlier one, and everybody borrows foundations, walls, and pillars from other buildings.

I got used to seeing this phenomenon everywhere when I lived in Rome. Much of the marble from the Colosseum, for example, was taken by the Barbarini family to build St. Peter’s square in the Vatican. Similarly, if you go into some of the older churches in Rome you’ll notice that the pillars don’t always match. This is because they were pilfered from different ancient Roman buildings.

As I ponder this, munching on salty black olives, I think how much our civilization, and even we as individuals, are collections of endless stories, ideals, influences and philosophies borrowed from different times and places.

As Bruce Lee was fond of saying, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own.”

Perhaps my own bicycle quest is my unique addition to the long history of this majestic road and the beautiful lands it passes through. Think about your own journeys as you read this. What will you add to the world that is uniquely your own?

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



1

When you wake up early in the morning to throw yourself at an unknown pile of experiences, when the shoulder is gone from the road and you don’t know which of the passing trucks is going to kill you, when every spin of your bicycle wheels pulls you closer to the Unknown, that’s when every leaf and flower takes on a new and special meaning. This is when you know you’re on a real adventure.

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 remain private).

When you wake up early in the morning to throw yourself at an unknown pile of experiences, when the shoulder is gone from the road and you don’t know which of the passing trucks is going to kill you, when every spin of your bicycle wheels pulls you closer to the Unknown, that’s when every leaf and flower takes on a new and special meaning. This is when you know you’re on a real adventure.

I’m back on the road, making my way through a surreal version of yesterday’s ride through the park. But this is no ride through the park. I’m in the Pontine Marshes, and I’m not sure whether the drivers going to work on SS7 can see me.

Umbrella pines form a living green wall along the road, and the mist makes hard to see anything else. Shining yellow globes rush towards me and turn into the headlights of ubiquitous Fiats. I wish I had a strong cappuccino.

When the Romans built this section of via Appia they wanted to get through the marshes as quickly as possible, so they built the road in a straight line. Years later, they took the time to drain the swamps through a series of channels, but in the beginning they just drove heavy wooden piles into the mud and built the road right over them.

As the fog clears you can see meadows and crop fields. A drainage channel on the side of the road keeps the marshes from returning and covering the ancient Appian Way. You get a glittering gift of wildflowers as you shoot straight towards Terracina.

This is really where Rome ends and the true countryside begins. A happy German shepherd jogs along the opposite side of the drainage ditch, almost as excited as me. I pass a herd of water buffalo whose milk is used for mozzarella cheese.

remains of via Appia outside Terracina, Italy
Traces of the Appian Way outside Terracina

As the sun climbs higher in the sky and burns away the fog, I start to feel grateful for the trees. In addition to the shade, they will also become my secret to finding my way.

Most of the Appian Way is lined with Rome’s iconic umbrella pines. From above or from a distance, you can often see the via Appia as a dark green line against the grassy landscape of southern Italy.

Many times on this journey, when I’m not sure where to go, I’ll get up on top of a hill, a bell tower, or something up high and look for the ubiquitous umbrella pine. Even in the most remote parts of Puglia and Basilicata, where the via Appia was little more than a trail carved out of the ground even in its heyday, you can still find a lone pine tree to show you the way.

Travel tip: The modern SS7 from Rome to Terracina is a very good approximation of the original Appian Way. But if you want a somewhat safer bike route, follow via Latina to the south. It will take you through Italy’s national park Circeo, named after the enchantress of Homer’s Odessey, who turned Ulysses’ crew into pigs. There are a lot of campsites along the coast in this area, and you can rejoin the via Appia route further along.

 

Terracina

When I reach the edge of Terracina, a barrista named Francesco tells me how to get to the Campo dei Paladini at the top of a steep hill.

“Non e’ difficile,” he assures me. “It is not difficult.”

He rolls a cigarette as I sip my espresso. A young woman walks in and greets him with a “Ciao, Francesco.” He introduces me as the crazy American who’s going to ride his bike all the way to Brindisi. When she’s not looking he gives me a nudge and whispers, “Non e’ difficile.”

I want to get going, but it’s always a good idea to talk to friendly barristas in Italy. They spend their whole day drinking coffee and chatting with travelers, so you’ll almost always learn something interesting.

Francesco tells me the story of Terracina, from the Samnites and the Volscii to the Kingdom of Naples and the Gothic Wars. He tells me that the archeological site lay underground and forgotten until allied bombing in World War II brought it to light. Francesco fills me in on the best local bands and where to hear them, where to get good wine, and how to pick up Italian women.

These final comments bring a wry smile from his female companion, who finishes her cigarette and wishes me luck on my travels.

“We’ll see if I make it,” I joke in Italian.

“Just do it a little bit at a time,” Francesco assures me. Non e’ difficile.

Twenty minutes later, as I creak and grind my way up to the Campo dei Paladini, I wonder what kind of tobacco was in Francesco’s cigarette.

Campo (Italian for “field”) dei Paladini was a traditional rest stop for the ancient Romans along the via Appia. The old “high road” went up this way, skirting the city and coming to rest in a large square or piazza bearing this name. Here at the top of the steep rise, travelers would take a well-earned break.

This lofty, rocky perch is above the city of Terracina today, and it’s shared with the Temple of Jupiter in Anxur. Of course you’ll see views of the city, the sea, and the surrounding countryside. From up here, in fact, the green line of pines marking the via Appia couldn’t be clearer.

But the city of Terracina herself is worth a bit of look, too. It’s the classic European walled city, and as you enter the gates you almost feel like defenders are aiming their crossbows at you. At the top and center, a trace of the original Appian Way runs straight through the wide town piazza. An ancient cathedral covers one end, built over an ancient Roman temple and combining architecture and decoration from ancient Rome, the middle ages, the Renaissance and the 18th century.

Temple of Jupiter in Anxur above Terracina
Jupiter in Anxur on Italy's via Appia

Terracina is a bit off the path for most travelers to Italy, but you could do worse than to stay in this quiet beach town, surrounded by hills and countryside ready for hiking and biking, and just a day’s journey from Rome.

But I’m committed to biking the entire Appian Way, and I don’t have nearly as much site-seeing time as I would like. So I make my way back down to the sea-level and take advantage of an engineering feat that was executed over 1800 years ago.

The steep climb and descent along Terracina were an unavoidable part of the Appian journey for the first 400 years. A finger of the Apennine mountains sticks out to the sea, and the first Romans had to go over this rocky wall. There was no other way.

Then in the first century AD, the Emperor Trajan ordered engineers to cut a pathway through the stone barrier. The modern Appian Way, SS7, follows this renovation, which saved a day’s travel for ancient Romans.

As you leave the city and pass through this steep rocky gate, look to the left for the Roman Numerals carved into the rock. The diggers marked the depth of their work at intervals, and you can easily spot the C, CX, and CXX which mark the final 100, 110, and 120 foot cuts.

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



3

This is how the via Appia goes for most of the trip. If you want to keep your tour simple and easy, you can just follow the modern State Road SS7 all the way to Brindisi. But I always intended to have more than just a simple tour.

This is a rough draft of 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 never be published, and I will never share it with outside parties)

Appian Way bike route in ItalyI wake up in a field. My skin is sticky from yesterday’s sweaty ride, and the fresh dew on the grass reminds me of steaming showers and bare feet on clean tile floors.

I pack up my panniers while fog blots out the sun.

After my sulfuric drink the day before, I wandered about until I saw a small signpost that said, “Via Appia Antica.” An arrow pointed to a path that went off the road and down into a gulch.

I followed this path to a stretch of the familiar basalt stones that the Romans used. For the next few miles I rattled past fields of tomatoes and artichokes. Grape leaves waved at me from thick vines as I rode by.

Sometimes this section of Roman pavement disappeared and became a modern asphalt road, but that’s the only thing that really changed.

This is how the via Appia goes for most of the trip. If you want to keep your tour simple and easy, you can just follow the modern State Road SS7 all the way to Brindisi. But I always intended to have more than just a simple tour.

 I rode across the modern viaduct in Ariccia, looking in vain but not too hard for the ancient one. Towards the end of the day I searched for a campground but most of them are clustered along the coast. There are decent bed-and-breakfast inns throughout Ariccia, Albano, and other small towns in Lazio.

But I was feeling inspired to follow in the path of Seneca, who often bragged about his simple mode of travel. When traveling the Appian Way, Seneca would, “put my mattress upon the ground, and lay upon it.”
So I found a field off the road and without even laying upon a mattress, slept where I was for the night.

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



3

I just found out a little non-profit group in Rome is planning their own human-powered via Appia tour.

They're going to walk (not bike) the Appian way from Brindisi back to Rome.

I won't be able to make it on this journey, but maybe you can? Here's the link for anyone interested:

http://www.romaefrancigena.eu/A_Long_walk_2012.html



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.