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.
With all the air pollution, even in rural Italy, you need your antioxidants. An Italian study compared the antioxidant effects of eating fish, garlic, vegetables, red wine, and dark chocolate.
The good news: the wine and chocolate tied for first place.
Other things being equal, the researchers made the conclusion that if you drink a glass of red wine with dinner you might be lowering your cholesterol even more than the guy eating five helpings of broccoli.
By the way, when I told an Italian about the health benefits of drinking a glass a day of red wine, he disagreed. He said a glass a day of red wine was definitely bad for you because "you need to have two or three glasses."
Secrets of the Aglianico in southern Italy
The real adventure began when I reached Benevento on my first bike tour in southern Italy. This was roughly the halfway point of the via Appia. It was also the first place off the map--from this point on I didn't really know where I was going except in a very general way. It was the beginning of serendipity, lots of unexpected adventures, wrong turns and bad weather, as well as friends in the most unlikely places.
"I've got a nasty secret on how you can blow 75% right off of your international flight." Click Here!
Benevento is also the origin of a little-known wine called Beneventano, made from the aglianico grape.
This strong-flavored beverage (the experts would call it "full-bodied," I think) might be neutralizing ozone in my lungs on every bike ride. What I know for sure is that it has a lot of sentimental value because it reminds me of that first bike tour.
So imagine my excitement, back here in Los Angeles, when I found 3 bottles of Beneventano at a local store.
I served some to a friend who is an expert on food and wine. He said it was good quality, of complex flavor, and added a lot of other jargon about the "nose" and the "finish" with words like "legs" and "bouquet" thrown in for good measure.
"Where did you get this?" he asked me. I was too embarrassed to tell him, but I'll tell you.
It came from Trader Joe's. They still carry it every now and then, but the quality seems to vary. The last few batches were only slightly better than the citrus degreaser I use on my chain. But the bottle I opened last week was decent.
Southern Italy's "most impressive grape"
This week I looked up the lore of the aglianico grape in The Wine Bible. There's not much to say about it, but it was introduced by the Greeks and is among "the south's most impressive grape varieties." The Italians grow it in the volcanic soil left over from the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, and its flavor carries the long and complex history of the Mediterranean.
The reason I'm bringing all of this up is that if you join me on the bike tour of southern Italy, you'll get to taste some great wines that are unknown outside the regions of Campania, Basilicata, and Puglia.
Southern Italy lacks the well-known and large-scale wine industry of the north. Most wine is produced and sold to the locals, and people outside the region rarely get to try it.
This is another good reason for a bike tour. You can find out more about it here.
By the way, I don't know the source for the food/wine antioxidant study. I saw it on a cooking program on TV at the airport while I was waiting for a flight to Italy in 2005. Bike every day, be safe, and eat your chocolate and your vegetables.
WARNING: This information is not to be construed as nutritional advice. Whatever beneficial compounds may go with it, alcohol is still a poison. Drink responsibly. Don't drink and bike, because you will probably suffer serious injury or death, and you will most certainly look like an idiot. Save that bottle for the hot tub or the campfire, where you can share it with your friends.