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Chapter VII: Fear draws lines and tells you not to cross them

Your plan is probably dumber than a box of tape, but make yourself do it anyway.

(If you're new to this story, here's the link to Chapter One: https://bicyclefreedom.com/the-mouth-of-the-wolf-chapter-i/)

Whatever lay beyond this rocky gate, I was part of the story now.

Just below Terracina, a finger of the Apennine mountains sticks out into the sea, pointing at Africa. For about four hundred years, travelers had to go over this rocky wall by way of the Campo dei Paladini. There was no alternative, unless you had a ship.

Then in the first century AD, the Emperor Trajan ordered engineers to cut a pathway through the stone. Thousands of slaves and laborers removed an astonishing volume of solid rock, using nothing but carts, pickaxes, and other hand tools.

As you leave Terracina, look to the left for 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 Herculean feat saved half a day’s travel in ancient times, and the work was built to last. The modern Appian Way, SS7, takes advantage of the improvement. Travelers leave and enter Terracina through a narrow, man-made canyon cut with hand tools. So did I.

The road climbed back into the foothills, and soon I was making zig-zags up through a glittering jewel box of flowers and oak trees. When I met a farmer selling black olives on the roadside, I bought half a kilo and devoured most of them on the spot.

Late in the afternoon, I wheeled into the hill town of Fondi. My notes showed a campground here, but when I called, the person on the phone seemed confused. After some back-and forth efforts at directions, I was passed to a man who spoke English. He asked, “OK, where exactly did you say you are?”

It turns out the campground was in another town called Fondi al Lido, or Fondi on the Beach. I was up in the hills, miles away.

I could have easily set up camp anywhere, just like the night before. But I wanted to take a shower, and I’m certain the whole province of Lazio would have preferred this as well. Who wants to look and smell like a bum in such a beautiful country?

Still, I couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel every night. When I budgeted for my trip, I had planned to stay at campgrounds that typically only cost a few Euros.

Right before I left, I had bragged about how easily you can travel anywhere you want, even if you think you don’t have enough money. Now I was arguing with myself over the price of a hotel room.

I had come to Italy with the vision of long rides through sweeping vistas, and hikes among the marble-littered ruins. Most of all, I pictured myself spending my evenings enjoying a passeggiata and sipping grappa with the locals. 

Instead, it was starting to feel like I was looking for a place to hide every night. Maybe the journey I meant to take didn’t really exist. 

These thoughts had been bothering me almost nonstop, ever since I bought my plane ticket. This whole trip was just a vain, personal orgy of self indulgence that I couldn’t afford. 

Every dream is going to have fear and doubt tied to it. This might actually be one of the biggest benefits of going on a bike tour, or any kind of journey that you didn’t properly think through. Sooner or later, some of your deepest fears are going to surface. 

Fear of failure. Fear of ridicule. The real fears instilled in you by others. There's the fear of what you'll miss out on if you try it, and the fear of what will happen if you try it and you don't succeed. 

Fear draws lines and tells you not to cross them. When you do, you’ll have to face the fear alone in a strange place.

Sometimes the fear comes from a simple, honest assessment of the truth. You can always find a perfectly reasonable argument against doing what you want.

But there’s a way to defeat this fear. Simply refuse to give yourself the option to chicken out. Your plan is probably dumber than a box of tape, but make yourself do it anyway.

I didn’t have a big dramatic moment in Fondi. I wish I could tell you that the skies opened up with a choir of angels singing. That I had made some bold, symbolic gesture that belonged in the script of an award-winning film that would make your mother cry. But breakthroughs don’t always require drama. 

All that really happened was I got back on my bike. I was already too committed to turn back.

However, as I left Fondi, I stopped listening to the voice that worried about how I was going to pay for everything. I stopped worrying about what people would think if I stealth camped for a few nights here and there.

I left behind a heavy anchor I no longer wanted to wear around my neck.

This is the 7th Chapter of my book, Rome to Brindisi: How Biking Down an Ancient Roman Road Saved Me From a Life of Quiet Desperation. I'll be posting a few chapters each week during the Covid19 shutdown. I'm also reading them out loud on YouTube (check the menu for links) so you can listen while you're shut in. Here's the next chapter: https://bicyclefreedom.com/lazios-best-kept-secret/

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