I decided not to race on Saturday May the fourth. I had been feeling like crap all week, and with the rain prediction in the morning, I did not want to risk getting sick, or hurt, especially with my overseas trip on Sunday. I am glad I slept in on Saturday and Sunday. Traveling across the pond is always stressful and hard on the immune system.
I am always amazed at how sights and smells can stir long lost memories. I assume that most visitors from the United States, and other non European places end up appreciating the scenery, the art, the architecture, the food, etc… I also assume that those with a keen sense of smell will notice how things can smell different then back at home.
For me, the sights and smells hold a special meaning. These senses appear to be powerful triggers in humans. My brief history lesson might provide some clues as to why these trips are special for me. Just before my sixth birthday, my family moved from France, where I was born, to Tuscany, Italy. I spent my formative years living on top of a winery, located in the rolling hill country side near the Chianti region. I spent many years playing surrounded by the winery, the grape plants, and the olive trees.
Just like every other child, I rolled around the dirt, becoming quite intimate with the heavy clay which fills up the landscape. I learned the rancid smell of “Ramato” when the farmers sprayed the grape plants with it. In the early fall, at harvest time, the pungent odor of crushed grapes permeated from every corner.
But my childhood was not limited to smells. The winery rested on a relative high point of a series of hills. While out playing, I would run up to a ledge and look down at the rolling hills stretching out as far as the eye could see. On clear days we could easily make out the Apennines. I would let the dry summer wind blow in my hair, and marvel at all the fame lands stretching out to infinity. The world appeared so big to a young boy.
I learned to love the food. Tuscan cuisine is just one of the hundreds of cooking styles anyone can find on the peninsula. When I am asked what Italian cooking is like in Italy, I can never give an answer. Too many Italys to choose from. The food takes on an even greater dimension when eaten fresh off the land. Some restaurants and friends of the family only cooked fresh food.
Finally, many of the friends we made back then were some of the nicest and most generous people we have ever known. Due to our financial situation we would have been much worse off if not for the help of these people.
This chapter in my life came to an end after I had completed my five years of elementary school, three years of junior high school and one year of high school. My family packed up and moved to the suburbs outside of New York City, throwing my life in to a whirlwind of culture shock at the ripe age of fifteen.
So it should come to no surprise that I love coming back to the place where I was raised. To me this is like coming home. In 2015, I made my first trip with my bicycle. I spent two weeks riding the country side I dreamed about exploring as a child. I finally combined the activity I love, and need, with the inner calling to come back. I was hooked.
I was supposed to repeat the experience in 2017, but an injury in a bike race put me out of riding the whole season, which, of course, also affected my bike touring in Tuscany. Finally, in 2018, with the advice of some friends, instead of retiring my oldest carbon frame, I decided to build it up with cheap components and send it to Italy and store it there. My sister still lives in Tuscany and has adequate space to keep my my ride. I rode in the spring of 2018 and a gain in the fall of 2018.
I am now back again to ride and loose myself in the sprawling country side, made much more attainable through my own power and the help of two wheels. My first rides will be an olfactory and vision feast with deep meaning. The vast world seen through the eyes of a child has now become smaller thanks to my bicycle. I have finally escaped that hilltop and I can now feed that curiosity of what comes after the next hill, and the next, and the next…