“That’s why there’s fence,” our guide Emanuele pointed to a pile of rocks across the trail in front of us, “there’s, how do you say in English, avalanches in this area.”
The area was on the shore of Lake Gandolfo, about 15 miles southeast of Rome. Among the 8,000 residents that live near the lake are two rather famous ones: Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis (in the summer).
My spouse, Sabra, and I were in the area as a stop along the way to Sicily and a family wedding. We reckoned if we were going to travel 5,000 miles from our home in Iowa City, we might as well get some sightseeing and biking in as well.
We consider ourselves to be adventure cyclists, even if we are at the tame end of the spectrum. Last year, for example, we rode unsupported between Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. and had several adventures including an unscripted detour through someone’s back yard, and a construction zone clearly marked “stay out.” But it was either break the rules or take another much longer and even more dangerous course. As we were coming back onto the main route, we were approached by a couple of official looking strangers and thought for a moment we were going to get into trouble. Luckily, we had a lawyer friend along, and she offered to take care of any legal hassles. “What will you do?” I asked her, expecting some kind of hard-to-understand legal defense. But her strategy was more basic. “I’ll cry,” she offered.
Luckily, we never had to try that legal defense.
Or, on a ride a couple years ago, we found ourselves in St. Louis beginning a two-week out and back, self-contained tour of the Katy Trail. After studying maps and talking with area cyclists, the only way we could figure to get to the trailhead from the gateway city was to venture onto Interstate 70 at rush hour. It was only a couple of miles and we dialed it out as fast as our 50-something legs could handle, but nevertheless several thousand cars zoomed past us as we hugged the shoulder of the five lanes going in our direction.
Did I mention that I have a large Chicago Cubs patch on my panniers?
The point is that we are experienced riders who don’t shy from the path less traveled but when the prospect of riding around Rome came up we found ourselves less then enthusiastic about negotiating the Eternal City.
I’d been to Italy nearly two decades earlier and knew the country is not the most bike friendly. While it’s near the end of the pack of European nations for overall bike ridership, it’s near the top in bicycle fatalities. Nothing ruins a good vacation like sudden death so I surfed around and came up with Top Bike Rentals and Touring.
It turned out to be just the ticket for us. For a little more than what you’d pay for a bus tour, we were outfitted with good bikes (upper end Ghosts) and sent on our way with a guide conversant in English and knowledgeable about local history plus a pro at getting around on two wheels. Coasting along side streets and back alleys, we’d suddenly pop out onto the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps or... you get the picture.
Our first two rides were half-day, small group affairs in and around the city and we definitely got our money’s worth. Both were fun and educational but low on the adventure scale.
Our first clue that Lake Gandolfo was going to be a more exciting ride came when our guide, Emanuele, mentioned that no one had signed up for it for more than a year.
To be continued, stay subscribed.