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Posts from the ‘bicycle touring’ Category

from sea to mountains

along the Tyrrhenian Sea


Where to start?  At the beginning, in the rain near the coast …

I suppose I should clarify a little bit about our trip.  As much as we may have liked to take a month or more and do self-supported touring, logistics and time constraints made it impossible at this point.  Instead, we opted for a supported tour through VBT – and the entire experience exceeded our expectations ten-fold.  I cannot recommend them highly enough; everything was seamless and amazingly well organized, and we had cultural experiences that I doubt we would have been able to plan or arrange on our own.  Five gold stars to the amazing folks at VBT!

warm-up ride & rainbow near Agrihotel Elizabetta

After leaving Florence, we began our cycling from Agrihotel Elizabetta in Collemezzano.  We met with our trip guides/leaders, Andrea and Lucca, both native Italians who fitted us with our bikes and gave us our route maps and cue sheets.  Although we never really rode with them, they would prove to be indispensable friends over the course of the trip; always entertaining, helpful and generous beyond description, doing everything for us “behind the scenes”.  Our first afternoon was an easy (25 km)  warm-up ride in the area around the agrihotel, just so we could adjust bikes as necessary and become familiar with their cue sheets and route directions.  The weather was cool with scattered showers, but we felt the rainbow was a very good omen.

Our second day, and first full day of riding, took us down to the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea on a blustery morning.  We approached the coast walked the bikes across a stretch of shoreline, before entering some beautiful maritime pine forests on our way toward the coastal foothills.

walking the beach
guess who? (caught in the act)

Our route today (68 km/42 mi) was to take us up to the medieval village of Casale Marittimo, a beautiful village dating back to the fifth century B.C. (Etruscan) perched high in the hills, overlooking the beautiful Tuscan landscape filled with olive trees and vineyards.  The climb was fairly easy and extremely lovely, even through we encountered a few showers.  The vistas were amazing.  Luca and Andrea met us just before entering the village with a spectacular picnic lunch of vegetable salads, breads, cheeses and fruit.  (I was already beginning to love these two guys… ;))

the route up to Cassale Marittimo

One of our favorite aspects of our daily route plans was the option to choose from various distances and additional loops.  Mark and I opted to ride an additional 10 km loop that basically circled the hilltop near the village – which was really fun, except for a last (thankfully short) stretch of steep climbing.  But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  Probably.  😉

After lunch we rode up and into Casale Marittimo.  And were simply blown away.  It was incredible – from the narrow cobbled streets and stone buildings, to the geraniums in the window boxes and the tiled roofs.  An Italian couple (residents?) approached us as I was taking pictures in the village and kindly and enthusiastically pointed us up toward a little lane where they promised we would have a stunning view for photographs.  It would be the first of so many friendly encounters with incredibly hospitable people we would meet.

entering Casale Marittimo
the narrow streets of the village
the hidden viewing spot we were directed to by a kind village couple
I kept asking myself: can this be real?
the most fun streets to ride – ever!

We (rather reluctantly) left the beautiful village of Casale Marittimo, and headed back down toward the coastal town of Cecina.  On the downward slopes, we really began to get the classic Tuscan views – from the silvery-green olive groves, to the tidy rows of grapes, the graceful lines of cypress trees and the warm golden tones of the stone and stucco houses.

the Tuscan landscape en route to coastal Cecina

As we arrived back near the coast in the town of Cecina, the sun was beginning to break through, and we had our final treat of the day … the G.O.D. (Gelato Of the Day).  This stuff is so incredibly delicious … nothing compares.  I also think it is official law in this region: if you cycle, you must eat gelato.  And I am very happy to be a law-abiding visitor.

gelato: part of the (legally) mandated RDA for cyclists

back at the coast, with the skies clearing ... Cecina


… to be continued

there will be lots of cycling and (too) many photos

Dear friends … Heading out for a few days.  My in-laws, and Tim from The Band, are here to keep Grant and the critters company and hold down the fort.  Mark and I are taking off for a well-deserved trip together – to Italy, with bicycles.  Yeah, I’m pretty giddy!  The agenda is to bike from Florence to Rome, roughly along the Tuscan Coast.  Figuring on filling my water bottles up with olive oil along the way. 😉  Ok, maybe gelato instead.

So, you can be assured there will be plenty of biking photos, and definitely a change of scenery from the same-old, same-old of rural TN.  Hope to be back to post around October 5th, and hope you will check back then.

In the meantime, the #330daysofbiking count: as of today, have ridden 162 of the past 176 days with 191 days remaining. Cheers!

#330daysofbiking Day 157 ~ the colorful world of my favorite bike shop: Trailhead Bicycles

#330daysofbiking Day 159 - evening on the Xtracycle (Lensbaby)

#330daysofbiking Day 160 - busy Monday blind shot

#330daysofbiking Day 162 - a fritter inferno of (pre-)Happy Birthday wishes to my twitter cycling pal, @blueallez ... Happy 50th, C! (you geezer...)


There is a long list of things that comes to mind when thinking of summer: popsicles, baseball games, watermelon, swimming pools, the beach, bicycles.  Probably not Siberia – or riding a bicycle through Siberia – but it’s about all I can think about, read about, through these infernal days of heat and humidity.

The heat is sweltering here; a recent article claims we’re in the midst of the hottest six months in recorded history.  Another reminder – along with the mess in the Gulf – from Mother Nature: ride and walk more, drive less?  I’d like to think so, but also admit that it’s a difficult task in this kind of weather.  And you have to be willing to arrive everywhere dripping with sweat and looking like hell; no room for a shred of vanity, that’s for sure.  But hey, as Stephen Markley penned  – “We didn’t need a world with a functioning climate anyway.”

Back to Siberia …  Rob Lilwall’s book, Cycling Home From Siberia, is beautiful, remarkable, inspiring, and the perfect summer read in the midst of a heat wave.  What began as a preposterous undertaking to begin with –  his plan to spend one year cycling from a far-eastern city in Siberia, in winter, all the way home to England – turned into an epic 3-year/3-continent/30,000-mile cycling odyssey.  It is filled with fascinating detail, humor, and yes – the expected drama and dire circumstances you might expect.  But it is written in an amazingly unpretentious and even very spiritual voice.  It is a beautiful story – on so many levels.

It’s a story that is filled with human (versus super-human) moments; his “humanness” and honesty draws you in, while the adventures keep you turning pages.  And ok – the guy rode over 30,000 miles, so there is a fair amount of super-human in there as well, for you feats-of-incredibleness junkies.  But with chapter titles ranging from “Over Mordor” (ch.1 – yes, in reference to Tolkien’s gloom-filled world), to “The budgerigar and the naked weatherman” (ch. 11)  and ” ‘I’ve had enough of this stupid bike ride’ (ch. 36) … it is entertaining, often funny, sometimes sad, sometimes frightening, yet always so very real.  A better description appears on the back cover:

A gripping story of endurance and adventure, this is also a spiritual journey, providing poignant insight into life on the road in some of the world’s toughest corners.

Get your hands on a copy and read it.  Period.  That’s all I’m going to say.

A final note to my kind friends and those of you who commented on my last post:  your insight has been most valuable to me, and I greatly appreciate your taking time to share your thoughts – and even more for listening to me and reading.  It has really helped me, and has made a difference.

#330daysofbiking update: today I have ridden 110 of the past 117 days …. 248 days remain.  And so it goes.  (As I wish for a blast of arctic air to blow over from Siberia).

LensBabyBike ~ #330daysofbiking, Day 107, 7/22/10

riding with Mark, another old barn ~ #330daysofbiking, Day 108, 7/24/10

evening with my boys & bikes ~ #330daysofbiking, Day 109, 7/25/10

rain, errand riding & an iPhone ~ #330daysofbiking, Day 110, 7/26/10

#330daysofbiking Days 61, 62 & 63: bikamping!


Day 61: Left on Friday for a 3-day bike camping trip, this time heading toward the Tennessee River and Harrison Bay – and a few points beyond. (Full set of photos on my Flickr page.)

the (approximate) route

The weather forecast was a little sketchy; scattered showers throughout the weekend.  We decided to camp at Harrison Bay State Park, roughly 27 miles from home – figuring that if it did start raining, we wouldn’t be stuck slogging through bad weather for hours on end.

Fortunately, the weather cooperated and we had a dry ride all the way to the park.  Quiet roads, nice scenery, especially when we approached the river.  Managed to get a campsite along one of the inlets, and had our gear set up and stashed away under a tarp before the rain started.  We headed over to the park’s marina to get some lunch, and while we were there, it started pouring.

Spent the afternoon dodging intermittent showers … had  a  swim, some leisurely time reading in the hammock, a little more riding around within the park.  After dinner we found a nice spot with a swing across from the marina – lovely views of the water, the boats, waterfowl, people fishing.  More rain finally sent us into the tent for the rest of the evening – reading by camplight, and sleep.

Day 61 - relaxing spot across from the marina


Day 62: approximate route - Harrison Bay to Chattanooga Riverwalk

Day 62: Woke up to mist over the water, grey skies.  Beautiful in its own way.  By late morning, the sky began to clear and we decided to make our way down to the Chattanooga Riverwalk/Riverpark.

Parts of this ride were lovely, and other parts were pretty nasty – especially the 6-lane commercial stretch of Hwy 58 as we approached the Riverpark.  Blech.  The weather was really hot, and the humidity was smothering after all of the rain.   Despite the heat, riding along the river offered some great views.

Just as we arrived at the Riverwalk, it started to rain – again.  Fortunately just a quick shower.  We followed the Riverwalk toward downtown Chattanooga, and stopped for a great lunch – alfresco – at The Boathouse along the river.  Sat and enjoyed the shaded canopy and the breeze coming off of the river, lingering over our late lunch for as long as we could.  Finally decided to start heading back.

Returned to the campground for a late afternoon swim.  The weather had finally decided to clear up, and the evening was lovely.  We had a campfire and stayed out under the stars ’till nearly midnight.

along the Tennessee River

heron on the rocks (TN Riverwalk)

Day 63: Woke again to grey skies and the threat of rain.  Packed up early and decided to head out for home.  Passed through a few very light showers along the way, but nothing terrible.  Humidity was pretty ridiculous, though.

Although it was nice to get home, cool off, clean up … I still wish it wasn’t over.  I love these bike adventures, no matter how brief.  Even in somewhat familiar territory, going by bike always manges to offer a new perspective – new things to see, roads to ride on.   Rain and all, it was wonderful.  Just makes me want to take a bigger adventure.  One of these days……

packed up, heading home

guess who? 😀

#330daysofbiking Day 60: away we go

2 Xtracycles, 2 people, 3 days of biking fun

So I guess today officially counts as #30daysofbiking (times) 2 … Day 60!

Only a very brief ride today.  No paddling, no long road ride, no trip to town – just a quick spin on the Xtracycle and a day of digging out camping gear and packing up for a weekend bikamping trip.  Hoping the weather will cooperate; scattered showers in the forecast.  Fingers crossed.

Mark and I are heading down along the Tennessee River – Harrison Bay and surrounding places.  Should be fun – and not a difficult trip home if the weather becomes too wet.  Taking camera(s) – of course – and looking forward to a few days of new scenery, new things to see.  I will not have a computer or way to post, although considering trying mobile WordPress on the iPhone.  Maybe.  More likely, my updates for days 61 through 63 will show up by Monday.

Now just trying to figure out appropriate sacrifice to the weather gods ….. (see you in a few!) 😀

today's unexpected visitors

New River Trail bikamping

the "enlightened" bike at the end of the tunnel...

Xtracycle: the "enlightened" bike at the end of the tunnel...

Last weekend, Mark, Dillon and I headed back to Virginia to spend Labor Day weekend riding and camping in New River Trail State Park.  The park is a 57-mile linear stretch running along the New River, with a packed cinder trail created on an old railroad right-of-way – part of the national Rails-to-Trails system.  The New River itself runs south to north, and the bike path has many trestle crossings and two wonderful tunnels.

nrvtrailmapWe decided to ride from north to south, and made plans to camp at the primitive Cliffview camground at the southern end of the park.  After some a little difficulty finding the northern trailhead and parking just outside of Pulaski (Xaloy?) we got the bikes packed up and headed out – Dillon on my mountain bike (fitted with rear rack and panniers), Mark on the Big Dummy, and I was on my trusty Long Haul Trucker.

The trail runs alongside the river nearly the entire way, with an almost undetectable 1% uphill grade (average) running north to south.  The upper half of the trail – Foster Falls being relatively the mid-point – offers nice views of a fairly wide and shallow river, with spacious lawns and farms along the banks.  For the most part, the riding is shaded, running through the woods along the banks.

Foster Falls is probably the most developed area along the trail – with a river outfitter, picnic areas, day-use parking as well as another primitive campground.  We stopped here, intending to find someplace to eat lunch, and were told by the park attendant that a country store was “just up the road”.

*Note to self for future reference:  when kindly lady says something is “just up the road”, chances are it’s a pretty significant detour by bicycle, unlike via her Buick!”

We headed off-trail in search of the country store, and after some searching and backtracking, we managed to find it.  We stopped for a sandwich and some snacks, and ended up rejoining the trail near Austinville – only adding an additional 4-5 miles to our journey.

Mark and Dillon making one of many river crossings

Mark and Dillon making one of many river crossings

Let me just say this … an average 1% uphill grade may seem fairly imperceptible for a long while – but after about 50 miles, your legs will tell you that you’ve been doing some work.  Nearing the end, I think we were just all anxious to see sight of the campground, as we were all ready to be out of the saddle for a while.  Thankfully, Cliffview campground is a few miles before the actual endpoint of the trail (53 miles on Mark’s odometer) – and it arrived none too soon!  Felt so good to park the bikes, unload and take a rest in the hammock.

Cliffview primitive campground - New River Trail State Park

Cliffview primitive campground - New River Trail State Park

We spent a restful evening at camp, had a some dinner, and hit the sleeping bags a little early.  Sadly, the campground has no shower facilities – which would have been greatly appreciated.  But it was quiet and comfortable, Dillon sleeping in the backpacking hammock/tarp, and Mark and I in our little tent.

Sunday morning we ate some breakfast and broke camp to head back down the trail – welcoming the fact that we would have the downhill grade this time.  Although we could definitely feel the difference in our legs, it definitely didn’t feel like a downhill coast – we were continually pedalling.

One thing to note about the trail, in general, is the fact that it is multi-use for cyclists, hikers and horses … with cyclists and hikers yielding to the horses.  Sharing the trail isn’t too bad.  My bigger complaint would have to be the divots in the trail surface created by the horse hooves.  It made for some bumpy riding in places where the trail surface was slightly soft.

Once again we decided to make our lunch stop near Foster Falls – this time in the picnic area with food we had on hand, rather than venturing off-trail again.  We enjoyed a nice lunch, checked out the rafting/bicycle rental outfitter, and pondered the darkening skies.  It looked like rain was on the horizon.

One of the nice trail stopping points along the way...

One of the nice trail stopping points along the way...

At one point (near Allisonia?), we were making one of the few road crossings, when a truck pulled up near us and  the driver said he really would like for us to stop so that he could check out our Xtracycles.  We were happy to oblige.  It was kind of amusing – he was so excited “to finally get to see an Xtracycle – in person!” He and his wife and another couple were doing the same weekend bikamping – but on some pretty spiffy tandem bikes.  We enjoyed talking to him, and hopefully left him with a very favorable impression of the Xtracycles.

Just after we left them, we started to feel the first drops of rain.  After the last rainy trip on the Creeper Trail, I decided to immediately put on my rain jacket.  Mark and Dillon decided to forego theirs.  A mile or two later, the downpour started.  By that time, there was nothing to do but count down the miles until we reached the car.

a rainy finish...

a rainy finish...

Although I didn’t mind riding in the rain (I was pretty dry and toasty with my jacket on), Mark and Dillon decided to speed on ahead of me, as they were getting pretty soaked.  By that point, it didn’t make much sense for them to even put their raingear on – once you’re wet, you’re wet.  I just rode on at my own pace, and eventually we all made it back to the parking lot and the car.  Loading the wet gear and grit-covered bikes was the least fun part of the whole adventure, once again.

In the end: three bikes, two days, one night of camping, and somewhere over 100 miles of fun.  I highly recommend New River Trail – a lovely ride, regardless what section(s) you choose to ride on, lightly travelled, and great for families.

Complete set of trip photos are up on my Flickr page, here.

Until next time…

Gee Creek bikamping

Packed up camping gear for a weekend trip to Gee Creek

Packed up camping gear for a weekend trip to Gee Creek

You can’t have much more fun than a camping trip by bicycle.

(I’m posting a few of my favorite pictures in this entry, but some additional photos/descriptions can be found in my Flickr set, here.)

Mark and I packed up the Xtracycle “twins” on Friday and headed out toward Cherokee National Forest, the Hiwassee River, and Gee Creek campground for a weekend of fun and adventure by bicycle.  It was a lovely ride over – although extremely “warm”.  Temperatures in the mid-90’s, and I couldn’t guess at the humidity.

We had only one mapping snafu.  We had mapped a back-roads route so that we could avoid traveling on one of the more major roads – a road that is often used by logging trucks heading for the paper pulp mill in Calhoun.  It was a good plan until the very end.  Near the small community of Delano, TN, we could not locate one of the unnamed roads that would take us through the Amish community.  We backtracked twice, looking for the connector, and finally gave up.  It still remains a mystery as to whether the map was correct, or if the road really exists(?).

Somewhere along the Hiwassee River, near Calhoun, TN

Somewhere along the Hiwassee River, near Calhoun, TN

We arrived at Gee Creek campground in the early afternoon and had our choice of campsites.  We unloaded the bikes, set up camp, and spent the remainder of the hot afternoon relaxing in the shade, trying to stay cool.  Early in the evening we set out again to have dinner at a resort we had read about, Black Bear Cove.  It was nice to enjoy a leisurely dinner in the air-conditioned lodge.

On Saturday morning, we set out early for the Amish community and market that was a nearby.  We had been to the Amish market several times before – by car.  They have just-picked-that-morning produce directly from their fields outside the market building.  They also have some wonderful baked goods – from sorghum sugar cookies, to whole wheat bread, to killer sticky buns.  We decided to have the sticky buns for our breakfast! 🙂

We rode through the community on some of the small gravel roads that meander around, in part trying to see where we had missed our mystery connecting road the day before.  It was pastoral, picturesque and lovely – similar to some of the other Amish areas we have visited in Lancaster, PA, and Holmes County, OH.  There is no electricity, no motorized vehicles or equipment. Tidy farms, tidy fields, windmills, horses and buggies.  It can sometimes make you stop and question the benefits(?) of modern progress…

tractor-less farming

tractor-less farming

not a bicycle, but still non-fossil fuel transport ...

not a bicycle, but still non-fossil fuel transport ...

despite the fact that the community is spread out, everyone walks

despite the fact that the community is spread out, everyone walks

it was a lovely area to explore by bicycle

it was a lovely area to explore by bicycle

As the afternoon heat escalated, we decided to head for the Hiwassee River.  We rented a kayak and had a nice, cooling trip down the river, snacking on a sweet watermelon we had picked up at the Amish market.

cooling off on the HIwassee

cooling off on the HIwassee

Saturday evening proved to be … well … let’s just say an interesting and colorful local experience.  There is a small local winery in the area, and they were hosting an evening concert in their “pavillion”.  The Goose Creek Symphony (YouTube). I’m not sure what I was expecting, never having heard of the group.  The winery staff described them as “putting on a really excellent show, not exactly country, not exactly bluegrass …”.  I kind of envisioned a neat bluegrass-y/mountain music kind of event, maybe a glass of the vinyard’s wine. Uuhhh …. not exactly.

Let me just say, the “Symphony” was actually pretty talented – for that type of music (not really my cup of tea, thanks).  Maybe you’ve heard the song that begins, “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz …”?  Yeah.  Ok.  Well, that’s Goose Creek.   The Symphony may have had talent, the crowd on the other hand, was, well,  quite a different story.  I’ll just leave it at that.  Mark had joked about visiting a place up the road called the Hillbilly Bar.  Well, this may have been a winery, but the description could have fit just as well.

Sunday morning we packed up for the return home.  We had really packed fairly lightly, but it was still impressive to see how much gear we were easily able to stow on the bikes – with still plenty of room to spare – and not any messing with panniers, trailers, etc.  I love the versatility of the Xtracycle slings.  The gear/cargo size and shape doesn’t matter – there are no constraints to deal with when using the slings (unlike panniers).

As much as I loved nearly all of the miles we put in, there was one stretch of county road that we covered that was paved with large, loose gravel/rock.  It wasn’t the nice finely crushed and packed gravel of the Amish roads – it was just nasty chunky stuff.  Without a major detour – or spending a few miles on the logging truck road – we had to use this road.  It wasn’t more than a couple of miles, but without knobby mtn. bike tires, there was a lot of wasted energy pedaling uphill, and a lot of teeth-rattling, sketchy sliding action on the downhill.  I didn’t love it. Yuck.

the gravel road I did not love...

the gravel road I did not love...

... and my thumbs-up return to pavement!

... and my thumbs-up return to pavement!

Arrived home in time to relax a bit in the afternoon (it was Father’s Day, after all).  It was really a fun adventure.  We logged some lovely and scenic miles and explored some back roads I would like to return to some day.  The Xtracycles, as always, proved to be amazing vehicles – easy to haul our gear, easy to ride.  The perfect machine.

So – get your bike out and grab your tent and sleeping bag.  Have an adventure on two wheels.  It doesn’t get much better!

home again ... Father's Day 2009

home again ... Father's Day 2009

Additional photos on Fickr.