I have been reading some philosophy books lately. First up was the Art of Cycling; a kind of compendium and summary of Western philosophers interwoven with a multi day bike tour. That inspired me to reread Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I first read the book sometime in the late 70s and was surprised that it seemed relevant today, unlike most other books from that era. (Here’s looking at you, Catch 22.)
Among other concepts, both of these books present the idea that reality only comes into existence when we perceive it, that there is nothing we can prove to exist outside of our mind’s perception. Each time we open our eyes or put our face into the wind, the world around us comes into being. We make sense of it because we attach it to everything we know before, but better minds than I have proven that the world only becomes real when we see it.
How does this apply to riding a bicycle? Maybe more specifically, how does it apply to riding the white roads of Tuscany? What I have been thinking about is that each turn of the wheel and every bend in the road philosophically offers a newly created world and a chance to see the world a little differently. If I play a part in creating this reality, maybe I can breathe a little better, worry a little less and relax into the moment a little more. And what better place to practice than the white gravel roads of the Strade Bianche?
On the way down from the Dolomites we stopped in Verona and took a day to see the city and ride our bikes. Like other large cities, central Verona is full of restaurants catering to tourists and “the street of expensive shops.”
Our next day of travel was on to Siena by train. We had the travel day from hell, with multiple things going wrong and delay after delay. Our first connection was stymied by trying to get on a train that didn’t take bicycles. Several hours later, we got on the right train, only to be unable to exit as our train car doors would not open. Our next connection was cancelled, so we were quite late in meeting our helpful local guide Michele in Siena. We held a hurried conversation about the route and crashed into our beds. .Luckily for us this was not our first time dealing with transportation hassles in Europe, so we put the day behind us and moved on.
Our first day’s ride was to the hilltop village of Montalcino. No surprise, most of the villages are on hilltops. We ended with a long busy road climb into a thunderstorm, and pushed our bikes through inches of water running down the street to our hotel. The day’s difficulty led to Karen deciding to get an e-bike to continue our tour. We contacted Michele to make the arrangement and it was a great decision, as the rest of the tour was much more enjoyable.
The roads here in Tuscany wind and twist over the hills. The climbing is steep and intense, and the descending is twisty, steep and fast. It is very interesting riding with lots of views and history, especially when the roads roll along the ridge tops. These gravel roads are where Italian cyclists started riding their skinny tires back in the day and are now the epicenter of Eroica cycling using classic (antique) cycling gear as well as a professional world tour race that ends in Siena. It is pretty classic countryside to ride in and you could call it the birthplace of modern gravel. I for one was really happy to be on a modern gravel bike with big tires, disc brakes and even a dropper post for the descents.
There is a softness to the subtle beauty of Tuscany. The hills are rounded off by years of human activity and there are no giant peaks or alpine meadows to catch the eye or jump off the page. At first we rode through plowed fields waiting for the next crop and then later through trees and vineyards. Make no mistake, the primary business is wine, wine and more wine. Since the bikes can’t carry much, we contented ourselves with a couple of glasses of the house wine each evening and missed out on the ubiquitous wine tastings.
In the tiny village of Radda, we had an encounter with the 1 percent who seem to run the world in this era of late stage capitalism. Or maybe it’s the .01 percent. This was a three day road rally for classic Ferrari cars and their owners from around the world. According to our photographer informant, the cost of participating was 42,000 euros and several of the cars were valued at 5 to 7 million euros. Wretched excess indeed, but the cars were absolutely gorgeous and we enjoyed the show.
After 7 days of touring we were back in Siena to rest and get ready for the next portion of Karens 70th birthday tour. On to Puglia.
So where does all this lead to philosophically? Is there some Tuscan enlightenment that I found out there on the Strade Bianchi? Maybe it’s just the desire to keep on turning the wheels to see what comes next.