Biking Tuscany

"I felt history and geography transforming me, and I feel stupidly in love with travel." - Brad Newsham

The road from the bridge by the bike shop out to Pievascola is not what I remember. In my head, it was a straight shot. A walk in the park. But back here now, fifteen months later, it's clear my far-removed recollection is inaccurate. The road is long and hilly, the climbs disguised by the shadows of tall, dark trees. Five minutes in and already I'm sweating bullets. 

And yet with the passage of time and rotation of pedals, my muscles and brain slowly get back into groove. What awaits ahead becomes more clear with each kilometer, like a gps map in my head loading the digitized version in chunky sections. I've only biked here once before, but with each stretch of road, I start to recall more vividly and suddenly the tiniest details of those painful stretches and joyful descents.

It was just over a year ago, the first time I biked in Tuscany. My husband and I signed up to meet our guides from Gippo bikes at the luxury resort, Castello di Casole, perched atop a Tuscan hill just northwest of Siena near Casole d'Elsa. We should have known better after three days of driving these hills that the leisurely route we'd imagined would be a bit taxing. But the true contours of the land are always lost entirely on those of us who sit behind the wheels of large cars with strong engines, barreling through the countryside at 120 km/hr. It takes slowing down to 20 km/hr on two people-powered wheels to fully comprehend the lay of the land.

That explains why we wore khakis and our guides wore lycra. We hadn't noticed we'd be getting some exercise.

On that first ride, we huffed and puffed for 30+ kilometres in gusts that our guides vowed were extremely unusual. Our guides, unphased, chatted quickly about their peloton days, as we struggled silently, too winded to speak. From Castello di Casole up the switchbacks into the high walled town of Elsa, out country roads towards the bike shop in the valley, down that long, rolling road to Pievascola and back again, we endured until that last steep 300 meters. Yes, that last stretch of driveway back up to the resort required the sag wagon, and yet even that bit was a total blast.

So I've dreamed of these roads since. Though I'm no more physically prepared this time than last and I've just slogged through a lackluster sleep with a toddler's feet in my face, I am ready to roll. I am stoked to bike these roads again in the morning heat of July.

This second time around, I'm out for a longer 40k excursion with my cousin, without the guides. We breeze by fields of wheat, sunflowers and vineyards. We push on past olive groves bursting with pale, windswept leaves, surrounded by the smell of old stone and fresh air. You can't bike like this where I live. You can't bike like this any place else in the world. Tuscany is fields of gold seen best and most realistically from the saddle of a Gippo bike.

Knowing what it feels like to bomb Tuscan hills at 35 km/hr? It's a high I'd seek every day, painful climbs and all. To be working and flying beneath that Tuscan sun is like nothing on earth.

Yes, biking is always a great time. It is the perfect pace at which to see something new and the perfect pace at which to see something painstakingly routine and familiar. When I talk of my love for slow travel, this is what I mean. I mean slow enough to go by bike. Biking is the very best way to savor my surroundings. I don't intend to go a day without it.