Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Dangers of Biking

When last I wrote about our Italian biking adventure, I was huffing and puffing up a hill to arrive at the tiny town of Castellaro Lagusello. The next day featured a whole new set of challenges and dangers, some of which had very little to do with biking.

The day began with our guide Claudio’s crushing an attempted revolution that Audrey had begun. Audrey had asked the day before whether it wouldn’t be more convenient for all of us to gather for our pre-biking Italian lesson, direction discussion, and pep talk at 9:00 rather than 8:30. She wanted a little more sleep and a less hurried breakfast. Claudio agreed to compromise, sort of. With a twinkle in his eye, he said we could start the next morning’s meeting at 8:31! And that was indeed the time that he and Carlotta began giving us our marching (er– riding) orders the next day. We learned that the biking company had mapped out either an easy or moderate route for the beginning of our ride, but that they favored the “moderately difficult” path because it seemed easier to them than the “easy” one. Huh? I was sure that either one would tax my pedaling and gear-shifting skills, not to mention my psyche. Oh well. . . .

Danger 1 Ahead
As you can probably guess, “moderately difficult” is another way of saying "hilly." Slow, annoying ups and all-too-brief, enjoyable downs. That’s what I was expecting. What I didn’t anticipate was a series of loud gunshots that filled the air as we began climbing a long hilly section through a vast area of wooded and grassy fields. Who was shooting at us? And why?

We learned that hunting season had opened that morning. Several shotgun carrying hunters were walking through the fields looking for and firing at game—rabbits or various kinds of birds. We hoped that American bikers weren’t on their target list, too. Would I be able to duck at the same time I was trying to climb a hill, I wondered? I didn’t want to find out the answer. Luckily, we got through the fields region safely. And I didn’t have as much trouble biking as I had anticipated, in part because one of the other bikers showed me how to shift gears on the left side of the bike to ease the chain on my front wheels. Now I could give new meaning to the term “slow and steady.”

We proceeded on to the charming town of Desenzano on Lake Garda. We had a lovely lunch there—pizza, pasta, and salad, of course—and took some pictures of local ducks who were wisely avoiding leaving the lake confines during hunting season.
Ducks in Desenzano happily hide out from hunters.
 Danger 2 In the Air
As we proceeded out of town for the return trip to our hotel in Castellaro, we were bombarded by hoards of marauding gnats. I thought that I was being especially singled out by the beasts because I was wearing a bright yellow biking shirt. They must have thought I was a large, chubby light bulb, and they were attracted to it. (When we stopped later, everyone was impressed by how many dead bugs were attached to my shirt. Clearly, I was not only a light bulb but a bright yellow windshield too.) When we finally escaped the bugs, it was almost time to enter the hilly region again, this time from the other direction. And if that wasn’t enough, there was still one more danger to survive.

Gnats, Beware! This yellow shirt may be deadly!
Danger 3 On the Ground
This part of Italy is in the Po River Valley and is called Valpolicella, which is also the name of a noted wine produced in the region. Where they make wine, they usually grow grapes, right? And we passed many vineyards loaded down with fruit almost ready for picking and crushing. (I have this thing for orchards and now for vineyards, too. I am amazed by the almost mathematical precision of the placement of the trees or vines. How do the farmers judge the distances so precisely when they plant the seeds or seedlings? Very impressive!)

The grapes looked so beautiful and enticing that several of us decided to stop our bikes along the path and test out the goods. As I reached toward a vine, someone in our group sounded a warning that an interested and possibly angry farmer was watching us closely. I promise that I took only two grapes and quickly remounted my steed. They were delicious, by the way.
Grapevines in Valpolicella line up majestically and proudly show off their bounty.
The rest of the trip home was uneventful, thank goodness. And I looked forward to dinner at a nearby winery, which was surpringly established at the same location as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. This could happen only in Italy. . . .

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