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A Hero's Welcome

by Tyler

Tara and I were a little overwhelmed last night as we looked at our maps, trying to decide where to go next. Until today we've had a fairly clear plan that defined where we were going, when we would arrive and where we were headed after we got there. Things have become a little murky since we left; a route following the seasons as we originally intended has long gone out the window. Our adventure will end in Malaysia, this much is certain. The path by which we get there now lays before us largely undecided.

Do we ride through Northern Africa during winter, circling back through Spain before striking east to Moscow? Do we leave Africa unexplored and make our way to Asia through the Middle East? If we opt for Russia, will we be able to board the Trans Siberian Railway with our bicycles? If not, could we buy an old van and drive across Siberia with bikes in tow (this "crazy" idea Tara's brother had is quickly growing on us; we could always get back on our bicycles if it broke down!). The possibilities are endless and we're considering a mix of them all.

Preparing for this trip was a lesson in long-term thinking and it is becoming apparent that actually completing it will be the same on an even larger scale. With our major expenses paid for (gear), life is incredibly affordable; nearly 100% of our budget is food. The longer we are on the road the more comfortable we are with less, and we now free-camp almost every night. My business is doing great and I've made well more than we've spent since we left. Armed with confidence by experience that I can support my clients from anywhere in the world (satellite internet may be in our future) it is staggering to imagine that we could choose any route we want.

Rather than trying to plot a route across the entire globe we're focusing on the road directly in front of us; it leads to the western coast of Italy. This morning we spent much longer preparing to go than we had planned, becoming acutely aware of how finely honed our routines had become when suddenly all of our gear was different. After several pannier re-organizations we said our goodbyes with Lidia and Agriturismo Mezzapiaggia at the late hour of 11:00.

My best estimates have our bikes fully loaded with water coming in around 60kg (me) and 40kg (Tara). The major weight increases on my bicycle were new electronics, two front panniers FULL of food and both the tent and our sleeping bag on the back. Tara is now hauling a veritable library in her rear panniers along with a new stainless steel cookset (something that will be quite a learning experience all by itself; no more teflon!).

Tyler's Loaded Bike v2.0 Tara's Loaded Bike v2.0

As we pushed up the gravel road leaving Agriturismo Mezzapiaggia we were both a little daunted by our newly weighty bicycles. I consoled myself with the thought that we'll be steadily eating away some of the weight in my front panniers. Tara won't get any relief until we get down to reading though.

It was a sunny day, our first ride under clear skies in Tuscany. The misty, rainy fall weather we had all week disappeared, leaving us to cycle off under blinding, blistering skies. We spent most of the afternoon huffing and puffing our way up Tuscan hills, feeling very out of shape on our way to Volterra.

Tuscany Tuscany Tuscany

About halfway into our ride we passed a huge group of Norwegian cycle tourists who heartily waved us in like a pit crew eager to refuel a member of it's team. We crossed the road and joined them amidst loads of clapping and encouraging cheers. It was incredible! The moment we got off our bikes we were literally surrounded on all sides by 30-odd people taking photos, asking questions and offering all manner of refreshments.

Norwegian Cycle Tour Group Norwegian Cycle Tour Group Norwegian Cycle Tour Group

We felt a little bit like celebrities when we were asked to sign the postcards we passed out, and cameras snapped at us from all directions. A table covered with food and drink was carried over to us, and we were offered local white wine, a sweet wine (vin santo del nonno), powerfully strong grappa, beer (someone gave me a Norwegian beer that I accidentally left behind at the picnic table!), and of course, water. Cookies, bananas, cheese, and anything else they had was only a request away.

Norwegian Cycle Tour Group Norwegian Cycle Tour Group Vin Santo del Nonno

They were all part of a package tour, led by the warm and welcoming Roman couple, Leonardo and Pina. We felt a little envious of everyone's teensy rear panniers and the huge support van Pina drove, carrying all of their food and belongings. Soon the lunch break was over, and Leonardo corralled everyone for the next leg of their afternoon's cycling. After waves and handshakes, more photos, and lots of warm encouragement, the group cycled off. We stayed behind to chat with Pina for a little while as she cleaned up the mess (and refused our offers to help).

Leonardo, Tyler, Pina

A few kilometers down the road from our hero's welcome we were feeling like anything but. As the ascent to Volterra started, I steeled myself for the weighty but relatively moderate climb, confident I could struggle my way there. While I rested easy in the notion that all the extra work would translate into less weight tomorrow when I devoured a king's portion of food at camp, Tara was having a much harder time.

Somehow or another we've managed to be on cycling breaks during the hardest days of her period for the whole trip thus far. Not so this time. Aching and shaking, she broke down and started crying about how the ride was too hot, too hard, too heavy, impossible. She longed to be in a cool, dark room, buried under the covers in soft bed, no more than five steps from a modern bathroom. Unfortunately I couldn't make her dream a reality, but I fed her and reminded her of the trooper she is. I told her we could take it as easy as she needed to, and reminded her that she always thinks it is too hard after we have a few days off, period or no. I took the heavy spare water-bottle off her bike and added it to mine while we rested for a good 15 minutes.

While we were relaxing she spotted the biggest spider we've ever seen in the wild!:

Spider Belly Spider Back

With Tara feeling a bit more composed, we carried on for another few kilometers before she spotted a good free-camp. I wanted to carry on but it was pretty clear she was checked out and unwilling to continue so we pulled off the road and set up camp in a perfectly hidden spot in the woods. With our home set up, Tara felt much better, and we wiled away the evening reading quietly and working on journals.

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Hi Tara and Tyler. I'm going to come out of lurker status and say "hi!" I'm Julia, went to elementary school with Lian and did some PRC work at the U of I with Lian and Brooke back in the day. It was actually from a posting on Brooke's facebook page a long time ago that I found Going Slowly and I've been reading from the very beginning. I've only met you once or twice Tara, and never Tyler, but I wanted to thank you both so much for sharing such your trip in such a beautiful and honest way. It looks like you two are at a crossroads and have many decisions to make about the way to spend your next few months, and I just wanted to let you know I'm rooting for you from my cubicle in Chicago and wish you the very best as you continue your trip. Thanks again.
Posted by Julia Dossett on September 24th, 2009 at 11:52 AM
Oh Julia, that was the sweetest note. Thank you so much! Of course I remember you, and your sister with whom I worked with at Great Harvest. I hope Chicago is treating you well. When we have rough days we will just have to remember you are rooting for us! Thanks again!
Posted by Tara on September 25th, 2009 at 3:46 PM
Trans-Siberian passenger trains do not carry cars or motorbikes, full stop. However, you can take bicycles with you, zipped up in a bike bag with pedals removed and the handlebars turned, free of charge as hand luggage. Bear in mind that it will take up space in your sleeping compartment, so it may be less anti-social to book a berth in a more spacious 2-berth compartment than to inflict your bike on three fellow travelers in a 4-berth compartment.
Posted by Naomi on October 8th, 2009 at 3:04 PM

Thanks for the info! That was one of the first things we read when we started researching that leg of our trip. Unfortuntely our bikes are a lot more than just a bicycle you can put into a bag. We've talked to some people who have actually done it and it sounds like it was a massive pain.

Just getting our bikes on the train -once- might be a feat, much less trying to haul them on and off at stops. Half the fun of taking the train is getting off at the stops along the way! We've 90% given up on the train route. The only viable option we can see at this point is purchasing 4 tickets.

At any rate, we appreciate you looking out for us! Whatever we decide to do, it'll get a detailed writeup here :)
Posted by Tyler on October 9th, 2009 at 7:53 AM