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Cycling Through Italy - Descents, Downpours, and Adolfo

June 05, 2023
by CEA CAPA Content Creator
Rolling green hills in Italy

Exploring Italy on Two Wheels: My Study Abroad Adventure Part 2

After the occasional water break on the side of a highway, questioning why I was stupid enough to attempt something so impossible, I finished my ride I described in part one of this cycling series. I then proceeded to immediately limp to the only restaurant open at 10:30 p.m. on Italian Labor Day, still in my aggressively American cycling gear, and quite literally eat my weight in lasagna, prosciutto, and cake.

After sleeping in at the hotel I booked, I stuffed my face with the complimentary breakfast, helped myself to a dozen jars of honey to fuel my ride, and set off for Rome. The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cold, and getting to see Orvieto in the morning sunshine was something I’ll never forget (it’s slept on as a travel destination, I would absolutely check it out).

Tan arches and cobblestone walkway in Italy

This day was a shorter, 75 mile ride with mostly downhill cruising, and, as I had a pleasant lunch in Viterbo, marveled at the Roman catacombs on the side of the road, and breathed the fresh, cool breeze from the Bracciano-Martignano, I thought about how almost nothing on this perfect day could go wrong. Well, the insidious black maelstrom looming on the horizon had other plans.

Rolling green hills, dark sky in Orvieto, Italy

The descents, which had formerly been a boon to my fatigued legs, quickly became my bane. In a situation like this I’d rather climb a mountain. When you’re exerting yourself, your body begins to generate heat. However, because the rest of the ride trended downwards, I really wasn’t expending much energy, so the wind chill really set in. As the heavens unloaded a torrential downpour on me, the combination of the wet and the wind quickly sapped all the heat from my body. The cold got so intense, it was almost as if the Netherlands decided to go on holiday with me. I quickly began to lose sight of not only the pothole marred roads, but the end goal, and, when I pulled over to the side of the road, that was by far the closest I’d been to quitting any portion of my ride. After a half hour of shivering under an overhang, I got moving again, fighting through the brain fog that began to settle in. I wondered what the passing cars thought when they saw my grave expression as I paddled my way through the congested streets of outer Rome like a wet stray dog. When it was all over, I couldn’t accurately express the overwhelming sense of joy that washed over me as I paraded into the Piazza Venezia.

Now, after my ride, nothing sounded better than a hot meal and a shower. And, well, my method of getting it I wouldn’t recommend to everyone. Before my trip, I discovered this website called Couchsurfing. You communicate with hosts that offer their couch or spare bedroom for people to stay in for free. I found a host named Adolfo.

Italian man poses in front of door frame and green wall

He was an Italian man in his early 40s who lived alone in an apartment on the outskirts of Rome. Thanks to his kindness, I had a place to sleep that night, as well as a free meal with no expectation of anything in return. Even though I just met him, I have to say, it was nice to have the human interaction. For the past two days, my voice had been used to either mutter expletives under my breath or attempt to communicate in very limited Italian to the people I met along the way (acqua per favore? parli inglese?). Luckily, Adolfo knew English fluently from his job. We talked for an hour or so, ate a meal he prepared, and then I showered and prepared for bed.

I can still remember how odd it felt to be in this random person’s house. I was a 20-year-old American student from a suburb in Connecticut, and for this one miniscule moment in time our vastly different lives grazed each other—a lonely Italian accountant who liked climbing and hiking, and me, a cyclist visiting Italy for the first time. Just a year and a half ago, locked away in my house, I never could’ve imagined that this would be my reality, and that my body would ever be capable of propelling me through hundreds of miles of foreign mountainous country.

Rolling green mountains and dark sky in Italy

Drew Laird studied abroad with CEA CAPA in Amsterdam in Spring '22.

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