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Biking through Italy - My Study Abroad Adventure Part 3

July 10, 2023
by CEA CAPA Content Creator
Ancient Roman Road

Exploring Italy on Two Wheels: My Study Abroad Adventure Part 3

After a day exploring Rome and touring the artwork in the Vatican, I woke up to begin my longest day of riding yet: a 146 mile journey from Rome to Naples.  

Roman statue

I shared one last café with Adolfo, and then we said our goodbyes. Life is filled with a lot of goodbyes, most of them you’ll give abroad are final. Yet, it never feels any less poignant each time, especially after recognizing how much I owed for this small act of hospitality and mutual trust. It feels bizarre to have this perpetual debt to someone that I almost certainly won’t see again, an unreciprocated kindness I can only pay forward. I had little time to focus on these thoughts, though, because from start to finish this next leg of my ride required all my attention.  

On the surface, this last ride was the simplest. Even though it was the longest, it was mostly flat. But, if you talk to enough people in Italy, one thing you’ll hear repeatedly is that the North and the South are VERY different, and Italians have very strong opinions about it. As I descended further south, this became clearer and clearer—not only geographically, but culturally. It never fails to fascinate me how intertwined these two things are. My trip started in the large rolling green hills and mountains of Tuscany through miles of beautifully symmetrical vineyards. The roads were relatively smooth and well-maintained. At all times there were signs with English translations on it. The people, too, could mostly speak English proficiently enough to carry a conversation. However, as I got closer to Naples, the vineyards turned to roadside Roman remnants and volcanic tomato fields. The English signs I’d grown accustomed to quickly became undecipherable Italian (save for my limited ability to translate from Spanish cognates) and more and more I had to rely on the Italian phrases I’d picked up along the way and emphatic gesticulating.  

Ancient roman road with potholes

The primary change that affected my ride, however, was safety. The smooth roads transformed into Roman footpaths (I’ve come to learn it’s called the Appian Way, an ancient road that was created in 312BC), and the parts of the route that were “paved” were pothole minefields.  

In a car, that’s not really an issue, but, when you’re on a heavier than normal bike with tires a little wider than your thumb, this quickly becomes life-threatening. Potholes are typically concentrated on the shoulders of roads—where I primarily ride. So, if a car was passing me on my left and I needed to avoid a pothole in front of me, I’d let Jesus take the wheel and hope that I didn’t get plowed while dodging. “But why not just go over the pothole?” Well, especially at high speeds, on thin delicate tires this would at best lead to a time-consuming flat tire, and, with hundreds of miles in my legs already, I needed all the daylight I could get to finish the ride. Plus, I can only fix so many flat tires with the supplies I packed. At the worst, while I was riding along the sheer mountains on the coast, a pothole could lead to my first (and last) Mediterranean cliff jumping experience. 

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

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