Photo by Sassica Francis-Bruce
For someone who fell from a bike as a child and ended up with a concussion, a day of biking in the Tuscan hills didn’t grab my attention immediately, but upon the promise of lunch, wine tasting, frequent stops and good weather, my initial apprehension begun to fade and I found myself agreeing to go. When I woke up the morning of the tour it was a warm and cloudless day and as I applied sun screen for the first time in months, I began to get a little excited.
My friend and I met our guides and the seven other people coming with us at the Ponte alle Grazie for our van trip into the Chianti Colli Fiorentini area of Tuscany. After 30 minutes of careening along windy, dipping roads, we arrive in Montespertoli at an 11th century castle producing wine, Vin Santo and Laudemio olive oil. We are given a quick tour of the factory and after a tasting of wine and olive oil as strong as grass, I buy some bottles before we head down to a shed housing the bikes.
At this point I realize I’m actually supposed to get on the bike now and quickly shuffle through some memories to figure out the last time I was on a bike. All I remember is years ago taking my bike to have its tires pumped up, which did not result in me riding it. Nevertheless I fixed the helmet snugly on my head, swung my leg over the seat and took off up the cypress-lined driveway away from the castle. A minute later I was horrified to find my legs ached already. If I was an avid biker, I would have realized that, a) The gear I was in the most difficult one, and b) My seat was too low and adding to my difficulty. For the rest of the trip I subjected my friend to frequent requests for her to yell out her gear numbers to me so I could attempt to gain some insight into how they worked as well as discover if the trip was really this difficult, or if I just was making it so.
The morning passed quite quickly and after a while I eased off the brake, relaxed my grip on the handles and started to look around. I was surrounded by choppy waves of mountains and a soft, thick haze of what I hoped was early spring. Patterns of olive trees and bare grape vines embellished the hills and their wood poles stood straight and proud like a cemetery of crosses. We pass professional cyclists, easily recognizable by their bright, tight outfits and intensity and before I start wondering when lunch is we stop for a simple meal of salad, pasta, wine and desert and head out again.
It’s a longer stretch this time and from a distance looks flat, but in reality is a slight steady incline. Soon I’m at the end of the line of bikers and after seeing the person in front of me disappear into the distance, I realize I’m alone. I decide to not concern myself with keeping up with the group and putter along at my sloth-like speed for another 20 minutes before I hear a voice behind me ask how I’m doing. It’s Keith, the Irishman previously leading the group, but who is now at the back clearly making sure I don’t get lost or tumble into the ditch at the side of the road. Andy, the Scottish guide in the van following us must have driven ahead to the front. Keith and I chatter away until we reach the rest of the group where my friend declares my arrival with; “I had no idea you were so far away!” Andy was relaxing on the top of the van and I was about to discover the reason for him following us in the van.
We had reached the part of the journey that I will call a mountain, but that Keith and Andy called a hill: a steep, windy 900 meter incline. Before I could anticipate the pain I was about to endure, Andy pointed to the van and asked, “Who’s coming with me?” And that is when it occurred to me that I was being allowed something very rare in the world of organized tours (and the very thing that usually prevented me from going on them): I was being given the luxury of choice. I shot my hand into the air and quickly walked my bike to the van before the expected stampede, but oddly enough, only me, my friend and one other took him up on his offer. To salvage some dignity, we decided to hike. We arrived at the top of the mountain with yellow flowers in our hair, photos in our cameras, mildly puffing and quite content with our decision to find the rest of the group red-faced, bathed in sweat, and collapsed on chairs at a nearby café. Some were even shaking a little.
At the end of the day we were given lollypops and dropped back at the Ponte alle Grazie. I walked home with my precious bottles of amber, plum and emerald liquids clinking away in my bag, feeling tired and dazed, but deliciously content, like a kid after a day of playing. I had biked 13 miles (23km), been provided with water, food, rest, shelter, companionship and even offered a “push.” I was taken care of, maybe even coddled a little, and I was so grateful for the help along the way.
If you would like to go on this bike tour:
From the USA-Canada
Tour runs everyday from March to November
60 Euros (Lunch & transportation included)
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