Cognitive State

TUSCANY TRAIL

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Tuscany Trail – an unsupported bicycle adventure

The following text was written a week after finishing a 560km long bike-packing trip in Tuscany, Italy. It serves as a memoir as well as a lesson for further endeavours.

Somewhere in the late 19th century, a bunch of bearded old men, sat at a table and worried their minds with theories that would change the world. It was May the 1st, and since they couldn’t come up with anything better than inventing another public holiday, they did just that. Thus the International Workers’ Day came to be, and thus our first lesson appears!

Lesson #1: The simple solutions are usually the best ones as well.

After so many years, the 1st of May is still celebrated by the majority of the world, and what a better way to celebrate a holiday dedicated to workers than to not even think about working at all? In this spirit, I decided to spend International Workers’ Day 2015 and a couple of days following it on a heavily packed bike in the company of two of my best friends.

I’ve met Jure and Klemen a long time ago, but it was through bikes and music that we’ve gotten to know each other. We built trails when we were 15 years old, rode BMX bikes, organised shows and played music together. We fought against the boredom of our hometowns back then just like we’re fighting against the boredom of the so-called normal life now. We stayed friends while becoming
business partners and while this was the first adventure of the kind for all of us, it most definitely won’t be the last!

The Tuscany Trail looked to be just what we needed; a semi-tough unsupported bike-packing event, covering roughly 560km of distance and 11000m of elevation in the scenic countryside of Tuscany. According to the organisers, there were 229 participants at the starting point this year, which supposedly makes it the biggest bike-packing event in the world. Now if that is true or not, it
definitely felt BIG! There are as many ways of riding the Tuscany Trail as there are participants, but given that this was not supposed to be a race, we decided to take it easy and have as much fun as possible. The fastest riders reached the finish line in less than two days; an achievement that I still can’t quite imagine. It took us five days, or 4 days and 13 hours, depends on how you look at it, and there are some who never finished it.

Although we tried to pack as lightweight as possible we failed immensely; our bikes were loaded down with an excess of equipment and gadgets. There was a reason for this. We had tested our gear a couple of weeks before going to Tuscany and the weather had been so horrible that none of us wanted to repeat that experience. The freezing cold and soaking wet weather still fresh in our minds, our bags were filled with rain gear and various layers of technical clothing. Everything was packed in dry bags and zip ties, and we also had additional zip ties for, you know… just in case. We wanted to be as self sufficient as possible so we packed loads of quick preparation food, which to some extent was actually brought back home. We even had two stoves! Sure, a lot of this stuff was unnecessary and we regretted our decisions from time to time, but if I had to do it again next week I wouldn’t change a thing.

Lesson #2: When in doubt, it’s better to pack more than to pack less, just stay rational!

Our adventure began in Massa; a coastal town located beneath the Apuan Alps. Naturally, we studied the weather forecast prior to the trip, and as expected the first two days were grim, to say the least. This forgave us for hauling all that gear, and the fact that we were not alone gave us a lot of comfort. We left the mountains and entered civilisation a day and a half later, soaking wet and
covered with mud from head to toe. As if the huge tires of the Specialized Fatboy don’t turn enough heads already, our appearances took care of that in short order.

The mention of mountains might seem strange in the usual context of Tuscany, and believe me, I was surprised as well, but after two days of riding this so called Tuscany Trail, the only real glimpse of the scenic landscape that I was expecting was when we left Florence and started to look for a good place to camp. If you think about Tuscany, you’ll probably get this image of hills covered with
vineyards and perfect gravel roads in front of you. That’s how I always imagined the place to be. But mark my words, Tuscany also has mountains; real mountains, with pine trees and creeks and fog and rain and all that comes along with that description. Or at least the Tuscany Trail has these mountains, which is great of course, because what goes up must go down, and he who suffers on the
way up screams with joy on the way down.

Lesson #3: Don’t trust the postcards.

We entered the “real” Tuscany on the third day of our trip. We rode endless gravel ascents followed by steep and incredibly fun descents. We found ourselves surrounded by cypresses and wheat fields. Every house that we passed by looked like a villa, and friendly locals greeted us with smiles or stared at us with awe. We got sunburnt and dust replaced the mud, and when the sun began to go down our search of a good camping place started.

Our plan from the start was to average from 80km to 120km a day, depending on the terrain and conditions, but eventually we found our comfort zone around the 100km mark. This allowed us to take it easy in the morning and set up camp before sundown, as well as make a bunch of stops along the way. It would be a shame to spend a week in Tuscany, we reasoned, without trying their local pastries and drinking good Italian coffee. None of us really did any research on the wild camping situation in Italy, but we camped wild every night and didn’t face any problems at all. Some people had hotels booked along the way, others found abandoned houses to crash in, and the guys who finished the trail in less than two days probably didn’t sleep at all. That’s one of the best things about the Tuscany Trail; there is no wrong or right way of doing it, you can either be super competitive and try beating the record, or you can take it really easy and enjoy the scenery.

Equipment can be a pain in the ass sometimes, especially when it comes to bad weather conditions and rough terrain, but somehow we made it through with only minor problems. When I think about it, my Fatboy was definitely at the top of the tire width department, and if I wanted to do the trip in any other way, it would be far from perfect, but judging by the way we rode and concerning how much weight we carried it was just what I needed! The rubbing of the bags caused some paint removal but that just means that the bike served its purpose, as for every scratch there is a story to tell.

We finished the Tuscany Trail in five days; sunburnt, bruised and scratched, but happy. The friendships we strengthened and stories we earned will stay with us for the rest of our lives. And if a chance to ride the Tuscany Trail again emerges, I know I’ll take it. But maybe without the extra food and cookstove next time.

Additional information:

Me on Instagram – @ruddgio
Klemen on Instagram – @rajzh
Jure on Instagram – @ultracadence

Tuscany Trail website: http://www.tuscanytrail.it/
Tuscany Trail map (also attached the .gpx file in the e-mail):
http://www.tuscanytrail.it/itinerary.html

A huge thanks goes to Specialized for getting me equipped and on this amazing team. Iglu Šport for giving us a good price on some of the camping stuff. Garmin Slovenia for not getting us lost. And last but not least Pici Bici for everything else.

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