Part I of this story concluded with a band of fifteen young cyclists and me, on our way from Castelvecchi to Radda in Chianti for an exciting day of cycling and shopping. If you have never cycled through Tuscany it is one of the most incredible adventures you will ever experience. The forty-mile visibility, the crisp mountain air, and the endless climbs in granny gear will be the topic of conversation for years after the trip.
Radda is a picturesque little village perched high on a ridge. Its streets are lined with touristy specialty shops yearning for your Euros. Our guides invited us to leave our bikes with the van and mosey through town for a while. Twenty shops and a sandwich later, we came back to our bikes and saddled up for the trip back to the castle.
As we swooshed down the first hill and around a curve, Castelvecchi came into view. It was only a few miles away as the crow flies, but an effortless descent and a big climb away for our gang of sixteen. We all wished we could forego the long, fast ride down so we didn’t have to face the hard climb up to the castle, but no such option existed.
We coasted down the winding road for fifteen or twenty minutes into the valley that separated Radda from Castelvecchi. Everyone was quiet; all of us were contemplating the ascent to the castle. The closer we got to the entrance the higher it appeared to be, now looming above us, still in bright sunlight as we descended further and further into the shady valley.
We arrived at the gates to the castle soon after the SAG van. The tour guides had already opened the side door and were standing beside the van, making sure we knew there was an alternative to an assault on the castle drive. They beckoned to us to load up if we didn’t care to tackle the hill. I knew if I hesitated I would get in the van so off I went, up the driveway and castle bound. My riding partner and two others did the same.
About a third of the way up, I had to stop and gasp for air. After regaining my composure, I continued up the incredibly steep incline. I stopped again about two-thirds of the way up. My lungs could not keep up! I was about to stop for a third time when suddenly all four of us crested the hill and spilled into the castle grounds. A minute later, the “loser van” pulled into the parking lot with twelve bikes in tow. I was as close to cardiac arrest as I had ever been but totally beaming with pride. What a rush!
The remainder of the Tuscany trip was an incredible adventure; we spent two nights in a winery near San Gimignano and eventually biked our way to a cute little inn in the magical city of Siena. The hills we climbed the last three days seemed tame compared to the trek to the castle. I could relax and enjoy the trip, knowing I had nothing (else) to prove.
Until you reach the onset of geezerdom, you won’t understand the need to prove you can hang with the pups. I went from trying to survive my trip with the younger folks to making sure I was as good as any of them. I handled ‘moderate difficulty’ just fine. I may go back before I hang up my cleats, just for one final rush. Dying in the saddle wouldn’t be the worst way to go.