My eyes widened like a deer in headlights. “What do we do with the bags?” Our dream of cycling around Italy was quickly turning into a nightmare as we stared down a growing list of logistics.
Head spinning, I sent a call for advice into the wilds of cyberspace and was quickly recommended Intrepid’s Cycle Tuscany trip. Promising a bit of challenge, a lot of beautiful scenery and one of the oldest cake shops in Italy was enough to intrigue us, but the thought of someone else sorting out all those cycling logistics? Sold.
We put away our topographic map, let out a big sigh of relief and started counting down the days.
Then, I started to get nervous.
My partner is an avid cyclist, but I struggle with most things that require balance or coordination, let alone both. What had I just signed up for?
Looking back now, there was nothing to be worried about, but there are a few things I wish I had known:
Don’t overthink it
Even with more than a dozen countries under my belt, I’m the first to admit a new form of travel is always daunting. Cycling was right up there and I worried way too much about things that really didn’t merit it.
Yes, it may rain, but the guides have a plan B. (We started a steep downhill a little further down once the rain cleared. Easy as that.) Sure, the padded shorts may help, but you’ll survive just fine without them. (Honestly, the bikes are fantastic.) No, you won’t fall off your bike into a ditch. (Unless you stop to take a photo and step into that ditch, as one uncoordinated Canadian may have done.)
Take a breath, and relax in the comfort of knowing someone else has done all the thinking for you.
Trust your guides
Once you’ve hit the road, your guides are there to support you every step of the way. They are expert cyclists who know how to navigate traffic, where to hop on dirt paths and when to let the group roll freely and safely. Have faith in them and you won’t be steered wrong.
They’ll also become your mobile infobank, sharing facts about the locations you’re visiting or the food you’re eating. Use this to your advantage – be curious, ask questions! We learned so much about the areas we rolled through thanks to our guides and by the time we arrived in Lucca, they were recommending us the most eclectic restaurant in the city, knowing it was right up our alley. Walter, Sylvia and Andrea were a veritable dream team and ended up being a highlight of the trip.
And trust yourself
This a great time to head a bit out of your comfort zone, but you’re the only person who knows how far to go and what you need to make the most of your time.
There are the obvious riding things, like knowing when to walk your bike uphill instead of riding or hopping in the support vehicle if your knees are aching. Not convinced you’ll be able to keep up? Consider an e-bike. Two people in our group used these battery-powered beauties and adored them.
Then there are the smaller, but just as important things that make your day comfortable. I’m a constant snacker who values almonds about as much as oxygen. So my bag always had a squirrel-worthy stash of fruit and nuts. Whatever thing you need to feel good, have it.
Here’s a little-known fact: At the top of every hill is the best view you’ve ever seen. You’ll have to work to get there and it’s always worth it.
Before take off, make sure you know how and when to use the gears to your advantage. For uphills, drop your gear before starting the climb, find a buddy and take it slow. A conversation and a little less resistance will make the time fly. Once you’ve made it to the top, cheer on your travel mates as they arrive – the cheer squads we were greeted by were such a treat and really made us feel a part of a team.
Eat and drink (water) with abandon
Keeping your energy levels high as you’re working up a sweat is vital. Compensate for all that energy with a little more food than you might otherwise have, reaching for foods high in protein as well as potassium. And those healthy carb-forward dinners? Love ‘em!
Staying hydrated will also help you recover from the day faster, so grab a reusable bottle and don’t let it out of your sight. Once you get home, enjoy at least one more glass while doing a bit of gentle stretching. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.
Don’t forget your start and end points
When booking your travel, keep an eye out for ways to make the most of the areas where you’ll be starting and finishing. You’ll probably be riding in warmer weather, which is prime festival season and a great way to cap off any trip.
In Florence, we discovered we’d arrived just in time to catch the semifinals of Calcio Storico Fiorentino, a legendary game that had us telling stories for days. Over in Pisa, a few from our group stuck around an extra day for the spectacular candlelight festival, Luminara.
Finally, have fun!
Travel is so much more about the journey than the destination, and cycling is such a wonderful way to be reminded of this. Forget about the kilometers you have left and fall in love with the views around you instead.
Cheers your success at the end of the day with your travel mates and look forward to the adventures awaiting tomorrow.
Ready for a stunning adventure on two wheels? Check out Intrepid’s 8-day Cycle Tuscany trip.
(All images taken by Anne Cayer on Intrepid’s Cycle Tuscany trip.)