Sunday, October 18, 2015

A couple of wet weeks cycling mostly in Chianti.

It has been a couple of weeks, and mostly the weather has been pretty marginal.  Rain on and off, but with my retired schedule, I can get out when the weather allows, and have been riding most days.  The Eroica experience is still with me, and for a few days after the event, I was tired from the effort.  It was not that long a ride, but with the old bike, the rain and resulting mud on the dirt roads, it was really taxing.  Speaking of taxes, we have finally had our returns here finished and I learned to pay installments online.  Another step in becoming part of the place where we have chosen to live.  I had my birthday last Monday, and took a favorite ride on one of the nicer days we have had.  We had a couple of dinner parties in the last two weeks.  Kate expanded her business, I think for one occasion only, to plan a dinner party for four people celebrating birthdays together.  One was a good friend of hers which is how she became involved.  We were invited as we knew the couple who were her good friends, and it was really nice.  Of course, babysitting a couple of afternoons a week at the minimum continues to be a big part of our lives here.  And with 14 days of cancelled tours in October, I am back to being mostly retired, although some friends have asked me to design and build a treehouse for them and their kids, which I think I will start on soon.  It should be an experience.

Super fun ride today, a raduno sponsored by the San Donnino cycling team, which benefits Meyer, the outstanding children's hospital here.  It works different from most of the events, as you simply show up cycling at two check points, then pay your inscription at the end where they tally the different team's points.  Nice, basically mellow ride, and we had a great group of 9.  We rode basically the opposite direction of most everyone else, which turned out to be nice, as we got to see most of the other riders.  Very good turnout, as I would bet I saw 300 riders going the other direction. I will caption the photos below, which are some of the best from the last two weeks for the remainder of today's post.  Ciao a tutti!

On the way home from dropping the kids and spending some time 
with them, I stopped on Ponte alla Carraia with this beautiful scene
in front of me.  I posted this on Facebook and got some of the best
feedback I have received in a long time.

The vineyards are starting to show fall colors, and the weather has 
definitely changed.  This last week, I have used my lightweight tights
four days in a row.

On a beautiful day, I rode up to Monte Morello, after doing a few 
other hills on the way with this wonderful view awaiting me.

My attempt to show the fall colors coming on the 
road to Monte Morello.

On my birthday ride, I stopped at a new place for cafe and pastry.
My favorite in Regello was closed on Monday, and with a little
searching, I found this Circolo in Donnini.  Great place, with excellent
pastries, good cafe, and fun to be around all the guys hanging out
talking and playing cards.

On a wet and cloudy day, with only a little rain, I rode one of my
favorite close in rides above the apartment, here on the way 
to Cecina.  Che bella!

Another attempt at showing the blossoming fall colors, but the
gray day did not help the picture.

Finally, both sun and good fall colors on the way to Luiano.

My favorite picture of the last couple of weeks, another shot of the beautiful landscape around
Luiano with the Chianti countryside looking perfect.

Monday, October 5, 2015


I'm back.  Who knows how often, but yesterday, Sunday October 4, I had a truly blog worthy ride.  I finally rode the Eroica after getting a bike in early February, having it made functional for a long and difficult event in July and early August, then testing it and riding it a bit in September.  My second to last ride in preparation had some strange noises, so I checked the bike and then took it in to my mechanic, Andrea, who checked the rear wheel (I had already identified it as the problem, it sort of wobbled no matter what I did) and he took it apart and the hub was broken internally.  It was from 1973, so it was to be expected.  So, he replaced the wheel with only a week to spare, and since I was quite busy with 5 days of tours last week, I had only one final tune up ride.  It was fine.  I now have the rear wheel with a new / old wheel with a regular tire with tube, and the front wheel is one of the originals which uses a tubular.  I may switch the front to be a new / old wheel which uses a tube so I do not have to carry two sets of extra everything in case of a flat.

A friend from the team, Marco, set up with me to drive us both down to close to Gaiole, where we were staying.  An hour or so before he was to pick me up, he sent a message to verify I had lights - both front and rear - on the bike, as we would be starting around 5 am.  I had thought only the long course started that early, but the medium / long length course also starts then, so I quickly switched my lights from my city bike, and they worked fine.  We arrived barely in time to pick up everything needed for the race / event, the official envelope with jersey number, controllo booklet, bike number, and pocket map.  We also received a "paco de gara" which is a nice metal box with a special bottle of wine from one of the locations we rode through, a cool hat, and some other things.  The small town of Gaiole was full, really full of people, as this is a major international event.  76 different countries represented in the 6000 people who made the registry either with a package, a donation, or as I did, by "winning" a lottery of people who tried to be in the event.  There were people dressed in old cycling costume, and many, many places with old bike parts, and even some museum quality old bikes.  This event is all about older bikes and costume and the bike one uses has to be pre-1987.  Mine is a 1973 Bianchi with mostly original equipment.

It is not required, but almost everyone dresses in old jerseys and some even have the old leather helmets.  It is also about road conditions in the past and the course is around 50% strada bianca, which are literally white roads, but it simply means dirt roads.  Most were in pretty good shape, but some, due to the amount of rain during the ride were quite difficult.  The event was super well run, with excellent ristoros, full of food, and a wonderful pasta party at the end with pretty much no waiting.  Normally at an event like this, there is a line for the pasta party that makes one give up on it.  This is different in that there are 4 distances with 2 start windows, so people finish throughout the day starting around 12:00.

The highlights of the day were getting up at 3:30 to be at the start close to 5, only to end up spending around 20 minutes trying to help one of the guys get his car out of a ditch he mistakenly ended up rtrying to park in.  He finally told Marco and I to go ahead and he needed a tow truck to get him out.  The others we were planning on riding with had found us as we tried to get the car out and Lorenzo and Flavio waited for Marco and I there.  So we were down to 4 from 5 at that point.

It is pretty cool to start a ride with lots of people in the pitch dark with only lights on bikes.  We descended, then climbed to Castello di Brolio, where another highlight was.  It is an old castle and very beautiful.  I had taken clients there before and toured the castle.  For the Eroica, they line around 1-1/2 kilometers on the approach to and a small amount of the descent from the castle with large candle type things that show the way.  Truly spectacular at around 5:45 am.  After this we had our first strada bianca which starts with a descent aroung 10%, kind of steep, particularly in the dark. Hang on to those brakes!

On the second strada bianca, Lorenzo received a call, and Flavio, who we had recently re-grouped with, had a broken derailleur, which put him out for the day.  Down to 3.  Another 1/2 hour or so into it and Marco had some trouble with one of his pedals, and eventually the whole crank arm / pedal piece came off.  I put this in my bag / pack and Lorenzo and I took turns giving him a push on the flatter sections on a long strada bianca piece and he walked up the steeper climbs.  The first ristoro was around 10 k away, and it had a mechanical help area, and we all were sure that it could be easily fixed.  This was true, but it took a while.  By the time it was done, almost all of that time was Marco waiting in line, it started to rain lightly, then truly pour.  So, from then on, all the strada bianca was slick and muddy, making it much more difficult.  The three of us stayed together, only separating on climbs where everyone went their own pace.

One descent, which Lorenzo had warned was quite technical, was an interesting highlight.  It basically turned into steep, muddy, single track down a dirt road.  I was the only person I saw stay on the bike, which I believe is due to the amount of time I have spent riding mountain bikes in the past.  It was truly wild.  Some comments during the 15 minutes or so I waited for Lorenzo and Marco were, Incredible!  I can''t believe this.  Wow, that was hard and it rained on us the whole time.  One group of Americans represented the wide range of opinions from wow, that was awesome  to well, at least it creates a memory, to that was F'ing stupid.

The hardest part left was a three section climb on strada bianca to Monte Santa Maria.  All three sections end up with a grade around 10 to 15% on slick muddy dirt.  I surprised myself by riding all three sections, which very few did.  With a 42 tooth front sprocket in the front as the easiest, it was truly hard.  Again, my mountain bike time made it work for me, I think.  From there, it was just hanging in there and enjoying another couple of excellent ristoros.  The three of us returned together, and it was a spectacular day.  Around 3 hours of real rain, maybe an hour of sun, around 2 hours in the dark, over 8 hours in the saddle, with only 138 kilometers ridden with 2500 meters of climbing.  An amazing event which I would definitely recommend to anyone truly passionate about cycling and older bikes.

Not a good picture, but the start area after we went through and had
our control booklets stamped.

Hiding under a tree while Marco had his bike repaired just 
after the rain had started.  Lots of people the whole way.

The scene in Asciano at another ristoro.  A cool town and
fun break.  I even used fountain water to clean a little muck
off the bike.  This was after the crazy descent.

Lorenzo, Marco, and I at the top of Monte Santa Maria in a 
rare sun break.

The last ristoro in Castelnuova Berardegna.  Sweet, not too far to go.

Marco and my bikes parked outside the pasta party tent
Look hard and you can see lots of dried mud.

The bike in the apartment, clean and as shiny as it gets, pre race.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A few days and a couple of rides on my new "old" bike

Sunday, I did a guided hike for some very nice newlyweds, Kate and Matthew.  I offer guided hikes as well as cycling, but this is only the third hike in 4 seasons.  It was nice and they were a fun couple. We had a really excellent, large lunch at Nappino's, a restaurant in Santa Brigida.  When Emily and I lived up there, we went to Nappino's weekly for dinner and pretty much always had pizza.  They do not serve pizza at Sunday lunch, and we feasted on seafood and pasta.  I was amazed at how good it was.  In particular, the mussels were just excellent.

Monday, I did a Chianti tour for Florence by Bike.  Two Australians, Jim and Chris, were the clients. We started in the pouring rain, and they were amazingly game to do this.  Both Lia, the person at the shop, and I expected a cancellation.  It actually cleared after around an hour of rain, and we had a very nice tour.  On the way back from Villa Monteoriolo, where we had a great lunch, Everyone was doing very well, and Jim was so confident that he was taking pictures on a descent.  I certainly had no idea he was doing this, but everyone is adult and can make their own decisions.  Unfortunately, he crashed as he was taking pictures, but did not really complain.  We cleaned everything, mostly superficial scrapes, and waited until returning to the shop for antiseptic and bandages.  They both were still happy with the tour and Jim basically felt bad that he might have hurt his wife's Chris' time out.  All good in the end.

Tuesday, I picked up the bike I am riding for the Eroica, coming up in early October.  It is a 1973 Bianchi that I received from Kate's boss, Massimo.  The mechanic at Florence by Bike loves working on old bikes and he did a masterful job taking this bike and making it "Eroica ready".  I took it out for a nice test spin, then me Kate and the kids in the park to help with Viola's effort to learn to ride a bike without training wheels.  It started with a fair amount of difficulty, but Kate kind of made her hang in there and after an hour of effort she was riding for 5 or 10 seconds after either Kate or I let go from the running alongside her, holding the bike upright.  Hooray!  Tomorrow, Thursday, we will try again, and I am sure she will get it quickly.

Today, I took the Bianchi out for a real ride with a fair amount of climbing, a good test for both me and the bike.  It is certainly different.  Mostly the gearing presents some real challenges.  I am used to a modern compact set up 50/34 and 11/28 with DI2 electronic shifting.  The old bike is pretty much the opposite with 52/42 and 12/27 (in only 5 gears).  The hills will definitely present a challenge for me.  I made it and enjoyed myself and really liked the way the bike handled and rode.  Fun to have a new challenge, but I will use my new bike mostly and try to do a couple days a week on the old bike to get ready for the Eroica.  Andrea, the mechanic, suggested that to really be ready, I should only ride the old bike for a month, but 2 days a week will do.  Had a wonderful ride on a beautiful day in the Mugello.

Kate and Matthew on a break during our hike above Santa Brigida.

Jim and Chris on our Galluzzo break before the big climb to Impruneta.

Andrea, the mechanic with the restored Bianchi.

Beautiful day in the Mugello.

Sant Agata from the road to Galliano.

The bianchi"s first real work out with me.  Here it is posed
for the picture in the Mugello.  Around 80 k today with over
1050 meters of climbing.

Another view of the beautiful and peaceful Mugello today.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Time in the Garfagnana

Well, it has been a couple of weeks, and busy weeks they were.  Emily and I took a break from Firenze just outside of Lucca outside a little town called San Quirico di Moriano.  We were at the same property last year, but in a different unit.  It is simply a beautiful area, very quiet, something we do not get here in Firenze, and the heat finally broke a couple days after our arrival.  When we were talking about timing for this break, I said to Emily we should just schedule it for when Kate and family are gone to France, as we can then use Kate's car without it being any problem.  Good idea, but I did not check the calendar, and I already had 3 days scheduled for tours while we were gone.  I added a private tour the morning before we left, then added another big group, my first work for clients of Kate's which made for 5 tours in the first 6 days we were there.  It is only an hour away, so a little commuting and a few nights here at our apartment by myself, and it was done.  All the tours went well, but I did not include pictures here.

An interesting thing is the communication piece with clients or their representatives prior to meeting and riding.  It really helps me plan an appropriate tour if I get accurate information.  With these 5 tours, I had some misinformation, but everything worked out.  First tour was a young (23) man who is very into triathalons and is finishing an engineering degree in Georgia.  He was pretty much exactly as described and he very much enjoyed our 3 hour tour.  Surprisingly, I was able to stay ahead of him pretty easily after the first climb.  The next day I took out some older newlyweds, in their early 40's, and there agency had sent many messages to Florence by Bike, then to me.  I wrote a description of the tour a few months ago, and they were described to me as avid cyclists and keen on a fast, hard tour.  They were nice folks, and we had a good tour, but they had no idea where the description came from.  I was expecting people with cycling kits, etc., and they came down with casual clothes, ready for an easy bike ride.  With a little scrambling, I changed the route and everyone ended up happy, although they were pretty beat when we returned.  

Another set of Newlyweds on a meet and greet, and they were quite prepared and would be fine for their 3 day self guided tour.  You never know with the self guided tours if the people are appropriate for this activity or not, but I just do my best to get them going safely and well.  Kate's group was pretty much fine, although when dealing with quite wealthy people, two vans, a tasting and a big lunch, there are a number of hoops to jump through.  All in all, at the end of the day everyone was happy, but around midnight the night before, they were changing the pick up time for the next morning.  Actually when they were on their bikes, they were really quite easy and motivated.  The last two people were a private tour through my company and we met at the apartment as they rented my extra bikes.  They were ready to go, with their own shoes, pedals and very nice kits.  Jan, the woman was quite fit, and I thought Rob would be as well.  Sometimes hills get to people differently, and around 2/3 the way up our first real hill of the day, Rob had had enough.  Another scramble, a change of tour, and Rob recovered enough to really enjoy the day, and Jan was totally fine.  I guess the moral is always be ready to change plans to accommodate the client's fitness and ability level.  

After finishing with Jan and Rob, I put together some additional things and was off to San Quirico di Moriano for 10 days.  Yeah - real vacation.  We rented a nice 1 bedroom apartment that is part of a larger villa where the owners live.  Last year we rented a separate unit, which was an old small barn / pigsty.   We loved the unit this year, although there were lots of mosquitoes, which don't bother Emily at all, but get on me if I am in any kind of range.  I rode daily, and very much enjoyed the riding and the terrain.  I had ridden 14 days last year here, so I knew many of the roads and places I wanted to go.  I got in all my favorites for the area, and even discovered some new roads.  It is just an amazingly beautiful area and place to ride.  The ride descriptions, quite brief will be with the pictures.  Hopefully, I will find the energy to update the blog at least weekly, but if not, I do post pictures on my company Facebook page after every ride.  It is just easier.  

Before settling in for my 10 days, I had a Monday morning ride before an rappointment at the Questura to pick up my Permesso.  I checked a couple of spots I really like and was not disappointed.  What a beautiful place to ride, and this spot is only a 1/2 hour from the apartment with around 200 meters of climbing.  

My first real day, full ride, in the area included a climb from Villa Basillica to Pizzorne.
It is a particularly difficult climb and around 1/2 way up there is this beautiful carved 
crusifix.  I am not religious, but it seemed to be a station of the cross, considering the location.

Another day, on the climb above Pescaglia, you get a view back down on the 
600 or so meters of climbing already done.  This shows some of the sweet,
switchbacking road with the town of Pescaglia 1/3 the way up.

A shorter day, and a day of exploring, found some new roads.  This 
new pavement was only around 8 feet wide and was a two way road.
Luckily, I saw no traffic.  Sweet ride and an excellent day.

On the way back from the exploring, which included 3 climbs up and 
over the same basic ridge, this nice view shows some of the hills
just ridden.

On the way to Pruneta, around 1/2 the way up from La Lima, this
little town is off to the side.  Pretty view.

Nice sky, color, and church in Pruneta.

One day, I rode to the beach in Viareggio.  Nice day and nice ride. 

A pretty big loop, but lots of exploring on tiny roads.  Beautiful little 
town of Domezzano.

One day, off in a different direction, I encountered this Roman 
aquaduct, really beautiful.  I climbed Monte Serra this day, which 
includes a difficult climb from Sant Andrea, with 5 kilometers at
around 10%.

My last day riding, I ventured up to Passo Lucese, a beautiful
climb and road before joining some tiny roads to return home.

The church in Domezzano on the way home, riding from the 
other direction or from Passo Lucese.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Almost a weeks worth of rides, etc.

It has been a while, and I have ridden most days, but am just getting a little weary of posting in the blog every day.  So, for a while, I will try to check in weekly and do a collage of pictures.  I am posting pictures daily on my Facebook company page, Riding with Cosimo.  If my weekly posts are not enough, please go to Facebook and like my company page and you can see as many pictures as I post.  One day off last week, on Friday, and Emily and I went to Villa Rondini, a 15 minute bus ride up the hill from our apartment, but definitely out in the country.  You can do a day pass for the pool, which is nice and super relaxing.  Good food and just and excellent, relaxing day.  For me, I just read my book and dipped in the water at least once and hour to stay cool.  Even with the pool, I stay in the shade pretty much all day.  

Saturday, I did a nice van supported tour with a great family from the Chicago area.  Fun day, nice family, and a great lunch at the end in Monteriggione, one of my favorite towns with totally intact medieval walls.  We rode from Chiesanuova to San Casiano, then down through Luiano to the road in the valley and up to Greve, where we loaded the bikes in the vans to be on time for lunch.  Dominick met us there and it is always a pleasure to watch him work his clients.  He is the owner of the company that I do the van supported tours for, and is a super natural, nice salesman.  Very different than me, so it is a pleasure for me to see him in action.  

Sunday, a great team ride to Vallombrosa, then passo della Consuma, then down to Stia.  We had two of 10 return to Florence from Consuma, and 8 of us continued to Stia where we had and excellent picnic / break / swim.  Up to Croce ai Mori, and at the top, 4 were waiting for me, and told me that Agnese had told them not to wait, so we all descended together to Londa.  Marco, Agnese's boyfriend was with her, and I waited to make sure they were together around 1/4 the way up the climb.  Almost all of our team rides are no one left behind rides, so we happily do some waiting.  A friend of one of the members was a champ pulling us almost all the way back to Florence from Londa, around 50 kilometers, keeping a very fast pace.  I think I was the only one who gave him a break, and it was only for around 5 minutes.  Long day, around 145 kilometers, but really fun.  

Monday, a nice Florence by Bike Chianti tour, but the heat had returned and appears to be ready to stay with us for another week plus with temperatures in the 95 to 105 range for daily highs.  So, with a tour group, in particular for a whole day tour without a van, one has to be a little careful.  The day was fine and the group was fun.  Tuesday was a busy day of simply catching up, getting in a short ride in the middle of the day, off to one of the public pools to swim / cool off, then a few hours helping Emily babysit the grandchildren.  Today, up early for a beat the heat morning ride, which was very nice.  Not too long, as I am believing keeping rides less than 4 hours is good for the warm temperatures.  Home before 10, so it had not really gotten hot yet.  Haircut, then a meeting with Dominick, who is believing that he will more than double business next year, then a few hours of babysitting the grandchildren solo.  Ciao a tutti!

The squadra at Passo della Consuma, after stopping and regrouping
in Vallombrosa.  Beautiful day.

After Consuma, 8 of us continued to Stia, where we went to a 
park on the Arno river, near the headwaters, where there are 
multiple swimming holes.  We stopped and had a swim, as 
everyone knew this was the plan and brought suits.

I had thought the plan was to go to a restaurant, but Lorenzo's wife, 
Lia, drove up with their daughter, Laura, and brought a huge picnic.
Super nice of them, and if I  understood Italian better, I would have
understood this was the plan.  Lorenzo stayed with Lia, their daughter,
and Lorenzo's parents who also came with more food.  That left 7 of 
us for the 75 kilometers with one pass to return to Firenze.

Monday, I did a Florence by Bike Chianti tour with a very nice family
of 5 from Providence, and a fun woman from New Zealand.  Even with
the heat starting to return, with a high around 95, we had a great time
and everyone was a great sport.  It doesn't hurt to have a 2 hour break
at Monteoriolo with Eleonora as our super nice hostess and chef.

This morning, after a short ride yesterday in the real heat of the day, hence
no picture stops, only water stops, I had a nice 2-1/2 hour ride in the 
Chianti countryside, returning home around 9:30, before the heat set 
in for the day.  Beautiful ride with some of my favorite scenery.

On the way from San Polo to Cappanuccia.

This beautiful little house on a nice property is on the way to 
San Polo from Strada.

What a pleasure to ride these amazing roads.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A couple days of guiding and rides.

Good couple of days, although I seem to have a lingering reaction from some food or drink from a party Sunday night.  Emily has been hit with this much harder than I, but I think a little thing is kind of hanging on inside me right now.  It seems better each day though, and I am fine riding.  Nice meet and greet yesterday with two mothers and two daughters.  The daughters were both 30, so I am guessing the Moms were 55 to 60.  Great 5 day self guided adventure for them.  They were fine for the tour and fit enough to enjoy it.  Sometimes the self guided people have me a little worried about their fitness for the rides they schedule.  These 4 were neighbors in Fairbanks, Alaska, so that says something about how tough they are.  One family has moved to Washington State, but the other remains in Alaska.  Both the younger girls are married.  Anyway, nice group of 4 adventurous women and it was fun to help them get started.  Sorry, no pictures, as they had me using their cameras at all our stops.

Today, I got out for a nice 70 plus kilometer ride not early, but in the morning.  The heat has broken for now, and we are enjoying highs in the low 90s instead of the low 100's.  It makes a difference to me.  When I am guiding, I rarely get out to the west, so that was my route today.  A favorite ride to Seano, Bacheretto, Pinone, Castra, Montelupo, then back to Firenze along the river.  Nice tail wind on the way home.  Ciao tutti, a dopo.

Loved this sculpture in Bacheretto right by the fountain and across the 
street from the bar.  It is a small town so everything is pretty much in one place.

The bar in Bacheretto where I stopped today for a cafe macchiato.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Blowing out the cobwebs after a late night.

Yesterday I had a nice tour with a couple from London, Gordon and Karen, doing the Florence by Bike Chianti tour to Villa le Corti.  It is a great tour with a hard climb around 1/3 the way to the Villa.  They got through that climb and even on a relatively hot day had a very nice time.  After the "light" lunch and tour, we decided to return through Luiano, as they were not worried about a few extra kilometers.  We stopped just below Luiano, and it was one of those moments that makes it all worth it.  They both had expressions on their faces of wow!  Then they verbalized how wonderful they thought the descent was and how the view from our stopping point was exactly what they had dreamed of seeing in Tuscany.  Thanks for a nice tour guys.

Today, after a very late night last night, I had a meeting, then did some hopefully helpful things at home.  Emily was not feeling well, as it was  night of lots of food and wine.  I was not at my top form either, as lots of rich food and wine can certainly take it out of me and a bed time of after 1:30 is very late for me.  So, I knew a ride to blow away the cobwebs from last night would help and motivated to get out on the bike.  It of course worked, although I think a nap is calling after posting this.  I did a favorite ride of around 2-1/2 hours up Via Carota to Osteria Nuova, then up to San Donato, down to Cellai, up / over to Bombone, then down to Rosano.  Back into town through Nave a Rovezzano and home.  53.4 kilometers in 2:22 with 644 meters of climbing.

Karen and Gordon after the Giogoli climb on a nice FBB Chianti
tour to Villa le Corti yesterday.

A sample of the wonderful views after the first pitch on the 
way to Bombone from Cellai.