I hope you enjoyed an amazing summer! Mine flew by and was full of incredible adventures including Cycling through Italy, teaching at a resort in Mexico, climbing to the top of Mt. St. Helens, attending two of the world’s best fitness conferences, IDEA in LA and CanFitPro in Toronto, fun runs, triathlon, paddle-boarding, amusement parks, and tons of fun with family and friends. Always living life to the fullest! So you’ll notice I took a hiatus from blogging so that I could live it up! Well, I’m back and ready to ramp things up for fall and send you a weekly post to help you reach for your Personal Best!
As you know, I am a firm believer in setting goals, creating bucket lists, challenging your limits and living life to the fullest. And I believe by doing so, not only do you create an unbelievable life for yourself, you also inspire others to achieve their dreams.
On that note, recently, I took a group of clients on a Cycling Adventure through Italy. I wanted to document the trip, one for my own memory and two, to hopefully inspire you to commit to your next adventure. Maybe you’ll even recreate our trip one day! Hopefully, minus a few crazy adventures as you’ll read below! Print this blog post and store away just in case you want to cross “Cycling through Tuscany” off your list one day.
Let me know when you’ve made the commitment to the next adventure on your bucket list!
Yours in health and fitness,
Day One: Italy Cycling Adventure
Let’s start with the day before my flight leaves, Friday July 22nd. If you know me, you’ll know I’ve always got too many things on the go and am often found packing for a big trip the night before. This trip was no different. I went out with 6 of my girlfriends the night before for dinner and a movie to celebrate a few of their 50th Birthdays. I arrived home at about 10:00 ready to pack. It took me about an hour to pack all my clothes and personal items. Not too bad. I was feeling pretty good about my progress. Then I ventured downstairs to grab my helmet and cycling pedals (we needed to bring our pedals to attach to the rental bikes). My first obstacle surfaced. In order to remove my pedals, I needed a specific Allen wrench. Well sure enough, I searched high and low through my house and garage and had about 10 different Allen wrenches and none were the correct size. By this time, all of my neighbors were asleep and I didn’t want to bother them. I called my girlfriend Tamara who was going on the trip with me and we agreed I would come to her house early in the morning with my bike and remove the pedals. Okay, so by now it’s almost 1 in the morning. I need to get to sleep because our flight leaves at 7:00am so I set the alarm for 4:30am and try to get a few hours sleep. Not too worried though – plenty of time to sleep on the plane right!
Day Two: Italy Cycling Adventure
I awake at 4:30am no problem. Shower and head to Tamara’s house who is expecting me to arrive just before 5:30am with tools and a cab ready to go. I arrive to her condo and the cab is already there to go. I text her. No answer. I call her. No answer. I call her again. This time, she answers with a groggy, sleepy voice. “Tamara, are you awake?” I yell and sure enough, her alarm had not sounded and so she was still sound asleep. Our second obstacle! She did record time and was downstairs in a heart beat. We removed my pedals and were off with instructions to the cabbie to ‘haul it!’ We arrived at the airport at 6:00 and were greeted with a huge line up. Shortly after, an attendant asked if there were any passengers flying to Toronto which was the first leg of our trip and directed us to a separate line. Once we arrived to the ticket counter, we were informed it was too late for us to check-in to our flight to Canada and we would have to be re-routed. Ugh. Our third obstacle. The rep re-directed us through San Fransciso, then back up to Toronto and then we would transfer to our flight to Rome. However, each leg was now really tight and we would find ourselves running through airports, past security, through customs to make each flight. It was critical that we make the flight to Rome because our entire group and our guide was expecting us to be on that flight and would be waiting for us in Rome at that terminal. Fortunately, we made each leg and were able to count each transfer as a pretty good workout. We arrived in Rome on time and went to collect our baggage. We waited and waited and waited. No bags arrived most likely due to our tight transfers. Our 4th obstacle! I went to the counter and filed a lost bag report while Tamara kept an eye out for the bags. By this time, we were now 3 hours passed our expected arrival with no way of communicating with the rest of our group since our phones did not work in Italy (Side note – Verizon, please get it together internationally. AT & T customers had coverage!) I filed the report and just as I was returning I see Tamara with our bags and one of the members of our group, Amy, who had pleaded her case to the customs officers who allowed her back into baggage claim to look for us. Gosh, I was so happy! We made it, had all of our clothes and all was right with the world again! We gathered our entire group (Brian & Sharon West, Maryanne Alk, Amy O’Hara, Herb and Karen Willard, Tamara Fuller, myself and our guide Marco), all of our luggage, loaded the van and prepared ourselves for a 3 hour drive into Tuscany – just want you want to do after flying for 24 hours! We made it to our hotel, Zi Martino in the Maremma by the seaside, checked in, and then of course, I inspired the group to do a 30 minute run and Yoga class. Seriously, if you feel horrible after travel, one of the best things to do as soon as you arrive is do something active. And it worked! We all felt so much better, showered, met our wonderful guide Francesco as he explained our route for the following day (it was a self-guided but van-supported trip) and then enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner before we crashed for the night.
Day Three: Italy Cycling Adventure
Jet lag and a 9 hour time difference definitely made for a restless sleep. Had breakfast and then started our first cycling trek. Left the hotel and begin the start of a 5 mile climb. Yep, I said 5 miles! In fact, one of our clients came up with an acronym that we all began chanting. AFH! AFH! AFH! Another Freaking Hill!!! But what goes up, must come down and the downhill legs were fast, furious and just plain awesome! Our route had us traveling through the quaint villages of Castagneto Carducci, Ponte D’Oro, Monteverdi Marittimo, Canetto, La Gabella, Bibonna, Bolgeri (which was our favorite spot of the day and definitely worth at least a 1-2 day visit). The ride was 70km (45 miles), challenging and so scenic taking us through wonderful wine country, sunflower fields, forests and so much more. The most surprising part of the day was how little traffic we had to deal with. We road quiet, country backroads and any cars on the road were extremely respectful of cyclists giving us plenty of road. Took a quick shower and then headed to the Mediterranean sea at Donoratico for a relaxing afternoon at the beach. Then back to the hotel for more wine, bread and pasta before bed!
Day Four: Italy Cycling Adventure
Packed our bags, left the hotel to start our 2nd ride of the trip which would take us towards our next hotel. How happy do you think we were to discover our ride began with the same 5 mile climb as yesterday?! Fortunately, we all knew what to expect this time around and paced ourselves better. Once we finished the climb, we rode through a beautiful village, Sassetta, followed by the most incredibly fast, winding, exhilarating, adrenaline pumping decent I’ve ever done through the forests past Sassetta. At one point, brave enough to look down, I was clocking over 60km/hour (40+ mph). After the downhills, we arrived in a wonderful village, Suvereto, a quaint town with wonderful shops and restaurants. We left Suvereto and unfortunately took a wrong turn at some point on our way to Massa Marittima. We missed the village of Montabamboli and found ourselves on one of the most busiest, dangerous stretches of highway on our way into Massa Marittima. So if you ever attempt this ride, ask for directions and be very clear on which roads to take so you avoid the main highways. Fortunately, we all arrived safe and sound but not before having to climb the very challenging grade into Massa Marittima. It was hot and extremely steep but we made it and enjoyed a wonderful lunch with beautiful views in this wonderful town. After lunch we enjoyed flats and rolling hills through Perolta and Ribbola. Today’s ride was long and challenging so once we started climbing extremely steep and never-ending grades in the heat towards Stazione di Roccastrada, many in our group started to struggle. We all had to bond together and inspire each other to make it through this section which was physically and psychologically tough. In fact, my BFF Tamara had a little melt-down after we had been climbing for what seemed forever and came around a corner expecting to see the top when we were in fact greeted with a view of the next part of our ride which appeared to be the longest and steepest we’ve yet climbed. It was extremely daunting! Tamara pulled off to the side of the road, got off her bike and exclaimed she was done climbing, she would not go another inch. I tried to reason with her and tell her “We are in the middle of no where. We don’t have any coverage. Our van will never find you! You can do this! Just put it in your easy gear and take your time!” It took a bit to convince her but eventually she agreed to continue. We finally made it to the top with Tamara actually passing us in the final stretch, the little bugger! Mind over Matter! We then enjoyed some nice downhill stretches into Paganico where the van picked us up to take us to our next hotel, Le Macinaie, on top of Mt. Amiato, a natural volcano. The beauty of our cycling adventure was that since it was van supported at any point, if someone was fatigued or just done riding, the van would pick them up and take them to the next location on our route. We had a few gals who bonded so well as a result of this. They would finish a very respectable distance and then decide they were done or didn’t want to tackle the next monstrous hill and would have Marco, our driver, take them to the next town where they would shop, eat and/or drink wine and laugh at us as we struggled through the hills. Today’s ride was a total of 110km (72 miles) and we were all physically exhausted. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner, wine, great company, lots of laughs and were soon afterwards, happy to hit the sack.
Day Five: Italy Cycling Adventure
We awoke the next morning to torrential downpour, very unusual weather for Italy at this time of year. We were informed that riding would be too dangerous and uncomfortable and we would need to adjust our itinerary. Our entire group was actually extremely excited to get a break from our bikes – our butts and thighs were definitely feeling the last two rides. Before we started the day, Tamara and I headed out for a hike up Mt. Amiato – if you know me, I gotta get my workout in to start the day off right. I always feel so much better. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and never made it to the top; one of our regrets on the trip so we will need to go back one day to reach the summit. Francesco was a gem and customized a whole new schedule for us which included a trip to a church, Abbey Saint Antimo, shopping and lunch at the quaint medieval village of Montalchino where I enjoyed my first taste of Lemonciella and we all enjoyed our best meal of the whole trip, next a visit to the winery Poggio Antico, producers of the famous Brunello wines, and finally a dip in the natural hotsprings at San Filippo where our muscles thanked us for this treat. We then headed back to the hotel where Francesco had arranged Tai Massages for all of us. What could have been a very disappointing day, turned into exactly what we needed! We enjoyed another wonderful dinner and went to bed once again full of great food and wine. We’re not quite sure if the food in Italy is really as good as we remember or if it was just because we were always so hungry after our workouts. You know how food always tastes so much better after a big physical challenge!
Day Six: Italy Cycling Adventure
We awoke well rested after our recovery day and were greeted with sunshine. We ate breakfast and were on our bikes by 9:30am heading down Mt. Amiato on sharp, aggressive descents. We covered distance quickly passing through the towns of Quaranta, Saragiolo, Selvena and then started our climb in the majestic town of Sorano. The views in this area were breathtaking and we soaked in glimpses of waterfalls, caverns, a gorge and Sorano, a medieval town built into the cliffs and rocks of this area. We regrouped, took a quick break and continued our ride into Pitigliano, one of the oldest medieval towns in the area. Francesco had arranged for a guide to tour us around the village and explain the interesting history. We had lunch and then hopped back onto our bikes. Our route took us through Sovana, San Martino sul Fiora, Catabbio and we concluded our ride in Saturnia Hotspring Waterfalls, the most glorious outdoor hotsprings I have ever visited. Today’s ride covered 90km (60 miles) After a relaxing afternoon, we loaded up the vans and Marco took us to his wine shop in Santa Fiora, where he treated us to wine, sausage and cheese. We all purchased quite a bit of wine to ship home – another story for later in the trip. We headed back to the top of the mountain, where we ate and drank a little bit more and then once again, went to bed stuffed!
Day Seven: Italy Cycling Adventure
Packed our bags after a hearty breakfast and left Mt. Amiato ready for the steep descent. Literally, by the time we reached the bottom, each of our forearms were exhausted from having to brake so aggressively. Today’s ride takes us through Seggiano, Castiglione d’Orcia and Bagno Vignoni, where we stop for lunch and enjoy the shops and historical buildings. After lunch we start the trek towards Pienza which concludes with a steep, long uphill climb under the hot Tuscan sun into the quaint village. Today’s ride was a manageable, scenic 50 miles with the only really tough part being that climb into Pienza. We relaxed at the Hotel Corsignano Pienza’s sun deck and enjoyed, once again, an incredible dinner followed by a moonlit walk through the center of Pienza.
Day Eight: Italy Cycling Adventure
Today we begin our final ride in Tuscany. We left Pienza and enjoyed a breathtaking and exhilarating descent en route to Montepulciano. We only spent about an hour in this town but could have easily spent all day here. The shops and restaurants and souvenir options were fabulous and we regretted having to leave to continue the rest of our ride. We completed our loop travelling through the quaint town of Monticchiello and climbing back into Pienza. Today’s ride was a relatively easy 30 miles with the only major challenge being the steep grade into Pienza. We enjoyed the sundeck once again and as a group that evening celebrated with good food and wine and toasted to a successful, fun and safe Tuscan cycling adventure.
Day Nine-Fourteen: Italy Beach Adventure
Started our day with a run along some quaint old roads out of Pienza. Today, the conclusion of the Cycling trek, some of our group travelled back home and others continued with other various adventures. Tam and I had had no set plans but were determined to find an amazing beach somewhere and just relax for the remaining days of our trip. We figured we would deserve and need some chill time after the challenge of the first part of our trip. So over the first week, we would ask various Italians for their suggestions on where we should go. “Which is the best beach in Italy?” was a question we asked many locals. We had many suggestions to go to the Amalfi coast or to the Adriatic sea. We decided based on our limited time and the convenience factor, to head to the beaches North of Rome on the Mediterranean sea. Castiglione della Pescaia was a very popular Italian vacation spot because of the fabulous beach, unique shops, wonderful restaurants and fun nightlife so we pointed our compass in that direction. We were planning to have to lug our bags, take a bus to a train station and then hop a train to another town where we would connect on another bus to our final beach destination. It would be a tough travel day but knew the beach was awaiting so we would get through it. And then, Marco, our guide mentioned that his father would be happy to take us right to the beach town. We paid him 100 Euros ($150) and were at the beach by 1! We found a beach front hotel, Miramare, that we were able to stay at for one night (we would have loved to have stayed there longer but they were fully booked). We went for a beach run later that evening and then headed into town to enjoy the nightlife. We met a group of gals who had competed in a Rowing Regatta earlier that day and they quickly became good friends. We asked for suggestions for where to stay for the remaining part of our trip and it turned out, someone in their group owned a local hotel. He called and confirmed reservations for us at half the cost of the original hotel so we were all set! It’s amazing how everything can work out if you just relax and allow destiny to guide you. It also helps to have a BFF who is easy-going and can just go with the flow no matter what!
The remaining days of our trip all started and finished pretty much the same way. We would get up every morning and go for a run along the beach. Then we’d head to the beach and relax all day by the sea. We’d head back to the hotel, get cleaned up and head out for dinner and the village nightlife.
A highlight of this part of our trip for both of us was Paddle-boarding. One of our new rowing buds, was also a Paddleboard and Yoga instructor and invited us to one of her classes. We both fell in love with the sport immediately. After paddle-boarding for about 40 minutes, she finished the class with Yoga on the board. What an incredible experience to be performing Yoga poses while floating on the Mediterranean sea! Such a memorable, spiritual experience! In fact, we loved it so much we rented paddle-boards the next day and went out on our own.
As I alluded to earlier, we also had a negative, but very memorable learning experience at the Italian post-office in Castiglione della Pescaia. We had purchased souvenirs and bottles of wine from the various wineries we had visited and we didn’t want to have to lug these heavy boxes around especially because at the time, we had thought we would be transferring from trains and buses and walking all over various villages with our suitcases and bags. So we had the idea that we would ship a few boxes back home to make it easy on us. At the post office, we were greeted with a large crowd and were instructed to take a number and wait for our turn. Hours passed. Finally, it was our turn. We arrived at the window and the attendant informed us we needed to fill out some forms and re-pack the boxes with special tape. Of course, they don’t sell that tape at the post-office so I went on a goose-hunt to find the special tape. After visiting a number of stores and being instructed in Italian which I have no understanding of, I found myself at a store that sold the tape. Back to the post office, where we filled out the forms and re-packed the boxes. The attendant then informed us the sending address must be an Italy address. So she gave us new forms to complete and we used the hotel we were staying at as the ‘from’ address. Then she informed us that we needed a special federal code to ship internationally and we needed to get that code from the hotel. So we contacted the hotel and were unable to get the code. By this point, many of the Italians awaiting their turn were getting wind of the issues we were having. Basically, the attendant was telling us that as Americans, we could not ship to the USA. It needed to be shipped by an Italian or business with a special code. Many of those in the waiting area who spoke English, started coming to our rescue arguing with the attendant and trying to help us get our boxes shipped. In fact, at one point, I filmed the ruckus, because it was so entertaining to watch Tam with her broken Spanish and Italian side by side with 4 Italians who were all yelling in Italian at the attendant for not helping us while the attendant was screaming back and not backing down. Finally, one of the customers suggested that she send the box to us and use her code. So they gave us another set of forms to complete! Yes, this is our 3rd attempt! Finally, we’ve filled out the forms correctly, we have the code and the parcels have been packed correctly. Then the gal gives us the price, 100 Euros per box to ship!!! That’s $150 US or $300 total! Yikes! Guess we should have asked for the price first! We make the decision to just ship one box, the heavier one. At this point, this lady is so done with us and her patience is getting very thin. She completes the process but to everyone’s frustration has arranged to ship the lighter box. The customers are now yelling at her, “You are not listening. They said the lighter box!” It’s now her lunch break and we have been at the counter for over 3 hours. She explains she cannot correct her error because she needs to go for lunch and we will need to come back in a few hours after their Siesta and get back in line. Now, the Italian customers are furious and demanding that she take a few minutes to complete the process. Her supervisor comes out and they agree to correct the error and ship the heavier box. Finally, after many hours, we have completed the process. The good news is we made a few new Italian friends who exclaimed how embarrassed they were that their postal office operates so inefficiently. In fact, the lady who agreed to ship the box, we spent the next few evenings with her and treated her to a nice dinner to thank her for her kindness and support. But the story doesn’t end there! Our box finally arrived home and we were so excited to distribute the bottles of wine and souvenirs to all of our friends and family but when we opened the box, we were greeted to a box of old, run-down clothes. The joke was on us!!! We could just imagine those postal workers, laughing after their Siesta as they switched the boxes and were imagining the looks on our faces as we opened the box expecting wine and instead to find dirty old clothes! So definitely a learning experience….consider very seriously whether you want to ship internationally from an Italian post office!
Day Fourteen – On our way home
We had asked many locals about the easiest way to get to the Rome airport from the beach. Our flight was at 11:30am so the bus to another town to catch a train into Rome and then another train into the airport was not going to work out time wise. We couldn’t find anyone driving into Rome that we could hitch a ride with so with the help of our new Italian friends, we arranged to rent a car. That morning I went to the car a few minutes before Tam to load some luggage and get accustomed to the car. It was a stick shift which I hadn’t drove in over a decade. I started the car and tried to reverse out of the parking spot and couldn’t get it to work. I tried for quite a while and I never figured it out which was fortunate, because Tam was behind the car the whole time getting her bags organized! Had I figured it out, I would have run her down! Not a good way to start our trip back home! Tam, in her cute little skirt, suggested I put the car in neutral and she push us out. She tried but I had the break on so the car didn’t budge! Oops! Finally, the hotel operator must have seen us struggling and came out to show us how to get the car into reverse. Ah, it was an easy upwards release of the stick-shift. Okay, we were on our way and as we leave the hotel parking lot, we hear the hotel operator yelling and screaming and gesturing at us! “Ladies, ladies. You are going the wrong way on a one-way street!” I’m sure that operator thought we would never make it to the airport and probably had a good laugh telling all his Italian buds about the crazy American girls. Other than a 40 minute delay trying to find the main highway to Rome…yes, all roads do lead to Rome!!!! ….we found ourselves lost, driving around and around the round-abouts, following signs to Rome that led no-where, asking for directions that got us even more lost until a kind soul on a motorcycle agreed to drive us right to the highway on-ramp. After this we had no issues or delays and arrived safe and sound to the Rome Airport. We enjoyed a long flight, 4 movies and finally arrived home in Portland having just experienced the trip of a lifetime!