The Adventure Begins
If you are not a morning person, you’ll probably have a hard time waking up at 6 AM. I surely did. For logistical reasons, all our mornings on this trip had to start quite early. This allowed reaching our destination at around 3-4 in the afternoon, with enough time for showering and unwinding before heading out for dinner. This also meant that, unlike on my self-organised bike trips, we only had 3 stops per day. Only on the last day, we had 4 stops, since we had the longest distance to cover.
After a large breakfast, where I over-ate just to make sure I can make it through the day, each of us headed downstairs to check and make adjustments to our bikes. The huge conference room buried in the basement of the Barone Hotel was swarming with people in cycling gear, calls for various tools and pent-up energy.
Congregating in front of the hotel at 8, the buzz of excitement was easily felt. Final preparations were being made while everybody was chatting happily, applying sunscreen or filling water bottles.
For convenience, the guys at AC were accompanying us with 2 vehicles: a van and a small car. This way, there was always someone nearby in case of emergencies, besides the designated group leaders that were to open the way for us. The van was used for carrying all our day luggage, that we could access easily during the day. Like the car, it could also pick any people too tired — or God forbid injured — to continue riding.
Pro Tip: Always apply sunscreen. Especially if the weather forecast anticipates 40 degrees Celsius.
And we were off! After about 5 kilometres through the suburbs of Milan, the peloton headed out of the city, following a shaded canal through various small towns and villages. Armies of grampas and grandmas had about the same idea as us; that meant we were never alone on our path. One of them, an old-timer in proper cycling gear, riding an ’80s looking bike stroke a conversation with me; he was dead curious what’s with the 50 obviously non-Italian cyclists on their quiet Italian bike path. Despite his English not matching his enthusiasm, I managed to find out that he’s riding for fun with friends; later on in the day, they were to stop in one of the villages along the canal for lunch. They were a pack of 60-year-olds that passed us without too much effort. After the grampa learned of our circumstances, he proceeded to speed away from us to catch up to them. I could not help but admire the guy and his great physical condition.
At 9 in the morning, the heat was already picking up. It was promising to be a really hot day. Despite that, the going was still good by the time we settled for our first coffee break after about 30 kilometres. When we stopped in the small central square of Who-the-hell-knows-its-name the tables were already set. The van, which drove ahead of us, had already unloaded on two foldable tables a wide assortment of fruits, munchies, water, homecooked cakes and isotonic drinks. The Adventure folk were well prepared and you could see they had everything planned out for our peace of mind.
And since I mentioned the Adventure Cafe people, I want to share a bit on how the ride was organised. We were divided into 3 groups, based on rider experience and stamina. Each group was led by a skilled group leader from AC that knew the route and could assist in case of need. Besides them, we also had the van and car that were loosely following the 3 pelotons and that could intervene should they be needed. Fraser, one of them AC folks, was also a bike mechanic besides being an accomplished rider. Pretty much, all of them had tons of experience with riding. To keep things fair, the people driving the car/van were switched each day so they could also ride their bikes. For communication, we had two WhatsApp channels: one for official announcements from Tom, the main organiser and the other for us to post whatever crazy pictures were taken.
Pro Tip: Take 2 water bottles that you can attach on your bike frame. Have electrolytes in one of them and leave pure water in the other. If the day is hot, you will want to be able to splash some liquid over yourself as it will help with cooling. And the liquid better not be sugary, no?
The heat was picking up. Riding in the 40 degrees sun was more than exhausting and we were going through large amounts of liquids like it was nothing. Small rivers of perspiration were flowing down on me over the applied sunscreen. Despite that, I wasn’t smart enough (yet) to take the above advice and didn’t have the two separate bottles: for water and electrolytes. I had sugary lemony liquids in both, which meant cooling by splashing myself with water was not an option. By the time we stopped for lunch, I was feeling like a Mars bar forgotten on a car dashboard on a hot summer day: all gooey and completely out of shape.
Pro Tip: If you never wore bike shoes with cleats before, it’s worth leaving a good distance from the person in front of you so you have enough space to unclip in case of unexpected braking. More than one person found out the validity of this rule on this jaunt.
Just as I was thinking we will never stop for lunch, a burly middle-aged Italian in a tank-top jumped in the middle on the road, waved passing cars to a stop and motioned us to enter a parking lot. The food was already arranged so we just got in the unassuming roadside restaurant, sat down and ordered ice-cold drinks while perusing the menus printed for this occasion. The menu consisted of several types of pizzas and by the time we finished our order, the first group, the crazy ones as I called them, were already making ready to leave. Not sure where they got all that energy from; I was all but exhausted from the inhumane temperatures and so were the rest of the people in my group. You could see it on their sweaty, red faces. Knowing the sweltering heat we all had to endure, I was a bit awed by the first group’s resilience and determination. As it were, I decided to switch from second to the third peloton, just to allow myself more time to decompress before jumping once more in the saddle. I would remain with this group to the end of the 3-day long ride.
After we got ourselves moving again we pedalled to lake Iseo. If you will look at the map, you will see it’s a bit of a detour from the straight line that can be drawn from Milan to Brescia but let me tell you, nobody regretted that detour. The lake is this amazingly deep turquoise colour, surrounded by green forested hills on all sides. Its cold waters provided much needed cooling for our sweaty gang. The table with munchies and fruits was already set and we gorged on incredibly sweet watermelon while trying to find a bit of respite from the sun. Most of the people went into the lake, dressed as they were in their cycle bibs. I am forever grateful to whomever AC guy (probably Tom) picked the course for this ride. For one, for including all these great locations. For the other, for picking mostly flat roads, whenever possible. We had some climbs but nothing that would sap your energy under the hot Italian sun.
For the more vigorous of us, Adventure Cafe made sure to include an additional alternate route that involved lots of climbing. Whoever felt they have what it takes was free to join these extra segments before heading for the hotel. After 100 kilometres of cycling, I surely was not one of the ones crazy enough to participate in the supplementary workout.
And so we got to Brescia and a very cosy hotel; I worked my way to the room with some difficulty after having lost a couple of kilos in sweat. Our bikes shared the huge garage with a fleet of 10-15 Apple Maps cars that were probably mapping the area.
On the second day, we had great biking conditions. The sun, despite being as bright as on the previous day didn’t punish us as bad. Even better, I already deduced the Pro Tip about the 2 bottles and thus managed to keep myself cool throughout the 35 degrees day.
For this leg of our trip, we had the pleasure of pedalling next to lake Garda for a couple of hours. There is something remarkable about the lakes found in the north of Italy: the clear, blue-green waters, the amazingly picturesque villages set in the undulating hills surrounding them, the relaxed locals, all welcome you like you old friends. I wager one could spend a good two months moving from one village or resort to the other and from one lake to the other and not get bored one bit.
After stopping for a risotto lunch in a Romanian looking restaurant next to Lake Garda, we climbed a small hill and continued towards Verona. Tom from AC warned us at length of the impeding hill before we even set our wheels on it so by the time we got there we were expecting the worse. And then we climbed for maybe 15 minutes and that was it! That was the hardest climb of the day and of the whole trip. Despite our mild achievement, everybody was quite elated and congratulating each other so I joined in, especially since this meant we took an unplanned 5 minute break. Did I mention I love breaks?
Some 40 kilometres later we reached the outskirts of Verona while rain clouds were gathering ominously above the city. Here the 3 pelotons regrouped and we rolled together through the city, stopping for pictures at various touristy sites. Our 40 something people group made lots of heads turn and I couldn’t help feel like I was part of a Tour of France-like event. You just can’t get a similar vibe when cycling alone or with a couple of friends. Furthermore, covering around 100 kilometres a day on a bike allows you to see up close a ridiculous number of unforgettable sights which would not be possible on a car ride of similar length. Because of the number of stimuli bombarding your senses, a mere 6-8 hours feel like an eternity — in a very good way.
And then came the third day and the deluge. On that day we got up the earliest, as we had to cover the longest distance to get to Venice. Since our hotels were always advised by AC of our comings and goings, the formalities were kept to a minimum. As such, a bit after 7 in the morning we took a group picture in front of the hotel, again dressed in our Candy outfits and we jumped for the last time on our bikes. Rain was announced and we hoped to get as far as possible before it set in. We manged to get to the first coffee stop of the day before the rainfall started but when it finally did start, it was brutal. We probably rode 40-50k in the rain; everyone’s morale was sapped but people were still making fun of the situation, mostly because it was the only way to cope with the incessant downpour and wind.
A disturbing yet slighly amusing scene was unfolding when we got to the restaurant: a gang of soaked cats was taking hold of the big dining room and the bathrooms, throwing their wet gear everywhere. Humid air, heavy with the smell of wet bodies was hitting you in the face as soon as you went through the door. Everybody was chatting loudly, warming themselves with hot black tea and hot, freshly baked pizza, grateful for the respite. The waiters were smiling a bit awkwardly at us, wet and loud as we were.
To our satisfaction, the rain had alost stopped by the time we were ready to depart with our half-dried clothes. Free from the oppresive rain, the 40 kilometres we had left went like a breeze. AC had planned for us to ride into Venice for a group photo on the Grand Canal. As it was, this last part was skipped and we went straight to the hotel. Is there any point in mentioning that was the best shower I ever had?
I hope you made it this far. So, was it worth it riding with Adventure Cafe? I would say YES! It was, as they made everything conceivable for us to have the best and safest experience possible.
About one moth after this adventure I’ve set with my friend Jophra on a different type of cycling trip. For that one we packed everything unto our bikes and set our own pace. The two types of experiences are as different as they can be and I enjoyed both tremendously, despite the hardships. Thus my suggestion would be to decide what type of tour you want:
- self organised, where you can stop whenever and wherever you please, but, as they name implies, organising falls on your shoulders. You might pay a little less on average, if you are eating food bought from supermarkets and sleeping in your tent in camping sites, OR
- join some profesionals and let them organise your journey. You might pay more money upfront but it will make the whole process pain free.
Each type has its own advantages, but if you are considering a trip overseas and the hassle that transporting your own bike for such an occasion, I’d suggest sticking with someone like Adventure Cafe.
Whichever you choose, it’s worth training beforehand and getting hold of some essential equipment. You can read more about the items you might need in this article.
Until next time, get on that saddle and don’t stop wandering!
PS: I am not getting any comission from Adventure Cafe, nor any other form of compensation. I simply enjoyed their service and felt it would be good to describe what they do for other interested parties. That’s how you know my story is as accurate as it can be. Cheers!