Dream & 2 Bicycles
How Bike Across Italy Began
Rick Price -
Owner & Founder of ExperiencePlus!
To celebrate Paola's graduation from the University of Pisa
in July 1971, we pedaled our clunker three-speed bikes from
Pisa to Florence and then over the Apennine Mountains to Forlí,
said good-bye to family and friends, then headed to the U.S.--
as I still had to complete my degree at the University of
Oregon. We had no idea when we would return to Italy or what
the future held for us. We were resigned to not return to
Italy for at least two years.
months later, we missed Italy so much we lay awake at night
brainstorming how we might get back. I was scheduled to graduate
in June of '72 and we were faced with the question of what
to do with the rest of our lives. But, rather than address
that question, the need to go back to Italy took precedence.
paraphrase a line from Steinbeck in his wonderful book, Travels
with Charley, it was February, and it was Oregon, and it was
raining. I don't know how the thought process actually went,
but I do remember the small classified ads in the backs of
Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Review, and Harper's. There were
ads for villa rentals in the Caribbean and Tuscany for rare
books and for charter vessels. At some point, I imagined ads
for bicycling across Italy, just as we had done from Pisa
didn't take long to swing into action, to place ads in all
three of those publications and in twenty-five daily college
newspapers up and down the Pacific coast. By June we had booked
twenty-three people on four different tours "Bicycling
Across Italy." The trip cost $245. We provided tents,
bicycles, a support vehicle to carry luggage, and all meals.
Our customers supplied sleeping bags and pedaled, that was
we knew the tours would run, we ordered bicycles via Paola's
father in Italy, and we arranged to arrive two weeks in advance
of the first tour to scout out camping spots and one restaurant
per day for our lunches. Breakfast and dinner were to be taken
in our campsites. One meal I still remember at a small trattoria
in the Apennine Mountains, cost us exactly one dollar for
a pasta dish, meat dish with salad, wine, and dessert.
planning proceeded on schedule except when the van that Paola's
uncle had promised us didn't materialize. At the last minute
we found a mechanic with a 1952 Fiat flat-bed truck for sale.
He wanted $85 for it and guaranteed it would run forever.
We went to his brother's farm to see it. After we got the
rabbits and the straw out of the cab, it started right up.
We agreed that the owner would tune it up and we'd pick it
up in two days.
bikes were ready to go when we arrived in Italy. There were
ten bikes with four- speeds each and plastic saddles as hard
as a countertop. They cost us $50 apiece. We didn't have a
clue about bicycle maintenance, although I could change a
tire. The mechanic who sold them to us assured us he would
tune them after each tour.
picked up two more customers handing out flyers in front of
the American Express office in Florence, but we lost three
young women customers the first day of one tour. They arrived
and immediately asked about the possibility of refunds. It
seems they had met a couple of Italian men on the airplane
who had promised to show them a good time in Italy and they
didn't want to miss out on the opportunity. So, we reached
a compromise on a refund and off they went.
first tour was exhilarating. It was a real adventure, indeed,
an expedition! We can't say that it didn't go without a hitch,
but we had a huge amount of fun. We camped in farmer's fields,
on the edges of villages, in a campsite at the top of the
Apennines, and in the city campground in Florence.
still remember one evening when a farmer brought out two,
two-liter bottles of Sangiovese wine for our group to share
around our campfire. On the final evening, we ended the tour
in grand style at the youth hostel in Pisa with drinks under
the leaning tower.
incident I recall from that first season was when we scheduled
a "rest day" and a hike at the top of the Apennine
Mountains. We were to hike to the Monastery of Camaldoli along
the ridgeline of the mountains. By my estimate (no, we had
not scouted this one in advance!) it was about twenty-five
kilometers round trip. A long hike, yes, but it turned out
to be more like forty! We also assumed the monks would sell
us lunch. They initially refused, until they learned we had
hiked so far to get there and had to hike back the same day!
Indeed, it was a memorable meal. One young woman refused to
hike back and insisted she would hitchhike back to camp. I
felt uncomfortable allowing her to do that alone, so I accompanied
her on the 100-kilometer trip.
group had only two people. They were great company and it
was like a vacation for us. By the fourth group, and after
six weeks cycling and camping, we were tired of the same route.
We suggested to the five women in the last group that we do
a tour of Romagna. It was flatter we argued, and the food
was great. They agreed, rationalizing that they would go see
Florence and Pisa after the tour. So, we went from Forlí
to Ravenna, on to Ferrara, and wound up near Bologna.
season ended with only one incident. Our sag wagon stalled
once on the freeway, making us fairly nervous, as its papers
were not entirely in order. It seems that the frame we had
built on the back to carry luggage and bikes was illegal.
We had received a warning from a police officer at the beginning
of the last tour, so when we saw other police on the road,
we sent some of our five customers ahead to divert their attention
while the truck passed. The ruse worked perfectly and we were
not stopped again.
retired the truck at the end of the season, hung the bikes
for winter, and went off to travel Europe, having landed a
job with a Study Abroad Program for part of the year.
"Bike Across Italy" the second year, in 1973, was
a problem as we were in Europe all that winter. We sent my
brother and his wife instructions and a check for $300 so
they could handle the publicity from their home in Boulder,
Colorado. They were to place the ads, answer the phone and
mail out brochures. It seemed simple enough, yet only two
people signed up that year. We cancelled all our tours and
returned to Oregon to begin graduate school.
would be 1985 before we put a new spin on our bicycle adventures
and began again.
Price, Ph.D in Cultural Geography, and his wife, Paola, are
the owners and founders of ExperiencePlus! Together, they
have walked and bicycled throughout Europe for the past 30
years, exploring local cultures and collecting stories. They
have drawn from these experiences in creating our tours, which
focus on the culture, history, and geography of the countries
that we visit. If you would like to contact Rick, send an
e-mail to Rick@ExperiencePlus.com
or visit the web site at http://www.experienceplus.com/.