Into the (Italian) Wild

Despite the fact I prefer volcanic to arctic, the air in Faenza these days is inescapably infernal. Today a mischievous humidity also creeps about so thick and damp it seems an unruly throng of teenage boys holds a bucket above, dripping hot droplets on passersby. But I still have memories of the Appennini outside Modena where recently I went for a mountain-bike powered sojourn and the air was cool as a cucumber — er, cetriolo.

Go Lisa’s bike, go! Dai!

The first morning, leaving with my friend — let’s call him Luigi — somehow became comically difficult. Even exiting his parents’ house was its own unique struggle — it was one of those mornings where both of our heads may have fallen off if they weren’t connected to our necks. We forgot forks, then found them again, victoriously managed to fit two bikes and a surprising amount of camping gear inside the petite car, made it to the store and managed to tackle dinner and aperitivo but spaced lunch (until our stomachs started growling). We made a u-turn and hit another store for sandwiches. On the way, a wasp launched into the window, somersaulted off Luigi’s arm, wedged itself between my shoulder and the seat and bit me like a mad, miniature Dracula. By the time we applied After Bite, wrangled taleggio e proscuitto panine, drove to the trailhead, unpacked the mess that was the car, reassembled bikes and repacked the car, we’d cleared the noon hour like an Olympic hurdling champion.

To think we almost tried to ride to a rifugio with all this crap…

During those days, my friend and I circled the stomping grounds of his youth on our bikes like happy vultures. For him some of the terrain was familiar, only he viewed it now (excited, endearingly like a kid on Christmas morning) from the seat of his new red steed; for me, it was all new and fantastic.

Mornings weren’t early ones. Nights were spent, after a cold but free shower at otherwise buttoned up Rifugio Capanna Tassoni, nibbling cheese and big green olives and sipping Sangiovese at a picnic table, waiting for tuna pasta to come together on dueling stoves. Of course, we forgot a couple of key ingredients: oil and salt, but — Bear Grylls style — instead used oil from the tuna can and olive juice. Later, with stars and fireflies as our audience, he played guitar and I sang and squinted at lyrics of old partisan songs emanating from the worn-in strings. The nights, it must be said, were veritably cool and — I’m sure to never live this one down — I forgot one important article. Yes, Luigi, I (the mountain “expert”) departed for the mountains without a jacket.

Monte Cimone, here we come…
Maps are neat…
Colazione (breakfast) πŸ™‚

Three days of perfect weather allowed for daily two-wheeled journeys of about 20 kilometers (13 miles) each with 700-900 (2296-2956 feet) meters of climbing. We discovered (or rediscovered) cool forests and mountaintops with curving single-track spines, rocks jutting from their craniums like stubborn chins and views to either side stretching farther than our imaginations. And we perfected the art of sweating very profusely. If there suddenly had been a lakeside photo shoot one or both of us — gleaming in the mountain sunlight — would’ve been hired on the spot.

Hike-a-bike section complete!

We devoured sandwiches on ridge tops, presiding over the expansive views like king and queen of a relatively wild kingdom. Or on the patio of Rifugio Lago del Scaffaiolo, where the buttery sun warmed the nearby lake sharing the same name and melted the cheese on our sandwiches, along with any cares lingering in the corners of our sleepy eyes. Or we dined at splintered ski area porches where old couples tanned and bright yellow Snow Rabbits waited patiently for winter’s white blanket.

Mountain top lunch spot πŸ™‚
Lago del Scaffaiolo.
Snow Rabbit!!! (aka Snow Bunny?? :))

For dessert, we destroyed a package of Haribo Happy Cola, one of my favorite pedaling pleasures. And in our downtime, I taught Luigi the questionable virtues of “That’s what she said” jokes (“she said that!”) and he taught me the names of (fake?) constellations. On rides, I took way too many pictures of everything per usual and he shot lovely videos of flowers, mountain scenery and me attempting to mountain bike (and inevitably dismounting too early for what he had in mind πŸ™‚ ).


Once upon a time I truly loved to mountain bike; I arrived in Colorado in 2005 with only a duffel bag and a suitably decent navy blue and white Giant. Later that year, I broke my collarbone aboard (or rather, Supermanning off of) the Giant in spectacular, go-big-or-go-home fashion: three fractures and surgery. Afterwards, I was timid on a mountain bike and never quite recaptured the reckless joy 20-year-old Sylva found.

But — like so many other facets of life now — everything is coming back around. The treasure map led to Italy and I’ve unearthed all sorts of gems, including mountain biking! On this trip, miraculously (for me at least), we managed to kick some technical butt. The trail scored some goals too… I fell off Lisa’s trusty little Trek more times than I can count, often in the inevitable slow motion fashion that allows enough time for: I think I’m falling? Yep, I’m falling. Oh, look, blueberry bushes…

Getting to the ridge on the first day.
Cascate (waterfall) del Dardagna.

Another notable dismount occurred in the woods, when I somehow managed to stick to my bike like After Bite to a wasp sting. A sharp, steep corner started it all; according to Luigi my front wheel popped out and he thought, “I’ll get off my bike and help her.” But somehow, I stayed astride, almost saved it, then slid through a shortcut between two innocent bystanders/trees. I hooked one slim trunk with my left arm, swinging around it (still astride my bike) like a pole dancer. At this point, Luigi thought, “I should get my camera out and film this…” Turns out he’s quite the little film-maker, but my bicycle dance move remains committed to memory alone…

Look! A meowntain!

By adventure’s end, I had a pedal bite on the back of my right leg that would put a pit bull’s to shame and so many unaccounted for bruises I’m not sure if I won or the mountain bike did. All I know is the good vibes are taking the trophy. Probably because I always feel most at home in the outdoors. And with no home at all right now I was instantly content in the Appennini, even laying on a bike grease-stained sheet observing butterflies and a leaf blowing in the wind that I felt oddly connected to. Or awakening in the wee hours to a lingering, eerie call (which Luigi’s bro correctly thought was an owl). I fell in love with the proud peaks outside Fanano, the radio-tower crowned Mt. Cimone (at 2165 meters or 7100 feet, the tallest point in the northern Appennini) and — as a word nerd — my favorite alpine feature, the Libro Aperto (or Open Book).


On the eve of our return to normal life, we returned to Luigi’s parents’ house, just high enough on a breezy hill to dry off our freshly washed mountain bikes. If we turned around and shaded our eyes, we could spot the mountains in which we’d fallen off our bikes quite recently. That evening, his delightful family put on a barbecue (perfectly executed even without my dad’s jet-powered Man Grill), replete with local sparkling wine and flavorful grilled local cheese and Romagnolo sausage. I was so tired my Italian was even more pathetic than usual — I think I actually said “I like horse” to his brother’s lovely wife, who owns four horses. We retired relatively early, for Italian standards, especially since we had to catch a train eons before the lazy hour at which we’d risen in previous days…


Post-Apenninos, I’ve traded mountains and forests for beaches and rivers and an open book for an open computer; yesterday, I turned in my article for the Italian magazine, Ossigeno. I also started tutoring the bright little munchkins downstairs in English. And Lisa returned from more tour leader adventures, after which, attached at the hip, we lived like rockstars for a few days (kicked off by a cameo from her hilariously awesome air traffic controller friend Nico). More on our wayward, water-themed escapades on the next Sylva Lining…

Some of the prettiest faces this side of the Adriatic…
Nico, Lisa and Sylva enjoying Boca Barranca… again…

3 Replies to “Into the (Italian) Wild”

  1. Sounds really fun! Also, I’m glad to see you are wearing your helmet when mountain biking!

    1. Hi mom πŸ™‚ It was a blast!! And yes, you will be happy to hear I always wear a helmet unless I’m just heading to the store… love you!

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