cycling rome to bari with ride25

The doors of a packed train opened and I was met with the horrified faces of numerous commuters who reluctantly moved aside to let me on as I hauled my bike bag on after me. I erupted into a torrent of “oh I’m so sorry, I do apologise, excuse me can I just…” and generally excusing my existence despite having already burnt my commuter etiquette bridges by daring to travel to the airport when others were on their way to the office.

After another busy train change at Clapham Junction and more tuts as my bike bag and I manoeuvred sheepishly around the non-budging commuter set, I was finally on my way, making good time and excited about my flight to Rome to join travel cycling tour company, Ride25 on part of an inaugural ride from Rome to Bari. I would be taking part in days one and two of the four day itinerary which would see me riding 180 miles to a village near Naples where I would catch my return flight to the UK to get back for a friend’s wedding.

Happily relaxed and relieved that I’d nailed the gauntlet that is travelling from Putney to Gatwick by train with my bike bag and excited about visions of Italian food and repatriating my beautiful Colnago with its native land, something deep down started to rise. A cold chill came over me and I was gripped by a startling realisation that I was on my way to the wrong airport.

By this point I was deeply embedded in the carriage as the train pulled into East Grinstead. All my efforts of British apologetic politeness went to the dogs as I frantically clambered over people urging them get out the way before the doors closed on my chance of making my flight. I ran like a woman possessed with my rattling bike bag in tow to the taxi rank outside and dove into the back of a black cab. The driver thankfully understood my plight and put his foot on it. He reassured me that I wasn’t the first person to have confused Gatwick and Heathrow and that he could get me there in time to check in. In a moment of travel self-sabotage, it’s heroes like him that restore the order.

By some miracle, I was en-route to Rome

Thankfully, (although £150 lighter) I made the flight, met up with the Ride25 crew members and was still on target for an Italian cycling extravaganza.

An Intro to Ride25

Ride25 was set up by friends and keen cyclists, John Readman and Rob Hamilton who, after running their own very successful businesses, wanted to create a new initiative in the cycling world.  The idea was to give individuals, groups of friends, charities and companies the opportunity to see the world by completing 25 curated routes from the UK to Australia by bike.  So far they have plotted out the first few legs through Europe and this ride that I was on was the maiden voyage from Rome to Bari, the 5th leg.

Each time a new leg is introduced on their 25-stage road map from the UK to Australia, a group of Ride25 ‘Pioneers’ embark on the first trip to inaugurate it whilst raising vast amounts of money for nominated African children’s charity, 1MoreChild. This year they raised a staggering £101k and counting. Within this group are many entrepreneurs of thriving businesses and those in C-suite positions of successful companies who all share a common passion; cycling.

I’ve been on three of Ride25’s legs now and what I like about them is that whilst it’s a cycling tour business that provides highly professional crew, logistics, route planning and organisation, they are also intrepid, bold and spontaneous.  A Ride25 adventure is full of a lot of stand-out features that stick in your memory and it’s this randomness that I think I quite enjoy.

Cycling has a remarkable ability to open some unexpected doors in life. In this particular case, these were the doors to the British Ambassador to Italy’s residence in Rome the night before we set off. Through an arrangement somehow manifested by Ride25’s connections, Christopher Prentice, the Italian Ambassador, hosted around 100 cyclists to a private garden party in his stunning and enormous house and grounds (that came with it’s own Roman ruin). We were ushered through the gates by security and led into a grand hall where a life-size portrait of Her Majesty hung regally above. I signed the guest book as a record of my significant visit to this house of diplomacy and after meandering through another grand room and into the garden, was handed a glass of crisp Prosecco. Much to my delight, someone had actually bothered to arrange a pyramid of Ferrero Rocher which highly amused me. This set the tone for two whirlwind days of cycling in a country full of history, culture and stunning riding.

Day 1 - Rome to Gaeta

101 MILES | 8,436 FT

My alarm went off at 6am and I pulled on my Ride25 branded kit ready for 100 miles in the saddle to a village called Gaeta. In true disorganised ‘Lorna’ fashion, I chaotically wheeled my bike bag to the start line and pathetically sought the help of Dan the mechanic to assist with some back wheel issues which of course completely disappeared when he looked at it. (Like when your laptop won’t turn on until you take it to the IT department and it suddenly works fine).  Other riders started to arrive, fuelled by expressos, layering on the sun cream, full of anticipation of the day ahead. I bobbed around awkwardly hoping someone would start up a conversation with me and thankfully they did so it felt less like the first day of school. Along with the arrival of the riders was a growing police presence throwing us some serious shade as John pumped energetic music from his portable speaker to set the mood. Loads of cyclists dressed in orange clearly didn’t do much for Vatican tourism. Crew member and logistics queen, Margot did a good job of settling the tension but it was still clear that we were to get on the road pronto. I joined the back of the mass start with self-proclaimed ‘fat lad at the back’, Martin Spiller, gave him a good luck nod and set off into Roman traffic.

After a short jaunt along the River Tiber, past the Roman Forum and Colosseum we arrived at Appian Way, the first Roman road with ancient cobbles that has been trod by many for thousands of years, none, I imagine, on road bikes. Needless to say, these cobbles are un-rideable so for a short section we had to clip clop along, pushing our bikes until we reached flat road and our first climb to the town of Marino where coffee and pastries were waiting for us. The group started to naturally drop into their speed segments and I found myself happily drifting in between different bunches of riders. I enjoyed my solo status as it allowed me to pull up along side lots of different and interesting men and women.

Lunch was in an ancient hill-top village where an Italian couple had prepared an absolute feast for us. And I mean feast. On my UK rides, my expectations of a refuel go no further than a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea. Instead I was presented with an anti-pasti starter, a pasta course and then a meat course, I presume there was a dessert but I had gorged so heavily I skipped it out as I knew that any extra weight would not help me on the 1,100ft climb that was ahead of me. That afternoon I travelled through quiet farmland and vineyards and battled through the heat up the climb which then dropped down to the beautiful coast. At 20 miles to go I heard the dreaded sound of wheel rim on tarmac and concluded that the extra sausage at lunch had caused me to puncture. Thankfully my saviour couple, Andy and Cath were close behind and pulled over to help fix my mechanical mishap and donate a canister because what I had in spare tubes and levers, I lacked in gas. I then had the pleasure of riding with them all the way to the hotel where we were greeted with beer and dinner on the beach.

Stuffing my face at lunch

Captured by Cheryl Boshi

I had dinner with three men called Gary, Andy and Chris. Gary and Andy were two old school friends in their 50s who had come on this ride as a way to hang out with each other. They were telling me hilarious missives from their early 20s when they shared a flat in south London and kept a communal shirt for job interviews which caused conflict if there was a clash in timings. Chris was from Uganda and I believe was in his sixties and ran a sugar cane factory. He had never been on a road bike before that morning. Having ridden with him on day two I can tell you our differences in age were hard to detect and he certainly excelled in the heat as I became gradually closer to the verge of sun stroke. The three men kept apologising to me saying I would probably prefer to sit on a table with people my own age but they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Day 2 - Gaeta to Montesarchio

80 MILES | 3,104 FT

I woke up the next morning knowing that I had a big day in store. Not only did I need to cycle south in the grappling heat, I also had to make a flight back to the UK and with my track record of travel, it wasn’t a dead cert that I would make it in time. The plan was to get to the 80 mile pitstop at Montesarchio where I would then jump in the van to the hotel to grab my bike bag and be on my merry way to Naples airport. I set off with the first group to better my chances and rode with John, Andy, Gary, two ladies called Sarah and Tricia and my saviour couple, Cath and Andy. In this team I felt reassured that I would make my flight as we took turns through the Taburno Camposauro National Park all the way to lunch.

It was definitely hotter that day and I struggled to stay hydrated in those 30 miles to Montesarchio. The tell-tale feelings of nausea and blurred vision were starting to take their toll as the sun beat down on my neck. Chris stuck with me for the last few miles into the town which I was hugely grateful for.

I arrived in Montesarchio in good time if not a little heavy hearted that I had to leave the tour here. The crew were amazing in helping me get to the hotel to retrieve my belongings and get to the airport in time to make it back for the wedding despite me going against the tour itinerary. The most excruciating part was feeling like a traitor as the van passed all my cycling compadres sweating out the last 20 miles uphill whilst I sat in the passenger seat in crippling guilt that I had sacked it off!

As soon as I left my Ride25 friends, travel chaos resumed with a delayed flight, having my bag searched at security thanks to my multitool and leaving my phone in the security tray. Of course to top it off, my bike didn’t make it back to London and by the looks of the handlebars when it turned up three days later, got bashed around in its absence.

But still, there is nothing like the afterglow of two incredible days to take the edge off your travel dramas and I will always remember this epic adventure with Ride25 and all the people I met with great fondness.

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