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Fender Karma and other Cycling Truths

There are a few basic truths to cycling.

One is that if you put fenders on your bike – which is a real time-consuming and frustrating pain – you can guarantee that it will not rain.

This held true despite many threatening days in the first 2 weeks based out of Lucca.  But yesterday Fender Karma ran out and I barely made it through the drizzle to the hotel before the downpour set in.

This morning I wasn’t so lucky.  I woke up to sunny skies, and halfway to my destination was grumbling and grouching and considering turning around and going back to Parma as I stood in the mud under a tree by the side of the road as it poured.

The weather has been very spring-like since I’ve been in Italy.  One day it’s beautiful and warm and sunny and the next the temperature drops 20 degrees and it’s rain.  But that’s what happens when you travel in the shoulder season … you get the benefit of fewer tourists and lower prices.  But you might also get wet.

Despite today’s rain I pressed on south towards the town of Langhirano – which is in the foothills of the Apennines mountains and the farming and culinary center of Parma’s prosciutto.  Conveniently they have a Prosciutto museum there which meticulously takes you through numerous photos and videos of the history of Parma’s ham starting from the Roman, with lots of dead pig visuals, and ending with modern production.  This is not a museum for the squeamish.

Apparently this region is good for the ham (butt and hind leg of the pig) because of the natural attributions of the soil and water of the region.  North of Parma where the land is flat near San Segundo where I rode yesterday the terrior is favorable for the shoulder meat of the pig and their cured pork specialties are quite different.

The pig is serious business here.

While I was inside the sun came out again and I happily set off to the next stop – a 14th century castle just to the north at the edge of the foothills in the town of Torrechiara.  The miles that slogged by so slowly in the cold rain went much more quickly with the sun warming my back and the flowers opening and the green finally dominating the grey.

I followed the braided Parma river as it wound through the green hills with mountains silhouetted behind peering through the clouds.  The Castle dominated the hill and the surrounding land – the high walls still look intimidating today.

Milan Lovers

Inside the castle the walls were covered in frescoes.  And I realized why I liked them so much … they were some of the few frescoes I’ve seen that were not religious.  There were birds and animals.  Acrobats.  The story of two star-crossed lovers from Milan.  Maps of all the castles in the area.  They covered the ceilings and walls of every room. They were joyful and fun and colorful … not meant to scare or teach or remind penitents of their miserable fate should they stray but meant to give the family within pleasure.

The exception was a worn and faded fresco of the Virgin, San Sebastian and some other saint by the front door which was meant to ward off the plague which decimated so many towns during the century the castle was built.

Ceiling Fresco

This area has dozens of castles and palaces.  It’s also the birthplace of Verde and many people visit for the music … Parma is a town sophisticated in the opera and performing arts.  The food culture is amazing.  And I could spend many days just exploring.

Circus performers – portrayed nude because … ?

But tomorrow I’m packing my panniers, loading the bike and riding to the town of Modena.  As the crow flies it’s only about 35 miles.  But the most direct route is “red” on the map … and that means crazy traffic. So instead I’ll wind my way on the less trafficked “white” routes and see how my first day schlepping gear goes. The navigating has become much easier with the help of a great GPS app that let’s me access maps offline and I’m learning to find the bike paths and bike lanes and the better routes now even if they aren’t the most direct.

I’m hoping the weather is good tomorrow – but the forecast is generally wrong here so who knows.  Regardless of the forecast, another cycling truth that is that it’s almost always better to go and ride than it is to second-guess and stay.

Today was a great reminder of that.  Yes I was wet and grumpy for a bit.  But it turned into a great day.  And all said being wet and grumpy for an hour was worth the several hours of pleasure exploring this beautiful country.

Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate is a writer, former political consultant and two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate living in Seattle, WA