Following on from the previous post which refers to academic research in the USA, I have just received this interesting email from Todd Rygh in Washington State along the same lines. Most people who contact me via this blog have questions about the route or the bike or the equipment or other (important) practicalities. No-one, until now, has asked me about the deeper questions as to why. Here is what he says;
I am riding nearly the identical route this summer, starting in Winchester sometime in mid-June, hoping to arrive in Rome four or five weeks later. Searching for information online about the Eurovelo Route #5 is how I found your blog. I just wanted to send an email introducing myself, hopefully you’ll allow me to ask a few questions about your trip over the next few weeks as I prepare for the journey.
I am finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Washington in Seattle. While I am writing a dissertation on something completely different (but more respectable to future employers), I have been studying the re-invention of the pilgrimage in post-war Europe, and the sort of narrative this project tells about the European Middle Ages. I was able to walk the pilgrim road to Santiago last summer. Would you mind telling me what spurred your interest in riding to Rome, and then on to Brindisi?
I wish you the best in your preparations, and thank you for posting your efforts online!
So, what did spur my interest? The initial posts on the blog way back in August 2008 give an insight into why I am doing this but I’ll give a brief summary here.
As a teacher, I am very fortunate to have six weeks in the summer to do something a little bit adventurous. I have been a teacher now for ten years and for most of those summers I have done something which is just a little bit adventurous. Nothing ground-breaking, nothing of particular note. Just something that requires me to plan in advance and is different from simply sitting on a beach in southern Europe. These mini adventures have included things like driving to the south of France to meet up with friends and then a coastal tour of southern and western France, walking for two weeks in Corsica, a cultural tour of western Europe by train taking in Paris, Madrid and Florence (before heading to Puglia for the first time), a three-part holiday in France involving a week of pedagogical training in Lyon, a week of camping in the south and then a week of walking in the Alps, a tour of Belgium and Germany (again by train) to see friends in Bonn, Stuttgart and Hamburg as well as explore the European capital that is Brussels…. that kind of thing. Nothing to write a book about but nice mini-adventures that have usually been self-assembled.
There have, however, been a couple of years when, for whatever reason, I haven’t done anything of note and come the 1st September I have trudged back to work feeling nothing but frustration at having missed the opportunity to do something and make the most of the six-weeks of freedom. Summer 2008 was one such summer.
But I did have the Olympics in Beijing to watch and spent a significant amount of time on the sofa doing just that. Two things made the Beijing games memorable for me; the fact that Mark Foster, a British swimmer who is a mere six months younger than me was the flag bearer for Britain at the opening ceremony. He was still an active – very active – athlete at the age of 38. I was not. The other vivid memory was of watching Nicole Cooke winning Britain’s first gold cycling in the women’s road race near the Great Wall of China. The victory in itself was stunning. But so was the setting. And so was the weather; very wet – you can see the rain in the picture. I wanted to be there, in the mountains, cycling, challenging myself. Not just watching someone else do it on the other side of the World. And in those few days at the start of the 29th Olympiad, the seed of my cycle trip had been planted.
But does that answer Todd’s question: Would you mind telling me what spurred your interest in riding to Rome, and then on to Brindisi?
I mention above that I had first visited Puglia a few years ago. My friends Basil and Liz had just bought a small property with a traditional “trullo” house. It seemed the logical place to end my cultural tour of the continent as it was not far (on a European-wide scale) from my final destination which was Naples and Pompeii. When I started to think of a long-distance cycle ride, I wanted a destination to aim for and Puglia, at the heel of Italy seem to fit the bill. It was a dead end where I would have to stop and even better, I knew someone who lived there. So my starting point and end point were fixed. I now had to find a route. And it is at that point that the Via Francigena came onto the horizon. I have no religious feelings, but the thought of following in the footsteps of many millions of pilgrims en route to Rome (and beyond) was an attractive one. On a practical level there would be maps, help and advice on the Internet, accommodation etc… On a spiritual level there was a community out there – in space and in time – of people who have aimed to do the same, or similar as me. A community of small-time adventurers who had themselves, for whatever reason, decided to step out from south-east England and head for Rome and the Holy Land. My research lead me to discover Archbishop Sigeric (who, ironically, had been Bishop of Sonning – a village not far from where I live in Reading, Berkshire) and his map of the Via Francigena. It was only later that I became aware of the Eurovelo 5 and the modern-day cycling route (albeit a very aspirational route) from London to Brindisi. Perfect; I had a plan!