Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I understand fulfilling the curiosity of running a marathon once. I'll never understand running a marathon a second time.

I wasn't able to pass up the invitation to run a marathon in Chianti. Free room, meals and entry for a race that weaves its way through the rolling hills of Tuscany. On the Wednesday before the race, sick in bed, being fed potions by Ben's grandmother (bless her), I though maybe I shouldn't. By friday evening I was better. Twelve hours later I was feeling fine only fifteen kilometers (marathon: 42k) into the race (everybody feels good, fifteen k in) and by 30 I was wondering if I'd finish. By 35k I started using tactics that I never though I'd appreciate: "Come on Rickey. You can do it. Just seven more k to go. Come on. It's not so bad. Come on Rickey," as opposed to the normal violent and obsene approach that I usually employ. At 37k I saw the kilometer marker "37 kilometers." "Come on Rickey. 5k to go. Just 5k. Just 5k. Just 5k. Just 5k." If you've run a marathon, you'd understand this. After a kilometer passed I saw another kilometer marker ahead. When it came within my bleary-eyed grasp: "37 kilometers"... that's when I wanted to cry. "37 kilometers" (think four-year-old whining and crying) "but you just said 37 kilometers. i can't run five more kilometers." the tears welled up and almost fell.... Luckly I found out it was a typo. "39 kilometers." I just barely held off the two runners behind me, battling what sincerely felt like broken femurs, dislocated hips and crushed feet, for third place.

Really the race was wonderful. At one point I was headed down a dirt road with an olive grove off to my right, a vineard off to my left and the many towers of Sienna up ahead, mixed amongs the layers of hills that Tuscany is so well known for. Up above - a blue Tuscan sky and a recently waning moon. Later on, a mile long corridor of cypris trees (33k into the race... how dreadful to see first, second, fourth and fifth before and behind me). Hunters in their German camoflauge with their spaniels, gun shots, cobblestones, red soil and "dai, dai, dai!!")

Since I was unable to walk today, I biked the fifty-five miles from Sienna(ish) to Florence. Thinking that my past 24 hours called for a bed rather than a thermarest, I've decided to stay in a hostel for the first time this summer... no comment.

No more running for the trip. Little biking. Ben and I plan on meeting up in Paris, then traveling on to Spain and maybe Morroco. I've sent in my absentee ballot and will return to the States mid-November.


I didn't turn away a free ride from the race director from Lublijana to Croatia. My first night was spent just outside the city of Riyeka, on a presipice, ten feet from the crashing waves. In the morning I rode to the island of Krk (yeah, Croatians don't feel the same need for vowels as the rest of us). Getting advice from two people on how to get a ferry to the next island, I chose the wrong one and ended up back tracking 20 miles in the dusk, leading me to another campsite, again, ten feet from the crashing waves. In the morning I biked from sea level to nearly 5,000 feet, through the fall colors, limestone and oaktrees (there were none on the islands since the Venitians took them to build Venice).

I biked and camped for the next two nights in the mountains. Things I learned - just because a lumberjack sees you coming, doesn't mean that he won't fall a tree directly in your path, seconds in front of you. And, sausage can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, lunch, linner, dinner and dessert.

Split - beautiful. Met a 89 year-old man with a stronger grip than me (that doesn't say much). He told me about biking through Italy after the second world war for three years and six days. Our meeting ended with me loosing an arm wrestling match.

I caught the boat from Split to Ancona, Italy overnight. I cooked pasta on the outskirts of town at 9am at the edge of a roundabout: best breakfast ever. It took two days to ride to the small, hill-top town of Casperia where my friend Ben's uncle owns an appartment. My instructions on how to get to the appartment were "go up the hill, veer left, number 24." In response, my instructions on where to find me: "arriving sunday afternoon. i'll be in the plaza drinking beer." I won. Ben found me around sunset on sunday with a pint in my hand, talking Spitalian to a young couple from Rome and their Venezuelan friend.


It would appear as though I used every last ounce of energy at the world trophy.

I arrived in Bergen, Germany amidst the cold rain, fall colors, Oktoberfest and fleet of runners hoping to improve upon a World Trophy result that I was already proud of. The race director, Bibi, not knowing exactly which hotel to put me up in, decided last minute on the Gasthause Bibihoff... his own house, that is. Four star, four diamond with his wife, Rosie's cooking and his daughter Barbara's translating.

A test run of the course led me to believe that the race would go well, if not great.

A small canon started the race off forcing us to run immediately through a large cloud of burnt black powder. My legs felt heavy as they often do at the begining of a race. And they continued to feel so for the duration of the race. I finished 14th.One place worse than in the World Trophy and what would equate to five minutes further back. An accordian played a sad, sad song as I crossed the finish line.

Bibi asked why I was biking around from race to race. "for training?" he asked. jokingly, I pulled the inside of my pockets out revealing nothing more than lint and a couple ibuprofine and said "not for training. for no money." he found this hilarious and gave me 20 euro for pizza and two beers.

Following the pizza and two beers (and a grappa bought by an old Bavarian - Casper) I wandered back to Bibi's house. As I was entering, Rosie, on her way out, grabbed me and dragged me the two blocks to the ski shed at the base of the ski mountain. At about the time I thought I should protest, she opened the door to reveal a mini-Oktoberfest. Bibi, the accordian player and eight other blond-haired, blue-eyed locals sitting around, drinking beer, eating sausage, having a grand ol' time. A small herd of deer heads decorated the walls above us while a stuffed crow watched harmoniously over us on a case of beer stacked seven levels high.

In the morning, at the flee market on the outskirts of town, I found a two point deer skeleton to keep me company for the remainder of my journey. Like all of my decapitated animal friends - York is his name. He sits on the front of the bike, ensuring a sure, quick and gruesome death should I crash in that direction.

The ride from Bavaria to Slovenia was incredible. Fall colors and perfect weather. Camping at the edge of alfalfa fields and Lake Bled (how romantic). Eating lots of musli and yogurt, and chasing it with Austrian fire water decorated with grizzled Austrian backwoodsmen etc.

The Slovenian race revealed much of the same, but due to the wretched amount of downhill, I finished 13th rather than 14th. Lucky for me it was a Grand Prix finale... (The Grand Prix is an organized group of mountain races in Europe where you earn points for your finishing places - 100 for first, 90 for second etc. This race, being the grand finale, earned more points). Due to the drop off of competitors after fifth place, my thirteenth place finish combined with my third place finish at Telfes, Austria earned me a thirteenth place finish in the overall Grand Prix. 13th place, twice in one day... how luck am I!