Musings, Adventures and Tales of Lauren Hefferon, founder & director of Ciclismo Classico

2013 ATMEX: Adventure Travel Nirvana! A Showcase of the Best of Mexico’s Natural Beauty, Outdoor Activities and Cultural Treasures

Fulfilling another Fantasy: Horseback riding on the beach

Fulfilling another Lifelong Fantasy in Mexico: Horseback riding on the beach! 
Horse Whisperer…Donde estas?

 

Born out of the travel imagination and incredible success of the Adventure Travel World Summit (and with much work by Adventure Travel Trade Associate Super team Rebecca Yanez & Antonio Rosal) ATMEX (Adventure Travel Mexico) now in its second year, is specifically focused on promoting adventure tourism in Mexico. Hundreds of travel agents, local and foreign tour operators, travel writers and politicos in all their fanfare galore, gathered first on soft and extreme adventure tours around the country, and then in Boca del Rio, Veracruz at the World Trade Center,  for two days of one-on-one meetings with local operators and lectures on branding, adventure tourism, adventure education and much more. In the evenings under music, laughter and starry skies, Jose Cuervo was alive and flowing at the gala events featuring the famous Harpists of Veracruz, Los Voladores de Pamplanta,  (The Dancing Men of Veracruz) and abundant traditional music from all over Mexico.  We gringos did our best to enjoy the best of the enchanting , adventure-rich state of Veracruz and keep up with our charming  hosts whose “fiesta” spirit is contagious.

 

Up, up and away with the Flying Men of Veracruz

Up, up and away with the flying men of Veracruz

What unified all participants was their shared passion for sustainable adventure tourism in this wonderful and diverse country filled with abundant opportunities for extreme and “soft” adventures. OK and so we like to bailar and have FUN too!

The Adventure Angels may be rolling into your town next!

The Adventure Angels may be rolling into your town next!

Add delicious and varied cuisine, super friendly locals, short distances between all the sights, exotic flowers, birds, plants, butterflies and music wherever you go, and you have a delicious and genuine recipe for the perfect adventure experience for all ages that is close to home and at a value that cannot be beat.

Making Music Mexican Style with ukelele, guitars, jaw bones and chickens cackling

Making Music Mexican Style with ukelele, guitars, jaw bones and chickens cackling

I spent my pre-summit experience in a gorgeous region 2 hours south of Veracruz called Las Tuxlas where we hiked in the rainforest to the base of a volcano, swam in the warm bay of Bahía Escondida, rappelled in the French Pirate Laurencillo’s cave, rode horses through farmland to the Arroyo de Oro waterfall, caught fish and ate them , learned how to make tamales, cigars and dance with ever-smiling and enthusiastic locals…..all in THREE DAYS!!  While I am a cyclist at heart…. riding a horse along the beach and through lush landscapes  came close to adventure travel nirvana!  When each day was done, we ate fresh seafood and local specialities  prepared by the local families. We dined in style on the beach, on a veranda overlooking the rain forest and in a family-run-catch-your-own-fish-and eat it restaurant.  A siesta in a rocking hammock came very easy.

Our horses led us to water and we drank and played in it!

Our horses led us to water and they drank it and we played in it!

I was instantly enchanted on day one of my “Nature in Las Tuxlas” pre-summit-tour  when our ever-smiling, native Tuxla guides led us into a small tobacco field to speak with a passionate local farmer about his crop. We then winded our way on foot  through a dense forest filled with butterflies to visit the ruins of an ancient textile factory. To cool off, we headed to La Laguna Encantada to dive off of hand-made wooden rafts and soothe our muscles in the warm water.

We walked through his tobacco field as he proudly showed his plants

Not Your Average Marlborough Man!

Diving off Hand-Made Rafts in La Laguna Encantada

We met the locals and dove off Hand-Made Rafts in La Laguna Encantada

After a hearty lunch made and hosted by local families, we learned how to make tamales, tissue paper “hot air” balloons that were sent up into the sky with a torch of fire,  roll cigars and dance “La Fandango” with a band that included two women who played the teeth on the jaw bone of a cow! A sound all its own

OK...Which gringo will roll the perfect cigar...and why?

OK…Which gringo in our group can roll the perfect cigar…more importantly….why?

This may be one instrument I can have fun with

Looking gorgeous and playing the Jawbone…Top this one Jagger!

Our gringo group feeling fine!

Our fabulous group feeling fine after a day of adventure, delicious food, folklore and  new friendships

 

Fascinating craft I have never seen: Tissue Paper Balloons fueled by Fire...made and launched before our eyes!

Fascinating craft I have never seen: Tissue Paper Balloons “Globos” fueled by Fire…made and launched before our eyes!

Just when you thought the party was over…..it keeps in going…upon returning to San Andreas Tuxtla that evening, the local “caballeros,” dressed in traditional white, invited the signorinas to dance tango in the lively Piazza. The next two days brought many more authentic experiences including a mud facial, a shaman cleansing and a boat ride on Lago Catemaco,the home of alternative medicine, shamans, strange  occurrences and the set for Sean Connery’s “Medicine man”. It is also the birthplace of life for the ancient Olmecs; their Garden of Eden. In addition to its its brujas and brujos –witches and wizards that can cast a spell on your enemies or cure you of your ills—make way for the monkeys!  After our facials, we took boats to small islands where dozens of animated spider monkeys welcomed bananas and mocked our muddy faces.

The Ultimate Facial

The Ultimate Facial

 

We let the mud dry and then later rinsed it off in curative spring water

We let it dry and then rinse it off in curative spring water: Estoy una nueva mujer!

 

Spider Monkeys greeted us

Spider Monkeys greeted us

Muddy Gringos

Mud-on-your-face-gringos off to see the monkeys

The Sacred Life of Catemaco

Jesus and Madonna come in all shapes and sizes in the delightful market of Catemaco

Each day my dreams were sweetened by the day’s rich sensory experiences of natural beauty, traditions, colorful folklore, and the gentle and genuine flow of  life that abounds in Mexico, our closest and most culturally fascinating neighbor. The key ingredient that bridged the gringo gap were the local operators whose passion, experience and intimate connections with the nature, culture and the native people seamlessly  exceeded my expectations.

From cement tank to open grill to our plates...Catching one of your own was easy, but Cindy scored four fresh ones!

From cement tank to open grill to our plates…Catching one of your own was easy, but Cindy scored four fresh ones!

From Pot to Grill to Platter

Signora Bonita…From Pot to Grill to Platter…does it get any better than this: PADRISIMO!

Despite the bad press that Mexico has SO unfairly received with regards to crime…every time I travel there I feel completely safe, welcome and increasingly excited to explore and learn more. Mexico, one of the world’s great travel destinations, is often singled out for violent crime without telling the whole story. While there is sporadic violence along parts of the U.S. border, the majority of Mexico’s tourism areas are not only safe, but safer than many other popular tourism areas. If you have ANY doubts, please check out this web site: How Safe is Mexico to set you completely at ease!  You can be sure I will be back soon with my children, friends and guests creating cultural adventure tours for all ages. Granted, the cycling does not come close to Italy but the intense colors, melodic sounds of birds, harps and laughter and the bounty of sensory experiences (and fresh ceviche and smooth taquila) will make your feet move, your heart pound and your soul soar.

Safety in Mexico

With La Madonna and the handsome Mexican Police looking over you everywhere you go, how can you NOT have total Peace of Mind??

I could not agree more with ATTA’s president Shannon Stowell when, in his closing speach, stated: “Mexico is one of the world’s best adventure travel destinations for it is rich in the three pillars of an adventure travel experience: Cultural experiences, a variety of adventure activities and abundant immersions in nature. ” Amen  Shannon!

If you are looking for a soft or extreme cultural & nature adventure that is close to home, culturally fascinating and an excellent value compared to a similar adventure experience in the USA…research the abundant adventure travel options and hop on a quick & cheap flight to Mexico. Stay tuned for a Ciclismo Classico family adventure & nature tour in Baja that I will be putting together in April 2014…I just can’t resist.  I have much exciting work ahead of me..starting with catchy name for our  South of the Border adventure /nature/ ulture venture…how about Mamma Sol: Soulful Adventures for the Culturally Curious?  .Quieres venir?  Vamos alla Playa!!

Unwind and relax after a day of activities with fresh seafood, Cold Coronas and a siesta on a warm Veracruz beach.  It does not get any better than this!

Unwinding and relaxing after a day of activities with fresh seafood, Cold Coronas and a siesta on a warm Veracruz beach. La  Bella Vida!

One way or another...I will be steering my way back to Veracruz! Ya te echo Veracruz!

One way or another…I will be steering my way back to Veracruz! Ya te echo mucho Veracruz! Gracias para todos!

horseback fantasy

 Horse Whisperer….donde estas?

Enjoy all my photos of  ATMEX & Veracruz here: 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/48084728@N02/sets/72157635152189932/


A Sentimental Return to the Giro: Pedaling from Northern to Southern Italy

Ahh..Cycling up Passo San Leonardo would have made even La Mona Lisa widen her grin from ear to ear!

Ahh..Cycling up Passo San Leonardo would have made even La Mona Lisa widen her grin from ear to ear!

This past June 28th, I landed in Ferrara, Italy, the land of La Bicicletta, to commence Ciclismo Classico’s 15 day day, 6 region, 800 mile Giro D’Italia.  I “gave birth” to this Pedaling Portrait of Italy in 1994. Although it has gone through a few tweaks & permutations, the Giro remains one of my favorite Ciclismo trips.  I am excited to embark on this journey after a 17 year “Giro D’Italia” hiatus. The last time I rode this tour, I was 4 months pregnant with my eldest son, Lorenzo. At the time it was a very sentimental journey for I knew that I would be saying  arrivaderci to one precious phase of my life (guiding bicycle tours) and a big bulging buon giorno to another phase: MAMMA-HOOD.

Grazie a Dio that motherhood did not force my retirement from cycling (I pedaled till the day I delivered and was back on my bike 2 weeks later), but the call of mamma-hood did transform and transition my cycling passion from endless carefree hours of pedaling to my heart’s content, to shorter, faster  jaunts closer to home that I could squeeze in between work & the demands, duties and precious playful moments of motherhood.

As soon as my bambinos were ready for a Burley, they were strapped in with snacks, toys and books and I was off cruising as far as they would let me (and sometimes farther if I could subdue their cries).  From Burley to trail-a-bike, from tandem to tricycles, from training wheels to big, medium and full-sized bicycles, my kids have been in tow and leading the way on the bike trail, through the streets of Boston, through several countries and on many Ciclismo Classico family bike tours. While their mamma is still the most addicted cyclist in the family, I am confident that I have fed them enough cycling Kool-Aid to fuel their a pedaling passion, at their own pace.

Now that they are bigger, it’s my turn to return to epic rides and I’M BACK on the road again, like days of yore, for a bike journey, senza bambini! Oh yes, I will miss them so, so much (hee hee hee hee), but come on, they each have enough IPHONES, IPADS, facetime, and social media gizmos and aps galore to stay in touch with their mamma, if they so desperately miss me (and I know they do)

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In the Sibillini Mountains of Umbria with the tiny village of Castelluccio in the background….this place is a magical bouquet of wildflowers in early June

For the next 15 days, join me and stay tuned as I share my Giro D’Italia cycling journey with 20 guests and two super guides, Massimo & Paolo.  I am super excited and guarantee I will have as much fun as possible. I’ll be sharing some pics from the my past Giro D’Italia rides too,  like this one of me in 1996, with my Merlin, happy as can be on day 10 in the mountains Abruzzo. Lorenzo is kicking in there too.  Here’s to you my redheaded boy!

Am I a lucky lady or what?  I have the priveledge to be part of a wonderful tribe of outdoor adventure lovers and lead the way with some of the world’s best bicycle tour including this winner: The Giro D’Italia.  15 years later and the epic tour that I designed and led to showcase the best of my favorite country has, thanks to my expert and professional team, only gotten better and better.  This year, as a guest on this very special tour, I felt both proud and pampered to be led by our two SUPER guides, Massimo DeLaurentis and Paolo Nicolosi

These super guides not only have years of experience with Ciclismo Classico, they are like "fratelli" and part of our wonderful Ciclismo Classico guide family...

These super guides Paolo & Massimo are not only amazing professional with years of experience with Ciclismo Classico, they are like “fratelli” and part of our wonderful Ciclismo Classico guide family…

Perfect weather, perfect cycling and the perfect group to enjoy day after day of the most beautiful country for riding in the world. I hope you will, through my photos and stories, vicariously enjoy the many wonderful moments from our 15 Day North to South Giro D’Italia–an 800 mile, 7 region delightful pedaling portrait of the world’s most beautiful and varied place to ride. The tour starts in the flat farmlands of the Po and zig zags across the Appennine Mountain range.

This tour, first launched in 1994, explores the best of Italy–ALL by bicycle. This tour not only has overnights in some of the world’s most coveted cultural jewels (Ferrara, Ravenna, Florence, Cortona, Spoleto, Norcia, Ascoli Piceno, Fonte Cerreto, Spa town Caramanico Terme and coastal Gaeta), it is a daily immersion into villages, special places and backroads rarely experienced by the average traveler.

Bellisma!!

Bellisma!!

By day we ride, by night we relax at four star hotels and indulge in local specialities such as ravioli with fresh ricotta, tagliatelle with fresh truffles, olive ascolani, mozarella burrata and so much more. By day three the the roller-coaster ride of our lives began with a 127KM ride From Ravenna to Florence and a 20KM climb over the same road that Dante walked when he was exiled from Florence. Our first zooming 12KM descent was into the lush Mugello Valley where Giotto was born and was discovered by Massaccio sketching sheep.

The Giro D’Italia alla Ciclismo Classico: At KM 95 at the summit of Passo Della Calla ( 913 m). After 25 km of climbing we are at the summit of the Appenines in Tuscany with Massimo & Sal. Only 40 more KM to go on our 137KM ride from Ravenna to Firenze……another 100 meters and it is all a winding, wonderful downhill from here (well almost). Nice little hill! Have you done this classic Ciclismo Classico tour? What do you remember most?

Almost to the top of a 20KM pass then towards the twisting descent to the Mugello Valley..my old pedaling grounds where I learned the art of chasing Italian (cyclists) climbing hills and having fun flying down the other side!

Where it all began:  I arrived at Mario Conti's store as a nieve & die-hard bicycle tourist and left three years later having cycled hundreds of miles in Chianti and bonded with a new family of Tuscan "cicloturisti pazzi" led by Mario and Cristina Conti, owners of Cicli Conti founded in 1923 by Mario's frame-building "babbo." Here I learned Tuscan slang, the best roads in Chianti and the art of service with a smile. Grazie Mario and Cristina!

Where it all began: I arrived at Mario Conti’s store as a nieve & die-hard bicycle tourist and left three years later having cycled hundreds of miles in Chianti and bonded with a new family of Tuscan “cicloturisti pazzi” led by Mario and Cristina Conti, owners of Cicli Conti founded in 1923 by Mario’s frame-building “babbo.” Here I learned Tuscan slang, the best roads in Chianti and the art of service with a smile. Grazie Mario and Cristina!

Our four star Villa Fiesole Hotel, with the world’s greatest view of Rennaissnce Florence, offered a welcome rest day. Our group of 18 guests has been on a total of 83 Ciclismo Classico trips!! Many of them have been on more than 10 tours and the same trip more than once! No…THAT’S AMORE! After cycling over 87 miles over the Appenines, under the warm sun and experiencing a few adventures along the way, they clean up pretty good for our feast at 4 star Villa Fiesole, under the Tuscan setting sun! How many Ciclismo Classico tours have YOU done? Any twice? What is your favorite and why?

This group of 18 have collectively taken over 80 tour with Ciclismo Classico..Mamma Mia!

This wonderful group of 18 CC alumni and newbies have collectively taken over 80 tours with Ciclismo Classico..Mamma Mia!

From Firenze we climbed up to Vallombrosa, a dense and spiritual forest where monks planted dozens of exotic trees then an easy spin along the Via di Sette Ponte into Arezzo, home town of Piero Della Francesco and his treasured murals (and the back drop to the oscar winning film Life is Beautiful). From Arezzo we dive into more Renaissance landscapes…the circular Lucignano and climb cobblestone streets to Montepulciano and then descend cypress lined roads under the Tuscan sun to Cortona. The lively main piazza draws us in with an old man playing the flute and a travelling cyclist show.

Tuscany Best 1

Cycling and having fun on the Via dei Sette Ponte from Florence to Arezzo with 20+ time alumni Chuck, his pal Eric and the unstoppable Sarah Boo!

From Cortona it’s on to Umbria along the shores of Lago Trasimeno and the sunflower lined fields to Bevagna, Montefalco and finally Spoleto, one of my all time favorite Italian hilltowns, an elegant blend of modern galleries and ancient marble churches that sparkle in the late afternoon sun.

Cortona Tuscany

The view from my room in our four star hotel in Cortona: Dream a Little Dream

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One of my favorite spots in Spoleto, the Roman Aquaduct, Ponte delle Torre that connects this lovely hilltown with the Cortaccione springs. It’s a soulful spot with an incredible view and whose origins dates back to the before the XII century

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Roaming the lovely cobblestone streets of Spoleto, home of the Spoleto Arts Festival with a long pause to gaze at the glistening Duomo  and strike a pose with Chuck & Sarah in one of the most beautiful piazzas of Italy

An evening outdoor feast at sunset fuels us for our ride to Norcia, another one of my favorites that of course climbs then descends through a remarkably beautiful and rugged landscape bursting with the color and fragrances of ginestra (witches broom). The Umbrian Landscape, known at the Green Heart of Italy, also has a deeply spiritual soul where the spirit of Saint Francis and his simple lifestyle is apparent in the gently art and architect

By early afternoon we arrive in Norcia, just in time for gelato in La Piazza and a visit with Marco Terezini, who welcomes our group with tastes of his own sheep cheese and aged prosciutto. After 120KM, 4500 feet of climbing, magnificent descents through white-washed stone villages, along fields of wheat, & wildflowers and across mountain valleys that make your head spin….our hearty appetites were ready for  yet another feast of local prosciutto, fresh melon and…. ahhhhhh local pasta with slivers of black truffles. 

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After 15 years, I walk into Marco’s meat & cheese shop and still remembers me as if our crazy morning in his store was yesterday. I receive a big bear hug from him and lots of yelling and shouting follows as he offers me abundant samples of his fresh prosciutto & pecorino. He has kept our 1997 brochure in his stuffed scrapbook of international visitors that flock to his savory meat and cheap shop, “Il Boutique dei Pecorino”

 

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Our men in black, the agriturismo owner Giovanni and his adorable grandson Francesco help complete yet another magical Ciclismo feast! Check out the local black truffles that were freshly grated on our pasta

From Norcia its’ on to Ascoli Piceno through the upland plain of the Sibillini mountains, where we are engulfed in wildflowers, lush green landscapes and sheep everywhere! A rest day in stunning Ascoli Piceno serves us to rest our legs before the last few days of climbing!  I am no Julie Andrews but I am yodeling & singing “the hills are alive” in the Sibillini mountains of Umbria. After a steady 18KM climb we arrived in this stunning upland plain that attracts hand gliders, hikers, cyclists & plenty of sheep! The surreal landscape is covered with poppies and purple, white & pink wild flowers. Lunch at a mountain Refugio then down, down, down to Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche. Ahhhhh

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After a 17KM climb from Norcia, we reach the Sibillini Mountains, an upland plain and incredibly  surreal place where sheep, hunter, nature lovers and hand-gliders gather to soak in the magnificent soulful scenery…ahhhh. 

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The stunning  Piazza di Ascoli Piceno where we spend two nights to relax and really soak in the gently flowing life of La Piazza di Notte

 

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Enjoying the ride of my life through Campo Imperatore in Abruzzo, a high plain with continual views of mountains, green pastures and Sasso Grande. Translation: the BIG rock!

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One of my favorite landscape-village views..the descent down from Campo Imperatore to Castel del Monte…down down down for over 20 miles

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Come fly with me down on of the many thrilling & spectacular descents in Abruzzo!

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The start of the last day’s ride from Pecoconstanza in Abruzzo

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Our last evening of the Giro was a muli-course feast at our four-star hotel in Gaeta overlooking the Mediterranaen…Arrivaderci i miei nuovi amici!

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A special cycling toast to 21-time Ciclismo Classico alumni Chuck Brazel just finished his 3rd 15 day Giro D’Italia from Nothern to Southern Italy. A fit 60 year old from San Diego, he discovered bicycle touring at age 50 and traded riding a hybrid with sneakers to clipless pedals and a road bike on his first Bike Across Italy tour. A transformed recreational cyclist, he is fitter than ever and now easily rides at the front of the pack with our super guide Massimo who has taught him a thing or two about climbing, descending and looking good on the bike!

Lauren Siblillini

Joyous Return to the Sibillini Mountains. July, 2013

Pedaling the Giro D’Italia in 1996 with a bike in hand and a bambino in my belly! I knew I had to say good bye for awhile…but knew I would be back!!!

I hope you always enjoy the ride of your life!

check out more of my pictures of the World’s Greatest Bike Tour here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/48084728@N02/sets/72157635189966651/


Playing Music. Playing my Bike. True Harmony from Two Wheels

 

Over the weekend I went to see my good friend and creative inspiration Deborah Henson Conant do her musical magic. She plays the harp, which may bring to mind a woman sitting peacefully and delicately strumming an instrument twice her size. Deborah, the world’s foremost electric harpist, thrusts this image out of the universe and back again. She not only plays the harp, she rocks it, dances with it and bounces all over stage with her guitar sized, carbon fiber harp.

Deborah not only redefines what harp playing is, but the passion and physicality of her performance fires up the stage and is mesmerizing. I watch her move and feel her love for what she does fly across the stage; I cannot help but make the parallels of playing an instrument and riding my bicycle. Although I have no audience and no music emerges from my two-wheeled friend, I experience the same rhythmic and pulsating connection with my bicycle as a musician does while in the zone of their music playing.

While the bicycle can be reduced as a recreational machine, a means by which an athlete can reach a high level of physical performance and fitness,  for me the bicycle  has always meant much more. I  personally have always likened (and craved) my rides as my special time to make physical and mental music.

Although the bicycle makes lovely sounds…the spinning of the wheels, the clicking of the pedals, the changing of the gears–it is not the mechanical music of the actual bicycle that turns me on.   Like the feeling of strumming a guitar or the beating of a drum, the varied rhythmic sensations I create by dancing and pushing on the pedals,  rocking the handlebars from side to side, goes right to my head and like a drug,  I am on fire.  I quickly begin to see the world (and myself) differently. Motion becomes meditation and I am transformed into a trance-like state where everything is right and good in the world.

The landscape explodes like a dream. I suddenly see better and am creating paintings out of open fields, gnarly trees, sparkling lakes, stone walls and puffy clouds. With each stroke of the pedal I paint the landscape as it blurs before my eyes. My ears open up and I begin to let the noise in my brain peacefully flow in and out while other magical sounds and thoughts take over my body.

Climbing, I calm down and focus on getting the notes right. Descending,  I strum hard,  belt out the chorus and my singing soul soars. I stand on my pedals and gaze at the sky. Colors intensify.  My entire body is awake. The air streams through me. I am electric. I am flying.

I have always fantasized about playing an instrument, to experience what I believe is one of the ultimate human experiences–the simultaneous transformation and connection of the musician and the audience, alas I will have to settle on soothing my own soul with my tool wheeled instrument.

Although I get no applause and no real music emerges, each time I do hear the applause of my own heart, that with every pedal stroke is uplifted, empowered, overjoyed and always transformed.

There is true, deep harmony, as the world and I become one.

 

 


Salzburg to Vienna by Bike with the Bambinos


A sleepless train ride marked the beginning of our Austrian bicycle adventure. We made it through the overnight train ride from Florence to Salzburg, well just barely. We had hoped for a sleeping car but ended up packing the three kids and myself into a 2nd class passenger car with two other women who were cruising through Europe in nine days. Luca was impressed that they had been to Rome, Pisa and Florence in the last 24 hours. Our very own talk show host, Luca continued to interview them about their adventures while simultaneously putting us all asleep. Since we did not have a reserved seat we had to move twice before landing in a passenger car with another traveler. Before long, feet, arms, legs and other body parts were stretching out all over the place. Dosing and rearranging ourselves continued through the night.

After switching in Innsbruck at 4:30 AM we arrived in Salzburg at 7:30 and took a cab to our first hotel of our trip. We were wiped out so Mauro, Lorenzo and Luca took naps while Valentina and I roamed the town by foot. A few hours later our bikes were dropped off and we all headed into town along the glorious river to the market place to gnaw on some local cuisine including several pretzels, Mozart Balls, fruit and strudel. We can do a lot of damage at the local markets. Then onto the Mirabella gardens to explore the flowered pathways and strange odd midget sculptures. We found a cool playground with an awesome slide while I wandered through a the setting up of an art show with the theme of Asylum. We spoke with the artists, one from Sardinia about the ideas behind their work when hunger called and we followed. After much searching we found an excellent restaurant: Zum Fidelen Affen.  I had a delicious risotto with vegetables, Valentina a fig salad while Mauro, Luca and Lorenzo had a grilled meat dish. The beers were cold and refreshing and the service very friendly.

We were tired after a long day and cycled back to the hotel to be fresh for day two. Day two in Salzburg, our first stop was the market for sandwiches and pretzels then a tram up to one of the oldest fortresses in Europe, The Fortress Hohensalzburg.  Gorgeous views and a museum with a collection of a typical fortress collection of Armor, gold, medals, wooden beds and the always popular, torture instruments. The highlight of the castle was actually the Marionette museum which was filled with beautiful puppets and scenes from the recent shows. We made our way through the museum and cycled down to the main squares bustling with street performers and oddities such as the guy seemingly balancing in air on a cane.

 

It took a local physicist to help us figure it out. Zig zagging through the streets on bikes is huge fun and everyone bikes in Salzburg so we feel like we fit right in with the locals From here we biked to the Hellbrum  trick fountains, the ride there proved trickier than the fountains themselves. It was long and we managed to get off the main bike path. The kids were starved, it was too late for the tour and it started to rain. Complaining ensued and the old “Mom Did it Again” routine began until I started in on the old “Don’t worry you’ll have lots of Misadventures” like this in your life speech which usually sends them running. We biked through the gardens, saw the giant fish, got a peek at the fountains and then we inhaled some cookies in a gift shop. Back to Salzburg on the main road went much faster. We were back at the square ready for a quick Lebanese wrap before the Marionette Show of The Barber of Seville. The marionettes were gorgeous but the opera was a bit hard to follow. The gestures of the puppets and the captions that were flashed helped us follow along but much to my kids disappointment, I dose off a bit but a rousing Figaro Figaro Figaro wakes me up again!

Day One, July 8: Our Austrian bike adventure officially begins! We head into Salzburg for one last Mozart ball and to visit the Salzburg Museum. We head out of town at 1:00 with me seeing “Bye Bye Salzburg”. We follow the river bike path out of town and after asking a few Salzburgians, we take a right on a small bike path following a river and heads through small neighborhoods. The climb is steady for miles as we make our way through hilly (and very pungent) farmland and towards the little village for lunch.  Valentina and Luca start singing 100 bottle of beer on the wall which drives Lorenzo crazy. I agree that this is one of the more stupid songs in the world and could never understand why anyone found it so enjoyable but they do and that’s what makes the world go round. We follow the Tirolian tower to the center of town and find a grocery store. Not too many picnic spots so we plop ourselves in front of a bakery where we also enjoy a café latte.

After lunch the scenery gets more dramatic as we head towards Lake Mondsee. It’s cow manure pungency increases as well and at one point we almost get hit with fertilizer machine as it comes a bit too close to the bike path. Riding toward Mondsee we get into a nice groove. Behind me I hear the kids chatting beautifully and playing rounds of 20 questions.  Valentina who usually squabble like old ladies get along great when they are biking. One of their favorite antics is to go no handed and to the Macarena. I only allow this on a bike path and where I know there are no cars of course. The bike path gets sketchy in this area. I believe we actually missed several miles of it and were taking the main road instead. By the town of Thalgau Luca has a small meltdown and is craving a chocolate bar so we stop at a supermarket and stock up on the sweets. They fill their bike pockets with Neapolitan wafer cookies and the stars are in alignment again!  The bike path from here is well marked, flat and gorgeous. The bike path goes along the base of a spectacular Mountain Range towards St Lorenz and Unterach. We pass lots of cyclists as we approach Lake Mondsee. The bike path along the lake continues and troops become anxious to reach the hotel. Just when we needed something to break up the monotony we get to go through a long bike tunnel that cuts through the mountainside. Lorenzo’s back begins to ache and I am thinking it’s because his muscles are very tight. He has been suffering a painful Achilles tendon and is supposed to be stretching daily.

We reach our hotel right in Unterach on Lake Atterseee by 7:00 PM. We are starved and tired and showers feel wonderful. The owner of the hotel, George, is welcoming to cyclist. After showers, we are ready for dinner. While the cream of asparagus soup is not a huge hit, we gobble up our main course of pan friend lake trout, potatoes and vegetables. After a simple bowl of ice cream for desert, sleep comes easy.

A marvelous Day on Lake Attersee. 25 miles

Today the kids slept in and the AM, after our abundant Austrian breakfast on the hotel’s lovely porch, we wandered around the craft market and into Despar to get lunch pickings. At 12:45 we boarded a lovely excursion boat that took us up the Attires to Were.  The views of the mountains, pristine landscape and the gorgeous blue water were incredible. We enjoyed our picnic lunch on deck and them moved inside out of the hot sun.  The boat was quite elegant with most passengers enjoying the restaurant and service on board.  By 2:00 we landed in Weyregg and begin pedaling North along the lake. The road was quite busy with cars all the way to Seelwachen.  In Seelwachen we managed to get off the main road and discovered an excellent public beach complete with high diving platforms and water slides. SCORE!  It was quite a scene filled with locals.  I reminded the kids that taking back roads is always the best way to find the local treasures. We made a long stop here. The kids loved the water slide and the diving platforms where the local teenagers were showing off their jumps and stunts to all their friends. Lorenzo and Valentina made it to the highest platform while Mauro and Luca made it to the second. It was tough for him but not to be outdone by his siblings, he made the jump. I was fine on the lowest level.  The water was so cold and clean, it was the perfect break from the hot sun.


After our swim stop we continued on our way along the lake. We found a small road paralleling the main road that meandered high above the lake through farmland and offering gorgeous views. In the town of Haining the road descended back to the busy lake road. This side of the lake was not quite as busy.  The road was fast and allowed us to move along at a nice clip. There were lots of great and tempting swimming spots but we kept going so as to reach Unterach by 7:00. Valentina was pushing hard in the front and it was hard to keep up with her. Lorenzo’s back began to ache so we stopped to stretch and have a snack. We kept moving along, the kids beat me to the hotel!

After showers the kids were all anxious to have some facebook time. We relaxed in the hotel’s lovely sitting room. I enjoyed a large beer and I offered the kids the local ginger ale. At 8:00 we sat down for dinner on the lake, our view and the mood could not be lovelier

Unterach to Halstatt. 40 miles

Another late start to our next destination. The kids are just beat from all the biking and I do not have the heart to wake them. They get up just before the waitresses put the breakfast away. We pack up our rooms and walk through the craft market one last time before heading out along the lake.  On the way out of town Lorenzo bike starts showing signs of fatigue. The fender is falling off so I go and find a piece of wire that I use to secure it to the bike. I think I impressed the kids with this little bike magic trick. The lake road is cool and the views are wonderful. I hate to leave this little Shangri-La. We start a long climb towards Bad Ischl. We watch the kilometer markings in the road go from one to eight while playing yet another game of 20 questions.

The descent begins at kilometer 9 and we luckily had the easier part of the climb, the descent was steeper and curvier for us. Lots of motorcycles on this road. At the base of the descent we hit another river valley, which we follow all the way to Bad Ischl. We pull into Bad Ischl, a very pretty and elegant town. We are all starved and I find a great little pizzeria. Too bad I can’t find my camera. I go a little crazy then begin retracing my tracks and ride about 5KM back on the river scanning the ground like crazy and asking cyclists if they had seen a small black camera.  I decide to give it up and ride back. Back at the pizzeria the family has already eaten. I check the bags again and discover the camera in Mauro’s pannier.. Valentina gets the whole scene on film.

I have my pizza and salad and we take a picture with our lovely hostess who speaks Italian and we head on our way up the river  30 KM Halstatt.  After watching a Rick Steves program about this charming destination, we are excited to get there. We follow the main road then get on a small bike path that follows a clear river for miles. We are tempted to hop in but feel the pressure to get to Halstatt to see the Salt Mines. It’s a glorious ride but Lorenzo finds it a bit boring. By 3:00 we make it to the bottom of the Lake and opt for the main road rather than the bike path on the west side. The road is busy with buses and cars but we just want to get there. We arrive to this lovely Austrian town by 3:30. It turns quickly magical with tiny streets and wooden houses perched on the side of the hill. Gelato calls and Luca discovers he can get his beloved ice cream cup person.

Onto the Salt Mines. We arrive a few minutes too late for the last tour. Disappointment reigned as we were all looking forward to this highlight of the day that we worked so hard to get to. After everyone gets a chance to whine and blame each other (except Mauro who says that he did not want to see them anyway) we calm down and opt to wander around the town for another hour before our little boat to the other side of the lake. The side streets up the side of the village revealed a salt history street that was quite interesting. Reminded me of the town of A in Lofoten where one singular economy drove the lives of the people. Lofoten and Hallstatt were obviously connected in some historical way since Salt and Cod are intertwined

Tired and cranky it was time for food again. After the kids enjoyed a lamb sandwich at a roadside stand (these roadside Lebanese food stands are very popular in Austria)  and I had a warm beer we got on our little boat to the other side of the lake to catch our train to Gmunden. When the train came we had to act fast to get our bikes in the rear of the train. This became another opportunity for the kids to goof around at inopportune moments. Once on the train, Mauro and relaxed and talked while our little Hooligans started singing invented Austrian songs out the window of the train. Never ever a dull moment.

We arrived in Altmunster at 7:00 and descended the hill a mile to our hotel where our cycling friends from Texas had arrived and were enjoying an intense soccer match for the women’s world cup: The USA versus Brazil. We got to learn all the players names as they went into a final kick. The USA wins. Shower and dinner which was an absolutely terrible Lasagne but we shared a lovely conversation about great places to travel. We convinced them about Italy, while they peaked our curiosity about Iceland!

Day 4 Halstatt to  Linz. 10 miles

Upon waking and reviewing the route I make an executive decision that going back and seeing the Salt Mines (and taking a rest day) would take precedence over the ride to Linz which looks uneventful and boring. Sometimes sightseeing and culture rules and this is one time the decision was easy. The kids were psyched and got up easily (well sort of). We were back on the train and took the 10:30 train to Halstatt. We were at the Salt Mines by 12:00. A very steep funicular took us to the top of the mountain where we had lunch with one of the most spectacular  “lunch” views I have ever seen. For some reason Luca was in his Dr Jeckle mood so that put a bit of a damper on our lovely lunch. It’s hard not to let these moods get into my head and he knows this.  Was a good family picture moment but Luca would not cooperate so it was just Lorenzo and Valentina.

After lunch we took the tour of the Halstatt salt mines which was incredible and so worth a return visit. The tour took over two hours and descended deep into the salt mines for a detailed, multi media immersion into the history of salt and mining since prehistoric times.  I had no idea that salt was like the petroleum of its day and was the driving force behind the Austrian economy of the day. Of course the children loved the tour. They got to go down a wooden slide though the mine, watch a movie underground about salt, see immense blocks of salt glowing with light and ride a mining car. Our tour guide gave an extensive tour in German and pretty good snippets in English.  After the tour we descended back down the Trail of Salt and down the funicular to ride around the opposite side of the lake to catch the train to Gmunden before heading on to Linz.  We had a nice little visit of this charming town on Lake Traunsee. I had forgotten about the big downhill to the Lake. We were starved and stopped at bakery for snack before heading over to the Tuscany Park then back up the hill to catch our train to Linz. We arrived in the Linz train station at 9:30 and raced through town and along the Danube at dusk. It was quite beautiful this time of day. We arrived at our modern hotel on the Danube at 10:00 just in time for a dinner on the Patio. The hotel was modern and business like but the rooms were big, clean and perfectly fine for a good night’s sleep, which we needed!

Day 6 Linz to Grein: 37 miles

The last ones to a large Austrian breakfast, we get another late start to Grein. The first 10 KM are flat and ugly as there are factories in the distance and the river is dirty. The head wind and our noon hunger does not help. We stop for lunch at a Despar. The kids fight over a fanta and there is already much dissent. Valentina is complaining of a bad headache. Luca just wants her to “shut up” and ride. Lorenzo stirs the pot on both sides.

The riding becomes more pleasant and in the shade as we near our lunch spot in the town of Ybbs where we stopped for pizza and to briefly check out the bicycle museum. As we approach Grein there are more and more cornfields. The ride is along the river and in the shade all the way to Grein. The flat riding is beginning to get to me. Although I can see why the Danube is a popular area to ride, it has not been one of my favorites. Simply not enough variety in the scenery to rank high on my list. While the maps are highly detailed, I need to see the big picture on a less detailed map. As we approach it’s already 7:30 so another late dinner awaits us. Our hotel in the main square is lovely and right next to the oldest theatre in Austria,  The Stadttheater Grein. We eat dinner outside but we are all exhausted from cycling. Valentina barely makes it through dinner. Good night!

Day 7 Grein to Krems: 50 miles

In the AM before leaving we finalize our Paris plans, have breakfast and get on our way. Well it is never that simple, movement forward quietly and efficiently is always a challenge. Before leaving we enjoy a short visit to the tiny theatre next to our hotel that included a toilet right next to the audience so there’s no need to take an potty break from the show. There is also a hole in the wall where prisoners were allowed to view from. From Grein we continue our tour down the river, more shaded routes.  As we ride a cargo ship is making its way down the river so we begin race with it. The non-trafficked cycling is peaceful and gives us all a chance to take it easy and talk about whatever crosses our minds. Several games of 20 questions evolve as we steadily make our way towards Melk. Lorenzo’s gears give out and I switch bikes with him and make a  10K sprint towards Melk to see if I can find a bike shop open. I arrive in Melk with address in hand and I get sent on a wild goose chase in search of a bike shop to no avail. I return to the center of Melk, sit down at a café and guzzle down two lemonades while waiting for the crew.  When I see them, I jump out into the square and wave them on. It’s hot, late and Mauro is done. He asks about a bus to Krems. I encourage Lorenzo to bike with me all the way. He opts for the Krems challenge and so the others want to ride too. We insist that they take the bus so Lorenzo and I can hit the road towards Krems. We take off and I tell Lorenzo that as long as we keep the pace of 13 mph we will be in Krems in two hours.  The ride from Melk to Krems is the most beautiful of the entire Danube trip. Pity the others don’t get to experience it up close. A stay in Melk would have been better then ride another stay closer to Vienna. Oh well. The ride dips up and down and along the Danube. We get on the right side thanks to a  dad and his pack of young Ausrtian cyclists off for a swim. We push hard but not too hard. The light is beautiful and the landscape evolves from flat to gently rolling apricot orchards and vineyard. This was the landscape that I had expected for the whole trip. Lorenzo is loving it too. At one point, a bus goes by and toots its horn. It’s Mauro, Luca and Valentina in the public bus. We are ten KM into the ride and know that we are making good time and having a better time on the bike. Lorenzo cannot resist stopping and picking apricots so we do. We enjoy the spray of the sprinklers watering the fields. We keep pushing along. I am so thrilled and thankful to be riding this 20KM with Lorenzo. He is wonderful company and it remains one of my most special memories of our entire tour. As we reach Krems, I ask a completely tattooed cyclist how close we are to Krems. He tells us 2KM! It’s 8:00 so we are 15 minutes within our time goals of reaching our hotel before dinner. We cross the bridge at Krems and I follow the last direction to the hotel, The Arte Hotel. We make it to our hotel by 8:20. Luca is mad at me for not letting him come. Of course it worked out perfectly so I choose not to argue, enjoy a hot shower and we bike to our lovely restaurant  “Crems” 2 KM away in the historic center of town. By dinner I am forgiven and we enjoy fish and other Austrian fare then a large gelato for all next door. While a passeggiata around the town would be nice, we head back through the dark streets.

Day 8 Krems to Vienna

The last ride of our European adventure begins with repairs at a bike shop. A couple of the bikes are showing signs of wear and tear so we take them for a little tune up that costs $18. On our way towards Vienna, we ride through more apricot orchards and corn fields towards wine country. Castles in the distance. I choose to ride away from the Danube in hopes of finding villages and a bit more rolling roads to add some variety to the flat river riding. The kids are in a rambunctious mood. What else is new but we have three close calls on the bikes. First Luca rides right into a corn field. While admittedly it was funny, the distracion concerns me. Next Lorenzo, riding too close and not paying attention slams into a young cyclist who stops suddenly. Last Luca and Valentina slam into each other. Luca goes down and seconds later a large truck come barreling down the road. Enough is enough. We stop in our track and reinforce safe riding. For the most part, they have learned well but when boredom sets in, their riding gets sloppy.

We descend from the rolling hills towards Traismeyer where we seek out lunch. We find a little café with a Charlie Chaplin theme (go figure) serving Middle Eastern sandwiches. We order, sit down but the three musketeers will not sit still and the horsing around begins. The apricot tree in the courtyard becomes a war zone as Luca and Lorenzo start hurling tiny fruits at each other. We bring it all to a halt to each our lunch and get on our way. Next stop is a Dinosaur Park that gets Luca mildly excited. We pass by it but it is closed. We move on and head towards the Danube for our last 20 miles of River riding. The kids get the idea of riding through a corn field which I quickly nix but opt for photo ops on top of Hay Bales which once again turns into a circus of jumping from Bale to Bale and of course someone gets hurt. We move on from that activity towards our final destination: Tullin. It’s a lovely village with a magnificent fountain.

I propose the Vienna Challenge: 40 KM ride into Vienna. Mauro insists we all take the train. Luca and Valentina are tempted and opt to join me. We take off at 5:30 and I set the pace. We have a strong tail wind so we’ll make it easily but we plug on. After one hour we do a mileage check and we discover only 10 more K to Vienna!  We pass by some very cool murals and then see a snack shop. We all could use some sugar so we stop for ice cream, drink and coffee. A mom and her kids is sitting there too and when we tell them how far we have ridden that day (70KM) she is very impressed (which pumps up Luca and Valentina). We keep following signs to Vienna but as we pass under overpasses and other large roads I am concerned that we missed a turn somewhere. Graffiti is everywhere and the scene turns from Bucolic to urban very fast. Bike lanes are great but it’s easy to follow any lane you see which of course can bring you off track quickly. Luca and Valentina are unshaken and having a blast talking. On perhaps one of the busiest path we have been on, Valentina sees a raspberry bush. They stop and start picking  while I try to figure how to get us the hell out of here. I ask a few people. No one knows but eventually I ask a local cyclist, Ziggy, who offers to escort us the whole way through the maze of roads to our hotel. As close as we were it ends up taking us an hour to wind our way through the city. We arrive at our hotel. Lorenzo pokes his head out the window. We take our final group portrait  with Ziggy and head up to our rooms for showers. 80KM! Bravi.  While not my favorite from a cycling point of view, the memories that we shared bring us together and keep us coming back for more. It’s been a wonderful journey. On to Paris!


Contemplating the Layers of Life in the Grand Canyon

What better place to contemplate the layers of one’s life than the Grand Canyon where billions of layers of earth lay raw and exposed

Layers  that start with the violet cactus flowers bursting like a tiny baby through crumbling white limestone

Layers that include the trees, the pine, the birch and the groves of aspen with their pure white bark, sparkling leaves. All their layers of roots hold the rocks and  earth firmly together. Their branches allow the layers of wind to gust, curl and float between their leaves.  Even when their life is gone the trees maintain their sculptural elegance against a bright blue sky.

As the trees fall in layers amidst the rocks and grass, their trunks dissolve with sprawling limbs as the last to go, twisting a reaching into a now smaller space lose to the ground. The logs now give their life back to the earth in layers of crumbling planks of gray, red and dark brown. This layer life process repeats itself throughout the forest, a miniature world of birth, life and death at all times.

This process compared to the layers of the canyon that opens up before me as I fly through onto wheels. I ride along the ledge and the layers are so vast and immense that I can see no real detail, only shapes of color and form. Layers of life  that I cannot even begin to comprehend. Billions. What is that? I know only a mere 50, that at times seems so “old” yet feels younger than the lines that layer around my eyes.

Layers of flat plateaus once beneath a rumbling and salty sea. The visible and invisible layers. The wind is the invisible layer that wakes us each morning while we are deep in the cocoon of our sleeping bags. On that same invisible layer an eagle soars and knows how to play each directional drift to move from place to place.

I sit here on this crumbling rock where no electronics  beckon. Life has slowed down and opened up and there is space between the layers in my brain to reflect on the layers of my life. Layers that are squeezed and transformed by the weight of each passing day. Layers of friends, experiences, countless views of places that each find their way into my heart. Layers of family going back to the layers of mountains in my grandmother’s tiny village nestled in Le Marche. How I feel connected to that place, to so many places.

Layers of thought, where do those layers go? I am blessed with the layers of my life as the forest is blessed and in need of trees that hold together the earth with their roots. A tree canopy reaches high as do my dreams and it’s roots hold tight to their world as I cling to parts of my past that I may need to shed to make way for new life.

John Muir wrote, ” The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness,” It’s been a long time since the forest and I have had so much alone time together and it has been good for me to experience a clear path again.  I go back to my busy life but take these forest meditations with me and will return again soon


The Bill Koch XC Festival: The Grand Finale to a Magical Season of Snow and Personal Growth


At the Bill Koch Festival in Ripton, Vermont, the grand finale of an incredible season of snow and fun, the spirits were high and the sense of community were strong

Under snow-frosted trees skiers, parents, and volunteers of all ages in woodland creature-themed attire, athletes aged 5 to 13 descended upon Rikert Ski Touring Center in Ripton, Vermont for the annual Bill Koch Cross-Country Ski Festival. The annual event brings youth skiers in New England a weekend of championship races as well as non-competitive open activities for families and festival-goers. With the close of the opening day’s events, 515 registered racers had competed in a mixed-age relay race and an adventurous tour around Rikert’s beautiful trail network, making for the most attended BKYL Festival to date.

The festival is rooted in the philosophy that cross-country ski racing with friends is both competitive and fun, explained Bill Koch, the 1978 Olympic silver medalist from Peru, Vermont-namesake and inspiration for the youth league. “Racing comes and goes, but skiing stays forever.” This year’s BKL Festival brings a unique theme and the tradition of over 100 volunteers and organizers coming together to encourage courteous competition – faster racers that call “track” are given the right of way – and an event that celebrates the participation of all – from Olympic hopefuls to first-year participants.

To embody this year’s theme, “Skiing by the Woods on a Snowy Day,” racers and festival goers alike will be greeted all weekend with activities ranging from an opening parade  to event videos at the local high-school awards banquet, a ski terrain park, a ‘mini-marathon’ by poet Robert Frost’s former summer residence, an animal-costume themed ski loop, and over 30 attending ski clubs from Madawasaka, Maine, to Rochester, New York, to Bedford, Massachusetts. There were the Berkshire Trails ‘Beavers’ from western Massachusetts, a family of skunks, bears, moose, birds, canines and critters of all kinds.

The weekend began with a heavy snowfall on Friday that left many families, including ours,  slogging along route 89 and 93 for hours to reach the charming town of Middlebury, Vermont. While our dedicated waxing team set up shop next to the dining room of the Middlebury Inn, our team wandered through powdery sidewalks to a wonderfully charming local restaurant called Fire and Ice.

While  young XC racers got to bed early, parents got into prep mode–waxing skiis, laying out layers, filling water bottles, packing extra layers and reviewing the daily schedule. One of the lessons both parents and children learn from cross country skiing is that readiness is everything. Unlike most sports where showing up for the game a bit early for warm up time is sufficient, in cross country skiing, in addition to regular skill and fitness training, there is a huge level of dedication by parents and skiers to “behind the scenes” training and preparation or as coach Jim Stock calls them “process goals”.  In XC skiing at the younger level (5-12), this requires children and parents ensuring that kids eat, drink, sleep, dress and prepare their skiis and equipment properly in advance. When faced with cold, snow, getting families dressed and out the door in time for a race start, parents and children must have their ducks in a row hours before a race in order to ensure that kid’s simply have a good race and enjoy themselves.

Luckily  great snow and the fantastic and spirited organization of this year’s festival made parent’s job easier.  After a 7:00 AM breakfast we were off to the races. Upon arrival we were greeted with friendly smiles, gorgeous fresh track, upbeat music, detailed signage, colorful team tents, with waxers in full swing and sunshine peeking out through sparkling snow flakes. Little by little families descended upon the venue with their bags of skis, clothes and food. Luca and I skied the course but his toes were so frozen and he was suffering so that we had to stop, take his socks off and apply a foot warmer. Note to self: Tomorrow have him wear two pairs of socks then have him sit by the fire in the AM to ensure warm toes.

By 10:00 it was time for the parade of teams with many of the kids and adults dressed as woodland animals. While this is certainly a serious bunch of athletes, they also know how to lighten up and be playful. After the parade, the races were in full swing starting with Luca’s 1st/2nd day 1K skate relay.

It was cold and he was frozen and it was hard to watch his face grimace in pain but I knew that once he hit the track that all his thoughts would be on moving forward fast. We took our place in the sidelines and watched all these cute skiers go by. The biggest challenge for this age group is to not collide or, in their almost instinctual desire to plow forward, ski over other kid’s skiis. Within minutes, Luca made it to the finish tagged his partner Jackson and beamed a huge smile of personal victory.

The races ran back to back and on time. By noon it was time for Valentina’s skate race. Up to the start line, this age group takes a on a very different look than the small kids. Fancier and tighter outfits, nerves running higher and  looks of determination.  All at once the gazelles were off. Within 30 minutes the race was over and Valentina and her partner Ginelle did beautifully winning second place.

By late afternoon the races were over and families could relax with their racers on the Mini Marathon course, a delightful 6KM loop through the woods that included hand drawn signage indicating woodland trivia such as bear claws on a tree, a hawk’s nest and birch tree identification. The highlight of the route was a group stop at Robert Frost’s cabin. Skiers that were able to recite his “Stopping By the Woods on a Snow evening” poem earned a fresh brownie and hot chocolate.

The sun was out, the powder reached our knees and the smiles on rosy cheeks was simply infectious. One of the aspects of the Bill Koch cross country league that I love is that it is not a sideline sport where kids compete (and have all the fun) and parents sit or stand for hours on the sideline enduring small talk and IPHONE distractions. It’s a community of ski loving enthusiasts who want to share outdoor experiences with their family and friends. What other sports tournament concludes with a all inclusive family outdoor activity that combines learning, exercise, socializing, eating and a glorious immersion in a state park?

The highs continued on Sunday when we returned to Rikerts for Day two of the festival. More perfect snow, delicious food, dedicated coaches, waxers and other parents running around and going above beyond what most parents would do for a sport. The payoff was simply watching hundreds of kids confronting a physical challenge with determination, passion and confidence.  Just seeing them double pole and stride with all their mental and physical power across the finish line was not only incredibly inspiring but it is exciting to know that the lessons that children learn here on the snow will be with them for life.

We can feed our children information but what will really make the difference for them in today’s world is if they have the inner compass and confidence  in themselves to believe that, if they stay focused and on track towards  a goal, then their dreams are possible. Cross country skiing has created a foundation, to make this dream a reality. One of my daughter Valentina’s goals this year was to come in top three at the BKL Festival. All the ingredients were there to nurture that dream–She loves to ski and she enjoys the challenge and process of improving her skills and endurance and she feels the support and love from the community of skiers, both friends and family, that surround her.

This goal, that she set after last year’s 2010 festival, inspired her to stay fit all summer, to go to XC ski camp in Vermont, to join the cross country running team in the fall and then of course to begin training early for skiing. This goal and the fitness milestones needed to get there, also helped her focus on keeping strong and healthy by eating well and getting enough sleep. In other words it helped her develop habits that she has already applied to other parts of her life.

Finally on Sunday her moment arrived to ski hard in the 3.1K classic race. She was nervous but the snow was right, her coaches, family and friends were by her side, the wax miesters had prepped her skiis perfectly and her endurance would serve her well. Now all we had to do was to stand on the sidelines and watch all the gazelles sprint into the woods and wait for them to come home!

One by one they dashed toward the finish, each girl looking so colorful, beautiful, strong and determined. Valentina finished well, despite the flop she took at the finish line. After she finished rather than wait around for the results I took a final long ski through the glorious soft snow and open woods to the Robert Frost Cabin. By the time I returned, the results were in and to my complete elation, I discovered that Valentina had won the Classic XC race, a gold medal and her moment of glory on top of the podium to look out and beam out at her community of friends and family. While this confident glow will keep her steady for many weeks to come, it’s of course less about the victory than the process  that gets all these wonderful kids and their families outside, supporting each other, doing their best and discovering the simple joy that skiing brings. Thank you Bill Koch.


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