What I heard in Italy:
Max (Fast Biker) and Dave (Slow Walker) managed to bag peaks, maneuver down steep mountain roads, eat delicious meals and make friends during a four-day road trip to Abruzzo, just 1.5 hours east of Rome.
One of the many amazing things about Rome is that you can find country-living 15 minutes from the city limits, and actual wilderness within 2 hours.
On the first day, we checked into the beautiful Hotel Acquevere on Lake Scanno. After a short transition, Max took off the down road saying these kinds of mountain roads were what he was dreaming of ever since he arrived in Italy. This was the maiden ride for the 35-year old road bike (Bottecchia for you bike geeks). About 2 hours later I received a call from him, saying his pedal had broken. I picked him up and we whisked down to a small town where excellent bike mechanics repaired the pedals and tweaked a few other things too. We received some trail advice and carbonara pasta at dinner and a tasty Montepulciano red wine.
The next day, we drove a few miles out of Scanno to a statue of Pope Paul II. Max departed for a 74 km ride towards our next town. I began a 5 hour hike into the Appenines. The trail started through a cattle farm where I was attacked by a half dozen sheep dogs which were as big as wolves and as mean as Bali dogs. Fortunately after two years of warding off the mean dogs of Klungkung I knew what to do: Pick up some rocks and they scatter. Afterwards the route climbed through deciduous forests into a beautiful mountain meadow.
At the head of the meadow was a stone hut for hikers to spend the night or eat lunch. I met a couple of local guys (Pasquale and Serge) who were from Scanno who were out for a day hike too. They were about 70 and really knew how to hike, bringing an Abruzzo white wine for lunch. I supplied prosciutto and a local cheese, and we feasted while exhausting our supply of English and Italian words in about 5 minutes….and the food about 10 minutes after that. I said goodbye to Pasquale and Serge and climbed on ridge tops and snowed in valleys. I walked through the cattle ranch without disturbing the dogs…whew.
When I arrived at the car, Max called to say he was done after cycling 74 km up and down mountain roads. He had stopped at a restaurant which was closed, but opened up for him, made him a sandwich and gave him a beer which they refused to accept payment for.
We drove to a park hostel that night in a town called Faro San Martino next to the Park Nazionale Maijelle. The ranger met us and gave us directions for the next day’s hike which we did together for a while. We found lots of bear and deer scat and tracks, but no animals except for a large black snake. It was fun to hike together after going our separate ways the last two days. Good bonding over hiking, biking, eating and drinking.
The final night we spent in the town of Popoli on the north side of the park. A beautiful riverside town. The last day, we made it a round trip. Max rode up the rode from Sulmona to Scanno while I drove to Scanno and then hiked up the mountain to a small church where I did puja. Max had the ride of his life up the staggeringly beautiful curvy road returning to Hotel Acquevere where his adopted grandmother and auntie hugged him and gave him beer until I arrived. We were both happy campers for our trip back to Rome.