Sunday, September 7
It was a slow-moving day—which is just what I needed. The sore throat has continued to nag at me and after a leisurely morning of writing I fell asleep in my lower bunk bed in the hostel room I share with five others. That gave me just enough energy to work on my bike in the afternoon. Of course, I was hoping and praying that I would not open my bike bag and discover a wheel warped out of shape or a bent fork. I was pleased with the limited amount of damage.
I was told when I bought this bag that it wasn’t foolproof in terms of damage. Its advantage is that it allows a cyclist to carry the bike on one’s shoulder rather than having to lug a bulky bike box around an airport. I remember doing this thirty years ago when I flew to the National Cycling Championships in New York. After being let out by the taxi in downtown NYC, I still had three blocks to walk to the Port Authority for a bus ride. I can still remember the awkward trek with luggage in my left hand while dragging the box with my right hand. Never again!
The bike only sustained some minor cosmetic damage—slightly torn handlebar tape, a shattered spoke protector, and a scratched up water bottle cage where the gear cassette must have rubbed for hours on end. Today I’ll find a bike shop to buy some grease before fully attaching my seat and pedals again. I am relieved.
As I was putting my bike back together one of the hostel residents, a young Japanese woman, asked if I had just bought a new bike.
“No,” I said, “just putting my bike back together after flying it from the USA to here.”
“What are you doing,” she puzzled out loud knowing that I wouldn’t just fly a bike over to ride around town.
“I am cycling from here to Turkey on a spiritual pilgrimage,” I informed her.
“Really? How far is that,” she wondered.
“Only about 3,000 kilometers,” I replied trying to downplay just how far that would sound to her.
“Oh my gosh, how far do you ride every day?” she further inquired.
“I plan to ride between 80-90 kilometers per day,” I concluded.
Her eyes became wide and she shot back with a slight hint of incredulity, “And HOW old are you?”
I told her I was just a youngster at 54. She shook her head, walked off, and I wasn’t sure if she was impressed or wondering why I never grew up.
I spent the evening casually walking through some of the districts close to the hostel. But, I was tired and wasn’t interested in pushing myself like I had the previous days. One of the delights of Rome is that they have fresh fruit stands on corners in the same way that Americans will put up a hot dog stand. I stopped for a large slice of cold watermelon and enjoyed watching the pigeons fight over the seeds as I spit them out on the pavement. I enjoyed another amazing Italian meal—toasted bread with an artichoke paste, an amazing vegetable soup, a rich, soft lasagna that I’ll never forget, and the beer, always the beer. I swear, there is no bad food here. In fact, I am not sure there is any average food here. It’s really, really good!
My late afternoon walking time gave me enough room for some reflection and at one point, shortly after the watermelon, I had a realization about the struggle I have sometimes had in the Church as a pastor. It suddenly occurred to me that I could write a chapter someday on the reasons I value the “Power of the Pulpit” over the “Promise of a Paycheck”. While those two realities can work together, and often do, 95% of the time, there are those times when they seem to be mutually exclusive. It has been during those times that I have chosen the power of the pulpit and have sometimes lost or had my paycheck in jeopardy doing so. It felt good to at least name this and admit to myself that when faced with a choice I will always land on the integrity of the pulpit over other competing interests.
I have begun my planning for the next stage—crossing the southern third of Italy to the town of Brindisi on the east coast where I plan to enjoy a ferry ride to Greece. While I don’t have a definite route yet, it appears that I will include some favorite cycling terrain in the Puglia region, visiting towns with noted monasteries, and a definite stop in either San Giovanni Rotondo or Pietrelcina, sacred sites for the late Christian monk and mystic, Padre Pio.
But first, a final Rome excursion to the Cistene Chapel and Vatican Museums and finding local help in planning a safe exit out of the city. Soon I will be on my bike where my soul feels so alive and so at home.