Why even non-racers could benefit from a cycling coach

As I sit here in a coffee shop sucking down a espresso and chowing a pastry I cannot help but reflect on my life as a coached person. Yes I said it –  coached person! I do not consider myself to be a racer; I have raced maybe a dozen times in my life but I am more of a deeply passionate trail rider. Now the fact that I am not a racer doesn’t mean I’m not competitive or don’t push myself; I would actually consider myself to be fiercely competitive and tend to push myself to the rev limiter on a regular basis, but for one reason or another I never caught the racing bug.

Over the past 10 years or so I really started taking my riding more seriously and putting a lot more effort into it. I would ride at any chance I had and usually go as hard as I could because it would give me such a rewarding, positive feeling afterwards. After some years of that though I started to develop stress related injuries during peak times of riding and I was in hard denial about it being because of the riding. My internal feedback loop would go something like this: ride hard, and keep riding hard until I blow up and then take a couple days either off or slower than usual, then pound my body until it exploded again. Being someone that is obsessed with performance in all aspects of my life this sucked because it had to be probably the most counterproductive cycle I would ever find myself in. Finally after my last stress related issue (shingles) I knew I needed to change what I was doing and exchange it for something that would allow me to pursue the sport i love for a lifetime.

Knowing (after years of reinforcement) that I was not disciplined enough to not ride hard I reached out to one of the slowest guys  I know, Neal Burton at MTB Burton Coaching, to get his secrets on how to ride mellow. Now, just to clarify, Neal is one of the strongest and fastest riders i know, he has been a top pro-XC racer in new england for as long as I can remember and now at the prime age of 42 he is still crushing it. What I really want is longevity in performance and health like he has and knew it was a combination of the right workouts at the right time, ample recovery and discipline, all of which I knew intellectually but not how to combine them to get the desired results.

So I reached out and explained my goals that started first and foremost with “not to blowing up”. Beyond that I put some cycling events and big rides that I wanted to do but none of which I knew if I could actually take the time to do, however  it is always good to have targets. So after a chat about goals, cycling history and the amount of time I had to ride weekly, Neal crafted a specific plan for me that would keep me on track.

We use training peaks which is an awesome resource for coaches and athletes to plan and communicate. It shows me every day what I should or should not be doing and then allows me to upload my rides as well as give feedback to neal so that he can keep an eye on me.

In the first month with Neal I have not ridden so slow or mellow in as long as I can remember. When out with my usual cronies I  would literally find them riding circles around me, to the top of the hill and looping back down to come back to me and then riding up again in the time that it takes me to get to the top of the hill now, and I am ok with that. I am ok with that because just after a month of sticking to my prescribed plan I have never felt more energized or excited to get back to riding hard again. I have found that motivation and energy again that I had back when I initially started taking riding seriously.

Now I know I am only about a month in but I can safely say that I am beyond ecstatic with the results thus far. Before starting this plan I was feeling seriously tired, demotivated and just bummed on my energy levels in general and now I feel like I have addressed those 3 things all while riding MORE than I was before, just smarter.

Now I am not saying that coaching is for everyone but what I am saying is that coaching can be for a lot more than just racers. Whether you ride a lot or a little having a good coach will help you ride smarter, not harder and be able to make cycling a lifelong pursuit.

Non-cyclist’s guide to the KT/Burke area

We get asked ALL THE TIME for suggestions on things to do for the non-cyclists. Maybe you are traveling with your SO or another family member that doesn’t ride, maybe you are injured and need to take a break from riding, or maybe you are just heading to the area and aren’t necessarily interested in the cycling element. Read on for some great things that the area has to offer!

A day in the neighborhood  

Start the morning with pancakes and  local Vermont coffee at Juniper’s at the Wildflower Inn. If you can, get a table on the porch right by the window – the views are gorgeous no matter the time of day.

Head over to Burke Mountain and prepare to take in the sprawling vistas from the top. If you’re feeling up for it, hike up the toll road, taking in the numerous look out spots the road offers. The hike takes roughly an hour to an hour and a half, from top to bottom. It is not particularly beginner-friendly, though, so avoid it if you’re not up for the challenge. Email us if you’re looking for a more beginner friendly hiking route; we’d be happy to point you in the right direction!

On your way back down the mountain road into town, do not miss stopping off at Auntie Dee Dee’s for some truly exceptional baked goods.

Take a drive to Sanderson’s Wooden Bowls, located on an idyllic farm. The owners are super friendly and will gladly go into detail regarding their woodworking process. An added bonus is that their farm also houses donkeys and Nigerian dwarf goats, making this stop fun for the whole family.

Next up is Burke Mountain Confectionery, a delightful chocolate shop in East Burke. Their truffles are out of this world, so be sure to take some home!

Just up the road is D-N-D Stables, which offers guided horse rides for those with no experience, and also non-guided horse rides for those 12 and older with previous horse riding experience. It was also named a “quintessential Vermont experience” by Trail Riding Magazine, so definitely not be missed for horse lovers!

After all that activity, it’s time for a drink! Head to the Hub Trailside, and sit outside (preferably just around sunset) overlooking the Willoughby Gap. It’s a truly perfect spot!

For dinner, take your pick of one of several great restaurants in the immediate area. Some of our favorites, in no particular order are:

Juniper’s (their salmon is delicious and we can never resist a slice of Elaine’s daily pie)

Cafe Sweet Basil (rotating specials, delicious burritos, and insane drinks & dessert)

The View Pub at Burke Hotel (delicious pub fare with creative drinks)

Foggy Goggle (their pizza is our favorite!)

Day 2 – A little R & R

Start your day with a delicious, local, and organic breakfast from the Freighthouse. We love their avocado toast topped with an egg, and their vegan protein balls. They also do delicious smoothies and have a great organic market for some goodies to being home with you.

From there, head to the Serenity Spa for a facial treatment and massage. Their facilities are brand new and their massage therapists are fantastic and can help you choose the perfect treatment for you.

After your massage, grab a good book and head to Cafe Lotti. Hunker down for a few hours  – their coffee, espresso, tea, baked goods, and panini are fantastic!

If you’re meeting up with your significant other after their ride, surprise them with a unique experience at the Willoburke Nordic Spa. You can book a private experience for two, which begins in their Finnish wood barreled sauna to stimulate blood circulation. The next step is immersing yourself in your own private cold tub, which closes your pores and helps boost the immune system. The final step is to take a dip in your private hot tub, then repeat the process!

Thanks for joining us on our weekend guide to the Burke area for non-cyclists! Please let us know what you would like to see next.

10 unique things you didn’t know about Iceland!

  1. Iceland is the safest & most peaceful country in the world! According to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the most peaceful and safe country in the world, for the 8th year in a row! Iceland has no army, navy or air force and is so safe that, as a tourist, you can access the president’s house and even take photos outside without being met with much security.
  2. There are no mosquitoes! Iceland is one of the two places on Earth (the other being Antarctica) where mosquitoes simply do not exist.
  3. The sun never sets. Well, not quite, but almost! In August (when we will be traveling to Iceland), the sun will “set” for 6 hours, (called nautical twilight) which will resemble sunset more than it will complete darkness.
  4. Iceland is roughly the size of Ohio.Iceland clocks in at roughly 39,000 square miles.
  5. Last names don’t exist. Icelandic “last names” are actually made up of either the father or mother’s first name, combined with “-dottir”, which means daughter or son. In fact, the Icelandic phone book actually lists people by their first names.
  6. Don’t call their traditional horses “ponies”! Icelanders do not appreciate their horses being called ponies. They are Icelandic horses. They actually have two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop commonly displayed by other breeds. The first additional gait is a four-beat lateral ambling gait called the tölt.
  7. Icelanders take their names seriously. All first names must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee. If they don’t approve, you need to find an alternate name. The purpose of this is to preserve the traditional Icelandic language, which is derived from ancient Norse.
  8. Iceland inspired Led Zeppelin. Traveling to Iceland inspired the “Immigrant Song”
  9. Reyjavik is both the northernmost and westernmost capital city in Europe.
  10. The only mammal native to Iceland is the arctic fox.

Best off the beaten path spots near Kingdom Trails

While you might have come to the area for Kingdom Trail’s exceptional trail network, there is so much more to see if you have the time! Maybe you are traveling with your family and they don’t want to spend the whole day riding, maybe your significant other doesn’t ride, or maybe you want to explore what the area has to offer! Read on below for our favorite off the beaten path destinations near Kingdom Trails.

Lake Willoughby

Lake Willoughby is stunning. Seriously, this is a spot you don’t want to miss! Sheer cliffs tower over deep blue water – you’d have no idea you were in Vermont! There are two beaches, one on both the North and South sides, and we recommend that you check out both. Pro tip: make an afternoon out of it and take the scenic route back to Burke by way of Parker Pie. Eat pizza on picnic tables in the middle of vast farmland surrounded by endless fields.

The Flume Gorge at Franconia Notch

The drive through Franconia Notch alone is worth the drive from Burke! The Flume Gorge  is an absolutely beautiful and impressive piece of natural architecture. Keep in mind that the Flume Gorge does charge an admission fee, and is not dog friendly. However, there are several other hiking spots (the basin, for one) in the area that are totally free and dog friendly. Pro tip: make it a day trip and stop off in Littleton before or after for a bite. We love Chang Thai for delicious thai food, or head to Bethlehem and stop in at Rek-Lis brewery!

The Newport Bike Path

Ok, this one is really under the radar but is one of our favorite things to recommend to clients! Newport, VT has an exceptional bike path that follows the natural path along Lake Memphremagog. The views are stunning, and the path is very beginner-friendly, making it perfect for a family outing. Make sure you park at the hospital as opposed to the center of Newport in order to cut out cycling through some traffic.

Protip: Bring your passport! Go through the border crossing by bike (such a unique experience) in Beebe and head into the town of Stanstead for some crepes at Le Tomifobia. We also love Cafe Chansons pour Elle. Both are easily  accessible via the main road as you cross over the border.

Photo by Cory Tanner on Unsplash


Photo by Thomas Tucker on Unsplash

Why You Should Go on a MTB Skills Weekend

So…you’re considering a mountain bike skills weekend, but you don’t know what to expect and you don’t know if it’s right for you. You know that you want to improve your skills (regardless of your current skill level), but how do you know if a skills weekend in the right way to go about it?  Read on for some reasons why you might want to consider a mountain bike skills weekend!

You Get Uncomfortable or Intimidated Riding with Other People

Riding with big groups of people, people you don’t know very well, or people who you know are more advanced than you gives you serious anxiety. You don’t want to hold anyone up or negatively impact their ride, but it’s hard to find people that ride at your exact level. This is where skills clinics come in! Our coordinators ensure that you are in the perfect group for you – with people who ride at your level! If you are a woman and you aren’t a fan of riding with groups of men, we have women’s specific skills weekends.

Increase Your Confidence

Increasing your confidence is THE key to enjoying your riding more! When you feel defeated or too challenged by something, your confidence will decrease and your enjoyment will go down. Our # 1 goal with our skills weekends – besides safety – is that when you drive away on Sunday you feel infinitely more confident than when you arrived. Improving your skills and then successfully applying them  to terrain which was previously challenging – this guarantees increased self-confidence on your bike! This is also why our skills weekends are riding heavy (no standing on a field doing drills all day!) – you cannot increase your confidence without repeatedly utilizing your new skills on varying terrain.

You Can’t See Yourself When You Ride – but your instructor can

It is incredible what targeted instruction can accomplish! Trying to improve on your own through study and repetition will result in micro-improvements, but the fact remains that it is impossible for you to see your own blind spots. Having an instructor watch you while, for example, you go through a cornering exercise means that you will receive targeted advice on things that you otherwise wouldn’t even realize you needed to improve upon.

You Can ALWAYS Improve – No Matter Your Skills Level

So you’re an advanced rider who has been riding for years. There is no way you will benefit from skills instruction, right? WRONG. You can always find something to improve upon, and, like we mentioned above – instructors will illuminate to you things you otherwise might not be aware of. Skills weekends offer the best bang for your buck in terms of hours of instruction and riding to relative cost per hour.

You Will Have Fun and Make New Friends!

Finding like minded people to ride with can be tough. Make new friends, eat great food, experience beautiful Vermont trails and sunsets, and spend a weekend doing what you love to do! What could be better?

We are offering several skills weekends in 2019 at Kingdom Trails. Our Queens of the Kingdom skills weekend is women’s specific, and Conquer the Kingdom is a unisex skills weekend. As always, please reach out to us with any questions at all!

We hope to ride with you soon!

Italy Calls Part 3

By Karen Wilson

Here I go again reliving my call to Italy. This blog will take you along the final stretch from the heel of the boot in Puglia to Umbria, which is smack center and the only region not bordering the sea or another country. I had to download 3 separate maps, but when I put in the destination it showed us the way (over 7 hour drive ). We chose the shorter route even though it brought us back to the outskirts of Rome. We never had any traffic jams, just tolls and race car drivers startling us every now and then. The landscape changed drastically from flat orchards of olive trees and ocean views to green hills and mountains. The farther north we went the more vineyards, wheat fields and old hilltop villages we saw. Ancient castle towers randomly scattered along the hillsides triggered my imagination to ponder all the history and people that lived in this amazing place! After hours of driving we finally exited the autostrada in Fabro and drove another 45 minutes north to the village of Citta’ della Pieve . You could see the two tall towers among the surrounding ancient red brick walls of the city. We curved around the outside of the town and the GPS took us down a steep, narrow gravel road until we saw the sign “Cimbolello” next to an old wooden wagon and I knew this had to be the place. As we pulled up to the casa, there was an outdoor table full of merry making people laughing and enjoying dinner and drinks together. Francesco and Luisa gave us a warm welcome and introduced us to their American friends from Seattle who were leaving the next day after a five week visit!. This was their third time back and they already booked their next visit for Oct. 2019. Boy, that says a lot, staying a week here was a good choice!. We settled into our adorable accommodation built into the lower part of their living space.We were again surrounded by a stone exterior, plaster interior and high quality beautiful wooden windows and doors. The gardens, ivy walls and sheltered wisteria covered pergola was enchanting! The two dogs and cats made us feel like we were old friends! That night we had a great dinner at a hotel restaurant suggested by the Americans and later settled into our firm all natural bed with all cotton pillows that felt odd but did the trick for rest. That night the dogs barked for quite awhile. Later we learned that the wild boar had been the reason.

We were ready to explore Citta della Pieve first thing in the morning. A 20 minute walk to town led us to narrow roads, open vistas and decent espressos. There was an open market going on where we purchased some gifts,fruit, wild boar sausage, pepperoni and cheeses.This fed us light meals for the week ahead along with some awesome yogurt, wine, beer and other goodies from the little store in the town Centro. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the older Italian men and women. Words can’t quite describe the stories that their faces held. The way their eyes looked and the way they walked spoke volumes of all that their lives had experienced and the contrast to the current generation walking past them almost made me sad in a strange way. Later in the day Francesco showed me his garden and gave me some red lettuce and fava beans which I used for a dinner salad that night along with their homemade olive oil from the farm. We also enjoyed their farm eggs and I loved taking the compost out to the chicken house. It made me so at home. Luisa provided the best lavender soap/shampoo and after a few days there I even learned how to use the bidet! (that topic alone would make for an interesting BLOG) Each morning the cat and dogs would greet us looking to see if were going to spoil them with treats, which we didn’t as requested.

The next day we decided to take a short trip to Chiusi where we went on a tour of the ancient Etruscan tunnels, which was all in Italian and a bit boring, but still amazing to see what this pre Roman culture had created. The village was another beauty to take in like so many as we walked the stone narrow roads and marveled at an amazing church with artistic creations everywhere you looked. There were people scattered in the streets dressed in their Sunday suits meeting with friends for coffee and conversation. The atmosphere was timeless and down to earth. We stopped for a gelato – Eric loved the lemon and I really loved the pistachio! Later that night we went to another place in Citta’ Della Pieve called Brunnos and had another huge meal. This time we brought back enough pasta for a second meal! Our waiter brought us a complimentary digestivo of limoncello -yum!

The following day was our first bike tour that I scheduled quite a while back. We met our guide Daniele (founder of Greenways Italy Tours) in the tiniest old village called Torre Del Cotte just outside of Bevagna. His charisma, big smile and positive vibe was instantly evident. He gave us a tour of the village which has a population of 13 people! He and his girlfriend being two of them. There’s an amazing hostel they just started here along with a communal garden, BBQ area and small pool in a lower terrace. We took off around 10:00 and made our way over to the beautiful village of Borgagne where fabrics were draped across the roads in preparation for their upcoming medieval festival. In the piazza stood a fountain and opera house that we toured. We were told how it had been reduced to rubble in a huge earthquake years before but was rebuilt. There were girls practicing their ballet moves and I thought to myself how cool it would be to see a performance here in this very intimate setting with individual balcony seats layered up about 6 levels high. We continued through the valley on flat ground surrounded by distant mountains and the city of Assisi. Daniele took us up to the top of the village of Spello, another

very beautiful hill town with amazing views! On our way down the steep narrow cobbled streets we stopped at a craft brewery and met a cool guy with long red hair who introduced us to their beer. We bought a bottle and continued to a spot where we met Jennifer and the lunch she had prepared. She is a well known American chef from Philadelphia. She prepared a cold lentil salad, meats and cheese, bread salad with olives and other chopped veggies along with a frittata . The white wine we had was amazing and made for a relaxed ride back to Torre del Cotte until we hit the hill. Danielle set us up for a shower and we hung out in the gardens (in hammocks) and sipped on the beer we got at the brewery. We covered about 50K on mostly flats so it made for a pretty leisurely ride. I asked Danielle about mountain biking and since his business is just getting started he hasn’t invested in the bikes. He did say if people had their own bikes he would take them up in the surrounding hills on all kinds of trails! On our way back, we had to stop in Assisi. Walking into the chapel our ears were adorned as vespers had just begun and the monks were in motion. There was a spiritual energy here that brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it was Francis of Assisi’s spirit and his love of nature and God that I sensed.The outside of the cathedral against the backdrop of the countryside was a favorite piece of beauty like no other.

Still wanting to explore the area we set out for Orvieto, the next day, famous for its HUGE Cathedral full of unbelievable frescos dating back to the1300’s. For fun, we took some back roads getting a little lost on some steep dirt roads and hairpin turns. We parked in an underground parking lot which houses the many tourists that come to visit this place. But before finding the parking lot, our GPS took us on the most crazy goose chase in the old city through streets the car could barely fit through. Inside the cathedral we saw statues, detailed architecture, art and endless reflections of history that were hard to comprehend. We sat down and looked up to a ceiling higher than any I’ve seen and to think that the artists spent hours suspended there to create masterpiece after masterpiece.

That night we joined our airbnb neighbors for a pasta making experience and dinner with Luisa and Francesco. These two sisters raised on Oahu were so fun! One was a filmmaker who just left Dubai looking for her next calling. She had scheduled a meditation retreat in Assisi for one week to help her find her way. The younger one was a playful, childlike sweetie pie loving every minute spent with her sister. We had a great meal of homemade pasta, wine from the farm, cheese from the sheep on the farm and homemade jams made with figs, turmeric, quince and other spices along with bread to soak up the sauce Italian style. Then came the most amazing tiramisu made from their sheep ricotta cheese. I couldn’t turn down a second serving. We finished off the night with another homemade digestivo of walnut liqueur and cognac. Sitting at the long wooden table under the pergola, sharing stories (regardless of the language barrier) with laughter into the evening will be a cherished memory.

Time for bike trip #2. The Tuscan Dream Tour! Another scheduled tour got us out of bed early and on our way to Pienza over in Tuscany about an hour away. The drive was wonderful as we discovered why Tuscany is so popular. After a parking challenge we met our guide Andrea who we had all to ourselves due to others cancelling because of a few clouds in the sky. Once he figured we knew how to ride he took us on the ride of our lives! The e-bikes were heavy mountain bikes with motors that helped on the many hills. The goal was to not use all the battery before the hill back up to Pienza at the end. Our 50K tour turned into about 80K because we flew on the downhills and rode at a speed faster than any group he said he’d had. Okay, the scenery was absolutely out of this world! It really felt like you were in a dream. The beauty was beyond anything I’ve ever seen. This day was the climax of our whole trip. I’m so glad we did this! Riding the e-bike made it so easy to take it all in especially on the many steep uphills. The wildflowers were in full bloom and I was swimming in poppies like I always dreamt of doing. We took a private road at one point up to a castle, the dog warning signs kept us at bay but we could view it from a fresh cut hay field where we took some photos. We stopped in Buonvenetto (?) for lunch. Andrea told us that many American writers and filmmakers come here and have second homes to work on their craft. We had some white wine, melon with ham, and pasta with meat sauce. I’m beginning to get just a little tired of pasta by now and it was a good thing we had more riding to do. Most of the remaining tour was on small gravel roads with stunning views.We cut off to a side road leading to a small church on the hillside. We then proceeded on down a steep single track and up a washed out gully where our bikes got coated with mud. The owner Steffi was a little upset with Andrea but it was rather entertaining to watch her give him a hard time like a big sister. We shared our contact info with Andrea and hope someday we can take him on the kingdom trails! On our way back to our place we had a quick stop in Montepulciano but it was getting late and we were tired and hungry. We stopped for a few groceries and made a nice salad, with cheese, and salami, peppers and scallions and of course amazing olive oil! It was the perfect day in Italy!!!

Our last day of vacation. Feelings a bit sad that it’s all coming to an end but also so grateful for each moment left, we decided to relax and hang out. We meandered up the narrow gravel road to the village like we did on the first day, but this

time spied some wild baby boar! I cherished every moment enjoying a coffee and pastry at an outside cafe, once again watching people stroll through the small piazza. This town had a genuine local vibe that’s not altered by tourism. We set out to look for a few gifts and at the end decided to buy more olive oil, truffle mayo, dried tomatoes and another olive wooden spoon. Walking back, we couldn’t resist the sweet smell of a bakery that drew us in for an afternoon indulgence. Before our last supper in town, we finished the last of our wine, fresh apricots, cheese and pepperoni. We decided to dine at the same place we went the first night and had the same waiter. I had an awesome octopus salad and guinea hen with a local saffron sauce . Eric had a gazpacho soup with saffron cheese balls and slow cooked veal cheek with a balsamic reduction. A bottle of higher grade local white wine made this meal amazing. We had to finish it off with another tiramisu but it didn’t come close to Luisa’s homemade. Before retiring we had one last toast of limoncello. That evening there was a violent thunderstorm and later we learned it even hailed. Hmmm, what was Italy saying? Maybe “you better come back!”

Before our final trek to Rome we made one last side trip into town for a cappuccino and apricot croissant. The outside chairs were wet so we sat inside watching the workers prepare for the day ahead-one dusting off the top of shelves while greeting patrons entering the cafe. Life is rhythmic, calm and timeless here. I admire the warmth and hospitable spirit of this place as we drive through the ancient brick arch exiting Citta’ della Pieve for the last time.. Who knows maybe there will be a return trip someday. Our drive back goes smoothly and dropping off the car is a huge relief! I consider it a miracle from God that we drove over 1200 miles alongside so many crazy drivers on the narrowest roads and sharpest corners one after another without a scratch.

My eyes feel more open to all the places on this planet that I pray we can explore and experience! My ears will be listening to what amazing place will be calling out next! What distant land is calling you?

Italy Calls: Part 2

An early winter has settled in Vermont, sitting by the fire my mind drifts back to spring in Italy:

In my last blog I left off in Agerola getting ready to make the trek across southern Italy to the east coast.

I had spent quite a few hours viewing maps and reading about towns along this region and discovered the ancient town of Matera where cave dwellings spread across layers of hillside rocks. This is where Mel Gibson filmed the Passion of the Christ along with many other films. We had a quick view of this ancient area from the town piazza where we had a lovely outdoor lunch. We continued on to Ostuni and as we drove closer to that area we drove by white cone shaped trulli homes and beautiful countryside. After almost 6 or 7 hours we finally reached a landmark called Ostuni Palace Hotel and called our host Joe. He met us there in about five minutes and we dragged our luggage along the road, where the most famous view of Ostuni welcomed us. We continued on into the Piazza, past a big statue of some past Pope and up a narrow street that led to a set of stone steps onto a narrow road with beautiful whitewashed buildings and our wonderful airbnb.  Ostuni is the white city on the Hill and in the distance you can see the Adriatic Sea. This place was so beautiful! Every turn through the ancient streets met you with jaw dropping charm and wonder. We dined on amazing seafood nearby in a place packed with locals.

We had a full day in Ostuni, starting of with some cappuccino and then a shot of espresso with a croissant. Later we walked the city streets, peeking into churches, stores, and admiring the architecture all around us! We enjoyed a nice afternoon siesta and that evening we craved a salad and found a spot right on the piazza outdoors, where Eric enjoyed eating a fresh olive to my surprise (he hates olives)! My octopus salad was the best! We also switched to a local beer and took a break form the wine! An after dinner stroll led us to the full moon rising and the most amazing luminous view of the city where I caught some great photos!

That night I made sure to download google offline maps while I had wifi for our next journey south and our next journey north to Umbria because we would be without wifi for the next couple of days. I had to downloaded three separate maps to fit the whole area of where we would be traveling and then put in the destinations of where we would go as well. This technical challenge was getting a little bit easier each time I did it. It was key that I put in the destination so it would pop up when I did my search offline while driving. Once I figured this out then offline maps worked like a charm- all with voice prompts and no use of data!

Only a one hour trip deeper in the heel of the boot brought us to our next airbnb in Borgange just 2 Km from the ocean. This drive consisted of flat endless farms of huge olive trees as far as the eye could see. Eric found it unappealing being the mountain man that he is, but I appreciated the arid climate with a tropical ocean side beauty. Once again we did need the detailed directions from our host to find this hidden Masseria along a private road leading up to a gated entrance made of stone. The map took us to the town center but from there we used his directions. We had the most amazing warm welcome from Lucca and his family! They were so friendly and passionate about their place and being hosts. A lot of loving care went into the renovations of this very old walled farm creating three lovely units for guests. Ours had every comfort you could ask for. The bathroom felt huge compared to the past two and even had crazy cool colored lights that changed hues on it’s own and lit up the stone in the shower. They even greeted us with a cool bottle of rose, fresh mullberries from their garden, sheep cheese from their neighbor, cherries and sliced tomatoes stuffed with wild arugula (which grows like a weed there). This was so very sweet and yummy! They set us up with bikes and we went for a ride down their back road along the olive farms and out to the ocean road where we found a beach and went for a swim, while being entertained by local guys playing with a soccer ball alongside beautiful young Italians soaking up the sun. That night dined outside on fresh seafood again. The pub next to us had a guy playing guitar singing with a woman. We were immersed in a typical evening of local family, friends and babies in strollers living life with simplicity and grace. We walked down to the water along a huge modern boardwalk. There weren’t many people around except for a party scene in a bar right down by the water packed with a youthful vibe.

Our bed at the Masseria was so comfy and the room made of stone kept us cool all night. Luca asked us a time for breakfast and at 9:30 we were given an amazing fresh made juice from an orange, beet, ginger and mulberry concoction. Along with cappuccino, fresh  pastry with cream filling, organic yogurt and cereal. Sitting outside under the pergola hearing the neighbors cow bells and distant roosters topped of the scene. Luca set us up with the bikes and a map leading us along a small gravel road away from traffic through olive farms and out to the main road that we crossed over to reach the ocean through a resort that provided public access. It was a bit tricky finding the trail but eventually we found it and it brought us along dirt road paralleling the coast until we came out to a public beach access where there was a small bar. We took our bikes off to the left of this area and found a trail leading along the ocean with spectacleular views of the cliffs and blue, blue water. We rode along until we found a small cove with a sandy beach-the perfect spot for a private place to settle in for some beach time. The Adriatic Sea was a perfect temp and so blue and clean- it reminded me of Hawaii a lot. After soaking up the warm sun and ocean water, we continued our mountain bike ride along the coastal trail for a few kilometers. We came out to San Andrea where we spotted a cool open air bar and pizzeria called Babilonia where we later went out for a dinner of pizza and beer. We rode our bike some more north until the trail ended and then we went back to San Andrea. I loved every minute of this day filled with warm sun, swimming and bike riding. Before dinner we finished up the cool Rose wine and local cheese made from the neighbor along with the fresh mullerries and cherries. A little siesta and back down to the oceanside pizzeria where we had the view of the ocean, listening to classic American music by The Beatles, Jethro Tull, and others. The servers were so friendly and the scene was very local. No crowds of tourist anywhere near here.

We had another lovely breakfast this time under a larger pergola in the garden area where a monster rosemary bush grew amongst mulberry trees, fig trees and beautiful flowers. Saying good-bye to Luca, Marco his brother and the parents was sad as they were the most gracious hosts I’ve ever experienced and the mom gave us a little ceramic bell as a token to bless our marriage and future. Their genuine hospitality made me want to come back just so I could see them again. I hope someday they visit us so I can take them on the kingdom trails!

Stay tuned for part III when we head up to Umbria- located in the heart of Italy.

3 ways to better prepare for your next gravel (dirt road) ride:

Kingdom Experiences, Mountain Bike Skill Camps and Tours in Vermont

By: Collin Daulong

Recently road biking has seen fewer and fewer riders participating, and for valid reasons. Roads are getting more congested and drivers are becoming increasingly distracted by the accessibility of technology. In light of these two facts, many road riders are seeking quieter roads for a safer, more enjoyable ride. Gravel (riding on dirt roads) has recently taken off in popularity because it offers the solitude and safety that riders are looking for, and generally good routes are closer than you think.

Below are 3 ways to better prepare for your next gravel (dirt road) ride:

Be prepared:

When dirt road riding you will usually find yourself amongst riders who are simply interested in the enjoyment of the beautiful natural surroundings. While escaping the concrete jungle you will often find that services along your ride will be more sparse and you may even run out of cell phone reception, so it is important to be prepared in the event of a flat tire, getting lost and the dreaded bonk (getting very very tired). In previous years, I have been a minimalist when it comes to being prepared but recently I have fully embraced being ready for whatever my adventure brings me. I wear a Thule Hydration pack, their smallest model, and carry essentials like a Pedro’s multi-tool, extra high-energy food, plenty of water, a few extra layers, a fully charged cell phone and some cash for the mid-ride market stop for a home baked cookie! It is way cooler to be over prepared than underprepared when it comes to adventuring out on dirt roads.

Have a plan but let it evolve:

I love both having a plan and not having a plan, as a tour owner and operator it is important to have a plan at all times but you also need to be able to evolve due of the energy of the group, weather and many other considerations. When setting out for your adventure do the same, generate a plan that you will want to stick to but do not be afraid to let it evolve or find yourself exploring a new dirt road you may not have seen before. When heading out on these rides it can be a great way to experience the local culture of an area so add in some local coffee and pastry shops to fuel up mid-ride (and use their facilities if you need too). Also, let a friend or loved one know where you are going and when you will be starting and finishing just to be safe!

Soak it in:

Cycling can be an amazingly cathartic experience, it allows you a physical and emotional release from the twitter, facebook, instagram, instant gratification culture we live in. Finding dirt roads near you means that you are experiencing an area that many do not (hence the roads not being paved) and there can be a lot of hidden and not-so-hidden beauty there, so soak it all in and enjoy the view. I can nearly guarantee that if you go and find yourself on an adventure via dirt roads you well come back to the craziness that regular life can bring with more clarity and a better sense of presence.

I think Ernest Hemingway probably said it best “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” If you are a cyclist or non-cyclist we strongly encourage you to give riding on those quiet dusty roads a try for your health, happiness and general well-being!

Looking for a great way to try out dirt road riding or an adventure for the seasoned gravel rider? Check out Gravel & Gastronomy on June 2nd!