Quite sometime ago, I recognised through my own experience, that the majority of people have 3 main priorities in their lives, regardless of gender, race etc. In no particular order, they are: Work, Home and Me. In most people’s daily lives, 2 of the 3 priorities dominate. They are Work and Home. In extreme circumstances, one dominates all 3, which isn’t healthy or sustainable for a long period of time as it’ll burn out, stress out and piss-off the individual and everyone around them as well. The one that get’s left out of the game is usually, the ‘Me’ part. This is odd, because it’s actually the priority that can energise, or help re-cover from, the other two priorities. Not doing the ‘Me’ part can create a sense of knotted resentment in your stomach.

You’ll appreciate that balancing all 3 priorities is the road to a healthy life on planet Earth, but most people don’t either get it, or they choose to ignore it and just hope that everything else they’re trying to manage in life will ‘sort itself out’. Wrong!
Some people think that doing stuff for themselves when they feel that they could do more for others is actually being selfish. Some people think that doing things with others like their spouse, partner, family, kids etc is actually doing the ‘Me’ priority. Wrong again!

We are all individuals and have special needs, most of which can only be truly satisfied by doing it yourself. This ‘Me’ priority needs planning to get the balance right over a period of time, and it takes many forms from reading a book, painting, listening to, or playing music through to buying that Ferrari that you had once had a picture of on the bedroom wall as a kid. However, a lot people get their ‘Me’ time through cycling, so read on……….

I take the Old 1950 Randoneur out of the back of the car. My wife and I drove into Italy over the Swiss Alps and arrived at the Tuscan hotel yesterday. The hotel and its surroundings are pure Tuscany, and as this isn’t another Tuscan travel guide, we’ll crack on with getting the bike out of the car without getting oil on me, my latest cycling jersey, or the car.IMG_2429

 

We’re staying south of Bologna, and about 27 kilometres from my destination, Mugello. Most people in Italy are interested in anything associated with two wheels from Campagnolo to Ducati, so this trip celebrates both. Two days off work, Friday and Monday to travel, and two days ‘ultimate Italian two-wheeled fest’. The Italian round of the MotoGP calendar is held at the most picturesque and amazing circuit on the calendar. This is obviously my view, but it’s also shared by well over 100,000 others who turn up for the weekend. The circuit is owned by Ferrari and is an hours drive for the factory Ducati team to get to from their base in Bologna. It is an immaculately kept race track and race weekends sees green, white and red everywhere. It’s also got a massive grandstand that has its curved roof covered in photo voltaic panels, which suck up the energy from the sun that pours into the natural amphitheater that the circuit sits in. Needless to say, I’m excited!

I’ve had a good breakfast in the hotel and as the sun rises against the honey coloured walls of the buildings and gardens, I do a last minute check of everything, thrust my right foot into the toe clip, and push off down the gravel drive. My recently rebuilt, 650B sized wheels have 42 mm wide balloon Randoneur tyres on them, so they’ll take anything from smooth tarmac to Tuscan gravel tracks.

I’ve got grandstand tickets for the weekend, and I’ve planned it so that I get four, 27 kilometre rides, to and from the circuit over the weekend. This really is ‘Me’ time! This also makes sense for two reasons. The first is being able to ride the zig-zag route to and from the circuit using the very old Tuscan tracks, which are used in a few pro-bike races like the Strade Bianchi. The second is because getting to and from the circuit with 100,000+ others, isn’t easy in a vehicle.

I didn’t need to secrete much food from the breakfast table for a packed lunch, because I’m going to eat & drink ‘Italian racing circuit’ food, and whilst I sit in the grandstand, which is grandly named, Tribuna Materassi. This is, in my view, the best place to see the whole circuit and it has a massive TV screen in front of the grandstand so you get to see every bit of the action. Hearing protoype motorcycles hitting speeds of 340 KMH down the straight is something to experience, as no TV coverage does justice to the angry machines, whose soul purpose appears to be to try and throw their rider off, just like a bucking horse would do.

So thats the plan then. I set out on part 1 of my weekend ride. Rather than use my smartphone to tell me the way, I fold up a paper map and stuff it in the clear plastic envelope stitched into the top of my handlebar touring bag. Old school rules this weekend, and I have got a phone as a back up anyway.

No sooner have I turned onto the road, I’m passed by about 10 loud motorcycles, fast! Welcome to Italy. To be fair, they did give me plenty of passing room. I turn off the main road and onto one of the classic gravel tracks that weave their way through Tuscany and the Olive groves. The track is rolling, with gentle climbs and descents. I’ve got new wheels on the old bike and the front brakes squeal like a banshee when used, which puts me into the same noise category as the motorcycles out on the road.

After 10 KMs of this track, I end up in a little village. I am greeted by a group of old men who are sitting outside of the village cafe, drinking strong coffees and watching the world go by. Today is suddenly special for them now, because a pale-skinned Anglo Saxon has just pedalled into their village on a 1950, French built bicycle. I am summoned over to them, and just in case I was going to make a run for it, one of the old boys leaps up to welcome me. I naturally stop, shake hands with them all, and whilst not being able to speak Italian, we start conversing in Italian, French and English, which makes keeping track of the chat a bit challenging. The man who had played ‘air traffic control’ and flagged me down, takes hold of my bike and gestures me to sit in his place. The metal cafe seat has been warmed by his own body already, and the waiter, dressed in a black apron with Campagnolo embroidered on it, gives me an espresso, a glass of water and a small, sweet bread bun. I am ushered into drinking and eating, whilst my bike handler is looking over my Randoneur, very carefully. He announces to his friends that the bike is completely French, apart from the tyres which came from Japan. The waiter translates this or me. His friends groan and tut-tut, but laugh at the same time. The waiter asks me where I’m cycling to, and I explain my weekend plan. The waiter translates this and I am then hugged by the bike handler man. Apparently, they are also on their way to watch the races, but will be sitting on the big grass banks overlooking the circuit, which they have done for the last 40 years.

Buzzing from the caffeine so soon after my breakfast, I try to cycle normally, whilst my heart thinks it’s doing a triathlon. I notice that most of the fixed speed cameras have had their lenses sprayed with black paint. I’m not sure if this is just for the grand prix weekend or it’s normal around here. It’s about 10.15 when get to within 1 kilometre from the circuit and I can hear the early morning practice going on. Its very exciting! My heart has slowed down a bit after drinking all of my water and I weave my way through the traffic easily and get to the main gates. I dismount and get in the queue to show my ticket. The place is packed already. I get lots of comments about my old bike, and in lots of languages.IMG_0029

The first challenge is where to lock up my bike. I thought that coming on an old, battered touring bike would be less noticeable, than say a Pinnarello, but I’m wrong. I start to push my bike into the circuit and am greeted by a group of men and women who have three big camper vans and with about 20 bicycles leant up against them. A middle aged man in lycra cycling kit greets me first. He’s a bit heavy and is obviously testing the boundaries of lycra stretch and seam strength, because he’s wearing an old 90s Carrera team kit. He speaks English in a great Italian accent. I ask him if he knows where the best place to lock up my bike may be, and he points to the pile of bikes leaning on the campers. He says that they are there for the weekend and that they would be happy to keep an eye on it for me. The deal is done and I escape politely, before I’m offered any more coffee.

Saturday’s racing, weather, food and occasional Italian beer is fantastic. Before I know it, its time to head back to get my bike. I get to the place where my bike is parked and three camper vans is now seven camper vans. My bike is safe and I thank everyone for their help and escape again amidst invitations to stay, drink, barbecue and have fun. Its 6pm and I head back the way I rode out. Its June and the summer is here already. It’s not about watching the sunset as more like being part of it. The 27 kilometres is an easy and great ride. I reach the hotel, greet my wife, who’s had an equally great day exploring Tuscany on her own, which is also her ‘Me’ time, although she’s not happy about the way the locals drive. I shower, and we have a glass of Prosseco on the terrace before dinner. We each share our photos and stories of the day and then head off to bed. Sleep is easy and deep.

Day 2 starts the same as day 1, and this time, I take a different route, get lost a few times, take lots of photos and do an extra 8 kilometres according to the map. I’d set off a little bit earlier because race day in Mugello, is like no other race day anywhere else on the planet. When I reach the circuit, the Ducati stand is completely filled with people in red and waving red flags. The corner and grandstand devoted to the Valentino Rossi crowd, is a sea of fluorescent yellow, and with yellow smoke bombs are being thrown around. There is a smell of food and then there’s the sound.

I reach the cycling-camper van community and breakfast is being cooked with copious amount of Italian beer being consumed to help the chef concentrate, I assumed. I am greeted warmly and told that I had missed a great night, which was evident by the huge pile of glass bottles of different size and variety. He points to the ‘bike park’ to leave mine with the others leant up against one of the campers. I turn around after parking my bike with the other bikes and am met by an attractive, 50-something woman who hands me a piece of focaccia bread, stuffed with bacon, olives and peppers, then asks me if I want coffee or beer first. One of the two drinks is not optional apparently. Breakfast number 2 does more than replenish any calories that I may have burnt off after breakfast 1, as well as last nights dinner, whilst on my ride over to the circuit. Anyway, this is ‘Me’ time, so what the hell. As people emerge from camper vans in various states of dress and physical state, I steal away after thanking Mr and Mrs Chef, and as they start to get distracted by more people needing more calories.

Yesterday, I did not buy anything from the mass of circuit stalls selling ‘racing stuff’, which is unusual for me. Today however, I continue the ‘Me’ time and purchase a T-shirt that will go with my cycling cap and sunglasses. It’s Italy, so fashion is everything.

Back to the sound. There’s a screaming of two stroke engines coming from not far away, so I investigate. In a small woodland clearing, just off the rough track which spectators use to get around the circuit, there are two small tents, a camp fire, several cool boxes containing drinks and a group of 6 men. Four of the men are clearly enjoying their ‘Me’ time, because they are each wearing ear defenders and are brandishing chainsaws, except they are modified chainsaws. Each chainsaw has had its cutting teeth and arm removed, so its just an engine with a handle now. Each one has a home made megaphone exhaust and all four of them are being revved to breaking point. The sound is deafening and I suppose, it’s the racing concerto. One person is actually playing a tune on it by covering the exhaust pipe mouth with different sized rings. Innovative.IMG_2391

Walking back to my grandstand seat, two men come whizzing by on their back wheels with front wheels waving in the air, and on downhilll mountain bikes. They are both wearing backpacks with beer bottles inside them. The days racing is as awesome as I imagined. The local hero didn’t win, but the local bike manufacturer did. The crowd had invaded the track to get onto the start-finish straight grandstand to see the local hero anyway, and he emerged in Italian style (eventually…) to massive hysteria. I use the word hysteria, because a DJ was pumping out a song by Muse called, yes you guessed it, Hysteria.

I get back to my old bike and it didn’t seem to have anymore scratches on it than it had before, but it did have lots of empty beer cans spread around it, so it must’ve been in the middle of a party at some point in the day. The camper van area was very quiet, so I assumed that they’re all on the start-finish straight with everyone else.IMG_2425

I ride out of the main gates to the circuit and head onto a road blocked with cars and motorcycles. The sound is just as intense, because everyone is trying to make more engine noise than the other person, whether its a car, motorcycle or converted chainsaw.

Two kilometres cycling down the road and I turn onto a gravel track and head off into the quiet. I’m wearing my recently bought t-shirt and am happy with my ‘Me’ time. The ride back to the hotel takes about an hour, easy going and not in a rush. My nearly 70 year old French bike has run flawlessly and it’s a perfect riding position for me.

Reaching the hotel, my wife is already on the terrace with a book, a glass of Prosseco and wearing a big, floppy straw hat. She looks happy. As I get to the car, she holds up the car key and presses the button which raises the electric tailgate. Nice! I put the bike in the back of the car and press the button on the tailgate to close it. Very nice. I go back to our room and have a shower, then go back to the terrace where my wife is still in her ‘Me’ time, drinking fizz, eating olives warmed by the setting sun and reading her book. I sit down next to her and we toast each other with our respective glasses of fizz. We’ve both had a good day. Dinner is superb. Sleep is easy, even though its hot outside. Post breakfast, we head off north in the car towards Bologna and then over the Swiss Alps.

So, is it possible to manage all 3 life priorities and without being or feeling selfish? Yes, it is. Is it easy to do? No, it isn’t. Balancing life’s 3 priorities isn’t easy, and it is actually an art. Let’s face it, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it really well, wouldn’t they?

Feature photo by Rodrigo Macip

All other photos by the author

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