Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hard to Say Arrivederci

It is with mixed emotions that I have to say arrivederci to my clients after spending a weekend hosting and guiding their two-wheel touring experience through Tuscany. Spending 5 hours in the saddle together every day, being their coach, introducing them to Tuscan culture, hosting their meals, pouring and explaining their wines, confronting unexpected weather conditions together, responding to their strengths and weaknesses and being responsible as much for their safety as for their memories, seems like a big responsibility. Doing it so naturally and successfully while enjoying every single second of it is an enduring reward. Hearing people say that they never expected such a culturally diverse endorphic experience, seeing them departing, enriched through new insights and awakenings, gives me the sense that I have touched, although for only a moment in time, someone's life in a significant way.

Because my weekend tour groups are manageably small, it is easy to influence and tweak the group dynamic that evolves in the saddle, at the dining table, or over a gelato, to make it work just right. Strangers from different parts of the globe connect with each other and before you know it, we are interacting and feeding on each other's energy like a team in tandem, laughing like old time friends, and watching out for each other.

This weekend Peter and Joanne from Los Angeles and Kate from Brisbane were great company. None of them were serious cyclists, and they were not prepared to face the rain that poured on us as the sky opened up after lunch. Cold and soaked to the skin, they nevertheless raved about the beauty in the landscape while on the bike and during dinner. They were good sports.

After arriving at our villa, showering and meeting over a very fine Tuscan dinner, the sky opened up again and by morning it was damp, dark and cold. We reached Panzano and spent time at the outdoor market, then headed on to Spedaluzzo where we lunched at La Cantinetta in a warm cozy room next to a fireplace that filled the air with a quintessential autumn atmosphere, where the table looked out on a splendid vista of the Verrazzano vineyards for miles in the distance. I can still smell the aroma of the wood burning while crackling furiously in the open stone fireplace.

What a splendid surpise awaited us after lunch. The sun broke out, bringing Tuscany into sharp focus, and displaying all the contrasting colors of autumn. To top it off, when we arrived in Impruneta, there was yet another festival going on in the town, celebrating the feast day of Saint Luca, the patron saint of Impruneta. Just seems like you can never ride too far in Tuscany without catching an unexpected feast, party or celebration of some sort.

Selecting a photo from a weekend's worth of stellar Tuscan moments is impossible, but this photo was one of my favorites because it is a photo I took on the road while I asked my group to go ahead (so that I could give them some space to ride at their own pace). I was struck by the contrast of the red color of the ivy against the stone facade and the dark cypress standing tall, flanking the entry. The photo seems to reflect the feeling of this weekend's weather, which was wet and crisp and autumn.