How I Found the Courage to Bike 140 Miles Through Italy

I just returned from my 2-1/2 week vacation to Switzerland and Italy.  Six days of those weeks we biked around 140 miles through the Lombardy Lakes district of Northern Italy.  There were four of us:  my husband, my friend, Carla, her significant other, Harrison, and me.  We range in age from 58 to 78 (yes, you read that right).  As we began to plan our trip, we all faced the understandable anxiety of trying to imagine biking 140 miles in a foreign country without a guide and at our ages.  We are all in relatively good health and shape, but it still was incredibly intimidating.  So, why did we do it?


I can only speak for myself.  I did it to prove to myself that I could, putting it simply, do it.  I had dreamed of biking in Italy for years, and as those years marched on I had somewhat decided that I needed to let go of that dream.  After all, I am almost 60 years old, feeling more tired than I used to, and it was too late.  Still, the dream lingered. 

I need to give the credit to Carla for bringing the dream alive again.  She and Harrison (the 78 year old mind you) brought up the possibility with us last winter.  Harrison is an avid bicyclist.  My husband, whose idea of a vacation is NOT spending six days on a bike, immediately said he was not interested.  He had many valid reasons:  he wanted to go to Hawaii, he’s a beach person, not a Europe person, six days on a bike will be hard and painful, the bike seat sucks, and, especially, THE BIKE SEAT SUCKS!!! 

Somehow, I convinced him and we were on a plane bound for Europe three weeks ago.  I have to admit, I bribed him a little.  He was interested in seeing Switzerland, which we did, and we added a beach ending in Cinque Terre after the bike tour.

It was hard.  It was HOT!!!  But it was incredible.  I asked my biking buddies for their input and along with my own this is what I learned about myself when I need to find courage to do something I really want to do but am intimidated and a little scared.

Don’t think too much

Over-thinking what you’re about to do causes unnecessary suffering and increases anxiety and self-doubt.  Trusting yourself that you will be successful is sometimes hard to do, but practice doing it anyway.  It helps.

Speaking of success, consider redefining your definition of it.  This is one of the most important lessons I have learned in my life. 

Success doesn’t have to mean being better, faster or stronger than someone else.  It does mean doing your best and giving yourself a break if your best varies day to day.  One of my favorite little self-help books is “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, a shaman and spiritual healer.  One of the agreements is: “Always do your best.  Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.  Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.” 

Prior to starting on our bike journey, Matt and I decided that success did not necessarily mean biking every day from start to finish.  We were okay with giving ourselves permission to take it day by day, moment by moment, and making a decision every day whether to continue to not.  I don’t look at this as a cop-out or weakness.  I look at it as taking care of myself and trusting myself to do what is best for me regardless of anyone else’s judgment or their definition of success.  As it turned out, on our last day we faced a morning of significant hill climbs that would take hours.  We were all exhausted at that point.  We had biked many hills during the previous five days and collectively we decided we did not want or need to accomplish this last day of hill climbs to feel successful.  We took our bikes and got on a train that took us to a town where we picked up the route and spent a less rigorous day of riding.  It was the right choice for all of us.

Lean on friends and family and their support, enthusiasm and belief that you can do it. 

Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”  Also, remember that another person’s perception of you is often more realistic than your own.  For me, I already had the will to attempt it.  I also had defined for myself what success would be in this endeavor and I felt confident that I would succeed.  My husband, however, did not share that same confidence as I did, but I knew he could do it too.  He has always been an athlete.  While he is packing a few extra pounds (as am I), he has the history and athletic experience.  Every day I reminded him of his athletic abilities and our shared definition of what success would be in this situation.   Having all of this in mind when we started gave us the courage to at least try doing this really hard thing, and kept us going as we faced every day with the unknown of what that day would bring us. 

These are just three things that helped us on this epic, exhausting, exhilarating, and, ultimately SUCCESSFUL goal that we had.  There are so many more ways to find courage. 

We’d love to hear how YOU find courage to do something hard, overwhelming, intimidating, or scary.  That’s what our blog is about.  Sharing life and learning from each other.  Please share your stories and wisdom so our readers can benefit from your own experiences.  As they say in Italy, “grazie amico mios! (thank you my friends).”