8,556 Miles Later .... and Comin' Home

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Milan, Italy, Jan. 25th 2001

Hi Everybody,

Long time, no messages, I know. Since I last communicated in mid-December, I've spent a lot of time visiting friends and relatives -- in Germany, in southern France with my brother Ken, and with my high school buddy Jim, a composer who lives in the hill country about an hour northeast of Rome.

We've spent the last three weeks in Italy -- after staying with Jim for a week, we headed south where the weather was slightly warmer -- to Pompeii, to Positano on the Amalfi Coast, to Salerno. Because it was the middle of January, there were hardly any tourists at these usually overcrowded places.

Then we headed back north three days ago, to Milan, where I dropped off my bike for its shipment back to Chicago. Eric plans to go on to Valencia, Spain, and spend a few months there before coming back for his sister's college graduation in May.

Part of the lack of communication has been due to technology failures. My wonderful digital camera effectively died on me 4 weeks ago. It started displaying wildly inaccurate colors (red grass, for example).

Worse yet, my laptop failed to boot up two weeks ago, after an abortive attempt to try to network the computer using an old DOS program called Laplink. It now freezes in the startup process. While this means I haven't been able to make webpage additions (or play any more solitaire), the good news is that I am pretty sure that four months worth of digital photos have not been lost. They're just temporarily inaccessible. I'll find out when I get home. Knock on wood...or silicon.

After all these weeks of working on photos and comments with all my digital toys, it's been difficult to go "cold turkey." I'm actually writing this first draft in longhand. What a concept!

Did people really travel and write before they had laptops? :)

Right now my motorcycle is packed in a crate in a warehouse on the outskirts of Milan, ready to be shipped home. I will get home tomorrow night, the 27th and will get the bike when it arrives in a week or two.

This trip that Eric and I been on since September 9th...friends have called it an "adventure" or "the trip of a lifetime" or "a flight from reality." It's been all of that -- and more. We've had some wonderful and crazy experiences, seen some gorgeous scenery, ridden some awesome roads in great (and not so great) weather, and met some neat people.

Just last week, for example, we were visiting the ancient Greek ruins in the town of Paestum south of Naples. When we got back to the parking lot, eight men were looking at our bikes. For a second we were worried, then we looked behind them and realized they all had motorcycles, too. They turned out to be bikers from the town of Salerno and were admiring our bikes and curious about the Illinois license plates.

They spoke virtually no English (and we virtually no Italian) but they insisted on buying us a drink (coffee) and having us join them in their ride. We followed them at breakneck speed on a busy two-lane road the 40 miles back up the coast to Salerno. I learned a few things about navigating in the oncoming-traffic lane that I hadn't known before.

We ended the trip a few days ago by riding 600 miles on the Autostrada del Sol up the center of Italy, from Naples past Rome, Florence, and Bologna to Milan. I am now comfortable with the high-speed roads that scared me so much the first day I got the bike, way back on September 11th.

I am a firm believer in finding closure whenever possible. It's appropriate that a trip that started in absolute terror on the Autostrada near Bologna ended up in comfort on that same road four months later. I am quite proud of myself for that, as well as for having survived (and enjoyed) something that I wasn't sure I was able to do, and having done it with my son (Alicia, you better learn how to ride a motorcycle, it's your turn next!).

Lest I get too full of myself.....there's another kind of closure as well. One of the constant motifs of this trip, starting on the first night, has been Getting Lost. We have gotten lost in more cities and in more ways than I would have ever imagined. But I prided myself that I had a good enough sense of direction and map-reading ability that we would always eventually get where we needed to go.

Not this time.

Last Tuesday we got off the Autostrada into Milan about 4:00 pm, with a good map and the location of the hotel clearly marked. Two hours later, though, we were STILL trying to navigate the maze of cobblestone one-way streets (with tram rails down the center) which changed names every other block. By now it was rush hour and dark. Tired, very frustrated, bladders bursting, and angry at each other, we admitted defeat, called a taxi, and followed him to the hotel. A fitting end.

There are many experiences, thoughts and feelings still left to process from this trip. It takes a long time to make sense of something so packed full as this. I know I will be doing it for a good while.


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