Athleta Tuscany Tour: Day 4

Today we moved over to Trequanda for two nights. The plan was to take the bus to Siena, spend the day walking around and shopping, and then get back on the bus to Trequanda. It’s a town further inland in Tuscany, close to Montalcino, where the roads are just as beautiful but different. And we were set to stay at Fattoria del Colle, a winery and olive estate owned by Donatella Cinelli Colombini, who produces award-winning Brunello di Montalcino wines (including the Prime Donne that is produced entirely by women).

Siena sounded great (because Siena always sounds great, it’s an amazing city), but there was another idea that sounded even better: riding to the new hotel. It was 100 miles of solid, hilly terrain through Massa Marittima, San Galgano and the church left bombed and roofless by the Nazis, Buonconvento and finally into Trequanda.

It was gong to be a long haul, but I wanted to do it. It ended up being just me, Cheri, Colleen and Becky (another staff member and masseuse). I was looking forward to finally getting a little time to talk to Colleen. She is one of those people everyone clamors to be near because she’s got such a dynamic personality and because she gets laughing in this deep belly hysteria and it’s contagious. You can’t not laugh when she’s around.

We waved to the others and set out at 9am, loaded up with food in our pockets, extra sunscreen, and lots of water. Just about two miles in, as we were rolling out of Castagneto Carducci, I got stung in the lip by a bee. I’m mildly allergic, but I’ve never gone into anaphylactic shock, so I figured I’d be alright (despite the fact that half the bee was still stuck in my face when Cheri came to pull it out). Colleen had an after-bite rub thing, which I practically ate trying to get it all over me. Cheri had an antihistimine, and I told them to just keep tabs on me. If my throat started to close up and I fell, convulsing, into traffic, they should just call a chopper and hope it gets to me in time. Cheri was already starting to bloat up in hives from her allergies. My lip was distended into a permanent pout. And we weren’t even five miles in. Oh, yeah, and it was climbing steadily to a temperature of 100 degrees, where it would remain for most of our ride.

We met an American friend of mine, Mark, out on the road. We’d told him we were doing the long day and he came out to do part of it with us. It had been a good five years since the last time I’d seen him and we didn’t skip a beat. Just rolled right back into a conversation we’d been having in 2003. Those are the friendships I love the most, the ones that exist outside time.

By 50 miles into the ride, Mark had to turn off and leave us and the rest of us were starting to crack in the heat. We stopped at a little roadside stand for sandwiches and drinks, reapplied our sunscreen, and then kept on going.

By 70 miles into the ride, we’d all forgotten our own names. We stumbled into a gas station convenience store on the side of a highway. We’d gone completely Lord of the Flies. We were savages. Drooling. Salty as pretzels. I wanted to order the pig’s head from behind the glass case. Colleen was ordering food with the English name and adding an “o” to the end (“one Snicker-o, some cookie-o’s”). Cheri was stumbling about the back of the store, trying to get an entire industrial sized bag of sour gummi things into her head at once. Becky seemed markedly composed, even as she guzzled a Coke like a dehydrated llama. We finally arranged ourselves at a table outside, well beyond any form of verbal communication other than laughter, and an array of junk food piled up around us. We had 3 bags of chips, 4 cookies, a Snickers bar, 6 Powerades, 3 large bottles of water, a bag of nuts, a bag of gummi things, 4 little prune fruit bars, and a shaker of salt we were basically just pouring into our mouths.

By 85 miles in, we were standing in the square of a small town, scarfing cherries, plums and nectarines out of paper bags, just eating them all whole and spitting out the pits into a garbage can. Cherry juice poured down my face as I listened in disbelief to Colleen’s story about doing a race on a French-speaking island somewhere and how she and the other Americans had no idea they were supposed to have their own support vehicles for the race. The American triathlon federation hadn’t sent any support, just two men and two women to compete in the race.

So it was an Ironman distance and crazy hot out there. Colleen gets halfway into the race. One of the Americans had already abandoned. Another had been taken away in an ambulance. The third had been hit by a yogurt truck (I laughed at this moment in her story, it’s funny even though it’s not funny… like Debbie in the ditch). Colleen runs into this town and she’s starving. She is bonking like crazy and needs food and drink. So she runs into one of the only open stores, trades her watch to the guy behind the counter for two watermelons and two live chickens.

“Live chickens?” I asked.

“Yes,” she says. And on she goes with her story.

She devours the two watermelons, eats one of the chickens, and shoves the other chicken into the back of her bikini bottom to grab bites of it while running.

“A live chicken?” I ask again. There’s cherry juice pouring down my face. I can’t remember my social security number or where I was born. I’m sub baked and my eyelids feel crispy. But a live chicken?

And then Colleen starts to laugh. That crazy belly laugh that in turn drives the rest of us into hysterics. We’re standing there in the middle of the town, squealing and screaming, still looking like salt bagels, and I’m now doubled over, unable to stand.

She didn’t mean live. She meant whole. Those whole chickens that are hanging in Chinatowns all over the world, cooked but whole. She did the rest of her run with a chicken hanging out the back of her swimsuit. And that image alone was enough to have me in hysterics for the rest of the ride.

On the ride up one of the last climbs of the day, Colleen and I talked about how she started Women’s Quest. How she wanted to do something for women that was truly mind-body-spirit, at a time when no one was doing yoga and cycling and running retreats. She told me about working with a renowned spiritual leader in the 80’s and how he was working with meditation and ayurvedic medicine to increase performance, health, and well being which Colleen incorporated into her training and racing.

Colleen and I had this great conversation about how cycling or running or whatever sport it is you do becomes something of a living meditation. Your focus simplifies. Everything falls away and you just see your physical pursuit. You become so engaged with what you’re doing that your mind quiets; it becomes still. And in that stillness, you become a receptor, you are able to listen to the inspiration of the universe, of everything that’s inside you that normally gets overpowered by the noise of the grind.

“And you also get a workout,” I said.

“Exactly!” Colleen laughed. “Why just sit still and meditate when you can condition your body at the same time?”

When she was at the spiritual leader’s place, he found that she could reach the meditative quality of mind in five minutes if she were running on a treadmill at the same time. The men who were conditioned in seated meditation took twelve minutes to get to the same place.


By the time we rolled into Colle in Trequanda, all four of us were probably legally insane. Well, maybe not Becky. She still looked remarkably composed.

But I’ve never in my life had a shower that felt as good as that one.

For more information about the Women’s Quest Athleta Tuscany Tour, visit »

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