Longing for the Mountains: Giovanni’s Covid-19 Experience (Italy)

In this series, we’re sharing the Covid-19 experiences of friends and contributors from around the world. Giovanni Calcagno won our photo contest two years ago with this photo, taken during his ride on the Via del Sale that criss-crosses the Italian-French border. Here is his experience during the Covid-19 lockdown in Italy.
– Natsuko

Tell us about yourself and where you live.

I’m 59 and live in Arenzano, a town of 12,500 people (rising to 40,000 during the summer months) near Genova on the northwestern coast of Italy. I work as a fisherman, catching swordfish with my brother. We come from a family that has been fishing for four generations.

I’ve always loved the  mountains more than the sea. I spend most of the winter months in the Dolomites mountains. At the beginning, I loved hiking, alpinism and ski touring. In 1990, I started cycling for training, and it became a passion. Now my passions are shared 50/50 between cycling and mountaineering.

I live on the coast, but the terrain here is hilly, with mountains rising to 1300 m (4200 ft) straight from the sea. There are many 10 km 10% climbs in the area.

What was it like to live through the lockdown in northern Italy?

As an outdoor sports enthusiast, it was hard. There were many restrictions. We had to stay home and could go out only during the shop opening hours to buy food, medicines or home hardware. Social distancing of >1.5 m was compulsory when walking outside or inside the shops. It was rather complicated: Any time you went out, you had to fill out a form declaring the reason and the place where you were going. You had to show it to the police upon request.

What about cycling?

Bicycle riding was allowed only to go shopping. The law was strictly enforced, and there were many police checkpoints. Any form of outside training was prohibited.

Unfortunately I sold my home bike trainer years ago. When I started reading Bicycle Quarterly, I equipped all my bikes with full fenders, so the trainer became useless. Trainers have been hard to find, but I was lucky to get one from Britain. I have a small yard, so I could train outside a bit.

Since May 4, individual sports like running, hiking, horse riding and cycling are allowed again. We now can move within the whole Liguria region, but not yet beyond the region’s boundaries.  The bike shops have reopened, too.

I hope your family and friends are OK.

Yes, thanks, we haven’t been affected too much.

I know you love cycling in the mountains. What did you miss most while you had to stay inside?

I missed the mountains. I like to ride my bike, to be alone, to have the feeling of being on top of the world, to watch the mountains. The freedom… Thinking about that kept my spirits up during this difficult time.

Did you learn any positive things during this time?

I learned not to delay my life projects.

How did you release the stress that comes with this difficult
situation?

Cooking and eating. I specialized in baking bread and cakes and preparing fresh pasta. Kneading bread and pasta has magical stress-relieving effects, but eating too much of it isn’t ideal when you cannot get out and exercise.

Now that you can go back outside, where did you ride?

I had to fish for work first, so I’ve ridden only a few times. Right now, we can travel only within our region. Liguria is about 500 km long, but only 20 km wide. So you can ride on the coast, but there are cars and many towns. When you head into the mountains, you quickly cross over into other regions, and we couldn’t do that at first.

Still, I’ve enjoyed riding. I have a very nice trail that starts 500 m from my home. I love riding on singletrack and doubletrack and be away from it all. After two months of being in a 50 m2 (500 sq ft) apartment, you’d expect wanting to be with others, but I just want to be alone, to experience the freedom of being in the mountains.

Now that you can cycle again, what has changed? Can you ride as before, or do you have to change your routes, riding partners, etc.?

Under present rules you cannot ride in groups, but I have always preferred riding alone anyway.

What are your plans for the future?

Riding and training for the Montañas Vacìas (Empty Mountains) ride in Spain next October, if it’s possible. That is a 680 km (420 mile) bikepacking route through one of the most sparsely populated areas of Europe. I have many friends in Spain either in Cataluña or Castilla. In Spain I feel at home.

And I hope to go hiking soon. My heart is in the Dolomites. I have many friends in Moena Val di Fassa, and I really miss them. There are many Vie Ferrate (climbing paths) there. I did some, and I my goal would be to do more. I told you that I prefer riding alone, but I have many  friends far from home. As a matter of fact I’d call myself a solitary guy who discovered that the secret to long-lasting friendships is a little distance.

Thank you for sharing your experience. Good luck for the future. I look forward to seeing photos from your future adventures.

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