From Maine to Milan, a Harrowing Journey
I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
I arrived in Milan straight from bushcraft school in northern Maine. It was snowing when I left and I had to make a hasty decision about what to bring in my bike bags and what to send back to Ohio with another student heading that way. I was freezing so I naturally overpacked clothes. It was hard to imagine that I’d ever be warm again and that at that exact moment it was 70 degrees and sunny in Italy.
It wasn’t until I was in the Boston airport that Craig and I realized that Milan has not one but two airports on opposite sides of the city and we had not booked flights into the same one. Our plans of meeting in arrivals was foiled. Craig found a central train station and said he’s wait for me there. I hadn’t had much sleep and didn’t download an offline map.
When I arrived in Milan, I attempted to put my bike together myself. I should have dragged the box to the train station. It took an hour and I couldn’t get my rear rack on right which meant I couldn’t attach my bike bags, which meant I couldn’t ride it. On top of that I didn’t have wifi and couldn’t contact Craig or confirm the plan. I got a train ticket from a kiosk for a train that left for the central station in 5 minutes. I should have gone up to the counter and asked for help and directions. By the time I paid and got all my things down to the platform, I had missed the train. The next one wasn’t for 45 minutes. I befriended a group of English and Italian people who lived in the UK. They couldn’t help me with my bike, but did say they were going the same place as I was.
I showed my ticket to the ticket taker on the train. He said he would tell me when to get off. He also made me buy another ticket for my bike. A few stops later a black teen got on the train. The ticket taker asked him to show his ticket. The teen said nothing. The ticket taker was not happy. He gave the teen the choice to buy a ticket from him or he could call the cops and have him arrested. I was standing only a few feet away. It was an uncomfortable and tense conversation to witness. The teen slowly, so very slowly, took Euros out of his backpack and bought the ticket. The ticket taker issued him a ticket and apologized to me.
The group of Brits were getting off at the next stop. They told me it was the stop I wanted, even though the name in red LED lights on the train said a different name. I didn’t know what to do. The ticket taker was no where to be found. I panicked and got off. It wasn’t the right stop. Craig said he would wait for me in the bar just outside the station. There was no bar. Craig wasn’t there and I barely had any phone battery, no internet and there wasn’t wifi in the station. I was lost before the adventure had even started. I was exhausted. It was night and most of the station stores were closed. I asked a few people on the street where the station I wanted was located. No one could tell me. They said things like “far,” or “I don’t know, I’m visiting.” I was trying not to cry and not to panic.
I walked around the station and found a cafe with free wifi. I called Craig. I told him where I was. He said it was a few miles away. I asked him to come find me, that my bike was broken and that my phone was going to die. I hadn’t brought a European charger. I felt defeated. I didn’t want to rely on him. I wanted to be strong and independent. I wanted to put my bike together myself. I wanted to find the station myself. My pride got the best of me. I waited by the station entrance. Eventually I saw a familiar face on a bike. I ran to him.
Craig helped me attach my rack and my bags. I got situated and thanked him for coming to my aid. We cycled back toward the station where he had been waiting for hours. We cycled past Eataly, the grocery store and restaurant of which there is one in Chicago as well as Milan. I was happy to be riding, checking out the surroundings when all of a sudden I realized I had lost Craig. Again. He’s a fast rider and had the GPS to our hotel. I couldn’t believe it. This trip was not starting out the way I had envisioned it. I retraced my steps, looking for him. I decided to stay in one place. He must eventually realize I wasn’t behind him and come find me.
He eventually did. I asked him to slow down and we slowly but surely made our way the 7 miles to the hotel. We locked the bikes in the courtyard. I was exhausted. I needed a shower and sleep. We ordered a pizza from a shop claiming to be the best pizza in the world. It was alright. We drank Italian beer and planned out the errands we’d need to run the next day to get ready to depart. It was not the reunion I had hoped for, but we were together, in one piece, with all our luggage, ready to start an epic adventure.