Shirley Mangione has done an ExperiencePlus! cycling trip each year since 2010 and in 2013 she will do two including Catalonia’s Costa Brava in Spain and Puglia in southern Italy. One of the most impressive things about Shirley is that she didn’t begin cycling until later in life and had only ridden a few months before she did her first cycling tour. We thought we’d check in with her to see why she started riding, what challenges she has faced along the way, and what keeps her going.
My husband, Nino, and I were skydivers for about 30 years, with 3600 and 2400 jumps respectively. We were both coaches for advance students in free-fall precision formations. On one of our coaching jumps, my shoulder was dislocated and again on the 2 subsequent jumps, it was dislocated by sheer terminal velocity. Alas! My skydiving career was suddenly over.
Then, I thought, well, I am a distance swimmer, SCUBA could be our next sport, and therefore we took lessons and traveled to SCUBA heavens like Cozumel, Roatan and all the other beautiful SCUBA places after receiving open-water and advance certificates. But unfortunately my shoulder kept dislocating and after the eleventh time I had to accept that I could no longer SCUBA, or even swim.
That was when Nino and I thought of cycling — It had to be safer, right? We bought my first bike, and I hopped on it. Hey! I’m staying on it without falling! I’m ready for Europe! At the end of the summer four and a half years ago, I decided I could ride a bike in France, of course. I didn’t know the hills would be sooo high compared to the mostly flat terrain at home in Ottawa. We went to the Loire Valley, thinking “Loire”, that’s a river right? Rivers don’t run uphill, so how is it possible that we kept coming upon hills? By the time we came home, we were starting to plan for the next European trip, and researching cycling tour companies.
I can remember that ExperiencePlus! was ranked 3rd according to the people who were in the ranking business. The No. 1 and 2 ranked companies cost more than double the price. But what really caught our eye was the chalked arrows. We spent so much time reading the maps in Loire, and therefore decided that, yes, that would be a lot easier. We immediately signed up for our next trip: Italy – Venice to Pisa!
Needless to say, it was a much better trip than the Loire with the other tour company. We fell in love with the arrows, our tour guides, the food, history lessons, olive oil tasting and lessons, mosaic churches, and the walled city of Lucca, which was my hero Puccini’s birth place, and where we were lucky enough to catch a Puccini concert. The video of our travel log was a hit at home with our bike club, and has become an annual event that people look forward to. A couple of members actually booked a trip with ExperiencePlus!, and spin-class buddies joined us this May in Spain. They had such a fantastic time that they are already planning their next trip.
My next big cycling challenge would be the ExperiencePlus! ride along the Danube. We started doing spin classes and weights in the winter to build stamina and strength. On weekends we’d try and do little trips in our home town, increasing the distance every time. From home to the Parliament buildings is 25 km (15 miles); the daily distance on the Danube trip was about 100 km (62 miles) a day. I figured that if I divided the 100ks into 4 chunks of 25 km (15 miles), and had all day to do it I surely be able to make it. And it worked!
I’m much better in climbing hills now than I was a couple of years ago, but it’s going downhill that scares me silly. As I ride more the trips I’m most interested in require a lot of climbing. I really want to be able to do the St. Petersburg to Istanbul trip before I die. A 301 rating trip I can almost handle, but a 501? Well….. We’ll see what we can do. Maybe my being stubborn has its merits.
Cycling has enabled us to keep on doing things together as we always did in skydiving and SCUBA diving, and it keeps us away from the doctors and hospitals, last but not least, it saves money and the environment. Nino rides to work daily in the summer, and I pick him up and we ride home together… Cycling reduces stress, and you won’t find us grouchy too often.