The Specials

The Specials

Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?

And why should I not speak to you?

To You, Walt Whitman

At 1815m, dripping with sweat and out of energy, I met Rudy slouched comfortably against a wall next to his bike, looking out over the view that he had also climbed not long before me.”You’re strong” he said in his Italian accent, having watched me climb the top of the pass and looking at the bulk of Dolly. I gracefully thanked him, feeling more like new born Bambi, trying to balance myself while furiously rummaging through my panniers for any last morsels or snacks that could give me the energy to converse. Rudy was nearing the end of a week’s cycling in the mountains as a warm up for a European tour he would begin in the summer. After basking in our mountaineering glory and the morning sun, he invited me to stay at his family’s house for the night, and so we continued a torturous days climbing over never ending alpine passes together towards his home town.

Livigno is a small farming town, isolated from the rest of Italy by its surrounding mountain ranges, where the population swells in summer and winter as tourists flock for their extreme sports fix. Barely across the border, aesthetically it is much the same as any village had been in Switzerland, but my struggle to identify the Swiss culture beyond the cliched cuckoo clocks and Toblerones stopped in Italy. Walking in to find Rudy’s mother fussing around him and his sister breast feeding, I was immediately part of the family, part of the community.

Beginning my journey, I had planned to avoid big cities and towns for their traffic and becoming just another tourist, but in doing such had worried that I would miss cultural depths of countries by not visiting their art galleries and museums. My realisation in becoming part of smaller, intimate communities is that I understand the real grass roots culture. Maybe galleries and museums have to exist in cities where our individualistic lives need reminding of the cultures we forget about in our busy rush to climb the economic ladder. Inadvertently, the most rewarding path for my bicycle delivers me to the most rewarding social and cultural situations.

One night’s stay extended to two as Rudy showed me around his town. Days were spent cycling around the valley looking over the lakes, visiting restaurants and gelato cafe’s, and catching the Trans Alp mountain bike race, always surrounded by friends or family. We returned to home cooked meals in the evening, where Rudy’s father would try and get me drunk on heavy Italian red wines and grappa. I would learn about the rich foods of Northern Italy, essential for lasting the bitter winters in isolation, eating polenta, salmi, dried meats and strong cheeses while Rudi told me of the differences between North and South Italy. He had cycled for 9 months around Italy, to understand for himself the differences within his own country while working on organic farms (WOOFing). He inspired me to take time to see more of England when I return and made me realise how little I have seen for myself.

Rudy was the person I needed around when preparing for my trip. His room sparked flashbacks to my own, with maps of Europe and the world stuck to the walls. He helped add the progress page to my website, we studied regional maps and he gave me his favourite book, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, inspiring moments of wisdom I cannot muster myself and quotes to lead your life by. Most importantly, Rudy, like many on the trip so far, shared his life with me for 2 days. Without the experience of sleeping in a regular house, eating home cooked meals, speaking my limited language with a welcoming family, making friends and seeing the everyday sights in small towns, my trip would be a series of lonely bike rides and camping tales.

Weeks after leaving Livigno, as my mind drifts I regularly find myself singing A Message To you Rudy by The Specials and I am reminded of the generosity of his family and the many other specials who welcome me in and keep me inspired, entertained and educated.

Postscript: since staying with Rudy, he has begun his European trip and we continue to stay in contact, updating each other with our stories and progress. His photo’s and tales of WOOFing continue to inspire me, if you’re interested, please visit his blog at

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