It has been one week and one day since I stumbled into San Giovanni Valdarno. Armed with my phrase book, matching set of orange luggage and jet lag from two days of not sleeping, I was (kind of) ready to take on Italy.

Fast forward one week: I have completed European drive school (think Fiat Ducato, stick shift, box turned van, narrow Tuscan streets and hills unlike nowhere I have ever seen), been out in the country side for 6 days with 7 virtual strangers (no longer) (and Morgan doesn't count as a stranger) seeing towns, riding hills and hiking roads that our guests will take. I have joined a gym. I have paid for Italian school. I have figured out you can't buy organic peanut butter or tea here. I have tasted 40 Euro bottles of wine and learned about Chianti, la dolce vita (the sweet life) and why you shouldn't order a cappucino in the middle of the day (tourista!)

So, I am doing laundry, push ups, making lentils and posting some pictures on my blog. Mostly for my mom and dad. Yes, beloved parents, I am alive and well. My tuscan towns may be blurred together. My thighs might be on fire (still) from the riding. But for now it is late... and a nine hour drive to Pernes and house cleaning tomorrow morning (SIGH) awaits.

Entrance to the Leader House in San Giovanni Valdarno.

"Lovers Walk" in Pienza (a southern Tuscany town famous for cheese!) at sunset.
The walled city of Monteriggioni. We did a 9km hike to the town and had a euro caffe. (coffee).
The Backroads Chariot, Euro Style
View from our hotel room in San Gimangio, Northern Tuscany.
One last look at Death Valley:

Sunrise over Furnace Creek Inn... watched it every morning...Holly, dosage Tim and Devin go "out" in Boulder City. This is a statue in the middle of town. Why is it here? And why does Boulder City only have one (lousy) bar?
This was possibly the only nice picture we took all night. This was after I beat both the boys in virtual bowling at the crappy bar.

The Holly, Tim and Devin show...
The bar tender said something really nasty before she took this-
Sign over the Bowling Alley. What LIARS! Clearly the Bowling Alley is only open three hours a day. And always closed by 6pm. Ridiculous.
The boys made me my own cup. I am so lucky.
At the base of Golden Canyon...
This is a desert water station!
And more to come... once I have recovered from my awful jet lag in Italy. And gotten through the first few days of training. Awesome.

All my love.
My oh-so-envious colleges envied at my luck several months ago when I told them I’d be trip leading with Backroads in Death Valley. Based out of Vegas! They coo-ed. Hot and tanned desert! They cheered. A beautiful life of pretty people partying and throwing dice and laughing late into the night over expensive drinks in expensive nightclubs glowing in the neon Vegas lights! We laughed.

So what- living in Boulder City isn’t THAT bad. I mean, buy cialis the place is a suburb of Las Vegas with one main street and a really, really crappy hotel we stay in. They have one half decent Mexican restaurant and a Starbucks. There is one road bike path located (hidden) behind a casino on the outskirts of town that leads you to Lake Las Vegas (not half bad). Boulder City has a reputation for being the Meth Capital of Nevada (which leads me to wonder, do all states have a city that is a Meth capital?) which I found out NOT by visiting Meth houses but rather by meeting a couple of LVPD officers out for a road ride one day. They were incredibly out of shape. This also worried me.

Trip Leading in the Deserts hasn’t been THAT bad. Besides the sunburn, well the first sunburn that is- the one that caused your nose to peel. The second sunburn on your back after a day of support riding wasn’t that bad only because your bug bites were so bad on your arms and legs the itching distracted you. Waking up in the middle of the night raking your arms and legs until the small reddish raised bumps (un-diagnosable by all the Death Valley tour books we have in our California library) bleed and then consequently turn into little angry purple bumps. And the dryness everyone talks about- way oversold. Your lips chap and then peel, your skin turns white and itches, and no amount of Lubriderm extra strength applied hourly can help you out. Time, your knowing co-leaders cite, is the only solution to these problems.

You bang your knees on the wheel wells of vans racking bikes and your head and elbows when you are turning around inside the small hot trailer. Your arms and legs look like you are in an abusive relationship. Or they remind you of rugby tournaments where three days of playing gave you colors of all sorts on all limbs. Your farmers tan could make anyone cringe and your sunglass tan looks like bug eyes.

But people LOVE coming to the desert. Death Valley, they say, has a splendor of its own. Splendor like the Pahrump hospital waiting room, where you sit for three hours on a Sunday night when a girl on your trip takes a tumble after hitting a gravel patch in a windstorm. She is bleeding from the face and her top lip is split in half. Joy in the people you accidentally leave behind on day one of trip after miscommunications at pick up point. Fun like when your guest says he’d (fill in the blank here) you if he wasn’t (fill in the blank here) and then you spend the rest of the trip avoiding him and all contact with him. You accidentally leave the trailer door open. You almost lose a bike driving through a windstorm in the desert. You are up. You are down. You are here, in the world of Backroads.

And then. Your DAY off. Not day(s), DAY. You resist the urge to spend the 24 hours in bed with a pillow pulled over your head wishing for another 24 hours and you get out there and you enjoy the wonders of Boulder City. Like the 24 Hour Fitness in Hendersen. Like the Bike Shop where you meet Joey, your new Boulder City Friend. Like Whole Foods (Planet Organic but WAY cooler), Anthroplogie and REI (like MEC, my Canadian Pals). You buy yourself a new rain suit for Ireland which feels ridiculous to you being that its so hot here you are covered in perpetual sweat. You do your laundry. You call home. You call maybe one other person. Chances are the high quality phones at Boulder City Inn don’t work, so you go to the payphone outside the hotel by the bar and you sit on a dying planter and talk quietly, afraid the undesirables or Meth addicts might get you (wearing your piglet pj pants and lululemon scuba hoodie possibly doesn’t help this).

But the thing is. Despite the ‘Splendor’, ‘Joy’ and ‘Glory’ or the region, you can’t help but to love it. The way mothers love their kids no matter how funny looking they are, how much their ears stick out or how badly they can smell. You love the morning sunrises over the mountains. You adore your co-leaders. You feel comfortable navigating the mega highways of Nevada. And the beauty of your life and the love for what you do causes you to cry in the isle of gluten free crackers for the sheer joy and exhilaration of it all.

And you take your sun burnt, tired, bug bitten self to Starbucks and you prepare for your final days in North America for the upcoming months. And you are glad. And you are sad to be saying goodbye to Death Valley.