Long-distance cyclist Giulia Baroncini

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A longtime leisure cyclist, Giulia Baroncini took her passion to the next level this summer by biking from her hometown in Italy to the Windy City.

After cycling nearly 2,500 miles in two months to repeat a feat accomplished 130 years ago, Giulia Baroncini says she learned a great deal about the people and places she visited — and about herself.

The 33-year-old native of Polesine, in the region of Veneto, followed a trail blazed by Luigi Masetti, who is considered the father of cycling tourism. After having cycled across Europe, Masetti accomplished the so-called “Viaggissimo” (the Great Trip) in 1893 by cycling from Milan to Chicago via London. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published a series of stories about his trip, and an extensive profile about him was written in Tour Club Italiano’s magazine.

Baroncini was inspired to repeat the Viaggissimo after coming across the book “L’ anarchico delle due ruote” (The Anarchist on Two Wheels) by Luigi Rossi, which details Masetti’s life and adventures.

“The book itself is the inspiration for the project, and reading it during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown raised some existential questions,” Baroncini explains. “It wasn’t me who chose the book, but the book chose me.”

She saw herself reflected in Masetti, a fellow Italian who spoke several languages, worked in hotels and loved traveling. Most of all, they shared a burning passion for cycling. “When I finished the book, I said to myself, ‘I will follow in his footsteps!’” she says.

Baroncini — who doesn’t have a car and bikes everywhere as part of her daily life — says she has always been addicted to cycling.

“Biking for me is an adventure. That’s why I never took part in competitions and racing,” she says. “Biking brings me to discover the beautiful world in which we live.”

She got into cycling tourism about five years ago thanks to a former colleague who introduced her to it, and she fell in love with it immediately. “I started exploring nearby areas on weekends and then cycling farther for longer rides, mainly in Italy and Spain,” she says. During her travels, she bikes 40-70 miles per day based on her physical condition, always listening to her body and taking her time.

“This is the secret: no rush, just enjoying cycling,” she says, adding that most of the time, she cycles alone. “I do like sharing this experience, but cycling alone allows me to discover myself better.”

A self-described nomad who has yet to find her place in the world, Baroncini last year transitioned from working as a receptionist in Venice to being a travel blogger and social media expert, which allows her to work remotely.

She set off on June 9 on her Viaggissimo from her home in Italy and biked across Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom. She then flew from London to New York, where she set off following the Empire State Trail to Buffalo along Lake Erie, through Ohio and Indiana, before finally arriving in Chicago on Aug. 10. Her plans at that point were for a more leisurely return, making a stop in London and arriving home by November.

She mostly found lodging through warmshowers.org, which offers free hospitality for cycling tourists. “I met amazing people who opened to me their hearts and home doors,” she says. “I felt part of the family and never felt like a stranger.”

Occasionally, she camped out or stayed in hotels or hostels.

The journey was amazing, she says, despite the occasional heavy rains and scorching temperatures. On her U.S. journey, she especially loved New York’s Hudson Valley, the Ohio countryside, Lake Erie, Buffalo and Chicago, as well as smaller, historical towns in New York like Dobbs Ferry and Cazenovia.

“This experience is teaching me tons of things,” she says. “I am learning more about myself and where my limits are. I am meeting lots of people and getting to know their culture, habits and ways of living. I am learning more about my bike, and how to repair and maintain it … it is a part of my body! This experience is better than college.”

The above appears in the November 2023 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

 

About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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