Podcasts. Videos. Stories. Yeah yeah, these examples of modern media are trending now and it’s not too crazy to think that I’ll start some type of ‘cast in the not so distant future. I’m not knocking them. However, there’s something about the written word that I believe will sustain over time. As much as newspapers and magazines are experiencing a contemporary struggle, there’s something tremendously satisfying about a tried and true paper and ink publication. In a similar vain, the act of reading rather than passively listening can be a far more captivating experience.
It’s for these reasons I’m starting the Ted’s Talks series right here and now. I’m lucky to travel near and far and interact with all sorts of people, generally revolving around two-wheels. These are sit down interviews consisting of just ten questions. Unless there are nine or eleven, in which case, clearly it’s not just ten, but I ask that you bear with me. Let’s begin.
I’ve known Pia for years. In fact, I remember the exact day and moment that we met, because it just so happened to be the exact moment that I met my wife, Laura. The three of us have shared some enormous rides together — a few centuries plus a particular 175 mile ride come to mind. Pia is an amazing riding companion because she’s quiet as a church mouse. A dozen times throughout the hours together I’ll find myself questioning if she’s suffering or elated. Not one for small talk, you could say that not much phases Pia, but rather than continually guessing, I wanted to go straight to the source and exchange some real tangible words from her. I sat down to talk to Pia on the evening prior to her first foray into gravel racing, Fish Rock way out in the boonies in Boonville, CA. Without further ado, I present Ted’s Talk with Pia.
Tell me your name and where you’re from, please.
Pia Luisa Scaroni Smith
I live in San Francisco, but I was born in Italy. I lived there for four years because my dad was in the army corp of engineers and we moved around a lot. I don’t really remember much of it since I was so young. I still have family there. There are some Swiss-Italian relatives of mine just north in Switzerland.
You’re born name is Pia Luisa Scaroni and you lived in Italy. I find that if you have any connection to Italy, people will ask if you speak the language — you can just say no or sì and they’ll immediately believe you regardless of the truth. Do you speak Italian?
Allora, no. Buongiorno.
Coincidentally, I also called Italy home for the better part of four years. Wonderful place to visit, but can be a challenging place to live. Your most recent trip to Italy was…?
I was there just last week! I was in Tuscany with a group of riding friends. It was snowing and freezing! The first morning we had a five inches of snow on the ground, so instead of riding I went for a run.
Sounds brisk! So you spent the first 1200 days on planet earth in Italy and you have plenty of Italian roots. Do you think how ingrained cycling is to Italian culture is where you found your passion for the bicycle?
I moved to San Francisco and just loved that people were riding their bikes everywhere. I really enjoyed the community and was envious of people riding across the Golden Gate Bridge; I wanted to do that. I was a runner too and would run early in the morning to get across the bridge. I would go so early, actually, that I had to press a button to open the gate to get across. So not so much because of family.
Tell us about your first bike.
My first bike was a Bianchi. And on my first very ride, I… was… hit… by a car. It was an older woman who hit me while I was riding through Sausalito. I got a big hematoma on my hip. I had to take a few weeks off the bike.
Whoa! Most people would have quit that very second laying on the ground. That’s awfully resilient. How many times have you been hit by a car since then?
Umm… zero times. I still love riding.
I’ve had a few quick trips off my bike too. I’ve only had a few car incidents, but that’s impressive. So I believe the bike is a catalyst and a tool. What has the bike brought to you?
The bike is an amazing way to explore. Riding in Spain or Italy or Japan, you see these tiny villages that relatively few have ever seen and really will ever see!
I’ve found friends on the bike. I love the immediate bond and connection you have thanks to the riding.
Another significant thing, I had major abdominal surgery in about 2011. The Coast Ride was just three weeks after and I really wanted to do it. It was a really short time to actually heal, so I asked the doctor if I could do it. I could tell that he wasn’t really big on the idea and ultimately I did it, so he, umm, he wasn’t super pleased. But I just know that if you push through things it’s often for the better.
You’re a total hitter on the bike. What are three pieces of advice that you’d pass along to an up and coming female cyclist?
1. If you’re going to make excuses, it’s not going to work out. Take Tuscany for example. It was cold and snowy and gross, but it’s not as though we’re going to skip out entirely. We were always up for making a route. You sometimes have to rearrange your priorities to be successful. If you’re excuse is that you don’t have time, that’s not true. I used to set an alarm for 3:45am, so I could get the ride in and still get to work.
2. Don’t complain or whine. I don’t want to listen to that shit!
Tough love. These are amazing Pia. And number three…
3. I’ve found a lot of riders will turn down events or opportunities because they don’t think they’re good enough or strong enough, but then they just miss out. I’ve always been drawn to people have a similar resilience, so you’ll find your people. I guess the advice is to take the initiative.
I couldn’t help but notice that when we’re riding these huge distances in hot places and you don’t drink a lot. Do you have some sort of weird innate traits to a camel?
I drink! I just drink out of one bottle and don’t want to haul around a second one. I’m just a light sweat’er and therefore light drinker.
I hate bananas. It’s really the only thing I won’t eat. I love cereal. But cereal with bananas really just ruins the cereal.
That’s the most terrific segue ever to food. If you had to put maple syrup on one thing what would it be?