The Lead Goat Veered Off by Neil Anderson
The Lead Goat Veered Off
If you want happiness for an hour -- take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day -- go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year -- inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime -- help someone else.
~ Chinese Proverb
e plopped ourselves down on the grass beneath a couple of palm trees. I bit into some goat's cheese as a bespectacled old-timer with a shock of white hair crossed the road and hobbled over. Despite the abundant sunshine -- a total reversal from the previous day's fog-filled sog-fest -- he was bundled in a warm coat. He sidled over to us, sat on the ledge next to me, and began to chat. Even though I had wanted to eat uninterrupted, I was happy to see him -- anyone with a face that crusty had to have some interesting tales.
He didn't speak English, but my Italian was improving, and I was positive I comprehended everything he said. At least sometimes. Maybe.
Of course, sign language helped a lot, and, like all Italians, the old gent was a master of charades. He pointed to his cane, and held up three fingers. "I've had this cane for three years," he was saying. Or maybe it was his third cane. Or maybe he had killed three cats with it. Who knew? I nodded and he continued.
"I live across the street," he gesticulated. Or maybe he had a friend over there. Or maybe that's where a cat had been run over. This was fun! I nodded again.
"There's snow in the mountains," he pantomimed. Oh, too easy, I sniffed. Give me something harder.
"A woman I know, lives near Cagliari, speaks four languages, and has travelled around the world." Well, don't look at me -- it was his charade.
Next, in grand sweeping motions, his fingers pretended to pry open his chest: "I had heart surgery," he was saying. Or he played the accordion. Or he was deathly allergic to cats. Some things were difficult to construe. Whatever he was trying to tell me, I didn't laugh and say "Buono!" I may not have known much Italian, but I had enough sense not to laugh when someone was telling me something I didn't understand and say: "Good!" They might be saying: "My wife just died." Laughter (even a nervous giggle) at an inopportune time was a surefire way to get oneself into trouble. I was sure misunderstandings were the number one cause of wars.
The old codger pointed to his timepiece. "It's time to go home to have the lunch my daughter prepared for me." I was good at this! We wished each other well. He leaned heavily on his cane, looked me in the eye, and was off.
I had been sitting in the sun the entire time. I glanced at the thermometer on my handlebar bag. It read 30 degrees Celsius. "Boy, we're lucky we're here in their coldest month!" I said. "The summers must be scorching." I recalled what Tony had said: "Even the tourists shouldn't go outside at midday."
"We should go for a swim," Sharon said.
Sweat beaded my brow. "Sounds like a fine idea to me," I responded.
We studied our map and picked out the closest lake. It was near Siurgus -- in the mountains. I wasn't surprised. Most of Sardinia's lakes were in the mountains, enclosed by gorges.
We set off, trying to convince ourselves that the climb would make the swim that much more refreshing.
In a few kilometres we left the sealed road and turned onto gravel. As I bucked along the washboard surface, I wished my bike had shocks. "Are we back in Portugal?" I complained.
"This is way better than the roads we cycled in Portugal," Sharon said. She was right -- roads on Sardinia had been excellent compared to Portugal's butt-numbing cobbles.
We arrived in Siurgus not a moment too soon. We had run out of water a kilometre back. A group of boys played on top of a rock wall. "Acqua?" I called to them. "No acqua," they replied, shaking their heads. The boys made rude farting noises as we rode off. I laughed. "Kids are kids no matter where we go in the world!"
We entered the village square and faced a lengthy row of nine elderly men leaning against an eight-foot high rock wall. Looking contented they chatted animatedly, enjoying one another's company while warming their old bones in the sunshine. It looked a great way to spend one's old age.
Two boys on bikes pulled alongside us. We stopped, and recognized them as the farters. The lads chattered away. I couldn't understand one word they said. I stood there, staring at them blankly. Judging from their mirthful expressions, it was a unique experience for them to meet a mute. They jabbered away some more, eyeing me quizzically. I finally stopped them, pointed to myself, and said: "English."
They seemed to understand -- at least they stopped their gibberish. I took out my camera and they hammed it up as I snapped their picture. Their hospitality improved immediately. "Acqua," they said, motioning us to follow.
When we passed in front of the men, I stopped and asked where we could get water. I wasn't putting all my faith in the young farts. The old gents pointed to the bar on the far side of the plaza.
We pushed our bikes over and leaned them against the tavern's wall. Sharon ventured inside with two water bottles while I sauntered back to see if the men would allow me to take their picture. I held my camera aloft to show my intention, and asked if it was okay. The old men grinned their approval, evidently pleased that someone considered them photo-worthy.
I carefully framed the men, the green benches, the high rock wall, and was about to push the shutter when a woman, completely garbed in traditional black, sallied forth, walking in front of the men. The old men's voices held traces of indignation as they yelled at her: "Get out of the way, old woman, can't you see we're having our picture taken!" She continued sedately on her way, ignoring the elderly rapscallions, looking neither left nor right. I caught her square in the middle of the frame. Sometimes the best shots were the unplanned ones.
I thanked the men for allowing me to take their picture, and they introduced me to their group's patriarch, Señor Gomez. Apparently, the younger men considered themselves spring octogenarians. I doffed my hat reverently and solemnly shook Señor Gomez's hand. He stood on the curb, peering up at me through his hat brim, a gleam in his eye and a smirk on his twisted kisser. At 94 years of age, he was still undoubtedly full of verve and vitality.
Sharon returned from the bar with full water bottles. We took long gulps, and replaced them in our holders. Turning around, we saw several of the old men had wandered over and surrounded us. With the help of the young boys and a middle-aged woman, they asked us questions while inspecting our gear. We did our best to satisfy their curiosity with a combination of pigeon Italian and hand signals. The woman, astute at guessing our Italian pronunciation, relayed the information to the old-timers who nodded their heads in fascination.
"Vino?" one fellow enquired, inviting us inside the bar for a drink. Wine and cycling, especially in the hot sun, didn't mix well. It made us lightheaded and dizzy. To the old men's delight, Sharon mimed a wobbling cyclist. They guffawed at her crazy antics, then asked: "What do you drink?"
"Acqua," I replied, pointing to my water bottle. One old man scoffed. (I may not know much Italian, but I know a scoff when I hear one. And that was clearly a scoff.) Evidently, water wasn't high on their list of consumables. Maybe we had hit upon their secret to longevity?
They persevered, naming off a long list of what they considered acceptable drink. Sharon and I finally wised up, and decided to practice our slow-down-and-live philosophy. We consented to having a beer with them. They fairly danced with excitement upon realizing their persistence had paid off, and escorted us into the bar. In the dim light, our eyes -- adjusting from the bright sunlight to the dark interior -- made out men playing cards. As our entourage wove its way between the tables of card players they glanced up, greeted us, and immediately resumed their concentration. Apparently, entertaining Lycra-clad foreign cyclists was a common everyday occurrence.
The young boys had tagged along. One old man tried -- unsuccessfully -- to shoo them back outside. Reaching the counter, we were again surrounded by the old men. The youngsters stood on the fringe, staring at Sharon. They must have been wondering why she was in the bar -- she was the only female in the place. As we discovered in Portugal and Spain, a woman in a rural bar was uncommon. I gave Sharon credit. Each time she ventured into a drinking establishment, she furthered women's rights.
"Ching-ching!" we proclaimed, hoisting our glasses and clinking them with our new compadres. The cold beer was savory. The hot day made it slip down effortlessly. It wasn't long before we quaffed another. We brought out our map, and showed them the route we had taken so far on Sardinia. The tiny men crowded around, discussing where we had been. They pored over the map a long while trying to pinpoint their village. One old man finally turned to me, and loudly explained, "We're all blind!"
I turned the map right-side-up for them, refused their offer of another draft, then pinpointed Siurgus for them. Half an hour, and another beer later, Sharon and I tottered off to continue our lake search.
In the neighbouring town of Donigale, there was another rock wall identical to the one we had left behind in Siurgus, and, like Siurgus, it too was lined with old Sardinian men. "How did they get here so fast!" Sharon exclaimed, pretending she thought they were the same men we had left behind in Siurgus.
"Maybe they know a shortcut?" I answered in jest.
Laughing, we yelled "Ciao!" and waved to them like they were long-lost pals.
We eventually came to the lake, but it was situated far below the road. And the water, enclosed by a ring of sharp gravel, was low and scummy-looking. It wasn't at all inviting. As well, the day had cooled and swimming didn't sound nearly as appealing as it had when we were sweltering. "I'm not swimming there," Sharon confirmed, and we continued on our way. I hoped the gusty wind was pushing us towards a sheltered camp spot. After our boar intrusion I needed a quiet night to recharge my batteries.
In an hour, we came to a small plot of trees next to a plowed field. The deciduous trees made a poor windbreak, but since we were between two small villages, I felt it would be a good place to spend the night. "We won't be disturbed here," I said, as I leaned my bike against a tree. "This is perfect."
Barely dusk, I crawled inside the tent, and got ready for bed. I had just gotten comfortable, when, on an invisible side road, three cars and a motorcycle stopped to drink some beers. I couldn't believe it! There we were, in the middle of nowhere, and someone had chosen that exact spot to meet?
I lay awake, unable to sleep, as the clink of beer bottles continued into the night, and took the time to reflect on past strange encounters. Two vacationing Australians we had met in Spain -- Rae and Nigel -- had told us: "There is no perfect spot." It was true. Like us, they were free-camping (unlike us, they had a motorhome) and each evening they would scout a town for a perfect spot to park their motorhome for the night. "We would be awakened by any number of occurrences," Nigel said, laughing in his good-humoured Aussie accent. "One time," he recalled, "we were in a tiny village and found an idyllic spot beside a little church. We thought it was perfect. But, I'll tell you mate, it was hardly that." He sniggered, then continued, "Every fifteen minutes, the bloody church bells gonged! Midnight shook the motorhome!" Nigel laughed so heartily he had to wipe tears from his cheeks.
While Nigel composed himself, Rae took over: "We camped in a deserted wood once and it turned into a parade route. That parade probably happened only once every hundred years, but that was the night. I was beginning to think we were being watched."
I lay quietly, thinking Rae's same thoughts to myself, while listening to the tinkle of beer bottles from the direction of our uninvited guests, and worried that the drunken partiers would discover us.
In the distance, a dog barked and my mind wandered again. Not once had we heard anyone tell a dog to shut up. The amount of barking endured in Europe wouldn't be tolerated in North America -- too many gun owners. Silence would prevail. I recalled nights I had trouble sleeping because dogs were yapping. When Sharon and I had started free-camping we were paranoid that dogs could hear us. Or smell us. (Or, more likely, both.) We always worried we had camped in their territory, and wondered if that were the reason they kept up their persistent racket. But, as the nights passed, we realized dogs just always barked -- often for no particular reason. One would start, another would answer, and they would bay back and forth all night. I wondered if dogs ever woke the next day with laryngitis and wondered "What the heck was I doing last night?"
One night in the mountains near Granada in Spain, I had lain awake listening to some asinine dog answering its own echo. What a din! The echo made it sound like a pack of twenty mongrels. When he eventually quit barking, I couldn't sleep. It was too quiet. I had lain awake in the silence, staring at the tent roof, waiting for the dog to bark. I was tempted to rouse Sharon and tell her: "Do you know that stupid dog hasn't barked for nearly half an hour?"
Another bottle clinked, jarring me back to the present. Car engines sputtered to life, then puttered off into the night. And I finally drifted into dreamland.
"The Lead Goat Veered Off is a travelogue that humorously describes a three month portion of the Anderson's European bicycle tour. The author's engaging narrative whisks the reader along as a silent third party to intimately experience Sardinia, Italy. This personal narrative is a joy to read, not only for cycle tourists, but, indeed, anyone who enjoys the thrill of vicarious travel."
AdventurousTraveler says this about the bicycle touring book: The Lead Goat Veered Off:
"For anyone with an ounce of romance in their soul and adventure in their heart, here's a book that will engage and delight you."
Jan Bark, AdventurousTraveler.com
To receive a signed copy (personal inscriptions available) order The Lead Goat Veered Off from Cycle Logic Press ISBN 096867402X In stock
"I loved your book. So much I gave it away, and had to order 2 more, another one to give away and one to keep."
Also available from Amazon.com
More Lead Goat ...
Leave the hectic pace of life behind... lose all sense of time... fall in love with a place...
"Canada's answer to Willie Wier and Joe Kurmaskie, Neil Anderson combines beautiful rides with social commentary, capturing the soul of touring -- meeting the culture whose home you're riding through. The tale ranges from serious cycling to anecdotes too improbable to be made up." Josh Putnam
Join Sharon and Neil for a bicycle touring adventure in The Lead Goat Veered Off ...
by NEIL ANDERSON
What readers are saying
The Lead Goat Veered Off
"The reading is great; I will be ordering Partners in Grime shortly."
John D Midyette, CPA
"I think I speak for the majority when I say that we are looking forward to the sequel (or prequel as you seem to have followed George Lucas's form in telling a story)."
"It's highly entertaining."
Lynn Charbonneau, Mountain Equipment Co-op book buyer
"The tale of a Canadian husband and wife team that abandon the every day world of home and jobs to explore in Europe. This is the story of their winter riding on the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy. Join them as they experience the physical and spiritual highs and lows of long distance touring."
Adventure Cycling Association, Cyclosource
"None of the Sardinians could believe that people would actually sell their home for an adventure..."
Susan Jones, The St. Albert Gazette
"The title gives no hint of the humour and human interest between the covers of this delightfully funny book."
Dawn Johnson, The Similkameen News Leader
"It's an ideal book for a trip where you have a number of small bits of time to devote to reading. It's 75 short stories which hang on the story line like underwear on a clothes line. You can read one of them, lay it down for a while and come back without losing your place or the story line. [...] It explores just about every emotion that a couple can encounter on an extended tour. It does so with vivid word pictures and rare humor. Neil writes like I like to read. I highly recommend it."
"I didn't want it to end."
Joan Muir, Librarian, Okanagan Regional Library
"... more than one disturbing incident in the book [...] [R]ecommended to anyone who has ever wanted to get away from it all without leaving their living rooms."
Dave Hazzan, The Similkameen Spotlight
"I really, truly loved the book! Lots of laughing out loud, and so descriptive I felt like I was there. The sit back and enjoy the moment feel of the book is very much in tune with our current efforts to slow down, be more mindful, enjoy life, etc."
"I could picture myself in some small village in Italy with the Mediterranean scenery and smells of the Italian food coming out of the houses."
Shelley St. Amand
"I have begun reading The Lead Goat Veered Off and as a result almost missed my bus stop this morning." Linda James
"Enjoyed the book immensely. Great narrative description of situations. Made me want to do more cycling, however without some of your hardships."
"More fun and adventure than I can stand!"
Dave & Cathy in sunny San Jose
"I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your book. Such a treat to sit down and read [...] once I started your book I couldn't put it down."
"I read your book and it was hilarious. My husband really enjoyed it as well...Thank you very much."
"Yours and Sharon's adventure is very descriptive and hilarious. Get this... I had taken a friend up on spending the morning on a fishing boat, out on the ocean (Port McNeil area), and when things got quiet, I finally had the first chance to crack open your book. By the time I was finished the first page I was in hysterics, tears rolling down my face, and people staring at me in wonderment! The whole thing was quite a spectacle. I can't wait to finish it."
"I laughed my @$$ off !!"
"Your book reminds me of Bill Bryson [...]. I hope you continue writing as you are very gifted -- I particularly like your sense of humor."
Sean D. LaFave
"Love your book [...] A very impressed Sardinia."
"Just finished "The Lead Goat". Wonderful book. I couldn't put it down! You really do write so that the reader feels like they were along for the ride too. I love it when a book captures me enough that I laugh out loud, and I did, plenty of times. Thank you very much."
"Wonderful. Felt like I was there. Informative. Clear, easy writing with lots of humor and lyrics."
"I have your book and think it's great. My wife had first crack at the book, loved it, and wouldn't give it back until having finished reading it three days later."
"I planned to take this on a tour but don't think I can wait."
Mr. Jackie Smith
"[T]his is beyond my wildest dreams .... what a hoot!"
"Based on what I read (I did partially read the posted chapters), I wouldn't buy your book."
"Based on the fact that this seems exactly like my kind of book, since I've corresponded with the author, and drool to self-transportate in Sardinia (or anywhere in southern Europe (hell, anywhere in Europe) before my brain pops and my gut obscures my toenails), and the fact that Joe Stafford sounds like a real wiener, I'd buy this book just to show him up!"
"Get a copy of The Lead Goat Veered Off by Neil Anderson."
"I get great pleasure re-reading The Lead Goat Veered Off."
"I cant wait to start reading it on tour next week."
"I can tell this book will finish way too soon."
"I just finished the "Sardinia Picture Album" and I'm hooked:-) Please grab that "Lead Goat" and send it to me!"
"I find myself unable to put the book down as I must see what happens next!"
"GREAT BOOK! Funny, well written, and a joy to read."
Diane, HubBub Custom Bicycles
"I saved your book to take with me on the Nevada trip, but I didn't get to the part where you had to fight the headwinds until after I had called for my son. If I had read that part before, I might have been tempted to stick it out, and really have messed up my knees :-)"
Dwight N. Tovey
"I can see we share many similar ideologies."
"Just wanted to let you know what I thought about the book. [It] was a great read! Light and easy and very humourous. I think you captured the quirky characters very well. I also liked the amusing interplay between you and Sharon. [...] Your book certainly makes me want to get out there ..."
"Your book was totally fantastic."
"Well, it is still in the top three, but now it is #1."
"It's quite incredible to me to finish reading a book, get on a computer, and commence writing the author a letter. It's an amazing world! I thoroughly enjoyed your book, though it took me a few chapters to get used to the quite-tongue in-cheek style... [...] Thanks also for all the nice quotes -- they give a pause for thought, and show a deeper side to the wry wit. I'll close with my favorite blessing from my journals: "May the best of your past be the worst of your future." (Italian saying, if I'm not mistaken)."
Mordechai Friedman; in Jerusalem, Israel
"[...] Even her mom, non cycling person, loved [the excerpts]. So, she told me she just had to order the book. Glad she did. I know, she will LOVE it."
"I enjoyed reading your book [...] Let me know if you are writing about any of your other trips."
"The only disappointment in Lead Goat was that you seemed to have missed Putzu Idu. No cycling trip to Sardinia is complete without a visit to this resort ghost town, where the dogs lie on the road until June or a cyclist, whichever arrives first. Otherwise, the book was perfect."
"[C]ame upon your book on sardinia on amazon.com .... i've had my eye on that little island [...] the steep mountains, gorges, small gravel roads intrigued me [...]"
"Would you believe until I read ... I always thought it was The Lead (as in metal) Goat Veered Off, not the LEAD Goat, as in the one at the front! He he."
"After finding where I left off at your web site, and before starting to read more, I was most pleased with how little my left hand was holding and how much was still in my right hand."
"I thought the book was hilarious!"
"... it has made me laugh out loud on several occasions. [...] I would recommend it to anyone that enjoys a good cycle touring tale."
"I am just finishing your book and already wish there was a sequel -- I am enjoying it so much!"
"Thanks for the quick service on the book. Many times it seems like I'm there with you. Am enjoying it very much, except for the fact that I can't read a page without wanting to drop everything and take off with our recumbent trikes."
"Thank you for the wonderful Sardinia story. I discovered a lot about Sardinia reading it. I was surprised to find so many men named 'Louie.'"
"My husband ordered your book and proceeded to tell me snippets along the way. When he finished it he made me put down my third Harry Potter book and read it. Reluctantly I put down Harry and co. and picked up the Lead Goat. I loved it from the start, and could not put it down."
"I want to tell you, I really am enjoying your book! I have looked at your web site a couple times and as I read your book, I can relate to the pictures I've seen there. [...] This type of book is what it takes to give us a good kick in the imagination (not to mention the ass!) Well, I am almost finished and will be needing more reading material... I'll keep your name on my search list!"
Phil M. Breidenbach
The Lead Goat Veered Off sample chapters
Intruders Backtracking Onward Violation Two Heads Hit the Pillow More Than One Way Nice to Say Goodbye Unofficial Policy Black Olives We Have Evolved a Bigger Brain Fast Life in the Slow Lane
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"Simply awesome. The maps were wonderful and far more than I anticipated in a palm format book! The story was even better."
Lt Marc Zingarelli
"Neil Anderson and his wife Sharon went on an 18-month cycling tour of the world, and out of this odyssey came the book The Lead Goat Veered Off about their three months on Sardinia.
"You'll discover, along with Neil and Sharon, that expectations and reality don't always jive, but an adventure is still an adventure, even if you didn't predict the outcome."Jan Bark, AdventureMail Interview
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