A warm welcome from the walled city of Lucca, a sacred grove of luminous space in Tuscany, Italy.
Eight hundred years ago, a beloved domestic servant of Lucca was buried.
Three centuries later, her body (definitely not her body) was exhumed, discovered miraculously undecomposed, and put on display for veneration.
A hundred years more and the dead woman was canonised by the Catholic Church as Saint Zita, patron of maids and lost keys.
Today, for three Euros, you can visit her ‘incorrupted’ shrivelled body in its glass case on top of an altar in the Basilica di San Frediano.
If that’s your sort of thing.
But I didn’t come to Lucca to ogle cadavers; I came here to lie in the shade, eat pizza by weight, and find perspective on the last five weeks.
Since I last wrote — a glance at the stranger side of my cycle-tour packing list — the forty-four cyclists of the first four weeks of Thighs of Steel have successfully ridden all 2,384km of road between Glasgow and Milan.
That’s a heck of a long way.
The vast distances, the never-ending hills, the sleepless nights and the heavy summer rain stretched many cyclists well past what they once thought their physical and mental limits.
More significantly, we have now collectively raised over £70,000 for grassroots refugee and migrant solidarity projects.
Last year, the whole ride raised £114,632. It was a record total for one of our summer mega group rides and I genuinely thought it couldn’t be beat.
This year, with four weeks more to ride before Athens, we are £1,000 ahead of where we were this time last year.
The ride is not a race and our fundraising is not a competition, but I have been gratifyingly dumbstruck, once again, by the generosity and support shown by thousands of ordinary citizens for a cause unpopular with both politicians and the press.
Khora is an association that runs a community centre across three buildings in Kypseli and Exarcheia, and provides services to anyone that needs them.
We value solidarity, autonomy, community, and the right of everyone to access the basic means to live in our city.
Khora includes a social kitchen, asylum support centre, a free shop for clothes and toiletries and a maker space with a focus on arts and crafts as therapeutic practice for women and LGBTQIA+ migrants and asylum seekers.
In the days before Thighs of Steel left Glasgow, we heard that one of Khora’s major funders had run into financial difficulties and been forced at short notice to withdraw their €60,000 grant.
Khora costs €8,000 per month to run. They had enough in the bank to stay open until August. Then: nothing.
Luckily, at this point, MASS Action, the charity for whom Thighs of Steel fundraise, were able to step in and grant out €32,000 from this year’s ride donations.
That’s enough to keep Khora running until the end of the year.
I say ‘luckily’; it’s not luck.
It’s what happens when a load of people get together to do something they believe in, and when they stay focused on the purpose of why they do that something.
I’m talking about the cyclists, Thighs of Steel organisers, MASS Action volunteers, and of course the thousands of people who donate.
Saint Zita, a humble house maid, was known in life for doing ordinary things extraordinarily well — such a rare quality that she’s been credited with a hundred and fifty miracles.
This summer, Thighs of Steel cyclists are doing ordinary things.
We’re all just spinning wheels, sharing stories and inviting our friends to donate in solidarity with people on the move across Europe.
Nothing of what we do is a miracle, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think we do our ordinary things extraordinarily well.
If you’re a UK taxpayer, then you can also choose to add Gift Aid and the government will automagically slap an extra 25 percent to your donation. That’s money they can’t spend on building prison boats.