VMS cross-country runner Alessandro Cantele goes coast-to-coast in Italy

Ryan Sederquist
Vail Daily
Alessandro Cantele and his father during the pair’s cross-country trip.
Courtesy photo

The thing you need to know about Alessandro Cantele is that you shouldn’t tell him what he can’t do.

The Vail Mountain School senior was running with his Battle Mountain teammates one day when a conversation about carbo-loading turned goofy.

“We were saying it would be hilarious to run across Italy because you could stop every five minutes and eat a bunch of carbs,” Cantele recalled.

A teammate, who shall remain nameless, declared, “There is no way you could run across Italy.”

Retelling his story, Cantele paused.

“And I went for it.” 

On June 24, Cantele dipped his shoe in the Adriatic Sea and departed Numana. Over the course of the next 12 days, he would cover the 269-mile “coast-to-coast” route on foot, his dad following on an e-bike, providing support.

On July 6, he arrived at the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Inspired, incense and insanity

Growing up as a Mexican-Italian-American, Cantele said he sometimes has struggled to find his place growing up.

“I’ve never had my little group, and out of that I grew very insecure,” he said.

“So, all of my life I’ve kind of been doing crazy dares to get peoples’ attention and a pat on the back, so to speak. When someone goes, ‘you can’t do this,’ my first reaction is ‘I absolutely can.’”

With a firmly planted motivation, a huge logistical component was already taken care of as well —Cantele’s family typically summers in Italy to visit family. His dad, who grew up bike touring through Europe and Alaska and took multiple sailing trips with his own father, was the obvious SAG (‘support and gear’ for the non-cyclists) wagon master assistant.

“This trip was partly inspired by his trips,” Cantele said, adding that he and his dad are close. “I can ask my dad anything and we’ll have long conversations.”

Those conversations typically started at breakfast during the two-week adventure.

“This trip was partly inspired by his trips,” Cantele said, adding that he and his dad are close. “I can ask my dad anything and we’ll have long conversations.”

Those conversations typically started at breakfast during the two-week adventure.

“We’d basically decide in the morning, ‘OK, this is the town we’re going to today,’” Cantele explained of their routine.

They spent 30-60 euros per day on lodging, which produced a wide range of accommodation quality — from splendid to janky to downright colorful. On the third night, they arrived in a “super cluttered” house with purple walls and green sheets. Down the hall, a panoramic ocean-themed wallpaper stretched toward the bathroom, which had a red tub and no curtains. The smell of incense and a statue of an angel holding a sword greeted them, as did a kind owner.

“It was hilarious,” laughed the high school senior. “She was really nice.”

After breakfast Cantele would start his day walking, a necessary choice as the trip wore on.

Alessandro Cantele’s route across Italy.
Courtesy image

“The hardest part of every day was the first 500 steps,” he admitted. “When I woke up, I felt like I couldn’t take a single step, and I’d be like, ‘and I have to do another marathon.’”

He covered anywhere from 20-40 miles each day, snacking through lunch, unable to patronize most restaurants abiding by their 2 p.m.-sharp closures. The remaining allotment of his 5,000 calories were restored at dinner.

As he feasted on one-of-a-kind Italian pastas and tomatoes with a Garden of Eden-like organic freshness (“It’s true, they are better than anywhere. Undeniably,” he said of the tomatoes), he sent some updates to friends back home. After all, they needed evidence that their carb-related postulations during that run so long ago were actually true.

“I think I had some of my best meals ever,” he boasted.

As the trip wore on, however, he posted to social media less and less.

“As it progressed, I kind of lost my need to, you know, go, ‘hey look what I’m doing,’” he said.

It was part and parcel with the self-realization he was experiencing at every mile.

“The original reason behind the trip was out of insecurity. My original bluff, as it were, of ‘Oh, you can’t run across Italy’ — ‘oh, yes I can,’” Cantele stated.

“What this trip taught me was that I don’t necessarily need outside validation. This showed me what I can do and it really taught me that I don’t necessarily need to fit in. … I know my worth, if that makes sense. It’s hard to put into words, but it showed me that it doesn’t matter what other people think, honestly.”

The trip’s spontaneity and the task’s sheer magnitude would lead many to conclude — as they have before — that he’s crazy. 

“I was called ‘crazy,’ and fine, I’ll take it,” he said. “I am a little bit crazy, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

Forging the father-son bond

The coast-to-coast route was “90% small, dirt roads and 5% difficult trails,” according to Cantele. “The other 5% were nasty intersections,” he joked. His route contained 33,000 feet of climb.

“If there was a tunnel, we’d go over the mountain,” he said.

The VMS student and SSCV Alpine skier was grateful for the willingness of his dad to put in long days in the saddle, riding an e-bike at a running pace.

“He’s phenomenal,” he said of his father.

“It was a massive group effort. When I say he was on a support bike — he didn’t have it easy either.”

According to Cantele, no father-son disputes were had.

Alessandro Cantele consumed roughly 5,000 calories per day as he ran across Italy in less than two weeks.
Courtesy photo

“The only argument was me pushing for more distance and him trying to keep me safe,” he said. The senior had labrum surgery on both hips two years ago to help repair damage accrued from running and skiing.

“There was the whole aspect of if my hip starts hurting, the whole thing is off,” he explained of the reason for his father’s cautionary presence.

“It was a bit intense and worrisome. But, other than that, we grew so much closer.”

Together, they weathered average temps above 96 degrees. On one 105-degree afternoon, a policeman stopped them to make sure they were OK. The time spent with his dad was the highlight of his trip, over and above the vistas, the sea, the accomplishment and yes, even the food.

Unable to pinpoint a single image or moment from the trip that stood out, he summarized his trip by saying, “The coolest part of it all was being with my dad, honestly.”

“In terms of that aspect of it, I would highly recommend a trip like this to anyone.”

On the second-to-last day, with the sea in view, the two ended another long day by sharing a long meal at a nice restaurant. As food arrived in 45-minute intervals over the course of three hours, they shared their newly-made memories.

“Here’s the thing: it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had,” he said when defending why he never embodied the expected American consumer response to such a digestive delay.

“Not just in terms of food but also in terms of conversation. It was three hours to debrief the whole trip, which was … I would have wanted more.” 

The length of such meals is culturally intentional, according to Cantele.

“The whole point is for it to be ‘slow food,’” he said. “The whole point is to have time to talk and socialize. I think it’s something that’s disappearing in the U.S. more and more.”

Two days later, he finished his journey.

Alessandro Cantele stands at the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea after running across Italy in 12 days.
Courtesy photo

“The most special thing I can really say about the day was standing there, facing the opposite direction in which I had started, looking out and still seeing the sea,” he described of the moment he had on the shores of the Tyrrhenian, a part of the Mediterranean.

“It was something about going in essentially a straight line for 12 days, … and it just all came down on me.”

Next adventures

Already, Cantele is plotting a new adventure.

“I was half-joking about doing Norway next year,” he said. “When I joke, take it with a grain of salt.”

The senior has his eyes on studying computer programming at Williams, Dartmouth, CU-Boulder or the University of British Columbia.

“For a lot of people, I feel like a computer is a lot of confusion. To me, it’s a blank canvas,” he said. “You can do absolutely anything, you can make anything. It’s the freedom that I like about it.” 

Though he’s focused on closing the gap between the third and fourth runner on the Battle Mountain cross-country team at the moment, his primary athletic dreams lie on the slopes.

“Skiing is very much in the picture,” he said of the process of narrowing down his college choices.

“Hopefully, Olympics for Mexico is in the picture.”

Don’t tell him he can’t.