Sunday, May 20, 2012

Riding in the hills: Game Day

That's right! Yesterday was my maiden voyage as a bike tour guide. We were a team actually; he did the leading while I held the anchor position and made sure that no one fell behind and got lost. This becomes very important when there are more than ten people in the group because sometimes it's impossible to keep everyone in sight. These are the rolling hills of Tuscany after all. Switchbacks abound and buildings hug the side of the road.

Work, work, work
I'll start with the Minnesota statement to describe my day. It could have been worse. Which translated means it went pretty well but I don't want to seem like I'm bragging. My ideal group would have been a bunch of geriatrics and a close second would be a group of 40 somethings that sit at a desk all day. I know I could keep up with them. I wasn't expecting to see a group of 18-20 year olds excitedly chattering in Swedish about their chance to bike here in Tuscany. OK, I assume that was the conversation. I don't speak Swedish. But I know excited chatter when I hear it.

I also know I haven't been 18 to 20 years old for at least 18 to 20 years. But, it could have been worse. They could have been 16 years old and basically unstoppable. They could have been the national Swedish bike team here on vacation. They could have been MOPS (Moms Of Pre-Schoolers.) All these people would have wiped the road with me. I was lucky, really. A group of students with three teachers at the end of the school year? They're still numb from winter and exams. I could totally keep up with them.

Leif spoke to the group for awhile before we left. I heard my name and "Jag älskar dig" so I'm pretty sure he introduced me as his wife and told them that the only Swedish I know is "I love you" so they should probably stick to English when talking with me. Which they did. Thankfully. I wasn't ready to tell perfect strangers that I loved them.

Getting out of town took some time. Everyone was getting used to the bikes, and Swedes are very conscious of traffic rules and safety. Italians are not. I remember that it took me about six months to stop viewing Italian traffic as chaotic and death-defying. Sadly, there's no way out of town without going through at least one roundabout from hell. Between the Italian need to dominate every square millimeter of road and the Swedish urge to merge in an orderly fashion it took quite some time to get through, but we finally managed and continued out of the center of Florence. Probably a good thing none of us understands enough Italian to be offended by what was yelled at us through car windows.

Once we got out of the major traffic things went pretty smoothly. Leif and the boys (the larger part of the group) sprinted ahead while I stayed with the girls and teachers who moved a little slower. The sprinters would have to sit and wait while we caught up before they could sprint off again, only to wait again a little farther down the road. We just kept moving...slowly....but we kept moving. I got frustrated earlier when Leif was teaching me to climb hills because it seemed like so much work for so little gain, but I'm now quite comfortable with moving my legs at a sprint pace while moving only slightly faster than a killer snail. The point is that I'm still moving forward. They taught me this yesterday. I should send them a thank you card.

We climbed, and climbed, and climbed, and finally reached the villa where lunch was served. Wow. A beautiful place. Great views of the countryside. Great wines. A lot of really fantastic food. The most interesting new things for me were the polenta in béchamel sauce and prosciutto wrapped, broiled prunes. It might sound a little strange, but it tastes great! And I got to do it with my husband, which is sort of like the prize in a box of Cracker Jacks.

Drum roll please...the moment I'd been waiting for! Time to throw ourselves down the mountain and enjoy the wind in our faces on the way back down. Zoom, zoom...wait. I'd forgotten that the women I was escorting rode up and down hill at the same speed. (deep sigh) We sedately pedaled our way down the mountain, hands firmly gripping our brake handles so that we would reach the bottom safely. Imagine my disappointment...people who are on vacation apparently don't like to throw themselves down a mountain! Go figure.

So, I guess to sum up the was perfect. I got to help people see a little of the countryside without having to see it through the windows of a bus. I discovered that I can, in fact, climb a mountain on a bike. I assume the elegance that I see others climb with will come with practice. I got to try new foods and some truly beautiful wine. I met some new people. I didn't have to tell anyone that I loved them in Swedish except for Leif, who already knows that but likes to hear it anyway. Yes, a perfect day.

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