Today we took our second ride up into the hills as my practice for being a kind of assistant tour guide on Saturday. My first ride wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't really a shining moment either. My plan is more to follow quietly than to do any real leading. I think I should wear one of those name tags with a little ribbon fluttering underneath that says TRAINEE! on it. Although it should probably say that in Italian or Swedish as we are riding in Italy and the group are Swedes. Then again the deer-in-the-headlights look I'll be sporting that day should be a big clue for them that I'm not the actual guide.
This time the ride went much better. The hills were still there (dammit) but I'm finally figuring out how to shift gears more elegantly so that there's less swearing and panting. Honestly, there's still some of that, but far less than the first time we rode here. And because it's a mountain bike it is rather loud when it does shift gears. Thank God there's no grinding sounds, but there is the occasional loud thunk as the chain finds the teeth on the new sprocket. Or, my personal favorite, the sudden metallic snap when the chain slips, the bike hesitates for a moment, and it sounds like the whole bike is going to start flying apart.
You'd think that a mountain bike would be the perfect vehicle for climbing up mountains. You'd be wrong. Or maybe it's only wrong when I'm the one riding the mountain bike. It has a sturdy frame, which translates into heavy, and shock absorbers, which translates into more weight, and fat knobby tires that sound like those off-road tires they put on Jeeps (whose owners then only run them on the asphalt and the whine sounds like the hounds of hell are chasing the truck.) It isn't so easy pedaling a heavy bike with grippy tires up hill. Let me rephrase that. It's pretty damn hard to pedal a heavy bike with sticky tires up hill, especially when one is still learning how to smoothly transition from one gear to the next and learn which gear makes sense to use and trying not to get run over by the traffic whizzing by my left knee. They would have to run over me as most of the road has stone walls on both sides with the occasional shoulder, typically being used as a pedestrian walk by someone carrying 10 bags of groceries. I also seem to have trouble staying far enough behind the bike ahead of me so I have to watch out for him as well as the cars and pedestrians and scooters and cats and dogs. Hmm, why am I doing this again?
Oh yeah. Here's the thing. UP may suck, but down is amazing. Throwing myself down a mountain on a road barely wide enough for two small cars to pass and seeing the valley before me and more mountains behind that...well, it makes every sweaty, panting foot of climb worth it. The wind in my face as the trees and flowers rush by...the view is breathtaking in every sense of the word. It's like flying.
So I'm looking forward to Saturday. I will probably still curse and I can guarantee that I will sweat. I will pant and gasp, but only to make the guests feel better about their own ride. At least that's what I plan on telling myself. And when we're done climbing and sweating, after we've had a coffee and eaten our meal and rested sufficiently, we get to throw ourselves down the mountain. We get to fly. There will be pictures.