Monday, June 10, 2013

Revolution of a cyclist: Don't try this at home

Just when I think there are no new ways for me to screw up I find myself doing things I shouldn't. My ride last Friday highlighted this for me. But there's more to this story than my stupidity (fueled mostly by my inexperience); there's also some good stuff.

I was so excited to ride on Friday. Leif was going to ride with me. It's not that I need someone else to ride with me. I have no problem being by myself in most situations. It's just that when I point my bicycle outside of town I feel very vulnerable. I rarely have a map and my sense of direction isn't as well developed as it could be. But mostly it's because if something should go wrong (and you should hear what my mind comes up with, completely insane fantasies which often end up with me sold into white slavery or deported; a terrible accident causing amnesia and/or amputation; both tires blowing as my brakes fail going down a large hill; the list goes on) I know that if any of these things should in fact happen I will have to deal with it in my second language. A language that deserts me during times of stress. It's a vicious circle. Which I don't know how to say in Italian.

So I was thrilled that I would have a chance to ride with Leif. Also he's an excellent coach so riding with him is easy if you don't keep track of the kilometers we ride. Then Thursday evening he casually asked me in the middle of an entirely different conversation if I'd like to ride with a visiting Swedish friend of his the next day.

I said "Sure!" not fully understanding that this friend is probably the top Swedish cyclist in his age group. He told me this little fact at breakfast before our ride. I requested a pinky swear that he wouldn't let me be hurt too badly during the ride. I'd met P-O once so I knew he wasn't an 80 year old cyclist. Darn, that would have worked for me. He's about my age, which of course made me nervous but what the heck. How bad could it be?

I need to stop asking that question.

The weather was beautiful for once. It's been rainy and unpredictable here for so long that we've learned not to trust those beautiful looking mornings, but nothing was going to keep us in the house. To head into Chianti we have to ride out of town over the train tracks and the city of Florence in her infinite wisdom built a bridge that (from the seat of a bike) resembles a cliff face. We get to do it 4 blocks into our ride. Not nearly enough time to warm up properly, but by the time we get to the top every muscle has been worked just a little bit and I'm thinking that I've already had enough. Luckily, like every climb up, there's a corresponding downhill on the other side that doesn't fully compensate but doesn't disappoint either.

Another kilometer or two and we climb to Piazzale Michelangelo long and slow. I will say that I'm getting a little better at climbing. Elderly walkers no longer pass me on the way up. I don't attain the summit (like how I make it sound so much higher than it's roughly 90 meters?) with my chest heaving and sounding like an asthmatic bulldog. Those are the tough parts of this ride for me, the rest is pretty much doable.

We reached the meeting point a mere 45 minutes after we left the house. We wheeled into the parking lot of a gas station to wait for P-O to arrive. Leif stopped. I pulled up next to him. The next few seconds slowed to Matrix-like time.

I was almost at a complete stop when I thought to myself  "I'm forgetting something. What could it be?"

As I started to teeter a bit I realized what.

I'm still attached to my pedals. Classic beginner mistake. Don't panic.

I'm completely serious when I say that it became completely silent. No traffic noise, no birds, nothing except the faint beating of my heart. I continued to teeter while my head slowly moved to the left to look at Leif. His eyes got big and his mouth opened into a perfect "o". I'm sure this was in response to the shocked look on my face. Later he told me that he didn't realize what was happening until after the dust settled.

I sat there teetering for what felt like ten minutes as I mentally ran through my options. This didn't take long. I could only come up with a few. One ended with me lying under my bike in a bloody and broken heap yet insisting at top volume that I was fine. It was the middle of an approach to a gas station. No parked cars to lean against and no soft grass to crash onto. Not a good option. Another was to simply reach out with my left hand and grab onto Leif. Unfortunately he was too far away and not even close to reaching for me.

Then I had a flash of brilliance. I stood on my pedals, bent my knees and jumped. I know. Most cyclists would tell you that the best I could have hoped for was to hop the entire bike closer to some stationary object to hold on to. They would also tell you that this is incredibly stupid and doomed to fail. By some divine intervention (and my super flexible ankles) as I jumped up I kind of jerked my feet away from the pedals and sure enough, my feet detached themselves from the pedals. Yet another miracle was that after I left the bike I managed to land on my feet, still holding the bike mostly upright and not doing any serious damage to myself or the bike.

Leif's mouth was still in the perfect "o". Suddenly the cone of silence was lifted and I could hear cars and birds. As I stood there shaking Leif asked first if I was all right, then he asked me what just happened. I explained that I sort of forgot I was clipped in and did the first thing that came into my head. He said that it shouldn't have worked, but I could see he was impressed by my 52 year old butt managing to find a way out of the situation. A kind of showy way out, but definitely successful.

It wasn't until 10:00 that evening that I thought of a third option. The most sensible one, of course, would have been to simply start pedaling again till I got my foot uncleated (Decleated? Detached? Is there a word for this?) It was an empty street. How perfectly simple and yet the absolute last thing I thought of.

I'm so lucky that my body responds to the demands I make on it. I chose the most unlikely and spectacularly ridiculous solution. I almost expected to hear a drum roll and giant cymbal crash after I landed. Let's face it. At this point it's safe to say that I'm only one or two more tricks away from a legitimate circus act.

Of course when P-O pulled up a minute later I was outwardly calm and ready to ride, as long as no one noticed how my hands were shaking. It only took about twenty minutes for the shaking to stop. I'm mortified by my near fall, but proud of the fact that I finished the ride to Greve and back without trouble and without slowing them down unnecessarily. Even keeping up with their usual speed at some points. Yeah, I'm very proud of that. Slowly but surely I'm getting better at this. Hopefully I'll make fewer mistakes and improve to the point where I won't have to consider joining the circus. But it's nice to have options.

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