Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Revolution of a cyclist: Some days I just shouldn't get out of bed...

I debated for some time about the title of this because absolutely none of this happened on a road bike. However the majority of it did in fact happen on a bike. My mountain bike, during a tour with fourteen Swedish dentists on Saturday.

I've done these tours a number of times now so I don't completely freak out but it's still new enough for me to feel nervous. And I've had a rash of flat tires this year (I think seven, which defies probability) so I approach every ride semi-resigned to the idea that I'll have to stop along the way and watch Leif change a tube for me. Truthfully, in my mind I see the entire bike falling apart beneath me, piece by piece. A flat tire is really more of an inconvenience than a problem anymore.

This tour started an hour later, which left Leif and me wandering aimlessly around the apartment dressed and ready to go, because an hour isn't time enough to do anything else. By the time we got to the meeting point it had started to rain slightly, really just a few raindrops here and there but enough to concern the dentists. We assured them (with fingers crossed) that the forecast didn't call for rain so this would go away.

Once we were on our way the rain did stop and I realized that this group wasn't what I expected from a group of dentists. I sort of expected them to be a little less fit, slower on the bikes. Only later did I find out that one of them was an avid "downhill mountain biker" which means taking the ski lift to the top of a mountain and then riding down that same, trail-less mountain as fast as possible. The rest just seemed to be naturally fit, even the ones who voiced concerns over being able to climb the mountain.

We got through town just fine (usually quite difficult as Swedes are law-abiding folk and Italians make their own rules as they go) and suddenly, going up the first hill, I felt as if I had never been on a bike at all. I struggled to breathe as I pedaled furiously (yet in slow motion) up the hill, all the while trying to figure out what was wrong. Had I really been off a bike that long that I couldn't even get up what has become for me a pretty easy hill? I was just about to start blaming the sports bra for unnaturally restricting my breathing (seriously, I was wheezing like an asthmatic bulldog) when I noticed that one side of my front brake was engaged. Fully. That's right, I was like a car trying to drive with the park brake on.

Of course, the tools needed to correct this little problem were with Leif at the front of the group so I moved things around as much as I could and pedaled my little butt off to where they had stopped to talk about olive trees. We managed to get everything fixed, but I was already tired and we'd barely started. Plus with the late start that meant that my coffee and pastry were later too and I was running out of fuel. But the show must go on and so we headed out to the next town and the little store where we get our coffee.

By the time we got there I was exhausted. I needed food and these dentists were riding as if this were a little bump in the road instead of the mountain that it was. We (OK, mostly me) refreshed ourselves with coffee and pastry and got back on the bikes. Which is when reality hit for part of the group. "You mean we're only halfway there?"

Turns out they weren't as fit as I thought, they'd just spent all their energy getting to coffee assuming that it was a the longest part of the ride. The rest of the trip finished much like most of our tours, with part of the group sprinting ahead, the bulk of the group maintaining a constant speed, and my little group that had to be coaxed up the mountain at whatever speed it took to get them there. I'm still pretty proud of the fact that I can take someone who looks me in the eye and swears they can't ride another meter and get them to finish the ride on their bikes. They're proud of themselves and have a glorious downhill ride as a reward. Granted, they do it with the brakes on usually, but still, it's a downhill.

After another great lunch we headed back down the mountain. As we came into town again I thought I could hear my tires more than usual. Kind of like I'd switched to snow tires halfway down the mountain. I looked down, sighed and rode to the next scheduled stop. I coasted up to Leif, looked at him as apologetically as I could and said two words. Flat tire.

He looked at me with big eyes, "Nooo..." "Oh yes," I said. "What now?" We decided that it would take too long to change the tire so I got into the support van with my bike and the group rode on without me. I was disappointed in myself, even though a flat tire is definitely a mechanical thing and no reflection of my ability on a bike. Leif told me when the group arrived at the bike shop that they missed me, were concerned that without me at their back they'd get lost and never get back. I felt a little better after that.

So we said goodbye to the Swedes and turned our attention to my bike. I needed to get the tire changed so I could go to my next job. Yeah, I took a babysitting job for after a full day bike tour. I've told you and told you, I need a keeper, someone to watch my schedule and question me when necessary.

This being Italy, you don't simply walk in, pick out a tire, pay for it and leave. No, you (read Leif) and the mechanic must discuss what kind of riding I do to determine the correct tire, discuss the pros and cons of several brands and finally arrive at a decision. This decision is carefully recounted at the desk as you wait to check out (because only one customer at a time can be helped, and they are only finished after a discussion of family and weather conditions as well as their most recent purchase) and finally you are able to actually start putting the tire on the bike.

I made it to the next job with one minute to spare. A miracle. The rest of the evening is kind of a blur for me. Baby, walking, playing, not sleeping. I didn't get to eat soon enough and so by the end of the night I was spent to the point of feeling sick.

Of course I blame this on the fact that on top of everything that happened that day I was trying to do it on the most difficult day of my monthly cycle. I was weak from blood loss, just a tad emotional and stressed about finding bathrooms when I needed them. Let's just say the last part isn't always easy when riding up a mountain into small villages on a weekend. I'm pretty sure the sports bra didn't help. I felt strangled all day.

I survived. That's enough for me this time. But I will be doing research into tires. Indestructible, possibly bullet-proof tires.

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