Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Revolution of a cyclist: Death by bicycle

Here we are at last, riding again. I took some time off; a month in Sweden and then lollygagging around Florence trying to get rid of a persistent cough. I've been slowly getting back on the bike.

On Sunday Leif said it was "my day" because on Saturday, International Womens Day, we were busy volunteering at a children's carnival. I suggested a ride to Greve, because the weather was supposed to be beautiful and I haven't been there since the New Year. And (this is important to note) it's pretty much a flat ride, with only a couple of manageable hills. My body may be willing but my lungs are still a little weak.

Leif suggested a more scenic route than the one we usually do. You'd think I'd learn, I've been with him long enough to distrust this sort of statement casually thrown out with a come-hither smile and sideways glance. He oozes charm when planning a ride that will push me a bit.

He sort of has his own language. One that tends to gloss over the less desirable parts and sugar coats everything so that every ride sounds like a spin around the park complete with balloons and cotton candy and little cartoon birds chirping merrily. Sunday's argument was reinforced by the fact that the usual route has a section of road riddled with potholes that even mountain bikes struggle to manage, along with traffic that would make my mother's hair stand on end. (hope she's not reading this) Taking that into consideration I agreed to ride the scenic route. And lived to tell the story.

I didn't help my cause much I guess when I mentioned that I'd like to take some pictures to show friends and to promote our business. Those kind of pictures, the ones that inspire people to want to ride here, don't happen at the bottom of the mountain.

But I didn't think of that when we started out. He waited till we were close to the start of the major climb before saying (again casually, as if he hardly need mention it) that we would be climbing for quite a while so take a drink and get in the right gear. Quite awhile translates into about 40 minutes of climbing. For the first little bit I actually did notice the scenery. He's right, it's quite beautiful. But then gravity doubled and my lung capacity felt like it was cut in half and I couldn't tell you what any part of the climb looked like after that.

Sometimes singing helps me to get a rhythm so I tried to remember a song, any song, to sing inside my head. Singing out loud would be impossible as I was saving all my breath to keep from passing out. The only song I could think of was Funiculi, Funicula (which was originally an advertising song for a hillside tram in Naples) so over and over again, whether ironically or in prayer to a higher power to make one appear, the song played inside my head.

Somewhere after gravity started working overtime and the final "last hill" I decided that maybe he was trying to kill me. I know, we're sooooo in love, but don't all those women in movies think their man loves them too much to hurt them, and then hurts them bad? I'm sure the lack of oxygen (both from my exertion and the fact that we were getting into thin air territory) didn't help. It wasn't too hard to convince myself that it was possible, and that it was a totally brilliant plan. Death by bicycle. Impossible to pin on him. I got on the bike of my own free will. There wouldn't be a mark on my body except for the bruises to be expected from the inevitable fall when I lost consciousness. See? Diabolically brilliant.

Then we were at the top, surrounded by views that most people only see in pictures. And he let me stop to take some of those pictures. Once I got my breath back I became rational again. I mentally apologized to him. Then said it out loud as well, just in case I accidentally spoke those thoughts out loud during the climb, although to be honest I can't imagine that I'd had enough breath to speak and ride at the same time.

The rest of the ride seems kind of anti-climactic compared to the beginning. The glorious downhill, the coffee and pastry (because I totally ran out of fuel early) and the mostly flat ride back were very enjoyable. And I think it's important to acknowledge at this point that Leif never suggests a ride that is beyond my capabilities, it's just that sometimes they're beyond where I'm comfortable but probably just what I need to become a better rider. I hate it when he's right.

It was too good to last, however. After narrowly escaping death by bicycle I was a little too relaxed. As we rode along a narrow road enclosed by high stone walls I had to swerve suddenly to avoid being hit by two large and heavy trash bags being pushed out a narrow doorway in the wall. Just my luck I would have lived through one attempt on my life only to be knocked off my bike into oncoming traffic by garbage. Thank goodness the man holding the trash bags saw me and pulled the bags back as I saw them out of the corner of my eye and swerved to avoid them. Another crisis averted. Thank God, because the headline Cyclist Critically Injured In Clash With Trash is not how I want to be remembered.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Remember me?

Remember me? Probably not. I  barely remember me some days. I'll forgive you if you'll forgive me.

It's been a strange winter. What should have been our off-season (down time, time to relax, etc) has turned into a planning frenzy for the coming year. I'm not complaining, mind you, it's just that the break in past years has been kind of nice. That moment to take a deep breath, let it all out, and comment that life certainly is good and where's the wine?

So quick recap.

We returned to Italy early in January just in time for Leif to head up to the Dolomites for a cross country ski event. I stayed home with the cold of the century. Luckily, an angel of a friend gave me a bottle of Nyquil out of her stash (it's not available here) and I've been using it sparingly hoping to make it last forever. Or at least till the cold of the century decides to release it's iron-like grip on my body. Because the cough remains. Annoying.

Leif left again in early February to attend a travel fair in Sweden. I stayed home nursing the cough, courtesy of the cold of the century. I think it rained the entire time he was gone. I didn't get bored though, because even though it was hard to go anywhere I had entertainment. I joined an online art project and kept myself busy doodling and painting and thinking creative thoughts. And coughing.

My son turned 29 in February. Funny, it didn't bother me at all to turn any of the milestone ages, but when your children start hitting those milestones it does make you stop and think about the time that's gone by. I've come to the conclusion that it's been a good life, and will continue to be fantastic. I'm lucky.

In late Februarty we headed up into the mountains north of Florence for another thrilling 10 days of watching dogs and cats. This time the weather was poor to awful the whole time. The electricity went out one day. The heat failed to reset after getting the electric back, but by the time we figured it out the 17th century stone farmhouse had cooled to the temperature of a dank cave and took two days to warm up again. Truth is, it never really warmed up. The owners had lowered the temperature in the boiler before they left assuming warmer weather was on the way so it really couldn't catch up. On the upside, my conversations with the housekeeper have gone beyond "Good morning" and "thank you". We can now discuss the weather! I also answered the phone a couple of times. I've had phone conversations entirely in Italian and we understood each other. At least I think so.....

One of the perks of staying at another persons house is that you have access to their books. Eight walls of books on every topic possible. Like a buffet of words. Granted, some of the words were Italian and some were Swedish, but there were also a lot of English books. I was in heaven. I read The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason, A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, The Hundred Secret Sensesi by Amy Tan, Nellie Taft by Carl Sferrazza Anthony, Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. My head probably weighs more, I've put so many words into it lately. I actually would have read more, but it took me a couple of days to realize that I had all those books waiting for me. What a waste.

I've managed to get a few rides in. Well insulated from the cold and rain, and when that wasn't possible I did the grown up thing and stayed inside. The weather is improving steadily now, so I'm hoping to have more regular rides coming up. That 100k ride in June is fast approaching (for all you saying, what? That's months away! Time flies, you know) and I need to get in shape.

I think that brings us up to date. On Saturday the Swedes in Florence will be at the annual children's carnival event for Fat Tuesday (rescheduled  because of rain). We dress up like fierce Vikings and terrorize the crowd. It should be fun.