Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cycling through Italy

At 4:45 this morning, I left a perfectly good bed and sleeping partner to journey with six equally insane women.  As Amy picked me up, I laughed as I realized the hilarity of applying sunscreen before the sun was even up.

The seven of us caravanned about 60 miles to our starting point. Someone had a replacement tube and passed it around for everyone to ‘touch the tube’. Perhaps this would keep any of us from getting a flat tire. Still cool out, we debated about whether to wear sleeves. About 3 miles into our ride, we were glad we chose not to.

We had been warned that this ride was hilly. We are used to riding on relatively flat terrain.  About 16 miles in came a gloriously shaded and cool downhill. I checked my speed and clocked 34mph. Nothing compared to what racers do, but the fastest speed I had ever gone.  Around a lovely curve and then the markings for a right turn that I couldn’t yet see. 

And there it was. The first F-bomb of the day.  About halfway up a steep incline were four of my comrades….walking their bikes up the hill.  Completely unprepared to make it any other way, the rest of us dismounted and pushed our way up the hill. A skinny little guy come around the corner and bolted up the hill trying not to laugh at us. Ah, humility.

The second killer hill came soon after and although I tried my best to ride it, I ended up walking that one too.  There were others that we did ride though. My thighs are no longer hill virgins.

The scenery was beautiful and it was great to be on unfamiliar roads. I told Amy that we should pretend we were cycling in Italy.  At the next town we encountered, she said “Hey, It’s sure nice of this Italian village to have a water tower labeled in English!” That Amy doesn’t miss a beat.

At one point, Sue and I were going along, anxious for our first rest stop, when a male cyclist came up behind us. I kept looking back thinking that he was going to pass us. Eventually he said “I’m ok. Just taking a rest.” That’s the first time anyone has drafted off of me (usually the slowest in the pack)! Soon we arrived at the rest stop and I chatted with the draftee. I noticed he had an accent that I couldn’t recognize and when I mentioned the conversation to Amy, she replied “Italian!” And with the tortellini at 9am, a theme seemed to be developing.

The other theme in this ride was churches. Little ones with the quotable signs out front. The first one we encountered said "Hell really exists. Are you going?" We got a little chuckle over that one. Yes, we would experience it in about 40 miles!

Further down the road we convened at the dividing point where we had to decide whether we were riding 54 miles or 77. The 99 route was already ruled out by the smarter ones in our group. (I still had a silly pipedream.) Given that there were seven of us, it seemed too perfect for us to ride 77. Five of us turned left to finish 77, two turned right to finish a very respectable 54. There were many times during the rest of the 77 that I wished I had turned right.

As the sun rose, so did the temperature. Before the battery of my bike computer died, it registered 91 degrees.  The headwinds actually felt good since they had a cooling effect. The five miles prior to the next rest stop, I had thoughts of letting a sag wagon take me back. My head was tingly and my legs felt like lead. At one point I thought I heard a vehicle behind us and yelled “Car back!....I think. My ears might be hallucinating.”  Rachel started singing songs from Annie. We were officially delirious.

Next rest stop at mile 47 (BBQ sandwiches!) we sat and tried to figure out a strategy to get through the next thirty miles.  “It’s just a short Friday Night Ladies Ride!” said Rachel. I groaned. “It’s 3 ten mile rides!” Ok. Better. I can get behind this strategy. We slowly remounted and headed out. It was high noon.

About ten miles later, we entered one of the many small towns and decided we needed more refueling. Something cold. With caffeine perhaps. Our brains were fuzzy. I have never been more happy to see a Casey’s General Store in my life. I filled up a giant Coke, and then stumbled around the parking lot like I was drinking a pint of gin in a paper bag. I used the leftover ice to cool down the rest of us. No one even flinched when I dropped ice cubes down their tops. Good times.

The next twenty is a bit of a blur. More hills, more headwinds, more heat. As we got closer to the finish, we all remembered the warning that we got at registration. “There’s a big climb right at the end. Sorry about that.” And there it was. A long steady climb. Jenny, who talked me through those last twenty, gave me one last “We can do this!” and up we went. Under the blazing sun, it felt like my skin and muscles were on fire, but then there was the turn into the park.

Jenny and I arrived to cheers from the crew ahead of us and I wished I had been there to cheer them in.   We then realized that the ‘touch the tube’ moment had worked. No flat tires! Thank goodness. Not sure I would have had the strength and brain power to change one!

Sue and Amanda had patiently waited for two hours for us to arrive. We all shared our war stories and got more to eat and drink. We couldn’t help to just look at each other and laugh. What makes us do these crazy things? What are we trying to prove?

I thought of an article that a fellow Spokeswoman had posted. It included Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” In other words, take risks and get out of your comfort zone. “Instead of talking myself out of things, I talked myself into them.” This is what we do. We talk ourselves and each other into these crazy things so that we can accomplish something out of the ordinary.

For me, it also means I get to spend a lot of time with some spectacular women, in places almost as beautiful as Italy.