Sunday, February 8, 2015

Back in the Saddle

It’s been almost five whole months since I rode my bike. Anyone that knows me understands how difficult it’s been to be without. Even after I finally unpacked my bike, there was poor weather and a bout of the plague (also known as the common cold) that kept me off the roads.

This morning, I climbed back into the saddle.

It was cold, below freezing, and the nebbia (fog) was thick across the whole region.

The mandatory glamour pic of my bike with
the Rotonda obscured by fog in the background. 
I took longer than usual to get ready, struggling to remember how to layer my bib with leg warmers, base layer, vest, and so on. Pulling on my shoe covers was a spectacle unto itself.

When I kicked away from the driveway, I wobbled along the road, struggling to clip my feet into the pedals, and unsure if I even remembered how to keep the bike upright.

But, as they say, you never really forget how to ride a bike, even when you’re a poorly coordinated, slow-witted squatch like me.

I cruised along the Italian roads, narrowly missing cars and obstacles, neatly curving through roundabouts and shouting Ciao! at passing cyclists. My spirits soared when the old man smoking a cigarette outside a Bar (where they serve coffee, not booze) shouted “ Alè, alè!” at me. I assume it meant something good, ‘cause I was really moving right then and he had a huge grin spread across his leathery face.

Everything was going so well. Despite the nebbia and freezing air I was making good time and enjoying myself thoroughly. So, I did what I do best.

I got lost. On purpose.

Smoke rose from chimneys, steam from vents. Chickens huddled silent in their pens. At the edges of town, hills rose out of the fog, covered with ghostly rows of slumbering grape vines barren of fruit and standing sentinel on the rolling hills, memories of soldiers and ancient walls defending the town. Somewhere, church bells tolled, the echoes struggling through the thick walls of gloom.

I found an awesome switchback road leading away from the main road through narrow, tightly curving streets that, according to the map, should connect up with another road over the small mountain that could take me back around and home via the scenic route. I stopped part way up to take a quick photo of the town and countryside spread out below. The grade averaged somewhere around 14 percent and I could actually feel my heart beating inside my skull. My lungs were burning and legs protesting when the road turned from asphalt into dirt, rocks, and mud. I kept it up for a quarter mile before I stopped to inspect the map a little closer. That’s when I realized I had almost 25 more kilometers to go of this muddy switchback. The mountain bikers riding up behind me were apparently impressed with what I had so far accomplished with my skinny tires. They laughed and called me “corraggioso.” When they weren’t looking, I turned back and slowly wobbled back downhill.

Instead, I crossed over a river completely covered in nebbia (that’s fog, remember) and headed east to find my way home. My hands were completely frozen and I had struggled to use my brakes on my way back down the mountain. It was time for a hot shower and coffee.

Everywhere the fog pushed the world away from reality and into a vision where nothing was truly real and nothing appeared for very long. Anything that came into focus only stayed long enough to be noticed, briefly, before dissolving back into the dream surrounding me.
Several mostly uneventful but confusing miles (or kilometers) later I was cruising back into my neighborhood. The feeling of elation and accomplishment that I usually have at the end of a bike ride was there. It’s a sensation that I’ve been missing out on for almost half a year. It’s euphoric but inspiring. I feel calm and excited, enthusiastic about what my day holds, and usually (if I’m not completely exhausted) get a lot of work done.

I find bike rides to be perfect tools for brainstorming and meditating, and often have great ideas or discover solutions to problems while riding. And, of course, they give me the excuse to eat whatever I want afterwards. Buon Appetito!

My face was frozen that way, and my hands were so red and swollen that I could barely unclip my helmet afterwards. Why do I do this to myself? Partly, because I’m an idiot, and partly, because it’s fun.