Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cow poop and bike grease

The story of how I got stuck in an Italian cattle drive and almost made it home.

I stood along the road, my bike in pieces at my feet, both of us covered in bike grease and cow manure, waiting for Char to come rescue me. I was two miles from home, and I quit.

Five hours ago, I had a simple mission. Ride to Turcio just outside Asiago, where I could get a well-deserved cafe and pastry, then head home in time to join Char and the in-laws for brunch. It had rained a little when I started the ride, but stopped before I had covered the 20 miles to the mountains. I stopped at the Chiesa della Madonna della Ciclista on the way up the mountain to pay my respects and for a quick clean bathroom and snack break and made great time up into the Dolomites.

Staring down at the town of Conco (Kunken in German) is always a great view. It's like a city up in the clouds on a rainy day, with the Veneto Po River Valley spread out far below it.
It was totally uneventful, and almost entirely devoid of other cyclists, which should have been my first clue that I probably didn’t want to be out on the road. When the birds in the forest stop chirping, you’re probably in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Four miles from Turcio I came across an Italian cattle drive. They had wagons, horses, an entire caravan of support vehicles, lots of guys walking with sticks and Alpini feathered hats, and even a massage table set up along the road where they were working over some of the cattle herders.

Italian cowboys!

But they were all off the road in the adjacent fields so I took a few pics and carried on my merry way.

On the way home, well, that’s when things got interesting.

Mandatory selfie with Italian cowboys and cowgirls. 
A few miles down the road I ran smack into the back end of the cattle drive that had taken over the entire road. Everything was covered in manure, and I tried unsuccessfully to weave between the worst piles of muck, passing cars and working my way along the convoy of cattle herding vehicles, polizia cars, trucks, tractors, wagons and horses before I found myself stuck staring at the butt end, literally, of a couple hundred head of cattle heading down the mountain switchbacks.

A horse drawn wagon, why not?
I followed another Italian cyclist, one of the very few on the road that morning, back up the mountain and he showed me a back road that looped and carved down the mountain to get us ahead of the herd.  As I followed him back onto the main road my bike began rattling frighteningly and I looked down to see my bike bottle cage rocking wildly against the frame. A few quick moments on the side of the road with my mini-tool and I was once again rocketing towards home.

Now I was really running late and pushing my already spent legs and lungs hard to beat my best times on a familiar route home. I was making good time and feeling great about the ride despite the persistent smell of cow dung on everything when I felt and heard the pop. The evil hiss that followed told me everything I needed to know, and my back tire even began to fishtail precariously.

Sometimes, when things start to go wrong, they keep getting worse.

Standing at the side of the road looking at the fibers pushing out from the gaping maw in my tire, and all the euphoria of the ride vanished. I started going through the familiar routine of removing the tire to put in a dollar-bill shim and new tube while texting Char that I was running even later when we both realized that I was only two miles from home. By the time I’d fix the bike, she’d be there with the Jeep to give me a lift and we were already so late for brunch that we were running the risk of missing it.

I started to put the wheel back on the frame so it would fit on the bike rack when my manual dexterity disappeared. I couldn’t get the wheel back on, the chain slipped off the front chainring, the front fork turned awkwardly and I very nearly found myself tumbling down into a ditch full of stagnant farm runoff.

And that’s how Charla found me, standing alongside the road in my disheveled kit, covered in cow manure and bike grease, reeking of dung and sweat, furious and exhausted and ready to throw my bike into oncoming traffic to end my misery.

This is the face of someone who has given up hope of doing anything useful.
I’m surprised she let me in the Jeep at all.

And that’s how a simple ride turned into a – wait for it – crappy adventure!