Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Just a box of rain

Mallorca, the final days

Hills blah blah wind blah blah got lost blah blah, etc. Let’s just assume that those are a given, shall we? On Day 6, I decided to head out on my own again, since the previous day had been relatively successful. Plus the 2nd group of Germans were going to Petra, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there again.

So I wound up in Petra. This time at least I took an alternate route that wound up being pretty hilly – which was good – and busy with cars, which wasn’t. But the maps in Spain don’t make it clear which are highway-type roads and which are sheepherder-type, so it’s kind of a crapshoot. In Petra, after I eventually found the town square where the hundreds of other cyclists were hanging out, I discovered the secret to the Germans’ cycling success: beer and smoking. Pipes, to be exact. I’m not sure exactly where he put the pipe and tobacco while riding, but yes, some uber-German all decked out in full team kit and everything did pull out a pipe to have a little smoke before setting off again. At least it wasn’t a cigar.

Next, Sineu, not that that was my intent. But this turned out to be a nice sheepherder road, which made it worthwhile. And on the way back, I realized that a) my legs felt pretty good, b) most of the hills weren’t a big deal anymore, and c) my butt no longer hurt. AND, miracle of miracles, I was actually passing people. I know, shocking! Granted, we had a tailwind and they were putzing along on hybrids, but hell, on day one even the old ladies on bikes with baskets replete with crusty baguettes were passing me, so this was a step up.

Friday, the plan was to go riding with the Swiss, or at least attempt it. They were planning an easier ride, which I think meant 120km and only 2,000m of climbing, so hey, why not? Unfortunately, before this debacle could ensue, we woke up to rain. Which most of us decided to not deal with. I did go for a run along the beach though after it cleared up, then went to sit by the pool, hoping against hope to see my Speedo-clad, pushup-doing friend, but alas, it was not to be. Then I sadly turned in The Cube, without realizing quite how much I’d appreciate this bike in the days to come…

Back in London

Sunday morning we head out to the one shop in London that rents road bikes, the unfortunately named Tri and Run. We finally find the place – Stacey won’t look at the maps that are posted to see where we are relative to where we need to be, but instead stares down at her iPhone as it shows a confusing map with no relation to where we actually are at that moment – so finding places can take a while. Mr. Bike Shop Employee, a young guy, rolls out the bike, and I immediately notice 2 things – the shifters are weird, and the seat is crooked.

Me: The seat’s not level.

BSE: That’s just how it is, it can’t be adjusted.

Me: But it’s angling upward. How am I supposed to ride that?

Stacey: Just try it out!

So I take it around the corner to try out, and it feels like a clown bike. Saddle too low and too far back, and yes, tilted upward. I almost kill myself trying to clip in and test it out.

Me, back in the store: This saddle REALLY isn’t level.

BSE: Sorry, can’t adjust it.

By now it’s clear this guy knows nothing about bikes, so I pull out my handy-dandy multi-tool and attempt to adjust the saddle myself. And try to figure out the deal with the shifters. Sora? Hmm. I do believe that’s one step below the crappy Tiagra shifters that D-POD had. Again, not a good sign.

Since we have no other bike options, and Stacey’s determined that we’ll be getting more riding in, we head out. And she went to a LOT of effort to find a bike for me, so I’m determined to make the best of it. To recap: I’m on a rental bike with lousy shifters and a poorly positioned saddle, with god knows what else wrong with the bike, about to embark on a multi-mile trip through the heavily-trafficked streets of London…..

(5 hours later, at Stacey’s place)

Stacey: Tasha, are you okay? You look a little pale.

Me: Bhaskhfliuewyigagkajsfak.

Stacey: Huh?

Me: You don’t stop at red lights! You weave in and out of cars!

Stacey: What’s wrong with that? Oh, and can we step it up a bit tomorrow? Today we were only going at around 10 mph. Can you do at least 15? You know, really push it a bit?

I have an almost mystic vision of Stacey visiting me in Chicago, and borrowing a bike for her from, say, Joe, who’s about 6’6, and then taking a hammer to the shifters and the brakes, just for extra “fun.” Because yes, I’ve discovered that not only is the shifting weird, but the left shifter barely works, and never on the first try, so I get to worry about dropping a chain as I’m trying to make it up hills, with another minor detail: the brakes don’t work very well. Oh, and the saddle? Kept shifting up. Gee, I wonder why I’d be at all slow, riding on a very ill-fitting bike that doesn’t work properly.

Well, at least tomorrow’s ride should be fun – we’re heading out to Surrey, which I’ve been assured is chock-full of pastoral estates and farmland, bucolic and serene. I’m a little worried about the weather – it’s supposed to be cold and raining – but Stacey won’t take no for an answer as far as more cycling is concerned. Today we went riding through Richmond Park, which appears to be a mecca of sorts for cyclists around here, who just do endless loops around the park. It was scenic the first time around, and then way too damn cold. Surely it can’t be this cold tomorrow, can it?


The day dawns….grey, and 39 degrees. Shit.

One hour later

It’s early enough on a bank holiday day so there’s not that much traffic through town, thank god. But right now we’re still in a pretty busy area, no bucolic countryside in sight. What with the road we’re on being pretty busy and no shoulder, it kind of feels like it would if we were riding out to Huntley on I-90. So I ask Stacey the dumb question – “Hey, how long until we get to the bucolic countryside?” Her response: “It’s about a 2 ½ hour ride to get out there.” Sigh.


Finally, we’re in the country! And it really is beautiful out here, idiot bike notwithstanding. We’re surrounded by rolling farmland, quaint cottages with names like Rosehaven Manor or Brumbley Cottage, peaceful country roads, etc. So my feet are frozen already. Ech, I’ll live.

Even more later

Apparently on this particular route, there are 3 major nasty hills that we have to contend with, and we just went up the first one. Which sucked, but I comfort myself with the thought that if I were on Salome, or even The Cube, I would have flown right up it. It’s not me being slow, it’s POS (Piece of Shit) balking at the concept of shifting, and not having the right gearing in the first place. I so miss The Cube, where just one minor adjustment to the saddle and all was perfect. Sigh.

No concept of time anymore

We’ve gotten to hill #2, which Stacey explains is steep, then plateaus, then even more steep, and that if one is going to walk some of the hill, the place to get off is at the plateau, because after that you’ll just fall over, still clipped in. I think about this as I start up the hill, which is indeed steep and long, and on a narrow but busy road where there’s absolutely no shoulder. And realize that if I swerve even the tiniest bit as I’m trying to make it up this hill, I’ll get flattened by a car. At the plateau, I get off and walk.

Time marching on

I don’t have to think too hard to recollect when I was last this miserable on a bike ride. One would think it would be the time I got caught out in a tornado, with an accompanying monsoon and wind and hail, but no, it wasn’t that. It was warm then. Before this, my most miserable ride was last summer at the Heatstroke/Windburn 100, where it was so damn windy that it was like we were all standing still. I’ve never worked so hard to get absolutely nowhere. A headwind for miles and miles is soul-crushing.

But this? This would be lovely IF it weren’t raining and cold and I weren’t on a bike that rattled ominously as I go down steep hills. And now my hands have frozen up too. I seriously cannot ride in cold weather – no matter how bundled up I am, I don’t warm up, and my hands and feet lose all feeling, until they get really painful. I know, complain, complain. I just suck, let’s face it.

Box Hill

Finally, the third hill, and at the top we get to have tea and scones! Yay! This particular hill is a slow 3-mile climb up, with numerous very sharp switchbacks, so it’s a little nerve-wracking. We make it to the top, and instead of the quaint pub or café on a windswept moor that I expected, instead there’s a concession stand. And they’re out of scones. But the Queen Victoria cake and tea are delicious, as at this moment I kick my idiot diet to the curb. Life is good again, even though I’m shaking from the cold, Stacey is a bit chilled herself, and it’s a 40-mile ride back to London. At which point, before I can propose the idea myself, Stacey suggests we get the train back, once we’re back down the hill. Thank god!!

Going down

That is, if we make it down this damn hill. Or if I do. I’m braking as I go down, because there are not only those wicked switchbacks, but speed humps as well. The brakes hardly work though, so I continue to pick up speed. I am going to die on this fucking hill, giving new meaning to the Box in Box Hill. At one point I decide I need to stop altogether, because trying to keep things slow enough isn’t working, but…..I can’t stop. I debate doing a Fred Flinstone and using my shoes against the ground to slow me down, but instead give the brakes one last effort and ride into the grass by the side of the road. As I’m doing this, I’m composing a letter in my head to the owner of Tri and Run: “Dear Sir – Perhaps as you plastered the name of your store – Tri and Run and – all over this shiny silver rental bike, you envisioned that those actually renting it would be so in awe at its sartorial splendor that subsequently equipping said bike with low-grade Sora shifters and subpar brakes would be of no consequence. Sadly, I must inform you that that is not the case.”

I’ve also renamed the store in my head: Try and Bike, Try and Brake, Try and Stop, all of which seem more appropriate.

By some miracle, I make it to the bottom, and we head over to the train station to see when or even if a train will ever arrive. Apparently on bank holidays they like to go with a stance of equality, meaning, if it’s a holiday, why should the train operators have to work? And while this is a different system than the Tube, I have to say this about the Tube: it’s a beautiful system, extensive, numerous train lines that can take you anywhere you need to go, wonderfully clean, etc. That’s when it’s actually running, because it also seems to have zero reliability. My very first ride in, from the airport, stopped short of where I needed to go, at some random stop, because of “line improvement work” or something like that. And almost every ride we’ve been on since has had some similar issue – or entire lines have been shut down. It’s bizarre. Even when we went to pick up the bike, our line stopped one short so we had to exit the station and get on a bus to go the rest of the distance. I decide that to be on the safe side, in the morning I’ll take a cab to the airport.

So, the final tally for my time away: about 25 hours of riding in just over a week, 2 hours of running, and even some lap swimming. But the training aspect is pretty incidental in the overall scheme of things. More importantly, I got to hang out with one of my best friends who I don’t get to see nearly often enough, and I got to do so in a place of amazing beauty. In spite of those damn hills. And it also gave me the chance to NOT think about cancer for a while. Because I do, all the time – it’s kind of hard not to. You’re reminded daily that you look like crap, you feel like crap, and you feel like you’re living on borrowed time. But while cycling in Mallorca, those thoughts didn’t even enter my head. Of course, what I was thinking included “You fucker, will you please MOVE?!” and “Good god, why the hell are you braking???” and of course the classic “I…WILL…KILL…YOU!!” But hey, I’ll take it. Even raging at bad cyclists is a better alternative than thinking about the uninvited interloper that is The Cancer. So in the end, it’s good to recognize that life is all too short, or it can be, and that taking the opportunity when it presents itself to do something atypical or off the beaten path is, indeed…..priceless.


stacey said...


and for your loyal readers, i am not a glutton for punishment: it was 57 degrees on saturday and 50 on sunday before the hail storm!

... you must mention our permit to ride a train; that was priceless too.

stacey said...


and for your loyal readers, i am not a glutton for punishment: it was 57 degrees on saturday and 50 on sunday before the hail storm! and only 18 miles back to london!

... you must mention our permit to ride a train; that was priceless.

Roadie in Vancouver said...

Awesome, I'm surprised you didn't stay and ride the Giro d'IItalia, since you were already in the neighborhood and had really good mountain training.

tribabe said...

My butt hurts just reading about this. Glad to hear you had a fun trip and it's great to see actual photos of you on your blog!

Julian13 said...

Sounds like you relucantly had a good time;-).

Perhaps you will come back next time to race the Box Hill Ballbuster (one lap running up and down the hill, 3 on the bike and one last one running)using all your hill training?