Monday, August 30, 2010

The Tour de Cheese?

Our last night in Meribel, we have a merry group dinner, and naturally, the talk turns to (what else) cycling, and the fun places we’ve all been to, with accompanying pictures. This leads to the following types of conversations:

Stacey: Look at all my pictures of elk and roan deer!

Me: Here’s the ostrich farm I cycle past!

Stacey: Look at all these cool castles!

Me: Umm….here’s a picture of a huge fiberglass ear of corn!

Stacey: Here’s Windsor!

Me: Here’s…..uhh…..hmm……corn…umm….hey, how ‘bout that Tour de France?

You get the idea.

I also discover that while Kevin may be a Super-Nice Person, he is NOT in fact the Nicest Person in the World, as I erroneously stated earlier. It turns out he has a fatal flaw: he hates dogs. Yes, I know. I'm shocked too. There I am, waxing eloquent about The Kone and how perfect he is, especially when he’s eating out of his Royal Highness bowl, when Kevin pipes up:

Kevin: It’s just a dog.

Me, horrified: It’s…what? Excuse me?

Stacey: Kevin, I’ve learned that when Tasha mentions Kona, I should just smile and nod and keep quiet.

Me: Damn straight!

(I’ve only recently learned that Stacey doesn’t like dogs, but we don’t discuss this at all – it’s like the third rail of conversations. She’s an awesome friend and amazing person in every other way, so I overlook this fatal flaw of hers as well.)

Me, continuing: Kevin, you have kids, right? Well, they’re just kids, aren’t they? Kind of useless, huh?

Stacey: Will a dog take care of you in your old age?

Me: Ha, do kids actually do that these days? I think not. Kona has brought more happiness and joy to me than most kids do to their parents.

Kevin: I just don’t really see the point of them. Plus those big dogs - the German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rotties - are all mean and vicious, all of them.

Stacey: And I hate it when they put their wet noses right next to your face, yuck.

My head is zipping back and forth between these two as they bond over their mutual hatred of dogs, and finally with this last comment by Stacey, I stalk off. I guess when you’re as practically-perfect-in-every-way as I am, it’s tough to recognize that other people…..aren’t.

Day Seven

So sad, our last day in Meribel. We pack up and head off, with Ade taking me and Stacey to Annecy, on the way to the airport to drop off Kevin and Sarah. I get my last bout of carsickness on the way there – ah, the memories! Note to self: stock up on Dramamine before any other traveling, just in case.

Our hotel in Annecy is, well, a shock – it’s your typical hotel in France with rooms the size of a shoebox, but after our lovely chalet, it seems particularly tiny and sad. At least we can already see that Annecy is gorgeous, and surrounded by mountains to boot, so off we go to find the bike store and my rental bike. Yay!

(2 hours later)

After finally finding the Roule Ma Poule* bike shop and waiting in line behind all the folks renting basket-bikes to toodle around town on, we get to the front and try to get my bike. Which they don’t have - at least not the small size we ordered.

French guy: But ve will have it tomorrow morning, for ze certain! You will come back and ve will have it!

I then watch in horror as FG attempts to put my saddle on their bike. Generally this is a simple procedure – you loosen the seat clamp, take off old seat, put on new one, tighten seat clamp. Here, FG doesn’t

bother with the seat clamp – at least not yet – but rather decides to take the entire seat post out, with great difficulty, grinning foolishly as he’s doing so. He whacks at it, turns the bike upside down, tries to loosen it with a hammer. Thus, when he finally gets to the point of putting my saddle on the bike, I’m not about to ask him to adjust it too much, as I’m not sure I’m up for the horror of how he might go about doing that.

Plus when he tells me to get on the bike to try it out, and he’ll hold it in place, he in fact does NOT hold it in place, and I hear him giggling maniacally as I go careening rightward into a pile of bikes, managing to unclip at the last second so I don’t in fact go crashing to the ground.

FG, chuckling: Le oops! (or whatever the French equivalent of “oops” is)

Stacey and I head out to the park across the street, which on a Saturday afternoon is the equivalent of the Chicago lakefront path on steroids. In other words, teeming with what I estimate to be billions of people. Billions. All carrying gelato and gazing about and in other words having no clue that they’re about to be run over by an errant cyclist. Stacey is used to such things, tooling around London as she does.

I, with my cornfield-cycling experience, am not. And besides…

Me: Stace, hold on, I need to adjust. This is a Clown Bike, of course. Plus the seat is tilted backwards.

Stacey: So once you fix it, we’ll go to all the closest mountains! They all go to cheese farms! Or cheese chalets, or whatever they’re called.

Me: Except this bike is still too big – and what the hell’s that knocking sound coming from the bottom bracket? Where’s Ade’s bike when I need it????

Stacey: So you don’t want to climb a mountain or six and try all the great cheeses of France?

Me: The spirit is willing, but I seriously think something might fall off this bike if I try anything too strenuous with it. How about if you go hit the mountains, test them out for me, and I’ll toodle around the lake today and trade in the Clown Bike for a smaller one tomorrow?

Stacey: Sounds good!

One nice thing about France is that they have miles upon miles of bike paths, so I set off on one of those, and only have one almost-collision, when a clueless woman yakking on her cell phone is walking across the path, then suddenly stops and makes a rapid about-face, still talking, right into my path. I think my scream is still echoing amongst the Alpian cliffs. But at least it was enough to stop her in her tracks – collision duly averted. Whew.

That evening I get the scoop from Stacey on what she feels is the most insanely hard climb she’s done to date – Col Le Semnoz – and because I’m so disgusted with my lack of cycling today, I swear, as god is my witness, that I’m going to ride up Semnoz tomorrow. One more Alp to conquer….

*Please note - if you take nothing else away from my little blog here that's sweeping the nation, please remember this one bit of advice: Never, and I repeat NEVER rent a bike from a place whose name translates to "Roll My Chicken." Thank you. My work here is done.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The hills are alive....

Clearly Ade and the gang are getting a bit intimidated by my Alp-climbing prowess, because suddenly he decides that Thursday, day 5, will be a “rest day.” Bah, I spit in the face of rest days! Granted, they’ve done about six times more mileage than I have at this point, but I’m sure I’ll make that up soon. Really soon.

In the meantime, the claws are truly coming out, and I can sense the jealousy as my status as a triathlon goddess becomes known.

Sarah: I have to admit, I have an 11-28 cassette on my bike, to help with the climbing. That way I can spin right up!

Ade: Yeah, I make sure I have at least a 12-27 on my bike, and a compact crank.

Me: Waaaait a minute here. An 11-28? A 12-27 and a compact? So, umm, why is it that on MY bike I just have a 12-25 and a regular crank??

Ade, laughing jovially: Oh, ha ha, that’s to just make you work a bit harder there!

Then there’s the matter of that damn hill, on which I almost killed myself the first day.

Me: Well, if no one else is going riding, maybe I can just get a ride down to the bottom of the damn hill? I’m not going down that thing.

Viv: Oh, just give it a try! Go ahead, you’ll be fine!

Kevin: Go on, just ride right on down!

Stacey: Try it!


Me: Stacey, how fast did you say you’ve been going down the mountains here? 15-20mph?

Stacey: Right.

Me: And your max speed so far – even going 16 miles down Col de Madeleine – has been 33mph?

Stacey: Yes, so……

Let me interrupt here to give a small lesson on the laws of physics, especially the one that says that a rolling stone gathers no moss, especially when it’s careening helplessly down a mountain. Kevin, Viv, and the rest of our gang, especially Stacey, are all what we’d call wee folk.

Miss Tasha, at the current moment, despite her best efforts, is not.

This means that when I just start going down a hill, I’m picking up more speed than our wee folk. This means that on the average, non-mountain road the other day from La Tania to Meribel, I hit 34 mph. This means…well, you get the idea.

It basically means that I’m not riding down That Damn Hill, even though if this were a cheesy Lifetime movie we’d have Chariots-of-Fire-esque music playing in the background as I triumphantly and gloriously make my way down TDH, and then do hill repeats on it, and then make my way back to the chalet and we all have a Very Special Moment, and the last shot is of all of us toodling off into the Alpian sunset.

My life – needless to say – is not a Lifetime movie.

So while the others rest, I ride around, and do head up the steep hill to the town of Meribel, where I buy several hunks of cheese, and then realize I have limited ability to actually bring them back to the chalet on my bike. It turns out though – in case anyone was wondering – that one can do a pretty good job tying said bag o’ cheeses to one’s handlebars and then white-knuckling one’s way back down even a steep hill. Who knew?

I continue to avoid TDH like the plague.

Day Six

The group is going off to conquer more mountains somewhere, and I decide that this, our last day in this part of France, is a good day to do some hiking around here, as it turns out there are little signs and numerous walking paths in every direction. I set off on my little jaunt, stopping at a store and buying a crusty baguette to tuck into my backpack. Finding the right path isn’t quite that simple though. The first one I see hardly looks like a path, and it goes straight up into the hills. So naturally I take the gravel path that looks more civilized…..and ends at someone’s house. Damn. Even the walking paths here are all either straight up or straight down.

I climb and climb, and do my best Sound of Music imitation, twirling around in the grass, though only briefly before the good people of France decide to cart me away. I don’t think I need to take any chances at this point.

France is beautiful beyond words.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Another day, another Alp.....

Day Four

Ho hum. Climbing an Alp is just sooooo…yesterday. Okay, not really. Last night I cornered Ade to discuss today’s plan with him, because I got the sense that that The Problem With Tasha might have been stressing him out a bit. So, I pre-empted him and whatever he was going to say.

Me, cornering Ade in the kitchen: So Ade, about tomorrow….

Ade, starting to babble: I’m sorry, there’s no way I can work it so you can go tomorrow, the descents are horrible, and we….

Me, interrupting him: Ade Ade Ade, it’s okay. When you started talking about “scary hairpin turns” and descents that were “a bit of a mess” – well, I know I’m your Problem Child…

Ade: No, not at all! It’s ju…

Me, firmly: I’m your Problem Child. I know that. But I don’t want to be the Pain In The Ass client as well. So I figure that tomorrow while you guys go off, I’ll do that road that goes from Mirabel to Courchevel, then climb up that, then do some hill repeats until I’m bored with that, then go to Mirabel for a latte. The road to Courchevel doesn’t have any crazy descents, right?

Ade: No, they’re all sensible. Are you sure that’ll work?

Me: Positive.

We beam at each other, having come to an understanding, i.e. that I may be a chickenshit, but I’m not a PITA chickenshit. So that’s something.

So here we are on day four, the group setting off for day two of the Tour De Alpes, Stacey heading out the door and still fretting and whining over her ability to finish the ride. “Sandbagger,” I mutter.

“What’s that?” asks Stacey.

“SANDBAGGER! You’re a sandbagger!” I exclaim. “You always claim you won’t be able to make it up the climbs, but then you always do! Just go out there and ride, you’ll be fine! Oh, and have fun,” I add cheerily, striving as always to be my usual helpful encouraging self.

They’re gone, and I set off on my own ride, through the village and then straight up, as usual. When I realize that the hardest part of this ride is – of course – at the beginning, where you get hit with 12% grades up towards Meribel Village. I pass a bakery as I’m going through the town, and somehow manage to avoid stopping there and calling it a day. I know, the willpower here, well, it astounds.

Suffice it to say that the rest of the ride is the usual torturous climbs, but I make it far up enough Courchevel to consider this Alp #2 That Miss Tasha has Climbed, and as I head back, my goal is to work on descending. I remind myself that I’ve never had a problem with this before, so suck it up, buttercup. This kind of works, as I force myself to stay off the brakes on the road back to Meribel, and even though I only hit 34 mph, I consider this a victory of sorts. Or least it’ll have to do, for today.

Shortly after I get back, the rest of the troops arrive as well, chattering about their own ride, up and down one mountain after another. Stacey of course managed just fine.

“See, I told you you’d make it up! How do you feel?” I ask, smiling.

“Great, but did you hear what tomorrow’s climb is? Oh my god, there’s no WAY I’ll be able to get up that bbasdhyiuyoiUBY^*&^@*#^$jasbkagf nmph…….”

I honestly have no idea how Stacey keeps winding up with these socks in her mouth all the time – truly, it’s a mystery.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Alp with a view...

Day Three

Today we’re all joining the Tour de Alpes, a week-long sportive with different rides every day up different Alps. It started Sunday, so we’re just doing a couple of days of it. Unfortunately, I’m discovering that the twisty roads here make me sick as a dog, so by the time we get to Beaufort, the town where today’s ride starts, I have to dash to the bathroom to puke my guts out. An excellent way to start today’s climb!

The plan is that because I’m still suffering from PCDD, I’m going to ride up the mountains as much as I feel like riding, then head back down and meet Chris and Amy in Beaufort, while the others will try to make it to the end of the day’s route, in Courchevel. As with all these rides, they start out either straight up or straight down – today we’re straight up the Col du Pre, described as “mythical” by the Beaufort Tourism Board. To the uninitiated, “mythical” is the French way of saying “brutally steep and harsh and pukingly long” - just an FYI.

Off I go, from this beautiful little town, to conquer my first real Alp, whee! I set off earlier than the rest of the group, as they’re still getting ready and I’m going up a slightly different road, which has less traffic. Soon enough, the climb is at 8%, typical around here, and the French are lovely enough to put markers at each km telling you just how steep the next km is, and how far you have to go. I have myself psyched up for a tough 5 mile climb, as I’m pretty sure that’s what Chris said, 8km or so before the reservoir, that you bike around before going up to Roseland. 5 miles, piece of cake.

Thoughts that randomly pop into my head over the next 15km:

· Shit, this is hard. Why did I ever think this was a good idea?

· Damn those French bastards! Here they are claiming this is 7%, and my Garmin is holding steady at 12%. Oh, I get it, you average in that one section at 4%, and somehow you get 7%. Right.

· What the hell, a whole MILE at 12%? You’re joking, right? Then 14%? Shit.

· Need water, can’t stop. Shit. Oh wait, is this a town up ahead? It is, it is! Little town of Le Tetaz, you are the BEST town in the whole world! Even though you consist of just one B&B, it doesn’t matter. The road here is kind of flat, that’s all I need.

· Another cyclist just passed by and gave me an “Allez!” as he did so – I wonder if that’s a form of encouragement, or more of a “kind of moving at glacial speed there, eh?” comment. Hmm.

· 4 miles down, just 1 more to go. I can do this.

· Hmm, just passed 5 miles. Maybe it’s closer to 6?

· Hate those French….fuck, fuck fuck…..…

And so on. At one point I stop because I think it’s a flattish section – but no, it’s the optical illusion you get after you’ve been climbing at 14%, and then it turns to 8% and you think it’s flat. But it’s not, so you can’t clip in, so you stand there with camera in hand so that you look like a dumbass taking pictures rather than a dumbass who can’t clip back in taking pictures.

I do manage to get going again, then stop once again at a mere 5% grade to see what kind of sustenance I have, since I’m over an hour in at this point. When I realize I made a tactical error in bringing just one bottle of Infinit, and no plain water. Because that means I can’t use my GU, not without water. Shit. I rummage around in my pockets to see what else I have. Nothing, nothing…..aha, here we are! A Slim Jim!! Food of the gods, kids, food of the gods…..

At mile 8, I start to wonder if I somehow missed the reservoir that Chris was talking about. Was there a turnoff I didn’t see because I was concentrating on the road and on trying to not have a heart attack? At mile 9, I decide that maybe Chris was speaking figuratively, talking about the “reservoir” of good feeling that the French people have towards cyclists in general. At mile 10, where I’ve passed yet another switchback and am starting to worry about getting down and have been out of water for a while, I stop and decide to turn around and head back down. I take some pictures, fill up my water bottle from one of the places where it’s trickling down the side of the mountain, and start heading down, only to discover a few things:

· You pick up a hell of a lot of speed on 14% grades

· The ground is wet, which makes it hard to slow down or stop

· I’m still a chickenshit

· And oh yeah, today’s problem – the cleat on my left shoe is coming off. So I can’t even clip in properly anymore.

I try coasting down a bit with only one foot clipped in, but that’s a little scary while going around curves. Finally, I just resign myself to walking down, the whole 10 or so miles. I’m not even upset about it at this point. I mean, what can you do? I’m clearly an Alpinian failure when it comes to descending, and such is life.

I’m clumping my way down the hill, trying to not totally dislodge my cleat which is just dangling from my shoe at this point, when lo, who should come rumbling up the road? Yes, it’s Chris and the red van! Sweet! At this point we have things down like clockwork, as we load up the van with my bike and I hop in.

Chris: We were having coffee and wondering what happened to you.

Me, glumly: I lost a cleat.

Chris: How far did you get?

Me: Well, I kept going and going, and didn’t see the reservoir, so eventually I decided to turn around, about 10 or 11 miles in.

Chris: You didn’t see the reservoir?

Me: No, I started to think you didn’t mean reservoir in a literal sense….

Chris: Oh, you can’t miss it – let’s go up so you can see it.

We drive up, and Chris notes that I did get to the top of the Alp when I point out where I turned around – and there, about ¼ mile past that, is this vast reservoir, beautiful and impossible to miss. That evening, I discover that I’m not the only one who thought Col du Pre was unusually hard – even Stacey keeps referring to it as “that horrendous climb”, which sums it up nicely. Still, an Alp is an Alp, and Miss Tasha – yours truly – made it up an Alp. Not bad for a kid from the sticks, living a hardscrabble existence until……ech, you get the point. I’ll chalk today up as a victory in the grand scheme of things, thank you very much….

Friday, August 20, 2010

Back in the saddle again

Day Two

By morning, I’m over feeling sorry for myself – I’m in the French Alps, for god’s sake! – and am curious to find out what the plan for the day is. The rest of the group is going some distance away to ride 6 crazy mountains or something like that, while I’m heading somewhere closer to climb some other mountain, one that meanders up for 15km at a 10% grade.

We go our separate ways, and it turns out my ride takes me up through a national forest, and is as gorgeous as everything else in this part of France. It’s so beautiful here that it seems like one big cliché – flowers and flowerboxes everywhere, adorable French villages and houses, mountains looming in the background, etc.

So I happily zip my way up the mountain at an astonishing 5-6 mph pace on grades that range from 8-12%, and when I get to the top, what’s one of the first things I see, almost like a good omen? Yes, you guessed it – a cheese shop. And having done much of my training in Wisconsin, I know the drill here as well – I head into the shop to buy my required allotment of French cheese.

As I wander around this little mountain town, the wind picks up even more and it starts pouring – and I can only duck into shops for so long, because of course they all close between noon and 4. But luckily, just then Shelley arrives to pick me up and we head back to the chalet for a snack of bread and cheese. We’re happily eating away and having some tea, when the rest of the group shows up, hypothermic and wet to the bone. Apparently the weather was so bad where they were headed that they just went to Annecy and wound up doing a flattish short ride around the lake – in the pouring rain.

I definitely think I got the better part of the deal on this one…..

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stuck in a moment

We set off again, straight uphill this time, and yet again, I’m soon watching the tail end of our pack riding off in the distance, as I slog along behind. Which is fine – I just want to get up these damn mountains, not keep up with our freakishly fit group. It always takes me a long time to warm up anyway, or to feel like I’m not going to die on my ride, so I figure eventually the miles of cycling fitness I’ve put into my legs will kick in. Right? Maybe?

Since the group is so far ahead, Chris and his red van have been stationed at the next turn, to point me in the direction we’re supposed to go. Uphill again. Up and up and up. I think of this as a BabyAlp because it certainly has the climbing of an Alp, but it doesn’t have the Col moniker attached to it. Hence, BabyAlp. Which is still about 8 miles of climbing at a ridiculous gradient. Yes, 8 miles. You hit a corner and turn, then chug along….then hit another corner, and look, more uphill! Corner, turn, more uphill! Repeat. Many times. And I’m learning the cardinal rule of Alpine climbing, though it’s one I continually forget:

Don’t stop.

Yep, that’s pretty much the one key thing that gets people up these hills, and that’s the fact that you literally can NOT stop, because if you do, you’ll never be able to clip in and get going again. Even the guys in the Tour get a push from the rabid fans lining the streets. Us, we have no such benefit, and I don’t think the local farmers or townspeople would appreciate it too much if I asked them for a push. And as another writer once said about himself, I'm carrying a lot of ham up these hills.

This means that I can’t even stop for a drink of water – and given my newfound paranoia after the crash, I’m not about to reach down and get a drink – so by the time I reach Chris (again), parked at the top of this endless climb, I’m parched.

Chris: How are you gettin’ on there, okay?

Me: Yeah, I’m fine. That was tough.

Chris: The others have gone on ahead, so Ade was thinking you could skip this one other climb, but do the rest of the route, and then we’ll all meet up in Corchevel. That way you can take your time, take pictures, stop for coffee, and so on.

Me: That sounds like a plan. Umm, is it mostly uphill? I prefer going uphill.

Those who know me know that this is the ultimate irony – that I’d be anxiously asking if there are a lot of uphills rather than downhills. Because yes, suddenly I have a bad case of PCDD, or Post Crash Descending Disorder. I’m scared shitless about descending. The very thought terrifies me. Yes, me, the fearless one who bombs down any hill, no matter how long or steep, who tries to pick up as much speed as possible. But here, well, what if there’s a sudden hairpin turn – pretty common around here – and I can’t stop? It’s not like I’ll go into a cornfield, oh no. I’m heading straight down a cliff, thank you very much.

Chris: Yeah, it’s mostly uphill. A few descents, nothing crazy.

Me: Okay, whew. So that climb I just did, what grade do you think that was?

Chris: Hmm, I’d guess about 11%.

Me: At least I’m not just imagining that it was hard. And am I the most unprepared person Alp Cycles has ever seen?

He thinks for a moment.

Chris: Nah, we’ve definitely had worse.

Me: Was that at least the earliest that anyone crashed?

Chris: Oh, we’ve definitely had a few crashes.

Me: But that was probably the earliest on, right?

Chris: Well, yes, probably.

Score! At least I’m excelling at something, even if it’s in being a roving disaster.

Chris heads off, as he’s going to wait in the next town for me to show me where to go, even though I assure him I can read maps and he doesn’t have to do that. But the others will be looping back that way as well, so at least I’m not being too much of a pain. Too much. And at least now the pressure is off – self-imposed pressure, in that I hate the thought of being a drag on anyone else’s ride, where they have to wait for me, or make allowances, or whatever. Now I can do my own thing, so that helps.

As he heads off, I continue on, and soon realize that the typical local person’s idea of “nothing crazy” as far as descents are concerned and my idea are quite different. Granted, there’s nothing as bad as the road down from the chalet, but there are definitely some sharp turns that overlook the cliffs. So I’m pretty much back to braking anytime there’s a descent. This means I’m constantly veering between sheer joy and happiness as I’m going through the most amazingly quaint French villages, with gorgeous flowers and gardens everywhere against the background of the Alps……..and crying tears of bitterness and rage, wondering how I got to this spot where I hate myself so much. Where no matter how hard I try I can’t get back to where I was, or not even close to it. Where hundreds of miles of cycling and months of dieting has had no discernable effect. I want to tell the rest of the group, hey, I USED to be in great shape, really! Once I would have done this kind of training and been flying up these hills like the rest of you. Now? Here I am, soldiering on by myself. Again, which I don’t mind, but the whole thing is still a bitter pill to swallow.

For the most part though, I’m happy just toodling along, climbing hills, gingerly making my way down descents. And I realize that my legs are fine as far as climbing is concerned – I’m just slow. So I know the training did pay off, because there’s no way I’d be able to make it up any of these hills otherwise. And especially when I look over to where I just climbed – and even I have to be impressed. Yep, I’m a rock$tar. Or something like that.

I do in fact stop to take lots of pictures, those you see here in fact, and meet up with Chris two more times, once in the town of Bozel, where everyone is walking around with a fresh baguette. It’s almost like a Monty Python skit. Then a ride through a forest, and a final turn at a roundabout, where I shout out anxiously to Chris “Uphill, right? Good!”

I end with a long climb up Courchevel, not only an actual Alp but an actual Tour de France climb (whee!), but I don’t put it in my so-far-non-existent Alp count since we only go up halfway, and then meet up at a town there to head back to the chalet. That night, I take stock of my many bruises – my whole left leg is one big scraped up bruise – and lament my overall suckiness to Stacey, and the fact that Ade and Shelley are probably surely regretting having my Alpinian disaster self along on this trip. Even though Stacey has been fine so far and spent her summer training, as I did, she still thinks she should have trained differently, and asks if I feel the same.

And I have to say – no. I can honestly say I did what I could, trained as much as possible, put everything I had into this endeavor. The fact that it’ll only get me so far, well, I’ll just have to work with what I have.

And I also make the mistake of looking at my Garmin, to see what my average speed was today. Which is when I notice my top speed. Of 41.7 mph. Which I somehow achieved while strenuously braking. Shit. This could be a problem……

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Miss Tasha's Alpinian Almost-Hospital Adventure

We’re greeted in the morning by a lovely breakfast of yogurt, granola, fruit, croissants, fresh-from-the-bakery French bread, etc. I’m sure the bread and water bit will show up tomorrow, after we’re lulled into a false sense of contentment by all this, but then are too tired from riding to notice. We then get ready to go out – I’m renting a bike from Ade and Shelley, and am in fact using one of Ade’s bikes.* We set off, me on a bike I’ve never ridden before, down a very steep hill, with wet pavement since it’s been raining all morning.

Some might say this isn’t exactly a recipe for success.

*Note: I have to add here that none of my mishaps can be blamed on Ade’s bike. It’s a great bike, shifts perfectly, and Ade has dialed it in as much as possible to my measurements, and put my saddle and pedals on it. It feels remarkably close to my bike at home. So to make it clear, it’s not the bike. It’s me.

As I’m clipping in, I notice that the group is already way ahead of me, so I try to hustle a bit. But now I’m going down a steep hill, with sharp turns, and I can’t brake very well on the wet pavement. Shit. I careen along, braking, heart pounding, and stop about a mile down, hands shaking, while a couple from the nearby house looks at me, concerned. God forbid I should have bothered to learn a word of French, so I have no idea what they’re saying, but the look of “are you okay? You look a bit unwell” is pretty universal. I give them a wan wave and smile, and set off again. Down this insanely steep hill. With hairpin turns and blind curves galore, all on a narrow road.

So I’m careening down, unable to stop and barely able to slow down, picking up speed as I go, and vaguely recalling that this hill is 10km straight downhill. In other words, there’s no section in which it levels out. At this point, I realize that I can either crash now or crash later, but there’s no way in hell I’ll make it down the rest of this crazy hill in one piece. Hence, my executive decision – there’s a curve up ahead, and a grassy ditch, which represents what is possibly my last chance to not die. I head for the ditch. And unlike my other bike crash, which was of course far worse and of which I don’t remember a damn thing, this one I remember all too well – the bike speeding up, careening into the ditch, hitting the ground rather hard, whacking my head on the ground, seeing stars. Being thankful when I realize I didn’t do any major damage.

I’m standing there picking grass out of my helmet and jacket and off the bike, when Chris rolls up in the AlpCycles red van – a van I’ll be getting to know quite well. I guess when everyone else showed up at the bottom and I was still nowhere to be seen, Chris got sent out as the search party. We put my bike in the van, and as we’re heading down, I see that in retrospect, it’s a damn good thing I crashed when I did. Seriously. Because the rest of the way down are a series of steep inclines followed by one hairpin turn after another, and at the far end of the hairpin is either a brick wall or a cliff to go tumbling over if I hadn’t been able to slow down enough. Given that, the ditch looks like a brilliant choice.

The van pulls up to the rest of the group in a town at the bottom, hanging out waiting for my sorry self.

Me: Sorry to make you all wait. I crashed.

They all look at me in silence. I have grass burn on my face and a cut on my chin, and in other words, am a total shambles. A walking Alpinian disaster.

Penny: Umm, you have some grass stuck in your shifters.

I start picking at it, lip quivering, trying not to cry. Ade is as nice as can be, patting me on the shoulder and asking me if I’m okay, though I’m sure the thought bubble over his head is saying “What kind of idiot IS this girl?” He hides it well though.

Me, grimly: I’m okay. But it’s going to be a long week.

I’ve crashed on Day One, 5 miles in. I think that says it all.