The night before we’re leaving London to head to the Alps, I wind up with a migraine. Great. Not the most auspicious beginning. We land uneventfully in Geneva, and camp out in the airport, since it’ll be a while before the Alps Cycles people will be by to pick us all up. In the meantime, we start looking around for any likely compatriots.
Stacey: There, those people have bike boxes!
Stacey: Oh, right.
Me: So what do you think the other women are like? I’m envisioning a coffeeklatsch of semi-schlumpy women who thought it would be fun to do this as a lark. Ride around in the Alps, stop for baguettes, that sort of thing.
Stacey: Umm, sure. It could be that. Or they could be uber-fit women who’ll kick our asses.
Me: I’m going with semi-schlumpy. It makes me feel better. What do you think the chalet we’re staying at will be like?
Stacey: Don’t get your hopes up. In most places “chalet” is just another word for “barracks.” I’m not saying it’ll be bread and water, but…..well, don’t get your hopes up.
At one point, I see a guy across the arrival area who has a bike box, and looks like he’s waiting for someone to pick him up. He looks really fit though, so he obviously doesn’t fit into my little scenario of women and the random couple of male wanna-be cyclists who don’t know how to change a tire and put in a hundred or so miles of riding a week. You know, the guys that’ll be on this trip. Then a girl with a bike box walks up to him, but she too looks young and insanely fit, so I discount her as well.
That is, until I see a guy with an Alp Cycles sign walk up, and those two gravitate towards him. Great. 2 down, 2 to go. There’s still hope.
We all pile into the van and set off, at which point I realize 2 things: a) France is really hilly. I guess it has something to do with that whole Alps thing they have going on, and b) Migraine + twisty windy roads+ tendency to get motion sickness = not a good thing. Making a great first impression as always, I spend the whole car ride trying to not get sick, especially as we go up the 10km winding hairpin switchback road that leads to the chalet. Please don’t let me be sick, please let this ride be over soon – these are my thoughts, so I don’t pay too much attention to the roads we’re on. This will prove to be a mistake later on. A big one.
Finally we arrive at our barracks, aka chalet, which is……stunning. Cozy, warm, delightful, gorgeous. And the view is amazing – as again, we’re basically at the top of a mountain. Or what most of us Yankees would call a mountain, though which is probably nothing more than a speed bump around here.
And not only are we greeted by this beautiful chalet, but there’s also a feast laid out for us, of tea and bread and jam and delicious homemade cake, made by Amy, who’s cooking for us for the week and seems hell-bent on insuring that none of us loses any weight this week.
In addition to the 4 of us picked up from the airport, apparently there’s one more woman coming, Penny, whose flight got delayed. The other woman supposed to be on this trip stopped contacting the Alps Cycles people a few weeks ago – hmm, I wonder what she knows that we don’t. “Penny”, though – that sounds to me like a good, sturdy sort of name. I picture a German hausfrau type wearing a housecoat, schmata wrapped around her head, kind of like Fraulein Schweiger in the Sound of Music, i.e. the one who wouldn’t get off the stage. She’ll be slightly giggly and will have brought her own basket as the most important piece of bike equipment, so as to be able to tote around the jars of jam she’s planning on buying on her biking excursions around the French countryside. Yes. That sounds right. Penny will be my savior, make me look good in comparison.
* * * * * * *
“Hello! I’m here!”
We look up from the first of many delicious dinners to see a thin, uber-fit blond woman bounding into the chalet, full of irrepressible energy, vim, and vigor. I’m tired just from looking at her. Of course it’s our wayward colleague Penny. So much for my vision of the giggly hausfrau. Sigh.
But hope springs eternal and all that, so later after she sits down and we’re all chatting, I see the M-dot necklace around her neck, and ask her which ones she’s done, thinking that she’s probably done a token Ironman and figures that’s enough to get her by for a week in the Alps.
Penny: Oh, let’s see……Cozumel, Rosenberg, New Zealand, South Africa…….(goes on to rattle off about 15 IMs)
Sigh. She also doesn't ask me which Ironmans I've done. I can guess why.
* * * * * * * *
So to sum, here’s our Cast of Characters for the week:
Kevin: The guy we saw at the airport, who has the official title of Nicest Guy on the Planet. Seriously, he’s that genuinely nice.
Sarah: The other person from the airport. Young, obviously fit, and also a racing cyclist. Of course. I want to hate her but she’s too bubbly and nice.
Penny: Not only uber-fit, but also a journalist for Cycling Weekly. Since she apparently kind of fell into the writing/editing gig, I want to hate her, but I can’t because she very nicely helps me set my Garmin so that it shows gradient, and also takes the time to show me a bunch of other useful things on it. Damn!
Clive and Viv: 2 other people who come in late, and are here to do some off-road cycling. Both sweet as can be. And of course uber-fit.
Ade and Shelley: Officially the Nicest Couple in the World, who own the Alp Cycles company and will be taking care of us for the week. I don’t think they know what they’re getting into, poor folks.
Chris: Works for Ade and Shelley, very nice, I’ll be seeing a lot of him during the course of the week.
Then of course there’s me and Stacey. Stacey, who is perfectly capable of climbing mountains but doesn’t think she can, and me, looking like the token fat lazy American who didn’t do any training for this. Well, at least the fat part is right.
That night, as I go to bed, I remind myself of all the training I’ve done. You can’t come from a base of doing Ironman races and then ride 1400 miles in the 5 weeks leading up to your trip and still be totally incompetent on the bike, can you? Umm…..you can’t, right??