Gear Change Up

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Reading departure signs in some big airport

Reminds me of the places I been.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Divine Intervention

On the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy, outside the village of Bellagio (named for an ancient Las Vegas casino), stands the Church of the Madonna del Ghisallo. In 1949 Pope Pius XII declared the Madonna "Patron Saint of Cyclists." Due to the geographic positioning of the Madonna (on top of a big ass hill), Pope Pius believed that the church best portrayed the spiritual elevation of the sport; just like a cyclist climbing a hill, those that attempt the ride can actually feel their own spirit climb out of their body, hail a cab, and go back down the hill after struggling up the 15 percent grade. I was lucky enough to be able to obtain an interview with the Madonna. In fact, it was easy. All I had to do was provide an offering and light a candle. "Hell," I thought. "Why couldn't everyone have been like this?" After a short debate on whether the Madonna would accept swiss franks, I placed a two euro coin in the slot, lit my candle, and...

Brit: Thank you for agreeing to meet with me even though I'm not Catholic
MdG: It is not a're not Catholic? I thought you were Catholc. Aren't you Cuban?
Brit: Um...
MdG: Because...your dad...isn't he from Miami?
Brit: Well, yeah, but...
MdG: It is no matter. I am the patron saint of all cyclists. I protect them all. In fact, whether you know it or not, I've had to bail you out more than a few times this year.
Brit: Wouldn't surprise me. But then who sent that moped right at me a couple days ago?
MdG: That is just the Italians. They are crazy. It was their idea to have a patron saint of cycling in the first place. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Pius came to me and asked me to be the protector of Italian cyclists, and I told him, 'Look, why don't you just draw a line or two on the roads...they call these "lanes," and they work great. Then issue some sort of papal demand that Italians wear helmets once in a while, and I tell you, you won't need a patron saint of cycling.' Pius argued that would take out the fun. He believed that you need to throw a speeding chunk of two-ton metal at a road cyclist every few hundred meters, otherwise the ride gets boring.
Brit: So this wasn't your idea.
MdG: No way. First I became the patron saint of Italian cyclists. Then everyone wanted a patron saint. I was the only deity with previous experience working with cyclists, so I was adopted globally. All of a sudden, I go from having a few guys riding around Lake Como, to every single rider in the world. I told Pius that, but then he said it was too late to change; besides it was good for tourism. I have no regrets,'s not easy. There's so many more cyclists than Catholics in this world, you know.
Brit: Why do you think cyclists wanted a patron saint?
MdG:'ve been studying cycling for a year now. Why do you think cyclists need a patron saint?
Brit: I don't know.
MdG: Try.
Brit: Well, I've rode lots of places. And lots of times it's the little cyclist against the road, against the traffic, against the terrain, against the weather, and almost always against the wind. Maybe safety for the journey, and strength to complete it. But...
MdG: Yeah...
Brit: See, I don't know. It's a simple physical activity that almost anyone can do; it seems to defy logic that people think they need supreme help from a supreme being. So maybe it's deeper than that? If you look at people who choose to ride, maybe it’s something deeper that drives the cyclist than just protection from the elements. Take Lance Armstrong. Lance thinks that all elite cyclists are running away from something, and so they hit the bike because it's an escape from whatever they are running from. So maybe according to Lance they would need your help to escape.
MdG: You seem skeptical
Brit: I think that all cyclists are looking for something, not running away. Something in their daily lives that is missing and they aren't quite sure where to find it, but maybe it is out there on the road in the traffic and the wind and the rain.
MdG: So is that what you think?
Brit: Maybe. I think cyclists are looking for a way of life that is simpler than what they have. Maybe they see some sort of metaphor for life in cycling.
MdG: Do you see a metaphor for life in cycling?
Brit: You know, I really thought I was supposed to be interviewing you here...
MdG: ::glares::
Brit:, in terms of a metaphor for life, I see cycling as what I wish life was. You climb a mountain, and yeah it's steep, and yeah it's hard, but you keep turning the cranks; one after another. You can see the top, and you can see what you need to do to get there, you put all your energy into it, and if you just keep turning the pedals, you get there. And lo, it's awesome. And then you get to go back down and pick a new mountain, and start going back up, and start turning the pedals again, and you can see the top and know you eventually get there. And each time you're getting stronger and getting better, so that eventually it all gets easier.
MdG: And you don't think it's really like that.
Brit: No. If life was like riding a bike, it would be like riding a bike in one big fog. You're climbing up the hill and you can't see anything. You're giving it your all, and yet it could still get harder. You don't know if you're at the top, in fact you may realize miles down the road that you were at the top of a hill, you've already come down, and now you have to deal with a harder steeper hill before you even got to appreciate the one you climbed. But you're on this big hill now and you have to climb this one, and you have to give it all you got because it's steep and you're going slowly, and if you go too slow you fall down. You may get stronger, but it never gets easier because you never know what to expect. And you don't know where the top is, or if you have enough strength to get there, but you do know you have to keep pedaling and you have to keep trying because maybe you end up climbing above the clouds and you can see everything. Besides, might as well give it your all. What else do you have to do that day anyway?
MdG: ::stares back::
Brit: Nah, cycling isn't like life. In cycling, there are too many knowns.
MdG: Well, did that help?
Brit: With my project? No, I have to go back and construct similarities between all these random people who have nothing in common except pedaling.
MdG: Pedaling seems like a real fine place to start.
Brit: Maybe.
MdG: You came here to ask for help with your project.
Brit: Yes.
MdG: See, this is why it's not so bad being the patron saint of cyclists.
Brit: Why?
MdG: ::shrugs:: Cyclists are a good metaphor for human beings. They ask me for help to get up the hill, when really they had the strength to do it all along. It is just a matter of turning the pedals. Now mind you, this does not make cycling an automatic qualifier for 'wonderful person status.' Not all cyclists are good people...
Brit: ...Of course not...
MdG: ...You can't weed all the bad apples out...
Brit: ...George Bush is a cyclist....
MdG: But whether you can see the top of the hill or not, it's still just a matter of turning the pedals. You don't need a patron saint for that. You just need to believe you can do it.
Brit: Oh.
MdG: Same for your project. You may know more than you think. Does that help you out?
Brit: With my project or with life?
MdG: Both.
Brit: Um...hmm...I think maybe not, but it's worth a shot. You know what though?
MdG: What?
Brit: I gotta ride back to my hostel now, and I would still like a patron saint of cycling helping me out.
MdG: Hah. Well, in that case, I would advise you get a Madonna del Ghisallo medal. Lots of riders have them on their bike somewhere. Give them the edge, maybe.
Brit: Oh, thanks. That would be great. ::holds out hand::
MdG: ::points in direction of gift shop::
Brit: Oh...right.


Sometimes I think of this past year as one big, long bike ride. If that were true, then this past month would represent the end of the ride before the ride is actually over. That sweet time of life when you're still on the bike, but the hard work is done. You are free to turn back and forth across an open road, sing Jimmy Buffett songs, practice your Italian, and discover why cycling is really big in Italy. There are few things more fun in this world than riding a bike and attempting to speaking Italian. Try it.


Wasn't that fun?

If the last month has been that last lengthy downhill, then maybe now represents the time that you're downhill and you hit town. And the ride is over.

I've ridden farther this year than I ever thought I could. I've talked to more people than I ever thought would actually stick around to listen to me. It's been an absolute blast. But I'm tired now. I really miss English and wheat thins. I need to lift a weight or twelve. And I got so many stories that need to be told.

Is the end of the ride sad? Nah. The end of the ride is never sad. At the end of the ride you get to go to Starbucks and have a muffin.

Does life get better?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

In the company of celebrities

Lake Como is the filming site for the movie Oceans 12, and spending so much time in the area prompted stars such as George Clooney and Matt Damon to buy retreats in the area. You can take a boat tour and go see them. By them I mean the houses. Probably not the actors.

But there are other opportunities to hang out with the stars.

I got back from my ride early in the afternoon, and was greeted the landscaping guy. He is a kind of short, kind of chubby, kind of middle aged man with a red workshirt, overalls, thick curly black hair, and a thick mustache to match. I smile. "Ciao," he greets me, and I return the greeting.

It's just the two of us. Italian hostels lock down during the middle of the day in order to prevent people from having to work between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM. Very effective. I go about my business of putting my bike away by the shed, and grabbing my backpack of supplies that I left outside so that I am properly equipped to go into town and do nothing for the rest of the day. Mario continues his raking, but looks up as a tall, thin man with black-greying hair, a black mustache, and a green polo shirt passes by.

"Hey," says the landscapper to the man. "Ciao, Luigi!"

The man looks up, and removes the cellphone from his ear. "Ciao, Mario!" I turn to hide my mouth, which is gaping open in amazement.

I kid you not.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Pedal pedal pedal.

Up to the top of the road, and if the road doesn't read the top, then you go till the road dissolves into broken pavement, and then you go until the road dissolves to gravel and you can go no more.

Up all the way, up 40 meters to the next switchback, turn, and do it again.

Up to the town of Breglia, which was obviously built before the invention of the bicycle. Had it been built afterward, they would have put the town somewhere else. It's too hard a ride.

Up and over the cattle guards. That's dangerous and tricky at slow speeds.

50 meters, switchback. Stop, throw up. Get back on. Gotta be almost there. This time the road seems to go straight up and into the mountain, and the only way to keep the cranks going is to stand and put all your weight into each stroke.

Up to a dip in the road. You have to worry about having enough speed to get through. Throw the bike left as you pedal right. Vice versa. Over and out and upward and onward.

Switchback. Start counting pedal strokes. Promise yourself to count to 100, and if you aren't there yet, you gave it a good try, and you can go down.

33, 34, 35.

Only in a stupid sport like cycling can the burning in your legs start in your stomach and end at the tips of your fingers and toes. Stop here, but it's not 100 yet, so gotta keep going.

98, 99, 100.

Ok, 100 done. If you can do 100, surely you can do another 10.

Or another 358, until 468 pedal strokes later you skid to the side of a switchback wondering what the hell were the Romans thinking building this road. How did they manage to lead civilization for so long and build crappy roads like this?

One more shot. Crank once, crank twice, and finally get enough speed going to get the cranks around. Pedal pedal pedal. Switchback. Up another 30 meters, where the road turns to broken pavement. And the pavement turns to gravel.


Friday, August 25, 2006

I can't believe the news today.

Pluto is no longer a planet.

Can they do that?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Rules of Engagement: Italian Produce Shopping

1. Don't touch the fruit.
2. Wait in line to be served.
2a. Don't try and budge the all the old ladies in front of you, even if you know you can take them all.
2b. In case they try and start something.
3. Have 47 different fruits and vegetables on your list.
4. Need all of them in large quantities.
5. Discuss every single individual piece, slice, or leaf of produce you are considering purchasing.
5a. Consult all the people you are shopping with.
5b. Consult the woman authorized to touch the fruit.
5c. Consult all the people standing behind you in line.
6. Bargain if bruised
6a. It never hurts to try.
7. When satisfied with your collection, gaze at the fruit for another 20 minutes.
8. Return to your real life.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

How do you know your bike mechanic is Swiss-Italian?

He'll fix your chain in five minutes flat.

Then he'll try and make out with you.

Everyday is a winding road.