Gear Change Up

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It´s never just a ride

I came around the bend and started another uphill climb. At the top there is a Spanish resort currently under control of a Swiss cycling vacations organization, sponsored by an American bike company. I hope the UN is proud. As I got to the top of this ascent and the entrance to the resort, a rider decked out in his red and white pulled out about 40 yards ahead of me to begin his ride.

And the race was on.

It wasn´t looking good for me. The guy was 6´1", about 175 pounds, and had just started; his fresh Swiss-German legs spinning, enjoying the morning air and this thing that we call "sun" (which I have heard can be a rarity in Switzerland). My legs were burning from just finishing another climb, were a good 35 miles into the ride, and while not tired, were also not as young as they once were (like when I was 12).

Swiss-German wheeled down the descent ahead of me, and we came to the next climb. He stood. I sat. The gap began to decrease. Up and up and up until we came to another descent, where he took off down the hill and I chased. Up again, and down. Up and down. Each descent he pulled away a little less. Each ascent I gained a little more.

Until we crested another hill, and this time I was right on his tail.

Down another descent, and this time he wasn´t going to have enough space to keep his lead.

I moved in for the kill, and got ready to spin my little self right pass him. I pressed my left gear change, and my legs tightened up preparing to spin my way away. "click! Thhhhhhhwick...SMACK." Pedal tension slackens, muscles release in the initial confusion of an effort that is supposed to come and doesn´t, and the chain comes off the bottom ring. Swiss-German pedals away around the bend.

I leaped off the bike and threw it up on to the stone wall protector along the right side of the road. Almost accidently threw it off the cliff.

And that would have been bad.

I repositioned the chain, spun the pedals to align it, and flip my bike back. Swiss-German was out of sight, but the race was not over.

Up to the top of the climb. Another fast descent, taking the corners slightly faster than I dare to, because this is not just a cruise around the bay anymore. This is for real. So, up again, and down, and up again. A car passes, I put my head down, and spin spin spin. Up and up, around a bend,

And there he is.


Up and up, legs spinning, pedals doing a turn and a half every second, and he´s mine. I look at him and smile as he looks at me befuddled, and we take a descent. Swiss-German comes up besides me and says, "Something something something, this is in Swiss-German." Probably about how his 175 pounds are going to go faster down the hill than my 125 any day.

Or maybe something about how he was going to need a heck of a descent to really drop me this time, and unfortunately, this wasn´t going to be it. If I were him, that´s what I´d be talking about.

We come around the bottom and go back up again to the top of the last climb. And once again the pirate of the caribbean drops Swiss-German climbing up the coast of the mediterranean. The road flattens, then angles downward, and my legs spin out, trying to give me every advantage going down. Swiss-German fights his own way to the top and comes back again.

It´s ok though.

I´ve already officially defeated him.

If you ask me.

He pulls up next to me and says, "Something something I´m still speaking in Swiss-German and as it turns out no, Brit did not pick up the language in the past 15 minutes." But it was probably something about how he wasn´t really trying and that if he was he would have taken me. Or maybe he had a hard workout yesterday. Or maybe he was just out for the views. Or maybe some other justification that egotistical cyclists bust out when...when...when they just flat out get beaten up a hill not once but every time over every hill over the past 12 miles. It´s ok. I know. I too am an egotistical cyclist, and all of us have been beaten up hills.

But all´s love in the world of the wheel. He speeds past me, careful to point out glass at the side of the road as we twist and turn and descend. I watch him go, then turn to the side and blow snot out of my nose. At the bottom I make a right and go into town.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Catalunyan Lingusitcs Lesson

Just because they keep saying ¨merci¨to you, doesn´t mean they think you´re french.

In fact they have a pretty definite idea that you are not from anywhere around here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006



I walked back to my room from the computer lab, my mind all a fuzzy from my thoughts of the day, which had been stemming to how the vast majority of my world cycling study was focused on the vast minority of what cycling is really about in the world, and how I was going to explain that one ("See, it´s kind of like the Bush Tax cut..."). Thoughts had been drifting in and out of my head all day as to how studying racing of bikes in a worldwide bike study is similar to studying NASCAR in a worldwide car study. Thinking about NASCAR makes my brain turn to mush.

These were the thoughts on my mind as I cut up some the veggies and threw them in with the cooking chicken. I enjoyed my Coca-Cola Light and cheese of crackers and watched my dinner simmer when all of a sudden it happened. My watch beeped, and absentmindedly, I looked at it.

2100 hours.

Nine óclock. PM, mind you.

The traditional time for dinner in Spanish society is around 9-10 at night. And, for the first time, I made it all the way to nine o´clock for dinner. Yes, me. She who stands around the kitchen starting around 5:15 to see if there is anything I can help with that will make dinner come even 20 seconds faster (¨No Brit, it´s 5:15, they still have to grow the vegetables...¨).

All the way to 9 at night. Waddup. It´s baby steps when it comes to taking on a new culture. And sometimes its annoying. But, as Bela Karolyi would say:

¨Yew kan dew eet.¨

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

First Day of Spring

Sun. You never seem to appreciate it enough when it´s out. So sometimes it punishes you. It deprives you. But not for forever.

After a week of cloudy, wet weather, the sun took it´s turn at the front of dawn and woke up Girona. The return of the sun brought the return of an unnameable energy to the town. You feel the urgency; you hurry to eat your bowls of cereal. The sun is out. You gotta get going. You throw on your gear, lube up the chain, and...gone.

If you´re feeling ambitious, you won´t wear leg warmers. First ride of the season in shorts. Your legs feel the air, and your body feels relief. Because maybe, just maybe, you made it through winter. Winter can´t last forever.

So off to ride. Everyone was off to ride today. It was the kind of day where for the first time in the season, your body may actually become sticky with sweat, and you go to douse yourself with water. Where your body then become sticky with Gatorade after you douse yourself with the wrong bottle.

It was the kind of day where cyclists were talking, laughing, even smiling (smiling!) as they climbed hills. And then cruised (no hands!) and waved to fellow riders on the way down while shouting encouragement.

The kind of day that you get out and pedal and ride and enjoy. Even if its into the wind, you go on. Even if you´re tired you go on. Because it´s the kind of day that reminds you that nothing lasts forever. Not the rain. Not the clouds. Not even winter.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday in Spain

Sunday is a day of recovery, a day to relax, a day to unwind from all the semi-pressue of the past week.

It seems kind of odd that the Spanish needed a day like today. Because life here is kind of slow. There is no feel of rush. People aren´t pressed for time. If you´re late, then the store is just going to open a little late. You don´t put in a full day. You put in two half days, with a nice little break in between.

Sunday used to be for the religious, and while 80% of spainiards still claim Catholocism, smaller numbers concern themselves with the traditions. Sunday is a break. A time-honored, well practiced, well coordinated break.

Nothing is happening on Sunday. Especially a rainy sunday.

It starts with getting up late, having a lazy morning. Then its time to head to the city center to buy a paper. You hit the cafe around 11, and on a rainy day like today you order a crissont and "un chocolate;" a hot chocolate so thick that it´s probably really just chocolate pudding heated up. You read. Everyone reads the paper. And its not one of those where a family will buy one paper and share the sections. No. Everyone has their own paper. Even the kids. So you read your paper until 1:30, when all the cafes close.

And the restaurants open. Time for lunch. Lunch is the big meal of the day in Spain. So on Sunday it´s the big event of the day. You gotta show up.

Lunch is followed by a nap. A nap is followed by some reading. Then its time to get some dinner, and rest up for the week ahead.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Spanish Culinary Lesson #2 (Numero Dos)

Milk: Cannot be bought in any container bigger than one liter.
Coke: Cannot be bought in any container bigger than two liters.
Olive Oil: Cannot be bought in any container smaller than three gallons.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Field Trip

I took a day off the bike today and headed down to the coast. As Tom Russell would say, ¨Barcelona is a woman´s town, ¨so I had to see for myself. And in fact, it is a woman´s town, although I think it´s great for men as well. It´s kind of like Miami, only cleaner, better laid out, and more people speak english.

Barcelona dates back to a while ago, with tons of interesting history. Western civilization is cool and all, but for trip one my priorities were boats, beach, and olympic village. I headed toward Barceloneta and checked out the ports so that I could choose the boat I am going to buy with my next fellowship. Some good options, but nothing really caught my eye, so I walked along the beach and laughed at the wind surfers that kept falling over.

I know, I know, it was their first time.

You´re right. I probably couldn´t do any better.

That doesn´t mean I can´t make fun.

It was comical because they were all on these boards with flourescent bright sails, and they had a knack for all falling over at the same time. It was all, ¨wheeeee! surfing, surfing, surfing, WHAM!¨

You might have had to be there.

I kept going along the coast to the olympic village, which traces its roots to 1992. I got to see where the torch was lit and all the flag poles that now stand empty. Pretty cool reminder of the event that was once there. The olympics played a big part in revitalizing Barcelona´s waterfront, so after finishing the village, I grabbed some lunch at the port de olimpic and ate on the beach. I spent the rest of the afternoon sampling ice cream before talking a walk through the old town on my way back to the train station. Kind of crazy to be in the middle of a major city, people running their stores, cops writing tickets, folks zooming by on motorbikes, and you look up and see gigantic castles and cathedrals just dotting the skyline.

Spain reminds me a lot of my legos.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

March 14

Sunny, little hazy, mid 60s, no wind. Beautiful riding day. Hands down, spring is the best season around.

Today my favorite muscle was the lower quad muscle.

There is a story to that. For those of you playing the home edition of this game, you may or may not have realized that it´s March 14. When I happen to be traveling and acknowledging the date at the same time (which does not always happen), sometimes I try to figure out where I was a year ago. March 14 is an easy day to figure out. But I would like to draw you attention to specifically March 14, 2002. See, today is four years to the day that I tore my ACL. Whether in the scheme of things that turned out to be a good or a bad or a meaningless-in-the-face-of-things thing is still an ongoing debate that I have with Self. The good news being I forgot about the anniversary until halfway through the morning, so maybe there is hope for me to move on with life. But maybe not.


When you tear your ACL your lower quad muscles atrophy, to the point that your leg makes kind of a U-shape just above the knee. So it was a good day to ride some hills and feel the lower quad flex and burn. Just because it can.

March 14, 2006 was a good day.

I leave you with wise words from Mary Ryan: "Of course you´re having a good´s game day!"

Monday, March 13, 2006

Tossa Del Mar to Sant Felix du Guilox

I´m pretty sure that this road was built before the invention of the bike. But I bet it was created with the idea that someday there would be a bike, and it would need a road to ride. That´s the only logic I can come up with. This road was ordained for cycling. No cars, tight and twisty going up, fun going down, in and out, all with the Mediterranean a mere few hundred feet below. From one Spanish town to the next. It´s only 20k, but God´s most perfect bike ride didn´t need to be too long, otherwise you might get bored.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Settling in...

A lot of emphasis on this thing is the travel. The logistics of moving from place to place, the packing, the crashing in a random bed, the getting up and moving on. Always trying to move on to the next item on the agenda, and making sure I´ve done so without leaving any socks behind.

Having a place to stay for an extended period of time during a year when you are supposed to be traveling is an under appreciated luxury. Not having to keep everything packed. Not having to keep everything oragnized in a Nazi-like fashion. I moved into my studio student apartment at the University of Girona-Montilivi, and luxuriated in the space. I have two drawers, a closet, my own bathroom, my own kitchenette, a table to eat on, a desk with a lamp, bookshelves above my bed for all five of my books, and a bookshelf across the room to put all my cycling stuff on.

Granted, my entire space is about 12´ by 14´. But that´s the biggest single I´ve ever seen, not to mention it´s so much bigger than my backpack. I´m not the kind of person that does well living in a confined space. I must have everything laid out so I can see it. Supreme organization, or as my mom calls it, a ¨mess.¨ And now supreme organization has its own three dimensional space to work with. It´s so nice waking up in the morning and knowing that I can go out and ride, and then have a place to come back to that is my own. Even in a foreign country, there is a little piece of it that I can call my own.

So I celebrate. I completely empty my backpack and throw it on the top shelf of my closet, knowing that for the next 37 days it will be of no use. I fill each drawer with something. I lay all my notes out on my desk. I organize my cycling gear: tools, gloves, toe covers, and helmet on the top shelf; shoes, windbreakers, and legwarmers on the bottom. I decorate, and put up my map of Spain on the empty wall. I go out and buy myself something special. Like crackers.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Spanish Culinary Lesson

Spain is famous for ¨Tapas.¨

¨Tapas¨are spanish for ¨Snack.¨

¨Snack¨is necessary when ¨dinner¨isn´t until ¨10:00-at-night.¨

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Queenstown to...

Auckland to Bangkok to London to Barcelona to Girona to sleep immediately.