Saturday, 3 August 2013

bike people are nice people

I've been back on my bike, and back in my beloved Catalonia a while now. I've taken the chance to head out with a few local groups, sunburn my lower arms and legs, sweat a lot, search out the best orxata and get lost in places where I haven't been lost before, and then get hypo and get lost in places i’m intimately familiar with. 

proper hypos mean proper snacks,the nutella filled hippo was the lifesaver here 

Last weekend was my first weekend here for Months, I got home to a calendar which was shocking for two reasons, it was still on the May page and it had pictures of nearly nude med students (I’ll buy anything for charity).  After spending some time at Dad's house celebrating my little sister's graduation (there's nothing like being surrounded by three freshly minted doctors all of whom are feeding you booze/ cake to bolster my hopes for the future of the medical profession's understanding of type 1 diabetes) and running with my beloved dog Widgeon I eventually received my bike, insulin and strips (only three days after I arrived, thanks BA) and boarded a low cost flight to el Prat.

this is the only known way to make running fun

my dad really lives here

Unlike their counterparts at BA the folks at easyjet managed to send my bicycle on the same plane as me and did so without bending the derallieur hanger. I managed a build and spin (and ice cream stop) on Wednesday and a couple of days of what I would like to call training but realistically I’ll call “the desperate search for my legs” on Thursday and Friday before heading out with the local club on Saturday. We met at 6:30 for what I was told would be a “long ride”. Turned out these guys weren’t messing about. With 3x20 on Thursday and Friday I was ready for an endurance paced cruise. This was anything but, they took the flat sections with typical Iberian insoucicance and, come the slightest incline they went absoloutley mental. Having suffered something of a “Schlek moment” I found myself on the back foot and covered in grease as I chased back on after extracting my chain from the nether regions of my frame BEHIND the overpriced piece of metal which is supposed to stop what had just happened. Sure as eggs are eggs, broken vertebrae are painful and I was hurting pretty badly chasing the local chippers uphill. Luckily whilst my legs and back may have forgotten how to climb, my cojones have not deserted me and I showed them how to go down a mountain without breaking in the apex of every turn.

After 100km of such fun I found myself at a cafĂ©, with a load of sweaty blokes I’d never met before drinking coke and sharing sandwiches, salt shakers and blatant lies about what had occurred over the previous 3 hours. At this point it occurred to me that the longest ride I’d done post injury was 100km and I had just done 100km, and now I had to ride home. We set off at a brisk pace fuelled by cured pork and caffeine and I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to look at the bracelet on my left wrist a few times as we approached the summit of several climbs. Once my new friends noticed this the pristine mountain air around Vic was rapidly polluted with shouts of “venga James, harden de fuck eerp”. As the miles counted down our group whittled down in size, at 40 degrees ( I still don’t do farenheit) and 160k I wasn’t surprised when a few people monted the train to Barcelona. Drastically undertrained, underfuelled and lacking in electrolytes it would’ve been the sensible option for me to do the same. But I’m not that way inclined. 30km later I found myself gasping for water whilst pushing a triathlete  towards the back of a paceline moving at 40kph down the autopista. Climbing the final hill on the way home the wheels came off and I drifted back through the amassed globeros, as I did so I received no less than 3 different water bottles and 2 caramelos. Sufficiently refueled I managed to muscle my way into the rotation and draw out the last of my hubris just long enough to put on the hurt on the way home.

The group split up 5km from my house and it took a large orxata and a medium sized (goat’s milk) froyo to get me up the hill and into my shower where I proceeded to whimper and groan for 30 mins while I attempted to remove the taste of sweat and suncream from my facial hair.

The point of this is not to regale you all with a tale of how unfit I am but rather to prove a point. Cycling brings us together in a way few other things do. I found that out again today climbing Monsteny when I came across an ambulance and a racing buddy, his friend was in the ambulance and, joined only by our love for the sport and one mutual acquaintance a group of us gathered to make the necessary phone calls etc before we set off and inflicted horrendous amounts of suffering on each other and then bought each other croissants.

 If this needed reinforcing any further I got a lesson in community when my crank FELL OFF on a ride and I found myself awaiting the opening of Dr bike in Mataro. Now in August in Catalonia “open at 9” means, we arrive at 9 and get a coffee next door. So come 9 not only did the mechanics arrive, they also bought me coffee, fixed my bike, gave me a crank bolt and refused payment.

Where else and why else would you find yourself sharing beverage containers with strangers, placing your hands on the sweaty lower back of someone you’d met hours before, splitting a bocadillo with someone 40 years older than you and, most dangerous of all accepting sweets from a stranger? There’s something about a shared love for shaved legs, lycra and carbon which brings people together in a way that other things can’t.

Sure I have met cyclists who I don’t care for (notably the bloke who told me I shouldn’t come on his ride because I had diabetes) some of them I try to be polite to, others of them I dispatch on climbs and very few of them I drop, wait for, drop again and repeat until they take the train home (notably the bloke who told me I shouldn’t come on his ride because I had diabetes). For the most part though, I find a shared love for bikes can overcome a lot of differences.

In the past 12 months I’ve shared a bed in Saigon with a bloke I met on the Wednesday ride, slept on the floor of someone who’d father organizes bike races, had a man who shared nothing more than a racing license and a lack of basic common sense regarding the weather similar to my own undress me in a freezing gymnasium in the Pyrenees, drunk beer in Spandex with a Belgian pensioner who once did the race across America, showered in someone else’s camper van, drunk dozens of free coffees and benefitted from more charity pastry than anyone else I know. None of that would have happened if I didn’t race bikes. So whilst I haven’t won bugger all this season It’s still  been a great year, I’ve got even more friends and I’ve had even better experiences.

These are my friends, we ride bikes

I often wonder why so many things which are on the extremes of the “luck” range tend to happen to me. I think if you put out a lot of happy, you get it back so when bad stuff happens, the key is to keep smiling, even if you break your back, because your friends might bring you speculoos in hospital.

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