Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bicycle Diaries.

I am a real cyclist now--meaning a real road cyclist, not just a pretty bike cyclist (though I do miss my pretty bike, currently in my grandma's garage). We rode 400+ miles over one to two weeks. Spencer and I started in Nice, France, road to Italy that day, and met up with his friends in Venice a few days after that with the help of a train or two. The farthest we rode was 70 miles in one day. Before that the most I had ever ridden in one day was 36 miles. Those miles were on the Oregon Coast, and also happened to be the precursor to Spencer asking me to marry him. He appreciated that I was willing to try. I appreciated that I succeeded, and that it was significantly more fun, and less scary, than I imagined. These new 70 miles in one day, however, were on one of the worst stretch of roads, with the hardest hills, in a very desolate and forsaken part of Croatia. At one point we road for four hours without seeing a village or villager. And we were out of water. And I was very thirsty. At that time, and at many more on the bike trip, Spencer would ride beside me and put biscuits (not very good cookies) in my mouth. I didn't even want them, but he insisted that I needed the constant energy to be able to keep going. He was probably right. Spencer's friend had tried to explain to me that the best way to be able to keep riding is to eat more food than you think you need, and drink more water than you think you need, and in that way you can get partially the amount that your bicycling body requires. Because of this, as well as the truth of this, I have never eaten more food in my life than I did on that bike trip. It was also the first time I understood what people mean when they say they need animal products to get enough protein. I have never felt that before by myself. Plant food diets usually do okay for me, but on days that I biked very far up hills, I craved meat. And cheese. And things I don't usually crave. Most food tasted really good, even though some of it was very terrible. Food that did not ever taste good: the disgusting oatmeal that we were constantly eating. (What made it disgusting? What I thought was a brilliant idea. I mixed in a whole bag of my 7 grain cereal that I eat at home, forgetting that it takes a long time to cook, and that the oatmeal only requires warm water, and that we wouldn't have the proper time or resources to cook it sufficiently to get the crunch out. It was bad, and only got better when we smothered it with nutella or added sesame seeds, to make it purposefully crunchy. Unfortunately, you can only eat nutella, sesame seed oatmeal for so long.)

Finally on the day of the 70 miles, we saw a villager, and one of our group tried to communicate, asking how far to the next town. Somehow we figured out a good estimate, and it gave me the motivation to keep peddling. Then we stayed in our first non-camping, non-side-of-the-road, place. There was a roof over our head, and walls all around us. It felt like heaven. I can honesty say I have never felt more proud of myself. There were actually a lot of those moments. And they were almost always instigated by awful hills, climbs, and mountains that I never thought would end. At one point (probably in the middle of a terrible hill) I remember asking Spencer why people chose to bike tour. And then immediately after I got to the top, I realized that that feeling was pretty great, and that was probably why. There is something to be said for getting somewhere with the power of your legs, your lungs, your heart. It is freeing really. I still wasn't sure these good feelings were worth the pain, but they were close. And I got better, stronger, even over the course of that relatively short bike tour. I was also almost always the first person to the top of the hills, which was sometimes the only thing that made it fun for me, and inspired me to keep riding, even when I hated, hated the hills, which I did often. For everyone else's credit, I had the lightest bike and the lightest load, because Spencer, wanting me to enjoy it (as well as do it) chose to carry almost all of our things, and my panniers were very, very small in comparison to his get up. We probably should have figured out a way to carry our load more evenly, and I should have figured out a way to be braver and more willing to do it, because Spence's configuration ended up breaking two bike hubs/tires/other things that I don't really understand. And also because of it, I would have to ride whichever bike was worse, so I would have been doing myself a favor to carry just a little more.

Highlights of the bike trip include the beautiful places we saw, and some of the delicious gelato/pizza/mostly gelato we ate. The French Riviera has incredible water. So clear and bright and turquoise. I had never seen anything like it. I liked Venice, Italy, and I loved, loved Slovenia. It is the fairest land God ever made I think. Maybe for me because it was reminiscent of my Oregon, and so covered in trees and green, plus had the prettiest, well cared for houses I have ever seen. Each one was immaculate. Most roofs were made of intricately shaped red bricks. Almost every window (of which there were plenty) were graced with bright flowers (also usually plenty, and red). I would like a home like that one day, but it may look silly in whatever non-Slovenia place we happen to reside in. Spencer also appreciated Croatia, and one particular part in Croatia where we got to ride through a national park. I didn't like that part very much, though I did like the park itself--especially because it, like the French Riviera, sported clear, pretty, turquoise water. Riding in the park was admittedly beautiful, but it was also alternatively dark and light, depending on the tree coverage, which made it hard to see, and the path was extremely narrow, and even more extremely down hill. I may also be the only person who dislikes downhills approximately equal to the amount that I dislike uphills, though I dislike them for different reasons. Uphill is of course hard. Down hill is scary! And too fast for my blood. I find myself squeezing on the breaks, so I don't get any added speed or momentum for my hard work up. It is absurd. (Lowlights of the trip include not feeling safe sometimes, and sleeping in some pretty questionable places in foreign lands. Also any time we rode in the dark was not a plus for my safety book, or that time we rode on a freeway outside of Venice to get to our campground.)

And for the all important question: Would I go on a bike tour again? (As well as the all important answer.) Yes. But some things would have to be different/more comfortable. And it would never, ever be when I was moving across the world, to a different country. Despite what Spencer says, it is not that great to roll into your new city at 1:30 in the morning, with nothing but biking clothes, and (in my case) one dress--not even dress shoes (Spencer happened to lose them somewhere in Croatia), to sleep in a hostel that has exactly two spots left, requiring you to not only sleep in a separate room from your spouse, but a separate building. Yeah, I would not do that again. And there would also have to be at least one other girl, which this one fortunately had. (Bless Melissa and her desire to be safe!)

Nice, France, and a too sunny nap. I may have woken up from the heat.

On our way to Italy. Notice Spencer's bike.

Milan, Italy, Spence, and the Duomo.

Venice, Italy, and the rest of the riders.

Trieste, Italy. We were about to get very lost.

The end of Italy/beginning of Slovenia!

Ljubljana, Slovenia. Dragon Bridge.

Croatia. National Park (N.P.).

N.P.

N.P.

Brac, Croatia.

15 comments:

Will K said...

That sounds like quite a trek. When I travel by bike like that, I usually go on my folding bike. That way if I get really tired, I can catch a ride on a passing vehicle or go to a bus station, and it's easy to take the bike along. Of course, if you went days without seeing any villagers, that wouldn't have helped much.

Lauren Kay said...

Rachel I am amazed! Your trip sounds so so cool. I love the visual of Spencer feeding you cookies as you guys ride. It's so sweet.

Rachel. said...

Will: We did have full fledged folding bikes. They were Passport ones. Our good friend owns a bike shop in SLC called bike wagon (http://www.bikewagon.com/), and he hooked us up.

Lauren: I did not like it at the time, but it probably was sweet. He was seriously making me eat so many. I got sick of them, pretty fast.

steenblikrs said...

They were the best of times, they were the worst of times. You capture it so perfectly, reading it, I laughed and I cried.

Jacob said...

I have always wanted to go on a bike road trip, just often have never gained the impetus to do it. I am impressed that you did it. :)

Rachel Hunt said...

Jacob, you should totally do it. You would love the adventure and all of the lovely places you pass, plus the many good hours for good thinking.

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