Monday, June 22, 2009

Un Lungo Giro in Bicicletta (A Long Bike Ride, Italian-Style)

This past weekend, Arik and I ventured an hour south of Dallas to tackle the Tour d'Italia in Italy, Texas. The ride started at Italy High School, and thousands of bikers milled about before the start. Those in clip-in bike shoes hobbled awkwardly in the parking lots like baby birds, and I don't know that we've ever seen so many lycra-clad, tanned, large calved people in our lives.

We rolled down Main Street and soon were in the hills of Ellis County. There were a ton of other bikers (the organizers estimated about 2000) but we rarely felt crowded. As we moseyed along and bikers passed us, they would call out a "good morning!" or "how y'all doing?" before they pedaled off. One biker pulled a wagon along behind him that held a boombox and played some loud, funky tunes.

Arik 10 miles in wearing the Livestrong shirt we'll wear on our tour

There were rest stops every 10 miles or so, stocked with plums, peaches, bananas, oreos, pretzels and gatorade, though not, as one biker passing us had promised, with margarita machines. Then again she had a mohawk made of feathers glued to the top of her helmet so perhaps she wasn't totally trustworthy.

Mia at one of the rest stops

Even without the margaritas, the first 25 miles were really enjoyable. The sun was out but not too hot, there were a lot of other bikers around, and even though we rode into a headwind just about the entire time, Arik and I felt good physically. Then about halfway through the ride (we planned to do the longest, 63 mile, route) Arik's quads started cramping. Our pace slowed considerably, the sun beat down on us mercilessly as the clock crept toward noon, and Arik grimaced as he struggled up what felt like endless hills. Still, Arik soldiered on, and felt good at each rest stop.

We finally passed the point of no return: where the 40 and 50 mile routes split off and the 63 mile route continued on. We didn't even ask each other if we'd keep going- we just rode straight through in somewhat grim silence. At this point we hadn't seen another rider in at least 30 minutes and SAG vehicles started following us closely, ready to pick us up if we decided we couldn't make it.

At the 40 mile mark, after an especially trying strip of road for Arik's quads, we made it to the second to last rest stop. The people manning it cheered for us, gave us cold paper towels to cool ourselves off with, and informed us that we were the last people coming through. They couldn't believe we weren't on road bikes and asked if we were sure we wanted to keep going, but after we told them about our tour they realized how important making it all the way was to us.

Mia in happier times, before Arik was hurtin'

Refueled and recooled, we set off for the final 23 mile stretch. 7 miles in, with the temperature close to 100 degrees and the hills coming one after another, Arik said he had to stop. He was obviously in pain, and when he got off the bike he almost fell down because he couldn't straighten out his legs. We tried stretching and rubbing them but realized he wouldn't (and shouldn't) get back on the bike. We got a little freaked out when we couldn't find a phone number for the SAG units, but fortunately a guy came by after about 5 minutes and asked if we needed help. He radioed a pickup truck, and a large, jolly fellow loaded up our bikes and ferryed us home. He was simple and talkative and friendly- the kind of person I don't think you could find anywhere but Texas- and he regaled us with stories of chasing storms as an amateur radioman. We passed about 10 other riders still on the course before he dropped us off at the high school.

Arik was bummed we didn't make it all the way, but I couldn't believe he'd ridden over 15 miles on cramping quads. And 47 miles total, on a steamy, sunny Texas day, ain't too shabby at all!

Be well,

Arik and Mia