[this post is a bit of a ramble, but stick with it if you’re hardcore]
Some days just aren’t your day. Some days you’re on. This day was the former.
Even so, I desperately needed a good day to cheer me up. So despite being completely exhausted all day, I thought I should do a ride. The sun was shining, and the rolling hills of Provence were calling my name. If I didn’t go, I’d be even more miserable.
It took only 30 seconds (I hadn’t even mounted the bike yet) before I was approached by someone who ran up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. There is a little courtyard about the size of a football field outside our building and I noticed there are some pretty strict warning signs about not playing, riding bikes, having fun, or anything other than simple walking in the courtyard. Recently some maintenance men have been blasting the large clay tiles with high pressure water to remove the slight darkness they have acquired over the years of use and acid rain exposure. These guys have been working for 2 weeks, using 1000’s of gallons of water to try and lighten the tiles to their original color. Certainly there is a more effective solution to the problem (I’m thinking a more acidic solution that would eat away the top layer in a few minutes, or even sandblasting – both would be done in a day or less, but whatever).
Anyway, the guy runs up to me and taps me on the shoulder. By the time I get the earphones out of my ears he is already in mid-sentence… talking super-fast about “this” and “that” and … who knows. Basically I concluded what I just did (walk my bike out of the courtyard) was certainly the cause of all the awful stains on the tiles. Walking my bike 50 meters 7 or 8 times at this establishment was probably the #1 cause of the pale-red clay tiles turning a few hues darker. I really wasn’t in the mood for anything… let alone someone bitching at me for a natural phenomenon that didn’t even notice in the first place… and add to the fact that it was in mach-speed French that I only caught the tail-end of… and that the whole thing was so bizarre that it was impossible to put a context on what he could be saying (my minimal French skills at least need a context)….. I nodded and left. I didn’t want to ask him to slow down and explain simply the situation. I concluded that he either WANTED me to “illegally” ride my bike instead of walking because of my cleats could damage the tiles (but when was the last time your cleats damaged stone or pavement?) Or he thinks that my 23mm tiles rolling for 50 meters were staining the tiles and wanted me to pick my bike up. Whatever. When I worked in blue collar jobs we had a name for such things, “job security”. It’s great.
Pushing off, I was glad that I managed to get my heart rate strap working again which but it also revealed that despite my perceived suffering, I really wasn’t working that hard with HR around 100bpm getting out of the city.
I was almost through the urban sprawl areas when I got a slow flat… no doubt caused by a shard of glass. Fittingly, when I pressed on the tire to ensure it was seated well, it was apparent that I was fixing my glass-induced flat tire in another cornucopia of glass shards. Large green jagged pieces diverted the suns rays right back into my eyes as I tried to repair the flat… convinced it was all in vein.
As I blasted the last top-off charge of air from the CO2 cartridge into the tire, my mind wandered. This is my 5th flat in France after only 6 weeks… much higher than last year when I had 2 flats. I wondered about a previous statement that I have made on this blog… CZ outdrinks every country in the world and 95% of all beverages are sold in glass which often ends up on the road. Compared to the US, the consumption is almost DOUBLE and I would guess that aluminum cans have much higher sales in the US (cans are actually kind of rare in CZ). Still, I would only get 1 or 2 flats per year, using paper-thin tires and Germany’s finest uber-lightweight tubes. As the CO2 cartridge finished it’s job, the answer to the riddle dawned on me…. Rain.
In rains a lot in CZ. Actually, I’d put down a 500kc note to bet that it’s raining in CZ right now. With that much rain, the roads get “washed” and with constant rain the glass is magically transformed into harmless sea-glass, a feat previously unthinkable in a landlocked country! The south of France… not so much rain… = more flats.
I deliberated just turning around and calling it day after just 8 miles. I suck, the day sucks, I’m fat, I’m slow, people hate me, and I’d rather smash bottles in the road right now than pick them up with my tires. But I continued. Finally I reached the mountains where my HR finally could climb out of “Zone 0” and I started to have some fun. No cars, beautiful sun-dappled roads flanked with chestnut trees, and the new Jimmy Eat World album tantalizing my auditory senses. I glanced to the left to see the guardrail-less road drop off 1000 feet into a deep valley and an ancient monastery perched on the adjacent mountain, basking in the afternoon light. Another curve approached an revealed the azur blue of the Mediterranean and Saint Tropez down below. At this point, the problems of the day, the problems in my mind, and the problems with bad luck just melted away under the orange fall sun.
“This is what biking is about,” I thought to myself.
“Taking a crappy day and flipping it around into something that makes you smile.”
I went further than I thought and nearly the maximum that the sunshine would allow, 82 miles. But with only 1 mile to go, I had to enter back into the city. I’ve discovered a bike path that is very good. 2 lanes, clearly delineated with “bike” logos and painted a glowing green color. It really looks like a green carpet. Everyone knows it’s the bike path and a lot of cyclists take advantage of it for commuting. Normally I hate bike paths. I find them infinitely more dangerous than inner-city biking or mountain biking down steep and rooty wet descents… But this path is pretty good. Most of the time, it doesn’t even fallow a road, just a triple wide path (2 bike lanes, 1 walking/running lane) that goes through a small forest. Much better than the alternative 4 lane highway I’d be battling through “urban assault” style. At one point, I had to cross 2 roads (an entry and exit from a round-about) so you really have to watch the incoming traffic as well as the round-about traffic closely. On the other side of the road I noticed some girls walking along but instead of walking in the pedestrian lane, they were both walking on the bright green bike path lane. There was room to go around if I went in the opposite bike lane I thought…
“Better post on Facebook to all your friends that things are about to get very messy!”
But for the time being I needed to focus on traffic…. All was good so I pressed on at about 20mph… watch the incoming traffic, watch the roundabout, is that Renault going to exit or continue?… ok, it’s going on the roundabout so I’m set.. oh here come the girls.. some room if I go in the “oncoming” bike lane… one last check for traffic… yup ok cross the last lane.
I look up… BOTH girls are TEXTING and not looking where they are walking! Shit. “Better post on Facebook to all your friends (who are trying to prove who is more interesting) that things are about to get very messy!” She continued her “status update drift” as I neared closer. The only option was for me to drift way to the left where there was a huge 2 foot curb with fist-size stones on top and then an aluminum construction barrier. “Hmmm… sounds nice, but I kinda liked the glowing green VIP bike path with smooth pavement and pictures of “BIKES” on it better.”
So I did the best I could in balancing all the traffic, pedestrian, and hazard situation. I figure a car will just kill me so that is priority #1. Next come the girls. I could stay in the correct lane, take them both out, but then would have to deal with the carnage afterwards (have you ever seen a knock-off Prada bag and a slider-phone after being hit with a bike… not pretty). So I veered as far as I could, and gave the left-most girl just a 25% dose of SRAM Force carbon lever (thats still less than the RDA %, fyi) then used the remaining 75% to bounce off the 2 foot curb a few times, brush my left hip into the aluminum sheet metal, tried to put a foot down into the fist-size rocks but then finally all those resistances on the bike proved to slow the bike down too fast and I had to bail at the end, opting for the green pastures of the VIP bike path rather than the harsh construction area or the huge Hummer-proof curb.
I’ll let you use your imagination as to how 2 teenage girls dealt with getting getting hit by a bike (well. only one got hit… your welcome, other girl!) But as I laid in the green path right next to the big “bike” logo with huge “forward” arrow and the gray “pedestrian zone” totally unused to the right… it was pretty obvious about who had the right of way. I really couldn’t manage to say too much… I suppose the best I could have said was “Si vous insistez à marcher sur la piste cyclable … au moins avoir la tête haute.” or something like that. But I noticed she was alright, her phone was still socializing fine, and my bike and body were still pretty solid. So I guess my calculations to minimize pain for all involved was pretty good, although there was really no possible way to avoid the situation.
A little blood for me… and a fun status update to prove to her friends how exiting it is to walk around city traffic while texting for her. It wouldn’t surprise me if you search twitter today for some french phrases about hitting a cyclist that you’ll find her….
I continued the last 500 meters home. Again in a bit of a bad mood… well, there’s always vacant mountain roads ripe for the picking tomorrow. You’re only a day… away!