Once Upon a Time in Tuscany
Poof! And just like that 2017 is done and dusted. Like a foggy hangover courtesy of an all night bender, the holiday's, and last year as a whole, are all but a cloudy memory. But as my mind sobers up and I begin to take stock, I'm reminded 2017 was an incredible year and that I have much to be thankful for. From loving family and friends to incredible cycling adventures, I have been fortunate. Here is a look-back at one such cycling highlight from 2017...
Siena. Maybe you've heard of it, maybe you haven't. It's one of those beautiful hamlets in Tuscany that is well worth the visit but often overlooked by its bigger brethren, Florence. It's here, early last Spring that I lined up for the Gran Fondo Strade Bianche. Built to emulate the actual race, the fondo offers the chance for us mere mortals to play the game of "me too" and race on the same roads as the pro's. So naturally, like the guinea pig that I am, I willing signed up, demanded they take my money for the entrance fee, then lined up for the leg smashing that was about to be served.
Huddled amongst 1,000 other participants at the start line, the drizzle began to turn into heavy droplets. I hunched over and folded my hands into my arm pits in a vein attempt to retain any bits of warmth that might otherwise escape my shivering body. "This is not what I had in mind" I thought as I stood, teeth chattering, waiting for what seemed an eternity for the start gun to sound off.
Bang! Finally we could roll and "surely it would only be a matter of moments now where my legs would be pumping like pistons and my body would start to thaw" I told myself. But as luck (or lack thereof) would have it, we started off on a descent out of town and immediately water began to fling up from the rolling tires of cyclists’ in front of me; the splatters erasing any last traces of dryness and turning my shivering into convulsive shaking.
I continued to ride on shaking so violently from the cold that I began to wonder if I'd even keep myself upright on the bike. As a few kilometers ticked away I began to wonder how I would even navigate the first strada sector that was due shortly. "Would the mud be too slippery? Would I slide off the road? Would all the other cyclist's and I be banging into each other like demolition derby?" were just a few of the fears that were playing out in my mind. Finally, I hit that first piece of strada and to my amazement it wasn't slippery in the least but almost tacky. Instantly my fear melted away and a mile-wide grin grew on my face. My trepidation of those soggy dirt sections withered and I now relished them.
Feeling the flecks of wet sand and dirt fly up onto my face I felt childish, like a 7 year old boy stomping in mud puddles. The gravel road turned upward eventually cresting over the top of a steep short berg; one of many such hills that make Tuscany so picturesque. I mashed on the peddles, then I mashed harder. I could feel my heart beating faster and my body warming, steam started to waft like a locomotive from my soaked kit as my body began to thaw. Then I remembered why I love being on my bike. I began to remember why we cyclist's sometimes endure the pain, the cold, the constant discomfort. Why we grit our teeth and move on instead of quitting. I remembered that often times on the other side of those moments of near surrender there is the sweetness of accomplishment.