My bike maintenance course is going ever so well. I’ve learnt all sorts. Each day begins with a bike pump and a baby wipe; pumping up my tyres before wiping and scrubbing off as much mud and dust as I can in an attempt to make my bike look as shiny and new as all those around it. Not only is my bike the heaviest (well, apart from The Pram, which is a different bike all together), but it is, I expect, the cheapest and definitely the least well maintained, simply because no one has ever really showed me how to keep it properly. Until now. Now, in an attempt to prevent further ‘bike envy’ I have a routine to start each day with. Pretty bike and no more punctures for me!
Bikes polished and shined, the group soon set off together. Well the full group minus “The Three Elites” who decided to tackle a really rather impressive route, The Stelvio Pass. Our route was a little less steep. In fact the first 50 miles were “assisted flat” (ahem, *downhill*) and took in beautiful scenery. It was our first sunny(ish) day, but still rather breezy, especially at speed on the bike.
The terrain was much more varied too, taking us from tarmac to cobbled streets, and across gravel and mud – at one point a grassy orchard (I suppose it is still an orchard even if it covers thousands of acres?) too. My cyclo-cross felt well-prepared for the mix of surfaces and I was at last slightly grateful for my wider tyres which made me feel a bit sturdier as we slipped and slid down our route.
Being on flats and downhills we were now able to form a train and pick the pace up. Just inches from each others tyres we shot off ‘as one’ and at speed. I love the sight of it with everyone snaking along behind each other round bends as if connected together!
…until the Garmin’s lose signal again. Times like this called for another nutrition-intake break while the navigators worked out which fork in the road to take. I had to keep those salts and sugars up or Uncle Nick would spy my full water bottle and, rightly so, tell me off. I just forget to get thirsty….
No matter how many times our route popped back onto busy roads it wasn’t long before we were back in orchards again. There were just miles and miles of Strudel trees. Well, someone has to feed those hungry Austrians.
And it wasn’t just the sites that were amazing either. The smells brought back so many memories of my visits to my grandparents in France when I was younger – the warm hay smell, freshly cut grass, moss-covered trees all triggered recollections. Little children hitching rides in the trailers of their fathers tractors and old men out in the heat of the day tending to their animals and crops brought back flashes of my past, which I loved!
Lunch was, as usual, a roadside stop by the van. Our ‘Laser’ emblazoned van was quickly becoming a site for sore eyes. I plonked myself down and tucked into yet another cheese and ham sarnie, quickly followed by a couple of bananas smothered with nutella. Don’t judge me, I was burning 3,000+ calories a day!
After lunch we spotted Greg’s tyre was damaged and was likely to burst at any moment. The rest of the group set off ahead while we did the tyre change. Nick had tyre-changing down to 4 minutes at this point but we miss-navigated ourself at the next junction so never caught up with the lead group. This meant with fewer Garmin’s we were at greater risk of getting lost. And lost, we got.
No matter how many sign posts we came across, none of the names were familiar or pointing to anywhere relevant for us. The signposting across Europe is, in my experience, extremely poor. Particularly in isolated towns where no one goes much further than neighbouring towns so large towns and cities need not be signposted. We resorted to asking advice from local farmers who consistently took 5 or 10 minutes to ultimately explain “go left, it’s quicker”. It’s as if they were just so pleased to have people to speak to, that our blank faces as they chatted away in Austrian (we were still in Italy, but the language of the hills is very much Austrian) only just encouraged them to resort to a couple of simple hand signals.
Shortly before the downhill finally ended I learnt another invaluable bike-maintenance lesson. Disk brakes are made of metal. They work by friction. Friction between metal and metal creates a lot of heat. Metal doesn’t cool very quickly. Attempting to tighten your brakes immediately after a 20 degree downhill gradient should be approached with extreme caution, with particular reference to gripping the disks themselves. Oops.
After the beauty of the countryside we did eventually find ourself on a cycle path beside a main road. You know you’re in Italy when you hear the car horns before you hear the car. We were still about 30 miles from our hotel, so the 5 of us formed a train and just pedalled and pedalled for the majority of the remaining miles. This bit wasn’t much fun. It was fast but monotonous. At the back of my mind I knew that our 96 mile journey might actually be even longer too, but reasoned with myself that to crack the 100-mile mark would be pretty awesome, so battled on through the exhaustion…
As luck (?!) would have it, I was right! We rolled in shortly before 8pm having smashed through 101 gruelling miles. The furthest I have EVER cycled in one day – in fact almost double the distance of my longest cycle prior to this trip!
Sometimes you deserve a pint more than others, and this was a time to celebrate!