Friday, August 22, 2008

Mom Told Me the Bike Would Do Me In

A few weeks ago I was playing with the interview feature on Facebook (a new-to-me, ridiculous, immature but utterly addictive online toy) and one of the questions was: what is your last thought as you fall over the edge of a cliff?

Without a thought, I wrote: “Mom told me the bike would do me in.”

And it has.

Except this “doing in” was all my own doing. It was not some unfortunate, near fatal cycling disaster, like swerving dangerously in front of a car, being rear-ended by a garbage truck, or a perilous interlocking of derailleur and front-tire of the person behind me, as my mother has vocally feared. No, this was all me. And my tendency to do what feels good -- a lot. To excess. To the point where it hurts.

You see, to celebrate the end of the summer and burn some vacation days in the fine month of August rather than the boring home-bound month of December, I took last Friday off to ride my bike. “A quick 20 (miles) this morning”, I thought, knowing I’d be doing a longer ride with my uncle the next day. So out I went. And I encountered various road closures, downed wires and other obstacles that had me rerouting on streets unknown to me. I just don’t ever encounter those things on weekends, since I am normally working and not riding on weekdays, at least not during business hours. Rather than back-tracking, I kept taking detours and yes, I ended up lost. The first milestone I recognized an hour into my ride was 25 miles from home. Ooops. So a quick 20 became a not so quick 34 up and down the hills of Topsfield (think Tuscany for those of you who have ridden there). And so it was. The ride meant to warm up my legs became a pretty serious workout. But still, it felt good.

The next day was Saturday and I journeyed up to Portsmouth, NH to ride with my uncle. We did a nice, easy, flatter-than-flat 32 mile ride along the beaches of Rye and Portsmouth. It was delicious, heavenly, perfect beach/riding weather and it felt like I hardly worked at all. Hell, I didn’t even stretch afterward.

So of course, on Sunday, I felt great, as if I could conquer the world on this bike of mine. My friend Brian joined me as he does most Sundays. And as I’d been slowly adding miles to our weekly voyage, I had planned an almost 40 mile ride for that morning, which would bring me to 100 miles for the weekend. As a Type A obsessive who needs numbers to feel accomplished, 100 was big for me. I know many of you may not understand that, and most everyone would look at me quizzically when I told them the next day. But I wanted that 100. I know some riders do this in a day, but for me, a weekend warrior with a 3 month old bike, this was big.

So off we went. And the first 10 miles or so felt like I was riding with lead in my legs. I could not shake them or wake them, but I attributed that to not stretching with my uncle and a little too much wine the night before. As Brian led for the first part of the ride, I was determined to keep his pace and eventually the legs did start to feel normal again. But somewhere around the 20 mile mark, I made him stop for water and said “I don’t think it’ll be 40 today,” and I pointed to my left knee. Nothing specific had happened, no steep hills or awkward twists. I’d just felt a twinge deep under my knee cap and didn’t think we should push it, even to accomplish my meaningless goal for the day. So we started the 15 mile ride back to where we started. And with every pedal stroke thereon, the pain got worse until it became a searing tear. It was almost as if once I admitted it to myself that it hurt, it was going to beat me.

I didn’t hide it as well as I should have because Brian commented that I didn’t look like I was having fun. And I wasn’t. I love this bike and I love being on the road and I really look forward to getting out with friends and doing this. But at this point I just wanted it to end. I wanted to be in the driveway and getting off that bike.

When we did get back home, the first thing I noticed is that it didn’t hurt when I walk. That was good. Right? So I stretched for a while and noticed it did hurt when I bent it a certain way. And you know, the right knee was feeling a little twitchy then too.

So long story short…I spent the week with a painfully swollen and angry knee and its companion isn’t too happy either. I’ve been on an anti-inflammatory (which I ordinarily never take), rest and ice regimen for the week. Adding insult to injury, literally, I iced it so much Sunday that I gave myself frostbite (not kidding). I taught my spinning classes as scheduled, but without exerting myself or my knees at all, walking the room or teaching off the bike for the entire profile. Finally today, five days later, I am over half-way through the workday and for the first time all week there’s almost no swelling and very little pain, which I think is positive progress. But I have committed to myself that there will be no bike for me this weekend. The love affair with my aluminum/carbon baby is temporarily on hold. But it’s this “rest” thing that gets to me. I’ll take all the pills in the world, ice it whenever you want me to, but slow down and stop is not something I can abide by easily. I’ve already booked up the days with dinners with friends, beach with my DS and books, magazines, movies…whatever I can think of to prevent me from looking at that bike until next week.

The lesson I need to take from this can be summed up in three words: overexertion, moderation, common sense. Ok, that was four. But I need to listen to the knees and let them have their rest. Hopefully I haven’t been clueless enough to do permanent damage. Because truly, I don’t want it to be the bike that did me in.

PS -- I ended up with 95, in case you were wondering…

Friday, August 8, 2008

Opportunities lost

In a very rare public confession, I'll share with you that I only recently started to drink wine. I'd never liked it, or, shall we say "acquired a taste for it". I drank it more or less by force in Rome last year, when I dined with the incomparable Tony and Bill at Dino and Tony's, a local restaurant near the Vatican recommended to us by our guide after the Vatican Museum tour where we all met.

The only thing to drink at this restaurant was vino. A red vino on tap, no less, and when you asked what grape or vintage you were drinking, the waiter said only "nuovo". I'm not yet fluent in Italian, but knowing enough to be the interpreter for the group, I knew that meant it's "new" and we loved it. Over the course of our nearly four hour meal, we loved it enough to forget that water, Diet Coke or Orangina even existed. And loved it enough to kiss our bald waiter on the way out of the restaurant, European style, once on each cheek. (Ok, that was me, not Bill or Tony, but I digress)

So since last November, I've dappled more and more in wines, sticking closer to the reds because "that's what I know...and like". And as time has passed, I've wanted to learn more and know more. In Paris I even branched out into whites, loving the Sancerre I had at one restaurant and the red of unknown origin at another. But I resolved to learn more so that I'd know what TO order and how to order it. So now I'm taking a wine class. And now I know what I've been missing.

You see, in over 20 trips to Europe, do you have any idea what I've passed up in the way of wine? I had not one, not two, but THREE private tastings on my bike tour in Tuscany. I had a lunch on the porch of a private home where they served wine the owners had made themselves. I visited at least three chateaus in the Loire Valley with my mother where she bought cases of the wine made there as I laughed. Wine as a carry-on (pre-9/11)? Surely you jest! And not once did I partake. In fact, on the bike tour, I was more likely to be found at the local gelateria enjoying 2 euro shots of Bailey's Irish cream and a gelato than sniffing and tasting wine.

So now I feel like I did when I "discovered" that I like Caravaggio and Rembrandt paintings. I remember all those museums I've already been to in amazing cities around the world, and never gave them a glance. I feel like I need to go back and make up for my short shrifting of them. And likewise with the wine. Oh, to have that sample at the chateaus.

I guess a little re-tracing of steps is in order then. Or I just make certain to make the most out of the experiences going forward and not let opportunity slip away again.

Tunes on the road

As much as the food, the sights and the people, the music I hear on vacation is often trapped in my subconscious and surfaces when I least expect it. I was thinking of this recently as a vacation moment popped back into my head, triggered by a song that I was playing for my spinning class.

My sister and I hopped into a taxi in Paris late one night, trying to return to our hotel on the other side of the city. As the taxi whisked its way up the Champs Elysees and we were admiring this impromptu tour of the city at night, the radio from the front was loud enough that we could both hear the French-language singer against a strong rhythmic drum and pulsing bassline. We looked at each other simultaneously and said “what is this?” Right then, we knew it was one of “those” moments on the trip. One that would remind us of that floodlit trip up the grandest avenue of France, if not the world. It would harken back to that frightful pass where 12 avenues meet in an eight lane traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe. We had to have this song in our iTunes libraries. So with the strongest, clearest French I could conjure up, I asked the taxi driver, “La chanteuse, qui est?” “The singer,” I said, “who is it?” Or at least that’s what I must have said because the taxi driver replied “Zazie”. And I quickly scribbled the name in the notebook in my purse. My French was not good enough to ask “What is the title of this song?” or “What album is this from?” So from that point on, we were on our own to find this song.

The next day found us at the Virgin Megastore back on the Champs Elysees, where we took a stack of Zazie discs (who knew she was so prolific?) and stood at a listening station, swiping the bar code on each disc and skipping through tracks until we heard the drumline again. Thankfully, we started with her most recent release, figuring that had to be what would be getting air time so late into the Parisian night. And we were correct. It was “Je suis un homme,” and playing it in the dimly lit studio of my spinning class the other night for a focused hill climb, it brought me right back to that rotary around the Arc.

Likewise, I have seemingly endless examples of songs that bring me back to Ireland every time I hear them. On one of my very early trips to Ireland, young and head-over-heels smitten with a dark-haired Irishman, I found that every time we were out and about in Dublin City and the radio was on, the kitschy “Love is All Around” from the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral" was playing. It is truly an awful song with a painfully catchy chorus (I dare you not to sing it) but on the very rare occasion that I hear it today (and admittedly, that’s only when I choose to play it myself) I can time travel right back to 1994 and my time there in Dublin. Young and in love and with painfully horrific taste in sappy tunes, apparently.

Having traveled extensively to follow U2, you’d think that there’d be plenty of U2-music-related memories that warm the cockles of my wanderlust-ful heart. But alas, there are almost none. Probably because I see that band enough stateside as well. But in terms of opening acts and intro music, there are plenty of memories. On my first trip to Ireland, I was with two fellow female U2 fans. We were new to general admission stadium shows and had camped out all day to be within the arm's length of the railing for U2 some 10 hours later. One of the first opening acts that night was Scary Eire, an alternative (I guess) local band with some rather polaring lyrics. At one point, as the lead singer had the crowd chanting “F*ck Columbus”, my friend Robin turned to me and said “Doesn’t this seem sort of sacrilegious, yelling this about the guy who discovered our country?” Perhaps it was, but 15 years later, I still remember those lyrics clear as day, as well as what I was wearing, who I was with at that moment, what we went through that day to hold our spot, what we ate to sustain us as the sun went down over the stadium (brown sugar and cinnamon PopTarts, smuggled from home) and especially the people we were to meet later that night.

And in 1997, I can recall when and where I first heard The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, which would be at Lansdowne Road stadium. I was sitting in soggy jeans with Martin and his friends a few hours after it had finally stopped pouring rain, and after we’d already been home twice to change out of wet clothes. The vibe in the stadium felt heavy and damp, much like the weather. People were cranky and tired of waiting, or maybe still feeling the affects of the wedding they'd been to the night before (I think that might have just been us). As we were waiting for U2 to take the stage, this song played over the PA. The song was amazingly cool then, before it was obscenely overplayed here in the US. The same, repetitive 12 notes just kept plodding along, accompanying us as we killed time sitting on trash bags on metal bleachers as we tried to keep dry a third time. And I can remember the five guys I was with singing along to every word of the chorus, long before those words were permanently ingrained in my head. Even last weekend when I heard the song on the radio, before I cringed away and changed the channel, I remembered that afternoon and how at one time, that song was pretty good.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

And I'm adding Bologna why?

Call me crazy, but I have to get myself to Bologna. Yes, I've already booked my hotels in Milan and Rome. But follow me here...

I'm taking a intro to wine course here in Boston with an old friend from Bologna. This week, we studied Italian wines. As the instructor/friend uncorked the lambrusco rosso, he was reminiscing about "la grassa" that his grandmother always made for him when he visited. In short, it's a dense, compact English muffin-like bread that is served warm and spread with fat (yes, just plain old lard) that has been cut with garlic, basil and some olive oil. On the warm bread, it quickly turned to a puddle of butter-like bliss. Right then and there, dreams of la grassa began to dance in my head. As I mopped up what was left of my lambrusco tasting with a dry cracker and cheese, I thought to myself, "Sign me up, I need to find me some la grassa to go with this wine!"

Forget that it took me 4 months to lose the 8 pounds I gained in Rome last year. I'm justifying this stopover in the culinary capital of Italy to celebrate its food and some local wine. Call it research, call it crazy, call it flight of fancy. I think I'm scratching a night from Rome and heading north one day earlier. There's a humongous trade show on and hotels are really tight, but I have to get there. Fast.