Three days ago I went for a 4 hour+ group ride with 9 others.
This was one day after a very heated relationship discussion that resulted in us deciding that riding together was perhaps not the best for us... but I went along anyway, figuring there would be enough diffusion for us to focus on the fun of riding a bike instead of riding the line of significant other/coach.
The day was hot, but it the ride started at 4:00pm from Lucca. We took off down Via Pesciatina toward the little city of Montecatini. There were two women, and seven men total (and I am going to assume they've each been riding for upwards of 20 years). Rides like this are fun for me even when I don't catch 10% of what they're saying while riding. I've come to realize they're probably discussing points that I'd find very useful - like where we are going, how far, what the climbs are like, where you can stop for water, etc. - but instead, I focus my energy on not crashing into vehicles and others' back tires and stuff. I feel like I can relate to someone who is deaf actually. I silently ride along until someone (normally Cristiano) says "Sonja, questo é una salita di quindici kilometri... vai piano ora, ok? ´E molto lungha." (In english: "Sonja, this is a climb of 15 kilometers (10 miles or so) ... go easy now, ok? It's very long.") It's at that point that I have to readjust my mental spedometer and calculate how hard I can afford to go. But because I enjoy being organized and prepared for things, this tiny factor of not knowing until I'm in something typically brings some unnecessary anxiety to my pedaling.
After 6 km of climbing the 15km climb, I got there 4th. Two people had departed already, and another couple were taking the climb at a very, very slow pace. I don't know why exactly, since it was moderately flat in some parts, and very shaded. They were even in seemingly great condition. Once we waited for another couple of people to arrive at the T in the road, we continued onward. This climb was very, very long in the last 5 km. In fact, the 15km of climbing turned out to be around 18.5 km, finishing near a tiny mountain village that was seriously called Femminamorta (Dead Female). I saw that sign and took a very deep breath... although I was proud that I'd climbed the entire mountain, and proud as can be, I rarely claimed last position (I always pretend I'm racing. It's slightly stupid - and a bit overcompetitive during a training ride, I admit - but hey, so is climbing a mountain inch by inch on a bike, right?)
The descent back down towards Lucca was on a very thin, shaded road that wound down the opposite side of the mountain. It was a bit too easy to go really fast and at one point, I was keeping on the tails of Phil and Cristiano to see how fast I could go when all of a sudden, my back wheel jumped twice and skidded on some sand, right before a curve. Keep in mind, there were rarely guard rails, and I have no idea how far down that fall would've been, but I kept her under tighter rein after that scare. I have a problem though: I am addicted to descending. Fast. Really fast, if possible. I don't know why it doesn't scare me very much. I mean, it should. I can get going up to 65 km, like 40mph and I'm not in a steel box or with padding (other than on my bum, which is barely functional as it is). But I can't stop myself from wanting to get really good at the science of descending with the angles and the braking/not braking when you're all crouched down next to the handlebars sucking in the fresh air.
Next week Phil has a race in Northern Italy after which we'll continue Northward to Austria for his Worlds Mountain bike race in a small mountain area called Stattegg, just outside of the large city of Graz. I put my former executive assistant skills to use and booked the coolest, family-run mountain lodge called Pension Lindenhof. They have internet access and a "generous breakfast buffet" that sealed the deal. I've never been to Austria, but I really look forward to the trip. Then at the end of August, I will have to leave our beautiful Lucca life for the big city of Barcelona in order to find us a little apartment for Sept, Oct, and Nov. It's been such a pain trying to figure out where to start, since our situation is limited to 3 months (it's not enough to sign a lease, but not small enough to splurge on a vacation rental).
Time to go out for my own little ride, or run, or yoga session on this beautiful Saturday morning within the farming country of west-central Italia.