Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pedaling in Chile with a look ahead to the Antipodes

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The best part of the overnight bikeride to the coast is seeing the red blinkie-lights stretching into the black night start to disappear. It means you're reaching the crest of the hill, the end of the cuesta, the up, the incline. Soon your breath will still, your sweat will slow, and the resistance you feel against gravity and your bike's granny gear will diminish.

I have ridden from Santiago to the coast in Chile many times, and if my count is correct, I've ridden this particular ride, on the night of December 7th--when the most heavily-travelled highway in the country is closed for a religious pilgrimage to Lo Vasquez for the Assumption of Mary--four times. It is different every time, but always emotional, always surprisingly loud and quiet, hot and cold, uphill and downhill. And long.

I am not a religious pilgrim. I am not Catholic, and do not worship the virgin at Lo Vasquez. What I am is a glutton for punishment. Other people googlemap something, look at the travel time and take it for gospel. I multiply it by 5, for that is the speed at which I pedal. Better cyclists than I (and they are many), will pedal at 18-22 miles per hour. Racers may ride at up to 30 mph, sustained.

Not me. I am a plodder. Whether hiking or biking, my slow twitch muscles will not allow me to burst out of the gate. I open it slowly and catch up to you hours into the ride. On short rides, I fall behind. On longer ones, I catch up and then make you dinner while I wait for you to arrive. Speed has always been my nemesis, and resistance my savior.

Which is going to come awfully in handy this coming February, where in addition to celebrating my birthday among strangers and largely alone, I'm planning to pedal around New Zealand's south island. I know nothing (and no one), and am largely uninclined to plan the trip before I get going. There is a plane ticket purchased, legs to train and panniers to fill. The bike I'll get once on the ground, and the sunscreen I'll apply liberally.

In actual fact, I am currently in no condition to go on this ride. Ninety mile overnight rides be darned, I've been in much better shape in my life, and ought to get close again before punishing myself with endless rainy uphills with strong headwinds. I know that challenges will come in forms expected and unexpected, and as always, my biggest support and worst enemy will be the me that I argue with and talk to and otherwise get to know in the zhhhh zhhhhh of my pedal strokes.

And you know? I couldn't be more excited.

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8 comments:

hal said...

Awesome.

I just found out that Paul Sullivan toured the South Island. Might want to hit him up for advice...or, just wing it. :)

Eileen said...

Thanks for commenting, Hal. And yeah, I found that out recently (about Paul) and he gave me a tip or two, but I think he's waiting for me to ask more questions. At the moment I don't even know what to ask. But I am all a-twitter (old meaning) with excitement, even if it's 2 months away. Glaciers! Hills! Wind! Drinking hot drinks on cold mornings! Wish I could take you all with me. Oh wait... I kind of will.

Annje said...

Awesome post! I can't wait to see your trip to NZ. I should start biking more and join you for the next Dec. 7th ride...

Abbie said...

Sounds a fun adventure! I've never ridden more than 15 miles on my bike...

Abbie said...

Sounds *like* a fun adventure I meant :)

Megan Hill said...

Can't wait to read about your adventures in NZ. Adding your blog to my reader now! :)

Anonymous said...

Good luck in NZ. I am sure that it will be quite the adventure and provide you with good material, which will provide us with great reading.

Sarah said...

Damn, Eileen! You GO. I took a three-day bike ride around the south of France once. Spent one whole day pushing a mountain bike through the mud. Still, in that nostalgic veneer travel puts on things I can see it as great fun now. Cheap, good wine helped in a major way. Strapped wine bottles onto the back of the bike in fruit crates. Pure class.