The worst part of the bike ride was the realisation that the descents weren't going to be the cruisey parts where I could relax and save my flagging energy: they were going to be the terrifying bits where I held onto my handlebars, ignored the sweat sliding down my back and arms and face and tried not to die.
No, wait, I tell a lie: that first terrifying descent down the hill, on shitty bitumen, my bike vibrating beneath my hands, was probably only the second worst bit - the really worst bit came 33km in.
A bike ride through Tuscany accompanied by a guide to direct us towards some local sites of interest, had sounded like it could be a nice idea. Briefly I pictured an old school bike with a wicker basket on the front, floppy hats for all and a nice plinky soundtrack. Maybe some flower picking would be on the cards. I don't know. It could happen.
Then it came to the day of the ride and despite my
"You've told them that I'm completely inexperienced, right?" I asked Andy for about the tenth time.
"I told him you weren't very experienced."
"VERY experienced - that makes it sound like I have ANY experience."
"No, wait, I didn't say 'very'," Andy said rather hastily proving that in life, as on the bike, he can backpedal with the best of them.
I had a reason to care. It wasn't just that I hadn't been on a bike for a good decade (ok minus a trip to Rottnest where the biggest hill I had to get up was that gentle slope that leads to the Basin and is routinely bested by five-year-olds on trikes) it's that I was becoming increasingly concerned my ideas about wicker baskets and floppy hats may be... misplaced and our guide, Marco, was going to expect us to rock up in matching Lycra onesies. I did not own a Lycra onesie.
Before leaving for Italy I'd gone shopping for bike-appropriate shorts, knowing Andy would try to coax me onto one of the fuckers. I like shopping but this trip was not a fun experience because... well, the thing is, I fucking HATE shorts. I think shorts look fucking terrible on almost all women with few exceptions, generally of the long-legged and super lithe variety. Shorts turn sumptuous arses into puffy thrown cushions, perfectly regular, uh, front-bottoms into camel toe nightmares and make the owners of already stumpy legs look like front-running candidates for the Mayor of Stumpington. Even when women look good in shorts - and I see them every now and again, I really do - I feel like they look good DESPITE the shorts not BECAUSE OF the shorts. Nor did it help that the two options available in the shops when I was looking fell into one of two categories: 1) Shorts anyone can wear if they don't mind looking like their Mum does while weeding the garden, and 2) Shorts that will suit a long-legged 18-year-old who believes a half-glimpsed vagina makes the best fashion accessory.
I digress. What I'm trying to say is that I didn't buy shorts and thus really had no cycle appropriate clothes. What I had was a pair of black leggings that - much as I'm really not onboard the whole leggings thing either (and GOD when did I become so crotchety about What The Kids Are Wearing Today?) - I figured I could pop on under one of my many wee dresses to avoid displaying the Good China to passerbys. Do I even need to mention that I also didn't have a pair of sneakers with me? No? Good. Because I know you, reader, agree with me that a simple black brogue is the perfect cycling shoe.
That was all before I got on the bike and realised that I should have worried less about my kinda ridiculous outfit and more about these kinda ridiculous hills. Watching riders do descents in the Tour de France has always terrified me because they're going SO GODDAMN FAST but at least I figure they, unlike me, know what they're doing. You know what else terrified me? Marco's advice to me before we set off, which went something like: "When you go downhill don't brake on the corners because that is the dangerous time to brake and your bike-" Here he abandoned words to use a hand gesture that I assumed was intended to signify my bike sliding sideways, sending me and it down a ravine to certain death. I nodded politely, wishing he'd mentioned this before I'd put on my helmet and straddled the bike. The upshot was that, too terrified to brake, on our very first (and, as it turned out, the steepest) descent I was all over the road, trying to avoid pedestrians (oh yeah there were pedestrians) and not even trying to stay out of the way of potentially oncoming cars because staying out of the middle of the road was not an option if I wanted to stay on the road at all. At one point Marco materialised beside me but the only words I could understand were: "slow down".
Things improved, of course they did. My best move was ignoring Marco's advice and braking like a motherfucker more or less the whole way down all subsequent hills, which cramped my hands into weird claws for awhile there but also slowed me down just enough so I could steer/stay on the road/avoid cars/stay alive. And because the scenery really was very very picturesque the flats parts of the ride were rather enjoyable. Of the ascents, the worst of which I survived only by putting my bike on the very lowest of low gears, I shall not speak.
Then came the actual worst bit, a little after our bike computers ticked over the 30km mark. I was feeling pretty good. Before we'd set out Andy had asked Marco how far the ride would be and I remembered his answer: 33km. At the time it sounded like a long way. Now, just 3km from our destination, I was stoked. I'd survived! I didn't even feel that bad. I mean, yeah, my arse hurt rather a lot, my hands were cramped and a river of sweat was snaking down my back but I had survived without getting off my bike or bursting into tears. Soon enough we hit the 33km mark and stopped at a little cafe near some picturesque hot springs where locals came to bathe.
It was then, quaffing down a croissant and waiting for my face to turn back to its normal colour, that I realised the obvious: we were not back where we had started from. Marco's words before we set off hadn't meant that the entire ride was 33km: he'd meant our destination - the hot springs - was 33km away. We still had to make it home. Shaky on my feet I brushed the croissant crumbs from my mouth and quietly expressed my concerns: it wasn't going to be another 33km ride home... was it? Marco was quick to hose down my fears in his reassuring Italian way: no, no, of course it wouldn't be another 33km, it was more like... well let's say 27km.
I neither broke down and wept nor gnashed my teeth but Andy saw my face and sensed all was not well in my world.
I won't go on to describe the ride home and the many times I wished for death, nor Andy's cunning plan, bless him, that saw me avoid climbing the last brutal hill which, I'm moderately sure, may actually have killed me or at least resulted in a very unpleasant and immature extended crying jag by the side of the road. All I will say is this: I rode 53km without shedding any visible tears, giving up or screaming obscenities and this feat is only partly diminished by the fact that I literally spent the rest of the day tucked up in bed, having consumed a giant Nutella crepe. The crepe was delicious and I will likely never ride again.