Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Greve-in-Chianti -- Day Seven

By the time we’d been in Chianti a week and I’d watched hundreds of riders rolling through those lush hills, and taken one pleasant but modest ride with Karen and Dave, I was chomping at the bit – or, at the cranks, as it were. I’d enjoyed our hikes and runs but was hankering for a big ride, one that would take me to new Tuscan towns, and would let me run down a few full-kit-clad aficionados, both local and tourist.

So again we walked into Ramuzzi – me, Karen and this time my dad – this time given Marco a bit of time to open the shop; at 9:30, though, he was still clearing a path through the throng of bikes, from the front door to the counter and back to the shop, where the real business clearly took place. This time he wouldn’t accept a credit card, or even ID. He pulled out the same bikes we’d ridden earlier in the week and we climbed on and rode south, again towards Castellina.

About a mile outside Greve I noticed Karen wiggling on her bike, and asked her what was wrong. Someone else had ridden the bike during the week and the saddle height was a bit different. She said it wasn’t a bother, but knowing that over the course of a few thousand pedal strokes an annoyance can become a real pain (or even an injury) I told her I’d ride back and grab an allyn from Marco (I guessed he wouldn’t mind loaning me one). And so I found a mission, one of those rare occasions when uber-fitness bears practical, unselfish benefits: Ride fast enough and the serum will get to the sick kids in the snowbound village before it spoils! Or, your wife won’t have to ride quite so far on an uncomfortable saddle.

So I hammered back to Greve, scooting between Smart cars at stoplights, found Marco and asked him for an allyn. He found one, decided its flats weren’t flat enough and power-filed it in front of me. I tucked the like-new allyn in my jersey pocket, hopped back on my bike and powered my way back out of town and up the climb to Panzano, a week’s worth of anticipation firing my legs. Looking at the church atop the hill and imagining my maiden ahead, I felt not so much like the dog-sled courier as a knight-errant atop a sturdy (though not terribly light or stiff) steed.

In Panzano, Karen and my dad stood in the piazza beneath the church, paging through a travel guide they found; I arrived sweating and already very winded. We lowered Karen’s seat a smidge, she decided it felt better and we rode down the backside towards Castellina. On the descent I sped by the longest snake I’ve seen outside captivity, a narrow six-footer that was slithering to the other side of the road like it was more frightened of me than I was of it. Thinking that snakes aren’t necessarily like deer – the presence of one doesn’t mean that of others – I descended on, imagining taking the sweeping turns like an Italian pro – or at least a layer away from that, like imagining that I was Dave Stohler imagining that he was an Italian pro.

We climbed to Castellina with my dad, who’s always enjoyed measuring himself against a steady ascent, leading the way. Near the crest I determined that I needed to get moving if I was to finish the ride I’d mapped out; after telling Karen and my dad as much, I stepped on the pedals, topped out in town and started a blissfully long descent, 18 kilometers of carless roads and broad curves, down into the best-named city outside of Ireland, Poggibonsi.

This was the biggest Tuscan city I’d visited (not counting Florence), a landlocked cousin to La Spezia, with high-rises, big box stores and industrial edifices on the outskirts. It held some charm, but I was in a hurry and found signs to San Gimignano, where my parents had stopped earlier in the week, a spot that all the tourist books say one must visit.

Poggibonsi lies at the border of Chianti, a region designated for its grapes but characterized as much, from what I could tell, for its idyllic landscapes and easy feel. One traffic circle out of Poggibonsi and I was on the straightest, flattest road I’d seen since driving on the autostrade from Rome, a stretch bordered by knee-high weeds instead of picturesque grapevines. I heard insects buzzing and felt a moisture I hadn’t noticed all week. This was feeling less idyllic all the time.

San Gimignano was a respite, but one so brief as surely to disappoint the tour-book writers; I buzzed through the place Chevy Chase-style, in about five minutes. Absurd, I know; San Gimignano struck me as Siena Junior, and I’m certain it holds a special wonder, but now, at the farthest-out point of my ride, I was feeling some pressure and needed to move on. I rode around a piazza and didn’t see a typical public fountain, but figured I had enough water in my bottles until the next town.

Problem was, it was getting warm; it was past noon, and I needed to be back by three, and that fabled Tuscan sun had reached its apex. I slogged along some trucking roads, for the first time getting buzzed by local traffic, following signs to Colle di Val d’Elsa, and then on to Monteriggioni.

As I approached the “Monte” in Monteriggioni, plodding along a long false flat, I emptied the last couple of drops in my bottle and started to feel a bit woozy. I realized I’d ridden hard for most of three hours, and that it was quite hot. I stopped at a classic Italian spot, a combo café/bar/restaurant/convenience store, and downed a bottle of Gatorade before buying it. Then I bought a bottle of water, emptied it and heard the familiar hiss of acqua con gas. Great; fizzy water to quench my thirst.

I rode through a cooler, wooded stretch before turning onto the same long, gradual ascent from just north of Siena back to Castellina, enjoying the shade and gearing up for a climb in the exposed sun. The fizzy water seemed not to quench my thirst as well as I’d hoped – maybe I just imagined it – and before long I was again without water, now surely at the hottest point of the day. I duked it out for 15 kilometers, glancing now and again back at the distant Siena, and then up at the Castellina’s little castle.

Upon reaching the crest in Castellina, it struck me that I was treating this ride like any other, that I could have been riding in Danville for all the time I’d stared at my front wheel and the road ahead. So, deciding I had a few minutes to spare, I bought another Gatorade, a water – flat this time – and a raspberry gelato. I sat on the curb along yet another piazza, tourists and locals glancing my way. Restored, I climbed back on my Carrero and coasted down from the little town, along the vineyards, and the river and the churches and villas, remembering that tomorrow we would drive back to Rome and then fly back to the U.S.

On the final climb to Panzano I caught a group of touring riders, a branded van following them in support. They rode hybrid/cruisers, and they all looked miserable, ill-fitting helmets tipped back over their furiously perspiring foreheads. I passed a good ten of them, hearing dialects British, German and American, until I rode up behind a couple, a fit-looking guy nudging along a woman, his hand and the small of her back. I sneaked up quietly and placed my hand on his back, saying, “Everyone deserves some help.” He smiled and said, “Except you!” That gave me the boost I needed and I rode away to the top the hill; back at the Panzano piazza the group’s leaders were waiting, and I heard one of them say, gesturing to me, “I dunno…ask him; he looks like he knows where he’s going.”

Back in Greve I returned my bike to Marco, considered giving him a hug but decided against it, thanked him over and over and promised to tell everyone in America about him. I arrived back at the house in plenty of time for our departure to Florence.

Which is what I was in such a hurry to return for: our final dinner. It was a feast befitting one who’d just finished the Giro d’Italia, not a self-styled giro di Chianti. At Il Latini¸ sort of an authentic Buca di Beppo precursor, I ciao’d down on bread soup, beef, cinghiale, gnocchi, many glasses of Chianti and much, much more. It was as much food as I’ve seen since living in a fraternity house, and as much food as I’ve consumed since…well, since the last time I dined at Buca. It was a fitting end to a glorious week, a Big Night after a big day in the saddle.


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