OK, time for a little bit of background.
I was trying to find a photo on my phone, when I came across this picture from last summer:
This is a tunnel on a summit near lake Mergozzo in Northern Italy. (Sorry for not being more specific, I’m awful at remembering town names.) I was on a camping holiday there with the family, while TCR no.3 was in full swing. It’s a rather short climb, only about 8km in total and the tunnel marks the start of the last 3 very steep kilometers. It was my second time on that mountain and I have particularly fond memories of this little pass, because it was actually the first pass I ever conquered years ago.
You need to know there used to be a time when I didn’t like to bike at all. I only used my crappy city bike to get from A to B, because when you live in The Netherlands, that’s the practical thing to do. I was and still am a girl of ball sports, playing in a team and winning – or losing – games. Never did I understand what was appealing about digging so deep on a bicycle just to cross some finish line. Or sometimes not even that, my parents would just ride for 2 to 3 hours and come back. That’s it.
But every time we would go camping, my father kept asking if I would take my mother’s bike and join for a ride. My dad is Indonesian, and most Indonesians seem to think ‘no’ is an invitation to ask again. And again and again. So to make him stop, I finally gave in and joined him and my brother in law for an uphill ride.
The plan was to come along until the little village at the bottom of the ascent, because that route would be challenging enough for the first time. But in the village and after a cold Coke I felt quite good, so I decided to follow the men and see how far I would get. And it turned out to be worth it. The road was very calm and took us passed a deserted village, along a beautiful valley and just overall beautiful scenery.
My mom’s bike was a second hand hybrid Giant with gears that had seen better days. Combined with the fact that I wasn’t familiar with the gears, I often shifted the wrong way. I cursed the poor bike with everything I could think of. And then the tunnel came. At least from that point on the shifting was no longer a problem, because I was very quickly convicted to the lowest gear. Cursing was now dedicated to the heat and the constant tension on my legs. But no longer out loud, because there was no way I was going to interrupt my breathing pattern. The single most important thing was to get from one bit of shadow to the next. ‘At least make it to the next corner’, I kept telling myself.
I still don’t know how I managed to keep going that day. It certainly helped that the switchbacks came in fast succession, so I couldn’t really see how far I had to go, and the next focus point was always rather close by. It also helped that my brother in law told me at one point we only had one more km to go. At the time I didn’t realize 1km at the pace I was going was still at least 15 minutes of suffering, but thinking the end was in sight definitely encouraged me to keep pushing the pedals. Long story short, my first time on a sports bike and I made it to the top of a mountain!
I never accounted for the sense of achievement that gave me. That I just did that, without any training, in the burning sun. And there was something meditative about focusing on your pedal strokes and only thinking about the next corner ahead. But the big bonus was the spectacular views, riding a bike really takes you places. In this case it took us to a little cheese farm we found on top. Needless to say we feasted on it.
It still wasn’t love at first sight though, me and the bike. I hated the descent, I think I went as slow downhill as I did uphill. And peeing gave a painful burning sensation for three days to follow. But the seed was planted there and now here I am, at a point where I’m comfortable enough (or so I try to tell myself) to enter the TCR. So I guess it’s time to say it: thanks, dad!
Ps, all pictures above are from last summer, not from my first ascent of this mountain. Camera phones weren’t a thing yet, back then.