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Friday, 11 October 2019
Legs 11 – Bingo
On a recent holiday I thought it would be nice to see a bit of the place on a bicycle. At home while on my bike my neighbour points out that all its missing is an engine, this time he was right.
I romantically think of myself as an average cyclist. I can cycle 120 miles, it’s not easy but I can do it. If I was asked why I could not honestly answer. I know it’s healthy but that’s not the why. I know part of it comes from a childish feeling of freedom. I was gifted a bike as a youth and it was my first step towards independence, I could go anywhere, there was no restrictions. I grew up near a park and would spend summers cycling around it. I’m sure that wasn’t the case but memory fills in the blanks with happiness or sadness depending on what you decide.
I was lucky enough to be on holiday in the Caribbean and enquired about a bike tour. I asked the guide how hilly was the four hour ride and heard the word “very”. With the very little testosterone I had and in a moment of stupid bravado I said excellent. I should have saved the testosterone as it took me ages to acquire that much.
Four of us set off through the town. In any group I always feel like I’m the weakest link. This time I didn’t have to feel, I knew. Everybody I passed shouted “wrong gear”, they were right as I had no cycling shorts or loud lycra top. The town was a hive of activity and there were huge trucks reminding me of robots in disguise, roaring past us on these little tiny roads, it’s always healthy to be reminded of your mortality.
I had no intention of making people laugh that day but most of the people I cycled past did just that. Some car drivers even slowed down to heckle me. “Chicken legs” I heard on more than one occasion which seemed apt.
The other three cyclists were ahead of me and then we started the first hill climb. It was tough going. The sun was beating down and my freckled skin was starting to leak at an alarming rate. The humidity was high. I don’t know what’s used to measure humidity or how but it was as if I was in a small room with seven tumble dryers working full pelt. The sweat was making the sunscreen stream like a waterfall down into my eyes which was good as I didn’t want them to be sunburnt.
I lost sight of my companions on the first bend, partly because of the sunscreen. I then realised that we were cycling up a mountain, not a hill. It was a winding road and every turn promised the peak but like DPD it failed to deliver.
My muscles were burning as much as my skin. I passed one lady sitting on her veranda who said in a beautiful local accent, “You not fit enough boy, turn around and go back down, it’s easier”. Then she started laughing, proper laughing from her gut like you do as a child. I was bringing joy to people through my suffering, which should have pleased me. It didn’t.
Then my legs made the decision that my mind had been toying with for quite a while, they turned to jelly, ceased up and quit. It took the last of my energy to put my chicken legs on the ground. I may have clucked. My lungs were burning and screaming for oxygen. Sadly, there was only tumble dryer air.
I was tired and beat, I glanced at my watch as we must have been going for an hour. Wrong. Only 20 minutes had passed. I’d have to walk to try and catch up with the group. Seven mountain road turns later I saw the other three resting by a bar on the side of the road. I approached them, hobbling, sweating and panting like a dog. They asked if I was OK as I clearly didn’t look it.
The guide took my bike from me which was a mistake as it was my walking aid and I promptly fell over. I was knackered and embarrassed. These people had paid good money to wait half way up a mountain to watch me suffer from heat exhaustion.
The cycle guide said that it’s OK if I want to puke, just go right ahead. There’s no shame in it. Oh, really Mr guide? No shame in vomiting in front of a bar full of people? We clearly have different views of shame.
I grabbed a coke at the bar and I sat down with my cycling chums. The local drunk man came out and started talking to me. Why is it always me? He was interrupted by a woman who was wearing a one-piece lycra bodysuit who also started to talking to me. “Where you from boy?” I must have looked more youthful while red faced. “London” I replied. She explained then that she had been to Chelsea and didn’t like it, then lent over, grabbed a huge spliff off the drunk man and started to puff on it. The smell reminded me of a misspent youth and an even bigger misspent adulthood.
Was I spinning from passive smoking that weed, altitude or the lack of oxygen from cycling? Not that I wanted any of the joint but it was very rude of her not to offer.
She then started arguing with the drunk. I understood only parts of it as they were speaking another language from time to time but even in the anger, it seemed beautiful, cool and laidback. When she called him a fish and I’m not sure why but we all started laughing. It was so ridiculous. Maybe we were all a bit stoned. “Right” said the guide, “drinking’s done, drink up, let’s go” and off we set leaving the drunk and the woman to continue their argument.
We cycled downhill, giddy with joy was an understatement of my feelings, unlike life the downs in cycling are lovely. We turned another bend and I saw the rest of the mountain and vomited. Some of it hit the guide. I felt no shame in that.
I made it back to the hotel eventually and moaned for three days. My chicken legs were cooked.
Picture: On the last 20 of a 120 mile ride