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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Riding Lessons

Riding Lessons

Valencia is really a great place for bike riding, both in the city and out in the surrounding areas. I am reading the Vicente Blasco Ibañez classic, Cañas y Barro, which is set in the Albufera marshland just south of Valencia. I ride my bike there a couple of times each week so I thought that I’d head there today. One of the biggest challenges for me is dodging traffic to get to the outskirts of town. I have learned a few tricks over the course of my bike riding life and I have recently added a new one to my repertoire. I now use newborn babies as human shields. Intrigued? Keep reading.

You read that correctly folks, I use human offspring to shield me from getting run over by automobiles. When I am tearing down a busy street on my way out of town it is pretty much a crap shoot if drivers in oncoming side streets will respect the red light they face or if they have their own interpretation of what red means. Because I am such a pansy about having grave bodily injury inflicted upon me, I slow down when I come to the side streets, even if I have the green light. If, however, I see that a woman pushing a baby stroller is crossing the opposing intersection, I feel that it is fairly safe for me to proceed through the green light. No one wants an infanticide on their driving record, not even psychopaths, not even moped scum. That kind of thing will raise your insurance rates.

To be fair, Spanish drivers are exceptionally courteous to cyclists. Sport cycling is very popular here and on any given day you will see hundreds of cyclists on this highway south of town. No one has ever honked their horn at me, and we all know how much Spanish drivers enjoy honking their horns. Sport cycling is thoroughly ingrained in the culture in Europe. Let me give you an example.

Today on my way out of town I went through a traffic circle and caught up with a line of cars backed up behind a cement mixer that was having a bit of difficulty climbing a rather steep overpass. I was able to slingshot through the traffic circle and pass the whole line of cars and the truck. On the next overpass a few hundred meters farther, someone in the passenger seat of a car stuck their arm out the window and offered me a box of juice as a reward for my recent uphill sprint. I didn’t take the juice because I was carrying more water than I needed for this ride but it was a nice thought. This is the sort of thing you see during the Tour de France and shows the positive view Europeans have toward cyclists. We aren’t just people in their way as they drive from point A to point B; we’re heroes.

When I got to the hamlet of El Saler in the Albufera, I backtracked along the beach path. I was coasting along when I noticed a beautiful woman walking ahead of me. Just as I passed, her little dog came out of the bushes and starting sprinting after me. I picked up some speed and looked behind me: little Rex was gaining on me. I went into an all-out sprint for about a half a kilometer and yet the little Jack Russell/Dachshund mix was still snapping at my heels. I didn’t want the dog chasing me all the way home so I stopped. He caught up to me and looked disappointed that the chase was already over. His master was running up from behind so I slowly pedaled back with the dog following.

When dog and beautiful master were united she thanked me and I said, “De nada.” I spent the rest of the ride home going over in my head all of the clever things that I should have said to her. I don’t blame my lack of seduction skills on my Spanish; I’m not too rico suave in English, either.

Besides negotiating my way out of town, the next big challenge in my bike rides is getting me and my bike into the tiny elevator in my building, then I have to somehow manage to push the button for my floor. I am usually too beat at the end of my rides to carry my bike up to the fifth floor. I’m getting better at this elevator yoga thing but I still find it kind of comical. One day I was waiting for the elevator and an older woman walked up. I let her take the elevator and told her that I would wait for it to return. I said that we could all three—she, I and my bike—go together but only if we got married first. She didn’t get it. I told you that I’m not much of a charmer with women.

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