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Monday, March 09, 2009

Taking It in Stride

Taking It in Stride

I’m sure that everyone around me is tired of hearing me complain about the cold winter we’ve had here in Valencia. OK, it’s been cold for standards here in Valencia. Even with the cold I have managed to ride my bike six days a week, week after week, since the beginning of the New Year. I rode a lot before then but I was counting. I have had to wrap myself up in four layers of jerseys to fend off the low temperatures and chilly winds. The weather broke a couple of days ago after a heavy rain with temperatures soaring into the 20’s. Instead of four shirts I was able to get away with one long sleeve jersey yesterday and I was sweating right from the start.

It was warm the day before but the wind made my ride hell on the way back. I should have turned around after the first few kilometers and headed in the opposite direction so as to have the tailwind on the return leg. But I was really flying with the heavy breeze pushing me so I stayed on course and hoped for a direction change in the wind for the way back. It didn’t change directions. The wind was right in my face the entire 20 kilometers on the way back. I was actually cursing my invisible enemy when gusts would bring me almost to a complete halt. I would much rather ride up a viciously steep hill than ride into a headwind. At least you can see a mountain.

The wind died down to a mere whisper yesterday. I was out of the house before 11 am which means I had a lot of day left for cycling. As I was pedaling my way out of town all I could think about was how this day was absolute perfection for biking. I had to unzip my jersey to let in some air to cool down. How I had missed the sensation of feeling warm! I went about an hour and a half south to Cullera, as beautiful a beach as you’ll find on this section of the Spanish coast. I immediately turned around and headed back. This wasn’t a sightseeing tour; I was out to unclog an artery or two.

Then I had a flat tire. It’s been a while for me so even that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I changed the tube and kept going. About another kilometer later I had another flat, this time on the rear. I usually carry two tubes as well as a patch kit but I wasn’t wearing my pack. I just had a spare tube and tools in a little bag behind my seat. This meant that I was stranded about 10 kilometers from Valencia. A couple cyclists stopped to offer help but they didn’t have patch kits and their spare tubes wouldn’t fit on my wheels. I started walking thinking that someone would come along to bail me out. About 100 meters up the road the other tire inexplicably burst. Now I had a blowout, a flat tire, and a punctured spare tube.

I have recently been listening to recorded books on my MP3 player when I ride my bike. I had never listened to music while riding as I consider it dangerous. You need your auditory functions while cycling to alert you to danger. I still believe this but I am hooked on audio books. I ride almost exclusively on the bike trail so I figure as long as I keep to the far right of the path I am posing no danger to others and only a minimal danger to myself. Since I began listening to books as I ride I have been making a survey of the ancient Greek and Roman world. I had just finished a book on the lives of famous Greeks and Romans. On this day I was listening to a history of the Punic Wars—pretty good company for a long bike ride.

My first reaction upon incurring my third flat during a single bike ride was to become angry. I quickly brushed this aside as not being very stoic, stoic in the sense of the Stoics, the philosophy of Zeno, a third century B.C. Greek. Zeno would have considered my anger at something out of my control to be an error in judgment and a frivolous and childish response to my situation. About a kilometer of walking after my third blowout another cyclist stopped to offer assistance. By this time I had resigned myself to hoofing it the rest of the way home. He said he had a patch kit but I really didn’t feel like dealing with fixing to flats. I told him how much I loved to walk. I said that I would wager that I could walk all the way to the Ruzafa Market from where we were near El Saler Beach. Then I told him that I had to walk that far since I lived next door. At least I got a laugh out of my woes.

If anyone thinks that I whine too much about the cold weather they have never heard me bitch about walking. I hate to walk, loath it. I would rather ride my bike ten kilometers than walk three blocks. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this option on this beautiful afternoon on the Spanish Mediterranean coast. It seems amazing to me but you can really get from point A to point B simply by placing one foot in front of the other. Of course you have to do this countless times and it takes forever, but you will get there eventually.

My mountain bike cycling shoes aren’t the best footgear for a 10 kilometer hike, but I’ve had worse things on my feet while walking. The audio book was excellent. It is part of the Modern Scholar series called Wars that Made the Western World taught by Professor Timothy B. Shutt of Kenyon College. I don’t know how long it took me to walk home, sometime between 264 and 146 BC. When I reached my neighborhood I decided that it was too nice to go home. I had a couple of euros in my pocket so I sat down on the terrace of one of my favorite neighborhood cafés and had a glass of white wine while I finished listening about the Punic Wars. Even with the three flat tires this had been a pretty good afternoon. Zeno, Epictetus, and the other Stoics would have been proud of me.