Sunday, September 26, 2010

Alpe d'Huez: Why 21 turns is 21 too many

At the end of the ski season (my first ski season), I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought that I would have at least a few months reprieve from British guy seeing me break down in tears because I was a) unable to breathe at altitude; b) scared of falling to my death; c) frustrated because I spent more time on my backside than on my skis; d) could not do a kick turn to save my life; and e) all of the above.

Because I am sick and twisted and clearly have some adrenaline issues, I loved it, and I am undeniably excited for the return of the snow in a few short weeks....but I wanted to spend a weekend with British guy that did not involve me having a nervous breakdown because I was terrified that I would die and never get to go to In-N-Out Burger again.

So when British guy mentioned in an offhand manner that a cycling shop (go here for the shop. I highly recommend it. The mechanic there is fantastic) in Bourg d'Oisans was selling used road bikes and they had one in my size, I was excited. I'd pined after a road bike for years. I'd always loved riding my bike and thought cycling with a proper road bike would be easy to pick up. I felt like I was born to be a cyclist. I was going to be the next Lance Armstrong. Also, I was super excited about getting to wear spandex shorts. I love spandex shorts. Only it's really hard to look sexy in spandex shorts when you have a large piece of foam wedged into said spandex shorts. So that dream, at least, was shattered. I definitely did not look sexy. I looked like I had foam shoved in my pants. But I was still going to be an amazing cyclist. I knew it. I couldn't wait to get on the bike.

But then I got on the bike.

My sweet-ass bike, Marco. Alpe d'Huez, 2010

My feet were clipped in, I felt awkward and vulnerable and like I was going to fall over if anyone so much as walked past me. And this was Bourg d'Oisans...the base of Alpe d'Huez. The hub of one of the most notorious climbs of the Tour de France. People were whizzing past me in brightly colored spandex as I teetered along like a two-year old learning to walk. I was sure everyone was staring at me and feeling a whole lot of pity for British guy. It was like learning to ski all over again. Just once I would like to drag British guy to try a sport that I am an expert in and he has no idea how to do and is potentially terrified of so that I can be the one patiently waiting while he has a nervous breakdown. That fantasy is never going to be realized though because I don't think British guy is capable of a nervous breakdown.

Which means that I am going to always be the one collapsing in a neurotic fit of tears. Somebody has to do it.

Once I figured out how to clip in and not fall over, we went on a short cycling tour that had one tiny hill. British guy was cycling beside me giving me tips and telling me about the area we were cycling through. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't feel my legs. I wanted to hit him, but if I took one hand off of the handlebar, I was going to fall. Also I couldn't breathe. Or feel my legs. Did I mention that I couldn't breathe?

After our short tour, we went back to Bourg d'Oisans. The plan had been to cycle up Alpe d'Huez.

Alpe d'Huez, 2010

 My problem is that I get very enthusiastic about things that I know nothing about. So enthusiastic that I often (always) lose touch with reality and become incapable of identifying the line between what I can and cannot do. While sitting on the couch, discussing plans for the weekend, I was certain I could pedal up Alpe d'Huez. I mean, really. How hard could it be? Sitting at the base, however, looking straight up to where we needed to go, I didn't see how anyone could walk up Alpe d'Huez without a rope. So I took the bus up instead, reassuring myself that I just needed a few weeks to get used to being on a road bike and then I would show that mountain who is who! Turns out I was going to find out who is who much more quickly than I realized. I had taken for granted that there would be a bus back down the following morning.

British guy and I had stayed the night at the top of Alpe d'Huez and the next morning I cheerfully got up  and started packing my things. I asked British guy what time the bus left.

BG: What bus?

Me: The bus that we're taking down the mountain.

BG: There is no bus. It's Sunday.

Me: There's no bus? will I get down?!

BG: With your bike. Or you could walk.

Me: But...I....I don't know how to cycle. I'M GOING TO DIE!

BG: You'll be fine.

Me: You always say that.

BG: And you always are.

And then he's gone. Down the mountain at 200 mph (slight exaggeration, but only slight). And I'm left at the top of the mountain looking down its winding road and thinking I have no idea how on Earth I'm going to get down this. And I'm touched by British guy's faith in my ability to get down, but I don't think he comprehends my absolute ineptitude. And then I wonder how long it will take him to figure that out.

I gave myself a pep talk. It didn't help. I reviewed my options.

Option 1: Stay up at the top of the mountain forever. Pros: Will not have to cycle down mountain Cons: Could freeze to death. British guy has my wallet in his backpack so I would also be destitute. Hm. Actually,  am already destitute. Never-mind. But freezing to death is a definite con.

Option 2: Cycle down the mountain. Pros: N/A Cons: Will likely die.

Option 3: Hitchhike. Pros: Will not have to cycle down mountain. Cons: Will need to explain why I need a ride down. In French.

For some reason, Option 2 sounded like the best idea. I texted my mom good-bye, clipped into my pedals, and started rolling down the mountain. But within seconds my fears were realized: gravity + downhill + 21 turns + 2 wheels = death.  Ok, I didn't die, but only because I had a death grip on the brakes and even though that death grip was causing me an excruciating amount of pain and my fingers kept slipping...I could not release my grip. I was certain that it was the only thing keeping me from plunging off the side of the mountain. I literally inched my way down the 21 turns of Alpe d'Huez.

Alpe d'Huez in all its glory

My fingers were white and tingling, my feet were falling asleep and my legs were cramped from holding the tense position one crouches into when facing certain, imminent death.

I wish you could see my facial expression...

I really wanted to stop, but stopping was also a spectacle. I hadn't quite mastered how to stop and gracefully unclip my feet from the pedals so I continued inching down the mountain thinking of all the things I was going to say to British guy if I ever made it to the bottom.

I eventually made it to the bottom, and I'm not sure how long it took me, but British guy says that it was about as long as most people take to get UP the mountain. If it was me saying that, I would tell you not to believe me because I always exaggerate. However, British guy doesn't exaggerate so it must be true. I don't know why he doesn't exaggerate. I guess when you have your British wit to rely on, you don't need to exaggerate to be funny.


Emily said...

Was on my way to bed, but read this first and now I'm laughing hysterically! This is so YOU! Hahaha! Reminds me of a when Jake first took you rock climbing and the only thing I told him was "please don't kill my friend." And then you come back with a story of how you almost died! ;)

Kelly said...

OMGsh -- that is the funniest thing ever. Wish I could have been there to watch the whole thing unfold. So that's why the blog's been a little quiet???
Hillarious ! Thanks for another great post. Makes me want to go and get on a bike...

Nikki said...

Em-- Well I figured if the rope was attached to me then I was good to go. Turns out the rope actually needs to be attached to something else besides you in order to rappel. Who knew? ;) haha

KK-- I definitely recommend road biking. I do not recommend going down (or up) Alpe d'Huez on your first day out. hahaha. Glad you enjoyed reading. It's good to know that my tendency to cause spectacles is turning out to be good for something. ;)

RyRo said...

I'm glad you survived. Keep it up. But I have a suggestion. Next time you write something like: "...because I was terrified that I would die and never get to go to In-N-Out Burger again." --strike In-N-Out Burger and replace with California! SMW.

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