The destination: Spain. A freak opportunity had landed me in a climbing hostel for two weeks, and word on the street was the biking could be pretty good too. This brings us to my hour.
The three hours leading up to my hour involved pedaling through two wrong turns, consuming one Nutella sandwich, seeing a castle and a slogging my way up a Category 2 (read: steep) climb. I was scrutinizing the clouds congregating over the next pass when a couple of Germans, a father and son, came riding up behind me. (We can start the timer now).
They were pedaling beautiful vintage bikes, and the miles melted as we struck up a genial German-English conversation. We hit all the usual bases: Where are you from? Is it colder there? What do you think of Lance? This road is very steep. Would you like to adopt our dachshund?
Hold up… what?
Oh Ja. He is very intelligent. Very nice. Like… how you say… die wurst?
I didn’t want to adopt a dachshund- getting it through customs would be a nightmare- but it just so happened that the owner of my hostel really liked dogs. There were currently six happy canines bouncing around the place- all to my knowledge adopted or rescued. Maybe seven could be her lucky number? I communicated something like this to the Germans, and they seemed to get very excited. I was touched by how badly they wanted to ﬁnd a home for the little guy.
By now we’d crested the top of the pass, and the clouds were just starting to leak. The father of the two, who I learned was named Joe (for Joaquin) suggested that we ride back to the last town, nearly ﬁfteen kilometers downhill, before it really started to storm. He was worried about my lack of appropriate clothes, even after I showed him my jacket, and he insisted that if I went on I would be dangerously far from any help should something go wrong.
I was reluctant to backtrack. I prefer loops to out-n-backs, and I was more than halfway through the ride I’d planned. But rather than arrogantly pushing into the storm with my own agenda and ambition, I made an uncharacteristic decision to be a little less agro and simply take this German strangers advice. With a shrug I zipped up my jacket and turned around- that’s when the sky opened up.I’ve always loved descents. From the ﬁrst time I burned my shorts off hitting pavement, I’ve never failed to savor that fabulous twinge of fear that comes with wind in your ears. Over the years I’ve pointed myself down a lot of things in a lot of ways, but the descent from that pass with the Germans will remain in my memory as one of the absolute best.
The roads were terrible. Currents ran down the now-glossy pavement, and I could taste yesterday’s shampoo as rain poured from my helmet into my mouth. Strangely enough, none of this struck me as particularly troublesome; it was cold, but not too cold. The road was steep, but not too slippery. Olive orchards ﬂew by, misty limestone cliffs looked on, and for nearly half an hour I allowed myself to be totally consumed with the joy of moving fast through a storm. I think the Joe and his son did too, or if they didn’t at least we could all look out for each other.
Drenched and more than a little exhilarated, we ﬁnally rolled into a cafe for some hot drinks. We were just exchanging contact information for the future of their wayward wiener-dog when I noticed a couple from the hostel at a table nearby. To clarify: I was thirty kilometers from home base and two of maybe ten people I knew in the entire country happened to be having coffee at the same cafe. True, we’d all been driven indoors by the same storm, but I chose to take it as fate- if I’d pushed on I’d still be out there, shivering my way down the pass alone. Instead, I had new friends and a ride home. (Stop the clock.)
Two years ago I vowed I would never again pack a bike box, because cycling, to me, had become an unforgivable luxury. Why did I think I could make a life of essentially just playing outside when there’s so much serious work to be done in the world? How can anybody? Clearly the responsible thing, the mature thing to do, is to suck it up, put play second, and get down to business in life.But what I learned in my hour is that it’s not really about the bike; it’s about the experiences the bike opens you up to. It’s about the people, the decisions, the lessons, and, of course, the view. You might ﬁnd that people care about each other, that they care about their dachshunds, and experiences shared are experiences lived more fully.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s the real business in life- but ﬁrst you’ve got to bring the bike.
Feature Image by Meg Haywood Sullivan