Friday, 24 May 2013

the icecreamist

wednesday james and I rode north out of girona with the view to tackle two serious climbs - the rocacorba and the mare de deu del mont. the rocacorba is a category 1 climb according to the official way climbs are ranked in five categories. the second hardest. it’s 13.3km long and has an average gradient of about 6.5% with 15% ramps.

we got a little lost on the way out there through st gregori and ended up on a mountain bike trail to rocacorba. after a few kilometres of that; grinding away on a wet, stony trail, we finally reached a junction. looming high above was rocacorba with its large iron red & white comms tower. we could keep going or take another trail down hopefully to some sweet black tarmac to take us up there. we ummed and ahhed but eventually decided to take the route down as our road bikes were simply not cut out to climb hundreds of metres on an MTB trail.
the descent was quite slippery but we made it down and there was indeed a road going to rocacorba’s summit. we headed up, quickly moving into climbing mode. some people ride climbs together but we were both of the view it was better to find your own groove on a climb. in silence. I’d been doing a lot more riding than james so slowly moved away from him as we ascended. soaked into the activity. became the road, the pedals, my thighs, the trees, the wheels, the insect that flew into my mouth. the oneness thing. being the bike. all that. I thought I would like to see the dalai lama in lycra riding the passes of tibet. managing suffering and evoking inner stillness – was there really much difference between riding cycles up mountains and being a total tibetan bodhicitta yellow hat man? there probably was quite a lot actually…

anyway, after about 45 minutes I was there. rocacorba. I lay my bike against the sign that details the climb’s stats, sat down and took a long slug of water and opened an energy bar. james arrived soon after, chugging up the final slope with his characteristic bobbing style.

‘that was awesome,’ james said.
‘yep.’ the view out to the snow-capped pyrenees and the costa brava and the lake where banyoles was, was pretty special too. a light breeze. spanish sun. some workers were doing something to the tower and a man drove up in  a pick-up and joined the others.


‘let’s go.’
we descended, james pushing it and then coming off at low-speed around a deceptively tight bend. he almost contained it but a little final fish-tail threw him off. I was close behind and almost went off the road myself, but had cut speed enough to stay upright (just).
‘they could do with a sign there,’ I said.
james was ok and the bike too and we continued albeit more cautiously, as if we had become wiggins in the rain.
the 13km descent passed through forest until we bottomed out and passed dan martin and another garmin-sharp pro cyclist coming from banyoles. when we arrived there we found a lake-side café-restaurant and had lunch and a coke.

we discussed going onto mare de deu del mont. this was rated 'hors categorie' – the most difficult of climbs. we had already covered 65km including a tough category 1 climb. james had never completed an HC climb. I had done just one – mt ventoux in provence, france – last year. I had climbed that mountain VERY slowly. it was another 20ks to the mare, then a 19km climb at about 5%, with the final 3k at 10%.

‘I dunno – it might be too much,’ I said.
‘I’m doing it,’ said james.
I liked this aspect of his personality. we were here now and in pretty good shape. was there a good reason to NOT do it? no… james had ridden across australia twice. I had run marathons. we knew a little about what the body could deal with, usually a whole lot more than you think it can.
‘yep. let’s do this,’ I said, finishing my coke.
we let the sandwiches digest a little then set off, driving into the wind going north, through the green fields. we could see the mare ahead of us, to the left, all green and mighty. strong smell of cow dung.
then we were at the turn off and were glad for its gentle welcome – just 2-3%. after a couple of kilometres I moved ahead slowly again and continued for about the next hour and a half, up into the forest, in the zone, as the road bent upwards more severely.
beginning an argument I knew I could not lose with tired and lactate-filling legs. I simplified it: stopping is not an option. it really wasn’t. a deer ran in front of me for a while. a nice distraction from the painful cacophony my legs were creating.
‘shut the fuck up guys,’ I muttered at them. ‘I’m trying to ride here.’
the top was more barren, but nothing like the bizarre ventoux bald rockiness. I saw the road snaking above to the mare’s own comms tower. the gradient was at 10% now and my speed slowed to 7-8km/h. grinding then. the mind having an animalistic conversation with the body. becoming aggressive and resolute. everything fades away. just body, machine, road…mountain. will.
and then you are there. the suffering is over. for now. sit down on bench. two motorbikers sit on another bench pointing at things on the vast horizon.

same routine. drink. eat. it is cold. I put on my arm warmers and spray jacket. james bobs up the crest soon after, me videoing his arrival. there isn’t much to say. we both know the satisfaction the other is feeling. it’s the purity of the action. it’s why cycling is a beautiful sport.


‘welcome to the HC club,’ I joke.
james just smiles, eating and drinking. a couple of pictures are taken.


then we descend and ride back to girona slipstreaming each other. 140kms, 6:40 in the saddle. an awesome day.


thursday morning we meet for a group ride at the girona cycle centre. there are about a dozen of us including a women’s british road champ and neil, the old man of garmin's dan martin. garmin is based in girona. james and neil talk about cross-country touring. I chat with jeff, an american who had lost his job due to the recession and decided to do some cycling in europe.

 we follow shop co-owner and ride leader dave walsh out to llaggostera then tackle a climb toward the costa brava (canyet de mar).

at the top of the 9k climb some go on but most return. our legs jellified from yesterday, james and I choose to return. one of the spaniards riding with us, juan, hits the asphalt at 40km/h right behind me as we descend back to llaggostera with dave, a downhill MTB specialist, setting a fierce pace.

juan’s ok but his right elbow is quite badly mincified. his yelp and the harsh slap of metal (or carbon) on road and then the thud of body on road stays with me as I descend the remaining 8kms. my wheel had slipped slightly in the same tight, gravelly spot and I knew I could have gone too, but you can’t let these things play too much or you might as well stay inside watching the giro d’italia. like most things, there is risk, but it is minimal. juan said it was only the scoend time he had ever come off his bike.

we stop and have coffee at llaggostera and dave tells us some things about girona cycling and why he prefers shimano to campagnolo gear. ‘it’s just easier to work with,’ he says. there are cyclists everywhere in the café terrace. there are cyclists everywhere around girona.
then we head back and part ways. an afternoon to relax. watch a little giro. explore girona. we both agree girona is a truly awesome cycling place.
the icecreamist

that said, I think that cycling may be just a guise for james to be here in girona. sure he has been keen about all the riding we have been doing and was the one that pushed to do the mare after we had completed the rocacorba on wednesday.

but I think what he is really here for is ice cream. he has been studiously researching all the ice cream stores in town and after dinner tonight led us to a store he said supplied ice cream to the best Michelin star-rated restaurant in the city.
unfortunately the ice creamery had just closed as we arrived leaving james to look forlornly through the gated windows at the ice cream smorgasbord inside. I knew we, or he, would be back before we left girona.
returning through the old town we passed another ice cream vendor, with brightly coloured flavours on display in the chill cabinet.
‘look at that – shit,’ said james.
‘you’re not really here for the cycling are you?’ I ventured.
james walked on. he knew there was no need to answer that question. he also knew good ice cream when he tasted it.
'if i lived here i'd work in that shop,' said james. 'put that in your blog.'


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

‘i can make better quality coffee than in any café in europe’: ac-dc student

since cousin james from perth is travelling around europe he brings his portable coffee maker and hand-held fresh bean grinder with him. he uses his stand-up bike pump to charge the aluminium coffee maker which has a gauge that gives more accurate pressure readings and control of that pressure (from 1-9 bar) than the best coffee machines in the plazas of milan or paris, says james in an off-hand way.

hand grinding the coffee with a brass unit hand-made with a lathe by artisanal coffee lord, ross spencer, in his shed in brisbane, brings another level of bean quality control. the oils and flavours are freed from the singing that can occur with regular electric machine grinders. it’s quite labour intensive but the result is worth it, says james. for those of the barrista persuasion the grinder is called ‘port espresso’.
‘with these i can make better quality coffee than in any café in europe,’ adds james, who is constructing a biography of the deceased rocker bon scott, from ac-dc.
‘was bon scott a coffee man?’ i ask james.
‘it is uncertain,’ james says, but scott rarely drank alcohol before going on stage, so maybe a mildly stimulating beverage like coffee he would have gone in for.
‘do you think your research will bring a clearer picture of bon’s views on and use of coffee products?’ i ask.
‘i hope so, but i have little doubt he drank coffee at some points in his life.’
‘yeah but…’
‘shut up dude…’
i have a regular percolated coffee, we eat breakfast in our hill-side girona flat, then head out to the costa brava for the day’s ride. it’s warm, windless – a great day for the 120k ride we complete out to a coastal town called tossa, up he coast through some other towns, and back.
pretty exhausted. time for a coffee…or a wine...

Monday, 20 May 2013

girona bound

james arrived yesterday from london on the train. he’d been there doing some research for a masters he is writing about bon scott, the former AC-DC frontman. he gave a talk about it in scotland and met some other people, including a man he had an appointment with in a soho bar who promptly denied he was the guy who wrote the encyclopaedia about AC-DC james was there to talk to him about. strange. it's a long way to the top if you wanna write a rock'n'roll encyclopaedia...

here in montpellier though, james was taking a break from bon and rogue states-of-mind and myths to do some cycling. a bike waited here for him. we walked in the sun to my flat, picking up a sandwich on the way. settled in to watch the giro d’italia but inclement weather blew out the live coverage, so james tuned the bike while I followed the giro on twitter. the italian vincenzo nibali was doing the business in snow-hit mountains but cuddles evans was hanging in there in second, not bad for a 36-year-old who had zero form going into the 3-week race.

in the early evening we went for a 2-hour ride  heading west out around grabels and pignan. there were a couple of issues with james's bike but it was basically ok. we were ready for girona in north east spain, where we were heading for a week. girona is a pretty famous cycling city – it’s surrounded by excellent mountain climbs inlcuding the pyrenees and the costa brava. for this reason a lot of pros base themselves there, including lance armstrong and quite a few of the US postal team back in the day when shooting EPO for training rides was de rigeur.

sir bradley wiggins used to campe there. perhaps we would find him slumped at a bar surrounded by empty san migs and crumpled SKY tarot cards as he grappled with his poor show at the giro this year that forced him to abandon last week...still he'd probably win the tour de france again with the biggest, most non-aerodymamic pork chops to ever grace the pro peloton...

i went to girona with my ex-girlfriend kotryna last year and had one pretty spectacular ride north of girona. while I cycled the balmy mountain passes, kotryna shopped and wandered the pretty streets of girona’s old town. we both won there. james had done research into some parcours we could attempt and I had my strava app for more when we got there.

it was james's first time in serious mountains while I had only ridden the occasional col here and there, once grovelling up ventoux and getting up a few other peaks in the french pyrenees and the cevennes just north of montpellier. james had also done some serious touring including riding from perth to melbourne one time, from darwin to perth another and also around much of the UK. he was a good cyclist. james is my cousin from perth, where I am from but have not lived for many years.

this morning we headed out around pic st loup, passing valflaunes, then st martin de londres, before returning to montpellier via cazeveille and prades le lez. about 90kms. there was some wind but it was nice riding. in the giro, nibbles and cuddles finished together in falling snow at the marco pantani monument 4km short of the 2600m summit of the galibier in the french alps. that battle would be decided later in the week back in the dolomites as james and I battled for form and velo fulfilment in the spanish pyrenees.
we take the hire car in the morning.
strength to your legs jim…
and mine…

oh, et allez cadel!