“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today”, says the old tenet. Presumably because, if you enjoy it today, you can do it again tomorrow.
I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to entirely avoid succumbing to such frontier gibberish since 2007, when my bicycle was unloaded from the removal truck here in Extremadura. Until today, that is. Finally, the years and calories have caught up, and that’s why I find myself committing to finally getting myself bike fit. (Happily for the neighbourhood, I’ve bowed to popular demand and so far not bought any lycra).
That’s how I come to be wobbling uncertainly down the stony camino leading from our hillside home towards the local village. At least I think it’s that same camino – the one I remember from hundreds of trips in the car had far fewer hills, ruts and potholes, I’m sure.
The last time I did any significant amount of cycling I was, perhaps, twelve or thirteen years old. They say that once you’ve learned, you never forget how to ride. Thankfully that seems to be true enough – as I pull on to the deserted carretera, though, it’s becoming clear that some facets of this game have disappeared with the years.
First off, you have to pedal. That may seem obvious, but it’s coming as one hell of a shock to my legs right about now. What they have known as pedalling has been, until today, the gentle balancing of clutch and throttle.
Secondly, I’ve just worked out why the Tour de France riders spend so much time standing up out of the saddle. They claim it’s for extra hill-climbing oomph, but I know otherwise. The manufacturer may call this a ‘gel’ saddle, but the Spanish pronunciation of that word does it a lot more justice. I think I may need surgery later.
And then there are the gears. I don’t remember my childhood machinery ever having more than the one; this thing has eighteen. They alter the pedalling experience across a broad range from slow and agonizing to frenetic and exhausting, without ever making the act of cycling appreciably easier at all; I know, I’ve tried them all.
Five kilometres in now, and I can no longer feel my arms below the elbow. My teeth are full of bugs, but breathing through just my nose is out of the question as I gulp down as much oxygen as I can. My thighs and lungs are vying for space on the death certificate. They may yet both be pipped at the post by my cardio system. (Is it right that I can see the pounding of my heartbeat in my vision?)
The terrace of the cafe is thankfully deserted, so nobody witnesses my elegant approach and dismount. This essentially involves a low-speed accident against a dumpster followed by slow collapse into a sweating, gasping heap against the wrought-iron fence, the latter manoeuvre carefully disguised by a feigned search in the pannier for the cable and lock. Finally at least one of my knees starts working again, and I make it to the nearest table. Sit. Breathe. Remember that this is good for you.
Some moments pass (did I lose consciousness?), and suddenly I see a dazzling glow, and a figure approaching me. I feel sure I’ll be invited to step towards the light, but it turns out that the camarero has wound back the awning to reveal the morning sun, and now enquires what I’d like. Not being capable of summoning up the Spanish for ‘iron lung’, I opt for a cafe cortado. (The cup will be smaller than for my normal cafe con leche. Maybe I’ll have a chance of lifting it.) As I wait for the coffee, another unwelcome truth begins to dawn:
The outbound trip from home to here is the downhill leg.