The rain, which Accuweather tauntingly promised us would clear up today, stuck around so resolutely that by 9am it was clear to me that I was going to need something special. I marched Mike up the road, in the freezing drizzle, to a pasticceria and forced him to order me a filled croissant, then, when I’d demolished that, another one.
But not even two delicious filled pastries and two coffees (I don’t usually drink coffee, but needs must) could stir the will to ride within me. Let me be clear: I’m not afraid of getting cold or wet, but I’ve been sick so often this trip, and fighting yet another heinous cold off… all I could think about was the inevitable downside of getting out there. Would riding in this rubbish tip me over into a worse infection? A secondary bacterial infection? Bronchitis maybe? Tuberculosis?? Would I be on the next plane home to Australia, maybe on a drip? But then, what if I don’t train? What if I’m well enough to train but am just too scared to? What if I should be out there doing the 10 minute intervals I had planned, hunting QOMs and generally gaining confidence? Symptoms are, after all, above the neck? But what if I’m wrong and I get sicker?
Operation pastry having failed, I decided to take it easy because Accuweather now promised a fair gap in the weather at around 12pm. A friend once told me that suffering was a room full of mirrors, where you have no choice but to take a long, hard look at yourself. Well I kinda disagree. As I lay about staring at the grey sky outside the apartment window, surrounded by a sea of whiteness, I realised that utter blankness, where the only place you can look is within, is what really forces an existential crisis. Waiting for the promised break in the weather that never came, I encountered such fundamental questions as: What am I doing with my life? Should I quit my job? Why can’t I give up competition? Should I have a baby? Why do I even ride bikes? And the worst thought, the one that’s not a question: My god, I’m 37 and I’m a total failure!
So naturally I went for a ride. Mike and I suited up in all our wet weather gear (consisting of three-year-old rainjackets we’ve only ever worn in Europe, summer bibs, summer gloves, legwarmers and armwarmers – no booties, but Buffs) and climbed on our sparkling clean bikes.
We went our separate ways – Mike wanted to stick to sealed road in the valley (but ended up on some steep hike-a-bike), and I wanted to retrace a ride I did last week, but in reverse. I knew it had a lot of climbing, which should keep me warm, and it was off-road, which meant less splashy-splashy, and generally more technical distractions. After we separated I was doused from head to foot by a series of deep puddles, but carried on climbing at an easy tempo which, I had negotiated with Superego, shouldn’t stress my already broken immune system (but it’s cold and wet and lalalalala shutup!). I took a wrong turn that meant I did a gravel road, instead of a singletrack climb at the start, but ended up pretty much on course following a contour at 2,250m around the eastern mountain above Livigno. I made some super steep pinches of wet roots and rocks, ignoring the illicitly high heart rate, and carried on as the temperature dropped along trails positively flowing with water, and under raindrops that had a certain frozen solidity to them. It was 3 degrees, and I was soaked. But you know what? Once I managed to forget my painful sinuses, I was really, really enjoying myself.
An hour later I ended up at a turnoff into the Mottolino Bikepark and felt another frisson of disobedience! Not against Superego this time, but Internal Mike, who couldn’t countenance the conditions I subjected my bike to – mud a foot deep and kilometres and kilometres of it, punctuated only by profound puddles that sprayed me and my bike in thick, chilled mire from top to bottom bracket. Delicious! By the time I got to the lift station I was frozen in one position on my bike, blinded, and grinning with the thrill of riding super techy, slippery roots and bridges, rocks and black porridge and getting absolutely filthy in the process. You’ll be relieved to hear that I washed my Norco down thoroughly with cold-curled hands before pedalling happily home. An hour-and-a-half ride and nothing of any training benefit to report, but at least I’d stopped questioning the meaning of life, because I’d worked out what it is.
Shutup and have fun.