Paola says to me in her adorable accent, “Hoh-ney, Boh-ney!” (that’s supposed to be “honey, bunny” in case you couldn’t tell) “Instead of walking everywhere and taking so long for everything, why don’t you get a bike?”
We don’t have a car, so it’s true. I walk everywhere. From our house, on the one lane gravel country roads. Along the busy main street into town, with Italian drivers ignoring the automated speed cameras. Up and down the narrow cobbled Corso Italia in the medieval center of town lined with antique stores, cheese and salami shops and high-priced clothing and shoe boutiques. All of this and I’m also usually pushing Lulu in her increasingly rickety passeggino or stroller.
So, I think I would have to get one of those bikes with a toddler seat attached that you see everywhere. Little cutie Italian kids in tiny helmets strapped in a miniature bike seat in front of the rider or even in the back. Lulu loves to point them out and decidedly tells me she wants to ride like that too.
But with the traffic and almost 40-pounds extra, I don’t think I’m ready for it. Paola agrees and reminds me that our landlords have parked two 10-speed cruiser bikes at our house.
“After you drop Lulu off at school, you could come back and then use the bike for whatever you need to do. Aww-nehss-lee, Gina, it would be much bayter for you (One of Paola’s favorite exclamations is ‘honestly’ and I find myself using it now, too – and adding the same inflection just for fun).
But, I think she’s right. I imagine myself looking all European — nonchalantly riding around on a bike with my dress and my long hair fluttering in the breeze. I can run all my errands really quickly on the bike. It will be great.
This was so not me.
The first thing I notice when I get on one of the bikes is that the seat is about a foot too low. I’m 5’9’’ and Antonella and her husband Tiziano are both, at best, about 5’4’’. But it’s the only one in the bike stand right now. Obviously, I don’t have a socket wrench or whatever it takes to raise the seat. Oh well. Shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I’m going to go for it.
I start off onto our gravel road and the first thing I notice is the “breeze” isn’t fluttering my dress, it’s lifting the skirt way up, right about to my tummy. Basically, my panties are showing and everything. I circle back to the house, run inside and pull on some black exercise shorts. That should handle it.
Back on the bike. Hair fluttering, dress – well, dress is taken care of with the added shorts now. Sunglasses on. Good.
I’ve moved off of gravel and onto the busier main road and now the bike’s seat begins to bug me. A lot. My old mountain bike seat back in Colorado was gel-filled. Super comfortable. And now, five years and a baby later, my botto is filled out, but it’s not helping me with this seat. It’s just plain painful to sit.
And at the same time, my knees are literally bumping into my elbows with every pedal motion. I’m way too big for this bike. I’m a clown on one of those teeny tiny little trick circus bikes. Not exactly the pre-conceived image I had in mind.
Now, I’m coming up to my first of three round-abouts. I put out my left hand to try and signal that I’m coming in and
A blue Fiat taps its horn and passes me. I think, actually, that this practice is to politely let a pedestrian or cyclist know there’s someone behind you, but I flinch and jump and almost teeter off of my clown bike.
I try a mixture of standing and pedaling to give my botto and my elbows a break and finally manage to maneuver through the round-abouts. Suddenly, the two-lane road is diverging into two separate one-way lanes yet the direction of the bank where I would like to go is in the exact opposite way that the large red and blue signs are directing me.
Since I only walk everywhere, I’ve never paid attention to which roads are one way and which way those one ways head, etc. If there’s a sidewalk, and even if there isn’t, I just walk in the direction I’d like to go.
Alora (and so), I have no idea where this one-way I’m finding myself pedaling on is heading.
Turns out I’m going outside of Arezzo’s fortress walls and up a rather sharp incline. This is Tuscany, after all, so we’re talking real hills. I huff and puff. Pedal standing up then sitting back down. I scooch around on my seat searching for a comfy part. The road gets narrower and I’m getting dangerously close to parked cars on the side. I wave a creeping car behind me around.
Naturally, she honks.
This is what I was afraid I would become
I begin to go back down-hill and I’m looking around trying to recognize a landmark. Trying to get reoriented. Finally, the road dumps out near the train station. I’m in a very busy part of Arezzo, but at least I know where the bank is from here. I manage to get to the bank and conduct my business all the while dreading my return ride.
The whole excursion back, I keep thinking about the time when my sister was 14 and I was 17 and she was training for a summer bicycling camp. My buddy, Mike Morris, was her coach. Every day for a month, he would ride with her a little farther until, just a few days before the camp, they were going to set out on their longest ride – about 30 miles. And for some temporarily insane reason, without any preparation, I announced I’d like to go with them.
I only had a stupid red Schwinn girls’ three-speed bike back then. But I convinced Mike and Andrea to let me tag along. Mike made me wear a whistle so when I got too far behind them, which was often, I was to blow the whistle and they’d slow down a bit to let me catch up.
Another clownish moment in my life. Especially when at about mile 25, my legs, which had turned to noodles, gave out. I tumbled into a ditch and pathetically and faintly tooted on the whistle until Mike turned around. I had to hold on to his arm while he dragged me sitting, but no longer pedaling, on my bike. All the rest of the way back home. My sister was annoyed.
This time, I didn’t have a whistle and there wasn’t anyone around to have heard it if I had. I huffed, puffed, scooched and waved at the honking cars until I made it back. Paola called. We’re supposed to go to the opening of some new American bar later this evening. I told her I finally took her advice and used a bike for an errand. And that it didn’t go so well.
She said, “Maybe you should take your clown bike to Scotty’s school and perform your act at their next Cabaret?”
To all of your bicycle enthusiasts out there – Bravi! I, however, will continue to walk – and lug Lulu with me.
With Love and bicycle helmets –
P.S. Any similar hair-raising stories you’d like to share, please do!