Bikes and Beers

25 Jun

The good news about me being 3 days behind on blog updates is that this will be a unified, thematic story rather than a series of chronological reports. The less-good news is that many parts of the story will be missing thanks to my ongoing short-term/working memory deficits. If I don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist. And it’s REALLY hard to write things down while you’re riding a bike!

So, first, let’s properly set the stage: Belgium is NOT Holland. And this means two very key things for you folks at home: (1) Belgium is definitely NOT flat (to my great dismay) and (2) Belgium also is not the home of Heineken (causing grave disappointment for many of our former enlisted men).  Since a main focus of this trip is “bikes and beers,” allow me to elaborate on both issues.

Belgium is fucking INFESTED with hills. We have done murderous climbs every day. The first 3 days actually weren’t that bad for me because I was kickin’ it with the slower ride groups.  In fact, I moved up a rank each day because I actually ended up doing majority of the lead work for each of my first 3 groups (even while maintaining a heart rate of well under 145, although a couple of yesterday’s climbs saw it move into the 160 range, though no higher – Of course, this gibberish means nothing to most of you, but my Bike Boss will be deliriously happy to read about this controlled power/base building work, so please excuse this bit of bike-geekness. KTHXBYE).

Today, however, was an entirely different story. I moved up to the top group, which is the racer group. There were 35 guys and 3 women in this group. I totally hung with them on all of the flats and descents and even had no problem spinning up the hills during the first 2/3 of the ride. But then we hit this crazy 16-19% monster that lasted for >0.75km on a rutted country road (gorgeous, btw) and our squad took it at 12+mph. Dexter would have MUCH preferred to do it at <9. I could’ve maybe toughed it out at 10 or 11. But no, this crew was not about to go under 12 (in fact, they did most of it at ~14).  So, I became a “traffic light” which basically means that action must be taken to literally push me up the hill so that I do not detain the back half of our group.

Dang, y’all – we have some amazingly strong/fast pusher dudes!!

Scotty was the most phenomenal pusher of them all.  He was like a goddamned rocket launcher. When he put his hand on my back, we rode collectively rode so hard and fast up the hill that I actually had to gear up in order to keep my legs spinning at a reasonable (rather than insane) revolution rate. The last 1/3 of today’s ride was a totally brutal climb-fest and Scotty (and other designated pushers) totally saved my bacon at least 4 times.

The first time I received a “helping hand” I was all kinds of pissed at (and disappointed in) myself: I should be better than this!  But then I saw that both of the other girls, as well as 4 or 5 dudes, also needed a friendly boost in order to keep moving and keep the pack together. Which actually made me want to cry because I was so touched and thankful and happy. Because it’s really bad/dangerous to cry while riding your bike up a hill, however, I saved that little emotional release ‘til right now – Yep, I actually just shed a couple gratitude tears while typing this paragraph: So “Drink up” for those of you who are still playing my FB drinking challenge!

After today’s ride, one of my pushers came to introduce himself and learn a bit about who I am and how I got connected with R2R. Because 95% of the people on this ride have done at least 1 other multi-day R2R ride challenge event, most folks are pretty well known to one another and that makes me a bit of an anomaly (in more ways than one, I know…).

I gave him the short version: “I’m a supporter and I raised a lot of money last year and was supposed to do the France ride, but I had a wreck during the R2R-Calabasas Honor Ride that required brain surgery. So I wasn’t able to go to France because I was still in the hospital and starting outpatient therapy, so John let me come to Belgium instead.

He had a little bit of trouble believing that all this happened just 380 days ago and squaring that with the fact that I was able to hang with the race crew for 96% of today’s ride. Apparently having to get pushed up “just” those few hill sections solidified my “miracle” status, since most of the TBI vets who have tried to break into the race crew have had a MUCH tougher go at it.

This little convo made my deliriously happy in many ways:

  • First, I was really glad that I was able to hang with the race crew as well as I did for as long as I did– with or without the whole complicating TBI factor.
  • Next, this joy was further enhanced when I learned that a couple of the guys in today’s group (all non-veterans) are actually ex-pro racers!
  • Then, I was delighted to be viewed as someone who might help inspire others — especially the TBI vets — to keep on pushing themselves to higher levels of endurance and achievement.
  • And finally, I was inspired, myself, to be allowed to hang with such a supportive group of humans.

It’s so great to be surrounded by people who push you (sometimes quite literally!) to achieve more. We are totally united by goodness in this group!  No wonder people find the R2R experience to be so therapeutic!

But it’s not just about work and achievement here. It’s also about having one helluva good time in an incredibly beautiful country.  Invariably, these good times are generously lubricated by beer. And I am eternally grateful to myself that I undertook an intensive pre-trip beer-consumption training regimen that was at least as focused as my cycling training.

Post-brain bashing, I (begrudgingly) determined that those pesky neurologists were right about the importance of really limiting my alcohol consumption for ~a year. A few trial-and-error episodes around the 6-month mark demonstrated that their warnings were worth heeding.  When I crossed the 1-year threshold (10 days before heading out for this trip), however, I decided that I should use those 10 days to test out how my brain/body would react to a “1-a-day” beer regimen – and I intentionally purchased/consumed solely Belgian beers for this test. By day 10, although I was feeling a bit fat/sluggish, the brain was still clicking at its standard rate, so I reckoned that I had lain down a pretty solid beer-drinking base.

While I DEFINITELY am not keeping pace with most of the R2R beer drinking teams (near as I can tell, they are averaging 4 a day, with a sizeable contingent moving into the 6+ range), I am generally able to sustain a 2-a-day consumption rate: 1 immediately ride (BEST recovery beverage ever!) and 1 at dinner. I’m trying to vary my selections and attempting to stay away from any/all beers that are promoted via billboards or neon signs (with the exception of Chimay) in favor of non-commercialized brands.

I’ll wait ‘til the end of the trip to announce my Top 3 Belgian beers, but for now I will tell you what beer to NOT drink — EVER: Jupiler.

Jupiler is the worst beer I can recall having ever (attempted) to drink in my life.  I say “attempted” b/c I literally was not able to take more than 3 swigs of this swill.  A distressing number of my trip mates, however, profess an extraordinary amount of love for this beer.  Usually with statements like: “Finally! A Belgian beer that tastes almost as good as Bud / PBR!”

<facepalm>, right?

And, indeed, a little Google action confirms that Jupiler is brewed by “AB-InBev” (i.e., Anheuser Busch-InBev, which is the world’s largest brewer … of crap-beer!).

Belgian beer (Jupiler aside) is complex and confounding. I don’t love all of it, but I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge of getting to know it.

Belgian food (outside of our hotel meals anyways) is friggin awesome.  If you are looking for a reason to take up cycling, being able to eat your way through Belgium’s four “Cs” (cheese, chocolate, confections, and charcuterie), is a damn fine way to make all the hellish climbing totally worth your while.

So far we’ve burned 2,500-5,000 calories a day and my jeans are already falling off even though I am stuffing myself silly with culinary awesomeness.

And with that, I’m off to another meal + beer experience. I’m saving up some stories about some of the amazing folks who are on this journey with me (and am actually taking notes so that I won’t forget to share them with you) and also some further reflections on the overall environment here. And by “environment,” I actually mean three (3) things:

  • the actual land-sky-river-type of environment,
  • the social environment of this group (both on and off the bike), and
  • the social environment of Belgium, especially as it reacts to us.

These topics and more will feature in future blog posting, so stay tuned.

6 Responses to “Bikes and Beers”

  1. Carissa Barker June 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    The image of riders giving you a push made me cry! Wat an awesome experience. Thanks for sharing.

  2. katerinadiaviano June 26, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    So, I am sure you tried Stella Artois. I had hoped that Fischer Beer was Belgian–unfortunately–it’s French. Was going to ask you to bring back a Fischer umbrella. Getting revved up for massive paella cooking day. Take care of yourself.
    Your Aunt Kathy

    • justadventures June 26, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

      I’ll keep an eye out for Fischer gear! Am in Luxembourg now. Tired. Need sleep. We get a day off from riding tomorrow, so more soon…

  3. Anonymous June 26, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    HR of 145!!?? Dang Cristin, that is awesome!!
    Talking to a Doc friend of mine, gave him a brief low
    down on you, R2R etc & he said, “Have you heard about Raisin Hope?”
    A pro-cyclist w/ TBI started this group, check it out. Have fun, keep pacing, much love.Aunt Bit

    • justadventures June 27, 2012 at 7:49 am #

      Yep, I know about Rasin Hope — great name for the cause! 😉

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