Bicycle Ballet

15 Jul

Following my performance on the Gavia, I got upgraded to a faster ride group — the sole female among 19 guys, many of whom looked like they could have been chiseled out of the granite mountains surrounding us. Among our granite-chiseled male members was Nate, the hand cyclist, whose arms are nearly bigger than my legs.

Our mission for July 15 was shorter but, in a way, more brutal than the Gavia summit day. We’d ride just 40mi, but we’d do so with 4,500′ of gain. That kind of mileage-to-gain ratio = some seriously steep shit! Accordingly, Nate’s ability to summit to the Chapel of Madonna del Ghisallo (a church devoted to cyclists) was given more serious consideration than his Gavia ascent, which occurred only thanks to happenstance and miracles.

Three pairs of push teams were recruited from among our small group along with two front-man point spotters (responsible for surveilling oncoming traffic to ascertain whether the push-crew could safely swing wide around turns) and two safety guards (I was one) to keep an ear out for traffic approaching from behind and to warn passing cyclists of what was ahead.

Nate is really fucking strong and he covered many of the miles entirely under his own power, but when the road kicked up beyond 6% or so, the pushers were definitely needed. At one point we encountered a stretch that was over a mile long with grades that ranged from 14-21%. The push teams rotated every ~400 yards. The guy on the push stick would call it out, “three, two, one,” and Nate would give two extra hard cranks as Team 1 peeled off and the new pair swooped in to take over the job.

While these strong-men pairs orchestrated their moves around Nate, the 3 German soldiers riding with us managed to “domino” one another and nearly took me out, too, because it was so steep that they couldn’t maintain momentum at their slow and labored rate of travel. I thanked my lucky stars that I recently leaned how to “bunny hop” and was incredibly pleased with myself for being able to restart on the 16% grade after I pulled over to allow my terrified heart to slow back down. That was some solid badassery right there!

Anyhow, back to Nate and the Ghisallo climb…

Watching his push teams maneuver and relieve one another was truly like watching poetry in motion. The choreography was stunning. The strength and grace were simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. It was like watching an exquisite pas de deux — a ballet on bikes — a true wonder to behold. And beyond the awesome physical pageantry there also was the pure gallantry of seeing so many men devoted to helping one of their fellows succeed. The R2R brotherhood is a moving miracle of humanity.

I was so inspired by what transpired in front of me that I literally felt no pain on the ride which is CRAZY, because 15-21% stretches are by definition “painful,” — period, end of paragraph.

But my brain must’ve been bathed in oxytocin because I was feeling nothing but love and happiness and strength and well-being during the climb. Bike love!

Once we got to the top, Nate garnered the rapt attention of several Militzia officers at the Madonna del Ghisallo cycling chapel who radioed their motorcycle police buddies to come check us out. The moto-cops then offered to escort us back to our hotel. Thanks to the moto-cops we took a much different route than the one indicated by the R2R-painted road arrows. The cop-guided-and-protected route included some astoundingly awesome descents (made even better by the fact that the cops blocked oncoming traffic on the round-abouts to ensure our safe and speedy passage). Hellyeah, 48mph!! Whoo hoo!

We also got to bypass both of the mile-long black-as-ink and scary-as-Nosferatu tunnels that we had to endure during the outbound journey AND we got to take over a lane of the Autostrada. Having a police escort on the Italian version of the 405 freeway while on bikes cookin’ at >30mph is a pretty damn good reason to be an R2R supporter!!!

[Donate now, here: – rider Cristin Zeisler]

We got back to the hotel nearly 2 hours earlier than expected. I took a nap. It was awesome.

I am now a day behind on these blog updates, but you don’t really know the difference and I’ll just keep crankin’ out the stories whenever time allows and we’ll all get caught up eventually.

DAILY DRINK TALLY: Just 1 — and it came from a really unexpected source. My post-doc supervisor at the USC Motor Rehabilitation and Neuro Rehab Lab sent me an incredibly nice and supportive email in advance of his forthcoming departure to join the faculty at the University of Tennessee. Having this relative new-comer in my life send a message letting me know how much he values what I’m doing over here with R2R and how it all fits into the large neuro-rehab research picture made me weepy with content for where I am in the world and it made me grateful for you, dear reader, for joining me on this adventure. To the extent I manage to attain any moderate success, you play an important role in that. Thank you

One Response to “Bicycle Ballet”


  1. Best Year Ever! | JustAdventures - December 30, 2013

    […] cry almost every day this month while witnessing bicycle-based miracles in Europe. Also, I hang out with the Tour de France pros and VIPs and then follow that up with some […]

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