This was probably the longest and definitely the hardest ride I've been on, but also the most beautiful. We started our day in the bike shop (Florence by Bike-go to them if you find yourself in Florence. They were one of the few shops that had frames big enough for Noah, and had quality rentals, and many English-speaking employees.) The guy working the cash register that day looked at us and asked, "Are you fit?" Do you like climbs?" Just looking at Noah, the obvious answer is "yes" and that must have been enough because he then proceeded to draw us a route that he said was "his favorite." Once he'd started, I knew he wasn't just saying that-he talked us through each climb and descent, detailing how at this spot we'd "feel like our front wheel was climbing while our back wheel was still descending" or how "you can turn here and cut your trip short if you're tired, but really, you must ride all the way to Radda (town). They say Greve (another town) is beautiful, but Radda is the juicy part of Chianti." "Your computer will say exactly 99.9 km when you're done..." (End of the ride, Noah's actually said 115-we got lost a few times). As he talked, he got more and more animated and both Noah and I were pretty pumped upon leaving the shop.
The first hour of riding out of town wasn't bad-pretty flat and the traffic was surprisingly not scary. Once we got out into the countryside though, the celebrated "hills" of Tuscany started kicking my butt! These climbs were hard! And steep! And long! I've never spent what felt like close to an hour climbing to then descend in a few minutes. And then do it again! I was struggling enough that Noah was worried I wouldn't be able to make it all the way out and back. I insisted that I could do it, that I'd probably just keep getting slower and slower, but this was our day to ride bikes and I was going to ride my bike!!! He said he'd trust me, but I knew he was nervous. And stayed that way until we'd done about 75% of the ride. Luckily for us though 1) the hardest climbs were at the beginning of the ride and got easier (we didn't know that until later), and 2) this was the day I finally heeded Noah and countless other riders who have suggested that I quit wasting my energy mashing in a high gear and shift down more often during climbs. In Nebraska, I could smile and continue doing what I was doing-knowing that I was, yes, probably tiring myself out a bit, but thinking "hey-if this is a harder gear, then I'm working harder and it will make me stronger." Italy didn't let me do that. I needed that third, granny gear in front and made good use of it! And finally felt the difference between how spinning more actually got me up the hill faster and less exhausted. (versus just not being able to get up it at the beginning when I was trying to conserve that last gear, just in case I really needed it!)
I'm so glad Noah agreed to let me push through the hard parts and keep going because I feel like I learned a lot and, truly, that was the most beautiful place I've ever ridden through. Although this isn't a race story, it's a story that progressed into pure joy on a bike-and that's what we're all about, right?
and now the pictures (it's a vacation story-you knew they were coming)