The prodigal daughter…

A lot has happened since last I wrote…in July 2012.

Probably the two biggest developments since then are that I am now officially a resident of the United States (green card holder!) and I moved to New York City in September to take on a new professional challenge. More on that later.

In addition to being about fitness, food and spirituality, this blog will also be about what it’s like living in the iconic capital of the world. And what the transition feels like for a Canadian whose last home was a small town in upstate New York. After five years, this is a wee bit different as you can imagine.

As part of the blog, I’m starting what I call “The ‘A’ Train Chronicles,” fictionalized accounts of events I’ve encountered on the immortalized subway line that stretches from Rockaway, past JFK, through Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan ending at 207 Street at the very top of the island. The portion I usually traverse is from Times Square to 175th Street. Never a dull moment.

I live in Long Island City, a formerly(?) industrialized section of Queens that is in the middle of a major development, and have a stunning view of the Queensboro (aka Ed Koch, aka 59th Street) Bridge. I decided to settle here rather than Manhattan so I had somewhere to retreat to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great city, but remember five months ago I was living in a place with a population of 9,000. I think that’s the population of the handful of highrises in this neighborhood alone. To Manhattan snobs I’m not in “the city” but that’s just fine by me. I have a quick commute and a place that is clean, roach- and rat-free (so far), and it’s brand spanking new.

But I digress.

Welcome back!

Getting creative in the kitchen

One of the joys of living where I do during the summer is fresh produce. Seriously. This is a joy. At least for me.

This year, for the first time since I moved here, I joined a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. Over the last 20 years this has become a popular way for people to buy local, seasonal food directly from farmers. How it works is that you purchase a membership or subscription to the farm and in exchange you receive a basket of goods every week during the growing season.

In our area there are CSAs where you can get produce, meat products, honey, dairy, flowers, maple syrup, all kinds of things. This year, I took a basic share of produce in a local farm called Kent Family Growers.

I tried a CSA when I lived in the city and found that since I used to eat out a lot much of the produce would go bad. Since I didn’t cook a lot at home I didn’t know what to do with some of them. And frankly, there were lots of local produce I simply didn’t like.

Being blessed to live in a farming community, wanting to eat locally produced, fresh food, primarily plant-based, I thought how can I not do a CSA? The change-up in the weekly basket just gives me an excuse to get creative in the kitchen and try new recipes.

Which is what we did tonight. This week’s basic share included a bag of fresh greens, snow peas, beets, cauliflower, and scallions. We pick up on Tuesdays so with the next pick up only two days away, we thought we better do something about what’s in the fridge.

Though it’s been warm, we decided to roast the veggies anyways. (It’s my opinion that almost every vegetable tastes better roasted.) The cauliflower we tossed with olive oil and a maple horseradish mustard. The beets we tossed in olive oil and put on the fresh greens. If you throw out the tops of your beets, please stop. They are delicious! Particularly the way we prepared them tonight. (Click the links to see the recipes. We modified them to suit our taste – we left out the bacon – but they’re a great place to start.)

Lots of textures, colors and flavors! Hard to believe it was all plants.

I am thrilled that I get to look forward to 20 more weeks of this kind of thing. The shares run until mid-November. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

Spiritual writer’s block

I have been quiet a while and was asked tonight where my latest blog post was. Thing is, I find myself stumped on how to blog about something. Not usually one to be at a loss for words, this feels strange. I’ve been grappling with it for almost a month.

I attended an incredible event at the end of April – the Revelation Festival put on by the Agape International Spiritual Center, based in Los Angeles. It was so fantastic that I have no idea how to share it. It is truly impossible to do it justice and to convey the energy that was involved. Or what it meant to me.

Also, spirituality is a deeply personal thing, at least for me. So a lot of what I learned, experienced and embraced as a result of the event is really only for me. And I’m still finding new things to learn from the event.

I could tell you about what happened: more than 800 people from around the world attended the three-day festival of speakers from the New Thought tradition; excellent musicians; lessons on mind, body and soul; meditation and breathing classes; energy & fitness classes. I met some incredible people – some I may never see again but who have made an imprint on my life forever and some I expect to know for the rest of my life.

Yeah, not even close to explaining what happened.

Spiritual growth, enlightenment, becoming a better person – whatever you want to call it – doesn’t happen overnight. This event was like an awakening for me. I’ve been reading about a lot of this and I knew it in my head, but after that weekend, I truly understood it in my heart. And that seems to make all the difference.

Growth and unfoldment takes time and, more importantly, practice. I’m not one who believes you can go to church on Sundays and this makes you a spiritual person. It’s the daily practice of your beliefs that’s important. This is not necessarily ‘easy’ in that the daily pressures of society can interfere with this practice.

This event helped remind me that there is a lot more to life than what our western society has determined is important. There is also more to life than what can be seen around you. Much can be found inside. And if I sit quietly for a while, I can actually hear it.

Even as good as I felt after that weekend, I know that if I don’t take time everyday to ponder, meditate, or reflect on what I learned, the noise of everyday life can threaten to overwhelm. So as a result, I’ve begun a daily meditation and affirmative prayer practice.

And this is the other part of the writer’s block. Or perhaps in this case, it’s not a block as much as there is just so much to share I don’t know where to start. What is missing from this post is delving into some of the lessons I learned while I was in L.A. Those will have to wait for a future post or, frankly, this will never get published.

Majorca – The final word…for now

I’ve been home for over a week and Majorca seems a bit like a dream now. I’m sitting in another airport on business travel and my vacation seems like it was another lifetime ago.

The view from my hotel room

There was so much I didn’t mention in the daily posts so I’m pulling together a “best of” post, the highlights of a great adventure.

The Last Supper

You may recall from the last post, that I was a little late to our final dinner at a local Cala d’Or restaurant. The food was outstanding. Interestingly, and wisely, almost everyone had fish. We’re on an island. I figure eat as much seafood as you can when it’s nearby and fresh. Mind you, it was a whole fish. But our host gave us a demo on how to de-bone it and enjoy.

Sadly, I made the same mistake I made last time. I enjoyed too many of the appetizers that I had no room for the fish – bread and aioli, olives, calamari, it was all a blur of yummy delicacies.

We did a “round table” afterwards for people to talk about what was the best of the trip. Without exception, the people made the top of the list. The last time I went to Majorca, the folks were pretty damned cool. This time, I met some pretty outstanding individuals. There were some characters (a la Mr. Incredible), there were some very funny people (Mr. Stubbs and Mr. Westwood, but two examples), and I believe some new friends.

I have to give hats off to the organizers – Peter and John – as well as Nadia and Kris. And Lori (MIA at the last dinner but see below for more). The trip was so smoothly run. They’ve been doing this a while, but even when things came out of the blue (my accident, for example) it didn’t ruffle feathers, they just adapted and moved on.

John, ever unflappable, and Mr. Incredible (Photo: Dave Stubbs)

I’d love to describe them to you, but I couldn’t possibly do them justice. But they all have my utmost respect, appreciation and affection. The trip wouldn’t have been the same without each of them.

From L to R: Kris, Nadia, John & Peter

Yoga on the beach

Lori, Peter’s wife, held yoga on the beach each morning. 7:30. For those of us doing it, our days started with yoga overlooking the water, as the sun would rise.

Downward dog anyone?

After an hour at that, we’d go for a really good café con leche, about a ten minute walk away, and then head for breakfast before heading out for the day’s ride. Lori got a record number of yoga participants on the first morning with the promise of the location of said coffee. Even if we didn’t see everyone at yoga, we saw many of them at Ravell’s.

Best cafe con leche in Cala d'Or

Lori tailored the hour for us, many of whom didn’t do yoga regularly, yours truly included. She was really dealing with all skill levels.

Record-breaking yoga attendance

Lori wasn’t with us for the final dinner as she departed on Thursday to head to Malaga, Spain, to run a yoga retreat there. She’ll be running one in Majorca in the fall and another in Baja California, Mexico in 2013. Check it out!

Lori doing a proper downward dog

Food & Drink

The food at the hotel was improved from two years ago. It was fine, even before, but they were definitely making an effort. Being a buffet, it can be hard to keep things fresh but they managed to this time. Also, they had theme nights. One night was tapas – go figure – while another was Thai. Yum!

The first weekend of the trip coincided with Easter break and Majorca being a very popular destination for Germans (and Brits apparently but all I heard was German), the hotel was overrun. But they always held tables for us.

Reserved for the Canadian Team!

I was asked the other day by my sister why the coffees were so good over there and I really couldn’t tell her. They were espresso with milk, so lattes, but they were stronger than what I’m used to here. In fact, I had to put a stop to my three-cafe con leche habit early as I think that’s why I wasn’t feeling well on our first mountain ride. There were variations, of course, including the cortado and a straight espresso.

From L to R: Espresso, cafe con leche, cortado

Then there were the cafe Amazona, which was espresso with the local Majorcan rum, Ron Amazona, two bottles of which managed to find their way home with me.

I didn’t have the “diesel” – coca cola and beer – though I could certainly see its appeal. But I did discover the shandy on this trip, beer – San Miguel in this case – and lemonade. A popular afternoon drink on our rides or at the end of them.

A great refreshing post (during?) ride drink

Bruises & Black Eyes

I have long since learned that the best travel stories are usually the result of mishaps, mayhem or danger. While you’re in the middle of them it can be hard to remember, but after I wiped out on the last day, I tried to remind myself that I had a great story to tell. I even have a scar to show off! I suspect I will also have matching scars on my knees – the left now matches the right, a result of the other spectacular bike wipe out I took on my hybrid in ’06.

It looks much better than this now. No black eye & a wee mark over the eyebrow.

It was two years between my trips to Majorca with International Cycling Adventures. I don’t think it will be two years next time. Hopefully, Majorca 2013 is a go for ICA. Barring any unforeseen life events, I have every intention of being there.

Day Eight – Majorca – Final day…out with a bang

115km, ~5:00 hours, 2 crashes

Oh what a glorious day it started off to be. It was our final day of riding together and, due to the questionable weather the day before, we had moved our mountain ride to Saturday. Today was beautiful.

View of Alcudia. Photo: Dave Stubbs

The trip would see us bus to the start in Alcudia, followed by an easy 12km cycle along the water to the base of the 19km rolling climb to Cap de Formentor, a lighthouse at the end of the road. Afterwards, we’d have an option to either get on the bus or go by bike the 70km across the island to the hotel.

Ready to set off. Photo: Dave Stubbs

When we arrived in Alcudia, one group split off and went in search of the “Cobra.” Since the initial attempt had been abandoned earlier in the week, now was their chance to tackle it. The rest of us, most of us, went for Cap de Formentor. I remember this ride from the last time I was here and I remember it as being one of the hardest I had done to that point. Back then I had crossed the island afterwards for a total of 140km, my the longest ride. I was exhausted by the end of it.

A view from the lighthouse

In comparison, this was much better for me. The 30km to Cap de Formentor was challenging, to be sure, but it felt good. I did the ride in good time, had time to grab a cafe con leche and some lunch at the top, and was getting ready to head back down.

That’s when Dave arrived to tell us that one of the women had taken a fall in the tunnel. About 7km back, there is an unlit tunnel, with ditches on either side of the road. It’s a bit nerve-wracking but as long as you take your sunglasses off, concentrate on the light at the end of the tunnel and stay in the middle of the road, it’s doable.

Tunnel on the way to Formentor. Photo: Dave Stubbs

Unfortunately, it was too much for her, and she fell. We later found out that Kris had gone back to her and with thanks to a Dutch couple, managed to get her and her bike back to the bus in Alcudia, where we found them both when we returned. Some scrapes and probably a bruised shoulder, but overall, okay.

It was probably close to 2pm by the time we arrived back to the bus and where people had to decide what they were going to do – ride back by bus or by bike. A large number of people decided to ride back by bike. Those on the bus, waved goodbye to us with beers in their hands.

View from the bus. That's me, second rider from the front on the right. Photo: Dave Stubbs

In hindsight, riding back may not have been the wisest decision for everyone. It’s a rolling ride back and we’d just done a rather challenging ride already, which ended up taking its toll on some people. Add to that a headwind/crosswind and it was a bit slow going.

Many people hadn’t eaten at the lighthouse and needed to so we stopped in Sineu. We weren’t making great time and we had reservations for 7pm at one of the local restaurants in Cala d’Or for our big send off dinner. It wasn’t looking promising that we were going to make it.

After lunch, around 5pm, we split up into two groups. Our group of six was the faster of the two – Nadia and Peter were our leads, Tamsin and Rob, William and myself. We were taking turns pulling with Peter and I had come off my 5km pull just outside of Felanitx. I had settled in the back of the group when it happened.

It’s cliche, but it all happened so fast. I saw the tires about to touch but was not fast enough to react. With only 15km left in the ride, and my vacation, my front tire touched Rob’s back one and I was down.

After they had sat me down on the side of the road, I remember Tamsin asking me what happened and I told her. However, I don’t remember hitting the ground, nor the next few moments. I just remember standing off the road, watching the blood drip to the ground. I didn’t make the connection that I was bleeding, though, until they got me to sit and Nadia held a handkerchief to my head.

Everyone reacted really well. Nadia and Tamsin tended to me while Peter tended to my bike. (It was fine.) The other group came by but continued to the town square in Felanitx. I was going to need stitches. Peter had recalled a clinic nearby so Nadia stuck a band-aid on my head and I got back on my bike and we went in search of it. The clinic was not where Peter recalled so we went to the town square to join the others and to wait for a taxi to take me to a German doctor in Cala d’Or.

Peter had already visited the doctor earlier in the week after his encounter with the barbed wire and had his number. It was after 6pm on a Saturday and the doctor told Peter he’d meet us at his clinic in 20 minutes. Peter rode ahead to meet us at the clinic in Cala d’Or. Thankfully, Peter speaks German. Nadia came with me in the taxi – thankfully she speaks Spanish. Kris gathered the two groups together, now one, and led them back to the hotel.

I find it interesting how one reacts in situations like this. After I fell, I was extremely focused on the next thing I needed to do. My awareness of others was limited. I sat while they wiped my face, I answered Tamsin’s questions, I got on my bike, I got to the town square. It wasn’t until I’d gotten off my bike at the town square that a couple of tears escaped. That’s when I noticed that I hurt. The wonders of adrenaline.

We moved the dinner reservation to 8pm and I made it before 9pm. The doctor fixed me up, I grabbed a shower and walked over with Nadia, Peter and John.

Made it to dinner! With one of my fellow Groupo Mo'Toro members, Sergio

I think I was pretty lucky. I had road rash down the left side of me – the knee, hip, elbow and shoulder. Some blood pooling in the shoulder and knee along with some swelling in the knee.

The compression bandage kinda matched my dress

My sunglasses are what caused the gash in my forehead, which the doctor put a staple in along with some cloth sutures. It took another day for the black eye to set in.

It wasn’t until I got home that I took a closer look at my helmet. I could have left it in Spain. A piece was missing on the left side at the front. It was brand new before the trip.

I’m happy to buy another one.

Day Seven – Majorca – An ad hoc kind of day

70km, 3:10, one market, many beaches

The weather continued to be a bit dicey. It had been unusually windy and a bit on the cool side. We’d had more rain than I had experienced the first time I was here. The group had planned to go back to the mountains this day, but because of the forecast it was postponed until Saturday.

So instead, everyone went off in various directions. We started out with others to pick up the pottery we had purchased the day before from the potter in Santanyi.

While others continued on, Christina, Nadia and I headed back to the hotel. It was looking like it could clear up so we were going to try to get a ride in. As we arrived back at the hotel, the boys (Peter, John, Kris & William) were heading out for a 1pm ride. We were thinking of going to Manacor (I wanted to check out a bike story) so got some direction on how to get there on the back roads.

The three of us went and got ready and met back with our bikes just as it started to rain. So, we decided to have lunch instead. We went to nearby Paparazzi, a nice wood-fired pizza place around the corner from the hotel. Based on good advice from Christina, we took our bikes and went in biking gear to see if it would clear up by the time we were done. It was good advice because it was cold and I suspect if we hadn’t had our bikes with us we may never have made it out that day.

(The last time I was in Majorca two years ago, I guess I must have spent some time at Paparazzi since the first night when I dropped by one of the owners said “welcome back!” to me.)

We had a lovely lunch, sharing antipasti tapas and a pizza and, as luck would have it, just as we were finishing up the sun came out! While we had originally intended to go to Manacor it was now 3pm already, so we decided to head down the coast.

Nadia, me & Christina

It was a great, meandering kind of ride. We really didn’t have a destination in mind, but we did keep trying to find a route along the water so we could stay off the main road. This led to a number of stops to check the map, a few wrong turns, but some nice finds.

Just short of Porto Christo, we stopped for a drink and decided that given the late time, we should probably start making our way home. In an effort to stay off the main roads, we tried going along back roads, across country to one of the main roads south to Felanitx and then home.

It always amazed me how Peter, John and Kris could pick their way through the stone-walled roads so well and get us where we wanted to go. I had a renewed appreciation for how great an addition to our experience it was after trying to find a route through the countryside with Nadia and Christina.

After a couple more wrong turns, some stops to read the map, some stopping for directions & clarification that the roads we wanted to take were, indeed, paved  – thankfully both Nadia and Christina speak Spanish – we made it back. It was probably after 7:30 by the time we got to the hotel and the sun was lying low on the horizon.

Every ride is a different ride and this was a nice combination of adventure and good companionship. Sometimes it’s nice not knowing where you’re going and instead simply relying on serendipity.

(As mentioned in a previous post, I’m writing these in hindsight. I’m now home, of course. Day Seven was Friday, April 13. Funny, while I was in Majorca I found myself asking more than once what day it was. I don’t think I knew it was Friday the 13th.)

Day Six – Groupo Tranquillo – A day in photos

61 km, 2:40, a stop at a potter’s studio

Having had so much ‘fun’ on our day off, the idea of going hard on Thursday was not all that appealing. Frankly, at this point my legs were getting a wee bit tired, even with the day off. And Nadia had arranged for us to check out a potter’s studio outside of Santanyi.

Groupo Tranqullo at Raimon's house (Photo: Rob Macfarlane)

So in the end only two groups formed that day – Rapido (with Peter and John) and Relaxo/Tranquillo (with Kris and Nadia). No surprise, Groupo Mo’Toro was in the latter.

Groupo Mo'Toro was taking the day to recover (Dave)

The first 21 km took hours. It was a nice relaxing ride through the stone-walled little roads. We got to stop in Santanyi for a café con leche while others shopped.

One of many I had on the trip

Then we made our way to Raimon Gaya Urrero’s home studio, where he gave us a tour.

Raimon showing us one of his kilns

We also got to meet his friends.

He had a beautiful plot of land, as well, and his work was quite interesting.

Santanyi in the distance

Many of us ended up buying some pieces.

I bought a bowl with a similar motif and a set of small bowls

He also had a wine cellar and his own wine label.

Raimon hosting us in his wine cellar

It was quite nice, a pleasant earthy flavor with berry undertones.

Raimon's personal wine label

After the potter’s visit, we broke for lunch in Cala Figuera on the water.

Fishing town of Cala Figuera

Grabbing lunch (Photo: Dave Stubbs)

Afterwards, we split into two groups – those who wanted to walk around the little fishing community and those who wanted to ride.

A view of the port before heading on to Felanitx

I fell into the latter group. I was getting a little itchy to ride since we had only done 21 km to this point.

So Kris took a group of us the long way home, out for a little spin to Felanitx and back to the hotel, again through the little stone-walled roads. We wrapped with just over 60 km that day, a perfect combination of cultural exploration and time on two wheels.


Day Five – Majorca – Groupo Mo’Toro

~150km, four scooters, two cyclists, two fabulous meals, and numerous yummy foods

Today was a day off! And how I needed it after that last ride. A lot of people rented cars and did some shopping, some went for a ride, but four of us decided to trade in our two wheels for a different pair. No Groupo Not-so-Relaxo today but instead Groupo Mo’Toro!

Groupo Mo’Toro included: Sergio who had been on the ride with me the day before, Dave who had been the one of our group to hop in the bus near Bunyola, and Christina who had stayed dry and went to Palma.

Dave, Christina, Sergio & I

I have never been on a scooter but have always wanted to ride a Vespa. The rental place only had one, red, and the gang let me have it!

Trading in one pair of wheels for another

Rob and Tamsin had not ridden the day before so decided to use their day off to cycle to Platja de Muro (60km each way) and check out the Rapha cycling store and had left around 10:00 am that morning to do so. We, Groupo Mo’toro, decided we’d meet them there for a late lunch.

But first, we stopped at nearby Santanyi to look at their market. I’ve seen a lot of markets and this one was amazing! Christina had an inclination to use the word amazing and she is from Colombia so she says it is ‘amac-ing’. By the end of the day we were all saying how amac-ing everything was!

I could have been in West Africa!

There were beautiful clothes, leather goods, jewelry but my favorite section was the food. It’s like a farmers market full of vegetables and fruit, olives, honey, cheese, almonds, deep fried apples & donuts. We picked up some almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese and a bottle of wine and tucked it in our scooter seats for the beach. (Okay, we also picked up some deep-fried apples but ate those before we even left the market along with a café con leche, of course.)

Sergio & Dave doing some shopping

Then off we went across the island, maps in hand, to find this little town on the coast. At one point we stopped to make sure we knew where we were going. Sergio and I pulled out the map and while we were looking at it, I lost my balance and in slow motion action, dropped the scooter! Oops! No damage to me, or the scooter, thankfully.

After a brief stop at the Rapha store where we met Tamsin and Rob, all six of us went to Can Picafort for lunch on the beach. What a beautiful view.

Platja de Muro, down the beach from lunch

And such wonderful seafood! The restaurant allowed us to pull out the almonds, sundried tomatoes and wine – it was Sergio’s birthday after all! – and had a great time.

Fresh grilled sardines - yum!

Paella anyone?

Once the meal was done, the restaurant served us a round of hierbas (the traditional Majorcan liqueur with anise) to help celebrate Sergio’s birthday. We all split some strawberry shortcake and then the restaurant presented Sergio with a black liqueur which we had never seen before. There must have been four or five ounces in the glass so he was kind enough to share.

Cheers to Sergio on his birthday

I have not laughed so hard as I did that day with that gang of people. I believe it was Dave who coined the term Groupo Mo’Toro as a play on the cycling group names we had been using on the trip (Groupo Rapido, Groupo Relaxo – or Groupo Tranquillo as Kris called them – and Groupo Not-So-Relaxo) and as a short form of “More Toro” or “More Bull”. I added the apostrophe which is used a lot in the local language.

Dave got us our own logo!

After a cooling off period of roaming around Can Picafort, we had to hurry to get the scooters back before 8pm when the rental place closed. Though our time on the scooters was over, the fun was not. We gathered in Tamsin and Rob’s room to share more wine and the “amac-ing” truffled cheese I picked up in the market, more almonds and whatever other snacks we could pull together.

Apres ride

Unbeknownst to our guests, we had a surprise for them. While at the Rapha store, Tamsin had tried on a fabulous (amacing!) looking casual jersey but due to a problem with their payment system she wasn’t able to purchase the shirt. So after lunch, as part of our cooling off period, we went back to the store and bought it for her. So over drinks and cheese at their place, we presented Tamsin with an early birthday present.

Rob and Tamsin, sporting her new jersey

The food at the hotel had been quite good, actually, but after all of our fun and the lateness of the hour, and it was Sergio’s birthday after all, we decided to go down to the marina in Cala d’Or for dinner. We settled on a little place called La Vida, a tapas place run by some Germans, and we could not have picked better.

The food was “amac-ing”! Mussels and spinach, salmon tartar, lentils, tuna, prawns, there was duck (which I didn’t have), black ravioli stuffed with shrimp, and of course, bread and aioli and olives. (The bread and aioli and olives are ubiquitous and these were particularly awesome.) A few bottles of wine later and we were all quite full. I won’t even go into the gravy boat size of hot chocolate sauce that came with one of the desserts but I did dump a few spoonfuls into my café con leche.

Tamsin and Rob generously picked up the tab for dinner. It’s funny, we were asked a few times how long we’ve been riding together but I only met Tamsin and Rob on this trip. Though we know some people in common, at this point in the trip, I had only known them for five days, yet, I know I have made life-long friends. And I think the same goes for the rest of Groupo Mo’Toro and others on the trip. It has been a pleasure and an honor to get to know some fabulous new people. More on that in another post.

To cap off the day and the wonderful evening, we walked back to the hotel through the sleepy streets of Cala d’Or. Another “amac-ing” day in paradise!

(As mentioned in the previous post, I’m writing these in hindsight now en route to North America. I’m hoping that if any of my Majorcan comrades read these they’ll add to them. I’m finding already that I’m forgetting details.)

Day Four – Majorca – The Hardest Ride of My Life

121km, 5:40 minutes, countless switchbacks and rain

Today was the first day that we took a bus to start our ride, heading for the mountains in the northwest part of the island. The weather forecast was not great, but we loaded up the bus with our bikes and brought extra gear, in case we got wet or in case we nixed the trip completely and decided to walk around instead.

Just as we arrived in Valldemossa, it began raining. The groups split into four – one group, led by Kris, headed off immediately to do the infamous “Calobra” – the cobra, named such for its snakelike switchbacks – one group decided to walk around the village, one group, led by Nadia and Peter, was planning to take a short out and back route up and down some switchbacks to Soller, and our group, led by John, was going to do that but keep going home from there. Total expected trip close to 120km for us.

But first things first. Coffee.

Do we stay or do we go now?

In the end there were only six of us who headed out for Soller with the intention of riding home. Now, in Majorca when it rains the roads get extremely slippery, and the road to Soller is mostly downhill, rolling, winding roads along the coast. The views are absolutely gorgeous.

But it was raining, and while I still appreciated the spectacular view, I was also extremely focused on getting down the mountainside in one piece. Bundled up, newspaper stuffed down the front of my shirt to try to keep dry, we tucked in and made our way.

Look behind us, that's where we were!

This is roughly when we learned, via text message, that the other group never did head out and instead got back onto the bus for a ride to Palma. Once in Soller, of course, what goes down must then go up and up we did for a 8km switch-back climb.

After our climb we were heading for the next town of Bunyola where we would decide if we go straight home or if we do one more climb – through Orient – and then head home. It’s then that we saw the bus parked at a gas station at the side of the road and pulled over.

It turned out that the Cobra group had erred on the side of caution and didn’t try that ride but instead were taking the same route as us to go home. They had come by the bus about 10 minutes before us. Three of their group had slid out on the ride, two of whom were now on the bus. One of the guys in our group was having a hard time with the wet descents and had gotten pretty cold, so he decided to get on the bus, as well.

Leaving the bus behind us

That left five of us who set off for Bunyola and lunch. We decided to treat ourselves.

Lunch never tasted so good.

As luck would have it, while we were in the café, it stopped raining and the sun came out. So we decided to do the Orient, after all, and then head home. The wine had seemed like a good idea at the time, but did not seem quite so wise when I was 5km into our switch-back climb. But, by the time we were ready to come down the other side, the roads were almost completely dry.

As if my heart rate had not spent enough time elevated during the entire ride, on our final descent before making our way across the island, we just about got hit by a couple of tour buses. The roads were dry so we were clipping along pretty fast on the way down when around a corner we almost collided with a tour bus which was making a wide turn around the corner. I slammed on the brakes, got by the first one when I saw the second and this time I had to pull over and come to a stop. He passed me with about a foot and a half to spare. Thank goodness everyone else behind me managed to stop, as well.

Leaving the mountains behind us

It was a combination of things that made this the hardest ride of my life. The weather, the climbing, the duration, but even more so, the descents. Switchback descents are challenging at the best of times, doing them wet can be extremely dangerous. You can’t go too fast and I found myself riding my brakes a lot. In addition, I had not been feeling well all morning and had not been able to eat much at breakfast. I managed to get down an egg and cheese sandwich and a chocolate croissant on the way to Valldemossa, but I was nauseous for most of the ride.

Lynn and I were feeling pretty tired by the time we started across the island and we were both wondering how we were going to still do the 70km or so home. By this time my legs were spent and every little hill meant a significant slowdown. I was worried I’d need a push to get home. We took a busy highway in an attempt to cut off 7km from the ride but it was now rush hour and it was not much fun.

John decided we’d take the next right, get off the busy road, and stop at the next town, whatever it was, for a short break and to map out the rest of the route. It happened to be Costitx which is at the top of, would you believe, a short set of switchbacks!? (I must confess to an expletive or two at that point.)

But as luck would have it, when we stopped at a café we pulled up right in front of a pharmacy and I got myself something for my stomach – I’m still not sure what it was – and it worked like a charm. By the time we got back on the bikes I was feeling much better.

At this point I have to give super kudos to John. While the other two guys were able to hold their own both Lynn and I were tired. And there was a rather unfortunate cross-headwind. For much of the rest of the ride, I was tucked in tight to his left drafting off of him while he pushed Lynn home with his right. As one of the guys said, the group looked like John’s little ducklings as he took us home.

Lynn, John and I

And what of the other group? Well those who stayed on the bus went to Palma, had a fabulous meal, then got on their bikes and cycled home. Needless to say, they remained quite dry and still managed an 80km ride. Kris’ group had gone straight home and didn’t do the Orient. So our little group had faced the weather and done the hills that day.

As John put it, extreme weather often makes for an epic ride and an epic ride it was.

(I wasn’t able to keep up with the daily blog from Majorca. I was having too much fun and just didn’t have the time, so I’ve been writing these en route back to North America.)

Day Three – A Recovery Day, Majorcan style

98km, 4:05, one flat (not mine)

After yesterday’s climb at Sant Salvador, today was intended to be a recovery day. For many of us, the cycling season had barely begun back home so after two solid days of riding, it was planned that today would be anywhere from 40-100km depending on the group you chose to go with.

I stayed with the middle group. As you can see from the numbers, today doesn’t look all that different from the first day and is actually higher than the second day. But, we did stop a few times – Porto Colombe, lunch in Porto Christo, ice cream and a café con leche in Manacor, and a pit stop in Felanitx to see how the other group, Rapido, did with their day.

My legs are tired. The ride was gorgeous and the roads were great – for the most part. (There was this one spot that seemed like a tribute to Paris-Roubaix.) I think it was the first 50km that did me in a little. We followed the coast from Cala D’Or (where we’re staying) to Porto Colombe and then on to Porto Christo. Lots of rolling hills. Very steep rolling hills. Lots of climbing.

Posing for photos at the lookout at Porto Colombe

Unfortunately, I can’t just take it easy and meander. I have to see what I can do so I pushed myself up the hills. Probably more than was necessary on a ‘recovery’ ride. So by the time we broke for lunch, my legs were a little pooped. But the lunch spot was worth the ride. Porto Christo is just lovely.

The view from lunch in Porto Christo

Ironically, as we got back on our bikes to head out of town we faced a rather steep, thought short, hill – I’d be guessing but I’d hazard to say somewhere in the 8% range, maybe 10%.

We weren’t 10 minutes into our ride when I started getting an aura. For those unfamiliar, it is a blurriness in my vision that I get prior to a migraine. If I get ibuprofen into me before it goes away, I can usually avoid the migraine. Problem was, I didn’t have any with me and neither did anyone else. We were about 12km from Manacor where there was a hospital and we thought maybe a pharmacy.

It is Easter Monday here and most things are closed. We tried a grocery store and a gas station in Manacor, but no luck. I learned that you can’t actually get medication from anywhere but a pharmacy, and those, too, were closed. But, I was very lucky that a woman at the gas station comprehended my pantomime request for pain killers and happened to have two ibuprofen tablets left in here purse.

Perfecto! I could not say mucho gracias enough. If she hadn’t been behind the counter I would have thrown my arms around her. For those who get migraines, you’ll understand why it’s important to prevent them from starting. For me, if I miss the window, I will get one and I did not relish the idea of being down for the count this afternoon with one.

I have to say, the crew that I was riding with were awfully patient. And helpful. Brad, who also happened to be on the trip when I was here two years ago, was prepared to go the hospital with me to see if we could score some IB. But in the end, everyone followed us.

After, we stopped for a café con leche in Manacor (an attempt on my part to further dilate the blood vessels) where I also got a quick shoulder massage from Greg (aka Mr. Incredible* – think the cartoon movie).

An "Incredible" shoulder rub

I’m pretty sure the migraine was brought on by neck & shoulder pain. The handlebars on my bike are wider than I’m used to and the stem is a bit long which means I’m leaning forward more and I think I’m putting too much pressure on my arms. I find myself shrugging too much and have to consciously remind myself to relax my shoulders.

To top off the day, we had 30km left to come back to the hotel, right into a head wind. Kudos to the folks that pulled us home. Another beautiful ride in sunny Majorca.

* Greg came with the nickname “Mr. Incredible,” I did not give it to him, though, I have to say he’s really good at a shoulder massage. He is quite the character. He is by far one of the more flamboyant individuals on the trip. Noteworthy for his ‘disco’ beat (which he makes regularly with his mouth) and the radio he takes on the rides with him, he also brought along a ‘fart’ machine. I have, thankfully, not had the pleasure, but at German security on the way here they took it out of his carry-on. Apparently, he had a remote control in his pocket and when the guard went to take a closer look, he let it rip. Lucky for him, the guard had a sense of humor and ended up calling over a bunch of other guards to check it out.