2: Conquering the Giant of Provence

2: Conquering the Giant of Provence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Conquering the Giant of Provence

The road leading to a goal does not separate you from the destination; it is essentially a part of it.

~Charles de Lint

“I do.” Those simple words, spoken amid smiles and tears on a warm June afternoon changed my life. No, this was not my wedding. My husband and I had already been happily married for twenty-eight years and had settled into a comfortable empty nester life with our two Terriers. We enjoyed hikes in the woods and had just started a new hobby identifying wildflowers. We’d also grown comfortable with the twenty-five extra pounds we’d put on, which didn’t interfere with photographing flowers.

The wedding couple was in their twenties. We knew their families, but no one else at the reception. We selected a table with two other couples and introduced ourselves. The husbands were fraternity brothers who got together yearly to keep their friendship alive.

During the entrée and dessert, they shared plans for a bicycling trip through Provence, in southern France, starting Labor Day. The trip accommodated different levels of cyclists, although the big event would be a climb up Mont Ventoux, known as the “Giant of Provence,” which is a highlight of the Tour de France. There’d be lunches at vineyards, overnights in old castles, and great food. The more they talked, the more enthusiastic we became. Several glasses of wine later, my husband and I were hooked.

When I spoke with a travel agent the next morning, it became quite clear that this trip was for avid bikers. She asked, “What size bike do you ride? What level rider are you?”

After a long pause, I said, “I’m not really sure,” which translated into “We haven’t touched a bike in twenty years.” The travel agent got us signed up and I happily told my husband the trip was a go.

Then we began investigating the biking planned for each day. Basically, it was breakfast, a brisk climb to a vineyard for lunch and wine tasting, then another ride with good climbs to the hotel for dinner. I should have thought hills, knowing Provence sits at the bottom of the Alps, but was horrified to see how long and how steep each day would be.

The trip itinerary said, “We begin with a short descent and then the consistent climb to Ménerbes.”

After several nights of nightmares about the Ménerbes climb, we dusted off our boys’ old mountain bikes and hit the park. Our local park has a popular five-mile flat loop circling a lake and many roads climbing big hills. As we rounded the lake, the “flat” loop didn’t seem quite so flat and had a long, gentle hill I’d forgotten about. In my lowest gear, sweat dripping down my face, I huffed and puffed to get up the gentle rise.

I thought I was doing pretty well until I started getting passed by walkers. My husband joked that people with walkers could pass me as my front tire veered left and right to keep me from falling over. I took frequent stops to catch my breath and drink from my water bottle. I was in big trouble. The last time I’d biked, I’d only ridden on the flat trails made from converted railway beds. And as I recalled, I’d gotten tired after about twenty miles or so of flat. Here I was, at least twenty-five pounds heavier, nearly two decades older, and planning to ride thirty to fifty miles a day with big hills.

What was I thinking?

I have two strong traits — I’m stubborn and I’m cheap. I’d set my mind to this challenge and the trip was already paid for. So my husband and I decided we could transform ourselves from flab to fit in three months. My husband spent hours poring over maps, measuring the distance, elevation, and steepness of each climb, while I rid the pantry of sweets, treats, and high-fat snacks. The minimum biker level we could sign up for on the trip was at least thirty miles a day with total climbs of 3,600 feet. My husband plotted out a ten-mile, 1,200-foot climb loop for us to work up to doing three times a day.

We also began to look at other bikers in the park. We noticed three things — they wore spandex, they had tiny butts, and they had thin and shapely legs with well-defined calf muscles. The first part was easy. We dug out the old spandex shorts our sons had worn on their high school rowing team. Our transformation was underway. Wearing spandex in public when you’ve got rolls and bumps you’ve been hiding under jeans is great motivation to lose weight.

Then we traded in the old mountain bikes that wouldn’t shift gears for new road bikes, and learned gear shifts are done by pushing the same lever as the brake, pedals are purchased separately from bikes, and “clipless” means you clip your shoes into pedals with cleats. And when they said to expect to fall over a few times getting used to the cleats, they were right.

Our summer was totally scheduled around biking. At the first hint of morning sun, we’d begin a ride before work. After work, it was back to the park for more miles. As the weeks wore on, I needed fewer rest breaks. My previously wide butt was becoming narrower, and one day I was watching my husband’s legs as he biked in front of me and exclaimed, “You’ve got calf muscles!” We were slowly transforming ourselves into real bikers. As the months passed, fewer bikers passed me, and I took great pleasure on those rare occasions I managed to zip past a young biker. I imagining him thinking, “Was I really just passed by an old lady?”

After two months, our conversations revolved around elevations and hill grades. We’d become masters at changing flats, dressing for rain or cold weather, and eating protein snacks as we rode. We increased the hills in our daily routine. When my butt muscles would burn in protest, I’d just think, “One climb closer to Mont Ventoux.”

As August ended, we had become more confident and Mont Ventoux was looking like a real possibility.

First day jitters on the trip soon ended when we left Ménerbes in the dust. In four days, we smiled at the top of Mont Ventoux, holding bikes overhead for our celebratory photo. Some people thought we’d never bike again after our trip. For those naysayers, I have news: We just finished our first century ride this weekend, completing eighty hilly miles our first day and 100 miles the next.

The trip to Mont Ventoux transformed more than our muscles. My husband and I renewed our vows to each other. We developed a special bond formed by overcoming a challenge, stopped thinking of ourselves as soon-to-be seniors, and started looking forward to new, exciting adventures together.

That June wedding helped us say “I do” to a world of possibilities we’d never imagined.

~Dawn A. Marcus

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