Y’all… have you ever committed to doing something you were kind of scared to do, and wanted to get it over with, but had to keep waiting and waiting? Sort of like climbing an endless ladder to jump off a high dive?
That’s what my “Eroica California” experience has been like. The event is patterned after the “L’Eroica” bike rally first held in Gaiole, Italy in 1997. Participants ride vintage (or replica) bicycles and wear retro style cycling clothes. The main thing about the ride itself is that a significant part of the distance takes you over unpaved roads.
Our story starts back in 2018 with our first Ciclismo Classico tour, “Tuscany and L’Eroica.” Brent especially enjoyed the white gravel roads, casual pace, and over-the-top refreshments of L’Eroica. (I didn’t participate, just roamed around the village and took pictures.) Brent found this rolling party such fun that he turned around and registered for the corresponding event in California in April 2019.
After that, in a fit of enthusiasm and optimism, he registered both of us for the 2020 event. He bought me a vintage silver Zeus bike and spend many hours (and $$) adapting it for my fit and comfort. The cables and other trimmings are a snappy bright red. I named it Peppermint and started re-learning how to use friction shifters and toe clips.
As you can guess, organizers had to postpone the 2020 event a couple of times, finally settling on September 2021.
This summer I once again started training on Peppermint. Quite the learning curve: I saddled up for my first ride, grumbling about the clumsy retro shoes, only to realize I had the wrong shoes on. I was wearing my touring shoes, complete with walking cleats. No wonder I had so much trouble getting them onto my old-school “rat-trap” pedals. Pedals fitted with TOE CLIPS.
Fortunately, I hadn’t left the driveway.
Then I had to get re-re-acquainted with the friction shifters on the down tube. I’m so used to brake-lever shifters that I could never remember which way to push / pull the levers to shift both front and rear for the right resistance in a given situation. This time, I developed a little chant, which I recited at the beginning of each ride and before all significant changes in grade.
“Counter-clockwise makes it harder,
Clockwise makes it easier.”
It worked. Don’t judge.
My first ride only extended to the school just south of my neighborhood, where I cruised the parking lot and practiced shifting. Counter-clockwise makes it harder.
The rides increased in distance until I was doing 20+ miles with some serious climbs (Clockwise makes it easier) and fabulous downhills (Counter-clockwise makes it harder).
As the big trip to California drew near, Brent took me out on some of his favorite gravel roads. Most of these were relatively smooth, with fine, well-packed gravel. “This is kind of fun,” I said.
But then we came to Witten Road. It started out okay, until we came to a stretch that looked like bare rock. Cracks divided the surface into fist-sized sections that felt like cobblestones. The parts that weren’t cobblestone-y were awash with deep drifts of fine gravel, the perfect surface–if you want to fishtail or just slip off the road altogether. Watching the surface distracted me so I forgot the chant and accidentally shifted to a harder gear on some uphill grades.
This was less fun.
“There’s a downhill ahead,” Brent said, and offered tips on optimum position and braking technique.
The descent began and quickly steepened. I found it similar to riding downhill on a paved road… if your ride is a running jackhammer, that is. I put all my effort into controlling my speed, but slamming into the pavement and going airborne several times per second renders your brakes almost irrelevant. If I could even reach them from the drops, which I almost couldn’t. When I bent low enough to work the brakes, I was too low to look ahead for patches of gravel.
Fishtailing moments provided my only brief breaks from the jackhammer effect.
I’m totally gonna die.
Honestly, this scared me twice as much as the Zombie Pickup Truck incident.
By the time the road leveled out to where Brent stood waiting for me, I had mentally sold Peppermint for $1.50 and a fun-size pack of M&Ms.
After a five-minute meltdown (during which Brent assured me I didn’t have to do the ride in California; I could just go and enjoy the weekend), I stopped shaking and we pedaled on. The remaining gravel stretches were all quite civilized and didn’t try to kill me. I got home, showered, and was good as new.
The very next morning, I made a grocery run. When I came back into the house, Brent was just wrapping up a phone conversation. He disconnected and came to the kitchen.
“Big news,” he said. “Eroica California has been postponed again, to next year.”
Fine. But I’m still selling Peppermint.
Thanks for reading!