It all started on a cool cloudy day in May. We boarded a flight in St. John’s heading to Barcelona, Spain. Our excitement overrode any sense of impending doom and we gleefully headed into the open sky with high expectations and a sprinkle of vacation bliss. Well, most of us. Hubby experienced heightened anxiety right up until the full flight took off and we could stretch out for the night. I guess his sense of impending doom is more advanced than the rest of us.
Landing in Barcelona the following morning took some determination and willpower. Our urge to find the nearest bed was strong, but we knew if we gave into the temptation, our first day would be ruined. We fought the tiredness with the ambition of a Christmas shopper on Black Friday and made the most of our time in the Spanish city. We changed quickly and headed out into the sunshine for some exploring. And drinks.
One would think that after so many years on this planet that I would have developed the basic skills needed for survival: keeping my head above water in case the ship I’m on decides to hit an iceberg, staying upright when traversing uneven terrain, slaying and cooking woodland creatures in case of a wanton plane crash or getting lost on a hike (the latter being more plausible). But no. No, I missed all the basic training everyone else seemed to get before hitting adulthood. No, Debbie I can’t hunt and kill wild game and pretty sure I don’t want to; I can’t skate or maintain my balance on slippery surfaces; I have a hard time with heights and pretty sure I can’t navigate my way through a forest with nothing but the sun and the gross moss on trees to guide me. I’d probably pick the poison ivy and bring it home as a centre piece. As for the childhood traumas around double Dutch, (I skinned out my face when I nose dived onto the pavement), swimming lessons (they told me I would never be a swimmer. I am, I love to swim. The only skill I have managed to maintain) and riding a ten-speed bicycle, I thought I had recovered adequately. Maybe not. I never managed to progress to the expert ten-speed guru that all kids my generation had become, which leads me to the first of my European debacles. The Tour De Barcelona. An e-bike event that sounds lovely on the outset. Winding our way through the streets of Barcelona, strolling through the parks on our way to Olympic Stadium, visiting the mountain to take in the panoramic views of the city. Ahhhh….NO. NOPE. More like a terror driven escapade that included playing chicken with oncoming traffic and a physical altercation with a chain-link fence. NOT RELAXING, PEOPLE.
When the idea of an e-bike tour was first proposed, I thought, erroneously, that it would be a great way to experience the city. A leisurely ride taking in the sights, no stress, no dodging people, or buses, or fences…ugh. We ventured out to our meeting place at the bike shop the next day with our tour guide Mirko waiting there for us. He fit us for our bikes and my first thought was, “how hard can this be? I got this.” Until I didn’t. I fell within the first seconds of trying to pedal. By the time everyone had gone off on their merry way, I was still trying to gain my balance and my dignity. Both were shot. Since our guide was a nice understanding gentleman, he took me back to the shop to refit me with a bike better suited to my special needs. Fat tires, low to the ground and a seat that could fit three of me. There, that’s better. I began to pedal and after a few tries, I managed to not crash into anything so of course, let’s head out onto the busy streets of Barcelona! Sure, why not?! Dying sounds fun.
Barcelona has well-defined bike lanes that wind through all their streets. As beneficial as it sounds, for people like me, it remained terrifying. Traffic whizzed by on my right, scooters and bikes passed me on my left. I was bombarded by traffic on both sides of me and panic took over. I remained transfixed on my party ahead while concentrating heavily on staying upright. Hubby remained behind me lest I lose sight of everyone and end up lost. He was not wrong. He also consistently shouted instructions reminding me to, “pedal! Steer! Watch out for that bus!” Yeah, that bus almost got me. I crashed into the flimsy barriers they have defining the bike lane from the road and a bus almost took me out. No wonder Hubby promised he would never follow me on bike tours, again. No worries, I think the next e-bike tour suggestion will be met a hard “no” and an alcohol induced rendition of Life in the Fast Lane. I landed on the barrier as he was shouting at me to, “get up!” Do you know how hard it is to hoist a bike from the ground while your leg is still ensconced on the other side of the metal frame while trying desperately to stay alive from all the cars, bikes and scooters careening at you? Gee, that was fun. Almost invigorating as I felt the bus breeze my face when it flew by.
I managed to get back on the bike and willed myself to be calm. The self-talk was alive and well with me berating myself for not being able to do a simple task like ride a bike. I have a new appreciation for cyclists, and I promise to not give you the finger every time you cut me off when I’m driving my nice safe car.
We continued winding through the streets until we finally hit a section of wide road that led us through parkland. It was quieter and more conducive to my kind of riding. Nothing to crash into or avoid, and wide enough for even me to skirt around pedestrians. I was getting the hang of this. We stopped at an outdoor bar, where we bought water and parked our bikes. We didn’t need the alcohol to add to the whole, I’m-gonna-die-in-the-streets-of-Spain-on-a-fucking-bike thing going on. We crossed the street and headed into the funicular, a gondola ride to the top of the mountain to take in the views of the city. No bikes allowed. Thank, fuck.
After the ride, we headed back to the bikes and the thought struck me. I had to ride back to the bike shop, back through the busy streets and steady traffic. The thoughts of me having to dodge buses and bikes had me feeling stressed. My arms tensed and my hands were sweaty. As I was heading downhill on a dirt road out of the park, we were met with construction. I tried to slow down in the narrow passage between a fence and a dump truck but sped up instead. I had nowhere to go, and I panicked. I veered left and straight into the chain link fence. What was that?! My inability to maintain any sense of balance and direction was frustrating. I backed out of the fence, with the construction dudes looking at me questioningly. I half-smiled and said something like, “Who put that fence there?” and started again. It was a hill and I felt like I was careening to my death. Really, it was a little slope. An incline worthy of a slight speed bump. It was fine. I was fine. But I was still rattled.
Once I navigated my way out of the park, I took a deep breath and eyed the traffic. Fuck. It looked like the Grand Prix had descended upon the city. How am I going to ride my little special needs bike through that?!
I started again and maintained myself until we stopped to look at the cotton trees. Yes, cotton trees brought in for the Olympics. I was half listening, to be honest. I was still panicking over the traffic and my fatal attraction to speeding buses. We started again, only this time the way to the bike shop seemed shorter. We turned a corner, and we were back on the narrow cobblestone street of the shop. How did that happen? I didn’t die?! I didn’t get run over by a bus or suffer traumatic brain injury from getting sideswiped by a runaway scooter?! I had conquered the bike! I was victorious! I couldn’t get that bike away from me fast enough and gladly handed it back over to Mirko who I assured, “would never see me on any of those things again.” I think he was as relieved as I was. Virtually unscathed but traumatized, I survived the great Barcelona Bike Ride from Hell. I then went drinking.
The next episode will be my great escape from the hateful trains in France and how they wanted me dead. Or at the very least, maimed. Thanks, France.