I am in Italy, touring the northwest and am without one of my bicycles. I have negotiated a few rides with different hotels, but in general feel both lost and slow in a land where I see heroes challenging their endurance and redemption on these alpine hills. These riders, and there are countless, take on the mountains with breathtaking athleticism and devotion in a myriad of spandex and carbon.
There is no forgiveness in the approach. Lush tropical hills cascade steeply down to the Italian lakes with the sinuous roadway monopolizing any level surface. There are accessible areas lakeside to ride, and on the few occasions that I aligned the bicycle with the time, I have been able to creep slowly up small fragments of the ominous mountainside.
I could not, with a belly full of risotto and gelato and Prosecco, reach the top. I could not, with my heavy borrowed bike without operable brakes or gears, reach the top. I could not, in my leather sandals and skirt, reach the top. This is a test of fortitude, and saved for riders that have culled everything superfluous from their approach.
At the top of the most challenging road rising from Lake Como, is a 17th century chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Inside are countless names of cyclists who the world has lost in their pursuit of the climb. There are bicycles, jerseys and photographs of riders covering the interior of the chapel. Outside, in the blinding glory of the landscape, is a statue dedicated to cyclists, a cycling museum and cemetery.
I dedicate this simple post to the triumphant glory of these riders, far braver than me, who undertake this massive test of endurance and focus to reach the pinnacle of these unforgiving mountains. I pass from the relative comfort of a vehicle with wonder, respect and awe.