Thursday night I had a plan for the best workout ever: sip n' spin.
Early in the evening, Chris and I hopped on our cyclocross bikes, two solidly steel rides with only the necessary gears. A few minutes on the road and we found ourselves on the path. The suburbs of Illinois have miles of these crushed limestone paths. I could start here and ride clear over the Wisconsin border with only a few roads to cross along the way. Tonight we take the path from Lisle to Wheaton. It will be about a 45 minute ride.
This entire week I’ve been bike commuting. In 6 days, I’ve accrued over 80 miles – miles I would have otherwise driven – miles that I’ve enjoyed atop my bike. The drawback is that it takes more time and you get a little sweaty. The benefit is that you leave less of a footprint in the world and you get to experience it more up close.
Lock up the bikes and then - the best part of the plan - head into the wine shop. The wine shop is perhaps the best kept secret around. For $7 per person, you get to sample about 8 wines. Sometimes it’s 9 wines and other times it’s 10. Then there’s also the premium special wine of the month glass that you can pay an additional $10 to sample. Maybe they pour you 1 to 2 ounces of wine with each sample. Who knows. All that I do know is that after we complete the entire set I’m usually pretty shiny.
The flight always starts with white and then you move on to the red. Pinot Grigio. Boring. Too clean, too bland, too pedestrian. The kind of wine anyone could drink and enjoy. Best put with grilled chicken. Need I say more? Then we move on to a Vidal Blanc. Sweeter with hints of citrus and melon. This one I could get used to but it’s too white and sweet. And I believe if you’re going to drink wine you drink the big girl wine. Not the whites. Next up is a Sayval Blanc. But by way of some miscommunication they pour us the Vidal Blanc again. I won’t complain. It’s more wine. Finally the Sayval Blanc tastes tropical, like papayas with a bit of syrupy sweetness. It’s interesting but takes too much like desserts. I’m getting restless…bring on the reds.
The point at which you start tasting the reds is usually the point at which things start going downhill. You crossover from the fruit froo froo wines to the more serious, bolder sips. Put me in coach, I’m ready. It starts with a Cabarnet Grenache. Now this is rich, red and serious. This is getting good. This is where the good wine is at. The wine is starting to hit us. And talk turns to the train cake.
May I interject? A few months ago, Chris and I were in Williams-Sonoma and we saw a cake pan in the shape of small train cars. We had to have it. Not because we are obsessed with trains but because Chris’ dad, Mr. Tom, is 100 percent freak obsessed with trains. We are talking full-on garden railway magazine subscriber here. We saw the cake pan and knew that with Father’s Day coming up we had to give it a try. We did and it failed – miserably. The cars got stuck into the pan. So we knew we had to try again. And tonight, under heavy influence of wine, we laid our plans. A diagram was drawn. The ingredients were selected. Hershey Bars for railroad ties, licorice to make the track. And when it was all said and drawn, I even noted that the entire sheet – in case anyone would try to go off of it – was “not to scale”.
The women next to us looked a little concerned. We just drew an architectural blueprint for a train cake. I do not blame her. I do, however, blame it on the al-al-al-co-hol.
Next we try a Merlot. Not a fan of Merlot but this one – this is exquisite Merlot. Did you just say exquisite, Chris asked. I realize at this point that dirty dishwater might taste exquisite, a bottle of Infinit might taste like nectar. Your impression of the wine – at this point – continues to build….the next glass of Syrah is smoky like a barbeque and upon hearing it goes well with Barbeque Ribs it launches us into a conversation about the best ribs we’ve ever had. And now, we finally reach the premium wine – a glass of Cabarnet Sauvignon – that we both agree we must have.
And this is usually the case.
You hit the premium wine and it’s the best wine you’ve ever had. It could be water for all your know. You are well on your way to10, maybe 20 sheets to the wind and you’re willing to throw down another $10 for another glass. The crowd is starting to build with energy and noise. Clearly the entire store has crossed over into the reds.
The final glass is Apricot. They always finish up with a fruit wine. I’ve tasted everything from Cranberry to Rhubarb and finally Apricot. It was thick like syrup and sweet like candy. At this point I told Chris it was a good thing we didn’t have to blow into anything to start off bikes because I’m afraid they wouldn’t start.
Walk it off walk it off walk it off. Plus, we need to eat. We started walking around town when we spotted one of those hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurants advertising PHO.
I love Pho.
If you haven’t had pho you really need to try it. My first experience with pho was in Seattle and I’m still convinced if you want good pho you go to Seattle. Seeing that it would be too far of a bike ride, we settled for this place and enjoyed ourselves some pho.
Being married to someone Chinese of course I was due a lesson in how to use chopsticks. Chris showed me the first stick is like holding a pencil. I do my best hold it like a pencil and realized I am already failing.
This is your problem, Chris said, you don’t do anything like a normal person.
I don’t and I love that about me. In grade school, teachers spent useless time trying to teach me to hold the pencil the right way and I was always wrong….so not only do I get a callous from writing too much but I also cannot hold chopsticks.
I’ll take a fork.
After pho we felt a little better, like we could ride home without mistakenly finding ourselves over the Wisconsin border so we got ready to ride. Helmets – always – bike shoes – clipped in – and two bottles of wine were snug in Chris’ backpack because I forget but I think we just had to have two of them.
We are safe on the path no harm to anyone but ourselves and hauling ass at…12 mph. I tell Chris we’re going 12 and he says no way we are at least going 16. Now we’re going 13.3. Really? I tell him that I haven’t felt this shiny on a bike since mile 85 on the century day of Ragbrai 2003 when we stopped in that bar behind the giant silo and someone bought us shots of pucker. Chris says he hasn’t felt this shiny on a bike since we rode out of Marne after bloody marys in that crowded bar that following year. For a moment I think to myself I need to go on Ragbrai, I need to release across Iowa for 7 days – good friends, good times and my favorite sound in the world – wheels on pavement.
I’m going to hold that thought for now.
The evening turns into night as we ride along the path. The night, this path is entirely ours. Fireflies light the way like tiny flickering lanterns under the forested path through Herrick Lake. Night chases us at over 14 mph now and we know that if we don’t pick up the pace we will soon be swallowed by it and find ourselves in the dark and still far from home. Finally our wheels hit pavement as we ride toward Chris’ parent’s house. At this point, we’ve ridden off any remnants of overindulgence in wine or Pho and enter the house.
The next day we were bike commuting home from the beach. It was along Warrenville Road when I noticed a man riding a bit ahead of us and wearing a familiar jersey. It was a jersey from Ragbrai. I laugh to myself because the past 5 days with all the riding have felt like Ragbrai. I pulled up alongside the man to pass and said Ragbrai. If you can pronounce it, you say it and if you say it to someone you know what it means. I told him we’ve done Ragbrai collectively over a dozen times. And then I ask him if he’s in training.
You don’t need to train for Ragbrai, he says, except to get ready to ride with a bunch of idiots.
He asks if I am training for Ragbrai. I feel like I am. Every day I've gotten on my bike and ridden somewhere - point A to point B with a few stops for food in between. All that's missing is a beer garden. And a little spandex. But right now this riding is the anti-training, if you know what I mean. Then he asks where we area headed and we tell him home. Together we are cruising at 22 mph down the road talking about the Rag. He’s on one of those fancy road bikes and I’m keeping up with a giant backpack and I’ve decided to abandon the concept for bike shoes for awhile so my feet are atop the pedals. I realize I’m a pretty good cyclist. I just need to give myself a chance.
A thousand feelings about Ragbrai sit in front of me as I watch his jersey disappear down the hill. Yes, you feel a little tipsy on Ragbrai but you also feel surrounded by friends, completely unleashed and totally free. I think about going this year, I think about missing out this year and I think to myself - I need to think about it.
Until then, I might just get more serious (Ragbrai) training in by pedaling up to the wine shop. I’ll call it my Sip n’ Spin workout. Helmets mandatory, bring clear glasses because the bugs on the way home require you to ride while blinking your eyes really hard to keep them out and pack 17 bucks. And if you're lucky, there will be a tent in the backyard waiting for you when you get home and someone will have located a hose for a shower.