The request was a valid one and fulfilling it would be fun, as it called for one of my favorite sedentary activities: creating Google maps. It came from a fellow VeloNews Forum* member with the screen name merlinak. Now, I’m not into social networking, preferring flesh-and-blood friends to virtual ones, and engaging, face-to-face conversations to the inane drivel of Facebook; nor do I have the time to spend on online communities of any sort. The exception is the VN forum, of which I’ve been a member for many years. I’ve learned a lot from my fellow members, a diverse group of people who are primarily into road bikes and racing, but love and appreciate bicycles of all kinds, and possess a high level of experience, knowledge, and technical expertise. My contributions usually pertain to riding in my little corner of the Italian peninsula.
“Merlinak,” an Alaskan whose real name is Eric, had signed up for a demanding tour through the Alps and Dolomites, which would finish on a Friday in Castelfranco, not far south of my home. He’d booked an extra night there, with the intention of climbing Monte Grappa the following day, and had asked me for a back roads route from there to the base of the climb. I prepared a Google Map, gave him my phone numbers, and said I hoped we could meet up. As it turned out, when he called on Saturday morning, I was on Monte Grappa myself with a client at the cycling camp I work for (Your Cycling Italia). Later that afternoon he called again and said he was at Campo Croce, part way up the climb, and was about to descend. I was feverishly preparing a photo exhibit for the Arte e Natura festival the following day, and said that I was sorry but I was too busy to meet up. After I hung up I regretted my decision. It is not every day I get to meet a fellow forumite in person (I’ve only met one other). My philosophy is that spending time with other people is more important than activities and things, that we need to take advantage of such opportunities when they arise, and usually regret it when we don’t. So I jumped in my car and headed over to the base of the climb, hoping that Eric, a self-proclaimed speedy descender, would not get there before me. I parked my car in front of the church of La Madonna del Buon Volo (the Madonna of the Good Flight–protectress of the hang glider and paraglider pilots who come from all over Europe to take off from Monte Grappa), and having nothing to do but wait, began walking up the climb. A cyclist came flying down in a blur, and I shouted “Eric?” He slowed down, turned around, and rode back up to me, and I could see immediately that it was not Eric. I thanked him for stopping and laughingly told him I was waiting for a cyclist I’d never met. “There is a cyclist with a flat tire not much farther up the road,” he said. As he himself been going fast, he hadn’t noted any details about the cyclist, except that he thought he’d had a blue bike. Eric has a ti bike, so it sounded promising, and I continued walking. Soon I saw the cyclist sitting by the side of the road, examining a tube and tire. As I got closer I recognized Eric from a photo he’d e-mailed me. (The funny thing is, I realized that I’d seen him earlier at the hotel where the cycling camp clients stay; he’d stopped there for a bite to eat before tackling the climb. I had noticed him–wearing an orange jersey–as I was putting my bike on my roof rack, and wondered who he was, but I was too far away to see his face, and was not expecting Eric to show up there).
As I got closer to Eric, I said, “Hello, so here you are, Eric; I heard about your flat tire.” Eric looked up, justifiably confused. I started laughing, told him who I was, how I’d changed my mind about meeting up, and how I knew about the flat. We had a pleasant chat as he installed the new tube, pumped the tire, and put the wheel back on, then we walked together down to my car. I spotted a boy in front of the church and asked him to snap a photo of us with Eric’s camera. Eric had to get back to Castelfranco for dinner and bike disassembly, so we had no time to go to my favorite gelateria. Eric was as nice as a person as he came across on the forum and it was fun meeting up, with the circumstances making it an even better story (though if it hadn’t been for the flat tire, our encounter would not have taken place at all).
Epilogue: Not long after I got home, I drove back to Monte Grappa for the third time that day, this time to the sanctuary of the Madonna del Covolo, where there was an outdoor band concert my husband and I didn’t want to miss. After that I gave up on the idea of the photo exhibit. It would be the first time in many years that I would have none of my photos on display at the festival, but I didn’t regret the decision for a minute: meeting a fellow cyclist from far away on Monte Grappa is a memory I wouldn’t trade. Eric, as it turned out, had even more flat tires on his way back to Castelfranco. When he asked to use a phone in a shop to call the trip leader for help, a kind local man put Eric’s bike in his car and drove him to the hotel.
*that forum was under continuous, unrelenting assault by spambots, and the site owners did nothing to stop it. We members migrated en masse to the Velonation forums. The VeloNews forum has since been discontinued.