For three Augusts, when I was young, I sang the Canadian National Anthem- the whole thing- every day, with the other Camp Ponacka kids, gathered by a lake in Ontario, as the maple leaf flag was unfurled on a pole above our heads. This week I was struggling to remember the words to this epic tune as it played in the streets of Milan. Ryder Hesjedal was climbing to the top of the podium at the end of the Giro D’Italia, the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour. One of my passports, dear reader, is Canadian, and, even though it mostly sits buried in a drawer these days, I was very proud to know it’s there, and proud for the country to our north.

Worldwide, there are said to be six degrees of separation between any two people. Here in New York, you can lop off a couple of degrees (I once sat at French Roast within a Freedom Fry’s throw of Kevin Bacon, for example). In Toronto, where I spent six years as an adult (never singing “Oh Canada” from start to finish, however), there are by my estimation only two degrees of separation. So it was not a complete surprise to find in my in-box, a week or two before setting off for a trip to Girona, Spain, an email from Michael Barry. “If I’m not away racing while you’re here it would be fun to get together.” Nice!

Shortly after arriving in Spain we were sitting in a café getting the lay of the land from Dede Barry (herself a former pro cyclist, now with a freshly minted MBA), noting restaurants on our map of the town, and cycling routes on the Michelin map I’d brought. My plans to ride that afternoon were thwarted by rain. Plus I fell asleep. But the following day I met Dede, Leah Vande Velde, and Laura and Susan, two other visitors in town (from Calgary), and we had a fine ride, often riding on roads I don’t think I would have found left to my own devices. I nearly crashed Leah out at one point, careening into her as I took a photo. Embarrassing, but it could have been worse had she not stayed upright. I might have had to find a new sport (I have never tried curling….).

Ira arrived the next day from NYC. He’d programmed a bunch of routes into his Garmin, and we set off on a loop of 110k or so. I forgot to bring the paper map. Long story short, we were reminded again that relying on Google instead of Michelin will frequently steer you wrong. We ended up on a super-highway, noting from several bridges the beautiful, scenic road slithering along beneath us, unreachable.

We took the first exit. The Garmins started screaming at us: “You are off route!!!”.  We’d found that beautiful serpentine road, and we followed it up, up, up to Sant Hilari, saving the day.

A couple of days later we met up with Michael, and with Ian Ault, another of the Calgarians- they’d rented a house in town for two months (jealous).

Ian races Cat 2 at home. He’d told me earlier that he could keep up with the pros he’d met in Girona– when they were on their easy days. Intervals?  Catch up with you later! Suffice to say we were happy to ride with Michael and Ian on an easy day. Ira- 140 pounds?- ordinarily quite verbose, rode behind Michael as we headed out of town, and said only one thing: “Now I feel fat”.

The benefit of riding with a local was clear. We rode, again, on roads- narrow farm paths, sometimes- that must have taken years to discover. And we rode in the middle of the road, cars or no cars. For New Yorkers, used to hearing “SINGLE FILE!!!” form irate drivers, this was difficult to get used to- Ian told me it had taken him a couple of weeks. He thought he’d be lucky not to get killed back home before he unlearned this new habit.

Ian’s ultimate goal was to climb Rococorba one last time- he was leaving the next day. Michael, between two stage races, skipped the climb, thinking he might go motorpacing that afternoon. Just as well. I was in no shape to chase anyone up that mountain, say nothing of a guy who does this for a living. It was hot. We were all out of water. I dropped back, then dropped my chain below the K-Edge (again)- a nightmare to fix. I stopped and relieved my bladder of some gold sludge before getting my hands covered in grease. Then I continued up- heart rate skyrocketing- at a crawl, not wanting to leave Ira waiting for me at the top. It wasn’t long before Ian came flying down. Ira appeared not too much later (relief).

We misjudged a corner on the descent. Ira, just in front of me, braked and made it through. I ended up in a ditch- the mud puddle there tells me I’m not the first one.

We were going slowly through a town looking for water- anything, a spigot- when I thought I heard a sprinkler start up. It was not a hallucination; it was sealant spewing out of my tubeless tire. (With the hole turned to the bottom, it indeed sealed itself up.) Then we dead-reckoned our way back to the main road- Ira managed to keep his (Canadian!) Crackberry and it’s map tucked in his jersey pocket. It was a beautiful stretch of road, though we never did find water. The Coke I had at a gas station on the way back to Girona was the best I have ever had. Almost enough to make me sing the Star Spangled Banner.

Coke IS it! Ira following his infernal Blackberry
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