Il "Paso Doble" con Fabio...
The dew layered the fields as the blood orange sun began to peak its head above the horizon; the kind of dew where I expect the ghost of a deer to appear; the kind of moment you know is magic to be treasured...a gift to be felt. I was alone driving north on Interstate 495 as the feeling overtook me, back to other early mornings on my way to a bike race or bike ride. Maybe it was to Killington, VT, or the Kancamaugus in NH, or Fitchburg, MA, or Ninigret Park, RI, or any one of the many venues I chose to find meaning and fun from my passion for the bike. Excited and nervous-- the good kind of nervous-- I let the moment envelope me...
I had needlessly set my alarm for 4:15. While I wake most mornings these days feeling like I've been run over by a Mack truck, I bounded out of bed this day with the alertness of a doctor in surgery (but not they guy who operated on my hand!). This was a special day. I was on my way to meet Fabio to attempt to ride the "Paso Doble...the Burley Paso Doble."
A couple weeks ago, just two days after I let go of the last of my bikes (see "S O L D"), at least physically, I had a voicemail from Fabio:
"Hey Pete, it's Fabio. Just wondering if you're interested in a tandem ride...I was going to go grab it and fix it up...if you're nervous at first, we could try a parking lot...or we can just go for it..."
"Oh yeh, baby," I thought as I picked up my phone and the adrenaline started to flow. I left a vm..."Let's go for it; let me know when you can do it?!"
A few days later at 5:30 (a.m.), I was unfashionably early as I pulled into the industrial lot that was somehow beautiful with shadows cast through towering branches. Then Fab ("Faab," like "Saab") rolled in with the magnificent yellow steed in the back of his pick-up. The Paso Doble looked like a Kentucky Derby favorite pulling into the back-side of Churchill Downs in the pre-dawn hours...the moment is here. After a bro-hug, a few chest-pumps and several high-fives, we settled down and began to discuss what lay ahead. The bike itself, riding a tandem, weight distribution, turning, going straight, stopping, starting, and...trust. Let me re-phrase that...TRUST.
I met Fabio while bike racing years ago. It was the Mad River Road Race in Vermont. After the race, our mutual friend, Jeff, introduced us. Fabio mentioned an upcoming 3-week ride in Italy; I asked him if he had space for one more; weeks later we were riding in Zurich,Tuscany and the "Dolomiti" as we explored new physical and mental spaces in a new (to me) land, and started to build our friendship.
I have been in countless races and rides with Fabio. Over thousands of miles, side-by-side we've shared joy and suffering and countless emotions on the bike. One of the best bike-handlers I know, and one of strongest riders-- we don't call him "the ROCK" for nothing. He won the Mount Washington Hill Climb on the tandem with Sim, his sister, as his "Tailgunner." [On a tandem, the rider in the back is called the Stoker, Tailgunner, or Rear Admiral, while the rider in front is called the Pilot, Captain, or Steermaster.] If I could TRUST anyone on a tandem, it would be Fabio. I was there.
The first practical issue-- we had to find a way to get me on the bike. I have little-to-no balance standing, and can only lift my leg about 18 inches off the ground to get it over something-- such as the top-tube of the bike. Fortunately, Fabio is a mechanical engineer and I can be creative. We discussed a few different options before choosing one. We talked about how we'd start, how we'd stop, how we'd clip-in (our pedals), my role, his role, and then it was too much talk-- not enough action so we suited up...
Our right shoes clipped-in and in the 3 o'clock position, I hesitated with a moment of deja vu. Last summer, with the help of my best friend, Kim, I was ready to push off on a mountain bike in her front yard. I was so excited; I knew I could do it. I had thought about it for days. I was so ready...then...I couldn't. I stopped. I couldn't take that leap of faith needed to push off. I was afraid. I got off the bike. I sunk, feeling as though I had let myself down...
But here I was again, in the same but different position. And I had Fabio. Trust was a choice, and I had decided yes. "Yes, I'm ready," I forced. "Let's do it."
Fabio began the protocol we'd discussed. "OK, here we go...3, 2, 1..."
And we were off. The bike seemed to shudder from side-to-side, seeming to play with our nerves and fears. I now know that that was the bike's way of telling us that our bodies' weight and movement were totally out of synch. I've learned that the Paso Doble has many feedback mechanisms. We settled down, trying to focus, relax, and be in the moment. After a few pedal revolutions with our right feet, Fabio signaled to coast to allow us to clip in with our left feet. Success...
"Yeh, baby!" I exclaimed. "Wow! This is awesome...yeh!" I mean, really. Wow! I mean, there I was. There we were, rolling around the parking lot that I had scouted out and chosen earlier that day. Lap after lap, we practiced stopping, starting, tried to simulate the unexpected, signaling to each other when to coast and how to position the pedals for a stop. But there we were, riding. Like a chick gaining confidence while learning how to fly, I wanted more. "Let's head out," I suggested.
A minute later, we were out on the open road; the roads we've ridden together on many times. The freedom offered by the open road, the self-generated breeze, the power, the engagement, the exertion, the balance (!!!) and much much more; it all came back. And this bike adventure had a new twist; 2 riders. I am learning that the quality of our experience on the bike is directly related to the quality of how Fabio and I relate to each other on the bike...a new dimension...a new world!
"Il Regalo" ------- The Gift
Fab and I have ridden 3 (tomorrow is 4!) more times since that day, and will ride again in a few days. Not lost in all of this and, most important, is my gratitude for this Gift I have been given, a Gift from my dear friend, "mio caro amico," Fabio. He meets me at 5:45 a.m. after a 30 minute drive from his home, we ride for 1.5 hours, he returns home, drops off the Paso Doble before heading into Cambridge for work...twice a week. And you can see the smile of joy on his face. So to Fabio-- a greater gift you could not have given...thank you. Mille grazie, mio amico...
You. Never. Know.
Mille grazie to Simonetta for helping me with my Italian!
Curious about a tandem? See this article.