Sunday, July 30, 2017

Of Change, Growth and Continuing to Peddle

I've been thinking a lot lately about something a friend wrote to me recently while on my bike tour in Corsica. "Change," he said, " is inevitable, but growth is optional. I admire your decision to grow."

I deeply appreciated the support implicit in his comment, but the word "decision" gave me pause and has prompted considerable reflection over the past couple of weeks. I found myself thinking about my "decision" to come out almost seven years ago. People used to tell me that they admired my courage in doing so. My response was always that I didn't see myself as courageous at all; I felt I had no choice - that events had propelled me to do what I did. I really felt like I wasn't making conscious decisions during that tumultuous period - I was simply riding a wave that had picked me up and propelled me into an unknown future.

Similarly, I didn't "choose" to meet Mark. I did choose to ride the wave that scooped me up on an unforgettable August day in 2011 when I first met him. I did choose, I suppose, to surrender myself to what life was offering me. And I rode the wave.

I certainly didn't choose for Mark to be diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer. That wave was tumultuous, tossing, sucking, carrying out to sea, throwing me/us back toward shore, ultimately depositing me alone on the beach, Mark carried out to the sea of an unknowable universe.

Since Mark's death, I suppose I have made choices. But I really don't know if I consciously chose to "grow." I guess in some ways I did/have. But it has felt more like when I came out in that I felt I really had no choice *but* to grow, to move forward, to process, to experience.

I was texting with another friend this morning, and I was reminded of a sign I saw in a cafe at the top of Alpe d'Huez - an iconic Tour de France ride in the French Alps southeast of Grenoble - when Mark and I were there in 2014:

I have had to keep moving. I have had to make goals for myself, to embark yet once again on a journey of self-discovery. In some ways, I have analogized this process to being locked into my bike pedals: as long as I keep moving, I'll be okay. But if I stop without releasing my shoes from the pedals, I'll fall over.

I was reminded of this same 2014 bike tour as I expressed some feelings to my friend this morning. Some days I feel, as I continue my journey into my life post-Mark, as though I have clear days that offer amazing vistas of my life ahead - such as the day we rode the Alpe d'Huez:

Other days, I am reminded of another day of cycling that year when we were completely fogged in and couldn't see six feet in front of us at some points, such as on a shelf road where we knew that a stunning valley vista lay below us, but all we could see was this:

There are days when I feel this way. But I know, on those days as well as others, that I have to keep peddling. If I don't, I fall over and I'll never reach the next destination on the journey that is my life. I can't see those destinations, but I am sincerely grateful that I have learned - through what I have experienced these past seven years - to trust more in the Universe, to trust the path. I literally have no idea what lies in my future, but I believe that as long as I keep peddling - or, I suppose, choosing to open myself to growth - I'll be okay.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Of Cappellinos, Comaraderie and Courage

I can vividly recall how I felt when I was on my first cycling tour, in Corsica, in 2012. I had only been out two years, been divorced only six months, been with Mark for just over a year and had only been cycling for a few months. I was very insecure about both my physical abilities as well as my social abilities. 

During the first half of that two-week tour, I was very self conscious about my "story" - a recently-out gay man with ten children and a former Mormon. I very much thought I didn't want others on the tour to know of my circumstances - both that it was my first cycling season and the rest of it. 

But during that tour, word gradually leaked out through dinner conversations and on long climbs; and I was pleasantly astounded at how non-judgmental these people on the tour - my new cycling friends from all over the country - were. Curious, yes; but totally accepting and nonjudgmental. I wasn't accustomed to that, especially after the divorce I had recently gone through - not only divorcing my ex-wife but a whole way of life that I had lived for over 25 years.

And people were astonished when they learned that I was in my first season of cycling. I was gratified. I'm not really sure now why I didn't want people to know that at first. I guess it was the whole judgment thing again. But I was once again buoyed and fortified by people's reactions when they learned how long I had been cycling.

Last night - and indeed throughout this tour I've just completed, but especially last night - I was again buoyed and fortified by a group of people I didn't know (except for Bob) two weeks ago but who have become friends as we've wended our way across roads in Sardinia and Corsica, shared meals together and exchanged stories about our lives on long climbs and during dinner conversations.

There is a tradition on Ciclismo Classico tours of awarding a cycling cap, called a "cappellino" by our Italian guides, each evening at dinner. On the first night, a guide awards it to one of the guests, then each succeeding day, guests award it to each other for something special that was done that day or throughout the tour, writing a small tribute on the hat for the recipient. Each one of the eight guests on our tour was awarded the cappellino, and the speeches accompanying the presentations ranged from comic and light-hearted to serious and sincere. 

Last night, it was time to permanently award the cappellino to one of the guests to take home as a souvenir of the trip. I hadn't realized this would happen until at some point during our final dinner together. The cap had been given the previous night to two friends, Steve and Ron, from Toronto who have been cycling for a number of years and were always at the head of our pack, being very strong cyclists.

I was very touched when Steve announced that, upon consulting with Ron and others in the group, the decision had been made to present the cappellino to me. They had learned some of my story over the past ten days, including of course, about my brief but brilliant 4-1/2 years with Mark and the love that we had shared. Steve and then Ron paid tribute to my journey back into cycling these past months, me "getting out there,"  and - most importantly, which brought tears to my eyes - they said that they felt they had come to know Mark through me. I'm so, so pleased that his memory lives on and that he has the ability to touch others, even when gone.

These past ten days have been amazing. There were, of course, the sights, the gorgeous scenery, the food, the wine, the thrill of long descents and the agony of some climbs in 95-degree heat; but more amazing were the experiences, the conversations and the camaraderie shared with a new group of friends. 

I am grateful.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Corsica: Île de Beauté

Yesterday was one of the most beautiful days of cycling I have ever experienced. Corsica truly lives up to its nickname, l'Île de Beauté, or island of beauty. 

We started out our day in the capital of Ajaccio, then were shuttled to a mountain pass north of the busy city. There, we got on our bikes and immediately started down a beautiful descent. Then it was along the coast for a while with stunning views of bays, coves and open sea before starting our biggest climb of the day.

The view from the pass where we mounted our bikes and started our descent

Clowning around with one of the guides

Lunch was in the quaint village of Piana, then immediately afterward came the highlight of the day: the ride through the Unesco World Heritage Site of the Calanques de Piana. It is impossible to capture the true wondrous beauty of this place with an iPhone while on a bike, but these few photographs of stunning rock formations, sea and sky will have to suffice.

Once through the Calanques, it was time to start our descent into Porto, our destination for the day. Bob and I didn't stop in town, however. We did one last climb up a gorge before descending to our hotel. Totals for the day: 50 miles, 5000'.

View of Porto while on our descent

View - literally - from my hotel room balcony

Yesterday evening, we had Aperol spritzes overlooking the sea, then had dinner, sharing a bottle of rose to celebrate the news I received on Wednesday that I had passed the test for the second part of the 16-week course I had taken last fall and this summer in order to become an Italian Wine Scholar. It was a lovely evening to end a beautiful day.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Frozen in Amber: Propriano

To say we "enjoyed" our ride yesterday across southern Corsica would be a stretch, but it was certainly a beautiful one. (It would have been more enjoyable had it not been so hot.) The mountain and seascape vistas were stunning. We weren't in Sardinia anymore.

One of our guides, Isacco, takes pictures of riders as they
roll in to our morning break spot

Our destination was Propriano. I wrote yesterday that Mark and I had stayed in the same hotel here five years ago when we did our Corsican cycling tour. I was looking forward to being here again, having a rendezvous with the memories we made here then - eating dinner in the same place, sitting on the chairs were our group had sat five years ago watching the sun set over the bay.

But what I found was that everything seemed different. I couldn't find where we had eaten then, nor could I find the spot where we had watched the sun set. Nor could I feel what I guess I had hoped to feel - Mark's presence. The realization gradually dawned on me - again - of what I wrote several weeks ago: "That time, along with all of the emotions, love and memories that are associated with it, are sealed in amber; preserved; never to be forgotten ... but, alas, never again to be lived."

The beach below our hotel

View from our dinner table yesterday evening across the bay to Propriano

What was lived yesterday was the present. I enjoyed swimming in the bay, relaxing on a chaise lounge, reading my book and even taking a snooze. I enjoyed having dinner with the group I am now with, creating new memories. And I enjoyed - and was touched by - the fact that everyone wanted to participate in limoncello shots (because I had told them about doing this five years ago when we were here). I was touched that our guides went to the trouble of going out and buying a bottle of Corsican limoncello and shot glasses so that we wouldn't have to pay exorbitant prices to the hotel. And I enjoyed sharing this experience with my new friends. It was a lot of fun and very memorable. (And I even feel fine this morning.)

I did take some time at cocktail hour to go down by myself and have a gin and tonic in Mark's memory in this special spot. I wish I could say that I felt his presence. But I know he has gone on. And I am left with memories ... which is no small thing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rendezvous in Propriano

Five years ago this September, Mark and I took our first cycling tour together - on Corsica. Our last stop prior to the end of the tour was in Propriano in the southwestern part of the island. Tonight, the tour I am currently on will roll into Propriano, where we will stay at the same hotel in Olmeto (across the bay from Propriano) where Mark and I stayed in 2012. I have been anticipating this evening since last November when I signed up for this tour.

Five years ago, we had started our day in Solenzara, on Corsica's east coast, and had cycled up and over mountains on a beautiful but challenging ride.

The day after our arrival in Olmeto was a rest day. Mark and I donned our "civvies" and rode into Propriano to do some shopping. We were out of gin.

That last night in Olmeto five years ago was memorable. It involved, among other things, a wonderful dinner (at which the lead photo, above, was taken), copious amounts of alcohol, several rounds of limoncello and, for some of us, skinning dippy in a moonlit bay.

I know the experience this year will be different from what it was five years ago, which is as it should be. But I am grateful for the opportunity to revisit this place where such special memories were made. Tonight, rather than having an Aperol spritz at cocktail hour, I will have a gin and tonic and raise a glass to Mark, who introduced me to cycling and so many, many other things - the most important of which was love.

Back to the here and now, yesterday's ride was a loop ride out of Bonifacio, totaling about 58 miles and 4100'. We had lunch overlooking Palombaggia Beach (pictured above), then headed back through Figari. We were on our own for dinner, so Bob and I walked into the old town, had our customary Aperol spritzes, then ate at a restaurant overlooking the cliffs of Bonifacio.

Palombaggia Beach

Above Porto-Vecchio

Afternoon pit stop in Figari

Figari - it never fails that an electric line runs right through an
otherwise great shot

Entrance to the harbor in Bonifacio

Seen in Bonfacio old town last night

Evening light bathes the limestone cliffs of Bonifacio

Ciao to Italia, Bonjour to France

We left our gorgeous hotel in Santa Teresa di Gallura yesterday morning and headed out for a short but somewhat grueling loop ride through the maquis (scrub). As I've noted before, these rides are of a type I don't often experience in that they're rolly-polly instead of straight up and down. Because of this, I am often surprised when I check the elevation gain of the ride on my Garmin. Yesterday's ride was only 25 miles, but we climbed 2000 feet during the course of the ride, and at times the temperature approached 100 degrees in humid conditions. I'm not used to that.

The ladies of the tour at our morning break

Another thing I'm not used to is riding with other people. I cycled 1800 miles this year prior to leaving on this trip, and every one of those miles was ridden by myself. It's nice to be with other people, both on the road and in the evenings or on days off. 

Bob and me

After lunch in Santa Teresa, we boarded the ferry that would take us across the Strait of Bonifacio to Corsica, where we will spend the next five days cycling across the southern and western coasts of the island. 

The view from my hotel room in Bonifacio is a little different
than that in Santa Teresa.

View of an old cemetery from an upper window in our hotel

The harbor of Bonifacio

The limestone cliffs of Bonifacio

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Turf and Surf

Friday was a "turf" day as we rode from Castelsardo to Santa Teresa di Gallura, and yesterday was a "surf" day as we spent the day boating and swimming in the La Maddalena National Park, an archipelago of islands off the northeast coast of Sardinia.

The cycling was hot and challenging in places. A portion of our route was part of a stage of the recent Giro d'Italia - the Italian equivalent of the Tour de France. Average temperature: 88 sunny degrees. It could have been worse, but let's just say it was a relief to get to our hotel and get into the pool with an Aperol spritz nearby.

Castelsardo on Friday morning from our hotel's balcony

Northern Sardinia

Relaxing by the pool

Yesterday, we enjoyed a day swimming and boating among several islands in the La Maddalena National Park.

The Canadian Team

The American Team

Yesterday evening, we went to central Santa Teresa for wine aperitifs before heading to a pizzeria for dinner. I'm not accustomed to so much food and late nights, especially when on a cycling tour, but I'm bearing up reasonably well. 

This morning, we have a shortish loop ride out of Santa Teresa before heading by ferry this afternoon across the Boche di Bonafacio - the narrow straight between Sardinia and Corsica. There, we will switch from Italian to French and commence our tour across southern and western Corsica.