A comedy of errors

Lesson number one. If you are planning on going on  any sort of trip with me, think twice, or at the very least don’t let me be in charge of things.

Lesson number two. If Violetta kindly offers to lend you her bike for the day, politely decline.

Today, seeing as the weather was so fine, I decided to ride Violetta’s bike back from Alba to Turin. Not that she actually wants it back in Turin (she actually would have preferred to leave it in Alba, where she is studying).

The distance between Alba and Turin, as the cycle peddles, is roughly 60 kilometres. Even for someone with less than optimal fitness, such as myself, this should not have been a big deal. Little did I know.

The first thing that went wrong was the time of the train. I very carefully checked the time, but, when I arrived at the station, I was told that I would have to take a train to Asti, and then a bus to Alba. I presume that this is because of some weekend-works, which was frustrating as it meant that I arrived in Alba about an hour later than I planned. Still, not a problem, I figured it shouldn’t take me very long to ride 60 kilometres.

But, when I set off along the route that I presumed I had to take, I quickly discovered that the map I had printed off the Internet was wrong. Or, more precisely, started at the wrong place, which was nowhere near Alba. I had typed in “stazione centrale Alba” to Google Maps, which I thought would be okay. But in actual fact Google had chosen to start me at Santa Vittoria d’Alba – and, stupidly, I had not checked.

Needless to say, travelling from Alba to Santa Vittoria d’Alba was not easy, and I got lost a number of times.

At one point, I stopped a chap who was putting a bicycle in the boot of his car and said: “Scusa, ma sa come andare a Santa Vittoria”.

In perfect English, he replied: “You are going by bicycle?”


“Oh, wow.” Apparently, Santa Vittoria was 10 kilometres away and decidedly uphill.

By the time I eventually set off from Santa Vittoria, it was around 3 pm, a great deal later than I had intended and I was wondering whether I would be able to make Turin before nightfall. I passed a sign pointing in the opposite direction, which said “Alba 11 kilometres”, and wondered whether I should just give up and head back. But, much like when I did my ride through Britain, giving up just wasn’t an option.

At this point, I noticed how uncomfortable Violetta’s saddle actually was. Okay for short trips, perhaps, but not for a 60 kilometer epic. I tried to ride standing up, but this became too tiring after awhile. So I dismounted from the bike, whipped my jumper off and tied it round the saddle in a big knot. This made the saddle marginally less uncomfortable, but I kept having to check that the jumper, although I had tided it securely, did not unravel and entangle itself in the wheel.

Just afterwards, as I dismounted to ask directions, I felt a stabbing pain in my thigh, and thought I might have pulled a muscle. I got back on the bike, and a sharp pain shot through my knees – those old weak Winward knees, which caused me so much strife when I did my UK ride and which I’m fairly sure I inherited from my mother’s side. I was starting to fall to pieces.

Then the rear brake of the bike fell off. I searched for the nut that had been holding it in place, but couldn’t find it.

Ordinarily, this would have been a bad thing to happen. For me, it was a disaster. You see, I had noticed right from the beginning that the front brake did not work properly (it squeaked horrendously and slowed the bike down only fractitionally). Now, I would not be able to make up the time on those large downhill stretches, which I was sure would be coming soon to compensate for all the time I had been riding uphill.

It was starting to get late, and I was getting tired. But, still, I had to push on; I did not want to be caught in the middle of nowhere when night fell. I tried to increase my speed.

I found a particular song had become lodged in my head. The Boy Does Nothing by Aleesha Dixon. Possibly one of the world’s most annoying tunes, but I just couldn’t seem to shake it. It had been playing continuously on the bus that I had taken in the morning, interspersed with tracks from Eminem.

Very soon, this tune transmorphed into one of my own invention, which went something like this: “Will I… will I… will I make it? Will I… will I… will I make it?” It was a little like Baldric’s The German Guns, for those of you that remember Black Adder. I think that, by this point, I was suffering the early onset of delirium brought on by over-exertion.

Dogs were the other problem that I suffered. I have never liked dogs. The only dogs that I believe are 100% safe are poodles. Every other dog – I don’t care what the owners might say – has the capacity to attack a human being. They may be the quietest, most docile hounds – but as soon as I come within fifty foot of them, they are all barking and yapping and snapping and biting and salivating. Owners of dogs, I often find, know surprisingly little about the animals they profess to love. Just because the animal has never bitten them, doesn’t mean that it could never bite anyone. These animals smell fear, and they know that I do not like them. I can’t hide these sentiments from dogs. What can I say? I’m an emotional kind of guy.

So, a plea to all dog owners out there: if you have a dog, I don’t care how friendly you think it is or how small it might be, bloody well keep it under control and behind a locked gate or on a lead.

At one point, as the afternoon sun was dropping worryingly fast and I was riding along a particularly busy stretch of road, I saw a runt of a dog (although it might just as well have been an Alsation) at the bottom of the bank that fell away from the roadside. It was barking angrily at me. I ignored it – don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact – and peddled away as fast as I could. Which, by that point, wasn’t all that fast.

Suddenly, before I knew it, the dog was upon my heals, snapping and barking in a most antisocial fashion. I nervously swerved towards the centre of the road, then, realising where I was, pulled back again. This dog could have killed me. Thankfully, it eventually grew tired and left.

As the sun started to dip beneath the crests of the Alps, painting the whole countryside in a wonderfully soft yellow light, I saw a woman sat by the side of the road, not wearing very much. What she was wearing was red and definitely on the garish side. She waved me over. I mumbled something incoherent and peddled on quickly. I thought that, if she was going to be plying her trade in such a remote location, there was a good chance she was being watched – and I didn’t want to be caught in such an area after dark.

A few kilometres further on, I saw another woman wearing even fewer clothes, but, rather than waving me over, she seemed to be screaming angrily at me. This might have had something to do with me staring so fixedly at her, without realising it. Well, it’s hard not to stare when you’re cycling past a woman wearing so little with temperatures approaching subzero.

A few kilometres further still, I saw another woman, slightly more appropriately dressed, getting into a car. I took her to be a prostitute, too, although I might have been wrong and she may simply have been someone’s wife. By that point, I was seeing prostitutes everywhere.

Very soon, it became too dark to cycle, and at the very same moment the roadside, where it would have been safe to wheel my bike, disappeared. Rather than suffer death-by-automobile, I decided to scramble up the embankment and drag my bike along the field instead, ready to brave dogs and farmers with guns. The going was slow and, by the time I arrived at a point where I could rejoin the road, I was cut, bruised and filthy from my cross-country expedition.

Finally, I found my way off the main road and on to a side street, which looked as though it might lead in the vague direction of Turin. This had the advantage that, with no cars about, I could mount my bike and ride through the night. I came to a town square where all I could hear was the yapping of dogs. It was surreal. Where is everyone? I thought. It was like the opening scene in Resident Evil.

I stopped, wondering which way to go and finally heard some voices. A man and woman.I realised that they were probably flesh-eating zombies but, nonetheless, I asked for directions. They pointed me in the right direction and said that the centre of Turin was only a few kilometres. My heart leapt for job, but, as it turned out, their assertion was slightly out. By about 20 kilometres.

Then my left peddle fell off. This was slightly more problematic than the brake. Again, I looked for the screw that had held the peddle on, but could not find it. So, I had no option but to dismount my bike and wheel it once again, hoping against hope that I didn’t have far to go.

But I did. Eventually, I decided to try something. I wedged the peddle back on and started to ride. After two complete peddles, I lifted up my left foot and brought it smartly down on the side of the left peddle, thereby ensuring that it didn’t fall off. Two more peddles and then I’d do the same thing. I started to play a game with myself. I tried to see how many peddles I could manage before I had to kick the peddle back along the shaft. I managed about four. When I tried five, the peddle fell off again and so did I, resulting in a nasty gash along the side of my leg. I stopped playing the game and stuck with three or four peddles each time.

I finally arrived in central Turin at 10 o’clock, barely able to walk. The first thing I did was crack open the beer that I had been carrying with me all day. I felt that I had deserved it.


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