Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fore! There was a Blah on a Bicycle

So, for the few of you who are keeping tabs, I survived my first tryst with a bicycle after well over a decade. (Read about my pre-ride jitters here.)

The eco-cycling tour company turned up at the resort right on time. A smiling guide, who introduced himself as “Weda”, bundled me off into a waiting van filled with around ten other people. As we drove off toward Mount Batur, I felt slightly queasy, wondering what horrors lay ahead of me. Those sludgy rice fields. Those shouting children. Why couldn't this be a wooden pony ride in an amusement park? Nobody has to get hurt there.

KO’s words rang in my ears. “We always have to do something foolish in public. Go forth and make me proud”, she’d said. (And yet, she’d turn down the job of a rodeo clown in a jiffy? That doesn't add up.)

After a typical Indonesian breakfast at a resort that gave us a good view of Mount Batur and the lake around it, we bundled into the van once more to make our way to the starting point.

On the way, Weda gave us a bunch of instructions. “Do not press only the front brake”, he said, and then went on to describe in painful detail the story of a cyclist who had tried to take a picture on her camera while cycling and then pressed the front brake. She had, apparently, flown over the handlebars and broken her wrist. She had to have been a special kind of stupid. Or American.

Weda went on to warn us that this was not the Tour de France – no racing. He needn't have bothered. My normally competitive spirit was drowning under nervousness-induced bile and sticky rice pudding from breakfast.

At our next stop, we were shown around a coffee/spice plantation, savoured various kinds of coffee and Indonesian fruit and gawked at civets kept in captivity to produce the very expensive “kopi luwak”.
We then walked over to choose our bikes. I surveyed the lot with trepidation before a white bike, looking somewhat worse for wear, was thrust at me.

Everyone else mounted confidently and trundled around the starting area like they were born to ride. I clambered on and made my way onto the tarred road, feeling dozens of eyes boring into my back as I teetered about like a drunken bear on a circus unicycle.

There was hardly any traffic on these roads that cut through lush green rice fields and little villages dotted with Balinese family temples. Just as I had eased into a rhythm, gaining enough confidence to survey the landscape around me and enjoy the chill breeze in my face, it was time to stop and visit a Balinese village and see bamboo weavers at work.

One of the Americans in the group was clearly displeased at the prospect of visiting a village. She scowled and declared “I am not a tourist. I am a traveler.” Clearly, the thought of renting a bicycle and exploring the place on her own had not occurred to her. Clearly, the word “Tour” on the bicycling tour brochure had escaped her. She was surly throughout the tour and remained the only unpleasant person in the group. I chuckled to myself as she gingerly navigated her way through a stinking pigsty in the middle of the village. We’d noticed she’d refused to touch anything in the van – not even closing the door behind her. (Oh, the horrors of visiting a "third-world" country, eh?)

Once back on our bikes, we set off again in single file. That is when the first of the infamous waving children I had dreaded appeared to greet us. I managed to nod at some. And then, to my horror, another group swarmed forth, gleefully running toward us, hands thrust out for a high five.

I’d like to think that these kids were perceptive. I’d like to think they saw the consternation on my face and left me well alone as I grimaced and weaved away from them for their general safety.

Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one that Weda said was easier. That left me with three genial Australian women and Weda. We bonded over our common knee ailments, each of us describing in excruciating detail how our joints could dislodge themselves at will. The rest, including a flying Dutchman and somebody pushing 80, opted for the tough route. When they appeared at lunch later, mouths agape, collapsing in a heap of crimson faces and aching limbs, I knew we’d made the smarter choice. 

After stuffing ourselves silly with typical Indonesian fare, we trudged back to the van. I felt tired, but happy and a tad triumphant. I have shied away from strenuous physical activity for a while after my knee injury, but this 25km ride has restored some confidence in my abilities. Hell, I’m sure I can zip-line to Mars or pogo-stick-it with some roos in the Aussie outback now.

We made our way back to town, chattering away with each other. All except the surly American woman. She scowled and poked her head out of the window the whole time. Whether this had anything to do with her being seated next to an Indian, I can’t say for sure. But I’d like to think so. She probably went back home and bathed in industrial-strength disinfectant.

Pictures for those who grumble I do not splash any on Facebook