Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Canal

Today I awoke to a sufficiently Belgian
day, with the sound of rain on the rooftop and puddles of water being
splashed against the side of the house by morning commuters. I
rolled towards the edge of the bed and attempted to get up. Instead,
I felt the results of a week's worth of sickness, crashing, and hard
and demoralizing racing permeating my legs, body, and soul; and
contented myself instead with simply pulling the covers higher. I
won't go into all the gritty details, but suffice to say that 50+
kilometers off the back alone in the rain to crawl to the finish in
last place doesn't do a lot for morale or general well-being.
Neither does riding a bike when you have no skin left on the palm of
your hand.

So today it took the thought of fresh
croissants being prepared at the nearby bakery to get me out of bed.
I spent the following hours trying to figure out class registration
for fall semester, which frustrated me to the point that I finally
decided to go for a short bike ride instead. Here at the US National
Team house in Izegem, Belgium, my go-to route for short and easy
rides is the path along the canal, which carries a cocktail of
industrial waste and farm runoff. Not that this backdrop is
particularly awe-inspiring, but it does offer a perfectly flat ride
with no traffic to contend with or navigation skills required (many a
recovery ride has turned into a much longer ordeal when I try to
navigate the maze of roads here). Also, the canal is the perfect
place to play the “Can I Get a Reaction” game.

The canal is trafficked by many
pedestrians, cyclo-commuters, racers, wanna-be racers, and fishermen
(I can only pray that they don't attempt to eat the radioactive
three-eyed creatures that live in this toxic body of water). But
mostly the canal is frequented by 70 year old men in Quick-Step kits
riding atop old Merckx bikes. All of these travelers on the canal
path present the same challenge. While approaching from opposite
directions, they will invariably stare at me. I will then wave, nod,
smile, shout “hello” and “goedmorgen”, and do everything in
my power to elicit a response. This task is unbelievably difficult,
and the vast majority simply pass by with no response other than a
steady stare. I then keep score with the successes: one point for a
grunt, two for a nod, three for a small wave, four for a verbal
response of some sort, and five for a smile.

The fishermen, perhaps weakened by
their contact with the toxic water and creatures that come from it,
seem to be the most likely to raise my tally. The elderly Tom
Boonens slowly pedaling along are nearly impossible to gain points

Today I tried my best but was
completely shut out. The rain kept falling as I came up with nothing
more than blank stares again and again. It was just one of those
days. Or weeks, I guess. Dejected, I was about to take the turn
back off the canal and into Izegem. And then, suddenly, an elderly
man walking down the path with a cane, gave me a big wave and a
smile, apparently undeterred by the inclement weather. Maybe my luck
is turning, I certainly hope so; especially with a Nations Cup race
coming up on Saturday.

Maybe the canal has a lesson or two to
teach me; like the importance of a smile, even when its raining out.
Either that or I should give up cycling and start fishing for
three-eyed canal creatures full time.
Hope you all had a great Easter!


  1. I am a 46-year old cyclist from Underhill Center. I easily fall into delusional daydreams of my younger years racing, as I ride my new Orbea over the Fletcher Hills and beyond (My last bike was a 98' Litespeed! Carbon is a good technology for the egos of middle-aged people! ). I get news of your postings from the GMBC list serve and thoroughly enjoy your writing. As a writer and editor I can say you have real talent. As a cyclist, I'll say that your posts are read and enjoyed and very much appreciated. Good luck to you! Keep at it.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate your comments. Hopefully our paths cross somewhere in the hills of Fletcher when I'm home!