cycling

No day but today: Please, please, please support my Ride for AIDS.

I remember things.

Weird things, sometimes: License plate numbers that aren't my own. What we ate the night my parents announced they were divorcing. (Pot roast.) My very first phone number, from our house in Overland Park. The names of the alphabetical streets, in order, near our house in Prairie Village. (Alhambra, Buena Vista, Catalina, Delmar, El Monte, Fontana, Granada.)

Other things aren't as weird, like my favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe. Or my Ride for AIDS training route: turn by turn, sight by sight. Committed to memory from day one.

The route: with my eyes closed.

We roll out of Winnemac Park's eastern lot, a swarm of bees in helmets and cycling shoes, up Damen, past the No. 1 hand car wash in Chicago until Damen curves around the factory. Up Ravenswood to Peterson, then a diagonal jaunt up Ridge past African shops and a coin-operated laundry that's never open when we ride past. It's a long, bumpy stretch of road.

East on Howard to Custer; shabby West Rogers Park apartments turn to little shops and modest Evanston homes, then we turn on Main Street then head up Hinman toward the Northwestern campus. The grass is so green.

The Baha'i Temple gleams white in the creeping daylight. "All are welcome."

My pace group has usually left me by this point, and I'm alone on Sheridan Road, waving at runners, smiling at dogs walking their owners, stealing glimpses of the lake as I make my through Wilmette, Kenilworth and Winnetka.

Tower Road becomes Old Green Bay Road becomes Scott Avenue, which leads back to Sheridan. I pass the gates of Ravinia, careen at 25 miles an hour through a ravine where the temperature drops at least 5 degrees, a blessing.

Sheridan becomes St. John, and I'm in Highland Park. People are just finishing their first coffee of the morning at the sidewalk café, and I'm already 20 miles in.

A pit stop at Moraine Park, to refill water bottles and kvetch about the heat.

On longer rides, the route forges farther north, to Old Elm Road. West to Everett. To St. Mary's. Then north, north — the roads lose their names and become numbers, north to Lambs Farm, or beyond, past Six Flags to our final turnaround at a park in Gurnee, where I'd never even been in a car until that day.

It's comforting to remember things. The fluidity of the route, not needing my cue sheet, just feeling the road underneath me — that's comforting.

 

It's here.

Every Saturday morning since April 7, I've been preparing. Actually, since January 11 — when I took the leap and signed up — I've been working my way up to this: 200 miles in two days, back to back. Next weekend, July 14 and 15. Evanston to Elkhorn…and back.

While constructing this map in my mind's eye, in my muscles' memory, I've been building strength. Getting in shape. And learning turn by turn, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, exactly the impact I'm making.

I don't have HIV/AIDS.

Until I joined the ride, I didn't know anyone with HIV/AIDS. Hell, until this year, Jonathan Larson had taught me, seated in velvet-covered seats at the Nederlander Theatre — through songs and a beautiful transvestite named Angel — everything I knew about it.

I still don't know much. I decided to do this ride to get in shape. To prove to myself that I could train for something.

I started out raising money because I had to, and because I could. My network is huge; I had no problem raising the $1,000 minimum. But then I met other riders who are living with HIV or AIDS. Riders who have lost loved ones or family members. Riders who spend their lives in Chicago communities where HIV/AIDS is a reality.

Everyone rides for their own reasons, but personal pride and proving something to myself won't be what ultimately pushes me through those 200 miles next week.

We abandon our familiar training route next Saturday, and I'm guessing my body will go into autopilot after the first 50 miles…I'm not expecting to remember that turn-by-turn. But I'll commit one more thing to memory: the feeling that every inch of ground I cover, and every dime in my fundraising account, is actually making a difference.

The call to action

Guys, I don't actually ask you for much more than comments and attention here, but if you aren't one of the 51 amazing people who have already donated to my ride, please consider throwing a few dollars my way. I'm less than $600 from my $3,000 goal! I've looked at my site stats. (Obsessively.) If even a fraction of you act on this, I will meet my goal and then some.

I promise TPAN will know what to do with the funds.

And if you don't have the cash to spare — trust me, I get that — then please share this post with someone who does. Or a lot of people. Your generosity will not be forgotten.

Give: bit.ly/paige-rides-for-aids

Paris: Pedal pusher.

Not my leg.

Don’t get me wrong: I love walking. I do.Not my leg.

But any self-respecting pedometer would have given up after my first couple of days in Paris; my calves were so tired that the rest of my body would twitch with sympathy at the end of the day. I needed another way to get around, and you miss the whole city when you’re underground on the Métro.

So I spent an hour and a half a few days ago, standing in the hot sun with a line of impatient Europeans behind me, feebly attempting to rent a bike from one of the Vélib kiosks around the city. My Visa card, with its quaint little magnetic stripe, lacked the magical chip that would allow me access to the more desirable features of European banking — and one of Paris’ most desirable city services, this nearly free program that allows anyone to rent a bike from anywhere in the city, ride it around then leave it anywhere else there’s a kiosk.

Fat American tail between my legs, I returned to my hotel and Googled “Paris bike rental,” knowing full well that all those smug Europeans were laughing at my misery as they pedaled away on their matching bicycles. Grr. The city’s biggest rental and touring company, Fat Tire, had sold out every tour until after I left; even begging on the phone and choking back tears that I was SO ALONE AND REALLY JUST WANTED TO GO RIDE AROUND WITH SOME NICE PEOPLE was useless. The search continued. I happened on one company with a fantastic website, Bike About Tours. And within 10 minutes, before I knew what was happening, my blind rage had booked me a guided tour of the city for Monday morning. Well, all right.

Monday morning arrived, and like every other day since I’d arrived, it was sunny, warm and breezy. I headed to meet my group near the Charlemagne statue outside the Notre Dame cathedral, but my keen sense of direction and total inability to read a map led me to the far opposite end of the Ile de la Cité, behind the Palais de Justice. So I arrived just a few minutes before we were scheduled to leave, cramming the last bite of a pain au chocolate into my face (fat American).

DSC_0026Naturally, as I was the only person in Paris not vacationing with the love of my life, I also was the only party of one on the day’s tour. Except for an obnoxious older man whose fiancée had elected to stay behind and do something else in Paris that day. So, in his codependent boredom, he asked inane architectural questions. Like what those round rooms on the corner of that building were called. Or why there were so few buildings made with red brick, like the façade of the Place des Vosges. Wish you’d come along, Dear Fiancée, and kept your husband-to-be’s mouth erstwhile occupied!

Now, our guide. Oh goodness. Let’s ignore, for a moment, the very obvious wedding ring and constant mentions of his wife. Our tour guide, Paul, an ex-pat Aussie who moved to Paris nine years ago to be with the woman he loved — all right, so I can’t ignore it — well, he was hot. And hilarious. And offbeat. And totally rocked the rugged cyclist look. With his shaggy hair and perfect calf muscles and logo T-shirt for this company he and his friend had started three years ago, the one his dad still refuses to acknowledge as a real business. And his mind-boggling combination of perfect French skills and this endlessly endearing Australian accent, and the way he uses the word “discover” to talk about showing us places. And his sick sense of humor, like showing us a sculpture along the Seine that he calls “the Masturbator” and a mermaid fountain near the Centre Pompidou that shoots water from its breasts. Also, he wasn’t French. (I may get to that in another post. Really.)

So we hopped on our fabulous folding bikes — how very European — and began our tour. Which started in the Marais at the Holocaust museum then wound its way through back streets of the fourth arrondissement, including a stop to stare at the Republican Guard’s thoroughbreds in training, at the apartment building where Jim Morrison died in his bathtub (No. 17) and a look at a few “works” by Paris’ most famous graffiti artist, Space Invader. The most subversive mosaics I’ve ever seen, if that’s even possible. He invades spaces…with little tile pictures of ‘80s video game characters. Space Invader: get it?! Yeah. I didn’t either.

From the fourth, we headed to the Bastille and biked across the canal, gazed into the distance at the four glass buildings of the national library, designed to look like open books, then past the Jardin des Plantes and Paris’ largest mosque. Then we crossed the Seine and were in the fifth arrondissement, the Latin Quarter, where were darted through more back streets, peered into “secret courtyards” and saw the city’s oldest restaurant, which I’d never have been able to find on my own.

We stopped for lunch at a beautiful boulangerie and patisserie, Paul, which turned out to be like a French Panera. (Gross.) Tour guide Paul stood at the counter and helped everyone order, then I stepped up like a BADASS and was all, demander-ing mon déjeuner comme une vraie française. Don’t act like you’re not impressed, hot tour guide. There’s still time: Move. Be with me. We need bike tours in Chicago, too. I practically huffed my sandwich — my ham sandwich, my ham and BUTTER sandwich — and snarfed down half a chocolate éclair before we got back on our bikes to finish out the tour.

My favorite part of the tour had to be breaking the law — probably because we were breaking the law — riding our bikes through the entry and all around the pyramids and fountains of the Louvre’s courtyards. During this time, a guy in our group broke the seat off his bike (I don’t even know how you do that) and someone spotted Joshua Jackson of Dawson’s Creek fame walking with his girlfriend. Excitement, ahoy: Celebrities, they’re just like us!

By the end of our four hours together, I was kicking myself for not booking this tour immediately upon my arrival. Though there are a lot of things I’d have done differently on this trip, like researching restaurants more in advance (every meal was a anxiety attack waiting to happen), but Paul was an amazing resource for the sorts of off-the-beaten-path things I would have loved to spend more time seeing. Next time.