Sunday, May 13, 2012

Arriving in Finale Ligure, Home of the WEMBO 24 Hour Solo MTB World Championships.

After a looong day of travel and excess baggage charges, I was pretty happy to plonk myself down in a train for three hours from Milan to Finale and relax. First up in the morning, after bidding farewell to my awesome new buddies on the Bike Greece tour, I trained it to the airport. Despite my extensive experience in travelling with a bike and avoiding baggage charges, Easy Jet's misleading baggage requirements, which differ from every other airline in the world, saw me potentially faced with a 126 Euro charge (that's nearly $250NZD!). I had no other option but to do something I have never tried before at a check-in counter... I cried... My waterworks display successfully reduced the fee to 35 euro, which didn't seem too bad in comparison, but still hit the pocket hard. I have no doubt that this is where they make their money. Something else that Easy Jet do that is weird is that they don't have allocated seating on their flights, so I sat down, only to have some sweaty, smelly, greasy guy sit next to me. The smell was so unbearable that I requested to move, and did so with little consideration for the guy's feelings, only to then get off the plane and have to stand on the airport bus next to him with his arm pit in my face as we made our way to the arrival gate... Lovely... I then collected my bike and walked out into the airport to discover that Easy Jet fly into the terminal at Milan that is not connected to the train network. I could either catch a shuttle to the train, then a train into Stazione Centrale, or I could just catch a bus straight there... It made sense to catch the bus straight there, but my bike box apparently counted as an extra person on the bus, so I had to buy the Ninja her own ticket... In general, my recommendation would be to anyone travelling with a bike in Europe, don't fly with Easy Jet... I found Edreams a much better site which uses standard carriers who don't have confusing baggage policies.

Once I was at Stazione Centrale, I lined up to get my train ticket to Finale. I felt really pissed off at the mornings events and the extra money I had wasted from choosing the wrong air carrier, but there was nothing I could do about it... The queue for tickets was pretty long and I used the time wisely to relax a bit and practise some friendly Italian phrases in my head so I could be nice to the guy at the counter and turn my not-so-great day into a goodie. I knew there was a train to Finale that left at 9pm... If there were no seats, I would have to hunker down in Milan for the night. Luckily, that wasn't the case, and the guy at the counter was lovely, and even found me a cheaper train to catch. It left earlier and took a bit longer, but I figured I had nothing else to do, so I may as well sit on the train and chill out for a few hours... The train was actually nearly empty by the time it reached the outskirts of Milan, so I had the whole carriage to myself, which was nice. I sat back with my feet up and stuck my headphones in to listen to some tunes. It only occurred to me at this point that pretty much my whole trip, I hadn't really listened to any music... I found it really soothing. It blocked out all the outside noise and the landscape and happenings around me became a video clip for whatever song was making it's way into my head at the time. Whenever I catch a train in an unfamiliar place, I am always paranoid of missing my stop. Each stop, I would stick my head out the window to see which station it was. I knew we were meant to arrive at Finale at 11.50pm, so I hung around the door with my gear twenty minutes early, anxiously checking each stop as the train pulled in. Finally, I stuck my head out the door to see a sign on the platform "Finale L"... YES! I hauled my bike off the train and then watched the train disappear from the station, sucking every bit of sound into a void with it as it went... I stood on the platform for a moment and enjoyed the silence... What a day! It was after midnight and I had to find my hotel. A single taxi sat outside the station, and I walked straight past it, determined to walk to the hotel and recoup some of my excess baggage charges from the day... The taxi driver chased me around the corner and asked where I was going. I told him I was walking and he insisted he drive me there. I asked him "quanto costa" (how much?), to which he replied "sette euro" (seven euro)... For the hassle it was going to save me at the end of a very long day, I took him up on the offer. When we arrived at the hotel, the meter said thirteen euro, but he refused to let me pay the full fare. Welcome to Finale Ligure, Megan, home of the 2012 24 hour solo world champs!

I always find it exciting to arrive somewhere late at night and then wake up in the morning to actually see where I am. I woke up pretty bleary-eyed after my late night arrival, but the sun was out and I couldn't stand the thought of sleeping in when there was exploring and riding to be had. One thing I noticed about Finale in comparison to Garda is that not everyone speaks English, so I have been pretty grateful for my basic grasp on the Italian language, but it hasn't been without some frustrating moments. My first mission for the morning was to find my way to "The Ultimate Bike Shop", which I did via this amazing little town called Finalborgo, which is a labyrinth of alleys and cobbled streets winding through the confines of the walls of an old castle... Castles are cool anyway, but a town inside a castle is even more awesome! I had been emailing back and forth with Matteo, who was going to have all the bits and pieces I needed for my bike to give it a good workover and service before the race. Not only did he have everything lined up for my bike service the following day, but he totally took me under his wing. It's always so good to have locals on your side. One of the other dudes who works at the shop, Michali, took me for a short tour around town to find some nutrition requirements, even translating for me and showing me the best places to eat, then we arrived back at the bike shop to jump in a van and head up to the race course. Sweet! Matteo and the guys from the shop have been pretty active in trail building and maintenance for the race course and were heading up there anyway to do some trail building... Saved me the 300m climb!

I was given some loose instructions of how to find part of the course. The original 24 hours of Finale course is about 12km long and work was still in progress on the additional 6km solo loop. As it stands now, the solo loop still hasn't been opened, but will be ready by the Wednesday before the race apparently. The part of the course that I rode took my breath away. The trails were very similar to what I had been riding over the last month, which was a bonus, and there were these wicked views of the Mediterranean over Finale and Sportono... Sunset and sunrise are going to be very very special times during the race! I did the loop a couple of times and then bumped into the guys working on the trail as I was exploring. Matteo showed me a trail back down to Finale so I didn't have to waste elevation descending a road and off I went to find my way "home" for the day. The trail he had sent me down was so much fun. Slick, off camber, technical slick rock snaked it's way down the hill. It was like riding down a gnarly riverbed... Great fun! I had an offer on the cards for the next day of a guided tour around the full original race course, so was looking forward to that.

I spent the afternoon chilling out, organising some of my gear, and doing some supermarket shopping... Without a car, I couldn't do my full shop for the race, so I figured if I got bits and pieces each day, I would have it all ready for next weekend. It also gave me the chance to try things out and check they agreed with my stomach. I still don't have a confirmed support crew for the race, which makes me a little nervous, but not as stressed as I would expect. I have had several separate locals assure me they will have something organised for me, and I figure from all that support, something will materialise. One of the mantras I have employed on this trip for the last month or so is my "worst case scenario" school of thought... What is the worst that can happen and can I deal with that if it happens? And in most cases, yep, I can. After reading Bear Grylls book, Mud, Sweat and Tears, as well, I really liked the SAS mantra that he shared in his story... "You fail yourself"... Noone else fails you. In the end, it all colmes down to me. I won't be blaming anyone else for my performance or shortcomings during the race. My circumstances are a product of my own decisions and actions, and I like it that way.

Upon the recommendation of one of the hotel staff, for my evening meal, I found my way to a small spaghetteria along the waterfront which made amazing pasta dishes. The thing that made it even more charming was that the staff didn't speak any English at all. After explaining in my best Italian that I only speak a little Italian, I fumbled my way through ordering my meal and paying for my meal. The waitress was sweet enough to hand me a translation dictionary with the menu, which was only in Italian (although I probably read Italian better than I understand spoken words), and then also took great pleasure in teaching me Italian words associated with my meal, which I need to make sure I remember when I go back to eat there again!

My second day in Finale, I met Bobby in the morning for a guided tour of the race course (excluding the solo loop still under construction). It was very gracious of him to offer to do this without me paying for his services, so I was really grateful... Another fine example of how amazing the locals here have been! His English wasn't very good, but through our broken understanding of each other's languages, he managed to explain to me that seeing as he was taking a guided group, he would tell them I was his friend. I mearly died when he told them I was his friend and an English teacher (shit, I don't know enough Italian to be teaching anyone here how to speak English! Haha!). I took great pride in the fact that I actually upheld the charade pretty well! There were bits of the course I had got wrong the day before, so it was good to get shown the course by someone who knew it. Having said that, I will be much happier once I can ride the full marked course, but for the time being, getting familiar with sections of it is wonderful and is helping abate the nerves a little.

I dropped my bike off at Matteo's workshop in the afternoon and picked up a loan bike to get around on... A little ghetto, singlespeed dirt jump bike... picture this, Megan straight off her race bike in her lycra, SPD shoes and matching kit ghettoing around the streets on a dirt jump bike riding the seat real low... It was a truly ridiculous sight, although when I took a photo of it, I don't think I looked quite as stupid as I felt.

Somehow in my travels, dragging my luggage and bike box around, I had managed to hurt my neck and shoulder. It's actually really difficult to find massage therapists here and after asking around, found out that the lady who works at reception, who is a 24 hour runner, has a husband who is a masseuer and runs ultra marathons for Team Salomon (this weekend he is doing a 71km running race before doing 24 hour world solo MTB champs next weekend! And you guys think I am nuts!!!). Anyway, I was relieved that my pain felt much better after he got stuck into it. Then after changing into something more casually fitting for the rig I was riding, and after raising the seat a little, I felt respectable enough to cruise along the waterfront and check out the views and get myself some dinner. Finale is a truly spectacular place, although very touristy, especially along the waterfront, and for this reason, I have tended to spend my time off the bike chillin at Cafes around Finalborgo.

So my last few days have been spent checking out the course, preparing gear, chilling and eating. Each time I ride the course, I feel more comfortable pushing the pace just a little bit more. There is only one reasonably tough climb, which I have nicknamed "the bastard" but it's really only bad enough to gain that status... It's not too bad (although ask me again after I have ridden it 15 times!). Matteo is helping me work on my suspension setup to suit the course a little better, so that all feels under control. I feel happy on my bike while I am riding, which is a good sign. I think one of the things I have found in previous years is that by the time I get to world champs, I am sick of the bike and sick of riding and training... This year, it just feels different. I still love riding and I still love my bike, and whilst I know the race is going to be hard work, I'm really looking forward to it... Only a week to go and I am doing my best to keep myself occupied to distract me from my nerves! I can hardly believe I have been away for eight weeks already! Best I polish off my trip on a good note!

1 comment:

  1. NICE write-up but you have obviously never seen the TV series 'Airline' or you would have NEVER booked with EasyJet in the first place...oh well, lesson learnt!
    You need to arrange for someone to keep us up to date with how your 'Worlds' race is going, unless there is a website that will have up to date results...I need to something to holler at next weekend ;-)