There is no question a man will ever have to answer in life more significant than “Bring my own bike or rent?”
For me it was simple. Traveling with a bike is like carrying smallpox with you on a vacation. Far better to overpay for a filthy, maladjusted creaker with a nut-punishing seat and enough grease on the chain to open a burrito stand than to put hell in a case and drag it through airports filled with hurried, harried, angry people whose only goal in life is to prevent you from reaching your destination at the highest possible price.
We got to Palma and the weather, which had forecast rain, was raining. I say “we” but that didn’t include Ol’ Grizzles’s bike and gear, which American Airlines had decided would be put to better use in Boston. “No problem,” said the agent, “we can have it delivered to your hotel on Thursday.”
Now that the bicycle trip he had been planning for six months except for the how-to-travel-with-the-bike part was effectively ruined, we went to OK Car Rental, a licensed criminal organization whose business model is to double the guaranteed rare, force-place wildly expensive insurance, charge you a $40 handling fee for filling the tank, and watch you flip out. “You can walk or take bicycle if you don’t like,” is their sales-clincher.
We piloted to the grocery store in Inca in a hailstorm, our single goal being to buy provisions and get to the villa before the others so we could snag the plum beds and Shit in the Lane would get the couch or baby crib again. The first day’s grocery bill was $700.
“Holy shit,” I said as we checked out our five carts.
“Yeah,” said O.G. “Better put it on your card.”
We headed over to the villa, our turdbox from OK Rental groaning under the groceries. We’d been awake for 28 hours and hadn’t eaten anything except a half-dozen in-flight meals and we were now wrestling with the fact that our villa had no address and our contact, Rafael, wasn’t awake yet at noon.
Fortunately it all worked out but not before three pounds of butter melted in the back seat. No matter. We beat the Norwegians and SITL and scored the lovers-cabana-for-two next to the pool. The villa was over 300 years old (“Older than your Constitution!” remarked Munch cheerfully) and furnished with all the comforts you would expect from the Spanish Inquisition including jagged stone floors that tore away unsuspecting toenails.
The crew assembled, minus J-Lo, who hadn’t checked his expired passport until the night before, and Stig, who had arrived a week earlier, was staying elsewhere, and in any event was still riding as he’d only put in 1,000k in five days. “New to cycling,” we all shrugged. “He’ll get over it.”
A mad flurry of bike assembly ensued for those who had shipped bikes except for O.G., who had a mad flurry of a phone conversation with American Airlines as he got them to pay for a bike rental, new kit and helmet, and floor pump. Three of the guys had Ritchie Breakapart frames, a collapsible contraption that is heavy, slow, and ugly, but like children it’s yours.
Brian amazed everyone with a massive, three-foot torque wrench. “What the fuck is that for?” We howled in derision.
“Sets my pedal torque.” More howls. “I got these Garmin power pedals …” More howls. “And the torque has to be right …” More howls. “Or they don’t work properly.”
“Dude!” said SITL. “That wrench weighs more than your fucking bike and I’m gonna drop your ass no matter what pedals you use.” He emphasized the point by emptying his gin and tonic and his wine glass and vodka.
Before long we had tired of making fun of each other and demanded dinner. Leiv the Salted Fish Eater, who was also our cook, brought out an amazing platter of liver-colored, shimmering red meat soaked in blood. “He bring it with him from Norway,” Sverre whispered.
“What the fuck is it?” Dan said. “His neighbor?”
We all took turns guessing. “Reindeer?”
“Anus of bear?”
“I will tell you after you try it,” Leiv said. We each fearfully took a sliver of the barely cooked, quivering meat, like when someone sticks his finger under your nose and says, “Smell this!”
It was tasty. “Gimme some more!” said Shit in the Lane. “What is it?”
“Sperm whale,” said Leiv proudly. “Who would like seconds?”