Liggett and Berlioz in the Hills of Italy

With winter set in, I’ve been riding some of my miles in the gym on a stationary bike, and I’m still trying to settle in on the best way to do it. Outdoors, riding is play. Indoors is a little uncertain, but must not become work.

They’ve got TV’s in the gym – usually one on CNN and the other on one of the network morning shows – and a tuner thingie that let’s you listen to the TV’s sound on an FM radio. So I’ve tried CNN. And I’ve tried NPR, though the reception inside the building is pretty poor. But there’s something about the distraction of words in my ear that isn’t quite working.

So today I took my CD player and listened to Hector Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy”. It’s a piece he wrote after a trip wandering the mountainous Abruzzi, and I settled in and closed my eyes and let Hector be my guide as my friends and I rode sometimes hard and fast, sometimes at leisure, through these long winding valleys, past old villages to the base of these spectacular alpine climbs, then up.

The joke in cycling is that we all hear Phil Liggett in our head, doing the blow-by-bow commentary on our town line sprints or as we switchback up a difficult hill. But the wordless play-by-play of Belioz worked a charm.

The final movement – the Orgy of the Brigands – is a frenzy, and I was hammering up through steep woods, alone by this time on the steep climb, breaking out of the trees above timberline onto a false flat near the finish line, then steep again, and I looked down at my heart monitor. I was pegged.

In my mind’s eye I won the stage, zipping up the jersey for the finish line. It was a memorable ride. I’ll have to try that again.