Ohmygod–Part 53 On the Road to Gent

It is the beginning of another month and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (to catch up on the previous installments click on the Ohmygod menu up top). As you will recall, I used to be a cycling tour guide in Europe for several years. Through that job (yes, it is a bit difficult to call it a “job”) I met countless interesting people and have a few compelling stories to tell, but most of them pale to the story of Ohmygod, one of the clients that I had for three weeks. Some may wonder about the moniker, but the name chose itself really; it is what I uttered repeatedly during just about every interaction with him.

In the previous installment (Part Fifty-Two), I had the misfortune of catching up to the rest of the group for lunch in the town of Eeklo, almost exactly the mid-point of the day’s ride. There, I was subject to more of Brad and Angelina’s dysfunctional “relationship” as well as witnessing Adonis continue to woo the two French students who had apparently been stalking him since we left Bruges. Once Ohmygod joined the table, the rest of the group quickly left as the stench of Ohmygod, who, I had surmised, had not bathed for the better part of the week, proved more than ample encouragement to get back on their bikes.

After all but Adonis and Ohmygod had left the table, I sat there facing a conundrum: as per the policy of the tour company, I needed to be behind everyone on the road—or at least ride with the last group. As I have mentioned before, there are two aspects to that rule that I found loathsome. First, and I rarely use the word “hate,” but I actually come close to hating riding with other people.

It is not that I hate other people, quite the opposite, but while many on the trip see the bike as literally just a vehicle to get from A to B, for me, riding is all about being on the bike. Simply put, when I am on my bike, I pretty have one goal: go fast. Sure, that might sound juvenile, but there is something about sitting astride a velocipede that makes me want to push it (and me) right to our collective limit.

Those on the trip, though, have paid a relatively handsome sum for the trip and had earned the right to take all the time they like (as long as they make it in by dinner). If they want to stop for a selfie? Fine. Need a bottle of water? Good idea. Take a break with a Pastis or a carafe of rosé? Go for it.

All that dilly-dallying (save the carafe of rosé) tends to drive me nuts, and since I know at least a few of my limits, I try to avoid it altogether.

Second, clients tend to want to chat me up. About everything. There I am trying to maintain at least enough forward momentum to actually stay upright (how they can ride so slowly without technically being stopped or tipping over still boggles my mind) and the questions start:

  • “What do the people in this tiny village do? Like what are their jobs?”
  • “Why don’t they eat peanut butter here?”
  • “We saved their butts in not one but two World Wars. Why don’t they like Americans?”

There are countless others but honestly, I tone out. When I detect noise coming from their mouths I respond either with a laugh, a “hmmmpf” or randomly chose either “yeah” or “nah” and just hope for the best.

The worst of all though, when I ride with clients they have this really annoying attitude. For some reason, they seem to expect that I know where I am going. The nerve. As a tour guide, I try very hard to keep hidden the fact that I likely have the worst sense of direction of anyone on this planet. I get lost. All. The. Time. When I come to an intersection with two possible choices, I am 90% sure that I will end up going in the wrong direction.

To compound my extreme ineptitude when it comes to navigation, I have some rather severe self-trust issues as well. Countless times when I make the initial choice of direction in the above binary situation, I actually have made the correct turn only to doubt myself, turn around, and go back in the exact wrong direction with the theory that my past performances had proven that my first choice was likely erroneous.

Add to the equation that I am also fairly stubborn and deathly reluctant to exhibit my severe directional challenges, I feel I am left with essentially one choice: just keep riding. On one fateful occasion in Switzerland, I led the entire group almost twenty kilometers in the wrong direction. A road that happened to climb up a rather steep and completely unnecessary Alp (that’s a mountain for the vocabularily challenged).

Perhaps needless to say, when we reached the literal end of that road up the mountain–the road led to a ski resort–the others on the trip were more than a little perturbed when we simply turned around and descended the 3,000+ feet of elevation that we had just gained.

So yeah, I have a few reasons for not wanting to ride with the clients.

As the moments waned on, it seemed clear that Ohmygod and Adonis were actually waiting on me, so I was faced with a conundrum: I could lie and say I had an important task to complete there in Eeklo, stay and have another beer (and hope they would leave), or just face the inevitable and ride with the motley pair.

I did not think I had the dexterity to come up with a foolproof lie and there is no doubt in my mind that both would gladly join me for another beer. So the third option was really my only choice (other than blatantly disregarding company policy, hopping on my bike and riding like the wind, leaving them hopelessly scrambling behind me–I chose not to dismiss that option, but rather hold it in abeyance for possible employment later).

I had to ride with them.

Of all the people on the current trip, however, Adonis and certainly Ohmygod were the least likely to give me any grief about my navigational shortcomings, so despite nearly every fiber in my being urging me to do just about anything else, I stood and proclaimed:

“Well, the next 25 kilometers are not going to ride themselves!”

[This is only a recollection of what I actually said. More than likely it was more mundane, to the point, with a bit of snark: “We need to get going, doofuses.”] 

Seemingly now bored with his French student admirers, Adonis was up in a flash, only giving a cursory “Oh river” (his attempt at au revoir) to his one-night concubines. Ohmygod, on the other hand, appeared perplexed. I was not certain, but it seemed as though he had been reading my mind as I was contemplating my aforementioned three choices, and he had stopped on option two (having another beer) since it seemed the most logical choice to him.

Ohmygod seemed to like this one, the Herbakkersbier.

To that end, just a moment later, the waiter arrived with yet another beer for Ohmygod, increasing to four (or was it five?) his total number of beers in the 45 minutes he had been at the table. As the waiter placed the beer before him, Ohmygod first paid for the drink (I assume that based on the latter’s appearance, the waiter arrived at the shrewd decision to have Ohmygod pay at once for the beer), then showed joy as he spied his latest victim, but as he glanced back to me, the joy quickly turned to sadness, as if I told him he had to leave his puppy behind. This odd sort of tennis-match-watching (beer/joy–me/grief) continued for approximately five volleys until I gave him the universal “Let’s go!” hand gesture.

This seemed to work as he rose from the table and grabbed the handlebar bag that he had removed from his bike (most clients including Ohmygod, surprisingly, kept their valuables in a handlebar bag, which was easily detachable). Taking this as a positive sign, I went inside the restaurant to ensure that indeed our collective bill had been settled. I was a bit shocked when the waiter agreed that it had, but then confused by his sudden, yet subtle laughter. When he saw the confusion on my face, he pointed to the window, where Ohmygod was standing, chugging his beer.

“Chugging” implies that he was actually drinking it, but more than half of the beer was flowing down either side of his face, splashing on the concrete below. He was losing so much beer, in fact, that he would have perhaps been more efficacious to simply splash the beer on his face, mouth agape as if he were an overheated marathon runner coming up to a table loaded with pre-poured cups of water.

Luckily, most of the ride was fairly uneventful, once I decided upon a plan. At first, I let Adonis lead due to his very strong type-A personality who clearly thought he was an ace at following the route sheet (the typed, step-by-step directions to Gent). He wasn’t. That alone would not have caused me to opt for a different approach, but it relegated me to riding either with, or behind Ohmygod (for some odd reason, when in a group of riders, he always would ride second, never first, never third, and any attempt to pass him would result in his immediate and violent acceleration, which would certainly end in a crash–most likely my own). While the stale beer smell was actually a vast improvement to his personal hygiene issue, gradually the two pungent “perfumes” joined forces to form some sort of an uber-odor, a super-stench, a Frankenstein foulness, that almost caused me to pass out.

Riding with Adonis was not really an option either since that caused him to A) immediately acquiesce all navigational responsibilities to me, and B) he immediately would start talking about the “incredible three-way” he had experienced the night before (he seemed most proud of the fact that it was his 42nd such three-person event).

Thus, I opted for a version of my somewhat devious “sprint ahead and ditch the poor schmucks plan.” I decided I would go to the front and just drill it–getting far enough ahead that I could secretly read the directions without outwardly appearing that I really had little idea where I was going.

I would then wait at any turn, fork, or otherwise deviation in the route for the other two, and once assured that we were all still on track, I would then quickly move to the front and repeat the process.

And it worked.

In fact, the process worked so well, that I would employ it on many future trips any time I had the grave misfortune of having to ride with others (but that, as they say, is another story).

Surprisingly, we made it into Gent and all the way to the hotel without so much as a single wrong turn. I was rather pleased with myself but stopped short of sharing my glee with Adonis and Ohmygod since, technically, it was my job.

There was a moment of concern, however, right before we made it to the hotel. At one stop sign just outside of the city, I warned my riding companions that Gent is a town with countless kilometers of trolley tracks and some of the roads we would be taking would have tracks running down the middle. I stressed that it was extremely important to always cross tracks at as close to a 90-degree angle as possible since they are almost exactly the width of a bike tire and should the wheel go into that gap, it would certainly end in a crash and could severely damage the bike.

Yeah. I might as well have been giving Ohmygod detailed instructions of what to do.

About one kilometer from the hotel, on a road with such a track, we were riding to the right of the rail, with more than ample space. Suddenly, I hear Ohmygod’s “Hmmph!” behind me. It was not his “ordinary” utterance, however. This time it was a much higher pitch to it–almost a squeak–and at an extremely high volume. I glanced quickly over my left shoulder, which confirmed my fear: Ohmygod had slipped into the track.

I quickly pulled over to both avoid the inevitable crash but also to watch the spectacle unfold (yes, the “have to watch the train wreck” comment is appropriate here, given the tracks and, well, Ohmygod’s “track” record).

It was incredible in several aspects. First, and I had never seen this before, he had managed to get both wheels into the groove of the track. Second, and I had never witnessed this either, he had not fallen. In fact, he had come to a dead stop but was still upright on the bike. Third, once he realized he was no longer moving, he thrusted his arms and legs as if he were posing for a modern-day da Vinci drawing. Fourth, he remained on the still upright bike in this position for several seconds, as if he were waiting for the tracks to pull him along. It was not entirely clear, but it certainly appeared as though Ohmygod believed that the motion of trains relied on some sort of conveyor system in the rails, which he assumed would do the same for his bike.

Eventually, he got off the bike, seemingly having come to the realization that there would be no such “free ride.” Either that or he sensed an oncoming trolley, which was a little more than a block away. To his credit, he started tugging at the bike, trying to dislodge it from its predicament, rather than simply leaving it there as he strolled off in search of his next beer.

From Bike Germany

Seeing the trolley now on the same block, I leaned my bike up against a car and ran to assist him. I felt like I was in some silent movie, racing against time to free a damsel, who had been tied to the track by a dastardly criminal, from the rushing oncoming train.

Except it was Ohmygod.

And the trolley simply came to a stop 15 feet away.

The trolley driver quickly descended from his car, with the universal “boy, are you an idiot” look on his face. He came to the front of the bike where he grabbed the handlebars and wiggled them back and forth while simultaneously lifting up. After just a couple of shimmies, the front wheel was free.

He then went to the back wheel where Ohmygod was stationed, grabbed the bike frame, and moved it back and forth while again lifting up on the wheel. Almost instantly, the rear wheel was free as well. He then turned and started speaking rather sternly to us. One did not need to speak Flemish to understand the gist of his diatribe.

All of a sudden, though, he stopped and covered his mouth and nose with his bent right arm as if he were about to sneeze. His eyes became watery and he developed a pained look on his face.

It was clear:

He had just gotten a whiff of Ohmygod.

He turned and quickly jogged/ran back to the trolley, uttering one last comment in a high pitched-shriek.

Again, I do not speak any Flemish, but I have no doubt about the translation:

“Oh. My. GOD.”

Continue to Part 54.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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