The mission: Visit the best wineries in Mendoza, Argentina.
The obstacle: The bicycle.
“It’s Like Riding a Bike.” Those words have haunted me for years because they simply are not true. The secret that I kept from everyone is that I do not know how to ride a bike. I had not ridden a bike since the sixth grade and since that time I had done everything I could to avoid going near a bicycle. When I travelled to remote islands like Seychelles, tour guides would recommend renting a bicycle in order to see secluded beaches. My retort, “We don’t have enough time, I think we will just take a taxi.”
Why was I so scared of riding a bike? First, I was never really good at it when I was a youngster. I never graduated to the big boy bike opting to switch to rollerblades instead. You can laugh at me for that. Next, following years of ‘blading I graduated to a moped and got into a couple of dust ups riding those. Finally, my intimidation of keeping my balance in spin class when that was a fad made me avoid biking altogether.
So why would I, 2.5 decades later, risk life and limb to get back on this death trap?
The answer: grapes.
Well, not just grapes, special grapes called Malbec. In French, Malbec means ‘bad beak’ or ‘bad mouth’. Legend has it that it was named so because of the poor wine it produced. Ostracized by the French, the underdog Malbec made its way to Mendoza, Argentina where they thrived in the sunny climate.
When I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, I drank the finest Malbecs and feasted on the greatest steaks. Meanwhile, I knew that in a few days I would have to leave the safety of BA for the dangers of Mendoza. The anxiety became impossible to hide as my companion began to wonder what was amiss. I tried to cover up my nervousness by blaming it on work problems at home. The truth is that I knew my emasculating secret would be a secret no more.
The day arrived that I had to leave the incomparable Park Hyatt Buenos Aires for the insecurity of the Park Hyatt Mendoza. While both resorts are highly touted, the latter could not provide me with the same peace of mind as the former. This was not due to a lack of gracious service from the front desk. No, my trepidation was a result of the concierge that, without hesitation, recommended a bicycle tour in order to visit the local wineries.
At last, the time had come to face my demons. As we drove to the rental shop, I reminisced about the anxiety from riding my first rollercoaster, the Gemini at Cedar Point. The dread of hearing the ‘click, click, click’ as we made it to the top of the coaster only to plunge to certain doom played through my head as the taxi driver inched ever closer to the bicycle shop.
When we arrived, I confidently exited the taxi, thanked him for his time, and praised a higher being that nobody else was at the bike shop. The owner gave us a map and asked if we required helmets.
“Helmet?” I said to myself, reenacting a scene from the Wonder Years, “I need training wheels.” Fearless, I declined, paid for the rental, and courageously made my way to the bike lot. I picked out the standard 10 speed, with 2 wheels, reactive brakes and tried to use as much technical jargon as I could to prove that I was a regular on the tour circuit.
Then this happened:
Moments later, I was on the road, stopping every 10 feet to give myself a pep talk and curse at the trucks and cars that would insensitively honk as they passed by. Giving up was not an option, as a group of elitist Australians coasted by, shouting something that was unintelligible English. While spite could have served as a more than adequate motivator, the real reason I pressed forward was those savory Malbec grapes. They were outcast because of their apparent deficiencies, cast off as unworthy producers of proper wine. Facing the same circumstances, I too refused to give up, and kept peddling/veering from side to side forward.
A few panic attacks later, I arrived at the Garden of Eden, happy to be alive, surrounded by the beautiful views of endless Malbec grapes. Glasses later, I mustered the courage once again to hit the road, only now driving crooked for a different reason.
“It’s like riding a bike,” they say. Yeah sure, tell me that after I have gone through my first bottle.