'Praxis'

Dear Coffee, you beautiful beast.

“Double espresso, please.”

“Sugar?”

“No thanks.”

It’s 06:50, and I’m sitting on a stool along the ‘street to the beach’ in Naxos, Greece. My family and I took the ferry to Naxos from the island of Mykonos yesterday; we’d flown there from Venice a few days prior. After lots of research, Danielle, my wife and our trip’s designer, had pinpointed Naxos as the best island to spend a week or so. Upon stepping off the ferry, we knew she’d picked well. Naxos felt like the binary opposite of Mykonos: relaxed, proud, and safe.

It only took a day or two to establish my routine in Naxos: I get up each morning at 06:15, get dressed, pull my bottles from the freezer and head out the door. Before 07:00 I’m around the corner, sipping a double espresso that cost me 1.60 EU.

First ride in Naxos, Greece, an island of many historical sites. An attempt to stitch two paved roads together with ‘gravel’ confirmed my suspicion: it’s mostly too rocky for light tires here. I wanted to bring 650b wheels for this reason, but that wasn’t possible, so I’ll have to stick to the smoother surfaces. The relics seem to be mostly of not all accessible only via gravel, so I might have to enjoy them from a distance. There is some climbing to be had here; I’ll try to put a good ride together, starting early, not at 3PM, when it’s 37C! Many thanks to @realbike.gr for advising me on the good roads to ride on the island! #exploremore #adventurebybike #terrainlab #tlabbikes #titaniumbraap #wovenprecision #compasstires #silca #teknecc #teknecycling #veganathlete #vegancyclist #plantpowered #cyclingnaxos #gcninspiration

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I figured out back in Nice that I feel better on the bike when I have a coffee before riding. At home in Ottawa I only drink decaf. After a pattern of caffeine abuse through university and beyond, I cut the chord years ago. Caf tends to be reserved for drives at night when I struggle to focus.

I set out just after 0700 this morning to explore the north coast of Naxos. As I headed along the shoreline the light was beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed the sights. A piece of gravel road worked out nicely, and the heat wasn’t as intense as yesterday, which was key. Nevertheless, I was almost out of water 3hrs into my planned 4-5hr loop when I found a restaurant the side of a hill: yesssss! Turns out I lost enough electrolytes through ample sweating to cramp in places I didn’t know I could cramp afterwards at the beach: fingers! Time for some salt! #exploremore #adventurebybike #scenefromabike #cyclingnaxos #terrainlab #teknecc #teknecycling #veganathlete #vegancyclist #plantpowered #cuoreofswiss #madalchemy #gcninspiration

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But it’s different in the locales we inhabit during our trip. Decaf isn’t terribly common, and coffee is generally done very well. I.e., you can get a pretty good coffee at a gas station. The coffee culture is different; most readers will know this. A ‘coffee’ in France and Greece is typically an espresso, not a drip/filter coffee. Instead of slamming a venti and all the caffeine it contains – the norm at home – I’ve been happily rolling with espressos, and my body has re-calibrated.

My first ride from Nice started out kinda lame, making me wonder whether I’d like it here. Climbing away from the ocean in the west part of the city saw me rolling through nothing but houses and car traffic. I finally got clear of all that around Turbie, a medieval village.From there things continued to get better and better as I rode Eze, down the Madone, through Menton, and met a friendly rider, Bruno, who showed me up a bonus climb to a great view. Great dude, good times. I now have a it of a lay of the land, and will aim to ride the Madone properly (up) later this week. Over 3k metres climbing in 125k, it’s dense over here! #exploremore #adventurebybike #terrainlab #tlabbikes #titaniumbraap #cyclingfrance #nicecycling #madone #climbupgrades #wovenprecision #thewheelsmakethebike #compasstires #silca #kogel #yofiit #vegancyclist #veganathlete

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In Nice I’d roll from our place fasted (= not having eaten since the previous night) and ride two or three hours before stopping for breakfast and a coffee from a village bakery. The problem was, I found myself feeling less than enthused about what I was doing on a few occasions before my first stop. It didn’t take long to realize I was losing my way. I was riding on spectacular roads, not enjoying myself. I was doing it wrong.

I won’t get into the whole fasted riding thing in depth here, but will likely cover that experience in another post. Suffice it to say that I’ve done 5+ hour rides fully fasted, augmented by coffee; with caffeine. And I felt good.

Because caffeine is a drug. It’s a powerful drug I feel a clear need to respect. 

In Naxos, I adapt my approach. Once I switch to a double before rolling out of town, my body falls into a rhythm that works. When I stop perhaps 2.5 hours later for breakfast, I either have another coffee or don’t; whatever feels right. As I ride in the morning light I’m content.

Looking back, I realize I didn’t get into a coffee groove while in the Pyrennes; it took time to develop. I enjoyed a beautiful double espresso atop the Tourmalet on my first ascent of the trip, and was sad to narrowly miss acquiring another as I arrived just after closing the day I rode perhaps one of the biggest rides of my life. Upon arriving back to our bed and breakfast, Les Dix Arches, I was all about getting a good coffee in town. But it wasn’t part of a routine, I didn’t really have one.

Today was was kinda huge. Honestly, I can’t help but feel like my whole life on bikes prepared me for today’s ride. For my last day in the #Pyrenees I wanted to bag three cols, along with a bit of foothills. Andy at @lesdixarches / #allezpyrenees helped me decide on the Hautacam, Luz Ardiden, and Tourmalet to complete a loop of about 160k. I knew it would be hard, but at least the Tourmalet wouldn’t be too steep to complete the day. Hautacam was cool, but the the dirt track that extends off a tiny paved road from the ‘top’ of the standard climb takes the cake as one of the most stunning and fun bits of riding I’ve ever done. I took it to the highest point I could see from the official climb, and had a chat with some dudes making a landing strip for airplanes. Wild. Luz Ardiden was next, and it was definitely steep at times and generally a bit of a grind. The summit was a bit anticlimactic, but the descent was excellent, quite flowing. To cap things off, feeling a little gross from eating too much chocolate…., I headed up the Tourmalet. As on day-1, when I ascended the opposite side, it was spectacular. So far, Tourmalet is hands down the most interesting and beautiful Col I’ve ridden (I know, the list is short!). I’m not going to lie, it was hard, and I had a hard time mustering the energy to take out my phone to catch beautiful views. I had to focus on my pedaling and steering, staying clear of the precipices. At the summit the Grand Cafe had just closed, so no espresso for me, just the rest of my chocolate and dehydrated bananas, water, and donning of my arm warmers and jacket. Cold and foggy, my hands were numb before the descent was anywhere near complete, but it was fun anyhow. Rolling back into Bagnères de Bigorre, I’d been on the bike for 8 hours and 10 minutes, covered 171k, and climbed 4,790m, which could well be the most I’ve done in a day. I’m fried, but the ride was fantastic, and the effort was 100% worth it. Thanks so much to Andy for sending me on a great adventure! #veganathlete #exploremore #ridepyrenees #colcollector #tlabbikes #gravelbike #wovenprecision #compasstires #terrainlab #silca #yofiit #teknecc #teknecycling #lesdixarches

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Jumping ahead to Athens, I was in the full swing of my coffee routine, nipping over to a bakery across the street from the OG Olympic Stadium at the outset of each ride. I’d down a double after doing my best not to slip and fall on their granite patio floor (they are all about slippery pavings in Athens….), then head out for four hours on the bike, returning at the end for a massive chocolate-chip bagelesque delight and another coffee. Maybe a piece of chocolate cake too. Have I mentioned I am coocoo for cocoa? I sampled so many chocolate pastries during the trip alongside coffee….it was an adventure.

Morning in Athens. The city is massive, man!, and surrounded by four mountains. One happens to be a few kilometres from our apartment. I figured the gravel roads on the mountain would be rocky, and some of them were, perhaps mostly down to severe rain the area saw last week. The folks out for their morning walks were extremely friendly, and the view of the city and sea was pretty solid. From here I headed to the coastline and tried to make it as close to Cape Sounion as possible within my 4-hour window. Some nice sights along the way, perhaps I’ll make it all the way there tomorrow. #exploremore #adventurebybike #euroadventure #tlabbikes #titaniumbike #wovenprecision #compasstires #kogel #terrainlab #silca #yofiit #veganathlete #plantpowered #vegancyclist #teknecc #teknecycling

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The simplicity and scale of the coffee experience in Europe starkly contrasts that of North America. Here, we’ve lost the plot entirely. Coffee has become a beast, a drug consumed in massive quantities (have you seen the buckets people drink from?) with no effort spared to make the product taste as un-coffee-like as possible to ensure the greatest caffeine ingestion with the least ‘unpleasant’ coffee flavour. Meanwhile, in Europe coffee remains something that is generally carefully prepared (I saw many scales used), out of respect for the quality of the result. It’s a ‘small thing’ that receives a lot of care, and with that, delivers a great deal of value. When out on the roads, looking forward to a coffee and some food, I was always confident what I’d be served would be pretty darned good. And it was.

Coffee became part of a ritual in Naxos, an island that bears little resemblance to home, where I couldn’t read signs and didn’t know the name of the street we were staying on. In this context, the ritual was familiar, comforting, and ultimately, better than back home. I took that ritual with me to Athens, and it grounded my time there.

The repetition of my coffee ritual was analog, not digital; vinyl not CD. No two plays of a record are identical, we never have the same experience as we listen. But, as with coffee and each ritual we live, there is always an anticipation, a positive tension, that our experience will be great. That greatness, however, is often realized through difference / différance, subtle variations on ‘the same.’

Coffee: a simple, beautiful pleasure, bound up with the hope of repetition, and the realization of differentiation.

Home again and back to the usual rhythms of summer, I’ve experimented with replicating my European coffee experience. I’ve asked myself: what sort of coffee experience is worth replicating because I love it and derive value from it, versus repetition via mindless, unintentional habit? Do I even really enjoy a big decaf?

Honestly, no. Most of the time I barely register my big coffee’s flavour. 

So yes, a double espresso is more expensive than a big brewed coffee; but it’s worth it. It’s worth taking the time to sip and enjoy, mindfully. It’s worth getting a decaf double later in the day with colleagues if the opportunity arises. It’s worth shifting my evaluation of ‘value’ from quantity to quality. 

Suffice it to say that whenever I have opportunity to replicate the rhythm and ritual of my Naxos and Athens rides, which began and often ended with delicious doubles, I will. And I very much look forward to my next visit to Europe, and settling back into that ‘daily grind.’ However, I do have to wonder: will the Torino-Nice Rally I’m targeting for the next trip be so coffee-friendly? Time will tell!

Links

My Rides from Nice

My Rides on Naxos

My Rides from Athens

Resources

Cafe du Cycliste – fantastic storefront, merchandise, and riding resources

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