Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tour de Coop

With all the hoopla and posting over our Swiss Hillseeker camp, I failed to report on the most important mission of the whole trip. The Tour de Coop.

The Tour de Coop is an exclusive Tour, and we are the only participants. We are the only people strange enough to do it. There is no entry fee, no fancy kit issued, and no sag support. You take this on at your own risk and you decide when it's over.

Since no one ever knows when I'm serious (which is not often) and when I'm joking, from this point on, I will give it all to you straight up. No metaphors, no stretching the truth, and no kidding around. This is a truthful account, and I have no shame in telling you.

In 2000 on our first trip to Italy, we had our first taste of this yummilicious chocolate bar bought in the local supermarket of Greve. It was love at first bite, and no other bar has won our hearts over like this one. Funny, it's akin to coming to the United States and going to Publix to buy the store brand candy bar. Only this store label chocolate is truly divine, and we have found no other to be its equal.

Each year during our trip to Italy, we would pop in a local Coop to buy a handful of chocolate bars to take back home. By 2005, the number we would acquire had grown. Then in 2006 we got real serious and brought along an empty suitcase dedicated to the smuggling of Italian delicacies. 2007's trip yielded us about 80 bars, but in 2008 we were ready to break all records. We were on a mission.

Now, what does this all have to do with my Life on a Bike, you may be wondering? Everything! When I'm out riding for 5 and 6 hours up 40,000' mountains, there's one thing that keeps me going. The thought of getting back home to indulge in my beloved Coop bar is the fuel that makes these little legs keep spinning.

By August, our arsenal was down to 3 bars, and this trip was our only hope to restock. The problem was, we were going to Switzerland, and the chocolate can ONLY be found in Italy. We were not about to let a little country stand in our way of happiness.

We conveniently planned a weekend getaway with Becky and Jeff to northern Italy under the guise of showing them some rides in the Dolomites. Leaving early Friday morning, hours before they were to join us, we headed to the border as fast as we could. We had about an 8 hour jump on these two and had to hit as many stores as possible before they joined us in Castelrotto. There was no time to waste.

With an Euro GPS card, we figured we could find some Coop stores in the town of Bolzano near our final destination of Castelrotto. After driving through Lichtenstein and Austria, we finally arrived just before noon. The dreaded lunch time in Italy means stores are closed and cars clog the tiny streets. In utter frustration, we wandered aimlessly for a half hour without finding the first Coop store.

In desperation, we made a rash decision. An hour and a half hour drive further south to Lago di Garda was familiar territory for us where we could find a number of Coop stores with our eyes closed. With little discussion over the matter, we took off for the autostrada in mad pursuit. Time was now really ticking away, and we would barely be able to make it back before our teammates arrived to meet us.

By now, we've been driving for well over 5 hours, we're famished, and crankiness is setting in rapidly. There was no time to stop for a snack, we would have to hold off to the Coop and grab something there. According to our calculations, by the time we would arrive to our Tour de Coop destination, the stores would still not be open for another hour. We could use that siesta time to scarf down some gelato to energize ourselves for the mad dash.

Arriving in town, we were thrilled to see the signs announcing the new store hours. For the first season since we have been coming, the store remained open all day. Can you imagine the mayhem grocery stores in Georgia would cause if they all closed between 12:30-3:00 every day!?! It may be the Italian way, but it sho wouldn't cut the mustard down South.

No time for a gelato break. We bolted into the stores as quick as we could cram our "midsize" rental car into a compact parking space. Raja would grab a basket as I bolted ahead to hunt down the aisles. "Here, here they are!"

"Hurry, quick, get them all!"

Faster than you could say grits and jowls, Raja counted the bars as he flung them in the basket.

"How many this time," I'd ask. He'd report the total and I'd tally up the euros, as we did not want to waste any time at the checkout. The register clerk would look at us like we were crazy and begin to count. "Trentadue" or "ventiquattro" I'd say, and sure enough she'd repeat the total as if in disbelief.

We'd deposit the stash in the trunk and head off to the next Coop, hitting as many as we could.

We filled our baskets at as many stores as time allowed. After we broke the 100 mark, we stopped to think about it. Uh, yea, we have to get these things back home. Are we going to have enough room?

We called it quits at 109. It would have been 110 except for one inquisitive shopper whose suspicions were aroused by our behavior. She had observed our shopping frenzy and decided that this particular chocolate bar must be worth a try. As she snitched a bar quickly, she said to us, "this must be really good so I better get one!" Darn that signora.

We laugh when we think of the confusion we must cause in inventory. Every Fall, in one day, there's an inexplicable mad rush on a chocolate bar.

Once we survived the grueling Tour de Coop, we could enjoy our grocery store encounters. Raja's favorite part is the produce department. Yet another example of "why don't we do it like this in the U.S.?" You pick your produce, set it on the scale, punch in the corresponding number code, and poof, a label with a UPC price code pops out to stick on the bag.

We are so easily entertained, and it's like a game for us to go shopping. In fact, this is the only kind of "shopping" I do in Europe. With all our time spent riding bikes and hoarding chocolate, there's no time left to look for souvenirs. That is fine with me, because I am NOT a shopper. The groceries and bakeries get my attention. Look at all the pretty colors! I love it!

So, that's it. The Tour de Coop. Never heard of it? Now you have! And just cause you know there's about 50 lbs of good chocolate at my house, don't go getting any ideas. I ain't sharing. I may be little, but don't even try to get between me and my chocolate. Just ask Raja. I can get pretty nasty if you move in on that territory!

Before you sign out, check out the picture post of the training ride we did to prepare for the Tour de Coop. I wish you happy shopping and if you ever see me in the grocery aisle with a wild look in my eye, get outta my way. I may be pretending I'm in Italy on a secret quest!

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