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Friday, August 29, 2014

To Packman: My Friend

"Heaven would not be heaven
if there were no hills."
Melissa "Puddle" Hall

As I climb my last long training hill before a gentle taper for my 1000K, my lungs spasmodically heaving with effort, my thighs crying and cursing me, I feel the thrill of victory surge through me, volcanically rising inside as I crest the top.  With sweat still mercilessly stinging my eyes, I rest in an easy but  powerful rhythm and feel the blessed relief  that comes from a less intense effort.  It is like doing Pilates and finally releasing from the plank position or some other position that challenges your muscles to the max, an internal melting of blessed release, release that only comes following effort.  Internally there is a core nugget of satisfaction, of having accomplished a goal, of success in not walking, in not yielding to the temptation to just quit, in following a plan of action wherever it leads.  Yes, I am proud of myself.  Whether I succeed or not in the long run is temporarily unimportant, I have gotten this far without surrendering.  And I think to myself the above, that heaven would not be heaven without hills.  To feel like this inside, to see the land stretched out below like a museum painting, to conquer and overcome, this is important, at least to me. Surely even in heaven there are challenges. And if there are challenges there must be hills,  and if there are hills there absolutely MUST be bicycles.  Otherwise, heaven would not be heaven.

Hope to ride with you then, Packman.  Until then, I carry a part of you inside me whether you know it or not my friend.   Puddle

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rain Ride

"Cherish your solitude.  Take trains by yourself
to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under
the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that
you stop being afraid of never coming back.  Say no 
when you don't want to do something. Say yes if your
instincts are strong, even if everyone around you
disagrees.  Decide whether you want to be liked or 
admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than
finding out what you are doing here.  Believe in kissing."
Eve Ensler

The rain believes in kissing, sometimes the deep, probing, throaty kiss of  passion that may even border on pain at moments,  and sometimes the gentle, nourishing kiss given to a child at bedtime, heart-achingly poignant. All day it has been falling, kissing the earth, and it would be an acceptable excuse not to head out the door with a bicycle.  I have no one to answer to but myself. It repels and attracts me all at the same time, and it is time to make the decision.  Housework is done and I need the training miles, thus I yield to the part of me that wants to dance with the rain, to feel it caress me, gently and lover-like, to listen to its rhythm on my helmet, in the trees, in the corn fields, in the creeks.  It is a warm rain today, a gentle rain, soft and alluring.  It should not be hard to force myself out into it. It is the type of rain that lead to my Mad Dog naming so very long ago:  Puddle.  It is the  type of rain that I need to reclaim as my own.  It is the type of rain that may, perhaps, combined with solitude, will help me remember, "what you are doing here."

Originally my training plan was to ride Bartles Knob, Pixley Knob, Liberty Knob, and another hill whose name escapes me, but the thought of the steep, curvy, wet descents turns me in another direction.  I head toward Salem via Mt. Eden Road and Delaney Park.  A deer melts into the woodland border, I see only his powerful haunches, brown yielding to creamy whiteness, and I wish that my hand could lie on his flank for a moment, to feel the muscles coiled, warm, and  sinewy as  he bounds away.  I wish him safety with hunting season nearing, and I thank him for the beauty he has added to this ride.  

I hear the rain in the way you can only hear it when you are out riding in it alone, and it forms a harmony with the sound of my bicycle wheels, a  harmony that changes as I go from corn fields to forest or when the road borders a creek.  Everything is unbelievably green and lush, and with the gentle veil of the rain, borders on mysterious.  A rafter of turkeys cross the road in front of me, two large turkeys and three small ones.  Spying me, the two older turkeys scurry off leaving only the sound of their passing into the brush.  The younger ones fly, gangly and graceless.  I realize I have too long neglected these roads for other routes.  I realize it is one of those days when you feel as if you could ride forever without ever tiring, physically or mentally.  And I am thankful.  I remember what I am doing here. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The First Ever Indiana 300K Brevet

"Contrary to what we usually believe, 
moments like these, the best moments, are
not the passive, receptive, relaxing times---
though such experiences can also be enjoyable
if we have worked hard to obtain them. 
The best moments usually occur when a person's
body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary
effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
Optimal experience is thus something we can make happen."
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

As I train for my fall 1000K, the one that scares me so as I am so with the unfamiliar terrain I will encounter and my ability to master it along with numerous other niggling fears, fears that I recognize but refuse to allow to define me, I am delighted to find that there is a 300K on the RUSA schedule that is  quite nearby.  Part of the problem training for a long fall event is that there normally is such a large gap between the completion of your qualifying 600K and the 1000K.  How do you maintain the fitness you have gained between the two events?  Even with a century every week-end and sometimes two, I feel like I am losing ground.  Yes, I feel faster and I am climbing better as a few pounds peel off, but I am  concerned about my endurance level dropping and I still am not and likely never will  be some slim whip of a lass.  I also am concerned about burn out, how to get myself to the starting line as strong as I can possibly be without being so tired of riding and training that I just want it to end.

It is doubly nice that this 300K  is a first in Indiana and I am going to be part of that first. Hats off to Bill Watts for starting a series in Indiana. Yes, I could ride and train that distance on my own, but it just seems too difficult to discipline myself to do that, particularly as I have no training companions at the present time. It is too expensive to go elsewhere. And my house has fallen in even more disorder than usual with my increased riding time.  But perhaps Steve Rice is right when he tells me that a large part of riding a brevet is the mental fortitude necessary to finish once you are century fit.  Time will tell.

I decide not to drive to Indianapolis and stay all night the evening before as I believe that starting to ride with not enough sleep is just a part of training for the fall event.  The 1000K begins at 4:00 a.m.  This ride starts at 6:00 a.m. which means this lazy girl doesn't even need to leave the house until 3:45 a.m. to make it by the 5:30 sign in.  As usual, my internal clock awakens me even earlier than I would need to be up and I stagger downstairs to make my morning coffee.  Cats haughtily stalk through the house, tails straight upwards,  following me and monitoring my activity, upset at this change in their routine and at not getting fed. I chuckle thinking that my husband can deal with their offended little egos when he arises later in the day, and I strongly suspect that he will not be permitted to sleep in.  While the coffee brews and the heady aroma wafts through the kitchen, I head upstairs and dress myself in the clothing I laid out the evening before.  My bag is packed and ready to go.  My bike had lights attached and was made ready for loading the evening before.  All I need is to get my coffee, throw everything into the car, and drive.

When I arrive, I am surprised at the number of people who appear to be getting ready to ride, particularly since the weather is supposed to be very hot, humid, and windy with lots of thunderstorms thrown in to make things interesting. Per the RBA, 24 registered, 21 started, and 20 finished. But there you have sensible are people who ride brevets?  I grin thinking of the doctor I went to after PBP 2007 when I temporarily, a week or two after the event, reached for something and quite suddenly  lost feeling in a forearm for some still unknown reason. Thinking I was being smart, I made an appointment at the office of someone I knew  rides a bicycle albeit not long distances.  I get one of his partners who says, "You damned idiot.  If you want to go somewhere 100 miles away get in a damned car."  Incidentally, he did nothing to help me with my problem, but time cured it as time so often has a habit of doing if we are just patient.
It is interesting to see the variety of people and bicycles at the start.  Some of these  people I know, but most of them I have never seen before.  Dave King is here riding his fixed gear. Steve Royse and Dave Rudy are here. There is another fixed gear rider and a tandem  and two recumbants.  All the rest are singles.  There is one other woman riding, the stoker on the tandem. I wonder who, if anyone, I will ride with.  When I learn we are coming and going on a bike path through the city, it firms my resolve to try to find a suitable companion today, and I am lucky enough to find two:  Dave King, a good friend that I have known for many years now, and Bob Bruce, who I have not met before but who I  now consider a semi-friend.  I say a semi-friend because we don't know each other well enough to discern if our personalities mesh as Dave's and mine do.  Yes, Dave and I annoy each other at times, but we also like each other and enjoy riding together. The number of miles we have traveled together attest to that.

Almost immediately after we get off the bike path, we are stopped in our tracks by a train that is blocking the road.  It moves forward, stops, then backs up. Alas, it is hooking onto another load of cars.  After what seems like quite a long wait, it finally moves forward, creaking and groaning as it strains under its load,  and we proceed as best we can while having to stop at numerous traffic lights.  I tell Steve Royse that it reminds me of PBP 2007 when he dragged my sorry rear in at the end of the ride.  I have never wanted to get off a bicycle so badly and felt terrible having lost my ability to force food down, and it seemed fate was conspiring against us with every light throughout the  town turning red right before we got to it: an endless procession of red lights.  Only Steve and his hard candies (something my brother, the dentist abhors) got me through the last few miles.  I spend some time thinking about how kind some people are to others and that Steve was drawn to the right profession when he chose medicine or when medicine chose him.  I do admire kindness in people, and while my husband once told me that people can sense an inner core of kindness in me and that is what has made me successful at what I do, I often feel I am lacking in that area. 

I am not used to riding in the city, and the traffic and even some of the people we pass make me rather nervous while at the same time fascinating me.  What would it be like to live in such a place? I realize I will be more comfortable when we get to a more rural areas, but that is not necessarily a good thing.  I waken from my reverie to find that the larger group I was riding with has now split into smaller groups as bicycling groups are wont to do.  On the way back into the city later, Bob says something about the country mouse not liking the all the commotion of the city and it was very odd as I had just been thinking that I was a country mouse and would be glad to get back to my own quiet, rural home despite all the enriching experiences and people a city holds.  It was one of those moments when you get the uncomfortable feeling that someone is reading your mind. I didn't ask if he was referring to me or to himself and whether he thought it was a good thing or a bad thing, but I feel certain it was to me he was referring to, and what a coincidence that he would use the exact same terminology that I was using in my head. "It is not easy to to walk alone in the country without musing about something."  (Charles Dickens) Yes, the city is fine for a visit, but I would not want to live there.  Even as a child I knew that, that I needed the green fields in the same way that some people need the roll of the waves or that some people need the snow or that others need the bustle and hum of the city. 

The course becomes quite beautiful after the first control and I find my interest particularly piqued when we hit the town of Bean Blossom.  This seems rather silly as I have only seen the name on a map and wanted to ride there, but I  have never ridden through it before.  There is not much there in Bean Blossom, but the name strikes my fancy.  Like many small towns in this age of huge corporations and conglomerates, decaying dreams line the main street. We have so many more things now, but are they the important things?  Or was it better to pay more and  have fewer things but have something else, something I can't find a word for but I know was there, or I think was there. But then I am a dreamer and my dreams tend to romanticize reality. As I have told friends, it is a quality that is one of my biggest strengths, but it is also one of my biggest weaknesses. 

As we near Nashville, the second control, the rain begins to hammer us with that stinging rain that feels like little javelins are being hurled at you by some Lilliputians. Bob and I stop as he remembers the course from the 200K as being different from the cue sheet.  I had turned off the mapping on my Garmin earlier as alas, yet again, after the first control it kept giving me the message that I was off course and then started to tell me to take wrong turns.  I turn it back on and it does pick up the right trail and works again for awhile through eventually I end up turning it off completely.   I don't  particularly like looking so stupid in front of Bob, but I am what I am, and technologically challenged is a nice way of saying it.  I feel a bit better later when I find that Dave also has had some problems with his GPS. Strange, the comfort there is in knowing we are not alone.  And Dave is good with technology and does computer stuff for a living. Thanks to Bob's memory, we take the right turn and end up in Nashville.  It is there that we see Dave again. I am glad. We had arrived at the first control together, but I didn't know if he was behind me or left ahead of me.  

Nashville brings so many memories as we normally go there during the Christmas holidays to have lunch at The Muddy Boots and so that my daughter-in-law can look at the quaint little stores that line the village.  It is one of those excursions that begins as a whim and ends up being somewhat of a tradition.  And I am all about tradition. But my coldness from the rain and being thoroughly soaked from head to toe keeps me from getting caught up in the past.  Bob suggests hot chocolate and I concur thinking how odd it is to be drinking hot chocolate on a day when it is predicted to be in the nineties.  I also think how stupid I was to leave my rain jacket in the car as I begin to chill.  At least I did have the sense to wear wool socks and my feet are warm enough. The rain does not last long, however, and before you know it the warmth of pedaling has filled me as we make our way toward Freetown. When we return this way later in the day, there will be no thoughts of hot chocolate.  The air is syrupy thick and steaming hot, and it is like riding in a sauna. 

It seems such a short time before we have passed through Freetown and made it to the turn around.  We stop at a small cafe to have something substantial before the return journey.  It looks like a hole in the wall on the outside, but inside it is clean and humming with business.  It turns out the food is good, the prices are reasonable, and the service is quick.  The waitress does everything but stand on her head to help us out bringing pitchers of water with ice to the table so that we could drink our fill and fill our water bottles.  What strikes me the most about the meal, however, is that nobody takes out a smart phone to check e-mail or the weather.  We just enjoy the meal and each others company.  Other than meals with my husband or my best friend, Sharon, I can't think of many times that has happened recently.  And I often wonder about everyone's obsession with checking the radar:  what good does it do if you are half way through a ride.  Weather just is going to happen and you have to deal with it.  That being said, I have been caught out a few times when I wondered if I would survive the weather:  but are those not the rides you best remember, those that test your courage, your determination, your ingenuity, your endurance? I can't say I am sorry to have missed the stinging hail some of the others got to experience during the ride though.  Ken, who finished before us, says it hailed on him and others behind post it hailed on them, so it must have danced around us.

After lunch Dave tells Bob and I to go on when we hit the hills, and I smile inside knowing Dave does not do himself justice.  And while he does lag a bit on a few of the longer climbs, there are many that he is way ahead of me on.  He even makes it up the steep climb after Freetown, weaving upwards and beating me to the top. But I also am smiling as I told Bob this same thing near the start of the ride when it became apparent that our paces were somewhat similar as I knew he would most likely be stronger on the hills.  I would have been really concerned if I had know his cycling history:  Leadville, Cascade, Granite Anvil, etc.  Odd how we don't want to hold others back, and as I told him at one point if there is one thing I have learned about randonneurring it is that  you must ride your own pace. It is hard to stay with someone who is much stronger or much weaker on the bike, and there just seems to be more of a speed variation on hills.

As we near Indianapolis, Dave picks up the pace while I do my best to hold on.  The miles pass quickly and we get on the bike path.  There is something going on which I assume is a 5 K run, but people are dressed like victims of a mass murder or disaster with fake blood and dirt covering them.  We pass through a tent that has decontamination tent written on a sign and people wearing white with spray cans of some type.  I am impressed at the number of young people I see running, and I cheer for them as we pass.  But the rain has started and is gradually increasing in intensity, pounding out a rhythm on my helmet and dripped over the end of my helmet. Lightening begins to streak the sky in jagged, beautiful, patterns.  Rather than heading earthward it seems to be streaking crosswise.  I note this all the way home in my car as well. I laugh thinking of a storm safety lesson I heard on the radio just a day or two prior to the ride and realize that we are doing everything that you are warned not to do: we are riding by the river, near and under trees, and on metal objects. Who said brevet riders have good sense?  Perhaps we don't, but we have had a day filled with challenge and companionship and just plain fun, at least when it wasn't hurting;-)

My only concern is the pain in my neck has returned.  Thus far, I can deal with it, but I worry about how severe it might become on the 1000K and whether it is permanent pain or one of those things that will heal once I take a rest from the long miles.  We get old, things hurt, but we still carry on as long as we can.  That is life. My next big training experience will  be riding four centuries in a row in August.  What a way to spend two vacation days!  "What fools ye mortals be."  Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Preparing for the Appalachian Adventure (Maryland 1000K)

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
(part of the poem "Do Not Go Gentle
Into that Good Night" by Dylan Thomas

I wish I could say that I have some extremely clever, insightful window into the depths of my soul that allows me to completely understand why I want to complete the Appalachian Adventure this fall.  I have nothing to prove to anyone.  I know it is going to be a tremendous challenge, that with advancing age, though still quite strong,  my physical prowess is waning and not waxing.  I know that none of my normal companions, those few I love and am comfortable with, warts and all, are joining me on this adventure.  Indeed, most of my past riding companions have ceased riding or ride very seldom, something I still struggle with and grieve deeply.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I want to do this ride: to close that chapter in my life, to reach that nebulous point in the grieving process where you finally accept that things are what they are and become glad that you had the time together you did.  Yes, I long for that time when memories make me smile rather than rent my heart like a merciless blade.  But that is not the only reason to ride.

I know that this ride is going to hurt and there will be climbs that make my legs curse me.  And I know that it is quite likely that I will be utterly alone at times, totally dependent only upon myself and my meager inner resources to pull myself through the darkness that can invade your very being on an ultra long ride when unameliorated by company.   I wish I were brimming with confidence in my cycling ability, my mechanical proficiency, my navigational skills, and my capability of being successful. I wish I were not so very scared of losing my way or of not being up to the climbs or of any number of things. I suppose what I am trying to say is that I wish I were bolder, more resourceful, more confident of myself, and not such scaredy cat.  Still I hope that in spite of my doubts, my fears, my insecurities, my numerous shortcomings, that I will not "go gently into that good night," that I can accomplish "this frail deed" and see it shine.

I have determined that I will look at this ride as an adventure and that I will not accept failure.  Oh, I might and probably will find myself off course and might not successfully complete the brevet itself, but my success will be in challenging myself and handling whatever happens as the adventure it will be.  I hope to burst into song at the sight of the Shenandoah Valley and expect to think of Jimmy Stewart, my all time favorite actor.  I hope to thrill at the sight of Harper's Ferry and all the other historical and enchanting sights I encounter along the way.  I hope my eyes will drink all the sights that I have never seen before so that they can succor me in the future when I need them.  And when the end comes, as it inevitably does, this will not be one opportunity that I missed and perhaps those that love me will remember me as a "doer" despite being the dreamer, that part of me that my father so despised.  I hope that I will not be filled with regrets about what wasn't or what could have been had I not been such an invertebrate.  And another favorite poem comes to mind:

"Prospective Immigrants Please Note," by Adrienne Rich

"Either you will go through this door
or you will not go through. 

If you go through 
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

To maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises,
it is only a door."

Yes, I do believe I will gird my loins and go through the door, at least this time. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Kentucky 600 K Brevet 2014

 "Dance. Smile. Giggle. Marvel.
Most of all, enjoy every moment of the journey
and appreciate where you are at this moment instead 
of always focusing on how far you have to go."
Mandy Hale

From the first pedal stroke of the 600K, something does not feel exactly right.  Maybe these are not the right words to explain what I am feeling but they are what come to mind:  a certain lack of commitment or enthusiasm for the task ahead.  Sometimes the vocabulary I need to express myself, to define myself to myself no less to others,  eludes me.  I have no doubt that I will finish this ride  if I decide to do so and if I do not have a mechanical issue or take a tumble.  After all, the weather is perfect for such a ride since the rain prediction abated.  Temperatures are supposed to be mild and there is supposed to be very little wind. It will be a tad cooler than I personally prefer and with less sunshine, but the conditions are truly ideal. And while I am not in the best shape of my life, I am fairly fit and had no trouble finishing the 400K.  The course, while terribly difficult, is quite doable.  and it is only 600 K. But there is just that intangible something that is nagging me, that feeling that you have forgotten something that might be important, that feeling that you should be somewhere else doing something else.

I try to define why I am feeling a bit off kilter. Perhaps it is the course? Certainly the course is challenging, particularly the last 200 kilometers, but I have ridden it before. It just means that you must grit your teeth and dig a little deeper into the well of your determination. Indeed, the difficulty of a course seems to directly correlate with the sense of accomplishment upon completion.  Perhaps it is my husband just telling me he does not think his health will allow him to accompany me to Maryland to visit our son?  I intend to tie that visit in with the 1000K there and that has certainly been a motivator for me. I am not sure that I want to go without him.  Perhaps it is  the rather characteristically stupid decision I made to partial fast twice this week despite the upcoming brevet?  But I am used to partial fasting and it normally comes easily to me so long as it is not the day before a ride.  I did leave myself two days to glory in unbridled gluttony.  Perhaps it is that I headed out a tad too fast and I am now paying the cost?  But this sense of discomfiture has been apparent from the very beginning. Perhaps it is that it is the first brevet I have ridden where neither Bill nor Steve are riding? While we don't always ride the brevet together, normally don't ride the brevet together, I gain a certain comfort knowing they are on the course and look forward to sharing our experiences of the ride.  Or perhaps it is just my attitude and perhaps I should quit my childish sulking and remember to enjoy every moment of the journey.  Because in the end much of the success of a brevet rider is determined by his or her attitude. Life is just too short not to enjoy the journey. You might ride one brevet or even a series of brevets if you find you dislike the journey, but you will certainly not continue to ride them.

Sixteen riders from five different states roll out into the darkness.  All but five will finish. As usual, I am at the far back of the pack and I wonder if this time I will actually be one of the last or the very last finisher. I wonder if that would bother me, being the last finisher when brevets are not competitions. I have finished last before, but not in a brevet.  I smile to myself remembering a road race in a small local town where I was the only woman and the only one over the age of 20 that was running.  While this then forty something year old woman did her best and finished with a respectable time, the young track team was out of sight within the first mile.  Indeed, I was last by quite some margin, and rather embarrassingly escorted to the finish line by a police car with sirens wailing and lights flashing.  I survived. In fact, I found it rather humorous and took pride that I was brave enough to be out there. And quite suddenly I realize that starting any brevet does take either a small amount of bravery or foolishness. More likely, it is a combination of the two.

Sometime during all this rather redundant pondering that seems to haunt me at the beginning of a long ride, I come upon someone I know. I ride for a bit with Steve Meredith and we share some conversation, but I remember that I have set a goal to be in by midnight so I can catch some sleep before taking off to finish the last 200K and I quicken my pace when he says he does not think he will be finishing that early.  I also remember that I want to be past "the scary place" before dark if at all possible and I dance on the pedals even a bit more quickly. Alex Mead and Todd Williams both raised their hands when Steve asked if anyone was planning on riding straight through as nothing is open along the route once it gets late, and I think for a bit what it would be like to have the talent to ride that quickly and not have to worry at all that you will be swift enough to get through "the scary place" before darkness falls.  But soon I remember to be thankful that I can ride at all, and I know that I will be more than thankful to have a few hours sleep after riding the first 400K of my journey.  When you live with someone who can barely breathe at times and sometimes walks around tethered to an oxygen tank, you get a whole new appreciation of what it means to breathe and the true value of oxygen. When I lack sympathy or get compassion fatigued, I just try to imagine what it would be like to climb a steep, never-ending hill knowing that if you quit it means death but that you will never, ever reach the top no matter how hard or how long you pedal.  I take a deep breath of appreciation noting how my chest expands and my lungs stretch and are nourished.  How thankful I am that I stopped smoking.

Soon it is just the moon, stars, road, and me.  I see no lights behind me or in front of me. On Pea Ridge, what I think is a fox starts to head out onto the road, then slips away into the shroud of darkness leaving only a whispery, rustling sound as a reminder of his presence in this world. Shortly thereafter, passing a home, the homey scent of fabric softener wafts  through the air and blankets itself around me for just a few minutes.  Someone has started those early morning Saturday chores; someone whose life conceivably has a bit more normalcy about it. But then I am old enough to have learned that normalcy is an illusion we use to soothe ourselves with. Most of us are "crazier than hell," to quote a friend.  I think about how there is comfort to be found in routine, that when we are out of our normal routine, however  much we may bitch about it when we are in the midst of it, we eventually miss our ordinary lives, like when you go on vacation. And I feel my attitude begin to improve, though it will be a constant battle the entire ride.  I have that conversation that all brevet riders have with themselves intermittently about whether or not they really want to continue doing this.  Meanwhile, wispy patches of fog slip by and dawn slips up on me taking me by surprise, a delightful pink and purple tinting accompanied by raucous birds still seeking breakfast and a mate. 

At the top of the long climb on Oregon Road, I come upon Dustin Tinnell and Steve Mauer at the side of the road, stretched out.  I ask if they have what they need and ride on when they say that they do.  I think how it reminds me of  PBP, this resting alongside the road, though the ride itself is very young.  I catch Dave King just leaving the first control as I roll in.   He pauses and I know he thinks about waiting, but then he moves on.  We pass again later at the turn around for the 400K and he says something, but I don't quite catch it. We will not ride together this brevet.  Later, after the first meeting with Dave but before the second,  I meet up with Tim Argo and we ride most of that day and part of the next together, though he is much stronger than me and it impacts his finish time.  I feel badly about this, but all I can do is to tell him to go on: I can't make him go.  At one point, the wind picks up and Tim pulls relentlessly as I wonder where in the heck this unpredicted wind came from.  I thank him and ask if he would like me to take a turn, but we both know I am not as strong as he is.  Thankfully, that section of head wind, unpredicted and unappreciated, is short.  Thankfully I have made another new friend during this brevet series.

Sometime during the day, Tim comments upon how the course has changed with each ride.  I think it is odd as I have been thinking the same thing.  Stark, gray, leafless trees have given way to verdant greenness, no longer tentative but audacious and bold, transforming the world into a visual feast of color.   White daisies line the fence rows and honeysuckle wafts sweetness into the air titillating every sense. The first of the honey bee beloved yellow sweet clover is in bloom, delicate and lacey, and I understand yet again how the contrast nourishes appreciation, how without the contrast even this lush, fecundity would seem mundane and ordinary.  Sometimes the things we dislike are so necessary for the enhancement of those we do like.  Still I wonder how so much of the season change eluded me and I am struck with a  sharp pang of  longing for what is already gone.  No matter how hard I try to capture it, to remember it, spring passes much too quickly and slips through my fingers like the wind, much like my children's childhood did.  

Do we eventually lose the ability to do brevets because we quit making the effort, or do we quit making the effort because deep down we know we no longer have the ability, that the demands it places upon not just our time and our loved ones, but our bodies is too much?  And how very much of a brevet is mental.  All day I use every mental game and trick in my bag, but for some reason it is a constant battle. Tricks that normally move me miles down the road work only for a short period of time or not at all.  I finally just accept that it is going to be one of those rides that I struggle with, the kind of ride that makes me appreciate other rides that are just easier for some reason. No matter what routine I come up with and painstakingly try to replicate when results are good, each ride seems to be unique.  I think that is one of the very things I love about bicycling and why I don't seem to tire of it.

I worry at the turn around when I am not really hungry as I have found that is never a good sign on a brevet.  But I force myself to eat and I am able to keep going.  I briefly mention to Tim how much it pains me to not feel hungry when I should eat, have earned the right to eat.  I think of my first PBP when I stopped at a bakery on my return journey and limited myself to two pastries despite feeling absolutely starved.  Duh!  Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why?  For once I could have eaten all the pastries this greed gut could hold. Old habits do die hard. But I do learn a valuable lesson. Still, despite forcing myself to eat, I dd not eat enough and I feel light headed when I dismount at the next control.

Back on the road, Tim and I come across a friend who headed out at the start as if Satan were after him, but he is done.  I can see it in his eyes and face, the resignation, the bowing of the shoulders,  and I wish there is something that I could do or say to help, but while you can assist others with a flat or fixing a mechanical or maybe encourage them  through a slight mental down time,  you can't give them the strength to finish the over two hundred more miles that we have left to go.  I steel my heart and move onwards knowing he is safe at a control and can rest and move forward later or call in the sag team. Later I find, as I suspected, he DNF'd.  It humbles me for he is normally so very strong, and reminds me that sometimes you just have a bad day.

All day I remind myself that I want to be through "the scary place" before dark, so even when my legs begin to beg for surcease and mercy I ignore them and demand more.  The "scary place" is a busy section of road with little shoulder that leads out of Lawrenceburg, and I always worry on that stretch.  It is the place where Tim Carroll waited with his fixed gear that night so very long ago not wanting to ride that stretch alone.  You just feel the danger pressing in on you when you ride that short stretch, cars seem like angry entities, affronted at your temerity in being on in their domain; however, it must be ridden to get to and from the store.  I don't like riding it in the daylight, but I like it even less at night.  Somehow we make it during daylight hours with daylight to spare. Tim Argo, the other Tim, shares this stretch of road with me today, then speeds off ahead.  I think of how many men I know who ride who have the same first names: at least seven or more Steves, two Gregs, four Tims, and a number of Daves.  It does make things confusing. 

After riding Pea Ridge as if Dave King were by my side, working the downhills to ease the uphills, I catch back up with Tim and we ride the rest of the way in. He asks if I had brought anyone with me.  I passed another rider prior to catching Tim and quickly tried to explain the irony of Pea Ridge:  it is truly easier to work hard on the down hills to ease the work on the uphills.  But he either did not hear me or did not believe me or did not have hard riding left in his legs, so he is not with me. In my rear view mirror I watched as his headlight was swallowed by the night. We pass Todd and Alex heading back out to do the last 200K as we turn onto Zaring Mill.  We all yell at each other, but the darkness hides our identities.  I only know it is them because nobody else plans on riding straight through. Night masks identities.

And after what seems like forever, I am at my motel.  I am so very ready to sleep.  Prior to going to bed, Tim and I decide to meet at Waffle House the next morning and start the ride together.  I feel guilty saying I do not intend to leave until 5:00 a.m., particularly since we arrived before 11:00, but I know how difficult tomorrow's route is and that my body needs rest. I hope sleep will light my face with a smile until it cracks wide open in a belly jiggling laugh.  I hope sleep will improve my attitude, that I will "dance, smile, giggle, and marvel."  Alas, it is not to be.  I slit fitfully and awaken several times with my toes and feet cramping.  Weird.  My toes and feet have never cramped before and I hope they never do so again.

Darkness still clings to the earth restlessly waiting for dawns warm embrace when I meet Tim and we take off.  I repeat what I told him the prior evening:  he should not expect to stay with me today.  The hills are just too steep on this route for me to climb swiftly.  Yes, I can and do climb each and every one of them, but at my own pace which happens to be, at least today, snail like and without rhythm.  On Figgs Store Road he disappears gobbled into the darkness and I am alone.  I remember riding this section of road with Dave, Bill, and Steve and how a deer skittered between our bicycles, beautiful and dangerous.  I believe it was lightly raining that morning, a warm comforting soak, the kind that gently caresses and nourishes the earth.  And there may have been lightening, jaggedly crossing the sky. And then I am near the top of the long climb out.  Suddenly I am startled at hearing Tim's voice behind me, shaking me out of my reverie:  he had missed a turn.  Again I watch him ride off, his legs acting as if tomorrow never even happened, and I am envious of his power and speed.

Turning onto 1066, one of the few number roads I remember because of the Norman conquest, we see Todd and Alex cresting a climb, making their way back to the motel and home.  Dawn has not been too long upon us, and I am envious that they are almost done.  I am worried because they look tired.  No, not worried about them, but about me.  They are too strong and have finished too many brevets not to finish this one.  If it took this much out of those two; however, what will it do to me.  But then I have slept and they have not I assure myself. We exchange greetings without stopped. Other than occasionally seeing Tim, I see no other riders after Todd and Alex until the turn around when Ken pulls in behind us.  Occasionally I think how very beautiful the scenery is, one of the gifts that hills seem to give us because the land is not easily farm-able and not easily built upon.  Mostly, though, I am caught up in pushing one pedal after the other, trying to keep my rhythm.

When I pull into the motel to finish, Ken, who passed me on the way back in,  looks at me and says, "You will feel better when you have been off the bike five minutes."  Strangely enough, I do.  Steve, Tim, Ken, and I share the pizza that Steve brought, and I head homeward to my own little bed where I sleep without cramps in my feet or toes and I have two furry bed partners purring a soft soothing melody that screams of home.  This ride was a rough one for me, mentally as well as physically.  No matter how much I tried to focus on the journey rather than how far I had to go there were times when I looked at my odometer every mile for miles on end, thinking surely it must be broken, that I had surely had ridden farther than I had.  But I will remember this ride, or parts of this ride because of the struggle, because of Tim's kindness pulling me through the brief section of disheartening wind, because of my toes cramping.

The words of Kelly Cutrone come to mind:

"This is an important lesson to remember when you're having a bad day,
a bad month, or a shitty year.  Things will change:  you won't feel this way
forever.  And anyway, sometimes the hardest lessons to learn are the ones
your soul needs the most.  I believe you can't feel real joy unless you've felt
heartache.  You can't have a sense of victory unless you know what it means
to fail.  You can't know what it is like to feel holy until you know what it's like
to feel really fucking evil.   And you can't be birthed again until you die."

Friday, May 2, 2014

Kentucky 400K Brevet

"Love only what you do,
and not what you have done."
Adrienne Rich

The weather promises to be gorgeous, as if apologizing for its temper tantrum on the 300K.  Yes, there is wind, but it is not the cold, punishing, in your face wind of the 300K but a kinder, gentler wind that will test us on the way out but will also reward us by a push home. More importantly, at least to me, there will be sunshine, glorious sunshine, in the world today; and there will be color from leaves and from flowers stirring, shyly pushing up through the ground, glorying in their rebirth.  Spring has finally graced us with her presence after the winter that would not quit.  Greedily, I anticipate a sumptuous feast for my eyes and my soul.  The world is callow, fresh, and like a newborn baby, there is something quite special about it:  a whole world of possibilities lies ahead and each bend of the road could conceal a surprise.

Susan is kind enough to ask me to stay  the night so I do not need to rent a room the night before the brevet or drive so far in the morning.  As always, she is the soul of hospitality.  Only a midnight phone call from the motel I had cancelled reservations with on Wednesday asking if I was still coming left me befuddled and  marred my sleep once it finally arrived.  I still haven't figured that one out. I decide not to let it upset me for there is nothing to be gained in that direction. While I have found that it is quite nice to get some solid sleep the night immediately preceding a brevet, it is most important to sleep soundly the night BEFORE the night before.  Realistically, leaving at 4:00 a.m. how much sleep can one get?  I will my body to lie still and rest and prepare for the effort that will be asked of it the coming day.

Riders gather in the chilly darkness outside the hotel room where the sign in is being held.  17 of the 18 who registered are here, and all but two will finish. Four states are represented: Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. Some of the riders I know, and some I don't.  I am the only woman riding this time, and yet again I think of what Steve Rice said when I once wondered why more women don't participate in brevets. "Most women," he said, "have better sense."  I grin to myself thinking of a past on-line discussion on this issue  and how that discussion was dominated by men, most of whom seemed clueless and not at all receptive to the females who posted ideas of why more women do not ride brevets. The men seemed to think they knew why women rode or did not ride better than women themselves. Dan Driscoll, if memory serves, came closer than any man who posted to at least finding a solution though I don't know the man and have no idea if he really had an  understanding the need. I briefly wonder if any of the other women or men reading the thread noted the irony. I wondered if any of of the other readers noted that the lack of African American riders at PBP and other brevets, male or female, and other minorities was not addressed. But that, perhaps,  is another discussion for another time.  How often we, and I include myself in this group, fail to listen.

Briefly I wonder why I am here and not tucked snugly in my own bed lost in dreams.  But as lovely as dreams are while you are sleeping,  pursuing dreams and living dreams while awake is much more satisfying.  And I realize that there is a part of me that loves this: the anticipation of effort, of laughter, of introspection, of companionship, of loneliness,  of desperation, of all those emotions and thoughts that happen when you are riding 252 miles even if it is lovely day and it is finally spring in Kentucky. And I have an entire day to do nothing but ride my bike. The words of Adrienne Rich, quoted above, come to mind.  Perhaps she is right and it is the doing that is the thing.  And while I can't say that every time I prepare to ride a brevet I am brimming with anticipation, it will be time to quit when I no longer love riding them the majority of the time, at least until the pain and weariness kicks in and changes my attitude so that I vow I will never ride again.

I wonder who, if anyone, I will ride with or if I will make this journey alone.  As always at the start of any brevet, but particularly a longer brevet, there is that tinge of self doubt and of worry haunting the dark recesses of my consciousness that I must shoo away before my imagination takes hold and inflates them into something much larger than what they are.  And the only thing that mars my contentment today is that Bill Pustow is not here, for I have traveled many miles with Bill and we often match in pace and temperament and I was hoping he would ride and share today's adventure with me.   I respect him: his commitment to his daughter and family let me know that his priorities match my own, maybe even serve as a role model for me upon occasion. And he is such a wonderful story teller and he makes me laugh.  As Sancho says about Don Quixote in The Man From LaMancha,"I like him".  And I miss him.  Thankfully, after a serious fall caused by loose dogs, he is riding again, but we have not yet resumed our easy companionship and I grieve and miss him.  I hope that he, like so many others that I have cared for, has not become a person from my past who is not part of my future.  Life is so very fragile, and friendship, though the shared miles with the laughter, confidences, and challenges forge it as strongly as steel, is the same.Even strong friendships require regular maintenance.

After checking in and deciding what to carry and what to wear, I ride around the parking light trying to determine if my light is set correctly so as to throw the best light pattern while on the road.  And then it is time to leave.  People are dressed so differently: one young man is wearing only a his short sleeved jersey and shorts and  others are wearing balaclavas and jackets and arm warmers.  Not being a weight wienie, I have arm warmers, knee warmers, and a light jacket with  my dirt rag for my head.   Though the prediction is for low eighties today, it is now in the high forties and I detest being cold  unless it is for a very short period of time.  Being cold uselessly robs me of energy and always makes me ride harder at the start of a ride than I should unless it is going to be a short, quick ride.  And I do not anticipate either shortness or quickness to be part of today's repertoire.  Little do I know what is ahead and that Dave King will attempt to kill me and two others, Tim Argo and Mark Rougeux,  the last 15 miles or so into the last control.

Within minutes the lights of the city fade into the background, and I am struck by the loveliness of the ebony night sky bejeweled with countless stars that far outshine any diamonds.  For some reason, "She hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel upon an Ethiope's ear (William Shakespeare) flits through my mind. The sky is  littered with stars, and I briefly mourn the lack of time and intellect that has kept me from pursuing their study as a hobby.  The conquered moon, orange and crescent shaped, is beautiful, and I am glad that I am here in this crisp darkness on a bicycle conquering my own obstacles, both internal and external. 

While the majority of the world sleeps, I am treated to what feels like a private light show,  and yet again I realize that despite knowing that there might be trials today, and possibly pain, I am glad to be here.  Indeed, I am privileged to be here, to have the health to be here. I sorrow for those who are ill and  have other obstacles that impede their wellness. And I am thankful for a spouse who is accepting of my being here, who encourages me to be here, even though he cannot and will never be able to ride a bicycle.  He is secure enough in our love to give me freedom, and that freedom ensures that I will always return for I understand the value of that gift and how very difficult and unselfish it is to bestow.  Sometimes I think it binds me more tightly than any vows. Those who ride without objections by spouses or significant others  should treasure the gift they have been given  for not everyone has been so blessed: it is a lot to ask of someone to have a brevet rider that they love.  The gift goes far beyond the hours of separation and includes worry. Those who have the health to ride should also be thankful for it will not always be so and is not so for so many others.  Time does have a way of moving stolidly, unwaveringly forward no matter how we drag our heels.

I am quite enjoying my solitude and the random thoughts it brings when I come upon Dave King paused along the road checking something on his bicycle. I am surprised to see him as he usually is farther toward the front, but he says he is fine.  I chuckle thinking that it is probably his miscreant fender. I would like to have a penny for every time Dave has had to adjust his fender on a ride, and I think how glad I am that the man who helped me put my bike together at Gran Fondo talked me out of getting them for I am not mechanically inclined.  Rather, I lean toward being mechanically disinclined. I must admit, however, that they do give his green Kirk a certain charm.

Dave and I often ride some together, even finish together upon occasion, but we  normally meet up later in the ride after the initial rush of heading out into the world has faded. Though I anticipate him dropping me somewhere along the many miles we have yet to travel I am wrong, and we end up riding the rest of the day together and finishing together. At times he even complains of  the quickness of my pace.  I know that riding with a companion will change the nature of the ride as I just do  not notice the scenery with the same appreciation when I am in the midst of conversation, but I enjoy riding with Dave. Like Bill, Dave can often make me smile even though I don't always speak Dave;-)

We stop briefly at the closed country store in Southville for Dave to fill the water bottles he forgot to fill before the ride start.   Hydrating will be  important today as it is predicted to get into the low eighties and none of us have acclimated to heat. He fills one bottle and says he will fill the other at Lawrenceburg though it is not a control on the 400K as it is on the 200 and 300.  Normally I  ride straight through until the first control, and I briefly consider this knowing  Dave will catch me if he wants to or I can just ride alone, but I stop as well.  Two stops before the first control:  this is something new. Just when I have lose my patience and am getting ready to head out on my own, Dave comes out of the store.  I find he also adjusted his cleats due to knee issues.  Other than one control and a last Lawenceburg stop, Dave will beat me out of controls all day.  Luckily for me he was not far behind when I do head out of a control alone because I missed a turn or I would have ridden much farther out of my way. Later, when we catch up with Steve Rice, I tell him about it and he must think I am complaining as he says he can't ride with everybody.  I tell him he can't cure stupid. I will always be directionally challenged, but it is nobody's fault but my own.  I particularly feel silly losing my way, however briefly, on a marked course.

 Being beaten out of a control would not be so unusual if we were not talking about being beaten out of a control by Dave.  Dave is normally the last one out of a control.  I think of one brevet where I was riding with both Dave and Bill and we stopped at the Lawrenceburg control.  Bill and I came out of the store and Dave had completely unpacked his carradice and had everything in neat piles on the ground.  Bill and I looked at each other, threw our legs over our bicycles and rode off. Controls are like transitions in triathlons:  there is a lot of time to be saved with little effort by doing a short but thorough stop. Still, I brood for a bit and wonder why Dave is doing this or if it is me that is taking longer than normal.

Before you know it we are descending into a solid silver wall of mist that seems to have appeared out of nowhere on an isolated, narrow country lane.  It is eerily beautiful, but  I remember what someone told me about it really not mattering too much about who was right or who had the right away if you are seriously injured or dead. I keep a close watch in my helmet mirror vowing to get off and stand by the road if a car comes for I don't believe they will ever see us through the thick, oppressive fog.  The temperature has dropped with the descent, and I am thankful there is a long climb ahead.   No car comes and as we crest the top of the hill the mist melts away as suddenly as it appeared, phantom-like.  Weather conditions the rest of the day will be as near perfect as one can expect in April.

There are wild flowers lining the road and the red bud clouds purple along the side of the road.   Snow white dogwoods are tentatively blooming, lacing themselves through the wooded side roads. Leaves tentatively peek from branches, a pale green, not yet darkened to the rich, mature green of summer.  Pastures are filled with mothers and babies of all kinds enjoying the warmth, newly green grass, and sunshine.  During the return journey, as evening nears, we pass roads where there is an abundance of rabbits scampering randomly here and there, white tails bobbing and whiskers twitching.  Dandelions seed pods line the fence rows, oddly beautiful, and despite being with company for just a moment I am a child again, gently blowing them or twirling in circles while holding them and watching the seed pods lazily drift through the spring air searching for a place to call home. 

After the turn around, two riders join Dave and I:  Tim Argo and Mark Rougeux.  I am surprised to find that while I am tired, I am not weary.  I wish I too had brought a camera or had a smart phone when Tim stops to photograph the small, now defunct Peckerwood Store in Knothole, Kentucky.  Just passing there inevitably causes a grin to light my face. Dave says he would like to stop in Lawenceburg at the convenient store and pick up a couple of chicken legs for the road and I agree.  When we stop, however, there is no chicken and I rudely hustle everyone out of the store and back on their bicycles.  There is still some daylight and I would like to get off the main, busy road before darkness falls.  We turn on our lights and take off, and I begin to dread what I know will happen when we reach Pea Ridge Road.  As the evening brings a chill, we stop briefly prior to Pea Ridge to put on jackets or arm warmers,  and I laugh when I find I have put my knee warmers on my arms in the dark not having paid any attention to which pocket I shoved them in when I took them off earlier in the day. Oh, well, they might look stupid and be a bit loose, but they serve the purpose.  For a long time, when I first started riding, I used my son's worn out tube socks for arm warmers.  Fashion is not my forte I fear. But I do fear Pea Ridge and what is coming shortly.

I have ridden Pea Ridge Road with Dave too many times to fool myself.  He might drag all day long, but when he hits Pea Ridge Dave begins to ride like a demon. Something about that darned road just causes him to go all out. Thankfully, Tim has given me his wheel during the past few miles so I am not as worn out as I otherwise might be; still, when we reach Pea Ridge I think, "Oh, God, here it goes." It begins. And this is where Dave tries to kill us.

Off he goes pedaling like a maniac, and Mark, Tim, and I, not being very bright, just follow along too tired to say Baaaa like the sheep we are;-)  Lungs burn and chests heave in gasping rasps as we race up and down rollers and a few nice climbs, pedals churning as if we were all on fixed gears.  It is then that I determine that Dave is trying to kill us, at least me. But I'll be damned if I will let him. That little competitive streak that I work so hard to rein in will not allow me to just let them go, particularly Dave, not after all these miles.   I am not sure what our average is over the last 16 miles of the course, but I know it  has to be over 16 mph despite the hills due to our finishing time. This is  not a tremendous pace perhaps, but a quicker pace than I would normally ride after being on the bike for over 230 miles. I even find myself not taking sufficient time at a stop sign to ensure safety.  No car is near, but it is certainly not a bright thing to do and I make a mental note that I must work harder to control that nasty little beast that pops up at times.  Tim Argo is the only one who shows some sense once we reach the city limits.  The rest of us are just lucky.  They say that God protects drunks and fools and I fear he had his hands full taking care of us today.

But it has been a good day, an easier day than expected.  And I have loved what I was doing.  But I am unsure that it is not also okay to love what you have done so long as you don't get stuck there in the past and so long as you learn from it.  Just remember that there is a tomorrow and there are more brevets and bicycle rides to complete and don't rest on past accomplishments.  "Tomorrow's another day, and I'm thirsty anyway, so bring on the rain."  (Jo Dee Messina).  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Kentucky 300K Brevet 2014

" I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life.
 It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. 
It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. 
It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease.
 It begins in your mind, always ... so you must fight hard to express it. 
You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, 
if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget,
you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you
 never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
Yann Martel, Life of Pi

I am not ashamed to say I am afraid of this brevet.  While I often enjoy riding in the rain, particularly a light drizzle in late spring or summer or early fall, riding 192 hilly miles in rain with temperatures that will start near 50 degrees and end in the thirties is an altogether different matter.  Particularly with the additional prediction for strong winds.  It is not so challenging to stay warm for shorter distances or when it is not raining or when the wind does not play with you like a cat with a mouse. It is not such a challenge if you are by yourself and can head home at any time you find yourself becoming the least little bit uncomfortable or bored because you really have set no goal for yourself mileage-wise.

 I have a great respect for cold and rain and wind on brevets and I do not take these conditions lightly. All too well I  remember being caught in a frigid, heavy, all day rain during a past brevet, unable to get my gloves back on my hands without help, helpless in the cold and dark, relying on the kindness of a friend who was caught in like circumstances, and I am afraid.  Could I have coped on my own?  Possibly.  I will never know for sure.  But I would not have wanted to. I remember riding other brevets in similar conditions, and I know they are potentially dangerous and certainly uncomfortable.  And I am afraid.  And yes, I even think of staying home.  But Martel is right, if I stay home I open myself to further, more paralyzing attacks. Because fear is insidious and feeds upon itself, arches its spine, puffs its fur until it appears twice its real size, metamorphosing into something it was not to begin with, something more than itself.  And unless it is defeated, it always returns.  Even defeated, it sometimes returns to try yet again, though not as fiercely as before because I know I won once and might just do so again.

Still I think of going elsewhere to ride a 300:  Tennessee, St. Louis, Ohio, anywhere where it might be easier.  No 300K ride is easy, but some are certainly less demanding than others.  Even the same route can be much more difficult at certain times. Weather, route, personal issues, company, fitness level .... so many things that affect a ride, some controllable and some not.   I decide that I will not let fear conquer and I will cope as best I can.  If I finish, I will have accomplished something, and if I fail I will have learned something. It helps that my husband, as usual, encourages me to make the attempt.  Win or lose, he will be there waiting for me, his eyes and arms my anchor, my safe place.  And while he never has been able to grasp this passion that I have, this need for challenge he will love me regardless.

Experience has taught me that the core can stay warm, even when wet, even when the temperature drops and rain turns to snow, with the use of wool and a Showers Pass jacket that blocks the wind.  It is getting the right combination of layers and not pausing too long at controls. Feet can chill easily,  but they can be kept reasonably warm with wool socks and neoprene booties.  It is my hands that concern me the most. As Eddie Doerr told me when I first started riding, the challenge to cold rides are the hands and feet.  And it would take pages to tell you the experiments I have done to find what works best for me.

 I ponder different options for my hands.  Some people use just wool.  Other people use goretex gloves.  Some use dish washing gloves over wool or a liner.  Suddenly my Bar Mitts come to mind. I know what they can do in cold, how they can keep my hands toasty and warm with the lightest of gloves.  What I don't know is if they will help in rain.  I Google this, but I don't really find much other than reviews about their use in cold weather.  I decide to use them.  The worst that can happen is that they will make my bike heavier by soaking up water.  I know that my clothing will be sopping wet and I will carry so much water along on this ride that a few more pounds will be meaningless. Experience has taught me that chemical warmers are pretty well useless in wet weather.  (Later, during the ride, I wonder if they would work if enclosed in plastic sandwich bags after being opened, but I will have to leave that experiment for another day.) During the ride I do learn that the Bar Mitts keep my hands from being markedly uncomfortable. In fact, my hands barely chill at all.

When I arrive at the start, the rain has not yet started. This is always a good thing for while I have often done it,  it is much harder to begin a ride in the rain than to continue to ride when you are caught in the rain.  21 people are signed up to ride, but only 13 are at the start.  Jacqueline Campbell tells me right from the start that she and her tandem partner are only riding part of the route in preparation for the Ohio 300.  Of these 13 starters, only 8 will finish. The rest DNF. The temperature was around 50 when I left home, but it is a tad colder in Shelbyville and it is predicted to drop throughout the day and end in the thirties.  Rain chances are 90 per cent.  Still, it is warmer and less windy than I expected it to be at this point.  I  take my blessings where I find them:  each mile ridden in comfort today is one less ridden in discomfort.

I have decided to wear a wool base layer, a wool long sleeved jersey, and my Showers Pass jacket.  I have placed extra gloves, a winter hat, and an extra light base layer in plastic bags and stuck them in jacket pockets. I am sure I quite look like a chip monk, a fat chip monk at that,  with all my pockets bulging, but this type of riding is not about fashion, at least for me. I am slightly overdressed, but I do not want to  have to add a carradice to carry additional clothing.  While I am making final decisions, I chat a bit with Tim Argo, an Ohio randonneur who  just seems to be quite a nice man and climbs like an angel, and I find he too has decided it is best to start the ride slightly overdressed. I respect his words and use them to validate my own thoughts.  If given a choice between being a bit overdressed and being cold, at least for a distance ride, I will take overdressed every time. 

We roll out and the lead group speeds off into the night.  For awhile I see their tail lights, like beacons in front of me, tempting me to ride out too quickly; but they soon fade to nothingness and it is just me, the dark, and a long road that needs to be traveled.  I don't note who or how many are in the lead group today, I only know that they are not riding my pace. When you are riding 192 miles,  you have plenty of time to pick up the pace down the road if you decide you have it in you.  And the wind is going to be our enemy on the way back today, not the way out. It is much harder to find more energy for that battle when you have  headed out too quickly.  Not that I was ever much of a marathoner, but the few I did run I always was the last to cross the start line as it was much more fun and satisfying to pass people than for everyone to pass you.   I am not sure who, if anyone, is behind me.  I will either find a companion to ride with or I will ride the ride alone.  Most brevets are normally a combination of the two. The return journey will be much more difficult if I have no help with the wind, but I have faced it before and can do so again if necessary.

I am not sure how I will feel today as I have not slept well for two days.  Lizzie, one of my cats, has been pretty ill.  Luckily, it turned out to be a virus of some type rather than an ingested object that caused an obstruction.  Unfortunately, Lucy, already immune impaired from kitten hood, picks it up as well though not as seriously.  But I find I am feeling fine, not particularly strong but not weak either. Compared to the 200K, I feel remarkably well.

Before Southville, I almost have a collision with a young possum.  He crosses the road in front of me, a silvery streak, sees me, and darts back in front of my wheel.  My front wheel is close enough for him to kiss it as we dance, both trying to avoid the other, and I hope he will not bite me as I pass or cross between my front and rear wheels.  I think for awhile about my cataract diagnosis and wonder how much it will affect my night riding.  So far, I can't tell much of a difference, but I know that will change as my world continues to dim little by little.  If I had seen the possum even a few seconds later, I fear I would have been on the ground.

Around me I hear the frogs awakening, celebrating the long awaited birth of spring, and I realize how much I have missed that sound during winters stark, dreary stillness.  Birds begin to stir.  And always singing harmony in the background is the sound of my wheels and pedals.  Despite still having only my headlight to guide me because there are no street lights here, I see worms on the road, and I am happy to see them although they will make cleaning a dirty bike afterward an even more onerous  task. I hear rustling noises from alongside the road, just out of my range of vision,  and my imagination takes hold conjuring a stalking dog, a wolf, a raccoon.  My headlight illuminates only the road, not what is happening beside me.  Deer bound across the road in places, white tails bobbing, startled by my unexpected passing,  melting into the darkness like ghosts.

Rain begins to mist as dawn sleepily opens her eyes, gently echoing off my helmet in a crazy rhythm, and I find I am quite enjoying myself, the blanketing darkness, and my solitude.  And for at least this part of the ride, I am glad I came. While I like riding in the dark at any time, riding in the dark before dawn is somehow different than riding in the stale dark after light has laid itself down to rest in the evening.  Perhaps because there is less traffic, as if the whole world of people is sleeping and thus the world belongs just to me and I can form it to my liking.  I think of words by Oscar Wilde, "Veil after veil of thin, dusky gauze is lifted, and by degrees the forms and the colors are restored to them."   And I eventually do note that the scenery is unsettled: in some places it is the gray and brown and neutral tones of winter, but in others it is changing.  It is not yet the rich, fecund,vivid green of a Kentucky spring, but a green haze is starting to creep across the fields, promising and hinting of the glory that is yet to come.  In spots there are patches of the wild daffodils that my mother-in-law called Easter flowers, their bright yellow also an affirmation that there will be color in the world yet again. I glory at the thought of warmth and color returning to the earth, at the thought of short sleeved jerseys and shorts and actually being thirsty on a ride.

The branches of the trees are no longer so sharp and well defined, but blurred with the promise of leaves. Cows and newly born calves are enclosed in fences along the route, and shaggy horses and ponies eager to throw off their shaggy winter coats and dapple out in the strong, summer sun snort wearily as I pass.  Dogs chase. Everyone and everything seems to have tired of winter and to be ready to move on.

Turning a corner, I come across Tim Argo fixing a flat.  I pause momentarily to ensure he has everything he needs and then move on.  It seems I could not have helped anyway as I ride a different tire size than he.  Dustin, a very speedy young man, passes me, and I wonder where he has come from because I thought he was in front.  I asked if he had gone off course, thinking how terrible it would be to have to do those extra miles.  He tells me no, he stopped to buy gloves at a store.  Always the mother at heart, I worry momentarily if he is already having problems this early in the ride, then assure myself it is not my concern and there is nothing I can do about it.  Young or not, he is a grown man.

Controls pass, and as I near the turn around, I think how glad I will be to turn on my "return to start" control on my Garmin.  I downloaded the course, but unfortunately it is not showing on my Garmin.  As always, I am sure I did something wrong, for I long ago accepted that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Thankfully, the Kentucky course is always marked.  (Thank you this year to Mark, Steve, Steve, and Dave).  I pass a store that reminds of another nasty brevet in the rain where Chris Quirey jokingly told me that the rain would stop in 4 minutes and 38 seconds or some other such nonsense.  And while I knew it was nonsense, there was a part of me that wanted to believe.  And I realize that I would like to believe that when I turn around the wind will have stopped and will not slow and chill me. I think that these are the rides that I remember best, those rides that presented a challenge or a complication or where something special happened, and I think of the bonds I have from these occasions even with people I rarely or no longer see.

When I reach the store, I am surprised to find Steve Rice and Ken Lanteigne still there.  Both of them are shivering, not the tiny little shivers you have when you first begin to chill, but the  racking, body shaking quivers that signal a deep coldness that could be dangerous if they continue and can drain all your energy right out of you leaving you spent. They serve as a reminder that I must not pause long or I also will chill no matter how carefully I have dressed today.  The rain has started to come down harder, and the temperature has definitely dropped. A man outside the store jokingly asks how much I will pay him to go get his truck and take me back to Shelbyville.  No sir, not after having come this far.  I almost cry as I head back out and found that not only can I not use the "back to start" feature on my Garmin, it has broken.  Yet again I give thanks that the course is marked.  I later find that Ken's odometer also stopped and Steve's Garmin stopped working.

Ken takes off into the rain and wind alone but Steve waits for me, and I am grateful thinking that we might each occasionally take the burden of the wind from the other, but it was not to be.  The cold rain continues until the very last little bit of the ride, and neither of us have fenders on our bicycles which means that drafting also means eating road water thrown up from the leaders tire.  Still, it is nice to have company in what is no longer an enjoyable ride but a misery.  Even though we talk little, we have ridden together enough to be suitable companions for such a journey, and I consider Steve to be one of my best and most reliable friends. I often wonder why we are friends as he is much smarter and moves in a much different socio-economic circle, but we are and I think once again about how equalizing bicycles are  bringing people together as friends who otherwise would have died not knowing the other existed. As we pass those who have not yet made the turn around, the looks on their faces match how I imagine my own: pale and stoically determined with no trace of humor or a smile.  And I worry about them and about myself.

The wind becomes even more wicked as I ride, slapping my face, ired at my presumptiousness, frustrated at attempts to chill me.  Her icy tendrils wrap around me seeking openings in my armor and the rain begins to sting as it falls.  Much earlier I took off my riding glasses so I try to shield my eyes by squinting and keeping my eyelashes partially over them to protect them.  Then I have to laugh to myself when I see tiny white balls of hail begin to bounce off of Steve.  Luckily, they never grew in diameter and were of short duration.

 Kenis waiting for us at the control right before the finish, and I am glad he decides to ride with us.  It is cold and rainy and it is getting dark and this short stretch of road is very busy right outside of the control.  I will feel safer with three of us.  Again I think how weird it is that I feel less safe in the evening dark than in the early morning darkness. I wonder what cars think when they first spot this weird conglomeration of lights.

At some point, my thighs begin to cramp and my right knee begins to ache and I begin to despair of ever finishing. I suspect the cold is part of the problem with my knee as well as muscle demands and salt needs, but that is pure conjecture and there is nothing I can do about it.  I am wet, the rain has not stopped, and it is cold. And it is not just me that is suffering. Steve is asking me to get him an energy gel because his hands are too cold to function properly.  I try not to think of what will happen if one of us has a mechanical issue or a flat tire.

This is where the mind games truly begin, and those who ride brevets know that much of it is about mind games.  God and I have a standing joke with each other where I tell him that if he just allows me to safely get to the finish with no flats and without being run over or dying, I will be good and never consider doing another brevet or even riding a bicycle.  Being omnipotent, of course, he knows I am lying, but thus far he always gets me to the end safely. And being omnipotent, he knows that I know that he knows I am lying and that it has become our personal joke.  I briefly smile thinking how I have had some of my best conversations with God during my rides.

Ken jokes and says his wife knits and maybe that could be his new sport.  And if you ask me if I will ride the 400 and 600 and the Maryland 1000, I will tell you no, that it is time to leave brevets to the young folks.  I am not having fun.  This is hard and it hurts. I briefly wonder what there is about distance riding that draws me back, what mental deficiency or psychological  need spurs me onward when I could be safe at home with a good book, a cat, and a cup of coffee listening to the rain and the wind instead of battling with it.  Instead of spending my money this way, I could be spending it to walk on a white, sandy beach somewhere and be serenaded by sea gulls and waves.  Or I could spend it traveling and seeing great museums and all the things I have never had the good fortune to experience. I begin to dream of being warm, of bathing, of soft beds, and of sleep.

As we near the last final stretch after turning off Zaring Mill, Steve asks if I would take a ride if Dave showed up right there and I tell him no, of course not.  But if it had happened at the last control, who knows.  Because like all humans, I am unpredictable.  And at the end Dave is waiting with hot chocolate and a smile and it is over.  And I am no longer afraid.