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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Surly Straggler

"There are more things in heaven and earth,
Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosoply."
William Shakespeare


I have done it.  I have bought myself an early birthday present, a present I have wanted for awhile now.  I have wavered back and forth because truly I should not do it, delve further into the nest egg painfully saved for retirement and emergencies, but I decide to be impulsive.  You see I hear him, my husband, though no longer in this world, whispering in my ear, telling me to do it now while I can, while I have my health and the desire as he did so many times while he was living.  Like Puff, "without my lifelong friend," I have difficulties being brave; but I bite the bullet and it is done. And so, I have bought another bicycle, one more suited to riding gravel as well as pavement.  I have purchased a Surly Straggler.
I struggled with what bicycle to get, what bicycle would best suit my needs.  I want a bike that can take gravel or paved roads with equal equanimity.   A bike that I can do overnight trips on or week long trips on and not have to worry about the surfaces of the roads I might have randomly picked.  I want a bike that I can retire with in a few years and use to see things and go places I have never been.  I gather opinions settling on the advice of Steve Rice. 

I pick my bike up from Clarksville Schwinn deciding when I get there on those little details that you MUST have for the bike to be fully functional:  pedals and water cages.  It is beautiful, almost the same green as my bedroom walls.  There are braze-ons readily available so that I can carry "stuff" in the front and "stuff" in the back once I decide what bags I want.  

Of course, when I get home I decide that I need to try it out immediately despite the fact I have two more dead bushes to dig up and dispose of and numerous other lawn chores.  I dug up a bush this morning and planted two new ones as well as hanging the clothes on the line to dry, weeding the iris bed, and a few other chores. I think of my daughter asking me, "What will happen if you don't get it done?"  She is right: the world will not perish if I take a bicycle ride instead of finishing lawn work that never is completed anyway despite my best efforts.  And actually, had it not been for the new bike, I would have ridden a century today.  I did not ride a century this week-end or last, and I do not like going two week-ends without one, but next week I have four blessed days, and surely one of them will have good weather.

I quickly change into cycling clothes and head out to a gravel road I have not yet ridden.  It is windy but the sun is shining and the world is beautiful.  New leaves delicately lace tree branches, shy of the sun, flirting with the breeze, letting her know that she can not take them until they begin to decline and wither, changing into their fall outfits.  Wild flowers line the road in places, and I see the stalks of what promise to be orange day lilies in May.   

I have never ridden with these type of shifters before, Sram,  and I pray that I don't have to go back to the bike shop and feel like an idiot for not knowing how to shift gears, but I soon figure it out and get the hang of it.  And before you know it, the paved road ends and I am on gravel, going up a road I wondered about but never rode.  The pavement ends right at the gravel, and for a bit I wonder if I am going to make it or have to walk.  For a minute I ask myself why I ever wanted to find out what is on this road.  Despite the knobs on the tires, they slip in places when I try to stand and pedal. My lungs heave in and out, gasping and making noises that let me know they are not at all happy with the demands being placed on them, but they serve me well and eventually I arrive at what I "think" is the top.  It is beautiful:  no cars, no houses, just new, verdant, unspoiled forestland.  I suspect I will find the Amish eventually, for there is horse dung on the road in places.  
I find I am wrong about the climbing being over, but the slope is not steep and before you know it I arrive at the top.  Sure enough, the rest of the road appears to have only Amish residences.  Work horses rest lazily in the pasture, busily munching grass, swishing tails at flies,  knowing that there will be no field work today despite it being planting season.  In one yard, a horse and buggy is in the yard.  A young Amish man is lifting his daughter down from the seat.  She points and giggles when she sees me, and I wave.  I would love to take a photograph, but I know that it is considered rude in the Amish community though they rarely say anything when someone takes a picture because, well, to say something would be rude.  But the children always look so darned cute.  How I miss having little ones to play with now and again.

I think about the things I need to get for my bike.  My son and his wife got me a handlebar bag for International Woman's Day that will be perfect for this bike.  It would not fit my other bike as my road bike has narrower handlebars, but I just know it will be perfect for this one.  I need to find my extra GPS attachment so that I can have it along.  I have no idea where it is, but I keep my bicycle things in a few places and will look. And I just need to browse and dream, work some overtime, and save.  I need something to look forward to. I do decide that I will take off for a week-end soon, maybe return to Montgomery for an overnight, this time with a bike more suited for the gravel that I know awaits.  Mostly I dream, and I thank Lloyd for his sage advice, for all that he taught me.

Shortly before my husband died, he was sitting on the couch in the living room and said to me: "Melissa, I don't know if I'll be able to, but if I can I will look after you and take care of you even after I am gone."   My faith is not as simple or strong as that of my  husband or his mother, a dear friend I also miss.  After I get home from my ride today, I gather the laundry in the laundry basket and take upstairs: one of those last chores that you do to prepare for the coming work week.  Tom helps, of course, by sitting in the laundry basket.  Also in the laundry basket, from somewhere, somehow, is my extra mount for the GPS that I was thinking that I needed to find.  And suddenly I am crying, silently and with great longing tempered now by acceptance.  I don't know how that mount got there.  I assume you used that rascal, Tom.  But thank you, Lloyd, for caring for me and letting me know I made the right decision about the bike.  I will try to be brave and I will try to have faith for in the end, I know Shakespeare is right.  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Spring at Last

"There's something of a restorative quality about
spring, where something whispers wild rumors about 
new beginnings arising from the seemingly dead seeds
of our lives,  There's something almost cruel about it
all, as if there might be some sort of truth about a 
new life actually being possible. Yet, maybe it is true."
Craig Lounsbrough



It is one of the those glorious spring days where the sun shines in an endlessly blue sky and the warmth teases you, calls you, beckoning with promises.  I am torn between a desire to ride and a desire to throw open the windows and clean house, hanging sheets in the fresh breeze so that they seem clean, cleaner than being dried in a clothes dryer.  It is as if the sun and wind seeps into them.  And so, I decide to do a bit of both.  While I miss having my schedule revolve around someone else, there is a freedom here.  And with this burst of spring, I find a smile on my lips and a song in my heart.  

It doesn't hurt that I have decided to buy another bicycle for myself, one that is better equipped for overnight traveling and for gravel roads.   As I struggle with the decision, I  hear my husband in my head urging me forward.  "It's only paper," he whispers, "Do it while you can, while you have your health, while you are still able." Perhaps I will continue to do brevets and perhaps not, but I do intend to do some bicycle touring.   I call and order the bike, an early 60th birthday present. 

I spend the morning doing the mundane chores, music echoing throughout my house, so that when I ride and return, I can bathe and delight in the clean.  The cats enjoy this, the activity fascinates them and it is much more satisfying having company while you labor.  Tom pounces on the broom as I sweep, letting it know in no uncertain terms that he rules.  And before you know it clothes are washed and line dried and put away, sweeping and vacuuming is done,  and it is time:  time to head out the door on my bicycle.

I have decided to ride my fixed gear to Brownstown.   I don't know why I have suddenly fixated on my fixed gear because I have not ridden it often in the past few years.  I have ridden it three times this week.  It is an old, heavy steel bike:  a Raleigh that Lucky Dog pulled from someone's trash can.  To me, it is beautiful though with its black and gold paint.  

There is a lovely simplicity about riding fixed.  There is the acceptance that you may make it up a hill, or you may not, and if you do not there is no shame in walking.  The route I have chosen is fairly flat, but there is the one climb out of Brownstown that has a fairly nice grade to it.  

The fields are lovely, not yet worked by the farmer, blanketed with the purple flowers the bees love so.  I remember the sound of the bees, their droning, as they harvested from this weed, whatever it may be, as it grew in our garden.  I remember one of them popping me right on the throat when I pulled up some of their pasture and Lloyd removing the pulsating stinger sac with a credit card.  I pass a group of birds, vultures or buzzards I think, each sitting on a fence post, wings spread toward the sun.  I have seen this before and read that it has to do with wing drying and thermoregulation.  Why, I think, would their wings be wet?

I think of mundane things, like what I will have for dinner tonight, and how I miss having company and someone to talk about the days ride with.  And I realize that I hope I do not spend the rest of my life alone despite the fact it feels a bit disloyal.  I am lulled from my reverie by some idiot who feels he must blare his horn at me despite the fact he has an entire lane to pass in as nobody is coming, and I do something I rarely do:  flip him off.  

I worry as I see tail lights briefly light, but he drives on.  I think this was not very smart on my part, to flip off a stranger on a fairly deserted road that has flood water on each side:  the perfect place to dispose of someone who pissed you off because they were on a bicycle and not in a car.  I never will grasp the hostility particularly in those situations where the bicycle is not costing anyone to lose a second of their precious time.  But of course  my imagination has once again grabbed the bit and run off with me: he is not waiting around the next curve of the road.

It is funny how quickly 40 miles go by and I am home.  I briefly consider riding more, but decide to call it a day.  There are still a few clothes hanging on the line that need to be folded and put away, supper to be cooked, and dishes to be washed.  But what a glorious spring bicycling day.  On a day like today, I can believe, at least partially, that a new life may indeed be possible.   
 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Kentucky 300K 2016


"Hello darkness my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again..."
Paul Simon


 When I arrive at registration, I tell Steve, the RBA, that I very well may DNF. For some reason, I did not sleep last night other than a two hour nap. Oddly enough, while I know about the wind prediction, this has nothing to do with it. Well, maybe it has a little to do with it, but I normally don't fear wind.  Wind just makes you accept that the ride will be much harder and you will ride much more slowly. I just don't want to do this ride for some reason.  I am not sure I will ever want to do a long ride again.  It is just something I have been struggling with recently.  I am hoping, however, that once I get started I will find myself enjoying the ride as often happens. While it is supposed to be VERY windy this afternoon, with a wind advisory in effect from 1:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m., it is supposed to be sunny and it is starting to be green.  

Steve pooh poohs my pronouncement, and I know nobody believes me.  And maybe they will turn out to be right.  But maybe this time they will turn out to be wrong.  I have told myself I will ride far enough to get my April century completed, and go from there.  I know it is hard to complete a brevet without really having some level of commitment.  I try to carrot myself with the thoughts of a trip to Colorado, but the tax shock of being widowed and filing single is still being processed.  My life is just so very different.  I am just so very different.

Bill and I start the ride together at the back of the pack and this is a comfort.  Perhaps we can pull each other through what I know will be a rough day.  Wind always makes things more difficult, and these winds are supposed to be unusually wicked and strong this afternoon. I think Bill is with me, when suddenly I am alone.  I hope he did not have a flat or a mechanical that I did not notice. I briefly think of how very much I enjoyed riding in Texas with Bill, Steve, and Dave.  It was almost like old times before the changes came.  But changes do come, and they are not good or bad normally, just different and unfamiliar.

I settle in to the old familiar sound of wheels turning and the feeling that the darkness has me cupped in the palm of his hand.  Sometimes it is almost as if I am the only one in the world, alone in the darkness on a journey that will hold who knows what surprises for me.  I guess it could best be described as being cozy. Women have often asked me if I am not afraid out here on  strange roads, alone in the dark, and I can honestly say that normally I am not.  In fact, normally I am content in the dark so long as my bicycle is well lit and it is not exceptionally foggy or rainy and I am outside of a city.  There is beauty here that I see all too seldom. Maybe I am just too stupid to be scared and I should be.

Once we leave the small town the ride starts from, there is nobody.  Occasionally I see a bicycle light in front of me, a red siren disappearing over the crest of the hill and reappearing only to disappear again.  The words of Paul Simon's song come to mind and I find myself softly singing to myself, one of my very favorite songs and very appropriate right now. Riding in the night is one of the best parts of riding brevets, there is no doubt about it.  It gives me time to think and process things. I hope Bill will soon catch me and I soft pedal for a bit, but he does not appear and I later learn he DNF'd.

I must admit I do enjoy this first part of the ride, and then the part where you suddenly notice the dark is not so all encompassing, that light is stealthily creeping into the world, blackness yields to gray which in turn yields to color.  You begin to see the occasional car, to see lights come on in a house you pass, and I think of families sitting down to breakfast together.  I think how I miss that, nurturing my brood. But life moves forward.  I try to understand why I have been struggling so with my desire to do long brevets.  One day I have some interest and the next I am completely disinterested.  I tell myself that I will quit, and then I have some wild plan to ride somewhere I have never been before.  I do not come up with any answers other than perhaps depression is playing a role here.  When I talk with my doctor about depression, though, she just tells me to ride my bike.

As I ride, I notice that I am struggling to maintain much of a pace.  I attribute it to lack of sleep until mile 62 when I realize (duh, dummy) the sound I have been hearing is not the sound of my tights rubbing against my bento box that I normally don't ride with:  it is the sound of my front brake rubbing.  I fix this right before rolling into the control.  I really have no desire to ride more, but I decide I will have something to eat and then make my decision.  I eat and then call the RBA, Steve Rice, leaving a VM that I am turning around and DNF'ing.  200K is enough for today.  

The wind slaps me soundly as soon as I make the first turn, and I find I need to put my jacket back on.  It becomes progressively worse.  I later hear it was 45 to 55 mph.  My bike begins to move when there are crosswinds and I am unable to stand and pedal or to take my hands off the handle bars to drink.   I need the weight on the bars to keep my front wheel steady.  I keep wondering if I will fall, and there are times when it moves me very close to the edge of the road despite my best efforts to keep it steady.  Branches blow and occasionally hit me.  In places, loose gravel pelts me like sand paper.  I find myself using my granny gear on a brevet course that I would normally call fairly easy.  Today, in this wind it is not easy.  In two places, trees have fallen across the road and I have to get off my bike to get around them.  

Since there is little traffic, I try to ride on the side of the road that has less trees or that has no power lines.  I think of a ride where we came upon a motorcyclist trapped under a tree that happened to fall as he was riding by. I pass a power line that has snapped and is waving in the wind.  I don't know if it is live, but I don't intend to find out.  All I want is the security of my car, though I must admit I am concerned about driving in this wind.  At one point, I think it is going to start hailing, but only a few, hard, cold rain drops pelt my face.

At what would have been the last control I think of calling my daughter to come get me, but I can't stand the thought of putting her at risk driving in this because of my own stupidity.  I doggedly move forward, one pedal stroke after another, trying not to fight the wind and just accept it.  Roads signs are wildly waving and it reminds me of riding Hurricane Ike with Mike.  Trash cans blow across the roads.  A flag has broken lose and is held only by the cords whereby it is raised.  It is standing straight out, flapping wildly, but 10 to 15 feet away from the pole. I am averaging only 10 mph and often going more slowly.  At one point, the best I can do on the flats into the wind is 4 mph.  It is going to be a long day.  Shelbyville seems as far away and as elusive as the North Pole.  

Eventually, however, I reach my car. I briefly think of giving it a big kiss, but restrain myself. My knees ache and I am tired and very, very thirsty from not being able to drink during the ride.  I quickly put my bike in and drive slowly home, aware of the wind even in an automobile.  I think about whether I could have done the extra 60 miles, and decide that had I wanted to, I could have though it would have been very painful and slow.  The fact that I did not want to, even before the wind became a reality, worries me, but I will deal with that on another day.  I feel lucky to have made it safely in and safely home to warm p.j.'s and a warm bed.  

Monday, March 7, 2016

Kentucky 200K Brevet 2016



"The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; 
he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me.  The
rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to
fit them." 
George Bernard Shaw



I have vowed I am NOT going to ride the brevets this year if the weather is bad, but the forecast does not look so very awful.  There is a 20 per cent chance of rain.  So I prepare my bike, but not so carefully as I would if there were, say, a 50 per cent chance of rain and if, say, I intended to ride no matter the weather.  I know the start will be cold, near freezing, but it is supposed to warm up near fifty degrees.  If it does rain, surely it will not rain for long.  Not my favorite riding temperature, but bearable if one is dressed appropriately. So I am surprised when I wake up, spend time convincing myself that I really don't want to go back to bed with a cup of coffee, a purring cat,  and a good book, open the door to take my bike and put it in the car and find a steady drizzle.    I suppose that what I am trying to say is that right now in a very roundabout way is that I am struggling with whether I want to continue to participate in brevets or if century rides are enough.

I am trying to find joy in things that meant something to me once, like looking in the face of an old lover searching eyes for a hint of a former attraction,  but I am not the same me anymore and I don't know if I can put the pieces that were shattered back in the same order.  Time, loss, and experience has changed me as it has us all.  Or perhaps it is that I no longer wonder if I can do it and wonder is no longer part of the equation.  Worse, perhaps I worry that I can't do it anymore, and not trying and failing would be more difficult perhaps than just taking a step backward.    

I have registered for the Colorado 1200 to try to motivate myself, but I don't yet know if it will work.  Yes, I definitely would like to see Colorado for I have never been there.  At times I am excited about it, and think of how to prepare.  But do I want to see it on a brevet or as a different, more relaxing and less taxing way when effort and sleep deprivation have not robbed me of some of the appreciation of the scenery whispers through my mind. The traditional nightmares....getting hopelessly lost, having a serious mechanical....wind through my thoughts despite my telling myself that these are minor matters.  It is not like I will perish in the middle of the wild wilderness that is Colorado if any of these things happen.  It is, after, 2016 and not 1816.

On the way to the brevet, I think of turning around as the rain continues.  "How does Steve do it," I ask myself.  "What are the probabilities that he can pick another day for the Kentucky brevet series where it rains?"  Because of my indecision about even driving there, sans rain, I am a bit late at the start.  When everyone leaves the parking lot, I still am deciding what to wear and what to carry, but I am not far behind.  I know how it goes anyway.  Everyone will pedal as if they are going to finish with the top group, and the majority will not be able to keep the pace.  When I register, Bill and Steve assure me that the weather man just said the rain was "out of here."  Typically, I believe them and end up doing something I might otherwise not do.  You would think that after awhile I would wise up.  Guess the old adage is true:  "There is no fool like an old fool." 

The rain continues, a cold steady drizzle.  Initially I think I am overdressed, but as the rain continues and I gradually become damp, that damp that I can never figure out if it is from rain and my raincoat isn't keeping me as dry as it might or if it is from sweat or if it is a combination of the two, I realize that I am probably dressed just right unless it turns colder.  Of course, I assure myself, if it turns colder it will become snow.  And I always carry my emergency poncho which would do in a pinch.  I pass the spot where, for some reason, I remember Susan and I stopping to put on our reflective gear on a brevet years ago.  Sometimes I wonder what makes us remember the moments that we do and forget others. 

On the way to the first control, Bill has chain issues.  I turn around when I see he is off the road, but he tells me to go on and so I do.   Being a woman, I wonder as I ride whether he really meant for me to go on or whether he was just saying that because he thought he should.  Overthinking again, I tell myself.  I try to ride hard, but at a pace that I will be able to maintain to the end or near the end.  At the first control, Steve Rice tells me the rain is supposed to get worse before he pulls out.  I complain to Steve Mauer who said he thought I liked rain.  And sometimes I do, but not today and not when it is cold despite the fact that these two conditions probably end up helping me complete this course more quickly than normal. Today I am fighting the depression of a recent anniversary that never was, that never saw life.  Today I am fighting my lack of control over things.  Today I need sun and brightness and happy thoughts. 

His words, however, do help me to see the some of the beauty around me, at least for a brief time.  The rain persists until after the turnaround, at one point becoming so stinging that I wonder if I will need to stop to protect my eyes.  I have never really found a good eye glass solution for very rainy days.  The brim of my cap helps, but glasses just don't stay dry and seem more of a problem than blurry vision.  I am concentrating so hard and looking so inward, that I almost miss the secret control.  Mark hollers, "Where are you going?"  Fortunately for me, I recognize his voice, for normally when men yell at me I put my head down and pedal harder, afraid that they are a threat.  Cat calls, whistles, and yells from strangers just have always struck me that way, rightly or wrongly, cause for concern rather than something that brightens and lifts and attracts. Pedal, pedal faster, take control.  I fight this instinct, turn around and have my card signed before continuing onward.  The world just seems more dangerous now that he is gone.

Daffodils promise to bloom and to make this a lovely ride for the 300.  The route winds along the Kentucky river and by creeks and everywhere there is the sound of the water that will turn this into a paradise of green lushness in the coming spring.  Spring provokes and tantalizes, but will play the tease for a few more weeks I fear, until I can barely stand it and think I will explode if she does not show me herself in all her glory.

At the turn around, I quickly down some fried chicken and a biscuit, then head out before my chilling becomes worse.  Chilling is, I know, the enemy.  Wool and my rain coat will keep me warm enough, but only if I keep moving.  My gloves are so wet that I need to wring them out before I put them back on.  Normally I carry spare gloves and socks to change into mid way or if rain stops, but I really had not expected this.  I am glad I had the foresight to put on my bar mitts.  I remain amazed at the warmth they provide for my hands.   I dream for miles of a bath tub filled with hot, steamy water and the delicious scent of lavender and how I will soak until every joint in my body is seeped through with warmth. I dream of warm, stretchy pajamas and furry slippers and the afghans I keep on the couch to snuggle in on winter evenings.  I think of other things, of course, and puzzle over things that have been said to me, like the girlfriend who told me that the local men are scared to death of me, something I need to ask about because I totally don't understand.  Or of where I want to go on my bike this year other than Colorado.  Of what I will do if I don't ride the series and qualify and if there is enough of the old me in the new me to even be bothered by it. 

Dustin is at the store stop, and I see him shivering, but he said he is not going to eat until the next stop and that he is not leaving the store until it stops raining.  I leave hoping for his sake as well as mine that the rain stops soon, and it eventually does, but not for many miles.  I curse the weather man in my mind.  "Twenty percent chance of rain, my ass," I think.  And I wonder briefly if God and my husband are up in heaven laughing at me, thinking what a silly predictable person I am and knowing that this was where I was meant to be.  The depression I had sunk into since our wedding anniversary last week has receded.  I am tired, bone weary at the end.  My right knee hurts.  But I am alive. And life is what is and what is missing is missing and won't return.  But life is pretty darned good sometimes.

The rain eventually stopped, one of the two main obstacles on this course.  The cold never did.  I don't believe it got much above the low forties the entire day.  There was, however, and I am thankful for this, little wind.   Actually, all considered, it was a fairly easy brevet for Kentucky. I don't know how many finished, how many states were represented this year.  This brevet was a mostly solitary ride as my life is mainly a solitary life now.  But it is okay and I am okay and things are always changing. Perhaps next year it will be dry.  Change, after all, while inevitable, is also not always a bad thing. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Spring in February

"May God grant you always
A sunbeam to warm you,
A  moonbeam to charm you, 
A sheltering Angel so nothing can
harm you. 
Laughter to cheer you.
Faithful friends near you.
And whenever you pray,
Heaven to hear you."
Irish blessing
 It is one of those rare and magical winter days that is a gift from above: mid-February yet it is predicted to be at or near seventy degrees by days end instead of the typical thirty degrees.  It is one of those days where you aren't sure if it lessens or intensifies your longing for spring by gifting you with one less day of true winter, yet leaving you yearning for the surely impossible:  more.  Perhaps it is my nature to be greedy and want more for I am but human.  I only know that I yearn for spring and for sunshine, blessed sunshine, warm, brilliant, and somehow or other uplifting.

And what is more, another gift, it is a week-end.  I do not have to work and I can ride my bicycle.  Not only can I ride my bicycle, but I am meeting friends for a century ride.  And if I have my guess, it will be one of my favorite kind of rides:  roads I don't normally travel with nobody in the typical hurry of a true winter day when weather hounds and chastens you to quicken your pace.  Time apart means there are new stories to hear and to tell as we catch up. 

And it is just such a ride.  All of us, so changed yet so much the same.   Soon enough we fall into our old patterns.  There is laughter and a few shared memories.  The first chorus of frogs timidly splits the air sounding as glorious as a symphony and so full of promise as to what is to come soon.  The  strict, harsh, clearly defined edges of tree branches beginning to blur with the promise of leaves to come.  The promise: sometimes I think that is what gets me through these last cold, dreary days that follow the Christmas holiday.  The appreciation of the ride and the weather honed to a fine edge by the understanding that there is always the possibility that this could be our last such ride.  Life has taught me that as well as that I cannot love them well enough, and I do love them for what they are and what they have been to me.

 If only the brevets could have such glorious weather, but this is Kentucky and I have come to expect wind, rain, and cold for the brevets.  Oh, well, I suppose it toughens you.  Looking back, those rides, the difficult and challenging ones, are the ones I remember best if only in snippets.  Wind blowing snow sideways and so loud that we could not break up the tediousness of our journey with conversation with a sudden magnificent and unexpected lunar eclipse.  Another ride shivering while a friend helps me put on fresh gloves that my hands, so cold, are unable to manipulate.  Another feeding a friend a gel because his hands would not work.  So many memories, more than I could ever relate.  And I suppose if I am truly honest, not all of them are memories of hardship for there are memories of rides with jokes and laughter.

Perhaps we will have good weather for the brevet season this year.  If you can sit outside a store stop by choice in February because it is warm and the sun feels delicious, perhaps you can occasionally have weather for an early spring/late winter Kentucky brevet that is not so challenging.  Perhaps this year, heaven will hear me.  The words above may be an Irish blessing, but they are so suitable for brevets.  May all have a successful, memory making brevet season, a season that toughens the legs, but warms the heart and makes you aware of your blessings.  Rides end.  Memories don't. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Brevet Season Approaches: Thank You January.


 "Behind every beautiful thing,
there is some kind of pain." 
Bob Dylan


It is one of those rare, winter days that is a gift from the cycling gods:  blustery, but blessedly warm after a cold start.  Of course that always means that there is gear to take off and carry as the day progresses, but I can't complain about that.  I am thankful that I have friends to ride with, that I have a bicycle to carry me, and that I can get another January century in.  It is not every year that weather allows three January century rides.  And it is nearing brevet season.  These miles and these leg hardening hills will make the brevets much less painful.

Oh, I don't delude myself, I know that the brevets will hurt.  Kentucky courses are always challenging, and due to the rides being early in the year, weather is inevitably an issue.  But brevets, at  least longer brevets, inevitably hurt at some point.  I suppose that is one of the delights of brevet riding, as strange as it may sound, the challenging yourself to tough things out, to work through the pain, mental and physical, to prevail.  If you do, you have the thrill of the victory, knowing that you finished what you started.  If you don't, even if this was the wisest course, and it often is, you deal with the questioning of yourself, your decision, and your ability.  I suppose if it were easy, it would not be so satisfying.

I meet Steve and Bill at McDonald's and we head out on the Lawrenceburg Loop.  As we ride, it is like old times:  I have ridden so many miles with these men.  Things have changed, we have changed, but some things remain the same, and despite the time that has elapsed when we rode regularly together, I have memories with them, ties to them that cannot be denied.  I remind them of the caterpillar who did not make it across the road while we waited for a flat tire to be changed, of Bill's comment to Larry about his camera.  Past moments along this course flood my brain.  And more memories will be made today, like the store clerk grabbing Bill's arm and saying that while he is old, he is sooo strong;-)  As always, Bill takes our teasing with good grace and humor. 

Coming out of the first store stop, layers begin to be shed and it is a treat not to have a cold, wintry blast slap your face making you want to retreat back into the warmth of the store.  The miles pass and I realize how much I have healed since the last time I rode this course.  Time undoubtedly is a balm to all wounds.  And bicycling has  played its role.  Thank you, love, wherever you are for buying me my first bicycle.

The day ends too quickly for my mind, but  not for my legs which are begging for surcease, for rest to heal and strengthen.  Now if only February will cooperate.  Brevets are coming, and despite my moaning, cursing, and complaining, brevets can be beautiful things. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Winter Sloth: A deadly Sin but like most sin, quite alluring


"He who conquers himself
is the mightiest warrior."
Confucius

 I think it is time to pick a new goal and move forward.  It is always so very difficult to motivate myself in winter.  I hate the indoor trainer, but it is COLD outside and the wind whistles and howls bragging of what she will do to me once I am at her mercy.  Without a goal, it is too easy to grab a cup of tea, a book, a cat, and vegetate. Yes, conquering myself and my own tendency toward sloth, laziness, and poor eating:  that is the battle. 
I have been internally debating about what I want to do for a few months now.  Do I want to do a long brevet, a triathlon, or turn to bikepacking?  I am unsure if my hip and foot will hold up to the rigors of triathlon training, but I do miss long runs and the solace they bring.  Should I begin and see what happens?  A friend e-mails about possibly riding the Colorado High Country 1200, and the die is cast.  At least, I will register and see how the qualifying brevets go.  I have never been to Colorado and the photographs are beautiful.  Perhaps this will be the goal that is the turning point for a return to myself.

Bill has e-mailed about riding a century today, and it is cold and dreary.  Relief is not predicted.  The high is supposed to remain near the starting temperature of 32 degrees, and the sun is not supposed to bless us.  The winds are not excessive, but it will not be a windless day. 10 mph is predicted, but I also know how winter predictions go having been caught out more times than I can count.  As I struggle with the urge to e-mail and say I have changed my mind, I worry that I am not as tough as I used to be, and I suspect that it is mental, not physical weakness.  I have ridden centuries is much colder, windier weather, and I have done them back to back.  Still, I have not been on a bicycle other than a couple of spin classes since my century two weeks ago.  I talk myself out of being a candy ass and get ready to meet Bill.

We head out and soon are climbing Leota Hill.  As we do this first climb, I speculate that I am overdressed, something I never worry about again, even on tougher climbs later in the day.  Indeed, I am cold for quite a bit of the ride, even on climbs. In Pekin, I have a rear flat.  I had not realized my tires were so worn, and I just replace the tire only to find that the tube has a valve problem and won't inflate.  My hands are quickly becoming less and less nimble when a saint emerges from the book store we are stopped in front of and tells us we may come in to fix the tire.  Bicycles and books, some of my two favorite things.  In no time, it is fixed and we are back on our way.  It is so hard, though, to leave the warmth of the book store and face the road.

I can't really say that I enjoyed the ride.  Occasionally I would note the beauty of the winter landscape, but it did not reach my soul as it sometimes does.  I did enjoy Bill's company.  And I enjoyed the taste of the sandwich at the Mennonite Restaurant. But I was glad to see the ride end and I was glad to immerse myself in steaming hot water filled with bubbles to thaw.  Inside, there was a core nugget of self satisfaction that I had conquered myself, at least for today.  A long time ago, before my first PBP,  someone, and I think it was Bill, told me that if I weep in the dojo I will laugh in the battlefield.  May I continue to force myself to weep some more.  Thanks, Bill, for today.  It is good to have a friend that encourages you to push your limitations.