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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.     

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Kentucky 200 K Brevet 2014

"Sometimes you can't let go of the past without
facing it again."  Gail Tsukiyama

And so it begins again, a new brevet series, a new year.  I had  hoped to prepare better, but the ice and snow and life in general kept stepping in the way.  One would think after all these years, I would accept it more easily.   I know it is going to hurt today.  I know this course.  No, I could not ride it without a cue sheet or the course markings, but I remember the way it made me feel, the difficulties and the triumphs, the times I despaired of ever surviving to make it to the end and the times I hammered at the pedals as if I were invincible.  Despite the prediction for the best weather that there has ever been for this brevet, I hold no illusion that it will be easy despite being only 130 miles.  Beyond the  lack of sufficient training, I have been ill this week with a stomach virus.  2.5 days of work lost as well as five to six pounds, and I still can't eat without feeling nauseous. I feel weak and I have not even started. I grin wanly wondering if this could be a psychological illness that has translated to physical.  It was a stomach bug that kept me from the 300K last year.  Do I grow too old, soft, and infirm to face the challenges? 

Yes, I know today will be difficult.  What I did not reckon on were the memories it would evoke, memories that reek of change and time, and the grieving they would evoke, the yearning for another chance to live those days with those  people for a few more minutes, to grab tight to more of the memories, to let them know that I love them, that I miss them, that they formed and molded me, that without them the experiences would have been less vivid and meaningful.  For there are those moments in brevets that stand out, that are etched in memory forever,  the moment when you almost give in and overcome, the moment when you feel like you could ride forever and be forever young and strong, the moment when a friend saves your bacon or you eat the wind for a friend.  And for a moment or two I wonder if this is a good-bye brevet ride, for there is no need denying that will eventually happen.  The question is, like so many last time experiences,  will I know in advance or will it  just happen.  Will I wake up one day and just have no motivation or lack the ability to ride?  Will it be ended by a fall or a texting driver? But perhaps I just need to remember these things one last time to finally let them go and relegate them to the graveyard of memory. To say good-bye to those that no longer ride and to decide if I want to ride alone or seek out new companions. For as Gibran says, "Life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."

With feeling so queasy inside, I do not look for nor particularly want company on this ride. I know I would be a poor companion. And unlike many people, I have found that I really do not mind riding alone much of the time. My primary goal, despite carrying lights, is to make it back before darkness blankets the world.  I know I must ride my own pace not pushing myself but not slowing to the point where the ride seems interminable as brevets sometimes do, particularly those last miles when all one can think about is a hot bath or shower, food, and a warm bed.

Would it be strange to say that one of my favorite things about brevets is the ending of it, the feeling when you take off your bicycling shoes and put on your regular shoes and your toes seem to have so much wiggle room, the relief for your bottom  when it no longer has to sit precariously balanced on a slab of leather and it sinks into a cushion, the tranquilizing smell of shampoo and soap and the water washing the crusty salt crystals from your skin until you feel as slippery as an eel and as soft as a foal's nose and you smell like an angel.  The aroma of food and knowing that you earned it and your body needs it to replenish what it has spent that day.  Clean pajamas, slippers, the way the sheets feel so silky and smooth and cool and the bed cuddles you for a well deserved rest.  The softness of pillows. The way your bed smells of home and safety and comfort.  The way the thoughts of the day swirl through your mind as you lay in bed waiting for sleep to claim  you. All these things and more I appreciate in a new way from riding brevets and century rides.  Enough cannot be said about the man or woman who invented hot, running water.  He or she is my hero.

Early in the brevet I run into one of those people who seems to think that because you are a woman, they have to stay in front of you, or that is how it appears.  I pass, he passes and slows down, I pass, he speeds up and passes and slows down, I pass, he passes.  I really don't care if he is in front or behind, but evidently he does or he would not yo-yo his pace so. Or perhaps it is my imagination.   I just wish he would make up his mind though I must admit that for a moment I wish I were as strong as Melinda Lyons and I could soundly spank him leaving him behind to eat my dust.  I spend a few moments thinking about what it must be like to be as strong on the bicycle as she is and to have such a gift, but I also know that while it is a gift, it is a gift that must have been nourished by hard work and effort.  And I cultivate thanks that I am able to be out here and that I am as strong as I am, that I am me. Eventually he pulls in front, and as I suspect, much later down the road he spits it out and falls behind spent by his early energy spurts.  He would have been better served by a steady effort, but that is something that comes with experience, something  he appears to lack.  If he continues to ride brevets, down the road he will spank me soundly, leaving me and my bike in the dust, but not today, not until he learns the lessons that you learn on the road about how to survive and move forward and endure.  In a sense brevets are like life in that aspect, you survive and move forward dealing with obstacles as they appear and thankful when there are no obstacles. You persevere and endure putting one foot in front of each other as the bicycle wheels turn. There is a certain beauty in that. And you learn what works for you and what does not work so well.

It is before the first control that I am jolted back in time to one of my first Kentucky 200K rides.  It was on this course.  I was in a pace line and trying to hold on knowing it would be more difficult making my way on my own, still concerned about getting lost despite the markings, still concerned about being alone.  I was, however, on call and the phone went off.  I lost the pace line as I stopped to respond, and with the lost pace line I lost my confidence.  Tim Creamer happened to come by, so strong and so kind.  He, a stranger to me, pulled me back up to the pace line never asking me to take a pull,  but by then I was shot, thus learning the lesson that the young man mentioned above learned today:  pacing, pacing, pacing.  I survived, but the rest of the brevet was ridden alone and was not kind.

When I reach the first control today, I know I must eat.  I force myself to down a little something and to drink.   I will have nausea the rest of the ride, just as I have had for days whenever I eat something.  I am riding alone and take off alone.  Jody and Steve catch me and Jody momentarily crushes me saying that I left my pack back at the store as I think she meant I had left my wallet or something from my bike.  It would be too cruel to have to do the extra miles to return for a forgotten item.  I don't feel well, damn it.  As it turns out, she thought I had been riding with the group that was still at the control and I had left nothing behind, but for a moment I considered throwing in the towel.  The thought of returning to the control and then coming back is just too much to bear today. There is also the  thought of Oregon Road and the steep climb there.  Long climbs are not so hard on me, but the steep ones hurt.  I think of walking the climb, but decide to wait and see.  Hurt pride or hurt muscles, which will mean more today? Sometimes walking a hill can help one make it to the finish line more quickly than fighting ones way upward. I envision doing this brevet in the past, and a companion begging me not to tell  that they had walked the hill, telling me that they are amazed that a woman "my age" could climb the hill (and I was much younger then).  And before you know it I am at the top and realize that it was not such a big hill after all.  But then, I used my triple, something I normally try to avoid. 

It is then I think of Grasshopper and Claudia riding this course with me.  It must have been the 300 or 400 as when we got to the end, there was a train that had broken down on the tracks about three to four miles from the end.  Cars were backed up for a mile or so.  We were afraid to cross with our bikes as the train might start to move at any moment, but all we could think about was the end.  I think of another time when Grasshopper and Bill were riding the course with me and the way the sleet looked, sliding sideways in the strong wind lighted only by our meager bicycle lights, savagely beautiful.  I thought about how I believed I would surely go mad that day with the relentless sound of the wind in my ears, roaring until it seemed it was just me and the wind, conversation or communication an impossibility.  Three souls combined in an effort to reach a goal, heads down, legs straining against the wind and pedaling, determined to make it to the end.  And I think of the lunar eclipse we experienced and the glorious beauty that abounds and so often lost if one is not in the middle of it one a bicycle.  Mostly I think of how I loved them then and I love them now, that somehow during that ride we became, for just a moment, a part of each other.

By the turn around, I know I am in serious trouble when I can only eat 1/4 of a bologna sandwich before I begin dry retching.   Just the thought of food sickens me, and my stomach feels like a cauldron of hot soup bubbling deep inside.  Momentarily I think of calling my daughter, but I decide to move on.  I am joined by a young man riding his first brevet and his light conversation temporarily pulls me out of my own misery.  After all, I reason, it is only 130 miles, not so very far.  And I would like to ride the Maryland 1000K this fall. To do that I need an entire series.  I can sleep tonight.  And eventually I will be able to eat.  And there is a positive side.  I don't have to stop to use the bathroom all day, a problem sometimes for a woman on a brevet.  Dehydration takes care of that for me. 

The climb up the other side of Oregon is challenging, longer but not as steep.  The scenery, despite the lack of color, is stunning with slender trees raising bare limbs heavenward.  Icicles still spiral downwards, seeping from the cracks between the rocks that line the hill in places.  And I imagine what it will be here like when it is green and hot outside and spring flowers litter the ground.  I think of climbing Oregan with Mike and Scott on Mike's double century one year and the stunningly gorgeous moth we came upon near the top of the climb and how its beauty stunned the three of us.  My companion praises the roads Steve Rice has chosen for the course and the lack of traffic other than when we are surfacing for a control.  And he is right.  Except for a few miles into and out of controls, the roads are rural and lightly traveled. 

Not long after the climb, Thomas catches us and the three of near the third control.  Thomas takes off and I decide to hold onto him knowing I must force myself to eat something calorie laden.  It is nice to have someone take the pull and I drift along in his wake for quite some time before taking my own turn eating the wind.  And I realize that with my new company I have lost my company from the past brevets:  Claudia, Grasshopper, Bill, Steve, Dave, Mike, and others fade and hover only in the background of my consciousness.  That is until the third control when Tim Carroll joins me.  As if it were yesterday I see him sitting on the floor at the control, worn out by his efforts conquering the course on a fixed gear, his colorless face a twin to my own, waiting for company in the long dark busy stretch that must be ridden to get back to the country roads.   Even in my weariness, I remember seeing the humor in his waiting, as if I could ever keep his pace, fixed gear or not. And I ask myself how many of these damned brevets I have ridden.  I force down two Little Debbie donut sticks and a sprite, and my stomach again rebels cramping and making itself into a giant fist that will clench and unclench the rest of my journey.

Again leaving the past behind, Thomas and I take off to finish this thing off.  He is riding strongly and I urge him to feel free to ride ahead.  But he does not.  And I realize that this is how many of my friendships have started, with my pushing away and someone pushing, ever so slightly though not intrusively, back. While I am glad for that, and the beginning of perhaps a new friendship, I also realize that  my time alone earlier in the ride has allowed me to face and re-live some of my past brevet moments.  And friendships are hard for me for whatever reason.  Claudia is much younger than me, and now much stronger than I.  Years will eventually out and there is no way I could hold her pace.  Grasshopper no longer rides and I mourn the loss of his gentle companionship and humor.  And my relationships with the others are ever changing, taking on new tones and hues that will either cause them to grow or wither because that is the nature of time and relationships.  Time will tell the directions they take.  But I am not quite sure I will ever completely let go of them, or that I will even want to completely let go them for they have given a richness to my life and experiences that I might otherwise have missed.  What I mustn't do is let them keep me from moving forward, from making new friendships and riding companions.

Thomas and I end the brevet together, pulling into the final control and getting our cards signed and turned in.  Another Kentucky 200K in the books.  And now there are new experiences that I will want to keep and remember.  Perhaps the 300 will be easier for me.  Perhaps it won't. Either way, I hope I have the courage to ride it, and I hope I have new experiences and make more memories. For as L. M. Montgomery said, "Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it."  And I do remember.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Thoughts of Hell Week 2014

"You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep
because reality is finally better than your dreams."
Dr. Seuss

It is cold and dreary here.  And while there a certain  beauty in the stern, unforgiving landscape with its crust of hard, white snow and ice covered roads, it is not conducive to least on a road bike or a regular mountain bike.  The roads are too icy and the alabaster snow that does not give under my feet while walking gives when the wheels of my mountain bike try to glide over the surface.  It is, however, conducive to dreaming and the cultivation of that inside, unnameable longing and inside ache that dreaming sometimes brings:  it is conducive to thoughts of Texas in the early spring.

It is this time of year when I begin truly counting the days until I will be there, until I will see friends that I see all too rarely because of the physical distance, until I see the friends that I do see fairly regularly though not on a daily basis, until I am on a bicycle where I best interact with people.  For some reason, friendship and discussions are so much easier on a bicycle than they are sitting in chairs across a table from each other, just as they are after I have had a few drinks of alcohol. My husband says that alcohol primes the pump, and for some reason it is the same with a bicycle.  Indeed, sometimes I feel sorry for those condemned to a solo long distance ride with me;-)  And yes, I will miss my husband during this week, but I also will love him more for letting me go, for tending the home hearth and our furry family, for his patient waiting.

Despite the physical distance between us, my friends remain ever close to my heart, irrevocably woven into the fabric that is my very being, the world of bicycling.  Each is special to me, unique.  And while I know most of the these friendships will not last beyond bicycling, they are incredibly dear and important to me.  Perhaps it is that forewarning of loss that causes me to treasure our time so, for as so often happens in cycling, I have had dear friends whose physical presence fades as they no longer cycle even while they remain part of my history and are cherished and often thought of during a ride or during times of contemplation, each loved in their own special way.

Soon I will be in Texas, and hopefully there will be at least one day of hot, sunshine that just screams shorts and a short sleeved jersey and sun screen so that I don't burn, at least one day where the sweat will run freely and cleanly so unlike the cold, passionless winter sweat.   Soon my legs will ache with effort and my rear will hurt from unaccustomed hours on a bicycle seat and I will curse my inability to keep up and to capture the green sign.  Soon the strange,stark beauty of the landscape there will fill my eyes and I will once again fall in love. Soon I will laugh freely and be released from my recent winter weather captivity.  No dishes, no chores, no  work....nothing to do but to ride my bike, eat, sleep, and ride my bike again.   

And by the end, my passion will be spent, at least temporarily.  Because thus far, I am one of the lucky ones, the ones whose passion remains intact and who has the physical ability to carry out that passion.  And I will be satisfied for awhile knowing that reality has been better than my dreams if only temporarily. And my heart will sing. Oh, yes, Hell Week and Texas, I am sooooo ready. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Brevet Training Time

It is that mad time of year again, brevet training time.  In my head it is my sensible self against myself.  Sensible self, "You're not actually going to try to train for the brevet series, are you."  Regular self, "Well, I thought I might."  Sensible self, "You're crazy.  Why do you want to do this?"  Regular self, "Why not?"  Sensible self, "Because it will hurt, because you don't have to, because there will be wind and bad weather, because you are getting old, because I really don't want to put up with your whining about it again. And you know you will whine and complain and even blame me for not stopping you, particularly on the 600K if you even get that far this year. You might get the puking sickness you had the day of the 300K last year.  Then all that preparation is for nothing."  Regular self, "Too bad isn't it.  You're stuck with me and I'm doing it.  I suppose we could divorce and become a dissociative identity disordered person." Sensible self,"Without me, God knows what you would try and we both would end up dead before our time.  Okay, I give in.  Let's not divorce.  But I won't quit nagging you throughout the brevet season."  Regular self, "I am not the only one who whines;-)"

So far, I have managed to get some long rides in, but not much of the in between, shorter rides due to a combination of work and weather.  And you see, I am a "bicycle trainer" hater.  Yes, I know you can put a tape on television, that you really improve your speed and peddling mechanics while using a trainer.  It just is not my thing.  I am always amazed at and in awe of the mental fortitude of people who spend mind numbing hours on trainers.  They emerge at the end of a long, dreary, snowy winter as strong as ever. And very occasionally I will give in and use a trainer, but it doesn't take a session or two to realize that what I love about cycling has nothing to do with improved pedaling mechanics or increased speed or getting exercise or keeping off weight.  I like those things, but they are not of primary importance or why I love cycling.  Loving cycling has something to do with changing scenery, with the wind in my hair, with the hills that need to be conquered and put in their place, with the hills that conquer me and tame my ego, with the freedom to chose my way, with the surprises you find along the way, with the things you learn about  yourself along the road.  What I love about cycling is being alone and having time to think, being with friends and laughing until my sides ache and I worry that I will wet my shorts.  What I love about cycling are the challenges, the not knowing if I will prevail, and the satisfaction when I do.  What I love about cycling are those times when all the hard work comes together and a difficult ride is easy. And so much more.  But it is not the trainer or the benefits it bestows.  And so, with all the snow and bad weather, brevet training will be a tad more difficult this year than in the recent past.

Oh, well, as T.S. Eliot once said, "If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall your are."  Regular self, "So I may be in over my head.  At the end, at least I'll know how tall I am."  Sensible self, "Sighhhhh.  Here we go again."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mistakes During Brevets and During Life

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
BY― Neil Gaiman

When I came upon this post by Mr. Gaiman, I was immediately smitten  by his idea.  Who hopes to make mistakes?  Who wishes this for others? Mistakes are those things that you castigate yourself for making, things that cause your self view to deteriorate rather than build, things that cause that inner voice to stay stupid, stupid, stupid.  But perhaps I have been looking at things the wrong way all along.  Perhaps mistakes are good things as well as just being necessary and inevitable things.

I thought about my years of riding and the mistakes I have made and what I have learned from them.  The knowledge has been invaluable and has laid the groundwork for future successes.  Perhaps without those mistakes, there would have been more failures and less successes.  Or perhaps the failures were the successes because I certainly learned more from my failures than I have from my successes.  Perhaps even my idea of success has been convoluted.  Perhaps all actions are successes so long as they help us to move forward rather than to sit motionlessly.  And can I, a person who is troubled by changes, who struggles with changes,  make this change in my way of thinking?

When I first began riding, I normally used a camelbak to meet my hydration needs.  Firstly, my bicycle handling skills were lacking even more so than they are today.  A hydration back pack allowed me to keep my hands on the handlebars and respond more quickly.  Secondly, a hydration pack kept me from drifting to one side as I pulled the bottle out of the bottle cage and allowed me to drink without worrying I would cause someone to have an accident. And thirdly, in the winter, worn underneath my jacket, it kept the water from freezing so there was something to drink. But I remember one winter ride where I was in a rush and I didn't cap the pack correctly. The water spilled out during the ride.  Luckily I was only about 20 miles from home when I realized I was sopping wet.  By the time I reached home, the jersey was beginning to freeze and stiffen and huge,uncontrollable shivers were claiming my body despite pedaling to beat the band.  

What did I learn from this?  I learned that it pays to take the time to be sure that your equipment is operating the way it should.  That it can be uncomfortable or possibly dangerous not to do so.  And this extends from camelbaks to all your equipment. Check tires before rolling, not just for air but for bald spots or imbedded shards of glass.  One nightmare I have is a front tire blowing out on my way down a gloriously long and steep hill, possibly because I have seen this happen to another rider much more skilled than I and perhaps because I sometimes take downhills much faster than perhaps I should.  Luckily my friend was okay, just bruised and shaken,  but it could have been so much worse.  If you are going to ride, you just have to accept the possibility that these things could happen to you, probably will happen to you at some time or another, but accept that risk and not dwell on it. Because another mistake is not doing things because of what "might" happen.  Things happen regardless:  all we can do is make the best possible preventative measures.

I also learned the value of appropriate winter clothing, an ongoing lesson and an ongoing experiment with myself.  I have come to love wool and to use it and to use bar mitts even though I don't love them.  I have learned that for the most part, you get what you pay for, and that some things are worth saving for even if they are outrageously expensive.   I have learned that you can be comfortable under most winter conditions in this area if you have the appropriate clothing.  I have learned that the importance of warmth far exceeds the value of fashion and to ignore people when they sneer at my less than attractive winter riding gear. 

Another time I was on a brevet with two friends, Dick "Grasshopper" Krakowski, and Bill Pustow, when I had a flat after heedlessly crossing a  metal bridge that had a sharp edge that caused me to flat.  Cursing the loss of time but not yet concerned, I changed the tube and pulled out my CO2 inflator to fill it with air.  The inflator broke.  My regular pump was on another of my bicycles. Grasshopper said not to worry, he had his pump, but for some reason or another he either had forgotten it or it didn't work.  Bill thought he had something as well, but if I remember correctly he also had forgotten to pack it.  After what was a comedy of errors, somehow, and I don't remember how, I got the darned thing inflated and we were on our way.  But I learned to always check my bags before a brevet, or before any long ride, to make sure I have at least the basic repair tools with me.  As I have often said, it is better to carry things you don't need rather than to need them and not have them.  And while he would desperately try, my husband would never find me out on the country roads that are the Kentucky brevets.

And I could go on and on about the mistakes I have made:  not drinking enough, not eating enough, not resting enough, not dressing properly, not riding at my own pace, not testing new equipment before depending on it, etc.  But that would a novel unto itself.  I could go on about my fears, enough to fill several novels, but I overcame my fear of brevets, at least for the most part, though I do respect them. I suppose everyone makes as many mistakes as I do and maybe has as many fears.  And perhaps that is a good thing.  Neil Gaiman says to do something that I am afraid of doing, and perhaps that will be a New Years Resolution because it is hard for me and I  am afraid of so many things, including making mistakes. It is just hard to choose:  there are so many mistakes to be made including the mistake of being afraid of mistakes;-)  Ride on, friends, make the mistakes and learn.  We will make them regardless because that is the nature of the beast.  But what a shame when our fears stand in our way of trying something new. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Training for the 2014 Brevet Series

It has been a long time since I have ridden with others, instead electing to wander in solitude:  stopping to photograph things that strike as unusual or beautiful and that I will want to remember, choosing my route at random, varying pace according to mood and inclination.  I am always amazed at how much I forget, and as I age my forgetfulness becomes more frequent.  Sometimes I wish I could remember only the good things, the special things, the things that I hold close, like the times my family has told me that they love me or have done or said something that has strummed the strings of my heart or the times friends have said nice, memorable, special things to me that I can hold close to my heart and pull out when I am sad or feel deserted and alone.  But that is not the way.  And perhaps I would not be the person I am today if those were the only things that I could remember, if past hurts and grievances were completely forgotten. When I was younger I did not understand how older people remembered things from years before, but not from five minutes ago.  Now I smile a wistful smile thinking I have joined their ranks.  I briefly smile thinking about a joke shared with my husband about keeping note pads next to us in the living room so we remember why we went to the kitchen.

It is hard to get going in the morning, particularly as there are better days predicted for later in the week and I am on vacation from work.  It is delicious to get up in the mornings and put on a soft, fluffy night robe instead of clothing, to nurse a steaming mug of coffee, to take my time and know I have a day to spend on my selfish self.  It is dark and dreary outside, and there is no promise of sunshine. Wind is predicted. I have been sick as well with a chest cold and have not been on a bike in two weeks.  The course the guys have chosen is a hard one with lots of climbing.  This course hurts in May, the traditional date of the Pam Century,  so I know it will hurt in December when there are fewer miles in these old legs. Part of the struggle is always overcoming the part of my mind that encourages sloth and laziness, the challenge of getting out the door, the challenge of beginning.  Battling these feelings today are good practice for the upcoming brevet season when experience tells me there will be numerous occasions when my mind urges me to quit, to give up.

It is cold outside, and I curse myself for not taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather the first of the month for I continue to try to keep the Big Dog Challenge of riding one outside century ride every month of the year no matter the weather.  Despite the fact I know that I have it easier than others who live where there is even more snow and ice and cold and wind, I briefly toy with the idea of stopping at my ten year anniversary. but I decide that this would make it all too easy to stop riding long rides altogether, and I don't want to stop.  It would make it too easy to quit riding brevets, and I am not ready to stop. Normally, though not all the time, I am glad that I rode and that I rode the distance. And I have formed a group of friends that I would be loath to lose, friends that I share memories and good times with, friends who are important to me. Unlike when I was younger, I know that if I stop now I may stay stopped.   Objects at rest, including people, tend to stay at rest.  

As I drive to the ride start, I wonder if I will hold everyone up.  They never say anything, but I will know by the look in their eyes, the same look my eyes sometimes have when someone has slacked off and is riding way below our normal pace.  And this is winter with short day light hours. Being too slow can mean the whole group gets in at dusk, or worse yet, after dark.  For unlike summer, the group seems to always stick together in colder weather, paces merging to a happy medium.  I decide that I can always turn around if it looks like I will be holding everyone up.  And I feel like I will ride at a reasonable pace.  Prior to getting a cold, I made it a practice to climb lots of tough hills, but riding alone also normally means riding more slowly than you do with a group.   I will just have to see how things go.

And things do go well.  My legs tire, but I am able to maintain a reasonable pace.  At the last store stop, Mark complains about the ceaseless hills and I know that mine are not the only legs that are hurting, aching, complaining about what I am asking them to do. Somehow this helps, knowing that I am not the only one who hurts but will muddle through.  And I know my legs will be stronger for the next ride. Training for the 2014 brevet series has begun and I have passed the first test, the important test, the mental test:  determination, persistence, forbearance.  At least for now.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


"Smile every chance you get. Not because
life has been easy, perfect, or exactly as you
had anticipated, but because you choose to be 
happy and grateful for all the good things you do have
and all the problems you know you don't have."
Unknown author

Deep in my heart I know that creating for myself a culture of gratefulness for my many blessings will enrich my life in incalculable  ways and is one path to greater satisfaction and will enhance my life. Experience has taught me that.  I have worked for  people who are incapable of being grateful figuring that you are paid for what you do and that is gratitude enough.  I have worked for those who regularly express their appreciation for loyalty and hard work.  The same with friends and relatives.   The power of the words, "Thank You," when sincerely said, never fails to amaze me.  Perhaps Machiavelli is right and fear is more motivating in the long run.  I was sure of this in my youth.  But things no longer seem so clear cut.  Strange, you would think age would make things less rather than more muddled.  Sometimes it seems the older I get the less clear cut things have become.

I have much to be grateful for in my life, and part of my New Year's resolution will be to continue to strive to create a culture of gratitude and to let those in my life know how very special they are to me, how close to my heart.  

I am thankful for my husband, the man who has supported me through thick and thin, the man who bought me my first bicycle, who encouraged me to complete triathlons and to do PBP, to take on new challenges and not worry so much about failure.

He has the courage to tell me when he thinks I am wrong, but to still to be there for me.  I prize his honesty even if it sometimes stings.  The love behind it makes it much more palatable, and I always know where I stand.  I grin thinking of the one anniversary or Valentine's Day.  Coming home from work I find a card and some flowers.  He asks if I would like to go out to eat, and of course I say yes.  He takes me to a nice restaurant, and I am feeling so very special and loved.  I am thinking that he will get thanked later that evening, when we get home.  He looks at me across the candlelit table and gently says, "I think you are starting to grow a mustache."  I am taken back, but immediately burst into embarrassing loud guffaws of laughter and tell him how the women of this world owe me a great debt of gratitude for taking him off the market.  As a young bride, those words would have destroyed me, but the safety net of his love and knowing that he would never be purposely cruel to me gave  me the ability to find the humor and to create a memory that I treasure.  I would long have forgotten that dinner had it not been for his sincerity and knowing it was meant with love.  While our marriage, like any other, has not been all peaches and creams and sometimes seemed on the verge of toppling, I am thankful for his presence in my life.

I am thankful for my children.  They have enriched my life in countless ways and have been and continue to be blessings.  They have taught me many life lessons such as how you can hurt for someone else as much or more that you would hurt for yourself, about how sacrifice can bring untold rewards, about family and what it means to be bonded by the adhesive of caring and love.  Together we have memories that warm me.  One Mother's Day my daughter gave me a "Memory Jar" she had created.  A decorated jar filled with papers on which she had written about memories she had of our times together.  A woman where she works told her she would not like such a present, that she wanted something bought from a store.  To me, the present is like gold.  While I have been through those memories many times, occasionally I still  pull out a paper and take a walk backwards in time. I have a son who, despite the distance and his busy schedule, takes the time to comfort me when he knows I am hurting about something, who comes home at Christmas.

I am thankful for my health.  There are many who do not have this blessing.  I am thankful for my home, and my job, and my friends.  I am thankful for laughter, for food on the table, for family.  I am thankful for the cats and the amusement they bring to the house, and I am thankful that I am strong enough through loss to open myself to possible new pain down the road.  I am thankful for my bicycles and the many gifts they have brought me:  new experiences, new friendships, new ideas. 

So, on this Thanksgiving, I say thank you to those in my  life and to my creator.  I will try to do a  better job of appreciating you and of being sure that you know exactly how very much you mean to me.  I will continue to strive to create for myself a world of gratitude and thankfulness and to not take things for granted anyone or anything, and perhaps even come to realize that those things that I would prefer not to happen sometimes needed to happen, for without sunshine we would not appreciate the rain, and without rain, sunshine would lose some of its richness.  As Graham Nash once said in a song, "Grow a little taller even though your age defies." Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.  May you always recognize your blessings and be grateful.  There are, indeed, problems you don't have.  Pray for those who do.