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Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Healing

"Afoot and light hearted I take to the open
road, healthy, free, the road before me."
Walt Whitman

Not afoot, but back on the bike after a long, searing, desert of days where it was not possible.  Excited anticipation fills ever crack, cranny, and crevice of my being as I swing my leg once more over a bicycle.  I might not go fast, yet, and I might not go far, yet, but somehow I know I will, and in the not so distant future.
Despite it being mid-July, the world seems fresh.  I have longed for the feel of the wind on my face and the freedom that only comes with being on a bicycle.  One day, this, like everything, will be taken from me, but not yet.  Dear God, thank you:  not yet. 

The sun beats down, merciless to my lack of conditioning, overbearing, proud, but unable to break this prayer of a ride, a prayer of thankfulness, a ride of gratitude.  I am thankful to be alive.  I am thankful for the warmth of his caresses, his kiss that despite the best sun screens will leave my skin warm and rosy.  I am thankful for the greenness that still remains, as if held for my personal viewing enjoyment.  And I am thankful for bicycles and open roads and the health to once again begin to ride them. 

Oh, yeah, I am back  home in the saddle again. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Another way to be prepared is to think 
negatively.  Yes, I'm a great optimist, but
when I am trying to make a decision, I often
think of the worst case scenario.  I call
it 'the eaten by wolves factor.'  If I do something
what's the most terrible thing that could happen?
Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes
it possible to be an optimist is if you have a plan
for when all hell breaks loose.  There are lots of
things I don't worry about because I have a plan in
place if they do."  
Randy Pausch

Sometimes I think the most best part of a ride, at least a long ride, be it a brevet or a multi-day ride, is the preparation.  I enjoy planning the route knowing there are new roads that will hold new sights and, perhaps, new challenges:  the hill with the impossibly steep grade, gravel, odd sights, the road that does not exist or does not go through or is unexpectedly closed, etc.  Hopefully the roads will be  passable.  Hopefully I will not get lost.  Hopefully I will have cell phone coverage.  Hopefully, while I will have phone coverage, nobody will call.  Hopefully rest stops will be available.  Hopefully I will not run into some maniac with a vendetta against women.  But the not knowing, the trying to think of and plan for each contingency while still keeping things reasonable, that is just pure fun.  And I accept that there are those things that happen that you cannot plan for and just have to deal with as they arise.  Sometimes the wolf gets you, no matter how well you plan.
This will be my first long ride on my new Surly Straggler.  I planned and rode the course last year so it will not be completely new, but I am sure new adventure awaits.  It was passable on a road bike, but there was lots of gravel that was difficult to negotiate on my Lynskey.  This year I will be better prepared, or at least I will have a bike that performs better on gravel. I am not sure I am in as good physical shape as last year, and I know I weigh a few pounds more. Once I get out from home a bit, the roads will be like new to me having only traveled them once before.  I have little course memory anyway.  The bike is new to me.  And surely there will be new experiences awaiting.

As I prepare my bike, I find that with this bike I have even less clearance between the rear wheel and my carradice than with the Lynskey.  I have been so excited about really having room to carry large water bottles, and now this.  I suppose different equipment will be in order in the future, but it will have to wait.  One thing about being short:  there are bike packing issues that those graced with more height don't face.  I attach the carradice, change out the seat that came with the bike to my Gilles Bertaud (thanks yet again, Greg Smith, for turning me on to this saddle and literally saving my ass), and add the new Iberia handlebar bag my son and his wife bought for me.  By the time I am packed, my bike weighs 48 pounds, but I am fairly sure I have what I need to have a good ride. 

The air is thick and clammy as I head out despite it being early morning, but it is not raining.....yet.  The prediction is for showers and possible storms and the humidity is high.  I am not used to the heat yet, and if this route lacks anything, it is regular places to get something to eat and drink.  Most of the roads, at least as I remember them, are isolated and rural.  That is part of the charm of the route, but it  also  concerns me.  Still, I only have me to worry about.  Despite putting the ride on the club schedule, there were no takers.  I speculate that this was partially due to there being gravel on the route and partially due to scheduling against a TMD Stage (a local series of century rides).  It is probably also partially due to my no longer riding so fast.  Most people who would be interested in this ride are stronger riders.  It is also likely due to my now being widowed, for people do not treat you quite the same when you are single as when you are part of a couple. For whatever reason, it was as I expected. It is, perhaps, best that I ride alone anyway on this virgin trip with my new bicycle.  That way I am only responsible for me and I will notice the scenery more and have time to think and be thankful.  I will have time to stop and take photos and time to learn to trust my new bike. Odd to think one bonds with a bike, but trust does develop over the miles traveled together.  For some reason, I also suspect this ride will be about memories as I celebrate those I loved and that loved me but are gone.  "Don't take for granted the love this life gives you."  (Tim McGraw).  I don't take for granted the love that was given me even that which is gone. 

One thing I am grateful for is my freedom. What a country where a woman can plan on riding almost 200 miles and not have to overly worry about her personal safety.  People have died so that I can have that freedom, so that all of us can have the freedoms that we have. People I did not know and that never knew me.  This is their week-end.  What better thank you than to use the very freedom that they gave us.  It is one reason I vote, even when there is nobody running for office that I particularly excites me.

The first part of the route is flat and is on familiar roads, so I am grateful when I turn onto roads I have only traveled once before despite the fact that I immediately encounter a steep hill.  Why is it that so often difficult hills are foreshadowed by tree coverage?   I remember this bad boy from last year, and it is as steep as I remember. I suppose it is because it would be hard to build on the hillside. But I churn the pedals and slowly make the climb, sides heaving, heart pumping, alive.

 I become concerned about my carridice as it seems to be bumping my wheel whenever I go over a bad spot in the road.  I curse myself for taking the dowel rods out of the bottom only now remembering that Lloyd put them in there just because of this very issue.  With the lesser clearance, it is even more of an issue now. I had forgotten and taken them out not knowing why they were there, but now I remember.  With some duct tape, however, I am able to remedy the problem for this trip.  A stick duct taped across the carradice holder stops the carradice from sagging in the center and hitting the wheel.  Two would have been better, but it is what it is.  It works for the moment. (Photo taken after the ride).

I find I don't really particularly like the gearing or the SRAM shifting on this new bike.  The gearing would be fine, I suspect, when you are riding a bike that doesn't weigh 46 pounds, but mine does.  I hope to take trips in the future where it may weigh even more. The shifting is crisp and responsive, but with the terrain changing to frequent hills and climbing, I find that my short, stubby fingers are tiring of the extra reach the SRAM shifters take.  In other words, both would be find for regularly riding, but I can't say that I like them for long distance touring on a loaded bicycle.  I am probably stuck with them, but next time I will get something more suited to the purpose. Sometimes it seems I am always making mistakes. The problem is, I don't always learn from them as I should.  And perhaps I am just grumpy as the miles tax my legs and mind.

I hit my first obstacle when I reach the closed bridge.   It has never been a problem with the Lynskey.  Firstly, the Lynskey has not ever been so heavily loaded.  Secondly, it is titanium, unpainted titanium, and thus can be used rather roughly.  It is my kind of bike that way.  With the Lynskey, if it feels too heavy, I can just kind of scoot it under the blockade. This bike has beautiful paint, and while I know that eventually I will scratch it, I know I will feel badly when I do so.  It takes every ounce of strength I possess to lift it over the barriers, but I manage.  No scratches.  The first challenge down.

I think of how I love these old bridges.  Both days are filled with old bridges, many of them one lane bridges.  Near me, most of those bridges are being replaced by bridges that two cars can cross at the same time, bridges that span creeks as if they were rivers, that seem somehow an overkill.  The words of some song float briefly through my mind, "For everything you win there is something lost."

It is on Buddha Road that I meet my next challenge.  A gigantic tree has fallen during the night completely blocking the road.  The highway department is there working on clearing the road.  There is sinking feeling in my chest.  If I have to, I will backtrack and find a way back onto my route, but today's ride is 103 miles, and the remaining miles are not easy miles with the hills and gravel.  I remember how tired I was upon my arrival last year. With starting so early, I did not throw a light in my bag.  Perhaps I deserve the wolf treatment. When I get in tonight will depend upon  the length of and the terrain of the detour.  There are good people in this world though.  The highway men offer to lift my bike over for me, and allow me to climb under the tree to continue on my way.  I ask if there was wind last night or what happened.  One man tells me there was no wind, the tree was hollow, and had lost its strength. I truly appreciate their kindness, and I say a prayer for them and those like them.  I believe I would have been okay time-wise finding a way around, but one never knows when a mechanical or other obstacle will raise its ugly head.  And I think about how each of us and everything, even the strongest, have their season.  Don't waste it, I think.  Ride, ride and soak it in.

As the roads become less heavily traveled and shift from farm land to forest, I feel the verdant greenness seep into my very soul.  All the stress of the past few weeks with the overtime and work demands leaches away and I feel young and carefree.  Daisies line the sides of the road in places and I dream once more of how when we first married I would bring them in from the horse pasture to decorate our table and our home.  How little we had:  a bean bag chair, a mattress on the floor, stove, and refrigerator.  How happy we were.  I remember my first washing machine and how it cost $15.00 dollars at an auction.  I remember the elation I felt at no longer needing to go to a laundromat.  Such a little thing to bring such joy.

As I near Shoals I realize that some of the roads that were gravel last year have been chip and sealed, but there is still little traffic.  I remember that there are some rough roads between Shoals and Montgomery and mentally prepare myself, but I also remember them as being scenic.  The last few miles are mostly rough, large gravel as I pass Amish houses and fields.  The wind is picking up and the sky is threatening.  Despite my tiring legs, I quicken my pace hoping to beat the storm.   Still I notice the man plowing with five horses, manes roached and tails shortened, straining against their harnesses, working as a team, to draw life from the field.  I wave and the driver nods.  I notice that the wind is whipping his beard about. I notice the small Amish boy, perhaps three, with a tiny puppy slip into a doorway.  A horse drawn carriage or two pass me, the women with their hair mostly covered and in their dresses.  What they must think of this heathen.  It is like being back in time.  I hate that I am in a hurry.  I hate that is is rude to take pictures.  But I press onward, my legs complaining against the pace.

And I almost make it in before the rain, but not quite.  About one half mile from my destination, the rain begins in earnest.  What is the big deal, I think?  So I arrive wet.  The wind has picked up, but there is no lightening arching across the sky. It is hot.  And suddenly I am delighting in the coolness of the rain washing away the sticky hotness of a difficult day of riding.  I am laughing like a mad woman as I make the final turn into the Gastof Amish Village where my motel is located:    Two older people, sitting at the motel entrance in rocking chairs, look at me rather strangely.  I want to hug them and tell them how very lucky they are to be given the gift of aging together, but I know they would never understand.  I know I did not understand the magnitude of this gift until it was taken from me.  But I will not be sad.  Rather I am glad for what I was given.   Some people never have that.  I would have liked to have more, but it was not to be.  Suddenly, I am ravenous and looking forward to the Amish feast I know awaits me at the buffet.

And surely enough, after showering and walking to the restaurant, a feast awaits me.  Everything tastes heavenly, my appetite honed to a fine edge by the time in the saddle, but when I to the dessert section and there is strawberry pie, every pedal stroke it took to get here is worth it.  These are not the large berries that one finds in the grocery anymore, almost apple sized.  There are the small berries I remember from my youth, brilliantly red,  and the taste is heavenly.  Sometimes I think we have bred the taste out of everything, whatever the reason.

Returning to the motel, I fall asleep easily at 8:30 and barely stir until morning.  I am filled with anticipation wondering if the first of the day is as beautiful as I remember it to be and it does not disappoint.  There are long stretches of little to no traffic once I leave the city, bridges and creeks and train tracks that remind me of the growth of this country.  The catalpas, one of my favorite trees, are weeping their blossoms, and I feel like a bride with flowers strewn on the road to celebrate my passing.  The house where the pack of dogs chased last year shows not one sign of a dog and I wonder if she has moved or has them indoors. An old woman is walking slowly along the road, getting her morning stroll in.  "I am on your right and don't want to scare you," I yell.  She does not turn her head, I suspect due to an arthritic neck, but as I pass she cautions me to be safe out there.  For just a moment we are joined in wishing each other well and enjoying the beauty of this fine morning, the day still ripe with promise and expectations.

  Turtles are everywhere, and I move eight of them off the road before the end of the ride.  While there is little traffic, I want to try to be sure  they are not squashed.  As always, I wonder if people hit them on purpose or accidentally.  Probably both.  I think of the time when I saw a car back up to run over a snake again and again, out in the middle of nowhere where a snake should not be a big concern. I determinedly push this negativity from my mind, and a bit down the road I stop to eat the Amish bread and butter I have brought with me from the breakfast buffet and delight in the yeasty freshness and the taste of real butter.

I stop at Orleans for some lunch and mourn the ending of new roads.   There will be a few  new roads between here and Salem, but very few, and none as I near home.  Still there is loveliness around me.  The land has flattened and the riding is easier.  Forests have yielded to the farmland that will sustain me with her bounty.  Farmers, hemmed in this year by the rain, are working on the Sabbath.  I repeatedly step off the road to allow them to pass and not to impede their progress.  And I am home.  Despite the effort, I am sated and satisfied, at peace with my world and myself.  None of the catastrophes that might have happened did happen, but then I really did not worry at all about their happening because I had already dealt with those that could be dealt with in my mind.  A weird kind of optimism but optimism just the same, this not getting eaten by wolves. Still I wish my journey had been longer.  I wish there were more.  Forever the greedy gut.   Now to plan a new adventure.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Blackberry Winter

"Blackberry winter, the time when the hoarfrost
lies on the blackberry blossoms; without this frost
the berries will not set.  It is the forerunner of a rich
Margaret Mead

I have not ridden a century for three weeks now.  I don't like this.  My body does not like this, and my spirit certainly does not like this.  But sometimes responsibilities and work interfere. Then inertia sets in.  The less you ride, the less you want to ride.  It seems my work always picks up a bit this time of  year, robbing me of time on the bike just as the spring arrives. This is extremely unfortunate as spring is so short lived. Even more unfortunate,  after day after day of nice, sunshiny weather when I had to work and could not get out, the time I have off is predicted to be chilly with little to no sunshine and possible rain.

For some reason, I find it harder and harder to drag myself out the door  on chilly mornings in the spring unless the sun is shining.  Something in me resists.  But I am determined to get my May century in.  No, it is not like it is in the winter when the urge to get it completed is made more essential because of the possibility of really bad weather where you simply can't safely ride.  It is more a weariness of the spirit, of being tired of wind and gray and chill.

I decide to chart my course to Vernon all the while hoping that I don't find flooding that blocks my return and adds an extra 15 or 20 miles.  I think briefly of how now there will be nobody to chide me if I cross the flood waters wanting to get home. With the extra daylight, I should be okay if I do find flooding and not have to wade,  (I do not find the water over the road) but being without a rescue team, I throw  a light on the bike just in case.  I also give myself permission to return after thirty miles if I don't feel better, but as usual once I get my lazy rear out the door and actually on the bike, I fall back in love with the world, with the awesome beauty that surrounds me.

I have always found it interesting how winter sweat differs so from summer sweat.  There is something about a summer sweat that seems cleansing.  Winter or indoor sweat just doesn't, it is clammy and seem to have a subtle but pungently foul aroma. It leaves you cold, not cleansed.Today, I fear, will be a winter sweat, but at least my soul will be cleansed.  I will, as the saying goes, get my yayas out.

My sullenness subsides as I sudden feel the green beginning to penetrate seeping through my eyes and heart into my very soul.  I begin to feel young and strong again, not at all the old woman who looks out at me from the mirror sometimes.  There are still hints of some of the early spring flowers,  though the red bud has vanished.  Dog wood white still laces the world, bearded irises raise their lovely heads, waving in the wind as I pass, and I know it is truly almost Derby Day when I first smell the subtly sweet aroma and then see the honeysuckle.  I remember how as children we would pick the bloom, pulling the stamen through the smaller end of the flower and sucking the ambrosial droplet that was left behind as children must have done for thousands of years.  For the first time in a long time, I think of childhood friends, Brian and Mark, and some of the adventures we shared.  How sad that we lose touch with those whose company we enjoy, but it inevitably seems to happen, usually without our taking the time to thank those people for how they enriched our lives.  I suppose thank yous leave us vulnerable.  Or perhaps we are just lazy.

I am startled as a deer crashes through the brush and bounds across the road in front of me.  Something, I remain unsure what, obviously startled her.  Her fear is almost palatable and I wish I could comfort her, assure her that things are alright, but I have learned of my own powerlessness the hard way.  If I were truly powerful, I would not be a widow, so all I can do is sympathize and wish her luck on her journey.

The day never seems to warm, and while I take off my rain jacket for a bit, I quickly put it back on and am glad I did not leave it at home as I thought of doing.  In May, one does not usually think of needing arm warmers, leg warmers, wool socks. AND a jacket.  As I do every year, I have washed my wool and put it away countless times wishfully thinking it will be fall before I wear it again, only to find myself pulling it back out for "one last time."  And then I realize, it is what my husband, born and raised in the country, always called a "blackberry winter."  I remember him telling me how each year it would get cold for a bit just as the blackberry's bloom, and as happened so often, he was proved right.  Oh, there is that exception, but normally we do have a cold snap, and perhaps it serves a purpose that I, with my feeble mind, do not understand.  Because there is much that I do not understand in and about this world.  But I do understand that I am glad I rode today, that I got my May century in as I have gotten my century in at least once a month since November of 2003.  That is one of the beauties of riding a bicycle:  even when a part of us does not want to ride, we normally find ourselves pulled back into the love of the wind on our face and the freedom of the wheel powered by our own strength and desire and imagination.  

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.