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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

NOT ABOUT BICYCLING: The International Story Telling Festival Ghost

"It was evenings like then, when beneath dim
light and relaxing in a sultry bath that she missed
him the most.  A flicker of candlelight, snow against
the window and the soothing scent of creme caramel....
all were a comfort to her as she closed her eyes, 
summoned memories and many a tender thought.  She 
didn't feel deserving of the devotion bestowed upon her, but
she had finally learned to accept its wondrous gift, knowing 
that love was the source of existence and its only end."
Donna Lynn Hope

Dear Lloyd,

I was not sure how to write this as there are no words to express the ravenous yearning that surged through me at the International Story Telling Festival when he sat down.  I could not see his eyes or his face, but his hair was cut just like yours, a few gray wisps intertwined with the silvery whiteness of age.  It was the same length, lay the same.  

His ears held the same curve and thickness, the same skin coloration, and I could see the ear piece of his glasses.  He was dressed in your style of plaid shirt, and it was neatly tucked into his jeans, bound by a thin, tan leather belt as yours always was.  His neck, perhaps a bit thicker, and his waist as well.  But it could have been you sitting there.  

Tears began to stream down my face, for while I knew it could not be you, it was you, and my loss returned as sharply and deeply as it was when first you left me.  I watched you die: I was with you when your soul departed, but somehow here you are.  I wonder what this strange man, so like you, would do if I tapped his shoulder and ask him to hold me, to let me bury deeply into his shoulder as I did yours so often when I was hurt or in need.  For this was what I wanted to do, to fill this need that plagues my nights and days, this endless aching that eases but does not ever truly abate.  The loss that I thought I had dealt with and was behind me instead is in front of me, yet again stretching endlessly,  never dealt with it all.  

And suddenly I notice that the man on stage is talking about the loss of his mother.  While I regret his loss, that he had to go through this, I realize that loss is universal, love, and that we must continue living, and living hard.  To do otherwise would be to dishonor you.  But, oh, how I miss you, my love.  And oh, how I dread the loss of others dear to me without your love to steady me.  My daughter worriedly pats my shoulder, her touch a balm for my wounds.  How I hate having her see this on her yearly girls' birthday trip.

But then I realize your love is not gone:  it surrounds me in these things you left behind, odd things like the labeled shut off valves for the water, the labeled fuse box.  It lives in this house that I asked God to bless before we moved in, this house where we raised our children, where we loved, where we argued and made up,  and  yes, where you died.  I will not dishonor those gifts, my love, and I will not dishonor your life and those gifts by not living mine.

The man stands up and turns to leave and of course he is not you.  That must wait for another world and another time.  Oh, the stories that I will have to tell you and to get your thoughts on.  Until then, rest easy.  I will be alright.  

Love, Me

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Jiggs and the Start of Fall

"This day will never come again and anyone
who fails to eat and drink and taste and smell it
will never have it offered to him again in all eternity. 
The sun will never shine as it does today..."
Hermann Hesse

With the cooler weather and the prediction for possible rain showers, I really do not think anyone will show for my century ride to Norman today.  Sometimes friends do drive this far to experience new routes and new roads or for my company, and occasionally even a stranger will show up  having seen my ride on the club ride schedule, but just as often, particularly now Bill and Grasshopper no longer ride and Steve rides much less frequently, nobody shows.  This is particularly true now that I am slower.  It does not upset me.  It does not hurt my feelings or give me pause as to whether anybody actually likes me. I suppose I grow used to being alone, and not just on the bike.  Sometimes that aloneness translates into loneliness, and sometimes it does not.  I don't know it until it happens.  Usually I am fine being alone, but sometimes I find I am incredibly lonely now Lloyd has moved on to the next world.  Sometimes I wonder if I will ever again feel whole.

 Frankly, there are those times I prefer it as it is much easier to dream and think while alone and unshackled by the demands of conversation.  And there are still times when I am not much fun to be around, when memories bring sadness rather than appreciation.  I suspect that this deep well of sadness will not grow more shallow, but I know I will not sink in as often.  I still think of him every day, but it is not so pervasively.

When nobody shows for a scheduled ride, it does lead to decision making that is otherwise taken from me:  to ride or not to ride, that is the question?  You HAVE to ride if people show up, but if you are alone you can ride or you can stay home.

Before I ever go over to the parking lot to check, I have decided that despite the prediction for possible rain, I will ride.  I still have my carradice attached from my Montgomery trip and it will hold more than what I need. It is not so cold that chilling will be an issue, and the prediction is for showers, not a heavy pounding rain that makes seeing difficult and increases the dangers of a two wheel adventure.  I will not waste the day for it will never come again.  I hope to eat, drink, taste, and smell it as Hesse urges me to do, realizing it is unique and time is limited.

I am surprised but happy when Amelia pulls in. Amelia is funny and makes me laugh. She is bold and brave and strong in a way that I am not.  But she rarely comes to my rides.  Briefly I worry that my pace will be too slow for her, but I force myself to release that thought and not worry.  I made it quite plain in my pre-ride summary that I did not intend to press the pace.  Unless she did not believe me, she knows what to expect.

 Then Lynn arrives and I know it will be perfect.  Lynn also makes me smile, though often his wit is subtle and hidden, the kind that subtly hits you  making you snort and grin as you realize how easily it might have slipped by you unnoticed.  And, oh, how I admire his strength through the adversities he has faced and faces.  He is a caregiver, and while there are parts of the caregiving responsibilities that I don't miss, I would do almost anything to set the clock back, to see something Lloyd liked at the grocery and to pick it up and bring it home hoping to find his smile.  But for me, those days are gone.  And I know that being the caregiver is not always easy and not always a happy place to be.

I wish Paul were coming, but I know he is far from healed and that it will only be next spring before there will be any chance of sharing a ride and a conversation.  I remember confiding in him on our last ride my fear of this coming winter and my uncertainty if I have the backbone to get through it.  Like so many people, he told me I am strong, but I don't really know what that means anymore. I almost ask, but I don't.  It is too personal.

Neither Amelia nor Lynn take a cue sheet for it will be just the three of us sharing this day and this route and nobody intends to ride off and leave the others.  It is one of those days when you just feel that the day will be special, if only because you realize that there will likely not be many more of these days this calendar year.  Temperatures will trend downward rather than upward in the near future, wind will increase, and riding will become progressively more difficult mentally and physically.  It is just so much harder to get out the door on cold winter days.  Even when the sun shines brightly, it is a shadow on Plato's wall, its heat meager and pallid. Some friends will garage their bikes and head to the gym or to spin classes, others will only do shorter rides or run, and the world will change as it always does.  Bird begin to gather in flocks. Sound leaves the world as creatures prepare to sleep.  I accept it, but I don't  like it.

Despite my recognition that it is that time of year, I am startled at the subtle changes in the foliage.  It just seems too early for leaves to be changing. In some places they litter the ground, nature's confetti to celebrate that it is almost time to take her rest. There is a dream like quality as they dance and twirl to the ground, bowing to the slight wind that partners them. I like to hear them crunch under the wheels of my bicycle, or when I am walking I like how they swirl around my legs and feet.  They are not thick on the ground yet, but it will not be long now.  They bring memories of childhood leaf forts and acorn fights.  The fall smell is not here yet though, that earthy smell, damp, sensual, and somehow wholesome, that wafts throughout wooded areas in the late fall.

The day passes at an easy pace.  Conversation ebbs and flows.  When I walk in Jiggs, the proprietor recognizes me.  As predicted, the food is edible, but nothing special.  Still it will fuel the return miles.  Amelia and I tease Lynn when the waitress brings his Coke but does not bring or diet drinks.  After we leave, we stop to look at a building that interests up.  We walk up the steep, long gravel hill.  And we stop at Dairy Queen for a treat before the final leg back to the start. Amelia has a flat and we stop to fix it.  A kind lady stops to see if we need help. 

I think how grateful I am to have friends and that it is nice to share the day with two people whose company I truly enjoy.  There is just something pleasurable about taking it easy on a ride occasionally,  about not pressing the pace and being able to look at scenery rather than worrying about staying on a wheel in front of you without touching it.  I can't say that there are not times when I have enjoyed a pace line, but not today.  And though we do pick up the pace when we hit 39, tongues are not hanging out and breath coming in ragged gasps.

We say our farewells and the day is over.  But I will remember it, and I think that perhaps they will remember it as well.  Not the whole day, certainly, but snippets and pieces, and they will warm us in the days that are to come.  For this day will never come again.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Painless in Paoli

"The foliage has been losing its freshness
through the month of August, and here and there a 
yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair 
amidst the locks of a beauty  who has seen one 
season too many..."  
(Oliver Wendell Holmes)

It is beautiful this time of year, there is no doubt about it.  There is a feeling of anticipation, the knowledge that things are about to change and change significantly.  No more the long, steamy daylight hours of summer to dance through with my bicycle gloriously unfettered.  While the weather is exceedingly pleasant, the lessened daylight hours make it feel as if there is less time, less time to do those things that need doing so that one can rest easy in the winter patiently waiting for spring to oust the cold and snow.  And there is less time if you want to ride in daylight, to feel the sun beating down, warming you, making you sweat.  Rides become more hurried, less tolerant of unnecessary delays.  Gone the days of lolling in the grass mid-ride talking or dreaming.  Lights are attached to bikes in case of problems.  There is less room for error.

The squirrels have been particularly active this year, crossing the road with a suicidal, wild abandon that is uncharacteristic the rest of the year. It is as if their timidity is shuttled to the back of their minds in their determination to gather and store food for the winter.   The harvest takes precedence over all else.  The farmers also have started the reaping, corn cobs littering the roads, dust thick and heavy in the air as  you ride by if they are working near the road, covering you with grit. 

I am glad I did not talk myself out of riding with the group today, although it did cross my mind.  I remember the difficulty of this course, Painless in Paoli, and grin again at the thought of Kirk's post after the ride last year:  "Painless, my ass."  When you are not training, it is all too easy to avoid challenging rides, to forget the satisfaction that effort can bring, the blessed tiredness that aids sleep and blessed unconsciousness later when night falls.  It is all too easy to forget the spectacular scenery that you can earn only through the climbs and the hilly terrain, those scenes that flatland riders never get to experience. This particularly holds true when one is not training for something or when one is depressed and has to literally demand going out the door, when riding is a duty and an obligation and not a delight.  Is it enough not to just ride?  Must one also ride hills? 

I still need to force myself out the door at times, but  more and more often I manage to give myself a resounding yes and a kick in the rear.  While it is still dark outside when I leave for the ride start, I know daylight will have stretched out, yawning in pinks and grays and purples, across the horizon before we begin.  What I don't know is that later today I will come as close to taking a serious spill as I have come in quite some time now. 

Tony and I are riding along and there comes a delicious descent, the kind you reach after a good climb, the kind you can swoop down laughing and grinning ear to ear while the wind yells, "slow down, you idiot."  How I love descents.  At the bottom, however, a large, tan dog lays in wait.  I am almost on top of him before I see him rushing out, and I expect to go down knowing the collision is inevitable and hoping that he doesn't savage me once I fall.  Amazingly, while he hits the middle of my front wheel and breaks the light holder off of my fork, I am able to lean into him and somehow I bounce off of him and remain upright. 

I stop to check on him and he gives me such a look of reproach it is almost comical, particularly in light of how close I was to going down and going down hard.  "Don't you know when a fellow is just playing," he seems to ask. "You play too roughly."  He then runs off.  I knock on the door to let the owner know, but nobody answers.  Tony waits patiently while I write a note to the owners briefly explaining what happened and saying I hope their dog is okay.

The rest of the ride is uneventful, but it is filled with companionship and lovely vistas, the sights, smells, and sounds you know you will miss like the dickens when it is cold, windy, and wild outside, the kind that bring a tinge of melancholy because summer green is fading:  summer beauty always ages and fails despite  our best efforts.   But there is still beauty to come, the beauty born of endurance and of weathering the spring, summer, and fall:  life's seasons.  It may just be that we need to develop a special eye to see it.  To me, my mother, 98years old,  is still beautiful despite her wrinkles, her dementia, her blindness.....she is my mother.  And the earth will be beautiful as well.  It is all, as they say, in the eye of the one who beholds her.  "Let us give thanks for those blessings that we are about to receive." Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Virgin Self-Designed, Self-Supported Two Day Bicycle Tour

"Would you tell me, please, which way I
ought to go from here?"  "That depends a good
deal on where you want to get to." I don't much 
care where...." "Then it doesn't matter which 
way you go."
Lewis Carroll

I can't believe how nervous and excited I am about this short, solo overnight excursion to places unknown to me.  I am practically trembling as I attach my carradice for the first time in a long time.  It makes absolutely no sense, but when have I ever made sense, even to myself?  Lloyd used to tell me his nephew was right when he said I was strange, but he loved my strangeness.  How well I remember the look on his face when I wanted a pocket knife for Christmas instead of some kind of jewelry.  I grin thinking of one of his sayings, the kind I miss so because they always made me smile.  He would have told me that I was "as nervous as a whore in church." I know he would be worried at what I am about to do, but he would encourage me anyway.  It was part of who he was and part of why I loved him so.  He would tell me his concerns, he did not hide them, but then let me go my own way standing ready to pick up the pieces if need be.  Always my safety net, my shelter, my support whether right or wrong.  Now gone.  But what he gave me is NOT gone.

I try to remember if I have used my carradice since the 2011 PBP and I don't believe I have.  I "thought" about using it on the Virginia Appalachian Adventure last year, prepared to use it,  but I decided against it at the last moment opting to do without the extra weight.  No chance of opting out this time. Yes, I could just stick a change in a jersey pocket and a toothbrush, but that would defeat the purpose.

This is a preparation journey, practice for a longer, solo, unsupported trip that I hope to take when I retire.  And I hope to take plenty of shorter excursions prior to then. I will start with an overnight and see how I deal with a self planned route that might or might not have roads that are rideable.   If I like it, and I believe that I will, I will begin saving for a new bike, one that can take wider tires and has more clearance and that will allow me to carry more.  If I don't like it, I don't have to do it again.  If I like it, I may go for three days or for a week in the spring or early summer of next year, and if I don't like it I won't. But it is a beginning. And it is a first.  Firsts are important.  I find as I age that more of my firsts seem to be negative rather than the positive firsts of younger years, but they are firsts and thus learning experiences and important.  Hopefully this short excursion will be a positive first and not a negative one.  Regardless, it will lead me forward.  And hopefully I will learn something.

Yes, I have done longer rides unsupported, and longer pleasure journeys with others on the bike (though those were mainly supported),  but it is different on a brevet or with others.  There is a designed course that has been approved by RUSA.  There are others on the road.  Or on a trip there is a course designed by someone else.  I feel like a young child who wants to do it "all by myself."  I want to plan it and ride it all by myself.  I want to stop to take pictures if I want to or not.  I want to ride at whatever pace suits my fancy without worrying that I am inconveniencing someone or fretting that someone is inconveniencing me.  I don't want to feel badly or feel responsible if I get lost or the roads suck or there is a problem.  It is not that I would mind having a companion:  I would not.  I have no doubt that the right companion would do nothing but enhance and enrich the experience as sharing things tends to do, but how to find the "right" companion when one is intent on being rather selfish.  There's the rub. It would be difficult to find a companion to suit me because this trip will be about me, and perhaps those in the future will be as well.

Most friends are supportive.  Indeed, two friends, Raney and Diana,  spontaneously offer to be a backup in case of an unexpected issue despite the distance it would involve.  Their kindness touches me.   (Diana or Raney, if you read this place know that your generosity and support touched my heart deeply.)  Others look at me with a vague expression of disapproval,  unspoken but still hovering thickly in the air.  I ponder how much of that, if any,  is related to my being female.  I have been told my numerous people on numerous occasions that women should not ride alone.  I have lived with that idea in some form or another all of my life, that many of the things I like to do I should not like to do because of my gender.  I have never wanted to be a man, but I certainly have envied the freedom to do things that men seem to have. Then again, there are certain "men" things that I don't want to do (like cleaning the sump pump well), so maybe things even out.

The thing is, I do have fears, rather many of them,  and I understand the possible dangers, but as Paulo Coelho says, "Don't give in to your fears.  If you do, you won't be able to talk to your heart." No, I have absolutely no desire to run into some maniac or sadly unbalanced person who will harm me, or to be hit by a driver who does not stop, or to fall and injure myself when help is not around, to have a mechanical I cannot fix and rely on the kindness of strangers, but I also have no desire to remain stagnant to avoid these dangers.  My love is gone, but there is so much out there left to see and do.  There may be another love relationship with someone else in the future or there may not.  Either way,  I do not grow younger.  Time just has this way of sliding by without getting done those things that I want to get done. And if I am not careful, it will be too late.  If an opportunity passes, it is gone, and no amount of wishing can bring it back.  I need to talk to my heart. Perhaps it can tell me which direction to take....if I can decide where I want to go.

I pack my carridice to the brim, approximately 15 extra pounds to tote over the miles.  Yes, I am taking things that would not be necessary unless I were going on a longer journey, though not an excessive amount of extra things.  But this is partly an experiment to see how much I can carry on my current bicycle with my current set up.  The weather is predicted to be spectacular.  The course there and back has been plotted.  My supervisor kindly has given me the time off work despite already having vacation days I will be taking for other purposes soon.  When I go to bed on Sunday night, everything is ready.

I go right to sleep, but I awaken at 2:30 a.m. and find myself tossing and turning, thoughts scrambling frantically through my brain,  unable to go back to sleep.  Even so, morning comes quickly and I prepare to leave.  I have made arrangements for a friend to care for the cats, still as I feed them I feel the traitor. Elizabeth, in particular, does not care for strangers and often goes a couple of days without eating when I leave. But this worry does not last long.  The sun is shining and it is deliciously cool.  Such an odd August, I think as I head out and it is in the 50's.  I know the temperature cannot but help me, but the predicted wind may be an issue.  It is not terrible:  10 mph with 15 mph gust, but unlike a century, I will head into it the majority of the way.  Of course, the next day there may be pay back.  I can only hope.
The first of my route is on roads well known to me.  Originally I thought about driving and leaving from another town so that all the roads would be new, but I decided not to do so this first time out.  I find I have forgotten that balancing on a bicycle is quite different with the extra weight and a carradice. Gravel in turns more treacherous and standing to climb means counterbalancing the extra weight, but soon it is old hat and no longer bothers me.  I am particularly careful on turns with gravel as it seems my tires seem less likely to hold and more likely to slide. 

Outside of Medora, I notice something I have not noticed previously despite my many rides there:  the ditch alongside the road is absolutely teeming with small fish.  The water seems to be alive and is actually churning as they surface and then go under.  I have no desire to stop at Medora, but I make myself stop and eat and drink something as my route is designed to stay away from towns and from state roads that would have stores and gas stations.  I have planned for this with extra water and a sandwich or two, but since I don't know what the day will hold, I feel I better stop while I  have a chance.  Later, when I pass the Leesville store, I think that would have been a better option and I could have waited.  I think perhaps I should stop again, but I don't. Still it does not bode well to run out of food and/or water on a long ride. After leaving Medora, I make the first climb on Brick Plant Road.

Soon after Leesville, I hit the first of entirely new roads.  What is there about riding on roads that you are unfamiliar with that make them so enchanting?  Perhaps it is the possibilities.  As Shel Silverstein says, "Listen to the mustn'ts child.  Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never  haves, then listen close to me....Anything can happen child, anything can be." I think how I love the intricate patterns woven by the roads, leading here, leading there, hooking up in expected and unexpected ways, weaving and forming an intricate pattern, all leading somewhere. Even the 17 per cent grade hill I come across on Lower Leesburg shortly after leaving the familiar does not bother me.  I merely change gears, take my time, and climb.  I think about how nice this is, just to climb at my own pace.  The day stretches before me, a gift.  They say that God takes special care of drunks and fools.  I am not drunk, but quite possibly I am a fool.   I put myself and my well-being in his hands, and he does not disappoint.  I have only 103 miles to go today, 103 miles that stretches to 104 because at one point I go slightly off course.

Before you know it, I am at Buddha.  While I have been to Buddha before, it was on a cross road to the road I am riding.  The store is no longer open, but there are coke machines still in operation. I suspect the old store owner I met and had a conversation with is now with his maker.  I take the time to stop and have a drink.  I wonder about why a town in Indiana would be named Buddha.  Indiana really is not well known for its political liberality or its acceptance of cultural diversity, so why the name?  I don't think to look it up on my smart phone (I still forget that I now have one), but I later look it up on Wikipedia and there are several stories of how it may have come by that name.  I also learn that the pronunciation is so that it rhymes with Judy. What is the most surprising is that it ever supported a store.  There is nothing there except one church and a few scattered houses.  How automobiles have changed things.

I move onward realizing that I have no idea what types of roads I might end up facing and how long they might take to travel.  Duc has warned me about the gravel I may run into as I near my destination. I really don't have a good bike for gravel, but I have packed two extra tires and lots of tubes so I hope I am adequately prepared.  I am due in Montgomery and have a reservation at Gustaf Amish Village.

The village is a place I have want to see though I could not really tell you why.  My husband was drawn to the Amish/Mennonite way of life and I wanted us to go there a few  years ago, but traveling was so difficult for him with his illness and we did not make it.  And so my route is planned with that destination in mind.  I did put a small light on my bicycle just in case my riding time exceeds daylight time, but I hope not to use it.

I think how I would feel about camping along the way, just pulling over in one of the many patches of woods, and I have mixed feelings.  I think, perhaps, I would be scared.  I am sure I would be quite safe, but the dark without a camp fire or another person....I just don't know.  It is not as if I am an experienced outdoor girl or come from a camping family.  I decide I will read about it over the winter, the winter that also scares me so. But that, my friend, is another story. I do think, however, that in the future it would be prudent to stick in a couple of emergency blankets as I do when I ride PBP or a long brevet.

As I reach the outskirts of Mitchell, I think that I am fortunate as somehow I have been on mainly paved roads, but scenic roads with little or no traffic.  This has allowed me to make fairly good time without significant effort.  I have been on roads with exotic and unfamiliar names, something I quite enjoy, though I was rather reluctant to stop on Copperhead Valley Road to relieve myself merely due to the name. As I suspect, I find there is no store on Albright's Store Road, though I am sure there once was.  I think how I like counties that name their roads names rather than numbering them.  A name somehow gives a road more character. It gives me something to wonder about.

Everything is so green despite the time of year and it is astonishingly quiet. No human sound of cars or voices or machines is in the air.  It is as if my ears are taking a vacation.  Hours and miles pass with little or not traffic.  There are miles with no houses: forest with the occasional relief of farm land.  I realize that I am singing and that I am relaxed.  I realize that I am happy.  I am glad I have a destination, but I don't much care how I get there so long as it does not involve cars and traffic and people.  I feel as if I could ride forever.  I feel strong and confident and quite brave.  I chase away thoughts about falling or bad guys or any of the innumerable boogey men that haunt dreams.  I wonder at the sparsity of dogs.

I think briefly of stopped to get something to eat in Mitchell, but I remain a slave to the purple line on my GPS.   I have brought my own supplies for the trip, so I head onward.  I pass a house that leaves me dreaming.  It looks unoccupied, though not particularly run down other than it is overgrown with ivy or some other type of climbing plant.  There  is a wood heart on the front of the deck of the house announcing that once this place contained a family, two people who dreamed, ate, bathed,  held hands, lusted, and slept intertwined planning their future, two people who perhaps had a family.  What happened?  Why does something always seem to happen, I think?  And how come we often are the destroyers of our own happiness?  For some reason, one of my favorite Adrienne Rich poems comes to mind:

Adrienne Rich

The Middle-Aged

Their faces, safe as an interior
Of Holland tiles and Oriental carpet,
Where the fruit-bowl, always filled, stood in a light
Of placid afternoon ⎯ their voices’ measure,
Their figures moving in the Sunday garden
To lay the tea outdoors or trim the borders,
Afflicted, haunted us. For to be young
Was always to live in other peoples’ houses
Whose peace, if we sought it, had been made by others,
Was ours at second-hand and not for long.
The custom of the house, not ours, the sun
Fading the silver-blue Fortuny curtains,
The reminiscence of a Christmas party
Of fourteen years ago ⎯ all memory.
Signs of possession and of being possessed,
We tasted, tense with envy. They were so kind,
Would have given us anything; the bowl of fruit
Was filled for us, there was a room upstairs
We must call ours: but twenty years of living
They could not give. Nor did they ever speak
Of the coarse stain on that polished balustrade,
The crack in the study window, or the letters
Locked in a drawer and the key destroyed.
All to be understood by us, returning
Late, in our own time ⎯ how that peace was made,
Upon what terms, with how much left unsaid.

It is shortly before Shoals that I have my first, and really my only, real issue on the journey.  Yes, I have run into some gravel, but they were still lovely roads, perhaps less traveled because of the gravel.   But the road I am now on is not gravel, at least on this stretch: it is freshly chip and sealed.  Most of it has dried and is passable, but I hit a stretch that is not and do not stop in time.  I feel the tires of my bike sink into the slimy tar and I know I am in trouble.  I immediately get off the bike and walk it over this small patch, christening my new bicycle shoes, but alas, my tires have been tarred and pebbled.

Visions of flat tire after flat tire dance in my head.  I pick up a coke can by the side of the road and scrape off the worst of the damage and get back on, thinking what to do.   I have successfully avoided riding on State Road 50, but in Shoals I see a gas station off to my right, so I decide to go there before turning around and resuming my route.  Originally, I think of buying baby wipes and a bit of gasoline as I know gasoline dissolves tar, but I don't know what it might do to my tires long term.  I fear that it might soften the rubber leaving it even more vulnerable to flats.  Not being a chemist and not really knowing what, if any consequence there might be using gasoline,  I settle on buying baby wipes and wipe my tires.  I then take my Swiss Army Knife and scrape the tires, leaving slivers of tar and small pebbles on the ground.  Some old men sitting at an outside table there tease me about slashing my tires, but it seems the best solution.  Somehow, despite the tarring and pebbling, despite the gravel that seems fairly constant after Shoals, I survive both days with no flats.  So I suppose it did work. As I said, God takes care of fools.  I think I must keep him pretty busy though and apologize for taking up more than my share of his time.

Shortly outside of Shoals, I run into..well, I really don't know what I run into, but here is a photo.  This is right before the road becomes gravel. Yes, I know the one side is just a rock with an indentation that people have vandalized with spray paint, announcing that they are jerks to the world in vivid color, but the flat rock intrigues me with its steps and flowers, almost as if it were an alter.  If it were closer to the road, I would think it was one of the shrines that people sometimes erect at the place of an automobile accident, but it seems to far away and there is no cross. And in America, we typically don't have small outdoor shrines set up along the roadside.

The rest of the trip to the inn rotates between gravel and pavement.  Sometimes I ride the gravel and sometimes I don't.  Some roads are so isolated, that I decide to walk down if a hill is particularly steep and heavily gravel covered thinking that I might be there all night without a car passing if I should happen to fall and break something.  I also  walk up a couple of hills when my tires begin to slip from under me. But I have no flats.

My favorite part of the last few miles is the gravel road immediately before the paved road leading to the village. It passes by the Amish homes.  I had just read that the Amish there were recently given permission by their elders to ride bicycles, and I pass a young woman pulling a child carrier on her bicycle though I do not see a child inside.  I follow an Amish horse drawn carriage for a number of miles. The road is dry and dusty, though, from the lack of rain, and there is traffic, the most traffic I have ridden in all day.  I take my spare bandanna and tie it over my nose and mouth to keep from breathing in the dust.  For a moment, I contemplate why the road only seems to be paved in front of houses, and then it comes to me....because of the dust.

 I see Amish buggies and clothes hanging on clothes line. I see a field of work horses grazing greedily, heavy muscles gleaming under silken coats that have not yet started to show thickening of winter.  So much I would love to photograph, but I know it is considered rude and so I restrain myself and try to form a mental image that I can retain.

I am glad to reach my hotel.  The day has taken its toll on me.  Between the dust, the tar, and the grease, I am as filthy as a coal miner following a 10 hour shift. The man sitting in a chair by the front door of the hotel begins laughing at the sight of me and the chain ring oil stain on my right calf.  He tells me his nephew is a mountain biker and finally gave up and just got a chain ring tattoo on that calf.   He gets up and holds the door for me as I go to check in. 

The outside of the hotel is rather disappointing.  It looks a bit run down and green mold has started to grow on the siding, but the room I am put in is as neat and clean as a pin with a large comfortable bed, shampoo, and lots of hot water.

As I shower, I realize that I am ravenous.  Next door to the hotel is the Amish Restaurant.  As I was told by people who have eaten there, the fried chicken  is out of this world good.  And the home made bread is wonderful.  The vegetables, they were just so so.  They are not bad, but there is nothing special about them.  I intend to look through the stores while I am there though I knew I have no room to carry much of anything back, but I am too weary.  I return to my room with drooping eyes.  I have brought a book intending to read, but I find I cannot keep my eyes open and despite my best efforts fall asleep at 8:30.

In the morning, I eat breakfast at the motel, pocketing some bread and butter for later in the day.  I have planned my return route carefully.  It is a few miles shorter and goes a different direction though I do cross paths with yesterdays route in a place or two.  One of those places is the tar pit.  This time I will be wiser. I leave on the south side of Montgomery since I had come in from the north.  During my planning, I knew I needed to take into account getting across the White River.  Brooks Bridge Road sounded ideal.

The south side appears to be better paved than the north side, and silly me, I think that I may have had ridden all the gravel I am going to get to ride yesterday.  I turn onto Brooks Bridge Road and see two ladies taking their morning walk. I briefly wonder what it would be like to not have to work and to be able to walk in the morning with a friend.  But that is not my lot.

 I have actually been wearing the jacket I brought to ward off the morning chill,  and I decide to stop and take it off.  The road appears to be nicely paved, and it is for awhile, but only for awhile.  The sign at the church tells me I have reached God's country, and with the scenery I run into a bit down the road, I must admit that I agree.  I find I am becoming quite fond of gravel.  I am actually glad to see it.   "If only I don't get too many flat tires," I think.

On my century ride Saturday, there was talk about how isolated the roads were.  Let me tell you, they were nothing like the roads on this ride.  At one point, I just lay my bike down and sit in the road, enjoying my slices of home made bread and butter. Traffic just appears to be a non-issue.

When I encounter the gravel, I do wonder what I have gotten myself into for I am on this road for quite a way.  But I an interested in seeing the bridge. I just expected that any road that had a bridge crossing the river would be well maintained.  Wrong.  It is gravel all the way to the bridge and a bit beyond.  It is a lovely bridge, metal, a bridge that my mother used to call a singing bridge because tires make noise as they pass over it.  I later find the bridge was built in 1894, and like so many bridges in this area, was built by the Lafayette Bridge company.  It was repaired in 1988 and 2009 and is eligible for registry as a historical place.  Locally, it is best known for its legend about a young girl, age 17, who threw herself off the bridge.  Allegedly, on the 5th day of the month you can hear her screams and the splash.  She evidently gets quite annoyed if you attempt to keep her from plummeting to her death.   I am glad it is not the 5th of the month.  I later find out from Duc that another direction would have taken me to a covered bridge, but that will be something to look forward to on another trip.  I am glad I passed this way though it was certainly not what I expected.

After the bridge and the climb that follows shortly thereafter, I run into my first, and really my only, encounter with dogs.  And I mean dogs.  A whole pack of them, different colors, different sizes, and different ages, come out barking and growling.   I am scared.  I dismount putting my bike between me and them, but one begins to circle around to my back.  I squirt him with my precious water and he backs off a bit.  I am saved when the owner comes out and calls them back in.  She drives down the road and finds me a few minutes later asking if they had hurt me.  I tell her no, they just scared me.  She says she normally keeps them up but had let them out just a few minutes before I appeared. 

I am taking photos when she arrives as it is so beautiful, but I fear they won't turn out due to the angle of the sun, and they mostly don't.   One side of the road yes.  The other no.  She tells me I need to return in the evening when the sun sets the top of the hills aglow with reds and oranges, as if they were on fire.  I nod, knowing that it is not likely that I will pass this way again. 

As I near Orleans and more familiar roads, woods and forests and hills yield to tamer territory, still scenic.  It is not flat, but rolling.  And I begin to feel the melancholy that often seems to assault me at the end of a journey.  I think, perhaps, it is tied in with the return to reality, to my every day life, to a schedule and work.  These things are important to me, no doubt.  I do not fail to realize their importance, and  perhaps even their part in making the last two days so very special. 
These familiar roads bring memories of other rides, of friends and funny things that they said or did to make me smile.  And I realize that I have been very blessed.  I am blessed to have health, to have friends, to have cats, to have a home, to have a job, and to have a bicycle.  But that does not stop me from being greedy.  I now want another bicycle, one better suited for my journeying, for I feel certain that if I can, barring anything unforeseen, I will do this again.  And as Lewis Carroll noted, "I don't much care where."  Just somewhere beautiful and new. 
there was a girl about 17 who threw herself off the bridge. A couple day's later they found her dead body. Often on the 5th of every month you can here her screams as she throws herself off the bridge. Then a splash then silence. Many say that if u go down to the bridge after you hear the screams and u catch her before she jumps than she will chase you and yell at you for distracting her. - See more at:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

PBP Envy: Getting Over It

"The only calibration that counts is
how much heart people invest, how much they
ignore their fear of being hurt or  being caught
out or humiliated. And the only thing people
regret is that they didn't live boldly enough, that they 
didn't invest enough heart, didn't love enough.
Nothing else really counts at all."
Ted Hughes 

I am envious of those at PBP.  There is not use denying it.  I wish I had lived more boldly, had been able to cope better.  "But I am who I am," I think as I do my solo century to Norman. If I am a weak woman/person, that is just the way it is. At least I loved enough, or I think I did.  I still love and I still have moments when I think it is not possible to go on by myself, but they are less frequent though I can not say they are always less intense.  I still walk myself over the coals occasionally over what I did and did not do, the decisions that I made.   As with many things in life, perhaps I would do some things differently with the issues surrounding his dying.  But despite the fact that miracles do happen, I think I made the right decision.  And there are no do-overs.

I think of how I married so soon after college, and that other than a year of graduate school I really never lived on my own.  Even then, I was always dating someone, always had someone to do things with or to talk with.  For the first time, this is not true.  Part of it is due to my unwillingness to move forward, I suppose.  I have been asked on a date, but while I did  not decline, I told him not yet, that if he wanted to ask again in a few months perhaps I would be more ready, and if he did not there would be no hard feelings.  You see, the thought of returning to dating and all that it means scares the dickens out of me, particularly with all the new rules.  And I am just not ready to let go, but that does not mean I am not ready to move forward. 

I think of Grasshopper's advice telling me to open myself up to what life may put in front of me, and I think it is sound advice.  Momentarily, the words of Janice Joplin come to mind:  "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.  Nothing ain't worth nothing, but it's free."  But I decide that I don't agree with Janice, at least not yet.  I can't judge my new life and independence yet because it remains sullied by grief.  Perhaps it always will, but I think that eventually there may be things that I come to appreciate, like being able to come home from work and do whatever I feel like, though of course there are still the cats to maintain and my mom and my sister to care for occasionally.

Today I am exploring new roads for part of the day, and I am unsure what I will encounter.  I am on my own and can do as I please pace wise without any worries of inconveniencing someone else or feeling badly if we get lost or run into an unexpected obstacles.  Actually, I quite adore many obstacles that I encounter during rides:  they serve to make the ride memorable, to stand out.  And I quite like the "weird" things one sometimes encounters, like early in the ride where someone had put decorative stones and coins into a patch of tar in the center of the road.

Today I did not do the club ride as I wanted time to think and sort things out, to think about what has happened and where I am going because life is too precious. And there is no place I think better than on a bicycle unless it would be on a long run, and my hip and foot does not allow me to run the roads as I used to love to do.  I decide that since I did not do PBP, I will take my first baby steps toward self supported solo rides on a route that I decide.  I decide that I will go for two to three days if I can get the time off work, and I begin to think about where I would like to ride.  

It is a rather frightening decision because I am not a good bicycle mechanic and I really have nobody other than my daughter to assist me if I have issues, but I have decided that I will not let that fear bind me.  I don't want to get to the end of my life and realize that I have let fear bind me even more than I know it already has at times. Once I see where I am at financially with things, I may decide to take a class to see if I can improve my skills, but there are other, more important things, to be tended to before I really know where I stand.   (Later I have two friends who, unasked, volunteer to help if I run into an issue after hearing of my plans:  Rainy and Diana.)  I am also impressed by the kindness of Facebook friends who invite me to stay at their homes if I pass their way. 

I decide to e-mail Duc Do when I get home as I know he is a master of the self supported ride having completed a ride through every county in Kentucky through the years and now working on every county in Indiana.  At least I "think" I remember hearing that.  But I also think of designing my own route.  And I get home and begin to plan.  I also e-mail Duc who is kind enough to share with me his own, immense collection of adventures.  As I told him, I have decided to begin with staying at motels, but in the future if I see frequent places were camping might be relatively safe for a lone female, I may incorporate that if I enjoy myself.  If I don't enjoy myself, nothing says that I have to do it again.

So while I remain quite jealous of the PBP riders, (though I am happy for them and cheering for them and wishing them success), I now have something to occupy my mind and something new to look forward to doing.  And if I like it, I will plan on doing it more, and in different places, and for longer periods of time.  Perhaps I will end up liking it better than brevets?  I guess I'll find out.  As Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young said, "I don't know who I am, but life is for learning."  

My ride ends without really being an adventure, but there have been some lovely new roads that I look forward to riding again and perhaps sharing sometime in the future.  

*  (I just learned Duc has finished all Kentucky and Indiana Counties and is on to Tennessee)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

PBP: to Dave King, Steve Royse, Steve Rice, Mark Rougeux

"It is such a secret place,
the land of tears."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I read an article not too long ago that said the chemical composition of tears changes according to what is causing them.  I should have known that a tear is not necessarily a tear because their origins are often so different.  
Today has been a wonderful day for a century ride and I have thoroughly enjoyed myself and the pace:  not too fast and not too slow.  The greenery still has not yet yielded to the dryer weather and heat and has maintained its verdant lushness.  Animals cavort in fields.  The company is superb.  There is laughter and I find I can speak of him now, I can laugh at memories,  and while there is still and may always be that deep longing for him, I does not always make me cry.  So why, at the end, do I find a few tears seeping from my eyes?  And why am I glad, for I have shed enough tears in the past seven months to float a battleship?

This was the last prep ride for Paris-Brest-Paris, and at the end I weep that I am not going this time.  I am jealous of the adventures my friends will surely have without me, and even though we do not ride PBP together, I have felt a part of it. My eyes long for the sights of the French countryside and the music of that language, a language I have no understanding of but that goes through me like a song.  I will miss the smiles of strangers, their kindness and wishes for my success somehow translated despite a language barrier.  Some languages are  harsh and strident to my ears, but the French language is soothing to me, like a lullaby.  I will miss the pre-ride bicyles trip to Paris, the tempting foods and pastries, and the delicious feeling of belonging.  

I will miss the pre-ride nervousness when you worry about your equipment and your fitness level and the weather and the route.  And I will miss that moment when you settle into the rhythm of pedaling from control to control.  I will even miss the weariness.  And I will miss that moment when you realize that you are going to be successful in your quest to finish.

Yes, I made the right decision not to go this year.  I am not prepared and remain unstable, emotionally, financially, and physically.  But I wish that were not so.  And despite the fact that I weep the loss, I am elated to find that I am jealous, that I do wish I could go, that somewhere inside me is the desire to ride more brevets, because I had thought that perhaps that part of me had died during my metamorphosis.  And thus my tears, perhaps, are also tears of joy because I find that desire lives and has not died.  Indeed, for a time during the darkest of my days, I contemplated giving up my bicycling.  And while I know that eventually that day will come for me, as it will for all of us, it is not today.

And so, my friends, I will miss this adventure.  But I will be thinking of you. And I will be there in spirit.  I wish you good weather and a wind that aids you rather than slapping you in the face.  But even if it is like 2007 where the wind and rain seemed determined to stop us, I know you will stare it in the face bravely and persevere. I will be thinking of you and expecting no less, sending my energy and my thoughts and well wishes in your direction.  

Ride smartly.  Go out slower than you think you can knowing that you can pick the pace up those last three hundred miles.  Remember to eat and drink more often than you might think you need to.  Mostly, remember to savor the journey and to take the time to find adventure because if you concentrate merely on riding quickly, you might miss the memories that are hidden there waiting to be found. 

And I will be here patiently waiting to hear of your adventure, and perhaps, planning my own.  Bonne route.  Allez.....allez!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Century Interruptus

"Promise me you'll always remember;
you're braver than you believe, stronger 
than you seen, and smarter than you think."
Christopher Robin to Pooh  (Milne)

It is Saturday and Sunday is all mine.  I took care of my mother and sister last week-end.  While I didn't finish, I worked on the shed and housework yesterday and will continue today.  Sunday will be a play day. There are no club rides that interest me. And I actually want to ride:  I want to ride in a way that I have not wanted to ride for many a month.  I want to do a new route, to explore new roads, but there is so much flooding and a prediction for possibly more rain and a heat alert with feel like temperatures of possibly 107 that I waiver.  I decide to play it safe and stick with roads that I know.  But I will ride.   I will ride as far and as long as I would like.  I am filled with anticipation. It feels good.

I want to ride.  I want to shout it to the world, "I am alive and I want to ride by bicycle."  I thought I might never feel this again, and it was not like when you say you don't want to ride again at the end of a long, difficult brevet that has stretched your limits.  Yes, I want to ride.  I want to feel the pedals yield to leg muscles and core muscles.  I want to feel those muscles strain and quiver forcing my bike up the hills and to feel my lungs gasp for air to feed those muscles.   I want to feel the sun make me sweat, burning my eyes and my skin,  but drink enough so that it cannot not break me.  I want to savor the feel of the wind in my hair and nuzzling my cheek, and I want my eyes to absorb all the beauty that I come across during my rambling.  I want to cramp and work my way through those cramps, victorious.  I will find a path, somehow, through all this flooding.   I Want to ride my bike and I Want to be happy and I Want to feel alive.

As I roll out into the world, light sleepily seeps into the world and  I find the clouds have come down to embrace the earth:  knee high fog mists across the fields.  The air is rather thick with the humidity, but still pleasant. Everything is green and lush from the constant precipitation we have been getting despite the heat, and I find my eyes, mind, and mouth smiling with delight.  I have decided to head toward Salem on Eden/Delaney Park Road and see if I can get through.  I have my doubts, but I love this road so.  It is worth taking a chance on.  And so what if I have to turn around and head elsewhere.  I am playing.  For today I will be childlike.  Screw responsibility. The green lushness, siren-like, leads me onward.

 A flock of crows raucously greet me, shouting their warnings to each other that I am on the road, cheering me on as if they have missed me, my totem. A bit further down the road I hear a chorus of frogs so loud and so numerous that at first I do not know what I am hearing.  Who other than a crazy bicycle lady would be out here in the woods at this time of the day, and what would they be doing?  Hunting season has not yet arrived. A gaggle of  young turkeys take flight to the low tree limbs lining the road  causing branches and leaves to rustle. I notice the roots of trees, valiantly lacing themselves together in a vain attempt to hold the earth in place.  Like all of us, they win a few skirmishes, but never the war.  Despite the ultimate futility of their efforts, they are beautiful, these trees, and so are their efforts, and I tell them so.  And I think that perhaps today, instead of being a plain Jane, I am beautiful too as I win this skirmish.

The wind has brought down the first of the walnuts and persimmons, immature, but still a portent of what is to come.  "Not  yet, not yet," I think.  "I am just coming back to life, and I am not yet prepared for the dark, cold, silence that is winter.  Riding in the winter is just so much harder, harder even than these ninety degree days, demanding a discipline that I have not yet redeveloped.  I need to be stronger, more ready."  But despite my protestations, I know that time will move on unremittingly, deaf to my pleas,  just as this seemingly ceaseless rain continues.

Rounding a corner, I notice a corn field off to the right completely submerged in the flood waters, but I plunge onward. Other than the tops of a few of the corn plants, you would think it was a lake. I have ridden over an hour and have not yet seen an automobile or a person.   It is as if I am alone in the world other than the inhabitants of this forest.  The flooding makes it seem as if I have been magically transported to a new land with unfamiliar roads and all sorts of discoveries just waiting to be made.

I begin to think of Paris and how jealous I am of the adventures the Kentucky crew had the other evening with their preparation ride.  I think this is a splendid feeling, a sign that perhaps I will make it through and out the other side, something that I had begun to doubt.  But I must be patient with myself. Did I make the right decision in not going this year?  Absolutely.  But it is good to feel a tinge of regret at the adventures they will surely have without me.  And there are other brevets and other types of rides that beckon. 

All too soon, as I feared, I hit a moat of water covering the road.  I toy with the idea of wading across, but I decide the distance is too great and it is impossible to know for sure how deep it will become and if any current remains. It brings to mind the many times my husband scolded me for crossing flooded areas, bike hoisted on my shoulder, and I think he would be proud of my decision. It is odd to see the soybeans submerged under the water, looking up longingly through the water, desperately desiring air, dancing in the little water current.

I decide to head toward Pekin and enter Salem from the south rather than the north.  My store stop will be my own house, and my cereal with blueberries tastes like a feast.  I think how riding, running, or other exercise enhances the pleasure of eating.  Things just taste better when you are truly  hungry and your body is depending on food for fuel to perform.  How many times do I just eat because I am supposed to or because the food is there rather than because I truly am hungry and have need of sustenance.

This part of my journey is completely different terrain and scenery wise.  Forest gives way to farm land, unflooded farmland with crops as lush and green as I ever remember them being. Black-eyed Susan and Queen Ann's Lace decorate the borders.  Briefly, I smile at the thought of how when the children were small we would cut the Queen Ann's Lace and place it in jars of colored water delighting as the water gradually colored the white flower petals.  I pass a few cars, particularly around Salem, but the road today seems to belong to the Amish.  It seems I pass wagon after wagon of horse drawn vehicles.  Two are hitched at the final store stop while the Amish pick up odds and ends that they need.

Tired, but happy, I arrive home, hoping that I will sleep tonight.  I have held the words that Christopher Robin said near to my heart.  I had forgotten them, but before my nickname was Puddle, I had friends that called me Pooh.  Perhaps I am braver than I believe, and I will make it through this after all.  And perhaps I will continue to love cycling with a passion that is something to behold.  I certainly did today.  The century was interrupted, but it was completed, and I loved every minute of it despite the heat and humidity.