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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Midway Century Ride

"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as
life lasts.  ...There is something infinitely healing
in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance
that dawn comes after night, and the spring after winter."
Rachel Carson

Murphy's law of bicycling:  if the club ride you want to do is scheduled on Saturday, the weather on Sunday will be more inviting and vice versa.  And this week-end is not different. It does sometimes seem that way anyway.  But I set my alarm and prepare as much as possible the night before the ride so as to give myself a bit more time in the morning.

I know this ride and I know that it will be demanding.  But summer approaches and it is time to pull myself up and out of the melancholy and the winter doldrums.  It would be easy to sit at home on the couch and dwell on past misfortunes and losses, but that is not the way forward.  Sometimes I think you need to reach for happiness to grab it.  Past experience has taught me that, but despite having had the lesson, it is not always easy to apply.  I know there is beauty on this ride, though until I am on the bike and on the route I forget how much.  I also know, greedy gut that I am, that there will be a delicious lunch.  Ride to eat or eat to ride or a combination of the two. 

It is a small group of people that show, but I did not expect a large crowd.  It is early in the season, and this route has lots of climbing.  The weather is deceptively mild and windless and later I am so glad that I listened to the forecast before leaving for the ride because the temperature does not rise, maybe even drops a few degrees, and the winds pick up and become quite boisterous.  In fact, there are times I wish I had left on the additional layer that I shed prior to the ride start.

The four of us head out, chatting, joking, and laughing the way old friends do when they have not seen each other for awhile.  I have overwintered without seeing Dave, and have seen Steve only once.  Tony I have seen more frequently, but there are lots of topics to be covered and lots of miles to cover them in.

The sun that graces the morning hides behind the clouds early in the day, mocking us as the winds rise.  But there is beauty everywhere on these back roads.  Stones show in the fields in a way that they will not once the grass greens and rises.  On hills, the water has carved various paths. A few brave daffodils remain and I think it is the in-between time.  The daffodils, at least the early bloomers, are finished, but other flowers are not yet showing themselves and the red buds and dogwoods do not  yet appear to be blooming.  I love the places we pass that have old, deserted dwellings but are surrounded by daffodils.  A thing of beauty left behind, a reminder that people lived here, loved here, fought here, and perhaps died here. 

Midway in the ride, we pass two riders going the opposite direction and Steve recognizes them.  We turn around and find it is indeed Johnny Betrand and Steve Wyatt.  A brief hug, a short bit of a chat, and we are back on our way.  They are on their way to Lexington for lunch and we are going to Midway for lunch at Wallace Station.  It seems forever before we arrive, and the line is out the door, but there is really no place else to eat and who would want to forego the delicious food.  There is a reason that the line is out the door.  Still, I find myself shivering until we are able to enter the building, and I find myself dreading heading back out into the cold.  At first I am so chilled that I put my gloves back on to hold my water.  Steve manages to nab one of the scarce tables, and the food and company warm me.

Hill after hill assaults our legs and my thighs begin to warn me that they really do not appreciate the demands that are being made on them.  And then it happens.  My bike shifts itself into my granny gear and will not shift out of it.  This has been an on-going problem for me since last fall.  I try to remember how many times I have taken it in to the shop to be fixed.  At least three, possibly four.  I have even explained how important it is that I have a dependable bike as I really do not have much of a rescue squad.  I can limp home in the small ring, but it will be slow going.  Steve is able to loosen the cable, manually place it in the middle ring, and tightened the cable back.  He issues a strong warning not to shift and I pray that I remember.  I also hope I remember the fix because I no longer feel confident that my bike will be reliable even after I take it to be repaired again.  I hate not being able to trust my bicycle. 

I need to learn to do this for myself, to figure things out and fix them, but it does not come naturally to me.  This mechanical has sapped the joy from the day until I determine that I will not let it.  Sometimes all the things I have had to learn to do since Lloyd died seem overwhelming.  A few tears seep out as I hate being a burden, but it is just the way it is, at least for today. The ride has become grim, however, as much from the cold and the wind and being tired as it is from my issue that was quickly resolved. Chatter lessens.  There is no more laughter.  I force myself to remember the beauty that surrounds me, to listen for sound, the sign that spring nears, but rather than birds or frogs I hear wind in the leaves.  Still, there is a melody here and once again I begin to sing softly to myself.  Wheels hum.  On hills, the sound of our breathing, so symbolic of life, is clearly audible as none of  us are in prime riding condition.

I can't say that I am sad to see the parking lot as I am after some rides, and I am tired, but I feel better than I thought I might with the physical demands of this course.  And that is a comfort.  Spring IS coming.  There will be warm rides, maybe even some of those slow, intimate rides with close friends that I treasure so, the ones where you talk about anything and everything without being judged, the ones where  you laugh and stop to take a photograph of something that draws your fancy. The ones where speed isn't an issue and there is no hurry to finish what is a lovely day.  And rides like this will make me ready. And the beauty of the day, despite a few snags. has left me oddly refreshed and temporarily sated.  Spring WILL come after winter. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

An After Work Spring Ride

"Daffodils That come before the swallow dares,
and take The winds of March with beauty; violets, dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, Or Cytherea's breath."
William Shakespeare

It is the perfect weather for a short after work ride.  Bathed in unseasonable warmth, I leave the house in a short sleeved jersey despite the wind.  She is strong, but her breath does not chill today, only modifies my already leisurely pace.  No need to hurry.  I will not be rushed.

Purple, faint, almost imperceptible, yet not imaginary, begins to tinge the unplowed fields, fields that later will be burgeoning with corn or soy beans or hay.  I know these flowers whose tiny petals compose the purple mist on the fields.  Not their names, but I know them well.  The bees love them, and I think of how the bees strongly objected when I would clear them to make way for planting in our garden.  I still see me, running in the house in a panic, a bee tangled in my hair, seeking clear skin for the bite, me yelling for my love to save me before that happened.  He would crush it between his fingers, taking the sting for me, vowing to get rid of the bees, his second love, until I could cajole him into keeping them, for despite the occasional sting, I loved them too.  Mostly I loved how he hated anything that caused me pain. 

The Easter flowers are up, bright yellow, raucous, curving a smile to my lips.  They are early this year, and it is rare to get to enjoy their beauty while being warm and in short sleeves.  Yes, they "take the winds with beauty," almost dancing in what seems to be glee that the season is changing.  My wheels seem to know the way to where they lay, their beauty a balm not just for my eyes, but for my soul.  Oh, the places our bicycles can take us.  The things we notice that go unnoticed when we are in a car.  Sometimes I wonder, is it the speed or something else that makes us miss or disregard the beauty that surrounds us.  Or perhaps it is just me and others notice the same things while riding or driving in a car as they do when on their bicycles.

This week-end the time will change and there will be more chances for after after work rides, for longer rides without the press of darkness.  And I smile. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Maple Syrup Ride 2017

"Man plans and God laughs"
Yiddish Proverb

While I am not overly excited about the cold start, I am excited about the Maple Syrup ride.  I have so many memories of this ride.  So I head to bed early so that I won't be tired as well as weak.  While it is normal in the winter to lose fitness, circumstances have caused me to lose more than normal and I am feeble.  It will be so nice to see everyone though, and I have ridden a couple  of centuries lately albeit slowly.  I know I can finish:  it will just be slow. And I need company.

At 2:00 a.m., however, I am rudely awakened by a loud ringing.  Cats arch their backs, puff their fur, and scatter from my bed in a dead run.  A few years ago I had my basement waterproofed, and that included a pump with an alarm.  The pump has stopped working. The alarm courses through the house in warning. Instinctively I know, there goes my three pay check month. 

I don't fall back to sleep despite telling myself this is silly.  The house did not have a pump for many years.  In the early morning, right before departing for the ride, I e-mail the installer feeling he will probably come the next week. It is, after all, a week-end.  Rain is due later this week which worries me, but I lack the skill to fix it myself.   Bike packed as well as an extensive wardrobe that allows for last minute clothing changes, I head out.

 I arrive and there is a large crowd despite the cold.  Many I don't know, but many I do and it is so good to see them.  I realize that my eyes have been starved and I look forward to a day of company and conversation.  As usual, I am not sure who I will end up riding with, particularly with my weakened state, but regardless it will be delightful to be  on a bicycle and to have conversation with camaraderie. 

Suddenly I receive a text.  The repair man is coming and coming today.  I pack up my bike and head home, disappointed but glad I don't have to miss work next week to deal with things.  As I head home, I realize once again how much my life has changed in the past few years. I think of how, while I always loved and appreciated my husband, I appreciate him even more now.  Not too long before he died, he asked me why I always thanked him when he did things that he should do.  And I explained that just because people should do certain things, they don't always do them, and I was just grateful every time he did something to please or help me, whether he "should" do it or not.  I miss that.  I miss the giving and the taking.  The things done for me and doing things for him. He would have fixed the pump or waited for the repairman so that I could be selfish and go ride.

I have a theory that things happen to us for a reason, that there is something we should learn from every experience that we have.  Indeed, as the saying goes, "Man plans and God laughs" or, as Steinbeck and Burns said, "The best laid plans of mice and men." As I told a friend recently, if I really want to exercise regularly, it appears I will start having to drag myself out of bed and go to the Y.  Then it becomes a question of how badly do you want it, for I treasure my time in the morning, cat on lap, coffee cup in hand.  I think one of the things I have learned is that we can never love or appreciate those people in our lives that care for us enough.  No matter how hard you try, when someone is gone there are always those little nagging regrets, the "if only." 

After the repair man fixes the pump and leaves, another thing that I appreciate, I decide to head to the festival anyway, but it will be a mere 20 mile trip rather than 100 miles.  On the way, I think of the brevet I missed today as well,  and while I have some regret, I find that despite the good weather, it really does not bother me that I decided not to ride.  I hope the desire to do brevets returns, but if it doesn't there is nothing to be done and the bicycle holds so many other promises. Another thing I have learned is that life is fluid.  Changes happen whether we want them or we don't.  And while I don't particularly like change, I really have very little control.

While I don't expect to see any of the century riders because of my late start, I actually pass numerous groups of riders.  Some are obviously puzzled by my appearance.  They wonder if I have just been that slow, or if I am with the group, or where I came from.   When John passes I think how I wish we could have ridden together today and talked some because John is funny and makes me laugh and I have not seen him for awhile.   The same with Lynn.  Amelia and Mike pass, but  I know I would not have kept their pace today.  Cathy and Kirk pass.  All of these people I have met through bicycling. 

By the time I get to the festival, there are no riders left.  I park my bike and make my intended purchases.  Christmas presents for certain people are bought.  For this purpose, I put my carradice and large handlebar bag on my bike and rode the Surly.  I sit on the hill in the odd warmth of the early March sun eating Maple Cotton Candy, a treat I allowed myself since the line for pancakes is longer than I am willing to wait.  And for awhile I lose myself in memories:  Dave standing too near to the heater and melting the material on his riding pants,  Mike Pitt laughing and joking, Grasshopper, Steve, Randy, and more and more.  I wonder how many of the riders today knew that I originally designed the course, and how during the design I came upon a motorist bent on terrorizing me.  

I slowly pedal home, thoughts still swirling knowing there are a million chores waiting for my return.  I keep saying that one day, when I retire, I will get them done.  But I am wiser now, at least when I remember to be, and know that while I plan, God laughs. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Failed Century

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.
Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow.  Let reality
be reality.  Let things flow naturally forward in whatever
form they like." 
Lao Tsu

A few weeks ago, when it became apparent that my mother was not going to recover this time, I took a leave from work and moved to the Northern Kentucky area to move her home.  Working with Hospice, I brought her back to her own home and helped her die.  For close to two weeks, I did not get over one hours worth of sleep at a time.  As the sleep deprivation began to take hold  I could not help but think that this was much more difficult than a brevet, but that brevets prepared me as well as anything could for the sleep deprivation aspect.  Perhaps a weird thought to have in the midst of caring for the person who is responsible for your being here and who you love, but one I had nevertheless.
During the time I cared for her, there was no bicycling, no running, no physical activity other than the demands of changing her and meeting her needs.  She died last Thursday, surrounded by family, holding my hand, as we talked about memories that centered around her.  By we I mean the family members present.  For two days prior to her passing, mom was completely uncommunicative.  Prior to that, she still had some verbal abilities, however limited.  I had forgotten how drained one gets dealing with death, as if the life inside was sucked out as if offered in exchange for a few more moments.  At 99, it was time for her to move on since age had brought a loss of the delight of being alive and was a chore rather than a joy, a burden that she longed to put down.  But still I had forgotten the total exhaustion, both mental and physical that follows significant loss, the feeling of helplessness at the inability to change things and to make them better.  And selfishly, there was a part of me that wanted her to get better, to be around for just a bit longer. So perhaps I should not be surprised at my failure today.  I sent out to do a century ride and threw in the towel at 67 miles.  

Mentally, it took all I had to force myself out the door.  I honestly did not want to ride.  No, it was not that cold.  It was around 40 degrees.  No, it was not that windy:  7 to 8 mph.  It is just that feeling that I did not want to ride which would be fine if there was something that I wanted to do, but there was not an one can only sleep for so long.  Perhaps if it had been sunny?  I doubt it, but perhaps.

The first thing I notice are all the cinders on the roads.  I had forgotten we had ice.  In the country and in a poor county with little money, salt is scarce, so country roads are covered with cinders.  This is not a problem for cars, but bicycle tires are a different story.  The cinders contain sharp little black pieces that lodge themselves in your tire are are camouflaged by their very color.  So when the cinders were thick, I stop to wipe my tires thus noting that my rear tire is long past the time when it needs to be changed.  I have a spare tire that I carry with me, it is a rear tire, and I have no long, thrilling descents on today's route so I decide to move forward and risk getting a flat.  Good decision on this occasion as I make it home with no incident.  While it is not so cold that changing a flat would be a huge issue, it is cold enough that I know my hands would be uncomfortable.  Tires become unforgiving in the winter, hard and less than pliable.

The recent rains have flooded most of the easier routes, so I am heading toward Vernon.  I don't make it there, but I still get in close to 70 miles.  It is a dog day.  In that 70 miles I swear I must encounter 70 dogs.  None of them are vicious or appear to mean business.  They are just doing what dogs do:  alerting owners that someone is passing by.  Water stands in fields and on places in the road, the ground so saturated that it has no place to go,  and I realize that if I do a century, I am going to have to make some changes to my traditional route.  I can't say that I am miserable, but I can't really say that I am enjoying myself so at the first store stop, a bit over 30 miles in, I decide to get something to eat and just ride home.

This is more of a "thinking" ride than a ride where I thrill at the world God gave to us.  I think about how fortunate I was with my husband that there were very few unresolved issues, and how I wish I could say the same with my mother.  I think about the difficulties I encountered writing the obituary, and how it made clear to me that I knew mother less well than I knew my husband, and how I wish my brother had not asked me to write it.  I think about my own end and what I can do to make things easier for my children.  I think about changes and about life is all about changes and how difficult it is to accept those changes and flow smoothly forward safe in the knowledge that good things are waiting right around the corner, that there will be more bad things, but that we develop the strength to deal with those things through past adversity.

The end of the ride comes and I remain depleted.  Still having walked a similar path in the past, I know this is the direction I need to head in.  I know I am doing okay if I can make myself get out the door.  And I know that eventually I will complete a century again. 

"Motherhood: All love begins and ends there."
Robert Browning

Victoria Francis Smith, the daughter of Richard Martin Perry and Norah Blanche Perry, age 99, passed away on January 19th, 2017. She was preceded in death by her three brothers and three sisters: Ralph Perry, Kenneth Perry, Victor Perry, Gladys Perry, Mary Perry, and Sara Ashcraft.

Victoria grew up to marry Dr. Robert Charles Smith and put him through medical school while working at the American Book Company. She enjoyed playing golf, was an avid Bridge player, was a Scrabble fan, and was known for her wry sense of humor and her ladylike ways. After the children got older, she worked in the EEG department at St. Elizabeth's and St. Luke's hospitals and was later employed by the Covington Boys Club, Krogers, and then Kings Island. She retired from Kings Island in her eighties where her co-workers lovingly called her "The Walking Dictionary." Her favorite story of her time at the Boys Club was when she walked in to find a snake the children placed in her desk drawer. She said she knew that if she screamed or reacted, there would be a snake there every day, so she forced herself to calmly pick the snake up, take it outside, and let it go.

She leaves behind five children: Victor R. Smith of Cincinnati, Ohio, Robert Christopher Smith of Cincinnati, Ohio, Marc T. Smith of West Chester, Ohio, Pamela A. Reed of Covington, Kentucky & Melissa F. Hall of Scottsburg, Indiana and daughters-in-law, Karen & Christina Smith. She also leaves behind numerous, much loved grandchildren: Charles Reed, Christopher Reed, Dian Reed, Emily Smith, Derek Smith, Lauren Smith, Ashley Smith, T.J. Corcoran, Natalie Corcoran, Justin Smith, Mary-Victoria "Tiffany" Hall, Jeffrey Hall, and Elena Hall. Additionally, there are eight great-grandchilden: Meghan, Quinn, Aidan, Ronan, Caitlin, and Keelan Corcoran, Caroline and Ian Smith

The service will be for family only and will be after her ashes are released by the University of Cincinnati where she donated her body in the hopes that knowledge could be gained that would help others to live better, healthier lives in the future. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in her name to The Covington Boys and Girls Club, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati, 600 Dalton Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45203,

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

learning to ride

(This was previously published in the Randonneuring Magazine in an edited fashion so you may have read it.  In case not, here it is.....warts and all). 

"The distance is nothing when one has a motive."
Jane Austen

Recently following a blog post about a solo century, a friend asked me how I ride so far.  A legitimate question and one I appreciate rather than the quick assumption that many people make that I am being blatantly untruthful, or at least exaggerating the miles I ride.  I still remember my first bicycle ride.  Being the baby of the family, I got my sister's used bike.  There were no gears.  I could not reach the pedals, so they attached blocks of wood to the pedals.  My three older brothers then took me to the top of the hill (we lived on the left hand side on the bottom of the hill on a dead end street) and sent me on my way.  Purposefully or not purposefully, they neglected to explain the mechanics of braking so while I somehow managed to remain upright until I was in front of our house, I did not know how to stop so as not to fly into the woods at the end of our street.  Needless to say, the curb took care of that for me, and the last thing I remember was flying over the handlebars and into the air.  It may seem peculiar that I don't remember landing, but I don't:  I just remember that feeling of helplessness when you know you are going to crash and there is nothing you can do to prevent it and thinking that my brothers finally had their wish:  my demise;-).  But despite all that, I was hooked, at least until every other kid on the street had a banana seat bike and I did not and adolescence knocked on my door.  Despite always being rather a "tom boy," I began to look at boys in a new way and they took precedence over bicycling and most other things.

My husband bought me my next bike because he worried that I was running too much.  It was a touring bike without drop handlebars, a Trek, a deep, dark forest green because he knew that I loved that color so.  I thought he was crazy for while I was not the best out there at it, running was my passion. But I did not want to hurt his feelings so I began to ride. The feeling of freedom, of independence, vaguely recalled from youth, began to renew itself. Eventually, I went on to complete my first triathlon on that bike, but that is another story.  I remember going out and riding for seven miles telling myself that I could walk if it was too far and almost falling over as I regained a sense my sense of how to balance.  When I made it those seven miles, I felt as if I had conquered the world.    More importantly, something inside me was kindled:  how far could I go? One hundred miles seemed impossible, a fairy tale.  As for brevets, even if I had heard of them I would have thought they were for other people, those with extraordinary athletic abilities,  not for those of us that are mere ordinary mortals.

I first heard about brevets from Jim Moore, Steve Royse, Bill Pustow, and Steve Rice a bit later,  after I joined the Louisville Bicycle Club.  They told me about this man named Johnny Betrand and that he put on a series of distance rides in Kentucky each year and of a ride called PBP and a ride called BMB.  They talked of riding through the night in all types of weather with all types of people and of using lights on your bicycle.  They talked of Johnny's routes and Cobb Hill.  It all sounded rather crazy, yet 200K didn't sound that much further than the century rides that I was completing by then, so when Jim asked if I wanted to do a 200K while we were at Texas Hell Week my first year there, I told him yes.

I rode with Jim that entire brevet and the others part of the way.  Frankly, I don't know if I would have had the courage to begin that journey without him.  I remember the long, arduous climb over the mountain from Vanderpohl to Utopia and how looking at it, it seemed an impossible task, particularly once I learned we had to return back over those very same climbs.  The steepness of the climb, the length of the climb was intimidating:  this was a tough though beautiful course, but this was further than I had ever gone.  I remember making Jim stop so I could free a goat in distress whose horns had gotten stuck in the wire fence.  I remember the beauty of the Texas landscape, so different from that to which I am accustomed.  I remember having a flat and nobody hearing me and watching as their lights faded leaving me in total darkness in the middle of a strange land filled with noises that I could not hope to identify, and how just as I accepted that it was just darkness and would not hurt me and that I would somehow I would change my tire and I would find my way and not perish. Shortly thereafter they returned after  realizing I was missing, and  I remember the warmth of knowing I was missed. And I remember finishing, riding into Fredericksburg glued to Jim's wheel,  my neck so sore and stiff that I could not turn to look behind me when Jim asked me to, my butt feeling like I had gotten the whipping of a lifetime, and thinking that I would never do something quite this crazy ever again.  Mostly, however,  I remember being proud and feeling as if I had accomplished a miracle.

And perhaps that is what randonneuring does for us, at least in part.  It gives us a sense of pride, of accomplishment.  It allows us to use our bodies as they were certainly intended to be used (despite a doctor once calling me a damned idiot and telling me if I want to go somewhere one hundred miles away to get in a car).  As Ms. Austen notes, distance becomes minor as we set a goal:  a 200 K, a 300 K, a K Hound, etc.  We train for this goal, minimizing the distance and the difficulties in our minds, readying our body by putting in the miles, riding in weather not conducive to riding, teaching our minds to ignore our doubts and our fears and our tiredness, because to "weep in the dojo is to laugh in the battlefield."  (Old Samuri saying, author unknown).  We prepare ourselves as best we can for success.  And we learn from both our failures and our successes.

Someday I will no longer do brevets, either because I will not want to or I will not be able to, but I do not think I will ever forget what they have taught me, about myself and about others.  Thank you, Jim, the Steves, Bill, Johnny, and all those who have mentored, aided, and steeled my determination, those who have celebrated my successes with me and commiserated with me on my failures. Whether I ever ride another brevet or not, you have enriched my life immeasurably,  and I really do not know if I have ever properly thanked you for this gift  you gave me.  With Gratitude, Puddle

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Cold December Ride

"Because in the end you won't remember the
time you spent working in the office or mowing
your lawn.  Climb that goddamn mountain."
Jack Kerouac

It is really predicted to be cold tomorrow morning and to not really warm up all day, and I briefly consider canceling the ride.  But I decide not to do that.  If someone shows and wants to ride, I will ride with them.  If not, I will stay home and finish preparing for the upcoming holidays.  Those thoughts in mind, I fall asleep.  I don't really expect anyone.  Those few that have been riding with me recently have other plans, and very few people ride in the cold.

When I awaken, the weather people were right.  It is cold out there.  Pale frost covers the ground.  I decide I will get ready in case someone shows, but if nobody does I will do my weekly grocery shopping and some household chores that did not get done over the summer.   After I dress and walk over to the fire station and see nobody, however, I realize that I really do want to ride.  Already they are saying possible sleet next week-end, and today, though cold, the sun is shining and the sky is blue and there is little wind considering it is December.  

I finish dressing and head out.  My GPS thermometer says it is 14 degrees.  But I truly am not cold.  For my feet, I put toe warmers on both the top and bottom of my toes and used a shoe cover.  For my hands I have a pair of thin wool liner gloves, hand warmers, and then covered them with the new men's felt gloves I bought at the Dollar Tree.  I already have my Bar Mitts on the bike and I am interested to see how the new, cheap gloves do.  I have on my expedition weight Minus 33 wool base layer, a jersey, and a coat.  I coat my face skin with vaseline, then add a balaclava and the hat that Lou Binick of Foxware made me.  I also have on the pants Mr. Binick made me when I told him I needed something to wear when I ride and it is 10 degrees out.  I just love the clothes he made for me.  They are so warm.

While my nose is a bit chilly for the first five or ten minutes, I find I am actually a bit overdressed.  Surprisingly, my dollar store gloves are keeping my fingers as toasty as the ridiculously expensive bicycle gloves I have had in the past, and I can manipulate my fingers much better.  I bless the day I ordered Bar Mitts.  I know without them, no gloves would be keeping my hands this toasty.

For awhile I ponder whether it is harder to ride in very hot or very cold weather, and I don't know that I ever reach a definite conclusion.  My gut feeling is that is probably easier to ride in cold weather if you have the money and prepare for it  because other than acclimating and making sure to stay hydrated, you really can't prepare for extreme heat.  Modern fabrics and chemical warmers make winter much more manageable. My biggest concern today with the cold, though,  is something that would not be as big a concern in the heat, or perhaps it would: a flat or mechanical that would mean I have to take gloves off. But I will not let that stop me from climbing today's mountain.

As I pass the creeks and river that run by State Road 39, I notice how those where the water is still have frozen almost all the way across.  Where the water moves more swiftly, the edges are tinged with white, just starting to freeze.  Both glitter in the places the sun has access now that leaves are a mere memory and I thank God for the gift of sight.  I wonder if Jiggs will be open for lunch or if I am going to have to try to force down the energy gel I brought along just in case.  I grin thinking of how I despise energy gels and hope that my water isn't frozen.  It is bad enough to wash them down with water.  Without it......ugh!  Oh, Jiggs, please be open.

I am about 16 miles in when my phone rings and I see it is from the security service I got after my husband died not because I have anything much of value to anyone else, but because I was afraid.  I am not quick enough to answer it, and curse as I have to not only stop but begin removing gloves so that the buttons respond to my touch.  There is a voice mail that something is wrong with the system and I need to check the monitor.  It cautions that it could be from a power outage.  And so, I turn around knowing full well that despite the fact I have quite enjoyed myself, I will not be able to force myself back out.   I contemplate going on and just checking it at the end of the day, but I know myself well enough to know it will worry me all day.  When I get home, I don't see anything on the monitor and really don't know what the issue was, but I have the holidays to prepare for. The Lord works in mysterious ways.   I suppose 32 miles is not so bad for such a day.  I would feel better, perhaps, if I had forced myself to "climb the mountain," but at least I climbed the foothill.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Memories and Dogs

"Memories are the treasures that we keep
locked deep within the storehouse of our souls,
to keep our hearts warm when we are lonely."
Becky Aligada
It is one of those November days when you have to convince yourself  to bring fall sluggishness to heel, grab your bike,  and  head out into the early morning.  The sky is various shades of gray with no hint of the blue and sunshine that is promised for the afternoon.  I almost feel I have a duty to head out because in winter you don't know if the next week-end will be rideable weather: snow, cold rain, and other obstacles could prevent or make a ride doable but miserable.  The old saying, "Make hay while the sun shines" comes to mind, despite the fact the sun is definitely NOT shining.  Still, while it is cold today, it is not abnormally so for this time of year, and it is not supposed to be windy.  Low wind is always a plus.  Even when you don't fight it, wind can be so very taxing.  In other words, there are no excuses not to ride other than natural sloth.  And I know once I get started, I will be glad that I did.  Starting....making a beginning....that is the challenge.
Briefly, I debate going to the club ride, but I know I have no business on a 113 mile, hilly ride right now where they are expecting a 15 mph average and I don't want to end up riding at night in downtown Louisville by myself.  Nobody wants to be the chubby anchor on a ride.  Whether is is from a lack of ability or my normal fall blahs, I just can't seem to make myself ride with any speed right now.  In the end, I feel I make the right decision taking off on my own.  As it turns out, this ride is a ride of memories and dogs, numerous dogs, some well cared for and well trained, others in charge of their owners rather than the other way around.

Of all the dog encounters, however, and there were many, I will only speak of two. These are the two that felt threatening rather than the ones that did not.  The first is near the start of my century. I notice a person walking three, big dogs.  Now the dogs look rather pudgy and out of shape, but they also look very strong. They are big dogs, low to the ground, with short legs but stout bodies. The owner has three leashes and I am unable to tell if it is a man or woman. Visions of myself being dragged by a Basset Hound we babysat when I was child come back and how the dog was stronger than I was and pulled me across the yard until one of my older brothers rescued me right when I was on the verge of letting go, my tummy blistered and raw.  I am also rather pudgy and out of shape right now so outrunning them might not be as easy as it normally might be.  Will this person be able to hang onto all three dogs, or will they pull him or her to the ground, absorbed only in the chase?  I decide to move forward and not to change my course. Luckily, the person controls his or her dogs and I pass safely.  I send a grateful thank you into the air.

The second encounter, however, toward the end of my ride, is quite different. I am saved not by the owner, who has absolutely no control over the two dogs that are circling me and making tentative lunges toward me as I attempt to ward them off with squirts from my water bottle, but rather ironically by a car.  Not only does the owner have no control over his dogs, but his dogs have no collars.  Even when he is able to get close to one, stick in hand as if he thinks that will coax them to come to him,  he has no way to control or confine them, and they obviously don't obey voice commands. He finally says, "I'm sorry but they are going to chase you and I can't stop them."  My fear makes me angry, but I calmly tell him that if his dogs bite me, I will sue him and attempt to file charges.  There is a leash law in Indiana and I inform him of this fact.  This is when a car, sometimes the bicycles enemy, becomes the hero and intervenes. As it slows, it serves as a wedge between me and the dogs and I am able to get safely away.

Don't get me wrong.  I may not own a dog right now, but it is not because I do not like dogs.  It is more because it would not be fair to the dog.  Dogs are wonderful animals with wonderful hearts, but they need more attention than I am able to provide at the present time.  I like dogs. What I don't like are people who don't teach their dogs manners.  I suppose it is the same with children.  I love children, but it certainly is easier to like a child when their parents have instilled some manners in them. I don't want to be bitten again.  It took me quite a while to get over my fear of riding by dogs after the pit bulls attacked and bit me.  I healed and was able to ride again, but I still struggle when dogs are aggressive.  I have learned to hold my line because I forced myself to conquer that fear knowing that if I did not I could never do group rides again, but it is not always easy.

Still, despite the dog encounters,  I have good memories during the ride as well as bad memories like the pit bull attack.  I remember designing this route, no maps or GPS, merely by wandering with my sidewalk chalk in hand to mark turns so I could remember them if I needed to back track.  I remember Paul Battle saying how beautiful a certain view was and how surprised he was that I ride out here alone.  I think of the difference between us for I feel much safer out here than I do in the city.  I remember Steve Sexton and I chasing the group on the hilly Hardinsburg Lavonia Road on the way to the lunch stop and how brutal the wind was that day.  I still don't know if he was struggling that day or hung back because he knew I was.  I remember riding in on Eden/Delaney Park one rainy ride where only Steve Rice showed up to ride and how the road was flooded when we neared the ride end, water flowing from one corn field across the road to another.  The world seemed somehow transformed.  I remember Larry breaking a spoke on that same road.  I remember the taste of the sandwiches at the Mennonite Store and the laughter and jokes that can flow when old friends meet to share a ride and a meal together.  Memory after memory of people who have shared this ride with me flow and wrap themselves around my heart and keep me warm.  I miss many of those riders, some mentioned and some not.  Some still ride, some just ride shorter rides, some ride only in nice weather, and some no longer ride.  All have been important to me in some way at some time.  All help to keep me warm on this windless but rather chilly day.  During the ride as during life, just when I was despairing that the sun would never shine, it popped out, not really warm but radiant and bringing a dreary world back to life.   Alone but not lonely at all, I ride on.