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Friday, February 17, 2017

A February Ride and Thoughts About Grasshopper Hill

"Nothing is ever really lost as long as
we remember it."
L.M. Montgomery

     This February has been a cyclists dream.  The warmth is almost frightening with the talk of global warming.  The sun is shining and I can feel the promise of what, in a few short months, will be true warmth.  Winter sun is just so very different from summer sun, distant, pale, a shadow of itself.  But I will take it.  The sun promises and eventually that promise with come to fruition.

Last month, January, I did not ride a century for the first month since November 2003.  I "could" have finished one.  I was close mileage wise and had plenty of time, but the desire was not there, the desire to fight the cold, the wind, the discomfort, so I gave in.  But if the weather had been like this, I could ride forever.  I am thankful that the love of the bike has not been taken from me too yet. 

The trees have not yet started to bud, blurring the winter starkness that defines them, but it will not be long with this weather.  Spring can be delayed, but it can never be  halted.  Life moves stolidly forward. Birds are not yet chattering, but soon mating will cause them to establish their territory, driving the weak away.  Frogs and insects will begin to call.  And I will fall back in love with my bicycle.  

Soon it will be time for the Maple Syrup Festival Century.  I no longer captain it, but I still like to ride it.  I remember designing the course, how the signs lured me and the sound of the fiddle wafting on the breeze captured me.  I remember riding there the first year after with Steve Royse and Grasshopper to share it with them.  The line was too long to wait for pancakes, so we decided to ride to Scottsburg to eat.  As I descend Grasshopper Hill, I think of how we were racing, playing on our bicycles like teenagers, when the cinders they use for snow here caught his wheel.  I remember watching as he flew over the guardrail, turning over and over until he hit the ground.  And I remember the blood.  Strangely, his bike remained upright, propped against the guardrail as if he had stopped to take a leak.  

I zoom down the hill now, today, on a sunny February day, but not as I did then, reckless as we played.  I miss those days.  So many things have changed.  Grasshopper no longer rides. Though he rode for awhile after, his neck always bothered him when he rode afterward.  My mother is gone.  My husband is gone.  I rarely see Steve Royse and never ride with him.  Only my bicycle has remained steadfast, a source of comfort and strength.

I think how our memories define us, guide us along our paths.  I think of how memories can be sweet and sour at the same time.  The playing was sweet.  The wreck not worth the price and quite sour.  Plus, we never got pancakes that day.  But that day, as others, will never be lost so long as I can remember it.  And while I wish the accident had not happened, I never regret the time spent with friends even if they are ghosts to me now.  And, God willing, I will again ride the Maple Syrup Festival ride in a few weeks.  New friends, new memories.  Perhaps that is what life is about. 

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. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Memorial Ride

"Just as a painter needs light in order to
put the finishing touches to his painting, so
I need an inner light, which I feel I never have
enough of in the autumn."
Leo Tolstoy

What an incredible few days of riding it has been.  Chilly mornings that give way to afternoons warm enough to ride in jersey and shorts.   Fall, tenacious and stubborn, has held on this year.  Rain seems to be a thing of the past, a distant memory, and while the trees are beginning to shed leaves that should be gone a week or more by now, they lack the wild, riotous colors that normally characterize this time of year.  I suspect the two are linked, but I really don't know and I have been too busy riding to read and find out.  Riding:  it is what I do.  Not quickly anymore, but I still turn the pedals.  It is only on the bike that I seem halfway whole.

Wednesday: it is my husband's birthday.  So as not to drown the office with my loss, I take off work deciding to ride and spend the day alone with my thoughts able to laugh or cry or sing without encumbrance.  In truth, I will do all three, a wild sweep of emotions. While I take my GPS,  I also want  freedom, so I do not plot a route.  I take the Surly so the gravel will not be a deterrent if a road should call me, and off I pedal hoping to find glimpses of him in the blue of the sky, in the caress of a leave that brushes my arm as it pirouettes to the ground, its last dance with the wind before settling,  in the last of the bird calls, in the wing of the hawk that flies overhead, its shadow gently kissing me.  It is almost as if he is here when I come upon these signs:  

Where, I wonder, Alice like, am I to keep going to.  I feel as if he were speaking to me because I know he would chastise me for grieving for him so and for not moving on quickly enough.  Then I reach the "almost there" sign.  I had not intended to go that direction, but I cannot help myself; however, I never reach "there" to find out what it was or why I would want to go there. "What," I wonder, "did I miss?"  But still, I obey the first sign and keep going.

I spend the days picking new roads and then using my GPS to find a road I am familiar with when I began to be concerned about how far I am from home and being sure I can return before dark as I have no lights on my bike presently and no rescue wagon.  I think about my posterior vitreous detachment and how quickly things can  happen and try to drink up every color and sensation and swallow it whole so that it never leaves me.  My understanding is that it is quite normal and will possibly never trouble me again other than being annoying as all get out, but it could result in a tear that would have more dire consequences. Well, maybe not normal, but not earth shattering.  I do tend to over dramatize at times.  I think how I miss having him say everything will be okay, and how somehow, even though it wasn't, the worry was much lighter when he lifted half of the burden.

I learn that when there is grass growing in the middle of a gravel road, it is a good indication that the road does not go through, but it also can lead to some lovely vistas and alone time.  I think of how the reflection of the trees in the water is like Plato's cave, beautiful but still just a reflection that only mimics reality.  I think of the the things I have learned about myself over the past two years, some of which I like and some which I don't and what I hope I can change and what I hope I can keep.  All in all, I think how very, very lucky I am to have health and a bicycle and rural roads that I can haunt in relative safety despite being a woman and alone.  And I am thankful for a beautiful, warm fall day perfect for meandering.

On Saturday's ride, later this week, Cathy introduces me to the person who first introduced her to bicycling, and it makes me wonder,  "What would my life have been and be now if I had never started bicycling?   And I think, perhaps it needs more thought though I think I may have an answer, or as good of an answer you can have with a "what if," a path whose destination you will never really know because you chose not to travel it.  Like the man you almost married or the career you might have embarked upon.

But today, today I was alone, just me, my bike, and the roads, calling to me like an ancient Siren called to the mariner, seductive and full of promises. There is not enough light, external or internal, to flesh out the day in the way I would like, but I appreciate that I have the day.  And I know that I need to just "keep going" and maybe one day I will know where it is I am suppose to be going to since I am "almost there." 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Ankle and The Knobstone Trail

"Patience is a virtue, but there comes a moment
when you must stop being patient and take the day
by the throat and shake it.  If it fights back; fine.  I'd
rather end up bloody at the end of the day, then unhurt
with no progress made; no knowledge gained.  I'd rather
have a no than a nothing.  I'd forgotten that about myself."
Laurell Hamilton

My friend, Diana, and I are planning on hiking the entire Knobstone Trail.  We are still deciding if we want to hike a section each day and have her husband pick us up so that we can sleep in our own beds and have hot showers or whether we want to camp along the trail until it is completed.  I lean one way, she the other; but I am not above compromise. I enjoy her company and really am not strongly bound to either.  But that decision can wait.  We have decided to hike one section of the trail today just to give us an idea of what kind of shape we are in and how long it will take us.  Diana has a map.  I have a compass on my Christmas wish list as well as a book on how to use it, but as of yet I have neither.

While I spent the majority of my childhood in the woods, I have not really hiked much as an adult and never got much of a chance to camp. My knowledge is extremely limited, and I know that it is limited and I have not yet had a chance to read up on it much.  I do not have the proper equipment, and I do know enough to know that, but it does not deter me from forging ahead.  After all, how many people have completed a triathlon on a touring bike?  Sometimes you do things and if you like them, then you begin to spend money.  If you don't like them, you haven't lost much except time.

We decide to leave early in the  morning.  It is supposed to be colder than it has been recently, but that is not a problem for me.  Since I bicycle in the winter, I have all sorts of cold weather clothing.  The problem is my shoes.  Looking backwards, perhaps this was the decision that might have changed the day, but then it might not have.  Not being omniscient, I will never know.  I have a pair of boots that I bought at Target that were on sale at the end of the season and quite a bit too large, but perfectly fine for shoveling snowy driveways, and I have an old pair of running shoes.  I pick the running shoes.  Would the boots have made a difference?  In the end, it does not matter.  Things happen and you just have to deal with them.  In the scheme of things, any accident you can walk away from is a good accident.

Jim and Diana pick me up and we drive to Elk Creek to hike through to Leota.  Diana is clad in boots and has her back pack.  She is also wise enough to have a walking stick.   I decide against the back pack and just have a waist pack, and while I have put walking sticks on my wish list until I work enough overtime to purchase them, I have not yet gotten them. Both of us are dressed in layers. Jim drives off and we trudge off into the woods.  It doesn't take me long to realize that Diana is much better at spotting trail markers than I am.  Despite what we have heard, the trail is well marked, it is just that even in company I tend to drift off into my own thoughts at times.   I suspect that the West would never have been won by people like me. 

The trees have not yet begun to show their fall colors, but dry leaves do litter the ground.   I see two clusters of mushrooms:  one dead but somehow beautiful.  The other alive and unaware of the seaon change. The farther we stray from the trail-head, the more the path is covered in places.  The birds are still singing, not the bright calls of spring when their exuberance can almost be called raucousness, but not the drear, dead silence of winter when thoughts of survival rule.  It is windy and the trees whisper as if they were talking of us and our passing. Diana and I chat easily, as old friends have a wont to do.  I am grateful for her friendship and I hope she knows this.  I am not and never will be an "easy" person.  I feel too strongly and don't have a tight enough rein on my tongue. My expectations are high.  I have rather weird interests. Even with all the love he had for me, my husband told me not long before he died that his nephew was right when he said I was strange.  With old age, I have accepted this about myself.  But evidently Diana is okay with this weirdness because it will take us a few days of being together for a number of hours when we hike this whole trail. 

The trail is rough and I trip repeatedly despite trying to be careful.  Unfortunately, about two to three miles from the end, I trip and I feel my ankle twist and pain shoot up my leg.  Diana asks if I am okay, and I lie and say I am once I establish that, while it is painful, I can stand.  There is no reason for her to worry and there is nothing to be done about it.  And I will get out of here on my own even if I have to grit my teeth and crawl. I almost brought an ankle bandage, but I did not so swelling will definitely be an issue.  I stumble onward knowing that for a bit endorphins will kick in and  minimize what I will feel later when I stop.  And each time we pause, I feel it stiffen and it is harder to fight the pain and start up again. 

Still, I am not miserable. We reach the end and sit down to wait for Jim to pick us up.  Diana was right about how long it would take us, and now we have an idea of our pace and how far we can expect to get most days.  Diana tells me that the people she spoke to said this was the hardest section of the entire trail, so I am even more confident.  Now if I can just learn to walk without tripping over myself and falling down.  I also found that while my GPS for the bike will not tell me distance, I assume due to our slow pace, it does show the trail so that if we would miss a marker, we should be able to find our way back. 

Diana and I hiked on Monday.  On Tuesday, I wonder if I will be able to captain the century I have scheduled for Saturday.  When I post so that people can plan, Tony volunteers to captain the ride if I am unable.  But of course, despite the fact my ankle is the size of a grapefruit and there is bruising around the entire outside of my foot, I decide to give it a try.  As I later tell them, this is not the smartest thing I have ever done.  I urge them to feel free to ride ahead, but they decide to keep me company and we set a leisurely pace.

During the ride, I can't clip out and walking on uneven ground when I am off the bike is treacherous and painful.  Climbing likewise.  Still, I only walk one hill.  I will pay for my lack of patience.  By the end of the ride and the next day my ankle worsens.  But I remain glad that I "took the day by the throat" and shook it.  I got a chance to chat with Mark a bit for the first 25 miles until he veered off for home.  The other riders opted to say with me and I enjoyed the beautiful fall day and the company. Lunch, as always at the Mennonite store, was exceptionally delicious.  And I will heal.  Had I been patient, I would have healed more quickly.  I would have had less pain.  But I would have missed the last of the unseasonably warm weather and the company and the countryside.  And I do so grow tired of just sitting with my leg propped up.

Winter will come, heavy handedly sweeping leaves from the trees and leaving the world a monotone of browns and grays.  The birds will silence and the world will seem still except for the wuthering of the winter wind, ghost-like and mournful.  But I will remember hiking with my friend and riding with friends and I will long for the birth of spring, and I will be grateful for the time I had with them and glad that I made the choice to do both, even if I ended up bloody at the end of the day.  I hope I don't forget that about myself.