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Monday, February 16, 2015

February 15, 2015

Today the ice on the back roads chooses my route for me.  It is cold outside, numbingly cold, the kind of cold that takes your breath away, and there is a chill advisory; but snow is predicted for tomorrow and I want to get at least a few miles in.  I have ridden a century in even colder weather so I know that while it may not be as pleasant as a spring century, it can be done.  And normally I find I am enjoying myself so long as I am dressed appropriately.

 Before heading out I slather my face in Vaseline and dress in layer upon layer of wool praying that I have no mechanical issue along the way.  At least on a main road, there is more of a chance of rescue if something does go wrong, though my original intention is to ride the back roads.  One reality of my new life is the lack of a prince to rescue me when I do something stupid. Only a short trip on those back roads is enough to convince me to turn around and head toward a main road.  Something within me needs to go free before being confined by wintery weather, and if that means main roads, so be it.   I also know I have no business riding on ice and I do not want to fall. Healing that took month after month has taught me the luxury that is sleeping on your side without your shoulder hurting and constantly awakening you.  Yes, if I ride I know I will fall again, but I do all I can to prevent it. I had  hoped we might miss the snow this year, but God thought otherwise.

I head out into a world where the sun is shining and the sky is brilliantly blue, but otherwise there is no color that is not man made and rather tawdry, at least other than cardinals and woodpeckers, and there is certainly no warmth.  At least the wind is manageable, though as light as it is my pace often becomes only a determined crawl.  The longer I ride, the less blue there is above as the sky pulls her fluffy white blankets up around her neck preparing for the coming of the snow. 

Around me the air is silent, as if the world is momentarily paused, holding her breath to see if the snow and frigid temperature prediction is true.  Not one bird song or frog croak crack the frigid silence.  The sound of my bicycle seems to be the only sound in the world today. Will this silence ever be broken by singing again?  I think of how my husband, despite my poor singing ability, always said he enjoyed having a wife who sang.  I sing doing housework, rocking babies to sleep, etc. until once my children said it was like being raised in a musical.  Oddly enough, I come upon a huge frog, frozen thus changing my thoughts. It is lying in the road, one leg literally jaggedly cracked off.  How did he get there?  Did some predator dig him up from his winter sleep?  If so, why was he not devoured? We have not yet had warm enough weather for frogs to stir.  I tell him I am sorry and ride on briefly pondering his fate.

I only ride 38 miles, but I feel better when I return.  Supper is a non-issue as yesterday I made bread and chili and with just one of me, there is more than enough for dinner tonight.  Thank you, God, for my daily bread.  Chores were done after my run yesterday morning.  But there are books waiting, books that can take me places I have never been or bring me back to visit places that I long for; and there are blankets and pillows and cats to snuggle with while I go without ever leaving my home.  And while this pretend world is not in the end as satisfying as the real one can be at times, it is pleasurable.  And it is warm.  And for right now, it is what I have.  Yet again, I thank my husband for his part in providing me with this shelter and for allowing me to dream.  "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."   Neil Gaiman

Monday, February 9, 2015

 "When you love someone, it's never over," Dr.
Carruthers replied gently.  "You move on because
you have to, but you bring him in your heart."
Elizabeth Chandler




While I would not change the predicted weather for today even if I had the power, this faint breath of spring in the midst of winter is almost cruel, another reminder of what we have not. Goodness how I long for warmth and sunshine.  It is Saturday so I do not have to work and I have no pressing obligations,  the sun is supposed to shine, a treat in the midst of an all too gray and dreary winter,  the weather is to warm to near sixty degrees.  The wind prediction is the only fly in the ointment, but I have ridden through stronger winds before. Briefly I think of the t-shirt that I had made for Mike and for myself: "I biked Ike.  Got wind?"  Briefly I wonder if that person is still there but I know she is and  the only real question is where to roam.  

Initially I contemplate new, unfamiliar roads, but my current weakness combined with shortened day light hours gives me pause and I decide to head toward Hardinsburg/Lavonia.  It is odd, this not being accountable to anyone for my time. Soon I settle into the old, familiar rhythm of pedaling and for just a moment in time I can delude myself into believing that nothing, including me, has changed.

Despite the stark, monotone scenery, there is a beauty in the very austerity that meets my eyes.  Wheat fields gleaned in the fall maintain their clean shaven sharpness without even the merest spark of green.  Branches on trees are not yet blurred with the promise of leafing out.  In forested areas, the brown oak leaves are only now littering the ground and give away the presence of the squirrels and deer I encounter. The only color seems to be that of the blue sky.  And the only sign that spring might yet become a reality is the occasional sound of a bird bravely telling the bully winter that her reign will end and raucous calling for a mate will commence.

I spend time of course mourning, for I have not yet made it through a day without spending at least a minute or two in tears, but I also spend time thinking how best to move forward and wondering when life will once again have spice to it.  I do not fool myself that things will ever be the same, but I am old enough to know I will laugh again and that different does not always mean bad. I am old enough to know that I will possibly even love again, however differently.  I count my blessings, and there are many. And I forgive myself for my recent sloth and tiredness.  Grieving is exhausting.  How do you get over something that does not end?  I suspect that you don't, but that you find a way to move forward so that only those closest to you see the life scars.   And I suspect that those scars may give certain experiences even more sweetness than they might otherwise have had as we become who we will end up being. 

I think about brevets.  Originally I had intended to ride PBP again this summer, and perhaps it will yet again assert its siren song, but I also contemplate not riding any brevets or riding the 1000K in Nova Scotia.  For some reason, Nova Scotia caught my eye and sparked at least a flicker of interest.  It felt nice to actually be interested in something and not have it be a pretense.  I even look up the air fare to see if it is financially feasible, for that aspect of my life has changed as well.  I decide that I will just see how the 200K goes and not press myself for a decision when one does not yet have to be made.

I pass the first of the lambs that I have seen this spring, calmly resting, contentedly munching hay as there is not yet fresh grass to pasture on.  I pass abandoned, falling down houses that once might have been glorious, vividly alive with the personalities of the people who inhabited them.  What were those people like? What did the rooms look like?  The garden?  Were there little ones?  Who looked out those windows or loved the light enough to have so many each next to each other despite the sacrifice of warmth in the winter.  And at what point did they just quit renewing the house by making repairs and remodeling and allow it to become just a falling down house instead of a home:  illness, poverty, laziness, the siren song of something new?

I come to the third store stop, but somehow I cannot face Amos yet so I ride onwards and home.  While my friends don't understand it, I still need lots of alone time. The last stretch is on Delaney Park and Eden Roads, some of my favorites with little to no traffic.  And my February century is completed on the kind of day rarely granted by the cycling gods in February.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A New Beginning

Every broken heart has at one time asked, 
"What is important to me now?"
Shannon Alder


When you are married for such a long time, it is as if you each become a part of the other, personalities and incidents weaving together to form an intricate tapestry that is your life. I do so miss those glances where you did not have to speak to know what the other was thinking or feeling, the shared humor, the warmth of hugs and smiles. So with him gone it is as if half of me is missing and I need to redefine myself.  Some things were important only because of him.  Other things that did not seem important when he was here are now of major importance.  And so I blunder on through this rebirth wondering what to retain and cling to and what to shed and leave behind me.  

And where will bicycling fall into all this change?  Is it time to find new avenues of exploration and activity or should I cling to my cycling more fiercely than before hoping to find happiness and absolution there, to find a way to make peace with the cards that have been dealt to me and that I cannot alter?  

Before he died, my husband had gotten my Christmas presents.  My son and his wife wrapped them and I opened them on Christmas morning:  tail lights for my bike and a new Garmin 605, the model he knew I liked so much more than the new Edge Touring.  Where did he find  this discontinued treasure?  And as I open the gifts,  his arm briefly, one last time, settles gently and lovingly around my shoulders pointing the way.  For he knew he was dying.  A few days before he passed he told someone that he was dying, and he told me that he was going to try to make it through Christmas but did not know if he could.  I know he worried about me and how I would go on.  So I know these gifts had a special meaning to  him and were not something randomly picked off my "I'd Like to Have This" list.

I am on my own when I ride in a way that I have never been before, and I am totally dependent upon the kindness of strangers if my bike should break or if I should have a bad fall and be unable to ride home.  For a moment, I hesitate, but only for a moment. 

And so despite the 17 degree feel like temperature that the weather woman talks about, I dress, grit my teeth, set my jaw, and head out the door.  I have to meet my daughter this afternoon so it is not a long ride, but I get in fifty miles.  The weight I have gained during the past couple of months makes each hill I encounter hurt like the dickens and feel like a mountain, but I push through knowing that it will only make me stronger and that I will need all the strength that I can muster in the upcoming year for  birthing is a difficult process.  I remember giving birth and the pain that sawed through every fiber of my being as my body strained and heaved to bring new life into the world, but I do not remember the pains of being born.  So while this is not new to me, it is.  And cycling will, I believe, be a part of it.  It is comforting to know that he knew this and approved and gave me a new Garmin so that I will not lose my way. 


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Appalachian 1000 K

This unedited article is dedicated to my beloved husband who passed away December 15, 2014.  How I wish he had been able to read it. Without his all encompassing love, compassion, wisdom, and support, I would never have had the strength to challenge myself and I would have missed so very much.  He was  present at my first triathlon, painfully hobbling to the start and waiting at the finish, assuring me I had enough grit in my craw to finish, and he bought me my first grown up bike when he worried I was running too much.  He told me I could have a better bicycle when I was a better rider, and then he kept that promise. I always knew he was waiting, if not at the end of a challenge at home.  Most importantly, I always knew that he loved me:  fat, thin, winner, loser......there was nothing that I could be that he would not accept.

While we both knew this day was coming, I selfishly was hoping that it would not come so very soon.   I say selfishly because he was always in so much pain.  His last words to me were teasing me about us both having gotten the other's Christmas presents and how about going on and opening them as he knew what a stickler I was for traditions at Christmas.  How I now wish we had. 

It was shortly thereafter that a blood clot caused a massive stroke that stole his ability to talk and move.  After a brief hospital stint, I brought him home to pass over as he would have wanted me to do. It is odd how you know what somebody wants without asking after being together over 34 years.  It is odd how difficult it is to not be selfish and hold on despite being told he would never walk or talk again.

There have been times when I have been tempted to stop riding my bicycle, and he would encourage me telling me it was important.  And somehow I know it will play a role in my recovery, in allowing me to move forward despite being more alone and frightened and lost than I have ever imagined being in even my wildest of dreams.  In the end, perhaps his gift of my first bicycle was about this, for he always knew me better than I  know myself and loved me regardless.

He was very brave and my hero.  I am incredibly sad and lost, but I know he would be calling me a "candy ass" and urging me onwards. My world without him has become a "terrible stranger." But I know that he is still waiting for me and doing his best to watch over me because I have never been very smart.  I just don't know how far it is until the end of this challenge.  No split times on this course. And I pray I have enough grit in my craw to last until the end. I have been been a blessed woman to have known a love like that, a love that was always there.  May each of you be so blessed as to know someone who loves you regardless of your flaws, hang ups, bad choices.  May each of you love and be loved. And may you have the strength and wisdom to let that  special person know despite the fact that doing so makes you so very vulnerable.


"I like the mountains because they make me 
feel small," Jeff says.  "They help me sort 
out what's important in life."
Mark Obmascik

It is time to depart, to leave this place, this person, and these pets that are so very dear to me.  And for a fraction of my second, as my eyes drink in their familiar visages and my lips welcome my husband's farewell kiss, soft, lingering and unbearably sweet, his embrace, warm and synonymous with home and safety, I think of just staying here and not riding.  With all of his health issues and his failure to be honest about how he is feeling when he knows I am going somewhere, I worry if he will be okay when I get back. One year when I went to Hell Week, he was admitted to the hospital later in the day.  With his typical generosity, he did not want me to miss something I wanted to do because of his health.  And while I have been an absolute harridan since that time, threatening  him if he ever does such a thing again, I know that he would and no amount of spousal threatening would stop him from repeating his action if he feels it would impact my embarking on a new adventure.  I think perhaps long term illness and pain causes him to appreciate how important it is to live while you can still enjoy it.  Or perhaps he knows that despite good intentions, I could not thrive shut away in a house only leaving to work or go to the grocery. 

Experience has taught me  that I can not live always worrying about what I know will eventually happen to each of us. Also my son, Jeff,  and his wife, Lena, are awaiting my arrival in Annapolis, and while there is a part of me that would like to stay home a greater part of me wants to see them and also knows that I would forever wonder what would have happened if I had ridden. A part of me is eagerly anticipating the adventure and knows that I need it despite being scared to death of it.  Life is not and should not be a lesson in stagnation however comfortable and appealing that may seem at times.  I have never been to Virginia or West Virginia before and I won't get there any younger.  And what better way to see it than by bicycle on a route designed by Crista Borras.

With this thought in mind I head out the door. As Oscar Wilde once said, "To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that is all."  I don't want to just exist:  I want to grow, and learn, and experience.  I want to be brave despite being such a coward at heart. I don't want to die wishing I  had done things that I did not do.  I want to ride my bike.

The land switches from flat to hilly to mountainous during the trip, farmlands yielding to towering aeries.  Briefly I think that is why the best riding requires climbing:  the land is just too wild to be completed tamed and subdued.  Entering Maryland, I see signs indicating that there are bear here.  For some reason, this surprises me.  We have deer and an abundance of wildlife in Kentuckiana, but so far as I know we have no bear in our area.  I wonder if they are aggressive.  Will the thought of a bear keep me from feeling comfortable pulling over for a short shut eye if I feel too sleep to ride safely? In my mind, I go over all I have heard about how to act during a bear attack, but I only remember not to run, good advice when dealing with any predator that is not human, but oh so difficult to remember if one is frightened because it means fighting a basic instinct.

I visit with Jeff and Lena for a few days and organize what I have brought into drop bags, hotel bags, and stay-at-Jeff bags.  I can't decide whether or not to use my carradice or to just stick with a large rear bag and my handlebar bag.  Nick Bull suggests I bring both packing my carradice in my drop bag so that I can add it if I feel it is necessary after the first day.  I heed his sage advice and feel better having it available in case I need it though I end up not using it. Finally organized,  I head for Leesburg. This means driving on the "Beltway," another new experience and quite stressful to someone who is not used to much traffic and is such a poor driver.  Everything is so busy and crowded here.  I wonder how people think with all the noise and bustle.  It is not necessarily bad, just different than what I am used to and rather unsettling.  Still, I am glad that I am just visiting.

I arrive at the host hotel, check in, have my bike inspected, eat, and go to bed. During this time, I meet several of the riders, but I know I will not remember their names.  Not good with matching names to faces in the first place, the stress of the past few days combined with an aging mind has made it more unlikely. Everyone is friendly and welcoming but I still feel rather out of place.  I have trained as best I can, but do I truly belong with these skinny, athletic looking people?  They all look so fit, and then there is me who carries a bit of a belly around with me.  I do love food and were it not for my bicycling I fear I would weigh 300 pounds.

Briefly I wonder if anyone else is nervous and has doubts or if it is just me. So many things can happen on a brevet:  I doubt anyone is completely confident that they will finish. I don't expect to sleep well as normally I toss and turn and sleep only sporadically the night before a challenging ride, but I find myself drifting to sleep easily despite the fact it is only 7:30 p.m. This bodes well for day one.

 The prediction for the first day of the ride is for oppressive heat, something that I have not had enough of this summer to acclimate to for in Indiana we have had an unseasonably cool summer. I respect heat.  I fear heat. During my years of riding, I have seen what heat can do to people and have suffered under his brutal hand myself.  He is merciless and has no heart, squeezing people dry and leaving them with nothing, laughing cruelly all the while, crushing any illusion they have of strength or endurance. I also continue to worry about the course.  With the heat and the hills will it still be a delight or will it turn into a death march? I know three men who are very strong riders who have ridden 1000K rides in Virginia, and all three have warned me about the demands of the Virginia terrain:  Greg Zaborac, Tim Argo, and Bob Bruce.  Each is much stronger than I am, and I begin yet again to question what in the world I am doing here. I have until 7:00 a.m. Monday morning to finish the course I assure myself.  I need not be so very strong to finish in the that amount of time. It is only 623  miles.  Surely with a bit of luck and a lot of determination it is possible.  In the past I have ridden farther, and I have trained assiduously for this ride. But I also realize that I must ride smartly, something more easily said than done.  I decide from the beginning that since it is going to be so hot, I will not press the hills as I often do but gently spin up them, changing gears whenever I find my leg muscles being pressured.

Despite sleeping well, it seems all too early when the alarm goes off, an alarm that I set but almost neglected to wind.  Freudian slip?  I dress quickly and head down to grab something to eat as the hotel check in person had assured me they were serving breakfast at 3:00 a.m. as there were so many riders that would be leaving from the hotel.  Despite it being 3:00, there is nothing there yet other than coffee, yogurt, and cereal, so I head back to my room and down the milk, juice, and bagel that I brought from Jeff's.  I also pack the ham sandwiches with butter on yeast rolls that I made at my son's house to carry on my journey, a trick learned from Steve Rice.

Heading downstairs with my loaded bike, a bike that seems to weigh 100 pounds despite my best efforts to take only what I need,  the lobby/breakfast room that was empty at 3:00 is bursting with activity and sound.   Nervous chatter and laughter fills the void, cleats click against tile floors, derailleurs sing their clicking tune as everyone completes their last minute preparations and hopes that they are one of the lucky ones who finish.  Someone, I believe his name is Mike, is clicking photo after photo as we ready ourselves and for a moment as the flash on the camera triggers relentless, I think that this must be what it feels like to be important and have the paparazzi on one's trail.

Momentarily I desperately long for the comfort of familiar friends who ride the brevets near where I live:  Steve, Dave, Bill, Mark.  There is something about having someone you know on the course even if they are not riding with you, even if you are having one of those times when you need or want to ride alone undisturbed by the demands of companionship.  It is like a life jacket, a source of comfort and safety. I slap myself internally and remind myself to be brave and not such a gutless coward:  it is time to cut the cord that binds me, restricts me.  It is time to assert my independence. For just a moment, I am extremely jealous of the women here who have spouses to ride with and to share their journey with, to help them through those "dark times" that a brevet inevitably holds.  How I wish my husband could ride and not be tied down to an oxygen machine. But in the end, I need to be thankful for what I have:  a supportive husband and friends who encourage me to be here despite the fact many of them think I am off my rocker.  "We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."  (Thorton Wilder). And I have been blessed with a husband, children, friends, health, employment.

Outside in the darkness, I put the batteries in the GPS charger, a charger made and loaned to me by Steve Rice, the Kentucky RBA.  I download the course to the first control.   Per his suggestion,  I programmed the route from control to control.  It gives me comfort to know that if I mess up one section, I can start afresh at each control.  It also helps me understand some of the nuisances of the course, particularly in those areas where you ride out to a control and turn around.   I have also brought my own GPS to have as a back up.  Yes, people navigate course with no GPS at all, but I do have the most horrible sense of direction and I am not at all familiar with this area.

It is not yet hot outside, but it is clammy.  Just standing there I can tell that the humidity is high and that  it will be one of those days where sweat does not cool you but just stands on your skin until it drips to the ground taking your  life juices and salts with it.  Anticipation can be felt as Nick Bull gives his speech about the course, about calling if you DNF, about safety.  I momentarily panic as I realize I forgot to have anyone sign my brevet card this morning, but I realize that Nick won't be taking off on a bicycle as he rode the prior week.  When Nick asks if anyone thinks they will finish before 55 hours, one man says he hopes to.  Looking at the results, it appears that it was Barry Dickson and that he was successful finishing in 46 hours and 49 minutes.  Unbelievable.  It makes me feel like such a weak, whiny baby.  I know brevets are not races, but what must it feel like to ride so swiftly and conquer the hills so effortlessly?  Would it be a good thing or would you be so caught up in your speed that you miss your surroundings?  Despite the fact that I am not very fast, there are times that I wish I had ridden more slowly and absorbed more of what surrounded me.  Some of my favorite rides have been solo rambles where I creep along stopping to photograph or appreciate the grandeur  of the  scenery.  But there are also those times that I wish I were as swift as the wind and could be home long before it is a reality. In the end I suppose there is no "one size fits all" type of ride, even for the same person.

While waiting, I chat for a moment with a man named Nigel and I wonder if we will ride together at all.   He seems a comfortable sort of person and he even is familiar with my blog.  And then we are off, a blur of white and red lights and reflective gear.  Shortly after we start, I realize I can still hear the night sounds here:  frogs and insects valiantly chanting their farewell to summer.  I will miss this sound, the sound of summer and of life as it yields to the stony, barren silence of winter rides.  And I think how I always celebrate in the spring when the frogs and insects first wake up, hungry for warm summer nights and mating, filling the air and my ears with their joy, a song of hope promising warm weather and rebirth and of long, leisurely rides where you don't have to worry about your fingers or your toes getting cold. 

 I think how differently this group is riding compared to the Kentucky brevets where the front group heads out as if it were a race and there were not so many miles to follow.  The pace is subdued, even slower than I would normally ride.  The route seems to descend forever to Harper's Ferry and I begin to worry about the return trip.  My friend, Paul Battle, warned me that there would be a climb if I was visiting Harper's Ferry.  What a climb it will be at the end of a long journey when I am already worn out, but at the first control someone mentions that this is not an out and back course, something I  knew but had forgotten.  One trick I use on out and back brevets is to tell myself that ever hill I climb I will be able to go down on the return journey.  I am disappointed that it is dark and I can't see this famous place where John Brown once bravely walked, where the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia all converge.  Tendrils of mist swirl through the lower areas and through the headlights it is as if I can see the dance of small droplets that are the core of its being: silver and beautiful, like a lace shawl, its beauty hiding its potential danger as I am less likely to be seen by any approaching automobile, yet still enchanting and fairy-like. 


After the first control, the larger group begins to break into smaller groups.  Dawn begins to muscle his way into the world, silently but relentlessly, until the last bits of darkness yield. His mane glows and waves with billowing tresses in shades of pink, purple, and gray.  Traces of fog remain hidden in hollows and valleys as we ride along, a resistance movement against the steadily encroaching sun, so I leave my lights on. I am hungry and eat one of my sandwiches.  Butter squeezes out the sides and I rub my greasy fingers on my leg when suddenly the thought arises that a bear may possible like buttered human flesh for dinner. The damage is already done, however. I suppose that any passing bear will prefer me to others due to my sweet butter smell;-)

I wish I could tell you from day to day and hour to hour what happened, but as always on a brevet, the longer I ride the more confused my mind becomes until everything seems to blur together in a rhythm that involves riding, eating, and sleeping:  repeat.  The first day I do remember being surprised at the ease of the course other than the heat.  I remember fields yielding to more mountainous terrain, the verdant green that speaks of fertility and enough rain.  I remember the beauty of the architecture and of the surrounding fields, the camaraderie at lunch where everyone entering the restaurant was welcomed by other riders. I remember the Teresa's friendliness at a control. Mostly, however, I remember the intense heat, heat that will repeat itself the next day. I remember the relief that a brief, late afternoon shower brought, how the rain seemed so cold after the intense heat.  I remember that Norman and I sheltered for awhile in someone's barn when lightening was flashing and he did not laugh at me because I did not have a smart phone or know how to use his before we parted ways.  I remember the rainbow arching lithely over the earth following the rain, off to my left, colorful and oh, so very beautiful. And I remember coming into the overnight control alone and tired and being overwhelmed by the kindness and caring shown by the volunteers.

I hope I never forget how it felt when Crista introduced herself and said that a friend, Greg Smith, had asked her to check and make sure I was okay, as if a soft, fluffy blanket had been wrapped around me.  Mistakenly, I assumed they somehow knew each other.  I hope I never forget the melodious,  mellow sound of Carol's voice and laughter floating through the room, and her tenderness dealing with a rider who came in sick from the heat, unable to eat and nauseous.  Of how she carried his drop bag for him and helped him to his room so that he could recover to ride another day.  I hope I never forget the way the smell of food wafted through the air, heady and enticing, fuel for another day. Or how it felt to take off my riding shoes, to feel my feet sigh with relief. Or how showering felt, the inebriating smell of shampoo and soap, warm and sensuous, washing away the days travels and cares.   Or how the bed was welcoming and warm, a respite from a road and from my long journey.  Sometimes I think that this is what I like the best about brevets: it gives me a new appreciation for things I too often take for granted and a renewed faith in human kindness.  These volunteers will be here all night, doing without sleep, caring for riders as they come and go.  And it will be repeated the following evening by other volunteers and the evening after that.  Who could not want to be part of a club that has such people in it?

Sleeping a few hours, I head back out into the dark hoping to make the first significant climb, Warm Springs Mountain, before the heat once again lays claim to the day and yet again begins relentlessly pounding me with his smoldering fist.  I am more tired than I expected and had trouble drinking the coffee as it was strong and my stomach somewhat unsettled.  I climb and climb, and next to me I hear the rushing, chuckling sound of water, laughing as if it knows some secret that I do not.  I wonder how I missed this sound the prior evening coming into the control as I am tracing my way backward on the same road I came in on.  I wish I could see it rather than just hear it, but it still so dark.  Still it sounds lovely and makes the steady climbing easier somehow.  I worry, however, about two hours later, long after the stream has been left behind, when I find I am averaging only about nine to ten miles per hour.  The climbing is not particularly difficult, but it is demanding and it will be a long day if my pace does not pick up.  Still I know it would be quite unwise to push myself with such a long distance left to cover.  Eventually I meet up with Kelly and we ride together to the bottom of the first big climb.  His company helps to put my sleepiness at bay, and I am wide awake by the time I stop at the store to refuel and he heads onward.

I can't describe for you the loveliness of the climb up Warm Springs Mountain, the rhythm of my pedal strokes, the pattern my breathing takes when I climb, as if my body becomes a song.   I can't say I am sorry when I reach the top, but oddly enough I am not particularly glad either for I have enjoyed the climb, that is until I see what awaits me at the summit.  At first I think my eyes are betraying me, and they are, for there appears to be an ocean winding among the mountains, tapping around corners with an errant paw, arching its back, curling around the edges, and settling down, still but not still as it is fluidity and constant motion, a shining, shimmering sea of mist, blue and gray.  And I begin to cry silently, glad the guys aren't here to see the tears streaming down my cheeks, at finding such beauty in the world.  All the scenery has been delightful, but this view alone is enough to make a 623 mile ride seem insignificant.  It would be a worth a lifetime of climbing and striving and riding to see this, to feel the coolness settle tenderly upon my shoulders like a heavenly shawl.   And I feel small:  small and grateful.  I am grateful to Crista for designing this route, to God for creating such magnificence, and to the DC club that organized the event.

Coming in that evening, once again by the Maury River but this time able to see through the insidiously creeping dusk, I feel like a drunk woman, inebriated by the beauty that filled the day, by the ice sock that kept me from overheating when it was one hundred degrees in Covington. Now the river is going to give me more.  Huge, grey rocks lace the sides of the road forming patterns and the river gurgles and sings and laughs at my human foolishness.  But I am oh, so tired and cannot pedal much faster despite the downhill.  Cimmerian night grabs hold gently brushing my forehead with her cool, soft hand before I reach the end of this road and the cruel last climb after a blessed downhill stretch.  It starts to rain and I find that despite the rain, I need to stop whenever I need to drink as I am having trouble getting my water bottle back in its holder and can no longer do so safely without stopping.  God provides when I am having trouble attaching my jacket to my rear bag so it does not rub the wheel.  There on the ground is an elastic cord just waiting to be picked up.

Again, I am glad I am alone here in the arms of the night, able to do what I need to do to keep myself safe, not feeling any pressure to keep up with others and not impede their progress.   Perhaps I should feel afraid here, alone, in a strange place on strange roads, surrounded by shadows and murky darkness, but oddly enough I do not.  There is so much left to see, but I am temporarily sated.  Like a sponge that has been in water, I can't absorb anymore. Alone I can begin to process everything.

And then there is the third day.  When I leave the control I feel a tad dis-spirited for I am weary, my legs are sore and complaining and my butt hurts. Additionally, I have been warned about the climbs between Lexington and Leesburg and how they will beat a rider up.  200 miles seems a very long way to go when one is already tired. Gratefully, I latch onto someone's wheel as they pass hoping that he does not mind.  I think that this, along with the cooler temperatures, is my salvation.  Would I have finished otherwise?  Probably, but who knows.  Certainly I would not have finished as early or with so little effort because in the end, the third day practically flew by.

 Before long we are climbing again and I call a thank you to this unknown man as he pulls ahead on the climb and settle into my rhythm.  One lesson I learned early on about brevets is the necessity of riding your own pace unless there will be payback for the greater effort, like being sheltered from a strong headwind. Out of the dark on the side of the road Norman appears, temporarily startling me, saying his bicycle has broken and help is being called.  I head on when he assures me he is okay.  There is nothing I can do to help him  and I have "miles to go before I sleep."  (Robert Frost)  I repay the man who gave me the pull when I see him miss a turn and shout out to him so he can turn around.

I later end up spending the rest of the day with the man who turns out to be Paul Donaldson.  He reminds me so of my dear friend, Davy "Packman" Ryan, and I grow comfortable with him quickly, something that is normally quite hard for me. (Packman was a very strong brevet rider consistently arriving at the last control earlier than people who are now Charlie Miller riders.  He never owned or drove a car, but he was paralyzed after being hit by a car, one of life's little ironies). I get the feeling that Paul, like Packman, has forgotten more about randoneurring than I have yet learned.  Of course, he started riding brevets in 1992 while I was still rearing children and would have joined the crowd in thinking anyone riding brevets was, well, just a little bit off.  Rather than soaking myself in scenery this day, though I did some of that, I immerse myself in friendship and laughter and the telling of stories.  The miles pass unbelievably quickly as we laugh and joke.

At one point, on a descent, I feel something moist pelt my arm momentarily wondering if it has started to rain.  A large purple splotch is there, and I mean large.  It have been pooped upon by some gigantic bird.  Luckily, I carry wet wipes on rides and it is on my skin and not my clothing.  I complete the descent and clean myself.  Later in the ride, a truck pulls out in front of Paul and I, a truck carrying turkey dung.  It seeps through the cracks in the trucks siding and tail and dusts us with feces from head to foot.  Now if you have never smelled turkey/chicken dung, you have much in life to be thankful for.  One year, my husband got me a load for my garden for some holiday:  birthday, anniversary.  I just don't remember.  What I do remember is not being able to garden that year or spend any time outside of the house because of the pungent aroma wafting through the air.  I tease Paul about being shit upon twice in one day in one ride.  We also laugh about my inability to find any fried chicken along the route, something I have been craving since the ride start for some reason.  I suppose, as Bill Pustow once told me, it helps to coat the stomach with grease at times on long rides.   


Jim and Roger join us a bit out from the end, though Jim later says he is going to drop back. Nobody else appears to have noticed the house I noticed a day or two ago that allegedly was designed by Thomas Jefferson and I think about how each ride is unique to each rider. I keep teasing Paul saying he said he would have me home by midnight, and he does. 

And it is somehow over.  I have not been eaten by a bear or fallen off a mountain top.   All the planning, training, and hard work lead to fruition. Not just in completing the course, however.  I am not quite the same person I was when I embarked on this journey, and I suspect that the others are not either.  I am a bit stronger, and I realize more that my strength has grown only through the giving of others.  Christa, Nick, God, the mountains, and so many others.......more precious the gift in that it was given by strangers.  Thank you all for this feeling of accomplishment. Hopefully one day I can return the favor and pay back. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)






















Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"If all else perished and he remained, I should
still continue to be; and if all else remained and he
were annihilated, the universe would turn into 
a mighty stranger."
Emily Bronte


Goodbye, my love, until my chores are done and we  meet again. 
You know I can never thank you enough for all you gave me.  
But oh how I shall miss you.
Delbert Lloyd Hall
November 1937 to December 2014
 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Breakfast Century 2014

"You can't prepare for everything that life
is going to throw at you.  And you can't avoid
danger.  It's there. The world is a dangerous place
and if you sit around wringing your hands about it,
you'll out on all the adventure."
Jeanette Walls


The first week-end in December I normally have my Christmas Breakfast Century.  Friends gather at my home for a breakfast feast before heading out into the winter cold to ride a century.  The morning is always dark this time of year, and it is always chill.  I use my best Christmas china and silver, things handed down to me by the women in our family that came before me.  They always make me think of those I love that are gone, and they serve as a reminder that life is short and should be lived to the fullest. (Of course, they also make me think of the hand washing and putting away I will have to do after the ride, but I have found it well worth it.)  I look forward to sharing this breakfast and this day with friends.

Candles burn providing a warmth that electric lights can never match and that screams home.   The tree lights shine and three candle candelabras sit on window sills awaiting the return of loved ones.   The smell of pine snakes sensuously through the air evoking memories of past Christmas Breakfast Centuries.  Lorenna McKennitt weeps her Christmas songs into the air as I prepare the feast.  And then they begin to arrive, sliding in like ghosts from the cold, drear outside.  And I am  happy.

Some years I have had to cancel the ride due to snow and ice, but not this year.  This year the weather looks fine.  There has been lots of rain and flooding is predicted, but no rain is predicted for today.  Yesterday my husband and I traveled to Medora by car to check for flooding.   Medora was not flooded, but 700 had water about 8 inches deep and another road on the way back is flooded.  So I decide to change the route.  Yes, I tried to prepare.  But I should know better.

Normally during winter rides the group stays together.  Those that are faster slow down and are patient with those that are slower, at least up to a certain point.  Patience thins when someone unprepared shows.  I don't expect to go fast today, but I do expect to ride with others.  After all, it is my responsibility as ride captain to keep the riders together and see them home.  And I have always done this in the past, but not today.  Today something will happen that has never happened to me before though I probably have captained one hundred rides.  I don't just lost one or two riders:  I lose them all:  Steve Rice, Mark Rougeux, Tony Darnell, Bill Pustow, Mike Crawford, Amelia Dauer, Dave whose last name escapes me.

Things are fine until lunch.  We reach Vernon at the same time.  We eat at the same restaurant, Burger King, as people don't want to take the longer wait time at the bar.  And then we head out.  Part of the group surges ahead while I wait for another rider to get ready.  Once the few I am with pull out, we cross and intersection and I "think" I see the group riding the wrong direction.  I decide to turn around and see if they have noticed their error yet and turned around.  By the time I cross traffic and return to the intersection, I no longer see them.  I puzzle for a moment and convince myself that I probably saw the orange construction barrels and thought they were cyclists.  My eyes aren't good at a distance and these are riders that  normally can read a cue sheet.

So I turn to catch the other riders.  Being out of shape, my hardest is not very fast, but miles and miles pass without my seeing them.  About 72 miles out, I come to, yes, a flooded road, and it is not the eight inches that I crossed in my car yesterday.  I can't tell for sure how deep it is, but it looks deeper.  It is only in the forties and was below freezing last night, so I worry about the group.  "Did they cross," I wonder.  They must have.  I know a work around but I would have seen them.  There are tire tracks into the water.  They look wider that bike tires, but not as wide as car tires would be.

I decide that since the group was ahead of me and I did not see them retracing their steps to avoid the flooding, they went through.  The water is ice cold as I plunge in intending to ride through, but as it deepens riding becomes impossible.  I get off and walk.  The water reaches my knee and creeps further up my leg as the current intensifies, and I am hysterically laughing.  For some reason the lines from a song, "Everything that kills me makes me feel alive" come to my mind.  I decide if the it reaches the top of my thigh I will turn around, but it only gets about four inches above my knee.  I worry about Amelia because she is so very small and light, but she must have made it across.

I continue riding being surprised how quickly my legs warm in their tights, but then I think of the cold, rainy rides I have done and realize that it has never been my legs that bother me. There have been times taking my tights off when I have touched my legs and they felt like ice cubes to my hands, but they have never bothered me otherwise.  I have wool socks on, and while my feet are chill, it is not that miserable cold, merely a nip that lets you know you have toes.

When I reach the third store stop, I ride by pushing hard thinking they must not have stopped as they were wet.  By this point I have convinced myself every rider was ahead of me.  And then I am at the parking lot and all the cars are there.  NOBODY was ahead of me.  I head in the house intending to get some dry socks and head back out and find messages on my answering machine.  I am able to reach Mark.   Evidently the first group did make a wrong turn and then had a flat.  The second group missed a few turns and eventually hooked up with the other group.  They did not go through the flood waters but rode back to 300 and did a work around, the one I was going to do if I had seen them heading back my way.

No, Jeanette is right.  You can't prepare for everything.  I changed routes because of the flooding and because I have ridden this route twenty times without any hint of it flooding.  And it was an adventure.  I will remember this one, the one where the ride captain lost every rider that was in her charge.  I will remember the freezing cold water and the laughter that bubbled up within me and the weird feeling of exultation.  I later teased the guys who came in later about how they would have gotten home earlier if they had grown a set and crossed the waters.  I asked if they had hid from me. And for once my husband did not scold me for my recklessness.  He knows about my need for adventure and I have been good for awhile and not done anything too stupid.

Thanks to all who came for breakfast and those who came to ride.  Merry Christmas!  Hope to see you next year.   And I will try to prepare, but let's not out the adventure. 


Wednesday, November 26, 2014


"For in the dew of little things the heart 
finds its morning and is refreshed."
Khalil Gibran


An old riding friend  I no longer see on the rides I do and I have not heard from for quite some time  recently sent me these words to me in an e-mail saying that they made him think of me.  This friend has sent me other words that I hold dear to my heart, and yet again I must thank bicycling for it was through bicycling that we met. And friends like this, the ones who say those things that build you up, particularly when they arrive on a bad day as these did, are truly friends, welded by time and miles and experience. Even when paths part, the memories remain close whispering of the elusive yet ever present past. I can still hear him teasing me as we climbed a particularly difficult hill during one summer ride, both of us panting and grinning as we struggled to the top.  Sweat poured that day as the heat was intense.  The moment froze in my memory for future recall.  A good time.

Though I am not the best at engaging people being neither particularly engaging or beautiful or friendly and having a need for solitude, I have made many friends through bicycling. Distance cycling, particularly, I believe encourages this closeness because it involves time spent together, time talking and pedaling and sharing experiences.  Time conquering courses and weaknesses and challenges that routes and weather throw at you relentlessly and that weave the fabric of memory. Very rarely do I ride a set course, particularly alone but sometimes even with friends,  without encountering ghosts along the way, whispering, reminding, teasing me.  Some make me smile and some make me cry and some even make me angry, but they all make me feel, and to feel is to be alive. And we all know there is no going backward. 

During this time of counting our blessings and being grateful, I am thankful for bicycles, for the way riding makes me feel when the wind caresses my check and the way it makes me feel when the sweat stings my eyes.  I am thankful for the beauty God created in this world to give us fortitude against the ugliness that also exists.  I am grateful for the health that allows me to ride and a husband and family who understand my obsession and need for this and love me despite thinking I am "not quite right."   I am grateful for friends who send me words of encouragement that just happen to arrive on days when I feel less than good about myself.  

May you have wind in your hair and appreciate it,  new and old roads to ride and appreciate them, and may you have friends to share this with and appreciate them.  May you remember that every ending is also a beginning.  May you have the good sense to appreciate those who care about you and the good sense to tell them so.  May you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

"The pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No
Americans have been more impoverished than these who, 
nonetheless, set aside a day of Thanksgiving."
H. Westermayer