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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. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Off To Bethlehem

"Learn from the river the
art of moving on without
letting go."
Panana Reed

Other than an wasted week-end, I have been busy this week taking care of those fall chores that need to be done so that you can feel cozy and snug and prepared for the colder weather.  No, I did not get them all done, but I got done some of the ones I like the least:  cleaning the sump pump well and cleaning the culvert.  (I must admit I did enjoy using my new culvert cleaning tool).  The weather for this much needed vacation week is incredible:  warmer than normal, but not so hot that it is a struggle.  After thinking about where I would like to ride and not having planned out a new route, I decide to go to Bethlehem. I will make a few changes from the original route so that I can leave from my home.

As I ride, I can see that fall is gently nudging  summer, telling him that his turn is over and asking him politely to yield. Summer is a male month, demanding and hot.  When he refuses, immune to her wheedling, she will exert the full force of her power and inevitably she will win.  But for now, he stands his ground.  It is warm with a hint of the wind that awaits and makes riding so much more difficult.  There are clouds that come and go throughout the day.  The corn and soy beans retain no hint of green:  they are brown and dusty.  In a few places, farmers are beginning the harvest, jeans covered with dust, sweat dotting their brows that are furrowed with concentration and determination.  Wooly worms scatter the road like confetti and as always I wonder about their journey.  Where are they going?  They seem to be crossing the road from one corn field or soy bean field to another.  Is there some difference in fields that I can't see?  They aren't all going in the same direction, say north.  I smile to myself thinking, "Why did the chicken cross the road?"  Some things we humans are not privy to.  The only think I know is that it  happens every year and is a portent of the coming cold.

As I near Bethlehem, it becomes evident that it has rained here despite the zero percent rain chance predicted.  It is not yet so chilly that I have to worry about this.  While I may not be comfy if it rains on me, it is not dangerous.  I make a mental note to pack the garbage bag that I normally begin carrying this time of year for when I don't want to tote a rain jacket. I think of Joe Camp on this ride when it rained so, and the hardware store yellow rain jacket that he wore like a tutu. I also watch my speed on the descent with all its twists and turns.  Leaves, walnut, persimmons, and acorns litter the ground.  I think of how I used to harvest the black walnuts for my husband as he preferred them to the English walnuts.  I miss him so.  And I remember that this was the last century that I rode before he returned home to heaven.  And yet again, there are tears of sadness and gratefulness, an odd mix. I realize that rightly or wrongly I have moved on, but like the river, I have not and will not ever let go.  There will be new experiences for me, some pleasant and some not.  I may or may not fall in love again.  People will enter and leave my life, some for the better and some for the worse.  Despite my reluctance, I am moving forward.  And there is, for the most part, a smile on my face, and a bicycle that needs to go for a ride. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Good-bye to Watermelons and Hot Weather Rides

"The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart,
and not to be mentioned with the commoner things.
It is chief of this worlds luxuries, king by grace of
God of all the fruits of the earth.  When one has
tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.  It was not a 
Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because
she repented." 
Mark Twain

The first watermelon of the year is a time of great rejoicing for me.  Watermelon was the food I craved while pregnant, and none was to be found at that time of year.  Watermelon is one of my favorite hot weather pre-ride foods and one of my favorite recovery foods.  Quite often, it is my breakfast throughout much of the summer.  And the last watermelon of the year is a time of sorrow, if only because of what it signifies, for normally by the end of summer I am finally sated.  
This year the last watermelon of the year happened to coincide with the last hot century of the year:  Wheels of Screams.  I could not believe it Thursday when I saw a fruit stand that actually still had Jackson County melons, and I could not believe it Friday when I saw that despite the time of year, temperatures on Saturday were to top 90 degrees.  

I have only done this century once before, and I remember two things about it:  it drained me and there were the best Amish individual apple pies on this earth.  As with most rides that I have not ridden very often, I don't know if I remember being drained because it was an unusually hard course, I was out of shape at the time, or I just had a bad day.  Even after yesterday's ride, I still don't know.  

What I do know is that the ride is very hilly with lovely vistas.  The greens of the landscape so different that the fresh green of spring, still holding on but obviously with effort as autumn approaches and insists on taking her turn with the land. What I do know is that in the months to come I will miss this warmth and the cleansing sweat that summer rides encourage.  What I do know, is that the woman running the store had not made apple pies and so we left disappointed and empty handed, but perhaps a pound lighter. What I do know is that I will remember the time spent with Bob and Dave, and how Dave rushed out of the third store stop to accompany me in because he did not think it was safe for me to drag in alone and I needed to get back.  

One more TMD century ride, and then most of my friends will disappear for the late autumn, winter months like watermelon will have disappeared from fruit stands.   But they will reappear in the spring and early summer months and their absence will have made their very presence  more dear. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Last Vacation Day

"That old September feeling left over from school
days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, 
obligations gathering, books, and football in the air....
Another fall, another turned page: there was something
of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last
years mistakes had been wiped clean by summer."
Wallace Stagner

One more vacation day, I think as I arise, and there is so much work that I should be doing, but it "is" vacation and so I will not.  Instead, I will ride my bike.  I may do a century or I may not:  it is all dependent upon how I feel.  I slip out into a cool, morning where the high humidity is not yet a concern.  Just my bike and me.  Responsibilities be damned.  Sometimes there is a need inside to do what you want to do rather than what you should do, and today that need will be satiated, at least temporarily.  Yesterday, after my morning ride but prior to the afternoon time trial, I changed the oil in the lawn mower and cleaned the air filter, a chore that traditionally belonged to my husband and that I had put off far too long, but today, despite the long list of things that should be done, I am doing what I want to do.  

I decide that I will ride to Norman Station and have lunch at Jiggs.  If I am tired at the first store stop, I can turn around and make it a 50 miler, but I am beginning to feel more like myself though I still need to drop 10 extra pounds that I picked up during my down time when I hurt too badly to ride.  The sun is shining, the day is mine, and I am on my bicycle.  

When I reach Medora, the first store stop, there is a man at the register who is obviously high.  He is shaking so badly he can barely tie his shoes. He keeps glancing from side to side surreptitiously and I am reminded of the movie "The Exorcist" and think that it would not surprise me to see his head  swivel completely around. While he looks as if he once was an extremely good looking young man, he appears ancient despite his obvious youth.  The lady at the register is obviously frightened and calls for the store manager, but he leaves without incident.  I see him drive away and worry about who he might hurt, himself included, in a car.  But I really don't see anything I can do.  It is a small town, and I have never seen a hint of law enforcement on my trips through that town.  The woman at the check out are talking about all the town "crack heads" when I leave, and I am thankful that I did not go down that path because I easily might have.  Thank you, Dan Gorjanc, though I assume you long ago departed this earth, for your guidance when you were my college guidance counselor.  Both in the guidance office and in the class room you did your job:  you made me think. Odd how God sprinkles people in our paths.  Though I did not spring from his loins,  he cared at a time when my father did not, could not, and he wanted nothing, expected nothing in return. Family, it seems, is not always biological.

Despite stopping at Medora, something makes me stop at Leesburg as well, a feeling that Jiggs, like so many country stores and restaurants, might have gone belly up.  Years of experience has taught me not to depend upon these stores under challenging weather conditions.  Thank goodness I heed my gut, for the day grows progressively hotter and when I reach Norman Station, Jiggs is closed.  At least it has just changed its open days and hours, but I wonder what happened.  The owner was elderly, but a friendly sort, always welcoming.  Did he have a stroke, a heart attack?  I say a prayer for him and his family.  The older I get the more I realize how difficult old age is, not only for the person who is aging, but for his family who are gradually losing pieces of the person they love.  I am scared of getting old, and I renew my vow to myself to get back into better shape.  Goodness, a girl should be able to ride back to back centuries without blinking or a hint of tiredness, particularly at a slow pace. But injury combined with laziness has made me weak. I do not want to be dependent.  I know the day will probably come, but I steel my resolve to make it as far away as possible.

 I think of the small stores, nuggets of comfort in a beautiful but store barren land, particularly as I make the two water bottles I have last for nearly 50 miles, drinking them despite the fact they are as warm as the day.   I could say they are as warm as "piss" and be telling the truth.  There is  no enjoyment in the drinking, just the necessity of filling a need so as not to perish and to be able to continue to turn the pedals. I pass no churches where I could check for water spigots.

 Originally when I designed this route, we went to the 58 Cafe.  It closed after only a few trips there though I still have memories from when it was open.  For some reason, I see Mark in his chair, a big grin on his face, and I can almost feel the warmth of his laughter. How riding bonds us to others that we otherwise would have no connection to. We saw so many deer that day during our ride, but the hunters sitting in the restaurant were there empty handed.  I think of Medora. I used to stop at another store, now closed.  For a moment I am sitting there  in that then open store with Grasshopper, outside the snow is starting to fall, flakes as big as my fist, as I worry about how we will get back for with snowfall so furious the roads will soon be covered and we are on road bikes.  The inside of the store is warm, made warmer by the glow that old oak has, for this store was a wonder of aged oak, and made warmer by the company of a friend.  Someone once suggested it was an old hardware store originally.  And there are more, many more such stores, each with its own special character, not like the homogeneous 7-11 or Speedway, etc. Commiskey, two stores down, one store left to go. Each a remnant of the past.  Each a way station on my journeys and explorations, a source of comfort and nourishment and a part of my cycling experience.

Soon I am at the gravel hill climb, but as I make my way, my rear wheel slips and turns sideways, unable to find purchase.  Before I know it, I am on my side on the ground, laughing like a wild woman, gravel digging at me,  one foot still clipped in.  I am not hurt, just covered with grit and a bit bruised, including my ego.  I think that I  should have ridden my other bike as it is designed for this terrain and wonder why I didn't.  Or perhaps I am just too weak.  Just the other day I was wondering if I could still climb Fire Tower Hill on  my bike. But I don't think it would have happened on the Surly. Sometimes I just don't make good choices. Oh, well, if you are going to ride bicycles, you are going to tumble.  Any fall that you walk away from, that is a good fall. And if you are going to live, you are going to occasionally make poor choices.  That is how we learn.

 I still  know it is a good choice to ride today though by the time I reach Brownstown, I am out of water and very, very thirsty.  There is something out here that I need occasionally, the green landscapes, the solitude, and the time to think. Deprived I can become quite contrary. I smile and think of the times Lloyd said to me, "Uh, perhaps you need to go for a ride." When I ask for water with my sandwich, the lady takes one look at me and says, "You look like you could use our large glass."  I feel like a camel as I down glass after glass of cold water seeped in ice.......cold, beautiful, refreshing ice.  It is if I can feel my strength returning for the final twenty some miles and the one final climb. Again I realize how experiences are sometimes enhanced by deprivation. 

 I am home, tired but strangely refreshed.  My eyes have had their share of beauty today and my body is sated from physical exercise, exercise that will make it grow stronger. Exercise that will hopefully make me sleep tonight like a child, deeply and soundly.   Vacation is over for now.  I have more planned in October if nothing interferes, before the winter chill, when the world glows with color that we must cherish and hold tightly for a few months before the cycle begins all over. I have no regrets that chores remain undone, maybe because they never STAY done.  And after all, retirement is just a few years down the road.  "To everything there is a season."  Today's season is for bicycling, despite the heat and closed stores. And now to appreciate a cleansing shower.  God bless the people who thought of running water.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Solo Century

"If we never experience the chill of a dark winter,
it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth
of a bright summer's day.  Nothing stimulates our 
appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation
caused by sadness or desperation.  In order to complete
our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn
each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and 
find the blessing in every curse."
Anthon St. Maarten

I am excited.  I have been positively giddy with anticipation of the holiday week-end with an added bonus of a vacation day all week.  I have a date:  a date with my bicycle and the open road.  Originally the question was not whether to ride or not, but whether to ride the club ride or head off on my own.  In the end, I find I do not want the four to five hour drive to and from the club century.  It just is too far for one ride. I debated getting a room and staying all night and riding by myself the next day, but it is too late to arrange a cat sitter. I decide to ride from home.  I have a century route that needs some finishing touches before being presented, and it is always best to do this alone.  With company, I get distracted.  Don't get me wrong, the distraction is nice sometimes, but to appreciate the company of other riders I find I am often better having some solo miles in the saddle. 

The weather is perfect.  Not so chilly in the morning as to require a jacket or an uncomfortable half hour or so of riding, but crisp.  I know that fall promises to stealthily make her appearance all too soon, that golden time when the world lights with color before slipping into a cold, drear silence.  The inexorable high humidity that has haunted this summer has broken and the dew point has dropped.  I have nothing to that "has" to be done, and I feel a need to nurse at nature's verdant bosom before the green fades.  Experience has taught me how very much I will need it, this green world, when the weather turns and I am imprisoned indoors. And today I have no need to leave at a certain time or to return at a certain time.

While it feels a bit sacrilegious, I am beginning to have some appreciation for the single life, and later during the ride I spend part of my time contemplating how very fortunate I am to not "need" to have a partner for financial reasons.    I will never be fabulously wealthy, but then I don't need to be, though I must admit that already I have a yearning for yet another new bike.  All I need is to be able to care for myself, and I don't have to have fancy things.  Even another bike:  it is not a need, merely a want.  There is a huge difference.  I briefly think of the time my husband threatened to buy everything on my Amazon wish list for me.  I finally got him to understand that it is more fun to get something when you have wanted it for a bit. 

I drink my coffee and play a few word games before readying myself and my bike.  I have not restocked tubes, tire, and cartridges since Raney's six flat day though she has repaid me the items.  Since I would have to enlist a friend for help if I should have trouble, I try to take everything that I would need for minor repairs.

  One nice thing about summer riding:  the preparation is normally minimal and the days are long.  I don't hit the road until about 8:30, and that is fine.  There is more than enough day light for the 104 miles.  Soon, though, I will need to put my emergency light on my bike for while it still stays light fairly late, each day is shorter.

The day is filled with dodging farm machinery.  I am not quite sure what the scurrying is all about because the corn and soybeans are not yet ready for harvesting, but I assume they need to make sure everything is in order.  I pass a truck loaded with hay bales, square bales, not the round ones you normally see anymore.  Three young men sit in the back of the truck, legs dangling, as the truck heads to the barn.  For a moment, I am with them for I remember putting up hay, the sweet smell of alfalfa and timothy, cut and warming in the sun, the scratches that I did not realize I had until the end of the day when I washed the sweat from my body and examined my aches and pains.  The prayers that it would not rain and that the hay was dry enough that it would not mold when baled. Those were good days, days I would not have had without my husband.

And the day is filled with memories of him.  I pass the church we visited when my father-in-law  preached one Sunday.  I pass Reed's orchard where we picked so many peaches, the drone of the wasps on the fallen fruit, the juice that only comes from a fresh peach, not the green imitations sold in supermarkets. I pass the area where we went to dance and drink when we first met and where the waitress said she did not have to card him, only me, because she had seen his identification the night before.  (I always told him he was lucky he was with me the night before.)  And while the memories are tinged with sadness, they also bring a smile as I realize how very fortunate I have been.

I notice that purple flowers are starting to bloom, that the corn is starting to brown and wither, starting at the outer edges and moving inward.  I notice the first of the wooly worms and think of what I overheard an elderly man telling another during a lunch time walk:  "It is going to be a bad winter this year, a hard winter," he said."The almanac says so and I saw a wooly worm that was completely black."  I hope he is wrong, but regardless, I will survive.  I pass a house that is beautiful on the outside, old bicycles, wagons, and I think how the people living there have created a home.  Looking at it, it feels cozy.  I wonder if that translates to the inside, but of course you cannot knock on the door of a strange home and ask for a showing.

As I descend into Bethlehem, I notice how technical the descent is on this road where we normally climb and don't descend.  Odd how when you are climbing, you don't notice as many switch backs.  And then there is the river.  A tug boat pushes a load of coal as tug boats have for years. As I climb out I notice that despite the lack of humidity, it has gotten hot, but it feels good to sweat.  It feels good to feel my muscles strain and challenge themselves and grow stronger.  And it feels good to be alive and on a bicycle.

 Yes, winter will come, but first there is fall.  And all the seasons, all the feelings, all the experiences, are what gives life its very richness.  And through it all, until my legs are no longer able to push the pedals, there are bicycles.