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Saturday, May 23, 2015

"It is good to have friends who understand that there is a time
for crying and a time for laughing, and that sometimes the two
are very close together."
Lois Lowry

Today was the my Story Century, a century to a quaint spot that is kind of in the middle of nowhere with no really good way to get there.  I adore the middle of the century, but the first and last have too much flat farm land for my taste.  I endure the flat fields for the middle of the ride which has some rolling hills,  low traffic, and tree lined roads with new scenery.  

When I scheduled the century, I did not realize I scheduled it on a holiday, and I thoroughly expect Story to be overflowing with horses, riders, motorcycles,  and tourists  when we arrive.   People can deal with it.  I warned people prior to the ride, prior their arriving, as well as warning them of gravel roads and possible detours.  Perhaps this was not the wisest thing, as when I get to the start there are only three others who have come to ride, all of whom are normally faster than me but are really faster than me at the present moment:  Jason Willis, Matt Tinal, and Steve Rice.  I also find that for some weird reason, I scheduled the start time at 7:00 a.m.  I never start rides at 7:00 a.m. unless there is a really good reason to start them that early like extra distance.  But oh well, they are nice about my lateness and it gave Steve Rice time to get there before we start as he had e-mailed to leave a cue sheet as he was running late.  There was a time when making this mistake would have mortified me and I would have been very embarrassed, but today I take it in stride.  I am determined to be kind to myself this year.  I am glad they are following suit.  I still am not up to par, but I am moving forward out of the rut I have existed in for what seems like forever.

My husband, my love, is gone.  There is nothing I can do to change that fact. Perhaps the greatest gift I can give him is to become more compassionate and more understanding, not only of others, but of myself. Perhaps the greatest gift I can give him is to live what is left of my own life well because we never know what life will hand us. There are no do overs.  One friend told me shortly after my love's death that he was glad I  posted Lloyd's picture from when we were younger on Facebook because he had only known him after the constant pain and illness had sucked so much life out of him making him old way before his time.  And there was that, but he was a very private person, difficult to know.  And in the end, looks are transient.  What is important is the inside of a person. I decide to learn from this, or as my mother used to say, "Make hay while the sun shines."  Rain comes, sometimes unexpectedly. 

At the start of the ride, the clouds lightly scatter the sky, but the weather person has said they will clear for a lovely afternoon.  And they do trail away, almost without my noticing, leaving a pale blue sky and brilliant sunshine in their wake.  While we are not burning the roads up, we are doing a decent pace and nobody seems to be miserable.  It is not long before I am cursing my jacket wishing I had been bolder about the morning chill.  I tell all of them to feel free to ride off, that I do not expect them to wait for me.  I have my camera and I know the way.  But we do most of the ride together.  I even make  it through most of the hills in the middle of the ride with them though I feel quite certain they are modifying their pace to accommodate mine.  One thing about riding a bicycle:  you can always slow your pace some, though for many it is difficult and they do not enjoy a ride if they have to do this, but you can only increase your pace so much unless you want to bonk mid-ride.  It is inevitably hardest on the slower person.

We reach the first store stop only to find that like so many small country stores, it has gone out of business.  Luckily, because I am thirsty and have not been drinking,  a few miles up the road is a second store that was a control during the Indiana 300K last year.   We stop briefly, and head on.  While I had thought that perhaps the holiday week-end would bring traffic, thus far the traffic has been light.  It actually remains that way the entire ride other than a short stretch when we near Brownstown.

It is during this middle part of the ride, my favorite part due to the green lushness, that I ask about lunch.  I like to eat in Story, but I don't want to hold everyone up.  The food there has always been superb, but  the service is normally slow.  Matt tells me that Jason does not normally eat lunch on a ride, and Jason tells me that because of this Matt has brought "pocket chicken."  We briefly puzzle about what this is thinking that it almost sounds like something "dirty" when suddenly, Steve suggests that Matt has found, intentionally or unintentionally, his Mad Dog name, and I realize that I am laughing, really laughing, and it feels splendid.  And I laugh even harder when he stops for a bathroom break and says he is going to drain his pocket chicken. "She suddenly found herself laughing without bitterness."  (L.M Montgomery).  I think briefly of how Lloyd made me laugh with those crazy sayings of his and I think that was a big part of why I fell in love with him.  His humor was so similar to my own, a rather odd type of humor per my children.  And I am not bitter at the memory.  Yes, there is still longing, regret that we only had thirty five years together,  but this laughter is good and filling and somehow healing.  And perhaps I am no kinder than I was before, because Matt does not like his new nickname, but still the laughter peals from me making it  hard to breath as I pedal up the hill.  And I realize it has been quite some time since I have laughed like this.  And I am thankful for friends that bring brightness into what had become a dark world.  And I am thankful for friends that do not make me feel that I should not laugh as it has only been five months since my husband passed, but laugh with me.

When we reach Story, the line is short outside, and we actually get our food more quickly than we normally do on rides.  The barbecue looks good and Jason decides to eat.  And it IS good, though a tad sloppy: all my food there has been delicious. Matt does not get a sandwich, and I refrain from asking if has has eaten his pocket chicken;-)  But he patiently sits with us while we eat.  Briefly I think that I would probably ride much faster if I watched my diet as closely as Jason and Matt watch theirs, and not just because I would be skinnier.  Perhaps another day.

And. as rides do, the ride ends and people leave.  I begin to suffer leg cramps about ten miles out from the end, but I am pleased to have made it that far without cramping up as I just have not been riding as I normally do and I have ridden as hard as I could most of the day.  I laugh as I clean up after the ride because both legs cramp in the thighs when I try to get out of the bath tub.  What if I can't get out?  I no longer have Lloyd to save me from the silly things I do to myself. And for a moment, I am on the verge of crying, because laughing and crying are, as Lois notes, close together. And I am worn out.  But I manage.  And each time I manage an obstacle without his help or advice, I become a bit more confident.

I am lonely, something I have only really realized or admitted to myself in the past few weeks, and I wish I could share the days happenings with someone as I did with Lloyd when he was alive, and so I share them with you if you are interested.  If you are not, you quit reading this or never started.  And I hope your day was as pleasant as mine has been, despite the leg cramps and exhaustion. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"Grief is like an ocean; it comes on
waves ebbing and flowing.  Sometimes
the water is calm and sometimes it is overwhelming.
All we can do is learn to swim."
Vicki Harrison
It is time to move along and finally I feel that I can do this.  Yes, there will be future times of despair, when I think of giving up my cycling, sitting on the couch, and doing nothing.  But life is too precious and too short:  to remain anchored by grief is almost sacrilegious, a rejection of this most precious gift, almost a slap in the face to the creator.  It is easier said than done, this letting go, but it is a necessity.  And it is not a rejection of what we were and what we had but an affirmation.  Life awaits with all her twists, turns, and surprises, and perhaps there are still some good things in store for me.  And I do have memories. 

These are the thoughts that run through my brain during a solitary after work ride that I forced myself out on.  No, I still don't have the eagerness back, that longing for work to end so I can explore and dream, but I am better able to make myself go out.  I am walking during work breaks again and even at times during my lunch hour. Inevitably, I sleep better and feel better even if my bike sometimes still must hold me as I cry.  But while I still cry  I also am learning to grin again, as shaky as the first steps of a child. Like a child, I will fall on my rear, but I will learn and that is what our journey here is about. 

The petals of tulip poplars confetti the earth on Eden Road, telling the story of the big winds that swept through the area recently.  Spring flowers still show in places, shyly announcing that winter has relinquished her cold reign.  And while it will not happen this year,  my strokes are still tentative and floundering at times, laced with regret, guilt, and longing, they are becoming stronger and more sure. There are other years and other brevets and new people to meet and ride with.  Yes, I have some regrets of missing PBP this year, but I am weaker on the bike and internally than I have been in years and so, for me, I believe it was the best decision.  But there are other years and other rides and I am not so very old.  I will learn to swim.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ana: The Little Cat Nobody Wanted: An open letter

"Until one has loved an animal,
a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
Anatole France

 My Dear Little Ana,

I remember when someone dropped you off next door the day the trash is picked up, you and the black kitten/cat.  I say kitten/cat because you were half grown.  Your brother ran from me.  You were in a tree and would not come down.  "Not my problem" I thought, knowing I already had a houseful of cats.  

The next day you were both gone, and frankly,  I was glad.  I hoped  you found shelter and food and someone to love you, but again, it was not my problem.  Then a couple of days later, as I went into the shed, there you were looking up at me from Rocky's old winter bed.  You would not allow me near you, and as I went to get food, you disappeared, that magnificent tail waving behind you .  But  I left the food as I can't stand for anyone to go hungry.  

It was gone.  This dance went on for a few days before you allowed me to touch you.  You began to listen for me, to peek out from under the shed, your hiding place, and finally you let me touch you.  Once we became friends, you could not get enough of me, wanting to come in the house, wanting to be petted, and always talking to me.  I contacted the cat shelter hoping that that they would take you if for no other reason than Lloyd's memorial donations went there.  But no, they would not guarantee acceptance.  So I began the search for a home for you.

I decided that perhaps if I had you spayed, someone would adopt you to avoid the adoption fee and vaccination fees.  By now it was becoming a chore to keep you out of the house, but I could not bring you in and risk infecting the other cats that are my responsibility.  Perhaps I should have taken that chance, perhaps you would still be here if I had been a little less protective or a little more giving, but I did not. 

Because I was concerned about not being able to regulate what you ate outside, I made arrangements for you to go to the vet's the night before your surgery.  When I took you in, the woman at the desk tried to convince me that I wanted to keep you.  I explained that I already had three cats, that when you have one cat, nobody thinks anything of it.  Two cats, well she likes cats.  Three cats, well she REALLY likes cats.  Four cats and you become the crazy cat lady.  And cats are expensive, particularly as they age.  So, my sweet, I denied you, but please believe that in my heart unless I had found you a good inside home, you would have lived here.  And you were loved regardless. 

You were scared when I took you to the vet, but not like my other cats.  You hopped out of the carrier talking to me all the while.  I heard a slight meow when they drew blood to check for feline leukemia, and I rejoiced when I heard that it was negative.  Assuring you it would be okay, I left.  Oh, Ana, I did not know I was lying.  

When I picked you up the next day, I knew the surgery had been harder on you that the other cats I have had spayed.  The vet pulled me in rather than just sending her home and said you were bleeding some from the incision and that she had re-glued the incision.  She then put you in a body bandage telling me to leave it on a few hours and asked to see her the next day.  She also told me of their emergency service is  there would be problems, but failed to tell me it closed at 11 or midnight.  

When I got ready for bed, I took your bandage off.  I was surprised you were not walking around as the other cats had done, but you did eat a bit.  There was some blood. As you know, I checked on your hourly throughout the night, but saw no improvement.  When I saw blood I called the emergency service that was closed.  I then called the emergency service in Louisville.  The vet was kind and said I could bring you, but he warned that it would be very expensive, estimating at least five hundred dollars.  He said you would probably be fine until morning.   You laid in the cat bed until I found you in the litter box following  a bowel movement.  Litter had dried in the blood that was oozing.  I thought I might do more harm than good cleaning it off due to infection risks and it was only an hour or two until the  office opened, so I waited.

When I took you in, they said they would have to open you back up and try to find where you were bleeding.  Again, I deserted you there.  Please believe me that it was only because I had to.  At the time, they said they were not sure you would make it.  "Please, God," I prayed, "Don't let me lose my little Ana or have to make another decision as I just did with my husband."  But God did not listen or did not care.  He had other plans for you I suppose.

 They called after your surgery saying you came through but were still not doing well.  The vet said either you had a clotting disorder or you had eaten rat poison or caught a mouse that had eaten rat poison.  Again, had I brought you in, if it was rat poison, I could have saved you.  But I did not.  So while I will never know which it was, I ask your forgiveness if I played my part in killing you before your time.   My daughter says that animals don't hold grudges, that this is one of the lessons that they teach us, and perhaps she is right, but still Ana, I ask your forgiveness.

The vet assistant called later than evening saying you were not doing so well and saying that they could continue to give you fluids, or we could take you to Louisville and try a blood transfusion.  Louisville has full time awake staff, and they do not. When she called to check the cost, it was going to run about $1,500.00.  I should have sent you, but I didn't.  One lesson I have yet to learn that my husband knew so well is that money is only paper. Things are only things.  Spirits are special and more valuable than either.   Every time we pick paper or things over a spirit, we damage our own spirit. The assistant said she would make a special trip back in to check on you at 11:00 and call me.  

My daughter came up as I felt I knew what the decision would be.  My son and his wife offered to pay for your transfusion.  All knew how this was taking me backwards to the loss of Lloyd.  It was also going to mean another surgery, however, and there was still the possibility that you would not make it. So, Ana, rightly or wrongly I declined.  And honestly, I could have paid for it.  I did not need their money.  I just have an abhorrence at the thought of being dependent so am careful with money.  Again, I scar my soul.  My daughter also offers to pay, and I know she does not have the money.  It  shames me.  But it also warms me knowing what kind and giving children I was blessed with.

 When the vet assistant called later that evening, Tiff and I went in.  I was amazed at how you already knew my voice, my smell, and that little meow, my little vocal sweetie.  It broke my heart to see you laying there, unable to move.  Still I can't help but think you were comforted.  Odd, that the betrayer should seem to bring you some solace.  When the assistant pointed out your breathing had quickened, you were panting, you were anemic, and your body temperature was dropping she recommended putting you to sleep and I agreed.  

Today I buried you wrapped in the green blanket that was my son's when he was a baby, your little body as light as a kitten.  I had grabbed the blanket out of the cedar chest that holds memories thinking it would be warmer than a towel when I took you back the day following your spaying.  And today I  hope it keeps you warm on your trip to heaven.  I have asked Lloyd and the other pets that I have lost to guide you and keep you safe, safer than I was able to.

Ana, I hope I did the right thing and made the right decision.  If not, I apologize.  I apologize for not keeping you safe and warm and fed and loved.  I apologize for telling you it would be alright when it was not alright.   But Ana, I am only human and not as wise as you and your kind.  

Good night, sweet little Ana.  I am amazed at the depth of my feelings for you in such a short time period.  You played a role, however painful, in keeping my soul awakened.  I don't regret meeting you and your gentle spirit, but I do regret the shortness of our time together.  Sleep well. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bethlehem Century on a Spring Day

"Good friends help you to find important things
when you have lost them.....
your smile, your hope, and your courage."
Doe Zantamata

It has been raining, dark, and dreary for what seems to be an eternity and I have not gotten back into my regular habit of riding after getting home from work.  But this week-end Saturday is predicted to be gorgeous, sunny and warm, before returning to the gloomy gray that has bathed every nook and cranny of Kentuckiana recently.  If the old adage about April showers is true, then May should be absolutely teeming with flowers.  I briefly pity the ride captain because I feel sure that I am not the only slothful person who has been unable to drag themselves out the door and thus is woefully out of shape. This is also a difficult ride for me because it is the route I had to cancel in December the day after my husband's stroke. Bethlehem, a route I put together years ago and normally have in December so that Christmas cards to friends and loved ones have the Bethlehem postage stamp.  I toy with staying home, but know that however difficult it is I must look forward.  How I wish I were brave.  Sometimes I still think of myself as feeling like an animal in a trap must feel when it chews off a limb to become free:  I miss him so much that I would do almost anything to escape that pain.  But unlike the animal, I know there is no true freedom there through drugs, alcohol, suicide.

I wish I could say that my faith is so strong that I never doubt that I will be reunited with him in heaven, but it is not.  I just am not as strong as he was.  I believe, but I question.  He never seemed to do so.  I still talk with him in my mind, and sometimes I can almost hear his answer, but it is not the same.  The thought of never seeing him again, of never hearing the sound of his voice, of never seeing him smile, is almost unbearable.  How I miss his humor and how he made me laugh.  I would have married him on that basis alone.  But there is no other viable choice, so I try to focus my thoughts on being grateful.  I am a mother and despite the fact my children are grown, I continue to believe that they learn from me and that I must set a good example.  One foot in front of the other. As my mother always said, "This too shall pass."  And death and dealing with it is just part of the human condition.

Today is also the Kentucky 400K, but I have decided Paris Brest Paris is definitely out for me this year.  While there is a part of me that regrets this decision, that knows that my husband would be disappointed in this decision, it is the decision I have made for various reasons, rightly or wrongly.  Too much money to spend when I am unsure if I will enjoy it and with things so unsettled emotionally and financially. Too much planning and thinking when I am not on top of my game. Recently a friend noted that I don't deal well with uncertainty. There is truth in that observation, but seldom in my life has everything been as unsettled and uncertain as it is now.  At least now my not going is a certainty and perhaps I will not overly question my decision and I will be at peace.  I have not qualified and I have requested my refund from Des Perres. 

So there is no need in doing the 400.  Indeed, there is no desire to do the 400K.  Briefly  I wonder if that too has been taken from me or if, in time, the desire will return again.  I realize, however, that it can only be taken from me if I allow that to happen.  Some days it is just hard to get out of bed. I long for him in dreams and still he does not come and things are the same when consciousness rudely invades my sleep.  I am broken and he cannot fix me as he did in the past with his words and his caresses.  I find I have no regret about not having to get up early and riding the brevet other than missing those early morning hours on the bike in the cool, soothing darkness just before the sun comes up, when the day coyly promises and beckons and the world is mysterious and full of possibilities. 

I am surprised at the number of riders at the Forestry when I arrive.  With "Thunder Over Louisville," a local fireworks display, being later this evening and the traffic it will cause, I expect a small turn out.  But I am wrong.  Larry, "Gizmo,"  has his drone up photographing the ride start.  It is the first time I have seen  a drone and initially it startles me until Lucky tells me what it is.  Nancy generously gives me a Mad Dog coffee mug saying she has them made for the women that rode last  year. I briefly think of  how kind people have been, and how loss has given me a new perspective.  I hope that I can become kinder, less judgmental, more compassionate, that I learn from my experience. After briefly chattering with friends, some of whom I have not seen for quite awhile, Troy, the ride captain, gathers everyone around and then we are on our way, wheels spinning and colorful jerseys brightening the roadway.

Despite my rather gloomy attitude, I try to smile and make conversation with friends, and I find that I am interested in what they have to say.  So much has happened since I have had a chance to visit with some of them.  Joe is nice enough to compliment my writing and this blog, and his attempts to make me feel better cause me to find my smile, however temporarily. And gradually I do feel better, more like old self.  Spring has truly arrived and the red bud trees are brilliant  their color lacing and intertwining with the green promise on nearby trees.  Wildflowers line the road in places.  Fields remain empty as of yet, but they begin to show the promise of the coming planting of crops.   I can almost feel the frustration of local gardeners and farmers longing for it to quit raining long enough to do their work. I momentarily puzzle whether I will plant anything this year. I find myself caught up in the beauty, in the rebirth that is spring.  

Lucky is riding his fixed gear, so I ride much of the day with him.  We talk about the spring and about the brilliant greeness this  year. Despite not seeing him often for a number of years, it is like coming home, this riding with a friend that I have spent so much time with in the past.  We briefly reminisce about the first Tour De Mad Dog and conclude that while it is a much larger group now and the dynamics have changed due to the increase in members, it is still a group of very nice people.  And I find hope  in the thought that change does not mean that everything is lost, that nothing will ever again will ever be quite the same, but that different does not necessarily mean bad.  And I find my courage in that hope.

Like so many rides on a pleasant spring day that are shared rides with friends, this ride ends all too quickly and I do my extra lap around the forestry to get my 100 miles.  Life goes on relentless whether we take his hand or get dragged kicking and screaming.  Things happen and we  cope the best we can.  But how much easier everything is with a bicycle and some friends.  Thanks, everyone.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Texas Hell Week 2015

"I'm still recalling things you said to make 
me feel alright, I carried them with me today.

Now I lay me down to sleep 
This I pray,
That you will hold me dear
Though I'm far away 
I'll whisper your name up to the sky
And I will wake up happy."
Sophie Hawkins

I have had trouble making up my mind whether or not I should go to Hell Week this year.  My friends that do not live nearby to my home and that I normally get to see at least a time or two while in Texas are not going this year.  I am fat and out of shape.  And I am depressed. The air seems to have gained viscosity and to have become thick and gelatinous: each movement, each decision, is an effort requiring more than it seems possible to give.  Not all the time, thank goodness,  but still more of the time than I would like to admit.  Even my thought processes are slow and unwieldy. What if I lose it in front of people the way I sometimes do when I am alone? It is always so much worse crying in front of others for some reason, those naked, rasping sobs that come from so deep within laying you bare, bleeding, and exposed.  And to be on the other end is just as hard, to hear grief that you cannot allay or ease, even with a stranger, no less with a friend or loved one.  Such helplessness on the part of both because some things can't be changed and some feelings must be felt.  There are no "do-overs" with death, that "undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns."  (Shakespeare)  Things left unsaid remain unsaid and things not done remain undone.

People seem to think that three months have passed and I should be over the loss, over the 35 years we would have been married in February.  Or maybe I think that is what they are feeling and thinking.  Or maybe I myself think I should be over it.  As my mother always said, "There is no use crying over spilled milk." While the grief is still intense, it is less frequent and passes more quickly.   I don't cry as often, but I still cry and have little control over the when or how hard.

 Or perhaps it is just that it makes us so uncomfortable, the thought of death, the reminder of our own mortality, or worse, the thought of the loss of all that we hold dear and being the survivor and facing mortality alone without the person that has shared our life, the person that has sheltered us from the storms.  Sometimes the words of "Puff, the Magic Dragon," ( Peter, Paul, and Mary) come to my mind.  "Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave."  Can I be brave on my own? This question is yet to be answered.  But I know that life is out there, and that I hope can be a better person, albeit a difference person, by weathering this storm. And I know that rightly or wrongly my grief is far from over.  Still, you move on because that is what people do, because there really is no other choice. At least, no other healthy choice. 

The only thing that seems to help other than the passage of time are the words that the grief therapist tells me, that the feelings I have are  normal, that not sleeping is normal, that losing my memory is normal, that making bad decisions or failing to make any decision is normal.  It is normal that at times I clutch his  pillow or his wool cap  to my face breathing in the remaining scent of him, that smell of comfort and love,  that smell that is gradually fading and will become naught but a memory. And that slowly, I will return to being, not the person I was before, but perhaps a better person, more compassionate and understanding, wiser.  Life tempers us whether we like it or not. There is a comfort in being normal, something I have too often been accused of not being.   And yes, I do occasionally smile with more than my lips now despite the brevity of the time.

I waiver one way and then the other, finally deciding it will be good for me to go, and reminding myself that I still am responsible for the choices I make, that I should not feel guilty about those choices.  So I head to Louisville on Thursday afternoon to meet at Dave King's house, our yearly meeting place.  When I arrive, Dave gives me a big bear hug with that big, silly grin on his face, and yet again I realize how I miss friendly physical contact and I realize that I made the right decision, the healing decision in coming. I also realize yet again what a splendid person Dave is. Indeed, I knew it all along but was unsure if I could motivate myself.  I know that my husband would approve, that he would scold me for ever daring to think that I might not go.  Steve Rice arrives, the van is picked up and loaded, and we are on the road. 

I do hate the drive to Texas.  It is not so bad now that I have a Kindle, but it is still long and boring and the small, cramped sitting place in the back makes my knees ache.  But I am grateful to Dave and Steve for driving me and try my best never to make them wait or to complain or to ask to stop. I love them both for their generosity.  To thank them, I have taken to bringing small treat bags with me, but it is small potatoes compared to the driving they do down and back.  This year lots of people from the Louisville area are going:  Steve Rice, Dave King, Bill Pustow, Mark Rougeux, Amelia Dauer, Mike Crawford, Kirk Roggencamp, Kathy Hill, and Lise Andreason.  All of them are people I like and admire:  good riders and just nice folk.

We arrive and check in at our motel.  Shortly thereafter, we head to registration where we run into some of the others that we know.  We chat briefly, but everyone is tired from the trip. And then it is out to eat at the Enchanted Inn, our traditional first night eating establishment,  and back to try to sleep.  It is the last truly good night of sleep I will get until returning to my own bed where I can reach over when I awaken in the night confident that Tom will be there, unfailingly in the same spot on the bed each night,  my faithful furry companion. Tom is not a particularly attractive cat:  I adopted him because I feared nobody else would.  But Tom is Tom and has a wonderful personality.  Even grown he reminds me of Tom Sawyer, the character he was named after.  But in my eyes he is quite the handsome fellow. Lucy and Liz jump in and out of bed throughout the night, and occupy different spots or vacate the bed, but Tom is almost always in the same place each night, loyal.  I like that he is there and I am not alone. I like the rumbling that emanates from deep within his furry body; it comforts me. He is a nuisance, but I love him just the same.

The first ride of Hell Week this year is the LBJ Ramble and I set off with Steve, Mark, Dave, and Bill thoroughly intending to ride a century.  It is like coming home.  Every year I am bowled over by how very beautiful it is in the Texas hill country in the spring, a very different beauty than Kentucky or Southern Indiana.  Even the dead trees, bowed over, reminding me of old people who have seen much of the world and have shouldered more than their share of her burdens, are beautiful with their twisting, gnarled branches in varying shades of brown. A hint of green seeps through the landscape amidst the rocky terrain, doomed to never truly reach fruition but  lovely just the same. And I find that despite my mourning, I am glad that I am back.  I find myself smiling and occasionally laughing and actually interested in some things. I even sing a bit. Why do I always forget how lovely it is here in the spring?  How it makes my heart somersault and cartwheel. 

Early in the ride, following Mark's flat, we  run into Johnny Betrand who I have not seen since PBP 2011, and we are able to have lunch with him. When I see Johnny, I think of riding through a tiny French village during the 2007 PBP.  I am alone in the dark in an unknown land inhabited by those whose language I do not speak and feeling rather small and alone when I hear the soothing sound of whistling only to find Johnny is the whistler, the one speaking the universal language that is music, and I am comforted, for it was cold and lonely there on the road at times despite the large number of cyclists.

 After lunch, we head back out on the road. Steve and I have an informal competition each year over (a.) who rides the most actual centuries and (b.)who has the most cumulative Hell Week mileage.  Normally we split the victory with my usually having the most centuries but Steve having the most miles.  Last year I won both.  This year he will wind up doing the same.  I still have every intention of finishing the century,   but it is just so pleasant riding and being warm and talking with Bill, one of my favorite riding companions due to his pace, his humor, his sage advice, and his stories,  that we miss a turn and end up with a shorter ride.  I contemplate heading back out, but oddly enough I am ready to stop while the day was fun. I have determined not to push myself, but merely to try to enjoy myself and savor the company and the scenery.

The following day, we all ride the century ride to Camp Verde.  Mark particularly amazes me as he is approximately six weeks out from open heart surgery.  Talk about a non-wimp.  His bravery and endurance shame me.  But this is a hard day for me, the three month anniversary since the passing of my love.  Mark's surgery fixed his heart.  My experience took part of mine away.  I wonder if I will experience this on the 15th of every month, or if over time I will forget, not that he is gone, not that I loved him with all my heart and soul, but that this particular day was the day he flew away.  Last night, as each month prior, I woke at the time of his death as surely as if I had set an alarm clock.  Dates have never bound me as they seem to do some other people so perhaps it will pass.  I find myself riding off the front or falling behind, seeking where ever I can find privacy, great sobs racking my body, closing my throat, naked and despairing in a way I have not cried for quite some time now.

At the first store stop, I get to meet some of the other Big Dogs:  Larry Ides, Connie Mann,  and Joe Mann.  I try to smile and be friendly, but this is just one of those days where I feel like I am empty inside, a hollow shell going through the motions of living without really being alive.  I later apologize and they say they understand, and I hope they do.  They seem to be kind people.  From his posts that I have seen on Facebook, Larry seems to have a wicked sense of humor and it shows in his eyes, and it does not seem to be the cynical, cruel humor but the good kind.  It has always been difficult for me to meet new people, and today more so than normal.  At the mention of the Appalachian Adventure piece, I almost break down in front of everyone.  How I wish Lloyd had gotten to read it before he passed.  Overly proud of myself, I had wanted to save it until he could see it in print, but by then it was too late.  Yes, pride often does go before a fall. Despite my doubts, however, I do know that he knew how very much I loved him and that he was always proud of me and my meager accomlishments.

 I miss the clerk  that is normally there at this store, the one who for some reason has insisted upon telling me her life history, a rather sad life history.  Once when I questioned why people often seem to do this to me, to lay themselves bare when I don't really know them, my husband  said that people do this to me because, "They sense that you are essentially a kind person."  And all day I try to hold this and the other nice things he has said about me and to me as I struggle within and beat myself up over whether I could have prevented his death, whether a different diet or different medications could have prevented his stroke, whether I should have noticed something was wrong more quickly, whether I should have insisted on feeding tubes and the things he always told me he didn't want.  Thank goodness we had the good sense to talk about these issues prior to his passing.  Because I don't feel kind.  And I don't feel good.  And I don't feel brave. And I don't feel strong. The Sophie Hawkins song floats through my brain over and over in rhythm with my bicycle. I am determined to remember the good things he said to me, the loving the things, the strengths that he saw or said that he saw.  I am determined to move forward.

Normally in Texas, we ride, eat, and sleep, but because there are friends there, after the ride we clean up and then we gather at the house Lise, Amelia, and Mike rented to be treated to drinks and snacks.  There is some laughter and the telling of some stories before our departure to prepare for the 200K brevet.  I try to be there in the present, but I keep slipping backwards and inwards despite the lively conversation.

On Monday, yet again I am the only female at the brevet.  I am standing with the others when someone I don't know comes up and says he wants to ride with me because he wants to ride slowly.  "Excuse me," I think but don't say, "I don't know you."  Perhaps he does not mean it the way I take it as I don't like being out of shape and overweight, but I find it rather offensive that he considers me slow without knowing me and suddenly I am quite angry.  Normally I find speed on a bicycle to be vastly overrated.  I remember rides where I rode quite quickly, and I enjoyed many of them, but many of my favorites rides were the slow, chatty rides with close friends where we meandered and shared memories and stories and laughter. Now I may be slow, but unless he is faster than the friends I ride with, I'll drop him today.  And I do.  I start the ride with Mark, but when he turns back as he is not feeling well, I ride hard thinking I will be riding by myself and I would like to be in before darkness drapes the land.  Instead I catch the man who insulted me, pass him and his companion, and catch my friends at the first control and complete the ride with them.  I do not see the name caller again.  And perhaps I am over-reacting.  Probably I am overreacting.  I am not quite myself yet, or maybe stress makes the true ourselves show and I am just not a very nice person.  But it just seemed like walking up to a stranger and telling them they are ugly or fat or stupid.  Had he phrased it differently asking what pace I intended to keep, it would have been better because I really had no compulsion to hurry.  And brevets are supposed to be about companionship, not speed.

After leaving Mark but before catching Steve and Dave, I come about as close to being hit by a car as I have ever come before.  There are no cars in either direction, but a car pulls out from the opposite side of the ride going in my direction and the driver obviously does not see me.  I literally scream in fright as she passes within inches,swerving when she notices me, then waving over and over in apology.  A month or so before my husband had his stroke, he  told me that  he did not know if it was possible, but that if it was he would continue to look after me when he died.  Perhaps it is his angel hands and angel wings that swerve the car at the last second.  If nothing else, my brush with my own mortality helped me come to a big realization:  despite his loss, I am not ready to die. Yet again I commit myself to moving forward.  Yes again I have trouble visualizing what that looks like for me.

It is just so very difficult to imagine my life in the future because so much centered around our relationship.  Everything has been an adjustment, meals, cooking, household chores.  I don't want to be alone the rest of my life.  Indeed my husband told me I was too  young to be alone if he should die, but the thought of intimacy with another leaves me rather nauseous. I might not have been the best wife, but I was always a faithful wife.

I am disappointed at the first control that the taco stand bordering the river is closed again.  It is my favorite part of  this brevet and has been one of my favorite things in Texas.  We have ridden there numerous times just to get tacos.  But last year they started closing during the winter and this year is no different.  Stone Henge and Easter Island also have moved since the first time I bicycled these roads.  Briefly I am with Dave on that long ago 300K, remembering my amazement when I look to my left and see the Stone Henge replica.  We saw our first wild boar, dead, at the side of the road that year.  And I remember the glorious descent to Vanderpohl and the long climb back, the peculiar beauty of a church in that stretch, and the hum of our wheels on the long climb to Mountain Home. As we pass Mountain Home, I remember another ride where Dick Rauh, hot and exhausted, sat only to get up quickly after finding he was sitting on top of a fire ant hill. 

We finish the brevet at a reasonable hour and I think I will finally sleep, but at 5:00 a.m. I am still awake finally drifting off only to have the hotel fire alarm go off at approximately 6:00 a.m. So much for taking a day off.  Someone had burned toast in the toaster.  The young man minding the motel is obviously disconcerted, but  I point out to him, some of us are just glad it was a false alarm and our bicycles are not going to be burned to a crisp.  Momentarily I wonder about the melting point of titanium.   I decide to ride and just turn around if I am tired.  And we ride the shorter route to Lukenbach. This is particularly nice as we finish in time to eat at Cranky Frank's, one of my favorites.

 Prior to arriving at Lukenbach, however, Steve and Mark forge ahead leaving Bill and I to follow.  We stop to take photos and Bill moves ahead.  As I prepare to ride and catch him, I notice my leg.  To this day I have no idea how I did it, but I have managed to get cow dung up the inside of my lower leg all the way up to my knee.  It strikes me as funny as it is so me, and I laugh so hard my bike shakes.  Laughing hysterically, I ride hard and catch Bill telling him to look at my leg.  Initially, for some unknown reason, (maybe because I always have grease on me) he thinks it is grease.  When he finds it is cow dung, he christens me with a new Mad Dog nick name, "Shitty" dog.  I wash it off with a water bottle and a cotton glove and ride on to Lukenbach where Bill is able to show a photo to the guys.

 The next day Bill and I decide to ride over to Waring for one of their famous hamburgers.  Normally, we head over to Bandera and do either the Death Ride or the Brush With Death, both favorites, but Steve and Dave are doing the 300K, rain was predicted, and this just seemed easier.  I am fairly certain I will not go to PBP this year, and I have little desire to go anywhere, particularly until the medical bill mess I am in the midst of is settled.

Both of us like the route to Waring, the climb up to Old Number 9 from both directions, and our lunch companion, a white turkey who would not share our food, only seeming to want our company. I don't know that I have ever been quite so close to a turkey before, and inside the store we laugh when he gobbles loudly scaring another rider and making him jump.  He later does the same to me and it is still funny. I do feel a bit of sympathy for Bill as I talk his ear off.  I realize that without Lloyd to share things with, I am lonely at times. Just another thing I miss, the way he would listen to me.  Not that I didn't sometimes get the "yes, dear," treatment, but often he was actually interested in what I was thinking, feeling, or saying.

And then, all too soon and ,ironically, not soon enough it is Thursday.  Steve asks if I am okay with leaving on Friday instead of Saturday since the prediction is for a heavy rain, and it sounds okay with me.  The "special weather statement" concerns me. I am glad I came, but for some reason I have not slept and I have had periods of intense homesickness.  I ask if we can ride Kendalia rather than the scheduled ride.  I like the Kendalia route, and what other route passes dinosaur footprints.  Bill does not ride with us today, and he does not believe in the tracks, but I have seen them with my own eyes.  Mark, Dave, Steve, and I head out, but Mark and Dave turn around at Sisterdale after a drink and snack.  While the store is not officially "open," the woman is working and allows us in to get something.

On the route, we run into everyone that has come from Kentucky despite not planning it and it not being the "route of the day."  We end the ride with Amelia, Lise, and Mike.  Steve has ridden strongly all day despite his 300K the previous day.  I mention that it has been the best weather we have had for Hell Week in a number of years, and it was.

And then it is home again, home again, jiggity jig.   A long drive with my husband no longer telling me he is holding down the couch waiting for me when I ask what he is up to.  But then life is about change.  And it is good to be home and in my own little bed.  And I sleep knowing that one day, I'll wake up happy.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Kentucky 200K Brevet 2015

"We experience a discomfort that may be foreign
to others, but that pain opens up a world of beauty."
Craig Thompson

It is frigidly cold and has been, temperatures ranging 20 degrees below normal for this time of year per the news weather people.  Indeed, one day last week, the temperature was 15 degrees BELOW zero when I left for work.  And while tomorrow is not predicted to be that cold, it is supposed to be in the teens at the start.  Where is spring and what foreign world have I been transported into where gray and snow seem to be eternal and without surcease?
I debate whether to face the cold and ride or to grab a bottle of wine, stay home, cry and feel sorry for myself, and burrow more deeply into my grief.  Sometimes the only way out is to go further down first.  A feeling must be fully felt and experienced in order to be freed.  Burial is a stopgap leaving worms festering that will break free or warp. And it will be my wedding anniversary the day of the 200K.  Lastly, I am leaning toward not going to PBP as it seems a shame to spend that much money on something that I might not yet be able to enjoy.  In other words, I have no real, compelling reason to ride and face the cold.
A melancholy grin crosses my face as I remember how my husband tried to trick me into marrying him on February 29th  the year we wed. The night before we married, he stayed up all night after getting home from work installing new carpet as my mother was going to see our home for the first time.  I decide to wait and see how I feel in the morning before making up my mind.  As my grief therapist has pointed out, I can always start the ride and turn around at any time. She reminds me that nobody can tell me how long or how to grieve or what the right way to grieve is because no shoe fits every foot and there is no right way.  I just know that I am exhausted most of the time and that every day seems to be an effort, and I don't expect tomorrow to be any different.  She assures me that there will once again come a day when I will spring out of bed with anticipation, to give myself time.

I decide not to clean my bike as with the melting snow and ice it will only get dirty again, but I grease the chain and put on one of the tail lights I got for Christmas.  I decide not to use the hub generator as I hope to finish well before dark, but I add a couple of smaller headlamps just in case.  One never knows, and I am certainly out of shape and have put on a lot of weight since December.  I check to make sure I have my reflective gear and pack all sorts of winter gear in case I change my mind about what to wear when I get there. Once in bed, I remember that I have not packed Vaseline to grease my face for protection from the cold.  I know that I will be sorry if I forget it, but I just can't wrest myself out of the warm cocoon to go find and pack it. 

As it turns out, I awaken early and can't fall back asleep, so I decide to head out.  I remember to find and place the Vaseline in my bag. It is in the teens at the start, and while I decide to dispense with my wool long johns, I have layers on top to where I feel like a finger push might topple me over. Twenty riders are registered for the ride, nineteen of them men.  Of the twenty, four do not show.  Of the sixteen left, three DNF.  So, out of twenty people, only seven have the good sense not to spend the entire day out in the frigid cold riding a bicycle because of God only knows what psychological aberration or need.

Because of the cold, there is little of the normal pre-ride parking lot conversation whispering through the air.  A few hellos are exchanged, but not much other than that.  But there are head lights and tail lights and the clicks of derailleurs during those last minute checks.  And all too soon, or perhaps with the cold, not soon enough, we are off.  My hands tingle and I hope I don't spend the whole day in discomfort, but there you are.  When you put on weight and don't ride your bike and you add that it is COLD, can you expect not to be uncomfortable?  But soon the rhythm and the gentle exercise warms me.

During the first of the ride, or actually throughout the ride, I must admit that I keep asking myself why I am out here.  I wish I could tell you that I enjoyed this ride, that I didn't cry at times throughout the ride, that  memories did not rise up and threaten to overwhelm me when I rode alone or even when I rode with others.  I wish I could tell you that I did not consider turning around at or before the first control and particularly right after the first control following the descent on Devil's Hollow where the wind took advantage of every nook and cranny gaining entrances in unexpected places and chilling me to the very bone.  I can't.  But I can tell you that despite the hellishness of the descent, it was strikingly beautiful with icicles lining the sides of the descent and snow intensifying the stark outlines of the branches of the trees on the hillside.  And I can tell you that I finished with Tony, Tim, and Scott dragging me along the last of the ride, particularly on the hills when each additional pound means additional seconds and additional effort.  And I can tell you that parts of the route and the snow covered terrain were beautiful, breathtakingly so. Pain does, indeed, open a world of beauty at times.

And the weather, while cold, is a gift in this accomplishment as well.  There is wind, but not a strong wind.  There is not a great deal of temperature variation so there is  no need for additional stops to add and subtract layers.   This is not an "epic" ride as so many of the Kentucky brevets have been:  no rain, sleet, hail, and strong wind.  It is merely cold, and you can dress for cold if you spend the money and have the right gear. 

 But despite the fact that this was not an "epic" ride, it was a painful ride due to my poor conditioning. And I will remember this ride. I will remember this brevet because for me I think it was a good choice, one of many and one of few in a long line of the choices that determine the course that our lives take.  And I will remember the kindness of those that could have ridden off and gotten out of the cold earlier, who I urged to ride on more than once but didn't, but rather stayed and kept me company, even engendering a few smiles that were made with more than my lips.  I will remember the warmth of a hug by a friend at the end of the ride, a comfort that I really miss.  Thanks to everyone who made this  happen and helped me through this most difficult of days.  

Now as to the 300K, it is looking doubtful, but who knows.  Like childbirth, the pain of a brevet tends to diminish in the mind with the passage of time until only the accomplishment of completion remains. 

"No one is useless in this world who lightens
the burdens of another."  Charles Dickens

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