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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Carl's Maple Syrup Ride

Despite a cloudy sky and nippy weather, thirteen (not counting me) showed for today's Maple Syrup ride.  On the way to the ride and periodically throughout the day I thought about when I first put this route together.  Once that was completed, Grasshopper always co-captained it with me until a few years ago.  Everything changes I suppose, but there are those moments that remain in the memory so long as you are alive.  It is the moments we remember, pieces of rides and days.  And it is the people in many of those moments that tend to make them special, something to treasure when you are feeling alone and overwhelmed as we all do from time to time.  Such a shame that some of them drift away when we should cherish them more, but that is the way life is.  And just as we remember that they have meant something to us, I suppose they remember that we meant something to them.

As usual this time of year, I was unsure what to wear.  It was thirty two at the start, but the prediction was for a partially clearing sky and fifties.  I decide to go with my short sleeve base layer.  This would have been fine if it had actually gotten to fifty rather than staying overcast and cold the entire ride.  For once, I was not overdressed.  I can't really say I was cold except when we stopped, but I wished for my soft wool shirt that keeps me toasty even when wet. 

I am so glad to see new friends and old.  Some of them ride with me all years while others are harbingers of spring as much as the daffodils, crocuses, and snowdrops.  I think how I just noticed the daffodil leaves working their way up through the soil getting ready to decorate my yard, delighting my eyes with their brilliant yellows and whites.  I don't have as much luck here as I used to have as the soil is so poor, but I still manage to coax the daffodils and grow enough vegetables to put some away for the cold winter months.

Soon into the ride the front group is riding toward me:  the way is flooded by the recent rains.  This will make for a faster, easier day as we can go down State Road 31, but it will also mean more traffic, less scenery, and less chance to talk.  It is a strong group that has showed today.  Someone mentions that my post on the list serve scared people away.  That was not my intent, but I also wanted to be in before dark. 

I giggle as I hear Dave and Steve planning what beers they intend to take to Texas, but I am forced to admit I have bought wine to take along.  All year long, as much as I detest the drive, I look forward to a week of having nothing to do except ride my bicycle.  All year long I look forward to seeing those friends I see so rarely, normally only in Texas or on TOKYO. 

After the first store stop, Mark tells me it is colder.  I have not imagined it.  Not only is it not going to get into the fifties, but the temperature is dropping.  We are able to get back on course and soon the hills take care of any temperature problems.  Part of me wishes I had brought my fixed gear, but I could not have held the pace we ride this day. 

When we near the festival,  the smell of the cooking tree sap wafts through the forest on the downhill and my appetite sharpens.  I think that is one thing that I love about riding; it makes me hungry, really hungry.  It is not the hunger I have those days when I don't do much of anything but clean house or go to work.  It is hunger that signals the body really needs the food to do the work there is to be done.  We laugh as a van passes us and the children inside begin screaming as John's new nickname is the Vaccinator. 

I think of when I first found the festival on a solitary ride through the countryside.  I remember feeling blue and alone when I caught a faint hint of a melody on the air that was tinged with faint but enticing smell that I could not quite put my finger on.  Then I saw the sign and followed the arrow, finally arriving at what looked to be a homestead from the past.  Now I look forward to it every year.

Soon the pancakes are eaten and we are back on the road, the miles passing quickly.  We are done early, before 4:00.  Guess there will be some time to do some of the dreaded housework. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Kentucky 200K 2011

It is Friday night and tomorrow is the first of the Louisville Bicycle Club brevet series. As I check my bike to make sure that everything is functioning as it should, I think how very lucky I am to belong to a club where there is a place for everyone: the distance riders, the racers, the commuters, the Mad Pups, the slow spokes, and more. There are those that cycle 100 miles in a season and those that cycle 10,000 miles. There are those that love the hills and the snaking, rural roads and those that prefer the flats and the city. Every now and then there is the small minded, misguided individual who doesn't realize the intrinsic value of having such a diverse population, but that is so rare in the bicycling community as to be almost nonexistent. For that I am thankful, just as I am thankful for the support of Earl Jones and the executive committee when adding the brevet series to the club umbrella was first discussed.

I am wondrous at the weather. For so long every week-end has seemed to be filled with new snow or ice trapping me inside my home or into putting on my running shoes rather than my cycling shoes. Tomorrow it is to be as warm as an early spring day, and there is to be sunshine, bright beloved sunshine, to wash away the gray that has haunted the winter months, ghostlike, moaning at the cracks and crevices of my old house seeking entry into not only my home but my heart. Tomorrow I will see friends that roam the summer roads with me as well as those that I see only at events such as brevets. Tomorrow they will all gather together, doctors, engineers, social workers, lawyers, and every other profession, united by their love of the bike and the challenge of a hilly distance course.

While I won't need my lights for long with a start time of 7:00, they are required as is reflective gear consisting of a vest or a Sam Brown belt and ankle bands. I never can quite figure out exactly how I should dress, so I throw an assortment in my bag to take with me so I can judge the temperature at the start.

When I arrive at the starting point, there are forty six riders. Some of them I know and some I don't. It turns out that approximately twenty are locals. For many it is their first try at a brevet. I hope it is a wonderful experience for them and that they treasure it as most first accomplishments should be treasured. Chatter and nervous laughter permeate the early morning gray and there are hugs and hellos and introductions. So many different bikes and riders. So many different lights and bags that people bring to the ride. It is delightful to see two tandems: our own Jody and Steve and a couple from Ohio. Two riders have come from Canada to share the challenge and beauty of the Kentucky roads. There are riders from Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. There are a number of triathletes: John and Susan Pyron as well as Eleanor Wallace, an iron distance triathlete that is using this brevet to recover her form following an accident the previous year. John and Susan will not only complete the course in a bit over nine hours, but will complete and place in a triathlon the next day. I am amazed at the athletic abilities and ambitions of the people here. I think how very many fascinating people I have met through the bike club and through the brevets.

Scott Howes is parked next to me. There is my friend, Tim Carroll, who is riding the course fixed and hopes to attack PBP fixed. There is my friend, Tim Creamer, who I don't believe I have seen since somewhere in France on the way back from Brest when he was suffering severe knee pain. There are the speedsters like Todd Williams and Alex Meade (also a bicycle builder) who finish 130 mile course in seven hours and thirty nine minutes and there are the slower riders who finish near the time limit of thirteen hours and thirty minutes. Claudia Fritzinger is the first woman in, and I remember riding her first brevet with her a number of years ago, a brevet shared by my good buddy, Grasshopper. I think how nice it is to no longer be the only woman at these events. Today there are nine women. Each year it seems to grow. I think how wonderful it is to have events that are not races, but a challenge to the self: you against the course, 13.5 hours.

At the start of the brevet, I sign in, receive my brevet card and the cue sheet, and head outside to wait. If I successfully complete the course today, the card will eventually make its way to Paris and then back to me for my collection of mementos. One nice thing about the Kentucky brevet course is that the route is marked. Indeed, I will not use my cue sheet throughout the ride. This is thanks to Steve Royse and Bill Pustow who marked the course this year.

The ride is splendid with lots of climbing. Warmth begins to wrap itself around me, delicious and welcome, and every time I see a rider I know it seems they are dressed differently as layers are shed and varied. At one stop, Bill and I will laugh when we look and Dave has clothing spread out across the sidewalk while he tries to figure out how to carry it all without continuing to wear it. A friend and I decide to walk Oregon Road Hill on the steep park and are busted by Dave who takes a photo of our shame, but I have no shame. I know I can climb this hill. Indeed, I climbed it just the previous week-end, but today I am in no hurry. Strength will come and yes, it will take effort, but there is also time to walk now and then. I think how hard this hill is in the spring and how I can bounce up it in the summer with no thoughts of walking or using my triple. A song by Miley Cyrus comes to mind: “There's always gonna be another mountain,I'm always gonna wanna make it move, Always gonna be a uphill battle Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose, Ain't about how fast I get there, Ain't about what's waiting on the other side, It's the climb.”

While I would like to be in before dark and the return of colder air, I have all day. Today is dedicated to the vibration of the road, the company of friends, and the warmer weather. We moved quickly through the first control, but we decided to have a long, sit down lunch. I know we will see Mark Rouguex, you know the nice guy who climbs like a monster, mocking me with his big ring when I am struggling to turn the cranks in the middle ring, and whose last name I can't pronounce;-) Mark was nice enough to ride the week-end before and volunteer at the turn around. He woos me with Milky Ways, and today I give in despite the winter muffin top that plagues me more and more with age. Sometimes I wonder why I ever rush on rides when it is so nice to be out with friends on a bicycle with the sun on my face and the wind whispering her secrets in my ears, but then I remember the occasional exhilaration of pressing the pace until my lungs ache and my thighs beg for mercy. I remember feeling like Lance when I attacked a hill intent on conquering it. Oh, yeah, bicycling is so many different things even to the same rider.

Before I know it we are rolling into Shelbyville long before it seems 130 miles should be behind us. I know Susan Howell will be at the end manning the sign in. Another club member willing to give of her time to help others accomplish personal goals. I think how I have missed her company this year, for last year she completed the 200 and 300 K brevets with me. I have enjoyed the day, but I look forward to a hot shower and the scent of shampoo and soap wafting in the warm moist air. I will go home, shower, put on my pajamas, and savor this accomplishment. I will wonder if I will successfully complete the 300, 400, and 600 and what I will learn about myself and my friends either through my success or failure.