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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bethlehem

It is time for the traditional Bethlehem Century. And yes, to be traditional it appears there will be rain. It always makes me think of the original trek to Bethlehem to pay taxes. I really don't think the holy family rode along in a Mercedes, BMW, or Cadillac staying at the Hilton along the way. I suspect they were probably exhausted, dirty, cold, and disheartened. It always me make me downplay any discomfort from the ride as minor.....after all it is only 100 miles. Not that there is a similarity between our group and the holy family.

And of course it makes me think of other trips to Bethlehem. Once the Subway lady blessed us with sandwich gloves to add additional warmth to our fingers after mopping up puddles the size of the Atlantic Ocean, all without complaint. I can see Jeff "Lucky" dog trying to ride quickly to drop a dog that happened to be able to match our pace for five or six miles, a smile on his face (the dog's face) the entire time. Another time my daughter had to sag a few in. (This service is no longer available so please don't depend on a ride home from my family). I believe it was on Bethlehem that Carla "Stormy" got her Mad Dog Name. Oh, yeah, good times. It is peculiar how we remember those rides that challenge us or where the unusual happens the best.

Thanks to Mike Upsall who checked and says Bethlehem Post Officer remains open at the time. We may make our own history being the last to be able to mail postcards from that sleepy little town. Who knows what 2013 will bring: more jobs, less jobs, or different jobs.

Unless it is a downpour or there is lightening and it appears to be unusually dangerous, I will not cancel if anyone shows up that wants to ride. That being said, please stay home if you don't like riding in rain or are afraid to ride in rain. This can be a difficult ride. I suspect I will be the chubby anchor, but then I know my way and nobody is responsible for sweeping my sorry rear end.

I do ask that for the safety of the group and myself that you be able to maintain a 15 mph moving average. Daylight continues to recede more rapidly, particularly on an overcast day, and rain quite often means a plethora of flat tires.

"Come out and play!" Puddle 

The above was posted to the Kylistserve prior to the ride.  It is hard to believe a year has passed since I last mailed my Christmas cards from Bethlehem.  As I get older, time seems to go more quickly, but then I think of all that has happened in 2012 and realize the changes that a year can bring and a year does not seem so short.  Some of the changes were good, some were bad, and some were neutral, but through them all I have tried to maintain my dignity through both happy endings and sad endings.  It is hard to realize how little we really control, but we can control how we respond, and the strongest emotions and responses are saved for those closest to me and that I trust to handle them gently.  This year, yet again, I learned that "fair" comes once a year when the carnival comes to town.  We all know that life is not fair and never will be.  Perhaps that is why I have a great appreciation for people that I feel do their best to be fair.  But that is, indeed, another story.

I thought it might be the last year for the December Bethlehem  ride, at least with mailing post cards,  but per Mike the post office is open. Such a small post office in such an out of the way place, it puts an emphasis on how the world has changed. I really debate canceling the ride when I read that it would be rainy, but when I asked there were others who wanted to ride and so I was  in.  After all, it was only supposed to be rainy, not particularly cold and rainy.  And in the end, it are those rides that challenge us the most that we remember the best.  "The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.  What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value."  (Thomas Paine).  In the past, this ride has, on occasion, been a real challenge, and I do remember bits and pieces and the satisfying feeling of completion despite those challenges.

Only a few show for the ride,  Perry Finley, Steve Rice, and Mark Rougeux, but that is enough.   Bill is still not riding and Dave has suffered an injury and is off the bike.  Mike Upsall, who has been riding with us recently, is busy with holiday plans as is John Larson. I know that each of these riders is strong and capable of riding if the weather worsens.  Despite predictions, there is just a light mist in the air, really not worthy of being called a drizzle.  The forestry is deserted except for those that showed to ride, and the lack of chatter from the surrounding forest and people enjoying the park  tells me that winter, however mild, is upon us.  

I think how this will be my last century for December as my  young ones are coming home for the holidays.  I think how I have ridden a century every month of every year since November 2003 and how fortunate I have been for my health to allow this.  I think how glad I am to have people to ride with and how much easier it is to keep the century challenge when there are others, particularly in winter.  And I thank Dave Parker in my mind for maintaining a web site that encourages the century challenge and gets me out the door each month.  But this day does not qualify as winter despite the calendar.  Yes, there are wet roads and some mist, but the temperatures are warm and the wind never seems to get too rough. 

Wheels turn and we are out of the parking lot and on our way.  There is laughter and the telling of a few jokes and stories, and always there is the sound of the road.  Worms fly up covering our bicycles.  While it would be better if they were food for birds or served a useful purpose with so many drawn to the road by the rain, there is no way to avoid them, they are just a part of riding a bike during certain types of weather.  They are also part of cleaning a bike after a rain, and following the ride I will wipe down my bike despite the cooler weather having learned from those times I was too weary or lazy to do so and found the difficulty of cleaning dried worms from metal;-)

When we reach Bethlehem, Perry and I proudly pull out our plastic wrapped Christmas cards and deposit them in the mailbox as the post office itself is closed.  After all, Mike checked and the post office has not yet been shut down.  And it hasn't, but it is closed until they hire a new Post Master and the unread sign on the door asks you not to deposit mail in the mailbox but to take it to New Washington.  Just as we read this and our grins turn to grimaces of despair on how to retrieve the cards, a postal worker drives by delivering mail.  I stop her and ask if we can get our cards back, and she assures me she will empty the box and see that they get mailed and have a Bethlehem stamp.  Whew!  Serendipity strikes again.  During the ride Steve reminds me that there is a Bethlehem, Kentucky and it has a post office if this Bethlehem is closed next year, and I remember that endings can be new beginnings. 

Part of each ride is, of course, deciding where to eat lunch.  The traditional stop on this ride is Subway, but we decide to eat at the Deputy store.  It should be open as it is Saturday, and the last time we ate there the sandwiches were especially good AND we got to see Santa Claus, or at least Steve got to see Santa Claus, or at least Steve SAYS he got to see Santa Claus;-) This year, no Santa Claus, but the sandwiches were good.  My feet are the only part of me that is cold, and I have brought an extra pair of wool socks in a baggie so while we are there I switch them out.  My feet are toasty the rest of the ride. Perry has brought his own sandwich and rides ahead finishing the ride on his own. 

And the ride ends quickly.  I bid everyone goodbye and a Merry Christmas as I won't see them until 2013,  then I ride the extra distance to make it a true century.   "And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year!"







Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thoughts on a Morning Commute

"Don't get hit," my husband says as I walk out the door for my commute, a gentle reminder that I am loved that will hug me tightly filling me with an inner warmth for a few moments.  Despite the fact that he is not comfortable with my commuting when it is no longer light in the mornings he has helped as I  put the lights that guided me through PBP 2007 back on my Trek to light my way through the early morning darkness that comes with the shortening days heralding winter.  Red lights blinking, I cautiously head toward town and the east.  Morning coolness surrounds me and despite the fact that it is August and will be ablaze with warmth later this day, I briefly shiver, my arms covered with goosebumps. I think of how I would like to be headed somewhere other than work, of how I would much rather go exploring, but responsibility corrals my longings and I try to appreciate the fact that I have work to head toward:  not everyone these days is so fortunate.  There is a comfort in knowing that my labor is expected and needed, and that I will be recompensed in more ways than the small financial benefit I reap.  Still, the world would be a happier place if there were no need for a child welfare worker.  But this world will never be safe from people who don't realize the greatness of the gift they are given when they are blessed with children.

Fog covers the earth like a blanket, a gossamery silver that shimmers in the light thrown by my head lamps.  In the east, blushing rose pink the morning shyly kisses the shoulders of earth's horizon, stunning beautiful and full of promise.  The sounds of morning, while not the joyful, raucous sounds of spring time, still permeate the air:  not yet the dead silence that is winter.  Passing a corn field, I hear the sounds of the dry leaves shuddering at the passing of a gentle breeze, and I think that soon it will be harvest, at least for those whose corn bore fruit despite the drought.  Being a gardener, I have experienced first hand the disappointment of hard work that bears no fruit.  But perhaps that is what makes those times that we harvest that much sweeter.  I think of the jars of canned tomatoes on my basement shelf waiting for winter to bring the warmth of summer back for the tiniest moment to the dinner table. 

After my husband's open heart surgery, my canned tomatoes were the only thing that tasted good to him for the longest time, and I am never comfortable going into a winter without them, a talisman against the bad things that happen to us.  Last year I did not can as I had no garden, but despite the drought this years planting bore fruit and I took the time to capture it.  Lines of jars bursting with bright redness line my cellar walls.  I think that it is these little things that I will miss if I outlive him, something entirely possible with the age difference, these acts of love.  I can tomatoes that I rarely eat and he puts lights on bicycles that he will never ride. 

All too soon I arrive and it is time to put such thoughts behind me.  Tomorrow I will have to drive because of the days plans, but today is just a bit better than it would have been otherwise as I watched the world awakening.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Marengo Mangler

This is what I posted on line prior to the century ride on July 4th, 2012:

July 4th Century: The Mangler

01 Jul 2012 6:22 PM | Melissa Hall
Like Kirk, I am not canceling my Wednesday ride, the Mangler, unless there is active lightening.  Unlike Kirk's ride, however, the Mangler is "a hard ass club ride." This ride has more climbing than the Crestwood Killer and most of it is during the first 1/2 of the ride.   I rode 104.8 miles today on a relatively easy course, so this is how it is going to be on Wednesday:

1.  If you normally ride a 7-8 hour century including stops, I suggest you plan on 9.5 to 10.5 hours on Wednesday or riding ahead of the ride captain. I am fine if you drop me.  Since I designed this route, I can find my way home.  If you haven't been completing a regular club century in 7-8 hours including stop time, you have no business showing up at the ride.  Come out another day when it is cooler and you have picked up your speed a bit.

2.  I reserve the right to call the ride at the first store stop turning it into a 50 miler if people are feeling badly.  That being said, I will ask if anyone wants to take over as ride captain before calling the ride and turning around.  I expect to hear no whining that you drove all the way to Memphis to the start if I turn people around and you don't volunteer to take over.  You have been warned.  Besides that, I excel at whining and I doubt you can outdo me in this area.
3.  What I found today was that I stopped at every store that was open and hydrated.  They weren't long stops, just long enough to down a drink.  I intend to ride that way Wednesday. That being said, I can only think of a couple of additional places where stores MAY be available on Wednesday.
4.  I occasionally walked a tough hill that I would normally climb and I also stopped and rested at the top of a couple of climbs. Yet again, I intend to do this Wednesday if I feel like it. Lolling in the grass can be extremely pleasant.  Getting back on the bike can be extremely tough.
5.  You can ride ahead if you would like, but I am riding at a reasonable pace where my tongue is not hanging out of the side of my mouth and my breathing does not sound like that of a obscene phone caller.
6.  Two water bottles will not be enough. Bring more or a camel back.  Remember the need for salt.
7.  Consider bringing a tube sock to make an ice sock for your neck.
8.  I will ask any rider who appears to be not prepared not to ride.  You should have been acclimating by riding shorter, hilly rides in the heat.  I have never told a rider they could not ride before on a club ride, but it the right of a ride captain to do it.  This includes cutting you lose if necessary or asking you to turn around if you start and appear unable to complete the ride safely.
9.  There is no sag service.  If you have any doubts as to your ability to finish, and you are wise if you do, have a back up plan for someone to sag you in.
__________________________________________________________________________

When I scheduled the Marengo Mangler for July 4th I expected it to be hot, but I certainly didn't expect predicted temperatures to exceed 100 degrees.  When we did this century the prior year, there were five of us and I was asked to schedule it again on the same day due to our enjoyment of the 4th of July celebration in Pekin as we passed through, but the heat keeps everyone in that group away other than Steve "Meat" Dog Meredith. And there you have it, the ride is on the schedule and it is supposed to be around 100 degrees with a feel like temperature of 105 degrees combined with poor air quality.   I am concerned about who might show up and even my own ability to deal with this extreme heat.  I question whether I should cancel. Instead I am very blunt in my posts about the ride in an attempt to deter the unprepared.  I rode a century in this heat three days prior by myself to evaluate and to equip myself to advise, but it is different when the decision is only for oneself. Most of the climbing in this ride happens in the first fifty miles, but it is so very hot and it is a LOT of climbing. The evening before the ride I read up on heat exhaustion and how to treat it.

Three other people show up for the ride and I decide to continue to the first store stop and see how everyone is doing before making the decision whether or not to continue or turn around. I know two of them through the LBC, Steve Meredith and Ford Barr, and the other I remember completing this ride as a 200K (Dave Fleming), and today's course, while challenging, does not come near to the difficulty of the 200K course. I have to trust that each knows their abilities and their response to the heat.  I have seen strong riders wither and become broken, sick, and weakened by heat, unable to continue or complete a course that they normally would have no trouble with completing.  I, myself, have been broken by heat and humidity before, left wondering if I would ever reach the ride end alive and undamaged.  Bonking is a pretty miserable feeling no matter what causes it.  It just takes all of the starch out of the spine.

I have brought a map in case one person makes the decision to turn around early and is comfortable doing so alone.  I ask everyone please to let me know if they are feeling like they need to rest or walk a hill or stop,  not to "suck it up" and go on.  I think men have more of a tendency to do this period and more so when a woman is captaining a ride, but perhaps that is a sexist perception on my part. There are times to fight against feeling poorly and times not to fight against it but give in and evaluate your options.   If it is mental fatigue, it is safe to resist the temptation to give in.  If it is physical, it becomes much more complicated.  Will pushing yourself result in injury or physical improvement?  Are you able to tell the difference between the pain signals your body is giving to you?  Are you blunting those perceptions with Ibuprofen or other pain maskers?  And while I believe in personal responsibility and decision making, something that seems to have disappeared in this country where law suits run rampant and have become like winning the lottery, I know I will feel responsible if one of these riders suffers a heat related illness despite the fact they are adults making the decision to ride in difficult conditions on an exacting course.

I decide to break LBC tradition and start the ride at 8:10 a.m. as I don't believe anyone else will show.  For those of you who don't ride with the club, the club has this silly tradition of starting a ride fifteen minutes after the scheduled start.  Yes, I know:  stupid but true. It is just one of those things you put up with due to tradition. Frankly, I was not sure anyone would show and I can't say with any certainty that I would have ridden the entire course today by myself if nobody had shown.  It is an odd things how much easier rides can be when one has company. And I say this despite my penchant for solo rides that leave me time to reflect.   I leave a cue sheet with a cell phone number and a written note to call me and I will wait up the road.  I do not receive a call and cue sheet remains on my car when I return later that afternoon.

The first climb is Bartle's Knob.  I have already decided to ride easily, and I slide down into my triple.  I remain glad that I insisted on a triple when I ordered this bike.  Yes, I have made the climb in the past with no problem with a double and will do so again, but not today.  Today will be stressful enough and is about survival.  When I bought my bike, Lynn tried to convince me to get a compact double.  I have repeatedly been glad that I did not give in to this suggestion.  Despite the fact I rarely use it, it is nice to have it there at the end of a long brevet or on a day such as today when I am trying to get a ride in without undue stress on my body. A hill is much different at four or five hundred miles than it is at ten or a hundred miles. I think for a bit of Steve Sexton and his secret of the triple:  "not to use it."  And then I think of Greg Smith who says why have it if you don't use it and that using it could extend riding life of the knees.  I pick the middle ground.  I try not to use the triple enough to significantly weaken me, but I also try to use it when it is prudent to do so.  I also think how I miss seeing both of these friends.

 Near the top of the climb I begin to see the storm damage from the tornado that devastated Henryville a few months ago. The Knobstone Trailhead is closed at the north entrance on the climb.  Large trees, mercilessly uprooted, are on their sides with roots exposed in a way that makes these giants seem feeble and exposed, ripped out the ground by the wind as weeds are when I weed the garden.   In my heart I mourn their passing, these fallen sentinels, and thank them for the beauty they have given me in the past. Despite the months that have passed, throughout the ride we will pass isolated areas of devastation:  houses without roofs, wind wrecked automobiles, debris.  Still there are the unaffected areas of beauty, and despite the tornado damage and the drought this is a beautiful ride.  Queen Anne's Lace lines the roads along with the occasional patch of Black Eyed Susans.  At the top of Bartle's Knob, there is a clearing where you can look out for miles.  I point it out to the others.  I worry about Steve's patience as I know he is capable of a much faster pace, particularly on climbs, but he says he is going to stay with the group and he is patient and graces us with his company all day.


Before I realize it, we are at the first store stop in Palmyra.  I remember coming here a few years for some 5K runs.  I still have the tee shirts, memories carefully folded in dresser drawers.  Steve's daughter works in the store.  The four of us sit and decide to continue onward rather than turn around.   Once again I ask them to promise me that they will not wait until they are in trouble with the heat before asking for a rest stop. 

I think of the many people who have experienced this ride with me.  Grasshopper was the first one  I shared this route with, and I remember looking at Depot Hill and asking myself what I had done.  I remember being with a group when I had a flat and a cat climbed me like a tree.  And I remember Larry's comment that he didn't think I would hear about the cat smelling pussy.  I remember lolling in the grass underneath a shade tree while Dave King fixed a flat tire.  I remember Perry Finley looking out on the hills to ride on Poplar Avenue and saying, "Holy Shit." I remember the look on Bill Pustow's face when we stopped for lunch at Tina's and he looked at his GPS and saw the amount of climbing we had done in only fifty miles and I teased him that we were now getting to the hard part of the ride. And I could go on.  Perhaps that is why I enjoy repeating courses at least yearly, these precious recollections of times spent with friends. Some of them remain close friends, some of them are friends but without the closeness we once shared, and others no longer ride at all and are lost to me except in my memories. Life changes despite our best efforts to resist. 

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.  ~From the television show The Wonder Years

Before we get to Depot Hill, we make an extra store stop.  Riding brevets has left me with little patience for long store stops, but I reign in my impatience knowing it is best not to press if I  want to get everyone in safely.  I think of the Alabama song, "All I really got to do is live and die, but I'm in a hurry and don't know why."  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6slibTD9MF0  I have nothing crucial to me causing me to need to finish particularly early.  And I am glad that everyone appears to be happy staying in a group.  Most of my favorite rides are those with small groups where everyone pretty much stays together and shares the day and the roads.  It is starting to warm up and Steve reveals that the temperature has gone up 10 degrees in the 10 miles since we left Palmyra.  It is only about ten miles until lunch, no longer at the delicious Tina's, but now at Van's Country Table.

I am surprised to find that while Depot Hill has deteriorated on the downhill into mostly gravel, the uphill has been paved. This doesn't seem like a road that would merit repaving through high usage. It is just there. Steve teases me about my saying it is paved and looks like gravel and he is right, there is now more gravel than pavement on the descent, the first part of the road.  Nobody complains.  I think of Roger Bradford during the Challenge Series and how he appreciated the photo I took of the climb.  I think of Steve Rice hitting the dog on the head with his pump when it came out after us half way up the climb.  And with these memories, I once again smile knowing that I am making new memories today to bring on future rides.  Yes, in the picture the tiny dots are people, people on bicycles;-)



After lunch we head toward Pekin and the third store stop.  After not too many miles, however, Ford begins to have some trouble with the heat and asks to stop.  I am grateful that he listened to me earlier and hopeful we can stem the problem before it becomes debilitating causing a DNF. Steve is very familiar with this area and tells me there is a store that may be open in four miles.  Ford says he can make it that far, and so we continue to ride.  I am glad Steve knew where the store was because I would never have guessed there would be a store there.  It is off the main road, and then off on another side road.  The only thing that has  probably salvaged it at all is the connecting bar, but neither the bar nor the store are open at this time of day on the fourth.  There are, however, soda pop machines.  I put money in the pop machine and greedily begin to drink the ice cold soda not realizing until I am half done that this was the last pop in any of the machines.  I give what is left to Ford.  Steve says his sister lives near here and we head that way to use her hose.  When we get there, I suggest not only soaking heads and filling water bottles, but wetting the arm pits since what I read the previous evening about heat diseases said to cool those areas first.  I follow my own suggestion and I am amazed at the difference a wet jersey can make.  Later we pass over a bridge and I think of stopping and swimming, but I don't know these men as well as I know my normal companions, so I ride onward.

We stop again immediately before and after Shorts Corner Road, an annoying road that has no flat areas.  There are no major climbs on the road, but it is one roller after another and none of them are the fun kind where you have enough momentum to push you all or most of the way up the other side.  In Pekin signs of the fourth celebration are everywhere:  cars that have been decorated for the parade, bicycles that have been decorated for the parade....the town bleeds red, white, and blue today and boasts of having the longest lasting fourth of July celebration in the country.

After the last store stop, the ride finally flattens out giving relief until William's Knob, at least as the route is currently designed.  Steve rides ahead a bit and I wait at the top of the hill.  Steve becomes worried and turns around running over some debris that ruins a new sixty dollar tire on his new bicycle.  Dave is flabbergasted when I pull out my folding tire not being able to believe I carry a tire with me.  I tell him it is the sensible thing to do being a female and riding so much alone, but that I have rescued many a rider with a tire.  Steve agrees to borrow it until the ride start so that I don't have to worry about him flatting on the rather technical descent down Bartle's Knob. He fixes the flat and we zoom down the hill, dancing daringly around the curves and switchbacks.

And we end as we began, in a group.  Everyone has survived a brutal course in brutal temperatures. Smiles are on our faces as we realize our accomplishment.  I don't know, but I suspect it is the hottest club century that has ever been completed.  While I enjoyed the company and I enjoyed the day and all ended well, I find that I don't enjoy the responsibility of having others out in such conditions. Will I remember that when captaining in the future?  Who knows? We say our good-byes and head homewards.  Once there I pull out my bike and ride the extra 2.4 miles to make it a century.  Ah, the freedom of a bicycle.  How appropriate on July 4th, a date that celebrates a much more enduring and important freedom. Yes, I think I will schedule this ride next year on July 4, 2013.




Monday, July 2, 2012

Hardinsburg Century

 “There there is nothing like a wilderness journey for rekindling the fires of life. Simplicity is part of it. Cutting the cackle. Transportation reduced to leg – or arm – power, eating irons to one spoon. Such simplicity, together with sweat and silence, amplify the rhythms of any long journey, especially through unknown, untattered territory. And in the end such a journey can restore an understanding of how insignificant you are --- and thereby set you free.”
-   Colin Fletcher, The River


One nice thing about solo century plans are that you don't need to plan around others.  You can decide if you want to ride or not ride at the last minute,  you can decide what time to start based on when you wake up and feel like riding, you can decide how fast to travel and whether to stop to take  a photograph, and you can decide whether to stick with a planned route or go wherever fancy takes you.  You can sing, fart, cry, or laugh and there is nobody to look askance at you or to whom you have to explain.  Often I enjoy having company on rides, but sometimes it is nice to have the freedom a solo ride brings.  And while it is not wilderness that I will be traveling through, it inevitably rekindles my "fires of life" and "cuts the cackle." Out here I can breath and think and sing.  It is Memorial Day, and I decide to finally correct the original cue sheet for Hardinsburg using the GPS.  It is due to be hot and I am not sure what stores will be open due to the holiday, so I plan ahead taking a few snacks and some extra water. 

I have been reluctant to correct this route.  Hardinsburg was put together during my side walk chalk days and it seems somehow wrong to redo it.  The club did not have so many century options back then.  I would head out on my own without a map using side walk chalk at turns so that I could find my way back.  I had no map, no GPS, and was dependent on road signs, often missing, for road names.  Normally I would head out 50 miles and turn around retracing my steps.  Eventually,  however, I began to get a feel for the roads and would delight in seeing how they intersect and cross, forming a pattern.  The cue sheets were designed using a mileage computer that was inevitably set by the bike store for 700C wheels, and at the time I designed this route I rode 650s.  It was not unusual to be off a mile or more after a century ride, and Hardinsburg was no exception. Yes, I suppose it is time to make the changes so that when I put the ride on faster riders don't get lost.  No, most of the riders have been kind enough not to chastise me, but it is time. And no, I won't lose the memories.

When I leave home, the air is already oppressive, heavy and thick.  I know this will only worsen throughout the day.  But the first part of this journey is fairly easy other than Leota Hill.  I enjoy the feel of my muscles working and the sounds that lace the early morning air, bird cackles and songs, insects, rustling leaves from scampering squirrels and other unseen varmints.  The greenness of the countryside and the indescribable beauty found along certain roads makes me ache inside with an odd longing...perhaps to be able to hold onto that beauty so I can take it out whenever it is cold and dreary or perhaps with thankfulness that I am here right now at this minute in this place?  There are still patches of wild flowers and orange day lilies and daisies and I think how incredibly lucky I am to be alive and healthy and able to ride a bike through the midst of this countryside, unconcerned about anything but enjoying the holiday.  I think of the loved ones that have passed on and of the soldiers that died to give me this freedom, and I am thankful and respectful of their bravery and sacrifice.  I think of my friend, Jason, who once told me on a ride that when he first read some of my articles, he wondered what in the world I was talking about.  "Now I get it," he said.  "Now I completely get it."  And I am glad he sees the wonder and beauty of a ride through the countryside on a bicycle, and the camaraderie that results when friends are along for the journey.



By lunch time, I am a mile off of the original cue sheet.  Briefly I wonder how anyone has found their way with this sheet, but I know that somehow we did.  I arrive at the Dutch Barn only to find it is closed, so I make my way up to the original store stop for this route:  Little Twirl.  Every time I come here I grin thinking of Jeff White assuming the stance of a ballerina, finger on top of head, spinning in circles.  It is open and I treat myself to a chocolate milk shake and fries for lunch.  For the first time I notice a copy of a magazine or newspaper article on the wall about a man, now deceased, named Davie Burns.  Mr. Burns, a Lavonia native, evidently was quite the eccentric, and part of his eccentricity was riding his bicycle for long distances.  I giggle to myself reading about him hauling  a bale of hay on the front of his bike as it reminds me of something that Packman would have done had he ever needed a bale of hay.  I think how strange it is that of all the times I have stopped at this shop and all the cyclists I have brought with me, nobody has noticed this article previously.  Just one of life's little ironies, the ones I so treasure. How little we notice what becomes familiar to us.

Because the cue sheet has gotten so far off mileage wise,  I have been diligently stopping and making corrections.  It takes time to do this, but I am pushing myself hard when I ride, almost doing intervals, and it feels good to feel my lungs straining for air, my muscles aching as I ask them for just a bit more, reaching my maximum, easing off a bit, and then demanding more.  There are times when I can force myself to ride this way and enjoy it, while there are other times that this type of riding is torture and I can't make myself go there.  Never have I been able to find what makes the difference.  Soon I reach Campbellsburg.  Everywhere there are American flags lining the roads and I am reminded of Mayberry and small town America as it used to be or as I romanticized it to be. I descend the gigantic hill on Cox Ferry and remember my first descent down that hill when a doe and her fawn appeared, running effortlessly, gliding, immediately next to me for what seemed like forever before veering right and melting into the forest.



Before you know it I am climbing the hill on Highland to get to the Red Barn Bait Store. That hill is one of those hills that you think about before you ever make the final decision to ride a route, and you think about it as you approach it hoping it doesn't hurt too much, or worse yet, defeat you entirely.  While I often laugh and say that I have never met a hill I can't walk, I prefer it to be a decision I make and not one that is made for me by inability.  Despite the heat, the climb goes well and I am pleased that I don't wimp out and give into using the triple when I know I don't have to do so.  During the climb I think about the year I used this route for my Christmas Breakfast Century with Minner on his hybrid on a cold, rainy ride that ended a tad after dark.  I think how odd it is that we find each other, we distance cyclists that somehow have an appreciation for and a need for long miles in often inclement weather, united only by the bicycle, not even by our hometowns:  strange bedfellows in many ways.  The road is sticky with sap from trees.  I don't remember the roads ever having sap to where my tires were obviously sticking to the road making a sucking type of noise for long distances after rolling over the syrupy residue.  I actually feel it pulling on the bicycle. And it can't be avoided.  The sap crosses the entire road in places. Like a nightmare, the trees are bleeding sap.  At times it hints of the smell of the Maple Syrup Festival when the sap is being boiled, and I wonder at what weather condition caused the trees to weep so this year and whether it is a good, bad, or neutral thing.

At the Red Barn I exchange a few pleasantries with Amos and down a cold drink before heading onto Delaney and Mt. Eden, two of my favorite roads.  The climbing is light, the traffic little, and the scenery lovely.   Next week I will share this ride with whoever shows for a scheduled club century, and I hope they will find the beauty here that I have found on a solitary journey on a special day of remembrance.





Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Pam Century

I have not been riding strongly this year.  It seems I am always chasing my friends, breath rasping heavily,  never able to keep up, always on the fringe, unable to take my turn at the front and pull for any extended period of time.  When dropped, I feel I am  making ground, get them in sight, the road curves,  and they are gone, vanishing, a fantasy leaving me questioning if they were ever there or if my imagination is playing tricks with me.  One thing I  have learned about myself recently is that I have a tendency to see what I want to see at times rather than accepting what is right in front of my nose. I ask myself if they have gotten that much faster or if I have gotten than much slower.  I chastise myself for not yet losing the winter weight that I promised myself would come off early this year.  I worry that they will only ride with me out of a sense of pity or obligation rather than because they enjoy my company.

The reality of potential  loss makes me desperate to hold them close, these special companions.  I cherish the ridiculous illusion that I can keep them safe somehow or can preserve those special moments of heartfelt friendship and that life and change won't ever take hold.  And if I can't hold them close, a part of me wants to put distance between us, to make it so that I don't care quite so much, so that if there is a future loss it will not pain me so. But life is about change and risk and it is befitting that it is so.  Ellen Glasgow was right when she said, "The only difference between a rut and a grave is the dimensions." 


Hills seem insurmountable obstacles rather than challenges to be met and conquered.  I feel old and fat and sad and out of sorts.  I do not want to ride. Still I force myself to get out and turn the pedals:  not like me at all for normally I find solace in my riding.  Typically there is not much than can make me happier than a bicycle ride.  At least I have the mental strength to get out the door and the physical ability to do so.

Have you ever wondered where the real you went? Or have you found there is a part of you that you didn't know existed despite living within your own mind and body for your entire existence?  I know these feelings are related to depression and change, but despite my best arguments to myself that Kitti was only a cat and many people are suffering much worse, she was family.  She was important to me with a realness and immediacy that others are not. Not a day passes that I do not miss her purry presence around the house, the softness of her fur, the joy of her companionship even at her most irksome.  Not a ride ends but that I open the door and somehow expect her to be waiting. I have reached the point where I refuse to apologize or feel guilty for my feelings.  Feelings are not to be apologized for or explained away.  Feelings are value neutral, uncontrolled, and just are what they are:  right and wrong has no place in relation to feelings.  What I can do is manage my reaction to my feelings, to move on and survive. It is okay to love your pet, but it is not okay to quit living when they do.  And I cannot dwell on how I will survive when and if I lose my husband.  Some things in life you do just because you must.

And today on the Pam Century, a century held by Steve Rice every Derby Day, I finally break through the dark bonds that have held me captive, moving on to acceptance.  Again there does not seem to be a reason to this change in emotion, no rhyme or reason.

The ride brings out more people than I expect with such a challenging course, but I am glad to see them.  My fear is that I will be the "Chubby Anchor," but today it turns out to be a groundless fear as my climbing legs return.  Yes, the guys can still climb faster, particularly on the steeper inclines, but they are always in my sight.  It always amazes me how one ride you can feel so weak, and then on another so powerful in comparison. Our bodies are strange machines that way.  The cooler than predicted weather along with cloud cover makes it perfect riding weather.  After a few minutes of chatting and sharing recent events and happenings, we roll out onto the road.

I savor the feeling of the wheels turning beneath me and the scenery passing by.  I have missed this feeling of freedom.  I savor how wonderful it is to see the colorful collage of jerseys streaming before me, and I wonder how I ever thought the brightly garish colors were ugly.  No, they are not colors I would chose to wear to work or even for leisurely lounging around my home, but they are perfect for what we do:  riding bicycles. Happiness and appreciation begin to flow back into me, coursing through my veins. I realize to the depths of my being that I am alive and in good health, and life is short. 

At the first store stop, we see people who appear to be dressed to make an appearance at the Kentucky Derby: women in dresses with hats, men in suits.  I must admit, there is something very sexy about the way some men wear a suit, and I am sure the guys are thinking the same about the women in their dresses with legs that are long and flowing.  Next we see a group of people who are dressed in festive Mexican garb. Their pants have cording crisscrossed down the outside and they have on stylish cream colored short jackets.  I believe they were probably a band.  We talk briefly about how nice looking the outfits are.  I begin to chill, however, thus I am the first to begin to don a helmet and gloves giving the unspoken sign that the pack is about to depart. It never fails to astonish me how quickly a group departs, without verbalization, everyone just somehow knows that it is time.  Matt says he was chilly as well but that the heat prediction was why he wore a  sleeveless jersey, and we speculate whether the predicted 84 degrees will become reality.

Hill after hill rolls out before us, and I find myself attacking the hills and somehow enjoying and embracing the leg pain that stressful climbs always brings.  Some hills I attack sitting and spinning, others standing and mashing, and others with a combination of the two.  It seems that each stresses somewhat different muscles. It is all good.  Everything is verdant and green in that way that only Kentucky  in spring seems to be, a veritable feast for the eyes.  Wildflowers gaily line the roads.  I feel the wind grabbing at the shoulders of my jersey and whipping my pony tail about during delicious descents, and before you know it I am laughing and singing.  I have been down for so long, and it feels marvelous to laugh from my heart. 

The lunch stop on the Pam is always (other than the year it burned down and had not yet been rebuilt) Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Somehow, it just seems wrong to have fried chicken at lunch on a ride, but it is part of the tradition and it is tantalizingly tasty even as I feel it clog my arteries;-)  Why does something that tastes so darned good have to be so darned bad for you?  Isn't that always the way?  After lunch Jason and Matt take off on their own as they have to be back by a certain time that our current pace will not allow.  We bid them farewell, then shortly afterward take off by ourselves.  There seems to be no hurry and when some stream ahead or lag behind, it is not long before we stop and regroup. Nobody seems to be in too much of a hurry today, and I like it. 

When the ride ends, I still have a half mile loop to make to bring the total up to the 100 miles necessary for logging. When I finish the guys are all there enjoying a beer.  Not being a beer drinker or wanting to interfere with this male bonding ritual, I load my bike and head home hoping that I will feel up to riding again tomorrow.  As I relive the ride on my way home, I find a smile on my face and a feeling of contentment.  Oh, yeah, it is good to be back. I hope I never go back to the dark place again, but I know I will.  Unlike when I was young, however, it is easier to keep in mind that it is temporary, that the sun will shine again, that loss will ease and become acceptance, and that life will still  have moments of sweetness that more than make up for the rest.   And for a long time yet, there will be bicycles.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kentucky 200K 2012

It is the night before the brevet and I am unsure if I will ride tomorrow. The world around me has turned into a nightmare, a dark hell of destruction and loss.  I am unsure of many things in the face of this disaster. As with all loss, I am left with a feeling of waiting, of something left to be done, when there is nothing that can be done.  My own helplessness plagues me.  Earlier today the skies darkened, clouds roiled and became menacing,  and the wind howled angrily shoving everyone and everything out of its path.  Like a drunken man on a rampage, unpredictable, impetuous, it indiscriminately punished all who dared to stand in its path, unheeding of cowering pleas for mercy .

 Earlier I was trapped at work being the only one in management who had not left, and I have sent those workers home who wanted to leave.  The few who chose to remain I shepherd into bathrooms as I listen on the radio and hear of the tornadoes touching down on roads where I frequently ride my bicycle and listen to the sirens blaring out a warning of impending destruction.  If I did not ride these roads so often, I would not be able to so closely track the path the storm seems to be following, but I know these roads, their curves and pot holes and uphills and downhills.  I worry about my husband and the family that went to my home because of the protection of our basement, but I am powerless in the face of this fury.  Yet again it makes me realize how illusionary our belief in control really is, however comforting that belief may be.  It is easy to see why so many poets felt that the fates were laughing at us in our puniness. 

In the light of this afternoon, my car accident earlier in the day recedes to being a minor event.  While my car was pretty messed up and it is a major financial blow, I walked away essentially unscathed suffering only a minor blow to the head.  Any accident that allows you to walk away afterward, whether involving bicycles or cars or a combination of the two, is a good accident despite the contradiction in terms. There is much to be said of the ability to move appendages.

When the storm has passed and we are safe, I hear that several small neighboring towns were destroyed.  I am unable to get through to home on the phone, but when I arrive my husband is safe.  One brother, however, who lives in Henryville is unaccounted for, and we have no television or internet to try to find out if he and his family are okay.  I do hear on the radio that most of the town is gone, including the school, and he lives next to the school.  My husband ages visibly before my eyes, concern taking its toll. We debate driving there, but we hear on the radio that nobody is being allowed in. I also hear that we have lost our gas station store stop that we frequent on the Maple Syrup ride and the Salem Century.  Indeed, we were sitting there just last Saturday, blithely unaware that it would soon cease to exist except as a pile of rubble.  It makes the head spin how quickly things can change, and it fills you with sadness. As Freud said, "Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead.  We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces." Well, I have no choice to accept, but I reserve my right to complain. 

Finally, at around 11:00 p.m. that evening, we receive a call from Danny in Florida who has seen that Ernest and his family are okay.  I think how ironic it is that he, living all those miles away, knows more about what happened just down the road than we do.  Ernest just happened to be one of the people interviewed, and Danny happened to have on the right news station.

Do I ride in the face of all this?  My husband tells me I should take his truck and go to the ride, and so reluctantly I go.  While I feel incredibly selfish, I also realize my impotence.  Still tears streak my face upon occasion as I drive to the ride start, particularly as I pass the Henryville exit, still blocked off by police, and along the sides of the expressway I see uprooted trees and debris.  I think of the child found ten miles from her home, tossed about by the wind like a feather, now hospitalized but soon to leave this world to meet her family which was also taken.  

When I arrive in Shelbyville, I am surprised at the large number of people at the start as it is not a PBP year.  32 riders from five states are represented.  There are two tandems, one recumbant, and many single bikes.  Jody and Steve have completed a 200K before, but it is the first for Larry and Nita.  Bill Pustow, the one who marked the course this year, is registered but does not show.  All will be successful today except for one gentleman unknown to me who will suffer three flats within the first nine miles of the ride.  Despite the wind, even the last person had a tad over fifty minutes to spare prior to the course closure.  (In brevets, every stop has a generous time limit to allow for success.)

Because of the later start time and the distance, I have lights but I hope not to use them. I ride much of the early part of the ride with Scott Howes.  We are not completely synchronized:  Scott is a bit faster on the pedals than I am, but I am faster in and out of the controls.  Also, I keep getting interrupted by telephone calls that I have to take since I am on call.   After some interesting conversation that helped the miles to pass, we eventually part ways for good.  I will not see Scott again until the end, but I am thankful that I had his interesting conversation for awhile to pass the miles and to keep my mind off of more unpleasant topics. 

This course is easier on the way out than it is on the way in, particularly so with the wind.  When I do the turn around, I know I have the choice of trying to find someone to share the wind with or facing it on my own.  The power of a head wind when cycling never fails to astonish me, and I find myself growing weary as the wind throws up a wall to forward movement. Eventually I see who I believe to be Steve Royse up ahead, but as I increase my speed, his speed seems to increase as well.  Alas, I am not up to a game of cat and mouse today.  He remains in my vision, but we never share the road or the wind today.

Finally it is the last control, and I quickly grab a drink and a snack.  My pace is slow, but it is steady.  The wind direction has changed or the wind has calmed.  I really am not sure.  I pass Steve Royse who has a flat.  I ask if he has what he needs to get back rolling, and he assures me he does.  A short while afterward I am joined by Mike "Diesel Dog" Kamenish.  He had ridden out with some of the faster riders, but then faded.  I worry when I hear his back is hurting because I remember his surgery for this same problem.  Grasshopper and I rode to the hospital to see him afterward when he was as high as a Georgia pine.  He tells me he also faced the wind alone today. We finish the ride together reaching my goal which was to finish before dark.  I enjoy our time together and think of the many miles I have ridden with Diesel, my friend.  My bicycling has introduced me to so many special people and I am blessed.  I am extremely shy and meeting new people is a source of great anxiety to me turning me into a blithering idiot or mute slob, depending upon the occasion.

At the end there are smiles, congratulations, teasing, and pizza:  it doesn't get much better than this. Thanks for the great course, Steve, the great markings, Bill, and the companionship many of you provided this day.  As brevets go, it was not a particularly difficult one, but I am exhausted, my legs are sore,  and I will sleep better for it.


(This will probably be the last post on the Kentucky 2012 brevet series.  I missed the 300K and it is unlikely that I will ride the 400 or 600 this year).  

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Loss of a Pet

The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

My Dear Kitti,

It is hard to be the executioner of such a dear companion.  I know that if I take no action, I will wish that I had as your suffering pains me highlighting my personal selfishness; and I know that if I take the action to put you out of your pain, thus robbing myself of the closest of companions, I will blame myself and wonder if I did the right thing.  You see, there is no right answer when you are not God.  Did I make the decision too soon?  Did I make the decision not soon enough?  Should  I not make the decision at all and wait for the Lord to call you up despite what I have read about the pain involved with your particular cancer and seeing your struggles?  

Perhaps if you could talk this decision would be easier, my thoughts firmer and more sure. Still, cancer is cancer, and 18 is old for a cat, and I watch you grow weaker and struggle to use the bathroom, obviously uncomfortable if not in great pain.  You see, while we talk to each other, our main communication has not been verbal, but that easy and often silent companion-ability of friends. And I do not really know the extent of your suffering, only the change in your habits:  your withdrawal, your lack of interest in food, your shortness of breath, your growing weakness.    Do I thank you for your friendship and the deep comfort you have given me through the years by letting you go?  For I love you, my furry faced friend, and I would not want you to feel I have betrayed you.


Tears rob me of strength of purpose, and my eyes are red and swollen.  The kindness of the vet who cares for you is a blessing. He tells me your red cell count is down and the only treatment he could try might leave you blind.  Part of me is glad when my husband makes that decision:  we will not put you through that when the end is so near.  Still, I have a few more days, possibly a couple of weeks, at most a month.   You and I, my Kit, are friends to the end.  But why must the end be so damned hard and come so soon.  And how do I know that YOU know how very much I love and have loved you, the blessing you have been to me. I read a book once about a world where every soul was born with a companion animal that lived and died at the same time:  how much easier that would be.  But perhaps somewhere in the morass there is a lesson to be learned by loss, if only to take time to appreciate those whom you love and who love you while you can.  How often we don't appreciate the gift of love.

You came to us sick and covered with fleas, weaned too early, a mere puff of fur, barely alive, that fit in my palm. I still can see the children picking you out and hear the echo of your piteous mews.  My husband carried you inside his shirt to keep you warm as we worked to heal you.   Soon you were scampering through our home, climbing up the legs of his jeans to reach his shoulders, tearing up carpeting when you were forgotten during an exploration and the door was closed on you.  Always you wanted to be with family members. That was almost 19 years ago, that blessed day that you arrived to bring such joy and laughter into our lives, and yet it seems like yesterday.  Did I appreciate you enough?  And do you know?  Somehow I think you do. I always teased the children that you were the one I had who would not grow up and leave home, but you are leaving, albeit against your will, and my heart is ravaged.


Who will take over your duties?  You know you have never trusted me to use the bathroom or bathe without your supervision.  Who will make sure that I wash behind my ears?  Who will climb into bed at night on silken paws and cuddle with me?  Who will I tell all my silly thoughts to and who will lick my tears when I cry to myself at night when something or someone has hurt me?  How will I awaken on time in the morning without my furry alarm clock?  Who will stretch out beside on the living room floor wanting a belly rub?  Life will go on, but it will be emptier without you.  If only I was sure that you understand that I am grateful.  Despite the pain, I would dive right back in and do it over again if life worked that way.  But life does not go backward.


Memories:


Tiffany showing you at the 4H fair and winning.  "Queen of Scott County."
Your enjoyment of a ride around the house in a plastic grocery bag.
Tiffany taking you to school and your total lack of appreciation of this experience;-)
The time I was really ill with the flu and you would not leave my bedside, keeping watch for days, leaving only to eat and use the litter box.
The times when you comforted me when I was sad.
The time you bit my nose because you were jealous.
The times you made me laugh.
How you liked to ride about the house perched on my shoulder.
How you loved to be put under and upside down clothes basket and go after sticks poked under that edge.
How you would carry your banky ball through the house.
The time a mouse got in and you weren't sure what to do.
The time a lizard got in and you thoughtfully presented it to me in bed.
Seeing you sleeping on top of family members:  on their chests, laps, curled in their hair.
The way you seem to know what time I need to get up in the morning negating the need for an alarm clock.  
Watching the children bathing you.
The enjoyment you got out of putting up the Christmas Tree each year.
How you liked to hide under the couch cover during living room cleaning.
The time you got outside and were so scared. 
How dad would wind you up.
How you would chase Tar through the house and bat at Rocky when he came inside.
The feel of your paws as you walk on  me when you want me to wake up and serve you.
The warmth and comfort of your fur sliding through my fingers and across my palms silken soft.
The way you thought I could cook a turkey like nobody else can. 
How you would supervise when I was cleaning.
How you thought being under the blanket would keep you safe from the vacuum cleaner.
How you would hide your face against me when I would take you to the vet.


Good-bye my little purry friend. Sleep well.  You have earned your rest. With you another part of my children's childhood slips through my grasp leaving only the intangible comfort of memories and the  love we all shared.  


_________________________________________________

Kitti was laid to rest today, March 30, 2012,  after her urination ceased the night before and she refused to eat.   She was much loved and will be remembered by her family for years to come.  Good night, sweet Kitti.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Salem 65

Some of my favorite song lyrics from those songs of a misspent youth are those of John Prine's "Illegal Smile:"

"When I woke up this morning, things were lookin' bad
Seem like total silence was the only friend I had
Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down... and won
And it was twelve o'clock before I realized
That I was havin' .. no fun"

And that is how I have been feeling recently with the winter blues and a good dose of a cold and self pity.  Yes, an object that is at rest wants to stay at rest, and I have been an object, lazy, as slow as molasses in January.   It is hard to convince myself that I will feel better if I just get out and exercise despite the frigid weather.  It is hard to persuade myself that I want to do anything.  Only experience has taught me that I will actually feel better if I force myself out the door flipping off the winter weather. Only the urging of friends can crow bar me out of this deep, dark rut that I have come to rest in.  I suppose you can't get fit being a candy ass;-)

I am surprised and delighted to find quite a large group gathered for the Salem 65.  It is good to see  friends that I have not seen for awhile and exchange a few pleasantries. While the weather is not predicted to be challenging for this time it year, it is still February. It turns out there are 10 of us braving the cold and riding this hilly 65 mile course:  Steve Rice, Eric Graf, Mike Crawford, Lynn Roberts, Dick Rauh, Paul Battle, Bill Pustow, John Larson, Randy Davis, and me.

 Per Bill's log, the course has about 4,000 feet of climbing in those 65 miles.  Per my legs, he is not exaggerating.  It is not often anymore that my legs feel sore following a ride, and I know that despite the exercise and a good dose of ibuprofen before bed, my sleep will be restless, interrupted by anomalous twinges and aches.  I will wonder once again about why I allow myself to get so out of shape.   And yet ironically a strange part of me will glory in these aches as I know they signal new-found strength. I suppose that is the difference from other types of pain which I always find repugnant, this pain goes away and leaves me stronger:  there will be surcease.

And then there is the century the next day,  the one where I will tell the ride captain, Steve Rice, and Bill Pustow, that I am going to turn around at the store stop and am told in no uncertain terms told that I will not turn around.  The one where we pass a cow who has just given birth, the placenta still waiting to be completely expelled, bloody and colorful in the colorless world, yet somehow as beautiful as a flower.  The one that takes  me up and down hills beautiful in their desolation and lack of color while the wind buffets me like a rag doll, leaving my cheeks rosy and chapped. But suffice to say that I do not turn around and I survive.  And I grow stronger to prepare for the coming warmth. That is another story for another day.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

An Icy Winter Day

Outside the icy rain is pelting down turning the world into a slick, silver wonderland:  beautiful but treacherous.  This is no weather for riding a bicycle unless you have studded tires and are young enough to recover from falls more quickly than you do when you are my age.  It is a good day to cuddle inside with a book and a cup of tea and a blanket as soft as snow but as warm as  fire to match my burning forehead. If I have to be ill, and I am, it is a good day for it.  There is no guilt for not braving the cold on foot or on bicycle and finding winters frozen splendor.  It was not the  predicted weather either, and I think of Adrienne Rich's poem, "Storm Warnings:"

"The glass has been falling all the afternoon,
And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead,
what zone Of grey unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair."

How grateful I am to those few teachers that showed me the beauty of words, their ability to evoke and identify emotions and to reveal the beauty that is sometimes hidden in the world.  I suppose they opened my eyes to something that my heart already knew.  All I really know is that I go back into that world at times, and it nurtures me.  

Yesterday was to be the BMB ride, a tribute ride to those first Mad Dogs that braved the cold and the disapproval from those cyclists that put their bikes up at the end of October until spring arrived.  While it was canceled, I think of the implications it had for winter riding in this area.  It has blossomed.  Yes, some people still put their bikes up for the winter, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Absence may make the riding sweeter when the earth once again gives birth and greenness riots.  But many people now ride all year, regardless of weather, and there is nothing wrong with that either.   That is one of the wonderful things about bicycling, that it is so many different things to different people.
And it has given me things to dream about now when I go rest my guiltless head.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Christmas Girdle or the Pounds of Christmas

The holidays have passed, and took along with them my physical fitness.  Ugh.  I have gained weight, and it drags on me, lead like, anchoring me firmly to earth.  My steps sound and feel heavier throughout the day.  Effort robs me of breath more easily and gives me a new appreciation of breathing and of the exquisite value of air.  I find myself eating despite the fact that I have no true hunger: eating because it tastes good, eating because it pacifies me, eating because of stress at work, eating because it is there.  The sad part is that I am  eating without the appreciation of food that a good ride can bring and without the appetite that a good ride can bring.  One of the marvelous gifts that riding gives us is the genuine appetite that is an exquisite garnish to the food we eat, making the need to replenish our body with fuel a delight. Food just tastes better when you have earned the right to it and when your body truly needs it to meet the tasks that are being asked of it.

When I finally get together with others for the "Orleans: The Back Way century," I find that I have company in my food musings.  Lynn Roberts talks of finding himself with a handful of almonds he doesn't really want. Mark Rougeux talks of the holiday weight gain. While everyone looks thinner than me, I suppose they too struggle.  So perhaps it is not all will power and perhaps it is not just me and a character weakness, perhaps it is just one of those annoying things that is part of being human.  Even so, hills that normally come easily seem more like mountains than hills when you are dragging five to ten extra pounds up them and the legs have weakened from the lack of training miles.  In winter when it is cold and windy it is just too easy to say no to a ride.  Inertia and indolence tease me as a well fed cat taunts a mouse, paralyzing it into inaction.  I grow weak, and I know I must fight this.  "How soon 'not now' becomes 'never." (Martin Luther)

It is a genial group of eight riders that gather to ride to Orleans, all on singles except for Jody Patterson and Steve Maurer who are on their tandem.  I feel for them as I struggle up the early climb on the not so aptly named Flatewood Road.  I have never ridden a tandem and I suspect I would find it very disconcerting to ride one, trusting and giving up control, but I have been told that hills are even more of a challenge on a tandem than on a single bike and I have no reason to disbelieve this assertion.  And this hill is a challenge, however doable,  on this particular day at this particular time.  Later I will tell others that this ride was "fun," but in the midst of a hill I wonder why.

Sometimes I believe there is something a tad off about cyclists and their obsession with hills.  Is it not odd to seek out such pain and to even take perverse pleasure in it?  But, oh,  what satisfaction when you reach the summit or when you climb the same hill at another time and realize that it took little effort, that all your hard work, sweat, and pain paid off and what was a mountain is now a mere molehill.  There have been times when I find myself thinking that there is a bad hill on a road only to realize I have already climbed it and not noticed. And I have found the scenery on hilly routes eclipses that of flat land beauty. This is certainly true on Flateland Road with the occasional vista where you can see the land sprawled out below you for miles now that the sentinel  trees have discarded their leafy covering leaving bare the landscape.

I think momentarily of hilly triumphs such as the first time I made it up Fire Tower Hill, and of how I felt like Lance must have felt winning the tour, jubilant and proud and invincible.  I got to repeat this victory twice:  once on my triple and once on my double.  I think of my failure at Cobb Hill, walking to the top, defeated, only to find Tim Carroll there (who made it up the darn hill with his double while I failed with my triple) waiting at the top with a fistful of wildflowers and  a welcoming smile on his face. I could not ruin his victory with my disgust with myself, and soon I was laughing and joking.  Perhaps I will make it up Cobb Hill on another day when it isn't 95 degrees out and I don't have 100 or more hilly miles on my legs.  For those of you who don't know Cobb Hill but do know the Fire Tower Hill, Fire Tower Hill is a mere bump in the road compared to Cobb Hill.   I think of hills I have cursed and hills I have serenaded, each special in its own way.  I think of how I like the challenge of a good hill, and how cycling brings out the best in us as we throw ourselves against the wall until we succeed.  How very many victories I avoided in my fear of failure before I understood that our failures also give our lives color and flavor. And by the time those thoughts have passed, we are on the flat farmlands surrounding Orleans.

Orleans is a small town, one I had not heard of prior to my cycling days. It is probably not the best choice for someone who has Christmas pounds to lose because it has one of the most inimitable small restaurants. Though I don't believe I have ever had the same dish there twice, each has been remarkable.  Today I pick the pulled pork barbecue, and I am not disappointed. My taste buds yell "hoorah" and I appreciate the need for food for the first time in awhile.  I am grateful not having to worry about every little calorie and how I am going over the daily limit calorie limit I have set for myself  in my attempt to regain a waistline.  Of course, it does not help when Dave King asked Jody and me how many calories are in a bag of chips.  Jody asks if he knows that most of the small bags are really considered to be two servings.  Dave tells us he means one of the big bags.  Jody and I share a grimace of disgust.  How can such a skinny person eat an entire bag of chips?

I am glad for the leisurely pace back to the ride start.  The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the wind is at our backs, and the company is congenial, a mix of personalities that somehow meshes and provides camaraderie.   It just doesn't get much better than this, particularly in January.  A mistake in the cue sheet takes everyone by surprise, but it is easily remedied and all is forgiven as it might not be if the weather were not so kind this day.  And there is payback for the hills.  At one point I hit a bump that leaves me soaring through the air, defying gravity, no wheels on the ground, and for one glorious moment I am gloriously flying.  The same bump leaves Jody glad for being clipped in as she left her seat, hovering in the air.  Not so long after that there is the two mile downhill near the end of the ride that winds through a forest and where one day on a solo ride I spotted two small Amish boys braving the descent on roller blades.  It is a good day on the bike, and I am thankful.  Winter days often are not so kind, particularly on those who have become slackers. And perhaps I lost a little bit of my Christmas Girdle;-)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bethlehem

While the sun shows promise of shining brightly all day in a cloudless, blue sky, it promises no warmth, a cruel mockery of the hot and demanding sun of summer.  Like the strange transformation that occasionally happens when something huge happens and a person you thought you knew turns into a stranger right before your very eyes, sometimes it is hard to believe it is the same star.   It is cold outside this morning, and a part of me wishes I had not signed up to captain a ride. It would be nice to fix a cup of coffee and laze about the house in pajamas for awhile.  But it is December, and my December rides are a tradition:  Puddle's Christmas Breakfast Century and the Bethlehem Century.  The Christmas Century last week-end went well and drew a record crowd due the unseasonably warm weather.  But will anyone show for Bethlehem when it is in the teens outside and the weatherman says it will not get much warmer?

With the current economic woes and talk of shutting down small, rural post offices, it is likely that this will be the last year for mailing Christmas cards from Bethlehem, Indiana. The thought saddens me and hardens my resolve to ride despite the cold even if nobody else shows.  I would not want to miss this last opportunity.  As so many first times are special, last times are perhaps more so, maybe because so very often we do not know that they are the last time.   Sometimes I think about what my last ride will be like and whether my riding will end from age, injury, or indolence.  Will I know ahead of time, or will it just stop without my suspecting it is ending, like the memory I have of my mother telling me I had gotten to big to be rocked and read to before bedtime and to get up those stairs or suffer the consequence. I will miss the solace of the wind caressing my face and the feel of the road and the companionship of the people I call friends.  I will miss the sound and feel of rain on my helmet and the feel of the sun mercilessly beating down upon me and the myriad sights that bring me such delight. And I will miss Bethlehem.  I mustn't let cold weather force me to miss an opportunity unless the weather threatens worse than today, a day that turns out to be spectacular for riding.

In 2010  I rode Bethlehem alone the day before it was scheduled as snow was predicted for the scheduled day and I needed to get my December Century in.  It is no big deal, this mailing of Christmas cards so that they have a Bethlehem stamp.  I wonder how many people even notice.  But still I relish this tradition of sending love, thoughts, and best wishes in the form of a card.  Perhaps it is the memory of my mother, sitting instead of working around the house for once, addressing stacks of Christmas cards to friends and family, wishing them happiness throughout the holiday and in the coming New Year that makes this so special to me.  Perhaps it is just because it is part of Christmas, and I love Christmas.  There are few things better than the thought of the house being full of family, the smell of pine mixing with the smell of freshly baked cookies caressing us while music and gentle laughter wafts softly throughout the house.  There is nothing better than the thought of snuggling together to watch the traditional shows that delighted me as a child, a delight I passed on to my children. There is not much in life better than Christmas despite the sadness that can suffuse the holiday season at times. I love the traditions, the traditions that were established by those that came before me and have been combined with those that I created for my family.  So many people fail to recognize the importance of traditions. And the Bethlehem ride has become one of my newer traditions since the children grew up and left  home, a tradition that prepares me for their sweet return, however transient.

"Spiritual and religious traditions, when shaped by the feminine principle, affirm the cyclical phases of our lives and the wisdom each phase brings, the sacredness of our bodies and the body of the Earth."   Patrick Wynn

My fears of nobody showing are unfounded.  Perhaps it is a fear that haunts all ride captains.  And it has happened to me before.  Not often, but once or twice.  I don't know why I even worry about it.  It doesn't hurt or mark me in any way. It doesn't mean that I am a "bad" ride captain or that nobody likes me or that nobody likes my route. But it is my nature to worry, thus one of my children's moniker for me:  mother hen.  Mark Rougeux, John Larson, Steve Rice, and Jim Whaley show up to ride the century.  Three others that I do not know show for the 60 mile route.  We have a good day, or at least I did.  Despite the varying cycling abilities, the century riders stay together for most of the ride and nobody seems to mind my laggardly pace.  It always surprises me how patiently people moderate their pace for me at times. Steve Rice even gets to see Santa Claus, a sight the rest of us miss.  But then, that is the thing about Santa:  he is magical and comes and goes unseen.  By the time people read this, he will have disappeared for another  year  leaving only memories of the traditions that I cherish  iced with the people that I love and are important to me. This is the true gift of Christmas:  the memories.