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.