“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
- 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.