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Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Kentucky 200K Brevet 2013

"The most sacred place dwells within our heart, where dreams are 
born and secrets sleep, a mystical refuge of darkness and light,
 fear and conquest, adventure and discovery, challenge and 
 transformation. Our heart speaks for our soul every moment while 
we are alive. Listen... as the whispering beat repeats:
 be...gin, be...gin, be...gin.
 It's really that simple. Just begin... again. "
Royce Addington 


 Yet again it is the start of a new brevet season, and yet again the weather prediction will enhance the difficulties of starting the season rather than lightening the load.  It will be cold and there will be wind. But that, my friend, is what brevets are about, at least in Kentucky in early March:  defying weather and adversity unless the weather is downright dangerous, not just demanding.  Brevets are and should be demanding.  Otherwise what sense of accomplishment would there be.  Yet brevets also yield to different abilities, time limits are forgiving, and almost anyone with normal health can train and successfully complete a 200K.  

Steve Rice never disappoints with his Kentucky routes.  They are always demanding but beautiful. In a sense, the cold temperature prediction with no major variation in temperature makes things easier than if there were going to be a 10-20 degree temperature climb.  You can stay dressed the entire day the way you dress at the start of the ride with nothing to carry, no extra weight other than winter pounds that have not yet been ridden off, and no extra bag to take along to put things in.  The main challenge, of course, is dressing right to begin with so that you are not overly hot or overly cold.

It always interests me to listen to my heart the night before a brevet. Sometimes it is teeming with excitement and anticipation, but at other times there is dread and an empty, flat feeling as I question if I truly want to brave the road and the elements yet again and if I have prepared adequately.   This evening I am thrilled to find my heart anticipating the ride tomorrow: a new route, possibly some new roads, and some new challenges.  I sing softly to myself as I prepare my clothing, my lights,  and my bike so I can get out the door easily in the morning and give myself the maximum amount of sleep possible while still arriving timely. 

I suppose I will never understand why some days I relish the thought of the challenge and other days it is only  stern self-discipline and self-castigation that gets me out the door as I would much rather cower indoors and dream of spring.  Periodically those rides that I dread become a pleasure, but normally they are a mental training arena that helps me to accomplish goals I set for myself. On non brevet days I give myself permission to return home after 10 to 15 miles if I don't feel better, and normally I find myself enjoying myself once I have pushed myself out the door,  but not on brevet days. In the end it is as Mr. Addington says, you just need to begin. After all, who knows what adventure or drama will fill our day if we only get out the door. Or, as a friend recently reminded me, sometimes life is just about continuing to put one foot in front of the other. In a brevet it can sometimes be about just turning the crank over again and again.

When I arrive I realize how splendid it is to see familiar faces, some club members and some not.  I see friends less often in the winter as there are fewer rides.   It is also good to see faces I don't know, but may get to know in the future for every sport needs continual renewal to thrive. I can't think of any of these people that I would know if it were not for my bicycle.  We are brought together by our love of the bike and our admiration for endurance, the quality that has allowed mankind to survive throughout the ages.  Later today, however, I find that for me this ride is about getting the job done, not about lollygagging and establishing new friendships or nuturing old friendships.  I want to be in by dark. It is already cold, and with the setting of the sun it will grower colder still, and quite quickly I fear. I am dressed for day riding, not riding throughout the chilled night.

For three riders, it will be their first brevet:  Steve Meredith, Ted King, and Andrew Thai. I know Ted and Steve, but I do not know Andrew. All three are successful despite the fact that  Steve Meredith had surgery on his hand earlier in the week and is unable to wear a glove.  He improvises with a wool sock, and I think of how he often reminds me of my husband, perhaps because they both grew up in the country and know the wisdom of how to make do when necessary, the backbone of this country.  People huddle in the registration motel room,  chattering and catching upSmiles and yawns mingle, but as always anticipation snakes through the room. Steve Rice, the RBA, always designs such beautiful courses.  Yes, they are challenging, but that is part of the satisfaction of completing the Kentucky series, the feeling that you have met and conquered a challenge. And each of us has dragged ourselves out of a warm bed into the frigid air to begin our quest.

24 start and 22 finish.  Jody and Steve appear to be the only tandem riders.  Currently they are on their old tandem, but soon they will have a beautiful new custom tailored tandem designed by Alex Meade, another brevet rider.  Because the ride starts at 7:00 a.m. the light is only hesitatingly making her appearance at the ride start,  hiding behind clouds, tenuous and shy, maidenlike  in her reluctance.  I intend to finish before dark, so I do not have my hub generator.  Steve gives a brief talk and requests that anyone who decides to throw in the towel call so that he does not have to worry about them, and then we begin.  Bicycles spill down the drive and into the street with an assortment of lights and bags and riders.  

I am not sure who, if anyone, I will ride with today.  I briefly consider trying to hold onto Steve Rice, Bill Pustow, and Mark Rougeux, but they soon pull ahead.  One thing I have learned about brevets is that you must ride at your own pace so I do not stress about it. Trying to hold that pace could mean bonking later.  It is best to plan and be successful.  I can always speed up at the end if I have it in me.  While the days are longer, the course will be hilly so this means no loitering at controls if I am to reach my goal of finishing before night again claims the land,  particularly as I know my pace will be a relatively slow one.  I have been able to maintain my endurance by century rides on the week-ends, but my new job has prevented my riding much through the week and I am not the speediest of riders at the best of times anymoreThe loss of week day miles combined with additional weight gain from the winter could spell disaster if I don't use common sense and ride my own pace. 

From the start the wind bites my face, and while it is milder and gentler than it can be, it is still biting and I have learned to have great respect for the wind.  The wind endlessly reminds me of my own puny, weakness unless we are busy being, as my friend, Greg, says, tailwind heroes..   I think of a quote by Arthur Golden, "Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are." A person has lots of time for self contemplation on a windy brevet day. The wind impedes progress in one direction, but as importantly at times it also impedes conversation.  After riding one particularly windy brevet with Grasshopper and Bill Pustown, I remember feeling I would go mad if the sound of the wind did not stop assaulting my hearing, ceaselessly thrumming, as if she were whispering secrets that I lacked the understanding to grasp. 

Despite the monotone grayness of the landscape, I see the potential for flowers, green leaves, and color.  This will be a beautiful course in places once spring pirouettes in and waves her wand laying winter to rest.  The first control is at the top of a long descent, and despite my quick stop I begin to chill.  Another rider wishes to stay with me, but I am unable to stop the shivering and know that I need to move on.  As I do the normally lovely descent down Devil's Hollow, I quiver violently on the bike to the point where I am a tad concerned about steering,  and I think to myself how unfair it is to be uncomfortable on a down hill.  Winter has turned things backwards, and rather than anticipating a descent, I am anticipating a climb.  

I ride with Larry Preble and Steve Royse for a short bit until our rhythms no longer match, and then we each begin our individual, solitary marches to the finish.  Adding to the wind, it now begins to snow, flakes swirling wildly along with the wind.  They begin to cover the ground, but the road remains too warm for the snow to stick.  I consider what I will do if that changes and hope that my daughter doesn't have some plan that would cause her not to be able to rescue me.   For awhile I contemplate the wonder of having a daughter, and I take a moment to thank God for the blessings he has bestowed on me.  Some people want children so badly but are never blessed, others don't want them but have them anyway and don't treat them right.  I wanted children, and I was blessed, but I am sure I made many parenting errors.  I hope they will forgive me.  But whatever mistakes I have made, I have always loved them.   

 For a short time I am drawn backwards in time in that strange way that riding alone encourages and I remember the softness of their skin and their freshly bathed smell as we cuddled before bedtime to read and enter another world. I think of what I would give to go backward for awhile, but such is not the nature of life.  As Joni Mitchell said, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone?"  And God made  parents young with good reason.  I am about 4-5 miles outside the turn around control when the first group passes me, waving and grinning and bringing me back to the present. I remind myself that one day I will remember this brevet and that I need to appreciate it and my current health and strength that allows me to participate.  This is one thing I like about brevets and riding alone:  I never know what direction my mind may take off in.  Sometimes I am miles down the road and realize I have not noticed anything outside of my own head.

At the turn around control, I  shamelessly eavesdrop as the lady at the cash register talks about the store being put on the auction block the next week.  She believes there will be two bidders.  Her continuing employment is contingent on one of the bidders being successful as the other bidder is a large chain and has already told them they have their own staff.  When I reach the register, I question her about it and sympathize with her uncertainty at the possible loss of a job.  Later I will think about how often I complain about my job and workings, and what a blessing it is to have employment.  I make a mental note to e-mail Steve Rice so that he knows.  It would be hard to reach that control on the 300K or the 400K and find it is closed for remodeling.

 After the turn around, the snow hardens into biting pellets, sleet-like, that sting as they hit my face driven by what seems to be an ever increasing wind.   I trudge stoically onward vowing to bow out if my tires begin to slip on the road.  At Wallace Station, the ground has a light covering, and this would be a good place to stop if I have to stop as they have wonderful food, but I test my tires and they appear to hold stolidly to the road.  When I reach the next to last control following the long climb back up Devil's Hollow, Bill Pustown and Mark are pulling out and I say a brief hello before heading inside to get my card signed and a  quick snack.  By now the snow flakes have softened yet again, and float lazily along with the wind, beautiful in their own, stark way.

I pull into the last control as Mark is leaving in his car.  The motel has a short, steep section right as you pull into it, and my legs complain at this last little bit of effort despite my reassurance that they have served me well and will be given the rest they deserve.  Susan Howell, Steve Rice, and Blueberry are there to greet me.  I am glad to be done, and after a bit of chatting head homeward lured by the thought of a warm, scented bath and a book and a warm bed.  Today's journey has been completed successfully.  Thank you, Mr. Rice, for a challenging course.  Thank you, Mr. Pustow, for marking the course.  And congratulations to the new brevet finishers:  Steve, Ted, and Andrew.  May you find the gratification from completing a challenging task that I have found, both now and in the future.  

 



 

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