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Monday, July 28, 2014

The First Ever Indiana 300K Brevet

"Contrary to what we usually believe, 
moments like these, the best moments, are
not the passive, receptive, relaxing times---
though such experiences can also be enjoyable
if we have worked hard to obtain them. 
The best moments usually occur when a person's
body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary
effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
Optimal experience is thus something we can make happen."
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi



As I train for my fall 1000K, the one that scares me so as I am so with the unfamiliar terrain I will encounter and my ability to master it along with numerous other niggling fears, fears that I recognize but refuse to allow to define me, I am delighted to find that there is a 300K on the RUSA schedule that is  quite nearby.  Part of the problem training for a long fall event is that there normally is such a large gap between the completion of your qualifying 600K and the 1000K.  How do you maintain the fitness you have gained between the two events?  Even with a century every week-end and sometimes two, I feel like I am losing ground.  Yes, I feel faster and I am climbing better as a few pounds peel off, but I am  concerned about my endurance level dropping and I still am not and likely never will  be some slim whip of a lass.  I also am concerned about burn out, how to get myself to the starting line as strong as I can possibly be without being so tired of riding and training that I just want it to end.

It is doubly nice that this 300K  is a first in Indiana and I am going to be part of that first. Hats off to Bill Watts for starting a series in Indiana. Yes, I could ride and train that distance on my own, but it just seems too difficult to discipline myself to do that, particularly as I have no training companions at the present time. It is too expensive to go elsewhere. And my house has fallen in even more disorder than usual with my increased riding time.  But perhaps Steve Rice is right when he tells me that a large part of riding a brevet is the mental fortitude necessary to finish once you are century fit.  Time will tell.

I decide not to drive to Indianapolis and stay all night the evening before as I believe that starting to ride with not enough sleep is just a part of training for the fall event.  The 1000K begins at 4:00 a.m.  This ride starts at 6:00 a.m. which means this lazy girl doesn't even need to leave the house until 3:45 a.m. to make it by the 5:30 sign in.  As usual, my internal clock awakens me even earlier than I would need to be up and I stagger downstairs to make my morning coffee.  Cats haughtily stalk through the house, tails straight upwards,  following me and monitoring my activity, upset at this change in their routine and at not getting fed. I chuckle thinking that my husband can deal with their offended little egos when he arises later in the day, and I strongly suspect that he will not be permitted to sleep in.  While the coffee brews and the heady aroma wafts through the kitchen, I head upstairs and dress myself in the clothing I laid out the evening before.  My bag is packed and ready to go.  My bike had lights attached and was made ready for loading the evening before.  All I need is to get my coffee, throw everything into the car, and drive.

When I arrive, I am surprised at the number of people who appear to be getting ready to ride, particularly since the weather is supposed to be very hot, humid, and windy with lots of thunderstorms thrown in to make things interesting. Per the RBA, 24 registered, 21 started, and 20 finished. But there you have it.....how sensible are people who ride brevets?  I grin thinking of the doctor I went to after PBP 2007 when I temporarily, a week or two after the event, reached for something and quite suddenly  lost feeling in a forearm for some still unknown reason. Thinking I was being smart, I made an appointment at the office of someone I knew  rides a bicycle albeit not long distances.  I get one of his partners who says, "You damned idiot.  If you want to go somewhere 100 miles away get in a damned car."  Incidentally, he did nothing to help me with my problem, but time cured it as time so often has a habit of doing if we are just patient.
It is interesting to see the variety of people and bicycles at the start.  Some of these  people I know, but most of them I have never seen before.  Dave King is here riding his fixed gear. Steve Royse and Dave Rudy are here. There is another fixed gear rider and a tandem  and two recumbants.  All the rest are singles.  There is one other woman riding, the stoker on the tandem. I wonder who, if anyone, I will ride with.  When I learn we are coming and going on a bike path through the city, it firms my resolve to try to find a suitable companion today, and I am lucky enough to find two:  Dave King, a good friend that I have known for many years now, and Bob Bruce, who I have not met before but who I  now consider a semi-friend.  I say a semi-friend because we don't know each other well enough to discern if our personalities mesh as Dave's and mine do.  Yes, Dave and I annoy each other at times, but we also like each other and enjoy riding together. The number of miles we have traveled together attest to that.

Almost immediately after we get off the bike path, we are stopped in our tracks by a train that is blocking the road.  It moves forward, stops, then backs up. Alas, it is hooking onto another load of cars.  After what seems like quite a long wait, it finally moves forward, creaking and groaning as it strains under its load,  and we proceed as best we can while having to stop at numerous traffic lights.  I tell Steve Royse that it reminds me of PBP 2007 when he dragged my sorry rear in at the end of the ride.  I have never wanted to get off a bicycle so badly and felt terrible having lost my ability to force food down, and it seemed fate was conspiring against us with every light throughout the  town turning red right before we got to it: an endless procession of red lights.  Only Steve and his hard candies (something my brother, the dentist abhors) got me through the last few miles.  I spend some time thinking about how kind some people are to others and that Steve was drawn to the right profession when he chose medicine or when medicine chose him.  I do admire kindness in people, and while my husband once told me that people can sense an inner core of kindness in me and that is what has made me successful at what I do, I often feel I am lacking in that area. 

I am not used to riding in the city, and the traffic and even some of the people we pass make me rather nervous while at the same time fascinating me.  What would it be like to live in such a place? I realize I will be more comfortable when we get to a more rural areas, but that is not necessarily a good thing.  I waken from my reverie to find that the larger group I was riding with has now split into smaller groups as bicycling groups are wont to do.  On the way back into the city later, Bob says something about the country mouse not liking the all the commotion of the city and it was very odd as I had just been thinking that I was a country mouse and would be glad to get back to my own quiet, rural home despite all the enriching experiences and people a city holds.  It was one of those moments when you get the uncomfortable feeling that someone is reading your mind. I didn't ask if he was referring to me or to himself and whether he thought it was a good thing or a bad thing, but I feel certain it was to me he was referring to, and what a coincidence that he would use the exact same terminology that I was using in my head. "It is not easy to to walk alone in the country without musing about something."  (Charles Dickens) Yes, the city is fine for a visit, but I would not want to live there.  Even as a child I knew that, that I needed the green fields in the same way that some people need the roll of the waves or that some people need the snow or that others need the bustle and hum of the city. 

The course becomes quite beautiful after the first control and I find my interest particularly piqued when we hit the town of Bean Blossom.  This seems rather silly as I have only seen the name on a map and wanted to ride there, but I  have never ridden through it before.  There is not much there in Bean Blossom, but the name strikes my fancy.  Like many small towns in this age of huge corporations and conglomerates, decaying dreams line the main street. We have so many more things now, but are they the important things?  Or was it better to pay more and  have fewer things but have something else, something I can't find a word for but I know was there, or I think was there. But then I am a dreamer and my dreams tend to romanticize reality. As I have told friends, it is a quality that is one of my biggest strengths, but it is also one of my biggest weaknesses. 

As we near Nashville, the second control, the rain begins to hammer us with that stinging rain that feels like little javelins are being hurled at you by some Lilliputians. Bob and I stop as he remembers the course from the 200K as being different from the cue sheet.  I had turned off the mapping on my Garmin earlier as alas, yet again, after the first control it kept giving me the message that I was off course and then started to tell me to take wrong turns.  I turn it back on and it does pick up the right trail and works again for awhile through eventually I end up turning it off completely.   I don't  particularly like looking so stupid in front of Bob, but I am what I am, and technologically challenged is a nice way of saying it.  I feel a bit better later when I find that Dave also has had some problems with his GPS. Strange, the comfort there is in knowing we are not alone.  And Dave is good with technology and does computer stuff for a living. Thanks to Bob's memory, we take the right turn and end up in Nashville.  It is there that we see Dave again. I am glad. We had arrived at the first control together, but I didn't know if he was behind me or left ahead of me.  

Nashville brings so many memories as we normally go there during the Christmas holidays to have lunch at The Muddy Boots and so that my daughter-in-law can look at the quaint little stores that line the village.  It is one of those excursions that begins as a whim and ends up being somewhat of a tradition.  And I am all about tradition. But my coldness from the rain and being thoroughly soaked from head to toe keeps me from getting caught up in the past.  Bob suggests hot chocolate and I concur thinking how odd it is to be drinking hot chocolate on a day when it is predicted to be in the nineties.  I also think how stupid I was to leave my rain jacket in the car as I begin to chill.  At least I did have the sense to wear wool socks and my feet are warm enough. The rain does not last long, however, and before you know it the warmth of pedaling has filled me as we make our way toward Freetown. When we return this way later in the day, there will be no thoughts of hot chocolate.  The air is syrupy thick and steaming hot, and it is like riding in a sauna. 

It seems such a short time before we have passed through Freetown and made it to the turn around.  We stop at a small cafe to have something substantial before the return journey.  It looks like a hole in the wall on the outside, but inside it is clean and humming with business.  It turns out the food is good, the prices are reasonable, and the service is quick.  The waitress does everything but stand on her head to help us out bringing pitchers of water with ice to the table so that we could drink our fill and fill our water bottles.  What strikes me the most about the meal, however, is that nobody takes out a smart phone to check e-mail or the weather.  We just enjoy the meal and each others company.  Other than meals with my husband or my best friend, Sharon, I can't think of many times that has happened recently.  And I often wonder about everyone's obsession with checking the radar:  what good does it do if you are half way through a ride.  Weather just is going to happen and you have to deal with it.  That being said, I have been caught out a few times when I wondered if I would survive the weather:  but are those not the rides you best remember, those that test your courage, your determination, your ingenuity, your endurance? I can't say I am sorry to have missed the stinging hail some of the others got to experience during the ride though.  Ken, who finished before us, says it hailed on him and others behind post it hailed on them, so it must have danced around us.

After lunch Dave tells Bob and I to go on when we hit the hills, and I smile inside knowing Dave does not do himself justice.  And while he does lag a bit on a few of the longer climbs, there are many that he is way ahead of me on.  He even makes it up the steep climb after Freetown, weaving upwards and beating me to the top. But I also am smiling as I told Bob this same thing near the start of the ride when it became apparent that our paces were somewhat similar as I knew he would most likely be stronger on the hills.  I would have been really concerned if I had know his cycling history:  Leadville, Cascade, Granite Anvil, etc.  Odd how we don't want to hold others back, and as I told him at one point if there is one thing I have learned about randonneurring it is that  you must ride your own pace. It is hard to stay with someone who is much stronger or much weaker on the bike, and there just seems to be more of a speed variation on hills.

As we near Indianapolis, Dave picks up the pace while I do my best to hold on.  The miles pass quickly and we get on the bike path.  There is something going on which I assume is a 5 K run, but people are dressed like victims of a mass murder or disaster with fake blood and dirt covering them.  We pass through a tent that has decontamination tent written on a sign and people wearing white with spray cans of some type.  I am impressed at the number of young people I see running, and I cheer for them as we pass.  But the rain has started and is gradually increasing in intensity, pounding out a rhythm on my helmet and dripped over the end of my helmet. Lightening begins to streak the sky in jagged, beautiful, patterns.  Rather than heading earthward it seems to be streaking crosswise.  I note this all the way home in my car as well. I laugh thinking of a storm safety lesson I heard on the radio just a day or two prior to the ride and realize that we are doing everything that you are warned not to do: we are riding by the river, near and under trees, and on metal objects. Who said brevet riders have good sense?  Perhaps we don't, but we have had a day filled with challenge and companionship and just plain fun, at least when it wasn't hurting;-)

My only concern is the pain in my neck has returned.  Thus far, I can deal with it, but I worry about how severe it might become on the 1000K and whether it is permanent pain or one of those things that will heal once I take a rest from the long miles.  We get old, things hurt, but we still carry on as long as we can.  That is life. My next big training experience will  be riding four centuries in a row in August.  What a way to spend two vacation days!  "What fools ye mortals be."  Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Preparing for the Appalachian Adventure (Maryland 1000K)

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.



Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.



Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
(part of the poem "Do Not Go Gentle
Into that Good Night" by Dylan Thomas

I wish I could say that I have some extremely clever, insightful window into the depths of my soul that allows me to completely understand why I want to complete the Appalachian Adventure this fall.  I have nothing to prove to anyone.  I know it is going to be a tremendous challenge, that with advancing age, though still quite strong,  my physical prowess is waning and not waxing.  I know that none of my normal companions, those few I love and am comfortable with, warts and all, are joining me on this adventure.  Indeed, most of my past riding companions have ceased riding or ride very seldom, something I still struggle with and grieve deeply.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I want to do this ride: to close that chapter in my life, to reach that nebulous point in the grieving process where you finally accept that things are what they are and become glad that you had the time together you did.  Yes, I long for that time when memories make me smile rather than rent my heart like a merciless blade.  But that is not the only reason to ride.

I know that this ride is going to hurt and there will be climbs that make my legs curse me.  And I know that it is quite likely that I will be utterly alone at times, totally dependent only upon myself and my meager inner resources to pull myself through the darkness that can invade your very being on an ultra long ride when unameliorated by company.   I wish I were brimming with confidence in my cycling ability, my mechanical proficiency, my navigational skills, and my capability of being successful. I wish I were not so very scared of losing my way or of not being up to the climbs or of any number of things. I suppose what I am trying to say is that I wish I were bolder, more resourceful, more confident of myself, and not such scaredy cat.  Still I hope that in spite of my doubts, my fears, my insecurities, my numerous shortcomings, that I will not "go gently into that good night," that I can accomplish "this frail deed" and see it shine.

I have determined that I will look at this ride as an adventure and that I will not accept failure.  Oh, I might and probably will find myself off course and might not successfully complete the brevet itself, but my success will be in challenging myself and handling whatever happens as the adventure it will be.  I hope to burst into song at the sight of the Shenandoah Valley and expect to think of Jimmy Stewart, my all time favorite actor.  I hope to thrill at the sight of Harper's Ferry and all the other historical and enchanting sights I encounter along the way.  I hope my eyes will drink all the sights that I have never seen before so that they can succor me in the future when I need them.  And when the end comes, as it inevitably does, this will not be one opportunity that I missed and perhaps those that love me will remember me as a "doer" despite being the dreamer, that part of me that my father so despised.  I hope that I will not be filled with regrets about what wasn't or what could have been had I not been such an invertebrate.  And another favorite poem comes to mind:

"Prospective Immigrants Please Note," by Adrienne Rich


"Either you will go through this door
or you will not go through. 

If you go through 
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

To maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises,
it is only a door."

Yes, I do believe I will gird my loins and go through the door, at least this time.