"We experience a discomfort that may be foreign
to others, but that pain opens up a world of beauty."
It is frigidly cold and has been, temperatures ranging 20 degrees below normal for this time of year per the news weather people. Indeed, one day last week, the temperature was 15 degrees BELOW zero when I left for work. And while tomorrow is not predicted to be that cold, it is supposed to be in the teens at the start. Where is spring and what foreign world have I been transported into where gray and snow seem to be eternal and without surcease?
I debate whether to face the cold and ride or to grab a bottle of wine, stay home, cry and feel sorry for myself, and burrow more deeply into my grief. Sometimes the only way out is to go further down first. A feeling must be fully felt and experienced in order to be freed. Burial is a stopgap leaving worms festering that will break free or warp. And it will be my wedding anniversary the day of the 200K. Lastly, I am leaning toward not going to PBP as it seems a shame to spend that much money on something that I might not yet be able to enjoy. In other words, I have no real, compelling reason to ride and face the cold.
A melancholy grin crosses my face as I remember how my husband tried to trick me into marrying him on February 29th the year we wed. The night before we married, he stayed up all night after getting home from work installing new carpet as my mother was going to see our home for the first time. I decide to wait and see how I feel in the morning before making up my mind. As my grief therapist has pointed out, I can always start the ride and turn around at any time. She reminds me that nobody can tell me how long or how to grieve or what the right way to grieve is because no shoe fits every foot and there is no right way. I just know that I am exhausted most of the time and that every day seems to be an effort, and I don't expect tomorrow to be any different. She assures me that there will once again come a day when I will spring out of bed with anticipation, to give myself time.
I decide not to clean my bike as with the melting snow and ice it will only get dirty again, but I grease the chain and put on one of the tail lights I got for Christmas. I decide not to use the hub generator as I hope to finish well before dark, but I add a couple of smaller headlamps just in case. One never knows, and I am certainly out of shape and have put on a lot of weight since December. I check to make sure I have my reflective gear and pack all sorts of winter gear in case I change my mind about what to wear when I get there. Once in bed, I remember that I have not packed Vaseline to grease my face for protection from the cold. I know that I will be sorry if I forget it, but I just can't wrest myself out of the warm cocoon to go find and pack it.
As it turns out, I awaken early and can't fall back asleep, so I decide to head out. I remember to find and place the Vaseline in my bag. It is in the teens at the start, and while I decide to dispense with my wool long johns, I have layers on top to where I feel like a finger push might topple me over. Twenty riders are registered for the ride, nineteen of them men. Of the twenty, four do not show. Of the sixteen left, three DNF. So, out of twenty people, only seven have the good sense not to spend the entire day out in the frigid cold riding a bicycle because of God only knows what psychological aberration or need.
Because of the cold, there is little of the normal pre-ride parking lot conversation whispering through the air. A few hellos are exchanged, but not much other than that. But there are head lights and tail lights and the clicks of derailleurs during those last minute checks. And all too soon, or perhaps with the cold, not soon enough, we are off. My hands tingle and I hope I don't spend the whole day in discomfort, but there you are. When you put on weight and don't ride your bike and you add that it is COLD, can you expect not to be uncomfortable? But soon the rhythm and the gentle exercise warms me.
During the first of the ride, or actually throughout the ride, I must admit that I keep asking myself why I am out here. I wish I could tell you that I enjoyed this ride, that I didn't cry at times throughout the ride, that memories did not rise up and threaten to overwhelm me when I rode alone or even when I rode with others. I wish I could tell you that I did not consider turning around at or before the first control and particularly right after the first control following the descent on Devil's Hollow where the wind took advantage of every nook and cranny gaining entrances in unexpected places and chilling me to the very bone. I can't. But I can tell you that despite the hellishness of the descent, it was strikingly beautiful with icicles lining the sides of the descent and snow intensifying the stark outlines of the branches of the trees on the hillside. And I can tell you that I finished with Tony, Tim, and Scott dragging me along the last of the ride, particularly on the hills when each additional pound means additional seconds and additional effort. And I can tell you that parts of the route and the snow covered terrain were beautiful, breathtakingly so. Pain does, indeed, open a world of beauty at times.
And the weather, while cold, is a gift in this accomplishment as well. There is wind, but not a strong wind. There is not a great deal of temperature variation so there is no need for additional stops to add and subtract layers. This is not an "epic" ride as so many of the Kentucky brevets have been: no rain, sleet, hail, and strong wind. It is merely cold, and you can dress for cold if you spend the money and have the right gear.
But despite the fact that this was not an "epic" ride, it was a painful ride due to my poor conditioning. And I will remember this ride. I will remember this brevet because for me I think it was a good choice, one of many and one of few in a long line of the choices that determine the course that our lives take. And I will remember the kindness of those that could have ridden off and gotten out of the cold earlier, who I urged to ride on more than once but didn't, but rather stayed and kept me company, even engendering a few smiles that were made with more than my lips. I will remember the warmth of a hug by a friend at the end of the ride, a comfort that I really miss. Thanks to everyone who made this happen and helped me through this most difficult of days.
Now as to the 300K, it is looking doubtful, but who knows. Like childbirth, the pain of a brevet tends to diminish in the mind with the passage of time until only the accomplishment of completion remains.
"No one is useless in this world who lightens
the burdens of another." Charles Dickens