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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Jiggs and the Start of Fall

"This day will never come again and anyone
who fails to eat and drink and taste and smell it
will never have it offered to him again in all eternity. 
The sun will never shine as it does today..."
Hermann Hesse


With the cooler weather and the prediction for possible rain showers, I really do not think anyone will show for my century ride to Norman today.  Sometimes friends do drive this far to experience new routes and new roads or for my company, and occasionally even a stranger will show up  having seen my ride on the club ride schedule, but just as often, particularly now Bill and Grasshopper no longer ride and Steve rides much less frequently, nobody shows.  This is particularly true now that I am slower.  It does not upset me.  It does not hurt my feelings or give me pause as to whether anybody actually likes me. I suppose I grow used to being alone, and not just on the bike.  Sometimes that aloneness translates into loneliness, and sometimes it does not.  I don't know it until it happens.  Usually I am fine being alone, but sometimes I find I am incredibly lonely now Lloyd has moved on to the next world.  Sometimes I wonder if I will ever again feel whole.

 Frankly, there are those times I prefer it as it is much easier to dream and think while alone and unshackled by the demands of conversation.  And there are still times when I am not much fun to be around, when memories bring sadness rather than appreciation.  I suspect that this deep well of sadness will not grow more shallow, but I know I will not sink in as often.  I still think of him every day, but it is not so pervasively.

When nobody shows for a scheduled ride, it does lead to decision making that is otherwise taken from me:  to ride or not to ride, that is the question?  You HAVE to ride if people show up, but if you are alone you can ride or you can stay home.

Before I ever go over to the parking lot to check, I have decided that despite the prediction for possible rain, I will ride.  I still have my carradice attached from my Montgomery trip and it will hold more than what I need. It is not so cold that chilling will be an issue, and the prediction is for showers, not a heavy pounding rain that makes seeing difficult and increases the dangers of a two wheel adventure.  I will not waste the day for it will never come again.  I hope to eat, drink, taste, and smell it as Hesse urges me to do, realizing it is unique and time is limited.

I am surprised but happy when Amelia pulls in. Amelia is funny and makes me laugh. She is bold and brave and strong in a way that I am not.  But she rarely comes to my rides.  Briefly I worry that my pace will be too slow for her, but I force myself to release that thought and not worry.  I made it quite plain in my pre-ride summary that I did not intend to press the pace.  Unless she did not believe me, she knows what to expect.

 Then Lynn arrives and I know it will be perfect.  Lynn also makes me smile, though often his wit is subtle and hidden, the kind that subtly hits you  making you snort and grin as you realize how easily it might have slipped by you unnoticed.  And, oh, how I admire his strength through the adversities he has faced and faces.  He is a caregiver, and while there are parts of the caregiving responsibilities that I don't miss, I would do almost anything to set the clock back, to see something Lloyd liked at the grocery and to pick it up and bring it home hoping to find his smile.  But for me, those days are gone.  And I know that being the caregiver is not always easy and not always a happy place to be.

I wish Paul were coming, but I know he is far from healed and that it will only be next spring before there will be any chance of sharing a ride and a conversation.  I remember confiding in him on our last ride my fear of this coming winter and my uncertainty if I have the backbone to get through it.  Like so many people, he told me I am strong, but I don't really know what that means anymore. I almost ask, but I don't.  It is too personal.

Neither Amelia nor Lynn take a cue sheet for it will be just the three of us sharing this day and this route and nobody intends to ride off and leave the others.  It is one of those days when you just feel that the day will be special, if only because you realize that there will likely not be many more of these days this calendar year.  Temperatures will trend downward rather than upward in the near future, wind will increase, and riding will become progressively more difficult mentally and physically.  It is just so much harder to get out the door on cold winter days.  Even when the sun shines brightly, it is a shadow on Plato's wall, its heat meager and pallid. Some friends will garage their bikes and head to the gym or to spin classes, others will only do shorter rides or run, and the world will change as it always does.  Bird begin to gather in flocks. Sound leaves the world as creatures prepare to sleep.  I accept it, but I don't  like it.

Despite my recognition that it is that time of year, I am startled at the subtle changes in the foliage.  It just seems too early for leaves to be changing. In some places they litter the ground, nature's confetti to celebrate that it is almost time to take her rest. There is a dream like quality as they dance and twirl to the ground, bowing to the slight wind that partners them. I like to hear them crunch under the wheels of my bicycle, or when I am walking I like how they swirl around my legs and feet.  They are not thick on the ground yet, but it will not be long now.  They bring memories of childhood leaf forts and acorn fights.  The fall smell is not here yet though, that earthy smell, damp, sensual, and somehow wholesome, that wafts throughout wooded areas in the late fall.

The day passes at an easy pace.  Conversation ebbs and flows.  When I walk in Jiggs, the proprietor recognizes me.  As predicted, the food is edible, but nothing special.  Still it will fuel the return miles.  Amelia and I tease Lynn when the waitress brings his Coke but does not bring or diet drinks.  After we leave, we stop to look at a building that interests up.  We walk up the steep, long gravel hill.  And we stop at Dairy Queen for a treat before the final leg back to the start. Amelia has a flat and we stop to fix it.  A kind lady stops to see if we need help. 

I think how grateful I am to have friends and that it is nice to share the day with two people whose company I truly enjoy.  There is just something pleasurable about taking it easy on a ride occasionally,  about not pressing the pace and being able to look at scenery rather than worrying about staying on a wheel in front of you without touching it.  I can't say that there are not times when I have enjoyed a pace line, but not today.  And though we do pick up the pace when we hit 39, tongues are not hanging out and breath coming in ragged gasps.

We say our farewells and the day is over.  But I will remember it, and I think that perhaps they will remember it as well.  Not the whole day, certainly, but snippets and pieces, and they will warm us in the days that are to come.  For this day will never come again.  


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Painless in Paoli

"The foliage has been losing its freshness
through the month of August, and here and there a 
yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair 
amidst the locks of a beauty  who has seen one 
season too many..."  
(Oliver Wendell Holmes)


It is beautiful this time of year, there is no doubt about it.  There is a feeling of anticipation, the knowledge that things are about to change and change significantly.  No more the long, steamy daylight hours of summer to dance through with my bicycle gloriously unfettered.  While the weather is exceedingly pleasant, the lessened daylight hours make it feel as if there is less time, less time to do those things that need doing so that one can rest easy in the winter patiently waiting for spring to oust the cold and snow.  And there is less time if you want to ride in daylight, to feel the sun beating down, warming you, making you sweat.  Rides become more hurried, less tolerant of unnecessary delays.  Gone the days of lolling in the grass mid-ride talking or dreaming.  Lights are attached to bikes in case of problems.  There is less room for error.

The squirrels have been particularly active this year, crossing the road with a suicidal, wild abandon that is uncharacteristic the rest of the year. It is as if their timidity is shuttled to the back of their minds in their determination to gather and store food for the winter.   The harvest takes precedence over all else.  The farmers also have started the reaping, corn cobs littering the roads, dust thick and heavy in the air as  you ride by if they are working near the road, covering you with grit. 

I am glad I did not talk myself out of riding with the group today, although it did cross my mind.  I remember the difficulty of this course, Painless in Paoli, and grin again at the thought of Kirk's post after the ride last year:  "Painless, my ass."  When you are not training, it is all too easy to avoid challenging rides, to forget the satisfaction that effort can bring, the blessed tiredness that aids sleep and blessed unconsciousness later when night falls.  It is all too easy to forget the spectacular scenery that you can earn only through the climbs and the hilly terrain, those scenes that flatland riders never get to experience. This particularly holds true when one is not training for something or when one is depressed and has to literally demand going out the door, when riding is a duty and an obligation and not a delight.  Is it enough not to just ride?  Must one also ride hills? 

I still need to force myself out the door at times, but  more and more often I manage to give myself a resounding yes and a kick in the rear.  While it is still dark outside when I leave for the ride start, I know daylight will have stretched out, yawning in pinks and grays and purples, across the horizon before we begin.  What I don't know is that later today I will come as close to taking a serious spill as I have come in quite some time now. 

Tony and I are riding along and there comes a delicious descent, the kind you reach after a good climb, the kind you can swoop down laughing and grinning ear to ear while the wind yells, "slow down, you idiot."  How I love descents.  At the bottom, however, a large, tan dog lays in wait.  I am almost on top of him before I see him rushing out, and I expect to go down knowing the collision is inevitable and hoping that he doesn't savage me once I fall.  Amazingly, while he hits the middle of my front wheel and breaks the light holder off of my fork, I am able to lean into him and somehow I bounce off of him and remain upright. 

I stop to check on him and he gives me such a look of reproach it is almost comical, particularly in light of how close I was to going down and going down hard.  "Don't you know when a fellow is just playing," he seems to ask. "You play too roughly."  He then runs off.  I knock on the door to let the owner know, but nobody answers.  Tony waits patiently while I write a note to the owners briefly explaining what happened and saying I hope their dog is okay.

The rest of the ride is uneventful, but it is filled with companionship and lovely vistas, the sights, smells, and sounds you know you will miss like the dickens when it is cold, windy, and wild outside, the kind that bring a tinge of melancholy because summer green is fading:  summer beauty always ages and fails despite  our best efforts.   But there is still beauty to come, the beauty born of endurance and of weathering the spring, summer, and fall:  life's seasons.  It may just be that we need to develop a special eye to see it.  To me, my mother, 98years old,  is still beautiful despite her wrinkles, her dementia, her blindness.....she is my mother.  And the earth will be beautiful as well.  It is all, as they say, in the eye of the one who beholds her.  "Let us give thanks for those blessings that we are about to receive." Amen.