"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..."
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.