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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Surly Straggler

"There are more things in heaven and earth,
Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosoply."
William Shakespeare


I have done it.  I have bought myself an early birthday present, a present I have wanted for awhile now.  I have wavered back and forth because truly I should not do it, delve further into the nest egg painfully saved for retirement and emergencies, but I decide to be impulsive.  You see I hear him, my husband, though no longer in this world, whispering in my ear, telling me to do it now while I can, while I have my health and the desire as he did so many times while he was living.  Like Puff, "without my lifelong friend," I have difficulties being brave; but I bite the bullet and it is done. And so, I have bought another bicycle, one more suited to riding gravel as well as pavement.  I have purchased a Surly Straggler.
I struggled with what bicycle to get, what bicycle would best suit my needs.  I want a bike that can take gravel or paved roads with equal equanimity.   A bike that I can do overnight trips on or week long trips on and not have to worry about the surfaces of the roads I might have randomly picked.  I want a bike that I can retire with in a few years and use to see things and go places I have never been.  I gather opinions settling on the advice of Steve Rice. 

I pick my bike up from Clarksville Schwinn deciding when I get there on those little details that you MUST have for the bike to be fully functional:  pedals and water cages.  It is beautiful, almost the same green as my bedroom walls.  There are braze-ons readily available so that I can carry "stuff" in the front and "stuff" in the back once I decide what bags I want.  

Of course, when I get home I decide that I need to try it out immediately despite the fact I have two more dead bushes to dig up and dispose of and numerous other lawn chores.  I dug up a bush this morning and planted two new ones as well as hanging the clothes on the line to dry, weeding the iris bed, and a few other chores. I think of my daughter asking me, "What will happen if you don't get it done?"  She is right: the world will not perish if I take a bicycle ride instead of finishing lawn work that never is completed anyway despite my best efforts.  And actually, had it not been for the new bike, I would have ridden a century today.  I did not ride a century this week-end or last, and I do not like going two week-ends without one, but next week I have four blessed days, and surely one of them will have good weather.

I quickly change into cycling clothes and head out to a gravel road I have not yet ridden.  It is windy but the sun is shining and the world is beautiful.  New leaves delicately lace tree branches, shy of the sun, flirting with the breeze, letting her know that she can not take them until they begin to decline and wither, changing into their fall outfits.  Wild flowers line the road in places, and I see the stalks of what promise to be orange day lilies in May.   

I have never ridden with these type of shifters before, Sram,  and I pray that I don't have to go back to the bike shop and feel like an idiot for not knowing how to shift gears, but I soon figure it out and get the hang of it.  And before you know it, the paved road ends and I am on gravel, going up a road I wondered about but never rode.  The pavement ends right at the gravel, and for a bit I wonder if I am going to make it or have to walk.  For a minute I ask myself why I ever wanted to find out what is on this road.  Despite the knobs on the tires, they slip in places when I try to stand and pedal. My lungs heave in and out, gasping and making noises that let me know they are not at all happy with the demands being placed on them, but they serve me well and eventually I arrive at what I "think" is the top.  It is beautiful:  no cars, no houses, just new, verdant, unspoiled forestland.  I suspect I will find the Amish eventually, for there is horse dung on the road in places.  
I find I am wrong about the climbing being over, but the slope is not steep and before you know it I arrive at the top.  Sure enough, the rest of the road appears to have only Amish residences.  Work horses rest lazily in the pasture, busily munching grass, swishing tails at flies,  knowing that there will be no field work today despite it being planting season.  In one yard, a horse and buggy is in the yard.  A young Amish man is lifting his daughter down from the seat.  She points and giggles when she sees me, and I wave.  I would love to take a photograph, but I know that it is considered rude in the Amish community though they rarely say anything when someone takes a picture because, well, to say something would be rude.  But the children always look so darned cute.  How I miss having little ones to play with now and again.

I think about the things I need to get for my bike.  My son and his wife got me a handlebar bag for International Woman's Day that will be perfect for this bike.  It would not fit my other bike as my road bike has narrower handlebars, but I just know it will be perfect for this one.  I need to find my extra GPS attachment so that I can have it along.  I have no idea where it is, but I keep my bicycle things in a few places and will look. And I just need to browse and dream, work some overtime, and save.  I need something to look forward to. I do decide that I will take off for a week-end soon, maybe return to Montgomery for an overnight, this time with a bike more suited for the gravel that I know awaits.  Mostly I dream, and I thank Lloyd for his sage advice, for all that he taught me.

Shortly before my husband died, he was sitting on the couch in the living room and said to me: "Melissa, I don't know if I'll be able to, but if I can I will look after you and take care of you even after I am gone."   My faith is not as simple or strong as that of my  husband or his mother, a dear friend I also miss.  After I get home from my ride today, I gather the laundry in the laundry basket and take upstairs: one of those last chores that you do to prepare for the coming work week.  Tom helps, of course, by sitting in the laundry basket.  Also in the laundry basket, from somewhere, somehow, is my extra mount for the GPS that I was thinking that I needed to find.  And suddenly I am crying, silently and with great longing tempered now by acceptance.  I don't know how that mount got there.  I assume you used that rascal, Tom.  But thank you, Lloyd, for caring for me and letting me know I made the right decision about the bike.  I will try to be brave and I will try to have faith for in the end, I know Shakespeare is right.  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Spring at Last

"There's something of a restorative quality about
spring, where something whispers wild rumors about 
new beginnings arising from the seemingly dead seeds
of our lives,  There's something almost cruel about it
all, as if there might be some sort of truth about a 
new life actually being possible. Yet, maybe it is true."
Craig Lounsbrough



It is one of the those glorious spring days where the sun shines in an endlessly blue sky and the warmth teases you, calls you, beckoning with promises.  I am torn between a desire to ride and a desire to throw open the windows and clean house, hanging sheets in the fresh breeze so that they seem clean, cleaner than being dried in a clothes dryer.  It is as if the sun and wind seeps into them.  And so, I decide to do a bit of both.  While I miss having my schedule revolve around someone else, there is a freedom here.  And with this burst of spring, I find a smile on my lips and a song in my heart.  

It doesn't hurt that I have decided to buy another bicycle for myself, one that is better equipped for overnight traveling and for gravel roads.   As I struggle with the decision, I  hear my husband in my head urging me forward.  "It's only paper," he whispers, "Do it while you can, while you have your health, while you are still able." Perhaps I will continue to do brevets and perhaps not, but I do intend to do some bicycle touring.   I call and order the bike, an early 60th birthday present. 

I spend the morning doing the mundane chores, music echoing throughout my house, so that when I ride and return, I can bathe and delight in the clean.  The cats enjoy this, the activity fascinates them and it is much more satisfying having company while you labor.  Tom pounces on the broom as I sweep, letting it know in no uncertain terms that he rules.  And before you know it clothes are washed and line dried and put away, sweeping and vacuuming is done,  and it is time:  time to head out the door on my bicycle.

I have decided to ride my fixed gear to Brownstown.   I don't know why I have suddenly fixated on my fixed gear because I have not ridden it often in the past few years.  I have ridden it three times this week.  It is an old, heavy steel bike:  a Raleigh that Lucky Dog pulled from someone's trash can.  To me, it is beautiful though with its black and gold paint.  

There is a lovely simplicity about riding fixed.  There is the acceptance that you may make it up a hill, or you may not, and if you do not there is no shame in walking.  The route I have chosen is fairly flat, but there is the one climb out of Brownstown that has a fairly nice grade to it.  

The fields are lovely, not yet worked by the farmer, blanketed with the purple flowers the bees love so.  I remember the sound of the bees, their droning, as they harvested from this weed, whatever it may be, as it grew in our garden.  I remember one of them popping me right on the throat when I pulled up some of their pasture and Lloyd removing the pulsating stinger sac with a credit card.  I pass a group of birds, vultures or buzzards I think, each sitting on a fence post, wings spread toward the sun.  I have seen this before and read that it has to do with wing drying and thermoregulation.  Why, I think, would their wings be wet?

I think of mundane things, like what I will have for dinner tonight, and how I miss having company and someone to talk about the days ride with.  And I realize that I hope I do not spend the rest of my life alone despite the fact it feels a bit disloyal.  I am lulled from my reverie by some idiot who feels he must blare his horn at me despite the fact he has an entire lane to pass in as nobody is coming, and I do something I rarely do:  flip him off.  

I worry as I see tail lights briefly light, but he drives on.  I think this was not very smart on my part, to flip off a stranger on a fairly deserted road that has flood water on each side:  the perfect place to dispose of someone who pissed you off because they were on a bicycle and not in a car.  I never will grasp the hostility particularly in those situations where the bicycle is not costing anyone to lose a second of their precious time.  But of course  my imagination has once again grabbed the bit and run off with me: he is not waiting around the next curve of the road.

It is funny how quickly 40 miles go by and I am home.  I briefly consider riding more, but decide to call it a day.  There are still a few clothes hanging on the line that need to be folded and put away, supper to be cooked, and dishes to be washed.  But what a glorious spring bicycling day.  On a day like today, I can believe, at least partially, that a new life may indeed be possible.   
 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Kentucky 300K 2016


"Hello darkness my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again..."
Paul Simon


 When I arrive at registration, I tell Steve, the RBA, that I very well may DNF. For some reason, I did not sleep last night other than a two hour nap. Oddly enough, while I know about the wind prediction, this has nothing to do with it. Well, maybe it has a little to do with it, but I normally don't fear wind.  Wind just makes you accept that the ride will be much harder and you will ride much more slowly. I just don't want to do this ride for some reason.  I am not sure I will ever want to do a long ride again.  It is just something I have been struggling with recently.  I am hoping, however, that once I get started I will find myself enjoying the ride as often happens. While it is supposed to be VERY windy this afternoon, with a wind advisory in effect from 1:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m., it is supposed to be sunny and it is starting to be green.  

Steve pooh poohs my pronouncement, and I know nobody believes me.  And maybe they will turn out to be right.  But maybe this time they will turn out to be wrong.  I have told myself I will ride far enough to get my April century completed, and go from there.  I know it is hard to complete a brevet without really having some level of commitment.  I try to carrot myself with the thoughts of a trip to Colorado, but the tax shock of being widowed and filing single is still being processed.  My life is just so very different.  I am just so very different.

Bill and I start the ride together at the back of the pack and this is a comfort.  Perhaps we can pull each other through what I know will be a rough day.  Wind always makes things more difficult, and these winds are supposed to be unusually wicked and strong this afternoon. I think Bill is with me, when suddenly I am alone.  I hope he did not have a flat or a mechanical that I did not notice. I briefly think of how very much I enjoyed riding in Texas with Bill, Steve, and Dave.  It was almost like old times before the changes came.  But changes do come, and they are not good or bad normally, just different and unfamiliar.

I settle in to the old familiar sound of wheels turning and the feeling that the darkness has me cupped in the palm of his hand.  Sometimes it is almost as if I am the only one in the world, alone in the darkness on a journey that will hold who knows what surprises for me.  I guess it could best be described as being cozy. Women have often asked me if I am not afraid out here on  strange roads, alone in the dark, and I can honestly say that normally I am not.  In fact, normally I am content in the dark so long as my bicycle is well lit and it is not exceptionally foggy or rainy and I am outside of a city.  There is beauty here that I see all too seldom. Maybe I am just too stupid to be scared and I should be.

Once we leave the small town the ride starts from, there is nobody.  Occasionally I see a bicycle light in front of me, a red siren disappearing over the crest of the hill and reappearing only to disappear again.  The words of Paul Simon's song come to mind and I find myself softly singing to myself, one of my very favorite songs and very appropriate right now. Riding in the night is one of the best parts of riding brevets, there is no doubt about it.  It gives me time to think and process things. I hope Bill will soon catch me and I soft pedal for a bit, but he does not appear and I later learn he DNF'd.

I must admit I do enjoy this first part of the ride, and then the part where you suddenly notice the dark is not so all encompassing, that light is stealthily creeping into the world, blackness yields to gray which in turn yields to color.  You begin to see the occasional car, to see lights come on in a house you pass, and I think of families sitting down to breakfast together.  I think how I miss that, nurturing my brood. But life moves forward.  I try to understand why I have been struggling so with my desire to do long brevets.  One day I have some interest and the next I am completely disinterested.  I tell myself that I will quit, and then I have some wild plan to ride somewhere I have never been before.  I do not come up with any answers other than perhaps depression is playing a role here.  When I talk with my doctor about depression, though, she just tells me to ride my bike.

As I ride, I notice that I am struggling to maintain much of a pace.  I attribute it to lack of sleep until mile 62 when I realize (duh, dummy) the sound I have been hearing is not the sound of my tights rubbing against my bento box that I normally don't ride with:  it is the sound of my front brake rubbing.  I fix this right before rolling into the control.  I really have no desire to ride more, but I decide I will have something to eat and then make my decision.  I eat and then call the RBA, Steve Rice, leaving a VM that I am turning around and DNF'ing.  200K is enough for today.  

The wind slaps me soundly as soon as I make the first turn, and I find I need to put my jacket back on.  It becomes progressively worse.  I later hear it was 45 to 55 mph.  My bike begins to move when there are crosswinds and I am unable to stand and pedal or to take my hands off the handle bars to drink.   I need the weight on the bars to keep my front wheel steady.  I keep wondering if I will fall, and there are times when it moves me very close to the edge of the road despite my best efforts to keep it steady.  Branches blow and occasionally hit me.  In places, loose gravel pelts me like sand paper.  I find myself using my granny gear on a brevet course that I would normally call fairly easy.  Today, in this wind it is not easy.  In two places, trees have fallen across the road and I have to get off my bike to get around them.  

Since there is little traffic, I try to ride on the side of the road that has less trees or that has no power lines.  I think of a ride where we came upon a motorcyclist trapped under a tree that happened to fall as he was riding by. I pass a power line that has snapped and is waving in the wind.  I don't know if it is live, but I don't intend to find out.  All I want is the security of my car, though I must admit I am concerned about driving in this wind.  At one point, I think it is going to start hailing, but only a few, hard, cold rain drops pelt my face.

At what would have been the last control I think of calling my daughter to come get me, but I can't stand the thought of putting her at risk driving in this because of my own stupidity.  I doggedly move forward, one pedal stroke after another, trying not to fight the wind and just accept it.  Roads signs are wildly waving and it reminds me of riding Hurricane Ike with Mike.  Trash cans blow across the roads.  A flag has broken lose and is held only by the cords whereby it is raised.  It is standing straight out, flapping wildly, but 10 to 15 feet away from the pole. I am averaging only 10 mph and often going more slowly.  At one point, the best I can do on the flats into the wind is 4 mph.  It is going to be a long day.  Shelbyville seems as far away and as elusive as the North Pole.  

Eventually, however, I reach my car. I briefly think of giving it a big kiss, but restrain myself. My knees ache and I am tired and very, very thirsty from not being able to drink during the ride.  I quickly put my bike in and drive slowly home, aware of the wind even in an automobile.  I think about whether I could have done the extra 60 miles, and decide that had I wanted to, I could have though it would have been very painful and slow.  The fact that I did not want to, even before the wind became a reality, worries me, but I will deal with that on another day.  I feel lucky to have made it safely in and safely home to warm p.j.'s and a warm bed.