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