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Monday, May 30, 2016

"Another way to be prepared is to think 
negatively.  Yes, I'm a great optimist, but
when I am trying to make a decision, I often
think of the worst case scenario.  I call
it 'the eaten by wolves factor.'  If I do something
what's the most terrible thing that could happen?
Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes
it possible to be an optimist is if you have a plan
for when all hell breaks loose.  There are lots of
things I don't worry about because I have a plan in
place if they do."  
Randy Pausch


Sometimes I think the most best part of a ride, at least a long ride, be it a brevet or a multi-day ride, is the preparation.  I enjoy planning the route knowing there are new roads that will hold new sights and, perhaps, new challenges:  the hill with the impossibly steep grade, gravel, odd sights, the road that does not exist or does not go through or is unexpectedly closed, etc.  Hopefully the roads will be  passable.  Hopefully I will not get lost.  Hopefully I will have cell phone coverage.  Hopefully, while I will have phone coverage, nobody will call.  Hopefully rest stops will be available.  Hopefully I will not run into some maniac with a vendetta against women.  But the not knowing, the trying to think of and plan for each contingency while still keeping things reasonable, that is just pure fun.  And I accept that there are those things that happen that you cannot plan for and just have to deal with as they arise.  Sometimes the wolf gets you, no matter how well you plan.
 
This will be my first long ride on my new Surly Straggler.  I planned and rode the course last year so it will not be completely new, but I am sure new adventure awaits.  It was passable on a road bike, but there was lots of gravel that was difficult to negotiate on my Lynskey.  This year I will be better prepared, or at least I will have a bike that performs better on gravel. I am not sure I am in as good physical shape as last year, and I know I weigh a few pounds more. Once I get out from home a bit, the roads will be like new to me having only traveled them once before.  I have little course memory anyway.  The bike is new to me.  And surely there will be new experiences awaiting.

As I prepare my bike, I find that with this bike I have even less clearance between the rear wheel and my carradice than with the Lynskey.  I have been so excited about really having room to carry large water bottles, and now this.  I suppose different equipment will be in order in the future, but it will have to wait.  One thing about being short:  there are bike packing issues that those graced with more height don't face.  I attach the carradice, change out the seat that came with the bike to my Gilles Bertaud (thanks yet again, Greg Smith, for turning me on to this saddle and literally saving my ass), and add the new Iberia handlebar bag my son and his wife bought for me.  By the time I am packed, my bike weighs 48 pounds, but I am fairly sure I have what I need to have a good ride. 


The air is thick and clammy as I head out despite it being early morning, but it is not raining.....yet.  The prediction is for showers and possible storms and the humidity is high.  I am not used to the heat yet, and if this route lacks anything, it is regular places to get something to eat and drink.  Most of the roads, at least as I remember them, are isolated and rural.  That is part of the charm of the route, but it  also  concerns me.  Still, I only have me to worry about.  Despite putting the ride on the club schedule, there were no takers.  I speculate that this was partially due to there being gravel on the route and partially due to scheduling against a TMD Stage (a local series of century rides).  It is probably also partially due to my no longer riding so fast.  Most people who would be interested in this ride are stronger riders.  It is also likely due to my now being widowed, for people do not treat you quite the same when you are single as when you are part of a couple. For whatever reason, it was as I expected. It is, perhaps, best that I ride alone anyway on this virgin trip with my new bicycle.  That way I am only responsible for me and I will notice the scenery more and have time to think and be thankful.  I will have time to stop and take photos and time to learn to trust my new bike. Odd to think one bonds with a bike, but trust does develop over the miles traveled together.  For some reason, I also suspect this ride will be about memories as I celebrate those I loved and that loved me but are gone.  "Don't take for granted the love this life gives you."  (Tim McGraw).  I don't take for granted the love that was given me even that which is gone. 

One thing I am grateful for is my freedom. What a country where a woman can plan on riding almost 200 miles and not have to overly worry about her personal safety.  People have died so that I can have that freedom, so that all of us can have the freedoms that we have. People I did not know and that never knew me.  This is their week-end.  What better thank you than to use the very freedom that they gave us.  It is one reason I vote, even when there is nobody running for office that I particularly excites me.

The first part of the route is flat and is on familiar roads, so I am grateful when I turn onto roads I have only traveled once before despite the fact that I immediately encounter a steep hill.  Why is it that so often difficult hills are foreshadowed by tree coverage?   I remember this bad boy from last year, and it is as steep as I remember. I suppose it is because it would be hard to build on the hillside. But I churn the pedals and slowly make the climb, sides heaving, heart pumping, alive.

 I become concerned about my carridice as it seems to be bumping my wheel whenever I go over a bad spot in the road.  I curse myself for taking the dowel rods out of the bottom only now remembering that Lloyd put them in there just because of this very issue.  With the lesser clearance, it is even more of an issue now. I had forgotten and taken them out not knowing why they were there, but now I remember.  With some duct tape, however, I am able to remedy the problem for this trip.  A stick duct taped across the carradice holder stops the carradice from sagging in the center and hitting the wheel.  Two would have been better, but it is what it is.  It works for the moment. (Photo taken after the ride).

I find I don't really particularly like the gearing or the SRAM shifting on this new bike.  The gearing would be fine, I suspect, when you are riding a bike that doesn't weigh 46 pounds, but mine does.  I hope to take trips in the future where it may weigh even more. The shifting is crisp and responsive, but with the terrain changing to frequent hills and climbing, I find that my short, stubby fingers are tiring of the extra reach the SRAM shifters take.  In other words, both would be find for regularly riding, but I can't say that I like them for long distance touring on a loaded bicycle.  I am probably stuck with them, but next time I will get something more suited to the purpose. Sometimes it seems I am always making mistakes. The problem is, I don't always learn from them as I should.  And perhaps I am just grumpy as the miles tax my legs and mind.

I hit my first obstacle when I reach the closed bridge.   It has never been a problem with the Lynskey.  Firstly, the Lynskey has not ever been so heavily loaded.  Secondly, it is titanium, unpainted titanium, and thus can be used rather roughly.  It is my kind of bike that way.  With the Lynskey, if it feels too heavy, I can just kind of scoot it under the blockade. This bike has beautiful paint, and while I know that eventually I will scratch it, I know I will feel badly when I do so.  It takes every ounce of strength I possess to lift it over the barriers, but I manage.  No scratches.  The first challenge down.


I think of how I love these old bridges.  Both days are filled with old bridges, many of them one lane bridges.  Near me, most of those bridges are being replaced by bridges that two cars can cross at the same time, bridges that span creeks as if they were rivers, that seem somehow an overkill.  The words of some song float briefly through my mind, "For everything you win there is something lost."

It is on Buddha Road that I meet my next challenge.  A gigantic tree has fallen during the night completely blocking the road.  The highway department is there working on clearing the road.  There is sinking feeling in my chest.  If I have to, I will backtrack and find a way back onto my route, but today's ride is 103 miles, and the remaining miles are not easy miles with the hills and gravel.  I remember how tired I was upon my arrival last year. With starting so early, I did not throw a light in my bag.  Perhaps I deserve the wolf treatment. When I get in tonight will depend upon  the length of and the terrain of the detour.  There are good people in this world though.  The highway men offer to lift my bike over for me, and allow me to climb under the tree to continue on my way.  I ask if there was wind last night or what happened.  One man tells me there was no wind, the tree was hollow, and had lost its strength. I truly appreciate their kindness, and I say a prayer for them and those like them.  I believe I would have been okay time-wise finding a way around, but one never knows when a mechanical or other obstacle will raise its ugly head.  And I think about how each of us and everything, even the strongest, have their season.  Don't waste it, I think.  Ride, ride and soak it in.



As the roads become less heavily traveled and shift from farm land to forest, I feel the verdant greenness seep into my very soul.  All the stress of the past few weeks with the overtime and work demands leaches away and I feel young and carefree.  Daisies line the sides of the road in places and I dream once more of how when we first married I would bring them in from the horse pasture to decorate our table and our home.  How little we had:  a bean bag chair, a mattress on the floor, stove, and refrigerator.  How happy we were.  I remember my first washing machine and how it cost $15.00 dollars at an auction.  I remember the elation I felt at no longer needing to go to a laundromat.  Such a little thing to bring such joy.

As I near Shoals I realize that some of the roads that were gravel last year have been chip and sealed, but there is still little traffic.  I remember that there are some rough roads between Shoals and Montgomery and mentally prepare myself, but I also remember them as being scenic.  The last few miles are mostly rough, large gravel as I pass Amish houses and fields.  The wind is picking up and the sky is threatening.  Despite my tiring legs, I quicken my pace hoping to beat the storm.   Still I notice the man plowing with five horses, manes roached and tails shortened, straining against their harnesses, working as a team, to draw life from the field.  I wave and the driver nods.  I notice that the wind is whipping his beard about. I notice the small Amish boy, perhaps three, with a tiny puppy slip into a doorway.  A horse drawn carriage or two pass me, the women with their hair mostly covered and in their dresses.  What they must think of this heathen.  It is like being back in time.  I hate that I am in a hurry.  I hate that is is rude to take pictures.  But I press onward, my legs complaining against the pace.

And I almost make it in before the rain, but not quite.  About one half mile from my destination, the rain begins in earnest.  What is the big deal, I think?  So I arrive wet.  The wind has picked up, but there is no lightening arching across the sky. It is hot.  And suddenly I am delighting in the coolness of the rain washing away the sticky hotness of a difficult day of riding.  I am laughing like a mad woman as I make the final turn into the Gastof Amish Village where my motel is located:  http://gasthofamishvlg-com.webs.com/.    Two older people, sitting at the motel entrance in rocking chairs, look at me rather strangely.  I want to hug them and tell them how very lucky they are to be given the gift of aging together, but I know they would never understand.  I know I did not understand the magnitude of this gift until it was taken from me.  But I will not be sad.  Rather I am glad for what I was given.   Some people never have that.  I would have liked to have more, but it was not to be.  Suddenly, I am ravenous and looking forward to the Amish feast I know awaits me at the buffet.

And surely enough, after showering and walking to the restaurant, a feast awaits me.  Everything tastes heavenly, my appetite honed to a fine edge by the time in the saddle, but when I to the dessert section and there is strawberry pie, every pedal stroke it took to get here is worth it.  These are not the large berries that one finds in the grocery anymore, almost apple sized.  There are the small berries I remember from my youth, brilliantly red,  and the taste is heavenly.  Sometimes I think we have bred the taste out of everything, whatever the reason.

Returning to the motel, I fall asleep easily at 8:30 and barely stir until morning.  I am filled with anticipation wondering if the first of the day is as beautiful as I remember it to be and it does not disappoint.  There are long stretches of little to no traffic once I leave the city, bridges and creeks and train tracks that remind me of the growth of this country.  The catalpas, one of my favorite trees, are weeping their blossoms, and I feel like a bride with flowers strewn on the road to celebrate my passing.  The house where the pack of dogs chased last year shows not one sign of a dog and I wonder if she has moved or has them indoors. An old woman is walking slowly along the road, getting her morning stroll in.  "I am on your right and don't want to scare you," I yell.  She does not turn her head, I suspect due to an arthritic neck, but as I pass she cautions me to be safe out there.  For just a moment we are joined in wishing each other well and enjoying the beauty of this fine morning, the day still ripe with promise and expectations.

  Turtles are everywhere, and I move eight of them off the road before the end of the ride.  While there is little traffic, I want to try to be sure  they are not squashed.  As always, I wonder if people hit them on purpose or accidentally.  Probably both.  I think of the time when I saw a car back up to run over a snake again and again, out in the middle of nowhere where a snake should not be a big concern. I determinedly push this negativity from my mind, and a bit down the road I stop to eat the Amish bread and butter I have brought with me from the breakfast buffet and delight in the yeasty freshness and the taste of real butter.






I stop at Orleans for some lunch and mourn the ending of new roads.   There will be a few  new roads between here and Salem, but very few, and none as I near home.  Still there is loveliness around me.  The land has flattened and the riding is easier.  Forests have yielded to the farmland that will sustain me with her bounty.  Farmers, hemmed in this year by the rain, are working on the Sabbath.  I repeatedly step off the road to allow them to pass and not to impede their progress.  And I am home.  Despite the effort, I am sated and satisfied, at peace with my world and myself.  None of the catastrophes that might have happened did happen, but then I really did not worry at all about their happening because I had already dealt with those that could be dealt with in my mind.  A weird kind of optimism but optimism just the same, this not getting eaten by wolves. Still I wish my journey had been longer.  I wish there were more.  Forever the greedy gut.   Now to plan a new adventure.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Blackberry Winter

"Blackberry winter, the time when the hoarfrost
lies on the blackberry blossoms; without this frost
the berries will not set.  It is the forerunner of a rich
harvest."
Margaret Mead

I have not ridden a century for three weeks now.  I don't like this.  My body does not like this, and my spirit certainly does not like this.  But sometimes responsibilities and work interfere. Then inertia sets in.  The less you ride, the less you want to ride.  It seems my work always picks up a bit this time of  year, robbing me of time on the bike just as the spring arrives. This is extremely unfortunate as spring is so short lived. Even more unfortunate,  after day after day of nice, sunshiny weather when I had to work and could not get out, the time I have off is predicted to be chilly with little to no sunshine and possible rain.

For some reason, I find it harder and harder to drag myself out the door  on chilly mornings in the spring unless the sun is shining.  Something in me resists.  But I am determined to get my May century in.  No, it is not like it is in the winter when the urge to get it completed is made more essential because of the possibility of really bad weather where you simply can't safely ride.  It is more a weariness of the spirit, of being tired of wind and gray and chill.

I decide to chart my course to Vernon all the while hoping that I don't find flooding that blocks my return and adds an extra 15 or 20 miles.  I think briefly of how now there will be nobody to chide me if I cross the flood waters wanting to get home. With the extra daylight, I should be okay if I do find flooding and not have to wade,  (I do not find the water over the road) but being without a rescue team, I throw  a light on the bike just in case.  I also give myself permission to return after thirty miles if I don't feel better, but as usual once I get my lazy rear out the door and actually on the bike, I fall back in love with the world, with the awesome beauty that surrounds me.

I have always found it interesting how winter sweat differs so from summer sweat.  There is something about a summer sweat that seems cleansing.  Winter or indoor sweat just doesn't, it is clammy and seem to have a subtle but pungently foul aroma. It leaves you cold, not cleansed.Today, I fear, will be a winter sweat, but at least my soul will be cleansed.  I will, as the saying goes, get my yayas out.

My sullenness subsides as I sudden feel the green beginning to penetrate seeping through my eyes and heart into my very soul.  I begin to feel young and strong again, not at all the old woman who looks out at me from the mirror sometimes.  There are still hints of some of the early spring flowers,  though the red bud has vanished.  Dog wood white still laces the world, bearded irises raise their lovely heads, waving in the wind as I pass, and I know it is truly almost Derby Day when I first smell the subtly sweet aroma and then see the honeysuckle.  I remember how as children we would pick the bloom, pulling the stamen through the smaller end of the flower and sucking the ambrosial droplet that was left behind as children must have done for thousands of years.  For the first time in a long time, I think of childhood friends, Brian and Mark, and some of the adventures we shared.  How sad that we lose touch with those whose company we enjoy, but it inevitably seems to happen, usually without our taking the time to thank those people for how they enriched our lives.  I suppose thank yous leave us vulnerable.  Or perhaps we are just lazy.

I am startled as a deer crashes through the brush and bounds across the road in front of me.  Something, I remain unsure what, obviously startled her.  Her fear is almost palatable and I wish I could comfort her, assure her that things are alright, but I have learned of my own powerlessness the hard way.  If I were truly powerful, I would not be a widow, so all I can do is sympathize and wish her luck on her journey.

The day never seems to warm, and while I take off my rain jacket for a bit, I quickly put it back on and am glad I did not leave it at home as I thought of doing.  In May, one does not usually think of needing arm warmers, leg warmers, wool socks. AND a jacket.  As I do every year, I have washed my wool and put it away countless times wishfully thinking it will be fall before I wear it again, only to find myself pulling it back out for "one last time."  And then I realize, it is what my husband, born and raised in the country, always called a "blackberry winter."  I remember him telling me how each year it would get cold for a bit just as the blackberry's bloom, and as happened so often, he was proved right.  Oh, there is that exception, but normally we do have a cold snap, and perhaps it serves a purpose that I, with my feeble mind, do not understand.  Because there is much that I do not understand in and about this world.  But I do understand that I am glad I rode today, that I got my May century in as I have gotten my century in at least once a month since November of 2003.  That is one of the beauties of riding a bicycle:  even when a part of us does not want to ride, we normally find ourselves pulled back into the love of the wind on our face and the freedom of the wheel powered by our own strength and desire and imagination.