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Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Good-bye to Watermelons and Hot Weather Rides

"The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart,
and not to be mentioned with the commoner things.
It is chief of this worlds luxuries, king by grace of
God of all the fruits of the earth.  When one has
tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.  It was not a 
Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because
she repented." 
Mark Twain


The first watermelon of the year is a time of great rejoicing for me.  Watermelon was the food I craved while pregnant, and none was to be found at that time of year.  Watermelon is one of my favorite hot weather pre-ride foods and one of my favorite recovery foods.  Quite often, it is my breakfast throughout much of the summer.  And the last watermelon of the year is a time of sorrow, if only because of what it signifies, for normally by the end of summer I am finally sated.  
This year the last watermelon of the year happened to coincide with the last hot century of the year:  Wheels of Screams.  I could not believe it Thursday when I saw a fruit stand that actually still had Jackson County melons, and I could not believe it Friday when I saw that despite the time of year, temperatures on Saturday were to top 90 degrees.  

I have only done this century once before, and I remember two things about it:  it drained me and there were the best Amish individual apple pies on this earth.  As with most rides that I have not ridden very often, I don't know if I remember being drained because it was an unusually hard course, I was out of shape at the time, or I just had a bad day.  Even after yesterday's ride, I still don't know.  

What I do know is that the ride is very hilly with lovely vistas.  The greens of the landscape so different that the fresh green of spring, still holding on but obviously with effort as autumn approaches and insists on taking her turn with the land. What I do know is that in the months to come I will miss this warmth and the cleansing sweat that summer rides encourage.  What I do know, is that the woman running the store had not made apple pies and so we left disappointed and empty handed, but perhaps a pound lighter. What I do know is that I will remember the time spent with Bob and Dave, and how Dave rushed out of the third store stop to accompany me in because he did not think it was safe for me to drag in alone and I needed to get back.  

One more TMD century ride, and then most of my friends will disappear for the late autumn, winter months like watermelon will have disappeared from fruit stands.   But they will reappear in the spring and early summer months and their absence will have made their very presence  more dear. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Last Vacation Day

"That old September feeling left over from school
days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, 
obligations gathering, books, and football in the air....
Another fall, another turned page: there was something
of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last
years mistakes had been wiped clean by summer."
Wallace Stagner

One more vacation day, I think as I arise, and there is so much work that I should be doing, but it "is" vacation and so I will not.  Instead, I will ride my bike.  I may do a century or I may not:  it is all dependent upon how I feel.  I slip out into a cool, morning where the high humidity is not yet a concern.  Just my bike and me.  Responsibilities be damned.  Sometimes there is a need inside to do what you want to do rather than what you should do, and today that need will be satiated, at least temporarily.  Yesterday, after my morning ride but prior to the afternoon time trial, I changed the oil in the lawn mower and cleaned the air filter, a chore that traditionally belonged to my husband and that I had put off far too long, but today, despite the long list of things that should be done, I am doing what I want to do.  

I decide that I will ride to Norman Station and have lunch at Jiggs.  If I am tired at the first store stop, I can turn around and make it a 50 miler, but I am beginning to feel more like myself though I still need to drop 10 extra pounds that I picked up during my down time when I hurt too badly to ride.  The sun is shining, the day is mine, and I am on my bicycle.  

When I reach Medora, the first store stop, there is a man at the register who is obviously high.  He is shaking so badly he can barely tie his shoes. He keeps glancing from side to side surreptitiously and I am reminded of the movie "The Exorcist" and think that it would not surprise me to see his head  swivel completely around. While he looks as if he once was an extremely good looking young man, he appears ancient despite his obvious youth.  The lady at the register is obviously frightened and calls for the store manager, but he leaves without incident.  I see him drive away and worry about who he might hurt, himself included, in a car.  But I really don't see anything I can do.  It is a small town, and I have never seen a hint of law enforcement on my trips through that town.  The woman at the check out are talking about all the town "crack heads" when I leave, and I am thankful that I did not go down that path because I easily might have.  Thank you, Dan Gorjanc, though I assume you long ago departed this earth, for your guidance when you were my college guidance counselor.  Both in the guidance office and in the class room you did your job:  you made me think. Odd how God sprinkles people in our paths.  Though I did not spring from his loins,  he cared at a time when my father did not, could not, and he wanted nothing, expected nothing in return. Family, it seems, is not always biological.

Despite stopping at Medora, something makes me stop at Leesburg as well, a feeling that Jiggs, like so many country stores and restaurants, might have gone belly up.  Years of experience has taught me not to depend upon these stores under challenging weather conditions.  Thank goodness I heed my gut, for the day grows progressively hotter and when I reach Norman Station, Jiggs is closed.  At least it has just changed its open days and hours, but I wonder what happened.  The owner was elderly, but a friendly sort, always welcoming.  Did he have a stroke, a heart attack?  I say a prayer for him and his family.  The older I get the more I realize how difficult old age is, not only for the person who is aging, but for his family who are gradually losing pieces of the person they love.  I am scared of getting old, and I renew my vow to myself to get back into better shape.  Goodness, a girl should be able to ride back to back centuries without blinking or a hint of tiredness, particularly at a slow pace. But injury combined with laziness has made me weak. I do not want to be dependent.  I know the day will probably come, but I steel my resolve to make it as far away as possible.







 I think of the small stores, nuggets of comfort in a beautiful but store barren land, particularly as I make the two water bottles I have last for nearly 50 miles, drinking them despite the fact they are as warm as the day.   I could say they are as warm as "piss" and be telling the truth.  There is  no enjoyment in the drinking, just the necessity of filling a need so as not to perish and to be able to continue to turn the pedals. I pass no churches where I could check for water spigots.

 Originally when I designed this route, we went to the 58 Cafe.  It closed after only a few trips there though I still have memories from when it was open.  For some reason, I see Mark in his chair, a big grin on his face, and I can almost feel the warmth of his laughter. How riding bonds us to others that we otherwise would have no connection to. We saw so many deer that day during our ride, but the hunters sitting in the restaurant were there empty handed.  I think of Medora. I used to stop at another store, now closed.  For a moment I am sitting there  in that then open store with Grasshopper, outside the snow is starting to fall, flakes as big as my fist, as I worry about how we will get back for with snowfall so furious the roads will soon be covered and we are on road bikes.  The inside of the store is warm, made warmer by the glow that old oak has, for this store was a wonder of aged oak, and made warmer by the company of a friend.  Someone once suggested it was an old hardware store originally.  And there are more, many more such stores, each with its own special character, not like the homogeneous 7-11 or Speedway, etc. Commiskey, two stores down, one store left to go. Each a remnant of the past.  Each a way station on my journeys and explorations, a source of comfort and nourishment and a part of my cycling experience.

Soon I am at the gravel hill climb, but as I make my way, my rear wheel slips and turns sideways, unable to find purchase.  Before I know it, I am on my side on the ground, laughing like a wild woman, gravel digging at me,  one foot still clipped in.  I am not hurt, just covered with grit and a bit bruised, including my ego.  I think that I  should have ridden my other bike as it is designed for this terrain and wonder why I didn't.  Or perhaps I am just too weak.  Just the other day I was wondering if I could still climb Fire Tower Hill on  my bike. But I don't think it would have happened on the Surly. Sometimes I just don't make good choices. Oh, well, if you are going to ride bicycles, you are going to tumble.  Any fall that you walk away from, that is a good fall. And if you are going to live, you are going to occasionally make poor choices.  That is how we learn.

 I still  know it is a good choice to ride today though by the time I reach Brownstown, I am out of water and very, very thirsty.  There is something out here that I need occasionally, the green landscapes, the solitude, and the time to think. Deprived I can become quite contrary. I smile and think of the times Lloyd said to me, "Uh, perhaps you need to go for a ride." When I ask for water with my sandwich, the lady takes one look at me and says, "You look like you could use our large glass."  I feel like a camel as I down glass after glass of cold water seeped in ice.......cold, beautiful, refreshing ice.  It is if I can feel my strength returning for the final twenty some miles and the one final climb. Again I realize how experiences are sometimes enhanced by deprivation. 

 I am home, tired but strangely refreshed.  My eyes have had their share of beauty today and my body is sated from physical exercise, exercise that will make it grow stronger. Exercise that will hopefully make me sleep tonight like a child, deeply and soundly.   Vacation is over for now.  I have more planned in October if nothing interferes, before the winter chill, when the world glows with color that we must cherish and hold tightly for a few months before the cycle begins all over. I have no regrets that chores remain undone, maybe because they never STAY done.  And after all, retirement is just a few years down the road.  "To everything there is a season."  Today's season is for bicycling, despite the heat and closed stores. And now to appreciate a cleansing shower.  God bless the people who thought of running water.  



Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Solo Century

"If we never experience the chill of a dark winter,
it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth
of a bright summer's day.  Nothing stimulates our 
appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation
caused by sadness or desperation.  In order to complete
our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn
each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and 
find the blessing in every curse."
Anthon St. Maarten


I am excited.  I have been positively giddy with anticipation of the holiday week-end with an added bonus of a vacation day all week.  I have a date:  a date with my bicycle and the open road.  Originally the question was not whether to ride or not, but whether to ride the club ride or head off on my own.  In the end, I find I do not want the four to five hour drive to and from the club century.  It just is too far for one ride. I debated getting a room and staying all night and riding by myself the next day, but it is too late to arrange a cat sitter. I decide to ride from home.  I have a century route that needs some finishing touches before being presented, and it is always best to do this alone.  With company, I get distracted.  Don't get me wrong, the distraction is nice sometimes, but to appreciate the company of other riders I find I am often better having some solo miles in the saddle. 

The weather is perfect.  Not so chilly in the morning as to require a jacket or an uncomfortable half hour or so of riding, but crisp.  I know that fall promises to stealthily make her appearance all too soon, that golden time when the world lights with color before slipping into a cold, drear silence.  The inexorable high humidity that has haunted this summer has broken and the dew point has dropped.  I have nothing to that "has" to be done, and I feel a need to nurse at nature's verdant bosom before the green fades.  Experience has taught me how very much I will need it, this green world, when the weather turns and I am imprisoned indoors. And today I have no need to leave at a certain time or to return at a certain time.

While it feels a bit sacrilegious, I am beginning to have some appreciation for the single life, and later during the ride I spend part of my time contemplating how very fortunate I am to not "need" to have a partner for financial reasons.    I will never be fabulously wealthy, but then I don't need to be, though I must admit that already I have a yearning for yet another new bike.  All I need is to be able to care for myself, and I don't have to have fancy things.  Even another bike:  it is not a need, merely a want.  There is a huge difference.  I briefly think of the time my husband threatened to buy everything on my Amazon wish list for me.  I finally got him to understand that it is more fun to get something when you have wanted it for a bit. 

I drink my coffee and play a few word games before readying myself and my bike.  I have not restocked tubes, tire, and cartridges since Raney's six flat day though she has repaid me the items.  Since I would have to enlist a friend for help if I should have trouble, I try to take everything that I would need for minor repairs.

  One nice thing about summer riding:  the preparation is normally minimal and the days are long.  I don't hit the road until about 8:30, and that is fine.  There is more than enough day light for the 104 miles.  Soon, though, I will need to put my emergency light on my bike for while it still stays light fairly late, each day is shorter.

The day is filled with dodging farm machinery.  I am not quite sure what the scurrying is all about because the corn and soybeans are not yet ready for harvesting, but I assume they need to make sure everything is in order.  I pass a truck loaded with hay bales, square bales, not the round ones you normally see anymore.  Three young men sit in the back of the truck, legs dangling, as the truck heads to the barn.  For a moment, I am with them for I remember putting up hay, the sweet smell of alfalfa and timothy, cut and warming in the sun, the scratches that I did not realize I had until the end of the day when I washed the sweat from my body and examined my aches and pains.  The prayers that it would not rain and that the hay was dry enough that it would not mold when baled. Those were good days, days I would not have had without my husband.

And the day is filled with memories of him.  I pass the church we visited when my father-in-law  preached one Sunday.  I pass Reed's orchard where we picked so many peaches, the drone of the wasps on the fallen fruit, the juice that only comes from a fresh peach, not the green imitations sold in supermarkets. I pass the area where we went to dance and drink when we first met and where the waitress said she did not have to card him, only me, because she had seen his identification the night before.  (I always told him he was lucky he was with me the night before.)  And while the memories are tinged with sadness, they also bring a smile as I realize how very fortunate I have been.

I notice that purple flowers are starting to bloom, that the corn is starting to brown and wither, starting at the outer edges and moving inward.  I notice the first of the wooly worms and think of what I overheard an elderly man telling another during a lunch time walk:  "It is going to be a bad winter this year, a hard winter," he said."The almanac says so and I saw a wooly worm that was completely black."  I hope he is wrong, but regardless, I will survive.  I pass a house that is beautiful on the outside, old bicycles, wagons, and I think how the people living there have created a home.  Looking at it, it feels cozy.  I wonder if that translates to the inside, but of course you cannot knock on the door of a strange home and ask for a showing.



As I descend into Bethlehem, I notice how technical the descent is on this road where we normally climb and don't descend.  Odd how when you are climbing, you don't notice as many switch backs.  And then there is the river.  A tug boat pushes a load of coal as tug boats have for years. As I climb out I notice that despite the lack of humidity, it has gotten hot, but it feels good to sweat.  It feels good to feel my muscles strain and challenge themselves and grow stronger.  And it feels good to be alive and on a bicycle.




 Yes, winter will come, but first there is fall.  And all the seasons, all the feelings, all the experiences, are what gives life its very richness.  And through it all, until my legs are no longer able to push the pedals, there are bicycles.