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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.  



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