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Sunday, April 16, 2017

HIking the Knobstone Trail

"You must accept that you might fail; then, 
if you do your best and still don't win, at least
you can be satisfied that you have tried. If you
don't accept failure as a possibility, you don't set
high enough goals, you don't branch out, you
don't try, you don't take the risk."
Rosalyn Carter

As I near retirement, I have started listing things that I hope to do after I retire.  You see, while I long for  freedom after my years of servitude, I also am wary.  Luckily for me, many of the people I know who have retired are active and have busy lives with numerous hobbies and can serve as role models and advisors, but then there are those who seem to wilt once the harness comes off, robbed of the purpose given by employment and unable to establish purpose on their own.  Seldom do those people seem to live long enough to enjoy the retirement they earned.   In other words, retirement tells us something about ourselves and our personalities. I also suspect that it will be harder to have a fruitful fulfilling retirement as a single person than it would have been if my husband were still alive because sharing experiences with someone enhances those experiences. 

On my list of things I hope to do, see, experience, etc. is to hike the entire Knobstone trail.  I don't know much about the trail other than it is close by and that it is said to be good preparation for hiking the Appalachian Trail. I mention this to my friend, Diana Cozart, who surprises me by saying she would like to hike the trail as well.  And it is thus that plans begin being madeAnd while I am not yet retired, it will give me a taste of if I like it.  Originally, my plan was to camp while on the trail, but Diana would rather not and it is not that important to me at this point.  Frankly, I feel certain this adventure would not have gotten off of the ground, at least until after I do retire, if it were not for Diana.  I mentioned it and the next thing I knew she had a map and was doing the planning.  Mainly, I followed in her wake.  I also mentioned what we were doing  to Mark, the Director at the office where I work, who says I need to take his phone number in case I need to be rescued.  He talks about how difficult he has heard the trail is and how he has rescued others that have attempted it and decided to quit.  The worry in his face touches me as does his offer of assistance if we should need it. 

Last fall, in preparation, we began  a series of few short hikes doing certain sections of the trail.  Jim, Diana's husband, would drop us off at one trail head and pick us up at another.  During these three or four excursions, we experiment with what works for us and what does not.  One  lesson is painful, rocks and acorns underfoot on the trail cause my foot to slip and my ankle to turn.  I hobble out without Diana realizing just how badly I am hurt, but I learn a valuable lesson.  Every hike from there on out, I have hiking sticks and boots, not running shoes with no pole to balance.  We learn about what we can expect our pace to be, how much water we  need, etc.  I begin carrying an ankle bandage with my other supplies. While I think we can do it, still in my mind there is a speck of doubt.  Some of the climbs are remarkably steep and the descents likewise.  I can ride a long way on a bicycle, but walking is different.  Since my car accident last year, I have occasional back and neck issues that I did not have previously.  Doing twelve miles on foot is quite different than doing over fifty.  "What is the worst that could happen," I ask myself?  Anything new holds the risk of failure. Possible failure is the spice in the stew.

I take a week off in April, and so our adventure begins.  Diana and Jim  pick me  up in the morning at 8:00 and Jim  takes us to Deam Lake and drops us off.  We have successfully hiked a few sections of the trail during our preparation days, but because of the distance to the start, this is not one of them. 

I awaken to the sound of thunder booming loudly, the kind that makes the air feel alive and the house seem to tremble.  And there is rain.  What was a twenty percent chance of rain has become eighty percent.  I am fine with going or waiting a day.  Again, I leave it up to Diana.  We decide to move forward.  By the time we start, the rain is nothing but a gentle misting, quite pleasant actually .  It is warm enough that it is not uncomfortable with a light jacket, and the rain seems to make everything more vivid.

We had intended to do this  hike before earth yawned, stretched her arms, and awakened, but it has been unseasonably warm or our planning was off or a combination of the two.  Regardless, we trade the possibility of snakes and tick bites for a growing sea of greenness, for Red Bud trees, and for wildflowers.  Gone is the monochrome of previous hikes. We see several snakes throughout our four day adventure, but the one on the first day is on the path.  He is small and totally brown, no stripes, and does not seem to have any desire to  yield the path, tongue flickering in and out, so we yield to him and walk on.  This is his home:  we are only guests.  Two others are larger, one at least four feet in length.   I "think" it is a black snake, the kind my brothers used to catch and play with.  The last, the one that slithers into a pile of brush, us smaller and is tan with brown with stripes. Suddenly I am thinking of the movie "Riki Tiki Tavi" from the children's youth.  There is a scene with a snake and the snake tells the boy, "If you move, I strike.  And if you don't move, I strike."  Later that night, I review on line what to do when bitten by a snake.  But it really seems things are rather hopeless if one happens to be bitten by a poisonous snake so deep in the woods.

Reeling in my imagination, we move on.  Our paces are similar and it is nice to have company.  Sometimes we chat and sometimes it is just the affable sound of our footsteps and hiking sticks and breathing.  Birds chatter in the background.  At one point, we see a beautiful bird I am unable to identify, but who sadly appears unable to fly. In my mind I thank him for sharing his beauty with us before continuing his journey on the other side, for to be a bird and unable to fly is, I feel sure, certain death.

At the crest of a climb, we decide to have lunch and we come upon two buzzards, each sitting on the remnants of a tree that was topped by a passing storm at one point.  In fact, in that area, all the trees have been topped.  The buzzards take wing at our approach, but they  settle nearby, this time huddled together, companions and friends. I think how they are useful birds, and there is beauty in their cuddling.  I find that I appreciate things differently now that I am older, that I have come to a realization that there is a beauty in purpose and how the pieces of the world fit together.  A piece may be beautiful is only because of its usefulness to the whole, but it is still beautiful.  I try to get a picture, but as I suspected, the telescoping lens on my camera is not sufficient.

As we eat our sandwiches,  the rain picks up in intensity.  Slightly chilled, we both put back on the jackets we had shed earlier.  Then we move forward.  Diana remarks on how well the path is marked because in this section we are walking sideways around the top of a hill.  Unless you would like to take  a nosedive down a sharp incline and possibly kill yourself, there is no other place to go.  For some reason, this strikes me as particularly amusing and I giggle about this the entire hike, particularly as we reach a few places where the trail is not so clear and yet there is no guiding mark.I briefly wonder about the people who designed and maintain these trails, and I hope they know how much it is appreciated. 

At one point, I slip twisting my bum ankle a bit.  I stop, wrap it, and move on quickly realizing that it is not nearly as bad as the last time I twisted it.  It will swell a bit, but it will not be exceedingly painful.  This is good because the last time I could barely walk the next day and this is not a practice session but the real thing.  Shortly afterward,  Diana also falls, hitting her knees.  But she says she is okay and seems to be. It is hard to decide whether the climbing or the descents are tougher. Climbing challenges the lungs and stamina, but descending challenges the balance and toes. When we reach the end of day one, Jim is waiting and has brought each of us a bottle of water and a granola bar.  I think how nice it is and how thoughtful. I am glad that Diana has someone to do these things for her.  Relationships are a blessing to be treasured.

The second day is quieter as we walk along in silent companionship.  Interestingly, there seem to be fewer bird sounds than yesterday.  Rain or terrain? Blisters and foot issues have started, but not so significantly that they will stop us.  I tell her how friends told me about using duct tape on blisters and areas that are rubbing.  I keep looking for places that I might stop if I decide to do this trip on my own in the future and to camp along the way rather than going home each night to a shower and my own bed.  During the hike, we come across two tents.  One we saw on an earlier hike and has obviously been abandoned for some reason.  I keep teasing Diana that we had better not look under it as there are probably dead bodies.  The other is well maintained though nobody is there. Cooking utensils are hung from trees.  The tent is erect and the entire area, while human-less, appears tended to, almost as if someone is staying there regularly rather than just for a night along the trail.  There is even a stack of magazines. All these things fuel my imagination taking me further along the trail.

Somewhere along the way Diana spots a mushroom and I get to hear her story of how they would look for them as children along with her father when he was still living.  I think of how are lives are enriched by others, the experiences we have of spending time with them, and I realize  yet again how lucky I am to have a reliable companion on this part of my journey.  I think how much we miss those that were part of the fabric of our lives: parents, siblings, spouses, children.  If you live long enough, it seems most of these are taken from you.  It is easy to feel sad and despondent, but I try to be grateful for the rich colors they have added to my journey.  Briefly I wonder if Diana and I will still be friends 10 years from now, 20 years from now?  I think of something Paul said on a recent ride, something that struck me because I heard the same thing from my mother:  "All my friends I grew up with are gone."  Is, I wonder, survival, being the last one standing, a blessing or a curse?  But I am not wise enough to have the answer if there is one.

As we walk, I think about our ancestors that settled this land, and how strong they must have been.  It  is hard enough with a path and without trying to carry seed corn and those things needed to start a homestead.  I think about how lucky we are that they preserved some of the forests for the enjoyment of future generations, but I also mourn the lack of old growth forests and wish that some of this had been preserved for us. What will we leave behind for those that come after us?  We pass through large areas that have been touched by tornado damage or by logging.  At one point, we reach a turn with absolutely no marker.  We pull out the map and Diana uses the compass on her phone to determine our course.  Soon we reach a white mark that assures us the turn was correct.  I also occasionally ask myself why I am doing this, particularly as the heat grows stronger.  Really?  Who expects an eighty degree day in April.

The last day is also traversing areas we have not hiked before so we do not know what to expect.  I ride my bike in that area, but the road is in valley.  Not so the trail.  At one point, we are on a thin, sliver of path that cants down into what would be a terrible if not fatal fall.  I struggle with my fear of heights and remind myself to concentrate on the path and nothing else.   It is not helped by the fact that I am having what I now call "a bad eye day."  Ever since my viscera detached, I have the occasional day when my one eye seems to be covered with a thin veil.  No amount of blinking, looking down, or the other suggestions given by the doctor help. Today not only is there the veil, but there is a line like a hair across my eye, something the brain normally screens out.  It is not painful, but it is annoying and definitely affects my vision.

 There is also a long detour on this section and we find ourselves on a gravel road that seems to last forever. I wonder how long the actual trail will be closed.  As we take the detour, there is a family on a porch who tells us it is not much further.  And it is not.  Again and again on the trail I think about trees and what wonders they are.  The roots often serve as steps or keep the dirt on the hillside from eroding.  We use them to climb out of creek beds that are nearly as deep as we are tall, and to keep from falling downward into them as we descend. The colors of the Dog Wood and Red Bud are stunning against the sea of encroaching greenness.  All shades of green.  There are area where it seems you are on top of the world and can see forever.  And always there is our progress forward toward our goal: completion. 

Each mile marker becomes a source of celebration as we draw nearer and nearer to our goal.  Sore feet and tired bodies yearn for warm, soapy water, filling food, and a soft bed.  For a few days, at least, such things will be more appreciated than they normally are.  And for a few days there will be the satisfaction that comes with something difficult being successfully navigated and completed. Finally I hear Diana say, "There's our truck."  And there Jim is, patiently waiting for us, and it is done.  I know that tomorrow a part of me will be glad of rest, but that a part of me will wish I was heading back out on the trail, the rhythm of our feet and breathing in harmony with the land, the land we came from and will return to.  As the Florida Georgia Line song says, "You know you came from it, someday you'll return to it."  Until then, may there be more adventures and new ventures, and may there always be the risk of failure because without the risk of failure, success would not be so very sweet. In the words of Diana, "We did it!!! Knobstone Trail. 4 days; 27 hours; 55.9 miles; 558 floors; 132,497 steps. We started at Dean lake and went to Delaney Park."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hardinsburg in the Spring

"Just living is not enough...One must
have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."
Hans Christian Anderson

 While I am disappointed that the day is going to start off so cold, I am so looking forward to the afternoon warmth and the predicted sunshine and an entire day on the bike.  It has been so gray and dreary, day after day it seems, for an extended period of time.  And always there is work and other responsibilities that rob me of my time, staring at me disapprovingly when I go to play.  Yes, there is a beauty in the stark monotones that precede the birth of spring, but mentally I just need  sunshine right now.  I want to bask in it, to feel it begin to hold the warmth that it will bestow in summer when I curse it. And I need to play.  I need to ride my bike.

I wonder who, if anyone, will show.  Matt e-mailed that Jason and he were coming, but I know how Jason dislikes the cold.  And even if they do show, there is no need in fooling myself that I will ever again ride their pace.  Age and laziness have robbed me of their speed if, indeed, I ever had it. 

Sometimes this bothers me, along with other changes wrought by aging, and I vow I will do what I know I could do to improve, not to where I was perhaps but to where I now could be. For me, however,  it is becoming less about the speed now than it is about the journey and the companionship.  Not that there are not still times I enjoy pressing myself, attacking a hill, challenging another, feeling the heave of my lungs, the ache in my thighs, and the blessed  release when a fast pace eases a bit or a hill comes to an end, but it is different somehow.  And that is one of the things that I so love about bicycling:  it is so many different things and there are so many different rides.  As long as I have sight, balance, and strength, I can participate in some form or another.

Last week-end Paul stayed with me.  It was so good to see him after the long winter, but I doubt he will come today if for no other reason that I think he probably passed away from having to listen to me rattle on for an entire century.  Living alone makes the first few group rides problematic for those who ride with me.  I ramble on with my mouth as much as the road rambles on: endlessly. Perhaps duct tape would be a solution;-)  Then again, perhaps I have always jabbered on and I just have some self-realization at this point.  At any rate, I have no doubt I played a role in Paul's passing, if indeed he has passed, by boring him to death.  But sometimes I just cannot help it.

Seven of us roll out into the cold morning with two more to come.  Jason and Matt are still planning on riding, but they intend to start late and will still pass us and finish first.  I bask in the sunshine and in the company. Lise tells me I should feel flattered that her husband wanted to do this ride again because he is very selective about his rides, and she says he said the lunch was so good.  It always is at the Mennonite run lunch stop.  Reasonable and delicious.  Later he himself thanks me and talks about the beauty of the course, of how after a big, steep descent (on this route) you drop into a valley for a long way before reaching the hill that means the approaching third store stop. It is nice to be thanked for putting together a route and sharing it.  Surprisingly, it doesn't happen as often as you might think, and complaints about gravel or road surfaces or dogs happen just as often. 

Sometimes  I wonder about that.  If I asked someone to dinner and they didn't like it, would they feel free to tell me that the meat was too tough or that the carrots were under-cooked?  Yet somehow many people feel free to criticize a route you have put together to your face. 

The day is really quite uneventful.  Most of us are together at the end of the ride, or not too very far apart.  The red buds grace our passage and there is the hint of spring flowers that we have not seen since last spring.  The sun is brilliant and even begins to have some warmth.  The company is good.  Just living, without these things, is not enough.  May there always be "sunshine, freedom, and a flower" in your life.  And may there always be a bicycle to help you enjoy them. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Midway Century Ride

"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as
life lasts.  ...There is something infinitely healing
in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance
that dawn comes after night, and the spring after winter."
Rachel Carson

Murphy's law of bicycling:  if the club ride you want to do is scheduled on Saturday, the weather on Sunday will be more inviting and vice versa.  And this week-end is not different. It does sometimes seem that way anyway.  But I set my alarm and prepare as much as possible the night before the ride so as to give myself a bit more time in the morning.

I know this ride and I know that it will be demanding.  But summer approaches and it is time to pull myself up and out of the melancholy and the winter doldrums.  It would be easy to sit at home on the couch and dwell on past misfortunes and losses, but that is not the way forward.  Sometimes I think you need to reach for happiness to grab it.  Past experience has taught me that, but despite having had the lesson, it is not always easy to apply.  I know there is beauty on this ride, though until I am on the bike and on the route I forget how much.  I also know, greedy gut that I am, that there will be a delicious lunch.  Ride to eat or eat to ride or a combination of the two. 

It is a small group of people that show, but I did not expect a large crowd.  It is early in the season, and this route has lots of climbing.  The weather is deceptively mild and windless and later I am so glad that I listened to the forecast before leaving for the ride because the temperature does not rise, maybe even drops a few degrees, and the winds pick up and become quite boisterous.  In fact, there are times I wish I had left on the additional layer that I shed prior to the ride start.

The four of us head out, chatting, joking, and laughing the way old friends do when they have not seen each other for awhile.  I have overwintered without seeing Dave, and have seen Steve only once.  Tony I have seen more frequently, but there are lots of topics to be covered and lots of miles to cover them in.

The sun that graces the morning hides behind the clouds early in the day, mocking us as the winds rise.  But there is beauty everywhere on these back roads.  Stones show in the fields in a way that they will not once the grass greens and rises.  On hills, the water has carved various paths. A few brave daffodils remain and I think it is the in-between time.  The daffodils, at least the early bloomers, are finished, but other flowers are not yet showing themselves and the red buds and dogwoods do not  yet appear to be blooming.  I love the places we pass that have old, deserted dwellings but are surrounded by daffodils.  A thing of beauty left behind, a reminder that people lived here, loved here, fought here, and perhaps died here. 

Midway in the ride, we pass two riders going the opposite direction and Steve recognizes them.  We turn around and find it is indeed Johnny Betrand and Steve Wyatt.  A brief hug, a short bit of a chat, and we are back on our way.  They are on their way to Lexington for lunch and we are going to Midway for lunch at Wallace Station.  It seems forever before we arrive, and the line is out the door, but there is really no place else to eat and who would want to forego the delicious food.  There is a reason that the line is out the door.  Still, I find myself shivering until we are able to enter the building, and I find myself dreading heading back out into the cold.  At first I am so chilled that I put my gloves back on to hold my water.  Steve manages to nab one of the scarce tables, and the food and company warm me.

Hill after hill assaults our legs and my thighs begin to warn me that they really do not appreciate the demands that are being made on them.  And then it happens.  My bike shifts itself into my granny gear and will not shift out of it.  This has been an on-going problem for me since last fall.  I try to remember how many times I have taken it in to the shop to be fixed.  At least three, possibly four.  I have even explained how important it is that I have a dependable bike as I really do not have much of a rescue squad.  I can limp home in the small ring, but it will be slow going.  Steve is able to loosen the cable, manually place it in the middle ring, and tightened the cable back.  He issues a strong warning not to shift and I pray that I remember.  I also hope I remember the fix because I no longer feel confident that my bike will be reliable even after I take it to be repaired again.  I hate not being able to trust my bicycle. 

I need to learn to do this for myself, to figure things out and fix them, but it does not come naturally to me.  This mechanical has sapped the joy from the day until I determine that I will not let it.  Sometimes all the things I have had to learn to do since Lloyd died seem overwhelming.  A few tears seep out as I hate being a burden, but it is just the way it is, at least for today. The ride has become grim, however, as much from the cold and the wind and being tired as it is from my issue that was quickly resolved. Chatter lessens.  There is no more laughter.  I force myself to remember the beauty that surrounds me, to listen for sound, the sign that spring nears, but rather than birds or frogs I hear wind in the leaves.  Still, there is a melody here and once again I begin to sing softly to myself.  Wheels hum.  On hills, the sound of our breathing, so symbolic of life, is clearly audible as none of  us are in prime riding condition.

I can't say that I am sad to see the parking lot as I am after some rides, and I am tired, but I feel better than I thought I might with the physical demands of this course.  And that is a comfort.  Spring IS coming.  There will be warm rides, maybe even some of those slow, intimate rides with close friends that I treasure so, the ones where you talk about anything and everything without being judged, the ones where  you laugh and stop to take a photograph of something that draws your fancy. The ones where speed isn't an issue and there is no hurry to finish what is a lovely day.  And rides like this will make me ready. And the beauty of the day, despite a few snags. has left me oddly refreshed and temporarily sated.  Spring WILL come after winter. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

An After Work Spring Ride

"Daffodils That come before the swallow dares,
and take The winds of March with beauty; violets, dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, Or Cytherea's breath."
William Shakespeare

It is the perfect weather for a short after work ride.  Bathed in unseasonable warmth, I leave the house in a short sleeved jersey despite the wind.  She is strong, but her breath does not chill today, only modifies my already leisurely pace.  No need to hurry.  I will not be rushed.

Purple, faint, almost imperceptible, yet not imaginary, begins to tinge the unplowed fields, fields that later will be burgeoning with corn or soy beans or hay.  I know these flowers whose tiny petals compose the purple mist on the fields.  Not their names, but I know them well.  The bees love them, and I think of how the bees strongly objected when I would clear them to make way for planting in our garden.  I still see me, running in the house in a panic, a bee tangled in my hair, seeking clear skin for the bite, me yelling for my love to save me before that happened.  He would crush it between his fingers, taking the sting for me, vowing to get rid of the bees, his second love, until I could cajole him into keeping them, for despite the occasional sting, I loved them too.  Mostly I loved how he hated anything that caused me pain. 

The Easter flowers are up, bright yellow, raucous, curving a smile to my lips.  They are early this year, and it is rare to get to enjoy their beauty while being warm and in short sleeves.  Yes, they "take the winds with beauty," almost dancing in what seems to be glee that the season is changing.  My wheels seem to know the way to where they lay, their beauty a balm not just for my eyes, but for my soul.  Oh, the places our bicycles can take us.  The things we notice that go unnoticed when we are in a car.  Sometimes I wonder, is it the speed or something else that makes us miss or disregard the beauty that surrounds us.  Or perhaps it is just me and others notice the same things while riding or driving in a car as they do when on their bicycles.

This week-end the time will change and there will be more chances for after after work rides, for longer rides without the press of darkness.  And I smile. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Maple Syrup Ride 2017

"Man plans and God laughs"
Yiddish Proverb

While I am not overly excited about the cold start, I am excited about the Maple Syrup ride.  I have so many memories of this ride.  So I head to bed early so that I won't be tired as well as weak.  While it is normal in the winter to lose fitness, circumstances have caused me to lose more than normal and I am feeble.  It will be so nice to see everyone though, and I have ridden a couple  of centuries lately albeit slowly.  I know I can finish:  it will just be slow. And I need company.

At 2:00 a.m., however, I am rudely awakened by a loud ringing.  Cats arch their backs, puff their fur, and scatter from my bed in a dead run.  A few years ago I had my basement waterproofed, and that included a pump with an alarm.  The pump has stopped working. The alarm courses through the house in warning. Instinctively I know, there goes my three pay check month. 

I don't fall back to sleep despite telling myself this is silly.  The house did not have a pump for many years.  In the early morning, right before departing for the ride, I e-mail the installer feeling he will probably come the next week. It is, after all, a week-end.  Rain is due later this week which worries me, but I lack the skill to fix it myself.   Bike packed as well as an extensive wardrobe that allows for last minute clothing changes, I head out.

 I arrive and there is a large crowd despite the cold.  Many I don't know, but many I do and it is so good to see them.  I realize that my eyes have been starved and I look forward to a day of company and conversation.  As usual, I am not sure who I will end up riding with, particularly with my weakened state, but regardless it will be delightful to be  on a bicycle and to have conversation with camaraderie. 

Suddenly I receive a text.  The repair man is coming and coming today.  I pack up my bike and head home, disappointed but glad I don't have to miss work next week to deal with things.  As I head home, I realize once again how much my life has changed in the past few years. I think of how, while I always loved and appreciated my husband, I appreciate him even more now.  Not too long before he died, he asked me why I always thanked him when he did things that he should do.  And I explained that just because people should do certain things, they don't always do them, and I was just grateful every time he did something to please or help me, whether he "should" do it or not.  I miss that.  I miss the giving and the taking.  The things done for me and doing things for him. He would have fixed the pump or waited for the repairman so that I could be selfish and go ride.

I have a theory that things happen to us for a reason, that there is something we should learn from every experience that we have.  Indeed, as the saying goes, "Man plans and God laughs" or, as Steinbeck and Burns said, "The best laid plans of mice and men." As I told a friend recently, if I really want to exercise regularly, it appears I will start having to drag myself out of bed and go to the Y.  Then it becomes a question of how badly do you want it, for I treasure my time in the morning, cat on lap, coffee cup in hand.  I think one of the things I have learned is that we can never love or appreciate those people in our lives that care for us enough.  No matter how hard you try, when someone is gone there are always those little nagging regrets, the "if only." 

After the repair man fixes the pump and leaves, another thing that I appreciate, I decide to head to the festival anyway, but it will be a mere 20 mile trip rather than 100 miles.  On the way, I think of the brevet I missed today as well,  and while I have some regret, I find that despite the good weather, it really does not bother me that I decided not to ride.  I hope the desire to do brevets returns, but if it doesn't there is nothing to be done and the bicycle holds so many other promises. Another thing I have learned is that life is fluid.  Changes happen whether we want them or we don't.  And while I don't particularly like change, I really have very little control.

While I don't expect to see any of the century riders because of my late start, I actually pass numerous groups of riders.  Some are obviously puzzled by my appearance.  They wonder if I have just been that slow, or if I am with the group, or where I came from.   When John passes I think how I wish we could have ridden together today and talked some because John is funny and makes me laugh and I have not seen him for awhile.   The same with Lynn.  Amelia and Mike pass, but  I know I would not have kept their pace today.  Cathy and Kirk pass.  All of these people I have met through bicycling. 

By the time I get to the festival, there are no riders left.  I park my bike and make my intended purchases.  Christmas presents for certain people are bought.  For this purpose, I put my carradice and large handlebar bag on my bike and rode the Surly.  I sit on the hill in the odd warmth of the early March sun eating Maple Cotton Candy, a treat I allowed myself since the line for pancakes is longer than I am willing to wait.  And for awhile I lose myself in memories:  Dave standing too near to the heater and melting the material on his riding pants,  Mike Pitt laughing and joking, Grasshopper, Steve, Randy, and more and more.  I wonder how many of the riders today knew that I originally designed the course, and how during the design I came upon a motorist bent on terrorizing me.  

I slowly pedal home, thoughts still swirling knowing there are a million chores waiting for my return.  I keep saying that one day, when I retire, I will get them done.  But I am wiser now, at least when I remember to be, and know that while I plan, God laughs. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Failed Century

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.
Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow.  Let reality
be reality.  Let things flow naturally forward in whatever
form they like." 
Lao Tsu

A few weeks ago, when it became apparent that my mother was not going to recover this time, I took a leave from work and moved to the Northern Kentucky area to move her home.  Working with Hospice, I brought her back to her own home and helped her die.  For close to two weeks, I did not get over one hours worth of sleep at a time.  As the sleep deprivation began to take hold  I could not help but think that this was much more difficult than a brevet, but that brevets prepared me as well as anything could for the sleep deprivation aspect.  Perhaps a weird thought to have in the midst of caring for the person who is responsible for your being here and who you love, but one I had nevertheless.
During the time I cared for her, there was no bicycling, no running, no physical activity other than the demands of changing her and meeting her needs.  She died last Thursday, surrounded by family, holding my hand, as we talked about memories that centered around her.  By we I mean the family members present.  For two days prior to her passing, mom was completely uncommunicative.  Prior to that, she still had some verbal abilities, however limited.  I had forgotten how drained one gets dealing with death, as if the life inside was sucked out as if offered in exchange for a few more moments.  At 99, it was time for her to move on since age had brought a loss of the delight of being alive and was a chore rather than a joy, a burden that she longed to put down.  But still I had forgotten the total exhaustion, both mental and physical that follows significant loss, the feeling of helplessness at the inability to change things and to make them better.  And selfishly, there was a part of me that wanted her to get better, to be around for just a bit longer. So perhaps I should not be surprised at my failure today.  I sent out to do a century ride and threw in the towel at 67 miles.  

Mentally, it took all I had to force myself out the door.  I honestly did not want to ride.  No, it was not that cold.  It was around 40 degrees.  No, it was not that windy:  7 to 8 mph.  It is just that feeling that I did not want to ride which would be fine if there was something that I wanted to do, but there was not an one can only sleep for so long.  Perhaps if it had been sunny?  I doubt it, but perhaps.

The first thing I notice are all the cinders on the roads.  I had forgotten we had ice.  In the country and in a poor county with little money, salt is scarce, so country roads are covered with cinders.  This is not a problem for cars, but bicycle tires are a different story.  The cinders contain sharp little black pieces that lodge themselves in your tire are are camouflaged by their very color.  So when the cinders were thick, I stop to wipe my tires thus noting that my rear tire is long past the time when it needs to be changed.  I have a spare tire that I carry with me, it is a rear tire, and I have no long, thrilling descents on today's route so I decide to move forward and risk getting a flat.  Good decision on this occasion as I make it home with no incident.  While it is not so cold that changing a flat would be a huge issue, it is cold enough that I know my hands would be uncomfortable.  Tires become unforgiving in the winter, hard and less than pliable.

The recent rains have flooded most of the easier routes, so I am heading toward Vernon.  I don't make it there, but I still get in close to 70 miles.  It is a dog day.  In that 70 miles I swear I must encounter 70 dogs.  None of them are vicious or appear to mean business.  They are just doing what dogs do:  alerting owners that someone is passing by.  Water stands in fields and on places in the road, the ground so saturated that it has no place to go,  and I realize that if I do a century, I am going to have to make some changes to my traditional route.  I can't say that I am miserable, but I can't really say that I am enjoying myself so at the first store stop, a bit over 30 miles in, I decide to get something to eat and just ride home.

This is more of a "thinking" ride than a ride where I thrill at the world God gave to us.  I think about how fortunate I was with my husband that there were very few unresolved issues, and how I wish I could say the same with my mother.  I think about the difficulties I encountered writing the obituary, and how it made clear to me that I knew mother less well than I knew my husband, and how I wish my brother had not asked me to write it.  I think about my own end and what I can do to make things easier for my children.  I think about changes and about life is all about changes and how difficult it is to accept those changes and flow smoothly forward safe in the knowledge that good things are waiting right around the corner, that there will be more bad things, but that we develop the strength to deal with those things through past adversity.

The end of the ride comes and I remain depleted.  Still having walked a similar path in the past, I know this is the direction I need to head in.  I know I am doing okay if I can make myself get out the door.  And I know that eventually I will complete a century again. 

"Motherhood: All love begins and ends there."
Robert Browning

Victoria Francis Smith, the daughter of Richard Martin Perry and Norah Blanche Perry, age 99, passed away on January 19th, 2017. She was preceded in death by her three brothers and three sisters: Ralph Perry, Kenneth Perry, Victor Perry, Gladys Perry, Mary Perry, and Sara Ashcraft.

Victoria grew up to marry Dr. Robert Charles Smith and put him through medical school while working at the American Book Company. She enjoyed playing golf, was an avid Bridge player, was a Scrabble fan, and was known for her wry sense of humor and her ladylike ways. After the children got older, she worked in the EEG department at St. Elizabeth's and St. Luke's hospitals and was later employed by the Covington Boys Club, Krogers, and then Kings Island. She retired from Kings Island in her eighties where her co-workers lovingly called her "The Walking Dictionary." Her favorite story of her time at the Boys Club was when she walked in to find a snake the children placed in her desk drawer. She said she knew that if she screamed or reacted, there would be a snake there every day, so she forced herself to calmly pick the snake up, take it outside, and let it go.

She leaves behind five children: Victor R. Smith of Cincinnati, Ohio, Robert Christopher Smith of Cincinnati, Ohio, Marc T. Smith of West Chester, Ohio, Pamela A. Reed of Covington, Kentucky & Melissa F. Hall of Scottsburg, Indiana and daughters-in-law, Karen & Christina Smith. She also leaves behind numerous, much loved grandchildren: Charles Reed, Christopher Reed, Dian Reed, Emily Smith, Derek Smith, Lauren Smith, Ashley Smith, T.J. Corcoran, Natalie Corcoran, Justin Smith, Mary-Victoria "Tiffany" Hall, Jeffrey Hall, and Elena Hall. Additionally, there are eight great-grandchilden: Meghan, Quinn, Aidan, Ronan, Caitlin, and Keelan Corcoran, Caroline and Ian Smith

The service will be for family only and will be after her ashes are released by the University of Cincinnati where she donated her body in the hopes that knowledge could be gained that would help others to live better, healthier lives in the future. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in her name to The Covington Boys and Girls Club, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati, 600 Dalton Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45203,