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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Medora 2018

"As you get older, it gets
harder  to be mean to yourself."
Lynn Roberts

Today is the Medora century, the last TMD stage of 2018, and the weather is uncharacteristically cold for this time of year.  I have no doubts about going,  but I cannot help but wish for a touch of the warmer than normal weather we had been having.  No shorts and short sleeve jerseys today.  I pull out wool socks and winter riding gear dressing in a short sleeved wool base layer, jersey, vest, and light jacket, glad that I packed things away where I could easily find them.  I am shamed at the start which is only somewhere between nine and twelve miles away for me to find that a group of young men have ridden to the start from Louisville.  Perhaps next year, I think, knowing that it will probably not happen that way.  Still, the crowd is small as almost all of the stages have been this year.  There has definitely been a huge decline in distance riding in this area, and while I have theories I don't really know why.

As I age I have become more susceptible to cold.  Mental or physical, I don't know, but if you believe a thing to be real, it is real because belief is half the battle.  As the ride begins, Lynn and I talk about how difficult it is to ride through the winter.  It is not that you don't enjoy the ride the majority of the time, but  it is challenging to make yourself get out the door to attend the ride so that you can enjoy it.  It is the making a beginning. It is being mean to yourself. During this conversation, Lynn says the above words of wisdom and on and off throughout the day, I think of how right he is.  Age brings so many changes.  I am reluctant to face the pain of riding as hard, as long, to face the inevitable tiredness that follows.  Too much of my life, I think, has been spent in fear.  I wish better for my children.  Sometimes I ask myself if I made them too afraid of taking chances, but then I have seen them take chances without worrying that would have shattered my life for days as I visualized all the possibilities such a chance would have.

 The skies are dense with low hanging clouds, oppressive and gray, at the start, but I know they are supposed to lift during the day and for once the weather man is right.  Bit by bit,  a brilliant blue peeks through clouds that have turned white and puffy until the sun is spilling out, lacking much warmth but still lightening the heart.  I try to appreciate the last of the fall flowers, clumps of purple morning glories, aster, and others whose names I don't know.  The trees have not changed much yet, but I know in a few weeks this landscape will be bare not only of leaves but of crops.  Despite the recent rain, farmers are harvesting.  We never, however, pass the huge fields of pumpkins that normally color the landscape though we pass a few farms selling pumpkins.  After having seen so many fields of pumpkins rot over the past few years, unharvested, I wonder if more and more people are buying the plastic ones and the demand for real pumpkins has declined to where it is not worth the effort?  For awhile I am back when my children were small, too young to carve the pumpkins themselves. I would draw different eyes, noses, and mouths and they would pick how they wanted the pumpkin carved, then I would light it on their dresser for five minutes after turning the lights out at night.  I remember how we would make scarecrows and hang a ghost over the entrance to the drive and how the first year, the ghost hit my husband's windshield when he came home in the dark truly scaring him.  I find a smile on my face as I come back mentally to the group I am riding with.

The majority of these people will soon be putting their bikes up, finding other activities until warmer weather.  Hiking, the YMCA, yoga, and other pursuits take the place of bicycles. The few that don't quit riding normally maintain a pace that I can no longer match, so winter riding becomes a rather solitary activity for the majority of rides.  And there are the friends I love for what they were, for the memories we share, but who are essentially lost to me for one reason or another.

 I always feel a tinge of sadness on this ride, a course that has come to represent the closure of the TMD and the ending of the touring season, for I know I will not see most of these people over the winter.   As we age, there are those that don't return in the spring, whose bikes permanently remain in basements or on garage walls, and I hope that this is not the case for any of the few I have become close with and whose company I so enjoy.  I do know that fewer and fewer ride the centuries and some of these people have declared their intention not to ride the tour next year. 

At the festival, someone asks me how long I have been coming to Medora, since I first designed the route,  and I don't know.  I tell him that it was when the other store was open, before the divorce that ruined that business and the re-opening that was never successful.  We stumbled on the festival one year by accident and have returned every year since.  This year the main bridge into town is closed for construction so we had to enter through the covered bridge.  So far as I know, it grips nobody's wheel and there are no falls, something that has happened in the past from what I have heard though I have never witnessed it.  I remember coming to Medora in the winter with Grasshopper while he was still riding and how it snowed as we sat in the store eating our sandwiches.  I remember the wind and how without the fields to ease his strength, he sapped us of our vigor.  And yet, I remember the beauty of the ride, the flakes of snow unusually large, small flakes clumping together to make large nuggets.  I embrace the memories that flood my mind, holding them tightly, yet determined to continue making more for as long as I can.  I find I fear the possible loss of memory as much as I do the possible infirmity and illness of old age.  I fear the loss of these people that I ride with, and again realized  how much fear has dictated my life.  Perhaps one benefit is a constant appreciation of the good things.  The wise words of Thorton Wilder come to mind, "Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you.  Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every single minute?"  I suspect the answer to be no, but at least I do have an appreciation of the many, many blessings I have received in life, not the least of which is this ride, today, with these people who I cherish. 

Thanks, Amelia Dauer, for captaining. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Trip to Illinois

"Each contact with a human being
is so rare, so precious, one should 
preserve it."
Anais Nin

With retirement, I have received a blessed gift, the gift of time, and I think of how I can best use it wisely and how I can continue to grow as a person, to overcome the baser, less admirable parts of my personality and suppress or possibly transform them.  A hopeless task, I am well aware, but still an admirable goal to strive for.  Age is not a reason to stop growing.  Instead it brings a deeper realization of how very limited our time here is and how very precious the hours, minutes, and seconds are.  I have gained a greater understanding of how Lloyd's death combined with time, other loss, and life experiences have changed me, of things that I let lapse that I wish I had not and things I have pursued that have been wasteful and even at times counterproductive to growth.  Death severs connections with a finality that cannot be denied, at least on the earthly level, but I have allowed several friendships and connections that I treasure to wither as I have turned inward on my solitary journey,  crawling toward acceptance and healing, praying for direction.

Some friends have understood that this journey was, for me, necessary: and others have not understood wanting to rush the cobbled mending that comes only with time, unable or unwilling to understand either because it is not part of their makeup or because they have not been through the experience or because it is just too uncomfortable, this threat to our fantasy of having control. Yes, I have lost friends along the way and I grieve their passing from my life.  I also realize that it is, perhaps, time to evaluate what relationships to keep and nurture and what relationships have value, but are mainly part of the past.  While all are undeniable precious and part of the fabric that is me on some level, not all can or should be maintained. Wisdom is in knowing which is which.  Unfortunately, being human and not wise, I have to lead with my heart. Connections:  they are more important than most of us realize and they sometimes, no actually all of the time,  require effort, particularly connections with family and friends who do not reside nearby. 

I am amazed at how many of my friendships have been forged through riding my bicycle.  Yes, I have friends that do not ride, but the majority of the non-relative people that I enjoy spending time with ride a bicycle.  It is not the bikes.  I often zone out when the discussion turns to gear ratios or the best head set or other such topics.  It is the people, the interesting people who share this passion.  Well, and I also enjoy talks about courses, and hills, and weather conditions, and bicycle colors and uses.  And that is what leads to my impetuously contacting an old bicycle friend, Greg Zaborac, about a visit.

On a recent ride, I was yet again bemoaning the loss of the Big Dogs Cycling site run by Dave Parker, and thought of Greg and wondered how he was.  Since getting to know him a bit, I have come to admire Greg and his attitude toward cycling and others.  He seems to know his mind.  He does not care about DNF's or other things, but about the enjoyment one gets or does not get through an activity.  He is kind, something that I have come to cherish as one of the most important personality traits.  As Jewell notes in one of her songs, "It doesn't take a talent to be mean."  This leads to thoughts of Joe Camp who lives near Greg and who is an old friend that rode PBP in 2007 as well.  I still remember his hug of encouragement when I tell the others I am riding with to go on knowing the only way to success is on my own at my own pace and in my own way.  And, I think, it would be nice to know Karen better.  When I met her at Hell Week she seemed such a nice person. 

Yes, headlong foolish as always, I contact Greg and ask about getting together for a week-end of riding, actually inviting myself.  In my head I hear my mother bemoaning my lack of propriety as she so often despairingly did in the past. In the distant past Greg and Joe have come to Kentuckiana to ride TOKYO, a four day, four hundred some mile killer ride that was the brain child of Mike Pitt but brought to fruition by Steve Rice as a PBP training tool. This time I offer to go to Illinois where Greg and Joe live.  Greg warns me that it is not nearly as scenic as the area where I live, that there is really nothing there, but I persist, and being the gentleman he is, he accedes.  Or perhaps my correspondence relayed to him how desperately I need this trip.  I ignore my insecurities that tell me his hesitation is because he would rather not deal with me.  I contact Joe who says he has not been riding much but will start.  And to my delight, I learn that I will get to spend time with Karen Scott, Greg's significant other, and meet Leonard and Elizabeth Young, also past Big Dogs.

As I drive up, I think of how I met Greg at Texas Hell Week, something else that has been relegated to the past.  I was in Texas at a store stop and Greg passed asking me how Grasshopper's leg was doing.  He grinned and introduced himself as a Big Dog.  I find during the upcoming rides that neither or us quite remember how he knew me (he thought maybe Steve had on a Big Dog jersey but I don't think Steve owns one of those).  Regardless, it tickled me and we have been friends ever since going on to ride TOKYO and other rides together.  I remember how he brought Joe to TOKYO in 2007 as we prepared for PBP and how Joe was concerned at the slow pace, but whispered so nobody would hear.  (I doubt he felt that way by day four and during my trip finally reveal that I heard him).  I remember how after that PBP, during another Hell Week adventure, I pulled into Luckenbach on my bicycle only to see Joe standing there with his bicycle and how delightfully surprised I was.

The drive goes well despite numerous lane closures after passing Indianapolis and I am surprised to find so many windmills lining the high ways. When I arrive, after meeting Zeke and settling in,  I am treated to a car tour of the town.  It is obvious that Karen knows the local history like the back of her hand.  Also obvious is her kindness. I learn that the area was strip mined and then reclaimed, and that part of the reclamation was the creation of wetlands.  We go to a park that has more monarch butterflies than I have ever seen before, graceful and delicate in their flight. Geese gather in large groups on the water.  Everything is green despite the season due to the rainfall.  It is lovely, and I think that it is a shame to have such a park and we are the only ones in it.  After the car trip, we have a lovely dinner together in town with some of the best food I have tasted in quite awhile.  Karen and Greg are obviously known there and it is interesting to see the small town dynamics.  How nice to be in a place where people know your name.

Arrangements are made as to when to get together to ride tomorrow.   My interest is piqued further when I find that the Spoon River I saw on a sign driving into town is indeed the Spoon River from the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.  While I always had a strong preference for British poets, particularly the Romantics, I remember reading some of the poems in Dr. Kraus's American Literature class eons ago.  Or was it Dr. Renaud?  I just don't remember.  I only remember how the words tasted as I ran them across my tongue the first time, tentative and questing. Greg assures me that we will see it tomorrow.  Joe will be meeting us at Greg's house.  The following day we will drive and leave from Joe's house.

Greg, Karen, Joe, and I set out and  shortly after leaving town pass by some of the reclaimed strip mining land.  I am shocked at seeing white pelicans as well as other white water birds.  They are beautiful, but I did not know Illinois had pelicans.  After I return home I read that they migrate through the area and that unlike Brown Pelicans, they do not dive for food but get their food while swimming.  Regardless, I am too stupid to stop and get a photograph so I can't share it, but they were there and so stunningly beautiful that I don't believe that I will forget them.  When we return, sadly, they have moved on.

Shortly after the first climb, Karen turns around and Joe, Greg, and I continue the ride.  We are chased by the cutest, most athletic beagle for a few miles.  He runs and runs and shows no sign of faltering or tiring. We decide to return to see if the owner is home and can restrain him because Greg says the next turn will take us to the highway.  The dog follows us home and does not seem to lose any of its energy.  Greg knocks and the woman sends a child out, but the child obviously does not know how to restrain the dog.  Luckily, the dog takes off after some unknown but definitely enticing object in the soy bean field bordering the house and we quickly ride off.  We spend some time chatting and just enjoying the ride, finally coming to Spoon River where I insist that they allow me to photograph them.  They tell me there is a yearly Spoon River festival that sounds as if it is a rather large yard sale type event.  I vow to re-read the poems if our local library has that volume.  We eat lunch and finish out the ride.  It is becoming hot and we become silent as you do when a ride progresses and you begin to tire.  We ride lots of farm land and I think how my favorites are the old barns we pass.  Joe tells me they have a ride in one of the nearby counties that goes by barns that are known for having somewhat unusual architecture and have been preserved. I tell them of the round barns in a neighboring county in Indiana.  They take me by a home that has two camels.  Nobody is quite sure why a home in Illinois would have camels, but they do. 

We return to Greg's home tired and sit in a shaded area behind his house watching a humming bird before separating to get ready to meet for dinner in Peoria.  At least I think that is where we end up.  The food is good but the company is better.  I get to meet Leonard and Elizabeth and Joe's wife.  Again plans are made to ride the next day and a time to meet at Joe's is agreed upon. 

I pack up my things in the morning before driving to Joe's as the plan is to ride and have breakfast, then leave for home.  Karen, Joe, Greg, Elizabeth, and Leonard and I set out.  Our pace is lovely, nice and relaxed, giving everyone time to talk and time to look around.  We head to a small restaurant and have delicious omelets before hitting the road back to Joe's.  On the return leg, we stop at the college Ronald Regan attended in Eureka and see a bust and part of the Berlin wall. 

As the journey ends, Leonard and Joe tell a funny story about calling Joe on New Years Eve and asking what he was doing at midnight, then all going for a ride hoping to get a century though weather intervened.  Shared memories, such a gift, just as this trip was a gift.  We get to Joe's, I change, and quickly say good-bye thinking that Winnie the Pooh was right when he said, "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."  Thank you Greg, Joe, Karen, Leonard, and Elizabeth for a very special trip.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Ride in the Rain with Mark

"Being soaked alone is cold.  Being 
soaked with your best friend is an adventure."
Emily Wing Smith

While Mark Rougeux and I are friends, we are far from best friends, yet I still felt this quote was an appropriate one for the day. While I would like to hold all rides close and remember them at will, there have just been too many.  But the conditions make this ride one I know that we both will remember, a shared moment in time that is ours and ours alone. No, it is not the most epic or challenging ride I have done in my time, but it is the most challenging in some ways than I have done for quite awhile.  I become soft.  What might have been a demanding, wet, windy, miserable solo century, particularly as I have no training goal at this time, becomes rather fun when the day and the joys and challenges are shared.

Due to persistent neck pain, Mark recently switched to riding a recumbent and is getting ready to attempt his first 200K on such a bike.  So he asked if I was interested in riding a century this week-end.  Now riding a century with Mark on an upright bike is rather a study in pain and masochism for me.  He is much stronger and attempting to keep up is an exercise in frustration and futility that leaves my muscles weak and aching. But  hey, since he just recently started riding his new bike and I have always heard it uses different muscles, I say yes.  Stupid me.  All day he is my rabbit. As the week-end approaches, however, the weather prediction is for rain, lots of rain.  I e-mail him Friday morning and say it is supposed to rain all day, some of the rain quite heavy, so we need to cancel.  Then the prediction changes on the evening news.  That combines with my guilt over being such a weenie, so I e-mail and say let's ride.  He agrees.  As I tell him, I have been wet before.  I don't believe either of us realized how much it would rain.

Around 4:00 a.m. the sound of rain wakens me from a sound slumber, but I roll over knowing that our start time is still three hours away.  When I do get out of bed, I listen to the weather person who says there will be periods of dry throughout the day and maybe even a few rays of sunshine.  The wind is supposed to be rather strong, but they predict it will get warmer, maybe even up to 80 degrees. They lied about everything but the wind.

 It never gets above 62 degrees per the Garmin and the rain ceases for only a span of about 10 minutes. And as the day progresses, the wind smacks us in the face impeding and slowing our progress.  Don't get me wrong.  I have ridden in colder rains and for more miles, but I was younger and stronger then.  Still, oddly enough, I find myself enjoying it and remembering why I have liked rain rides in the past.  A haze hangs over the green fields and everything looks fresh and almost spring like until you look at the road and see the occasional red leaf or yellow leaf that has been blown to the ground by the increasingly strong wind.  Persimmons dot the road leaving stains.  Seeds show in the scat that occasionally sits on the country roads. I see my first fallen walnut of the year.  Smells are different in a rain, stronger and more potent somehow. We pass the covered bridge at Sheilds which is not yet completed, but looks really beautiful with the improvements they have made.  I am so glad the effort is being made to preserve this part of our history.  I realize as we ride that since I designed this route, three country stores that I have stopped at on this ride at various times are now closed.  I wonder about the lunch stop and if it will still be open.  Last time I passed this way it was not.  Riding in rural areas becomes more problematic as the small stores I treasure can no longer afford to keep their doors open.

At the first store stop, we shelter outside under the eaves.  Both of us have Showers Pass rain jackets, yet I feel cold only when we stop.  Mark later tells me he is on the verge of shivering throughout the ride.  I wonder at the difference because usually I am the one on rides who gets cold easily unless I am prepared.  I suppose it is because the cuffs aren't keeping the water from running down Mark's arms due to the different hand position on the recumbent whereas my hand angle on the bars does not allow water to run in. I say a prayer of thanks that I brought the jacket.  With hearing it might reach 80, I was not sure I wanted to carry it.  I would have been wrapped in trash bags without it.  Throughout the ride I remember various cold, wet centuries and brevets I have done.  At times I curse myself for being a stupid fool.  I could be inside, curled up with a book.  Since I am now retired, I could ride a century during the week after the rain passes out of the area.  And I go from cursing my stupidity to being supremely glad that we are riding throughout the ride.  

I remember a century with Steve Rice where by the time we were on the road returning to the start, the road had lightly flooded despite there not being a creek or waterway anywhere nearby.  The water was just running from one corn field into another and we had to ride through.  I remember the brevet with Bill and Steve where it rained and nowhere near 62 degrees warm and I thought we might freeze out there.  I remember my first solo century in the rain after a club ride when the club ride was canceled, the century that earned me my Mad Dog name. 

The lunch stop is open and we have a good albeit expensive lunch.  I feel badly for the server a we leave puddles on the floor and on our seats. Mark has no cell service, but I have a different provider and am able to pull up radar.  It is obvious that we will complete the ride in rain and so we head out.  As it has all day, the rain varies from being a light, pleasant drizzle to a heavier downpour that stings and bites. But I realize I feel alive in a way I have not recently.  During the stop, we laugh at the skin on our hands which is wrinkled as it used to be when I was small and spent the day swimming.  Again I am thankful as I know the stop at Story would have been longer.  I am enjoying myself, but I also dream of home and warmth and comfort.   I worry about the puddles we leave in the store, and then I think of the rainy rides to Hanover where they had to get the mop out and the woman working gave us plastic sandwich gloves to put under our gloves for cold hands and fingers.  My daughter came to sag out three people that day who were too cold and wet to finish.  It is a ride that everyone who showed up to ride remembers. Mark finds a way using plastic gloves he has with him to keep the rain out, but he remains cold for the rest of the ride.  We both express our appreciation of and anticipation of hot water at the end of the ride. 

When we get to Brownstown, we find the road we need to travel is closed.  Luckily, we are able to skirt around the closure as it truly is closed and there was absolutely no road or what was a 103 mile route might have become a 200K.  Then, however, my rear cable breaks while in the smallest rear cog.  I decide to ride in rather than to try to fix it (something I have seen done but never attempted myself) since I still have my front rings to vary, but this puts additional demands on already weary legs.  Mark has pushed the pace for me the entire time, and I have answered as best I can because who likes to be the chubby anchor?  Interestingly, I know that being this weary will mean little sleep tonight.  Tomorrow night, that will be a different story.

We arrive, Mark leaves, and I savor my hot bath and grin at the grit left in the bottom of the tub as I shower off.  It is nice, I think, to smell like a girl afterward.  Despite it still being early, I opt for my jammies and sip hot chocolate on the couch, luxuries after such a day which brings a new appreciation for the good things in life, the things that bring me joy, however small:  a cat curled nearby warming the air with purrs, the smell and taste of the cocoa, the softness and comfort of jammies, a comfortable place to sit, after a long, demanding, cold bike ride in the rain.  Life is good.  Thanks, Mark, for the company and the adventure.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Mike Crawford's New 45 Mile Ride

"Summer was here again.  Summer, summer, summer.
I loved and hated summers. Summers had a logic
all their own and they always brought something
out in me. Summer was supposed to be about freedom
and youth and no school and possibilities and adventure 
and exploration.  Summer was a book of hope.
That's why I loved and hated summers.  Because
they made me want to believe."
Benjamin Saenz 

Summer yet again has flown by, streaking past me without so much as a fluttering wave or a rigid middle finger as I prepared for retirement and tried to ignore him.  Oh, there is still summer left for a few weeks more and the world remains lush and green, not yet cloaked in her merry fall clothing, but I feel it winding down.  So much missed.  I had thought retirement would slow down the whirling dance, but life happens. As the saying goes, "Man plans.  God laughs." I only have been retired about two weeks, but my sister, already handicapped, falls and breaks a hip. My brother is diagnosed with a serious illness breaking my heart, the brother whose first words upon seeing me when my parents brought me home from the hospital were, "I don't see what's so great about her,"  the brother who was the first to make me buckle my seat belt in a car, the brother who took me to swim practice and baseball practice and cheated me when we played cards, the brother that I love. I offer a bone marrow transplant if it will help and we match, but he has been told he is too old. It is hard and I wish they had not happened, but these things also assure me that I have made the right decision in retiring rather than continuing to work.  Life, like summer, whizzes by at breakneck speed with an unknown finish line.  At least some summer is left, and I want to believe in possibilities, in adventure, in changes.  And I intend to explore.  One fear I have always held is leaving life before living it fully.

I struggle with whether to drive all the way to Elizabeth for Mike Crawford's new ride as it is only 45 miles, but the possibility of new roads and companionship draws me like the moth to the flame. I decide to go, and I am so very glad I do.  The roads are magnificent:  lightly traveled and scenic.  I have ridden some before, but a few are entirely new to me. Some of the pavement is rough, but that does not bother me.  I would rather have scenery and little traffic on rough roads than smooth roads that lack these treats.  I get to see and drool over Lynn's beautiful, new, bright orange Calfee and hear his first impressions as this is the third time he has taken it out to play. 

I start out near the front of the pack, but decide to ride at the back.  After all, what is the hurry? And I really don't know the others despite a rather large turn out.  Getting to know people is difficult for me, and today I will not force it.  A silver mist coats the air at the start.  As my tail light is not working, I am glad for the light traffic.  It is beautiful, this mist, shielding us from the sun, making the word fairy like and odd, and the mist stays for a couple of hours before the sun pops through, wrapping his arms around us and heating everything up. I ride with Lynn and Mike occasionally talking and occasionally riding in companionable silence.  The corn is tall and not yet brown and withered.  Soy bean fields abound.  Yet there are also roads where tall trees line the sides, stately and dignified. All around me abundance, and I am thankful, thankful for friends and country roads and bicycles.  I think of when I was a child and school ended.  Summer seemed a magnificent eternity before being jailed again, full of forts to be built, woods to be wandered, and games to be played.

Now I am as free as I suppose we ever can be as adults because even though retired, there are responsibilities that I did not have as a child.   And perhaps every season can and should now be a "book of hope" full of possibilities.  What a thoroughly delightful route, Mike Crawford.  Thank you for sharing it.  I have enjoyed it and the company.  It was worth the drive.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Journey Begins

"Closing time. Every new
beginning comes from some other 
beginning's end."

Yesterday was my retirement party, and as it neared I wished I had told them no, or just our own unit.  It has been an emotional few weeks, bidding farewell to families and children I have watched over, trying to ensure that the transition to a new worker goes smoothly, regretting that yet again they have another parting to deal with. 

I have done this work for over thirty years.  I have had dogs sicced on me and been bitten, had a hatchet thrown at me, been chased with a knife, been spit upon, been cursed, cradled and cleaned children infested with lice,  and soaked diapers from babies where the feces had dried so tightly I worried that their skin would come with it.  I have hugged people who smelled so badly that I felt I might pass out and been thanked by people who are low class but have class. I have done every aspect of the job.  The cries of the little ones have haunted my sleep on more than one occasion, and I have awakened after some fresh horror with a scream in my throat.  I have had periods of no sleep.  I have fallen to my knees thinking I could not go on, and somehow been uplifted to plod forward, one foot at a time.  I have worked for an agency that is heartless and ungrateful and sometimes wrong at a job where every decision will be seen as the wrong decision by someone.  I have had supervisors who were wonderful, knowledgeable, and compassionate and one supervisor from hell that broke my heart and  impacted the well being of countless children before retiring.

Still, oddly enough, there is some regret at the finality and my day is tinged with tears.  I worry that nobody will show for my party, but I am wrong.  Friends, my co-workers, and some of those I have worked with in the past show.  And before the day is over, I realize that despite my short time in supervision, in a agency with an extremely high turn over, I have nurtured and supervised workers who went on: one director and six supervisors though one did leave the agency. Not a bad record when one figures the briefness of my time as a supervisor.  I wish my husband were here to share with me.  I miss being loved.  

And so, I am now free, my time my own.  And to celebrate, I head out on a solitary century.  There is a club century, but alas, it has some busy roads, and perhaps, with my mood, it is better to be alone today.  Glad has blessed me with unusually cool temperatures and low humidity and sunny skies.  The road is calling and I answer.

It seems too early for the corn tassels to be browning, but they are.  It was hard for the farmers to plant this spring with the rain, but once planted, most of the fields have yielded abundantly, helped by the frequent rain.  In the early morning, the dew still sits on the leaves of the soy beans, delicate and ephemeral,  and I ponder if my camera would catch it.  I decide that it would not and do not stop.  I pass a road side corn stand and pause thinking an ear or two would fit in my jersey pockets, but the stand is barren.  Too early for produce to be set out on a Saturday or sold out?  Regardless, I ride on. 

The hills taunt me, but at the slow pace I am maintaining, they are not too painful.  I seem to have problems with them now that I did not have in the path, as if I can't get enough air.  Age, health, mental state, fitness level?  I catch a glimpse of a heron, beautiful, relaxing on one leg, but before I can aim he is flying away.  So much beauty in the world.  A ground hog bustles across the road, brown and chubby, again too fast for me to take any picture that is not mental. 

I spend my time admiring the scenery and thinking about the people who took the time to attend the party yesterday.  I think about the plans I have, a visit to California to see a nephew who lives there, a trip I am planning to Illinois to ride a day or two with an old friend. I think of PBP and whether I will go back next year to ride again or if my path lies elsewhere.

I think of the beauty that surrounds me, the charm of a decaying barn in the midst of green crops, the flower daintily hiding her beauty among the brush, and I am thankful that I have not waited to retire until I could not longer ride and notice these things.  I cry and I sing and I am all over the board emotionally, but I am glad to be here and glad that I am able to move forward.  Goodbyes are painful, but beginnings are exciting.  As my retirement cake reminded me, there are roads to be traveled. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A July Ride with Friends

"Friendship is unnecessary, like
philosophy, like art... It has no survival
value; rather it is one of those things that
give value to survival."
C.S. Lewis

After a long stretch of exceedingly hot and humid weather with "feel like" temperatures above 100 degrees, there is finally a day that promises low humidity and temperatures only into the eighties, a day that just seems heaven made for cycling.  I am concerned about the route, as I always am with a new route and an unknown route designer. Unlike some riders, I prefer lightly traveled, country roads to busy roads even if they are more difficult to travel and take more time just as I prefer living in the country to living in the city. It suits me and it suits my personality.  Having not ridden one of his rides before, I have no idea as to the designer's preference.  The TMD crowd of bicycle riders has grown, and there are now many people who ride whose names I don't know no less their personalities.

 I may end up one of the many cycling victims of the automobile, but I would prefer it not to be due to poor routing. Still, I am not stupid enough to believe that it can't happen anywhere. Eddie Doerr used to say that it was not a matter of if so much as when and how badly and I believe him to be right if one rides enough.  However unfortunate it may be, bicycling is dangerous business. This route appears to be a combination of lightly and heavily traveled roads. After finding it is scheduled to go through Madison on Regatta week-end, I struggle before deciding to roll the dice, take the risk, and go.  It helps finding a group is starting earlier than the scheduled time, something I normally don't do as I consider it rude unless there is good reason, but the part of the route that goes on heavily trafficked roads convinces me that it is safer to get through Madison early rather than late.  Past experience on rides in the area on Regatta week-end has taught me that many people will be drinking and that many drivers in the area will be impaired.  The earlier I get through there, the less likely I am to meet one of them, and that is just fine by me.

It will be delightful to see friends even if I won't be able to hang with them the entire ride.  It is nice of them to include me, and they are only starting early due to necessity. I used to be able to keep their pace, and perhaps I will again in the future, but right now I can't and have no desire to try.  I think how I have changed remembering futilely chasing after Jim Whaley on a ride, pedaling furiously and determinedly, with Mike Pitt saying over and over, "You can't catch him.  Stop. Stop. You can't catch him."  And still I pedaled and tried and tried only giving up when he was no longer in view.   I think how much desire plays into ability.  No, I didn't catch him that day, but I rode hard and I rode well.  When, I think, did that stop?  Did brevets and their non-competitiveness play a role?  Did I just grow lazy? I find I have no answer and it needs more thought, but not today.  That is a thought for a solo ride, and with retirement looming nearby, there will be time.

I do end up riding the entire day with Amelia, Jeff, Mike, and Paul, but it is only because they allow it.  I don't fool myself that I can maintain the pace they can set if they desire to. Once, yes, but not presently.  I tell each of them not to feel bad if they drop me, but they don't.  And as it turns out, it is just what the doctor ordered.  It is a fun century, the most fun on a ride I have had for awhile.  The last time I remember having so much fun on a ride was one of Rich's rides descending in freezing weather out of Clifty Falls down to 56, barely able to see as my glasses frosted over, laughing madly, cold as the dickens, delighting in the descent and the beauty of the snow as it fell icing an already delightful ride.  Or the century I rode this spring with Bill, Steve, and Dave. Friends, yes, friends are good.  Perhaps one can survive without them, but like love and relationships, they enrich life so. They are kind to allow me to stay with them and to include me, for they have honed a friendship out of hours spent in the saddle together that excludes me, just as I have with Steve, Dave, and Bill, but they allow me in and it fills a part of me that I had not realized was missing recently being so caught up in my own personal issues.

The route is lovely other than the Madison part of the ride and an early part of the ride that is not too busy due to the time of day.  Don't get me wrong.  Madison is a marvelous city and I love to visit there and to sample her restaurants and wines.  I just don't like to ride my bicycle there when the traffic is thick and heavy and people's minds are on vacation from their driving responsibilities. The designer has done a good job though minimizing these roads and keeping us on less traveled thruways.

The recent humid weather with bursts of rain have kept everything green and lush rather than browning to a crisp from the searing heat.  Some of the roads are unfamiliar to me.  During the ride, the others tell me a story of a ride earlier in the past week or two that they did on these roads when a huge storm blew in.  They sheltered in a garage with the owners blessing and the river was lapping at the doorstep by the time the storm abated and they resumed.  I do enjoy the stories I hear on rides, and today is no exception.  I enjoy Lucky's (Jeff's) relaxed attitude about things and wish I had more of that in me.  We talk of Steve Sexton, an old cycling pal,  and I spend a moment missing him and hoping he is well and happy.  I tell them of the time we were on a four day, four hundred mile ride and how I remember the heat and Steve grinning at me on a climb telling me it was a cleavage day. Paul tells me of the recent century where I did not ride with this group and Amelia was pushing the pace, pulling for mile are mile, another rider saying, "This is cruel.  This is cruel."  He laughed saying at first he though the fellow was saying this is cool.  That was before they dropped, no longer able to hold on.

Friends.  Yes, I suppose Lewis is right and we can survive without them as we could without art, philosophy, history, all those things that they are talking about dropping or have dropped from school curriculums.  But do we really want to?  Is life not a bit brighter, more fulfilling with these cushions to turn to that pillow us when life becomes cruel as it inevitably does at times.  I daresay that the answer varies for each of us, but today I am thankful not just for the health that allows me to continue to ride my bicycle for long distances but for the friends I have made along the way.  I hold the kindnesses they have offered along the way closely to my heart to warm me when the world turns cold.  And to them, both old, new, frequently and infrequently seen, I say thank you.  Life should be about more than just survival. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Gravel Roads to be Explored

"Time changes everything except something
within us that is always surprised by change."
Thomas Hardy

While I long for company, I do not long for city roads, even those that are not heavily traveled.  This, combined with a sore tendon, helps me decide to head for the gravel, something I have not done for a bit and hope to do more often in the near future.  The sun is hot.  Feel like temperatures are to soar to over 100 degrees today.  I decide not only not to do the club century, but not to do a century.  

Slowly, since getting my Surly, I am starting to familiarize myself with all the gravel roads in the area, the ones I rode past many times over the years on my road bike, wondering about but never traveling.  Some of them would be rideable on a road bike, but many are gravel for a reason.  There seem to be long, steep hills on many of them, hard enough to ride on paved roads and made more difficult by a sliding and slipping rear wheel. Today's gravel has almost a ditch across it in places where, I assume, water has forced a path in heavy rains. I don't know that I will ever feel truly competent on gravel, the way it seems to vie with you for control, always leaving me rather off center, yet I find myself strangely drawn to it.  Briefly I think of when the children were small and they, for some reason I still don't fathom, dug a ditch so that water would come into the shed.  I remember anger struggling with laughter in my husband's eyes when he discovered what they had done, and his resignation that it was just one more thing he had to tolerate until he could fix. 

I pass mobile home after mobile home early on the road, run down, almost frightening.  It is not the mobile home that frightens me:  I lived and raised my children in a mobile home until they were in middle school and we had enough to buy a house, but it is the condition of things: bushes untrimmed, yards unmowed, trash scattered, rusted cars and trucks everywhere.  Just a general feeling of neglect, as if caring would be too much of an effort.  Poverty...I learned a true fear of poverty from the stories of my mother and her childhood:  hiding from landlords, moving 12 times in a school year, never knowing if your needs would be met.  And yes, this place frightens me.  I pass a small camper with clothes lines attached.  A woman is hanging her clothing out to dry.  She yells something at me that I don't quite catch.  I don't stop, however, I move on.  I think briefly how I am surprised there are no dogs coming out and giving chase, but whether it is the heat, that there are none on this road, or they are restrained who knows.  I just know that I survive that part of the road with my calves intact.  

Later on the road, the scenery becomes beautiful.  Perhaps because the hills begin and there just is not a good place for a mobile home or camper.  While it is hot, there has been lots of rain, and the trees are green.  I come upon a young deer, walking down the road in the same direction I am going.  At first I believe it is just a large, skinny dog, but when I hail him he turns his head and I see budding antlers, black and velvety looking.  Startled, he bounds into the brush, but almost slowly as if the heat is just too hot for him to make an effort.  A tad later, a racoon saunters across the road, lithe and graceful, melting back into the forest.  

At times, I get off and walk the hill.  I have wrapped my achilles for the first time and forgot to allow accommodation for swelling feet.  It definitely is restricting the movement, but it also is not comfortable.  Still, I don't mind walking.  I find I have more of these niggling injuries now than before and that the best thing to do is to go with them rather than fighting them.  I have been lucky enough to heal from each with time.  This too, I feel certain, will pass.  

The gravel yields to paved roads and to fields of corn, tall and green.  This makes me think of my garden.  I have not gardened for a few years.  I tore down the rotted raised beds my husband had made this summer, but I did not plant or commit to planting.  I have all winter to decide and to ponder the numerous rabbits that have taken up residence in my yard since Rocky died and is not longer there to maintain order.  

But I have time to decide.  10 more days of work and I will be retired, free to do perhaps not whatever I please, but free.  As I told a friend recently, I suspect it may be like turning 18 when you think that you will be able to do whatever you want and find to your surprise that it is not that way at all.  Alas, dreams so often surpass reality.

I get home all too soon for my mental well being, but soon enough in light of the heat.  A shower will feel good.  My bed with clean, sun-dried sheets will feel good.  And I will sleep and dream of the rides that I will be free to do.  Even without retirement, time would change things, but as Hardy notes, I am always surprised by change, even when I am expecting it.