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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Solo Century March 2019

"Behold, my friends, the spring is come;
the earth has gladly received the embraces 
of the sun, and we shall soon see the results 
of their love."
Sitting Bull

It is still cold outside, but it is expected to be only mildly windy and not below freezing.  I have winter legs, unused to hard demands being placed upon them and there is no time like the present to begin to remedy that.  It is time to ride. I have a course to check for a ride I am captaining later this month and there is no time like the present (Club policy has changed and signatures on a contract are no longer required in order to captain), so today is the day.  If I did not have an appointment the next day, I might have procrastinated, but as it turns out I am glad that I did not despite a rare (anymore) sleepless night.  I also am glad that a calendar glitch has kept me from posting the ride and having company.  There will be no pressure.  The time has changed so there is plenty of day light and I am alone. 

It is strange how different climbs are when one is alone and there is no pressure to "keep up."   How much more I seem to notice.  You just pedal and there is not the agony or pain of pushing faster.  Not that I don't enjoy company.  Often I do.  But each has its charms.  With the difficulty of today's course on weak legs, alone is probably best.  It does, however, depend upon the company.  One group I ride with never seems to be in a hurry though they maintain a reasonable pace.  The last I rode with them, they assured me that was because they are mostly mountain bikers and not road bikers.  But it is all good.  I think for awhile of all the nice people I have met through cycling and how blessed I am.  Recently, thanks to Amelia, I have been hiking with some of them that no longer ride distance and gotten a chance to catch up.  I really enjoyed a recent conversation with Ron Dobbs and seeing Vickie. There truly are a lot of good people out there.  I tend to forget this when I read too much or watch too much news.

I know all the roads the first part of the course, and as I check the corrected cue sheet, all the turns and mileage seem right.   I thrill on the hills of Shorts Corner when I come upon a quite unexpected site:  Easter flowers, or so my mother-in-law used to call them, some type of small, yellow daffodil, is just opening.  Despite being in midst of a climb and knowing that it will be hard to start back up once I quit pedaling, I have to take a picture if only to remind myself later that it is true.  I have seen the green stalks elsewhere, the promise of bloom, but no blooms. These are the only blooms I see all day.  Mostly there is brown mud.  The stark outlines of tree branches are muted with buds, but they have not yet opened.  And trash, I see the litter that people make everywhere.  I am not a neat freak, but I don't litter and I wonder a bit about why people don't take their trash in when they park at home or wait and throw it in the bin when they get gas.  But they don't.  We don't love the earth as we should. 

The squirrels are particularly active and chatter at me when I urge them to move off the road.  A gray squirrel seems intent on driving a brown squirrel away and I grin at his antics. Perhaps mating and territory related? I doubt gray squirrels mate with brown squirrels, but I really don't know. Deer abound and I see three different small herds throughout the day, bounding gracefully, white tails bobbing.  I think about how when I was recently reading about hiking the National Forest, it recommended wearing orange or red, but specifically not white.  Perhaps a hunter might think that the while was a deer tail. 

I stop for lunch at the Mennonite Restaurant and let them know that a group will be coming through.  She asks if they will arrive at once and I tell her probably not since we ride different paces.  I know she is trying to plan staffing requirements and I hope that I am right.  I love this restaurant.  If you ask, the sandwich is served on home baked bread.   And today is no exception.  The men at a nearby table stare at me and I assume I look a sight.  During the winter, I have stopped pulling my hair back when I ride as the balaclava loosens my hair band.  If they fall on the floor, Tom eats them if he gets a chance.  The few times he beat me when the band dropped to the floor, he vomited them back up, but otherwise I know they could kill him.  So I just look like an unkempt banshee.  For a moment I wish for short hair, but mine is so easy to cut without going to a beauty parlor.  I just pull it back, take the scissors, and cut straight across.  Money and time both saved.  It also saves me from having to sit and try to make conversation with a hair stylist that I don't know.  "Vanity, thy name is woman," may be true, but "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" either.  I just don't think I could make short hair look passable without going to a shop regularly, a time sacrifice I am not willing to make.  I also am dressed in layers of clothing and do a mild strip tease at the table.  No tips are thrown, but then I am almost 63;-)  As I tell people there comes a time when rather than saying, "Take it off, take it off," one is more likely to hear, "Put it on, put it on."  Time can surely be mean.  I have accepted that I will die without ever being breathtakingly beautiful to anyone, except my husband of course and he is gone. 

After lunch will be the major, unknown change. I am leaving out two of my favorite roads and adding a road that will cut mileage.  I had e-mailed my old boss, Mark, to ask about the road as in the past he advised me against riding it but I cannot  remember why.  He says it was because it had thick gravel for about two miles, but he thinks it has been paved.  And the first mile or so has been, though the pavement is bad in places.  And then, there it is, silently waiting, taunting.  A hill.  A magnificent, scary hill that appears more like a wall than a hill, winding upward toward heaven.  I know that at the end of this road, I will be turning onto a road that also has a long, tough hill, but it is not like this hill.  I take a deep breath and begin to pedal, then decide that I will walk it today.  My legs are tired already and I still am about thirty to thirty five miles out.  And so I walk, relieved but also a bit disappointed in myself.  Next time, I think, Mr. Hill, it will be me and you.  You won this round through intimidation, but perhaps next time the victory will be mine.  Still, despite walking, I enjoy the feeling of being on a new, unknown road. 

After I crest the hill, I find that Mark is wrong and there is still gravel.  It is sparse, however, and very rideable and nowhere near two miles long.  Even with all the recent rain, it is not muddy.  Good as pavement, I think, though I know that there are riders who will not appreciate it.  Then a descent and I pray that my brakes are good.  Of course, while steep, it is not a straight descent and there is a ninety degree turn at the bottom, but my bike handles it.  Then begins the next climb, the climb where I can still see Scott standing and saying, "Now that's a hill."  Being alone, I don't have to hurry.  I am surprised to find I don't need granny.  Perhaps I have not grown as weak as I thought.  But I am slow.  I think of the soy bean field I saw that was still unharvested, probably due to the excessive rain.  All along the route there is evidence of deep ruts in fields that have been harvested. 

I stop at Amos's store only to find he now closes on Monday as well as Sunday, but in my bike bag I have a sugar cookie I bought at lunch but didn't eat and I still have plenty of water.  I notice all the changes on Delaney Park. There are two new Amish home sites.  Laundry is hung out, something I look forward to doing but have not yet started for the year.  I dream of how nice it is to come home from a long ride to fresh sheets that smell of the earth and the sun.  At one home, there is a small Amish boy playing outside, I would guess about four or five.  I bid him good day, but he is shy and does not reply, only stares at the strange woman passing by on her bicycle.  I think of how odd it is that there have not been any other signs of spring other than that first small patch of flowers.  I caution myself to patience:  it will come when it will come. Technically, it is still winter.  I wonder if I should try to change back to the original route, and decide to think on it for a day or two.  Parking is the issue.  I decide I will measure to estimate how many cars I can fit and then decide. 

I am glad when I reach home.  I like my original route better and not because of the hill.  I just think it is more scenic, or perhaps it is because it has more memories.  Either route will be pretty as spring arrives and begins to show herself a little more, to pass on a bit of the love she received from the sun. Sometimes when I struggle on rides anymore I question why I continue to ride the century rides, but then I think of my husband when I stopped doing triathlons.  He told me that I would never be that fit again.  And I wasn't.  I think of Jim Whaley saying essentially the same thing  to me during a ride when he talked about when he gave up racing.  And I decide that, at least for now, I will continue to challenge myself.  Riding will season these old legs for another year anyway, I expect.  And so I continue.    102.7 miles.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The First TMD Century Stage: 2019

"One thing about the cold weather:
it brings out the statistician in everyone."
Paul Theroux

The first Tour De Mad Dog Century stage of 2019 and I am in terrible shape.  Yes, I have gone to the gym.  I have done Pilates and Barre classes faithfully other than the months a couple of broken toes were healing.  I have squatted and lunged and crunched until my squatters, lungers, and crunchers were sore, but I have not really ridden my bicycle much and I know it will show on a 100 mile ride.  Once, I think with disgust at myself, I have been on my old stationary trainer once this winter. So I actually go back and check to ensure that it was not a dream, that I did receive an e-mail saying the course is changed due to flooding and will be a much flatter course than the course originally scheduled.  I intended to ride anyway, and even with the change I know it will be painful, but I also know this course, one I normally will not ride due to the danger of high traffic volume and the lack of any significant scenery, will be less painful by far. I'm in.

The ride will go from the Outer Loop down to Lincoln's boyhood home and then return along the same route.  I know there will be memories, but I am unprepared for how they haunt me throughout the ride.  Many of my friends from those first years have given up the century rides for shorter, less demanding rides, but here I am.  Newer friends are not returning opting for shorter rides, but I am here.  And I decide it is time to evaluate why I am here and if I truly want to be here. Dave is the only one present today from the original group that rode the series starting 2004.  We were really not friends that first year, at least not in the way we later became friends, a friendship forged through countless miles on countless century and brevet courses.   Still, I doubt we will ride together and I am surprised to find we spend quite a bit of the day together.  Gayle is the only other woman present.  Again I think how last year there were, I don't believe, any new women to finish the tour.  But things lose their popularity, and the numbers definitely seem to grow smaller.  And it is hard.  Riding all these centuries is hard and seems to become harder.

I think about the brevets and how I purposefully did not do the Kentucky 200 this year.  The decision was abetted by a wedding I needed to attend the evening before that kept me out until midnight, but one I perhaps would have made anyway.  I keep hoping my desire to ride the long brevets will return, but just the thought of being that tired makes me tired.  Still, I am glad that I was that tired.  Personally, I don't believe that until you have ridden a 1200 K, you really to know what it means to be truly exhausted. 

I know how to dress for this ride, but I shiver at the thought.  This is one of those days that, while not really cold, will be one where you sweat and are chilly at the same time.  To prevent that, I would have to overdress which would not only mean a slower pace than the snail's pace I anticipate, but greater dehydration.  It is supposed to be in the low forties all day with a mild wind, and so I bite the bullet: thin wool base layer topped with a wool jersey, vest, and very light jacket, booties and my bar mitts, something I left on only because of the cold weather prediction for next week, a decision I am exceedingly grateful for throughout the ride.  Age, it seems, whether mental or physical, has lessened my tolerance for discomfort.  As my friend, Lynn, has told me, it does get harder to be mean to yourself as you age. 

Dave heads off before me, and I leave the parking lot in the middle of the fast group chasing him, for he pulled out on his own.  I hang for a few miles before dropping back knowing that I do not have the endurance to hang there the entire ride but pleased to keep up for as long as I do.  As with running, one thing I am good at is pacing myself, a valuable skill for anyone who does endurance activities. Indeed, it turns out only three riders do, but that happens further down the road.  When I drop, I am ride by myself for a number of miles before being caught by John and a rider I don't know when I stop to adjust the cue sheet.  I giggle to myself as I hear them chatting behind me expressing their gratefulness for the flooding because it caused the route change.  It is good to know that I am not the only wimp in the group.  But then, I think, other than Larry, I probably am the oldest of the group.  As I thought to myself last year, "You old fool.   You're 62 (now almost 63) and can't expect to keep up with 40 to 50 year old men." But today, for the most part, I do. 

While I am by myself, I ride a road where I remember Mike Pitt having a flat 14 or 15 years ago.  I remember how we lazed at the side of the road while he changed it, laughing and joking, easy in our friendship.  I remember the warmth of the sun beating down on us, the greenness of the grass, the sweetness of the air.  I pass the gas station where Mike stole Tim's wheel and hid it. I remember Vickie, camera ready and then stealthily put away, no photo taken, when Tim became incensed and rode off by himself leaving everyone stunned by his unexpected reaction.  I remember another time, all of us sitting at the picnic tables, warm and sweaty in the summer sun, eating sandwiches,  and Mike Kammenish lying on the pavement easing an aching back prior to his spinal surgery.  Across the street is the restaurant we used to eat in where a toy train ran along a shelf at the top of the room near the ceiling, the restaurant where I got my first Mad Dog (removable) tattoo.  "Where," I think,"did the time go?"  "Where did the people go?" Yet still I ride.  "Is there," I think,"something wrong with me that I have not moved on as others do?"  But even on this cold day, a day where I chill and am uncomfortable any time I slow or stop, there is no place else I would rather be or any other activity that I would rather be in engaged in than riding my bike.  Curse or gift?  I don't know.  Perhaps a bit of both. But thank God for the health that allows me to continue to participate.

At the first store stop, Gayle and Dave are waiting and we share the road until Dave needs to make a pit stop.  Gayle thinks it is morbid when I am talking about the divorce of a friend and lamenting that he had not found the woman to live out his days with as I had hoped. My daughter tells me I talk of death too openly, and I can't say I am not afraid of death or that I look forward to death, but I also am not afraid to talk about it and have accepted that it is inevitable.  But she is right and people do find it unsettling. Still, I did not look at my statement as morbid.  I envy those who have life partners and I miss my own. And it is something that I wish for my friends:  loving and being loved. Even now, when I see something Lloyd would have liked, I think how I miss telling him about it or buying it for him.  I miss fixing his favorite dinner for his birthday.  I miss having a life partner.  I miss loving and being loved, and if I have another romantic relationship, I will wish for an enduring one. The words of a favorite song by James Arthur come to mind, "I want to stay with you until we're gray and old......I want to live with you even when we're ghosts."

The man I don't know behind me  has been complaining about his toes.  Sympathizing,  I give him the toe warmers I have stowed in my handlebar bag and he is hesitant but grateful. I ride with John and this fellow until the turn around. They stop but I roll onward.  I decide not to stop at the Subway that is the traditional lunch stop but to ride on until the third stop as it is still early.  At the turnaround, John asked the fellow riding with us our average.  He replies in kilometers, but that is not what John wanted, so I tell him we are at 16 mph.  Not fast, certainly, but not too bad after months without any serious riding.  As stated above, the cold has turned me into a statistician.  Throughout the ride, whenever I notice my discomfort, I calculate the anticipated finish time. 

Dave and I stop to eat at the third store stop.  As we sit there for what seems like forever, I realize I had forgotten how slowly Dave eats.  Never have I seen anyone who enjoys his food as thoroughly as Dave. It is a source of amusement, delight, and frustration. Though I enjoy hearing about the new bicycles he has bought (and have been lusting after the one he is riding), it seems an eternity as the statistician again takes over calculating the additional time it will take to finish.  My thigh muscles are tightening and I am chilling by the time we leave.  As often is the case after a stop, especially a prolonged stop during a colder ride, it seems colder than it did prior to the stop.   I wonder if I have another thirty miles left in my legs and realize I better have as I have no sag wagon.  Dave said the sun was supposed to pop out, but it never does.  Everything is dark and gray and chill, a chill and grayness made worse by the previous taste of spring.

Dave tells me about the brevet, about who rode, about the challenges of the course.  I ask if he is going to ride his new bike at PBP and he says he is not:  he is going to ride his green Kirk.  I ask if he rode with Steve and he says he rode mostly alone.  A part of me wishes I had ridden, but as much of me or more is glad that I didn't, particularly after feeling how tired my legs are after 100 basically flat miles. And then we are pulling into the parking lot, a lot that holds my car that has seat warmers that will be on high all the way home.  Unlike in the warmer months, we only hug briefly and don't hang out long afterwards before heading home.   I grin as I pull out calculating how long it will be before I am submerged in a tub full of hot water.  But I am glad that I rode. I am grateful for the time alone and the memories that surfaced.  I am grateful for the time with Dave.  Life is good and so is bicycling.  And spring will come. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

In Anticipation

 "If life were eternal, all interest and anticipation 
would vanish.  It is uncertainty which lends it 
Yoshida Kenko

Today I can almost believe that it will soon be warm again and that green will seep into the waking world.  Today the sun is shining. There is no warmth to it, but it is still there, a bold reminder of what will be. Despite the strong wind and cold, I throw my leg over the saddle and take off on my bike anticipating the battle I know is about to happen in a way that I have not for quite a while.  Today the world is beautiful in a way that it has not been for awhile. Sun makes such a difference. I notice the maple trees beginning to bud out, tentatively, also anticipating the spring, the sap beginning to flow as they ready themselves.  It is not raining for the first time in what seems to be months and I have a bike trip to look forward to and plan for, something new to anticipate.

I have been invited to go on a week-long bike tour and I am worried and excited at the same time.  Have I bitten off more than I can chew?  Yes, I have done multi-day rides before, rides with much longer mileage, but mostly they have been sagged.  Those that have not been sagged have been of short duration if not short length.  For this trip, I will need more than a carradice to carry what needs to be carried.  And what does need to be carried?  Never before have I needed a sleeping bag on a biking trip. I know I will need to battle my tendency to over-pack.  I don't know most of the people I will be traveling with and will feel the extra pressure of being sure I am not an anchor or a pest or a bother.  But I am so looking forward to the newness of the experience, to new faces, new sights, new smiles, new experiences.

The invite came a good time for me, the month of February, still a hard one as it contains not only Valentine's Day but my anniversary.  Still, there is value in remembrance.  We all  like to feel that someone treasures us and holds us dear.  While he was here, I held him dear as he did me.  Yes, there is value in that that far exceeds my ability to translate.

During the short ride, I think of all these things and it makes fighting the wind a bit easier on the way out.  On the way back, I am a tail wind hero, riding effortlessly as if  I have lost none of my fitness over the long, dreary winter.  Not a cold winter, just a dreary winter.  I pray that this year God grants us a spring and not quite so much water as last year.  And I pray that I enjoy the upcoming trip, that I make new friends, that I have new experiences to hold onto.  That I anticipate and my anticipation is fulfilled. It is good to look ahead with excitement. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Carnival Ride

"Friends are God's way of taking 
care of us."

Such beautiful weather for January, more like late February or even March weather.  And today is the second day of such weather.  While I rode yesterday, it did not comfort me as it usually does and it was a hard day on many levels.  It was just one of those crummy days where you can't define why you don't feel so chipper, you should feel chipper, but you just don't.  And there is no good reason you can put your finger on.  Age has brought me the understanding of how quickly feelings can change.  Or maybe not the understanding, at least of why, but the realization that no matter how down I may get eventually the sky will seem blue again and a smile will tease my face.  Still, those blah days sometimes take some getting through.

Today is different.  I will be riding with people that I have not ridden with for about a year, but I am so looking forward to it.  And they greet me as a friend with smiles and some hugs. Rich had the brilliant idea of buying carnival beads to pass to people during the ride as it is the first day of carnival.  While I am aware of carnival and Mardi Gras, I have never been and it would never have crossed my mind that it was starting.  My beads are green, purple, and gold.  At one point during the ride I wonder if the colors have meanings, but by the time I am riding close enough to Rich to ask, the thought has slipped through this steel sieve that now seems to be my mind.  The thought of giving away the beads makes me think of my first PBP when I took along little plastic parachutes, candies, and stickers to give to the children I saw along the route.  But that is another story for another day.

At the ride start, we do as cyclists do when the weather is supposed to have a large temperature range and question whether we have enough layers on or too many.  Will we be too warm?  Will we freeze?  I opt to add another layer, but shed it early in the ride, overdressing as usual.  I know my hands will be warm as I have my barr mitts taped to my handlebar from when it was a bit colder and won't undo them until winter is over.  I love the chatter that spills out at the start of a ride as hearts and minds share the things they have been storing up for a face to face meeting.  Sometimes I participate, often I participate, but sometimes I just like to listen even if I can't distinguish what is being said.  It is the music of voices, the comfort of the sounds of communication that is amiable and pleasant.  It is very rare on a ride to hear the harsh, strident tones of anger, unless it is directed toward a motorist that has unnecessarily and thoughtlessly caused safety concerns.  

We are doing a road ride today as Pat does not have his mountain bike with him, and I grin when I hear Tim sold his road bike and is riding a hybrid.  He is strong enough to do this, but I later tease him about the irony of a bike store owner not having a road bike.  I would have come to the ride regardless and got through the mountain biking parts as best I could, but I know that the only struggle I will have on this ride are the hills, and are there hills.  Three lovely, long climbs are included on what turned out to be a low traffic, beautiful course.  And of course, where there are delicious climbs, something I am glad to find I can still enjoy, there are even better descents.  Tim compliments me on one descent and it makes me think of the time Mike "Sparky" Pitt told me I was a fearless descender and should have learned to ski.  I store these new nice words with the old nice words to pull out when I am doubting my talent or ability or any time I need them.  Nice words do that to us.  Sometimes I wonder why we do so much tearing down of others when nice words are so powerful, but maybe they don't affect others as they do me, at least when I feel they are sincere.

Rich will later bring it up over lunch, but I quickly remember what a treat it is riding with Keith because of his keen powers of observation.  At one point he points out a small hole in the clouds (most of the day was sunny but for some reason at that point there were clouds) that has what appears to be a rainbow of changing colors.  We stop to watch and Tim says that he thinks it is aurora borealus.  I don't know if it that or a rainbow, only that it is beautiful and that we have stopped by one of the many creeks we have ridden by and the sound of the rushing water is music to my ears.  I think how I like that about this group, how they don't mind stopping to just take a minute and look at something if they feel like it.  I like how Pat can climb the hills leaving us all in his dust, yet patiently sits and waits and protests if you tell him he climbs like a goat.  (He does and must have a wonderful weight/strength ratio).  His build reminds me of Mike "Diesel" Kamenish, another strong climber that I know.  

I think of Mike again during this ride because of how he looked up so much history of the route he put together for one ride.  Rich always seems to know the history of places we are riding and since I love both history and stories, this is right up my alley.  After one of his stories, I think of how I hope I make it to the International Story Telling Festival in Tennessee again this year.  It has been awhile since I attended, but I truly enjoyed it.  

We are supposed to give away our beads during the ride, but as we near the end Tim is the only one who has done so.  I stop as we ride along next to the river to give mine away, the first to a couple and the last to a woman in a purple coat who looked as if she could use a smile and a touch of kindness.  It is strange how things work, because this took my mind off the way I teared up as we rode past Key West Shrimp House where my husband and I shared so many anniversaries.  I miss him.  I will always miss him.  But mostly I am grateful that we had our time together.  Because we are beadless at the end, Rich gives us some beads to keep as a memory of the ride.  After lunch, when I return home, I hang them  in my new bike room.  

It is good to have memories, and maybe even better to make new ones. It is good to have friends.  These things are blessings.  Precious and to be held onto and appreciated.  Thanks, everyone, for a special day on the bike. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Bike Room and the Anniversary of Great Loss

"I have always believed that hope is that
stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite
all evidence to the contrary, that something better
awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep
reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting."
Barack Obama


Perhaps it is fitting on the eve of the night that I lost you and you went home, that I have completed the transformation of your honey bottling room to a bike room.  I miss you, my love.  I will always miss you.  But I move forward as life forces me to and as you would want me to for yours was an unusually selfless love the majority of the time and you never could stand it when I cried.  Today as I baked cookies for my brother I smiled thinking of your tolerance the first years of marriage as I learned to cook and I thought of the lines from Kenny Chesney's song, "It's the way that she looked with rice in her hair, eating burned suppers the whole first year, and asking for seconds to keep her from tearing up.  That's the Good Stuff."  Thank you for your patience as I grew.  I am, even without you, still growing, still finding my way, and that is how it should be.  Love, I have hope, and hope is a  precious thing, hope of good things to come waiting right around the next bend in the road.

Perhaps you know, but my brother will be joining you in the not so distant future barring a miracle.  Sometimes the loss of yet someone else I love seems too much to bear, but it is just the nature of things.  There is no guarantee for any of us and life here is impermanent.  So I tell him as I told you that I love him and how I appreciate all the things he has done for me over the years, of what a great brother he has been even though he does not believe it.  Perhaps we always expect more of ourselves than others do of us, or perhaps we see ourselves differently.   In some ways, the way we talked in the those days leading up to your last prepared me to help him as he struggles with many of the same issues that you did.  Were you a good parent?  Were you a good child, spouse, employee?  Will there be forgiveness for our failures? 

It is appropriate that I changed your honey room to a bicyle room because of course you were the one who bought me my first bike from John Molnar at Jeffersonville Schwinn.  I must say I was surprised.  I didn't want a bike and had not asked for one, but you were worried I was running too much.  I saw John last  year.  He seems fine and happy.    Then you bought me my second bike, again from John and Jeff Schwinn.  I remember how you told me that as I got better at the triathlons, you would buy me better bikes.  But then I became hooked on distance cycling.  And still you encouraged me, urging me to go to Paris to complete PBP despite the strain on our finances, telling me that I needed to do things while I still can, biting back your disappointment at my change in direction.

 I remember your words as I remember so many of the things you taught me.   I hope to continue to move forward, to find new, wonderful things in the world, to learn new things:  to do these things while I still can because life is short and health precarious.  I remembered those words when I went to California this year and my nephew asked if I wanted to learn to Paddle Board.  Initially I was going to decline, but I squelched my misgivings and found that I could do it and I enjoyed it.  I went whale watching and wept at the beauty and at the sadness as the water from their breath streamed upwards.  

This year I learned to install new faucets and to fix some plumbing leaks.  I learned to replace a light switch without electrocuting myself.  Yesterday I cleaned and resealed the grout in the kitchen and it turned out well. And this year, love, we got a granddaughter, Ivy.  Oh, how I wish you could hold her and that we could smile at each other in that way couples do when they have shared so many years that conversation is not always necessary for communication.  

With the bike room, I hope to improve my practically non-existent bike mechanical skills.   Originally I planned on building a small work bench for the room, but I regretfully decided that the space it would take would make the room less efficient.  So, love, I will use your work bench in the room next door when one is required.  I was disappointed as I hoped to try my hand at building it, but there will be other things to build, like the bird feeder I put together.  Today there were two woodpeckers at the same time as well as the doves, Blue Jays, gold finches, and chickadees. 

Thank you again, love, for everything that you gave me.   I still am deciding about whether I want to continue doing brevets and do PBP again or if I would find more enjoyment and fulfillment from a different type of riding.  Early this year Diana and I took a mountain biking class and it was quite fun.  We are planning a trip to Alaska the year after next for hiking, biking, and kayaking, at least if her husband is well enough for us to go.  

I tried to think of the advice you would give me on these issues, but then I realized that you really wouldn't give advice:  you just listened.  I hope you are listening now and that you smile down on the transformation of your room to a room that is mine.  

I love you.  Melissa

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Bethlehem 2018

"I think I'm stronger than I was.
I let God do what he does.  I breathe in.  
I breath out.  Got friends to call who let me
talk about what ain't working, what's still hurting, 
and all the things I feel like cussing out.  Now
and then I let it go, ride the waves I can't control,
I'm learning how to build a better boat."
Travis Meadows/ Liz Rose
(Sung by Kenny Chesney)

A century ride to Bethlehem to celebrate the upcoming holiday season.  Normally I do this ride the first week-end of  December, but I decide to take advantage of the half-way decent weather predicted for the day.  It is 30 degrees when I leave.  Ponds  are delicately laced with a thin glazing of ice.   Frost covers the mostly harvested fields and the grasses that edge the road, later melting, the dew left behind glistening in the sun until the sun decides to hide behind the clouds.  The sun leaves about an hour and one half into the ride and the day is grey and wintry afterward, reminding me of what is to come for the next few months. Without it, I suppose, spring would not be such a welcome delight.  Sunshine would not be nearly as appreciated.  Still, it seems so very far away.

There is a beauty in the colorless, stark stillness of the winter months, but I no longer seem able to welcome it as I once did with the welcome arms of a child awaiting the first snowfall.  Would a fat bike change that perception?  I have debated, but have been discouraged by many of the people I have spoken to about it. Still, I will think some more.  I am not yet done growing and becoming.  As per the song, I am still learning to build a better boat.

Thanksgiving just happened, and there are so many things I have to be thankful for and I feel quite blessed.  I decide that the greatest blessing is that my children are healthy and productive followed by my own blessing of good health.  And quite soon, God willing, I will become a grandma.  A smile touches my face dreaming of little Ivy and what she will be like.  At the shower, we were supposed to write down what we hoped she would have from her parents.  I do hope that she has her mother's laughter.  Lloyd and I would smile at each other when the children were home and upstairs, newly wed, as their laughter floated on the air warming our home and reminding us of our own beginnings.  I hope she has my son's good sense of values and his intelligence.  And I hope she has Lloyd's eyes.  How I miss those eyes and how they would warm with love when he would look at me, at least when he wasn't angry with me or questioning my sanity.

I am thankful for bicycles and for Clarksville Schwinn and Bob Peters who has kept my bikes moving over the years despite the foolish things I have done such as riding through flood waters without carrying my bike, not heeding a shifting issue early on, carelessly letting my bike fall from leaning it against something too hastily, etc.  I am thankful for the cycling friends I have made, both new and old.  I am thankful for the friends I have made that don't bicycle. All these friends have fed my soul and are as necessary to well-being as food and shelter.  I am thankful that I have a home, food on the table, and the cats to keep me company and to keep me amused.

Unfortunately, my meditation on the good things in my life is interrupted by something I am not thankful for:  a bad driver.  The woman, talking on her phone, is going the opposite direction from me.   She turns right in front of me and pulls only halfway into the driveway.  I barely have time to brake and swerve around her.  But it is not her driveway so I am not done dealing with her and her careless driving.  She is using the drive to turn around.  As I am ascending a blind hill, I decide that it is  smart to take the middle of my lane and perhaps she will wait to pass until it is safe.  But of course that is but a pipe dream and she doesn't.  When she is about six feet past me, as I feared, another car crests the hill.  She slams on her brakes and swerves over back into my lane, barely missing me.  All the while her phone appears to be hardwired to her ear.  She is, I think, completely oblivious to what just happened and the danger she put herself in, me in, and the other driver in.  But that, I suppose, is part of cycling.  Dealing with those who are oblivious, not only to the dangers but to the wonders one sees from the seat of a bicycle.  Thankfully, most of this route has little traffic. Thankfully there are more good drivers than bad.  Thankfully, God watches over fools and drunks.

I begin to think of next year's PBP and whether I want to cancel my room.  I wish I could say that I have some interest in going, but I don't seem to be able to relight the flame that drew me. I suppose, barring terribly inclement weather,  I will ride the Kentucky 200K and go from there.  Dave King is the new RBA and it will be interesting to see if there are any changes.  I have no doubt that barring a serious mechanical or illness, I can complete the series and PBP again, but it seems too expensive and time consuming unless I develop a bigger desire to ride it again.  And perhaps knowing that I can do it is part of the problem. I loved the ride the two times I did it.  The people were amazing.   The countryside was amazing.  But yet, I remain unsure that I want to face the tiredness and the stress of travel again.  And there are other places to ride in, other people to meet, other scenery to see. Well, no decision needs to be made today I think and put those thoughts behind me.

The wind picks up.  The Bethlehem Century, I think, is never easy despite the course not being an exceptionally difficult one.  The only challenging climb is climbing away from the river once you reach Bethlehem. I am doing the easiest of the climbs out, but it is still a long climb.  Like many long climbs, it is a teaser, easing the tension on the legs midway with a relatively slight grade only to resume with more steepness. At least the wind is not out of the west as it usually is. I try to think how many times I have ridden this route since I first weaved the roads together to design a course, but it is too many to count. 

 I think of Jeff White, shivering, the year three riders had to be sagged back to the start from the lunch stop due to the rain and cold and their inability to continue riding.  The woman at Subway gave those of us who continued onward plastic gloves for our hands to help protect them better.  I think of buying gloves with Grasshopper at the last store stop another, different cold, wet Bethlehem Century, mercilessly shivering from the cold, damp, and wind,  and how the warmth was heavenly.  I still have those dark blue gloves though I do not use them for riding.  I think of Steve Rice asking me on Chicken Run Road if the wind ever stops on this route.  I think of reaching the last store stop yet another time and seeing Perry Finley and Scott  Kochenbrod, two very strong riders, their exhaustion etched in their faces letting me know that I was not struggling alone.  I think of stopping with another rider only about six miles from the finish as he struggled with whether he could go any further.  So many rides.  Today, as happens more and more often since I no longer captain for the club, I ride alone.  And it is okay. Suddenly, realizing that despite the challenge I am enjoying myself,  the wind  suddenly does not seem so bad as I count down the miles until I can turn out of it and not meet it face on. Yes, I am building a better boat, but that does not mean it cannot include those things I love, like bicycling.

When I stop for lunch, the woman making my sandwich is concerned about my riding alone and the distance I have yet to go.  I do need to remember to slap a light on my bike, but I am making good time and know that barring something very major, I will be in well before dark.  And I am, tired and ready for rest, looking forward to the next day when my daughter is to come, we will put up the tree as we have for years, and I will find comfort in the continuity and the comfort as I continue building what will be, what is my life. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Last of the Autumn

"The wind, I hear it sighing, with Autumn's
saddest sound; withered leaves are lying, as 
spring-flowers on the ground.  This dark night
has won me to wander far away; old feelings 
gather fast upon me."
Emily Bronte
All week except for one day, I have gotten out and ridden, shirking other responsibilities,  knowing that wicked winter is on her way.   The day I did not ride, the wind blew and the rain fell.  Still, I did not know how much rain had fallen until I find my way blocked by flood waters. Normally, despite the freezing temperatures, I would wade them, bike propped on my shoulder to protect my wheels and pocket book, but today I turn around seeking another route.  The gravel I hoped for will have to wait.  As I change my route, I chide myself.  Is turning around another sign of change, of aging, of becoming a wimp? Particularly since this water does not appear to be that deep relatively speaking.  I have waded in waters up to the top of my thigh in the past, and this is at most a foot or two in places.  I smile thinking of how my husband would chide me when I waded flood waters and how he would say that I was smart but totally lacking in common sense.  Perhaps it is as Ranata Suzuki says, "Your memory feels like home to me.  So whenever my mind wanders, it always finds its way back to you."  Yes, love, I  miss you, but I am able to smile and be glad for the time we had together.  I miss having someone care about me as you did, but I feel lucky to have had that experience.

Again I remember why I do not ride my Surly when it gets cold.  I begin to be unable to shift in the front from my small wheel to my big wheel.  I did not expect this on a cross type bike.  Something must be freezing. I chafe at my ignorance, but I have asked at the bike shop before and nobody seems to be able to give me a definitive answer or to have a definitive solution.  I have the same thing on my Cannondale, again the big wheel in the front.  Only my Trek, my Cannondale mountain bike, and my Lynskey can be counted on to shift reliably once it gets around freezing.

I am surprised to find that there is still color left in the woods.  Most of the trees are bare, but a few bravely hold onto their leaves, and not just the oaks who are always reluctant to yield to the inevitable.  I smile thinking of raking leaves for the children to jump in when they were small, a favorite picture of my son covered except for his eyes.  I smile thinking of being a child myself, of the acorn fights Brian, Mark, and I would engage in, proud of the red welts that clustered on our bodies as a result of someone else's good aim and proud knowing we had inflicted our own.  How the hell did I get so old?  Where did the years go to?  What happened to Brian?  What happened to Mark?  Is it only as we age that we realize the importance of connections, or even then do we loosen our grip on those that are important to us as we attempt to adjust to the changes that living inevitably brings?  Can one change so much that we don't remember or recognize who we were or understand how we got to be who we are?  

As I ride I remember how the colder weather brings a keener sense of smell.  I pass a new Amish home that is burning wood to heat their home.  Again, it takes me back.  The rustling sounds as he filled the wood stove, warming the house so that I would not get cold rising from the bed we shared, trying not to waken me as he warmed the chilly air.  How quickly the warmth would saturate our tiny home.  I remember how after filling the stove and readying for work he would kneel by the bed to kiss me awake, his lips soft and moist, faintly smelling of his morning coffee,  and how I felt so loved and warm and cherished, inside and out.  I smell the beginning of leaf mold, faint but becoming bolder, and it is as if I can smell the earth being fed.  Everything, I suppose, is part of that cycle: birth, death, rebirth.  

Mentally I am not tired, but my legs begin to protest at the demands I have been placing on them.  Still I can't bare to waste an autumn day for I know what is coming, so I ride a bit more before acceding to their demands and turning around and heading for home. The wind has picked up and I begin to chill as I fight her making my way home.  Soon the color will be gone, and I think how I hope it is not one of those dark, dreary winters.  I miss the warmth, but I miss the sunshine even more despite my nickname.  But regardless, we take what we are given and if we are wise, we appreciate it.  Just another day on the bike, and every day on the bike, despite or maybe even because of the challenges, is a good day.  And I am thankful.