When I wake up, I decide to ride and enjoy the last of the unseasonable warmth and the last of autumn's dance. How I love the colors of her skirt as she swirls doing a suggestive strip tease, bathed in sunlight or shade, delighting the eye and the soul. How I love the crackling and rustling noises that serenade and tease my ears as I pass woodlands and cornfields and the sweeping vistas of freshly harvested fields, withered and spent, tucked in for the winter months, resting. Just returning from a visit with my son and his family, I am concerned that the leaves will have fallen, but I find that they remain and the color seems to be in full swing. So I air up the tires on my new bike and head out, unsure whether I will do a century or a sixty mile ride. New bike, new saddle often equals sore butt.
The morning still has a chill to it so I don arm warmers and a jacket as well as leg warmers. Despite the promised warmth, there is no mistaking this weather for summer. I carry a small back pack in the hopes of doing a slow peel along the way. I also have on my buff making sure it covers my ears. Yesterday I rode into a thick swarm of Asian beetles that lighted all over my body and I was so glad to have my ears covered. I don't know if I will encounter them today, but if so I will again be prepared. I have encountered them before, but not in these numbers. I must have been a good year for them. I do encounter them later, particularly on Delaney Park Road, but while thick, they are not as concentrated as yesterday. Still I am glad for glasses and my buff.
I smile in delight as I get ready to climb Leota Hill as it becomes obvious that it is alive with color that screams fall. I stop to take photographs, many of which I won't be able to share because it seems Microsoft has disabled my camera download program inserting their own (I think) and I have not yet taken the time to figure out how to switch it back. Luckily, I also take a few photos with my phone. Yellows, oranges, and reds line the road and I stop in the midst of the climb to photograph one tree that strikes me as being particularly beautiful.
"It is time to start planning hikes," I think to myself, as I climb past where the Knobstone Trail crosses the hill to the Leota trailhead. I believe that Chris Quirey may be joining Jon and I on our group hikes this winter. And I will probably do some of the LBC hikes. But I will still be doing some hikes alone just as I will ride alone today. There is something in me that needs this alone time occasionally, time to think and to dream and to just meander. And what a perfect day for it today is, to have no demands on my thoughts or route or pace. Some people wonder how I stand riding a century alone, but I wonder how they can stand not to.
As I round the corner to turn onto Blue River Road, a horse and rider suddenly and unexpectedly come galloping around the curve. Both of us are startled. He yanks on the reins (I pity that horse's mouth) bringing it to a sliding stop on the pavement, weight thrust deeply into its haunches. I coo to it as I pass by, "Easy, little one. Easy." The horse stands quivering but stands. The rider is unresponsive. He appears to be Amish with his straw hat and I am surprised. I normally think of the Amish as being good caretakers of their livestock and galloping a horse, even with shoes, on this pavement is so hard on the legs. I wonder if there was an emergency. Or perhaps the horse took off with him. I'll never know. A bit further down the road, I run into an Amish wagon that is passing in the other direction. Unlike the rider, they wave back.
The road passes quickly to the first store stop despite my easy pace. This century is one where it is easy to override during the first quarter because other than Leota Hill and a few rollers, it is basically flat. Having ridden it numerous times, however, I know what is coming and pace myself accordingly. Reaching the store, I grab some milk to eat and take a seat on the curb. Looking down near my foot, I find a breakfast companion. Glad I didn't step on him by mistake as it was close. I suppose small things are always in danger from larger things in this life. How thoughtlessly a small life can be changed. And in the end, we are all small lives.
After the store stop, the climbing begins in earnest starting with Short's Corner Road. I wonder how my new bike will climb and how I will do as it seems to stress my back more on harder climbs than the Lynskey. Perhaps this will be rectified when the shorter stem arrives and perhaps not. The day I got the Lynskey was a happy day that I will always remember. Lloyd and I went down to Tennessee and the shop owner, Lynn I think his name was, spent an hour or more changing and fitting things. How Lloyd and I laughed and smiled that day. Because I was happy, he was happy. It was a good day. I miss having someone who truly cares about my happiness even while he didn't understand this bicycling obsession that he unwittingly fostered.
As always on this ride, after I leave Hardinsburg heading toward Little Twirl, my lunch stop that will close after this week-end, I come across fields of unharvested pumpkins. This happens EVERY year in this area and I don't know why. Are they good for the soil if plowed under? Is there a lack of help or demand for the product? It is usually different fields, though not always, but there is always a field of unharvested pumpkins that stretches almost as far as the eye can see.
I climb the rollers that I remember climbing one Christmas Breakfast century with Steve Sexton for some reason. The wind was strong that year and it was cold and the others had ridden ahead. Lunch seemed forever away because my pedaling seemed to take me nowhere. But still it was a good day. The hard rides, the unusual rides, these are the ones you tend to remember. And with thoughts swirling in my head, I find I have arrived.
It is warm enough to eat outside at Little Twirl though the morning sunshine has disappeared and clouds cover the sky. The dimness does not extinguish my pleasure in the scenery that is to follow or the warmth that has caused me to lose a layer. Walnuts and persimmons lie thickly on the ground in places. And then I am at the climb. I have no trouble making the climb but I do feel it in the muscles of my lower back. Still, I am glad to be able to climb it. Since it is a new bike with different gearing and no triple, I have not yet come to trust it.
I sit and chat a bit with Amos at the Red Barn. As he often does, he tells me about how he used to ride his bike all the time when he was young and I, as I always do, tell he there is nothing stopping him from resuming. We both know that isn't going to happen, but it is almost a tradition at this point. He tells me today that he has had this store for 21 years and reminds me that it is squirrel season and bow hunting season for deer and I should dress brightly.
And the century ends with one of my favorite stretches of road and the knowledge that while there are a few rollers, the major climbs of the day are behind me. As expected, Delaney Park is lovely and traffic non-existent. I see deer, chipmunks, and squirrels. All seems to be scampering, busily preparing for the coming cold and food scarcity. There are a few fields that remain unharvested, but most have been laid bare. While there is a logging sign, it has not affected most of the road (fingers crossed that they don't denude it as so often happens). At the Amish homes, I see nobody, not even the children. Today it is as if I am almost alone in the world.
I don't know how many falls remain in my future, particularly falls seen from the seat of a bicycle, but I am glad that I made use of this warm day, despite the wind, to enjoy this one. How very many I wasted with a lack of appreciation in my years on earth, but no longer. I am blessed.