"Fear keeps us focused on the past or
worried about the future. If we can
acknowledge our fear, we can realize that
right now we are okay. Right now, today,
we are still alive, and our bodies are working
marvelously. Our eyes can still see the
beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the
beautiful voices of our loved ones."
Thich Nhat Hanh
Despite BMB being a rather easy century, I fear it. I fear it because I have bonked on it numerous times. Last year I bonked spectacularly. Each pedal stroke took tremendous effort, both mentally and physically. Each climb, no matter how short or lacking pitch became the tallest mountain. I hurt. And I was slow, spectacularly slow. This is bad when it happens near the end of the ride. It is a living nightmare when it happens near the start.
Don't get me wrong, for some reason, I always slow down when fall gets here. The desire to ride hard or fast rarely hits me. I think that it is, perhaps, because I don't want the comfortable riding season to end. I will miss seeing friends regularly and hearing their voices. But this was a new low. Dave King was the ride captain and patiently swept me and another rider in that year despite my pleas to just leave me be. Brevets have taught me that I can go on, even when tired, even when discouraged, but it seemed terribly unfair to saddle another with the depth of my bonk. I would make it in. That was not the question. The question was when. That another rider was also struggling did not penetrate. It was, in my mind, just Dave and me, and Dave could have ridden much, much faster. But being Dave, he didn't. Dave is the man who waits in his car while I finish out the last mile of a ride to ensure it is a century because he does not like the looks of someone sitting in a car who he feels might be a danger to me. Dave is the one who has a conscience. Dave is, indeed, one of my favorite people in this world for so many reasons. He makes me laugh. He gives me hope that there is goodness in this world. And it is for all those reasons as well as because he is a friend that I don't want to be a burden to him.
I decide that I must do the ride if for no other reason than my fear of it. It makes no sense to fear it. It is not among our more difficult rides. But having dealt with fear before, I know the best way to conquer fear is to face it down, to stare in its eyes and tell it you will not let it have power over you any longer. After the pit bulls attacked me, it took me quite awhile to feel safe riding with others. I made myself ride past the place where I was bitten by myself, tears streaming down my face, until I could hold my line, until terror did not make me stiff and until tears were on hold. Don't get me wrong. I still fear aggressive dogs that rush in the road. But I hold my line and don't endanger others because of my fear. Today is no different. I am not terrified in the same way, but I fear bonking, that feeling of weakness, of hopelessness. But today Dave is not the ride captain. Paul rides with me, always patient, always interesting to listen to and talk with. This may be more amazing because of our different backgrounds. Bill once said that he had noticed that women always like to ride with Paul. So maybe there is something about him that is comforting. I think he is like Dave in that I can count on Paul to do the right thing. But for whatever reason, he is a favored riding companion.
The decision to ride the ride was made more difficult by Jon's offer of an alternative ride that would definitely suit my fancy because it involved: a. eating lunch at one of my favorite places that has outside dining, and b. stopping at a book sale. Had I known earlier, I would perhaps have made that choice, but the die is cast and probably for the best. I need to get over my fear of this course. I will add that when I neared the end of my ride, Jon HAD to rub it in by sending me a picture of not one, but TWO, blackberry ice cream desserts;-) And I later learn he found not one, but FIVE books at the book sale. Can you say jealous;-)
A large group of riders gather at the ride start and take off. It is a cool, crisp morning with a bite to it. Vests, knee warmers, jackets, arm warmers, and full fingered gloves are making their appearance on almost every rider. And we are off into a bright morning where the sun is shining so brightly my eyes ache despite my sunglasses. Dew shines on the fox tail. Fields of yellow appear beautiful to my eyes if not helpful for my sinuses. Paul occasionally points out a beautiful vista knowing how much I appreciate scenery on rides. This is definitely not the most scenic course, but it does have it moments. Conversation floats through the air before we split into groups. Spirits are high and there is laughter. Paul and I soon are bringing up the rear. I tell both him and the captain that there is no need to stay back with me. The ride captain moves on. Paul stays.
The ride is largely on main roads. At times traffic makes it difficult to maintain a conversation. But I see side roads with no yellow line and wonder where they lead to. Paul tells me that Duc would know and I realize he is probably right. Like me, Duc seems to prefer being a bit off the beaten path or perhaps he is just curious. In Texas, there was a ride called "Fred's ride." Evidently it was the favorite ride of someone named Fred. But when we rode it, we wondered about Fred because the route was mainly heavily traveled roads, none of the side roads that I and those I ride with preferred. Still, I know everyone has preferences. I think of how Grasshopper enjoyed city riding. I think of how last week on the century another woman said she could never ride a century alone because she would be bored. Such comments used to hurt my feelings. Now, as I told a friend, I look at it differently. I like chocolate cake and others don't. The difference is not bad: just different. I suppose our differences keep things interesting.
Mark drops back and rides with Paul and I for awhile and it is nice to have someone else to talk with for a bit. Mark is funny and often makes me laugh. Mark, along with Jeff Carpenter, helped plan our bike trip from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh last year thus becoming a friend. But at the next stop, he is off with a faster group. I briefly contemplate chasing knowing Paul is more than strong enough to follow suit, but I decide to continue to ride cautiously, something I do throughout the miles.
The ride ends with my never having gone fast, but also with not feeling worn out and exhausted. The groups ahead of us are mostly still in the parking lot enjoying the beautiful fall weather sampler and enjoying the refreshments the ride captain brought. I talk for awhile before climbing in my car for the ride home, a ride during which I can think about the things that were said and that I saw during the ride. But I am glad I faced my fear. The only regret is ice cream swimming in blackberries that went into someone else's tummy. As Mr. Hahn noted, "My body worked marvelously" today. Thanks, Paul, for the support and the company, for not minimizing my fear of this course when you know I have ridden many far more difficult. I value our friendship more than I can say. And I value bicycles: the friends I have made through them and the places they have taken me.