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Sunday, September 20, 2020

BMB: No Bonking This Time Around

"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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Nearing the End of Summer: 2020

"The morning had dawned clear and cold,

with a hint of crispness that hinted at 

the end of summer."

George Martin


I wake and despite tired legs, feel like riding.  I can't get enough of this weather. Yet when I leave the house, I find that, unlike yesterday, I need arm warmers, a vest, and full fingered gloves to be comfortable.  Perhaps I would wear less if I were sharing the ride with others for I would be riding faster, but that was yesterday.  Today I ride solo. And my legs are complaining.  It is my heart rather than my body that desires this ride. As I debate my choices, I decide to ride about sixty miles going through Pekin and on to Salem where I intend to eat donuts curbside for breakfast.  


 I think about why I can't get enough riding in this time of year.  Is it because I know what is coming, the end of comfortable, little laundry riding?  Yes, you can ride all year long in relative comfort, but it is not the comfort of grabbing your bike and slipping out the door clad only in shorts and a jersey, of knowing that other than your helmet, shoes, gloves, and sweat rag, you will be fine.  Yes, you might get hot, but there is nothing to do for that other than to endure.  And so little to wash compared to winter when it seems riding clothes make up load after load even though you actually have spent relatively little time on the road.  So much more planning revolving around winter or cold weather riding compared to the  simplicity of preparing to ride in the summer.


The world is still green, and today the fog is thick.  I turn on two taillights hoping that it will lift quickly.  It really doesn't, but the roads I have chosen to ride are very lightly traveled so it is not a huge issue.  I think again that it is time to buy a new helmet mirror.  The one I have is starting to move without being touched.  I can reach up and adjust it, but it does not hold the adjustment.  Normally that would be fine, but not where quick action is required.  My safety is worth more than a few dollars.  Sometimes I need to remind myself of this.  Spending a few dollars for protection is MUCH cheaper than a hospital visit, and a hospital is the last place I want to be during the age of Covid.  Next time I am at the bike store, I will buy one.  

There seems to be an abundance of wildflowers.  In the morning they are still sleeping, half closed, their petals waiting for sunlight to warm them. The Ironweed has been particularly impressive this year, its deep, dark purple a lovely contrast with the verdant greenness that still remains in places.  I think of how I need to pick a few and press them for some Christmas gifts I need to make.  I started on the first present last week.  Each year I try to give each child something hand made as well as bought presents.  Some years they obviously like them.  Some years they probably don't but try to act as if they do.  But I enjoy the effort and how it makes me think about them as I work.  


I notice that the polk berries are ripe.  Lines I wrote about ten years ago race through mind:  "Jeff and Tiff, The poke berries are ripe. Come home! Let's paint our faces, build a bonfire, and dance until, exhausted, we fall into the embrace of the evening cooled grasses, a heap of giggles. Today I missed you both."  How I miss those days when my husband was alive and my children were little and every moment had needs ten times greater than the amount of time would allow me to fulfill.  I miss the laughter of the children ringing through our home.  And I miss bedtime, the smell of a clean child and the feel of them snuggling in your arms, melting into you, while you read the last story for the day.  I miss the hour or so alone with my husband after the children were snugly tucked into bed.  And I miss the way sometimes we shared a thought without ever saying a word.  But I am so glad I had those moments.  I have truly been blessed with a full life.

 On the climb up Flatwoode, a road name I always find amusing due to the irony of this steep climb, I think how glad I am that Bob diagnosed my bike problem.  It is nice to be able to climb without the bike shifting down into granny ruining my rhythm and shocking my knees.  Evidently I had worn a tooth off of my middle ring.  He was unsure if he could find the part, but he did.  And it is shifting perfectly.  It will be a sad day when he can't find the parts to fix my triple.  It is not that I use it very often at all, but it is somehow comforting to know it is there if I need it.  It is also comforting to find that my legs have given in and quit complaining.  They do what they need to do to get me up the hill and I am in no hurry today.


Besides the cost, the thought of not getting a triple is one thing that troubles me about buying a new bike, an idea I have been toying with but keep putting off.  When is enough enough?  I notice on Delaney Park Road that the trees are beginning to hint of turning.  Leaves are starting to scatter onto the road and I amuse myself occasionally by purposefully running over one to hear the crunch.  Soybeans are starting to yellow.  Harvest approaches.  There are, however, as Paul noticed yesterday, very few walnuts.  The spring cold snap must have affected them as it did the local fruit trees.  

I end with 62 pleasant miles.  A century Saturday, 53 miles yesterday, and 62 miles today.  Perhaps tomorrow will be a rest day or perhaps the lure of the delightful weather will call me forth on my bicycle yet again.  Time will tell. 





Thursday, September 10, 2020

A Long Holiday Week-end

 "I have learned that to be with

those I like is enough."

Walt Whitman


Labor Day week-end.  And what a enjoyable weekend it has been filled with pleasant weather, bicycles, and friends.  Friday the skies are blue and the sunshine still warming as Jon and I ride out of  Madison for a bike/picnic ride.  My newer bike is in the shop as I wore a tooth off my middle chain ring, so I am on the old aluminum Trek, entry level, that I rode 2007 for PBP.  The lights I used there are on it.  Lloyd put them on a bit before he passed  as I used the bike for commuting.  And so they remain on.  They have the older hub generator, the kind that has no battery so your lights go out if you are pedaling slowly or stop pedaling.  The bulbs are incandescent and you have to be careful not to touch them with your fingers when they burn out as the oil from your hand will overheat them and cause them to fail.  It gives my bike quite the retro look. Of course, the drag of the generator makes it harder to pedal, but it's all good.   Jon always rides an older bicycle.  So perhaps today we match.

Prior to the ride, when I attempt to attach my carradice holder, the one I have to have as my bike is so small the carridice rubs the wheel without one, I find I have to change saddles to accommodate it. I had forgotten that I rode a much different saddle at PBP.  Since I grease my seat tub yearly to prevent potential welding, however, it is not a chore.  While I mark each seat tube so that I don't have to adjust height, I do have to adjust it on a different bike.  When I give it the first whirl, my knees come to my chin when pedaling. But eventually I get it where it is about right.  I have made fresh veggie and pasta kabobs, the kind that don't  need to be cooked, and I have goat cheese and crackers.  Jon is bringing the main course which turns out to be a vegetarian lasagna.  So we have a feast complete with a glass or two of red wine.  

Jon tells me there is only the one main climb which is good with the extra weight and the drag of the hub generator, but I have no trouble with it, at least at the pace I am riding.  We ride to Hardy Lake and sit on the spillway, chatting and sharing a meal.  It doesn't get much better than this.  It is nice just to relax and not hurry, to share food and thoughts and conversation, to laugh, to have new thoughts thrown my way.  I do think of how Lloyd and I would come to the lake with the boat after he got home from work to water ski occasionally, but it is  a happy memory.  Time has eased the pain.  I miss him, but I suppose I have accepted it is how things are and can smile, grateful that we had our time together.  And here I am making a new, good memory with someone different.  I am glad I am finally open to that.  

After our feast, we head back toward Madison.  On the way, Jon decides to show me a historical college, Eleutherian College. 

 I don't know if he suspects how much I will appreciate this side trip or not, but I find it very interesting despite the fact it is a work in progress.  Indeed, they are working on the roof during our visit and only the main floor is open.  We talk briefly about how sad it is that yet today we are engrossed in the same problem despite the passage of time, just to a different degree. Do we, as humans, ever really change?  Jon tells me how their bike club at one time held a fund raising ride for the college restoration.  Nice idea. 

I love the look of the stone, the mortar that holds it firmly in place, the window sills.  Such artistry in the construction. We walk behind the building to where I suspect they had a garden to meet their food needs and Jon confirms that he has heard they grew their own food.  It is lovely and I am so glad we took the time to stop.  If I were alone, I would be making up tales in my mind about those who came here seeking an education, women who were discouraged from learning, slaves who were seeking freedom and to better themselves.  From what I understand, the area was also part of the Underground Railroad.  Interesting!  Would I have had the guts to risk ruination to help others or would I have been a coward, believing but afraid to do what needed to be done?  Would I have even believed in equality and emancipation?  Sometimes I wonder who I would have been had I been raised in a different time, or with a different color skin, or with a different gender.  A friend once told me another rider had said she believes I want to be a man.  As I told him, I don't, but I do envy the freedoms and opportunities  that men had/have that were not given to me because of my gender.  Briefly Adrienne Rich's words come to mind:

Bemused by gallantry, we hear
our mediocrities over-praised,
indolence read as abnegation,
slattern thought styled intuition,
every lapse forgiven, our crime
only to cast too bold a shadow
or smash the mold straight off.


Perhaps she is right.


Saturday is Mike Crawford's ride starting at Clear Creek Park in Shelbyville.  On my way to the start, I reminisce as this was where I completed my first triathlon, scared but excited, accompanied by my husband for courage.  It was only a sprint triathlon, but it was something new, and if I remember correctly, it was in February and cold.  The swim was a pool swim where everyone was seeded according to swim times they had presented.  But my dreaming is interrupted by arrival.  Mike and Steve Rice are there.  Steve thought the ride started a half hour before it did.  

While I had intended to ride at the back, Dave and Steve call to me when they leave and so I leave with them.   While we used to all ride together regularly, it has been a long time since we have all ridden together and I have others that I regularly ride with now.  My life has moved on as has theirs.  I know, however, that my new friends will forgive my riding off.  

The hilliness of the course is mitigated by catching up a bit and talking and laughing about memories.  It is fun to tease and be teased.  Teasing requires a certain level of comfort with the other person, the assurance that they will not be offended by what one says, that they will feel the underlying fondness or that they have the ability to appreciate their flaws or idiosyncrasies.  It was an integral part of our past friendship.  Everyone seems comfortable with it.   I call Steve a "wuss" for not putting on his traditional Pam century on Derby Day.  He teases me right back. 

And then there is the ride I put on Sunday  in the knobs of Southern Indiana.  There is a relatively large turnout for the ride, most of them much faster riders than I.  I breath a sigh of relief seeing a few of the people I normally ride with as I  hoped for some companionship and for a day when I was not riding with my tongue hanging to the ground.  The ride does, after all, start with the long climb up Spikert Knob. And I get my wish.  I spend the day riding and chatting with John, a person who I find to be funny, interesting, and agreeable.  Unfortunately for John, on this ride, while climbing one of the hills, an insect decides  his nostril looks inviting.  He blew it out and luckily it could not or did not sting, but it still was a shocker. Paul, Mike M. and Amelia are not too far ahead and Amelia has already told me that she will join me for curbside pizza afterward.  

Mike declines the invite, but John, Amelia, Paul, and I spend a few more moments enjoying each other's company over pizza.  John kindly insists on treating.  The pizza is so filling that I only need a small snack for dinner.  It was good pizza, but it was made better by the company.  I am so lucky to have such friends and to have my health and a bicycle.  Like Whitman, being with people I like is enough.  And I have had time with lots of people I like this holiday week-end.  I am truly blessed.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Just An End of Summer Ride: September 2020

"Summers lease hath

all too short a date."

William Shakespeare 


It can't be September, but yet it is.....summer again has slipped past me in a blur.  Soon it will be time for nature to dress herself in russets and oranges and yellows. Her multicolored skirt will rustle and swirl, patchwork, in the swelling winds of fall.  Green grass will fade and yield to brown, lusterless dullness. Fields will be harvested, broken stalks whiskering the ground, a reminder of what was. A promise of what will be again.  Bicycling will mean arm warmers and jackets and morning air crackling with crispness as breath becomes visible as we speak and laugh. 


But not today.  Today is overcast and misty, unseasonably cool and unusually humid, but it is still summer and I cling to that. Twelve show for the ride,  more than I expected.   It makes me a tad nervous.  I hope they like the course. The ride is short, only 47 miles, but I think it is a nice course. It has two nice climbs on it:  Liberty Knob and the ironically named Flatwood.  Most of it is on little traveled roads.  Pavement is good in places and acceptable in others.  Few of the roads we will travel are in need of repair.  Smiles still dance across faces and the pace is relaxed with none of the intensity that seems to come with colder weather.  Even those who normally ride hard, and will do so later in the ride, stay together.  Perhaps the fog, perhaps the camaraderie.


The bike I normally ride needed a new middle chain ring.  One of the teeth had worn to where on a steep grade, it would jarringly drop to granny making my knees ache and causing me to lose my rhythm, and so it is being repaired.  Luckily for me, despite the age of the bike and the components, a  part was available.  So I am riding my old Trek, the aluminum bike that got me through my first PBP in 2007, a bike my husband bought for me.  The lights I used on that ride are still attached, and I do not have the heart to take them off as my husband was the one who put them on for me. No, they have not been on there since 2007, but they have been on there for a number of years.  It is an old hub generator, the kind with no battery, and on that PBP when I would climb my front lights would go out as I was not pedaling fast enough to power them.  If I remember, he reattached them for me to use for the occasional trek to work.  But they were his hands who placed them and so they remain.  I don't think I have ridden this bike outside since his loss.


I think how lucky I am to have them as we roll out into a dense fog: they will come in handy.  Switching bikes, I forgot to add a tail light.  Fortuitously, Larry Preeble has an extra that he loans me.  So I have lights both fore and rear.  It is foggy, the kind normally described as being thick enough to cut with a knife.  And it does not appear that it will lift early or be burned away.  The prediction is for cloud cover most of the day.


The fog does not overly trouble me once we get off the main road out of the ride start as I know from there on out, there will be little traffic, but I still remain cautious.  While we are on Bloomington Trail, Mike Crawford's chain slips between the cassette and his frame.  I can see John look and struggle with his decision to move on, but it does not take all of us to work on this and it is the right decision.  To my surprise, Mike does not have a quick release in the back and the screw to loosen the wheel appears to be stripped.  Three riders approach that were not with our group.  They are on an unofficial SIW ride to Leota and Little York.  They kindly stop and assist.  The wheel is loosened enough for the chain to be pulled back out and the ride is saved.  Thank yous are given and we are on our way, our paths soon diverging. I wish I could remember their names, but I don't.  I could blame the lack of memory on age, but I have always struggled with names. I would, however, know their faces if I saw them again, or so I believe.


As we climb up Liberty Knob, the first of the two main climbs, Paul tells me his legs have not recovered from Saturday.  Eventually, however, he finds that the problem is not his legs, the problem is that his rear wheel is rubbing against the rear brake.  Briefly I think of a 300K where that happened to me.  I was almost halfway into the ride before I figured out I was not just having a bad day.  It has always struck me as odd how you can prepare for a ride the same way, eat the same the evening before and the morning of, get the same amount of sleep, but one day you have a strong day and another a weak day.   Sometimes it is something like a brake rub, but sometimes you just aren't strong.  I try to make it a habit to check both my front and rear brakes before each ride, but sometimes a rub appears later regardless.  Anyway, it is a good feeling when you find out that was the problem and that  the problem was not with your own motor.  


Most of the others have waited at the store stop, but we intend to stop for just a bit and send them on. I think of how much more comfortable I am doing this now that the majority of riders ride with a GPS unit.  It also is so much easier to design a route, though I will always be fond of the days I grabbed my bike and headed out onto unknown roads armed with sidewalk chalk to help me find my way back home.  I will always be grateful to my husband for encouraging me even on those days when he was lonely or in pain, preparing me for the independence we both knew was coming however undesired.  


As we head down Bartle's  Knob, I am glad that I remembered to warn people to ride with caution.  A smile flirts across my face as I think of Roger Bradford and how he almost went down on that descent after his rear wheel skidded in a turn.  He was already so proud of completely the Mangler successfully, and then to pull out of a skid with no injury, let me just say he was beaming.  I am glad I got the chance to know him and to watch him complete the Challenge Series I used to put on.  


The ride ends and a few are waiting.  None of us eat inside restaurants anymore, but we get Subway sandwiches and sit and dine curbside, sharing a few more of those last of summer moments, heading home reluctantly to do chores.  Shakespeare was right.  While it is not my favorite season, summer does not last long enough. It is not the fall I fear.  I love the fall.  It is what comes after, now made harder by the Pandemic.  I know my grass is waiting and want to get it cut before the predicted rain. And as strange as it sounds, I will miss that as well.  But the world turns and season change.  It was a nice if uneventful ride shared with friends. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Summer Time 2020

"Summer afternoon-summer afternoon;

to me those have always been the two most

beautiful words in the English language."

Henry James 


Two glorious days of riding despite predictions earlier in the week for a mostly rainy week-end.  Summer time.  Perhaps not as hot as the past few summers the last couple of weeks, but certainly more humid.  Recently the weatherman said we were up seven inches of rainfall for the year and I believe it.  But still, while not my favorite season, I love the summer despite his occasional brutality.  Previously I wrote that August is a male month:  hot, steamy, demanding.  I stand by those words.  Riding is difficult in August, particularly when it is hot and humid and the sweat stands and beads on your skin rather than evaporating. Lungs gasp for usable, refreshing air and pull in syrup instead. But the rain combined with the heat and humidity has caused everything to stay green and lush.  Mowing my yard has been more like preparing hay for baling. The green is beautiful appealing to my eye and providing a nice background for the flowers that I pass.  I had thought the Black-eyed Susan's were gone, but find there are still occasional patches littering the roadside.  Queen Anne's lace is blooming and the Golden Rod begins.

Yesterday was a club ride that had two climbs but was otherwise flat and fast.  I spent the first part of the ride talking to an old friend as the road unwound before us.  Time changes us and changes others, but I suppose it cannot change the past though perhaps it tempers how we view it.  Links forged through hours spent traversing different roads leave their  marks as do rifts in that chain caused by the choice of different roads.  Friendship is such a valuable thing.  It is a shame that so often we allow it to lapse.  Memories are good, but better when combined with the making of new memories.  But life changes.  We change.  And the world changes around us. Paths diverge and sometimes lead in different directions.  That is okay.  As I read recently, it serves to remember that not everyone deserves a seat at my table, nor I, perhaps, at theirs. 


Later in the ride, another friend and I escape potential tragedy when a delivery truck tries to back into a driveway hooking two electric lines.  As the lines strain and appear to be on the verge of giving way and breaking, the driver luckily realizes there is an issue and stops.  Had he broken the lines, I feel certain they could have/would have snaked around and hit us. The incident reminds me of a class at the Y where they had us put elastic bands around ourselves and someone tried to hold us as we ran.  Mine snapped and hit the woman holding the tube, bruising her knuckles and causing her to cry.  I felt so badly for her and was thankful that nothing had broken.  Despite the fact it was totally unintentional, I felt so guilty and responsible, particularly since she had young children with needs to tend to. 


Today's ride is from Madison and is not a club ride. Jon and I head out from near the Ohio River for Vevay.  Because we are not taking the busy road bordering the river, this means the ride starts with a climb.  It is long but not really steep. I think that Jon has planned this route to avoid too many hills to test my legs but this is pure conjecture on my part.  I don't yet know him well.  We already have a pace difference and hills accentuate that difference.  The roads he chooses are lightly traveled and so beautifully rural.  We meander along creeks and pass areas with field stone walls.  One is being repaired and the others not. Both need it. The words of Robert Frost come to mind: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."  Still, I love the stone walls even half fallen.  The effort someone took to erect them, hauling stones from the field and patiently putting them together.  I picture him, sweat dripping from his brow, hands roughened by the constant contact with the rough stone, back bowed by effort.  Prying stones out of the field. Trying this stone, then that stone, trying to make the best match, one that will resist the ground swell. And at  home, she waits, tending to the children, baking the bread, hauling water from the creek for water to wash in.  The people who built this country were truly amazing people, strong people, determined people.  Making do, creating something from nothing. Finding ways to use that which surrounded them. But I ride with someone.  My musing ends.  Focus.  

We stop in Vevay and both purchase drinks, sitting outside and eating bags of snacks we have brought.  It is so different from club rides or from brevets where there is an emphasis on downing a quick drink and snack, then getting back on the bike.  Today there are no controls and no hurrying.  But as we sit, clouds roll in hinting of rain.  I use my phone and see that there really is nothing locally, but up north it apparently is storming.  We ride out into the grey sky and increasing wind.

I am glad Jon is patient with my pace for he is a much stronger rider than I am.  I suspect it helps him having ridden a solo century yesterday after his run the day before while I was at the club ride. Energy has been drained. It is nice to be on new roads but it would not be nearly so nice if I had to push myself to ride faster.  The course he has plotted is overwhelmingly beautiful and at times he has stories to tell me about them, stories of memories from previous rides for these roads are not new to him as they mostly are to me.  At times I worry that I will drive him crazy with my chattering and questioning, but he takes it good naturedly.  Perhaps he is like Paul who I find often only is half listening, or perhaps what I have to say interests him.  I don't know him that well yet.  We are new friends tentatively finding our way and making memories. Needless to say, since I have no idea where I am or what road to take next, he can't in good conscience ride off and leave me though with a GPS and phone I would eventually find my way back.  As I told Grasshopper long ago, if you ride long enough you come out somewhere.  

As we near the end, Jon points out that there is a plane parked behind a church we are passing.  We decide to turn around and look.  When we arrive, we immediately are asked if we are from the press.  While it seemed half joking, it also seemed half serious.  Evidently the plane, a small two seat Cessna, was losing oil and had to make an emergency landing.  The men were getting ready to remove the winds and load it on a trailer to take it for repairs.  We chat for a few minutes before moving on and finishing our ride both glad that the landing was made with everyone being safe.  I think how odd it is, a plane down in the middle of nowhere.  The pilot was lucky to have a rural area with some open fields.  

When we return to Madison, we have lunch down by the river before parting ways.  While sitting there, an older man informs us that the city has taken over responsibility for the pavement on the hill and trucks will not be allowed.  He expresses concerns about the finances required to keep the road usable. But of course, neither of us reside in Madison. The skies have cleared, but the wind remains. It is a good day, a summer day, and there are no so very many summer days left in 2020.  Here's to bicycles, rural roads, and friends, old and new.  Here is to summer. 


Friday, August 7, 2020

An Untroubled Century Ride

"At these times, the things that troubled
her seemed far away and unimportant:
all that mattered was the hum of the bees
and the chirp of the birdsong, the way the
sun gleamed on the edge of a blue wildflower,
the distant bleat and clink of grazing goats."
Alison Croggon

It seems impossible, particularly after the blazingly hot, humid days of the past few weeks, to have the prediction for a high in the low 80's and little humidity.  Each day recently, upon awakening, I would find so much condensation on the windows that it was hard to see out and 90's with heat index near or over 100 degrees a broken record, relentlessly repeating itself. But this morning there is just a hint around the bottom of the pane. And here it is, the forecast for cooler, less humid weather, and even the night before it is not changed.  The only club ride that would possibly have tempted me would have been a long one, and there are none.  So I decide to head out on a solo century, a journey that has been calling me for awhile but which I have weakly resisted due to the hot, steamy days that making breathing more difficult as if the air had thickened to consistency of honey.

Coolness wraps  its arms around me, bringing goosebumps to my uncovered arms, and I wonder if I should have worn light arm warmers.  I giggle to myself thinking of how when I first started riding and lacked many of the essentials, I cut the toes off some old tube socks so they could serve as warmers.  And when I am done giggling to myself, I realize I no longer feel the chill in any way but a pleasant way, one of the odd phenomenons of riding. I suppose the exercise warms the body. I have decided on the Christy century, and early in the ride I pass the spot where, long ago. I came upon a fox, sitting in the middle of the road, enjoying the morning sun as if he did not have a care in the world.  I remember thinking he was a dog until I drew closer, and then worrying if he was, perhaps, rabid, since he seemed in no  hurry to run from the bicycle that was bearing down on him.  Up he got and slid seamlessly into the nearby woods, disappearing all too quickly yet not seeming hurried. 

I wonder what the day will hold for me because you never really know, particularly if you are on a bicycle. We often think we know how our day will go, reeking with boredom, only to find that it just does not go that way. Sometimes it is a relief when the unexpected happens and sometimes it seems a curse, but perhaps these changes are a blessing, even though we don't like the way our routine is disrupted.  It is hard to remember sometimes that change can be good and that variety is, indeed, the spice of life. 

I think briefly how different preparation for a ride or other outing is different in the time of COVID.  I have packed a mask and neck gaiter for the anticipated run into stores.  I have brought a snack for the first stop, but did not pack a sandwich for lunch.   I miss the old days. On some rides, like the Willisburg Century, lunch was one of the main attractions. And I miss old friends.  I think of Bill Pustow and how when he rode this century with me, he was so shocked at the lunch town Halloween decorations.  And they were, indeed, sacrilegious, or some of them were.  I continue to wonder if that was the intent or if someone just did not put two and two together.  Regardless, I am glad for the miles we rode together, for his company and the stories he would tell, for the times he made me smile and for the times he made me think.  I don't like changes, but things change, and he no longer rides with the club or with me, but I am glad we had the time we had.  Memories of the many rides we rode as companions lace my memories and will for as long as I can hold my memories tightly.

Before I know it, I am passing Cliff Stream Farms where Jon and I recently rode for lunch and where I took Diana for her birthday lunch, a new favorite not just because of the delicious food but because of outside dining, another COVID change.  It is too early for it to be open, but maintenance is hard at work, the roar of the mower sounding through the morning air, the smell of cut grass perfuming my passing. Again, I give thanks for friends, for how they brighten days and moments of our lives. I decide I will stop for my first break at the bridge nearby, one that I loved from the moment I first laid eyes on it while out exploring these roads. 

At the bridge, I come upon a sign and I am not quite sure what it means, but it sounds as if the bridge may be torn down and replaced, something I have seen happen repeatedly on the roads I ride. What does it mean to "reuse" a bridge?  I don't know the answer to this question. Sometimes the things that appeal to me aesthetically are not really useful for most people. Is utility, should utility, be the main goal, or does/should beauty fit in there somewhere?  Perhaps others find beauty in the new bridges, their structures, their size.  Personally, I gravitate toward the old.  I lean my bike against the railing and eat the homemade peanut butter crackers I have brought as I mull these things over in my mind.

Before I reach Vernon, my destination, I have another unexpected event.  I reach a road that says it is closed as a bridge is out.  Of course, scoff law that I am, at least on a bicycle, I skirt the sign and proceed hoping that the people will not be working and that I will be able to pass.  When I reach the bridge, I see a workman sitting there.  Hoping against hope, I wave and approach telling him I am not from around here and wondered about a work around.  Without my asking, he tells me I can cross through the creek if I don't mind getting a bit wet.  He even offers to carry my bike for me, an offer I refuse but appreciate.  I don't stop to take pictures after crossing as more workmen are coming and I worry he will get in trouble for his kindness in allowing me to pass.  I suppose it has been fueled by lawsuits, but it certainly seems that not many are helpful anymore.  In allowing me to pass, he has saved me what I would estimate to be about five extra miles, not a big deal in summer on a day like today, but a big deal when daylight is less abundant or when the sun is scorching every inch of your skin like a blow torch .   

I love the roads on this ride, particularly the first 65 miles or so. Some are more lanes than roads.  All have tree overhangs shading providing shade that dapples the ground.  Certainly, it makes spotting potholes more difficult, but oh how pleasant it makes the trip.  I realize that Ms. Croggon is right.  Whether it is the bicycle, the scenery, the weather, or a combination of the three, things that trouble me fall behind me on the road.    I think that is one of the things I love most about riding, how often you can leave behind the negative. As usual, I appreciate the deep, rich greenness.  The hot, humid weather has ensured that things have remained green.  In the corn fields, however, I spot the first signs of the coming fall.  Silks are blackening, edges of leaves are hinting of browning. Black Eyed Susans are pretty much gone as are the daisies.  I see the first of the Sumac and think how, when Lloyd was living, I would have told him as they are good honey producers.  Yellow flowers, tall and beautiful, perhaps wild sunflowers but whose name I don't really know, are blooming.  Insects buzz. As I pass wet lands, I hear a frog still pining for a mate.  And because I am not with others, I can sing, loudly and robustly, as I have not been able to for quite a while.
I pick up the pace after lunch finding that my legs feel better than expected.  I have been riding slowly all year, and while I still am not riding quickly, I am riding hard for my fitness level and it feels good.  My lungs start to heave a bit and my thighs ache, but I know I can hold this pace for a long while, pedals churning.  And all too soon it is over and I am home and I wonder why I hurried.  And I wonder if I will ever figure out how to correct the date on my camera;-)  But it is all good.  And this day, a brief respite from the merciless heat that is August,  a brief respite from the things that trouble me, has been a blessing.  Oh, yeah.....bicycles.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Cooler Day During Summer's Heat

"Turbulence breaks a tree's
branches, but only tickles an
eagles's wings."

Matshona  Dhliwayo

Yesterday I rode 47 miles with friends in the cool break from summer's oven, and at the end I wanted more:  more time with friends and more time on the bike and more lush, green scenery.  I wanted to bathe in it, to feel it fill me to the brim until it seeps deep into my soul, to cherish it and hold it dear. Today is also supposed to be reasonably hot rather than scalding.  And so I decide to ride. A friend recently lost her stepson and I opt to ride to Salem and bring back some treats from the bakery for her and her husband.  So my bike heads toward Eden/Delaney Park Road. 

Today, my friends, is the day of birds.  I am not too far into the ride when I see something I have not before seen on a ride:  an eagle.  I first spot it sitting in the road and assume it is a vulture.  But the white head and tail as it takes off tells me I am wrong. Breathtakingly strong, heartrendingly beautiful, there is no need for acrobatics in the sky to make me take notice.  Indeed, I am stunned, questioning myself and what I am seeing as each strong flap takes it further and further away until all that remains is the memory.  Later on during the ride, I see a red tailed hawk being peppered by an angry, smaller, bird, probably protecting its young.  Whatever its reason for chasing, it must be serious as the hawk is six times its size. I heard the hawk's call as it floats across the sky. I smile thinking of when my daughter helped to rehab such a hawk before it was released back into the wild. And I also think of Grasshopper and how he loved it when we spotted a hawk on a ride.   Later, near the end of my ride, wild turkeys cross in front of me before ghosting into the woods that border the road.  I realize it has been awhile since I have seen them.

The turkeys take me back to when I first saw a wild turkey.  The children and I had a path we liked to follow through the woods to Father Mills place.  At the end of the path was a burned down house, probably a mile or more off of the road.  One had to cross a creek to get there, and then the path wound upwards.  The way is now blocked by whoever bought the property, but I will always remember at the creek startling a wild turkey.  It took me awhile to figure out what it was that we had just seen.  And of course, nobody had cell phones or internet access to help.  I remember feeling quite privileged.  All the time I spent playing in the woods as a child, spending entire days embraced by the forest that surrounded my house on three sides stretching all the way to the Ohio River, and not once did I see a turkey.  Or an eagle.

I reach Salem and decide that I will pick up something for my friend when I return for grocery pick up as I want to ride farther and not just head home.  I am afraid the heat will ruin the treat that I want to take her.  I treat myself to a donut, sitting on the curb as is my wont during rides, relishing the gooey sweetness.  Once done, I head toward Pekin and the nearby knobs.  Like the eagle and the hawk and the turkey, I am unfettered today and may do as I  please so long as my strength holds. 

By the time I return home, I have somewhere in the area of 67 miles in, some of those miles on roads I have not ridden for awhile.  I seem to get in patterns of where I ride, and I need to stop that, to be more like the eagle and the hawk and even the turkeys.   And I hope to make them matter.  I hope they keep me strong so that the wind gusts that break branches merely are a bother, a tickle reminding me of my strength.  I hope I can be like the eagle.