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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Riding in the Rain in May

"Let the rain kiss you.  Let the rain
beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby."
Langston Hughes

I wake up to overcast skies and wind.   I conclude that it would be ridiculous in the extreme to drive to the club ride, a flat, 50 miler through the city that a friend told me was "ugly."  Why, I reason, would I do this when earth is awakening.  There are wild flowers to be seen and green leaves emerging.  

My only hesitation is the wind.  I know it will be a tough ride out, but I also know the ride home should be glorious.  While rain is not expected, I throw in a dollar plastic poncho.  It is small and easily portable and I carry one in my bike bag almost the entire spring/summer/fall season.  I get two miles from home and find I don't remember unplugging the coffee pot, so  I return and find I am correct.  I had turned it off but I had not unplugged it.  Then I am off to Salem to get a donut.

The ride along Eden Park and Delaney Park roads are some of my favorites.  The road is not terrible, there is little traffic, and it is mostly woods or farm land.   Recently two Amish families have built alongside the road, and I will enjoy seeing their slow but steady progress.  I pass the first home and a baby girl sits in the gravel wearing a  baby blue bonnet.  She does not appear to be big enough to toddle.  The mother and two sons are doing something in the field next to her, farther away from me.  The smile of the baby brings a grin to my face.  I don't know if I will ever be a grandmother, but if so it will be bittersweet because I will be sad that my husband is missing it. There is nothing like the softness of an infant, the way they melt into your arms as if trying to merge their way back to the womb, the sweet smell of youth.  I miss having children around, the laughter of the little ones, the intensiveness of their feelings as they get a tad older.  Children laugh from the heart, their whole body writhing with enjoyment, but their sorrows are just as deep.  I will miss the children when I retire, but I will not miss the sadness I have seen and have tried to ease.  Hard enough to do for your own children, no less those of another.  

The second Amish farm has put up a gate, or I assume it is a gate of some type since it is carved to fit into another log,  that I find interesting so I stop to take a photo since the house is not right there and I won't be intruding.  So often I pass photo opportunities I would love to take because it would be rude.  Meanwhile, the sky begins to darken ominously.  At the beginning of the large hill into Salem, the rain begins in earnest.  I stop to put on my poncho, make sure my phone and camera are encased in plastic, and turn on my lights.  Because the rain is heavy and visibility is little, I decide to walk the hill facing traffic to be sure I am seen and because I don't relish riding up the hill encased in plastic. Perhaps, I think, it will diminish by the time I reach the top of the hill.  As if to mock me, almost immediately after I think at least there is no lightening and thunder, the thunder booms as lightening flashes across the sky.  At the top of the hill, I decide to ride and discover that I have lost my rear view mirror.  Briefly I debate retracing my steps to try to find it, but I decide that is probably a lesson in futility, so I get on my bike and ride.  The plastic does nothing to help, billowing out like a sail to impeded my forward progress, but it beats the heck out of getting soaked.  It is warm, but not that warm yet.

The rain does let up before I get to the bakery, but it does not stop.  At some point, I realize I am enjoying it now that it is not so driving and hard. The above words by Langston Hughes come to mind.  I try to remember the name of the professor who showed me his poetry, his magic, but while I can see him in my mind, a slight, dark haired man, Harvard graduate, loved marathons, I can't remember.  Arriving at the bakery,  I apologize for dripping on their floor and display case, but the girls are nice about it.  I sit outside under the awning against the bakery eating my donut while people going into the shop stare.  Some look curious, some look hostile, and some look friendly, but they all look at the crazy woman sitting under the awning in the rain eating her carmel iced roll.  

I head back out truly missing my rear view mirror as this is the part of the route where there actually is some traffic.  The rain stops at the top of Salem Hill on Old 56, a descent I was a bit concerned about due to wet roads.  We have had so much rain lately, however, that the roads do not appear to have built up a slick upper coat of oil.  I find myself singing Joni Mitchell songs that I have not really sang much since college and I realize that I am happy.  Winters may be a  problem when I retire, but I do not think I will ever tire of my bicycle and roads he takes me on.  Even if it rains.  Somewhere along the line, I had forgotten what a joy riding in the rain can be.  And then, the biggest miracle of all.  I am across the street from my home, look down, and the lost mirror that fell off my helmet is there, hooked on the cables above my front wheel.  49 miles and just another day on the bike.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Solo vs. Club

[F]lowers... adorn our lanes, fields and fells, 
and... smile upon us and cheer and 
 bless us in our country rambles.... 
the lovely blossoms... kiss the clear brooks
 and mountain wells... ~
James Rigg, "Preface,"  
Wild Flower Lyrics and Other Poems, 1897

Oh, the blessings of vacation free from normal life demands.  Sunday there is no club ride of any length, my heart and legs long for a far-reaching ride, and I do not have to go to work on Monday.  I debate and debate and finally decide on the Christy Century despite knowing first store is not open on Sundays and there will be nothing until I have 55 miles in the saddle.  That is a problem with many of my routes: they rely on small country stores that normally are closed on Sundays.  I rearrange my bike bag and stick a banana in there doing my best to ensure that it will not get squashed and yucky.  Daylight is long this time of year and so I can take my time, important since I don't expect to ride a fast pace.  A "country ramble" seems just what I need.  And the weather, while a tad on the cool side in the morning, is perfect.

I head out by myself on a route that, while familiar, I have not ridden for a number of months, and I find my rhythm.  Everything seems so fresh and new.  The trees are not yet fully leafed out, green seems to seep from their bark, slowly, so slowly.  The daffodils, other than some late blooming varieties, are about gone.  But I see so many wildflowers, the majority of which I can't name.  I hope to see the field of Trillium outside of Vernon, but despite the fact they were in full bloom in Mitchell yesterday, I am too early or too late.  I pass Mayapples and grin thinking of how my children came up with the name of "Umbrella Trees," and thus, in the Hall household, Mayapples remain known as Umbrella trees.  They seem enormous and plentiful this year, but I see none in bloom.  I see phlox and some dainty red flowers that I have seen many times before but whose name I don't know. Redwood trees are in full bloom.  Streams, while dryer than a week or so ago, still run though not with the same fervor. 

I think about how I recently told a friend, Steve Rice, that part of the problem I am running into picking up the household chores my husband used to do, is the language of tools.  Often, I don't know their names.  Recently, however, I was able to fix a broken light switch and take apart the bathroom sink to clear a slow running drain.   I am learning and can accomplish at least these basic things, but the lack of the basic language is frustrating and hampers my efforts.  It is just hard to go into a store and ask for something like channel locks when you don't know that they are named channel locks.   Still, I think, these minor accomplishments leave me with a feeling of satisfaction, of having mastered a new skill however minor it might seem.  I struggle with retaining the names the roll across my tongue like a foreign language, but occasionally they stick. While I often would sneak basic tools from the basement when I was a child, hammer, nails, hatchet, my father, very handy with tools but very much a traditionalist, did not believe in women using tools. 

I think of other things during this ride, but mostly I am appreciative of the life I appear to have built and the blessings that have been bestowed upon me and of the beauty of the road and the passing scenery.  I arrive at the first store only to find it is either permanently closed, being completely renovated, or being changed into something else.  Pressing my eye to the window, I see the concrete floor is now pea gravel.  The counter, kitchen, and shelving is all gone.  I decide to move on a bit to somewhere more scenic to eat my banana and to grieve the apparent closing of yet another store.   Few people appreciate the importance of these small country stores to the bicycle rider that enjoys low traffic country roads to more heavily traveled roads. To them it is pearls before swine.  And as a friend pointed out, you often get the chance to meet "characters" there.

This leads to thoughts of all the changes.  So few people in the area ride distance anymore, and if they do it is only if the ride is a club ride AND a tour stage.  Sad.  Or perhaps it is sad that I continue rather than tiring of the bike and finding new pursuits as others before me have done.  That day will surely come, but I hope it is later rather than sooner.  I remember Grasshopper asking about brevets a few years ago and how he said, "You're still doing that?"  But I am in love with bicycles still, with the places they can take me, the things that I see, the demands they place on my body, the friends they have brought me.

I decide during the ride to do the club ride on Tuesday.  It is a hilly ride, only 50 miles, but it is a beautiful ride though I suspect it will not have the wild flower display.  Unlike my solo century, the club ride is well attended.  I am disappointed that Amelia is not there, but I get to see Paul and Lynn and Bill and Lucky and catch up. The scenery on this ride is spectacular though you pay for it with long climbs that stress the lungs and the legs, but I never appreciate it as I do the scenery on a solo ride.  But the ride delights in other ways.  The joys of conversation.  I truly miss having my husband to bounce things off of and tell about things.  I am sure the other riders are thinking, "Doesn't she ever shut up?"  But they are friends, or some of them are.  Others on the ride I don't know.

At one time, it would have bothered me not being in or near the front group, but now it only occasionally causes a twinge of envy and/or regret.  Now it is more about the camaraderie I find nearer the back of the pack.  I see the changes in my friends as well as myself, particularly if I have not seen someone for a long while or they have had a rough patch.  You know how you see someone you have not seen for awhile and think, "Oh, my, when did they get old? How could someone change so much so very quickly?"  Like when I look in the mirror and remember I am not forty or even fifty anymore.  

Both of these rides filled a need in me, at least temporarily, and I am glad I did them.  They left me tired, but temporarily sated.  But I have more vacation and there are roads that need traveling.  Perhaps tomorrow.  Club or solo?  Well, whichever way my fancy swings when I wake up. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Perfect Week-end

“Treasure the ones you love.
 Tomorrow is not promised. 
Cherish the time you have with the people 
who matter the most. Enjoy and appreciate them. 
Make time for them. Love is action.” 
Akiroq Brost

What a week-end it has been.  I am tired but deeply content having spent the time with some of those who are important to me and that I cherish doing activities that are important to me and that I love and cherish.  What better combination than that? 

Saturday, Diana and I  hiked about 12 miles of the Knobstone.  During the hike, she reminded me that last year we had just finished our through hike this time of year.  The red buds beginning to bloom, wild flowers shyly opening, a haze of green hovering lightly at the tree tops, filled with the promise of what is soon to come.  We chance upon a patch of my favorites:  trillium.  How is it that I did not notice them until adulthood?  But then, my parents did parties and social gatherings.  There was nothing of the outdoors about them.  Yet still, their concentration on the social scene left me to my own devices and free in a way many children are not.  I spent much of my free time in the woods surrounding our house on three sides, exploring more than I was at home, even having the police called a few times when I did not return in time for the evening meal after I headed out following breakfast.  Were the flowers not there or did I just not notice them?  There were no deer in those woods at that time having been  hunted out. Maybe, I think, we notice different things at different stages in our lives.  But I really don't know if that is true or just one of the many thoughts that streak through my brain when questions arise.

Regardless, I am glad that Diana and I have become friends, and I cherish our time together.  She has become one of the friends that I love and admire.  We tromp the woods at a comfortable rhythm, sometimes conversing and sometimes in an agreeable silence.  We both are surprised running into a group of six young Amish hikers, backpacks filled to overflowing, straw hats on their heads, hiking sticks in hand.   In fact, we run into more people on the trail today than we did in the four days it took us to hike through last year.  Her husband has been kind enough to drop us off at one trail head in the morning and pick us up at another in the afternoon, even bringing a bottle of crisp, cool water.  

Sunday is a reunion of the friends I used to go to Texas Hell Week with when there was a Texas Hell Week.  I was beside myself with joy when Steve said Dave was coming. I have ridden with Steve this  year and I have ridden with Bill this year, though not together, but I have not ridden with Dave at all this year and I have not ridden with all of them as a group.  While I worry the slowness of my pace might be an issue, I know I will cherish this ride before it ever happens because I know I cherish these three men.  All of us have changed since we began riding together, but hours spent in the saddle on remote roads, facing the challenges that distance cycling brings cemented our friendship.  Each of them has a piece of my heart, and I think that each of them knows it.  In fact, while they would die before they would admit it, I believe that I have a little piece of each of theirs.

The weather is perfect and the course seems perfect for not having ridden much distance this year.  Nobody presses the pace and everyone seems content just to be together. There are enough hills to make it challenging, but not so many that the end becomes a death march due to unseasoned legs.  There is conversation all around me.  Some I participate in and some I merely listen to, and I send prayers to heaven for allowing me this day.  We arrive at the lunch stop and the man taking the orders is a bit concerned seeing that we are cyclists.  He said that the prior year a group of cyclists came through.  "Jesus," he said, "they were riding a hundred miles."  Bill tells him we are riding a hundred miles, but then reassures him there is a not a large group coming in behind us.  We all know that it was the club's Tour de Mad Dog he was referring to.  I giggle and giggle throughout the ride remembering the look on his face and how he told Bill he could never ride a hundred miles.  Of course, he could, but first you have to overcome telling yourself that you can't.  Randonneuring has taught me now much of riding is mental, a  lesson that translates to other areas of life as well.

I am thankful for all of these friends.  Each is a blessing.  Though they may stray far, though we may not see each other for long periods of time, there is and will be a bond.  How bleak my world would be without them?  God keep each of you safe and sound and allow us to make more memories together.  Perhaps rather than each of you having a piece of my heart, you are my heart along with all the other family and friends who have so enriched my life.  All I know is my heart overflows with contentment today, despite the fact I am tired, and that I have been blessed. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Early Spring

"Spring won't let me stay in this house any 
longer! I must get out and breathe
the air deeply again."
Gustav Mahler 
It seems as if it has been raining for an eternity and I felt sure that I was yet again missing the glorious spring when green seeps steadily into the world, animals awaken, and flowers bloom.  Cold, rain, and snow doggedly hounded the steps of almost every day since spring officially arrived.  Don't get me wrong.  I love rain at times, the steady rhythm, the smells: I know rain is a life giver.  I am nicknamed for a century ride I rode in a steady drizzle when the official ride was canceled. But now I long for sunshine, bright and unadulterated, and blue, unclouded skies. Spring comes and goes with the blink of the eye, and it seems I can never get enough of her.  I am totally infatuated, starved by winter and the drear darkness. 

And it is here at last. Spring, even the word curves the corners of my mouth upwards,almost a prayer or a mantra.  The morning dawns cloudless.   Yes, more rain is predicted tonight, and strapping winds in the afternoon, but I will make use of what I am given.  As I head out, I wonder if this is the last time I will ride in a wool base layer and with booties on my feet, for despite the sunshine, it is in the low 30's.  The sunshine, however, refreshes my soul and I find I am entirely comfortable.  It is starting to profess the promise of warmth, but it is not yet the searing sun it will become in summer.  Absence has given it a gentleness that it will lose as the season ages.

The trees have not yet leafed out, but buds are evident everywhere.  The grass is greening.  As I ride on Eden Lane, I pass a church that sits across from a dog that I  seem to have a disagreement with each time I pass, a dog the owner is unable to control and seems to feel no obligation to control.  Today, however, as I prepare for our encounter, I notice activity in the church grave yard.  As many times as I have passed by this church and the adjoining small graveyard, I have never seen anyone there other than the occasional service goer on a Sunday morning:  but today there are gravediggers.  Perhaps they have complained about the dog and that is why he does not appear.  For whatever reason, no dog.  And a reminder, right at the start of my ride, to appreciate the life and health that is mine.  Selfishly I think how glad I am that I will get to see at least a bit of this new spring.  For some reason, I think of three past riders now gone:  Steve Phillips, Cheryl Brawner,  and Jim Whaley.  Strong riders, seemingly good people, gone too quickly.  Though I knew none of them well, today they whisper to me  telling me to enjoy myself and the newborn world.  How often I forget that each day, particularly those days without pain or tribulation, are a blessing.  What little things I whine and complain about.  

As if on cue, I happen upon a large group of violets.  Prior to having my basement waterproofed and all the digging involved, loads of violets graced my lawn.  Now, much to my sorrow, there are but a few.  The words of Alice Walker come to mind: "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it."  How could one not notice the rich color and deceptive daintiness? 

And then I come upon the daffodils, jauntily cheerful and sure of themselves.  As a new friend mentioned recently, they are in a place that obviously once held a building that was home to someone.  The home is gone, the person is likely gone, but the beauty they created remains, delighting my eyes and my soul.  I feared I had missed them, the daffodils, that the snow and rain and time would have claimed them,  but yet here they are, stoically proclaiming that it is spring.  I am not too late.  And as I have done so often recently, having decided to retire at the end of the summer and even having applied for social security, I glory in the realization that, barring health or other problems, I should not have to miss nearly so many nice days as I have had to do in the past to put food on the table and to keep a roof over my head. I also think that I may need to get a better camera and perhaps even take some photography lessons, for I have found that it is another thing that I enjoy, the capturing of a moment, frozen forever, renewing my memories.  I had hoped to find Trillium, but not today.  Next year, perhaps, for I know where they are abundant just outside of Vernon.

Around me, lies all the evidence of the recent overabundance of rain.  Fields that would normally be ready for plowing seem to be lakes.  Roads disappear as if they were made for boat trailers.  Streams gurgle and make that rushing noise, almost as if they are laughing.  I pass two new Amish homes, clothing blowing in the strengthening breeze.  A horse and carriage pass, the rather thin, chestnut horse straining and throwing its head to the side to try to see me despite the blinkers it is wearing.  The driver is young and the horse inexperienced, but we pass without incident.  Later I see three Amish children with their fishing poles, sitting by a pond.  Two Amish children, a brother and sister, bid me, "Good day. An excellent day." I smile at the quaintness of their speech, as if time has stopped.  No, "Yo, mama" from the Amish;-) 

My cousin tells me sometimes I need to move to where there are more things, and sometimes I must admit it is tempting.  There are so many activities I want to try and learn once I am free. My nephew has urged me to move from Indiana to a state more in line with my political leanings.  But I realize that I love this land and these roads I haunt and have haunted.  I love the memories they hold and the "to be" memories that I feel certain they hold for me in the future, for each ride is an adventure.  Some memories with friends and some alone, but all dear to me.  My tears have watered these roads, my songs have moved along the road with me, and my laughter has brightened these roads.  I love the friends I have made, bicycling and otherwise.  I don't have an overabundance (does one ever have enough friends), but I do have friends who enrich my life just with their presence.  This and the memories my house holds, the ghosts of children and the ghost of my love....I have never been very good at letting go, and to let go without a dream to head toward seems rather silly. The time will come, but it is not now.

Water guides my path to an extent, but it does allow me to get to Salem.  My destination was the bakery, and I sit on the curb and marvel at the taste of the caramel iced roll I have purchased.  Food just tastes better after you have ridden and your body needs fuel to go further.  How many curbs have I graced with my rear in how many states? How much junk I have consumed from gas stations while on rides? The thought is mind boggling. One man smiles at me and says he guesses this is why people exercise.  Where along the way did we forget that we need to use our bodies and use them regularly?  I know that a day will come when I will no longer throw my leg over the seat of a bicycle and ride out, but I hope that day is a long time coming.  So I bend and stretch and exercise and do even on those days when I would rather sit on the couch with a glass of wine and read or watch television.

I sing on the way home, songs coming to my mind from years past.  Upon reaching Salem, I have left the forested areas and will be returning through farm yards.  I think of the 300K brevet riders and strangely feel no regret. Well, maybe a tinge, but perhaps next year will be different. There is a time and place for everything.  I had no desire to fight this wind the entire day or to be rained on after the sun went down.  Tomorrow is Easter and I have plans. Something to look forward to.    I also have chores that need to be finished before returning to work Monday. Something I don't look forward to but that is very limited.  I hope and expect that I will see many more springs, and I feel certain that I will still waste entire days, but I did not waste this one.  So much beauty.  God must surely be in his heaven and all right with the world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Ride With A Friend and Texas Found

"A true friend is someone who thinks you are 
a good egg even though he knows you are
slightly cracked."
Bernard Meltzer

I have a choice to make:  a club Tour de Mad Dog century or a ride with an old friend who I have not seen for ages.  And thus, there is no choice as I know which is important.   I have spent hours riding with Bill over the years.  Some of my most epic rides were in his company: brevets where the wind and rain would not stop, fording creeks where bridges were under repair, all those things that you eventually run into if you ride enough miles and enough roads.  Not only are my eyes starved for the sight of him, but my soul has been starved as well for the nourishment that only friendship brings. Normally we catch up during Hell Week, but as there is no more Texas Hell Week, that no longer happens.  And life has a way of keeping us busy.  We had hoped that Steve would join us (though I have ridden with him more recently Bill has not), but he decides to ride the century.

The weather prediction is great for this time of  year, a bit chilly but little wind and pure, unadulterated sunshine.  We ride in the way that old friends do that no longer worry about speed.  There is a time to press myself, to feel muscles cry for mercy and yet ask them for more, but despite the hills this is not one of those days.  We catch up on each others family doings, for both of us are devoted to our family, and reading and events.  I bemoan the loss of Texas and then the funniest thing happens:  up ahead of us in the road is a large, black mass.  Being older, my eye sight is not the best anymore and Bill's must not be either because he asks, "Is that a cow in the road?"  And indeed it is, a large, black cow right in the middle of a paved road, free and unfettered.  We herd the obviously frightened bovine into a side pasture as he can't get back through the fence to his companions, and I contemplate going to the door to tell the people their cow is out, but I am deterred by a rambunctious, barking dog.  Texas, it seems, has come to us. ( Indiana goes free range;-)

We end the ride with smiles on our faces.  While the distance was not overly long, a mere 52 miles, the hills hammered our legs despite the pace.  I wonder that I am tired, but I assume it is from spin class and hiking the day before.  We part ways, friendship refreshed and renewed, and I am thankful.  It is good to have friends who enjoy your company even if you are slightly cracked.  

Monday, March 5, 2018

Kentucky 200K 2018

"The old you has been left behind to leave
place for the new you.  And it will be a new
 you that your new friends will admire and that 
your old friends will struggle to understand and that
your true friends will learn to embrace."
Lauren Klarfeld

I have made my decision:  I will ride the brevet.  The weather prediction is ideal.  Steve Rice has said that if I will ride he will ride with me. As always, I worry that I will be a bother, a fear perhaps born of having three older brothers who viewed me more as a pest than a companion.  I warn him that I will ride slowly, that I will HAVE to ride slowly, but he says it is not an issue. Still, I do have mixed feelings.  New friends have another cycling adventure planned that sounds decidedly pleasant.  But I decide to challenge myself. My longest ride recently has been a very slow 67 miles the Monday before the brevet and the brevet is a long 200K running close to 138 miles, but if I remember it correctly it is not too terribly hilly.  RidewithGPS has it somewhere in the 6700 climbing range.  And I cling to words Packman told me many years ago about muscle memory.

I prepare carefully.  I don't want to use my carradice for a 200K, but I also want to have what I need.  The GPS is charged. One thing I have always struggled with is my Garmin.  I hate to admit it, but I am NOT technologically smart.  And to make matters worse, I seem to have been cursed with Garmin units that don't act like other peoples.  Steve Rice has the same model 605, but while his will accept a battery charger, mine, with the exact same battery charger,  will reset mileage to "0" while his does not. My Garmin Edge Touring, however, tested earlier this week, appears to be okay if I  just hit not to turn off a few times, its reaction when I attempt to use a battery charger.  And calling Garmin for help, that has proven useless on numerous occasions about numerous issues. Sometimes I think I am just stupid, but the new me realizes that it is okay if I am. It is just the way things are.  I can't change it.  And I have my strengths.  Including children who both are technologically gifted.   Perhaps their father?  I briefly think of how often we judge people on the basis of things they can't help feeling pride in abilities or inclinations that we were born with and did nothing to earn or deserve, as Shakespeare noted, strutting on our stage. 

Tools have been placed a plastic baggie and are in my handlebar bag.  Wheels have been inflated. Clothes are laid out with extras in my suit case to allow for variation depending upon how I feel when I get there.  I have sent my daughter an e-mail asking that she keep her phone nearby in case I need her to rescue me.  Lights, while I doubt I will need them for very long, are charged and packed. No need for a hub generator for this ride. A spare tire, tubes, and all those minor accessories are in place.  Water bottles and a coffee mug for the drive are placed where I won't forget them. I realize that I have forgotten to pack my reflective gear, but I realize it before it is too late and pack it.  And once packed, it is off to bed early. It is easier to sleep when everything is prepared ahead of time.

I leave home in the dark to make the drive to the ride start and look for the light in the motel room window when I arrive so I know which room to sign in at.  There seem to be few cars when I get there, but I have arrived a bit early having awakened early following a restless night.  Tim Argo is there and I realize it has been a while since I have seen him.  He welcomes me back with a grin.  I like the crinkles around his eyes:  they speak of good humor.  While I don't know him well,  he has always seemed to me to be a kind person, and there is a lot to be said for kindness.  Steve Rice, of course, is also there.  Alex Mead has moved so won't be riding and Todd is in South Carolina. Dave King, per Steve, has an injury from mountain biking and won't be here. The only other rider I recognize is Steve Royse.  It is good to see him when he arrives and I think that I have never seen him look so slim and fit.  Life obviously is agreeing with him.  Another man reminds me that we rode a bit together on the Virginia 1000.  I think, briefly, as I have so often in the past how those who ride brevets have some crazy thing in common that draws them.  Later in the ride I will tell Steve, "We are not normal people."  And that is true.  Not a bad thing.  Not a good thing.  Just an observation. Perhaps a little strutting of my own.  Normal people do not blithely go out for a 137 mile ride on a cold March day however sunny it is with little to no base miles.

I sign in and go back out into the cold to ready my bike.  Unlike the normal Kentucky 200K, the weather appears to be a bit chilly, but really quite comfortable.  No rain is predicted and the wind is only supposed to be around 10mph.  I later tell Steve that I would not have ridden if the prediction were for rain and strong wind and sleet as in the past, but I also tell him that I realize that those were the conditions that best helped us for the longer, harder brevets such as the 2007 PBP.  I still remember Bill Pustow encouraging me saying, "Weep in the dojo, laugh in the battle field."  Today will not be easy, but that is due to my lack of training, not due to the course or the weather.  This will not be one of those epic rides that you remember because you persevered, but hopefully it will be one of the ones I remember because of the companionship or the funny things that always seem to happen along the way on a long ride.

We start off at a pace that is a bit faster than I feel I should go, but not unreasonable so I just go with it and I find I can hold my own.  I know that however much I enjoy the first of the ride, toward the end I will most likely be more than ready for the ride to end.  I am a bit overdressed, but not to the point where I have to regularly shed clothing throughout the day.  I try to take a drink, but the nozzles on my water bottles are frozen shut.  With some effort, I finally manage to budge one enough to take a gulp of water with tiny flecks of ice floating in it.  Perhaps it is colder than I realized, I think as my throat begins to fell a bit swollen and raw.  I pull my balaclava up to cover my mouth and feel better almost immediately, but if I keep it up too high, my glasses fog.

Steve and I have already started our political discussion and bantering each of us knowing that we will never agree on most issues and each of us, perhaps, stretching our views just a bit in order to teasingly annoy the other.  He finds it unbelievable that I am against bump stock rifles and semi-automatic weapons when I don't have a good grasp of what they are or how they operate.  I merely tell him that I believe nobody needs those weapons that have been used in the slaughter of innocents and I don't have to understand exactly what they are or their firing mechanisms.  Guns for hunting and guns for home protection are different, perhaps, but fast firing weapons manufactured only for killing people do not sit well with me outside the hands of the military.  Our political bantering continues throughout the ride and I think how much I value having a friend where we can disagree over significant things, but still be friends.  I don't think he is right, but I realize he "could" be right.  I have been wrong many, many times in my life.  Sometimes I am not sure why or even how we became friends, a rather unlikely pair,  but I am glad we did.  Like so many of the friends I have known throughout the years, he has enriched my life immeasurably and I hope I have added something to his as well. 

I am surprised at how quickly the miles go and that the pace, while not blistering by any means, is modest.  I tell him to go on if he would like, but he doesn't. Because he has not been training either or because he is keeping his word....don't know.  Later, not only because I have company to take my mind off my aching neck, the results of an accident a few years ago, and my sore rear, I am deliriously happy over this when my Garmin won't accept the charger as it did on the practice run and eventually dies.  I ask him if he knows why it would work one time and not the other.  The only differences I can come up with is that on my practice run:  a.  I was not using it on a programmed route, and b. I had it plugged in when the battery read 90 per cent and today I waited until 60 per cent.  It appears I am cursed. Back to the drawing board.  Steve said he really doesn't know and so I will have to try again on practice rides from home.

Later we ride with another rider, I believe his name was Sam, who is very happy with his Garmin, but I have decided on going with Wahoo when I buy again.  Greg Smith, whose opinion I trust, said he believes I will be able to master it and that he prefers it, and Roger Bradford has said their customer service is out of the world nice.

During the ride, I don't notice the scenery as I would if I were riding alone, but in Carrolton the recent flooding of the Ohio River is evident. The water has receded, but evidence of its power remains. Water still remains in places where it does not normally stay, the earth saturated and littered, given more than it can possibly absorb.  Odd how the very things that we need to sustain us can also be our ruination.  Steve points out the structure I sent him a picture of when I was asking if he was sure we would not run into flooding on the route.  I see a hawk flying with a small animal dangling from her/his mouth, alighting on a nest of branches, and I wonder if mating season has begun for birds.  The earth is greening from the warmer weather and because of or in spite of the flooding.  Spring is not here yet, but harbingers of her coming are everywhere:  daffodils pushing up but not  yet blooming, trees budding but  not yet leafed out.  The fields are hungry for plowing.  Birds fly and everywhere everything and everyone seems ready.

When we reach the turn around, we stop for a quick bite to eat and I concentrate for a moment on how I feel.  I am tired, but not unreasonably so for the miles and climbing.  My rear is sore, but I know I have many more miles I can pedal before having to give in.  My phone has been ringing and I know that it is my cousin wanting to finalize our meal plans for the following day, but I decide not to return the calls until the ride is over, afraid of forgetting.  Long rides have always somewhat affected my thinking, but now that I am older, I can definitely tell my cognitive abilities, already rather limited,  are slipping even when I am not riding.   It is scary, but what is the use of worrying about it when there is nothing to be done except to devise as many countermeasures as you can. I think briefly about how age has brought me much more compassion and understanding of what I saw  my mother and others go through, and I hope that I can face the changes wrought by age as gracefully and as skillfully.

At the last store stop, I see Steve get a Red Bull to drink.  I realize that I have never had one of these energy drinks, that I am actually a bit afraid of them.  I am the same with ibuprofen.  I could count the times I have had ibuprofen on a ride on one hand.  I remember Steve Royse laughing at me about it once saying it helps the pain, but I suppose I always felt I wanted to know when I was hurting so that I could judge how bad the pain was when my pain was from an activity that could, if necessary, be stopped. After the ride, that is a different story.  But I don't want to do more damage to myself than I realize I am doing though I had intended to bring some on this ride for my neck, so perhaps I lie to myself as people often do. When Steve has a mechanical a short time afterward, I do take a gel.  Luckily, the mechanical, handlebars that shifted position, is easily corrected with Sam's star tool (Sam, sorry if I have your name wrong), and we are on our way.

To my surprise, the end actually comes pretty quickly. I thrill at the sight of a large flock of crows swirling in the air as we near the end. We get in around 11 hours, by no means my fastest time but fast enough to make the time limit and leave some change.  It is still light outside.  And oddly enough, I am not completely shot.  While I have no desire to, I could ride more if required. We sign in and I take a picture of my card for my health insurance meanwhile cursing how things have changed in that arena. I am asked about the 300K and say that I am not sure.  Steve assures the person who asked that I will ride, but he is more confident than I am, particularly if the weather is bad or if I can't figure out how to make my Garmin last the duration of the ride for I truly do not like being dependent or a bother, even upon a friend.  Seeing pictures of the sights on the other ride, I do have a moment of regret, but I think the decision to ride the brevet was the right one for the time.  And soon, with retirement looming, I will have more time to ride and more time to spend with friends and hopefully to develop more friends.  Friends, they are a blessing, one of life's marvels and comforts, and I hope that all the different friends continue to embrace me as I grow and change.  

Saturday, February 24, 2018

To Ride or Not to Ride

"The hardest thing about the road not taken
is that you never know where it might have led."
Lisa Wingate

Next week-end  is the Kentucky 200K, and I am in no shape to ride it.  I have not been idle all winter, but I have only done shorter rides and some spin classes.  Accidents that left me with some lingering issues combined with the loss of the Big Dogs site and the loss of any long rides on the club schedule took away some of the motivation I had to get out and ride long rides all winter.  I grin thinking of the irony of this:  finally I have the clothing and the knowledge of how to pretty much stay warm unless it gets abnormally cold for this area, and I am not out there. But I forgive myself.  Most of my energy is focusing on retirement now that the long awaited finish nears.

Steve Rice tempts me saying that he also is out of shape and that perhaps our paces will match each other, for while I have enjoyed solitude on some brevets in the past, being widowed I know I spend altogether too much time alone and it would be good to visit and catch up a bit.  Then again, I know how hard it is to ride a brevet with someone.  Energy levels rise and ebb when there is that much distance to be covered and you have to take advantage of those moments when you feel strong. I contacted him to see if the route was marked as it has been in the past, but I also tell him  not to mark it my account as I am unsure if I will even attempt it.  And so, I waver back and forth, one moment deciding to give it a go and another not.  

My thoughts take me to the hard brevets, the ones where there were times where my strength was depleted.  I am on the road with Bill Pustow, Steve Royse, and Grasshopper, the wind is howling so loudly that we can't ease the ride through conversation, the sleet falls in a slant seen only through our headlights.  We lose Steve and we don't even know.  I remember thinking that if I stop, if I do not continue to put one foot in front of the other and continue turning the pedals, I will perish out here.  But I also remember the beauty of the unexpected eclipse that night and the elation at the end as we pulled into the last control and knew we had mastered a course that quite easily could have mastered us.  I remember the companionship as we shared a meal at Waffle House before heading our cars to homeward.   And I remember the warmth my husband's arms wrapped around me as he held me after I arrived home and how he called me crazy and how I knew that he was proud of my strength and my endurance despite the fact he did not understand what drove me.

My thoughts take me to brevets ridden in wind and cold and all day rain that soak into your very soul until you feel you will never be truly, deliciously warm again.  Only movement can salvage any semblance of coziness and comfort on those type of days:  the moment I stop I am doomed to chilling that shakes my entire being all the way to the core.  I remember riding with Claudia and Grasshopper and getting almost to the end only to find a train broken down on the train tracks we needed to cross, hardly fair after conquering the mountain on Oregon Road. But then my mind takes me to the happy moments, the laughter and the companionship and the beauty that is Kentucky in the spring.  One year a section of the road held what seemed to be hundreds of wild rabbits out in the dusk as I neared the last control, tails bobbing as they skittered here and there.  The allure of night riding, that feeling that it is just you and your bicycle and that everyone and everything else is asleep, snoring in warm beds.  My almost collision with a possum who took issue with my traversing his road. The amazement on the faces of store clerks as they sign control cards to prove you passed their way.

In the end my decision will probably depend upon the weather prediction.  If it were a PBP year and if I were committed to riding PBP again, (I'm not)  I could probably talk myself into an all day rain with a strong head wind on the way back or cold and windy conditions; but since I have not and am not committed, I doubt that I would once again ride some of the conditions I have in the past for I know how it will hurt.  Perhaps, I think, I have had too much hurt or perhaps I am too old because I don't know if I can go there again. Perhaps I have just changed. Or perhaps I am just not as strong as I used to be.  Oh, I know I could physically finish despite not being particularly fit right now.  Brevets, however, after a certain point, are less about physical fitness than they are about mental commitment.  I must admit, however, that if I decide not to ride, I will have the above mentioned "road not taken" syndrome, for during a brevet you never really know what might happen.  Decisions, decisions.