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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

St. Nick's Hick Ride 2017

"Every new friend is an adventure...
the start of new memories."
Patrick Lindsay 

I can't decide whether to do this ride or not.  There is a ride in Madison I spot on Facebook that sounds enticing:  "St. Nick's Hick Ride."  It is on the "Born to Roam" Facebook page.  According to what it says, you can ride if you bring canned goods.  The ride is supposed to be a combination of pavement, gravel, and single track.  I click the "interested" button and decide to think about it.  To go or not to go, that is the question.

Essentially, I am a road biker.  I have a mountain bike, but I normally use it when it snows so I can get out on the roads.  I came into riding in my middle years, and I have never really done "mountain biking" per say.  While he was still alive, my husband urged me to, said he thought I would be good at it (though how he would know never having done it before who knows), but it just never seemed to fit in with where I was at.  I remember Phil Patterson asking me if I could jump curbs when we were discussing mountain biking, and telling him no and later wondering why I had not just said I had never tried because I had not. And I still have not tried it.  The thought of re-injuring either shoulder does not appeal to me.  And it is cold outside.  Yes, I have done an entire century at 10 degrees, but I was younger then, more foolhardy.  There are all sorts of reasons to change my mind, but I dare myself.

The ride description recommends wide tires and I contemplate taking my mountain bike, but I have it fixed up for Diana who is going to use it to ride the "Lights Under Louisville" ride later that same day.  I have switched out the pedals for flat pedals since she does not do clipless pedals, so when I see the ride description, I decide to take the Surly Straggler.  It has wider wheels and can take rougher treatment than my road bike. I almost don't go because I have already committed to the afternoon ride with Diana and have to be back, but Rich, the organizer, assures me on line that the ride will end no later than 12:30.  Despite worries about the cold, the pace, not knowing any of the riders, and the terrain and if I can handle it, I go.  I guess they won't shoot me if I have to turn around or can't keep up. And f I fall, well, I never have to face them again.

I arrive early and find the ride start, canned goods in a bag.  I like this about the ride, the ride fee of can donations for the needy.  Rich's wife takes the canned goods and is very welcoming.  People that care about other people, about those less fortunate, are some of my favorite people in this world because it is so easy to not care. Everyone is welcoming, but still I can tell this is a group that rides together regularly, that has forged bonds, and I am not sure if I can or will fit in.  As those of you who know me know:  I do not like to be a burden or an inconvenience. And as so often happens, brevets, distance rides, I am apparently the only female riding today.

Yet again I am amazed at how love of the bike can merge diverse groups of people. Gender, income, age, race, all fade away as insignificant and I think how God must love a bicycle because of this. The pace is easy and nobody seems to mind, there are mainly new roads, and the scenery is engaging. People climb at their own pace and then wait at the top, patiently, without resentment. As the ride progresses, personalities begin to emerge, and I find I am beginning to smile.  This smile will eventually turn into laughter at some of the youthful exuberance that has seeped into the ride that will continue to stay with me for a few days.  For the first time in a long time, I wake myself up in the middle of the night following a ride actually laughing, and it feels wonderful.   As an added bonus, not too long after the ride starts, it begins to snow and slowly the roads turn white.  Unlike my snow rides on a road bike, the Surly handles the snow just fine and I am overcome by the beauty,  particularly while we are in the state park.  What a fine day it is to be out on a bicycle despite the cold.  How glad I am that I came.  How thankful I am to Rich and the others for their acceptance of a stranger in their midst.

The trees are bare now, stark sentinels, arms reaching skyward, outlined by wispy bits of snow that are starting to cling but still ephemeral, pleading for their covering as Adam and Eve in the garden following their sin.  Perhaps they stand as a reminder.  There is beauty in their nakedness, but yet they seem not comfortable with it.  The wind is light and kind. The whiteness emphasizes the lack of color in the world.

As we descend from the state park into Madison, we ride a bit of what I think is called "single track."  I am able to handle it, it does not seem to be very technical, but the rear wheel on my bike is not and ends up rubbing and I do fall behind.  I find them waiting, but again I don't sense impatience or the feeling that they wish I had not joined them.  Instead, I am met with smiles and stories and a magnificent view and I am appreciative of their kindness.  I debate whether to stop and fix it, and decide that with the car so near I will not.  Only when stopped by a stop light do I realize how badly it is rubbing.  I can barely push the bike.  My legs are strong enough to make it go, but not my arms.  The car appears in front of me and it is over.  A lovely time, but due to meeting Diana I cannot join them for lunch.  Perhaps this is best as I always find it easier to talk and to meet new people on a bicycle rather than sitting at a table somewhere.

I am grateful.  Grateful for new friends, ones who are kind and make me laugh, grateful for my health, grateful for the snow that brightens the scenery and seems so Christmas-like, grateful for a new memory and a new riding experience.  This next week will be a difficult one one for me as it holds the day I lost the best part of myself, the stroke, the dying, the knowing that I could not save him, that it was time for him to go home and that I would be alone in a way I had not for so very long, but I also know that I will survive, that he wants me to, and that I can have fun and even laugh until my sides hurt knowing he is happy to see me smile as he patiently waits for me.  And I am again grateful for that first bike, the one he gave me when he was worried I was running too much.  Somehow I think he knew, even then, that it would help me find my way.  It has, indeed, been an adventure. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Bethlehem Century 2017

"For outlandish creatures like us, on our 
way to a heart, a brain, courage, Bethlehem
is not the end of our journey but the beginning -
not home but the place through which we must
pass if ever we are to reach home at last."
Frederick Buechner

So many Bethlehem Centuries through the years.  Some have been ridden in weather so foul that it is a miracle that we finished.  And others, like today, are blessed with temperate weather for the time of year.  With a 30 degree or more temperature variation expected through the day, I dress in light layer after layer, knowing that I will look like a pregnant chipmunk at the end of the day after I have stripped them off, and yet I don't mind.  Perhaps being rather plain has its benefits.  When I ride, I care much more about function and comfort than about style.

The Bethlehem Century is rather special to me despite the fact it is not the most scenic of my routes.  Memories make it special:  Joe Camp swirling in a yellow rain poncho he bought during one of the Challenge Series; the Mad Dog naming of Stormy when we rode the century but the stage was canceled; Steve Rice asking me if the wind ever stops blowing on this course and seeing Santa Claus at one store stop when nobody else that rode did;  three riders bailing midway and being glad I could call my daughter to sag them in as there was no shortcut to the end;  buying gloves with Grasshopper at the third store stop because our fingers were wet and frozen and the blessed gift of warmth they gave; Scott Kuchenbrod, an exceptionally talented and strong rider, his face pale and looking strained at the third store stop leaving me to understand without words that I was not the only one totally exhausted and that I did, indeed, have reason to be.  And how exhausted the holy family must have been reaching Bethlehem.  Did Mary weep at finding there was no room in the inn, her back sore from pregnancy and travel, unable to nest in the way many woman need to do soon before the birth of a child? And that even the stable was but a respite before she truly went home. Ghosts of riding companions and others from my past dance past me the entire ride, elusive yet ever present. I grow tired on the century, plagued by a cold that seems to have taken residence in my lungs, but I have not grown tried yet of the ride, the scenery, the wheels turning, the people met along the way or those that shared the journey.

Until the December my husband passed away, I used to take Christmas cards to mail on this ride.  Originally they were mailed in Bethlehem where they would stamp them with a special stamp.  When that post office closed, the New Washington Post Office took over, but you have to take them INTO the post office.  It really matters  not as I send very few Christmas cards anymore.  I still have the stack I had ready to take when he had his stroke, and I think I need to toss them. Some things left when he did.  But it was the reason I designed this century.  And I am back in my mind, trying to find my way without long stretches of gravel.  Finally successful.  I have changed and would now find gravel more acceptable, but then it had not yet seduced me seeming bumpy and just a bit too difficult to maneuver.  Speed was more important then as well I suppose.  Everything changes, always.

The fields are mostly bare,  harvest completed.  Leaves have dropped from all but the hardiest of the trees except those like the stubborn oaks who hold on as long as possible.  But there is no color there.  Reds and yellows and oranges and russets have faded into shades of brown. Occasionally as the sun warms, the smell of leaf mold wafts through the air. The last bit of green is being seeped from the grass, and I think that it is going to be a long winter.  In the morning, frost covers all the vegetation, and the sun, bright but with no heat, makes it look lovely.  The first pond I pass is beginning to freeze over, a thin layer on the top, not yet encompassing the entire surface.

I think of those who rode this century and how, other than Tour de Mad Dog centuries in the warmer weather, club centuries appear to be a thing of the past.  There are none on the club schedule.  I think of when I first started riding and how one of the reasons was to have company to make riding easier when it was cold and windy and nasty, and how things have come full circle and I will be riding mostly alone until the weather warms.  "How long," I ask myself, "will I continue that?"  And I have no answer. Steve Sexton:  no longer rides centuries.  Mike Kamenish: only rides TMD stages now.  Bill Pustow:  appears to have left century rides behind him.  Dick Rauh:  no longer a century rider.  Grasshopper:  no longer rides centuries.  And on and on, names flitting through my mind.   The few that do still ride are now much faster than these 61 year old legs can ride, particularly in the winter time and mostly are not my companions of old, the ones that know my heart and accept my song however flawed it may be.  

I cry for a bit for my brother who is having health issues that will probably mean he has to retire whether he wants to or not.  I think of how leaving a job you have had for a long time is like cutting off part of yourself even if you want to leave.  And for him, I believe, it is more important than for most.  Other than his work, I do not think he has been very happy in this life.  I think how age robs us despite our best efforts to thwart her.  I cry for my husband, the anniversary of his death looming, and for my mother, her death shortly on the heels of my husband's, and for the others that I will not be able to spend time with this holiday season.  It was on this ride that one woman told me, no too long after his death, that I just needed to get over him.  And there was, perhaps, a time when I didn't realize the sad truth and was as blissful in my ignorance as she:  we go on, we are even happy, but we never truly get over the loss of someone dear that we loved. We love again, life is good, but loss has formed and molded as surely as the womb. I think of my cousin, half joking as I cared for my mother in Hospice, telling me I will have to do this for her, for she has no children.  The fear behind the words squeezes my heart, but she is asking for an assurance I cannot give for none of us knows our destiny or how and when we will die, only that we will do so. And I cry for the riders I have known that no longer ride.  

But it is hard to remain gloomy on such a sunny day.  A nip on the leg from a dog wakes me from my melancholy and I start by being thankful he did not break the skin or pull me off the bike.  I briefly contemplate going to the door of the home to let them know there dog just sampled my calf, but there is also another dog and if they were aggressive on the road, how much more might they be on their own turf, so I sigh and ride on.  I have never had dog issues on this route before.  Many other routes, but not this one.  Dogs.  A perpetual cycling danger and bane if not well cared for and disciplined by their owners.

At the first store, I chat briefly with a hunter.  He tells me he did not get a deer, that he did not even see a deer until he was done, and I giggle and tell him the deer was probably taunting him.  He grins back and then turns once again to bury his face in his cell phone. I do not linger long as I know my pace is lagging and day light is short this time of year.

It is nice when I get to the lunch stop because by modifying the route and leaving from my home, lunch is about 10 miles later into the ride.  For some reason, I would much rather stop and have a bite to eat at 60 miles than at 50 miles.  I find that despite not eating breakfast, I am not hungry; but I know I am tired and need something.  I stop at McDonald's and am again tempted to ride on as the line is huge, but I have made that mistake before and counsel myself to patience. My recent cold has left me with little appetite and each bite is forced. But again I wonder, as I have before, what is it about this restaurant that draws large crowds of people.  It really is no cheaper than any other fast food restaurant anymore.  My taste must just be different.  Every bite tastes as if someone spilled the salt shaker on my food. To each his own I suppose.

I strip off another layer and revel in the sun and in not being cold.  My GPS tells me it is 60 out and I believe it.  Chicken Run and Deputy Pike roll by quickly.  They are very lightly traveled leaving me to my thoughts.  As always, I admire the small bit of hand laid stone wall along the way, and looking at it think of Robert Frost:  "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."  I wonder who laid this small bit and why.  It is not in front of a home, but in front of woodland.  I pass what has been the lunch stop on past rides from the traditional starting place if on Saturdays, and think of how good the food was there on one ride.  Was it really that tasty or did the company and laughter give it spice it might not otherwise have had?

I surprise myself as I end my ride by missing a turn.  I have the choice of back tracking or riding a short distance on a fairly busy state route with little to no shoulder, but I pick the state route.  I should make it in an hour or more before darkness claims the roads despite my pace, but I do not want to take chances as I have only a small light on my bike, the one I put on in late fall as an emergency light and keep on until spring brings longer days.  I think  how glad I am that I chose to ride despite knowing that it would probably set my cold recovery back a few days, and I find I have indeed almost lost my voice again.  But it will return.  This day will not.  I may remember it, but it will never come again.  Tired and with achy knees,  I pull in the drive to home, knowing that this home is also a road on a journey, a  journey that lead through Bethlehem. 


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ride Diversity

"There is no beauty without difference  and
diversity."
Rasheed Ogunlaru

The week of two centuries, each so very different:  one solo on a cloudy day that occasionally spit rain at me and the other sporting sunshine and friends.  One route hilly and demanding while the other is mainly flat and easy.  Riding with friends and riding alone, each has charm and its place in my life.

Riding alone gives me time not only to think, but to marvel at the beauty of the world that surrounds me, to note the changes that have happened since I last passed that way, some positive and some not so positive:  a new house, logging along one of my favorite wooded roads, a new dog. Sometimes, often in fact, it brings memories, some happy and some sad, all of which have contributed to enriching my life and to shaping me.  The thought of losing memories is truly terrifying.  I briefly wonder if there will be anyone to remind me as I think of how the last few years of her life my mother enjoyed it so when I told her the stories she had told me of her life, for she lost those memories unless they were brought back to mind.  There is a sadness that cannot be staunched in getting truly old.  Blessing or curse or a little of both? And I think again of how our children only know part of who we are. When I ride alone, I may laugh out loud, sing, cry, or curse, and sometimes do them all.  Crazy? Quite possibly.  But not harmful so who cares.

Alone I wonder about the fields of unharvested pumpkins that I pass.  Three years in a row now this farmer has grown acres of pumpkins leaving them to rot in the field.  Originally I thought perhaps it was an older person who had planted the field and died prior to harvest.  Or perhaps was unable to get anyone to work and help him/her reap what they had sown.  Now I wonder, does the government pay them to grow the pumpkins and that payment is sufficient without bothering with harvest.  Surely there is work involved and expense and time in planting the pumpkins. When I mention it to someone at the next ride, they suggest that perhaps they are just reseeding themselves, but the bounty of the harvest makes me doubtful. To sow, but not to reap?  The green in the world is toning down and diminishing.  Only the winter wheat, or I think that is what it is, is the green that normally marks the beginning of spring.  Soy bean fields, some harvested, some not, brown and dusty.
Alone I think about things, notice things, sometimes stupid things and sometimes things that are meaningful to me. Many would not cross my mind if I were in company. I notice how the colder weather enhances the scents that surround me when an old, stinky car passes, and I smile thinking that the more pleasant smell of dryer sheets, containing fluorocarbons, are probably just as bad for me to inhale.  I note about two Amish girls, seemingly preteen, chatting and walking down a road in the middle of nowhere only for me to find that forest had been cleared and a home built where no home existed before.  I think about vacation and how it gives me the freedom to ride this week.

It is beautiful with fall slowly making its way across the land.  Trees are starting to change.  Leaves rustle.  Farmers work. I pass a scum covered pond where a half grown cow eyes me before walking into the water for a drink despite the chill in the air.  I shiver once again grateful that I brought the jacket that I almost left at home and ended up wearing the majority of the day.  I giggle to myself and chide myself for my mirth thinking of my ride earlier this week to Salem for donuts and the young man with the big belly who so wanted to tell me about how his wife does not like it that he buys so many bikes and that I should switch bicycle stores while all the while I am looking at his tummy and  thinking he needs to ride some of the bicycles he talks of a bit more  (as I sit eating a donut).  Like I am not in the same situation for I suspect that with my penchant for sweets,  I will never be truly thin unless I become ill. It was one of those days where I just really wanted to sit and savor what I was eating, but this young man and many others, none of whom I knew or had ever seen before, for some reason, felt a compelling need to talk with me as I sat on the curb.  I grin thinking of a friend who once asked me if everyone I meet has some unrelenting need to tell me their life story despite having just met them.  

In contrast, Saturday's ride is filled with people I do know and who I long to visit with.  Some I suspect I will not see until the spring, know I won't see until the next spring unless the warmer weather holds, for they do not ride during the cold months.  Some hike, some do spin class, some other activities.  All wait for the warmth of spring to once again begin the process of honing their legs and shaking off winter weakness. I hug a special few, inhaling and absorbing their essence to cling to when it is cold and dark and I am isolated.  I try to ride with these friends, the ones whose absence I will feel throughout the winter as they put up their bicycles. Someone, I can't remember who, asks me how long ago I put this route together, and I don't remember, but it has been many years since first I rode to Medora.

 The pace is slow, and I am glad.  Why rush such a gorgeous day, a day made more precious by the knowledge that it will be one of the last because such weather cannot continue throughout the cold, dreary, winter months?  I have friends riding a faster pace, but my place with them will, perhaps, be another ride on another day.  I love them all and try to ride with them at different rides, unable to meld everyone into one group.  And my pace slows with age or the lack of desire or a combination fo the two. We get to the festival at Medora and sit, as we do each year, eating our sandwiches and talking, watching the whirl of people. 



At the end of the ride, Ameila, the ride captain, has brought snacks and beverages and a few of us sit for awhile talking and enjoying what must surely be one of the last of the precious, warm autumnal days.   Amelia and I were supposed to go out for dinner, but both of us are still full from the gigantic sandwich at the festival that has been topped off with snacks and so we agree to put it off for another day and another time.  Kirk and Cathy have announced another ride tomorrow from a local winery, but I am meeting my daughter for lunch and know I will not be going.  

I am glad that I took vacation and that despite the questionable weather Thursday, rode two centuries.  I am glad that one was alone and one was not, for too much of either is difficult for me.  Each has its own charms.  Mostly, I am glad that I have the health to do this, and the freedom to do this.  Recent events have lead me to once again realize that freedoms should never be taken for granted, that they exist only because someone sacrificed themselves so that I could have them, and that with those freedoms come responsibility.  I am thankful. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Short Night Excursion

"Hello darkness my old friend"
Simon and Garfunkel


Originally I intend to ride a century today.  It is not the prediction for afternoon rain that stops me, but the wind prediction.  I just am not yet ready to face 20 mile per hour winds. Later in the fall, yes, but not today. I have ridden in wind where it has been all I can do to remain upright, and I have a great respect for the wind.  I need to build up to it, to the yielding that it requires of me as we make our peace with each other and I accept that rides will be more difficult and take much more time than they might otherwise require. That they will be a test of fortitude without the pleasure that a meandering, easy ride brings, but leaving a sense of satisfaction for a job well done that easy rides do not.  Still, I slip out into the darkness clad only in jersey, reflective vest, and shorts despite it being October.  For while I have chosen not to ride 100 miles, I will ride.

As always, I ask myself why I don't ride more when it is dark outside and lights are needed.  It is only when I commute by bicycle or when I ride a brevet that I seem to do so, but I love the way the night embraces me, wraps her arms around me, welcoming me as she transforms my world,  the way most houses are dark and the roads deserted. I love being able to step out the door in shorts and jersey and to be a bit cool, but not uncomfortable and I am glad I did not waste this opportunity.  .I love the sounds of the night creatures, some which I can identify and others which I cannot, rustling through the brush, toying with my imagination.  I love the sound the wind makes as she moans through the dry, corn that stands ready to be harvested. Sometimes it is as if I am the only person stirring in the world and there is truly peace. The moon, still quite full, is not yet ready to yield to the approaching light when I arrive at my destination.  It has been a rather short ride, but beautiful, dream like. And I am glad to be alive and on a bicycle. 


Saturday, September 30, 2017

A September Day

"I don't know how to explain to you
that you should care about other people."
Kayla Chadwick


Today I decided to take a personal day and head out on a century.  It  was predicted to be a perfect riding day, starting in the fifties and only getting into the seventies.  Time has taught me how quickly these days fly.  Only yesterday it was spring, and here it is over and winter fast approaches. Arm warmers, work gloves to cover my riding gloves, and vest are called for, but all will be shed before the day has ended.  Fall approaches after kicking out the 90 degree days that were so out of place for the season, despite the fact that I can say I savored the heat.  Each year brings a greater appreciation of the warmth of summer.  Cold becomes harder on me, more demanding, seeming to seep into my bones and my soul.

 Leaves are beginning to turn, whispering of what is to come, and I wonder if we will have brilliant or muted colors this year. They sparsely litter the ground in places, and I like the crunch they make when I purposefully target them with my wheels.  Walnut and persimmon stains are on the roads in places, and I think of how I used to gather the black walnuts as Lloyd loved them so. While there is not yet frost, mist hangs in the morning air and the sun shines on the dew turning the fields into silvery wonderlands. Gossamer, silver strands of spider webs, beaded up with dew, gloriously beautiful to behold.

The dogs along the route seem to like the change of weather, laying chase on numerous occasions, though often I stop to confront them if it is obvious that I can't outrun them. Better to be bitten standing and not be pulled down from the bike.  Normally, it seems to end their fun. They sniff me, turn tail, walk back to their yard, disappointed that I have ruined their chase, eyes reproachful.  As always, I vow I will start bringing dog treats on rides, but I know it is unlikely that I will follow through since I have had this thought many times and never brought it to reality.  I think about whether I will get a dog when I retire and have time,  something I have considered, and if so if I will get two because I have come to believe that most animals are happier with others of their species available. It was the reason I insisted we adopt two kittens, though we ended up with three after I found Elizabeth abandoned at a deserted intersection. Squirrels busily cross the road, mouths full, tails bushy, cursing me for causing them concern when they are trying to prepare. At times they seem almost suicidal, running right in front of me as I do my best to avoid them.

I think for a bit of couples, and how I have come to accept that in all likelihood, the rest of my life will be spent essentially alone. I am not an easy woman, and even if I were statistics are against me as the grief therapist pointed out to us not long after my husband died.   I have come to appreciate new aspects of my husband after his death though that may seem odd.  Not many men would tolerate these ceaseless roaming, this need for solitude at times, the depths of my passion. Not many men could allow me the freedom he did, even encouraged, all the while loving me.

I see signs of the harvest: corn cobs strewn along the sides of roads, cropped fields, but the only thing I actually see being brought in today is tobacco.  Long trucks hog the road trailing dust and pass on their way to the barns where it will hang as it dries prior to being sold.  Hard work, harvesting tobacco. It is one farm job I have never done, but I have heard about it from my husband and others.  I smile thinking of a time the department attorney asked what a woman we were working with did and I replied, "Stripping."  He thought I meant tobacco:  I didn't.

My mind, as it does so often, turns to retirement, perhaps because it draws ever nearer and I wonder briefly if I will ever tire of having the freedom to ride.  I wonder if it will be less special because of its availability.  I wonder if I will regain my strength with being able to ride regularly, for I do not kid myself:  I have been weak the past few years.  Age or lack of time on the bike or a combination of the two?  It just is hard to know.  And I also, since the accidents last year, have pain in my neck and back sometimes. Is there a brevet left in this old body and mind? I think that I will remain a member of RUSA another year or two to see.  In the end, I decide, it really doesn't matter so long as I can hold onto the love of the ride.

I wonder if retirement is a mistake.  I do not need an overabundance, but the idea of not being able to care for myself, physically or financially, is repugnant to me.  And I no longer have my husband to catch me if I fall and to bring the smile back to my face as he reminds me of what is important and how problems can be solved.  I miss the way he made me smile. "And in the morning when I rise, you bring a tear of joy to my eyes and tell me everything is gonna be alright."  (Kenny Loggins) He cared for me.  And he cared for other people. 

The above words about caring for other people, words I read on Face Book during the health care debacle, come to mind, because retirement brings scary things to mind, like health care.  These words have, for some reason, resonated with and haunted me since I read them. They are poignant and full of meaning and sad. Fortunately, as far as I know, I am in good health, but I wonder when Americans accepted that we could not outdo the world and have something, make something, better than the rest of the world as we have with so many other achievements.  Where along the line did we accept that they could do something, have something, that we could not?  For awhile I think about the illusions I had as a child or what and who we were, as a country and a people.  What role did my parents play?  What role did the school play?  How much does the growing wealth disparity encourage this growing division?  And I realize I am not smart enough to solve this problem.  Perhaps nobody is.

I think about the upcoming holidays, and how the loss of my mother will irrevocably change them. I spent Christmas Day with my mother every year of my life, so this will be a first. Tradition on holidays is important to me, and we still have many of them, but this one will leave a big hole.  There is no way around it:  losing people or furry family members just plain sucks. 

Suddenly I realize that in the midst of my reverie, the wind has picked up, but I am almost home.  What a day for a ride on the bike.  Lightly traveled, rural roads with plenty of time to day dream and think all while surrounded by beauty.  Not one honk.  Nobody flipped me the bird.  Nobody pulled a gun and pointed it at me.  No flat tires.  Life is good and tonight I will sleep well.  I hope that I always care about other people, but today was, perhaps, about caring for myself.  That is important as well. 



Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Perfect Cycling Day


"I can not endure to waste anything so precious
as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house."
Nathaniel Hawthorne


The weather prediction is such that no true cyclist could resist going for a ride, a long leisurely ride, the kind where you begin to soak up the color and warmth to hold close during the coming dark and cold months.  Yes, it is to be a tad on the windy side, but other than that the sun is to shine and the temperatures are perfect.  It would be an absolute sin and a shame to waste such a day doing housework or the myriad other chores that really need to be completed before winter. There is a slight chill, a hint of the coming fall, in the morning that can be easily managed with a vest and light arm warmers that will be shed later.  And today I am alone.  I briefly debate the 60 mile club ride, but decide against it with no regret. 

I decide to head toward Story as I have been wanting to test some modifications to my original route.  Sometimes it is hard to find those roads that I love to ride, the scenic ones with little traffic.  And this route has more state road on it than I normally like.  They are not particularly busy state roads, and they are mostly scenic, but still I prefer to haunt those back, meandering roads.  There are times, however, when the roads just aren't there.

I am mostly satisfied with the first half of the route.  It takes awhile to get off the main road, but once I do, the roads are lightly traveled.  I come across a fawn who freezes as he sees me, his white spots just faintly visible as he becomes a youngster rather than a babe. He edges the bordering forest, uncertain as to his best move.  Should he freeze and hope I don't see him or run? He does not move as I ride by and our eyes meet briefly. I tell him he must be afraid of me for his own good for hunting season approaches.  Being so young and so small still, I would not think he would be much of a target, but what do I know of hunting?  I have friends who are hunters, but it never appealed to me.  My husband used to talk about bow hunting and killing a deer.  He said that after he looked in its eyes as it died, he was never able to  hunt again.   I think of his gentleness and how it was hidden under such a stern, frightening exterior presence at times. Oh, I miss him so and I suppose I always will. How glad I am that I bypassed the surface and saw what was underneath.  As they say, there is more to a book than its cover.  I think of how these quiet solitary rides, so misunderstood by others, allow me to see things and think about things in a way I would not if I had company.

The first store stop is in Freetown.  I think of how I wish I had written down the history of the town that an old man was kind enough to share with me when I stopped there once in the past.  Sometimes I think I should carry pen and paper with me.  So many things happen on rides, and my memory is not as it once was. In college, I would wake up able to recite certain parts of the text I had been reading verbatim, but anymore I am lucky to remember why I left the couch to go to the kitchen. The town, per this man, originally had another name, a name that escapes me, but was made to change it as there was already a town in the state with that name.  My memory betrays me.  I laugh about it because there is nothing I can do about it, but I don't like it.  Sometimes it scares me.  

While I am at the first store stop, sitting at the picnic table studying a map because of an expected detour, a group of cyclists pull in.  I still am not quite sure why they stop as I did not notice any of them going into the store, but perhaps they did and I did not notice.  They are from Columbus and they are going down the road to another small town: Cortland.  I tell them I don't know if it is still there, but there was a little country store that had the best homemade pumpkin bread.  I remember sharing a small loaf with Grasshopper on a ride years back, the smell of the bread rich and savory, the slant of sun resting on our shoulders as we ate content in each other's company in the way that good friends are.  We had been to Surprise earlier, but surprise, there was not even a pop machine.  I briefly think of first meeting Grasshopper, of how he, like so many of my friends, had to initiate and almost insist on friendship. I suppose that, like Woody Allen, I sometimes wonder who would want to belong to a club that had me as a member.  And I suspect we all feel that way at times.  I miss seeing him, but I understand that riding was no longer for him.  I am glad he has found someone to renew his smile. 

They tell me the store still is there and now the specialty is Peanut Butter pie.  We are heading in the same direction, though I will turn off before reaching Cortland, but they are not quite ready to leave when I take off. I think that they will probably catch me as they are a group and will be drafting, but they do not. I am not going particularly fast, but I don't loiter as I know there is a detour and I don't know how I might have to modify my route to get home or if I will have to modify it.  Despite the fact it still stays light fairly late, I want to leave myself a cushion.  I have not yet put the light on my bike that stays there all winter for those "just in case" rides.

I come across the Shields covered bridge and stop to photograph the work that has been accomplished.  Nearby, a farmer has made the last cutting of hay and the day has warmed enough that the smell wafts through the air and I wonder if it is the last time I will smell that smell this year.  I even come across a field where corn is being brought in.  Other corn fields are still a bright green: nowhere near harvest.  As the wind picks up, I notice the rustling noise through the corn, a fall sound. At Waymansville, at least I think that is the name, the store remains closed and it saddens me.  Everything changes,  and I am changing.    I wonder if it is visible to others, this change in me, or if I am deluding myself and have not changed at all.  Like the bridge, I assume my structure will remain basically the same, reinforced by life events.








I eat outside of Story in the horse place, but I do stop briefly at Story.  There is music and I briefly wish I had someone who I could sit with and share a glass of wine or two with, but I waste little time on fancy knowing the detour remains ahead.  I find that while the road is closed, the bridge is completed and nobody is working so I am able to cross with no detour.  I take a side road trying to find how to get off the main road and  wonder if I will miss the big climb on the main road only to encounter a hill that makes the other seem mild, a wonderful, cursed, terrible, magnificent hill.  Still recovering from a virus I had a couple of weeks ago and still rather weak, I drop it into granny and make my way, cursing, sweating, and grinning because this will be a good modification when I want a harder ride or to torture a riding companion.  A woman stops at the next intersection telling me she is a cyclist and asking if I need direction, and I thank her and send her on her way.

In the end, the change ends up adding a mile so I end up with a 104 mile total for the day.  I see so much beauty.  Everything is still green with just the faintest hint of the coming fall.   I am glad I did not spend the day doing the chores that need to be done, that I spent the day on my bike doing something I love.  It is not good to "waste anything so precious" as a perfect cycling day. 






Monday, September 4, 2017

A New Experience (not cycling related)



"And I said, "Daddy, I'm so afraid
There's no guarantee in the plans I've made
And if I should fail who will pay my way back home?"
And he said, "That's my job.  That's what I do. 
Everything I do is because of you, to keep you safe
with me.  That's my job you see."
Conway Twitty

When my mother fell ill and had to leave assisted living for the hospital and then the nursing home, and I walked in to find her shivering, uncovered, her blanket on a nearby chair that may just as well have been in another country, I made the decision to take a family medical leave from work and move her home to die.  The thought of her being alone, possibly scared, or in need was too much to bear.  To get a call that she was gone, that nobody had been with her was too much to be borne. No, she was not perfect.  As Mitch Album observed, "All parent damage their children. It cannot be helped.  Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair."  But she was my mother, and she loved me as best she could.

Dying alone or cold and untended was not going to happen to her.  Her childhood may have been a living hell, but her dying would not.  I would do for her as I did my husband:  take her home to die. Watching staff make her get up to meet federal regulations when she just wanted to rest was unbearable.  At 99 one deserves to be able to lie in bed and move onward without being tortured into eating a bite or two of food that you don't want because you can't go back to bed unless you do or sitting up to prevent pneumonia and extending your life for a month all the way pleading for surcease.  Old age, you see, is different than illness.  There is no recovery.  As my mother told me, she was tired. I did not want her to go, I grieved her going, but it was time for her to go.  Life had become a burden, not a joy, and there was no way to reverse that trend.  I could, however, let her know that I loved her and that I would use my time to care for her as she cared for me.

While she did not last long after I took her home, a few weeks, I had lots of time to think as I cared for her.  Brevets, perhaps, prepared me for the hours with no true sleep:  a few minutes snatched here or there, occasionally a half hour, but never a night.  As I sat, it saddened me to think that there were so many things she wanted to do that she denied herself, and how I wish she had spent it doing the things she wanted to do, making memories and having experiences that would have enriched her. Unlike my father who divorced us children when he divorced her, giving us less time or thought and grieving us less than I would the family dog, my mother worried about us and tried to protect us in the only way she knew.  She saved the little money she had to leave a small inheritance.  In the end, rightly or wrongly, I suppose that meant more to her than the things she could have done for herself.  Being a victim of the Great Depression and severe poverty growing up, being unable to say I love you, she showed it the only way she was able:  the things she did for me throughout my life, the hard won wisdom she shared, and  this small inheritance.

I vow to not make the same mistake despite knowing she would turn in her grave over what I am about to do.  The children and I will spend the inheritance on a trip, a memory that I hope will last them the rest of the their lives, the last of many gifts they received from my mother.  I determine to return to England, my home for a year when I was nine, and to Scotland, a place we visited during our time there, and I will take the children with me.  And I have always told my children that I love them because I do and I want them to know it, for it to seep into their pores and being that someone truly cares about them.  As Mary Wollstonecraft said, "To have, in this uncertain world, some stay that cannot be undermined is of the utmost importance."   I text it, I e-mail it, and I say it to them regularly despite the fact that they are grown.  And I hope I show it, that they are wise enough to see that the mistakes I made were never made maliciously or purposefully, but were mistakes, the mistakes that all parents make to some degree because parents are human and come with their own set of baggage.  Perhaps there is a tad of guilt in my decision, for the vacations not taken while they were small, the things we could not afford, but my husband and I were determined that they would have a college education and they would have it without coming out in debt, and since neither of us were huge wage earners, this meant deciding what was important and doing without.  But we were successful, more so than we expected to be with Jeff getting a scholarship that covered almost everything. And perhaps I am more like my mother than I would like to admit, for while I admired my mother, loved my mother, like most daughters I struggled not to be like my mother.

There are times when I worry that I raised my children to be too cautious, to not take risks, to be too conservative (not politically speaking), to not see how high they could truly fly as heights require the risk of falling.  How do you balance safety with growth? Both are responsible adults, self-supporting, independent. Still,  I don't want them not to try new things, to experience the world at her fullest, because they might fail.  I want them to stretch their wings, to fly, to feel the wind on their faces, to experience life's sweetness and bitterness.  And I want them to know that like the Conway Twitty song, I will be there if their flight results in a tumble, at least as long as I am able.  I, personally, have lived a life that was too cautious, afraid of failure, afraid of newness, afraid of change.  For my children, as most parents do, I want more. 

So the trip is arranged.  Tiffany and I will fly over and meet my son, Jeff, and his wife, Lena, in London.  I will see some of the sights I saw there as a child, and I will see sights I have never seen before.   And I will do all this while I still have my physical health and before my mind has faded and dimmed further than it already has.  I can only give them this memory, however. It will be up to them to appreciate it and, perhaps, build upon it, learn from it.

Prior to leaving, I Googled the house where we lived when I was small, 5A Copse Hill, Wimbledon,  but it appears to be gone now or changed so as to be unrecognizable. For a moment, I think of the lonely child that lived there, separated from her siblings for the first time, from friends,  in a new country,  alone at home after school for the first time, riding her stick horse wildly around the back yard garden, devouring "The Secret Garden" and "Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass" over and over again.  Soaking up British history which appealed to my imagination. Sailing my wooden boat at the Commons pond.  Making my Guy Fawkes for Guy Fawkes day and going with my parents to set it on fire at the Commons which drew the constable.

The school I attended, however, which I expected to be gone and demolished, remains and has flourished: "The Rowans."  I will not see it on this trip, time is just too scheduled and too limited, but I do learn that the Rowan is a type of tree with bright red berries, a fact I had not brought home with me.  I remember my teacher, Cliffy, and how we students all planted flower bulbs in the school garden that fall and got to see them rise in their glory during the spring, tulips and daffodils and hyacinths, a riot of color, red, purple, white, and orange spilling out against the gentle green of spring grass, my first experience in the joy of helping things grow.  I think of the old woman who lived upstairs, quietly rocking in her rocking chair, patiently teaching me to knit while the other children were at recess.  The time I got sick and they asked if I wanted warm milk and learned that they truly meant warm milk and not hot chocolate. My trip will trigger more of these memories, will restore part of my childhood that I had forgotten.

When we arrive, the British accent flows over me, almost as if it is welcoming me, making me realize that without knowing it, I retained some of the unique phrasing, a turn of words that I hear here occasionally.  But still everything is different.  I am glad that a friend of mine, Bill Pustow, recommended that I read, "The Road to Little Dribbling" by Bill Bryson.  I think it is interesting that while we know that things change, expect things to change, we do not have this expectation of things from our childhood.  It is as if somehow we expect those things from our youth to remain the same, frozen and immutable.  And of course, life is change, childhood homes and places change, memories can be incomplete or false, whether our personality is the type that likes it or not, and the book reminded me of this, tempering my expectations so as not to leave me disappointed.

The tour company we used, for I was assured that this was the most reasonable way to travel and my funds are limited,  whisks us to the hotel where Tiffany and I wait for Jeff and Lena, and when they arrive we embark on what will be, in my opinion, the best two days of the trip.  These days we did what we wanted to do when we wanted to do.  I suspect that in the end, I am not a good candidate for most tours liking my freedom.  Perhaps if our guide had been more knowledgeable  about her country, but while a very sweet young lady, she is not well versed in her history, and I do so adore a good storyteller.  It is one thing I desperately miss about my husband.  And again, in the end I think that tours are probably not the best way for me to travel with my personality.

Tiffany accompanies us the first day, but has plans to go to a Dr. Who exhibition the following day, something that does not interest the rest of us as much as seeing London sights.  We are staying in Hammersmith.  The first thing that strikes me are all the bicycles.  Bicyclists pass in an endless stream.  Bicycles are parked everywhere.  It is delightful.  Some riders are on road bikes, and some are not.  Some are in kits, some are not.  Some are thin and some are not so thin.  But all are riding.  It strikes me that I will be almost two weeks with a bicycle, something that has not happened since I was injured in an automobile accident.  I take a moment to grieve and to steel myself for the inevitable moodiness that accompanies the lack of regular, physical exercise.  Yes, I am an addict. However difficult it may be to make myself go out the door at times, I like my endorphin fix from riding my bike. And if I were by myself, I would manage a ride or two while here, but not this time.

The first day, like most of the trip, is a blur.  History surrounds me.  We take the tube, marveling at the efficiency of transportation here,  and then walk taking in Buckingham Palace and St. James Park.   I begin by Googling statues that we come upon only to give this up rather quickly for their are so many and I can't retain the information the computer is feeding me.  I think how I wish I had a story teller with me, someone who knew the history of things.  I think of two of the men I knew in college, one I dated and one I did not, but both had minds that retained so many facts.  I used to  have good memorization skills, but I don't retain so well for lengthy periods, particularly now, but I love to listen to the stories.

The flowers are incredibly beautiful and lush and I resolve to give tuberous begonias, what appear to be a mainstay, another chance, though the hotter climate at home will likely render them less lush.  The grass is green and accents the flowers which are planted in such a way that there often seems to be a pattern. The second day, while Tiffany is off doing her Dr. Who thing in Cardiff, Jeff and Lena treat me to the Tower of London, something they know that I have been absolutely rabid to see.  It is crowded, but that is the price you pay to see things, particularly I suppose this time of year.  Lena tells me that August is when most of Europe takes their vacation.  On the way in, I am the only one who seems to notice a hand reaching through a crack in the stone wall.  It is not a real hand, but somehow it captures the desperation and hopelessness so many must have felt upon imprisonment there. From my youth, I remember the phrase, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." In some places it is almost as if the strong emotions became part of the walls, the very being of the place.  But then it is just my overly vivid imagination running rampant.

We come upon two of the ravens and I remember from childhood that the ravens must never leave the tower.  They are obviously tame and, being quite plump, well cared for.    I Google it to confirm and briefly think how computers have changed our world.  I see the outside of the tower where Sir Thomas Moore was kept, though from the outside, and resolve to read more about him, this man who died for his beliefs and his refusal to recognize Henry VIII as the head of the church.  Ann Boleyn was kept here, Henry's second wife, the mother of Elizabeth.  We miss her beheading spot, but I remember it from childhood, shivering as I went by, not yet recognizing the significance of the break with Rome.  We pass where the bodies were found that people believe were the bodies of the two little princes, and I vividly remember my mother telling me that story and reading Josephine Tey's book when I was older.  Briefly I wonder if there is still a group that meets to discuss this mystery, and whether the princes were murdered by Richard or Henry.  Power and what it drives us to. God help those who stand in the way.  I don't think that time has helped us to conquer our baser instincts.   There are the Thomas Moore's of course, but they are the exception rather than the rule and always will be.  Most of us are not the stuff of which martyrs are made. We stay many hours, but still do not get to see everything I would like to see, but we are hungry.

Meals here and throughout the trip surprise me.  Most of the places we eat in seem to make meals an occasion. You expect to wait 15 minutes to order while your waiter is obviously talking to co-workers and horsing around.  Then you wait another half hour while the food is prepared.  I wonder aloud to the children if the relaxed attitude helps worker retention or if they have the same problem with retaining workers as we do at home.  And the food is so different, mostly good, but very different. There are, of course, McDonalds and KFC's and other fast food chains, but we have no desire to frequent these places on vacation though I will admit that by the end of my stay, I long for food I am familiar with.  One of my multitudinous faults is a bland palate that does not enjoy the introduction of new or unfamiliar foods.  This combined with the children's vegetarianism sometimes makes meals difficult throughout the trip, but we manage.


Following our meal, we walk along the Thames a bit and are accosted during our admiration of a monument to someone for their antislavery work.   A young man comes up, dark skinned and with raven black hair reaching to his shoulders,  and begins ranting about how Great Britain was involved in slavery well into the 1900's.  I am uncomfortable because he seems so forceful, hammering me with statements and questions,  and perhaps, I am shamed to admit, due to his unusual dress, a brightly colored red vest, short, with no shirt underneath.  I worry more as I have the children with me and I don't know where all this is going, but he eventually departs and we proceed on our way.

Another thing that causes Tiffany and I much amusement during the trip are the plumbing differences.  Whoever gets the first shower has the pleasure of trying to figure out how to turn the shower on.  This is complicated at our first hotel because, as we only realize later after beginning to get a grip of the plumbing differences, it was broken and not working right.  I am proud at the end of the trip when I have figured out why there are different buttons on the back of the commode and she has not.  Oh, I quite adore the differences. 

The following day we join the group to head toward Edinbourgh with numerous stops and overnights along the way.  We briefly visit Stamford, York, and Leeds before coming to the Scottish border. Terrain begins to change.  Hills and heather and sheep, everywhere there seem to be sheep. Our guide explains that the colors on the sheep are put there by the owners.  She said that the underside of the male is colored by the farmer and the color rubs off on any female he mates with so the farmer knows who has been mounted. The hills begin to color purple with heather, and I dream of walking them one day knowing full well that in all likelihood I never will.  For I am not rich and my time, alas, is not yet my own.  As I tell the cats as I go to work most mornings, someone has to work to buy cat food;-)

One day we pass a sheep dog herding competition.  Oh, how I wish I were on my own so that I could stop and watch. This is one of the most frustrating things about the trip:  so much to see and so little time to see it and to explore. The scenery here is stunning and yet again I dream of bicycling these roads.  I see no bicycles out here until we near Edinburgh. I dream of Mary, Queen of Scotts, almost a new born when she became queen, and Lord Bothwell and Lord Darnley.  As always, I wonder how she chose Lord Darnley.  How complicated life must have been.  I vaguely remember that her son, Jamie, became King of England, and I think I remember that he was raised Protestant, but I don't remember if his is the blood that lead to the currently royal family.  My tour guide, alas, does not know; but a tourist from New Zealand is able to explain what happens, at least in fact, for he does not appear to be a story teller.

In Edinburgh, we once again separate from the group for part of two days, walking the streets that are jammed with people, seeing parts of the castle, and climbing Arthur's Seat.   I make it most of the way up before being struck by my fear of heights and deciding to retreat before I became even more uncomfortable.  I see nobody but young people doing the climb and I wonder why.  It is not an easy climb but it is not that difficult. The view is spectacular. On the way we passed Edinburgh castle which we will visit the following day. It is the time of the Fringe Festival, and there are entertainment opportunities galore.  Alas, our time is so limited.  Normally I would hate these crowds, and I would not want to live amongst such crowds, but for now it is exciting, a change from my rather dull, regular life.  I take the time to pick up a few gifts for friends at home: shortbread and wool scarves woven in the most lovely patterns.

While in Edinburgh, we go to see the Scottish Tattoo at the entrance to the castle.  Great flames shoot from the torches lit on the walls of the castle, and I can almost image that it is as it must have been eons ago when it was a working, thriving living place.  There would have been no electricity and the torches perhaps would seem to burn even more splendidly. It is evening and we are told there will be a special surprise.  And there is:  Prince Charles and Prince William are attending.  A red mist peels out of the castle entrance as the tartan clad bagpipers march out, and what a spectacle it is.  Luckily, I packed for this event as we would otherwise have been cold, and we were lucky as the promised rain failed to materialize.  My personal favorite, other than the bagpipes, were the Japanese band with their lighted fairy wings and graceful dancing.  I think how glad I am that I have family to enjoy this moment with, savoring walking through the streets afterward with the hum of conversation and laughter floating in the air as we make our way back to where we are staying.

When we leave Edinburgh, we head toward the Lake District and stop for just a moment at Lake Windermere in Chester.  It is so lovely, and I renew my vow to one day do a walking tour of the lake country, home to Wordsworth, where I can "wander lonely as a cloud."  The Romantic poets always appealed to me:  Shelley, Lord Byron, despite what some have termed the pathetic fallacy. Label me pathetic I suppose. Down the road a bit, we visit his grave and have lunch at a small cafe overlooking a stream.  It is so very scenic and beautiful.

We return to England seeing Stratford upon Avon, Bath, and Stone Henge before returning to London.   And now, as I have so many things I treasured from childhood, I have tried to give a taste of them to my children, the people I most love in this world. I remember climbing on the stones at Stone Henge as a child and wondering if there were blood sacrifices as my imagination ran wild with a reality that I knew nothing about. Now the stones are roped off, only to be seen at a distance unless you are a Druid at the summer solstice.  How odd to think that Druids actually exist.  I have certainly never met one, at least not one that made his or her beliefs known to me. How odd how much things have changed.  Are the changes due to people or a better understanding of the damage we did not know we were doing?  Probably a combination of the two.

It is good to arrive home, despite being quite thoroughly searched by TSA on my way back into the country.  But the things we do, particularly new or different things, are necessary to help us define what we actually want to do, and I have found that I want to travel a bit more, to see different places and different ways of doing things.  Will it be different doing this alone?  Certainly.  And perhaps I will find that it is not for me, but for now, at least, I walk alone and there is only one way to find out.  Oh, come, retirement, and with it time, precious time, to spend on doing things that I want to do.   A gift my  husband's death and my mother's death brought, the realization about how very precious and limited our time truly is. Thank you, mother, and thank you, Lloyd,  that is perhaps, along with the other pearls of wisdom, your dearest gift to me.  The words of one of my favorite Mary Chapin Carpentar songs, " I had to learn to be grateful, I had to learn how to see, mistakes that might have been fatal are  gifts I now receive."