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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Pope Lick Park Ride to the Ride

"Our creator would never have
made such lovely days, and given us
the deep hearts to enjoy them, above
and beyond all thought, unless we were
meant to be immortal." 
Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Yesterday was a beautiful day for February, warm and sunny, but I spent it hiking, so I was very glad to see a ride, or rides I suppose I should say, on the club schedule for Monday.  Even stepping out the door, it is unseasonably warm, and I think how nice it will be, despite our moderate winter, to have a break.  On a day like today, I can dream of spring and believe it will be here soon.  With days like today, I don't mourn the loss of Texas Hell Week in March quite so deeply.
I do contemplate just riding from home knowing it will save time and I will cover more ground, but I decide that today is not a solitary day.  Today is the kind of day where you want to be with people who love bicycling as much as you do, who share the passion.  

On the drive I worry about my ability to keep up.  I have become so accustomed to having a GPS file to guide me that I have become rather dependent upon it, but I know that if I get dropped, despite not having a route, I can use my GPS to find my way back to the car.  I just decide not to overly stress about it.  Despite being off all that time with a pulled abdominal muscle, I seem to be healing and rebounding fine.  

As I suspect, there are quite a few people gathered to "ride to the ride."  Many of them I don't know or only know superficially, but there are a few closer friends.  In the end, we are all happy to be there and happy to have this warmth to ride in.  There is the camaraderie that seems to happen when you have an unusually warm day in the midst of winter and people are going to be able to ride without being weighted down by winter clothing.  Even I, despite my propensity to overdress, have only knee warmers on with my shorts and no leggings.  Some are in shorts.  When in doubt or the weather is on the edge, I always chose to keep my knees warm.

As usual, I am not the fastest and not the slowest rider here today.  I struggle on the hills as I expect to, but it feels good, the way my thighs strain and burn and the way my lungs draw oxygen in and out searching for relief. A good friend recently told me that he notices aging mostly on the hills.  I would like to kid myself that this is not happening to him and won't happen to me, but since growing old is not optional and we do wear out, I become more determined to enjoy my current strength and age, to appreciate that I am out on a bicycle in early February and that I am climbing a hill.  I am so thankful that I have the health to be out here, and that while it hurts, to put one foot in front of the other until the task is completed and the hill is conquered. As I have told others, hills are our friends.  Like our true friends, they sometimes make us stretch outside of our comfort zones. 

There is just something about a good climb on a bicycle that you don't get riding on the flats.  Riding the flats at a fast pace can be very challenging.  It can hurt.  But it is a different hurt.  And the hills bring scenery that the flats never could.  I have heard people say that the club is leaning more and more toward flat city rides, and I believe that is probably true.  Do they, I wonder, know the loss that is inherent in that choice?  But of course each of us is different and one of the lovely things about cycling is that it is a very wide umbrella with myriad choices. 

At the last stop where we all regroup, the sun is shining and those of us who do not have short sleeved jerseys on are cursing our poor decision making skills, but still there is laughter and joking before we finish the last few miles back to Pope Lick park which I still think of as Floyd's Fork Park. John makes me laugh with his funny story about seeing bear scat in Alaska and how when they asked his daughter if it was scat, she replied that it was either bear scat or scat from someone who saw a bear.  The rain is supposed to begin tonight and the temperature to drop the following day, so I will hold close to this day until spring finally puts winter to bed.  I am glad the creator gave me the heart to enjoy this day and the ability to share it with others.  On a day like today, while I know I am not, at least in this earthly body, I feel immortal and thankful.  I believe God would approve.  

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Lake Salinda: January 2020

"To appreciate the beauty of
a snowflake, it is necessary to stand
outside in the cold."

We have been spoiled by an unusually warm winter thus far, except for a couple of frigid days in November.  So the change from soaking rains and near 60 to 17 overnight, well, it was not really something I was looking forward to.   Still, when morning came, I wanted to do something.  Diana had bowed out on hiking, so I decided to grab my mountain bike and head to Salem and Lake Salinda to try the new mountain bike trail there.  I expected the cold and wind, I did not expect the snow.
Now I lay no claim to being a mountain biker.  Yes, I have done quite a bit of gravel.  At times I have even ridden my road bike on dirt roads or light gravel.  But I have never really ridden through forests and over roots and on terribly uneven ground.  I got a mountain bike to ride on the roads when it was snowy out.
As it rained the night before and was so warm, I am not even sure if the trail will be frozen enough to ride, but if not I will just ride the roads.  I am meeting my daughter for a movie and an early dinner, so I head out early as I need to get home in time to change and drive to our meeting spot.  The predicted sun has not yet arrived, and as I drive, the most beautiful snow begins.  It is not a snow that will stick.  It is not a wet snow that melts.  It is a dry snow that the wind immediately blows from the road so that the snow forms patterns that change and swirl along the roadside and in the road.
I arrive and find the beginning of the trail.  It is only after I have gone a bit in that I remember that this bike does not shift like my road bike.  Indeed, I find that I do not quite remember how it shifts.  It is no help having bar mitts on the handlebars as it hides the shifters.  After almost falling struggling to remember how everything works, I decide that perhaps some riding on the road is in order.  
And so I ride up and down the road on my mountain bike.  A few cars drive by and I smile to myself wondering what they think of a lone cyclist out on the road on a mountain bike when there is a trail nearby.  It is definitely more windy as I head north, but the wind is not as strong as I feared. The shifting begins to come more naturally.  And I am dressed warmly.  Despite the cold, I am not uncomfortable.  As my time to ride is limited, I decide to head back to the trail again.  My desire to ride on it wars with my concern that if I fall and can't walk or ride out, I will freeze to death rather quickly, so I proceed rather cautiously.  
I am much more comfortable this time round, but not comfortable enough to ride too far in.  At times I still feel hemmed in by the narrowness of the trail.  I admire how the trail has been made so that in one place, you can make a jump if you are advanced enough skill wise or you can ride a path if you are not.   And I find I am enjoying myself and the beauty here. I begin to worry less and concentrate more.  Relax more and tighten less. Handle the bike rather than fighting it.

I run out of time altogether too quickly and it is only when I get in the car to head home that I realize I have even been lightly sweating.  As I have said before, the hardest part about riding in the cold, at least once you have the clothing, can be talking yourself into walking out the door.  While I don't anticipate ever truly being a mountain biker, I enjoyed myself and I will go back.  Never hurts to work on a new skill set.  And when you are not dead, you are still alive.  The snowflakes God sent were just the icing on the blessings in my life.  Despite my longing for green and warmth, there is still beauty in the world. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

When January Seems Like March

"There's a last time for everything."
Brad Paisley

Riding a century today was probably not the smartest thing I have ever done.  After tearing or straining an abdominal muscle November 30, I am finally able to sleep on my side again.  It is peculiar, but I realize as I ride that I learned to sleep, however uncomfortably, on my back as a result of bicycle tumbles starting with my fall at a water crossing in Texas many years ago.  But I always return to side sleeping when healed.  Anyway, I still know it is there, but it is finally healing.  Pain no longer awakens me at night if I move from my back. As I pedal off, I tell myself I will walk the more strenuous hills and will turn around if I begin to feel a pain increase. I don't want to re-injure myself and set my recovery back, but I don't want to waste this day. Despite it feeling and looking like March, it is January, early January, and snow and gloom are still quite probable if Mother Nature blinks.

 Additionally, I don't want to continue to feel my fitness seep away.  As Rich Ries pointed out during a recent lunch conversation, it just takes longer to heal as we age, and that is very frustrating.  And it is very difficult to get doctor's to realize how active we are despite our ages.  At least I didn't need surgery.

When I awaken this morning, the pull to ride is almost impossible to ignore.   I know I can use a good day of sunshine and it is supposed to be sunny.  The wind is supposed to be very light, decreasing as the day goes on.  Indeed, at the end of the ride, following my shower, I notice that my cheeks are sunburned.  I can't ever remember that happening in January before.  And I have ridden many January centuries. It makes me smile.

As so often happens when I ride one of the routes that I have shared with friends in the past, the ride is haunted by memories that pop up sporadically, from many, many different rides.  But what truly sets me off is when I pass through Deputy and Gaffney's store appears to be closed.  I notice that down the street there is a new Dollar General.  So a cyclist can still stop and refuel in town there, but not at Gaffney's.

I mourn the loss of these small, country stores.  Unlike some riders, I don't mind paying a dollar or two more to try to help them extend their lives.  But stores like Gaffney's can't compete with Dollar General.  I smile remembering stopping there on the Bethlehem Century and Steve Rice seeing Santa Claus when nobody else did.  As I ride, I think how many of the small stores I have frequented over the years are closed.  The buildings look so forlorn.  I think how I wish I had photographed them prior to their deaths.  For they are all dinosaurs and dying, pushed out by large conglomerates.  Is their loss worth saving a few dollars?  Do we even know the cost of their loss? Regardless, it seems it is inevitable and it makes me sad.  Usually the food was only so-so at Gaffney's, but I also remember having one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten there, appetite honed by pedaling miles through cold and strong winds while I laughed with friends that I love.  I can still smell the garlic on the bun and how alluring it was when combined with the laughter and friendship of the riders I was with that day.  I was satiated in more ways than one, just one of the many bonuses of group century rides.

As I ride away, I find myself humming Brad Paisley's song about there being a last time for everything.  I ask myself if it is a good or bad thing, this often not knowing when a thing is our last time.  I think of my husband's last words to me, teasing me about opening Christmas presents early.  Oh, all the times I wish I had said yes, that I was not such a stickler for tradition.  But I didn't and it is done. And, of course, the last time for something bad is a good thing.  But mostly I find I don't like endings even though many times they signal beginnings.

Dogs wake me from my reverie.   Today's ride turns out to be one of the doggiest rides I have done in a long while.  Eventually, passing dog after dog,  I think how lucky I am not to have been bitten.  And it seems the houses I am passing have not one dog, but two or three dogs.  At one home, a German Shepherd and two Pit Bulls begin to circle around me so that I can't see them all at the same time.  I try not to panic, but I can still feel the Pit Bull's teeth sinking in my flesh all those years ago.  "Yard, Now", I holler in my deepest, loudest voice while squirting with my water bottle and pointing.  Surprisingly, it works.  I don't know whether it is the weather or people's growing fear but more and more dogs, big dogs, come out of yards this ride than I ever remember encountering before.  Dogs with no manners and dogs who are not restrained despite there being a statewide dog restraint law.

I take a very quick lunch stop in Vernon for my pace is slow and I want to be in well before dark, but I know not eating will slow me down.  Service is quick and I am on my way, wheels turning.  I know the second half of this ride has fewer climbs and is quicker, but I still don't know if I will run into flood waters.  I think about the time I had this route for my Christmas breakfast century, losing all the riders that attended, and crossing the icy flood waters thinking they must have done so only to find them all behind me.  I think of a different time on this route where two riders came out to do their first century and how glad I was that I carried an extra water bottle as the man ran out and was about to give out with 20 miles left to ride.  I think of Kirk bonking in the heat on this course and how I wondered if I would get him to the finish.  So few of them still ride, yet here I am:  cursed or blessed?

I find no flood waters and reach home with plenty of day light to spare.  I suppose it is because of the slower pace, but I really am not very tired.  Usually when I go that long between century rides, they exhaust me.  So maybe I have not lost as much fitness as I feared.  And hopefully this is not my last century ride to Vernon on the Christy route. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Years Hike and Bike 2020

"Express gratitude for the
greatness of small things."
Richie Norton

Just a short, open thank you to Rich for the hike and bike today.  Could there possibly be a better way to begin the New Year?   It is always such a nice crowd that gathers and everyone seems to feel at home.  And the weather today:  sunny and relatively warm with little wind.  Life is good.

I was a bit hesitant to ride as I apparently tore an abdominal muscle November 30th.  As always, I rested a bit after the injury only to find that I had returned to my activities too quickly and the pain intensified.  I got a very short, flat ride in one day over the Christmas break, but I have not been on the bike or gone to Pilates since though I have walked and hiked a bit.  I know, however, that this group is extremely tolerant of a slow pace even though most of them are incredibly strong riders.  What I am trying to say is that it is the attitude, not the ability, that is comforting.  And as it turns out, while I am not pain free after, I was not pain free beforehand and the pain has not intensified despite two good climbs.

I am disappointed when I hear that Keith has a sick child and won't make it as he almost always does at least one thing that I find remarkably funny during a ride, but I am glad to hear he is taking his parenting responsibilities seriously.  Having worked in Child Protection for about 30 years, I am more aware than many that some people don't.  I am glad to see Tim.  Tim is just one of those people that make you feel good and reassures you that there are just people who are nice in this world.  And it is good to see Rich.  It seems that despite his numerous rides, I only manage to attend one or two per year, and I enjoy getting a chance to say hello.  At the lunch that follows, I also get a brief chance to chat with Julie.  There are also three riders I have not met before.

At the start of the ride, I try to remember how I first hooked up with this group.  I know it was on Facebook, but I think perhaps it was George Lombardi who first recommended the group to me.  If so, George, I owe you.  However it happened, I was steered here about a year following my husband's passing.  I still remember my trepidation and the kindness of everyone at that first ride.  How glad I am that I made myself attend. 

During the ride, we come upon a group of cyclists.  From the pedal stroke, I surmise that Jon Wineland is one of those cyclists.  I call out and sure enough, it is him.  So I am also treated to a bit of a catch up conversation with Jon.  During that conversation, I learn that the young boy riding with that group, Evan, not to be confused with Devon, has a new bicycle.  When I compliment his bike, Evan is obviously quite proud of his new ride (as are all true cyclists).  He tells me his grandfather gave him the bag on the front of his bike.  As we ride on leaving them behind (I rarely leave Jon behind on rides as he normally leaves me behind with his quick legs), I think how wonderful it is to see a child included.  Tim and I talk briefly of balance bikes and of how his grandson now has a pedal bike and how they ride together. 

The hike is lovely.   Because of the weather, we meet lots of hikers, particularly hikers with dogs in tow.  The dogs are obviously having a great time.  I briefly think of how lucky I am to live so close to so many nice places to hike:  Clifty Falls, Charlestown State Park, and The Knobstone.  Mostly I spend my time thinking about how grateful I am to Rich for putting on this ride and to the others for their easy acceptance. 

When the hike is over, we bike back into town to meet Julie for lunch.  Since my children returned home and I have indulged in a bit of over-eating and under-exercising during their visit, I have fasted since the previous afternoon.  This combined with exercise and company make the meal a true feast.  Counting my blessings and this ride and the people on it are one of them. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

And Another Year Goes By

"I'll never forget you.  I don't want
to either. Along with the great sadness
that comes from missing you lives a 
universe of gratitude for having shared 
love at all.  Our connection changed my life.
I am honored to be able to miss you."
Scott Stabile

And so, love, the anniversary of another year of being apart from you has passed.  I went on a hike with a group of friends yesterday so as not to brood, and I was able to smile and laugh, not the fake laughter that came when first you were gone, but with true enjoyment, though perhaps tinged with sorrow that you would not be around for me to share with:  the things I saw and heard and thought.  On the way home, I drove past the place where we first made love, tentative, drowning in each other, inebriated by the newness of each other.  The place where our first child was conceived.  The place where we fell in love.  A smile crossed my face as a song I always associated with those early days played on the radio: "Just Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Vassar.  What are the odds of that happening?  Did you, from wherever you are, arrange it?

How different those first days were, those days when we had nothing but each other.  An old, battered mobile home, mattress on the floor.  No table, no couch, just each other.  I look around me now.  So much STUFF all of which I would trade to be back there with you once again.  I like to think if that happened, if I woke up back in your arms, that we could avoid some of the mistakes we made along the way.  But then, of course, it would not have been us, for mistakes mold us as surely as if we were clay, and perhaps more so than successes.  

Today I rode my bike.  I hoped to ride farther and perhaps should have with the temperature being around 40 and the sun shining.   Thank you, love, for buying me a bicycle.  From the seat of that machine I can sing and laugh and dream and cry.  I can live in a way that I might, perhaps, have missed otherwise.  It has brought me friendships that I prize beyond measure.  No, I don't want to forget you.  I won't forget you.  But I am not, love, standing still and you would not want me to.  I like to think that when I laughed yesterday, you smiled.  


Thursday, December 5, 2019

December Rides

"Time you enjoy wasting
is not wasted time."
Marthe Troly-Curtin

Two beautiful riding days, back to back, in December, both with friends.  It just doesn't get much better than that.  Yes, there are chores left to do.  I still have not restored any type of order to my home from the kitchen remodel which finally is nearing completion. And with Christmas approaching wrapping paper and home made projects are strung throughout the house, but I decide to ride both days.  And I am glad I do.  Each day, as I ride, I think what a beautiful day it is, with blue skies and lots of sunshine.  I give thanks and am grateful.  Adrienne Rich, in one of her poems, talks of growing protective toward the world.  These days I believe I understand her sentiments.  The world, it is not perfect, but then neither are we.

Yes, there is wind on the rides, bothersome, chilly and demanding, particularly on Wednesday, and it only reaches the fifties, but for December you can't ask for better weather. The miles yield to the spinning of my legs and, as I do each winter, I wonder how my legs can lose fitness so quickly.  I know it will take hours in the saddle in the spring to regain.  But still I delight in the effort.  Trees are bare offering no shelter from the wind but allowing views that are hidden at other times of the year.  There are no flowers.  Bird chatter is muted though at one point we pass a tree full of raucous crows and another time the songs of the geese flying fill the air.  Jokingly, I ask Paul if he thinks any of the geese ever worry about getting dropped. Neither of the courses is particularly scenic.  Both are basically flat. Indeed, I almost back out and ride from home today, but I am glad I didn't.

Laced with the riding is guilt for a house not yet back to where it needs to be, but then I realize Ms. Troly-Curtin is right.  I am enjoying myself and so the time is not wasted.  I am with friends.  That is never wasted time but treasure to be carried in the heart.  "It is the time you have wasted with your rose that makes it so important." (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) Colder weather will come and will bring snow or rain and the world will be gray and colorless. Household chores can be done on those days.  And I will dream of these days, of the laughter and joking, the warmth of spring and of friendship, and I will long for their renewal.  Perhaps to have stayed home, missing these two days of riding, is what would have been wasteful.  Regardless, I am glad for sunshine, friends, and bicycles and I refuse to feel guilty about it.  At least for today. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Early November 2019

"Lost time is never 
found again."
Benjamin Franklin
November arrives so quickly.  As always, I find my mother was right:  time does move more quickly as you age.  But the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and there are bicycles that need to be ridden.  It is not so hard to get out the door when the sun is shining and the sky is blue despite a rather wicked wind.  
I am not so sure that this ride will nurture my physical health so much as it will nurture my spirit for as always, in autumn, my pace slows to a dreamy, snail like crawl.  It seems almost wasteful to hurry and miss any of the fall scenery as the last leaves dance gracefully with the wind swirling their way to the ground to join the others.  I am surprised that so much foliage remains.  I am surprised that there is color after the drought. 
I do know I don't want to waste these days, to loose this time, too cold for shorts and short sleeved jersey's, but not yet cold enough to require real bundling.  Cold weather riding requires a certain determination and purpose that I don't need on a day like today.  The wind rudely shoves me around, but I shove right back. I will not let her steal the joy in this day from me.
I pass horses and cows lazily grazing, enjoying what is left of green pastures. I pass a small pony, pastured alone, and my heart goes out to him.  As I age, I feel sorrow for animals lacking companions.  I pass fields that have been neatly harvested and others still waiting to be harvested despite a run of rather good weather.  Ironically, I find I miss company yet am glad I am alone because without company I can concentrate on the beauty that surrounds me and not worry about my pace.  Surrender to the inevitable: perhaps it is a beautiful thing?  Sometimes I wish I were smarter and wiser, but I am who I am.
I ride past the mobile home where my children spent their early childhood and then past their paternal grandmother's home onward to the cemetery.  I pause to chat a bit with Lloyd's mother prayers spiraling upwards.  A tear courses down my face as I think how I miss them so, those that I have loved and lost.  It seems so many.  Age brings such loss, though I do not forget the blessings.  I do wonder, sometimes, if there comes a time when you just are ready to go home?
Memories are my companions for a bit, and I realize how lucky I am to have so many good memories and to have had so many people and animals that I have loved and shared life with.  

I head home once again enthralled by the magnificence around me and thankful for all that I have.  Chilly, I slip a jacket back on.  Riding alone it is easier to do things like that because I don't feel that I am holding anyone up.  Unlike some of the guys, I never truly mastered dressing and undressing on the bike.  I feel certain there are probably better, more productive things I could have done with the day rather than wandering on a bicycle, but probably none more necessary to my emotional well-being.  This time may not ever be found again, but it was worthwhile to me.