Thursday, October 26, 2023

Hardinsburg on the Calfee: Fall 2023

"This thou perceiv'st,
which makes they love
more strong/To love that
well which thou must leave
ere long."
William Shakespeare




When I wake up, I decide to ride and enjoy the last of the unseasonable warmth and the last of autumn's dance.  How I love the colors of her skirt as she swirls doing a suggestive strip tease, bathed in sunlight or shade, delighting the eye and the soul. How I love the crackling and rustling noises that serenade and tease my ears as I pass woodlands and cornfields and the sweeping vistas of freshly harvested fields, withered and spent, tucked in for the winter months, resting.  Just returning from a visit with my son and his family, I am concerned that the leaves will have fallen, but I find that they remain and the color seems to be in full swing.  So I air up the tires on my new bike and head out, unsure whether I will do a century or a sixty mile ride.  New bike, new saddle often equals sore butt.


The morning still has a chill to it so I don arm warmers and a jacket as well as leg warmers.  Despite the promised warmth, there is no mistaking this weather for summer.  I carry a small back pack in the hopes of doing a slow peel along the way.  I also have on my buff making sure it covers my ears.  Yesterday I rode into a thick swarm of Asian beetles that lighted all over my body and I was so glad to have my ears covered.  I don't know if I will encounter them today, but if so I will again be prepared.  I have encountered them before, but not in these numbers.  I must have been a good year for them.  I do encounter them later, particularly on Delaney Park Road, but while thick, they are not as concentrated as  yesterday.  Still I am glad for glasses and my buff.


I smile in delight as I get ready to climb Leota Hill as it becomes obvious that it is alive with color that screams fall.  I stop to take photographs, many of which I won't be able to share because it seems Microsoft has disabled my camera download program inserting their own (I think)  and I have not yet taken the time to figure out how to switch it back.  Luckily, I also take a few photos with my phone. Yellows, oranges, and reds line the road and I stop in the midst of the climb to photograph one tree that strikes me as being particularly beautiful.  

"It is time to start planning hikes," I think to myself, as I climb past where the Knobstone Trail crosses the hill to the Leota trailhead. I believe that Chris Quirey may be joining Jon and I on our group hikes this winter. And I will probably do some of the LBC hikes.   But I will still be doing some hikes alone just as I will ride alone today.  There is something in me that needs this alone time occasionally, time to think and to dream and to just meander.  And what a perfect day for it today is, to have no demands on my thoughts or route or pace.  Some people wonder how I stand riding a century alone, but I wonder how they can stand not to.

As I round the corner to turn onto Blue River Road, a horse and rider suddenly and unexpectedly come galloping around the curve.  Both of us are startled.  He yanks on the reins (I pity that horse's mouth) bringing it to a sliding stop on the pavement, weight thrust deeply into its haunches.   I coo to it as I pass by, "Easy, little one.  Easy."  The horse stands quivering but stands.  The rider is unresponsive.  He appears to be Amish with his straw hat and I am surprised. I normally think of the Amish as being good caretakers of their livestock and galloping a horse, even with shoes, on this pavement is so hard on the legs.  I wonder if there was an emergency.  Or perhaps the horse took off with him.  I'll never know.  A bit further down the road, I run into an Amish wagon that is passing in the other direction.  Unlike the rider, they wave back.  

The road passes  quickly to the first store stop despite my easy pace.  This century is one where it is easy to override during the first quarter because other than Leota Hill and a few rollers, it is basically flat.  Having ridden it  numerous times, however, I know what is coming and pace myself accordingly.   Reaching the store, I grab some milk to eat and take a seat on the curb. Looking down near my foot, I find a breakfast companion.  Glad I didn't step on him by mistake as it was close.  I suppose small things are always in danger from larger things in this life.  How thoughtlessly a small life can be changed.  And in the end, we are all small lives.

After the store stop, the climbing begins in earnest starting with Short's Corner Road.  I wonder how my new bike will climb and how I will do as it seems to stress my back more on  harder climbs than the Lynskey.  Perhaps this will be rectified when the shorter stem arrives and perhaps not.  The day I got the Lynskey was a happy day that I will always remember.  Lloyd and I went down to Tennessee and the shop owner, Lynn I think his name was, spent an hour or more changing and fitting things.  How Lloyd and I laughed and smiled that day.  Because I was happy, he was happy.  It was a good day.  I miss having someone who truly cares about my happiness even while he didn't understand this bicycling obsession that he unwittingly fostered.
Already I am thinking ahead to the huge climb to get to the Red Barn after lunch, but I force myself to just ride and enjoy.  And there is much to enjoy.  I bathe in the beauty of the countryside. 

As always on this ride, after I leave Hardinsburg heading toward Little Twirl, my lunch stop that will close after this week-end, I come across fields of unharvested pumpkins.  This happens EVERY  year in this area and I don't know why.  Are they good for the soil if plowed under?  Is there a lack of help or demand for the product?  It is usually different fields, though not always, but there is always a field of  unharvested pumpkins that stretches almost as far as the eye can see.  


I climb the rollers that I remember climbing one Christmas Breakfast century with Steve Sexton for some reason.  The wind was strong that year and it was cold and the others had ridden ahead.  Lunch seemed forever away because my pedaling seemed to take me nowhere.  But still it was a good day.  The hard rides, the unusual rides, these are the ones you tend to remember.  And with thoughts swirling in my head, I find I have arrived. 

It is warm enough to eat outside at Little Twirl though the morning sunshine has disappeared and clouds cover the sky.  The dimness does not extinguish my pleasure in the scenery that is to follow or the warmth that has caused me to lose a layer. Walnuts and persimmons lie thickly on the ground in places.  And then I am at the climb.  I have no trouble making the climb but I do feel it in the muscles of my lower back.  Still, I am glad to be able to climb it.  Since it is a new bike with different gearing and no triple, I have not yet come to trust it.  

I sit and chat a bit with Amos at the Red Barn.  As he often does, he tells me about how he used to ride his bike all the time when he was young and I, as I always do, tell he there is nothing stopping him from resuming.  We both know that isn't going to happen, but it is almost a tradition at this point.  He tells me today that he has had this store for 21 years and reminds me that it is squirrel season and bow hunting season for deer and I should dress brightly.  


And the century ends with one of my favorite stretches of road and the knowledge that while there are a few rollers, the major climbs of the day are behind me.  As expected, Delaney Park is lovely and traffic non-existent.  I see deer, chipmunks, and squirrels.   All seems to be scampering, busily preparing for the coming cold and food scarcity.  There are a few fields that remain unharvested, but most have been laid bare.  While there is a logging sign, it has not affected most of the road (fingers crossed that they don't denude it as so often happens).  At the Amish homes, I see nobody, not even the children.  Today it is as if I am almost alone in the world. 

  I don't know how many falls remain in my future, particularly falls seen from the seat of a bicycle, but I am glad that I made use of this warm day, despite the wind, to enjoy this one.  How very many I wasted with a lack of appreciation in my years on earth, but no longer.  I am blessed. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Medora: 2023

"The best portion of a man's life,

his little, nameless, unremembered

acts of kindness and love."

William Wordsworth 

As the Medora Century approaches, watching the weather is an exercise in futility and frustration with the prediction changing every few hours.   So I decide to just wait until the morning of the ride.  The morning of the ride the wind prediction is down to twelve miles with higher gusts (27) out of the west.  This is promising as while there will be wind on the way out, there should be some tail wind on the return, always my preference.  Also, it is not as strong as was  predicted earlier.  Lastly, and perhaps even more importantly,  rain chances are twenty percent or lower the entire day.


As I leave for the ride, the sun is shining and the wind is relatively calm.  There are some clouds, but none that look particularly dark or threatening.  I wonder how many will show.    Last week, when the prediction for today was mid-forties with rain and wind, I talked about possibly canceling.  I have ridden brevets and centuries in the upper thirties, low forties where it rained most of if not the entire day in the past, so I know I can do it, but I also have great respect for cold, wet weather and what it can do to people.  I remember having  to help another, extremely strong rider, get into his back pocket to get an energy bar on one such brevet as his fingers were no longer working and how close he was to hypothermia at the finish.  As for wind, Mike Kamenish and I rode Ike, though I will admit I hugged his back wheel for shelter much of the ride.


Can I still do this type of ride?  Certainly.  I am older and slower but far from dead.  But I will not purposefully seek it out anymore or ask others to ride in it.  Captaining a cold, rain ride is a big responsibility, particularly if any of the people who show are not experienced riding in rain and lack the proper clothing to do so safely.   I am glad I don't have to make this decision. Plus, I did not dress for particularly foul weather.

Medora is a special century to me, holding so many memories both solo and alone.  So much has changed since I first came upon this little, neglected town.  All the stores that were open at the time to meet a cyclists needs have closed.  A new cafe opened last year only to close.  I found it had re-opened on my pre-ride of the course, but don't feel it is dependable.  The gas station is now closed.  Randy's Market closed, re-opened, closed.  The pizza place, once a hamburger place and before that an ice cream place, has a for sale sign on it. The only place that has consistently remained open throughout the years I have ridden here is the bar.  


  So now I only schedule a ride for others when the festival is held each October.  And I mourn the loss of those small places and the loss of small towns where small businesses can't compete with the big conglomerates who often run them out of business before raising their prices to gouge a bit more deeply.  A friend, Thomas Nance, once pointed out to me that in our greed we have done this to ourselves, and of course he is correct.  But just because we put together that pill it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.  The festival does, however, when combined with being the last century of the tour, give the ride a party like feel. 

I am the first to arrive, but soon there is  a nice sized crowd, much larger than I expect.  Most are LBC members, but John Mahorney and Thomas Nance have brought some of the Ridenfaden members with them.  Amelia Dauer, Larry Preble, Stanley Paulin, Tom Hurst, Chris Quirey, Jeff Shrode, Paul Battle, Paula Pierce, Samuel Bland, Fritz Kopatz, Derek Wilder, Keith Baldwin, Bob Grable, Jon Wineland, Steven Sarson, Don Williams, Jose Rodriguez, Mary Margaret Williams, Mark Rougoux, Thomas Nance, Steve Puckett, Frank Harris, Dan Barriere, Clay Mitchell, Damar Kiper, Chris Embry, Glenn Smith, John Mahorney, and Dominic Wasserzug are all present.  It is Derek's first century and while I am never introduced, he rides strongly and never meets me at the back of the pack.  It is Dominique's first Mad Dog Century and I share part of it with him.  He also is a strong rider.  I am sad that Dave King and Mike Kamenish are not here to celebrate another year of the tour because each is special to me in his own way, but they had other things to do or did not trust the forecast.  Either way, by the end of the day I know neither would have enjoyed today's ride. 


One of the announcements is a new challenge I invented  for the ride.  The course is about as flat as one can make a course in this part of the country with the entire century only having about 3,000 feet of elevation.  BUT, we pass TWO fire tower climbs, both quite demanding.  One is in Clark County Forestry and the other in Jackson County Forestry. The challenge, if anyone accepts it, it to climb both during the ride while still completing the rest of the course.  I  have climbed both when younger, but never on the same day.  I stopped doing this a few years ago when my knees still hurt the following day after the climb and have not tried since as I could see no purpose in needlessly exposing myself to injury. Nobody speaks up.  


Everyone is in a good mood.  Why not?  The sun is shining and people have turned out in pink.  Paula makes everyone smile with a pink wig.  She says she believes it will get hot later in the ride, but turns into a blessing keeping her warm instead. Chris Embry is in pink from  head to toe, even sporting a mask.  The smile that started on my face with Paula with her pink hair, got bigger with Amelia in her tutu, and became humongous when I see Chris.  There are pink jerseys, pink socks, pink arm warmers, etc.  Oh, yes, real men are not afraid of pink.  I think of Paul's pink jersey and how he told me that it used to be the 25,000 mile jersey for the club but they changed the color because the men would not wear it.  It had to be better than the dreary gray they changed it to, one of the jerseys that I consider a "fish cleaning" jersey:  I wear it when I suspect there might be permanent damage or dirty that won't come out. I would prefer the pink. Pink is a happy color.



And we roll out after Steve Puckett announces that those who have qualified should be getting an email from him this week about the 2023 TMD jersey.  I wonder what it will look like this year.  It is always nice to get another jersey. I think of how when I first started riding I hated the bright, jarring colors.   Now they seem festive.  I suppose we change.  Now I love the parade of color as we roll out, the sound of laughter and free wheels spinning, the anticipation of the ride. 


  Before we have even finished the loop through the forestry I come across Chris Embry with a flat tire.  I stop and wait for him thinking this will probably mean I ride alone to the first store stop for no way am I keeping up with Chris.  But when we get ready to leave the forestry, Paul, Mary Margaret, and Don have waited at the forestry entrance.   Their thoughtfulness in doing so touches me.  Paul is my buddy, but I have only met Don and Mary Margaret on the BMB century.

As we ride to the first store stop,  someone notices a rider behind us.  I don't think I left anyone so make the false assumption that someone arrived late and hurried to catch us.  I am wrong.  It is Jon Wineland and Sam Bland, both who decided to accept the Fire Tower Challenge and had climbed Fire Tower Hill in Clark Forestry.  This fire tower was constructed in 1930 and overlooks parts of Clark, Scott, Washington, and Floyd County and, from I have read, was the first fire tower constructed in the state.  At one time, Duc Do posted how steep the fire tower climb was in places, but the link is no longer on the site.   I can tell you from past experience, it is steep.  

Jon and Sam say it was a  difficult climb not only because of the steepness but because the road was wet and covered with leaves that caused wheels to slip.  Jon had the same experience that I had the first time I "tried" to climb it with wheels coming off the pavement when trying to stand.  But they made it only to find the fire tower itself was closed.  "Will they," I wonder, "attempt the second fire tower after lunch."  Hint:  (They do).  


We reach Huck's and fuel up, but shortly after we leave and head toward the festival the rain begins.  Now I KNOW that Paul hates to ride in rain, and I worry because he doesn't look very warm.  I think that perhaps he will turn around.   He has done that before on this very ride though it was before I changed the course.  I suspect that because Don and Mary Margaret drove so far to get here he does not, but only Paul knows his reasoning for continuing.  Anyway, he completes the century finishing before I do and, as always, I am glad of the time I do spend riding with him. 


When we near the covered bridge, the rain really picks up, but since it is chilly we decide not to shelter there and press forward to Medora which is only a mile or two away.  I am glad they don't want to wait as I know waiting will only make us colder and the rain gives no indication that it is going to stop.  I am surprised not to see others heading back from the festival, but we don't. 


When we arrive,  I am amazed to find the city has opened the school gym, the Senior Center, and the church to warm us and any other fools who are going to an outside festival in a steady drizzle.  While I don't enter any of these buildings, I am  told they have free coffee and cookies that they are distributing to riders.  I have learned that, for me, it is best not to get too warm as it makes coming back out into the cold rain worse.  Instead, my strategy is to keep moving.  Inertia is the kiss of death on a cold, wet ride or on a cold ride.  But the kindness of the people here warms my heart.  I know the stands that are normally crowded stand lonely, without customers, and that it is costing them, but I later learn the fish stand gave some riders free fish.  It truly is amazing to see the kindness in the face of their own adversity.  

A few of us grab a quick tenderloin sandwich.  When the seller asks me if I want tomato and lettuce, I tell him  no, I want nothing that takes the heat away from the sandwich.  A town citizen yields his seat on a doorstep to me and I sit with the others fueling myself for the second half of the ride, surprised that I am not colder but knowing I need to finish and move on.  John Mahorney is there and says the radar looks like the rain is clearing out.  And it does.  For a few minutes before resuming the steady drumming, drizzle that has plagued us since the first store stop.  Occasionally it seems there is a break just long enough to obtain some dryness, only to resume.  The story of the day following the first store stop.


Suddenly, as happens with rides, I look up and everyone is pretty much gone.  Two have called for someone to pick them up.  I am glad they are using their heads and making the decision that is right for them. Most of us were not prepared for this. Dominic and I head out for the finish.  I assume those I was riding with have gone ahead only to later find that they were sheltering.  

At times, despite the rain and company, I notice the beauty of the harvested fields, lying sheared and mournful, waiting for spring to awaken them.  The trees, while not plentiful on this route which has lots of farmland (thus the flatness) are starting to show some color despite the drought.  And I realize that despite the rain, I am enjoying myself.  

Suddenly I look behind me and Dominic is gone.  I turn around and retrace my route finding Paul, Don, and Mary Margaret who I had unwittingly left behind at the festival.  I ride to the last turn and still see no sign of Dominic and there is nothing to do but assume he missed the turn and move on.  I thought I had seen him shortly before I turned, but perhaps I am mistaken.  We run into him emerging from the woods and I am relieved.  I did not want to leave him out on the course or off the course alone.  

Soon two Ridenfaden riders pass.  They say there is another group behind.  Then Sam catches us, delayed by the second fire tower climb.  He says he is tired but our slower pace soon is too slow for him to remain warm and he rides ahead.  From what I understand, he made it all the way to the other fire tower.  Jon did the climbing, but stopped a bit short of reaching the actual tower, but since he did the climbing, I consider these two the first to complete the Challenge, and what a Challenge it is.  

When we reach the third store stop, the two Ridenfaden riders are there, names unknown.  These "may" be the two that  I later learned went to Dollar General and bought sweat shirts to complete the ride. There is no way to really keep track of what happens on a ride unless everyone stays together.  Even then I suspect it is somewhat individual.  I invite them to dinner, but they say they need to head back to Louisville after the ride.  They take off before we leave the store. 

Mary Margaret, Don, and Paul leave the store before Dominic and I do, afraid to linger while Dominic prepares due to being cold.  We later catch them when Paul finds he has picked up something metal in his brake pads that is causing his rims to shed small, metal slivers.  Whatever it is, Don removes it and they ride on.  We meet them at the end of the ride in the parking lot.  Of course, right before we pull in, the sun pops out for about one minute and I smile thinking that God does, indeed, have a good sense of humor.  I thank him for getting everyone in safely. 

After the ride,  ten of us head to Good Fellas for pizza and conversation:  Amelia Dauer, Thomas Nance, Dominc, Mary Margaret, Don, Paul, Steve S., Jon W., and myself. Everyone appears to be a in a good mood despite the cold, rainy ride.  I look forward to hot food and going home to a nice warm bath.  As always, I know I will be thankful to whomever I owe the invention of the hot water heater to for it is one of my favorite things after a cold ride, to soak in hot water until even my bones are warm.  And today, to add to the warmth of the bath will not only be the remembrance of the ride, the laughter, the struggles, the companionship, the beauty of land itself, will be the kindness riders received at the hands of strangers in Medora.  I like to think that this kindness will be remembered.  It was truly special. Laughter and smiles lace the conversation as bellies are filled, the perfect way to end a ride that should have been easy but, with the wind and rain, wasn't. Good Fellas even puts in dessert pizzas for us: apple and cherry.  I am truly blessed. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Wheels of Screams 2023

"Nevertheless, I will tell you that you

will awake one day to find that your life

has rushed by at a speed at once impossible 

and cruel.  The most intense moments will

seem to have occurred only yesterday and 

nothing will have erased the pain and pleasure, 

the impossible intensity of love and its dog leaping

happiness, the bleak blackness of passions

unrequited, or unexpressed, or unresolved."

Meg Rosoff

Wise words, those of Ms. Rosoff, and they play a part in my decision to attend the next century despite the abrupt changes in weather, the distance to the start, and the difficulty of the course.  Because I know I will miss this.  The contemplation of a ride, sometimes laced with a trace of fear or trepidation, the ability to put one foot after the other, to brave hills, to brave cold, to brave the possibility of failure.   The thought of companionship or solitude, of laughter and sharing, of the unexpected, and roads that I don't know as well as I know my own living room lure me.  Fall passes quickly.  Ride while it is still a delight.  Ride while fear of the challenge is less than the excitement of the challenge. 


 First I check with the ride captain prior to the ride to see if my growing slowness is a problem for him.  I know Thomas always sweeps his rides.  All club rides used to be swept, but it doesn't happen all the time anymore.  Sometimes it seems as if everyone is vested in ending the experience as quickly as possible, and I know I, myself, have been guilty of this rush, am still guilty of it at times.  Sometimes it seems that only my solo centuries are those where I truly relax and rarely push.  


I know this century has lovely scenery, but I also know it has unrelenting climbs that challenge not only the legs and lungs but the heart and mind.  I know that it will not be a large crowd as many people ride only to get their ten Tour de Mad Dog centuries in and do no more, particularly if a course and/or the weather is demanding.  This course, however lovely, is hard and demanding and it is cold and windy.  Indeed, earlier in the week the wind prediction gave me pause, but it moderated to a tolerable level.

It seems strange getting ready.  Just five days prior, I did a century in temperatures that were unseasonably warm: high eighties.  Today the start is in the low forties and the high is only expected to be the low sixties.  I worry about over or under dressing as it always takes me a few rides to get the right combination.  And the wind will play a part here for it is predicted to be on the stronger side.  I find I am not the only one when Chris Quirey is lamenting that lack of a light jacket.  Larry Preble has an extra and loans him one, something I suspect Chris was grateful for the entire ride.  It reminds of a ride where Don Feeney borrowed my green jacket which was way too small for him.  We called him the hulk during that ride. More people that no longer ride, some of whom I haven't seen for ages, but I still smile at the memory.

I believe there are twelve or thirteen of us, but I fail to photo the sign in sheet, didn't count, and my memory fails me, something that happens quite frequently anymore. Or perhaps I merely notice it whereas before I did not.  Regardless, it is more people than I expected.  And the thought of losing memory is frightening. I do know it was good to see Tom Hurst back on the bike and riding strongly after his fall earlier this year.



Somehow the topic of gifts come up and I tell the story of the year my husband bought me a load of turkey dung for my garden for either our anniversary or Valentine's Day....can't remember which for sure.  Oh, how it made me laugh.  I could  not garden that year because the smell of the dung permeated the air everywhere outside.  And suddenly it is as if he had just died rather than passing a number of years ago.  Oh, as Ms. Rosoff says, "the impossible intensity of love."  How quickly that time passed.   How I still miss his arms and his support during hard times, his help making decisions or doing things around the house that I struggle with, but just as much or more I miss his humor and the funny things he would do, like the dung, with love in his heart and the best of intentions but that make others cringe.  We move on.  We find new and different loves.  We have more and different experiences.  But we really don't move on I suppose.  Perhaps bury would be a more appropriate description in more than one sense.  "Every heart has its haunted chamber, Where the silent moonlight falls!  On the floor are mysterious footsteps, There are whispers along the wall!  And mine at times is haunted by Phantoms from the past, As motionless as shadows, by the moonlight cast! " (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)  


But back to the ride.


Bob Grable and I had talked of perhaps starting early as he has an event to attend and I know I will be slow.  As it turns out, there is a small group of us that head out early.  It is nice that there is another woman on the ride. On most centuries, if there is another woman, it is Dee or Amelia.   Distance riding still seems to be mainly the province of men in this part of the country.  Dee leaves early with me though we only end up spending part of the day riding together.   I warn everyone that I intend to ride slowly and not press myself as I have been doing.  I know this course will sap my strength and I don't want to finish wishing I had not ridden or totally wiped out.  There is a time and place for that.  That time is not today.  Fall, for me, is a time to slow down and soak up the beauty.  And this is just the course to do that on.  

Dee and I ride together while the others take off.  Thomas Nance, the ride captain, catches us and rides along.  He said that Chris Embry had a bike problem they struggled with a bit at the beginning.  By that time, Chris had passed us long before, young and strong on the bike.  I hope Thomas is being honest that he does not mind riding a slower pace for he is certainly capable of being with the first group.  

We reach the store stop and realize that Steve Puckett is not with that group.  Chris Embry reaches him by phone and we realize he is, indeed, behind everyone.  Somehow Thomas missed him at the start.  


The first store is very quaint but appears to do a good business.  I sit longer than normal drinking the milk I purchased and eating the oatmeal blueberry bar I made at home.  Steve pulls in just about as the group is getting ready to leave.  I leave with them, but don't chase and fall behind.  I am fine with that.  This is a course I don't mind riding alone because you see more, and despite being on mostly state roads, the roads are not busy.  I think how often scenery is tied to hills, probably because it is harder to develop hilly land than flat land.  Regardless, it is lovely with fall reaching forward to color the land.   Her skirts swirl and dance in the wind, falling into the road, confetti for our passing.

It is not too long before Dee leaves the group and drops back.  Dave as well and we ride together to the lunch stop.  I know Dave does not like Subway so I am confused when he passes Dairy Queen and Burger King to Subway.  I just figure he has changed his mind but when I look, he is gone.  Dee and I enter Subway and there is a long line.  I tell her I won't wait and head to Burger King.  And were they fast.  I ordered and filled my drink and my food was ready.  This allowed me to be one of the first to leave the lunch stop. And junk food is junk food.  One fast food restaurant is much the same as the others. 

I worry a bit as the wind has picked up and is slapping me around on the way out of town.  Fortunately, it is mostly a tail or side wind the rest of the way.  As I climb two, short steep hills that require standing, I am glad nobody is with me to witness my struggle.  But I don't stop and I don't walk.  Somehow I keep the pedals turning and make the ascent knowing that these are just the start of what is left to conquer.    I feel a sense of pride at the top of each climb.  I have made it and I have not walked.  Not that there is shame in walking a hill.  I have walked plenty of them.  But walking a hill is like using my triple, something I think it is best to avoid making a habit.  

While alone, I savor the scenery in a way I don't seem to be able to do when riding with a group.  But I am also thinking of my new bike.  Bob from Clarksville Schwinn called at seven last night telling me it was done.  In fact, I debated skipping the century to pick up the bike but decide to ride and pick it up on Sunday.  But I long to ride it and to see how it ended up, to get to know it, and hopefully get to trust it to get me through that days journey. 

Before long I am caught despite my head start.  I end the ride with this group and am glad I am with people when a pick up passes with a young man leaning out the window yelling something.  "Cut me some slack," I think as he yells.  Then I think,  "I am old enough to be your grandmother."  Originally I think he is yelling because I have fallen behind the group on a climb, but he yells at them as well.  None of us could understand what he said, but it is not the first time for any of us that someone has yelled at us as we ride down the road not bothering anyone.  

I debate passing the last store stop and riding in because there are so few miles left, but stop and the very front group is there.  We all finish together.  My legs tell me repeatedly that they are glad to be done, but my heart is still a bit out there on the course thinking of the beauty and the slight sadness of fall and wondering if this is the last time I will ride this course.  Endings are, I suppose, always a bit melancholy just as they are inevitable.  

There is a bit of joking in the parking lot, but I don't linger long as it is a long drive home.  I warn them about the predicted weather for next week-end, Medora, the last century of the TMD for 2023. As almost always is the case, I am glad that I came and glad that I still can ride.  I rue my growing slowness, but appreciate the health that allows me to continue however slowly it may be.  And one day there may be an e-bike in my future.  But not today.  Today's pleasure will not, I hope, ever be erased. 

Monday, September 18, 2023

Yellowstone: A Different Kind of Journey

"Sensitive people feel so deeply they

often have to retreat from the world,

in order to dig beneath the layers of pain

to find their faith and courage."

Shannon Alder


I am worried that I will not be able to go on my planned vacation to Yellowstone with my daughter for I have been ill.  Fever and an attack on my lungs by some passing virus that thought I needed a spanking.  COVID tests negative.  But my fever breaks and while I am far from recovered, I am able to go and to not worry about infecting her or other passengers.  I have never been to this park and it gives me a chance to spend time with the woman I birthed all those years ago and to familiarize myself a bit more deeply with who she has become.  


When children are little, we know almost everything there is to know about them....when they wake up, what they eat, who their friends are, how they spend their time.  But that little slice of time does not last long, nor should it.  They grow, they change, they become.  As a parent, this means loss, but it also means pride....pride that she is self-sufficient and no longer needs me to ensure her survival, pride in her accomplishments, pride in decisions she made. 


I need this break for I have struggled since the loss of my brother, even thinking sometimes about just leaving this world so I don't have to lose any more people or pets that I have known or cared about.  I am weary of loss. I find myself withdrawing from friends a bit, pushing them away and keeping them at arms length, not really wanting to care about them, to run that risk of future pain. Never seriously suicidal because I know the damage that is left behind and because I have responsibilities and because God has blessed me by not allowing me to sink so low that there seems to be no other way out.  There are, after all,  cats that need to be taken care of and a few people who would grieve my passing.  There are grandchildren to be hugged and to be proud of.  And there are children who, while they no longer really need me on one level, will continue to need me on another.  And there is my new bicycle that has not yet arrived but which I eagerly anticipate.


Of course, the pool of those who give a damn is getting smaller.  Both best friends from high school are now gone.  All my family other than children and grandchildren are gone. I find myself sympathizing with Job, praying please don't let me lose what little is left. It is not impossible to leave these worries behind.  But there are parental responsibilities.  We never stop trying to role model appropriate behavior I suppose.  We never stop worrying about their well-being. And again, there are cats to be fed as they have no hesitancy in reminding me in the morning when I try to sleep in a bit. People say I am strong.  They don't know the cowering, shivering individual inside.  They see the shell that moves stoically forward and talks using intellect rather than emotion.  But while we may know something with our minds, emotions don't always mirror that knowing taking us in different directions.  


There is also  the realization that if genetics holds true, I probably have about 10 years or less before I join my siblings and friends.  Unless I am like my mother who lived to almost 100.  While we try to fool ourselves, human life, all life, is so darned fragile. 10  years does not seem like very long. But that is, I suppose, the thing.  If that is what is left it is so important to enjoy and make the most of it, to squeeze every little bit of pleasure out of life wringing it dry.   I just hope that when it is my time, I am fortunate enough to leave quickly, not lingering in one of the death warehouses that we call nursing homes. 


I don't mean to be critical of those that work in nursing homes.  They do what they can, often selflessly for little pay, but having witnessed them with my mother and sister, I do not care to be in one.  There is such a thing as living too long I guess.  One reason I try so hard to take care of myself is the desire to live on my own and be capable of caring for myself as long as is possible.  I detest being dependent, and I don't trust it. I have heard the begging and pleading in the voices of my elders, felt it seep deep inside me kindling a fear I had not known before. But I must look forward or be turned to salt I suppose.

We meet at the airport, both of us excited about going someplace new.  And our flight is on time, something that no longer happens with the regularity of the past.  Once in Bozeman, there is a long wait for the rental car, but then we are on our way.  (I was supposed to get a Ford Fiesta but they give me a Mustang.) We run to Walmart to pick up some groceries, and head for Yellowstone to check into our cabin. Travel and still not being completely well has depleted me and I will be glad to check in. 

The scenery is lovely, so different from home.  We drive through a long valley for what seems like forever before reaching Gardner and entering the park.  The drive from the entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs seems like forever despite being on three to four miles, but the curves need to be taken slowly.  We arrive and check in.  This cabin will be ours for four nights.  Female and younger elks are grazing nearby.  We cautiously make our way to the cabin door and put our things away before going to explore.  While out, I see two cyclists, bicycles loaded, enjoying a brief stop before heading onward to wherever they are heading.  I am briefly envious, but so glad to have the time with my daughter.


We get up early each morning and drive to different places.  Once to Old Faithful, once to Lamar Valley, once to Fairy Falls.  We hike.  We talk.  We soak up the beauty.  And we laugh.  It is so nice to laugh together.  We laugh at the call of 24, an older bull elk, as he proclaims that these females are his.  Once he is right outside our cabin and the sound is as loud as if he has joined us.  We rush to the windows.  I don't see him but my daughter catches a glimpse as he charges around the corner of another cabin.  We laugh the next day at how a young elk still needs and wants his mama despite the fact his legs have grown to where nursing is a chore. We laugh on a hike at a ground squirrel and how his tail disappears as he enters his burrow.  We laugh at his caution in emerging and then his cheekiness in trying to join us once he smelled our food. And each laugh is a breath of life, a reason to endure. 


We see a fox, a coyote, buffaloes, a raven, and other wildlife.  We experience Old Faithful. We hike and we ride and we just enjoy the newness and each other. The only real issue is the food.  Unlike the Shenandoah Park the food pretty much sucks though my daughter had a few vegetarian meals that she thought were okay. 

The trip home comes all too quickly.  I treasure the time we had together, this child who once was inside of me, totally dependent, but now stands on her own two feet and who is kind to me, patient when I forget something or get confused or anxious or sad.  I treasure this child who shared laughter with me helping me heal. This time was not about bicycles, but about family, about finding the strength to move on, and perhaps realizing that I am not quite as alone as I thought that perhaps I was and that perhaps I matter.  The child who was part of helping me find once more, if only for a bit, faith and courage to move onward as I shuffle through the different blows that have been dealt to me in such an amazingly short period of time.  

So, to friends that have noticed me backing off,  I am sorry.  I am just trying to find my balance on the shifting sands beneath me and to reconcile recent happenings.  It is not you.  It is me.  But this time away hopefully helped.  And being with you, despite my pushing hard against the love I have for you, will hopefully help.  And bicycles, bicycles and the freedom they bestow, will hopefully help.  And eventually, perchance, I will heal, though possibly not as I was, who I was, before.  Eventually a scab will form and despite my weakness, I will put one foot in front of the other and move forward until moving forward is no longer a choice and the time has come to rest. 

Friday, September 1, 2023

Steve Montgomery's Lexington LeRoy Century

"God give me hills to climb,

And strength for climbing!"

Arthur Guitermen 


It is going to be a great day for a ride.  The weather has turned unseasonable cool,  the skies are overcast, but it is still warm enough for just shorts and a jersey.  The course is one I have not ridden for a few years, a course I  put together in honor of an old friend, Steve Montgomery, who wanted a ride that went through Bethlehem but where lunch was at LeRoy's in Lexington.  Unfortunately, he no longer rides, but  this route will always bring him back to my mind. Of course, that was back when LeRoy still owned LeRoy's.  Now it is owned by others and, unfortunately, has changed.  LeRoy and Bernice kept the store neat as a pin.  The new owners,  not so much.   Indeed, I debated putting this century on because of the changes, but decided it would be okay.  I have done too much curb side dining to be too particular.  If you are going to ride, you have to eat.


And so, off I go to the ride start.  I know two are coming, but I also know it will be a small crowd.  It is not a tour stage and only the tour stages draw large crowds of riders. In some ways, I prefer that.  It is rather nice when people take a bit of time on a century to talk and tend to stay together at least part of the time. I smile inwardly thinking of Lynn Roberts and his words after a century where we went less than 14.  At the end he said something to the effect that he did not know you could do a century and still feel so good at the end.  Pace and route, do matter.  As I remember it, that route was a medium in difficulty but it was a long time ago and that route went defunct as the middle store stop went out of business.  Today's route a bit more challenging hill wise.


"To everything there is a season." (Ecclesiastes).  There are times to ride hard and times to ride at an easy  pace.  I smile when Mike "Sparky" Pitt comes to mind remembering him talking about a pace line on a ride and telling me there was nobody's butt he wanted to look at that long.  With the challenging hills, I hope for a moderate pace:  not snail like but also not where I feel like dying at the end.  And it happens.  There are hills, wonderful for training and for the scenery they bestow, and for today I have the strength to climb  despite issuing a disclaimer at the start that there was one I just might end up walking.  


Those who are coming are capable riders and are not whiners.  (They leave that for me;-)  Chris Quirey also shows, and I know he also is strong and competent.  It is a nice mix with two extremely strong climbers and two of us who are more moderate in our pace.  There is Jon Wineland, Steve Meredith, Chris Quirey, and myself.  Yet neither of the two stronger riders are the kind who are impatient riding a bit more slowly than is their norm or uncomfortable with going ahead.  One problem I have run across as an older, slower ride captain is that some people feel they must stay back with me despite my assurances that I am fine and they should go ahead.  This can be miserable for both as I try to go faster than I should so as not to be a burden and they go slower than they want to go or are comfortable going, particularly if they have somewhere to be after the ride.  


This is really not a good course for a first century for most people. (says she who did the Old Kentucky Home 102 Time Trial as her first century;-)  The store stops are oddly spaced and it is quite hilly, particularly the last third of the course with the climb out of Bethlehem and the climb into Charlestown on Tunnel Mill and then all the short, steep climbs back to Henryville that seem unrelenting to tired legs. Today this concern is not an issue.  Yes, anyone can have an issue, mechanical or physical, that impairs their ability to finish, particularly in the heat of summer,  but barring anything unforeseen and unpreventable, it won't be this strong group who are all seasoned.


The first climb in a moderate one up Liberty Knob and then it is off to Flatwood.  The irony of the name does not escape me, for Flatwood has quite a nice little climb on it, but I do love the road though hate it that a house or two have gone up that block what was  once a wonderful view.   Everyone seems to be content to be out here, on their bikes, taking in the green while it is still here and, in places, vibrant.  Indeed I am shocked a bit further on the ride when I note a corn field that is ready for harvesting, stalks and leaves withered and brown, some ears facing downward.  I then notice some of the soybean fields are browning around the edges.  But most or the corn or soybeans still are far from being ripe for the harvest.  I know what is coming:  fall. 

As always, fall will be beautiful.  As always, my legs, despite still being strong, will push the pedals slower and slower.  Speed will being to be too much of an effort despite the cooler temperatures.  There will be chilly mornings and warmer afternoons.  Jackets, arm warmers, and leg warmers will begin to appear.  I will pull out my work gloves to put over my short finger gloves.  But not yet.  Soon, but not yet.  I think that I wish it is a beautiful fall.  Still rather morbid from all the loss, I realize that every season could be last and I want to soak them up inside my heart.  I have been so privileged to experience so many seasons and so many personalities on the bike.  I don't take this lightly or without being grateful. This year the retired group has had most of their rides on Wednesdays, which often don't work well for me, but I am grateful for the days I could participate.

After the first store stop we continue to Lexington where we sit outside at a picnic table eating our lunches.  Flies and yellow jackets abound,  but we remain outside despite their constant interference.  A few jokes and stories are told, and then it is back on the bike heading toward Bethlehem and the worst of the climbs.  I find that neither Chris nor Steve have climbed out of Bethlehem in this direction.  Jon thinks it is the hardest way to climb out.  I think I agree.  I grin thinking of Paul on an earlier ride this year where we climbed out the way we normally enter.  He griped the entire way yet never faltered in pushing the pedals.  As  I pointed out to him, when a group of us did the Bethlehem Century in the spring, a group of young men were at the top of the climb resting from their exertions.  Paul and Mike, in their seventies, did not rest nor did the rest of us, all in our sixties I believe.  Before my world crashed yet again.  Before  I struggled back onto my knees trying to stand once again.

We descend the hill into Bethlehem that we  normally climb out on and I realize I forgot to warn Chris that the road the route is plotted on was taken over by the quarry and a new road was built a few years ago.  Google Maps just has not yet caught up with the changes.  Sure enough, I come upon Jon stopped waiting for Chris.  I text him to head back this way and shortly thereafter here he comes. I  get to the new turn just in time to see Steve riding off in the wrong direction.  He hears me and turns around, and we are together until the climb when Jon and Chris leave us as if we are standing still.  But I do not walk.  Nobody walks.  And I realize the coolers temperatures have made the climb much easier than  it normally seems.  Still, it is not the last climb.  There will be Tunnel Mill and then a series of short but constant climbs between Charlestown and Henryville.

Still, while my legs are complaining at the demands I have placed upon them, they are not screaming at me to stop.  And I know that they grow stronger, hopefully strong enough to last the fall riding season before I largely place the bike aside in order to hike.   Jon and Chris are in the parking lot when Steve and I pull in and the ride is complete, somewhere between 104 and 105 miles at a pleasant pace.  I am tired, but not exhausted.  Perhaps, tonight, sadness will not haunt me as I continue to climb away from grief and self pity.  Truly, I am blessed.  Blessed with friends, blessed with health, blessed with bicycles.  God, help me to count my blessings and not my deficits. 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Future PBP?

"A goal without a plan

is just a wish."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

It has been a steamy hot, humid week, filled with ragweed, so once again I steal out of the house quite early to get a ride in before it becomes miserably tropical.  Today I pick the Surly though I have no intention of seeking gravel.  What makes us pick a certain bike on a certain day?  Sometimes it is the route we intend to take, and sometimes it is just as if that bike calls to us.  Sometimes we find we have picked the right bike for the path we find ourselves on, and other times we think another would have been a better choice.  Regardless, like many choices, you just deal with the choice you have made.  Today's choice is perfect.  Today the Surly fits just fine though the SRAM shifters, while shifting so clean and crisply,  test my finger strength.


  I just want to get a ride in.  It is still hard to force myself out the door.  Grief is still my constant companion and urges me to stay home and wallow, but I have had lots of  practice with telling grief no.  I will not dishonor this precious gift of health and life that way, to make a mockery of the very gift that has been taken from others.   I can not yet make grief stay home when I leave, but that will come with time.   


I don't know that I believe that time  heals all wounds, but we eventually learn accept the dismemberment bestowed.  If we are lucky, perhaps, we learn a lesson from our grief.  In the end, I have concluded that the best way to honor those that went before is to live life as fully and as gratefully as we can while accepting that we are human and will have times of sadness and regret, times when the beauty of the world surrounds but eludes us somehow.    It is best to live so that maybe one day, when it is our turn to move onward, others will learn from how we lived and accepted the events and traumas that life has bestowed upon us and honor our passing.  


Everything is still very green despite the heat, and I think how very much I will miss it.  Time passes so quickly any more it seems I blink my eyes and summer has vanished leaving only a memory.  As I ruminate, I come across a large orange and white cat, lazily draped across the road soaking up the heat. He notices my approach, turns his head and stares for a moment, dead still in the way only a cat can be still, then stalks haughtily off the road, obviously angry at being disturbed in the midst of a fine nap.  A short time later, a flash that I identify as a ground hog scuttles nervously to a hidey hole at the road side.  Then, just a moment later, there is a fawn in the road.   "Where," I think, "is your mama?"  Mama is right around the bend.  The fawn takes off to my right, mama to the left, and I hear her snort.  I worry about the small size of the fawn.  Was it a runt or did mom have a late pregnancy?  I am not sure when deer season starts, but this fawn still seems to need it's mother.  A line from "The Yearling" comes to mind, "The wild animals seemed less  predatory to him than people he had known." 


I wonder if the snort means something.  Anyone who has been around animals much know that they do communicate though it is certainly not always or even usually through sounds.    Beware the horse that has his ears flat, pressed backwards against his  neck.  Beware the warning growl of a dog who feels you are riding much to closely to his yard.


At this point, I am near the big hill that I either need to climb or to not climb depending on if I want to retrace my route.  I decide to climb.  The Surly is heavier than my other bike, but it also has easier climbing gears despite the fact the Lynskey has a triple and the Surly does not.  I climb and find it is not overly stressing me.  Indeed, it feels quite lovely, the way the hills test my thighs and, even more so, my lungs.  I settle into a regular breathing pattern as I tend to do on hills, and before you know it, I have crested the top. The difficulty of climbs depends so much not only on the grade, but also on how quickly you are determined to get to the top of it.  Today I just relax and spin, not worrying about time or speed.   "Lovely," I think, for because of the climb later in the ride I will have a two mile downhill that I enjoy.  Suddenly it comes to mind that on brevets, one thing that always encouraged or discouraged me, depending on the scenario, was that each hill you climbed you would descend and vice versa. 


And then I begin to think about Paris Brest Paris and the people I know that were there this year. I got very excited for them and envious of their adventures.  For the first time since my husband passed, I truly wished I were there, and I realize it is not only because of the people I know riding, but because of the people I don't know.  Memories of the experience float through my head tauntingly and making me question if I could,  indeed, complete the course once again.  I think that I could physically, but could I once again obtain the mental fortitude that is necessary to be successful because anyone who rides brevets knows how  important that becomes at the longer distances, that ability to dig deep within oneself and move onward. And could I physically with my seeming inability to recover as quickly as I once did?


I toy with the idea the rest of the ride and decide that perhaps, depending on circumstances, I will rejoin RUSA and ride some brevets next year to see how I do.  When I get home, I try to look up the age of the oldest female to complete PBP.  I find the oldest American woman was Elizabeth Wicks who was age 75.   I believe she had a coach to give her direction and was probably a much stronger rider than me to begin with.   But I will only be 71,  so I will have a four year advantage over her. The oldest male was Jean Guillot at age 86.  I never find who the oldest woman was overall.  I do find it interesting in my bit of research to find that 2007, the first year I rode PBP, had the worst weather since 1956, the year of my birth.  How well I remember my husband urging me forward before the ride as I hesitated.  He reminded me that I will become too old to do these things that I love.  It is one reason I continue to ride centuries regularly, because when I stop it will most likely be for good.   So, the question remains, am I too old for PBP and brevets?


All this is, at this point, is a pipe dream, or a wish, without a real plan.  Reality comes with plans.  And there would not be the forgiveness that past planning had. My first PBP I rode out too hard but was able to recover with a few hours of sleep. That would probably not be the case again. If I ride out too hard, I will be done. 


 Will my desire remain?  Will my current abilities remain that long? I have noticed that  age brings with it one aspect of childhood, changes happen rapidly.   Firsts begin to be more frequent, but rather than it being the first time one does something, it changes to the first time one can't quite do something. Travel and planning the travel is stressful for me, not something that I really enjoy.  I near home and think that if I do decide to try this crazy thing again, in my  mind I will dedicate the ride to all those I have lost. For while I have eluded grief for a bit on this ride, I know it will return. Could I, should I, dream of PBP?  Perhaps I should, but also realize that it is, without a definite plan, still a dream.  And that is okay too. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Dead and Broken

On the Loss of Victor R. Smith:
And so it is, with the loss of my last brother, Victor Smith, two days ago, I become an only child that once had four siblings. I suppose, being an orphan as well, with both parents deceased, this does not count. I certainly did not expect his loss, or at least not this soon, and I struggle. I find this odd because of all my siblings, we probably were the least close. We didn't hate each other and weren't angry with each other, but we were just very, very different sharing little in the way of interests though he did begin riding a bicycle a bit a few years back. Our lives went such different directions.
But for there to be no one left. No one left who remembers the sound of my mother singing as she did her household chores. No one left who remembers the stories she told us or the feel of her hands when you got sunburned and she applied a cooling ointment. No one left who remembers my father fixing things and his gentle rumblings around the house as he prepared to go to work at the hospital for doctors back then did rounds in the morning.
There is nobody left to remember the old family stories like the one about Chris getting out of the car and the gas station during vacation and our parents driving off and leaving him as they thought he was asleep in the back of the car. There is nobody left to remember the time I picked Victor for my Birthday King knowing I had hurt his feelings as I first was going to pick Tim Slater, his friend, who I thought was incredibly handsome. There is nobody left to remember the story about Marc deciding to camp up the road in a neighbor's yard that we didn't know even taking his own toilet paper. There is nobody left to remember Pam looking and buying clothing by price tag rather than by what looked the best or playing country music long before it was popular. There is nobody left to remember the time Dad dressed as Santa Claus and scared the dickens out of me. While they tended to me, the dog got on the table and ate the steak we were going to have for dinner that evening. It is, indeed, as if my childhood were severed from me, becoming more like a novel I read long ago than an experience I had that shaped and molded me and that I treasure. And I mourn. It is just too sad. I have lost so much.
Sleep well, brother. I have always loved you. You left too soon. Too young. Tell everyone hello and give them hugs. The caboose is still here waiting for her turn. Fly, Vee, fly.

The funeral was yesterday and it is done.  Today, in an attempt to heal, I force my leg over the Surly and go seeking gravel knowing there will be solitude there.  I remember this feeling.  How one becomes dead inside for the longest time, broken somehow.  There is nothing anyone can do, though a few somehow manage to bypass the wall I have erected inside with a few words of comfort: a text from Paul, a card from Sharon, an email from Jon, a hug from Tiffany.   In the end, we are  helpless in the face of death.  My sympathy goes to my brother's wife because how well I remember how people, as they should, begin to go about their lives and reality hits like a sledgehammer.

I know it is beautiful here despite the growing heat.  It has been a cooler week and there has been rain enough that water lines the road in places.  The gravel has been recently raked and is rough, shaking me to my very bones, but I do not yield quickly to the temptation of pavement.  It is enough to feel......something, even discomfort.  

The Ironweed is beginning to bloom.  It seems early.  I think that I will remember my brother from now on when I see Ironweed.  Bumblebees are working it and I notice the Sumac is near bloom.  Fall approaches when it seems summer has just begun.  I pause for a moment to eat the peanut butter sandwich I have brought along as I expect no store stops on this ride.  I spot road treasure.  A large Yeti Jug that someone evidently lost.  

Taking my bandana out of my pant leg (I keep it there as I can easily reach it to wipe sweat) I tie it to the rack on the back of the Surly.  After some internal debate, as it is hot and I am sweating, I also remove the bandana around my forehead and use it as an anchor as well. 

I decide to abandon my ride and return home.  For today it is enough that I made myself head out the door.  Time will heal.  Bicycles will help. My heart will once more soak in the beauty God puts before me and send it directly to my heart.  But for now, I am broken and dead inside.