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Friday, December 14, 2018

The Bike Room and the Anniversary of Great Loss

"I have always believed that hope is that
stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite
all evidence to the contrary, that something better
awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep
reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting."
Barack Obama


Perhaps it is fitting on the eve of the night that I lost you and you went home, that I have completed the transformation of your honey bottling room to a bike room.  I miss you, my love.  I will always miss you.  But I move forward as life forces me to and as you would want me to for yours was an unusually selfless love the majority of the time and you never could stand it when I cried.  Today as I baked cookies for my brother I smiled thinking of your tolerance the first years of marriage as I learned to cook and I thought of the lines from Kenny Chesney's song, "It's the way that she looked with rice in her hair, eating burned suppers the whole first year, and asking for seconds to keep her from tearing up.  That's the Good Stuff."  Thank you for your patience as I grew.  I am, even without you, still growing, still finding my way, and that is how it should be.  Love, I have hope, and hope is a  precious thing, hope of good things to come waiting right around the next bend in the road.

Perhaps you know, but my brother will be joining you in the not so distant future barring a miracle.  Sometimes the loss of yet someone else I love seems too much to bear, but it is just the nature of things.  There is no guarantee for any of us and life here is impermanent.  So I tell him as I told you that I love him and how I appreciate all the things he has done for me over the years, of what a great brother he has been even though he does not believe it.  Perhaps we always expect more of ourselves than others do of us, or perhaps we see ourselves differently.   In some ways, the way we talked in the those days leading up to your last prepared me to help him as he struggles with many of the same issues that you did.  Were you a good parent?  Were you a good child, spouse, employee?  Will there be forgiveness for our failures? 

It is appropriate that I changed your honey room to a bicyle room because of course you were the one who bought me my first bike from John Molnar at Jeffersonville Schwinn.  I must say I was surprised.  I didn't want a bike and had not asked for one, but you were worried I was running too much.  I saw John last  year.  He seems fine and happy.    Then you bought me my second bike, again from John and Jeff Schwinn.  I remember how you told me that as I got better at the triathlons, you would buy me better bikes.  But then I became hooked on distance cycling.  And still you encouraged me, urging me to go to Paris to complete PBP despite the strain on our finances, telling me that I needed to do things while I still can, biting back your disappointment at my change in direction.

 I remember your words as I remember so many of the things you taught me.   I hope to continue to move forward, to find new, wonderful things in the world, to learn new things:  to do these things while I still can because life is short and health precarious.  I remembered those words when I went to California this year and my nephew asked if I wanted to learn to Paddle Board.  Initially I was going to decline, but I squelched my misgivings and found that I could do it and I enjoyed it.  I went whale watching and wept at the beauty and at the sadness as the water from their breath streamed upwards.  

This year I learned to install new faucets and to fix some plumbing leaks.  I learned to replace a light switch without electrocuting myself.  Yesterday I cleaned and resealed the grout in the kitchen and it turned out well. And this year, love, we got a granddaughter, Ivy.  Oh, how I wish you could hold her and that we could smile at each other in that way couples do when they have shared so many years that conversation is not always necessary for communication.  

With the bike room, I hope to improve my practically non-existent bike mechanical skills.   Originally I planned on building a small work bench for the room, but I regretfully decided that the space it would take would make the room less efficient.  So, love, I will use your work bench in the room next door when one is required.  I was disappointed as I hoped to try my hand at building it, but there will be other things to build, like the bird feeder I put together.  Today there were two woodpeckers at the same time as well as the doves, Blue Jays, gold finches, and chickadees. 

Thank you again, love, for everything that you gave me.   I still am deciding about whether I want to continue doing brevets and do PBP again or if I would find more enjoyment and fulfillment from a different type of riding.  Early this year Diana and I took a mountain biking class and it was quite fun.  We are planning a trip to Alaska the year after next for hiking, biking, and kayaking, at least if her husband is well enough for us to go.  

I tried to think of the advice you would give me on these issues, but then I realized that you really wouldn't give advice:  you just listened.  I hope you are listening now and that you smile down on the transformation of your room to a room that is mine.  

I love you.  Melissa

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Bethlehem 2018

"I think I'm stronger than I was.
I let God do what he does.  I breathe in.  
I breath out.  Got friends to call who let me
talk about what ain't working, what's still hurting, 
and all the things I feel like cussing out.  Now
and then I let it go, ride the waves I can't control,
I'm learning how to build a better boat."
Travis Meadows/ Liz Rose
(Sung by Kenny Chesney)

A century ride to Bethlehem to celebrate the upcoming holiday season.  Normally I do this ride the first week-end of  December, but I decide to take advantage of the half-way decent weather predicted for the day.  It is 30 degrees when I leave.  Ponds  are delicately laced with a thin glazing of ice.   Frost covers the mostly harvested fields and the grasses that edge the road, later melting, the dew left behind glistening in the sun until the sun decides to hide behind the clouds.  The sun leaves about an hour and one half into the ride and the day is grey and wintry afterward, reminding me of what is to come for the next few months. Without it, I suppose, spring would not be such a welcome delight.  Sunshine would not be nearly as appreciated.  Still, it seems so very far away.

There is a beauty in the colorless, stark stillness of the winter months, but I no longer seem able to welcome it as I once did with the welcome arms of a child awaiting the first snowfall.  Would a fat bike change that perception?  I have debated, but have been discouraged by many of the people I have spoken to about it. Still, I will think some more.  I am not yet done growing and becoming.  As per the song, I am still learning to build a better boat.

Thanksgiving just happened, and there are so many things I have to be thankful for and I feel quite blessed.  I decide that the greatest blessing is that my children are healthy and productive followed by my own blessing of good health.  And quite soon, God willing, I will become a grandma.  A smile touches my face dreaming of little Ivy and what she will be like.  At the shower, we were supposed to write down what we hoped she would have from her parents.  I do hope that she has her mother's laughter.  Lloyd and I would smile at each other when the children were home and upstairs, newly wed, as their laughter floated on the air warming our home and reminding us of our own beginnings.  I hope she has my son's good sense of values and his intelligence.  And I hope she has Lloyd's eyes.  How I miss those eyes and how they would warm with love when he would look at me, at least when he wasn't angry with me or questioning my sanity.

I am thankful for bicycles and for Clarksville Schwinn and Bob Peters who has kept my bikes moving over the years despite the foolish things I have done such as riding through flood waters without carrying my bike, not heeding a shifting issue early on, carelessly letting my bike fall from leaning it against something too hastily, etc.  I am thankful for the cycling friends I have made, both new and old.  I am thankful for the friends I have made that don't bicycle. All these friends have fed my soul and are as necessary to well-being as food and shelter.  I am thankful that I have a home, food on the table, and the cats to keep me company and to keep me amused.

Unfortunately, my meditation on the good things in my life is interrupted by something I am not thankful for:  a bad driver.  The woman, talking on her phone, is going the opposite direction from me.   She turns right in front of me and pulls only halfway into the driveway.  I barely have time to brake and swerve around her.  But it is not her driveway so I am not done dealing with her and her careless driving.  She is using the drive to turn around.  As I am ascending a blind hill, I decide that it is  smart to take the middle of my lane and perhaps she will wait to pass until it is safe.  But of course that is but a pipe dream and she doesn't.  When she is about six feet past me, as I feared, another car crests the hill.  She slams on her brakes and swerves over back into my lane, barely missing me.  All the while her phone appears to be hardwired to her ear.  She is, I think, completely oblivious to what just happened and the danger she put herself in, me in, and the other driver in.  But that, I suppose, is part of cycling.  Dealing with those who are oblivious, not only to the dangers but to the wonders one sees from the seat of a bicycle.  Thankfully, most of this route has little traffic. Thankfully there are more good drivers than bad.  Thankfully, God watches over fools and drunks.

I begin to think of next year's PBP and whether I want to cancel my room.  I wish I could say that I have some interest in going, but I don't seem to be able to relight the flame that drew me. I suppose, barring terribly inclement weather,  I will ride the Kentucky 200K and go from there.  Dave King is the new RBA and it will be interesting to see if there are any changes.  I have no doubt that barring a serious mechanical or illness, I can complete the series and PBP again, but it seems too expensive and time consuming unless I develop a bigger desire to ride it again.  And perhaps knowing that I can do it is part of the problem. I loved the ride the two times I did it.  The people were amazing.   The countryside was amazing.  But yet, I remain unsure that I want to face the tiredness and the stress of travel again.  And there are other places to ride in, other people to meet, other scenery to see. Well, no decision needs to be made today I think and put those thoughts behind me.

The wind picks up.  The Bethlehem Century, I think, is never easy despite the course not being an exceptionally difficult one.  The only challenging climb is climbing away from the river once you reach Bethlehem. I am doing the easiest of the climbs out, but it is still a long climb.  Like many long climbs, it is a teaser, easing the tension on the legs midway with a relatively slight grade only to resume with more steepness. At least the wind is not out of the west as it usually is. I try to think how many times I have ridden this route since I first weaved the roads together to design a course, but it is too many to count. 

 I think of Jeff White, shivering, the year three riders had to be sagged back to the start from the lunch stop due to the rain and cold and their inability to continue riding.  The woman at Subway gave those of us who continued onward plastic gloves for our hands to help protect them better.  I think of buying gloves with Grasshopper at the last store stop another, different cold, wet Bethlehem Century, mercilessly shivering from the cold, damp, and wind,  and how the warmth was heavenly.  I still have those dark blue gloves though I do not use them for riding.  I think of Steve Rice asking me on Chicken Run Road if the wind ever stops on this route.  I think of reaching the last store stop yet another time and seeing Perry Finley and Scott  Kochenbrod, two very strong riders, their exhaustion etched in their faces letting me know that I was not struggling alone.  I think of stopping with another rider only about six miles from the finish as he struggled with whether he could go any further.  So many rides.  Today, as happens more and more often since I no longer captain for the club, I ride alone.  And it is okay. Suddenly, realizing that despite the challenge I am enjoying myself,  the wind  suddenly does not seem so bad as I count down the miles until I can turn out of it and not meet it face on. Yes, I am building a better boat, but that does not mean it cannot include those things I love, like bicycling.

When I stop for lunch, the woman making my sandwich is concerned about my riding alone and the distance I have yet to go.  I do need to remember to slap a light on my bike, but I am making good time and know that barring something very major, I will be in well before dark.  And I am, tired and ready for rest, looking forward to the next day when my daughter is to come, we will put up the tree as we have for years, and I will find comfort in the continuity and the comfort as I continue building what will be, what is my life. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Last of the Autumn

"The wind, I hear it sighing, with Autumn's
saddest sound; withered leaves are lying, as 
spring-flowers on the ground.  This dark night
has won me to wander far away; old feelings 
gather fast upon me."
Emily Bronte
All week except for one day, I have gotten out and ridden, shirking other responsibilities,  knowing that wicked winter is on her way.   The day I did not ride, the wind blew and the rain fell.  Still, I did not know how much rain had fallen until I find my way blocked by flood waters. Normally, despite the freezing temperatures, I would wade them, bike propped on my shoulder to protect my wheels and pocket book, but today I turn around seeking another route.  The gravel I hoped for will have to wait.  As I change my route, I chide myself.  Is turning around another sign of change, of aging, of becoming a wimp? Particularly since this water does not appear to be that deep relatively speaking.  I have waded in waters up to the top of my thigh in the past, and this is at most a foot or two in places.  I smile thinking of how my husband would chide me when I waded flood waters and how he would say that I was smart but totally lacking in common sense.  Perhaps it is as Ranata Suzuki says, "Your memory feels like home to me.  So whenever my mind wanders, it always finds its way back to you."  Yes, love, I  miss you, but I am able to smile and be glad for the time we had together.  I miss having someone care about me as you did, but I feel lucky to have had that experience.

Again I remember why I do not ride my Surly when it gets cold.  I begin to be unable to shift in the front from my small wheel to my big wheel.  I did not expect this on a cross type bike.  Something must be freezing. I chafe at my ignorance, but I have asked at the bike shop before and nobody seems to be able to give me a definitive answer or to have a definitive solution.  I have the same thing on my Cannondale, again the big wheel in the front.  Only my Trek, my Cannondale mountain bike, and my Lynskey can be counted on to shift reliably once it gets around freezing.

I am surprised to find that there is still color left in the woods.  Most of the trees are bare, but a few bravely hold onto their leaves, and not just the oaks who are always reluctant to yield to the inevitable.  I smile thinking of raking leaves for the children to jump in when they were small, a favorite picture of my son covered except for his eyes.  I smile thinking of being a child myself, of the acorn fights Brian, Mark, and I would engage in, proud of the red welts that clustered on our bodies as a result of someone else's good aim and proud knowing we had inflicted our own.  How the hell did I get so old?  Where did the years go to?  What happened to Brian?  What happened to Mark?  Is it only as we age that we realize the importance of connections, or even then do we loosen our grip on those that are important to us as we attempt to adjust to the changes that living inevitably brings?  Can one change so much that we don't remember or recognize who we were or understand how we got to be who we are?  

As I ride I remember how the colder weather brings a keener sense of smell.  I pass a new Amish home that is burning wood to heat their home.  Again, it takes me back.  The rustling sounds as he filled the wood stove, warming the house so that I would not get cold rising from the bed we shared, trying not to waken me as he warmed the chilly air.  How quickly the warmth would saturate our tiny home.  I remember how after filling the stove and readying for work he would kneel by the bed to kiss me awake, his lips soft and moist, faintly smelling of his morning coffee,  and how I felt so loved and warm and cherished, inside and out.  I smell the beginning of leaf mold, faint but becoming bolder, and it is as if I can smell the earth being fed.  Everything, I suppose, is part of that cycle: birth, death, rebirth.  

Mentally I am not tired, but my legs begin to protest at the demands I have been placing on them.  Still I can't bare to waste an autumn day for I know what is coming, so I ride a bit more before acceding to their demands and turning around and heading for home. The wind has picked up and I begin to chill as I fight her making my way home.  Soon the color will be gone, and I think how I hope it is not one of those dark, dreary winters.  I miss the warmth, but I miss the sunshine even more despite my nickname.  But regardless, we take what we are given and if we are wise, we appreciate it.  Just another day on the bike, and every day on the bike, despite or maybe even because of the challenges, is a good day.  And I am thankful. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Solitude on a Bike

"There are days when solitude is a heady
wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others
when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when
it is a poison that makes you beat your head
against the wall."
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

It has been a busy and enjoyable month with a visit to Capitola, California and Annapolis, Maryland, but I grow weary of the demands of travel and long for an extended period on the bike by myself though I question my fitness level.  I have not ridden a century since early October when Amelia put on the Medora Century.   Still, it is with a sigh of relief that I throw my leg over my bike and head off toward Livonia, the choice I feel will offer the best sample of what fall riding has to offer. To be on the bike is a bit like coming home, comforting and familiar.  It is a day made for riding.  The winds are light and the sun is radiantly shining though her warmth is palpably waning.  No more the strident heat of summer.  I celebrate as I thought that by the time my travels were through the trees would be stark, stern, and bare.  Instead, while a few trees are naked, the majority have many if not most of their leaves.  There are more yellows than orange and reds, but it is still beautiful.

Frankly, after spending a week with my nephew sampling the delights of the California coast, there is some regret in not being able to live there.  He treats me to sights that move my soul, stirring me with a strange longing as warm day follows warm day, each with at least a bit of sun and almost perfect.  He arranges for his friend Terri to teach me to paddle board on a day he has to work, something I am totally unfamiliar with, and I revel in the new experience.  When I fall, I realize how long it has been since I have tasted the saltiness of the sea. The ocean rocks me with not just the sights, but the sounds, the waves on the sand, the waves on the pebbles at China cove at San Lobos.  I see whales, something I have never experienced before.  I am awed by the size of the red woods noticing the difference in the smell on the loop through the park, climbing into the tree trunk where someone has carved a shelf and perhaps lived for a time.  So many things I have not seen or experienced before, each a revelation.

Returning from this trip, I take off for a baby shower and to celebrate the upcoming birth of my granddaughter, Ivy, and to see her mother, radiantly beautiful, and my son, no longer the little boy.  But as I ride today, I realize this, Southern Indiana,  is home though my husband is no longer here, though most that live here think less like me than do those living in California or other places. Yet somehow I know that other places are better for occasional visits unless I would find new arms to home me, something I don't foresee as I am not an easy person.

While I am thinking about how very fortunate I am to have people who love and care about  me, a coyote, lean and lank, slinks on to the road, pausing, looking the other direction before spotting me, startled,  disappearing, ghost-like, into the brush lining the road I am on hardly making a rustle.  He is beautiful, this coyote, graceful and lithe, almost a dancer.  This is, I think, the first time I have spotted one on a ride.  At night, I used to hear their calls echoing out against the dark night, lonely and wild, making me sink more deeply into my cocoon of blankets, but recently not so much.  I silently thank him for enriching my ride, for allowing me a glimpse of his beauty, and I end up saying a prayer of thanks to God for all of my blessings, including being able to ride a bicycle on such a magnificent fall day.

I think of my grandchild soon to be born, and I wonder what she will be like.  Will she be like her mother, utterly feminine, graceful and charming, or will she be what used to be called a tom boy, liking more physical activities?  I wonder if she will have her grandfather's eyes, the eyes I miss so much, dark and warm,  like a cup of dark chocolate cocoa.  How I used to drown in those eyes at times.  I think how lucky I am to know that whomever she may be, she will have good, loving parents. Like all of us, they will make their mistakes, but they will be made with good intentions.  I wonder at my good fortune sometimes, having two children that are not on drugs and are gainfully employed and who just are nice people, not perfect, but nice.

As I ride, I notice that the hills are not as draining as I expected them to be.  As I have remarked to others before, this ride can be strangely draining, tougher than it appears, but not today.  After pondering this for a bit, I determine that it is the pace I am riding.  I begin to pass the fields of rotting pumpkins and again wonder about this.  They stretch as far as the eye can see, unharvested though it is almost Halloween and nobody will be buying them. Such waste.  Since I see it ever year, I wonder if it is purposeful, if pumpkins are good fertilizer for resting soil.  I remember a rider who came from Chicago to ride this course a few years back but who was from another country and how she marveled at the wastefulness:  black walnuts unharvested on roadsides, persimmons never picked, and pumpkins, thousands of them, rotting.  She said this would never happen in her country, and while it may be wrong and I agree it is wasteful and that wastefulness is not good, I am grateful to live in a land of plenty.

I begin to think of lunch and what type of sandwich I might have.  The lunch stop on this ride made it a club favorite when I used to captain club rides, a time that seems eons ago.  The Dutch Barn.  Hard to go wrong with homemade bread and other goodies. As I near, I remember a time riding this road in winter with an old friend, Steve Sexton, and how we huffed and puffed up the hills chasing the others, winter sloth have impacted our fitness levels. And then I am there, ordering a sandwich and buying a gingersnap cookie the size of my palm to put in my bike bag for later.

The whole ride has been a glorious, riot of color.  The trees in the wind remind me of gracious ladies, their long skirts swirling around their ankles, rich in color and sound. There is still plenty of green, but I know the fall is nearing her end.  The time will change this week-end.  Long rides will require rushing and will not favor meandering and savoring.  But I feel grateful that I did not miss it.

The Red Barn is closed and so I stop on the roadside for a bit and eat my gingersnap and finish the last of my water before finishing out the century on one of my favorite roads:  Eden and Delaney Park.  As I pass, I hear leaves rustling as squirrels and chipmunks make their frantic, last minute preparations for the coming cold and barrenness.  I realize how much I have needed this, this ride in solitude, this freedom to ride my own pace, to think, to delight in the scenery, the sounds and colors that are fall.  By the end of the winter, I will long for riding companions, solitude will become a curse and not a blessed release,  but for today, this was just the ticket to celebrate that I am home and life is good. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Medora 2018

"As you get older, it gets
harder  to be mean to yourself."
Lynn Roberts

Today is the Medora century, the last TMD stage of 2018, and the weather is uncharacteristically cold for this time of year.  I have no doubts about going,  but I cannot help but wish for a touch of the warmer than normal weather we had been having.  No shorts and short sleeve jerseys today.  I pull out wool socks and winter riding gear dressing in a short sleeved wool base layer, jersey, vest, and light jacket, glad that I packed things away where I could easily find them.  I am shamed at the start which is only somewhere between nine and twelve miles away for me to find that a group of young men have ridden to the start from Louisville.  Perhaps next year, I think, knowing that it will probably not happen that way.  Still, the crowd is small as almost all of the stages have been this year.  There has definitely been a huge decline in distance riding in this area, and while I have theories I don't really know why.

As I age I have become more susceptible to cold.  Mental or physical, I don't know, but if you believe a thing to be real, it is real because belief is half the battle.  As the ride begins, Lynn and I talk about how difficult it is to ride through the winter.  It is not that you don't enjoy the ride the majority of the time, but  it is challenging to make yourself get out the door to attend the ride so that you can enjoy it.  It is the making a beginning. It is being mean to yourself. During this conversation, Lynn says the above words of wisdom and on and off throughout the day, I think of how right he is.  Age brings so many changes.  I am reluctant to face the pain of riding as hard, as long, to face the inevitable tiredness that follows.  Too much of my life, I think, has been spent in fear.  I wish better for my children.  Sometimes I ask myself if I made them too afraid of taking chances, but then I have seen them take chances without worrying that would have shattered my life for days as I visualized all the possibilities such a chance would have.

 The skies are dense with low hanging clouds, oppressive and gray, at the start, but I know they are supposed to lift during the day and for once the weather man is right.  Bit by bit,  a brilliant blue peeks through clouds that have turned white and puffy until the sun is spilling out, lacking much warmth but still lightening the heart.  I try to appreciate the last of the fall flowers, clumps of purple morning glories, aster, and others whose names I don't know.  The trees have not changed much yet, but I know in a few weeks this landscape will be bare not only of leaves but of crops.  Despite the recent rain, farmers are harvesting.  We never, however, pass the huge fields of pumpkins that normally color the landscape though we pass a few farms selling pumpkins.  After having seen so many fields of pumpkins rot over the past few years, unharvested, I wonder if more and more people are buying the plastic ones and the demand for real pumpkins has declined to where it is not worth the effort?  For awhile I am back when my children were small, too young to carve the pumpkins themselves. I would draw different eyes, noses, and mouths and they would pick how they wanted the pumpkin carved, then I would light it on their dresser for five minutes after turning the lights out at night.  I remember how we would make scarecrows and hang a ghost over the entrance to the drive and how the first year, the ghost hit my husband's windshield when he came home in the dark truly scaring him.  I find a smile on my face as I come back mentally to the group I am riding with.

The majority of these people will soon be putting their bikes up, finding other activities until warmer weather.  Hiking, the YMCA, yoga, and other pursuits take the place of bicycles. The few that don't quit riding normally maintain a pace that I can no longer match, so winter riding becomes a rather solitary activity for the majority of rides.  And there are the friends I love for what they were, for the memories we share, but who are essentially lost to me for one reason or another.

 I always feel a tinge of sadness on this ride, a course that has come to represent the closure of the TMD and the ending of the touring season, for I know I will not see most of these people over the winter.   As we age, there are those that don't return in the spring, whose bikes permanently remain in basements or on garage walls, and I hope that this is not the case for any of the few I have become close with and whose company I so enjoy.  I do know that fewer and fewer ride the centuries and some of these people have declared their intention not to ride the tour next year. 

At the festival, someone asks me how long I have been coming to Medora, since I first designed the route,  and I don't know.  I tell him that it was when the other store was open, before the divorce that ruined that business and the re-opening that was never successful.  We stumbled on the festival one year by accident and have returned every year since.  This year the main bridge into town is closed for construction so we had to enter through the covered bridge.  So far as I know, it grips nobody's wheel and there are no falls, something that has happened in the past from what I have heard though I have never witnessed it.  I remember coming to Medora in the winter with Grasshopper while he was still riding and how it snowed as we sat in the store eating our sandwiches.  I remember the wind and how without the fields to ease his strength, he sapped us of our vigor.  And yet, I remember the beauty of the ride, the flakes of snow unusually large, small flakes clumping together to make large nuggets.  I embrace the memories that flood my mind, holding them tightly, yet determined to continue making more for as long as I can.  I find I fear the possible loss of memory as much as I do the possible infirmity and illness of old age.  I fear the loss of these people that I ride with, and again realized  how much fear has dictated my life.  Perhaps one benefit is a constant appreciation of the good things.  The wise words of Thorton Wilder come to mind, "Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you.  Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every single minute?"  I suspect the answer to be no, but at least I do have an appreciation of the many, many blessings I have received in life, not the least of which is this ride, today, with these people who I cherish. 

Thanks, Amelia Dauer, for captaining. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Trip to Illinois

"Each contact with a human being
is so rare, so precious, one should 
preserve it."
Anais Nin

With retirement, I have received a blessed gift, the gift of time, and I think of how I can best use it wisely and how I can continue to grow as a person, to overcome the baser, less admirable parts of my personality and suppress or possibly transform them.  A hopeless task, I am well aware, but still an admirable goal to strive for.  Age is not a reason to stop growing.  Instead it brings a deeper realization of how very limited our time here is and how very precious the hours, minutes, and seconds are.  I have gained a greater understanding of how Lloyd's death combined with time, other loss, and life experiences have changed me, of things that I let lapse that I wish I had not and things I have pursued that have been wasteful and even at times counterproductive to growth.  Death severs connections with a finality that cannot be denied, at least on the earthly level, but I have allowed several friendships and connections that I treasure to wither as I have turned inward on my solitary journey,  crawling toward acceptance and healing, praying for direction.

Some friends have understood that this journey was, for me, necessary: and others have not understood wanting to rush the cobbled mending that comes only with time, unable or unwilling to understand either because it is not part of their makeup or because they have not been through the experience or because it is just too uncomfortable, this threat to our fantasy of having control. Yes, I have lost friends along the way and I grieve their passing from my life.  I also realize that it is, perhaps, time to evaluate what relationships to keep and nurture and what relationships have value, but are mainly part of the past.  While all are undeniable precious and part of the fabric that is me on some level, not all can or should be maintained. Wisdom is in knowing which is which.  Unfortunately, being human and not wise, I have to lead with my heart. Connections:  they are more important than most of us realize and they sometimes, no actually all of the time,  require effort, particularly connections with family and friends who do not reside nearby. 

I am amazed at how many of my friendships have been forged through riding my bicycle.  Yes, I have friends that do not ride, but the majority of the non-relative people that I enjoy spending time with ride a bicycle.  It is not the bikes.  I often zone out when the discussion turns to gear ratios or the best head set or other such topics.  It is the people, the interesting people who share this passion.  Well, and I also enjoy talks about courses, and hills, and weather conditions, and bicycle colors and uses.  And that is what leads to my impetuously contacting an old bicycle friend, Greg Zaborac, about a visit.

On a recent ride, I was yet again bemoaning the loss of the Big Dogs Cycling site run by Dave Parker, and thought of Greg and wondered how he was.  Since getting to know him a bit, I have come to admire Greg and his attitude toward cycling and others.  He seems to know his mind.  He does not care about DNF's or other things, but about the enjoyment one gets or does not get through an activity.  He is kind, something that I have come to cherish as one of the most important personality traits.  As Jewell notes in one of her songs, "It doesn't take a talent to be mean."  This leads to thoughts of Joe Camp who lives near Greg and who is an old friend that rode PBP in 2007 as well.  I still remember his hug of encouragement when I tell the others I am riding with to go on knowing the only way to success is on my own at my own pace and in my own way.  And, I think, it would be nice to know Karen better.  When I met her at Hell Week she seemed such a nice person. 

Yes, headlong foolish as always, I contact Greg and ask about getting together for a week-end of riding, actually inviting myself.  In my head I hear my mother bemoaning my lack of propriety as she so often despairingly did in the past. In the distant past Greg and Joe have come to Kentuckiana to ride TOKYO, a four day, four hundred some mile killer ride that was the brain child of Mike Pitt but brought to fruition by Steve Rice as a PBP training tool. This time I offer to go to Illinois where Greg and Joe live.  Greg warns me that it is not nearly as scenic as the area where I live, that there is really nothing there, but I persist, and being the gentleman he is, he accedes.  Or perhaps my correspondence relayed to him how desperately I need this trip.  I ignore my insecurities that tell me his hesitation is because he would rather not deal with me.  I contact Joe who says he has not been riding much but will start.  And to my delight, I learn that I will get to spend time with Karen Scott, Greg's significant other, and meet Leonard and Elizabeth Young, also past Big Dogs.

As I drive up, I think of how I met Greg at Texas Hell Week, something else that has been relegated to the past.  I was in Texas at a store stop and Greg passed asking me how Grasshopper's leg was doing.  He grinned and introduced himself as a Big Dog.  I find during the upcoming rides that neither or us quite remember how he knew me (he thought maybe Steve had on a Big Dog jersey but I don't think Steve owns one of those).  Regardless, it tickled me and we have been friends ever since going on to ride TOKYO and other rides together.  I remember how he brought Joe to TOKYO in 2007 as we prepared for PBP and how Joe was concerned at the slow pace, but whispered so nobody would hear.  (I doubt he felt that way by day four and during my trip finally reveal that I heard him).  I remember how after that PBP, during another Hell Week adventure, I pulled into Luckenbach on my bicycle only to see Joe standing there with his bicycle and how delightfully surprised I was.

The drive goes well despite numerous lane closures after passing Indianapolis and I am surprised to find so many windmills lining the high ways. When I arrive, after meeting Zeke and settling in,  I am treated to a car tour of the town.  It is obvious that Karen knows the local history like the back of her hand.  Also obvious is her kindness. I learn that the area was strip mined and then reclaimed, and that part of the reclamation was the creation of wetlands.  We go to a park that has more monarch butterflies than I have ever seen before, graceful and delicate in their flight. Geese gather in large groups on the water.  Everything is green despite the season due to the rainfall.  It is lovely, and I think that it is a shame to have such a park and we are the only ones in it.  After the car trip, we have a lovely dinner together in town with some of the best food I have tasted in quite awhile.  Karen and Greg are obviously known there and it is interesting to see the small town dynamics.  How nice to be in a place where people know your name.

Arrangements are made as to when to get together to ride tomorrow.   My interest is piqued further when I find that the Spoon River I saw on a sign driving into town is indeed the Spoon River from the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.  While I always had a strong preference for British poets, particularly the Romantics, I remember reading some of the poems in Dr. Kraus's American Literature class eons ago.  Or was it Dr. Renaud?  I just don't remember.  I only remember how the words tasted as I ran them across my tongue the first time, tentative and questing. Greg assures me that we will see it tomorrow.  Joe will be meeting us at Greg's house.  The following day we will drive and leave from Joe's house.

Greg, Karen, Joe, and I set out and  shortly after leaving town pass by some of the reclaimed strip mining land.  I am shocked at seeing white pelicans as well as other white water birds.  They are beautiful, but I did not know Illinois had pelicans.  After I return home I read that they migrate through the area and that unlike Brown Pelicans, they do not dive for food but get their food while swimming.  Regardless, I am too stupid to stop and get a photograph so I can't share it, but they were there and so stunningly beautiful that I don't believe that I will forget them.  When we return, sadly, they have moved on.

Shortly after the first climb, Karen turns around and Joe, Greg, and I continue the ride.  We are chased by the cutest, most athletic beagle for a few miles.  He runs and runs and shows no sign of faltering or tiring. We decide to return to see if the owner is home and can restrain him because Greg says the next turn will take us to the highway.  The dog follows us home and does not seem to lose any of its energy.  Greg knocks and the woman sends a child out, but the child obviously does not know how to restrain the dog.  Luckily, the dog takes off after some unknown but definitely enticing object in the soy bean field bordering the house and we quickly ride off.  We spend some time chatting and just enjoying the ride, finally coming to Spoon River where I insist that they allow me to photograph them.  They tell me there is a yearly Spoon River festival that sounds as if it is a rather large yard sale type event.  I vow to re-read the poems if our local library has that volume.  We eat lunch and finish out the ride.  It is becoming hot and we become silent as you do when a ride progresses and you begin to tire.  We ride lots of farm land and I think how my favorites are the old barns we pass.  Joe tells me they have a ride in one of the nearby counties that goes by barns that are known for having somewhat unusual architecture and have been preserved. I tell them of the round barns in a neighboring county in Indiana.  They take me by a home that has two camels.  Nobody is quite sure why a home in Illinois would have camels, but they do. 

We return to Greg's home tired and sit in a shaded area behind his house watching a humming bird before separating to get ready to meet for dinner in Peoria.  At least I think that is where we end up.  The food is good but the company is better.  I get to meet Leonard and Elizabeth and Joe's wife.  Again plans are made to ride the next day and a time to meet at Joe's is agreed upon. 

I pack up my things in the morning before driving to Joe's as the plan is to ride and have breakfast, then leave for home.  Karen, Joe, Greg, Elizabeth, and Leonard and I set out.  Our pace is lovely, nice and relaxed, giving everyone time to talk and time to look around.  We head to a small restaurant and have delicious omelets before hitting the road back to Joe's.  On the return leg, we stop at the college Ronald Regan attended in Eureka and see a bust and part of the Berlin wall. 

As the journey ends, Leonard and Joe tell a funny story about calling Joe on New Years Eve and asking what he was doing at midnight, then all going for a ride hoping to get a century though weather intervened.  Shared memories, such a gift, just as this trip was a gift.  We get to Joe's, I change, and quickly say good-bye thinking that Winnie the Pooh was right when he said, "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."  Thank you Greg, Joe, Karen, Leonard, and Elizabeth for a very special trip.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Ride in the Rain with Mark

"Being soaked alone is cold.  Being 
soaked with your best friend is an adventure."
Emily Wing Smith

While Mark Rougeux and I are friends, we are far from best friends, yet I still felt this quote was an appropriate one for the day. While I would like to hold all rides close and remember them at will, there have just been too many.  But the conditions make this ride one I know that we both will remember, a shared moment in time that is ours and ours alone. No, it is not the most epic or challenging ride I have done in my time, but it is the most challenging in some ways than I have done for quite awhile.  I become soft.  What might have been a demanding, wet, windy, miserable solo century, particularly as I have no training goal at this time, becomes rather fun when the day and the joys and challenges are shared.

Due to persistent neck pain, Mark recently switched to riding a recumbent and is getting ready to attempt his first 200K on such a bike.  So he asked if I was interested in riding a century this week-end.  Now riding a century with Mark on an upright bike is rather a study in pain and masochism for me.  He is much stronger and attempting to keep up is an exercise in frustration and futility that leaves my muscles weak and aching. But  hey, since he just recently started riding his new bike and I have always heard it uses different muscles, I say yes.  Stupid me.  All day he is my rabbit. As the week-end approaches, however, the weather prediction is for rain, lots of rain.  I e-mail him Friday morning and say it is supposed to rain all day, some of the rain quite heavy, so we need to cancel.  Then the prediction changes on the evening news.  That combines with my guilt over being such a weenie, so I e-mail and say let's ride.  He agrees.  As I tell him, I have been wet before.  I don't believe either of us realized how much it would rain.

Around 4:00 a.m. the sound of rain wakens me from a sound slumber, but I roll over knowing that our start time is still three hours away.  When I do get out of bed, I listen to the weather person who says there will be periods of dry throughout the day and maybe even a few rays of sunshine.  The wind is supposed to be rather strong, but they predict it will get warmer, maybe even up to 80 degrees. They lied about everything but the wind.

 It never gets above 62 degrees per the Garmin and the rain ceases for only a span of about 10 minutes. And as the day progresses, the wind smacks us in the face impeding and slowing our progress.  Don't get me wrong.  I have ridden in colder rains and for more miles, but I was younger and stronger then.  Still, oddly enough, I find myself enjoying it and remembering why I have liked rain rides in the past.  A haze hangs over the green fields and everything looks fresh and almost spring like until you look at the road and see the occasional red leaf or yellow leaf that has been blown to the ground by the increasingly strong wind.  Persimmons dot the road leaving stains.  Seeds show in the scat that occasionally sits on the country roads. I see my first fallen walnut of the year.  Smells are different in a rain, stronger and more potent somehow. We pass the covered bridge at Sheilds which is not yet completed, but looks really beautiful with the improvements they have made.  I am so glad the effort is being made to preserve this part of our history.  I realize as we ride that since I designed this route, three country stores that I have stopped at on this ride at various times are now closed.  I wonder about the lunch stop and if it will still be open.  Last time I passed this way it was not.  Riding in rural areas becomes more problematic as the small stores I treasure can no longer afford to keep their doors open.

At the first store stop, we shelter outside under the eaves.  Both of us have Showers Pass rain jackets, yet I feel cold only when we stop.  Mark later tells me he is on the verge of shivering throughout the ride.  I wonder at the difference because usually I am the one on rides who gets cold easily unless I am prepared.  I suppose it is because the cuffs aren't keeping the water from running down Mark's arms due to the different hand position on the recumbent whereas my hand angle on the bars does not allow water to run in. I say a prayer of thanks that I brought the jacket.  With hearing it might reach 80, I was not sure I wanted to carry it.  I would have been wrapped in trash bags without it.  Throughout the ride I remember various cold, wet centuries and brevets I have done.  At times I curse myself for being a stupid fool.  I could be inside, curled up with a book.  Since I am now retired, I could ride a century during the week after the rain passes out of the area.  And I go from cursing my stupidity to being supremely glad that we are riding throughout the ride.  

I remember a century with Steve Rice where by the time we were on the road returning to the start, the road had lightly flooded despite there not being a creek or waterway anywhere nearby.  The water was just running from one corn field into another and we had to ride through.  I remember the brevet with Bill and Steve where it rained and nowhere near 62 degrees warm and I thought we might freeze out there.  I remember my first solo century in the rain after a club ride when the club ride was canceled, the century that earned me my Mad Dog name. 

The lunch stop is open and we have a good albeit expensive lunch.  I feel badly for the server a we leave puddles on the floor and on our seats. Mark has no cell service, but I have a different provider and am able to pull up radar.  It is obvious that we will complete the ride in rain and so we head out.  As it has all day, the rain varies from being a light, pleasant drizzle to a heavier downpour that stings and bites. But I realize I feel alive in a way I have not recently.  During the stop, we laugh at the skin on our hands which is wrinkled as it used to be when I was small and spent the day swimming.  Again I am thankful as I know the stop at Story would have been longer.  I am enjoying myself, but I also dream of home and warmth and comfort.   I worry about the puddles we leave in the store, and then I think of the rainy rides to Hanover where they had to get the mop out and the woman working gave us plastic sandwich gloves to put under our gloves for cold hands and fingers.  My daughter came to sag out three people that day who were too cold and wet to finish.  It is a ride that everyone who showed up to ride remembers. Mark finds a way using plastic gloves he has with him to keep the rain out, but he remains cold for the rest of the ride.  We both express our appreciation of and anticipation of hot water at the end of the ride. 

When we get to Brownstown, we find the road we need to travel is closed.  Luckily, we are able to skirt around the closure as it truly is closed and there was absolutely no road or what was a 103 mile route might have become a 200K.  Then, however, my rear cable breaks while in the smallest rear cog.  I decide to ride in rather than to try to fix it (something I have seen done but never attempted myself) since I still have my front rings to vary, but this puts additional demands on already weary legs.  Mark has pushed the pace for me the entire time, and I have answered as best I can because who likes to be the chubby anchor?  Interestingly, I know that being this weary will mean little sleep tonight.  Tomorrow night, that will be a different story.

We arrive, Mark leaves, and I savor my hot bath and grin at the grit left in the bottom of the tub as I shower off.  It is nice, I think, to smell like a girl afterward.  Despite it still being early, I opt for my jammies and sip hot chocolate on the couch, luxuries after such a day which brings a new appreciation for the good things in life, the things that bring me joy, however small:  a cat curled nearby warming the air with purrs, the smell and taste of the cocoa, the softness and comfort of jammies, a comfortable place to sit, after a long, demanding, cold bike ride in the rain.  Life is good.  Thanks, Mark, for the company and the adventure.