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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Ride With A Friend and Texas Found

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 5, 2018

Kentucky 200K 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 24, 2018

To Ride or Not to Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 2, 2018

Trek Woman's Mountain Bike Clinic 2018

"There is freedom waiting for you
 on the breezes of the sky.
And you ask, 'What if I fall?'
Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?" 
Erin Hanson

 For numerous reasons, I have been trying new things or variations of old things.  I am exploring myself, my interests, even my friendships, trying to picture how I want to forge my path forward as my life changes yet again. So recently I e-mailed a old friend that I trust who mountain bikes and works at Scheller's Bike Shop about mountain biking and was told of an upcoming woman's clinic sponsored by Trek and the store happening at the Mega Cavern in Louisville.  John Molnar sold my husband my first bike, so perhaps again it is a way my husband has of pointing me in a way I might go.

I must admit, I have always been a bit concerned about mountain biking.  I had a supervisor at one time that would mountain bike, and I lost count of the bone breaks and injuries he had over the years, not just road rash or something small, but significant injuries.  And those of you that know me, know that I loath the thought of another shoulder injury and losing more years of not being able to sleep on my side without pain.  Still, this could happen on a road bike.  Yes, I might fall, but as Ms. Hanson asks, "What if I fly."  I e-mail Diana to see if she is interested in going with me.  She responds that she is in and plans are made.

As the day nears, I find myself surprisingly pumped about it. A grin splits my face as I work on my mountain bike changing pedals, oiling the chain, and making other minor checks and changes.  I think of my first brevets:  the painfully thorough checking of all my bags to try to ensure that I had what I needed.  I must admit, that there is something that I just like about the preparation.  Inevitably, however, despite careful preparation, I think of something that I "might" need, but because of or in spite of my planning I have always somehow managed to get by. And frankly, in this case, having never done it, I am not quite sure what I might need, but I use my imagination.

We arrive at the caverns early because Diana is renting a bike and neither of us wants to drive down and find no bikes available and come home.  After checking in, they tell us we can start riding while we wait for the clinic, and we are some of the very first people in that day.  The air is heavy, but not oppressive as it will become later in the day when activity sails dust into the air.  It is huge in here.  At first I worry about finding my way out, but we both note all the number signs that point the way outwards.

After we ride a bit, we run into Ameila Dauer who is also taking the clinic and is in my group.  It is good to see her.  I don't believe we have ridden together since the Medora Century, and it is good to have a bit of time to catch up.  She tells me that Paul Battle is getting an award for 150,000 club miles at the banquet tonight and I ask her to give him my best.  I have not been to the banquet for a number of years, and I won't go tonight, but I am glad to hear his efforts are being rewarded.

I then find that Sherri Thompson is one of our instructors.  She tells me she had been planning on taking one of the more advanced clinics, but they had not expected such a large crowd and asked her to help and she agreed.  I briefly think how this unselfishness seems to be an integral part of her character.  While I don't know her that well, I am appreciative.  It is interesting to me how many people from different walks of life that I have met through bicycling.  The shared interest bonds us as the game of Bridge bonded my mother with her friends.  (My mother would much rather I played bridge and always hated my cycling).  What makes us pick cycling?  And how many different types of cycling there are to pick from.

We take our class and learn some of the basics.  Eventually we begin to do some basic jumps over a noodle, first lifting our front wheel, then our back wheel, then both.  When the instructor explains the movement involved in lifting the back wheel, it somehow clicks for me.  I never do know how high I am lifting wheels or if I am clearing the noodle completely or knocking it about as some are doing, but I know they are lifting.  The jumping is much easier for me than some of the other moves such as ratcheting.  But now I have something to practice. 

After the class, I meet Diana and we ride a bit more.  It becomes rather obvious to me that she is much more of a natural at this than am I, for I am still stiff and unsure and it translates to my handling. Her quick reflexes (something that will save us from a car accident following the clinic) and lack of tension make her a natural. I fall twice that day, both after the clinic is over.  She does not fall at all. And I know that while I will do this again because it is a blast, I will fall repeatedly before I ever really feel comfortable on paths that twist like snakes and hills you can't pedal up without clipping your pedal on the dirt.  Hopefully, I think, it is like riding with cleats.  You fall down a few times and then something clicks and you remember.  Yes, I might fall, but what if I fly?  A variation on an old theme for me will provide some amusement in my retirement.  And I am glad I came.  Thanks, John.  Thanks, Trek.  Thanks instructors and friends.  It was a great day!

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Short Jaunt After Work in January

"So I am not a broken heart.  I am not the weight
I lost or the miles I ran and I am not the way I slept on
my doorstep under the bare sky because my apartment
was empty and if I were to be this empty, I wanted something
solid to sleep on. Like concrete.  I am not this year and I 
am not your fault.  I am muscles building cells, a little each 
day, because they broke that day, but bones are stronger once
they heal and I am smiling at the bus driver and replacing my
groceries once a week and I am not sitting for hours in the shower
anymore.  I am the way a life unfolds and blooms and seasons come
and go and I am the way spring always finds a way to turn even
the coldest winter into a field of green and flowers and new life."
Charlotte Eriksson
What is it about a sunny winter day kissed by the first hint of warmth that makes me want to jump on a bike and ride and ride.  My butt will ache and my fitness will dissolve, for this is just a teaser of what is to come.  Still, after work I jump on my bike and I ride.  Miles pass, enough to sate me physically in my current state of fitness, but not enough to sate the longing that surges through me, a longing for warmth, for long rides, for easy companions.  Oh, God, I miss Hell Week.  At least in the past on these days that stir the blood and make me long for warmth and hours on the bike I knew I had Hell Week to look forward to and that usually there was at least one day during that week that was warm, a day when the sun soaked into my bones.  Mostly, there was laughter and companionship.  I even miss the impatient but good natured waiting for Dave for each morning.

But today, I cannot regret today.  And I will not waste spending time on things that have passed me by.  I am healing, and I am alive. True, the wind is blowing, slowing my speed to a snail's pace crawl, but the sun is shining and it is almost warm.  And it becomes possible to actually believe, as Ms. Eriksson points out, that spring will eventually find her way to turn things green.  And yes, I am smiling.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Winter HIke: January 2018

"The past beats inside me
like a second heart."
John Banville

I originally was supposed to hike with a friend today, but the ice storm two days ago unfortunately made me rethink or overthink and cancel.  But today, I realize that I can't stand it anymore:  I have to get out of the house.  If I fall on the ice, I fall on the ice.  It is just the way of it. So off I go.  I decide to go the the Henryville Forestry because it is close and I really don't know how things will go.  When I was a child, I tromped the woods in any weather, snow, ice, rain....but I am not so young anymore, at least on the outside.
I do not realize all the memories this hike will bring up for me, but it does:  perhaps because I am alone and have time to reflect.  Or perhaps it is because I brought the small "I" thing, I can't its remember the name but it is a small blue square, that Jeff and Lena bought me that slips in my pocket and carries my music.  Whatever the reason, the memories arrive, ghost-like and unexpected.  

There is only one trail that I know of in the forestry, but I don't want to drive back that far to the entrance as I am unsure how clear the roads will be.  As I walk to the start, I wonder if I will be able to follow it, for while the snow is not deep, it covers everything.  I reason to myself that if I get off the trail, mine will probably be the only footprints and I can retrace my path.  And I am right.  The path is virgin with no footprints.  It is, however, recognizable. Past footprints have caused the path to sag in them middle, like an old mattress.  

While I am sure I have hiked this path more often, I only remember three times.  The first was with my Girl Scout troop when my daughter was young.  We hiked the trail and then had a cook-out.  They tricked me by icing a slab of Styrofoam and having me try to cut it before they brought out a real cake.  I have a picture that I like of all the girls hanging upside down from the monkey bars, smiling ear to ear, a brilliant moment of time captured.  I realize I don't know what happened to most of them.  One I know is tragically dead from a drug overdose.  Another girl's mother told me a few years ago had numerous kids and was using drugs.  The rest have vanished.  I had twenty in my troop.  Do they ever think of me as I think of them?  Why do we let relationships fade?  Is it even possible to keep all of the alive?  For we no longer live, as ancient man did, in small groups, huddled together for safety and companionship.

The second time I hiked this trail was when I had a fight with my husband and I came here to cry, hot tears raining down my cheeks as I ran most of the trail.  I don't remember what the fight was about, only how it made me feel as if my world had crashed and things would never be okay again.  There is a passion in early marriage that somewhat abates or changes, but it leaves behind a comforting security, at least that was how our marriage worked.  And perhaps there is a different type of passion that takes its place. By the last years we were together, I knew that it would take an act of God to separate us, and indeed, that is what happened.  The third time I hiked this trail was with my daughter, full grown, when we were just hiking and spending time together, teenage angst and disagreements a mere shadow.  

It strikes me that the woods are splendid despite the cold and lack of color, crystal snow providing relief from the stern austerity of winter landscapes.  The ice still clings to trees, hard to capture on film but shining brilliantly in the sunshine.  For some reason, a line from "The Night Before Christmas," comes to mind:  "The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave a lustre of mid-day to objects below."  The snow gleams in the sun, sparkling and twinkling.  The only disturbances I have seen at this point are deer hoof prints.  For once, I stop to write my name of a tree and to make a snow angel.  I am playing and it feels good.   And I know he would approve of this, my smiling, for he wanted me to be happy. And I approve of this.  How much better I feel when I make myself get out and about, even alone.

Soon, however, I come across other prints.  I don't know what made them:  errant dog, coyote?  Are there mountain lions here?  Do coyotes run alone or in packs like wolves?  I realize the only thing I know about them is the sound of their song ringing out across the night, beautiful and haunting. I feel no fear, merely curiosity. So many things I don't know.  How did I get this old and still not know so many things?

I see no other footprints during my hike.  No raccoons or birds or rabbits.  At the few places the creek is not frozen, I see no footprints at all and I wonder where the animals get their water as the creeks are mostly frozen. 

As I reach the end of the trail, I decide to hike it backwards for it is so beautiful and I don't want the day to end.  I think of the last time I came here with my husband and how the snow kept us from the target range where he wanted to go to shoot.  I think of how after that snow melted, he came on his own as I was working and, thinking his truck was in reverse, wrecked.  How the lady at the wrecker company scolded me about his not having a cell phone.  But he did:  I bought him one.  He just would not carry it.  How lucky we were that someone found him?  For that was near the end when his strength was nearly gone.  I could not scold him for I was glad that he had a hobby he could still do.  It seemed as if everything else he loved to do had been taken from him.

I toy with the idea of climbing to the top of the Fire Tower Hill, but the road here has not been treated and I have visions of sliding down that steep hill on my rear.  I remember failing the first time I tried to climb it by bicycle not understanding why I could not stand without my front wheel leaving the pavement, and Diana, at work, telling me her husband said that if I could climb it on a bicycle I was a better man than he was.  Not too long afterward I made it and went to work telling her to go home and tell her husband I was a better man then he.  Who knew that we would become friends? And who knows if I can still climb it?  Perhaps this spring or summer I will try again.

The day is over and I head home.  Entering the house I am slapped in the face by the delicious aroma of the soup I put in the crock pot this morning.  Only a bath and then it will be time to eat.   And to dream of what tomorrow will bring.  Life is good. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Born To Roam's New Years Bike and Hike 2018

"What good is the warmth of summer, without
the cold of winter to give it sweetness?"
John Steinbeck
I have been looking forward to this bike and hike, but I have to admit that when I awaken and the weather person says that the wind chill is below zero, there is a moments hesitation when the couch, a good book, and the warmth of the house beckon.  I scold myself as this is no way to start a New Year, a fresh year  full of promises, dreams, and hopes. There is a time for  gentle pursuits and mental massage, but I need exercise and to be outside.  I have been too sedentary following my surgery and the children's visit and it needs to stop before it becomes an established bad habit.  I have ridden in cold weather before and now I have the appropriate clothing.  Besides, this is a short ride, only a hour or a bit over. As with so many things in this life, my hesitation is purely mental.   I know that if I give in and don't go, if I confine myself to the warm house, I will regret it as the day creeps forward for despite the cold, the sun is to shine and my body is ripe for activity.

And the weather person does not lie.  The sun shines dazzlingly and the sky is the clear, brilliant blue of a winter day.  There is no warmth from the sun for the body, but it does provide sustenance for the soul.  There are greetings when I arrive and while I am still struggling with placing names with faces, I need no names to see the kindness and welcome shining from eyes, some familiar and some not.  Indeed, I get one greeting hug, and I feel the warmth of that brief touch travel to my core.  The children leaving after the holidays to return to their own lives and this hug remind me how much I miss the shelter and warmth of my husband's arms, the touch of his hand.  Yet still I know, somehow, that he watches over me and would be glad to see the smile that lights my face and the warmth that lights my soul.  I am grateful. Perhaps this is one of the lessons loss teaches us, for I truly believe that God places us on certain paths for a reason, introduces us to certain people for a reason, however much we struggle against him and fail to understand. 

While it is a road ride, I have decided not to bring the Lynsky but to bring the Surly Straggler again.  The Surly has pedals that accept flat shoes and in this cold, regular boots will be much warmer than riding shoes. Also, there is to be a hike as well as a bike, a hike described as having some rugged areas, and hiking without ankle support is not a wise idea for me.  Lastly, the knobbed tires are less likely to have a flat, one of the dreaded mechanicals on a cold day.   Once again the voice of Eddie D, an early riding mentor, whispers to me about the difficult of and the importance of keeping the hands and feet warm during winter rides.  So many people have helped me through the years, offered hard won advice.  Some I heeded immediately.  Some I resisted. Some advice worked for me and some didn't.  All was well meant, a gesture of friendship. When Rich talks about his camel back tube being frozen, I harken back to a hard learned winter lesson when I stuck the tube inside my jersey to warm and it leaked.  Luckily, I was only a half an hour or so from home, but I was one miserably cold woman that day.

 I am warm on the ride to the lodge where we will park our bikes while we hike.  Others complain of the wind, but I am thankful that it is not slapping my face as it often does this time of year.  At one point, I soak in the sound of the wheels turning, the hum of conversation, and the gentle laughs occasionally brought forth during the conversation.  There all types of bikes from fat bikes to mountain bikes to cross type bikes.  There is also another woman on the ride.  As I suspected from the lithesome grace of her movements in the parking lot, she rides well despite saying she has not ridden for a long time and that running is her preference.

When we get to the lodge, I did not expect to find that my bike chain has frozen and has been made hard to manipulate by the temperature.  Keith asks if he can share the chain as he forgot his and is strong enough to unwind it and secure our bikes.  It is different, this locking of bikes, but then I normally am not leaving my bike for a long period of time.  Even when I ride somewhere and stay the night, I take it into my hotel room with me.  But I am excited about the hike, something I have started to enjoy in the past year.

Originally we were going to meet with a local hiking group, but as we are running rather late and Rich says he does not want them to have to wait for us to lock our bikes and prepare, so we leave to hike from another area.  Despite the sun, the woods  are delicately laced with the alabaster snow that fell recently.  There is beauty here, just a different beauty than there is in the spring when the fecund earth gives birth, or graceful, green summer,  or fall, that grand, glorious, good-bye to color and warmth.  It is not my favorite season, cold winter with her brumal blasts, but she does, as Steinbeck notes, enhance the sweetness of what lies before and will come after.

During the hike, we come across frozen waterfalls her tresses cascading silver and white against the gray, stone background.  Icicles squeezed from earth that was too saturated,  unable to contain the fluid within, glimmer in the bright sun.  On a bridge above the falls, we note the water, bubbling, imprisoned yet still alive in the creek under the frozen crust.  Briefly I wonder if it will freeze solid before the weather breaks, for it is not supposed to get above freezing for a number of days.  As always, I notice the roots of trees in the path, acting as stairways by containing earth that otherwise would have slid down the hill.  I briefly think  of how I cherish trees. Odd, but I could tell you every tree that graced our yard when I was a child, and we had a lot of them.  On this hike, unlike the Knobstone,  there is no place where I have to silently curse the loggers for ruining the picturesque beauty of the trail. Some areas should be left alone, undisturbed.  The words of Keats come to mind for some reason, "Thou still unravished bride of quietness."

 Rich is a story teller and seems to know area history and it is interesting to hear him talk along the way.  He points out concrete fence posts from what was once a working farm.  I think of how the land yields to us and I remain glad that some is now kept safe.  Keith complains of being hot and when he takes off his hat, I notice the gleam of the auburn in his hair, short hair, but the color is still magnificent.  As with my son's curls, it seems almost wasted on a male.  Internally, I tease myself as a sexist for having this thought. It is odd how different people appear without helmets and riding apparel, as if we adopt an alternative identity. 

We arrive back at the inn, have a pit stop, unchain our bikes and head down the hills toward Madison.  It is the only time on the ride when I am cold.  My nose feels as if it will just break off if I gently touch it, but still the decent is splendid.  I find myself emitting peals of laughter on the descent in the way that I sometimes do on descents because, well just because they are descents and so exhilarating.  The earlier climb was lovely, but this is what climbs are all about, the descent, like when you drag your sled up the hill repeatedly to go back down again and again. I think briefly of the look of celebration on the face of one of my new found friends after the climb when he tells us that he has lost 36 pounds, certainly something to celebrate and to be proud of.

All too soon we are back in the parking lot.  The group is going out to lunch, but I did not bring anything to change into and decide to head home rather than to run the risk of sitting and chilling.  I had meant to pack other clothing, but I forgot in the same way I forgot my phone.  Nothing like old age.  As my husband used to say, "A mind like a steel sieve." ;-) I don't feel the dampness that predicates being really uncomfortable on winter rides when you stop, but you don't seem to notice it until you have stopped for awhile and the shivering begins as your body convulses in an attempt to warm itself.  And I do dream of a piping hot bath, delicately scented, one of my favorite treats after a winter ride.  Nothing like a soak and a good book following a winter ride.  And so I head home to prepare for the coming work week.  Holiday is over, but what a wonderful time I have had and how glad I am that I came to ride with this group on the first day of this New Year.  Happy New Year!  May you see much of it from the seat of a bicycle.  Oh, and with a tail wind and lots of descents;-)