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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Christmas Breakfast Century

For a number of years now, the first week-end in December is my Christmas Breakfast Century ride. It is normally on Saturday as so many restaurants in this area are closed on Sunday, a token of respect to a past that no longer exists, kind of like the tip of a gentleman's hat. Some years we are able to ride all of it, some years we are able to ride part of it, and some years I have had to cancel and reschedule. Sadly, this year was a cancellation year.

Until recently, I did not put up a Christmas tree until a week or two before Christmas. By putting the tree up only a couple of weeks before Christmas, the children did not become overly excited in that way that can make them irritable and hard to please. It also was a safety precaution as from the time the children were babies, we went and cut down a live tree, and live trees can be fire hazards if left too long.

Christmas is about traditions, at least in our family. Each year we would pick a week-end to go cut down the tree. My husband would half-heartedly complain and accuse us of studying the weather forecast to pick the coldest week-end of the year, and inevitably it almost always was freezing and windy. The weather could have been warm and dry all week, but let it be the tree cutting week-end and the winds would pick up and the temperatures plummet. (Seems my ride has continued this tradition;-) Despite the cold, the children would insist on walking the entire acreage of the tree farm looking for the perfect tree. Inevitably it had a crooked trunk or some other disability that made it nearly impossible to get it to stand straight and tall in the living room, but when it was decorated it no longer mattered: it was unfailingly beautiful. Our home would be redolent with fresh pine and sugar cookies baking. And there are the other Christmas traditions: the baking of Christmas Cookies, the watching of "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, the unwrapping of the manger set, etc. In my heart, the Christmas bicycle ride has joined these traditions, though it is a tradition celebrated with my bicycling family rather than my blood family. My husband's health problems led to the artificial tree, but my breakfast century lead to the early tree trimming.

The tree may not be beautiful to others, but to me it is a string that connects the years that I have been upon this earth. It contains ornaments my children made when they were little and even ornaments that I remember making myself in kindergarten, and it is laden with memories as much as with colored balls.

I begin accepting reservations for the breakfast in mid-November. I inevitably fill up the main table. My home is small, and I limit the ride to the main dining table (seats six) and two card tables (seat eight more). I normally get reservations for more, but the weather turns and they cancel. Not many are willing to brave an entire day in the winter chill on a bicycle.

The day before the ride I get out my best china and the few serving dishes I inherited from my grandmother and set the table. I go to the grocery and make sure everything is ready for the morning. I enjoy this preparation, the shining of silver that passed through the hands of women of my family before me. There is so little I have from my father's side of the family, and I inevitably send mental blessings to my Aunt Fay who shared these with me. The cleaning leaves me tired, but tired in a good way as it will lead to fruition through sharing with my friends. Inevitably memories of previous Christmas centuries float through my thoughts: the year it rained a cold rain the entire ride, the year we got in right when night was claiming the earth, the year we turned around after 25 miles and rode back through a beautiful snow, the journey taking as long as a normal century would take.

This year the Christmas breakfast was not to be due to weather predictions for snow, weather than came true leaving an inch or more on the ground. I reschedule for January, and if the weather does not cause me to cancel that ride, I will enjoy it; but it will not be the same as my normal Christmas century. I grieve the cancellation, but it is better than seeing a friend get hurt due to my making a foolish decision.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Solitary Ramble

The sun was shining, the weather was incredibly warm for November, and I was off work, so I decided to go for a solitary ramble. There will not be many more days like this before cold weather begins and it would be a shame to waste it. Why is it that almost any nice day off the bike has come to seem wasted to me? Sometimes I wonder if my life has become unbalanced, but I can't deny that I am happy on the bike with the sun embracing me and the scenery unfolding, God's masterpiece. Originally I intended to go ride the club ride, but some things came up. Frankly, I was not sorry. My only regret was not getting off in time to round it out and do a century.

I worry that I have come to enjoy these solitary journeys as much as I have. That was one reason I was glad I had such an enjoyable ride with companions last week-end. Do my friends feel me slipping away from them? Do I feel them slipping away from me? There is no doubt that I love my companions, these men who share the road with me. But while I love them, I know that their presence in my life is temporary, a gift to be treasured. Or is it just the melancholy that tinges this time of year. All I know is that I need this time occasionally, time to process things.

Friday, November 5, 2010


A Fall Ride
by: Melissa Puddle Hall

It is going to be one of those fall days when you feel guilty if you stay indoors: crispy cool in the morning and warm in the afternoon with sunshine, lots and lots of sunshine. It is not the harsh sun of summer, or the anemic sun of winter, or even the welcome but tender and untried sun of spring, but an embracing sun that makes you warm throughout the essence of your very being. I think of a quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne: “ I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.” I know I will be too cold in the morning if I don't wear leg warmers, arm warmers, and a vest, but I know that I will carry them with me in the afternoon and what is now my delight will become my burden. Thus I pack accordingly for I am going exploring today. Sometimes it is nice to be alone, to ride the pace you want, to stop when you want and take a picture or to take in a particular scene, to think without interruption. I have never been to Vernon so last night I poured over the maps trying to find a nice route much more organized than my normal meandering voyages of discovery, but daylight is short. It is getting where it is more difficult to discover roads I don't know though I sometimes think that is due to a tendency to adhere to routine rather than the lack of roads, but today I will find a few.

Early in the ride, on Lake Road, I see something sitting in the road ahead. Being nearsighted, I struggle with what it is. It is too big for a cat, but does not really look like a dog though he sits like one. As I get closer, I see it is a fox, his bushy tail larger than his torso. I roll closer and closer and am uneasy as he does not move but is obviously alive. I assume he has gone to the pond across the road from the wooded area to drink as the drought has dried up many of the creeks I will pass during the ride. I worry that he is rabid and I wonder if I should pass when he finally spots me and streaks off into the forest, melting into the trees, a flash that leaves you wondering if you imagined the whole thing, like seeing a ghost. I am sorry to have startled him out of his morning reverie as that is one of the things I have been looking forward to on this ride, that and the fall scenery. In all the miles I have covered on my bicycle I have only spotted a fox twice, and I decide that it portends a good day.

The fall scenery does not disappoint. Whether the leaves are turning from the season or the drought, they are turning and beginning to spot the roads in places. Occasionally the road is stained by crushed walnuts, persimmons, and acorns. Halloween decorations are everywhere and it brings back memories from my own childhood and from that of my children. I remember taking my children trick or treating, their eyes aglow with excitement and anticipation. How much the holiday has changed for when I was a child it was the night to be out after dark with no adults to supervise, running wild. There were no thoughts that anyone would purposefully hurt a child. I recall the fun of decorating with my children, carving pumpkins and making dummies from old clothing, straw, and a plastic pumpkin. Old sheets made great ghosts. Halloween was a time for creativity and creation, not buying from a store. I think of how my now deceased cat, Christmas, would sit in the lap of the dummy we made on a fine fall day, languidly basking in the sun that was sure to disappear in the near future. I thought about my husband cursing through his grins when he came home from night and the ghost we had hanging in the drive banged into his truck windshield frightening him. By the time I awaken from my thoughts, miles have passed and I am on to new roads and places I have not been before.

All too soon I am home, hungry as can be for I did not stop for lunch today. My husband is there to greet me. However many more days such as day I will have, I believe I will always be greedy for more. Does fall touch me so with such a nameless hunger and poignancy because of the recognition that it is fleeting or because of being in the autumn of my own life? Another thought to ponder on another ride on another day. For now it is enough to be home and embraced with love, safety, and warmth.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Natchez Trace 1000K

It has taken me a couple of days to pack for this ride and even longer to prepare for it. I am unsure of the wisdom of riding as I am recovering from a summer cold that has gone through my office like the plague. I am better, but I remain listless and weak. I have had no desire to ride my bike for days. My husband urges me to cancel my plans for this ride as he worries that I will end up seriously ill. It is not the best way to leave home for a ride, and I know he is really worried or he would be laughing at my fears, calling me a candy ass, and hurrying me out the door.

I debate driving myself or riding down with Dave King and Steve Rice. They have asked me to ride with them, but I fear I will make them wait at the end. I despise being a bother to anyone, and I fear running up a debt that may require a payment I cannot afford, but slowly I have come to trust these men. Nobody really wants to wait around after such a long ride, but I decide to chance being able to keep up. After all, I have been riding strongly this summer and have adapted well to the heat. We meet at Dave's house on Wednesday morning and head for Tennessee in the "man van." It is strange to drive these roads and it not be cold outside, myself tingling with anticipation of Hell Week and seeing people I don't often get to see. I enjoy Steve and Dave's company, but I continue to question if I should have driven down myself, perhaps because not having my own car commits me. No turning around at this point.

We decide to visit Gran Fondo, the bike shop where I bought my Lynskey, on the way to the motel. I never dreamed I would own such a bike, though I have struggled with finding a comfortable saddle for it. I have not been in the shop since it was flooded earlier this year. The shop owners are hosting a dinner tonight, and while a part of me would like to go, the stress of meeting new people combined with our hope to be in bed and sleeping by the time the banquet ends means we decline. I am surprised to find that Lynn remembers me. His wife is at the shop and shows us a video of the start of the Trace as we will be passing that part of the road in the dark. It was kind of her and I enjoy the beauty of the scenery in the video. Following a bout of lusting after different bicycles that I would love to own and picking up a few odds and ends, we head to the motel.

At the motel, I feel a ghost of myself giggling inside at the look of the desk clerk when I tell him I want a 1:30 a.m. wake up call. I finally fall asleep about two hours before the wake up time. The ride starts at four and bike check in is even earlier, so following a wake up call I reluctantly drag myself out of bed wondering what in the hell I am doing here. I have mixed feelings about this ride: excitement and dread. The Lord works in mysterious ways because with the lack of sleep and the heat prediction, I probably would have rolled over and tried to go back to bed if I had a car to escape in. Instead I roll my lazy rear out of bed and get dressed.

We head over to the ride start and the excitement in the air is almost tangible. Grins light faces. The guys tease me about the other women looking fitter, prettier, and faster. They know that despite my best intentions I am competitive, at least at times. I know it is not a race, but to me everyone here looks more capable of completing this course than I do, particularly the other woman. Normally this type of teasing doesn't bother me: the wall of good things my husband and others helped me build to shut out the worst of my insecurities is fairly strong, but today it does. Sometimes I trot them out, one by one, examine them, then wrap them carefully and put them away for the next time, these good things people have said that justify my right to exist comfortably in this world as do other people. On this ride, I will find at least one thing to add to them.

We roll off into the moonlit night in our reflective gear, a sea of white and red lights and orange vests and straps. The full moon is beautiful and will watch over us each evening, sometimes orange and sometimes ivory white. Soon we hit the Natchez Trace. I have been excited about seeing the Trace since it was mentioned in a couple of novels by one of my favorite authors: Greg Iles. The route was described as gently rolling, and I am surprised to find myself struggling on climbs. Normally it is the steep climbs where I have trouble keeping up with people, not the long, gradual climbs. I blame it on my illness. I blame it on weakness. The group has not yet split much into smaller groups as it will. I follow red tail lights, some steady and some blinking. At times I see one of the riders I know, at times I ride by myself. I finally decide that with 267 miles to cover today, I need to decrease my effort and drop back.

I ride by myself for most of this day. I don't see Steve after the first few miles. I see Bill once or twice. Dave being Dave and one of the best people I know pulls me for a bit, but I just can't keep up on the hills. I am glad to see him finally ride off. The sun comes out and the heat intensifies. At one point, I find myself crying as one of my greatest fears is no longer being able to keep up with the people I ride with regularly and it appears it has come to pass. Thoughts of no longer going to Hell Week and having their friendly companionship haunt me. I ask myself if it is the added weight of a filled carradice as I always tend to over pack that is slowing me down or am I just giving in to age and weight. Finally I tell myself to suck it up and I pull myself together. I think of Greg S. saying riding is supposed to be fun. I think of Greg Z. telling me about when he quit ultra distance riding and decide that this might be my Swan Song. From what I remember is he was part way into the ride, knew he could finish, but found he didn't want to as he was no longer having fun. I know I can and will finish this ride barring a mechanical or anything unforeseen, and if they have to wait they have to wait, but I doubt I will ever do a ride of this length again.

Goosebumps begin to cover my arms, my reaction to overheating. I decide to pull over and try to find a patch of shade and eat something from my handlebar bag as there is little to eat on this ride. It is hard to make myself drink because the water is hot and nasty tasting, but I continue to force myself. The Trace offers only the occasional warm water to drink and bathroom. There is no food, vending machine, or ice. Suddenly a truck pulls over and offers me a cold soft drink. I have a Sprite and I feel my core temperature lower as I drink. I hit the road again revived, at least for awhile. In my mind I thank Packman for his hint on the use of Sprite to settle a weary stomach and assuage thirst. I think of my brother, Chris, the dentist, and how he will hate the cavities that are probably eating up my teeth right this very moment. Despite the head wind, there is not a dry stitch of clothing on my body. At times the sweat escapes my headband and drips into my eyes burning. At some point before Tupelo, I run into Chris who has started suffering from leg cramps. We stop together for a short time, but my company is not good for him. I can't seem to pull myself out of the mental slump I have ridden myself into. I begin to think of getting a motel at Tupelo and renting a car and driving home. Normally I am encouraging to others even when I feel badly, but not today. Today I am a wet blanket.

Chris takes off and I head down the road. In not too long, I find him once again off the bike, cramping badly. I debate stopping, but I decide there is nothing I can do to help him physically and in my current mental state, I can barely help myself. I do ask and he assures me I can be of no assistance. I ride on toward Tupelo wondering if a hot meal will change my perspective. I am sick of gels and the stuff in my handlebar bag. I want food, real food. I pass one of the women who pulled me up to Chris and Dave one time earlier in the day. She is at a rest area looking tired and defeated. Her head is bowed. I call and ask if she is okay and she answers that she is. I ride onward hoping to make Tupelo before dark as I don't like busy roads in the day time and I like them even less at night.

On the way I do notice beautiful scenery. I don't believe I have ever seen cotton growing before. At first I think it is white flowers of some type. I cross the Tennessee River and photograph some Native American Mounds. But I am glad to reach Tupelo. The song "Tupelo Honey" runs through my mind as I pull into KFC to get a meal. Someone had suggested Pizza Hut, but I don't see it and I am not riding any farther to find it. Inside are two small children who are quite impressed with my arriving via bicycle. They are cute as buttons, and I find myself smiling in spite of my mood. As I eat, their father begins questioning me about my journey and tells me that what I am doing isn't very safe. He is obviously amazed at the challenge and somewhat unsure of my sanity. The children tell me another cyclist has arrived and I am happy to see it is my friend, Steve Royse. I think of the irony. Steve pulled my sorry rear during the last few miles of PBP and here he is again, my hero. He is always so positive and such a steady rider. We decide to ride the rest of the way in together.

When we leave KFC, Steve pulls me awhile blocking the head wind. I feel rather guilty sitting behind him and not taking a turn, but he says he doesn't mind. I think how he is one of the kindest and gentlest men that I know. Dusk is upon us when we head out, and soon the wind dies. The road, however, becomes increasingly rough and my behind begins to protest at each crack in the road. We talk for awhile which helps to pass the down, but I am longing for a shower and bed. Still it is nice to ride through the night with someone you like. Somewhere near the end of the days ride, my GPS bonks. We get a tad lost when we make our last turn, but we finally find our way into the overnight control at French Camp. Inside there are turkey and cheese sandwiches and drinks awaiting. We briefly refill our bellies, and head toward the showers and bed. Steve says he is leaving before breakfast. I know this would be a big mistake for me. I leave a note for Dave, Bill, and Steve Rice telling them not to wait. I figure I will sleep and decide if I will continue or head back to Tupelo and make my way home.

In the shower cabin, I meet some of the other women. Luckily, there are so few of us that we can all shower at the same time and nobody has to take a top bunk. Before I know it, I am asleep.

I awake to the sound of someone else's alarm and the sound of cleats on a wooden floor. I had meant to sleep a bit longer, but I decide to go on and get up. I still am congested from my cold and I hope I did not keep everyone up all night. Sleepily, I dress then head over to the main cabin to get some breakfast before taking off. After some coffee, bacon, egg casserole, and a biscuit, I am ready to head out. As I get ready to leave, I decide to look one more time for the scraping noise that I kept hearing the prior day. I had checked my front brakes and my rear brakes. I notice that my carradice has sagged between the bars of my carradice holder that keeps it off my rear wheel and has been dragging on my wheel. No wonder I felt so weak the prior day: I was riding with the bag rubbing my rear wheel. Luckily I have gorilla tape and there is enough to put tape over the holder to hold the bag up.

I have a definite and immediate mood improvement after this discovery. As I head toward the turn around at Red Dog Road, I find I am smiling again. Not too far down the road, I am passed by a group and I grab their rear wheel. I will end up riding with these two men for the first part of the day and find they are both named Tom. While both are much stronger cyclists than I am, they are tired from a quick pace the previous day. We stop at the first available store on the way back and eat sandwiches. The woman in the store gives me some duct tape to ensure that my carradice does not drag. I tell them to go ahead while I make this repair, but they are kind enough to wait. We stay together until we once again reach French Camp where one of the Toms decides to stop. We had already discussed our intentions to ride at our own paces today, so I head onward. The other Tom also continues, but he is riding faster than I am. About six miles out from the water stop, however, he decides to rest in the shade. It is tempting, but I want to move on while I am feeling half way decent. I head onward to the water stop there encountering Steve Rice. I tell him I intend to stop and get a sandwich at Subway. He says that is where Bill went and maybe he should change his mind and eat as well. We head to Subway and meet Bill and Joe. At least I think Joe was there. Maybe it was Tim Carrol. I find I tend to become confused during long rides and everything begins to blur together.

During this time I begin to worry about Chris. I know he came in last night and I saw him getting ready to head out this morning, but I did not pass him on my return trip to French Camp. Bill and Steve say Dave is behind as well. There is nothing I can do for either of them, but I hope they are okay. I know it bothers Steve as well, but there just is no way to check on everyone. We ride together picking up the pace about 20 miles outside of Tupelo. By the time we reach there, my lungs are burning and I am about to throw in the towel and ride by myself. I question whether hanging on was a wise decision on my part.

While we are in Tupelo, we pick up LeRoy. We again eat at KFC. LeRoy, Steve, and I will finish out this day together while the others surge ahead, though we do meet again at a water stop. If I remember correctly, this is where Tim Carrol joined the group. At one point, Steve is feeling very badly from the heat and we pull over to rest. A ranger sees our lights and pulls over to check on us. He is truly interested and concerned and talks about how visible the riders are due to their lights and reflective gear. He will follow us through the rest of the evening pulling over cars that are driving dangerously or too fast. It is refreshing to find a law enforcement person who believes we have a right to be on the road and who wants to be sure we are safe.

At one point, it begins to rain gently. I notice how you can smell the rain mixed with the road, and I point out to Steve the steam that is swirling about one to two feet off the ground. We enjoy the rain as it cools us, and it is too brief, almost like a dream. It is so warm that there is no concern about rain gear.

Finally we reach the last control. The ride through the state park takes what seems like forever. It is dark and at one point I check to make sure my light isn't broken, but it is just the moon hiding behind clouds. After quickly grabbing a ham and cheese sandwich, I am taken to a cabin. I am the first woman in (other than the two that were riding straight through), so I make up my bed on the bottom of a corner bunk, shower, and hit the sack. I can smell the mold in the air and before long I can't breath through my nose, but I do go to sleep. In what seems like a few minutes, I awaken to the sound of a male voice. I wonder but decide it must be one of the other women's boyfriends seeing her to bed. Then I hear lots of men's voices, even in the bathroom.

This leaves me wondering what to do. Obviously there has been a mistake. I don't want to get up and move. I was here first and it was supposed to be a woman's cabin. I don't really want to make them move because they are tired as well. I debate just going back to sleep and not saying anything, but I decide that might not turn out so well either. Finally I announce that I am there and they can stay if they want but please remain covered in the common area. I giggle inside as I hear the shock in one man's voice in the bathroom when someone says, "There's a chick in here." Long time since this old woman has been called a chick;-) Eventually I fall back to sleep, but in what seems like moments I awaken to the sound of a hard rain. I hurry to the bathroom before the guys get up, get dressed, and head through the rain to breakfast.

The next day is spent mostly with Bill, Dave, Steve, Joe, LeRoy, and Tim. We ride with a few others on and off, but mostly stayed together. Joe and Dave take off near the end. Tim drops back and then catches us. I am able to keep up on the climbs, though at one point I do get very tired and wonder if I need to drop back. This is the day I see wildlife: turkeys and deer. It is the short day, but I still am glad to climb off my bike at the end. The volunteers at the end are warm and welcoming, but I want to get to the hotel and shower. Steve and Dave are kind enough to agree to let me go ahead with Bill and check in and say they will load my bike. Dave later teases me about being my "bike boy." We all go out to eat at a steak house afterward. I could sleep, but it is probably good for me to eat though my stomach is sour. It is so nice to be clean and smell like a girl, to rub lotion on my skin, to sleep in a real bed that doesn't smell of must and mold.

The next morning we are off to the Loveless Cafe for a wonderful dining experience. I don't think I have ever had fried chicken for breakfast before. I am glad we stayed for this experience. But I am glad to hit the road for home, and even gladder to get home.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Challenge Series 2010

he Merango Mangler: Day 1 of the Challenge Series.

Off to the ride start with a smile on my face, unsure what or whom to expect today with so many conflicting rides on the schedule. Life is about choices, and most people don't love distance as I do. As usual, just the fact that I have five days to ride and not have to work makes me happy. I feel as if I were a child let out from school for summer vacation, long ago when summer vacation seemed like a lifetime, only now I know how quickly time goes by and the only certainties are death and taxes. I don't know why, but I love being on my bike the majority of the time and I know today will be no exception. The weather is good, the course, while difficult, is gorgeous; yes, life is good.

Upon arrival, the one face I was expecting, Steve Rices, was not there. (Sorry, it appears my apostrophe/quotation marks key has quit working). Roger Bradford, three time challenge series rider participant, is there as is Bill Pustow, but no Steve. As the time draws near, Steve pulls into the parking lot, but he is not wearing his happy face. In fact, he looks decidedly unhappy. He has that look on his face that made me afraid of him when I first met him, before I came to know what a fine person he is. I later find the face is because he had driven to the wrong ride start and added miles to his already long journey. This century is already one of the most difficult centuries with Bartles Knob and some of the other tough climbs, but for the brevet I tweaked it starting it from Scottsburg and adding Pixley Knob and Liberty Knob to the mix. Steve has driven to Scottsburg as he did on brevet day and has had to turn back around and drive to Memphis, the rides normal starting place. Still, having ridden both courses, I am sure he would rather do that than ride the brutal brevet route.

For those of you who are wondering why I was so sure Steve Rice would be at the ride, he is attempting to break my current record for riding the most club centuries in a year. If, and I say if because as I will explain later, he continues to have problems that impede his progress, all goes well for him he should break the record in October. But time will tell. As they say, it ain't over until its over.

This morning is a morning made for riding with a coolness in the air that tells of falls incipient arrival. The sky is bluer than blue. Of the four of us who show, all of us rode a century on Saturday and Bill and Steve also rode yesterday. I grin a wicked grin thinking of my fresh legs. Sometimes it is nice to put the hurt on the boys the way they put it on me sometimes in the winter, fall, and spring. Fresh legs and hot temperatures for the afternoon will empower me to be cruel if I so decide though I know I will not pick this option. Sometimes it is just nice to be reassured that I am not always the weakest link, to know that I could if I had to or wanted to. I know all three of these men well and I know what strong riders they are.

I grin as I see Rogers new Rain Storm jersey and hear of his adventure. I regret not having brought my camera as I meant to do as it is a really cool jersey and I would have liked to have gotten a picture of him. For those that don't know, Rain Storm is a series of five century rides in Indiana that culminate on day six in doing RAIN, thus Roger has ridden 660 miles in six days. Way to go Roger! I ask if the Challenge Series was part of what gave him the courage to attempt this difficult ride. Of course, he tells me yes, but Roger is such a nice guy he could be saying that to be nice. It is, however, one reason for the Challenge Series, to build confidence. I remember my first back to back and it was only Mark Astro Medleys promise not to leave me that gave me the courage to ride.

After the normal struggle with what to wear as it is cool in the morning but will be hot by afternoon, I decide on a light wind vest. We take off into the morning toward Palmyra, the first store stop. As always, the view at the top of Bartles Knob almost takes my breath away. Views like this are one of the things that make me feel sorry for those that only ride flat courses because the hilly rides tend to have the prettiest scenery, or maybe it is just oxygen deprivation that makes it seem so. The air is clear and you can see for miles. We all stop for a couple of us to take our wind vests off. I know this group will stay together today and that is a nice feeling.

We reach Palmyra with no mishaps and following a couple of major climbs. For some reason, I find I am climbing well this year. I am a few pounds heavier than normal so it makes no sense other than the early, hilly brevet courses this spring. Or perhaps it is the relaxed pace. For whatever reason, I don't really struggle with any of the climbs today. I chuckle at the difference in the dogs. During this hot summer, they either were too hot to chase or would come out and half halfheartedly chase the front rider, but this morning they are all piss and vinegar and ready to have us all for breakfast. Passing a yard with a fence, we think we are safe when a jack terrier type dog decides to take us on. He climbs on the back of the larger dog, then struggles over the top of the fence. I am laughing and trying to ride hard at the same time, not a good combination, and I am glad he is not serious about breakfast. In fact, everyone is laughing at this little dog and his creativity in escaping captivity.

It is not long after this that Steve finds his saddle has slipped. While he is fixing it, either Roger or Bill notice that he has what may be a crack in one of this tubes on his bike. This is the same bike that failed before. Without sanding, we cant really tell if it is a crack or a paint problem, and he decides to continue. It is not good news if it is a crack because he has a 1000K planned in a few weeks and that means riding a different bike. Trying to find some humor, I ask Bill if he thinks perhaps God wants my record to stand as Steve has had such bad luck with bike failures and rides being canceled this year. Of course, I am asking the man destined to return as an amoeba and I fear I have just doomed myself to the same fate through my sacrilege.

We reach the new lunch stop after the climb up Depot Hill. I love the way you see the hill loom before you on the descent, snaking upwards as far as you can see. It makes me think of Grasshopper the first time we rode this route and thinking to myself, Oh shit, what have I done. One of my favorite pictures from last year is Roger climbing this hill. Tinas is closed today because of the holiday, so we try Vans Country Table. The parking lot is full which looks promising. All of us decide to try to the cheeseburger, though the hot brown special tempted me. It was good. I try to decide if it is as good as Tinas and I think it is. It is hard to tell when you are not really hungry, and for some reason appetite evades me today. This moves Willisburg down even another place in my estimation. By the time lunch is over, it is getting hot out and I am glad most of the major climbs are over. Williams Knob and Shorts Corner are the only really significant hills left to climb.

There is not much talking on this last part of the ride, and I enjoy just being able to watch the scenery roll past, trying to soak it up to warm me during the coming cold when every ride is a battle with wind and weather. The trees are starting to turn and even lose leaves in places and I try to fool myself that it is the drought and not the fall, but I know it is a mind game. I will ride in the winter, but spring and fall are my favorites. And with fall there is a certain melancholy that haunts my rides. Everyone finishes strongly. Who will show tomorrow? Who will challenge themselves?

Challenge Ride Day 2: Hardinsburg

You never know what kind of weather you will face during Challenge Week. The first year we were blessed with sun and little wind most days. Last year it rained and rained and I shamed myself canceling the last day of the Challenge due to flooding as I was worried the waters might rise around us. I have determined that this will not happen again. Weather conditions would have to be immediately physically dangerous before I would cancel again. Live and learn they say, and I have learned.

Today's weather does not cause much concern. The forecast is for partly cloudy skies and wind, lots of wind. I don't fear the wind, but bicycling has caused me to respect the wind. As I drink my coffee and study the forecast, I wonder who will show up today. The first to arrive is Steve Rice. I keep telling him he really doesn't have to show up, that it will not hurt my feelings, but he is kind of like the proverbial bad penny: always there when there is a century ride this year;-) He is followed by three others: Perry Finley, David King, and Steve Maurer. I wonder where Roger is and get my answer when I go back to the house and find the answering machine flashing. Ironically, he has gone to the wrong starting place and is on his way. I tell him to drive cautiously as we can wait. Those that might finish the entire challenge are now down to three when Bill decides not to ride.

Three new riders today, and while the three rode the time trial yesterday, they faced nowhere near the climbing that Roger, Steve, and I had faced the previous day. I no longer feel frisky and confident; today may be one of those days when I am the weak link. Roger arrives and we head out toward the first climb: Leota Hill. It is not cool like yesterday morning. I wonder if this group will stay together or ride separately. You just never know how a group will blend, and as we approach the hill I think how each year of the Challenge has been so different.

After the climb up Leota, the course flattens out for awhile and we are off in a pace line. I take my turn pulling, but I can feel it and know that I cannot maintain this pace once we hit Shorts Corner Road. I am betting that most of the others cannot either, however, and hold on. That is one thing that I have noticed, that normally just a few moments after you think you can no longer hold the pace the others are holding, they seem to slow down as well. Maybe this is because I am fairly well matched with those that I ride with pace wise, though I know there are times they buffer their speed for me.

At this point, the wind is still the caressing kind that gently brushes your skin and does not overly impede progress. It is the kind of wind that teases you into thinking it will be gentle and kind, but this is not the case: once she gets you within her grasp she will be merciless. By the time we hit Shorts Corner, one of those annoying roads with climbs that are not really significant but wear you down because they are constant, the wind is becoming an issue. I am glad that the pace lining is over for most of the day. Yes, it is efficient, but your concentration is taken by watching those in front of you so as not to touch wheels or by those behind you. You cannot really absorb the scenery or listen to jokes, and when I ride with Dave I expect to laugh, and laugh hard, at least once during a ride. I think how I like it when I hear laughter mixed with the sound of the wind as we ride. It is the same feeling that you get when you have fixed your family a good meal, everyone has a full belly, and the house is warm with love and you realize you are content to the depths of your soul for this moment in time.

I don't really know Steve Maurer, so it was interesting to chat with him for a bit and hear his goal. As I had hoped might happen, he is using the Challenge Series to meet a personal goal. He tells me that he has made a mileage game of the Tour de France, the Tour de Spain, and the Giro trying to ride half the mileage that the pros ride in these events. I am glad to hear he plans on riding at least one more day to get his mileage, and it is lovely to talk for a bit with someone new.

It is intriguing to me how my body responds to the demands that I put upon it, and I know I am not alone. Roger and I spend some time discussing how you have strong and weak moments during a ride. These moments usually pass quickly and somehow you go on when you feel you cannot only to find that you suddenly feel hale and robust. Between bouts of conversation with different people, I realize how much I love Hardinsburg Road despite the climb. It is strange how you forget certain roads that are beautiful and you wonder where your mind was at the last time your were there. Trees line the road and the sunlight filters through dappling the road.

We decide to eat at the Mennonite/Amish Restaurant, The Dutch Barn, in Livonia rather than Little Twirl. ( I love this quaint little restaurant that has such delicious sandwiches and is crammed with charming, handmade furniture and all sorts of odd foods and other items. If you haven't taken a ride there or even a drive there, I assure you it is worth the trip. If you do go for a see there is a bathroom available, but you need to ask as it is in the kitchen area. But before we get there, the wind has become a violent crosswind. Roger and I both wonder if we are going to get blown sideways off the wind when we pass two large trucks parked near each other for the corn harvest. The gap between the trucks seems to have channeled the wind giving it extra strength. The wind has reached the point where it is hard to hold any type of conversation as she is roaring in your ear rather than gently whispering as earlier in the day. While we eat, I tease them that a good ride captain would arrange a tail wind on the way home, and we do have some tail wind part of the time. When we leave the restaurant, it is pulling my hair out of my rubber band and whipping it across my eyes and face: very annoying. As soon as we turn onto North Street off of State Road 56, you can tell the difference. Roger laughs and says what wind. (Sorry, still no working quotation mark key).

Now we are on to the major climb of the day, the climb that made Great Scott Jammer Dog, Scott K., say NOW THAT WAS A HILL. I rarely ride with Scott anymore, but in the past I would judge hills by watching him climb. If he stood up, I knew it was a hill to be reckoned with. We have had hills on and off all day other than the flat of Blue River, but nothing like this hill. I giggle when Steve stops to lighten his load, fix hydraulic problems, or take a leak, however you want to phrase it, saying he doesn't want any more weight going up that hill than necessary. I understand. My legs are beginning to protest that I am asking too much of them, but they serve me well never cramping. I am getting mighty thirsty by the time we reach the Red Barn Bait Shop to see Amos and get something to drink and I realize I have not been hydrating the way I should have been. I glare for a moment at the fresh leg people;-)

At the Red Barn, Amos is nice enough to tell me he had gotten the raincoats we all fell in love with during the last Challenge Series in 2009. He had gotten another type that I did not like nearly as well. The ones he stocks are jersey pocket size, have elastic at the ends of the sleeves, are long enough to sit on and keep your bottom dry, and only cost $1.65. They are great for those days when you don't know if it will rain, you want to be prepared, but you don't want to carry a jacket you might not use around all day. I thank him and several of us buy one.

The last part of this ride is my favorite, past Delaney Park and on Eden Road. There is rarely any traffic and it is scenic. Most of the road is decent. More importantly, there are no major climbs though there are some rollers that have enough umph to make my thighs burn. We finish with a tail wind until the last turn when the wind slaps us in the face. Legs are tired. Roger is heading to the bike shop with concern about a bearing. As I finish out the century, I wonder who will come out to play tomorrow. Challenge yourself.

Challenge Ride Day 3: Tour of Tall Shelby

Today is the only day of the Challenge that starts in Louisville, so I get up extra early to make sure that I get to the start on time even if I get caught in traffic crossing the bridge. This is also the only ride in the series that was put together by someone else, in this case David Runge. I am familiar with some of the roads, but not so much with others. The ride is my concession to those that travel to Indiana to do the series, but it is much harder to be a good ride captain in uncertain territory. I normally have no trouble reading a cue sheet if I am by myself, but when I get distracted I tend to miss turns. Getting in the car, I notice there are stars shining in places so I know the sky is not solid clouds. While I got my Mad Dog name, Puddle, due to my love of riding in the rain, I also love riding in the sun when the sky is as blue as blue can be. I smile thinking about yesterday when Roger admitted that last year during the Challenge he came to find that he actually enjoys riding in the rain at times. Most, though not all, experiences have their charms if we take the time to find them.

When I get to Floyd s Fork Park, the sun has risen and it is apparent that it is going to be yet another glorious day, this time without the wind that battered us yesterday. Ten people show up at the ride start. Steve Rice, Roger, and I have ridden all days thus far. Steve Maurer is riding for the second day. Bill Pustow is back. And then there are the fresh legs, and what legs they are: Chris Quirey, Dave Combs, Jim Whaley, David Runge, and John Larson. Everyone is in a good mood and happy to be have a midweek century treat.

The ride starts with a pace line that I soon realize will split the group. Normally we ride together during the series, but today that was not to be. My legs will not mind a more relaxed pace and it is an honor to ride with David Runge, the course designer, who contributed so many delightful routes to the club repertoire. During the ride, I asked David about when he designed the route. While he could not remember the year for sure, he said it was either the last or next to last club route that he put together. And what a job he did. The roads lace together nicely with a mix of rural and not so rural, leaning heavily toward the rural, little traveled roads lined with rolling fields or trees.

By the time we hit Figgs Store Road, my group consists of Dave Runge, Roger Bradford, Dave Combs, and John Larson. I giggle a bit later as Dave Combs rides right past the road we missed on the Salvisa Century only five days before. How easy it is to miss a turn when you are talking with people and enjoying being on the road. Before we reach the first store stop, we find Bill waiting for us. He asks me about Steve Rice as he thought Steve was behind him. Of course, being a compulsive worrier, I begin to imagine what could have happened to Steve. We did not pass him on the route. Did he take the short cut to the store? Did something happen and we rode by while he was in a ditch unnoticed? I know he is not lost in this area. I leave that to Dave Combs and myself.

When we reach the first store stop, the others have gone. It is now called the Silver Dollar Cafe. Normally it is not a bad place for a cyclist to stop. They supply us with free ice during the summer and are friendly. But today the smoke is so thick that my lungs feel clogged and I wonder how I ever smoked. It just smells so terrible now. All of us step outside quickly after getting something to drink. Bill and Roger decide to take off. We follow shortly and my cell phone rings. By the time I get to it, it has stopped. I see it is Steve Rice that has called. I try to call him back, to no avail. Now I really begin to worry in earnest as my imagination goes to work, but there is nothing to do but to ride on. Half of my mind is on the conversation people are trying to hold with me and the other half is busy creating possible scenarios, none of them good. When I finally reach Steve, we have reached the lunch stop. I realize it is not the store we stopped at the previous year, but everyone seems ready for a stop and Dave Runge assures me they have wonderful sandwiches. Anyway, he had been calling to tell me the other group was eating at the other store, the store that last year had such wonderful apple pie, or so I heard though I denied myself. Yes, it is all about the food;-)
Now I can just sit back and enjoy the sunshine, the company, and the scenery. And David was right, the sandwiches were delicious and there were outside tables where we were able to eat al fresco.

By the time we reach Shelbyville, everyone is beginning to tire. Legs are complaining. Conversation has run short. The joking is less frequent. On a busy stretch, a young lady passes in her car telling us to get the f... off the road, using the f... word repeatedly in most descriptive ways. She is forced to stop at a light and we roll up next to her. The music is blaring from her car and she purposefully flips her cigarette over toward David Runge. She turns the music down and turns to complain to us when David, who evidently was familiar with the music, tells her there is a little bit of magic in her. She looks confused asks him to repeat what he said and he again tells her that like the music, she has a bit of magic in her. And this works like magic: the girl who was cussing us and angry gets a big smile on her face and her day is transformed. She drives off a happy woman. I tease David about his flirting and ask if it comes naturally or was cultivated. I spend some time thinking about how he possibly transformed a cyclist hater to someone a bit more tolerant rather than re-enforcing the negative image as I have occasionally seen others do.

By the time we get to Floyd s Fork, most of the other riders are gone. The parking lot looks empty. Only Jim Whaley is waiting as he came to the ride with Dave Runge. John Larson treats me to cold chocolate milk that he has in a cooler. It is good to be back, but there is a note on my car from Roger telling me that he had a run in with a large, brown dog. I cannot tell from the note if he went down or not: it just says he is not sure if he will ride tomorrow. So who will show for the challenge tomorrow, a trip to Bethlehem? Come out and play!

Challenge Series Day 4: Bethlehem

A tired woman drives to the Clark Forestry for the fourth day of the challenge. My occasional bouts of insomnia have decided to visit me this week, and I have not had a full night of sleep in what seems like weeks. Maybe with age I just do not need the sleep that I used to because I still seem to be able to ride at my normal level, but oh how I miss it, that feeling of waking up in my nest of blankets and being rested. Still I am looking forward to seeing who decides to show up for Bethlehem, and I am delighted by the weather. The original predication for cloudy weather has been superseded by a prediction for sunshine with little wind. I am surprised because this is the Bethlehem Century, a century route traditionally cursed by torrents of rain and wind out of the west that challenges the strongest of riders.

Roger e-mailed and let me know he was okay, but he did not mention whether or not he would ride. At the forestry I find two riders: Chris Quirey and Steve Rice. I expected Chris because Bethlehem is one of his favorite centuries. Roger has decided not to show. Why not Steve? Why could not Steve stay home? I think of the time I tried to take a green sign in Texas for the Apple Store by starting to hammer a few miles out rather than right before the sign. I dropped Dave. I dropped Bill. I dropped Royse. But there was Steve, dogging my tail the entire way and whipping by me at the end to nab the sign. And so he is dogging my club record. Oh, fame is fleeting;-) Of course, he shows. I tease him telling him it is okay because I am older and I will get to retire first and then I can take the record back. Assuming we both finish today and tomorrow, we will be the only two challenge finishers this year.

The forestry is always a nice place to meet for a ride. It is peaceful and I feel relaxed. Maybe it is because the ghosts of young brownies and daisy scouts that I took picnicking and hiking there still haunt my memory, their giggles and watch mes ringing through the air. Maybe it is the memory of running there with my running partner, Carol Dunn, on Saturday mornings long ago. Maybe it is the memory of meeting there for other rides and sharing chatter and smiles. For whatever reasons, I am fond of this place. A man sits on the small dock in the morning chill with his fishing pole. Another arrives to walk his dog. A young woman jogs by, the sound of her breath and footsteps music in the air.

The three of us chat for a moment prior to taking off and I wonder how the day will pan out. For those of you who do not know Chris, he is a quiet man, quite intelligent, with a wonderful sense of humor that sometimes catches me off guard. He is also quite a talented cyclist and I know that unless he decides to slow down, there is no way I will be staying with him. I am glad when Steve and he decide to slow their pace a bit to stay with me during the ride. I do enjoy solitary rambles on the bike, but today I feel like company.

The descent into Bethlehem is one of my favorites. It is quite technical, with twists and turns. It is hard to know where to brake as braking in a curve makes my bike what to straighten rather than flow around the turn and there is little space before you are into yet another turn. A lapse in attention could spell disaster, but it is fun to dance down the hill. The smell of fall is not yet in the air, but the air has the feel of fall and it will not be long. As we descend, I feel the goosebumps on my arms. We wind down to the river and Chris stops to take a picture prior to the long climb. During the climb, I think I spot the road on the GPS that I have been longing to find, but it turns out to be the state line. I tell them I will be returning when I have more tubes and supplies and am stronger to explore. So may roads, but so little time.

The lunch stop is at Subway in Hanover. I miss the woman who has been there the majority of my visits since I put the route down on paper. She has mopped up after us, given us sandwich bags for our feet and plastic gloves for our hands and all with a smile on her face. I wonder if she has the day off or no longer works there. I think how arriving via bicycle rather than a car causes people to remember you, or maybe it was the swimming pool I created inside the front door.

After we depart, I am delighted to find that Deputy Pike is newly paved and is smooth as glass. I am even more delighted and totally surprised to find that we have a slight tail wind. I have never ridden this road with a tail wind: always the wind has been in my face. In my mind that is fair; the original trip to Bethlehem was not an easy one I am sure. Perhaps it behooves me to remember that when I feel sorry for myself or feel despair.

On the way to the store stop, Steve has a flat tire. We stop and I get off the bike, take off my helmet, and sit in the grass in front of a small, rather dilapidated mobile home. A man comes out of the house and engages us in conversation, wanting to know how far we were riding, where we were from, and so forth. He tells us about his pool table and dart board and offers everyone a beer or something else to drink. Steve asks if he has a piece of duct tape to use as a boot. He does not have duct tape, but he does have another type of tape that Steve is able to use. Duke, his dog, and another adopted dog, loll in the grass until we leave when they halfheartedly give chase.

At the last store stop, we sit on the curb outside of the store and talk for a long time. I like the feeling of companionship. I like both of these men. Finally, however, we decide to finish it out and head toward Bloomington Trail, one of my favorite roads. We pass through the covered bridge. Flowers of some type, yellow and quite beautiful, line the road. Leaves are beginning to yellow and fall in places. Chris takes off. When Steve and I crest the hill, we see him already about ½ mile ahead behind a school bus. I joke and say the school bus must have held him up. Steve jokes and says Chris probably had a flat and has fixed it and rebuilt his wheel while waiting for us. When we do catch up, Steve facetiously accuses him of taunting us. We end the ride together and there is a feeling of camaraderie. One more day of the challenge, and I fear the weather will not be as perfect as it has been most of the week, but then that is what a challenge is all about. Who will take the challenge and show for Packmans Hint: A Journey to Orleans? Come out to play.

Challenge Series Day 5: Packman s Hint: A Journey to Orleans

With the rain prediction, I expect a small crowd today and I am right: Perry Finley and (of course) Steve Rice are the only riders to show. The skies are dark and oppressive and there is a distinct chill in the air. It is not the chill of a fall morning that you know will soon burn off leaving you toting arm warmers and jackets and vests, but one that promises to hang on the entire day. If it were early spring, we would be talking about how warm it is, but not today after the unseasonable heat. Perry points out a beautiful rainbow arching over the ride start, and I point out that it is leading to Orleans. My heart warms at the beauty and I know it is going to be a magnificent riding day, different than the others with the sun and blue skies, but just as special. I momentarily feel sorry for those who have not yet learned or will never learn the charms of riding when rain threatens or when rain actually falls.

A few minutes before we leave, I decide to switch bicycles. Because of having some saddle problems, a friend from Wisconsin, Greg Smith, has been kind enough to mail me three of his saddles to try. The one on my Lynskey appears to be THE ONE, but I do not want to abuse our friendship by getting it wet despite his saying that he would not mind, so I switch to the Cannondale which has the saddle that used to work for me but is no longer produced.

Orleans is one of my favorite centuries, inspired by a good friend: David Packman Ryan. For those of you who do not know, Packman maintains the club website and is VP of Communications. Prior to becoming paralyzed, he was also one of the top distance riders in the area and legends about him are still occasionally replayed on rides and on the list serve. Ask an older club member about David chasing riders up Pottershop in the past, pitchfork in hand, riding the hill everyone dreads over and over, then riding back to Louisville rather than staying all night in Bardstown. Packman is also a good friend of mine, and a mentor in my quest to conquer distance on a bicycle. I love him, and I respect the wisdom he has shared with me. I can not physically take him with me on rides, but I often carry him with me in my mind, particularly on this century which came about because of a suggestion he made. I will always be thankful for his suggestion, and so I honor him in the only way I know how in naming the ride after him.

Perry, Steve, and I head off towards the first store stop in Medora at a reasonable pace. Despite the fact that this part of the ride is flat and easy, I worry that I will slow everyone down. It is not that I feel badly, but I have no desire to hammer today. Luckily we all feel the same, and nobody presses the pace the entire day. This day will make a tad over 600 miles in 7 days for me and 100 more for Steve. Steve also intends to ride tomorrow. While I would love to join him, I have other family commitments.

All of us donned arm warmers prior to the ride. We banter back and forth as friends do, and I think about how glad I am to have friends like these two, as comfortable as a favored old pair of jeans. As we near Medora and cross the river, we see men working on the arches on the sides of the Medora covered bridge as we pass. The bridge looks so vulnerable, not at all like the battered grand dame she was prior to the start of the reconstruction. I look forward to seeing her as she must have been in her youth, and I wonder how long the work will take.

As we ride along, I notice that the green that I love so is slowly yielding to drought and to season. The Tulip Poplar trees are losing their leaves, and those that remain are more yellow and brown than green. The soy beans are changing from green to yellow and brown. The corn is bent and brown, ready to be harvested. In fact, in places it has been harvested, red corn cobs littering the sides of the road. We pass a melon field that was never harvested and the smell of vinegar is pungent in the morning air. I think of the two melons sitting in my kitchen, a gift from my husband who knows they are one of my favorite summer breakfast foods. Later in the ride, Perry tells me about a gift he has given his wife, a class he is taking with her, and I think about how we enhance our own happiness when me make others happy. As much as I love presents and nice surprises, there is a certain joy in giving and making someone else happy that can not be duplicated in receiving.

Not long after the first store stop, it begins to drizzle. We stop to put jackets on. Both Steve and Perry have rain jackets, but I have only my emergency poncho. My goretex jacket is just too hot for these temperatures, and the new, lighter jacket I have ordered is still sitting in Indianapolis per the tracking number. The plastic rustles in the wind, but it serves its purpose keeping me dry and warm. I love riding in a light drizzle like this. It is as if the earth perks up, colors and odors intensifying. I am looking forward to lunch. When I first designed the ride, the lunch was at Quizno s Subs, one of my favorite sub restaurants, but it closed and forced me to look around and we found this jewel: Maple Street Restaurant. When one door closes, another opens.

By the time we leave the restaurant following a most delicious meal, the rain has stopped but the wind has picked up. Perry pulls us most of the way until we turn away from the face of the wind. We pass a rather vicious looking dog that begins to run out, but he barks and turns back into his yard, or he turned back UNTIL his little friend, obviously the boss dog despite being one eighth of the size of the big guy, asks him what he is doing. They both give chase, but by that time we are safely down the road. At one point in the ride, we see a wagon wheel in a front yard and Perry tells me that some settlers picked where to homestead by where their wheel broke. He says he does not know if this is true or not, but if not it is a lovely legend and I ponder how we humans search for a place to call home.

All too soon, we are at the third store stop in Salem. I have mixed feelings about finishing the series. I will be glad to rest, but I will miss the freedom of being able to ride all day and Monday will mean the end of vacation and going back to work. On our way down Old 56, we see several Amish buggies, one filled with only young girls and no adults. We sweep down the two mile hill, up the rollers, and into the fire station. The Challenge is over for another year, this time with two finishers: Steve Rice and myself. Now I must rest until the 1000K brevet is complete. This series has prepared me as best I know how. Hopefully the Challenge will be repeated next year. Are you up for it? Come out and play.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cobb Hill Brevet

I was torn about whether to do this brevet or not. Part of me wanted to do the brevet and face what I knew would be the difficulties of extreme heat and humidity and a challenging course. Part of me wanted to just skip it and say I had done enough tough, long rides for the year and just needed to be ready to face the 1000K in the fall. I grow weary of the heat that drains my body until I feel desiccated like a mummy. When I hear that Bill will be out of town and Dave will not be able to make it, however, the final decision is made. Just as I accompanied Dave on his Texas 300K when he missed the Kentucky 300K, I will accompany Steve on this 300K despite his protestations that he does not mind riding alone. Some rides are just very difficult to face alone and this would be one of them with the heat predicted heat and the distance. I also knew that he wanted to share Cobb Hill. Part of the fun of a ride can be sharing the hills and the scenery. I was curious about this hill. Thus far I had not met a hill I couldn't scramble up, however painfully, though Fire Tower and Pottershop both took more than one attempt prior to success. Would this be one of the first? I then remember not making a hill on the Horsey Hundred, but that was on my fixed gear. So perhaps memory is playing me false and there are more sleeping somewhere in my unconscious.

I decide to accept the kind offer to stay in Shelbyville with Susan and Steve due to the 6:00 a.m. start and because I have been sleeping more soundly and did not feel I would be a disturbance haunting the night. I hate it when I am wakeful and can't read or get out of bed. I wonder if Susan will change her mind and accompany us knowing that she is not looking forward to her 17 mile long run in the heat, but she decides to keep with her training schedule for the Iron Man.

I fall asleep easily, and near morning I am awakening by thunder that literally rattles the window frames. I can dimly view glimpses of streaks of lightening through the blinds like the neon lights when you are staying in a motel in a city. I wonder if this is going to be one of those days like the one in Texas when Bill, Steve, Dave, and I got caught right in the middle of a violent lightening storm. I know brevets are not canceled for most weather conditions. It was scary until we found shelter that day, but somehow exhilarating at the same time. Maybe we never really appreciate the gift of life until we see it threatened.

Steve and I head out together toward the ride start. I am relieved at this as I know I would have trouble finding the ride start in the dark on my own and it is also nice to have company. There are more riders than I anticipate and all of us share that same buzz of excitement that seems to fill the air at the start of a brevet.

We head out into a light rain that will last through most of the morning. It is the kind of rain that I enjoy riding in, not hard enough to impair your vision and not cold enough to be uncomfortable. In fact, it probably improved the weather conditions. Steve points out the clouds and I realize I have never seen anything quite like them before. They are flat and shades of gray, mostly dark gray, but they are enfolding upwards in the middle, almost like an upside down tornado would look except you can't see up through the eye. We meet up with Chris Quirey at the first store who assures us it will stop raining in four minutes and six seconds (if I remember correctly). We decide to head on and not take our chances. I notice how the purple chicory mixes so nicely with the white Queen Ann's Lace that line some of the roads we travel, and how the water stands in tiny droplets like jewels. I notice how everything seems clean and fresher from the rain.

A little before the store I think that my left calf is going to cramp. This is strange as it is early in the ride, I rarely cramp during a ride, and if I do cramp, it is normally in the thighs. It lasts the entire ride, sometimes causing pain to extend to my knee, and I decide I must have pulled a muscle somehow. It never causes me to have to quit, but it is uncomfortable and remains so a couple of days after the ride.

When we near the first control, I realize that I had been calculating the miles incorrectly in the my mind. Somehow I was thinking that the first control fell at 100 miles rather than 66. Suddenly I have gained 34 miles. I giggle a bit at my foolish miscalculation. Sometimes I worry because I feel as if I may have early Alzheimer's, but then I decide that if I do there is no need to worry because it won't change it. It is almost a foreshadowing of what is to come when I once again am reminded that life should be enjoyed as it is short.

We move onwards and as we near Cobb Hill I see a sign that tickles me: "Halls Cemetery Road." It is green and lush here, but the hills and miles are beginning to take their toll. Steve offers to take a picture and I take him up on that offer. We trudge onwards towards the turn around control. I have waited too long to continue this narrative, as I forget much about the rest of the ride into the control other than a short, steep climb that left my heart racing and wishing I had climbed in an easier gear and the long, slow, painful climb up Cobb and Patsy Hills. I am proud of myself for making it up the hills, but I worry about the way back. The speed of my descent after cresting tells me they will be something. Steve confirms that he thinks they are worse on the way back than on the way out.

As we near the turn around, we come upon Steve Royse and Tim Carrol fixing a flat. Steve I have known for years, but Tim I have known only through the Big Dogs site. Steve and I head onwards when I have my own flat. Steve asks if I want to fix it myself or if I would like for him to do so. Since he is so much faster, I ask him to fix it. I am amazed at how the sweat just begins to stream down my face and body when we stop. I guess the wind created by riding evaporates some of it, but it is hard to believe a body contains this much fluid and still moves. At the control, Tim catches us. Evidently Royse has worked his way through all of his tubes and there is nothing more he can do to help him. When Royse later arrives, he says he is calling his wife to pick him up. I give him my folding tire. I also give him a tube and feel terrible later when I hear it had a leak. Luckily Johnny had a patch kit and he was able to finish.

As we leave the control, we come upon another rider who has run out of water and is shriveling in the punishing heat. Tim gives him water and he says he can make it the four miles into town. I stop and adjust my camelbak. However nice it might feel to have ice cold water running down my rear end in the heat, it will feel nicer to have something to drink along the course.

We come to Cobb and Patsy Hill. I have already decided that if I feel as if I am getting too hot, I will walk. I use the goosebumps on my arm as a further indicator, and end up walking two hills. At the top of one Tim gives me some wild flowers he has picked as he reached the top before us. Even now, dried, they retain some of their brilliant color mix of purple, green, and yellow. Then I stuck them in my handlebar bag.

Steve begins to really suffer from the heat, cramping up. He tells me to go on, but I really don't feel like pressing the pace. There are a few times that we sit and rest along the side of the road as we do in Tokyo. Store stops become longer and longer.

When we are within a few miles of the last store, we are riding along and a car comes behind us madly blowing his horn. I am trying to figure out why as there are no cars in the other lane, the other lane is visible, and the driver's progress is not at all impeded by our being on the road. I wonder if it is like the brevet where there was an accident and this driver is going to give us the bad news. Instead he sweeps by. Steve calls him an asshole and the next thing I know the man squeals his tires and pulls into a short gravel patch alongside the road and begins yelling at us to get over there. We ignore him and ride by and he squeals out. Steve suggests we get off the road, so we pull in a drive and dismount. The man pulls up, stops his car, and whips out a gun and points it at Steve asking if he said something. There is a young, dark haired girl in the car as well, but she refuses to make eye contact. Some words are exchanged and eventually he moves on, but for a short period of time I thought that Steve and I were going to be killed. I thought about those things that you think but never say to the people you care about and who care about you. I think about my family and my friends and I hope they know that I loved them.

Things calm down and the man drives off and we wait for the police. Steve has photographed the license plate and will make a report, but my experience with the legal system makes me feel it is probably an exercise in futility. The officer arrives and Steve gives him the information. We ride on only to find the store is now closed, but we stop to have a soft drink before the final lap.

Sometime during all of this, Steve talks with Susan and finds out there were terrible winds at their home, they have lost a tree themselves, and a neighbor has lost a tree that is across the driveway blocking my car in. My phone then goes off. I can't reach it in time to answer it, but I see it is my husband. When I try to return the call, he doesn't answer his cell phone and our home phone is busy. I try my daughter's cell phone and get her voice mail. Maybe because of what we had been through or maybe because my husband never calls me during rides, I became convinced that either my husband or my daughter are hurt. Selfish as it is, I would rather they lose me than vice versa. I begin to panic. I just need to lay eyes on them.

It turns out that everyone is okay. I reach a friend by phone who is kind enough to get dressed and go check. Steve gets my car around the tree. We are not shot and our bodies hidden somewhere and either never found or found months later. We completed the brevet. But I hope to never have that kind of excitement again.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Kentucky 600 K Brevet

I really wasn't sure what to expect with this brevet. Yes, I have done the distance before, but I had heard horror tales of the course, particularly the last 200K. 386 miles seems such a long way sometimes. Also, I am older, and I know that I am not as physically fast or as strong as I was three or four years ago. Something in me longed to conquer the course, but something in me equally as strong was afraid to make the attempt, afraid to fail. I think that so often in my life I have robbed myself of success because of a fear of failure, but with age I have come to believe that failure is part of success giving it a savory tang it would otherwise lack.

Perhaps, however, as Marianne Williamson said in her quote often attributed to Mandela: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." I ask myself if I could be afraid of success? I don't think so, but who knows. Life is confusing sometimes. That is one thing that I have always liked about running or cycling: it gives me time to puzzle on things that I really don't understand. Sometimes I wonder about the people I ride with and their willingness to tolerate me when they seem so smart and I am just me, not particularly stupid, but not exceptionally smart. Despite the fact the most of the them are younger, they seem so worldly. But back to the brevet.

Despite Susan's kind offer to allow me to stay all night at her home because it is so much closer to the ride start, I decided to stay at the hotel so that I could get settled in and have everything laid out for Saturday and Sunday. That way all I would have to do on Saturday evening would be to bathe and sleep before heading out again Sunday morning. It also allows me to get an extra hour of sleep.

On Friday after work, I went down to the motel and registered for the brevet after gathering my things at home after work and packing them in the car. Part of the fun of riding a brevet is the planning and packing and getting the bicycle ready. All went well until after I had taken my bath and was in my night gown. It was then that I realized I had forgotten to bring deodorant. With a heat prediction in the nineties the next day, there was no way I was going out on that ride with no deodorant. The guys later chuckled at this saying no deodorant would help in the intense heat that washed us in sweat before the sun even came up. I hope that they are not implying that I smell all the time;-) Anyway, I got dressed again and drove out into the night in search of deodorant so I would not affect the sensibilities of those I ride with or my own nose.

Morning came all to early and I felt grouchy. Normally when I set an alarm clock, I awaken a few minutes before it rings or my furry alarm clock pats me with her paw. If there is anything that I hate in the morning is the sound of an alarm clock. I don't normally mind getting up, but I always mind the ringing that assaults my ears and makes my heart race. Why can't someone invent an alarm clock that gently rubs my back or kisses me gently behind my ear or on my neck or cheek or that strokes my hair the way my husband used to do when I stayed home with the children and he would leave for work, back when we were young? It is a much more satisfactory way to greet the morning, sliding gently into consciousness. But I suppose nobody can build something to replace the love that grows between two people and that is expressed through touch. People talk about their fear of losing hearing or eyesight, and I agree those would be too terrible to contemplate, but losing the sense of touch would also be an unbearable sorrow. Walk through a nursing home and watch the people reaching to pat and rub: an unmet human need that haunts the elderly.

On brevet morning, my internal alarm fails and I am awakened by the piercing ringing of the motel phone with a wake up call. I begin to get ready only to find my camel back valve appears to be leaking. This is disturbing as I know dehydration will be a constant battle and I drink more with the camel back. I particularly worry about tomorrow as there are so few stores on the course. I think I have fixed it only to find a few miles out that I am wrong. The water quickly soaks my shorts, gloves, and shoes. It doesn't feel badly as it is already hot and humid at 4:00 a.m. but I remain damp all day from the humidity. The air is close and muggy, like breathing syrup, the entire day. Sweat beads on my arms and legs as if I were a freshly waxed car in the rain.

I ride the first 30 miles or so with Bill, mostly in silence. I have not had my normal morning coffee, and I can tell it. If Bill had tried to get me to talk much, he would have been able to tell it. Luckily, he is okay with silence. I also just could not make myself eat breakfast. Before the first store, we hit a dip in the road that I was unprepared for but luckily I only lose my grip with one hand. We pass the first available store without stopping. At that point, we catch up with Chris. Bill pulls ahead and Chris and I ride a bit together, something that is unusual because he is a much faster rider than I. He later tells me he has decided to ride conservatively because of the weather and a healthy respect for cramps. I soon fall behind only to be caught by Steve and Dave. Before long, Bill falls back and joins the group. We will spend much of the ride together. It is interesting to me how one or the other of us will pull away for awhile, but we always seem to catch each other for a good part of the ride. I trust each of these riders.

The hours pass and I watch the dawn greet the earth. The sun blushes behind thick clouds which is probably what saves me on what turns out to be a difficult day. The sweat just does not evaporate from my skin, and I can't seem to drink enough to quench the terrible thirst that assaults me. At the first store stop, I have to force myself to eat. While I have been riding with others, I have been fighting black thoughts in my head and questioning my decision to do this ride. I question if I want to go to Paris again. I question if I even want to go to Texas again. I think of how I would feel if I just sold each and every bike that sits in my home begging to be ridden. Another rider joins us and I almost lash out when he attempts to pass me while a car is passing causing the car to squeal its tires. Under my breath I cuss; in my mind I think "Idiot, don't put me at risk by doing something stupid," but I keep my peace. I then begin to giggle at the thought of Bill and Steve's reaction if I actually had said something out loud.

Finally we reach the turn around point and I consider a good sign that I am hungry. It is never a good sign not to want to eat on a long ride. We have lunch and I feel better than I have all day. I am able to smile as we head out, maybe because of a full belly or maybe because I know this days riding is half done. We have not gotten too far before a car slows and tell us a rider up ahead has had a bad accident. We ride perhaps another mile and come upon a rider who says he went off the road. He has a bump and abrasions on his head, his shorts are torn, and his knees are bleeding. He appears confused. At first he says he wants to continue, but I point out that he would be riding at night without his glasses and the others help convince him it is not a good decision. We spend quite some time arranging for another rider's wife to come and pick him up as he is from far away and has no way back to the start. I give him my cell phone as he does not have one and ask him to leave it at the motel desk.

We head back out. Before we get too far, I realize I have given away my only chance of rescue if I should need help. I can always borrow a phone, but my daughter's new cell phone number is safely programmed into the phone that I just gave away. There are so many numbers in my life that I have all but given up remembering them all. It takes me five different passwords to get into work and on the computer. There is my bank number. There are telephone numbers and RUSA numbers. The heat once again begins to take its toll and I fall back. Dave drops back as well and pulls. When I tell him to go ahead, he tells me he is tired and can't go any faster. I know he is being kind, but I accept the pull. As we near Crittendon, out hopes sky rocket as the sky appears dark and promises rain. Drats, only a little sprinkle on us though it is evident that there had been rain here shortly before we came. I begin to wonder if God is punishing me for something. Seeing as I do so many bad things, it would be hard to pick which one, but the idea haunts me and lines from Thomas Hardy fill my mind. This is not a good sign as I always found Hardy to be rather depressing At the stop, I tell everyone I am a bit tired and not to feel badly about dropping me and going on.

Somehow I manage to stay with the group and we finally pull into the Waffle House at a tad after 11:00 p.m. We go in to get something to eat and I tell Dave and Bill that I am thinking of DNFing. I am shivering as I make myself eat the eggs and sausage I ordered. Rudely, when I finish, I leave the two of them sitting there to go to my room. I tell them not to worry if I don't show up in the morning: it will mean that I decided not to continue or to leave later than the 5:00 a.m. start time we had decided upon earlier. As I leave, Steve pulls in having dropped back a bit and asks if I have any butt paste. I tell him I will leave it outside my door.

At the motel, I ask for my cell phone and it is waiting. I decide that I will wake up and see how I feel before making a decision. I get to my room, insert the key, and nothing happens. I go to the office and get another key. I return to my room, insert the key, and nothing happens. By this time, I am almost crying. I paid for a room and I want in there. I want a bath. I want a bed. The manager brings the master key and a lock cleaner and finally is able to open the room. Meanwhile, he gives me Steve Royse's brevet card saying he found it laying in the drive when he came to work.

I ask for a 4:15 a.m. wake up call. This leaves me plenty of time to drink a couple cups of coffee and make the decision whether or not to continue. This course is knows as being difficult, with the last day being harder than the first. This time my internal clock awakens me and I decide to continue my quest to conquer this course. We take off into the night. I am using my new light and it seems to do a good job of lighting the road, but by 6:00, the sun is coming up. The days starts cloudy with a 70 degree dew point and I begin to question my decision, but early in the ride, right after leaving Lockport, there is a cold, cold rain. Being hot, I would have thought it would feel good, but I know if it soaks me I will be shivering and cold. Steve suggests we shelter in a barn. It is old and filled with old tobacco that never made it to market. The construction interested me as the frame was just constructed of trees. The one by the door is getting ready to give way having cracked near the middle. But the barn holds until the rain passes and we are back on our way.

The scenery this day is breathtaking, but the entire route has been either up or down hill. Incredibly, I find I am feeling pretty good and even look forward to the Lockport challenge. I am tired, but my legs seem to accept that more is going to be asked of them and the dark thoughts I have fought begin to recede. I also am very glad I have a triple on this bike and say a prayer of thanks that I didn't let them talk me into a compact crank.

The hills out of Lockport come and go before I know it, and we are sitting in McDonald's about 16 miles from the end. Everyone looks exhausted, but everyone still can smile. I laugh and say that there is definitely something wrong with us doing something like this. Steve smiles and points out that not only did we do it, but we paid to do it. This strikes me as even funnier.

I end the ride with Bill as Steve and Dave race ahead. I feel a sense of pride in not giving in, and I know that I partially owe this to the men that allow me to ride with them. This has been a hard brevet. There was a small crowd, and of the small crowd, four were unable to finish for one reason or the other. But once again I have surprised myself. At the end Susan is waiting and she looks so very pretty and refined. I think how lucky Steve is to have her waiting for him. Still I am glad I am covered in grease from fixing my chain when it slipped off and covered with sweat from my efforts. Before you know it, I am on my way home hoping to hear that I have made it into the 1000K. Picture courtesy of Steve Rice.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Watching the Earth Give Birth

For a week or longer I have been torn between seeing my friends and doing the group ride or riding on my own. There are many friends I feel I have not seen in forever, but spring is such a short season and is so very lovely and the group ride is in town. It just seems like too much to bear. Friends will still be there; the last of the daffodils and forsythia will not. I make my final decision sometime while I sleep. I can't miss the spring and watching the earth give birth.

When I awaken, I sit and drink my morning coffee while the washing machine washes the sheets I will hang out before leaving this morning. I am not sure where I want to go, but I finally decide on Orleans. Early in the ride I thought I was going to get another bike when two German Shepherds came out and would not listen to their owner. I worried about flooding, but when 700 was dry figured I had it made. Somewhere on the way to Medora, I see a barn with two old, old bicycles leaning against it as decoration. I pass the round barn. But then, the flood waters before I get to the covered bridge.

Hey, it is okay. I have my handy, dandy GPS and I have always wondered where a certain road goes, so I turn around. I know if I head west I will eventually find a way across the White River. I ride and the way I want to go has a sign posted that the bridge is out, so I turn another direction only to have that road end in gravel. I pass some bee hives and stop to photograph them for my husband. I decide to see if the bridge is possibly nearly finished. Wrong. This bridge was built in 1900 and is permanently closed. While I am taking a picture, a car pulls up and a young woman gets out. She tells me she has walked the bridge and offers to hand my bike over. The kindness of a stranger warms me. She walks the bridge with me and hands my bike over the second barrier. I offer to pay her for lunch, but she declines. When she hears how far I intend to ride and where I have ridden from, she is amazed. I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday.

I head on toward Buffalo Bottoms. The red bud is fully in bloom and the dogwood is awakening, blinking at the sun and opening wide. Everything is still so green. Wildflowers cover the route. I have no idea where I am and it is wonderful. I had forgotten how much I love wandering when there is time and the weather is nice. In five or six miles, I come upon some roads I know and decide to consider Orleans. I have missed Medora, my first stop, and I would like something to eat. Normally I am better prepared than I am today. When I figure the miles, however, it would turn the ride into a 200K and so I modify my route. At one point I pass a pond with two logs that catch my attention. As I look more closely, I see turtles sunning themselves on the logs. When I stop, most of them slip into the water, but not all. I manage to catch a few on film before moving on.

I finally get something to eat and drink in Salem at the seventy mile mark. This does not bode well for me as tomorrow is another ride, but what was I to do. On the way home, I check out Franklin Bottoms but it also is flooded. Even this has its own kind of beauty. "~ Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world. ~" Virgil Kraft