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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.