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Thursday, August 11, 2011

TOKYO 2011

"I am often accused of being childish.  I prefer to interpret that as child-like.  I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things.  I tend to exaggerate and fantasize and embellish.  I still listen to instinctual urges.  I play with leaves.  I skip down the street and run against the wind.  I never water my garden without soaking myself.  It has been after such times of joy that I have achieved my greatest creativity and produced my best work."~Leo F. Buscaglia

While I can't claim Mr. Buscaglia's creative genius, I identify with this quote, particularly during certain times of year when I find myself free of common encumbrances and worries.  And there is nowhere that I feel freer, younger,  or more myself than on a bicycle surrounded by friends. And there is no ride I enjoy more than TOKYO.

Part of speech:  Noun
Definition: Tour of Kentucky Overland, a four day bicycle trip I look forward to with relish and elation.

I adore this ride the way a child adores Christmas, and I anticipate it each year without fail.  Just thinking of it causes a huge, crooked grin to emerge further wrinkling my face.  Perhaps it is seeing seldom seen friends who live far away like the Gregs and Joe, perhaps it is being off of work and not having to make constant decisions and hear ugly things, perhaps it is the breathtakingly beautiful scenery that often brings tears to my eyes, perhaps it is  the hills that make my legs cry for mercy, perhaps it is the downhills where I glimpse for a moment what it would be like to fly,  perhaps it is the sharing time with friends who hold the same interests.  Most likely, it is a combination of these things, and I will forever be in debt to my friend, Steve Rice, who designed the route and patiently captains it each year and includes girls.  

Before I know it, the time to leave is upon me.  I had canceled my reservations and was not going to ride this year due to an illness in my  husband's family, but he urged me to go.  Does he know how renewing this ride is for my mental well being or does he just love me enough to not want something I can't help to interfere? Is he telling me the truth when he says this is something he needs time alone to deal with his coming loss or is he lying to me knowing that by letting me go free he binds me more tightly?  I fight feelings of selfishness knowing that humans can justify any decision we make if we are just mentally creative enough.  I end up waiting to see how things are the morning of the ride before making a decision, and I decide to head out not knowing if I will ride one day or four.  I am saddened to hear a friend of mine who normally joins us will not be riding due to his own family emergency.

I pack my bags in the morning and head for the ride hoping that I haven't forgotten anything due to my lack of preparation.  Ten people end up riding this year:  Steve Rice, Steve Sexton, Steve Royse, Dave King, Greg Zaborac, Joe Camp, Mark Rougeux, Jason Willis, Mike Kamenish, and I. We gather in the early morning and smiles split faces.  There is some nervousness that comes through in voices making jokes and teasing as this is a first for some and others know they may not be sufficiently prepared.  This is a hard ride, and the weather prediction is for hot temperatures.  At the start I realize what I have forgotten:  wine.  The guys are beer drinkers, but I prefer the fruit of the grape.  Our gracious sag driver, Deb Sexton, hears my lament and says she will bring some.  Not only does she end up doing this, but it is her own home made wine and it is delicious.  What a giving person she is, and I am glad she is sharing TOKYO with us again this year.

The first day of the ride goes from Louisville to Dry Ridge.  We load our bags into Deb's car and we roll out into the morning air, a collage of colored jerseys and bikes.  At first I worry about keeping up as I did not sleep well the previous night and had ridden 75 miles the previous day anticipating possibly missing the trip and the PBP preparation it brings this year, but soon I discover that the excitement of the upcoming journey has made up for lost sleep.  

The first half of this day is not particularly scenic in comparison to the other days, but seeing old friends and the exhilaration of the trip makes up for that.  There is chatting, joking, and soon I find song pouring out of me as it does when I am happy.  Luckily my friends are tolerant of my voice only occasionally telling me to shut up.  Soon I find myself laughing and guffawing as I haven't laughed in months, laughing so that I have a hard time gasping enough air to power the pedals, laughing until I hurt so good inside. Gosh, I love to laugh.  It seems like we have barely blinked an eye before we are lunching on the river at Carrolton.  Before long we are doing the long climbs to Jonesville and then on to Dry Ridge.  Despite the fact it is not as hot as yesterday, I use an ice sock on the climb out of the store and I am not sorry when I reach the top.

After reaching the motel and showering, I head to the lobby to meet the others for dinner.  I am jubilant to come out and find Greg Smith sitting there and to hear his mother is doing better.  I had been so disappointed when I found he could not ride, and worried about the problems his mother was having.  Facing so many problems with my own mother this year has made me more empathetic I suspect.  We all enjoy dinner today and I get to hear tales of Ragbrai and other bicycle adventures. I listen tense with envy.  To others, we would be a boring lot talking about rides and gears and different frames and equipment, but this is a shared passion, the passion that unites us.  I still am not sure if I am reversing my route and riding back to the start the next day, probably getting hopelessly lost on the way, or continuing with the group.  I check in with my husband after dinner, we talk,  and the decision is for me to go on with the group. 

The second day we head to Morehead and face the first creek crossing.  I remember the first year we crossed this creek and chuckle as I watch Dave now walk boldly across with no fear that a giant crawdaddy will bite off his toe;-)  Our traditional store stop is closed, but another is still open.  As they did the first year we did this ride when we had no idea where we really were going, things work out.  We are soon at the traditional lunch stop and once again I am all smiles thinking of Dick Rauh getting locked in the bathroom the previous year while all of us gathered waiting across the street, glad that it wasn't us locked in that dark, smelly room and naughtily giggling at his dilemma.  

For dinner we don't gather as a group.  A few of us get pizza and eat in the motel breakfast room while others go out.  Dave and I walk to get a small tub of ice cream afterward and I am in heaven.  Pizza AND ice cream.  Dear God, it is no wonder I put on weight during this ride.  It is no wonder I adore this ride.

Day three is the mountain stage with lots of delicious climbs as we head toward Berea.  Mist soaks the morning and floats along the mountains making them somehow dreamlike: clouds come to earth.  Everything is so green and fecund despite the fact that it is August, and I try to soak it up into every pore.  My lust for this scenery is insatiable.  I can't believe how strong I have been feeling during this ride this year.  Climbs that normally leave me gasping for air seem somehow easier this year.   I wonder to myself if I am climbing more quickly or the others are climbing more slowly.  

Day three brings the trek up the creek and the two mile hike through the Daniel Boone Forest, one of my favorite parts of the ride.  As usual, my brake pads begin to fill up with mud.  We regroup at the cave before emerging back out onto the road.  When we can ride again, we borrow a hose from the corner house that we frequent every year and clean our bikes. It is on to Slade and the Nada Tunnel.  A couple of the riders have not seen the tunnel before, and Steve Rice tells them the story of its creation.  Normally I ride the tunnel despite the fact it gives me a sense of vertigo, but this year I walk with Steve Sexton thinking that a fall so near PBP could be disastrous.  

After the tunnel it is on to the best cheeseburger and fries we will experience on this trip.  Steve and I grow inpatient as our fries and burgers sit there growing cold while the cook/waitress does other things, but despite being luke warm it is still delicious.  I wonder how I will ever climb the upcoming mountains, our traditional polka dot jersey part of the ride with the long climbs up to the Estil County Green Sign.  At the bottom, we see a pink pig cross the road.  I have never seen a loose pig before and neither have the others.  Before you know it, Jason has dropped up and Mike, Mark, Greg, and I are climbing.  Soon Mark disappears.  I later learn he dropped his chain.  I begin to realize that I might, just might, get up the hill before Mike or Greg despite the fact they are previous polka dot jersey winners.  My legs burn and my lungs gasp for every speck of oxygen, but I pull ahead and stay ahead.  I never catch Jason but I feel pretty good coming in second.  At first I think, "I am the first woman."  Then I realize I am the first woman every year.  Duh, maybe because I am the only woman rider every year.  

After the climb we descend and feel the cool air blasting out of a nearby cave.  Greg later says there was a mist that he saw, but I suppose I was too wrapped up experiencing the cool.  We stop at the store and I buy a cold watermelon for everyone.  Cyclists are splayed across the floor inside the store.  And then it is up the valley to the motel.   

Then comes the last day, the return to Louisville.  I am always torn on this day.  I don't want this to ever end, but I also miss home and I am beginning to feel tired.  Last night Jim Moore and Mike Pitt joined us for this return leg.  We part company early as they decide to stop at the coffee shop and the rest of us opt for the store.  It passes too quickly and we are back.  There are hugs and good-byes and when I leave I shed a few tears for those I will not see until Hell Week next spring.  Take care my friends.  Thanks, Steve, for the adventure.  Thanks, guys, for the jokes, hugs, and friendship.  Ain't bicycling grand?