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Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Unfinished Ride in the Fall

Fall is always an unsettled time for me.  The exquisiteness of the fall landscape as the trees don their festive colors in preparation for a final pas de deux with the wind prior to resting takes my breath away.  It also leaves me melancholy with an undefinable and un-named yearning deep inside my heart.  I could not tell you what I ache for.  Spring?  Youth?  Warmth?  Sunshine? Old acquaintances?  I just know that I long to burrow deeply into a loved ones arms and find solace there. Memories resurface that have been buried, and I find I have an intense need to be alone despite the fact that I mourn the lost company of my friends that I have grown accustomed to seeing on week-ends.  My pace begins to decline and my body protests at any demand for speed, refusing to comply.

Sometimes it helps if I force myself to ride and I know I will not be riding next week-end due to family plans, and so I head to the group ride this morning.  I worry about losing fitness and not being able to keep up with friends if I do not ride.  Things do not go well from the start.  I forget my cue sheet holder.  I forget my GPS.  I forget my chewing gum, an addiction that takes the place of smoking.  My odometer stops working. On top of all that, like some virgin to riding in rain and cooler temperatures, I forget to put on a wool base layer trusting the weather forecast for the seventies.  When I arrive,  I find I am at the wrong parking lot.  I almost turn around and go home.  Something in me does not want to be here.  But yesterdays ride was so pleasant.  40 solo miles of mild temperatures with fluffy white cumulus clouds and little rain.  I am hoping that if I come to ride, I will be glad I did as sometimes happens.  But as I arrive in the correct parking lot today, the rain continues and the sky promises it will most likely be an all day affair.  The skies are gray with no promise of sun.  And I have ridden in so much rain this year.  I  feel enervated and I grow weary of rain.

A small group starts off into a wall of grayness, red lights blinking on the backs of bicycles.  I am surprised and dismayed at the quickness of the pace, and I wonder if it is me physically or mentally resisting the effort.  I am concerned because I don't know this area and have none of the tools to find my way if I drop back.  I debate turning around, but instead ask Randy if he intends to ride this quickly the entire way.  Randy is kind enough to say he will stay back with me.  He has a cue sheet and a working GPS.  It is good to see him.  It has been awhile. 

I am surprised that we can leave the city so quickly from here, and I must admit that the scenery is incredible, but I can't find my rhythm.  At the first big hill, I find I am riding adequately if not well.  I have no trouble scrambling up it at a reasonable pace leaving a few riders behind.  At the top there is a group waiting.  At this point I make another mistake, taking off my rain jacket because the rain has slightly slackened.  As if taunting me, it begins again in earnest when we all have regrouped and started back up.

We reach the store stop.  I am disappointed that they do not serve hot chocolate, but it is a road side ice cream store with no indoor service.  I make another mistake ordering ice cream.  With stopping, I begin to chill in earnest.  Despite the beauty of the route, despite knowing that movement will warm me back up and I will not continue to shiver and shake, I have no desire to continue.  I decide to cut the route short, something I rarely allow myself to do. Mark is going back as he has a wedding to attend and can't spend the entire day riding, and I decide to wimp out and return with him.  Deep inside I know it is mentally harmful to my riding to force myself onward at this point.  I think of a friend's advice about relaxing after PBP and doing some shorter rides, about being goalless for awhile. It is sound advice. I don't want to lose the love for cycling and I may be crossing the fine line that divides burning out with keeping an acceptable fitness level. Pulling out of the store, another rider joins us and we return to the parking lot fairly quickly.  I thank Mark for allowing me to accompany him and head homewards picking up a bottle of wine on the way.  When I arrive home, a hot bath and a glass of Merlot pick up my spirits.  I even take a nap, a luxury I rarely indulge in.  "Tomorrow's another day, and I'm thirsty anyway, so bring on the rain."  Jo Dee Messina

Friday, September 2, 2011

PBP: The Preparation

Montaigne...Villaines...Fourgeres....Tinteniac....Loudeac....Carhaix.....Brest:  the exotic names of  controls ring through my mind like a dream as I begin to make my preparations to depart and begin to plan on what to do to maximize my chances of success once I get there.  Nervousness curls itself around me like a serpent, slithering into my dreams and haunting odd moments when my mind is free. Despite many rounds of wrestling with myself about whether or not to once again attempt to conquer this course,  I have qualified and registered and I am off to Paris. Once again I will test myself,  physically and mentally. My husband does not understand this desire and has often asked why I need to do these things, but he has come to accept that it is something I seem to need to do for whatever weird psychological reason; it is part of who I am and who I am is who he loves.  If I could help him understand I would, but alas, it is something I cannot understand myself.

"You know, it's not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls.  It's the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never
have to fear the truth, that ultimately there is someone who loves our very being."  Fred Rogers

My husband's opinion that I should go yet again because otherwise I would always regret it was one of the reasons that helped me decide to register. I am lucky to have such love and wisdom in my life. I am fortunate that he loves me enough to allow me freedom, not only allows it but recognizes my need for it and encourages it. Some couples do everything together and there is nothing wrong with that, but while I enjoy our time together and wish endlessly that he was well enough to bicycle, I need my alone time.

"Make no little plans; they make no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized.  Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die." (Daniel Burnham). 

I begin to plan to alleviate my nervousness.  I think that success at most endeavors is partially due to planning and partially due to luck,  and I wonder if it becomes more so as we age. I ask myself if I feel that much older than I did four years ago.  Indeed, sometimes I have to do the math to tell people my age.  It just seems so meaningless other than as a determiner for when I can retire.  I wonder to myself if this is some strange dodge to delude myself that I can do this yet again.  I am four years older than I was at the last PBP, and it was so very hard four years ago.  I have done enough distance sports to have learned never to say never again at the end of an event when the pain is still fresh and tauntingly looking you in the face, but still I am surprised that I am once again challenging myself for I still remember the looks on faces and in eyes around me and I remember the feeling of complete and total exhaustion.  Oddly enough, however, despite my aching seat and weary limbs and mind, something inside me knew I could go farther if it was demanded.  Humans are like that, never knowing what they can accomplish if they don't give up and quit. I suppose what I am saying is that most long rides are as much about conquering the minds desire to quit as they are about the bodies weaknesses. I smile thinking that long rides are like childbirth: the struggles dim with time or the human population would have ceased to be many years ago.  But giving birth the second time was easier than the first, so maybe this experience will be easier if I incorporate changes to reflect the changes I know will help me to ride smarter.  I find myself making the mental changes needed to complete endurance events, the minimization of the effort.

Approximately 750 miles on a bicycle in less than 90 hours sounds ridiculous and unobtainable, but I did it once so perhaps it lies somewhere within me to do it again.  So many people have given me advice and encouragement to help me succeed:  Dave King, Bill Pustow, Packman, Eddie, Steve Rice, and many more. To prepare mentally, I will begin to minimize the century rides I am doing mentally telling myself that it is only a short 100 milers. Occasionally I gaze at my wall to the shadow box in which my last PBP medal hangs confirming success. I have won many awards through the years in different sports, but this medal is the only one I taken the time to display properly. Normally I try to look at past accomplishments in the light of advice from one of Adrienne Rich's poems, "Love what you do, Not what you have done." The others hang from nails or on dressers or are in drawers or have been lost.

I grin thinking of Johnny Betrand's kindness in sending me the medal set to go with the PBP medal. His kindness meant as much as the medal itself. Sometimes we have friends that we don't realize have befriended us. Those unexpected and undeserved acts of kindness often mean the most. As I think of him I am suddenly back on my bike in a nameless village in France in the middle of the night, alone and tired and wondering what I have gotten myself into despite the cool sweetness of the damp night air. Suddenly mixed with the sound of gentle rain on rooftops and roads,  I hear the clear sound of whistling wafting through the air as sweet as an after dinner wine embracing me like a warm hug and somehow I know it is Johnny. While I don't know him well, I am somehow comforted and the night seems friendlier. There is someone I know, however, slightly, here sharing this moment even though he does not know that I listen. I feel almost as if I am shamelessly eavesdropping, entranced by what I am hearing yet unable to turn away. I am comforted and know I can continue to ride.

Now I wonder to myself if I can ride all those miles again.  One friend recently asked me what I fret so when I do so many long rides not understanding that it is not just the distance, but the increased weight on the bike and the resistance of the hub generator powering the light.  The crowds at controls steal your sleep time, and I will be lucky to get eight hours sleep in four days of riding.  And then there is the terrain where it seemed I was always going up or down a hill.  "Will I shame myself if I fail," I think, and decide that I will not.  I have prepared as best I can and will do the best I can.  The shame would be in not making the attempt.  Someone, I can't recall whom, once said,"If there exists no possibility of failure, then victory is meaningless."