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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Christmas Girdle or the Pounds of Christmas

The holidays have passed, and took along with them my physical fitness.  Ugh.  I have gained weight, and it drags on me, lead like, anchoring me firmly to earth.  My steps sound and feel heavier throughout the day.  Effort robs me of breath more easily and gives me a new appreciation of breathing and of the exquisite value of air.  I find myself eating despite the fact that I have no true hunger: eating because it tastes good, eating because it pacifies me, eating because of stress at work, eating because it is there.  The sad part is that I am  eating without the appreciation of food that a good ride can bring and without the appetite that a good ride can bring.  One of the marvelous gifts that riding gives us is the genuine appetite that is an exquisite garnish to the food we eat, making the need to replenish our body with fuel a delight. Food just tastes better when you have earned the right to it and when your body truly needs it to meet the tasks that are being asked of it.

When I finally get together with others for the "Orleans: The Back Way century," I find that I have company in my food musings.  Lynn Roberts talks of finding himself with a handful of almonds he doesn't really want. Mark Rougeux talks of the holiday weight gain. While everyone looks thinner than me, I suppose they too struggle.  So perhaps it is not all will power and perhaps it is not just me and a character weakness, perhaps it is just one of those annoying things that is part of being human.  Even so, hills that normally come easily seem more like mountains than hills when you are dragging five to ten extra pounds up them and the legs have weakened from the lack of training miles.  In winter when it is cold and windy it is just too easy to say no to a ride.  Inertia and indolence tease me as a well fed cat taunts a mouse, paralyzing it into inaction.  I grow weak, and I know I must fight this.  "How soon 'not now' becomes 'never." (Martin Luther)

It is a genial group of eight riders that gather to ride to Orleans, all on singles except for Jody Patterson and Steve Maurer who are on their tandem.  I feel for them as I struggle up the early climb on the not so aptly named Flatewood Road.  I have never ridden a tandem and I suspect I would find it very disconcerting to ride one, trusting and giving up control, but I have been told that hills are even more of a challenge on a tandem than on a single bike and I have no reason to disbelieve this assertion.  And this hill is a challenge, however doable,  on this particular day at this particular time.  Later I will tell others that this ride was "fun," but in the midst of a hill I wonder why.

Sometimes I believe there is something a tad off about cyclists and their obsession with hills.  Is it not odd to seek out such pain and to even take perverse pleasure in it?  But, oh,  what satisfaction when you reach the summit or when you climb the same hill at another time and realize that it took little effort, that all your hard work, sweat, and pain paid off and what was a mountain is now a mere molehill.  There have been times when I find myself thinking that there is a bad hill on a road only to realize I have already climbed it and not noticed. And I have found the scenery on hilly routes eclipses that of flat land beauty. This is certainly true on Flateland Road with the occasional vista where you can see the land sprawled out below you for miles now that the sentinel  trees have discarded their leafy covering leaving bare the landscape.

I think momentarily of hilly triumphs such as the first time I made it up Fire Tower Hill, and of how I felt like Lance must have felt winning the tour, jubilant and proud and invincible.  I got to repeat this victory twice:  once on my triple and once on my double.  I think of my failure at Cobb Hill, walking to the top, defeated, only to find Tim Carroll there (who made it up the darn hill with his double while I failed with my triple) waiting at the top with a fistful of wildflowers and  a welcoming smile on his face. I could not ruin his victory with my disgust with myself, and soon I was laughing and joking.  Perhaps I will make it up Cobb Hill on another day when it isn't 95 degrees out and I don't have 100 or more hilly miles on my legs.  For those of you who don't know Cobb Hill but do know the Fire Tower Hill, Fire Tower Hill is a mere bump in the road compared to Cobb Hill.   I think of hills I have cursed and hills I have serenaded, each special in its own way.  I think of how I like the challenge of a good hill, and how cycling brings out the best in us as we throw ourselves against the wall until we succeed.  How very many victories I avoided in my fear of failure before I understood that our failures also give our lives color and flavor. And by the time those thoughts have passed, we are on the flat farmlands surrounding Orleans.

Orleans is a small town, one I had not heard of prior to my cycling days. It is probably not the best choice for someone who has Christmas pounds to lose because it has one of the most inimitable small restaurants. Though I don't believe I have ever had the same dish there twice, each has been remarkable.  Today I pick the pulled pork barbecue, and I am not disappointed. My taste buds yell "hoorah" and I appreciate the need for food for the first time in awhile.  I am grateful not having to worry about every little calorie and how I am going over the daily limit calorie limit I have set for myself  in my attempt to regain a waistline.  Of course, it does not help when Dave King asked Jody and me how many calories are in a bag of chips.  Jody asks if he knows that most of the small bags are really considered to be two servings.  Dave tells us he means one of the big bags.  Jody and I share a grimace of disgust.  How can such a skinny person eat an entire bag of chips?

I am glad for the leisurely pace back to the ride start.  The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the wind is at our backs, and the company is congenial, a mix of personalities that somehow meshes and provides camaraderie.   It just doesn't get much better than this, particularly in January.  A mistake in the cue sheet takes everyone by surprise, but it is easily remedied and all is forgiven as it might not be if the weather were not so kind this day.  And there is payback for the hills.  At one point I hit a bump that leaves me soaring through the air, defying gravity, no wheels on the ground, and for one glorious moment I am gloriously flying.  The same bump leaves Jody glad for being clipped in as she left her seat, hovering in the air.  Not so long after that there is the two mile downhill near the end of the ride that winds through a forest and where one day on a solo ride I spotted two small Amish boys braving the descent on roller blades.  It is a good day on the bike, and I am thankful.  Winter days often are not so kind, particularly on those who have become slackers. And perhaps I lost a little bit of my Christmas Girdle;-)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


While the sun shows promise of shining brightly all day in a cloudless, blue sky, it promises no warmth, a cruel mockery of the hot and demanding sun of summer.  Like the strange transformation that occasionally happens when something huge happens and a person you thought you knew turns into a stranger right before your very eyes, sometimes it is hard to believe it is the same star.   It is cold outside this morning, and a part of me wishes I had not signed up to captain a ride. It would be nice to fix a cup of coffee and laze about the house in pajamas for awhile.  But it is December, and my December rides are a tradition:  Puddle's Christmas Breakfast Century and the Bethlehem Century.  The Christmas Century last week-end went well and drew a record crowd due the unseasonably warm weather.  But will anyone show for Bethlehem when it is in the teens outside and the weatherman says it will not get much warmer?

With the current economic woes and talk of shutting down small, rural post offices, it is likely that this will be the last year for mailing Christmas cards from Bethlehem, Indiana. The thought saddens me and hardens my resolve to ride despite the cold even if nobody else shows.  I would not want to miss this last opportunity.  As so many first times are special, last times are perhaps more so, maybe because so very often we do not know that they are the last time.   Sometimes I think about what my last ride will be like and whether my riding will end from age, injury, or indolence.  Will I know ahead of time, or will it just stop without my suspecting it is ending, like the memory I have of my mother telling me I had gotten to big to be rocked and read to before bedtime and to get up those stairs or suffer the consequence. I will miss the solace of the wind caressing my face and the feel of the road and the companionship of the people I call friends.  I will miss the sound and feel of rain on my helmet and the feel of the sun mercilessly beating down upon me and the myriad sights that bring me such delight. And I will miss Bethlehem.  I mustn't let cold weather force me to miss an opportunity unless the weather threatens worse than today, a day that turns out to be spectacular for riding.

In 2010  I rode Bethlehem alone the day before it was scheduled as snow was predicted for the scheduled day and I needed to get my December Century in.  It is no big deal, this mailing of Christmas cards so that they have a Bethlehem stamp.  I wonder how many people even notice.  But still I relish this tradition of sending love, thoughts, and best wishes in the form of a card.  Perhaps it is the memory of my mother, sitting instead of working around the house for once, addressing stacks of Christmas cards to friends and family, wishing them happiness throughout the holiday and in the coming New Year that makes this so special to me.  Perhaps it is just because it is part of Christmas, and I love Christmas.  There are few things better than the thought of the house being full of family, the smell of pine mixing with the smell of freshly baked cookies caressing us while music and gentle laughter wafts softly throughout the house.  There is nothing better than the thought of snuggling together to watch the traditional shows that delighted me as a child, a delight I passed on to my children. There is not much in life better than Christmas despite the sadness that can suffuse the holiday season at times. I love the traditions, the traditions that were established by those that came before me and have been combined with those that I created for my family.  So many people fail to recognize the importance of traditions. And the Bethlehem ride has become one of my newer traditions since the children grew up and left  home, a tradition that prepares me for their sweet return, however transient.

"Spiritual and religious traditions, when shaped by the feminine principle, affirm the cyclical phases of our lives and the wisdom each phase brings, the sacredness of our bodies and the body of the Earth."   Patrick Wynn

My fears of nobody showing are unfounded.  Perhaps it is a fear that haunts all ride captains.  And it has happened to me before.  Not often, but once or twice.  I don't know why I even worry about it.  It doesn't hurt or mark me in any way. It doesn't mean that I am a "bad" ride captain or that nobody likes me or that nobody likes my route. But it is my nature to worry, thus one of my children's moniker for me:  mother hen.  Mark Rougeux, John Larson, Steve Rice, and Jim Whaley show up to ride the century.  Three others that I do not know show for the 60 mile route.  We have a good day, or at least I did.  Despite the varying cycling abilities, the century riders stay together for most of the ride and nobody seems to mind my laggardly pace.  It always surprises me how patiently people moderate their pace for me at times. Steve Rice even gets to see Santa Claus, a sight the rest of us miss.  But then, that is the thing about Santa:  he is magical and comes and goes unseen.  By the time people read this, he will have disappeared for another  year  leaving only memories of the traditions that I cherish  iced with the people that I love and are important to me. This is the true gift of Christmas:  the memories.