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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Pam Century

I have not been riding strongly this year.  It seems I am always chasing my friends, breath rasping heavily,  never able to keep up, always on the fringe, unable to take my turn at the front and pull for any extended period of time.  When dropped, I feel I am  making ground, get them in sight, the road curves,  and they are gone, vanishing, a fantasy leaving me questioning if they were ever there or if my imagination is playing tricks with me.  One thing I  have learned about myself recently is that I have a tendency to see what I want to see at times rather than accepting what is right in front of my nose. I ask myself if they have gotten that much faster or if I have gotten than much slower.  I chastise myself for not yet losing the winter weight that I promised myself would come off early this year.  I worry that they will only ride with me out of a sense of pity or obligation rather than because they enjoy my company.

The reality of potential  loss makes me desperate to hold them close, these special companions.  I cherish the ridiculous illusion that I can keep them safe somehow or can preserve those special moments of heartfelt friendship and that life and change won't ever take hold.  And if I can't hold them close, a part of me wants to put distance between us, to make it so that I don't care quite so much, so that if there is a future loss it will not pain me so. But life is about change and risk and it is befitting that it is so.  Ellen Glasgow was right when she said, "The only difference between a rut and a grave is the dimensions." 

Hills seem insurmountable obstacles rather than challenges to be met and conquered.  I feel old and fat and sad and out of sorts.  I do not want to ride. Still I force myself to get out and turn the pedals:  not like me at all for normally I find solace in my riding.  Typically there is not much than can make me happier than a bicycle ride.  At least I have the mental strength to get out the door and the physical ability to do so.

Have you ever wondered where the real you went? Or have you found there is a part of you that you didn't know existed despite living within your own mind and body for your entire existence?  I know these feelings are related to depression and change, but despite my best arguments to myself that Kitti was only a cat and many people are suffering much worse, she was family.  She was important to me with a realness and immediacy that others are not. Not a day passes that I do not miss her purry presence around the house, the softness of her fur, the joy of her companionship even at her most irksome.  Not a ride ends but that I open the door and somehow expect her to be waiting. I have reached the point where I refuse to apologize or feel guilty for my feelings.  Feelings are not to be apologized for or explained away.  Feelings are value neutral, uncontrolled, and just are what they are:  right and wrong has no place in relation to feelings.  What I can do is manage my reaction to my feelings, to move on and survive. It is okay to love your pet, but it is not okay to quit living when they do.  And I cannot dwell on how I will survive when and if I lose my husband.  Some things in life you do just because you must.

And today on the Pam Century, a century held by Steve Rice every Derby Day, I finally break through the dark bonds that have held me captive, moving on to acceptance.  Again there does not seem to be a reason to this change in emotion, no rhyme or reason.

The ride brings out more people than I expect with such a challenging course, but I am glad to see them.  My fear is that I will be the "Chubby Anchor," but today it turns out to be a groundless fear as my climbing legs return.  Yes, the guys can still climb faster, particularly on the steeper inclines, but they are always in my sight.  It always amazes me how one ride you can feel so weak, and then on another so powerful in comparison. Our bodies are strange machines that way.  The cooler than predicted weather along with cloud cover makes it perfect riding weather.  After a few minutes of chatting and sharing recent events and happenings, we roll out onto the road.

I savor the feeling of the wheels turning beneath me and the scenery passing by.  I have missed this feeling of freedom.  I savor how wonderful it is to see the colorful collage of jerseys streaming before me, and I wonder how I ever thought the brightly garish colors were ugly.  No, they are not colors I would chose to wear to work or even for leisurely lounging around my home, but they are perfect for what we do:  riding bicycles. Happiness and appreciation begin to flow back into me, coursing through my veins. I realize to the depths of my being that I am alive and in good health, and life is short. 

At the first store stop, we see people who appear to be dressed to make an appearance at the Kentucky Derby: women in dresses with hats, men in suits.  I must admit, there is something very sexy about the way some men wear a suit, and I am sure the guys are thinking the same about the women in their dresses with legs that are long and flowing.  Next we see a group of people who are dressed in festive Mexican garb. Their pants have cording crisscrossed down the outside and they have on stylish cream colored short jackets.  I believe they were probably a band.  We talk briefly about how nice looking the outfits are.  I begin to chill, however, thus I am the first to begin to don a helmet and gloves giving the unspoken sign that the pack is about to depart. It never fails to astonish me how quickly a group departs, without verbalization, everyone just somehow knows that it is time.  Matt says he was chilly as well but that the heat prediction was why he wore a  sleeveless jersey, and we speculate whether the predicted 84 degrees will become reality.

Hill after hill rolls out before us, and I find myself attacking the hills and somehow enjoying and embracing the leg pain that stressful climbs always brings.  Some hills I attack sitting and spinning, others standing and mashing, and others with a combination of the two.  It seems that each stresses somewhat different muscles. It is all good.  Everything is verdant and green in that way that only Kentucky  in spring seems to be, a veritable feast for the eyes.  Wildflowers gaily line the roads.  I feel the wind grabbing at the shoulders of my jersey and whipping my pony tail about during delicious descents, and before you know it I am laughing and singing.  I have been down for so long, and it feels marvelous to laugh from my heart. 

The lunch stop on the Pam is always (other than the year it burned down and had not yet been rebuilt) Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Somehow, it just seems wrong to have fried chicken at lunch on a ride, but it is part of the tradition and it is tantalizingly tasty even as I feel it clog my arteries;-)  Why does something that tastes so darned good have to be so darned bad for you?  Isn't that always the way?  After lunch Jason and Matt take off on their own as they have to be back by a certain time that our current pace will not allow.  We bid them farewell, then shortly afterward take off by ourselves.  There seems to be no hurry and when some stream ahead or lag behind, it is not long before we stop and regroup. Nobody seems to be in too much of a hurry today, and I like it. 

When the ride ends, I still have a half mile loop to make to bring the total up to the 100 miles necessary for logging. When I finish the guys are all there enjoying a beer.  Not being a beer drinker or wanting to interfere with this male bonding ritual, I load my bike and head home hoping that I will feel up to riding again tomorrow.  As I relive the ride on my way home, I find a smile on my face and a feeling of contentment.  Oh, yeah, it is good to be back. I hope I never go back to the dark place again, but I know I will.  Unlike when I was young, however, it is easier to keep in mind that it is temporary, that the sun will shine again, that loss will ease and become acceptance, and that life will still  have moments of sweetness that more than make up for the rest.   And for a long time yet, there will be bicycles.