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Friday, December 20, 2013

Training for the 2014 Brevet Series

It has been a long time since I have ridden with others, instead electing to wander in solitude:  stopping to photograph things that strike as unusual or beautiful and that I will want to remember, choosing my route at random, varying pace according to mood and inclination.  I am always amazed at how much I forget, and as I age my forgetfulness becomes more frequent.  Sometimes I wish I could remember only the good things, the special things, the things that I hold close, like the times my family has told me that they love me or have done or said something that has strummed the strings of my heart or the times friends have said nice, memorable, special things to me that I can hold close to my heart and pull out when I am sad or feel deserted and alone.  But that is not the way.  And perhaps I would not be the person I am today if those were the only things that I could remember, if past hurts and grievances were completely forgotten. When I was younger I did not understand how older people remembered things from years before, but not from five minutes ago.  Now I smile a wistful smile thinking I have joined their ranks.  I briefly smile thinking about a joke shared with my husband about keeping note pads next to us in the living room so we remember why we went to the kitchen.

It is hard to get going in the morning, particularly as there are better days predicted for later in the week and I am on vacation from work.  It is delicious to get up in the mornings and put on a soft, fluffy night robe instead of clothing, to nurse a steaming mug of coffee, to take my time and know I have a day to spend on my selfish self.  It is dark and dreary outside, and there is no promise of sunshine. Wind is predicted. I have been sick as well with a chest cold and have not been on a bike in two weeks.  The course the guys have chosen is a hard one with lots of climbing.  This course hurts in May, the traditional date of the Pam Century,  so I know it will hurt in December when there are fewer miles in these old legs. Part of the struggle is always overcoming the part of my mind that encourages sloth and laziness, the challenge of getting out the door, the challenge of beginning.  Battling these feelings today are good practice for the upcoming brevet season when experience tells me there will be numerous occasions when my mind urges me to quit, to give up.

It is cold outside, and I curse myself for not taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather the first of the month for I continue to try to keep the Big Dog Challenge of riding one outside century ride every month of the year no matter the weather.  Despite the fact I know that I have it easier than others who live where there is even more snow and ice and cold and wind, I briefly toy with the idea of stopping at my ten year anniversary. but I decide that this would make it all too easy to stop riding long rides altogether, and I don't want to stop.  It would make it too easy to quit riding brevets, and I am not ready to stop. Normally, though not all the time, I am glad that I rode and that I rode the distance. And I have formed a group of friends that I would be loath to lose, friends that I share memories and good times with, friends who are important to me. Unlike when I was younger, I know that if I stop now I may stay stopped.   Objects at rest, including people, tend to stay at rest.  

As I drive to the ride start, I wonder if I will hold everyone up.  They never say anything, but I will know by the look in their eyes, the same look my eyes sometimes have when someone has slacked off and is riding way below our normal pace.  And this is winter with short day light hours. Being too slow can mean the whole group gets in at dusk, or worse yet, after dark.  For unlike summer, the group seems to always stick together in colder weather, paces merging to a happy medium.  I decide that I can always turn around if it looks like I will be holding everyone up.  And I feel like I will ride at a reasonable pace.  Prior to getting a cold, I made it a practice to climb lots of tough hills, but riding alone also normally means riding more slowly than you do with a group.   I will just have to see how things go.

And things do go well.  My legs tire, but I am able to maintain a reasonable pace.  At the last store stop, Mark complains about the ceaseless hills and I know that mine are not the only legs that are hurting, aching, complaining about what I am asking them to do. Somehow this helps, knowing that I am not the only one who hurts but will muddle through.  And I know my legs will be stronger for the next ride. Training for the 2014 brevet series has begun and I have passed the first test, the important test, the mental test:  determination, persistence, forbearance.  At least for now.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


"Smile every chance you get. Not because
life has been easy, perfect, or exactly as you
had anticipated, but because you choose to be 
happy and grateful for all the good things you do have
and all the problems you know you don't have."
Unknown author

Deep in my heart I know that creating for myself a culture of gratefulness for my many blessings will enrich my life in incalculable  ways and is one path to greater satisfaction and will enhance my life. Experience has taught me that.  I have worked for  people who are incapable of being grateful figuring that you are paid for what you do and that is gratitude enough.  I have worked for those who regularly express their appreciation for loyalty and hard work.  The same with friends and relatives.   The power of the words, "Thank You," when sincerely said, never fails to amaze me.  Perhaps Machiavelli is right and fear is more motivating in the long run.  I was sure of this in my youth.  But things no longer seem so clear cut.  Strange, you would think age would make things less rather than more muddled.  Sometimes it seems the older I get the less clear cut things have become.

I have much to be grateful for in my life, and part of my New Year's resolution will be to continue to strive to create a culture of gratitude and to let those in my life know how very special they are to me, how close to my heart.  

I am thankful for my husband, the man who has supported me through thick and thin, the man who bought me my first bicycle, who encouraged me to complete triathlons and to do PBP, to take on new challenges and not worry so much about failure.

He has the courage to tell me when he thinks I am wrong, but to still to be there for me.  I prize his honesty even if it sometimes stings.  The love behind it makes it much more palatable, and I always know where I stand.  I grin thinking of the one anniversary or Valentine's Day.  Coming home from work I find a card and some flowers.  He asks if I would like to go out to eat, and of course I say yes.  He takes me to a nice restaurant, and I am feeling so very special and loved.  I am thinking that he will get thanked later that evening, when we get home.  He looks at me across the candlelit table and gently says, "I think you are starting to grow a mustache."  I am taken back, but immediately burst into embarrassing loud guffaws of laughter and tell him how the women of this world owe me a great debt of gratitude for taking him off the market.  As a young bride, those words would have destroyed me, but the safety net of his love and knowing that he would never be purposely cruel to me gave  me the ability to find the humor and to create a memory that I treasure.  I would long have forgotten that dinner had it not been for his sincerity and knowing it was meant with love.  While our marriage, like any other, has not been all peaches and creams and sometimes seemed on the verge of toppling, I am thankful for his presence in my life.

I am thankful for my children.  They have enriched my life in countless ways and have been and continue to be blessings.  They have taught me many life lessons such as how you can hurt for someone else as much or more that you would hurt for yourself, about how sacrifice can bring untold rewards, about family and what it means to be bonded by the adhesive of caring and love.  Together we have memories that warm me.  One Mother's Day my daughter gave me a "Memory Jar" she had created.  A decorated jar filled with papers on which she had written about memories she had of our times together.  A woman where she works told her she would not like such a present, that she wanted something bought from a store.  To me, the present is like gold.  While I have been through those memories many times, occasionally I still  pull out a paper and take a walk backwards in time. I have a son who, despite the distance and his busy schedule, takes the time to comfort me when he knows I am hurting about something, who comes home at Christmas.

I am thankful for my health.  There are many who do not have this blessing.  I am thankful for my home, and my job, and my friends.  I am thankful for laughter, for food on the table, for family.  I am thankful for the cats and the amusement they bring to the house, and I am thankful that I am strong enough through loss to open myself to possible new pain down the road.  I am thankful for my bicycles and the many gifts they have brought me:  new experiences, new friendships, new ideas. 

So, on this Thanksgiving, I say thank you to those in my  life and to my creator.  I will try to do a  better job of appreciating you and of being sure that you know exactly how very much you mean to me.  I will continue to strive to create for myself a world of gratitude and thankfulness and to not take things for granted anyone or anything, and perhaps even come to realize that those things that I would prefer not to happen sometimes needed to happen, for without sunshine we would not appreciate the rain, and without rain, sunshine would lose some of its richness.  As Graham Nash once said in a song, "Grow a little taller even though your age defies." Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.  May you always recognize your blessings and be grateful.  There are, indeed, problems you don't have.  Pray for those who do.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 2013

"Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter
what they tell you, it's not because they enjoy solitude.
It is because they have tried to blend into the world
before, and people continue to disappoint them."
Jodi Picault

Today I will not ride the club ride, but will do my own thing.  I feel some guilt in this as originally I was the one who put the ride on the club schedule, but I did not force anyone to take it over.  Jody was just nice enough to volunteer.  I was perfectly willing to cancel it if nobody volunteered. I have more than fulfilled any obligation that I have toward the bicycle club I have ridden with and I would feel no guilt at canceling.  I have been disappointed yet again as people bend rules to suit their desires, and it will take me time to make my peace and deal with the loss of respect I have for some I considered friends. Changing rules appropriately does not bother me, but breaking rules does. Ridiculously asserting that there never was a rule makes it even worse.  But perhaps I don't see my own faults and shortcomings, and maybe rigidity is one of those faults. In essence, for better or worse, I am a rule follower and believe that some things are just plain wrong despite our efforts to convince ourselves otherwise.  The emperor can say he has fancy new clothes all he wants, but to me he still looks pretty darned naked.  In the end, we have to live with ourselves, and I have done plenty of things that have brought shame upon me. As I prepare to ride, I think of a quote from one of my favorite movies, "A Man for All Seasons:"
“Thomas More: ...And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you--where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast--man's laws, not God's--and if you cut them down...d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.”  

This leads me then to think of the rest of the movie, More's incarceration and his interaction with his wife during that incarceration, a scene I consider one of the most poignant of movie scenes.  And I think of my own recent losses and the losses to come.  Recently I lost my sweet little Meg Pi, and sadness yet again lays me low, my own culpability a scourge. Recently I lost my aunt, the next to last aunt and the one for whom I was named, the one who gave me back my father's side of the family.  Recently I lost a step-son. I have often said that God made teenagers the way they are so that we can bear the grief when they move out onto their own.  And perhaps this is God's way of preparing me for my own demise:  losing others and watching those I love grow old.  Time to move on, time to ride.  Riding will bring solace and time to think.  Riding will help me to mourn and heal.  Riding, hopefully, will bring acceptance. I shudder at the thought of a day when I will no longer be able to think and process and find consolation in the soothing yet demanding arms of my bicycle.

My Kindle predicts that it will be windy, yet warm day for November.  Today the ride I pick will determine the bicycle that I ride for I intend to climb the dreaded hill on Cox Ferry Road, the one that has brought so many cyclists off their pedals and onto their feet, cleats sliding and protesting at walking such a hill, but leg muscles demanding relief.  Yes, today I will ride my Lynskey triple giving myself that respite,  but I will not walk the hill.  I have walked the hill before and I have climbed the hill before it in my middle ring, but today the only demand I will make on myself is not to get off the bicycle.  Today I vow I will be kind to myself.

I pull out into a gray world, a sun chidden world,  remembering to wear orange as it is hunting season and I will be on many roads frequented by deer hunters.  The roads are wet from a nighttime rain.  I double think my bicycle decision because this bike is clean and the cold weather will make washing it more difficult, but I decide to go ride on.  Dawn has just surfaced and as it is a Saturday, most houses are still sleeping peacefully;  I wonder about those of us who haunt the mornings on our bicycles and the runners who haunt the silent, early morning roads.  I wonder if this ride will be drudgery or rewarding:  I know it will be difficult with the wind and nobody to share the wind with.  Before long I have my answer as I find myself entranced with the beauty of the world.  Even though the leaves are mostly gone the trees are beautiful, graceful and long limbed, dancing with their unseen partner, the wind.  Wooly worms line the road, and I wonder if there is any truth to being able to predict the coming winter from their wooly coverings.  The fields are mostly harvested, but those that are not are empty and waiting for the scurrying farmer to arrive. Yes, I miss the color of the other three seasons, but this scenery also has its place.

I am right about the hunters.  On Eden Road and Delaney Park, pick up trucks dot the side of the road, bright blobs in a muted landscape.  I come upon one hunter walking the road, no deer in tow, gun pointed toward the ground, head bowed, and I warn him that I am passing on his left. Disappointment in his lack of a kill gives off an aura of disappointment.  There is a freezer to fill.  It never does to startle someone with a gun that might be loaded though.  It is hard to imagine a road that is worse after having pavement fixes than it was prior to being fixed, but such is the case with part of Eden Road.  Farm machinery or something has scarred the pavement into ruts and my bike bumps and jostles, shocking knees and wrists.  I know it is only for a few miles though, and the lack of traffic on the road combined with stunning scenery makes it worthwhile.

Before you know it I am at the Red Barn.  The parking lot is filled as people bring in their deer for checking and weighing.  Amos, as usual, is welcoming and I realize I have developed a quasi-friend here.  No, I would not  pour my heart out to him, but he would help if ever I should need it.  The laughter of the hunters and their pride in providing for themselves fills the air and I shamelessly eavesdrop as they talk of pictures with their kill.  One hunter briefly teases me about my bright orange attire as compared to his camouflage, and I tease back that I don't want to find myself in the back of someone's pick up truck with a bullet through my heart.  Hunting is not my thing, but bicycling is not their thing.  And these are people who use what they kill.  Not being vegetarian like my children, I have no moral ground here to be upset at their enjoyment of what they do or their pride at feeding their families.   I attempt to call my husband to tell him about a local shooting range I have discovered where they have board shoots on week-ends, but I discover that there is no cell service here, at least for my cheap Trac phone.  Knowing the wind will be wearing me down, impacting my speed, and daylight is short, I quickly down a Snickers Bar and a drink and move on. 

The hill approaches.  I have already climbed a nice hill to get to the Red Barn, but it is not like this hill.  It is long, but it is not so steep that it hurts.  This hill will hurt.  Even using my triple, it will hurt.  My legs will scream and curse at me, my heart will thud heavily against my chest, my breathing will become deep and ragged, and my mind will become traitorous  questioning why I am doing this and urging me to just get off and walk.  As my friend, Paul, once told me, there are those times during certain rides where you would sell your beloved bike to the first person who came along and offered you a ride home;-)  And this may be one of those times.

One thing I love about this hill is that unlike most of the ride that is rolling, it comes after a flat section.  When you approach the hill, it is foreshadowed and hidden by the growth of trees.  I grin thinking of past  rides and the cries going from rider to rider, "Triple alert." And before you know it, I reach the top without walking. There is a core nugget of satisfaction, of a job well done, of success, of still being strong enough to complete the climb. The strong wind beats on me the rest of the way to the store, as if she is angry that I was successful.  Helmet straps that are too long and have not been trimmed whip nosily against the side of my helmet.  As the wind slaps me, doing her best to block my passage, I realize and accept my weakness.  I can't fight it.  I can only accept it and ride on my consolation being that where the wind is now slapping me, it will push me on my return as I have decided to return via the route I came.  And I think that is what I must and should do about the weakness of others.  Then perhaps I can be more forgiving of myself.

When I reach the Mennonite Store, "The Dutch Barn,"  where I will have lunch, I suddenly realize I am scantily clad.  Yes, I am covered from toe to head, but when I first dressed this morning I intended to use tights rather than leg warmers.  Thus, I put on shorts that are mostly worn out as I thought they would be covered by the tights.  Cycling shorts are so expensive, I struggle with throwing them out. When I changed my mind from tights to warmers, I forgot to change my shorts, however, and left on my see through version.   This would be bad enough at any store, but at this store where women are all in dresses that reach mid calf or longer, I would feel absolutely naked.  Even wicked.  But I need to eat and there is no other restaurant nearby.  Little Twirl is closed for the season.  I think of a solution.  I take off one of my tops, tie the arms around my waist, and cover my bottom. 

Leaving the store, the wind initially is with me and I am cruising along in the low 20's with no effort on my part. I am not naive enough to believe it will last long, but I will enjoy it while I have it.  Farmers are now in their fields trying to get in as much as they can today.  Rain and even stronger winds are predicted tomorrow, and the withering plants may bow tomorrow scattering their bounty on the ground where it can't be harvested.  Twice I have to dismount and get off the road to allow the passage of road wide farm machinery. Occasionally I hear the rustling noises of silos being filled.  And all around me there is heart-wrenching beauty.

As I ride I think that I am at one of those times in my life when you realize how limited your time is and that it would be prudent to look at your life and how you can spend what time is left wisely.  That is time to decide what relationships I want to recommit to and maintain and which should be left to wither and die.  A recent possible cancer scare may have magnified this concern, this melancholy,  but thankfully the labs were negative.  I think about how I want to spend my time and about those people I want to share my limited time here with.  By the end of the ride, I still am not sure.  But I am sure that I want to continue to ride.  I am sure that I want to continue to see  the loveliness of this world, the absolute magnificence of this world, in that way that only seeing the world upon a bicycle seems to bring.  I am sure that I want to continue to maintain some of the relationships that I have made through riding even if it means accepting that others, like me, may not be perfect. As Adrienne Rich  once said in a line that has always moved me, "Our lovers failed us when most we sought perfection."   I am sure that I want to continue to make new friends through riding.  And I am sure that I will heal with time, that recent pains will not be so tender and raw but will scab over.  Yes, the losses will be there.  The losses will mold me as all experiences mold us, leaving a wrinkle here, a character change or magnification there, and a scar upon an already battered human heart, forming who I am.  And Picault is both right and wrong, because there is a time and place for solitude for this loner.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

An Autumn Day

Is this not a true Autumn day?  Just the 
still melancholy that I love - that makes
life and nature harmonize.  The birds are 
consulting about their migrations, the trees
are putting on the hectic or pallid hues of decay, 
and begin to strew the ground, that one's very 
footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth
and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect
anodyne to the restless spirit.  Delicious Autumn!
(George Eliot)

It would be easy to talk myself out of riding today.  There is a prediction for rain all day long.  The radar shows spots of red both above and below where I want to go today.  Friends are tied up and I will be riding alone left to my own devices if the weather becomes intolerable.  I just had my wheel worked on and I will not trust it until I have some miles on it.  There is a ride scheduled for tomorrow that is a club ride and I have a century on the schedule for Wednesday and next Saturday and I could just ride then.  There is housework that needs doing. All these arguments run through my head as I fight with myself on whether to grab my bike and head out the door.  But  the sun shows signs of shining, shyly peeking through pink and purple tinged clouds.  It holds promise just as the day does.  The weather is warm and if it rains I will not be cold.  I have not ridden all week due to work and other appointments.  And I have a "restless spirit" today. I know I will regret wasting this day if I stay home, and so I head out, camera in tow, everything vulnerable to water wrapped in plastic baggies.  

I think of how many of my friends cannot understand the delight in riding a century on one's own.  How do I explain the freedom that this type of ride brings?  I can ride at my own pace, fast or slow, and I can pause when I want.  I can take any road I fancy.  I can stop at store stops or ride on if I am not hungry.  I can think of problems and blessings in my life  and my contemplations are not often interrupted by a need to think of others.  I can sing or quote poetry or stop and do a little dance.  I can splash in a creek I pass if I am hot and nobody will sigh or look askance.  In other words, it is a selfish day.  Everyone needs selfish day every now and then, particularly if they are a caregiver.  It is a day to renew my spirit. 

All around me, both people and animals seem to be preparing for winter.  I pass farmers harvesting their crops, once green corn and soy beans now a dull brown,  tractors droning heavily in the autumn air. The husky sounds of chain saws fill the air and pick up trucks are filled with wood needing to be stacked nearby to  heat homes and cuddle loved ones.  I remember the pride in splitting my first log, the smell of wood smoke snaking through the air, the chilliness of the morning when the stove had gone out, and the warmth once it was refilled.  I remember the rustling sounds of my husband in the mornings filling the stove, gently covering me, kissing my forehead, ensuring that I would not chill when I got out of bed, and I treasure once again that feeling of not just being loved, but being tenderly cherished by a man whose past wounds made it difficult for him to be tender or to cherish anyone or anything.  I remember the smell of our mingled scents as I snuggled deeply into the bed that was our nest, content and happy.  I think of how life can harden or change people as they move to protect that soft inner core.  And I am glad that I chose to ride.

I pass ducks with babies and then come upon a totem pole that someone is creating.  "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls." (Picasso)  comes to mind, and I think that perhaps this is also true of a bicycle ride.  I round a corner and come upon a deer lazily crossing the road and note how quickly he shifts modes from meandering to intense evasive action.  I warn him it is hunting season both with words and thoughts.  

The first hints of autumn color the scenery, not yet the blaring farewell of late October but restless whisperings of the fanfare to come.  Leaves fall and swirl in places and in others remain firmly in place, refusing to yield to the inevitable fall from grace.  The first geese of the fall fly overhead, raucously  calling to each other as they navigate the sky to find a resting place for the coming cold.  And the sun reluctantly yields to the clouds,  the rain starts to fall, gentle but persistent, never quite demanding enough to require my full attention though I do turn on a taillight. 

I stop at an old graveyard near a log cabin that has drawn my interest before but where I have not stopped.  Someone has lovingly mended tomb stones.  Some still stand, some have been placed leaning against trees and I suspect that nobody was sure where they belonged.  I wonder if any of them lived in the log cabin nearby. I wonder what their lives were like.  I speak to them telling them that I hope they were well loved, that their lives were not too hard, that they were remembered with tenderness and love by those left behind.  That they were missed and mourned, but not to the point where life for their living loved ones ceased to bring happiness, disappearing into the grave with them.  Because this is what I hope for myself when my time comes:  to be remembered with love but also with the idea that my life was well spent. To be remembered with the feeling that I did not live life as a spectator, but as a participant.  That I rode my bike long and I rode my bike well because it was something that I loved doing as it shows me that world. That I loved often and I loved well and that I was well loved.  But not to take those left behind to the grave with me, but rather to have been an example in some small way. If I can do this, it doesn't get much better than that. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

"You Are Gonna Miss This"

"You're going to miss this.
You're going to want this back.
You're going to wish these days hadn't
gone by so fast,
These are some good times so take a 
good look around,
You may not know it  now, but you're going
to miss this."  Trace Atkins

 While I am not particularly a fan of country music I like this song, perhaps because I find it to be essentially true. I miss being a child at times, the lack of responsibility, the depth of the emotions not yet tempered and tamed by experience.  Anything was possible. And I  miss being a teenager with an entire lifetime of possibilities ahead of me and so very many mistakes yet to make, racing impetuously toward adulthood with no realization of what it really means. And I miss the early years of my marriage when we had nothing, not even a proper bed, and slept on a mattress on the floor, and the pride that came with accumulation of those items to enhance our comfort and meet our needs.  And I miss my children's childhood and the sense of completion and fulfillment they helped bring to my home, flooding its very essence.  Though they have grown and moved away, parts of them are here, permeated the very bones of the house, ghostlike and watching me from shadows, occasionally showing themselves. I miss the way watching them experience life brought back my own experiences or added new dimensions to my perceptions of things.  The way they helped me to effortlessly rearrange priorities and to find the perfect line between selfishness and giving, or at least the best line I could manage.   And  I still enjoy watching them grow, seeing the story of their lives unfold.

The words of this song kept running through my head during last weeks century out of Westport as I rode with some old friends and newer friends, friends that share my love of a good ride, a good joke, and a good course.   Emotions as molten as lava and just as hard to suppress rose within me and I wanted to stop and hug them all and  hold the moment close, to tell them we need to treasure this time together because life is so unpredictable and there is not always a tomorrow despite what Scarlett says.  I wanted to capture to fecund greenness that is Kentucky in a July that has had sufficient rain, to breath it in and make it a part of me, to meld it to my memory of this day and these feelings. But I didn't:  I just rode on. Would they have seen the elephant inside the python or would they just have seen a hat?  (Hint.  "The Little Prince)  Now I will never know.

And yet again today, Friday, July 26, when I decided to take some of the comp time I earned during long days in the winter months and early spring and treat myself to a solo century ride since the weather prediction was for one of those days that is a gift from the cycling gods.  Because in the end, I really doubt I will say, "Boy, I wish I had worked that Friday in July 2013."  In the end, I think I will probably wish I had taken more days like this while I could still ride, that I had not taken my "responsibilities" so seriously.  That I had played more, worked less.  That I had loved more, hated less.  That I had not kept silent about my feelings.  That I had ridden my bicycle every chance I got and explored every new road that I found knowing that every twist and turn can bring a surprise, an unexpected vista, a dog, a hill, a descent, a fall, a friend, a laugh, a tear.  That I had danced with more abandon, not caring what anyone thought.  That I had laughed as I did as a child until I fell down exhausted whenever something struck my funny bone.

Whenever I find I am not appreciating a good ride, where it be due to cold or wind or heat or being tired, I hope I can remember these words because I know that one day I will miss this.   And guys, I will miss you.  I miss the friends I have had who no longer ride or who have moved away or who are injured.  And I will miss the "58 Cafe" that was closed down when I got there, forlorn and abandoned, with only a "For Sale" sign to keep it company. Yes, I remember the meringue pie, the sound of the tenderloin being hammered, the smell of the hunters sitting at the other tables, the laughter at our own table and the feeling of camaraderie.  I remember the long climb out of Kurtz, my thigh muscles aching yet somehow feeling good at the challenge.  Let's make more memories because we're gonna miss this.  We're gonna want this back.  And I just wanted you to know.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What is Randoneuring: To Steve Rice who asked me to write this for the club web site.....this probably was not what you had in mind, but it is what came out

It has been awhile since I was asked to write something defining what randoneuring is all about.  I am quite certain that the person who asked that I write it thinks I have forgotten, but I have not.  The moment just was not right.  Always the words have escaped me dancing just outside my reach, there and alive but unfailingly elusive, giggling at my discomfort, promising but not delivering, taunting, refusing to ground so that I can take hold.  How do you share something you both love and hate when those around you who have not been there already think you are surely not quite right if not downright crazy or lying.  As I often tell the people manning the cash registers at stores along the route, "They say there is one born every minute.  And you have a whole group of them coming here today. Lucky you;-)" Yet while it may hold common threads, randoneuring is as individual as the fools, er people, who ride them.

How do you explain to someone why they should ride a long distance on a bicycle, through the night, through the wind, through the sun, through the cold, through the rain, through whatever conditions fickle fate decides to throw at you often without any or adequate sleep because brevets are canceled only if it is deemed dangerous to ride?  How do you explain to someone why they should ride a long distance on a bicycle when it makes their butt hurt and their knees ache and their legs cramp and their mind has the unusual freedom to swirl with new ideas or thoughts?  How do you explain to someone what could be enjoyable about putting yourself in a situation that is potentially dangerous?  How do you explain the weariness, the doubts, the struggles,  both mental and physical, and how these challenges contribute to the sweetness and total exhilaration of the victory or the bitterness of the defeat? How do you tell someone that you can learn as much, or perhaps more, from your failures than from your successes? Or that both contribute to your being you, unique in all the world?  And how do you describe the joy and humor and sadness that the scenery and the thoughts and the experiences stir up within your heart leaving you achingly fulfilled yet somehow yearning for more? The bonding with fellow travelers along the same route? The reliving of ancient memories.  The joy of seeing the final control that also is sometimes oddly mixed with a sadness that your journey has ended?

Because there is something about brevets, any brevet but particularly longer brevets, that gives you some insight into who you are and what you are made of and of what is important to you.  Even if you decide to ride a shorter brevet and never to do something so silly as to ride approximately 750 miles in less than 90 hours, the distance of a 1200 brevet, (none offered locally)  you will have gained insight into who you are, what you are made of,  and what is important to you because that is the nature of a challenge, the gift of a challenge,  and brevets are a challenge, even for the most accomplished cyclist.  The words of C. Joybell come to mind:

"I feel that we are often taken out of our comfort zones, pushed and shoved out of our nests, because if not we would never know what we could do with our wings, we would never see the horizon or the sun setting on it, we would never know that there is something far beyond where we are at this moment. It can hurt, but later you say, "Thank you."

And that is part of what a brevet does:  it takes you outside of your comfort zone, even if it is a repetition of a course or distance you have traversed previously.  And it may and often does hurt.  Will you be able to ride the distance?  Will you be able to find the correct roads or get hopelessly lost, doomed to wander the unfamiliar country side until you can go no further?  Will you ride alone or with a group?  Will your bicycle hold up mechanically or will your suffer a break down?  If it does breakdown, will you be able to fix it? How will you get home if not by bike?  Will the night or the heat or the wind or the cold or the rain overwhelm you and win or will you overcome them entering the last control with the prideful mantel of victory cloaking your shoulders?  Will you make the smart choice and live to ride another day during those times when it is not wise to go further and will you have the guts to try yet again in the future learning that defeat need not be permanent and can be a springboard to success? Will you find the divorce papers on the kitchen counter when you get home after spending more time making love to your bike than you do with your spouse?  And how do you thank someone who supports you in your quest? And in the answer to these questions and other questions, you will learn more about who you are, and you may gain a greater appreciation of others as well. And you will say, "Thank you."

In the end, even if you ride a brevet with others, you are alone in your acceptance of responsibility.  There is no one guaranteeing to sweep you in as there is on a club ride. There is no one who is responsible for fixing your flat tire or for waiting for you on a hill or for loaning you money or equipment if you came ill prepared.  Often, indeed normally, there are others who will stop and help those in need, but there is no guarantee.  When it happens it is from the heart and not from obligation and thus ten thousand times more precious, like when your husband brings you flowers not because it is your birthday but just because he wants you to know that he loves you.  What increases the sweetness of the offer of help is that it is not required.  And perhaps there is a sense of pride that comes with accepting responsibility for yourself, a lost art in a modern society where it sometimes seems that everything is someone else's fault.  I suppose what I am trying to say is that a challenging brevet, whether one rides it successfully or not, is or can be character building.  "Character isn't something you are born with and can't change, like your fingerprints. It's something you weren't born with and must take responsibility for forming." - Jim Rohn - And each of us, I would hope, strives to better themselves, to become the best they can be with the talents and gifts were are given.

A challenge can be a 200K or a 1200K brevet depending on your background, equipment, and fitness level.  The challenge is not the distance particularly, it is setting the goal and planning to give yourself the best chance of meeting that goal.  The challenge is in dealing with yourself if you fail to meet the goal, for it is much easier to be a gracious finisher than to be a gracious non-finisher.  The challenge is leaving a warm, dry control in the middle of the night to head out into a cold rain or a ferocious wind for no other reason than you want to conquer the weather and accomplish the goal that you set for yourself.  The challenge is in going without sleep, but knowing when this sleep deprivation impacts you to the point where you are unsafe.  The challenge is in throwing yourself once more into the jaws of the wind. The challenge is in being alone with yourself and your thoughts and in conquering your doubts and negativity.  The challenge is leaving your sense of self and merging with the group you are riding with if you are sharing your journey. The challenge is in conquering the negative thoughts that tell you to just quit, mastering self doubt. And I could go on and on.  Very rarely have I ridden an entirely easy brevet, whether a 200 K or a 1200 K. And remember this:

"The brick walls are there for a reason.  The brick walls are not there to keep us out.  The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop those who don't want it badly enough."  Randy Paush

In the end I find the words to define randoneuring still elude me, and I have not done a good job.  Writing, like randoneuring, can be a challenge.  In the end perhaps randoneuring for me is a love/hate quest that connects me not only with other riders, but with the endurance that has allowed human kind to not only surmount, but to triumph over obstacles, both internal and external.  And I am glad I was pushed out of the nest.  My wings continue to grow and I will mourn the time when age inexorably clips them, but think of the memories that I will have.  Ride on, friends, ride on.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Reason I love my husband #350. 
I get home from the canceled century ride.
 He looks outside and says, "Mad Dogs? 
They should have called themselves the candy asses." 
He then takes a sip of coffee, looks up, and says, 
"What century you riding today?" 
Pekin, Salem, Medora. 
Gotta love a man who knows you that well.

 It is hard to drag myself out of bed when the alarm goes off, dreams as vivid as reality but more seductive slipping away into the soft morning light.  "Just a moment longer," I plead with myself or whoever rules the world of dreaming, but the alarm, though set to the sound of a bubbling brook, is adamant and has drawn the kittens who know it means they will soon be fed.  Paws begin to gently tap at me and inquisitive noses sniff eyes, arms, and legs, any part not covered by a sheet or blanket.  A sandpaper tongue crosses my eyelid and the last vestige of  sleep bids me farewell, hastens away, and is gone. As a last resort (after all she is starving) Lucy walks the length of my body, feet to head.  I notice  the thrum of the rain on the roof,  a steady pattern that I love to listen to while snug in my bed, but the ride captain has promised in an e-mail that the ride will not be cancelled so long as there are those who show to ride.  Otherwise I might roll over, cover all body parts as best I can, shoo kittens, and attempt to go back to sleep lulled by the soothing melody. 

" Can't let the guys think I am a wuss," I think. And I know that I will enjoy myself once I hit the road though it is harder to start a ride in the rain than to accept rain once the ride has started.  So I reluctantly open my eyes, heavily swing my legs over the side of the bed, and put on my robe and slippers to head downstairs to make coffee.  And yes, to feed the kittens. Since this is an early start century and the start about an hour away, I packed last night.  All I need to do is have my coffee, dress and carry my bike and a few other things to the car.

Soon the beguiling, comforting aroma of freshly brewed coffee snakes through the kitchen.    While I did not drink coffee until long after I was married, the fragrance is a childhood smell that I find soothing and familiar.  My mother drank coffee, and perhaps because of this the pungent aroma screams "home" to me. And home means safety and love and surcease from the hubbub and troubles of the world.  For a moment I see my mother in my mind, not old and forgetful and weak as she is now but young and vibrant and strong, seemingly invincible, bent over the stove fixing me french toast for breakfast so I will not go to school hungry.  And I am filled with love for her and protective of her growing frailness.  Yes, we had our differences, and some of what she did was not good, perhaps not even kind, but she is my mother and she has loved me as best she could. As one country song says, "My mom is still my biggest fan."

 I stretch and think how very fortunate I am: a home to live in, coffee to drink, a ride to attend, friends to ride and visit with,  and the health to ride it.  I begin to look forward to the ride despite the rain.  After all, it is warm outside. And I have been known to like the rain. I received my Mad Dog name, Puddle, for my propensity to ride despite the rain. I remain surprised about last night's posts about no cancellation and another e-mail stressing to expect to get wet because many people will not ride in rain, but I think it is a refreshing approach.  No need to continuously check e-mails to see if you are making an unnecessary trip.  Dependability, that's the ticket.  The captain has made clear that he may not ride, but if people want to ride the ride will take place.

 On the way to the ride, I think about how the e-mail last night  was such a guy thing. (Yes, I know that is sexist, but viva la difference).  Or maybe I am just a wuss, because when the captain tells me the ride was canceled, he mentions that he would feel guilty if someone got hurt. While I don't mind at all riding in rain unless it is an exceptionally hard rain or cold rain, I would worry about not calling a ride where someone might get hurt as I would feel guilty, mea culpa,  despite the fact they are grown up people who should be able to make their own decisions.  There is a difference between assuming risk for yourself and encouraging someone else to accept that risk. Sometimes it is just easier to do your own ride. Steve and the guys say they would feel no guilt, so I assumed it was  a woman thing but maybe not. 

 I also realize it is irrational to feel guilty if someone makes a choice that results in their being harmed.  Anyone who rides a bicycle knows or should know that they run the possibility of being injured, maimed, or killed:  it is just one of those risks you take or decide not to take.  And it could happen any time, rain or no rain. Briefly I wonder when people in  this country began to blame other people for decisions they themselves have made that  have gone wrong.  Still feelings are feelings, and they are not always in line with rationality.

When I get to the ride, I am surprised at the large turn out.  I am even more bewildered to find the ride has been canceled despite the previous evening e-mails promising otherwise. Yes, it is raining, but it is a gentle, lilting rain and there is no thunder or lightening.  Even the wind, while strong, is not the kind that causes you to think twice before challenging her superiority and greater strength. 

There are probably ten to fifteen people that show and I have been told that others were on their way but turned around when the cancellation was posted. Though it is warm and the rain is gentle and the radar shows only green and yellow, many people will not ride in the rain.   Still I cede the right to cancel a ride without criticism to a ride captain and would never question a cancellation decision.  The only problem I have with this decision is in the light of the previous days e-mails. Captains have the right to cancel rides as they see fit, period.  After all, they are volunteers, not paid touring guides.  There are ride captains you know will not cancel unless a situation is truly dangerous, there are others the cancel at the slightest problem, and there are others  somewhere in the middle.  I would not have driven this far without knowing a ride captain very well other than the e-mails last night. I would have called.  As I age, I find that I value my time more, perhaps because it does not seem quite so endless any more.  Summer, which seemed an eternity when I was a child and the last school bell rang for break, now seems to pass in the blink of an eye. What a shame to waste it! And I can't help being annoyed at this unnecessary waste.

Matt and Jason are going to ride despite the cancellation, and I briefly toy with the idea of going with them. They say  they will be happy to ride at my slower pace.  But if the bad weather does come, I don't want to hold them back.  Even in good weather I would be reluctant to ask them to wait for me.  A few years ago I probably could have matched them or at least have been less of an anchor, but I just don't press the pace much anymore. Even I can't figure out about myself whether this is because I can't or really just don't want to do so because it hurts and because there is too much to see.  Paul and I just talked recently about riding rides where all you remember seeing is someone's ass, and while many riders have nice tushes there is, as Mike Pitt once told me, nobody's butt I want to look at that long.  And my mother's macular degeneration and the fear that it might have a hereditary element gives me an added appreciation for the sights and scenery of the countryside, something you miss in a pace line.  Things do become dearer when you have the understanding that they might be taken from you against your will.  An anticipation of a possible future loss hones appreciation to a fine edge.

On the drive home, I think how I hate radar and smart phones (though I would dearly love to own one) because of  how they have affected rides.  Personally, I have learned to ignore the green and yellow; but many people, maybe even the majority of people,  panic at the first sign of a large green/yellow area and it is so easy to get drawn into their predictions of doom and gloom.  Even the reds are often small, thin areas that will pass quickly.  Some of my favorite rides have included short stops in barns or other shelters to allow a temporary patch of bad weather to move on through.  Briefly I recall a hard, cold rain on the second day of a 600K brevet and harboring with Steve Rice and Dave King in an ancient barn, or hovering in a garage on the Lawrenceburg Century when it began to hail.  Rarely has rain felt so cold as it did that day despite the ninety degree temperatures.  Another problem with smart cell phones becomes apparent when you stop on a ride. People immediately pull their phones out and it is as if everyone else has ceased to exist: no socializing, just you and your phone.  It was more fun when people spent that time interacting with each other, making me laugh with their stories and their jokes. Just showing my age I suppose.  Even more unfortunate is that I realize I would probably do the same damned thing if I had one. 

By the time I reach the house, the rain has abated.  My husband is amazed that the ride has been canceled and thus the comment starting this piece.  During the ride, I will think about how amazing it is that he knows me as he does, that he encourages me as he does.  So many things I would never have known that I could do without his faith in me.  I think of him telling me at the end of one particularly hot, grueling  triathlon  a number of years ago, "I knew you were hurting, but I knew you had enough grit in your craw not to give up."  Knowing he was waiting at the end and expected me to finish was one of the factors that allowed me to finish that day. No, our marriage has not been perfect.  There were times when we struggled and contemplated ending it, but we both had enough "grit in our craws" to work through things.  The blessings that come from that have far exceeded any expectations and I am a lucky woman for I am loved. 

Another cup of joe and I am out the door, this time on the Cannondale.  I had intended to ride the Lynskey on the other route due to the 23 per cent grade of  a hill, but I recently washed the Lynskey and while the rain has ceased the roads are wet.  Also the wind is fairly strong and the aerobars on the Cannondale will help me to hide from it.  I stuff a sandwich in my pocket as well as I am getting a late start and need to counter that by not stopping unless necessary.  I have decided not to ride a defined route.  I will just ride some favorite roads and design my course as I go. I am still questioning my decision not to ride the tour course despite the cancellation, but I decide to let it go and visualize the doubts blowing out the window and up into the clouds.

About 15 minutes out, a gentle rain begins and will last about two hours. I have brought a rain jacket in my back pocket, but it is warm and unless there is a sudden drop in temperature or I stop for some reason such as a flat and begin to chill, I won't need it.   In the shelter of the trees on Flatwoode, I realize how much I love the soft, lulling rhythm of the rain in the forest and before you know it, I have reached the summit.  I try to think of the last time the sounds have caressed my ears. What is it about rain and solitude that enhances everything, a Viagra of the senses? An uncanny freshness fills the world.  Bird calls sound sweeter, green leaves seem fresher and more vibrant. The whole world seems verdant.  I luxuriate in the joy of it being Saturday and of being on a bicycle on a lovely, early June day. "Rain is a lullaby heard through a thick blanket of clouds. It is the tinkling harp of water droplets, a moist breath whistling through the willow weeds; a pattering beat background to the mourner's melody.  Rain is a soft song of compassion for the brokenhearted." ( Richelle Goodrich)

Flatwoode, despite the name, has a nice climb near the intersection with Pixley's Knob, but once you reach the top you roll along the top of the hill for quite some time.  It is an interesting road with hitching posts, mounting blocks, and all sorts of horse inspired equipment as a local saddle club has a club house there.  I slow to pass one horse speaking soothingly to reassure him, but the woman leading him assures me he is too tired to be frightened of my bicycle.  She must be right as he placidly allows me to pass. Wild flowers line the road, purples, yellows, pinks, and whites,  and the rain somehow intensifies the smells around me. I particularly love one area later on where the purple flowers, name unknown, are mixed with the fescue, the perfect blend of colors. And those areas where daisies reign, scattered randomly, bowing with the wind.  Throughout the ride today, the scent of honeysuckle and roses will tantalize me, holding my senses hostage however momentarily.  At one point I think how sad it is that not all roses have that lovely smell, a smell that reminds me of my grandmother.  As for honeysuckle, it will always take me back to Steve's Pam Century, for it is on that first Saturday in May that the honeysuckle normally first becomes noticeable.  The cool weather has set plants back this year, and I don't ever remember seeing so many honeysuckle blossoms.  In places where the Catalpas are heavy with blossom, the wind has caused them to fall, littering the ground, as if making way for a wedding party for me and my bike. Dear God, I am glad to be alive. And I am glad that I rode today.

During the ride I think about last weeks century and how I enjoyed myself with Bill, Paul, and Ted.  Even the two riders I don't know as well, Dave and Roger, were strong and capable riders.  I just genuinely like each of these people and am thankful to get a chance to spend a day with them, and surprisingly they seem to like being with me.  And nobody seemed to really mind the long wait for lunch or let it ruin their enjoyment of the new roads or the day.  I think of how fortunate I am to have friends who enjoy riding as much as I do and are forgiving of my shortcomings. It was one of those days where everyone seems to be okay with sticking together despite our different riding pace abilities. Nobody seemed in a rush or inpatient about those things that just pop up on new rides from time to time, like gravel stretches of road;-) Knowing that they were being patient with me fills my heart for each of them, because I know they have given me a gift by taking the time to eat in the quaint, rather pricey restaurant with the cloth napkins and a ghost that pinches women wearing black lace occasionally;-)

When I reach Salem I make the only stop of the day and while I am inside having a drink, the sun pops out and the roads dry except under the heavily shaded areas as I head toward Delaney Park Road.  Momentarily I curse myself for not using sun screen this morning, and indeed I have a slight sunburn at the end of the ride. While I wasn't convinced that there would be severe storms as many were at the ride start, I certainly didn't expect blue skies and sunshine.  I open myself to the golden warmth and allow it to seep into ever pore and joint in this old body.  I find a smile on my face.  How glad I am that I chose to ride and enjoy the last signs of spring.  Soon hot summer will make his appearance, arrogant and demanding as always. And storms will threaten throughout the year.  That is the nature of weather.  Sometimes you would be better not riding, but then I remember starting the second day of a 600K with Steve, Dave, and Bill while lightening strikes pulsed across the sky lighting up the deer that bounded between our bicycles on Figgs Store Road.  And I remember Chris Quirey, (I miss you Chris if you are reading this) on one brevet telling me it the rain would stop in exactly 6 minutes and 23 seconds.  He was wrong, but it gave me something to gripe about.  And guys, I hope those memories close to my heart and pull them out occasionally when you are not around to see me grow maudlin. 

Once I  hit Delaney Park Road, I almost immediately come across an Amish man walking in the opposite direction, straw hat, baggy navy pants, scruffy beard.  Shortly thereafter there are two Amish carriages filled with young men and I wonder what the occasion is and where they are going.  I wonder how they determined who would have to walk and who gets to ride.  I wonder what it is like to be Amish and decide I would like the part about not having a cell phone, but I would not like not having access to a phone when needed.  My husband has a great respect for the Amish, and I always remind him that if we were Amish he would have to go naked as I don't sew;-)  He assures me that I could learn if necessary, but he does not remember my struggles in Home Ed. During my mental meanderings, a suicidal squirrel makes a mad dash at my front wheel, turning just in time to avoid a collision, bringing me back to the here and now.

The wind picks up and I wonder if it will be a mistake to head toward Medora.  The route is flat and fast, but I will encounter the head wind on the way back.  There are few things as disheartening as riding straight into a strong head wind.  It certainly minimizes any illusions we have of strength.  This has been emphasized in the past few weeks by the recent tragedies in Oklahoma. I wonder about Willie, an old fiancee from Oklahoma, and hope that he is well.  Despite my concerns about the wind, I find myself drawn in the direction of Medora as I leave Delaney Park and Eden Road.  How I love this freedom, the liberty of choosing my path and of being tied to the consequences of that decision.  Again, I don't like or need someone making the decision for me about whether or not I can ride.  I am a big girl. 

As I decide that yes, Medora it is, I come across a small box turtle stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of the road.  Of course, I stop to move him so he does not get hit.  And I think again of the people I ride with and how many will stop to save a turtle.  Recently Bill did this. Sorry to rat you out, Bill. You could do worse to than to be friends with someone  who stops to save a turtle, a lot worse.  I am blessed. 

On the way home, I  fight a ferocious head wind at times.  I drop in my aero bars and ease my gearing to where it is less of a strain to peddle and just accept it. The wind that is my friend when behind me, is a worthy opponent when in my face.  The wind makes me pay my dues, but she reluctantly  allows me to pass through and I am home, that place of comfort and warmth and love, albeit tired. But it is a glorious tired that comes from a day well spent doing what one loves.  

Will the predicted possible storms come?  I don't know, but let them if they must.  I will be snug in my bed dreaming of another glorious day on the bike. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Texas Hell Week 2013

"You can all go to Hell;  I will go to Texas."
Davy Crockett

This is the saying on my work coffee mug, the mug I got the first year I went to Texas Hell Week, the first year that started this pernicious addiction:  2005.  Ever since that time, when things are going badly and I wish for nothing more than to be on my bicycle gliding down the road with the wind in my hair, free as a coyote, or when the cold has grabbed my soul squeezing tightly and refusing to relent, or someone has angered or frustrated me and brought me to my limits and there seems to be no escape,  I look at that mug and know that so long as I can go to Texas in the spring all will be bearable.  Texas is about bicycles that roll up and down hills.  Texas is about friends that warm my heart.  Texas is about food that titillates my taste buds.  Texas is about scenery that takes my breath away and speaks to my soul.  And Texas is about freedom that can make the rest of the year seem like drudgery.  Many other woman look forward to spa visits or to cruise ships or to beaches, and yes, I also think I would like those things and am not immune to romance, but not as much as I like the spring trek to Texas and Hell Week.  At least, all except the car trip down and back:-)

I meet Steve Thursday afternoon, take him to the airport to pick up the van, and return to await the packing.  When Steve arrives, Dave and he hurriedly pack the van:  6 bicycles, suitcases, tools, and my faithful pillow, the one I took to PBP with me. Soon enough we had out on the road for the annual trek.  Some things are standard:  Czech Stop pastries, What a Burger, Austin Bike stores.  Some things differ.  But always there is the sense of anticipation that only those who truly love to ride their bicycle will understand, hat wonderful feeling before a ride that makes you feel young and adventurous despite your age or experience.  And I don't worry about the food.  I know ahead of time it will be a week of gluttony.  As Robb Walsh  said, "I didn't drive eleven hours across the state of Texas to watch my cholesterol."

Bill Pustow, Jody Patterson, Steve Mauer, Mike Crawford,first timer Ted King, and first timer, Amelia Dauer, all head down separately, either in pairs on individually.  Friends that are not in the bike club such as Greg S. and Greg Z. are either already there (unfair Greg) or also on their way.  In fact, I met these friends at Hell Week thanks to Greg Z. for I would never have had the courage to introduce myself.  And when I do sleep in the car, I dream of seeing everyone and I dream of Texas, happy, untroubled dreams, the kind that renew the soul.  For I am free for one week, no work, no cooking, no cleaning,  with nothing that I have to do and I can ride, eat, and sleep, three of my favorite activities. I am selfish with this time because it seems there is so little of it.  I still feel guilty about not sharing the driving, but I have offered to find another way and they have not accepted so I suppose they don't mind. And so I sleep and read and dream.

The first night we traditionally eat Mexican at the "Enchanted Inn" outside of Fredericksburg, and this year is no different.  We head out immediately after picking up our packet from registration. The price is reasonable and the food is outstanding however unhealthy it may be.  Decisions are made about what time to start as we don't normally join the group start but do our own thing. And before you know it is  morning and everyone is gathered in front of the motel ready to take off on one of my favorite routes, "Windows on Doss."  The weather is not what I had hoped for, but I am here and I am going to ride come hell or high water.  I am intoxicated just with being here, with seeing friends, with knowing that before the week is out I will get a chance to ride in shorts and a short sleeve jersey and be warm, the kind of warm that seeps inside your very bones and makes you glad to be alive.  I will sweat the clean, cleansing sweat of summer.

 I giggle at the name duplication in this morning group:  in a group of ten or so there are two Bills, two Steves, and two Gregs. The Gregs bring a new friend, a Bill I have not met before.  While I don't get to know him well on this trip, I already feel as if I will like him.  I worry about whether I will hold everyone up, but Steve Rice is nice enough to loan me his secondary GPS as I screwed up and did not download the routes correctly.  I know that if I am slow, all I can do is to tell the others to go and they will have to make the choice to stay or ride ahead, but now I won't get lost.  It is silly this worry, as nobody is forced to ride with me.  They all know my normal pace.  But still the feeling is there, the worry that I will cause everyone to be miserable for it is hard to ride a pace that is not your own.  It is sill to worry about getting lost, because eventually you find your way.  But there it is.  Feelings or worries just are whether they are justified or not.

I find that I have lost my urge to hurry.  I want to savor this moment in time, a moment when I am completely happy.   I want to talk and catch up with those I don't see often.  I want to sing and saturate myself with the scenery.  I want to be warm, and I know that before the week is out I will be.  And when I return home I will have lost all my patience with cold.  I will just be over it, unable to cope.  Days that would have seemed warm and quite ride-able a few weeks ago will seem quite unmanageable. 

Too much time has elapsed without getting a moment to write for me to recount much of what happened this year.  Life just got in the way.  Like each Texas trip, it was different.  And this was perhaps a year to mourn some of the differences.  Our groups are not what they once were and I miss the close intimacy that Steve, Dave, Bill, and I once shared.  Jeff and Lynn Pearce did not come. While I did not ride with them, they were missed. (Lynn is one of my female cycling Godesses, gifted and strong;-) New riders from Louisville and elsewhere did come. "Harry's" is closed.  I cry inside remembering the laughter when Harry told some guy who wanted to use the bathroom to "pee on a tree." The restrooms at Vanderpohl are now clean and new.  How odd that while others celebrate this face lift, there is part of me that clings to what was however nasty and unusable the restrooms were. 

Moments:  The ride to Old Number 9 with Greg and Greg and learning that the house I will add a picture of is not a fire tower but someone's actual home. (between Greg and Greg in the distance)  The warm feeling inside of riding with friends I have not seen for awhile, like your heart wants to weep because it is so full and you know the moment is so transient. Appreciation that they like you enough that they are willing to slow their pace. And I still don't know why when I used the restroom there (they are normally closed) there is wind coming up from the commode chilling my bottom. Learning about wild boars and how they have mated with some type of Russian Boar and can be impervious to even a Magnum if it hits the gristle.

Bill and I shared what has become our traditional solo ride together:  the 80 mile version of the Death Ride as I fear I will keep others from getting to Steak Night timely if I do the longer ride.  And now I would have trouble giving it up even with all the time in the world because I always enjoy this ride with Bill because he is a special person to me and I appreciate his patience.  On this ride during one of the climbs I see what I can only figure to be a Black Footed Ferret though its face seemed more beautiful than those I have found on the internet as I tried to ascertain just what type of animal it was.   And Steak Night, as always different than the previous year but always a good time.

And so it is over for another year, and I know that by next January I will once again be pining for Texas. Steve once again won the mileage contest (a little personal competition) with over 700 miles, but I once again won the century contest and had a tad over 650 miles.  Next year, maybe I'll try to win both;-)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Kentucky 200K Brevet 2013

"The most sacred place dwells within our heart, where dreams are 
born and secrets sleep, a mystical refuge of darkness and light,
 fear and conquest, adventure and discovery, challenge and 
 transformation. Our heart speaks for our soul every moment while 
we are alive. Listen... as the whispering beat repeats:
 be...gin, be...gin, be...gin.
 It's really that simple. Just begin... again. "
Royce Addington 

 Yet again it is the start of a new brevet season, and yet again the weather prediction will enhance the difficulties of starting the season rather than lightening the load.  It will be cold and there will be wind. But that, my friend, is what brevets are about, at least in Kentucky in early March:  defying weather and adversity unless the weather is downright dangerous, not just demanding.  Brevets are and should be demanding.  Otherwise what sense of accomplishment would there be.  Yet brevets also yield to different abilities, time limits are forgiving, and almost anyone with normal health can train and successfully complete a 200K.  

Steve Rice never disappoints with his Kentucky routes.  They are always demanding but beautiful. In a sense, the cold temperature prediction with no major variation in temperature makes things easier than if there were going to be a 10-20 degree temperature climb.  You can stay dressed the entire day the way you dress at the start of the ride with nothing to carry, no extra weight other than winter pounds that have not yet been ridden off, and no extra bag to take along to put things in.  The main challenge, of course, is dressing right to begin with so that you are not overly hot or overly cold.

It always interests me to listen to my heart the night before a brevet. Sometimes it is teeming with excitement and anticipation, but at other times there is dread and an empty, flat feeling as I question if I truly want to brave the road and the elements yet again and if I have prepared adequately.   This evening I am thrilled to find my heart anticipating the ride tomorrow: a new route, possibly some new roads, and some new challenges.  I sing softly to myself as I prepare my clothing, my lights,  and my bike so I can get out the door easily in the morning and give myself the maximum amount of sleep possible while still arriving timely. 

I suppose I will never understand why some days I relish the thought of the challenge and other days it is only  stern self-discipline and self-castigation that gets me out the door as I would much rather cower indoors and dream of spring.  Periodically those rides that I dread become a pleasure, but normally they are a mental training arena that helps me to accomplish goals I set for myself. On non brevet days I give myself permission to return home after 10 to 15 miles if I don't feel better, and normally I find myself enjoying myself once I have pushed myself out the door,  but not on brevet days. In the end it is as Mr. Addington says, you just need to begin. After all, who knows what adventure or drama will fill our day if we only get out the door. Or, as a friend recently reminded me, sometimes life is just about continuing to put one foot in front of the other. In a brevet it can sometimes be about just turning the crank over again and again.

When I arrive I realize how splendid it is to see familiar faces, some club members and some not.  I see friends less often in the winter as there are fewer rides.   It is also good to see faces I don't know, but may get to know in the future for every sport needs continual renewal to thrive. I can't think of any of these people that I would know if it were not for my bicycle.  We are brought together by our love of the bike and our admiration for endurance, the quality that has allowed mankind to survive throughout the ages.  Later today, however, I find that for me this ride is about getting the job done, not about lollygagging and establishing new friendships or nuturing old friendships.  I want to be in by dark. It is already cold, and with the setting of the sun it will grower colder still, and quite quickly I fear. I am dressed for day riding, not riding throughout the chilled night.

For three riders, it will be their first brevet:  Steve Meredith, Ted King, and Andrew Thai. I know Ted and Steve, but I do not know Andrew. All three are successful despite the fact that  Steve Meredith had surgery on his hand earlier in the week and is unable to wear a glove.  He improvises with a wool sock, and I think of how he often reminds me of my husband, perhaps because they both grew up in the country and know the wisdom of how to make do when necessary, the backbone of this country.  People huddle in the registration motel room,  chattering and catching upSmiles and yawns mingle, but as always anticipation snakes through the room. Steve Rice, the RBA, always designs such beautiful courses.  Yes, they are challenging, but that is part of the satisfaction of completing the Kentucky series, the feeling that you have met and conquered a challenge. And each of us has dragged ourselves out of a warm bed into the frigid air to begin our quest.

24 start and 22 finish.  Jody and Steve appear to be the only tandem riders.  Currently they are on their old tandem, but soon they will have a beautiful new custom tailored tandem designed by Alex Meade, another brevet rider.  Because the ride starts at 7:00 a.m. the light is only hesitatingly making her appearance at the ride start,  hiding behind clouds, tenuous and shy, maidenlike  in her reluctance.  I intend to finish before dark, so I do not have my hub generator.  Steve gives a brief talk and requests that anyone who decides to throw in the towel call so that he does not have to worry about them, and then we begin.  Bicycles spill down the drive and into the street with an assortment of lights and bags and riders.  

I am not sure who, if anyone, I will ride with today.  I briefly consider trying to hold onto Steve Rice, Bill Pustow, and Mark Rougeux, but they soon pull ahead.  One thing I have learned about brevets is that you must ride at your own pace so I do not stress about it. Trying to hold that pace could mean bonking later.  It is best to plan and be successful.  I can always speed up at the end if I have it in me.  While the days are longer, the course will be hilly so this means no loitering at controls if I am to reach my goal of finishing before night again claims the land,  particularly as I know my pace will be a relatively slow one.  I have been able to maintain my endurance by century rides on the week-ends, but my new job has prevented my riding much through the week and I am not the speediest of riders at the best of times anymoreThe loss of week day miles combined with additional weight gain from the winter could spell disaster if I don't use common sense and ride my own pace. 

From the start the wind bites my face, and while it is milder and gentler than it can be, it is still biting and I have learned to have great respect for the wind.  The wind endlessly reminds me of my own puny, weakness unless we are busy being, as my friend, Greg, says, tailwind heroes..   I think of a quote by Arthur Golden, "Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are." A person has lots of time for self contemplation on a windy brevet day. The wind impedes progress in one direction, but as importantly at times it also impedes conversation.  After riding one particularly windy brevet with Grasshopper and Bill Pustown, I remember feeling I would go mad if the sound of the wind did not stop assaulting my hearing, ceaselessly thrumming, as if she were whispering secrets that I lacked the understanding to grasp. 

Despite the monotone grayness of the landscape, I see the potential for flowers, green leaves, and color.  This will be a beautiful course in places once spring pirouettes in and waves her wand laying winter to rest.  The first control is at the top of a long descent, and despite my quick stop I begin to chill.  Another rider wishes to stay with me, but I am unable to stop the shivering and know that I need to move on.  As I do the normally lovely descent down Devil's Hollow, I quiver violently on the bike to the point where I am a tad concerned about steering,  and I think to myself how unfair it is to be uncomfortable on a down hill.  Winter has turned things backwards, and rather than anticipating a descent, I am anticipating a climb.  

I ride with Larry Preble and Steve Royse for a short bit until our rhythms no longer match, and then we each begin our individual, solitary marches to the finish.  Adding to the wind, it now begins to snow, flakes swirling wildly along with the wind.  They begin to cover the ground, but the road remains too warm for the snow to stick.  I consider what I will do if that changes and hope that my daughter doesn't have some plan that would cause her not to be able to rescue me.   For awhile I contemplate the wonder of having a daughter, and I take a moment to thank God for the blessings he has bestowed on me.  Some people want children so badly but are never blessed, others don't want them but have them anyway and don't treat them right.  I wanted children, and I was blessed, but I am sure I made many parenting errors.  I hope they will forgive me.  But whatever mistakes I have made, I have always loved them.   

 For a short time I am drawn backwards in time in that strange way that riding alone encourages and I remember the softness of their skin and their freshly bathed smell as we cuddled before bedtime to read and enter another world. I think of what I would give to go backward for awhile, but such is not the nature of life.  As Joni Mitchell said, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone?"  And God made  parents young with good reason.  I am about 4-5 miles outside the turn around control when the first group passes me, waving and grinning and bringing me back to the present. I remind myself that one day I will remember this brevet and that I need to appreciate it and my current health and strength that allows me to participate.  This is one thing I like about brevets and riding alone:  I never know what direction my mind may take off in.  Sometimes I am miles down the road and realize I have not noticed anything outside of my own head.

At the turn around control, I  shamelessly eavesdrop as the lady at the cash register talks about the store being put on the auction block the next week.  She believes there will be two bidders.  Her continuing employment is contingent on one of the bidders being successful as the other bidder is a large chain and has already told them they have their own staff.  When I reach the register, I question her about it and sympathize with her uncertainty at the possible loss of a job.  Later I will think about how often I complain about my job and workings, and what a blessing it is to have employment.  I make a mental note to e-mail Steve Rice so that he knows.  It would be hard to reach that control on the 300K or the 400K and find it is closed for remodeling.

 After the turn around, the snow hardens into biting pellets, sleet-like, that sting as they hit my face driven by what seems to be an ever increasing wind.   I trudge stoically onward vowing to bow out if my tires begin to slip on the road.  At Wallace Station, the ground has a light covering, and this would be a good place to stop if I have to stop as they have wonderful food, but I test my tires and they appear to hold stolidly to the road.  When I reach the next to last control following the long climb back up Devil's Hollow, Bill Pustown and Mark are pulling out and I say a brief hello before heading inside to get my card signed and a  quick snack.  By now the snow flakes have softened yet again, and float lazily along with the wind, beautiful in their own, stark way.

I pull into the last control as Mark is leaving in his car.  The motel has a short, steep section right as you pull into it, and my legs complain at this last little bit of effort despite my reassurance that they have served me well and will be given the rest they deserve.  Susan Howell, Steve Rice, and Blueberry are there to greet me.  I am glad to be done, and after a bit of chatting head homeward lured by the thought of a warm, scented bath and a book and a warm bed.  Today's journey has been completed successfully.  Thank you, Mr. Rice, for a challenging course.  Thank you, Mr. Pustow, for marking the course.  And congratulations to the new brevet finishers:  Steve, Ted, and Andrew.  May you find the gratification from completing a challenging task that I have found, both now and in the future.