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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.