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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Appalachian 1000 K

This unedited article is dedicated to my beloved husband who passed away December 15, 2014.  How I wish he had been able to read it. Without his all encompassing love, compassion, wisdom, and support, I would never have had the strength to challenge myself and I would have missed so very much.  He was  present at my first triathlon, painfully hobbling to the start and waiting at the finish, assuring me I had enough grit in my craw to finish, and he bought me my first grown up bike when he worried I was running too much.  He told me I could have a better bicycle when I was a better rider, and then he kept that promise. I always knew he was waiting, if not at the end of a challenge at home.  Most importantly, I always knew that he loved me:  fat, thin, winner, loser......there was nothing that I could be that he would not accept.

While we both knew this day was coming, I selfishly was hoping that it would not come so very soon.   I say selfishly because he was always in so much pain.  His last words to me were teasing me about us both having gotten the other's Christmas presents and how about going on and opening them as he knew what a stickler I was for traditions at Christmas.  How I now wish we had. 

It was shortly thereafter that a blood clot caused a massive stroke that stole his ability to talk and move.  After a brief hospital stint, I brought him home to pass over as he would have wanted me to do. It is odd how you know what somebody wants without asking after being together over 34 years.  It is odd how difficult it is to not be selfish and hold on despite being told he would never walk or talk again.

There have been times when I have been tempted to stop riding my bicycle, and he would encourage me telling me it was important.  And somehow I know it will play a role in my recovery, in allowing me to move forward despite being more alone and frightened and lost than I have ever imagined being in even my wildest of dreams.  In the end, perhaps his gift of my first bicycle was about this, for he always knew me better than I  know myself and loved me regardless.

He was very brave and my hero.  I am incredibly sad and lost, but I know he would be calling me a "candy ass" and urging me onwards. My world without him has become a "terrible stranger." But I know that he is still waiting for me and doing his best to watch over me because I have never been very smart.  I just don't know how far it is until the end of this challenge.  No split times on this course. And I pray I have enough grit in my craw to last until the end. I have been been a blessed woman to have known a love like that, a love that was always there.  May each of you be so blessed as to know someone who loves you regardless of your flaws, hang ups, bad choices.  May each of you love and be loved. And may you have the strength and wisdom to let that  special person know despite the fact that doing so makes you so very vulnerable.

"I like the mountains because they make me 
feel small," Jeff says.  "They help me sort 
out what's important in life."
Mark Obmascik

It is time to depart, to leave this place, this person, and these pets that are so very dear to me.  And for a fraction of my second, as my eyes drink in their familiar visages and my lips welcome my husband's farewell kiss, soft, lingering and unbearably sweet, his embrace, warm and synonymous with home and safety, I think of just staying here and not riding.  With all of his health issues and his failure to be honest about how he is feeling when he knows I am going somewhere, I worry if he will be okay when I get back. One year when I went to Hell Week, he was admitted to the hospital later in the day.  With his typical generosity, he did not want me to miss something I wanted to do because of his health.  And while I have been an absolute harridan since that time, threatening  him if he ever does such a thing again, I know that he would and no amount of spousal threatening would stop him from repeating his action if he feels it would impact my embarking on a new adventure.  I think perhaps long term illness and pain causes him to appreciate how important it is to live while you can still enjoy it.  Or perhaps he knows that despite good intentions, I could not thrive shut away in a house only leaving to work or go to the grocery. 

Experience has taught me  that I can not live always worrying about what I know will eventually happen to each of us. Also my son, Jeff,  and his wife, Lena, are awaiting my arrival in Annapolis, and while there is a part of me that would like to stay home a greater part of me wants to see them and also knows that I would forever wonder what would have happened if I had ridden. A part of me is eagerly anticipating the adventure and knows that I need it despite being scared to death of it.  Life is not and should not be a lesson in stagnation however comfortable and appealing that may seem at times.  I have never been to Virginia or West Virginia before and I won't get there any younger.  And what better way to see it than by bicycle on a route designed by Crista Borras.

With this thought in mind I head out the door. As Oscar Wilde once said, "To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that is all."  I don't want to just exist:  I want to grow, and learn, and experience.  I want to be brave despite being such a coward at heart. I don't want to die wishing I  had done things that I did not do.  I want to ride my bike.

The land switches from flat to hilly to mountainous during the trip, farmlands yielding to towering aeries.  Briefly I think that is why the best riding requires climbing:  the land is just too wild to be completed tamed and subdued.  Entering Maryland, I see signs indicating that there are bear here.  For some reason, this surprises me.  We have deer and an abundance of wildlife in Kentuckiana, but so far as I know we have no bear in our area.  I wonder if they are aggressive.  Will the thought of a bear keep me from feeling comfortable pulling over for a short shut eye if I feel too sleep to ride safely? In my mind, I go over all I have heard about how to act during a bear attack, but I only remember not to run, good advice when dealing with any predator that is not human, but oh so difficult to remember if one is frightened because it means fighting a basic instinct.

I visit with Jeff and Lena for a few days and organize what I have brought into drop bags, hotel bags, and stay-at-Jeff bags.  I can't decide whether or not to use my carradice or to just stick with a large rear bag and my handlebar bag.  Nick Bull suggests I bring both packing my carradice in my drop bag so that I can add it if I feel it is necessary after the first day.  I heed his sage advice and feel better having it available in case I need it though I end up not using it. Finally organized,  I head for Leesburg. This means driving on the "Beltway," another new experience and quite stressful to someone who is not used to much traffic and is such a poor driver.  Everything is so busy and crowded here.  I wonder how people think with all the noise and bustle.  It is not necessarily bad, just different than what I am used to and rather unsettling.  Still, I am glad that I am just visiting.

I arrive at the host hotel, check in, have my bike inspected, eat, and go to bed. During this time, I meet several of the riders, but I know I will not remember their names.  Not good with matching names to faces in the first place, the stress of the past few days combined with an aging mind has made it more unlikely. Everyone is friendly and welcoming but I still feel rather out of place.  I have trained as best I can, but do I truly belong with these skinny, athletic looking people?  They all look so fit, and then there is me who carries a bit of a belly around with me.  I do love food and were it not for my bicycling I fear I would weigh 300 pounds.

Briefly I wonder if anyone else is nervous and has doubts or if it is just me. So many things can happen on a brevet:  I doubt anyone is completely confident that they will finish. I don't expect to sleep well as normally I toss and turn and sleep only sporadically the night before a challenging ride, but I find myself drifting to sleep easily despite the fact it is only 7:30 p.m. This bodes well for day one.

 The prediction for the first day of the ride is for oppressive heat, something that I have not had enough of this summer to acclimate to for in Indiana we have had an unseasonably cool summer. I respect heat.  I fear heat. During my years of riding, I have seen what heat can do to people and have suffered under his brutal hand myself.  He is merciless and has no heart, squeezing people dry and leaving them with nothing, laughing cruelly all the while, crushing any illusion they have of strength or endurance. I also continue to worry about the course.  With the heat and the hills will it still be a delight or will it turn into a death march? I know three men who are very strong riders who have ridden 1000K rides in Virginia, and all three have warned me about the demands of the Virginia terrain:  Greg Zaborac, Tim Argo, and Bob Bruce.  Each is much stronger than I am, and I begin yet again to question what in the world I am doing here. I have until 7:00 a.m. Monday morning to finish the course I assure myself.  I need not be so very strong to finish in the that amount of time. It is only 623  miles.  Surely with a bit of luck and a lot of determination it is possible.  In the past I have ridden farther, and I have trained assiduously for this ride. But I also realize that I must ride smartly, something more easily said than done.  I decide from the beginning that since it is going to be so hot, I will not press the hills as I often do but gently spin up them, changing gears whenever I find my leg muscles being pressured.

Despite sleeping well, it seems all too early when the alarm goes off, an alarm that I set but almost neglected to wind.  Freudian slip?  I dress quickly and head down to grab something to eat as the hotel check in person had assured me they were serving breakfast at 3:00 a.m. as there were so many riders that would be leaving from the hotel.  Despite it being 3:00, there is nothing there yet other than coffee, yogurt, and cereal, so I head back to my room and down the milk, juice, and bagel that I brought from Jeff's.  I also pack the ham sandwiches with butter on yeast rolls that I made at my son's house to carry on my journey, a trick learned from Steve Rice.

Heading downstairs with my loaded bike, a bike that seems to weigh 100 pounds despite my best efforts to take only what I need,  the lobby/breakfast room that was empty at 3:00 is bursting with activity and sound.   Nervous chatter and laughter fills the void, cleats click against tile floors, derailleurs sing their clicking tune as everyone completes their last minute preparations and hopes that they are one of the lucky ones who finish.  Someone, I believe his name is Mike, is clicking photo after photo as we ready ourselves and for a moment as the flash on the camera triggers relentless, I think that this must be what it feels like to be important and have the paparazzi on one's trail.

Momentarily I desperately long for the comfort of familiar friends who ride the brevets near where I live:  Steve, Dave, Bill, Mark.  There is something about having someone you know on the course even if they are not riding with you, even if you are having one of those times when you need or want to ride alone undisturbed by the demands of companionship.  It is like a life jacket, a source of comfort and safety. I slap myself internally and remind myself to be brave and not such a gutless coward:  it is time to cut the cord that binds me, restricts me.  It is time to assert my independence. For just a moment, I am extremely jealous of the women here who have spouses to ride with and to share their journey with, to help them through those "dark times" that a brevet inevitably holds.  How I wish my husband could ride and not be tied down to an oxygen machine. But in the end, I need to be thankful for what I have:  a supportive husband and friends who encourage me to be here despite the fact many of them think I am off my rocker.  "We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."  (Thorton Wilder). And I have been blessed with a husband, children, friends, health, employment.

Outside in the darkness, I put the batteries in the GPS charger, a charger made and loaned to me by Steve Rice, the Kentucky RBA.  I download the course to the first control.   Per his suggestion,  I programmed the route from control to control.  It gives me comfort to know that if I mess up one section, I can start afresh at each control.  It also helps me understand some of the nuisances of the course, particularly in those areas where you ride out to a control and turn around.   I have also brought my own GPS to have as a back up.  Yes, people navigate course with no GPS at all, but I do have the most horrible sense of direction and I am not at all familiar with this area.

It is not yet hot outside, but it is clammy.  Just standing there I can tell that the humidity is high and that  it will be one of those days where sweat does not cool you but just stands on your skin until it drips to the ground taking your  life juices and salts with it.  Anticipation can be felt as Nick Bull gives his speech about the course, about calling if you DNF, about safety.  I momentarily panic as I realize I forgot to have anyone sign my brevet card this morning, but I realize that Nick won't be taking off on a bicycle as he rode the prior week.  When Nick asks if anyone thinks they will finish before 55 hours, one man says he hopes to.  Looking at the results, it appears that it was Barry Dickson and that he was successful finishing in 46 hours and 49 minutes.  Unbelievable.  It makes me feel like such a weak, whiny baby.  I know brevets are not races, but what must it feel like to ride so swiftly and conquer the hills so effortlessly?  Would it be a good thing or would you be so caught up in your speed that you miss your surroundings?  Despite the fact that I am not very fast, there are times that I wish I had ridden more slowly and absorbed more of what surrounded me.  Some of my favorite rides have been solo rambles where I creep along stopping to photograph or appreciate the grandeur  of the  scenery.  But there are also those times that I wish I were as swift as the wind and could be home long before it is a reality. In the end I suppose there is no "one size fits all" type of ride, even for the same person.

While waiting, I chat for a moment with a man named Nigel and I wonder if we will ride together at all.   He seems a comfortable sort of person and he even is familiar with my blog.  And then we are off, a blur of white and red lights and reflective gear.  Shortly after we start, I realize I can still hear the night sounds here:  frogs and insects valiantly chanting their farewell to summer.  I will miss this sound, the sound of summer and of life as it yields to the stony, barren silence of winter rides.  And I think how I always celebrate in the spring when the frogs and insects first wake up, hungry for warm summer nights and mating, filling the air and my ears with their joy, a song of hope promising warm weather and rebirth and of long, leisurely rides where you don't have to worry about your fingers or your toes getting cold. 

 I think how differently this group is riding compared to the Kentucky brevets where the front group heads out as if it were a race and there were not so many miles to follow.  The pace is subdued, even slower than I would normally ride.  The route seems to descend forever to Harper's Ferry and I begin to worry about the return trip.  My friend, Paul Battle, warned me that there would be a climb if I was visiting Harper's Ferry.  What a climb it will be at the end of a long journey when I am already worn out, but at the first control someone mentions that this is not an out and back course, something I  knew but had forgotten.  One trick I use on out and back brevets is to tell myself that ever hill I climb I will be able to go down on the return journey.  I am disappointed that it is dark and I can't see this famous place where John Brown once bravely walked, where the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia all converge.  Tendrils of mist swirl through the lower areas and through the headlights it is as if I can see the dance of small droplets that are the core of its being: silver and beautiful, like a lace shawl, its beauty hiding its potential danger as I am less likely to be seen by any approaching automobile, yet still enchanting and fairy-like. 

After the first control, the larger group begins to break into smaller groups.  Dawn begins to muscle his way into the world, silently but relentlessly, until the last bits of darkness yield. His mane glows and waves with billowing tresses in shades of pink, purple, and gray.  Traces of fog remain hidden in hollows and valleys as we ride along, a resistance movement against the steadily encroaching sun, so I leave my lights on. I am hungry and eat one of my sandwiches.  Butter squeezes out the sides and I rub my greasy fingers on my leg when suddenly the thought arises that a bear may possible like buttered human flesh for dinner. The damage is already done, however. I suppose that any passing bear will prefer me to others due to my sweet butter smell;-)

I wish I could tell you from day to day and hour to hour what happened, but as always on a brevet, the longer I ride the more confused my mind becomes until everything seems to blur together in a rhythm that involves riding, eating, and sleeping:  repeat.  The first day I do remember being surprised at the ease of the course other than the heat.  I remember fields yielding to more mountainous terrain, the verdant green that speaks of fertility and enough rain.  I remember the beauty of the architecture and of the surrounding fields, the camaraderie at lunch where everyone entering the restaurant was welcomed by other riders. I remember the Teresa's friendliness at a control. Mostly, however, I remember the intense heat, heat that will repeat itself the next day. I remember the relief that a brief, late afternoon shower brought, how the rain seemed so cold after the intense heat.  I remember that Norman and I sheltered for awhile in someone's barn when lightening was flashing and he did not laugh at me because I did not have a smart phone or know how to use his before we parted ways.  I remember the rainbow arching lithely over the earth following the rain, off to my left, colorful and oh, so very beautiful. And I remember coming into the overnight control alone and tired and being overwhelmed by the kindness and caring shown by the volunteers.

I hope I never forget how it felt when Crista introduced herself and said that a friend, Greg Smith, had asked her to check and make sure I was okay, as if a soft, fluffy blanket had been wrapped around me.  Mistakenly, I assumed they somehow knew each other.  I hope I never forget the melodious,  mellow sound of Carol's voice and laughter floating through the room, and her tenderness dealing with a rider who came in sick from the heat, unable to eat and nauseous.  Of how she carried his drop bag for him and helped him to his room so that he could recover to ride another day.  I hope I never forget the way the smell of food wafted through the air, heady and enticing, fuel for another day. Or how it felt to take off my riding shoes, to feel my feet sigh with relief. Or how showering felt, the inebriating smell of shampoo and soap, warm and sensuous, washing away the days travels and cares.   Or how the bed was welcoming and warm, a respite from a road and from my long journey.  Sometimes I think that this is what I like the best about brevets: it gives me a new appreciation for things I too often take for granted and a renewed faith in human kindness.  These volunteers will be here all night, doing without sleep, caring for riders as they come and go.  And it will be repeated the following evening by other volunteers and the evening after that.  Who could not want to be part of a club that has such people in it?

Sleeping a few hours, I head back out into the dark hoping to make the first significant climb, Warm Springs Mountain, before the heat once again lays claim to the day and yet again begins relentlessly pounding me with his smoldering fist.  I am more tired than I expected and had trouble drinking the coffee as it was strong and my stomach somewhat unsettled.  I climb and climb, and next to me I hear the rushing, chuckling sound of water, laughing as if it knows some secret that I do not.  I wonder how I missed this sound the prior evening coming into the control as I am tracing my way backward on the same road I came in on.  I wish I could see it rather than just hear it, but it still so dark.  Still it sounds lovely and makes the steady climbing easier somehow.  I worry, however, about two hours later, long after the stream has been left behind, when I find I am averaging only about nine to ten miles per hour.  The climbing is not particularly difficult, but it is demanding and it will be a long day if my pace does not pick up.  Still I know it would be quite unwise to push myself with such a long distance left to cover.  Eventually I meet up with Kelly and we ride together to the bottom of the first big climb.  His company helps to put my sleepiness at bay, and I am wide awake by the time I stop at the store to refuel and he heads onward.

I can't describe for you the loveliness of the climb up Warm Springs Mountain, the rhythm of my pedal strokes, the pattern my breathing takes when I climb, as if my body becomes a song.   I can't say I am sorry when I reach the top, but oddly enough I am not particularly glad either for I have enjoyed the climb, that is until I see what awaits me at the summit.  At first I think my eyes are betraying me, and they are, for there appears to be an ocean winding among the mountains, tapping around corners with an errant paw, arching its back, curling around the edges, and settling down, still but not still as it is fluidity and constant motion, a shining, shimmering sea of mist, blue and gray.  And I begin to cry silently, glad the guys aren't here to see the tears streaming down my cheeks, at finding such beauty in the world.  All the scenery has been delightful, but this view alone is enough to make a 623 mile ride seem insignificant.  It would be a worth a lifetime of climbing and striving and riding to see this, to feel the coolness settle tenderly upon my shoulders like a heavenly shawl.   And I feel small:  small and grateful.  I am grateful to Crista for designing this route, to God for creating such magnificence, and to the DC club that organized the event.

Coming in that evening, once again by the Maury River but this time able to see through the insidiously creeping dusk, I feel like a drunk woman, inebriated by the beauty that filled the day, by the ice sock that kept me from overheating when it was one hundred degrees in Covington. Now the river is going to give me more.  Huge, grey rocks lace the sides of the road forming patterns and the river gurgles and sings and laughs at my human foolishness.  But I am oh, so tired and cannot pedal much faster despite the downhill.  Cimmerian night grabs hold gently brushing my forehead with her cool, soft hand before I reach the end of this road and the cruel last climb after a blessed downhill stretch.  It starts to rain and I find that despite the rain, I need to stop whenever I need to drink as I am having trouble getting my water bottle back in its holder and can no longer do so safely without stopping.  God provides when I am having trouble attaching my jacket to my rear bag so it does not rub the wheel.  There on the ground is an elastic cord just waiting to be picked up.

Again, I am glad I am alone here in the arms of the night, able to do what I need to do to keep myself safe, not feeling any pressure to keep up with others and not impede their progress.   Perhaps I should feel afraid here, alone, in a strange place on strange roads, surrounded by shadows and murky darkness, but oddly enough I do not.  There is so much left to see, but I am temporarily sated.  Like a sponge that has been in water, I can't absorb anymore. Alone I can begin to process everything.

And then there is the third day.  When I leave the control I feel a tad dis-spirited for I am weary, my legs are sore and complaining and my butt hurts. Additionally, I have been warned about the climbs between Lexington and Leesburg and how they will beat a rider up.  200 miles seems a very long way to go when one is already tired. Gratefully, I latch onto someone's wheel as they pass hoping that he does not mind.  I think that this, along with the cooler temperatures, is my salvation.  Would I have finished otherwise?  Probably, but who knows.  Certainly I would not have finished as early or with so little effort because in the end, the third day practically flew by.

 Before long we are climbing again and I call a thank you to this unknown man as he pulls ahead on the climb and settle into my rhythm.  One lesson I learned early on about brevets is the necessity of riding your own pace unless there will be payback for the greater effort, like being sheltered from a strong headwind. Out of the dark on the side of the road Norman appears, temporarily startling me, saying his bicycle has broken and help is being called.  I head on when he assures me he is okay.  There is nothing I can do to help him  and I have "miles to go before I sleep."  (Robert Frost)  I repay the man who gave me the pull when I see him miss a turn and shout out to him so he can turn around.

I later end up spending the rest of the day with the man who turns out to be Paul Donaldson.  He reminds me so of my dear friend, Davy "Packman" Ryan, and I grow comfortable with him quickly, something that is normally quite hard for me. (Packman was a very strong brevet rider consistently arriving at the last control earlier than people who are now Charlie Miller riders.  He never owned or drove a car, but he was paralyzed after being hit by a car, one of life's little ironies). I get the feeling that Paul, like Packman, has forgotten more about randoneurring than I have yet learned.  Of course, he started riding brevets in 1992 while I was still rearing children and would have joined the crowd in thinking anyone riding brevets was, well, just a little bit off.  Rather than soaking myself in scenery this day, though I did some of that, I immerse myself in friendship and laughter and the telling of stories.  The miles pass unbelievably quickly as we laugh and joke.

At one point, on a descent, I feel something moist pelt my arm momentarily wondering if it has started to rain.  A large purple splotch is there, and I mean large.  It have been pooped upon by some gigantic bird.  Luckily, I carry wet wipes on rides and it is on my skin and not my clothing.  I complete the descent and clean myself.  Later in the ride, a truck pulls out in front of Paul and I, a truck carrying turkey dung.  It seeps through the cracks in the trucks siding and tail and dusts us with feces from head to foot.  Now if you have never smelled turkey/chicken dung, you have much in life to be thankful for.  One year, my husband got me a load for my garden for some holiday:  birthday, anniversary.  I just don't remember.  What I do remember is not being able to garden that year or spend any time outside of the house because of the pungent aroma wafting through the air.  I tease Paul about being shit upon twice in one day in one ride.  We also laugh about my inability to find any fried chicken along the route, something I have been craving since the ride start for some reason.  I suppose, as Bill Pustow once told me, it helps to coat the stomach with grease at times on long rides.   

Jim and Roger join us a bit out from the end, though Jim later says he is going to drop back. Nobody else appears to have noticed the house I noticed a day or two ago that allegedly was designed by Thomas Jefferson and I think about how each ride is unique to each rider. I keep teasing Paul saying he said he would have me home by midnight, and he does. 

And it is somehow over.  I have not been eaten by a bear or fallen off a mountain top.   All the planning, training, and hard work lead to fruition. Not just in completing the course, however.  I am not quite the same person I was when I embarked on this journey, and I suspect that the others are not either.  I am a bit stronger, and I realize more that my strength has grown only through the giving of others.  Christa, Nick, God, the mountains, and so many others.......more precious the gift in that it was given by strangers.  Thank you all for this feeling of accomplishment. Hopefully one day I can return the favor and pay back. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"If all else perished and he remained, I should
still continue to be; and if all else remained and he
were annihilated, the universe would turn into 
a mighty stranger."
Emily Bronte

Goodbye, my love, until my chores are done and we  meet again. 
You know I can never thank you enough for all you gave me.  
But oh how I shall miss you.
Delbert Lloyd Hall
November 1937 to December 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Breakfast Century 2014

"You can't prepare for everything that life
is going to throw at you.  And you can't avoid
danger.  It's there. The world is a dangerous place
and if you sit around wringing your hands about it,
you'll out on all the adventure."
Jeanette Walls

The first week-end in December I normally have my Christmas Breakfast Century.  Friends gather at my home for a breakfast feast before heading out into the winter cold to ride a century.  The morning is always dark this time of year, and it is always chill.  I use my best Christmas china and silver, things handed down to me by the women in our family that came before me.  They always make me think of those I love that are gone, and they serve as a reminder that life is short and should be lived to the fullest. (Of course, they also make me think of the hand washing and putting away I will have to do after the ride, but I have found it well worth it.)  I look forward to sharing this breakfast and this day with friends.

Candles burn providing a warmth that electric lights can never match and that screams home.   The tree lights shine and three candle candelabras sit on window sills awaiting the return of loved ones.   The smell of pine snakes sensuously through the air evoking memories of past Christmas Breakfast Centuries.  Lorenna McKennitt weeps her Christmas songs into the air as I prepare the feast.  And then they begin to arrive, sliding in like ghosts from the cold, drear outside.  And I am  happy.

Some years I have had to cancel the ride due to snow and ice, but not this year.  This year the weather looks fine.  There has been lots of rain and flooding is predicted, but no rain is predicted for today.  Yesterday my husband and I traveled to Medora by car to check for flooding.   Medora was not flooded, but 700 had water about 8 inches deep and another road on the way back is flooded.  So I decide to change the route.  Yes, I tried to prepare.  But I should know better.

Normally during winter rides the group stays together.  Those that are faster slow down and are patient with those that are slower, at least up to a certain point.  Patience thins when someone unprepared shows.  I don't expect to go fast today, but I do expect to ride with others.  After all, it is my responsibility as ride captain to keep the riders together and see them home.  And I have always done this in the past, but not today.  Today something will happen that has never happened to me before though I probably have captained one hundred rides.  I don't just lost one or two riders:  I lose them all:  Steve Rice, Mark Rougeux, Tony Darnell, Bill Pustow, Mike Crawford, Amelia Dauer, Dave whose last name escapes me.

Things are fine until lunch.  We reach Vernon at the same time.  We eat at the same restaurant, Burger King, as people don't want to take the longer wait time at the bar.  And then we head out.  Part of the group surges ahead while I wait for another rider to get ready.  Once the few I am with pull out, we cross and intersection and I "think" I see the group riding the wrong direction.  I decide to turn around and see if they have noticed their error yet and turned around.  By the time I cross traffic and return to the intersection, I no longer see them.  I puzzle for a moment and convince myself that I probably saw the orange construction barrels and thought they were cyclists.  My eyes aren't good at a distance and these are riders that  normally can read a cue sheet.

So I turn to catch the other riders.  Being out of shape, my hardest is not very fast, but miles and miles pass without my seeing them.  About 72 miles out, I come to, yes, a flooded road, and it is not the eight inches that I crossed in my car yesterday.  I can't tell for sure how deep it is, but it looks deeper.  It is only in the forties and was below freezing last night, so I worry about the group.  "Did they cross," I wonder.  They must have.  I know a work around but I would have seen them.  There are tire tracks into the water.  They look wider that bike tires, but not as wide as car tires would be.

I decide that since the group was ahead of me and I did not see them retracing their steps to avoid the flooding, they went through.  The water is ice cold as I plunge in intending to ride through, but as it deepens riding becomes impossible.  I get off and walk.  The water reaches my knee and creeps further up my leg as the current intensifies, and I am hysterically laughing.  For some reason the lines from a song, "Everything that kills me makes me feel alive" come to my mind.  I decide if the it reaches the top of my thigh I will turn around, but it only gets about four inches above my knee.  I worry about Amelia because she is so very small and light, but she must have made it across.

I continue riding being surprised how quickly my legs warm in their tights, but then I think of the cold, rainy rides I have done and realize that it has never been my legs that bother me. There have been times taking my tights off when I have touched my legs and they felt like ice cubes to my hands, but they have never bothered me otherwise.  I have wool socks on, and while my feet are chill, it is not that miserable cold, merely a nip that lets you know you have toes.

When I reach the third store stop, I ride by pushing hard thinking they must not have stopped as they were wet.  By this point I have convinced myself every rider was ahead of me.  And then I am at the parking lot and all the cars are there.  NOBODY was ahead of me.  I head in the house intending to get some dry socks and head back out and find messages on my answering machine.  I am able to reach Mark.   Evidently the first group did make a wrong turn and then had a flat.  The second group missed a few turns and eventually hooked up with the other group.  They did not go through the flood waters but rode back to 300 and did a work around, the one I was going to do if I had seen them heading back my way.

No, Jeanette is right.  You can't prepare for everything.  I changed routes because of the flooding and because I have ridden this route twenty times without any hint of it flooding.  And it was an adventure.  I will remember this one, the one where the ride captain lost every rider that was in her charge.  I will remember the freezing cold water and the laughter that bubbled up within me and the weird feeling of exultation.  I later teased the guys who came in later about how they would have gotten home earlier if they had grown a set and crossed the waters.  I asked if they had hid from me. And for once my husband did not scold me for my recklessness.  He knows about my need for adventure and I have been good for awhile and not done anything too stupid.

Thanks to all who came for breakfast and those who came to ride.  Merry Christmas!  Hope to see you next year.   And I will try to prepare, but let's not out the adventure. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"For in the dew of little things the heart 
finds its morning and is refreshed."
Khalil Gibran

An old riding friend  I no longer see on the rides I do and have not heard from for quite some time  recently sent me these words to me in an e-mail saying that they made him think of me.  This friend has sent me other words that I hold dear to my heart, and yet again I must thank bicycling for it was through bicycling that we met. And friends like this, the ones who say those things that build you up, particularly when they arrive on a bad day as these did, are truly friends, welded by time and miles and experience. Even when paths part, the memories remain close whispering of the elusive yet ever present past. I can still hear him teasing me as we climbed a particularly difficult hill during one summer ride, both of us panting and grinning as we struggled to the top.  Sweat poured that day as the heat was intense.  The moment froze in my memory for future recall.  A good time.

Though I am not the best at engaging people being neither particularly engaging or beautiful or friendly and having a need for solitude, I have made many friends through bicycling. Distance cycling, particularly, I believe encourages this closeness because it involves time spent together, time talking and pedaling and sharing experiences.  Time conquering courses and weaknesses and challenges that routes and weather throw at you relentlessly and that weave the fabric of memory. Very rarely do I ride a set course, particularly alone but sometimes even with friends,  without encountering ghosts along the way, whispering, reminding, teasing me.  Some make me smile and some make me cry and some even make me angry, but they all make me feel, and to feel is to be alive. And we all know there is no going backward. 

During this time of counting our blessings and being grateful, I am thankful for bicycles, for the way riding makes me feel when the wind caresses my check and the way it makes me feel when the sweat stings my eyes.  I am thankful for the beauty God created in this world to give us fortitude against the ugliness that also exists.  I am grateful for the health that allows me to ride and a husband and family who understand my obsession and need for this and love me despite thinking I am "not quite right."   I am grateful for friends who send me words of encouragement that just happen to arrive on days when I feel less than good about myself.

May you have wind in your hair and appreciate it,  new and old roads to ride and appreciate them, and may you have friends to share this with and appreciate them.  May you remember that every ending is also a beginning.  May you have the good sense to appreciate those who care about you and the good sense to tell them so.  May you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

"The pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No
Americans have been more impoverished than these who, 
nonetheless, set aside a day of Thanksgiving."
H. Westermayer


Sunday, October 26, 2014

To My Friends Who Do Not Ride Through The Winter

"Every meeting led to a parting, and so
it would, as long as life was mortal.  In every
meeting there is some of the sorrow of parting, 
but in every parting there is some of the joy
of meeting as well."
Cassandra Clare

And so, as I knew it would be, today was the last ride where I will see many of my friends, or at least some of my friends, until the weather warms again and spring stealthily ousts winter, banishing her cold breath, awakening the slumbering earth.  The  morning, though cloudy, was unseasonably warm for the end of October, and I was glad that people came.  Somewhat ironically, they are not the old people who used to ride and laugh at those who only rode the TMD centuries, but newer friends, becoming no less dear to me. Hearts are funny that way:  you can never fill them up with too much love, only with too much hatred.  I am glad they are here for I did not want to ride alone today.  And I love many of my friends, both those that ride, short or long distances, or those that no longer ride for whatever reason.  You lose touch, you grow apart, but always there is that connection forged by miles ridden together, thoughts, experiences, and feelings shared, and time.  Which does not mean, however, that what you had can be renewed, only appreciated for what they were. "For life goes not backward not tarries with yesterday."  (Kahil Gibran)  For better or for worse, we all change and move on.

As always this time of year when there is a huge temperature difference, everyone is debating what to wear.  By the time I leave the house, my bedroom is strewn with different cycling apparel, the accumulation of years of riding.   And in the parking lot, the others have clothing throughout their car.  It is difficult to decide.  Does one want to be uncomfortable at the start of the ride but not carry so much later in the day, or be comfortable and weighted down as the day progresses?  And each of us makes different choices.  

I am just glad that there are still leaves on the trees and that it is still relatively warm.  Fall is so transient, and a good wind and rain can strip the world bare overnight. On the news last night, they said that it snowed last year at this time.  Snow just seems too cruel.  If I must say good-bye, I would prefer that it be a warmer good-bye, more lingering and poignant.  And it is a good ride.  Some trees are bare, but others still hint at the fleeting glory that was theirs, as when you look at a very old person and for a moment you can visualize them at their peak of perfection.  The world is burnished by the season that bleeds yellow, orange, red, and russet. The traffic is not so very bad. 

We carry sandwiches to the lunch stop at Story to shorten our wait, and we get to sit and enjoy the sun that has come out and the guitar player imitating Johnny Cash in the background.  Everyone laughs when Diesel Dog's pop explodes and foams all over him. Waiting to eat lunch until later in the ride has sweetened the taste of the food, and we share Paul's upcoming birthday with him.  Nobody notices when I momentarily blink back tears savoring the sharing of food and scenery and music and friendship and even some memories.  This was the place where the waitress sang to Bill when she brought his food, a place where I have lunched with Sharon who does not ride and who I see all too little.  I add another memory to my cache of memories associated with Story. 

In the bathroom, I find they have added a chalk board that covers one entire wall.  I joke with another unknown woman in there saying they must have know that I was going to write to call me if you want a good time, a shared moment of humor with a stranger. She tells me she arrived on horseback, and indeed there are what seems to be a legion of horses tied up outside the bathroom. The sign outside tells men to stand closer as they are shorter than they think and women to remain seated throughout the performance.  Someone has a sense of humor. And then we helmet up and head out to finish a ride that somehow seems all too short despite my growing tired.  During the stretch we lament fall leaching hard won summer strength from our legs, but riding lessens as we prepare for the coming cold and there just does not seem to be any good reason to hurry.  

Coming into the parking lot, it is over.  How did 103 miles go so very quickly? To those who rode, please know that I treasured this ride and I treasure the gift of your friendship though at times I do not feel worthy of it.  Thank you for the memory.  I will see those of you who do not ride throughout the year, or at least do not ride centuries throughout the year, God willing I will see you in the spring.  Take care. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Henryville to Salem Ride in the Fall

"How beautiful, buoyant, and glad is the morning.
The first sunshine on the leaves: the first wind
laden with the breath of flowers - that deep sigh
with which they seem to waken from sleep; the first
dew, untouched even by the light foot of the early
hare; the first chirping of the early birds, as if 
eager to begin song and flight;
all is redolent of the strength given by rest, 
and the joy of a conscious life."
Letitia Landon

Sometimes dawn slaps you in the face, demanding your attention, there before you even know it.  And sometimes dawn languidly stretches, slowly seeps into the world, clad in shades of purple, pink, and gray.  Today is just such a morning as I wait in my car, facing east, seeing if anyone will show for my ride.  Would it be heresy to say that I hope that nobody shows, that I feel like riding, but I don’t feel like company?  And with the paid ride on the schedule and the distance to my ride, I get my wish.  Just my bike and me.
Heading through the forestry, the signs of fall surround me.  Early fallen leaves, surely premature, scatter the ground and the smell of leaf mold hangs delicately in the air taking me back to childhood and long hikes in the wooded terrain surrounding our home.  Back then fall meant acorn fights and leaf forts and school starting.  Back then meant high school football games and enviously watching my brothers play knowing that as a girl I was not allowed to compete due to my gender.  I am awakened from this reverie by a solitary runner, the rhythm of his breathing and his footsteps surging through my consciousness.  And briefly I am running here again with Carol, my running partner, before her injury, and I mourn and rejoice:  mourn for the loss of Carol and of my running days, but rejoice that I had the experience.  And I rejoice that I am here, that I am on my bike, and that the weather is perfect.
The trees are beginning to apologetically blush in shades of orange and yellow and red.  A falling leaf gently brushes my arm, softly caressing me, as if to apologize for this betrayal.  A squirrel scampers heedlessly across the road, his gait more of a series of arching bounds than a run, acorn in mouth, more concerned about the winter that looms ahead than me.  I suppose that my bicycle and I seem rather harmless in the face of all the danger in his world. 
As I leave the forested roads and slowly enter farmland, I see the changes here as well.  Soy bean fields have been neatly harvested, the fields given a flat top.  Ears of corn yield to gravity, resigned,  their  heads now facing the earth patiently awaiting their reaping rather than pointing toward the heavens, mostly brown now.  All the green in the world is relentlessly, slowly being leached away in preparation for the coming gray, colorless winter.  What green there is somehow is not as brilliant. Varying patterns of stains appear on the road, courtesy of  fallen persimmons and walnuts as the earth continues to bless us with her bounty despite our endless abuse. 

It is too early, this fall, this precursor to winter, the season that leaves me deeply aching, yearning inside, like a missed opportunity:  the feeling that something important has eluded me, slipped through my fingers ungrasped.  "How the hell did this happen without my noticing," I ask myself. It is too early to think about wool base layers and long pants and wool socks and balaclavas and how to keep my fingers and toes warm.  It is too early for most of my friends to hang their bicycles on garage walls leaving them forlornly abandoned until spring giggles and makes her presence known. 
Today I wanted to be alone, just me and my bike, but by spring I will be starved for the sight of their faces and the sound of their laughter and chatter.  I will be starved for greenness and the sound of life, the signs of rebirth. I know no amount of dragging my feet will slow this annual progression, and perhaps in the end I would not want it to.  Because this is what everything is all about, cycling, in more ways than one. How very odd….even in change there is continuity.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


"I've dreamed a lot.  I'm tired now of dreaming but not 
tired of dreaming.   No one tired of dreaming because
to dream is to forget, and forgetting does not weigh
on us, it is a dreamless sleep throughout which we 
remain awake.  In dreams I have achieved everything."
Fernando Pessoa

I am tired.  I did not bounce back from the 1000K Appalachian Adventure as readily as I would like.  I suppose I grow old or lazy or a combination of the two. Indeed, only yesterday did I do a century ride and it has been almost two weeks since the ending of the adventure, an adventure I did write about but cannot yet share.  Yes, yesterday I rode 116 miles with friends from Louisville to Mammoth Cave, or at least most of the ride was with friends. 

 Near the end I tire, really tire, and I ride in alone not stopping when the others stop for ice cream.   I must say I do enjoy parts of the ride, particularly the first fifty or sixty miles, before it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure, and for some odd reason those last few  miles when I was alone and the rain fell from the sky hard and steady. a malleable wall to fight. Mental or physical weariness, that is the question, for sometimes when a dream is fulfilled, despite that dream being satisfied, it takes awhile to lose the longing for that dream, to accept it is now a reality, particularly a reality that had a conclusion. For it is the human condition to strive for what we have not yet achieved or to perfect an experience that was imperfect, to be a bit dissatisfied however satisfying the experience.  It is why we go on.  It is why we dream.

And yet despite being weary, I do cherish the conversation with friends too seldom seen; I do smile and laugh and admire the flowers and the scenery, and I do mourn and let go of something, or at least let go a bit  of something that has haunted me for far too long, a might have been that I know very well would not have had a good conclusion for true happiness cannot be achieved on the back of others suffering, at least for me. 

The course brings back so many memories of trips to Mammoth Cave, both with friends and family.  And I sleep after I arrive and replenish my body, sleeping longer than I have in a number of years other than when ill, and perhaps replenish my soul. Being with my daughter who met me there does me good, for despite being her own person she is half me, bound by blood and the first suckle, bound by years of shared experiences, both happy and sad, and bound by love.

No, I do regret  not having to ride home as I have always done in the past other than the year nobody rode home due to unusually inclement weather, or I don't regret it enough to change my mind. For just a moment I worry that I have lost my love of the bike, of the effort, of the joyful way it makes me feel,  but deep down I know that soon my bicycle will call to me as a lover calls to his beloved, that I will once again be seduced by his blandishments,  and both my body and spirit will answer the call.  And I will have new dreams of achievements, some of which will become real and some of which will not, but all of which will nourish my soul.  And they will not weigh on me, but lift me upwards to new experiences and other achievements, however minor they may seem.  But until I hear his sylvan voice, I will rest knowing that however far he strays he will return.  And that even while resting, perhaps particularly while resting, I can dream. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

To Packman: My Friend

"Heaven would not be heaven
if there were no hills."
Melissa "Puddle" Hall

As I climb my last long training hill before a gentle taper for my 1000K, my lungs spasmodically heaving with effort, my thighs crying and cursing me, I feel the thrill of victory surge through me, volcanically rising inside as I crest the top.  With sweat still mercilessly stinging my eyes, I rest in an easy but  powerful rhythm and feel the blessed relief  that comes from a less intense effort.  It is like doing Pilates and finally releasing from the plank position or some other position that challenges your muscles to the max, an internal melting of blessed release, release that only comes following effort.  Internally there is a core nugget of satisfaction, of having accomplished a goal, of success in not walking, in not yielding to the temptation to just quit, in following a plan of action wherever it leads.  Yes, I am proud of myself.  Whether I succeed or not in the long run is temporarily unimportant, I have gotten this far without surrendering.  And I think to myself the above, that heaven would not be heaven without hills.  To feel like this inside, to see the land stretched out below like a museum painting, to conquer and overcome, this is important, at least to me. Surely even in heaven there are challenges. And if there are challenges there must be hills,  and if there are hills there absolutely MUST be bicycles.  Otherwise, heaven would not be heaven.

Hope to ride with you then, Packman.  Until then, I carry a part of you inside me whether you know it or not my friend.   Puddle

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rain Ride

"Cherish your solitude.  Take trains by yourself
to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under
the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that
you stop being afraid of never coming back.  Say no 
when you don't want to do something. Say yes if your
instincts are strong, even if everyone around you
disagrees.  Decide whether you want to be liked or 
admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than
finding out what you are doing here.  Believe in kissing."
Eve Ensler

The rain believes in kissing, sometimes the deep, probing, throaty kiss of  passion that may even border on pain at moments,  and sometimes the gentle, nourishing kiss given to a child at bedtime, heart-achingly poignant. All day it has been falling, kissing the earth, and it would be an acceptable excuse not to head out the door with a bicycle.  I have no one to answer to but myself. It repels and attracts me all at the same time, and it is time to make the decision.  Housework is done and I need the training miles, thus I yield to the part of me that wants to dance with the rain, to feel it caress me, gently and lover-like, to listen to its rhythm on my helmet, in the trees, in the corn fields, in the creeks.  It is a warm rain today, a gentle rain, soft and alluring.  It should not be hard to force myself out into it. It is the type of rain that lead to my Mad Dog naming so very long ago:  Puddle.  It is the  type of rain that I need to reclaim as my own.  It is the type of rain that may, perhaps, combined with solitude, will help me remember, "what you are doing here."

Originally my training plan was to ride Bartles Knob, Pixley Knob, Liberty Knob, and another hill whose name escapes me, but the thought of the steep, curvy, wet descents turns me in another direction.  I head toward Salem via Mt. Eden Road and Delaney Park.  A deer melts into the woodland border, I see only his powerful haunches, brown yielding to creamy whiteness, and I wish that my hand could lie on his flank for a moment, to feel the muscles coiled, warm, and  sinewy as  he bounds away.  I wish him safety with hunting season nearing, and I thank him for the beauty he has added to this ride.  

I hear the rain in the way you can only hear it when you are out riding in it alone, and it forms a harmony with the sound of my bicycle wheels, a  harmony that changes as I go from corn fields to forest or when the road borders a creek.  Everything is unbelievably green and lush, and with the gentle veil of the rain, borders on mysterious.  A rafter of turkeys cross the road in front of me, two large turkeys and three small ones.  Spying me, the two older turkeys scurry off leaving only the sound of their passing into the brush.  The younger ones fly, gangly and graceless.  I realize I have too long neglected these roads for other routes.  I realize it is one of those days when you feel as if you could ride forever without ever tiring, physically or mentally.  And I am thankful.  I remember what I am doing here. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The First Ever Indiana 300K Brevet

"Contrary to what we usually believe, 
moments like these, the best moments, are
not the passive, receptive, relaxing times---
though such experiences can also be enjoyable
if we have worked hard to obtain them. 
The best moments usually occur when a person's
body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary
effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
Optimal experience is thus something we can make happen."
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

As I train for my fall 1000K, the one that scares me so as I am so with the unfamiliar terrain I will encounter and my ability to master it along with numerous other niggling fears, fears that I recognize but refuse to allow to define me, I am delighted to find that there is a 300K on the RUSA schedule that is  quite nearby.  Part of the problem training for a long fall event is that there normally is such a large gap between the completion of your qualifying 600K and the 1000K.  How do you maintain the fitness you have gained between the two events?  Even with a century every week-end and sometimes two, I feel like I am losing ground.  Yes, I feel faster and I am climbing better as a few pounds peel off, but I am  concerned about my endurance level dropping and I still am not and likely never will  be some slim whip of a lass.  I also am concerned about burn out, how to get myself to the starting line as strong as I can possibly be without being so tired of riding and training that I just want it to end.

It is doubly nice that this 300K  is a first in Indiana and I am going to be part of that first. Hats off to Bill Watts for starting a series in Indiana. Yes, I could ride and train that distance on my own, but it just seems too difficult to discipline myself to do that, particularly as I have no training companions at the present time. It is too expensive to go elsewhere. And my house has fallen in even more disorder than usual with my increased riding time.  But perhaps Steve Rice is right when he tells me that a large part of riding a brevet is the mental fortitude necessary to finish once you are century fit.  Time will tell.

I decide not to drive to Indianapolis and stay all night the evening before as I believe that starting to ride with not enough sleep is just a part of training for the fall event.  The 1000K begins at 4:00 a.m.  This ride starts at 6:00 a.m. which means this lazy girl doesn't even need to leave the house until 3:45 a.m. to make it by the 5:30 sign in.  As usual, my internal clock awakens me even earlier than I would need to be up and I stagger downstairs to make my morning coffee.  Cats haughtily stalk through the house, tails straight upwards,  following me and monitoring my activity, upset at this change in their routine and at not getting fed. I chuckle thinking that my husband can deal with their offended little egos when he arises later in the day, and I strongly suspect that he will not be permitted to sleep in.  While the coffee brews and the heady aroma wafts through the kitchen, I head upstairs and dress myself in the clothing I laid out the evening before.  My bag is packed and ready to go.  My bike had lights attached and was made ready for loading the evening before.  All I need is to get my coffee, throw everything into the car, and drive.

When I arrive, I am surprised at the number of people who appear to be getting ready to ride, particularly since the weather is supposed to be very hot, humid, and windy with lots of thunderstorms thrown in to make things interesting. Per the RBA, 24 registered, 21 started, and 20 finished. But there you have sensible are people who ride brevets?  I grin thinking of the doctor I went to after PBP 2007 when I temporarily, a week or two after the event, reached for something and quite suddenly  lost feeling in a forearm for some still unknown reason. Thinking I was being smart, I made an appointment at the office of someone I knew  rides a bicycle albeit not long distances.  I get one of his partners who says, "You damned idiot.  If you want to go somewhere 100 miles away get in a damned car."  Incidentally, he did nothing to help me with my problem, but time cured it as time so often has a habit of doing if we are just patient.
It is interesting to see the variety of people and bicycles at the start.  Some of these  people I know, but most of them I have never seen before.  Dave King is here riding his fixed gear. Steve Royse and Dave Rudy are here. There is another fixed gear rider and a tandem  and two recumbants.  All the rest are singles.  There is one other woman riding, the stoker on the tandem. I wonder who, if anyone, I will ride with.  When I learn we are coming and going on a bike path through the city, it firms my resolve to try to find a suitable companion today, and I am lucky enough to find two:  Dave King, a good friend that I have known for many years now, and Bob Bruce, who I have not met before but who I  now consider a semi-friend.  I say a semi-friend because we don't know each other well enough to discern if our personalities mesh as Dave's and mine do.  Yes, Dave and I annoy each other at times, but we also like each other and enjoy riding together. The number of miles we have traveled together attest to that.

Almost immediately after we get off the bike path, we are stopped in our tracks by a train that is blocking the road.  It moves forward, stops, then backs up. Alas, it is hooking onto another load of cars.  After what seems like quite a long wait, it finally moves forward, creaking and groaning as it strains under its load,  and we proceed as best we can while having to stop at numerous traffic lights.  I tell Steve Royse that it reminds me of PBP 2007 when he dragged my sorry rear in at the end of the ride.  I have never wanted to get off a bicycle so badly and felt terrible having lost my ability to force food down, and it seemed fate was conspiring against us with every light throughout the  town turning red right before we got to it: an endless procession of red lights.  Only Steve and his hard candies (something my brother, the dentist abhors) got me through the last few miles.  I spend some time thinking about how kind some people are to others and that Steve was drawn to the right profession when he chose medicine or when medicine chose him.  I do admire kindness in people, and while my husband once told me that people can sense an inner core of kindness in me and that is what has made me successful at what I do, I often feel I am lacking in that area. 

I am not used to riding in the city, and the traffic and even some of the people we pass make me rather nervous while at the same time fascinating me.  What would it be like to live in such a place? I realize I will be more comfortable when we get to a more rural areas, but that is not necessarily a good thing.  I waken from my reverie to find that the larger group I was riding with has now split into smaller groups as bicycling groups are wont to do.  On the way back into the city later, Bob says something about the country mouse not liking the all the commotion of the city and it was very odd as I had just been thinking that I was a country mouse and would be glad to get back to my own quiet, rural home despite all the enriching experiences and people a city holds.  It was one of those moments when you get the uncomfortable feeling that someone is reading your mind. I didn't ask if he was referring to me or to himself and whether he thought it was a good thing or a bad thing, but I feel certain it was to me he was referring to, and what a coincidence that he would use the exact same terminology that I was using in my head. "It is not easy to to walk alone in the country without musing about something."  (Charles Dickens) Yes, the city is fine for a visit, but I would not want to live there.  Even as a child I knew that, that I needed the green fields in the same way that some people need the roll of the waves or that some people need the snow or that others need the bustle and hum of the city. 

The course becomes quite beautiful after the first control and I find my interest particularly piqued when we hit the town of Bean Blossom.  This seems rather silly as I have only seen the name on a map and wanted to ride there, but I  have never ridden through it before.  There is not much there in Bean Blossom, but the name strikes my fancy.  Like many small towns in this age of huge corporations and conglomerates, decaying dreams line the main street. We have so many more things now, but are they the important things?  Or was it better to pay more and  have fewer things but have something else, something I can't find a word for but I know was there, or I think was there. But then I am a dreamer and my dreams tend to romanticize reality. As I have told friends, it is a quality that is one of my biggest strengths, but it is also one of my biggest weaknesses. 

As we near Nashville, the second control, the rain begins to hammer us with that stinging rain that feels like little javelins are being hurled at you by some Lilliputians. Bob and I stop as he remembers the course from the 200K as being different from the cue sheet.  I had turned off the mapping on my Garmin earlier as alas, yet again, after the first control it kept giving me the message that I was off course and then started to tell me to take wrong turns.  I turn it back on and it does pick up the right trail and works again for awhile through eventually I end up turning it off completely.   I don't  particularly like looking so stupid in front of Bob, but I am what I am, and technologically challenged is a nice way of saying it.  I feel a bit better later when I find that Dave also has had some problems with his GPS. Strange, the comfort there is in knowing we are not alone.  And Dave is good with technology and does computer stuff for a living. Thanks to Bob's memory, we take the right turn and end up in Nashville.  It is there that we see Dave again. I am glad. We had arrived at the first control together, but I didn't know if he was behind me or left ahead of me.  

Nashville brings so many memories as we normally go there during the Christmas holidays to have lunch at The Muddy Boots and so that my daughter-in-law can look at the quaint little stores that line the village.  It is one of those excursions that begins as a whim and ends up being somewhat of a tradition.  And I am all about tradition. But my coldness from the rain and being thoroughly soaked from head to toe keeps me from getting caught up in the past.  Bob suggests hot chocolate and I concur thinking how odd it is to be drinking hot chocolate on a day when it is predicted to be in the nineties.  I also think how stupid I was to leave my rain jacket in the car as I begin to chill.  At least I did have the sense to wear wool socks and my feet are warm enough. The rain does not last long, however, and before you know it the warmth of pedaling has filled me as we make our way toward Freetown. When we return this way later in the day, there will be no thoughts of hot chocolate.  The air is syrupy thick and steaming hot, and it is like riding in a sauna. 

It seems such a short time before we have passed through Freetown and made it to the turn around.  We stop at a small cafe to have something substantial before the return journey.  It looks like a hole in the wall on the outside, but inside it is clean and humming with business.  It turns out the food is good, the prices are reasonable, and the service is quick.  The waitress does everything but stand on her head to help us out bringing pitchers of water with ice to the table so that we could drink our fill and fill our water bottles.  What strikes me the most about the meal, however, is that nobody takes out a smart phone to check e-mail or the weather.  We just enjoy the meal and each others company.  Other than meals with my husband or my best friend, Sharon, I can't think of many times that has happened recently.  And I often wonder about everyone's obsession with checking the radar:  what good does it do if you are half way through a ride.  Weather just is going to happen and you have to deal with it.  That being said, I have been caught out a few times when I wondered if I would survive the weather:  but are those not the rides you best remember, those that test your courage, your determination, your ingenuity, your endurance? I can't say I am sorry to have missed the stinging hail some of the others got to experience during the ride though.  Ken, who finished before us, says it hailed on him and others behind post it hailed on them, so it must have danced around us.

After lunch Dave tells Bob and I to go on when we hit the hills, and I smile inside knowing Dave does not do himself justice.  And while he does lag a bit on a few of the longer climbs, there are many that he is way ahead of me on.  He even makes it up the steep climb after Freetown, weaving upwards and beating me to the top. But I also am smiling as I told Bob this same thing near the start of the ride when it became apparent that our paces were somewhat similar as I knew he would most likely be stronger on the hills.  I would have been really concerned if I had know his cycling history:  Leadville, Cascade, Granite Anvil, etc.  Odd how we don't want to hold others back, and as I told him at one point if there is one thing I have learned about randonneurring it is that  you must ride your own pace. It is hard to stay with someone who is much stronger or much weaker on the bike, and there just seems to be more of a speed variation on hills.

As we near Indianapolis, Dave picks up the pace while I do my best to hold on.  The miles pass quickly and we get on the bike path.  There is something going on which I assume is a 5 K run, but people are dressed like victims of a mass murder or disaster with fake blood and dirt covering them.  We pass through a tent that has decontamination tent written on a sign and people wearing white with spray cans of some type.  I am impressed at the number of young people I see running, and I cheer for them as we pass.  But the rain has started and is gradually increasing in intensity, pounding out a rhythm on my helmet and dripped over the end of my helmet. Lightening begins to streak the sky in jagged, beautiful, patterns.  Rather than heading earthward it seems to be streaking crosswise.  I note this all the way home in my car as well. I laugh thinking of a storm safety lesson I heard on the radio just a day or two prior to the ride and realize that we are doing everything that you are warned not to do: we are riding by the river, near and under trees, and on metal objects. Who said brevet riders have good sense?  Perhaps we don't, but we have had a day filled with challenge and companionship and just plain fun, at least when it wasn't hurting;-)

My only concern is the pain in my neck has returned.  Thus far, I can deal with it, but I worry about how severe it might become on the 1000K and whether it is permanent pain or one of those things that will heal once I take a rest from the long miles.  We get old, things hurt, but we still carry on as long as we can.  That is life. My next big training experience will  be riding four centuries in a row in August.  What a way to spend two vacation days!  "What fools ye mortals be."  Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Preparing for the Appalachian Adventure (Maryland 1000K)

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
(part of the poem "Do Not Go Gentle
Into that Good Night" by Dylan Thomas

I wish I could say that I have some extremely clever, insightful window into the depths of my soul that allows me to completely understand why I want to complete the Appalachian Adventure this fall.  I have nothing to prove to anyone.  I know it is going to be a tremendous challenge, that with advancing age, though still quite strong,  my physical prowess is waning and not waxing.  I know that none of my normal companions, those few I love and am comfortable with, warts and all, are joining me on this adventure.  Indeed, most of my past riding companions have ceased riding or ride very seldom, something I still struggle with and grieve deeply.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I want to do this ride: to close that chapter in my life, to reach that nebulous point in the grieving process where you finally accept that things are what they are and become glad that you had the time together you did.  Yes, I long for that time when memories make me smile rather than rent my heart like a merciless blade.  But that is not the only reason to ride.

I know that this ride is going to hurt and there will be climbs that make my legs curse me.  And I know that it is quite likely that I will be utterly alone at times, totally dependent only upon myself and my meager inner resources to pull myself through the darkness that can invade your very being on an ultra long ride when unameliorated by company.   I wish I were brimming with confidence in my cycling ability, my mechanical proficiency, my navigational skills, and my capability of being successful. I wish I were not so very scared of losing my way or of not being up to the climbs or of any number of things. I suppose what I am trying to say is that I wish I were bolder, more resourceful, more confident of myself, and not such scaredy cat.  Still I hope that in spite of my doubts, my fears, my insecurities, my numerous shortcomings, that I will not "go gently into that good night," that I can accomplish "this frail deed" and see it shine.

I have determined that I will look at this ride as an adventure and that I will not accept failure.  Oh, I might and probably will find myself off course and might not successfully complete the brevet itself, but my success will be in challenging myself and handling whatever happens as the adventure it will be.  I hope to burst into song at the sight of the Shenandoah Valley and expect to think of Jimmy Stewart, my all time favorite actor.  I hope to thrill at the sight of Harper's Ferry and all the other historical and enchanting sights I encounter along the way.  I hope my eyes will drink all the sights that I have never seen before so that they can succor me in the future when I need them.  And when the end comes, as it inevitably does, this will not be one opportunity that I missed and perhaps those that love me will remember me as a "doer" despite being the dreamer, that part of me that my father so despised.  I hope that I will not be filled with regrets about what wasn't or what could have been had I not been such an invertebrate.  And another favorite poem comes to mind:

"Prospective Immigrants Please Note," by Adrienne Rich

"Either you will go through this door
or you will not go through. 

If you go through 
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

To maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises,
it is only a door."

Yes, I do believe I will gird my loins and go through the door, at least this time. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Kentucky 600 K Brevet 2014

 "Dance. Smile. Giggle. Marvel.
Most of all, enjoy every moment of the journey
and appreciate where you are at this moment instead 
of always focusing on how far you have to go."
Mandy Hale

From the first pedal stroke of the 600K, something does not feel exactly right.  Maybe these are not the right words to explain what I am feeling but they are what come to mind:  a certain lack of commitment or enthusiasm for the task ahead.  Sometimes the vocabulary I need to express myself, to define myself to myself no less to others,  eludes me.  I have no doubt that I will finish this ride  if I decide to do so and if I do not have a mechanical issue or take a tumble.  After all, the weather is perfect for such a ride since the rain prediction abated.  Temperatures are supposed to be mild and there is supposed to be very little wind. It will be a tad cooler than I personally prefer and with less sunshine, but the conditions are truly ideal. And while I am not in the best shape of my life, I am fairly fit and had no trouble finishing the 400K.  The course, while terribly difficult, is quite doable.  and it is only 600 K. But there is just that intangible something that is nagging me, that feeling that you have forgotten something that might be important, that feeling that you should be somewhere else doing something else.

I try to define why I am feeling a bit off kilter. Perhaps it is the course? Certainly the course is challenging, particularly the last 200 kilometers, but I have ridden it before. It just means that you must grit your teeth and dig a little deeper into the well of your determination. Indeed, the difficulty of a course seems to directly correlate with the sense of accomplishment upon completion.  Perhaps it is my husband just telling me he does not think his health will allow him to accompany me to Maryland to visit our son?  I intend to tie that visit in with the 1000K there and that has certainly been a motivator for me. I am not sure that I want to go without him.  Perhaps it is  the rather characteristically stupid decision I made to partial fast twice this week despite the upcoming brevet?  But I am used to partial fasting and it normally comes easily to me so long as it is not the day before a ride.  I did leave myself two days to glory in unbridled gluttony.  Perhaps it is that I headed out a tad too fast and I am now paying the cost?  But this sense of discomfiture has been apparent from the very beginning. Perhaps it is that it is the first brevet I have ridden where neither Bill nor Steve are riding? While we don't always ride the brevet together, normally don't ride the brevet together, I gain a certain comfort knowing they are on the course and look forward to sharing our experiences of the ride.  Or perhaps it is just my attitude and perhaps I should quit my childish sulking and remember to enjoy every moment of the journey.  Because in the end much of the success of a brevet rider is determined by his or her attitude. Life is just too short not to enjoy the journey. You might ride one brevet or even a series of brevets if you find you dislike the journey, but you will certainly not continue to ride them.

Sixteen riders from five different states roll out into the darkness.  All but five will finish. As usual, I am at the far back of the pack and I wonder if this time I will actually be one of the last or the very last finisher. I wonder if that would bother me, being the last finisher when brevets are not competitions. I have finished last before, but not in a brevet.  I smile to myself remembering a road race in a small local town where I was the only woman and the only one over the age of 20 that was running.  While this then forty something year old woman did her best and finished with a respectable time, the young track team was out of sight within the first mile.  Indeed, I was last by quite some margin, and rather embarrassingly escorted to the finish line by a police car with sirens wailing and lights flashing.  I survived. In fact, I found it rather humorous and took pride that I was brave enough to be out there. And quite suddenly I realize that starting any brevet does take either a small amount of bravery or foolishness. More likely, it is a combination of the two.

Sometime during all this rather redundant pondering that seems to haunt me at the beginning of a long ride, I come upon someone I know. I ride for a bit with Steve Meredith and we share some conversation, but I remember that I have set a goal to be in by midnight so I can catch some sleep before taking off to finish the last 200K and I quicken my pace when he says he does not think he will be finishing that early.  I also remember that I want to be past "the scary place" before dark if at all possible and I dance on the pedals even a bit more quickly. Alex Mead and Todd Williams both raised their hands when Steve asked if anyone was planning on riding straight through as nothing is open along the route once it gets late, and I think for a bit what it would be like to have the talent to ride that quickly and not have to worry at all that you will be swift enough to get through "the scary place" before darkness falls.  But soon I remember to be thankful that I can ride at all, and I know that I will be more than thankful to have a few hours sleep after riding the first 400K of my journey.  When you live with someone who can barely breathe at times and sometimes walks around tethered to an oxygen tank, you get a whole new appreciation of what it means to breathe and the true value of oxygen. When I lack sympathy or get compassion fatigued, I just try to imagine what it would be like to climb a steep, never-ending hill knowing that if you quit it means death but that you will never, ever reach the top no matter how hard or how long you pedal.  I take a deep breath of appreciation noting how my chest expands and my lungs stretch and are nourished.  How thankful I am that I stopped smoking.

Soon it is just the moon, stars, road, and me.  I see no lights behind me or in front of me. On Pea Ridge, what I think is a fox starts to head out onto the road, then slips away into the shroud of darkness leaving only a whispery, rustling sound as a reminder of his presence in this world. Shortly thereafter, passing a home, the homey scent of fabric softener wafts  through the air and blankets itself around me for just a few minutes.  Someone has started those early morning Saturday chores; someone whose life conceivably has a bit more normalcy about it. But then I am old enough to have learned that normalcy is an illusion we use to soothe ourselves with. Most of us are "crazier than hell," to quote a friend.  I think about how there is comfort to be found in routine, that when we are out of our normal routine, however  much we may bitch about it when we are in the midst of it, we eventually miss our ordinary lives, like when you go on vacation. And I feel my attitude begin to improve, though it will be a constant battle the entire ride.  I have that conversation that all brevet riders have with themselves intermittently about whether or not they really want to continue doing this.  Meanwhile, wispy patches of fog slip by and dawn slips up on me taking me by surprise, a delightful pink and purple tinting accompanied by raucous birds still seeking breakfast and a mate. 

At the top of the long climb on Oregon Road, I come upon Dustin Tinnell and Steve Mauer at the side of the road, stretched out.  I ask if they have what they need and ride on when they say that they do.  I think how it reminds me of  PBP, this resting alongside the road, though the ride itself is very young.  I catch Dave King just leaving the first control as I roll in.   He pauses and I know he thinks about waiting, but then he moves on.  We pass again later at the turn around for the 400K and he says something, but I don't quite catch it. We will not ride together this brevet.  Later, after the first meeting with Dave but before the second,  I meet up with Tim Argo and we ride most of that day and part of the next together, though he is much stronger than me and it impacts his finish time.  I feel badly about this, but all I can do is to tell him to go on: I can't make him go.  At one point, the wind picks up and Tim pulls relentlessly as I wonder where in the heck this unpredicted wind came from.  I thank him and ask if he would like me to take a turn, but we both know I am not as strong as he is.  Thankfully, that section of head wind, unpredicted and unappreciated, is short.  Thankfully I have made another new friend during this brevet series.

Sometime during the day, Tim comments upon how the course has changed with each ride.  I think it is odd as I have been thinking the same thing.  Stark, gray, leafless trees have given way to verdant greenness, no longer tentative but audacious and bold, transforming the world into a visual feast of color.   White daisies line the fence rows and honeysuckle wafts sweetness into the air titillating every sense. The first of the honey bee beloved yellow sweet clover is in bloom, delicate and lacey, and I understand yet again how the contrast nourishes appreciation, how without the contrast even this lush, fecundity would seem mundane and ordinary.  Sometimes the things we dislike are so necessary for the enhancement of those we do like.  Still I wonder how so much of the season change eluded me and I am struck with a  sharp pang of  longing for what is already gone.  No matter how hard I try to capture it, to remember it, spring passes much too quickly and slips through my fingers like the wind, much like my children's childhood did.  

Do we eventually lose the ability to do brevets because we quit making the effort, or do we quit making the effort because deep down we know we no longer have the ability, that the demands it places upon not just our time and our loved ones, but our bodies is too much?  And how very much of a brevet is mental.  All day I use every mental game and trick in my bag, but for some reason it is a constant battle. Tricks that normally move me miles down the road work only for a short period of time or not at all.  I finally just accept that it is going to be one of those rides that I struggle with, the kind of ride that makes me appreciate other rides that are just easier for some reason. No matter what routine I come up with and painstakingly try to replicate when results are good, each ride seems to be unique.  I think that is one of the very things I love about bicycling and why I don't seem to tire of it.

I worry at the turn around when I am not really hungry as I have found that is never a good sign on a brevet.  But I force myself to eat and I am able to keep going.  I briefly mention to Tim how much it pains me to not feel hungry when I should eat, have earned the right to eat.  I think of my first PBP when I stopped at a bakery on my return journey and limited myself to two pastries despite feeling absolutely starved.  Duh!  Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why?  For once I could have eaten all the pastries this greed gut could hold. Old habits do die hard. But I do learn a valuable lesson. Still, despite forcing myself to eat, I dd not eat enough and I feel light headed when I dismount at the next control.

Back on the road, Tim and I come across a friend who headed out at the start as if Satan were after him, but he is done.  I can see it in his eyes and face, the resignation, the bowing of the shoulders,  and I wish there is something that I could do or say to help, but while you can assist others with a flat or fixing a mechanical or maybe encourage them  through a slight mental down time,  you can't give them the strength to finish the over two hundred more miles that we have left to go.  I steel my heart and move onwards knowing he is safe at a control and can rest and move forward later or call in the sag team. Later I find, as I suspected, he DNF'd.  It humbles me for he is normally so very strong, and reminds me that sometimes you just have a bad day.

All day I remind myself that I want to be through "the scary place" before dark, so even when my legs begin to beg for surcease and mercy I ignore them and demand more.  The "scary place" is a busy section of road with little shoulder that leads out of Lawrenceburg, and I always worry on that stretch.  It is the place where Tim Carroll waited with his fixed gear that night so very long ago not wanting to ride that stretch alone.  You just feel the danger pressing in on you when you ride that short stretch, cars seem like angry entities, affronted at your temerity in being on in their domain; however, it must be ridden to get to and from the store.  I don't like riding it in the daylight, but I like it even less at night.  Somehow we make it during daylight hours with daylight to spare. Tim Argo, the other Tim, shares this stretch of road with me today, then speeds off ahead.  I think of how many men I know who ride who have the same first names: at least seven or more Steves, two Gregs, four Tims, and a number of Daves.  It does make things confusing. 

After riding Pea Ridge as if Dave King were by my side, working the downhills to ease the uphills, I catch back up with Tim and we ride the rest of the way in. He asks if I had brought anyone with me.  I passed another rider prior to catching Tim and quickly tried to explain the irony of Pea Ridge:  it is truly easier to work hard on the down hills to ease the work on the uphills.  But he either did not hear me or did not believe me or did not have hard riding left in his legs, so he is not with me. In my rear view mirror I watched as his headlight was swallowed by the night. We pass Todd and Alex heading back out to do the last 200K as we turn onto Zaring Mill.  We all yell at each other, but the darkness hides our identities.  I only know it is them because nobody else plans on riding straight through. Night masks identities.

And after what seems like forever, I am at my motel.  I am so very ready to sleep.  Prior to going to bed, Tim and I decide to meet at Waffle House the next morning and start the ride together.  I feel guilty saying I do not intend to leave until 5:00 a.m., particularly since we arrived before 11:00, but I know how difficult tomorrow's route is and that my body needs rest. I hope sleep will light my face with a smile until it cracks wide open in a belly jiggling laugh.  I hope sleep will improve my attitude, that I will "dance, smile, giggle, and marvel."  Alas, it is not to be.  I slit fitfully and awaken several times with my toes and feet cramping.  Weird.  My toes and feet have never cramped before and I hope they never do so again.

Darkness still clings to the earth restlessly waiting for dawns warm embrace when I meet Tim and we take off.  I repeat what I told him the prior evening:  he should not expect to stay with me today.  The hills are just too steep on this route for me to climb swiftly.  Yes, I can and do climb each and every one of them, but at my own pace which happens to be, at least today, snail like and without rhythm.  On Figgs Store Road he disappears gobbled into the darkness and I am alone.  I remember riding this section of road with Dave, Bill, and Steve and how a deer skittered between our bicycles, beautiful and dangerous.  I believe it was lightly raining that morning, a warm comforting soak, the kind that gently caresses and nourishes the earth.  And there may have been lightening, jaggedly crossing the sky. And then I am near the top of the long climb out.  Suddenly I am startled at hearing Tim's voice behind me, shaking me out of my reverie:  he had missed a turn.  Again I watch him ride off, his legs acting as if tomorrow never even happened, and I am envious of his power and speed.

Turning onto 1066, one of the few number roads I remember because of the Norman conquest, we see Todd and Alex cresting a climb, making their way back to the motel and home.  Dawn has not been too long upon us, and I am envious that they are almost done.  I am worried because they look tired.  No, not worried about them, but about me.  They are too strong and have finished too many brevets not to finish this one.  If it took this much out of those two; however, what will it do to me.  But then I have slept and they have not I assure myself. We exchange greetings without stopped. Other than occasionally seeing Tim, I see no other riders after Todd and Alex until the turn around when Ken pulls in behind us.  Occasionally I think how very beautiful the scenery is, one of the gifts that hills seem to give us because the land is not easily farm-able and not easily built upon.  Mostly, though, I am caught up in pushing one pedal after the other, trying to keep my rhythm.

When I pull into the motel to finish, Ken, who passed me on the way back in,  looks at me and says, "You will feel better when you have been off the bike five minutes."  Strangely enough, I do.  Steve, Tim, Ken, and I share the pizza that Steve brought, and I head homeward to my own little bed where I sleep without cramps in my feet or toes and I have two furry bed partners purring a soft soothing melody that screams of home.  This ride was a rough one for me, mentally as well as physically.  No matter how much I tried to focus on the journey rather than how far I had to go there were times when I looked at my odometer every mile for miles on end, thinking surely it must be broken, that I had surely had ridden farther than I had.  But I will remember this ride, or parts of this ride because of the struggle, because of Tim's kindness pulling me through the brief section of disheartening wind, because of my toes cramping.

The words of Kelly Cutrone come to mind:

"This is an important lesson to remember when you're having a bad day,
a bad month, or a shitty year.  Things will change:  you won't feel this way
forever.  And anyway, sometimes the hardest lessons to learn are the ones
your soul needs the most.  I believe you can't feel real joy unless you've felt
heartache.  You can't have a sense of victory unless you know what it means
to fail.  You can't know what it is like to feel holy until you know what it's like
to feel really fucking evil.   And you can't be birthed again until you die."