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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Kentucky 200 K Brevet 2014

"Sometimes you can't let go of the past without
facing it again."  Gail Tsukiyama

And so it begins again, a new brevet series, a new year.  I had  hoped to prepare better, but the ice and snow and life in general kept stepping in the way.  One would think after all these years, I would accept it more easily.   I know it is going to hurt today.  I know this course.  No, I could not ride it without a cue sheet or the course markings, but I remember the way it made me feel, the difficulties and the triumphs, the times I despaired of ever surviving to make it to the end and the times I hammered at the pedals as if I were invincible.  Despite the prediction for the best weather that there has ever been for this brevet, I hold no illusion that it will be easy despite being only 130 miles.  Beyond the  lack of sufficient training, I have been ill this week with a stomach virus.  2.5 days of work lost as well as five to six pounds, and I still can't eat without feeling nauseous. I feel weak and I have not even started. I grin wanly wondering if this could be a psychological illness that has translated to physical.  It was a stomach bug that kept me from the 300K last year.  Do I grow too old, soft, and infirm to face the challenges? 

Yes, I know today will be difficult.  What I did not reckon on were the memories it would evoke, memories that reek of change and time, and the grieving they would evoke, the yearning for another chance to live those days with those  people for a few more minutes, to grab tight to more of the memories, to let them know that I love them, that I miss them, that they formed and molded me, that without them the experiences would have been less vivid and meaningful.  For there are those moments in brevets that stand out, that are etched in memory forever,  the moment when you almost give in and overcome, the moment when you feel like you could ride forever and be forever young and strong, the moment when a friend saves your bacon or you eat the wind for a friend.  And for a moment or two I wonder if this is a good-bye brevet ride, for there is no need denying that will eventually happen.  The question is, like so many last time experiences,  will I know in advance or will it  just happen.  Will I wake up one day and just have no motivation or lack the ability to ride?  Will it be ended by a fall or a texting driver? But perhaps I just need to remember these things one last time to finally let them go and relegate them to the graveyard of memory. To say good-bye to those that no longer ride and to decide if I want to ride alone or seek out new companions. For as Gibran says, "Life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."

With feeling so queasy inside, I do not look for nor particularly want company on this ride. I know I would be a poor companion. And unlike many people, I have found that I really do not mind riding alone much of the time. My primary goal, despite carrying lights, is to make it back before darkness blankets the world.  I know I must ride my own pace not pushing myself but not slowing to the point where the ride seems interminable as brevets sometimes do, particularly those last miles when all one can think about is a hot bath or shower, food, and a warm bed.

Would it be strange to say that one of my favorite things about brevets is the ending of it, the feeling when you take off your bicycling shoes and put on your regular shoes and your toes seem to have so much wiggle room, the relief for your bottom  when it no longer has to sit precariously balanced on a slab of leather and it sinks into a cushion, the tranquilizing smell of shampoo and soap and the water washing the crusty salt crystals from your skin until you feel as slippery as an eel and as soft as a foal's nose and you smell like an angel.  The aroma of food and knowing that you earned it and your body needs it to replenish what it has spent that day.  Clean pajamas, slippers, the way the sheets feel so silky and smooth and cool and the bed cuddles you for a well deserved rest.  The softness of pillows. The way your bed smells of home and safety and comfort.  The way the thoughts of the day swirl through your mind as you lay in bed waiting for sleep to claim  you. All these things and more I appreciate in a new way from riding brevets and century rides.  Enough cannot be said about the man or woman who invented hot, running water.  He or she is my hero.

Early in the brevet I run into one of those people who seems to think that because you are a woman, they have to stay in front of you, or that is how it appears.  I pass, he passes and slows down, I pass, he speeds up and passes and slows down, I pass, he passes.  I really don't care if he is in front or behind, but evidently he does or he would not yo-yo his pace so. Or perhaps it is my imagination.   I just wish he would make up his mind though I must admit that for a moment I wish I were as strong as Melinda Lyons and I could soundly spank him leaving him behind to eat my dust.  I spend a few moments thinking about what it must be like to be as strong on the bicycle as she is and to have such a gift, but I also know that while it is a gift, it is a gift that must have been nourished by hard work and effort.  And I cultivate thanks that I am able to be out here and that I am as strong as I am, that I am me. Eventually he pulls in front, and as I suspect, much later down the road he spits it out and falls behind spent by his early energy spurts.  He would have been better served by a steady effort, but that is something that comes with experience, something  he appears to lack.  If he continues to ride brevets, down the road he will spank me soundly, leaving me and my bike in the dust, but not today, not until he learns the lessons that you learn on the road about how to survive and move forward and endure.  In a sense brevets are like life in that aspect, you survive and move forward dealing with obstacles as they appear and thankful when there are no obstacles. You persevere and endure putting one foot in front of each other as the bicycle wheels turn. There is a certain beauty in that. And you learn what works for you and what does not work so well.

It is before the first control that I am jolted back in time to one of my first Kentucky 200K rides.  It was on this course.  I was in a pace line and trying to hold on knowing it would be more difficult making my way on my own, still concerned about getting lost despite the markings, still concerned about being alone.  I was, however, on call and the phone went off.  I lost the pace line as I stopped to respond, and with the lost pace line I lost my confidence.  Tim Creamer happened to come by, so strong and so kind.  He, a stranger to me, pulled me back up to the pace line never asking me to take a pull,  but by then I was shot, thus learning the lesson that the young man mentioned above learned today:  pacing, pacing, pacing.  I survived, but the rest of the brevet was ridden alone and was not kind.

When I reach the first control today, I know I must eat.  I force myself to down a little something and to drink.   I will have nausea the rest of the ride, just as I have had for days whenever I eat something.  I am riding alone and take off alone.  Jody and Steve catch me and Jody momentarily crushes me saying that I left my pack back at the store as I think she meant I had left my wallet or something from my bike.  It would be too cruel to have to do the extra miles to return for a forgotten item.  I don't feel well, damn it.  As it turns out, she thought I had been riding with the group that was still at the control and I had left nothing behind, but for a moment I considered throwing in the towel.  The thought of returning to the control and then coming back is just too much to bear today. There is also the  thought of Oregon Road and the steep climb there.  Long climbs are not so hard on me, but the steep ones hurt.  I think of walking the climb, but decide to wait and see.  Hurt pride or hurt muscles, which will mean more today? Sometimes walking a hill can help one make it to the finish line more quickly than fighting ones way upward. I envision doing this brevet in the past, and a companion begging me not to tell  that they had walked the hill, telling me that they are amazed that a woman "my age" could climb the hill (and I was much younger then).  And before you know it I am at the top and realize that it was not such a big hill after all.  But then, I used my triple, something I normally try to avoid. 

It is then I think of Grasshopper and Claudia riding this course with me.  It must have been the 300 or 400 as when we got to the end, there was a train that had broken down on the tracks about three to four miles from the end.  Cars were backed up for a mile or so.  We were afraid to cross with our bikes as the train might start to move at any moment, but all we could think about was the end.  I think of another time when Grasshopper and Bill were riding the course with me and the way the sleet looked, sliding sideways in the strong wind lighted only by our meager bicycle lights, savagely beautiful.  I thought about how I believed I would surely go mad that day with the relentless sound of the wind in my ears, roaring until it seemed it was just me and the wind, conversation or communication an impossibility.  Three souls combined in an effort to reach a goal, heads down, legs straining against the wind and pedaling, determined to make it to the end.  And I think of the lunar eclipse we experienced and the glorious beauty that abounds and so often lost if one is not in the middle of it one a bicycle.  Mostly I think of how I loved them then and I love them now, that somehow during that ride we became, for just a moment, a part of each other.

By the turn around, I know I am in serious trouble when I can only eat 1/4 of a bologna sandwich before I begin dry retching.   Just the thought of food sickens me, and my stomach feels like a cauldron of hot soup bubbling deep inside.  Momentarily I think of calling my daughter, but I decide to move on.  I am joined by a young man riding his first brevet and his light conversation temporarily pulls me out of my own misery.  After all, I reason, it is only 130 miles, not so very far.  And I would like to ride the Maryland 1000K this fall. To do that I need an entire series.  I can sleep tonight.  And eventually I will be able to eat.  And there is a positive side.  I don't have to stop to use the bathroom all day, a problem sometimes for a woman on a brevet.  Dehydration takes care of that for me. 

The climb up the other side of Oregon is challenging, longer but not as steep.  The scenery, despite the lack of color, is stunning with slender trees raising bare limbs heavenward.  Icicles still spiral downwards, seeping from the cracks between the rocks that line the hill in places.  And I imagine what it will be here like when it is green and hot outside and spring flowers litter the ground.  I think of climbing Oregan with Mike and Scott on Mike's double century one year and the stunningly gorgeous moth we came upon near the top of the climb and how its beauty stunned the three of us.  My companion praises the roads Steve Rice has chosen for the course and the lack of traffic other than when we are surfacing for a control.  And he is right.  Except for a few miles into and out of controls, the roads are rural and lightly traveled. 

Not long after the climb, Thomas catches us and the three of near the third control.  Thomas takes off and I decide to hold onto him knowing I must force myself to eat something calorie laden.  It is nice to have someone take the pull and I drift along in his wake for quite some time before taking my own turn eating the wind.  And I realize that with my new company I have lost my company from the past brevets:  Claudia, Grasshopper, Bill, Steve, Dave, Mike, and others fade and hover only in the background of my consciousness.  That is until the third control when Tim Carroll joins me.  As if it were yesterday I see him sitting on the floor at the control, worn out by his efforts conquering the course on a fixed gear, his colorless face a twin to my own, waiting for company in the long dark busy stretch that must be ridden to get back to the country roads.   Even in my weariness, I remember seeing the humor in his waiting, as if I could ever keep his pace, fixed gear or not. And I ask myself how many of these damned brevets I have ridden.  I force down two Little Debbie donut sticks and a sprite, and my stomach again rebels cramping and making itself into a giant fist that will clench and unclench the rest of my journey.

Again leaving the past behind, Thomas and I take off to finish this thing off.  He is riding strongly and I urge him to feel free to ride ahead.  But he does not.  And I realize that this is how many of my friendships have started, with my pushing away and someone pushing, ever so slightly though not intrusively, back. While I am glad for that, and the beginning of perhaps a new friendship, I also realize that  my time alone earlier in the ride has allowed me to face and re-live some of my past brevet moments.  And friendships are hard for me for whatever reason.  Claudia is much younger than me, and now much stronger than I.  Years will eventually out and there is no way I could hold her pace.  Grasshopper no longer rides and I mourn the loss of his gentle companionship and humor.  And my relationships with the others are ever changing, taking on new tones and hues that will either cause them to grow or wither because that is the nature of time and relationships.  Time will tell the directions they take.  But I am not quite sure I will ever completely let go of them, or that I will even want to completely let go them for they have given a richness to my life and experiences that I might otherwise have missed.  What I mustn't do is let them keep me from moving forward, from making new friendships and riding companions.

Thomas and I end the brevet together, pulling into the final control and getting our cards signed and turned in.  Another Kentucky 200K in the books.  And now there are new experiences that I will want to keep and remember.  Perhaps the 300 will be easier for me.  Perhaps it won't. Either way, I hope I have the courage to ride it, and I hope I have new experiences and make more memories. For as L. M. Montgomery said, "Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it."  And I do remember.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Puddle. An awesome feat considering you were feeling ill!