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Friday, May 2, 2014

Kentucky 400K Brevet

"Love only what you do,
and not what you have done."
Adrienne Rich

The weather promises to be gorgeous, as if apologizing for its temper tantrum on the 300K.  Yes, there is wind, but it is not the cold, punishing, in your face wind of the 300K but a kinder, gentler wind that will test us on the way out but will also reward us by a push home. More importantly, at least to me, there will be sunshine, glorious sunshine, in the world today; and there will be color from leaves and from flowers stirring, shyly pushing up through the ground, glorying in their rebirth.  Spring has finally graced us with her presence after the winter that would not quit.  Greedily, I anticipate a sumptuous feast for my eyes and my soul.  The world is callow, fresh, and like a newborn baby, there is something quite special about it:  a whole world of possibilities lies ahead and each bend of the road could conceal a surprise.

Susan is kind enough to ask me to stay  the night so I do not need to rent a room the night before the brevet or drive so far in the morning.  As always, she is the soul of hospitality.  Only a midnight phone call from the motel I had cancelled reservations with on Wednesday asking if I was still coming left me befuddled and  marred my sleep once it finally arrived.  I still haven't figured that one out. I decide not to let it upset me for there is nothing to be gained in that direction. While I have found that it is quite nice to get some solid sleep the night immediately preceding a brevet, it is most important to sleep soundly the night BEFORE the night before.  Realistically, leaving at 4:00 a.m. how much sleep can one get?  I will my body to lie still and rest and prepare for the effort that will be asked of it the coming day.

Riders gather in the chilly darkness outside the hotel room where the sign in is being held.  17 of the 18 who registered are here, and all but two will finish. Four states are represented: Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. Some of the riders I know, and some I don't.  I am the only woman riding this time, and yet again I think of what Steve Rice said when I once wondered why more women don't participate in brevets. "Most women," he said, "have better sense."  I grin to myself thinking of a past on-line discussion on this issue  and how that discussion was dominated by men, most of whom seemed clueless and not at all receptive to the females who posted ideas of why more women do not ride brevets. The men seemed to think they knew why women rode or did not ride better than women themselves. Dan Driscoll, if memory serves, came closer than any man who posted to at least finding a solution though I don't know the man and have no idea if he really had an  understanding the need. I briefly wonder if any of the other women or men reading the thread noted the irony. I wondered if any of of the other readers noted that the lack of African American riders at PBP and other brevets, male or female, and other minorities was not addressed. But that, perhaps,  is another discussion for another time.  How often we, and I include myself in this group, fail to listen.

Briefly I wonder why I am here and not tucked snugly in my own bed lost in dreams.  But as lovely as dreams are while you are sleeping,  pursuing dreams and living dreams while awake is much more satisfying.  And I realize that there is a part of me that loves this: the anticipation of effort, of laughter, of introspection, of companionship, of loneliness,  of desperation, of all those emotions and thoughts that happen when you are riding 252 miles even if it is lovely day and it is finally spring in Kentucky. And I have an entire day to do nothing but ride my bike. The words of Adrienne Rich, quoted above, come to mind.  Perhaps she is right and it is the doing that is the thing.  And while I can't say that every time I prepare to ride a brevet I am brimming with anticipation, it will be time to quit when I no longer love riding them the majority of the time, at least until the pain and weariness kicks in and changes my attitude so that I vow I will never ride again.

I wonder who, if anyone, I will ride with or if I will make this journey alone.  As always at the start of any brevet, but particularly a longer brevet, there is that tinge of self doubt and of worry haunting the dark recesses of my consciousness that I must shoo away before my imagination takes hold and inflates them into something much larger than what they are.  And the only thing that mars my contentment today is that Bill Pustow is not here, for I have traveled many miles with Bill and we often match in pace and temperament and I was hoping he would ride and share today's adventure with me.   I respect him: his commitment to his daughter and family let me know that his priorities match my own, maybe even serve as a role model for me upon occasion. And he is such a wonderful story teller and he makes me laugh.  As Sancho says about Don Quixote in The Man From LaMancha,"I like him".  And I miss him.  Thankfully, after a serious fall caused by loose dogs, he is riding again, but we have not yet resumed our easy companionship and I grieve and miss him.  I hope that he, like so many others that I have cared for, has not become a person from my past who is not part of my future.  Life is so very fragile, and friendship, though the shared miles with the laughter, confidences, and challenges forge it as strongly as steel, is the same.Even strong friendships require regular maintenance.

After checking in and deciding what to carry and what to wear, I ride around the parking light trying to determine if my light is set correctly so as to throw the best light pattern while on the road.  And then it is time to leave.  People are dressed so differently: one young man is wearing only a his short sleeved jersey and shorts and  others are wearing balaclavas and jackets and arm warmers.  Not being a weight wienie, I have arm warmers, knee warmers, and a light jacket with  my dirt rag for my head.   Though the prediction is for low eighties today, it is now in the high forties and I detest being cold  unless it is for a very short period of time.  Being cold uselessly robs me of energy and always makes me ride harder at the start of a ride than I should unless it is going to be a short, quick ride.  And I do not anticipate either shortness or quickness to be part of today's repertoire.  Little do I know what is ahead and that Dave King will attempt to kill me and two others, Tim Argo and Mark Rougeux,  the last 15 miles or so into the last control.

Within minutes the lights of the city fade into the background, and I am struck by the loveliness of the ebony night sky bejeweled with countless stars that far outshine any diamonds.  For some reason, "She hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel upon an Ethiope's ear (William Shakespeare) flits through my mind. The sky is  littered with stars, and I briefly mourn the lack of time and intellect that has kept me from pursuing their study as a hobby.  The conquered moon, orange and crescent shaped, is beautiful, and I am glad that I am here in this crisp darkness on a bicycle conquering my own obstacles, both internal and external. 

While the majority of the world sleeps, I am treated to what feels like a private light show,  and yet again I realize that despite knowing that there might be trials today, and possibly pain, I am glad to be here.  Indeed, I am privileged to be here, to have the health to be here. I sorrow for those who are ill and  have other obstacles that impede their wellness. And I am thankful for a spouse who is accepting of my being here, who encourages me to be here, even though he cannot and will never be able to ride a bicycle.  He is secure enough in our love to give me freedom, and that freedom ensures that I will always return for I understand the value of that gift and how very difficult and unselfish it is to bestow.  Sometimes I think it binds me more tightly than any vows. Those who ride without objections by spouses or significant others  should treasure the gift they have been given  for not everyone has been so blessed: it is a lot to ask of someone to have a brevet rider that they love.  The gift goes far beyond the hours of separation and includes worry. Those who have the health to ride should also be thankful for it will not always be so and is not so for so many others.  Time does have a way of moving stolidly, unwaveringly forward no matter how we drag our heels.

I am quite enjoying my solitude and the random thoughts it brings when I come upon Dave King paused along the road checking something on his bicycle. I am surprised to see him as he usually is farther toward the front, but he says he is fine.  I chuckle thinking that it is probably his miscreant fender. I would like to have a penny for every time Dave has had to adjust his fender on a ride, and I think how glad I am that the man who helped me put my bike together at Gran Fondo talked me out of getting them for I am not mechanically inclined.  Rather, I lean toward being mechanically disinclined. I must admit, however, that they do give his green Kirk a certain charm.

Dave and I often ride some together, even finish together upon occasion, but we  normally meet up later in the ride after the initial rush of heading out into the world has faded. Though I anticipate him dropping me somewhere along the many miles we have yet to travel I am wrong, and we end up riding the rest of the day together and finishing together. At times he even complains of  the quickness of my pace.  I know that riding with a companion will change the nature of the ride as I just do  not notice the scenery with the same appreciation when I am in the midst of conversation, but I enjoy riding with Dave. Like Bill, Dave can often make me smile even though I don't always speak Dave;-)

We stop briefly at the closed country store in Southville for Dave to fill the water bottles he forgot to fill before the ride start.   Hydrating will be  important today as it is predicted to get into the low eighties and none of us have acclimated to heat. He fills one bottle and says he will fill the other at Lawrenceburg though it is not a control on the 400K as it is on the 200 and 300.  Normally I  ride straight through until the first control, and I briefly consider this knowing  Dave will catch me if he wants to or I can just ride alone, but I stop as well.  Two stops before the first control:  this is something new. Just when I have lose my patience and am getting ready to head out on my own, Dave comes out of the store.  I find he also adjusted his cleats due to knee issues.  Other than one control and a last Lawenceburg stop, Dave will beat me out of controls all day.  Luckily for me he was not far behind when I do head out of a control alone because I missed a turn or I would have ridden much farther out of my way. Later, when we catch up with Steve Rice, I tell him about it and he must think I am complaining as he says he can't ride with everybody.  I tell him he can't cure stupid. I will always be directionally challenged, but it is nobody's fault but my own.  I particularly feel silly losing my way, however briefly, on a marked course.

 Being beaten out of a control would not be so unusual if we were not talking about being beaten out of a control by Dave.  Dave is normally the last one out of a control.  I think of one brevet where I was riding with both Dave and Bill and we stopped at the Lawrenceburg control.  Bill and I came out of the store and Dave had completely unpacked his carradice and had everything in neat piles on the ground.  Bill and I looked at each other, threw our legs over our bicycles and rode off. Controls are like transitions in triathlons:  there is a lot of time to be saved with little effort by doing a short but thorough stop. Still, I brood for a bit and wonder why Dave is doing this or if it is me that is taking longer than normal.

Before you know it we are descending into a solid silver wall of mist that seems to have appeared out of nowhere on an isolated, narrow country lane.  It is eerily beautiful, but  I remember what someone told me about it really not mattering too much about who was right or who had the right away if you are seriously injured or dead. I keep a close watch in my helmet mirror vowing to get off and stand by the road if a car comes for I don't believe they will ever see us through the thick, oppressive fog.  The temperature has dropped with the descent, and I am thankful there is a long climb ahead.   No car comes and as we crest the top of the hill the mist melts away as suddenly as it appeared, phantom-like.  Weather conditions the rest of the day will be as near perfect as one can expect in April.

There are wild flowers lining the road and the red bud clouds purple along the side of the road.   Snow white dogwoods are tentatively blooming, lacing themselves through the wooded side roads. Leaves tentatively peek from branches, a pale green, not yet darkened to the rich, mature green of summer.  Pastures are filled with mothers and babies of all kinds enjoying the warmth, newly green grass, and sunshine.  During the return journey, as evening nears, we pass roads where there is an abundance of rabbits scampering randomly here and there, white tails bobbing and whiskers twitching.  Dandelions seed pods line the fence rows, oddly beautiful, and despite being with company for just a moment I am a child again, gently blowing them or twirling in circles while holding them and watching the seed pods lazily drift through the spring air searching for a place to call home. 

After the turn around, two riders join Dave and I:  Tim Argo and Mark Rougeux.  I am surprised to find that while I am tired, I am not weary.  I wish I too had brought a camera or had a smart phone when Tim stops to photograph the small, now defunct Peckerwood Store in Knothole, Kentucky.  Just passing there inevitably causes a grin to light my face. Dave says he would like to stop in Lawenceburg at the convenient store and pick up a couple of chicken legs for the road and I agree.  When we stop, however, there is no chicken and I rudely hustle everyone out of the store and back on their bicycles.  There is still some daylight and I would like to get off the main, busy road before darkness falls.  We turn on our lights and take off, and I begin to dread what I know will happen when we reach Pea Ridge Road.  As the evening brings a chill, we stop briefly prior to Pea Ridge to put on jackets or arm warmers,  and I laugh when I find I have put my knee warmers on my arms in the dark not having paid any attention to which pocket I shoved them in when I took them off earlier in the day. Oh, well, they might look stupid and be a bit loose, but they serve the purpose.  For a long time, when I first started riding, I used my son's worn out tube socks for arm warmers.  Fashion is not my forte I fear. But I do fear Pea Ridge and what is coming shortly.

I have ridden Pea Ridge Road with Dave too many times to fool myself.  He might drag all day long, but when he hits Pea Ridge Dave begins to ride like a demon. Something about that darned road just causes him to go all out. Thankfully, Tim has given me his wheel during the past few miles so I am not as worn out as I otherwise might be; still, when we reach Pea Ridge I think, "Oh, God, here it goes." It begins. And this is where Dave tries to kill us.

Off he goes pedaling like a maniac, and Mark, Tim, and I, not being very bright, just follow along too tired to say Baaaa like the sheep we are;-)  Lungs burn and chests heave in gasping rasps as we race up and down rollers and a few nice climbs, pedals churning as if we were all on fixed gears.  It is then that I determine that Dave is trying to kill us, at least me. But I'll be damned if I will let him. That little competitive streak that I work so hard to rein in will not allow me to just let them go, particularly Dave, not after all these miles.   I am not sure what our average is over the last 16 miles of the course, but I know it  has to be over 16 mph despite the hills due to our finishing time. This is  not a tremendous pace perhaps, but a quicker pace than I would normally ride after being on the bike for over 230 miles. I even find myself not taking sufficient time at a stop sign to ensure safety.  No car is near, but it is certainly not a bright thing to do and I make a mental note that I must work harder to control that nasty little beast that pops up at times.  Tim Argo is the only one who shows some sense once we reach the city limits.  The rest of us are just lucky.  They say that God protects drunks and fools and I fear he had his hands full taking care of us today.

But it has been a good day, an easier day than expected.  And I have loved what I was doing.  But I am unsure that it is not also okay to love what you have done so long as you don't get stuck there in the past and so long as you learn from it.  Just remember that there is a tomorrow and there are more brevets and bicycle rides to complete and don't rest on past accomplishments.  "Tomorrow's another day, and I'm thirsty anyway, so bring on the rain."  (Jo Dee Messina).  

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