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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Virgin Self-Designed, Self-Supported Two Day Bicycle Tour

"Would you tell me, please, which way I
ought to go from here?"  "That depends a good
deal on where you want to get to." I don't much 
care where...." "Then it doesn't matter which 
way you go."
Lewis Carroll

I can't believe how nervous and excited I am about this short, solo overnight excursion to places unknown to me.  I am practically trembling as I attach my carradice for the first time in a long time.  It makes absolutely no sense, but when have I ever made sense, even to myself?  Lloyd used to tell me his nephew was right when he said I was strange, but he loved my strangeness.  How well I remember the look on his face when I wanted a pocket knife for Christmas instead of some kind of jewelry.  I grin thinking of one of his sayings, the kind I miss so because they always made me smile.  He would have told me that I was "as nervous as a whore in church." I know he would be worried at what I am about to do, but he would encourage me anyway.  It was part of who he was and part of why I loved him so.  He would tell me his concerns, he did not hide them, but then let me go my own way standing ready to pick up the pieces if need be.  Always my safety net, my shelter, my support whether right or wrong.  Now gone.  But what he gave me is NOT gone.

I try to remember if I have used my carradice since the 2011 PBP and I don't believe I have.  I "thought" about using it on the Virginia Appalachian Adventure last year, prepared to use it,  but I decided against it at the last moment opting to do without the extra weight.  No chance of opting out this time. Yes, I could just stick a change in a jersey pocket and a toothbrush, but that would defeat the purpose.

This is a preparation journey, practice for a longer, solo, unsupported trip that I hope to take when I retire.  And I hope to take plenty of shorter excursions prior to then. I will start with an overnight and see how I deal with a self planned route that might or might not have roads that are rideable.   If I like it, and I believe that I will, I will begin saving for a new bike, one that can take wider tires and has more clearance and that will allow me to carry more.  If I don't like it, I don't have to do it again.  If I like it, I may go for three days or for a week in the spring or early summer of next year, and if I don't like it I won't. But it is a beginning. And it is a first.  Firsts are important.  I find as I age that more of my firsts seem to be negative rather than the positive firsts of younger years, but they are firsts and thus learning experiences and important.  Hopefully this short excursion will be a positive first and not a negative one.  Regardless, it will lead me forward.  And hopefully I will learn something.

Yes, I have done longer rides unsupported, and longer pleasure journeys with others on the bike (though those were mainly supported),  but it is different on a brevet or with others.  There is a designed course that has been approved by RUSA.  There are others on the road.  Or on a trip there is a course designed by someone else.  I feel like a young child who wants to do it "all by myself."  I want to plan it and ride it all by myself.  I want to stop to take pictures if I want to or not.  I want to ride at whatever pace suits my fancy without worrying that I am inconveniencing someone or fretting that someone is inconveniencing me.  I don't want to feel badly or feel responsible if I get lost or the roads suck or there is a problem.  It is not that I would mind having a companion:  I would not.  I have no doubt that the right companion would do nothing but enhance and enrich the experience as sharing things tends to do, but how to find the "right" companion when one is intent on being rather selfish.  There's the rub. It would be difficult to find a companion to suit me because this trip will be about me, and perhaps those in the future will be as well.

Most friends are supportive.  Indeed, two friends, Raney and Diana,  spontaneously offer to be a backup in case of an unexpected issue despite the distance it would involve.  Their kindness touches me.   (Diana or Raney, if you read this place know that your generosity and support touched my heart deeply.)  Others look at me with a vague expression of disapproval,  unspoken but still hovering thickly in the air.  I ponder how much of that, if any,  is related to my being female.  I have been told my numerous people on numerous occasions that women should not ride alone.  I have lived with that idea in some form or another all of my life, that many of the things I like to do I should not like to do because of my gender.  I have never wanted to be a man, but I certainly have envied the freedom to do things that men seem to have. Then again, there are certain "men" things that I don't want to do (like cleaning the sump pump well), so maybe things even out.

The thing is, I do have fears, rather many of them,  and I understand the possible dangers, but as Paulo Coelho says, "Don't give in to your fears.  If you do, you won't be able to talk to your heart." No, I have absolutely no desire to run into some maniac or sadly unbalanced person who will harm me, or to be hit by a driver who does not stop, or to fall and injure myself when help is not around, to have a mechanical I cannot fix and rely on the kindness of strangers, but I also have no desire to remain stagnant to avoid these dangers.  My love is gone, but there is so much out there left to see and do.  There may be another love relationship with someone else in the future or there may not.  Either way,  I do not grow younger.  Time just has this way of sliding by without getting done those things that I want to get done. And if I am not careful, it will be too late.  If an opportunity passes, it is gone, and no amount of wishing can bring it back.  I need to talk to my heart. Perhaps it can tell me which direction to take....if I can decide where I want to go.

I pack my carridice to the brim, approximately 15 extra pounds to tote over the miles.  Yes, I am taking things that would not be necessary unless I were going on a longer journey, though not an excessive amount of extra things.  But this is partly an experiment to see how much I can carry on my current bicycle with my current set up.  The weather is predicted to be spectacular.  The course there and back has been plotted.  My supervisor kindly has given me the time off work despite already having vacation days I will be taking for other purposes soon.  When I go to bed on Sunday night, everything is ready.

I go right to sleep, but I awaken at 2:30 a.m. and find myself tossing and turning, thoughts scrambling frantically through my brain,  unable to go back to sleep.  Even so, morning comes quickly and I prepare to leave.  I have made arrangements for a friend to care for the cats, still as I feed them I feel the traitor. Elizabeth, in particular, does not care for strangers and often goes a couple of days without eating when I leave. But this worry does not last long.  The sun is shining and it is deliciously cool.  Such an odd August, I think as I head out and it is in the 50's.  I know the temperature cannot but help me, but the predicted wind may be an issue.  It is not terrible:  10 mph with 15 mph gust, but unlike a century, I will head into it the majority of the way.  Of course, the next day there may be pay back.  I can only hope.
The first of my route is on roads well known to me.  Originally I thought about driving and leaving from another town so that all the roads would be new, but I decided not to do so this first time out.  I find I have forgotten that balancing on a bicycle is quite different with the extra weight and a carradice. Gravel in turns more treacherous and standing to climb means counterbalancing the extra weight, but soon it is old hat and no longer bothers me.  I am particularly careful on turns with gravel as it seems my tires seem less likely to hold and more likely to slide. 

Outside of Medora, I notice something I have not noticed previously despite my many rides there:  the ditch alongside the road is absolutely teeming with small fish.  The water seems to be alive and is actually churning as they surface and then go under.  I have no desire to stop at Medora, but I make myself stop and eat and drink something as my route is designed to stay away from towns and from state roads that would have stores and gas stations.  I have planned for this with extra water and a sandwich or two, but since I don't know what the day will hold, I feel I better stop while I  have a chance.  Later, when I pass the Leesville store, I think that would have been a better option and I could have waited.  I think perhaps I should stop again, but I don't. Still it does not bode well to run out of food and/or water on a long ride. After leaving Medora, I make the first climb on Brick Plant Road.

Soon after Leesville, I hit the first of entirely new roads.  What is there about riding on roads that you are unfamiliar with that make them so enchanting?  Perhaps it is the possibilities.  As Shel Silverstein says, "Listen to the mustn'ts child.  Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never  haves, then listen close to me....Anything can happen child, anything can be." I think how I love the intricate patterns woven by the roads, leading here, leading there, hooking up in expected and unexpected ways, weaving and forming an intricate pattern, all leading somewhere. Even the 17 per cent grade hill I come across on Lower Leesburg shortly after leaving the familiar does not bother me.  I merely change gears, take my time, and climb.  I think about how nice this is, just to climb at my own pace.  The day stretches before me, a gift.  They say that God takes special care of drunks and fools.  I am not drunk, but quite possibly I am a fool.   I put myself and my well-being in his hands, and he does not disappoint.  I have only 103 miles to go today, 103 miles that stretches to 104 because at one point I go slightly off course.

Before you know it, I am at Buddha.  While I have been to Buddha before, it was on a cross road to the road I am riding.  The store is no longer open, but there are coke machines still in operation. I suspect the old store owner I met and had a conversation with is now with his maker.  I take the time to stop and have a drink.  I wonder about why a town in Indiana would be named Buddha.  Indiana really is not well known for its political liberality or its acceptance of cultural diversity, so why the name?  I don't think to look it up on my smart phone (I still forget that I now have one), but I later look it up on Wikipedia and there are several stories of how it may have come by that name.  I also learn that the pronunciation is so that it rhymes with Judy. What is the most surprising is that it ever supported a store.  There is nothing there except one church and a few scattered houses.  How automobiles have changed things.

I move onward realizing that I have no idea what types of roads I might end up facing and how long they might take to travel.  Duc has warned me about the gravel I may run into as I near my destination. I really don't have a good bike for gravel, but I have packed two extra tires and lots of tubes so I hope I am adequately prepared.  I am due in Montgomery and have a reservation at Gustaf Amish Village.

The village is a place I have want to see though I could not really tell you why.  My husband was drawn to the Amish/Mennonite way of life and I wanted us to go there a few  years ago, but traveling was so difficult for him with his illness and we did not make it.  And so my route is planned with that destination in mind.  I did put a small light on my bicycle just in case my riding time exceeds daylight time, but I hope not to use it.

I think how I would feel about camping along the way, just pulling over in one of the many patches of woods, and I have mixed feelings.  I think, perhaps, I would be scared.  I am sure I would be quite safe, but the dark without a camp fire or another person....I just don't know.  It is not as if I am an experienced outdoor girl or come from a camping family.  I decide I will read about it over the winter, the winter that also scares me so. But that, my friend, is another story. I do think, however, that in the future it would be prudent to stick in a couple of emergency blankets as I do when I ride PBP or a long brevet.

As I reach the outskirts of Mitchell, I think that I am fortunate as somehow I have been on mainly paved roads, but scenic roads with little or no traffic.  This has allowed me to make fairly good time without significant effort.  I have been on roads with exotic and unfamiliar names, something I quite enjoy, though I was rather reluctant to stop on Copperhead Valley Road to relieve myself merely due to the name. As I suspect, I find there is no store on Albright's Store Road, though I am sure there once was.  I think how I like counties that name their roads names rather than numbering them.  A name somehow gives a road more character. It gives me something to wonder about.

Everything is so green despite the time of year and it is astonishingly quiet. No human sound of cars or voices or machines is in the air.  It is as if my ears are taking a vacation.  Hours and miles pass with little or not traffic.  There are miles with no houses: forest with the occasional relief of farm land.  I realize that I am singing and that I am relaxed.  I realize that I am happy.  I am glad I have a destination, but I don't much care how I get there so long as it does not involve cars and traffic and people.  I feel as if I could ride forever.  I feel strong and confident and quite brave.  I chase away thoughts about falling or bad guys or any of the innumerable boogey men that haunt dreams.  I wonder at the sparsity of dogs.

I think briefly of stopped to get something to eat in Mitchell, but I remain a slave to the purple line on my GPS.   I have brought my own supplies for the trip, so I head onward.  I pass a house that leaves me dreaming.  It looks unoccupied, though not particularly run down other than it is overgrown with ivy or some other type of climbing plant.  There  is a wood heart on the front of the deck of the house announcing that once this place contained a family, two people who dreamed, ate, bathed,  held hands, lusted, and slept intertwined planning their future, two people who perhaps had a family.  What happened?  Why does something always seem to happen, I think?  And how come we often are the destroyers of our own happiness?  For some reason, one of my favorite Adrienne Rich poems comes to mind:

Adrienne Rich

The Middle-Aged

Their faces, safe as an interior
Of Holland tiles and Oriental carpet,
Where the fruit-bowl, always filled, stood in a light
Of placid afternoon ⎯ their voices’ measure,
Their figures moving in the Sunday garden
To lay the tea outdoors or trim the borders,
Afflicted, haunted us. For to be young
Was always to live in other peoples’ houses
Whose peace, if we sought it, had been made by others,
Was ours at second-hand and not for long.
The custom of the house, not ours, the sun
Fading the silver-blue Fortuny curtains,
The reminiscence of a Christmas party
Of fourteen years ago ⎯ all memory.
Signs of possession and of being possessed,
We tasted, tense with envy. They were so kind,
Would have given us anything; the bowl of fruit
Was filled for us, there was a room upstairs
We must call ours: but twenty years of living
They could not give. Nor did they ever speak
Of the coarse stain on that polished balustrade,
The crack in the study window, or the letters
Locked in a drawer and the key destroyed.
All to be understood by us, returning
Late, in our own time ⎯ how that peace was made,
Upon what terms, with how much left unsaid.

It is shortly before Shoals that I have my first, and really my only, real issue on the journey.  Yes, I have run into some gravel, but they were still lovely roads, perhaps less traveled because of the gravel.   But the road I am now on is not gravel, at least on this stretch: it is freshly chip and sealed.  Most of it has dried and is passable, but I hit a stretch that is not and do not stop in time.  I feel the tires of my bike sink into the slimy tar and I know I am in trouble.  I immediately get off the bike and walk it over this small patch, christening my new bicycle shoes, but alas, my tires have been tarred and pebbled.

Visions of flat tire after flat tire dance in my head.  I pick up a coke can by the side of the road and scrape off the worst of the damage and get back on, thinking what to do.   I have successfully avoided riding on State Road 50, but in Shoals I see a gas station off to my right, so I decide to go there before turning around and resuming my route.  Originally, I think of buying baby wipes and a bit of gasoline as I know gasoline dissolves tar, but I don't know what it might do to my tires long term.  I fear that it might soften the rubber leaving it even more vulnerable to flats.  Not being a chemist and not really knowing what, if any consequence there might be using gasoline,  I settle on buying baby wipes and wipe my tires.  I then take my Swiss Army Knife and scrape the tires, leaving slivers of tar and small pebbles on the ground.  Some old men sitting at an outside table there tease me about slashing my tires, but it seems the best solution.  Somehow, despite the tarring and pebbling, despite the gravel that seems fairly constant after Shoals, I survive both days with no flats.  So I suppose it did work. As I said, God takes care of fools.  I think I must keep him pretty busy though and apologize for taking up more than my share of his time.

Shortly outside of Shoals, I run into..well, I really don't know what I run into, but here is a photo.  This is right before the road becomes gravel. Yes, I know the one side is just a rock with an indentation that people have vandalized with spray paint, announcing that they are jerks to the world in vivid color, but the flat rock intrigues me with its steps and flowers, almost as if it were an alter.  If it were closer to the road, I would think it was one of the shrines that people sometimes erect at the place of an automobile accident, but it seems to far away and there is no cross. And in America, we typically don't have small outdoor shrines set up along the roadside.

The rest of the trip to the inn rotates between gravel and pavement.  Sometimes I ride the gravel and sometimes I don't.  Some roads are so isolated, that I decide to walk down if a hill is particularly steep and heavily gravel covered thinking that I might be there all night without a car passing if I should happen to fall and break something.  I also  walk up a couple of hills when my tires begin to slip from under me. But I have no flats.

My favorite part of the last few miles is the gravel road immediately before the paved road leading to the village. It passes by the Amish homes.  I had just read that the Amish there were recently given permission by their elders to ride bicycles, and I pass a young woman pulling a child carrier on her bicycle though I do not see a child inside.  I follow an Amish horse drawn carriage for a number of miles. The road is dry and dusty, though, from the lack of rain, and there is traffic, the most traffic I have ridden in all day.  I take my spare bandanna and tie it over my nose and mouth to keep from breathing in the dust.  For a moment, I contemplate why the road only seems to be paved in front of houses, and then it comes to me....because of the dust.

 I see Amish buggies and clothes hanging on clothes line. I see a field of work horses grazing greedily, heavy muscles gleaming under silken coats that have not yet started to show thickening of winter.  So much I would love to photograph, but I know it is considered rude and so I restrain myself and try to form a mental image that I can retain.

I am glad to reach my hotel.  The day has taken its toll on me.  Between the dust, the tar, and the grease, I am as filthy as a coal miner following a 10 hour shift. The man sitting in a chair by the front door of the hotel begins laughing at the sight of me and the chain ring oil stain on my right calf.  He tells me his nephew is a mountain biker and finally gave up and just got a chain ring tattoo on that calf.   He gets up and holds the door for me as I go to check in. 

The outside of the hotel is rather disappointing.  It looks a bit run down and green mold has started to grow on the siding, but the room I am put in is as neat and clean as a pin with a large comfortable bed, shampoo, and lots of hot water.

As I shower, I realize that I am ravenous.  Next door to the hotel is the Amish Restaurant.  As I was told by people who have eaten there, the fried chicken  is out of this world good.  And the home made bread is wonderful.  The vegetables, they were just so so.  They are not bad, but there is nothing special about them.  I intend to look through the stores while I am there though I knew I have no room to carry much of anything back, but I am too weary.  I return to my room with drooping eyes.  I have brought a book intending to read, but I find I cannot keep my eyes open and despite my best efforts fall asleep at 8:30.

In the morning, I eat breakfast at the motel, pocketing some bread and butter for later in the day.  I have planned my return route carefully.  It is a few miles shorter and goes a different direction though I do cross paths with yesterdays route in a place or two.  One of those places is the tar pit.  This time I will be wiser. I leave on the south side of Montgomery since I had come in from the north.  During my planning, I knew I needed to take into account getting across the White River.  Brooks Bridge Road sounded ideal.

The south side appears to be better paved than the north side, and silly me, I think that I may have had ridden all the gravel I am going to get to ride yesterday.  I turn onto Brooks Bridge Road and see two ladies taking their morning walk. I briefly wonder what it would be like to not have to work and to be able to walk in the morning with a friend.  But that is not my lot.

 I have actually been wearing the jacket I brought to ward off the morning chill,  and I decide to stop and take it off.  The road appears to be nicely paved, and it is for awhile, but only for awhile.  The sign at the church tells me I have reached God's country, and with the scenery I run into a bit down the road, I must admit that I agree.  I find I am becoming quite fond of gravel.  I am actually glad to see it.   "If only I don't get too many flat tires," I think.

On my century ride Saturday, there was talk about how isolated the roads were.  Let me tell you, they were nothing like the roads on this ride.  At one point, I just lay my bike down and sit in the road, enjoying my slices of home made bread and butter. Traffic just appears to be a non-issue.

When I encounter the gravel, I do wonder what I have gotten myself into for I am on this road for quite a way.  But I an interested in seeing the bridge. I just expected that any road that had a bridge crossing the river would be well maintained.  Wrong.  It is gravel all the way to the bridge and a bit beyond.  It is a lovely bridge, metal, a bridge that my mother used to call a singing bridge because tires make noise as they pass over it.  I later find the bridge was built in 1894, and like so many bridges in this area, was built by the Lafayette Bridge company.  It was repaired in 1988 and 2009 and is eligible for registry as a historical place.  Locally, it is best known for its legend about a young girl, age 17, who threw herself off the bridge.  Allegedly, on the 5th day of the month you can hear her screams and the splash.  She evidently gets quite annoyed if you attempt to keep her from plummeting to her death.   I am glad it is not the 5th of the month.  I later find out from Duc that another direction would have taken me to a covered bridge, but that will be something to look forward to on another trip.  I am glad I passed this way though it was certainly not what I expected.

After the bridge and the climb that follows shortly thereafter, I run into my first, and really my only, encounter with dogs.  And I mean dogs.  A whole pack of them, different colors, different sizes, and different ages, come out barking and growling.   I am scared.  I dismount putting my bike between me and them, but one begins to circle around to my back.  I squirt him with my precious water and he backs off a bit.  I am saved when the owner comes out and calls them back in.  She drives down the road and finds me a few minutes later asking if they had hurt me.  I tell her no, they just scared me.  She says she normally keeps them up but had let them out just a few minutes before I appeared. 

I am taking photos when she arrives as it is so beautiful, but I fear they won't turn out due to the angle of the sun, and they mostly don't.   One side of the road yes.  The other no.  She tells me I need to return in the evening when the sun sets the top of the hills aglow with reds and oranges, as if they were on fire.  I nod, knowing that it is not likely that I will pass this way again. 

As I near Orleans and more familiar roads, woods and forests and hills yield to tamer territory, still scenic.  It is not flat, but rolling.  And I begin to feel the melancholy that often seems to assault me at the end of a journey.  I think, perhaps, it is tied in with the return to reality, to my every day life, to a schedule and work.  These things are important to me, no doubt.  I do not fail to realize their importance, and  perhaps even their part in making the last two days so very special. 
These familiar roads bring memories of other rides, of friends and funny things that they said or did to make me smile.  And I realize that I have been very blessed.  I am blessed to have health, to have friends, to have cats, to have a home, to have a job, and to have a bicycle.  But that does not stop me from being greedy.  I now want another bicycle, one better suited for my journeying, for I feel certain that if I can, barring anything unforeseen, I will do this again.  And as Lewis Carroll noted, "I don't much care where."  Just somewhere beautiful and new. 
there was a girl about 17 who threw herself off the bridge. A couple day's later they found her dead body. Often on the 5th of every month you can here her screams as she throws herself off the bridge. Then a splash then silence. Many say that if u go down to the bridge after you hear the screams and u catch her before she jumps than she will chase you and yell at you for distracting her. - See more at:

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