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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Painless in Paoli

"The foliage has been losing its freshness
through the month of August, and here and there a 
yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair 
amidst the locks of a beauty  who has seen one 
season too many..."  
(Oliver Wendell Holmes)

It is beautiful this time of year, there is no doubt about it.  There is a feeling of anticipation, the knowledge that things are about to change and change significantly.  No more the long, steamy daylight hours of summer to dance through with my bicycle gloriously unfettered.  While the weather is exceedingly pleasant, the lessened daylight hours make it feel as if there is less time, less time to do those things that need doing so that one can rest easy in the winter patiently waiting for spring to oust the cold and snow.  And there is less time if you want to ride in daylight, to feel the sun beating down, warming you, making you sweat.  Rides become more hurried, less tolerant of unnecessary delays.  Gone the days of lolling in the grass mid-ride talking or dreaming.  Lights are attached to bikes in case of problems.  There is less room for error.

The squirrels have been particularly active this year, crossing the road with a suicidal, wild abandon that is uncharacteristic the rest of the year. It is as if their timidity is shuttled to the back of their minds in their determination to gather and store food for the winter.   The harvest takes precedence over all else.  The farmers also have started the reaping, corn cobs littering the roads, dust thick and heavy in the air as  you ride by if they are working near the road, covering you with grit. 

I am glad I did not talk myself out of riding with the group today, although it did cross my mind.  I remember the difficulty of this course, Painless in Paoli, and grin again at the thought of Kirk's post after the ride last year:  "Painless, my ass."  When you are not training, it is all too easy to avoid challenging rides, to forget the satisfaction that effort can bring, the blessed tiredness that aids sleep and blessed unconsciousness later when night falls.  It is all too easy to forget the spectacular scenery that you can earn only through the climbs and the hilly terrain, those scenes that flatland riders never get to experience. This particularly holds true when one is not training for something or when one is depressed and has to literally demand going out the door, when riding is a duty and an obligation and not a delight.  Is it enough not to just ride?  Must one also ride hills? 

I still need to force myself out the door at times, but  more and more often I manage to give myself a resounding yes and a kick in the rear.  While it is still dark outside when I leave for the ride start, I know daylight will have stretched out, yawning in pinks and grays and purples, across the horizon before we begin.  What I don't know is that later today I will come as close to taking a serious spill as I have come in quite some time now. 

Tony and I are riding along and there comes a delicious descent, the kind you reach after a good climb, the kind you can swoop down laughing and grinning ear to ear while the wind yells, "slow down, you idiot."  How I love descents.  At the bottom, however, a large, tan dog lays in wait.  I am almost on top of him before I see him rushing out, and I expect to go down knowing the collision is inevitable and hoping that he doesn't savage me once I fall.  Amazingly, while he hits the middle of my front wheel and breaks the light holder off of my fork, I am able to lean into him and somehow I bounce off of him and remain upright. 

I stop to check on him and he gives me such a look of reproach it is almost comical, particularly in light of how close I was to going down and going down hard.  "Don't you know when a fellow is just playing," he seems to ask. "You play too roughly."  He then runs off.  I knock on the door to let the owner know, but nobody answers.  Tony waits patiently while I write a note to the owners briefly explaining what happened and saying I hope their dog is okay.

The rest of the ride is uneventful, but it is filled with companionship and lovely vistas, the sights, smells, and sounds you know you will miss like the dickens when it is cold, windy, and wild outside, the kind that bring a tinge of melancholy because summer green is fading:  summer beauty always ages and fails despite  our best efforts.   But there is still beauty to come, the beauty born of endurance and of weathering the spring, summer, and fall:  life's seasons.  It may just be that we need to develop a special eye to see it.  To me, my mother, 98years old,  is still beautiful despite her wrinkles, her dementia, her blindness.....she is my mother.  And the earth will be beautiful as well.  It is all, as they say, in the eye of the one who beholds her.  "Let us give thanks for those blessings that we are about to receive." Amen.

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