Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

learning to ride

(This was previously published in the Randonneuring Magazine in an edited fashion so you may have read it.  In case not, here it is.....warts and all). 

"The distance is nothing when one has a motive."
Jane Austen

Recently following a blog post about a solo century, a friend asked me how I ride so far.  A legitimate question and one I appreciate rather than the quick assumption that many people make that I am being blatantly untruthful, or at least exaggerating the miles I ride.  I still remember my first bicycle ride.  Being the baby of the family, I got my sister's used bike.  There were no gears.  I could not reach the pedals, so they attached blocks of wood to the pedals.  My three older brothers then took me to the top of the hill (we lived on the left hand side on the bottom of the hill on a dead end street) and sent me on my way.  Purposefully or not purposefully, they neglected to explain the mechanics of braking so while I somehow managed to remain upright until I was in front of our house, I did not know how to stop so as not to fly into the woods at the end of our street.  Needless to say, the curb took care of that for me, and the last thing I remember was flying over the handlebars and into the air.  It may seem peculiar that I don't remember landing, but I don't:  I just remember that feeling of helplessness when you know you are going to crash and there is nothing you can do to prevent it and thinking that my brothers finally had their wish:  my demise;-).  But despite all that, I was hooked, at least until every other kid on the street had a banana seat bike and I did not and adolescence knocked on my door.  Despite always being rather a "tom boy," I began to look at boys in a new way and they took precedence over bicycling and most other things.

My husband bought me my next bike because he worried that I was running too much.  It was a touring bike without drop handlebars, a Trek, a deep, dark forest green because he knew that I loved that color so.  I thought he was crazy for while I was not the best out there at it, running was my passion. But I did not want to hurt his feelings so I began to ride. The feeling of freedom, of independence, vaguely recalled from youth, began to renew itself. Eventually, I went on to complete my first triathlon on that bike, but that is another story.  I remember going out and riding for seven miles telling myself that I could walk if it was too far and almost falling over as I regained a sense my sense of how to balance.  When I made it those seven miles, I felt as if I had conquered the world.    More importantly, something inside me was kindled:  how far could I go? One hundred miles seemed impossible, a fairy tale.  As for brevets, even if I had heard of them I would have thought they were for other people, those with extraordinary athletic abilities,  not for those of us that are mere ordinary mortals.

I first heard about brevets from Jim Moore, Steve Royse, Bill Pustow, and Steve Rice a bit later,  after I joined the Louisville Bicycle Club.  They told me about this man named Johnny Betrand and that he put on a series of distance rides in Kentucky each year and of a ride called PBP and a ride called BMB.  They talked of riding through the night in all types of weather with all types of people and of using lights on your bicycle.  They talked of Johnny's routes and Cobb Hill.  It all sounded rather crazy, yet 200K didn't sound that much further than the century rides that I was completing by then, so when Jim asked if I wanted to do a 200K while we were at Texas Hell Week my first year there, I told him yes.

I rode with Jim that entire brevet and the others part of the way.  Frankly, I don't know if I would have had the courage to begin that journey without him.  I remember the long, arduous climb over the mountain from Vanderpohl to Utopia and how looking at it, it seemed an impossible task, particularly once I learned we had to return back over those very same climbs.  The steepness of the climb, the length of the climb was intimidating:  this was a tough though beautiful course, but this was further than I had ever gone.  I remember making Jim stop so I could free a goat in distress whose horns had gotten stuck in the wire fence.  I remember the beauty of the Texas landscape, so different from that to which I am accustomed.  I remember having a flat and nobody hearing me and watching as their lights faded leaving me in total darkness in the middle of a strange land filled with noises that I could not hope to identify, and how just as I accepted that it was just darkness and would not hurt me and that I would somehow I would change my tire and I would find my way and not perish. Shortly thereafter they returned after  realizing I was missing, and  I remember the warmth of knowing I was missed. And I remember finishing, riding into Fredericksburg glued to Jim's wheel,  my neck so sore and stiff that I could not turn to look behind me when Jim asked me to, my butt feeling like I had gotten the whipping of a lifetime, and thinking that I would never do something quite this crazy ever again.  Mostly, however,  I remember being proud and feeling as if I had accomplished a miracle.

And perhaps that is what randonneuring does for us, at least in part.  It gives us a sense of pride, of accomplishment.  It allows us to use our bodies as they were certainly intended to be used (despite a doctor once calling me a damned idiot and telling me if I want to go somewhere one hundred miles away to get in a car).  As Ms. Austen notes, distance becomes minor as we set a goal:  a 200 K, a 300 K, a K Hound, etc.  We train for this goal, minimizing the distance and the difficulties in our minds, readying our body by putting in the miles, riding in weather not conducive to riding, teaching our minds to ignore our doubts and our fears and our tiredness, because to "weep in the dojo is to laugh in the battlefield."  (Old Samuri saying, author unknown).  We prepare ourselves as best we can for success.  And we learn from both our failures and our successes.

Someday I will no longer do brevets, either because I will not want to or I will not be able to, but I do not think I will ever forget what they have taught me, about myself and about others.  Thank you, Jim, the Steves, Bill, Johnny, and all those who have mentored, aided, and steeled my determination, those who have celebrated my successes with me and commiserated with me on my failures. Whether I ever ride another brevet or not, you have enriched my life immeasurably,  and I really do not know if I have ever properly thanked you for this gift  you gave me.  With Gratitude, Puddle

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Cold December Ride

"Because in the end you won't remember the
time you spent working in the office or mowing
your lawn.  Climb that goddamn mountain."
Jack Kerouac

It is really predicted to be cold tomorrow morning and to not really warm up all day, and I briefly consider canceling the ride.  But I decide not to do that.  If someone shows and wants to ride, I will ride with them.  If not, I will stay home and finish preparing for the upcoming holidays.  Those thoughts in mind, I fall asleep.  I don't really expect anyone.  Those few that have been riding with me recently have other plans, and very few people ride in the cold.

When I awaken, the weather people were right.  It is cold out there.  Pale frost covers the ground.  I decide I will get ready in case someone shows, but if nobody does I will do my weekly grocery shopping and some household chores that did not get done over the summer.   After I dress and walk over to the fire station and see nobody, however, I realize that I really do want to ride.  Already they are saying possible sleet next week-end, and today, though cold, the sun is shining and the sky is blue and there is little wind considering it is December.  

I finish dressing and head out.  My GPS thermometer says it is 14 degrees.  But I truly am not cold.  For my feet, I put toe warmers on both the top and bottom of my toes and used a shoe cover.  For my hands I have a pair of thin wool liner gloves, hand warmers, and then covered them with the new men's felt gloves I bought at the Dollar Tree.  I already have my Bar Mitts on the bike and I am interested to see how the new, cheap gloves do.  I have on my expedition weight Minus 33 wool base layer, a jersey, and a coat.  I coat my face skin with vaseline, then add a balaclava and the hat that Lou Binick of Foxware made me.  I also have on the pants Mr. Binick made me when I told him I needed something to wear when I ride and it is 10 degrees out.  I just love the clothes he made for me.  They are so warm.

While my nose is a bit chilly for the first five or ten minutes, I find I am actually a bit overdressed.  Surprisingly, my dollar store gloves are keeping my fingers as toasty as the ridiculously expensive bicycle gloves I have had in the past, and I can manipulate my fingers much better.  I bless the day I ordered Bar Mitts.  I know without them, no gloves would be keeping my hands this toasty.

For awhile I ponder whether it is harder to ride in very hot or very cold weather, and I don't know that I ever reach a definite conclusion.  My gut feeling is that is probably easier to ride in cold weather if you have the money and prepare for it  because other than acclimating and making sure to stay hydrated, you really can't prepare for extreme heat.  Modern fabrics and chemical warmers make winter much more manageable. My biggest concern today with the cold, though,  is something that would not be as big a concern in the heat, or perhaps it would: a flat or mechanical that would mean I have to take gloves off. But I will not let that stop me from climbing today's mountain.

As I pass the creeks and river that run by State Road 39, I notice how those where the water is still have frozen almost all the way across.  Where the water moves more swiftly, the edges are tinged with white, just starting to freeze.  Both glitter in the places the sun has access now that leaves are a mere memory and I thank God for the gift of sight.  I wonder if Jiggs will be open for lunch or if I am going to have to try to force down the energy gel I brought along just in case.  I grin thinking of how I despise energy gels and hope that my water isn't frozen.  It is bad enough to wash them down with water.  Without it......ugh!  Oh, Jiggs, please be open.

I am about 16 miles in when my phone rings and I see it is from the security service I got after my husband died not because I have anything much of value to anyone else, but because I was afraid.  I am not quick enough to answer it, and curse as I have to not only stop but begin removing gloves so that the buttons respond to my touch.  There is a voice mail that something is wrong with the system and I need to check the monitor.  It cautions that it could be from a power outage.  And so, I turn around knowing full well that despite the fact I have quite enjoyed myself, I will not be able to force myself back out.   I contemplate going on and just checking it at the end of the day, but I know myself well enough to know it will worry me all day.  When I get home, I don't see anything on the monitor and really don't know what the issue was, but I have the holidays to prepare for. The Lord works in mysterious ways.   I suppose 32 miles is not so bad for such a day.  I would feel better, perhaps, if I had forced myself to "climb the mountain," but at least I climbed the foothill.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Memories and Dogs

"Memories are the treasures that we keep
locked deep within the storehouse of our souls,
to keep our hearts warm when we are lonely."
Becky Aligada
It is one of those November days when you have to convince yourself  to bring fall sluggishness to heel, grab your bike,  and  head out into the early morning.  The sky is various shades of gray with no hint of the blue and sunshine that is promised for the afternoon.  I almost feel I have a duty to head out because in winter you don't know if the next week-end will be rideable weather: snow, cold rain, and other obstacles could prevent or make a ride doable but miserable.  The old saying, "Make hay while the sun shines" comes to mind, despite the fact the sun is definitely NOT shining.  Still, while it is cold today, it is not abnormally so for this time of year, and it is not supposed to be windy.  Low wind is always a plus.  Even when you don't fight it, wind can be so very taxing.  In other words, there are no excuses not to ride other than natural sloth.  And I know once I get started, I will be glad that I did.  Starting....making a beginning....that is the challenge.
Briefly, I debate going to the club ride, but I know I have no business on a 113 mile, hilly ride right now where they are expecting a 15 mph average and I don't want to end up riding at night in downtown Louisville by myself.  Nobody wants to be the chubby anchor on a ride.  Whether is is from a lack of ability or my normal fall blahs, I just can't seem to make myself ride with any speed right now.  In the end, I feel I make the right decision taking off on my own.  As it turns out, this ride is a ride of memories and dogs, numerous dogs, some well cared for and well trained, others in charge of their owners rather than the other way around.

Of all the dog encounters, however, and there were many, I will only speak of two. These are the two that felt threatening rather than the ones that did not.  The first is near the start of my century. I notice a person walking three, big dogs.  Now the dogs look rather pudgy and out of shape, but they also look very strong. They are big dogs, low to the ground, with short legs but stout bodies. The owner has three leashes and I am unable to tell if it is a man or woman. Visions of myself being dragged by a Basset Hound we babysat when I was child come back and how the dog was stronger than I was and pulled me across the yard until one of my older brothers rescued me right when I was on the verge of letting go, my tummy blistered and raw.  I am also rather pudgy and out of shape right now so outrunning them might not be as easy as it normally might be.  Will this person be able to hang onto all three dogs, or will they pull him or her to the ground, absorbed only in the chase?  I decide to move forward and not to change my course. Luckily, the person controls his or her dogs and I pass safely.  I send a grateful thank you into the air.

The second encounter, however, toward the end of my ride, is quite different. I am saved not by the owner, who has absolutely no control over the two dogs that are circling me and making tentative lunges toward me as I attempt to ward them off with squirts from my water bottle, but rather ironically by a car.  Not only does the owner have no control over his dogs, but his dogs have no collars.  Even when he is able to get close to one, stick in hand as if he thinks that will coax them to come to him,  he has no way to control or confine them, and they obviously don't obey voice commands. He finally says, "I'm sorry but they are going to chase you and I can't stop them."  My fear makes me angry, but I calmly tell him that if his dogs bite me, I will sue him and attempt to file charges.  There is a leash law in Indiana and I inform him of this fact.  This is when a car, sometimes the bicycles enemy, becomes the hero and intervenes. As it slows, it serves as a wedge between me and the dogs and I am able to get safely away.

Don't get me wrong.  I may not own a dog right now, but it is not because I do not like dogs.  It is more because it would not be fair to the dog.  Dogs are wonderful animals with wonderful hearts, but they need more attention than I am able to provide at the present time.  I like dogs. What I don't like are people who don't teach their dogs manners.  I suppose it is the same with children.  I love children, but it certainly is easier to like a child when their parents have instilled some manners in them. I don't want to be bitten again.  It took me quite a while to get over my fear of riding by dogs after the pit bulls attacked and bit me.  I healed and was able to ride again, but I still struggle when dogs are aggressive.  I have learned to hold my line because I forced myself to conquer that fear knowing that if I did not I could never do group rides again, but it is not always easy.

Still, despite the dog encounters,  I have good memories during the ride as well as bad memories like the pit bull attack.  I remember designing this route, no maps or GPS, merely by wandering with my sidewalk chalk in hand to mark turns so I could remember them if I needed to back track.  I remember Paul Battle saying how beautiful a certain view was and how surprised he was that I ride out here alone.  I think of the difference between us for I feel much safer out here than I do in the city.  I remember Steve Sexton and I chasing the group on the hilly Hardinsburg Lavonia Road on the way to the lunch stop and how brutal the wind was that day.  I still don't know if he was struggling that day or hung back because he knew I was.  I remember riding in on Eden/Delaney Park one rainy ride where only Steve Rice showed up to ride and how the road was flooded when we neared the ride end, water flowing from one corn field across the road to another.  The world seemed somehow transformed.  I remember Larry breaking a spoke on that same road.  I remember the taste of the sandwiches at the Mennonite Store and the laughter and jokes that can flow when old friends meet to share a ride and a meal together.  Memory after memory of people who have shared this ride with me flow and wrap themselves around my heart and keep me warm.  I miss many of those riders, some mentioned and some not.  Some still ride, some just ride shorter rides, some ride only in nice weather, and some no longer ride.  All have been important to me in some way at some time.  All help to keep me warm on this windless but rather chilly day.  During the ride as during life, just when I was despairing that the sun would never shine, it popped out, not really warm but radiant and bringing a dreary world back to life.   Alone but not lonely at all, I ride on. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Memorial Ride

"Just as a painter needs light in order to
put the finishing touches to his painting, so
I need an inner light, which I feel I never have
enough of in the autumn."
Leo Tolstoy

What an incredible few days of riding it has been.  Chilly mornings that give way to afternoons warm enough to ride in jersey and shorts.   Fall, tenacious and stubborn, has held on this year.  Rain seems to be a thing of the past, a distant memory, and while the trees are beginning to shed leaves that should be gone a week or more by now, they lack the wild, riotous colors that normally characterize this time of year.  I suspect the two are linked, but I really don't know and I have been too busy riding to read and find out.  Riding:  it is what I do.  Not quickly anymore, but I still turn the pedals.  It is only on the bike that I seem halfway whole.

Wednesday: it is my husband's birthday.  So as not to drown the office with my loss, I take off work deciding to ride and spend the day alone with my thoughts able to laugh or cry or sing without encumbrance.  In truth, I will do all three, a wild sweep of emotions. While I take my GPS,  I also want  freedom, so I do not plot a route.  I take the Surly so the gravel will not be a deterrent if a road should call me, and off I pedal hoping to find glimpses of him in the blue of the sky, in the caress of a leave that brushes my arm as it pirouettes to the ground, its last dance with the wind before settling,  in the last of the bird calls, in the wing of the hawk that flies overhead, its shadow gently kissing me.  It is almost as if he is here when I come upon these signs:  

Where, I wonder, Alice like, am I to keep going to.  I feel as if he were speaking to me because I know he would chastise me for grieving for him so and for not moving on quickly enough.  Then I reach the "almost there" sign.  I had not intended to go that direction, but I cannot help myself; however, I never reach "there" to find out what it was or why I would want to go there. "What," I wonder, "did I miss?"  But still, I obey the first sign and keep going.

I spend the days picking new roads and then using my GPS to find a road I am familiar with when I began to be concerned about how far I am from home and being sure I can return before dark as I have no lights on my bike presently and no rescue wagon.  I think about my posterior vitreous detachment and how quickly things can  happen and try to drink up every color and sensation and swallow it whole so that it never leaves me.  My understanding is that it is quite normal and will possibly never trouble me again other than being annoying as all get out, but it could result in a tear that would have more dire consequences. Well, maybe not normal, but not earth shattering.  I do tend to over dramatize at times.  I think how I miss having him say everything will be okay, and how somehow, even though it wasn't, the worry was much lighter when he lifted half of the burden.

I learn that when there is grass growing in the middle of a gravel road, it is a good indication that the road does not go through, but it also can lead to some lovely vistas and alone time.  I think of how the reflection of the trees in the water is like Plato's cave, beautiful but still just a reflection that only mimics reality.  I think of the the things I have learned about myself over the past two years, some of which I like and some which I don't and what I hope I can change and what I hope I can keep.  All in all, I think how very, very lucky I am to have health and a bicycle and rural roads that I can haunt in relative safety despite being a woman and alone.  And I am thankful for a beautiful, warm fall day perfect for meandering.

On Saturday's ride, later this week, Cathy introduces me to the person who first introduced her to bicycling, and it makes me wonder,  "What would my life have been and be now if I had never started bicycling?   And I think, perhaps it needs more thought though I think I may have an answer, or as good of an answer you can have with a "what if," a path whose destination you will never really know because you chose not to travel it.  Like the man you almost married or the career you might have embarked upon.

But today, today I was alone, just me, my bike, and the roads, calling to me like an ancient Siren called to the mariner, seductive and full of promises. There is not enough light, external or internal, to flesh out the day in the way I would like, but I appreciate that I have the day.  And I know that I need to just "keep going" and maybe one day I will know where it is I am suppose to be going to since I am "almost there." 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Ankle and The Knobstone Trail

"Patience is a virtue, but there comes a moment
when you must stop being patient and take the day
by the throat and shake it.  If it fights back; fine.  I'd
rather end up bloody at the end of the day, then unhurt
with no progress made; no knowledge gained.  I'd rather
have a no than a nothing.  I'd forgotten that about myself."
Laurell Hamilton

My friend, Diana, and I are planning on hiking the entire Knobstone Trail.  We are still deciding if we want to hike a section each day and have her husband pick us up so that we can sleep in our own beds and have hot showers or whether we want to camp along the trail until it is completed.  I lean one way, she the other; but I am not above compromise. I enjoy her company and really am not strongly bound to either.  But that decision can wait.  We have decided to hike one section of the trail today just to give us an idea of what kind of shape we are in and how long it will take us.  Diana has a map.  I have a compass on my Christmas wish list as well as a book on how to use it, but as of yet I have neither.

While I spent the majority of my childhood in the woods, I have not really hiked much as an adult and never got much of a chance to camp. My knowledge is extremely limited, and I know that it is limited and I have not yet had a chance to read up on it much.  I do not have the proper equipment, and I do know enough to know that, but it does not deter me from forging ahead.  After all, how many people have completed a triathlon on a touring bike?  Sometimes you do things and if you like them, then you begin to spend money.  If you don't like them, you haven't lost much except time.

We decide to leave early in the  morning.  It is supposed to be colder than it has been recently, but that is not a problem for me.  Since I bicycle in the winter, I have all sorts of cold weather clothing.  The problem is my shoes.  Looking backwards, perhaps this was the decision that might have changed the day, but then it might not have.  Not being omniscient, I will never know.  I have a pair of boots that I bought at Target that were on sale at the end of the season and quite a bit too large, but perfectly fine for shoveling snowy driveways, and I have an old pair of running shoes.  I pick the running shoes.  Would the boots have made a difference?  In the end, it does not matter.  Things happen and you just have to deal with them.  In the scheme of things, any accident you can walk away from is a good accident.

Jim and Diana pick me up and we drive to Elk Creek to hike through to Leota.  Diana is clad in boots and has her back pack.  She is also wise enough to have a walking stick.   I decide against the back pack and just have a waist pack, and while I have put walking sticks on my wish list until I work enough overtime to purchase them, I have not yet gotten them. Both of us are dressed in layers. Jim drives off and we trudge off into the woods.  It doesn't take me long to realize that Diana is much better at spotting trail markers than I am.  Despite what we have heard, the trail is well marked, it is just that even in company I tend to drift off into my own thoughts at times.   I suspect that the West would never have been won by people like me. 

The trees have not yet begun to show their fall colors, but dry leaves do litter the ground.   I see two clusters of mushrooms:  one dead but somehow beautiful.  The other alive and unaware of the seaon change. The farther we stray from the trail-head, the more the path is covered in places.  The birds are still singing, not the bright calls of spring when their exuberance can almost be called raucousness, but not the drear, dead silence of winter when thoughts of survival rule.  It is windy and the trees whisper as if they were talking of us and our passing. Diana and I chat easily, as old friends have a wont to do.  I am grateful for her friendship and I hope she knows this.  I am not and never will be an "easy" person.  I feel too strongly and don't have a tight enough rein on my tongue. My expectations are high.  I have rather weird interests. Even with all the love he had for me, my husband told me not long before he died that his nephew was right when he said I was strange.  With old age, I have accepted this about myself.  But evidently Diana is okay with this weirdness because it will take us a few days of being together for a number of hours when we hike this whole trail. 

The trail is rough and I trip repeatedly despite trying to be careful.  Unfortunately, about two to three miles from the end, I trip and I feel my ankle twist and pain shoot up my leg.  Diana asks if I am okay, and I lie and say I am once I establish that, while it is painful, I can stand.  There is no reason for her to worry and there is nothing to be done about it.  And I will get out of here on my own even if I have to grit my teeth and crawl. I almost brought an ankle bandage, but I did not so swelling will definitely be an issue.  I stumble onward knowing that for a bit endorphins will kick in and  minimize what I will feel later when I stop.  And each time we pause, I feel it stiffen and it is harder to fight the pain and start up again. 

Still, I am not miserable. We reach the end and sit down to wait for Jim to pick us up.  Diana was right about how long it would take us, and now we have an idea of our pace and how far we can expect to get most days.  Diana tells me that the people she spoke to said this was the hardest section of the entire trail, so I am even more confident.  Now if I can just learn to walk without tripping over myself and falling down.  I also found that while my GPS for the bike will not tell me distance, I assume due to our slow pace, it does show the trail so that if we would miss a marker, we should be able to find our way back. 

Diana and I hiked on Monday.  On Tuesday, I wonder if I will be able to captain the century I have scheduled for Saturday.  When I post so that people can plan, Tony volunteers to captain the ride if I am unable.  But of course, despite the fact my ankle is the size of a grapefruit and there is bruising around the entire outside of my foot, I decide to give it a try.  As I later tell them, this is not the smartest thing I have ever done.  I urge them to feel free to ride ahead, but they decide to keep me company and we set a leisurely pace.

During the ride, I can't clip out and walking on uneven ground when I am off the bike is treacherous and painful.  Climbing likewise.  Still, I only walk one hill.  I will pay for my lack of patience.  By the end of the ride and the next day my ankle worsens.  But I remain glad that I "took the day by the throat" and shook it.  I got a chance to chat with Mark a bit for the first 25 miles until he veered off for home.  The other riders opted to say with me and I enjoyed the beautiful fall day and the company. Lunch, as always at the Mennonite store, was exceptionally delicious.  And I will heal.  Had I been patient, I would have healed more quickly.  I would have had less pain.  But I would have missed the last of the unseasonably warm weather and the company and the countryside.  And I do so grow tired of just sitting with my leg propped up.

Winter will come, heavy handedly sweeping leaves from the trees and leaving the world a monotone of browns and grays.  The birds will silence and the world will seem still except for the wuthering of the winter wind, ghost-like and mournful.  But I will remember hiking with my friend and riding with friends and I will long for the birth of spring, and I will be grateful for the time I had with them and glad that I made the choice to do both, even if I ended up bloody at the end of the day.  I hope I don't forget that about myself. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Off To Bethlehem

"Learn from the river the
art of moving on without
letting go."
Panana Reed

Other than an wasted week-end, I have been busy this week taking care of those fall chores that need to be done so that you can feel cozy and snug and prepared for the colder weather.  No, I did not get them all done, but I got done some of the ones I like the least:  cleaning the sump pump well and cleaning the culvert.  (I must admit I did enjoy using my new culvert cleaning tool).  The weather for this much needed vacation week is incredible:  warmer than normal, but not so hot that it is a struggle.  After thinking about where I would like to ride and not having planned out a new route, I decide to go to Bethlehem. I will make a few changes from the original route so that I can leave from my home.

As I ride, I can see that fall is gently nudging  summer, telling him that his turn is over and asking him politely to yield. Summer is a male month, demanding and hot.  When he refuses, immune to her wheedling, she will exert the full force of her power and inevitably she will win.  But for now, he stands his ground.  It is warm with a hint of the wind that awaits and makes riding so much more difficult.  There are clouds that come and go throughout the day.  The corn and soy beans retain no hint of green:  they are brown and dusty.  In a few places, farmers are beginning the harvest, jeans covered with dust, sweat dotting their brows that are furrowed with concentration and determination.  Wooly worms scatter the road like confetti and as always I wonder about their journey.  Where are they going?  They seem to be crossing the road from one corn field or soy bean field to another.  Is there some difference in fields that I can't see?  They aren't all going in the same direction, say north.  I smile to myself thinking, "Why did the chicken cross the road?"  Some things we humans are not privy to.  The only think I know is that it  happens every year and is a portent of the coming cold.

As I near Bethlehem, it becomes evident that it has rained here despite the zero percent rain chance predicted.  It is not yet so chilly that I have to worry about this.  While I may not be comfy if it rains on me, it is not dangerous.  I make a mental note to pack the garbage bag that I normally begin carrying this time of year for when I don't want to tote a rain jacket. I think of Joe Camp on this ride when it rained so, and the hardware store yellow rain jacket that he wore like a tutu. I also watch my speed on the descent with all its twists and turns.  Leaves, walnut, persimmons, and acorns litter the ground.  I think of how I used to harvest the black walnuts for my husband as he preferred them to the English walnuts.  I miss him so.  And I remember that this was the last century that I rode before he returned home to heaven.  And yet again, there are tears of sadness and gratefulness, an odd mix. I realize that rightly or wrongly I have moved on, but like the river, I have not and will not ever let go.  There will be new experiences for me, some pleasant and some not.  I may or may not fall in love again.  People will enter and leave my life, some for the better and some for the worse.  Despite my reluctance, I am moving forward.  And there is, for the most part, a smile on my face, and a bicycle that needs to go for a ride. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Good-bye to Watermelons and Hot Weather Rides

"The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart,
and not to be mentioned with the commoner things.
It is chief of this worlds luxuries, king by grace of
God of all the fruits of the earth.  When one has
tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.  It was not a 
Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because
she repented." 
Mark Twain

The first watermelon of the year is a time of great rejoicing for me.  Watermelon was the food I craved while pregnant, and none was to be found at that time of year.  Watermelon is one of my favorite hot weather pre-ride foods and one of my favorite recovery foods.  Quite often, it is my breakfast throughout much of the summer.  And the last watermelon of the year is a time of sorrow, if only because of what it signifies, for normally by the end of summer I am finally sated.  
This year the last watermelon of the year happened to coincide with the last hot century of the year:  Wheels of Screams.  I could not believe it Thursday when I saw a fruit stand that actually still had Jackson County melons, and I could not believe it Friday when I saw that despite the time of year, temperatures on Saturday were to top 90 degrees.  

I have only done this century once before, and I remember two things about it:  it drained me and there were the best Amish individual apple pies on this earth.  As with most rides that I have not ridden very often, I don't know if I remember being drained because it was an unusually hard course, I was out of shape at the time, or I just had a bad day.  Even after yesterday's ride, I still don't know.  

What I do know is that the ride is very hilly with lovely vistas.  The greens of the landscape so different that the fresh green of spring, still holding on but obviously with effort as autumn approaches and insists on taking her turn with the land. What I do know is that in the months to come I will miss this warmth and the cleansing sweat that summer rides encourage.  What I do know, is that the woman running the store had not made apple pies and so we left disappointed and empty handed, but perhaps a pound lighter. What I do know is that I will remember the time spent with Bob and Dave, and how Dave rushed out of the third store stop to accompany me in because he did not think it was safe for me to drag in alone and I needed to get back.  

One more TMD century ride, and then most of my friends will disappear for the late autumn, winter months like watermelon will have disappeared from fruit stands.   But they will reappear in the spring and early summer months and their absence will have made their very presence  more dear. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Last Vacation Day

"That old September feeling left over from school
days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, 
obligations gathering, books, and football in the air....
Another fall, another turned page: there was something
of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last
years mistakes had been wiped clean by summer."
Wallace Stagner

One more vacation day, I think as I arise, and there is so much work that I should be doing, but it "is" vacation and so I will not.  Instead, I will ride my bike.  I may do a century or I may not:  it is all dependent upon how I feel.  I slip out into a cool, morning where the high humidity is not yet a concern.  Just my bike and me.  Responsibilities be damned.  Sometimes there is a need inside to do what you want to do rather than what you should do, and today that need will be satiated, at least temporarily.  Yesterday, after my morning ride but prior to the afternoon time trial, I changed the oil in the lawn mower and cleaned the air filter, a chore that traditionally belonged to my husband and that I had put off far too long, but today, despite the long list of things that should be done, I am doing what I want to do.  

I decide that I will ride to Norman Station and have lunch at Jiggs.  If I am tired at the first store stop, I can turn around and make it a 50 miler, but I am beginning to feel more like myself though I still need to drop 10 extra pounds that I picked up during my down time when I hurt too badly to ride.  The sun is shining, the day is mine, and I am on my bicycle.  

When I reach Medora, the first store stop, there is a man at the register who is obviously high.  He is shaking so badly he can barely tie his shoes. He keeps glancing from side to side surreptitiously and I am reminded of the movie "The Exorcist" and think that it would not surprise me to see his head  swivel completely around. While he looks as if he once was an extremely good looking young man, he appears ancient despite his obvious youth.  The lady at the register is obviously frightened and calls for the store manager, but he leaves without incident.  I see him drive away and worry about who he might hurt, himself included, in a car.  But I really don't see anything I can do.  It is a small town, and I have never seen a hint of law enforcement on my trips through that town.  The woman at the check out are talking about all the town "crack heads" when I leave, and I am thankful that I did not go down that path because I easily might have.  Thank you, Dan Gorjanc, though I assume you long ago departed this earth, for your guidance when you were my college guidance counselor.  Both in the guidance office and in the class room you did your job:  you made me think. Odd how God sprinkles people in our paths.  Though I did not spring from his loins,  he cared at a time when my father did not, could not, and he wanted nothing, expected nothing in return. Family, it seems, is not always biological.

Despite stopping at Medora, something makes me stop at Leesburg as well, a feeling that Jiggs, like so many country stores and restaurants, might have gone belly up.  Years of experience has taught me not to depend upon these stores under challenging weather conditions.  Thank goodness I heed my gut, for the day grows progressively hotter and when I reach Norman Station, Jiggs is closed.  At least it has just changed its open days and hours, but I wonder what happened.  The owner was elderly, but a friendly sort, always welcoming.  Did he have a stroke, a heart attack?  I say a prayer for him and his family.  The older I get the more I realize how difficult old age is, not only for the person who is aging, but for his family who are gradually losing pieces of the person they love.  I am scared of getting old, and I renew my vow to myself to get back into better shape.  Goodness, a girl should be able to ride back to back centuries without blinking or a hint of tiredness, particularly at a slow pace. But injury combined with laziness has made me weak. I do not want to be dependent.  I know the day will probably come, but I steel my resolve to make it as far away as possible.

 I think of the small stores, nuggets of comfort in a beautiful but store barren land, particularly as I make the two water bottles I have last for nearly 50 miles, drinking them despite the fact they are as warm as the day.   I could say they are as warm as "piss" and be telling the truth.  There is  no enjoyment in the drinking, just the necessity of filling a need so as not to perish and to be able to continue to turn the pedals. I pass no churches where I could check for water spigots.

 Originally when I designed this route, we went to the 58 Cafe.  It closed after only a few trips there though I still have memories from when it was open.  For some reason, I see Mark in his chair, a big grin on his face, and I can almost feel the warmth of his laughter. How riding bonds us to others that we otherwise would have no connection to. We saw so many deer that day during our ride, but the hunters sitting in the restaurant were there empty handed.  I think of Medora. I used to stop at another store, now closed.  For a moment I am sitting there  in that then open store with Grasshopper, outside the snow is starting to fall, flakes as big as my fist, as I worry about how we will get back for with snowfall so furious the roads will soon be covered and we are on road bikes.  The inside of the store is warm, made warmer by the glow that old oak has, for this store was a wonder of aged oak, and made warmer by the company of a friend.  Someone once suggested it was an old hardware store originally.  And there are more, many more such stores, each with its own special character, not like the homogeneous 7-11 or Speedway, etc. Commiskey, two stores down, one store left to go. Each a remnant of the past.  Each a way station on my journeys and explorations, a source of comfort and nourishment and a part of my cycling experience.

Soon I am at the gravel hill climb, but as I make my way, my rear wheel slips and turns sideways, unable to find purchase.  Before I know it, I am on my side on the ground, laughing like a wild woman, gravel digging at me,  one foot still clipped in.  I am not hurt, just covered with grit and a bit bruised, including my ego.  I think that I  should have ridden my other bike as it is designed for this terrain and wonder why I didn't.  Or perhaps I am just too weak.  Just the other day I was wondering if I could still climb Fire Tower Hill on  my bike. But I don't think it would have happened on the Surly. Sometimes I just don't make good choices. Oh, well, if you are going to ride bicycles, you are going to tumble.  Any fall that you walk away from, that is a good fall. And if you are going to live, you are going to occasionally make poor choices.  That is how we learn.

 I still  know it is a good choice to ride today though by the time I reach Brownstown, I am out of water and very, very thirsty.  There is something out here that I need occasionally, the green landscapes, the solitude, and the time to think. Deprived I can become quite contrary. I smile and think of the times Lloyd said to me, "Uh, perhaps you need to go for a ride." When I ask for water with my sandwich, the lady takes one look at me and says, "You look like you could use our large glass."  I feel like a camel as I down glass after glass of cold water seeped in ice.......cold, beautiful, refreshing ice.  It is if I can feel my strength returning for the final twenty some miles and the one final climb. Again I realize how experiences are sometimes enhanced by deprivation. 

 I am home, tired but strangely refreshed.  My eyes have had their share of beauty today and my body is sated from physical exercise, exercise that will make it grow stronger. Exercise that will hopefully make me sleep tonight like a child, deeply and soundly.   Vacation is over for now.  I have more planned in October if nothing interferes, before the winter chill, when the world glows with color that we must cherish and hold tightly for a few months before the cycle begins all over. I have no regrets that chores remain undone, maybe because they never STAY done.  And after all, retirement is just a few years down the road.  "To everything there is a season."  Today's season is for bicycling, despite the heat and closed stores. And now to appreciate a cleansing shower.  God bless the people who thought of running water.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Solo Century

"If we never experience the chill of a dark winter,
it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth
of a bright summer's day.  Nothing stimulates our 
appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation
caused by sadness or desperation.  In order to complete
our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn
each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and 
find the blessing in every curse."
Anthon St. Maarten

I am excited.  I have been positively giddy with anticipation of the holiday week-end with an added bonus of a vacation day all week.  I have a date:  a date with my bicycle and the open road.  Originally the question was not whether to ride or not, but whether to ride the club ride or head off on my own.  In the end, I find I do not want the four to five hour drive to and from the club century.  It just is too far for one ride. I debated getting a room and staying all night and riding by myself the next day, but it is too late to arrange a cat sitter. I decide to ride from home.  I have a century route that needs some finishing touches before being presented, and it is always best to do this alone.  With company, I get distracted.  Don't get me wrong, the distraction is nice sometimes, but to appreciate the company of other riders I find I am often better having some solo miles in the saddle. 

The weather is perfect.  Not so chilly in the morning as to require a jacket or an uncomfortable half hour or so of riding, but crisp.  I know that fall promises to stealthily make her appearance all too soon, that golden time when the world lights with color before slipping into a cold, drear silence.  The inexorable high humidity that has haunted this summer has broken and the dew point has dropped.  I have nothing to that "has" to be done, and I feel a need to nurse at nature's verdant bosom before the green fades.  Experience has taught me how very much I will need it, this green world, when the weather turns and I am imprisoned indoors. And today I have no need to leave at a certain time or to return at a certain time.

While it feels a bit sacrilegious, I am beginning to have some appreciation for the single life, and later during the ride I spend part of my time contemplating how very fortunate I am to not "need" to have a partner for financial reasons.    I will never be fabulously wealthy, but then I don't need to be, though I must admit that already I have a yearning for yet another new bike.  All I need is to be able to care for myself, and I don't have to have fancy things.  Even another bike:  it is not a need, merely a want.  There is a huge difference.  I briefly think of the time my husband threatened to buy everything on my Amazon wish list for me.  I finally got him to understand that it is more fun to get something when you have wanted it for a bit. 

I drink my coffee and play a few word games before readying myself and my bike.  I have not restocked tubes, tire, and cartridges since Raney's six flat day though she has repaid me the items.  Since I would have to enlist a friend for help if I should have trouble, I try to take everything that I would need for minor repairs.

  One nice thing about summer riding:  the preparation is normally minimal and the days are long.  I don't hit the road until about 8:30, and that is fine.  There is more than enough day light for the 104 miles.  Soon, though, I will need to put my emergency light on my bike for while it still stays light fairly late, each day is shorter.

The day is filled with dodging farm machinery.  I am not quite sure what the scurrying is all about because the corn and soybeans are not yet ready for harvesting, but I assume they need to make sure everything is in order.  I pass a truck loaded with hay bales, square bales, not the round ones you normally see anymore.  Three young men sit in the back of the truck, legs dangling, as the truck heads to the barn.  For a moment, I am with them for I remember putting up hay, the sweet smell of alfalfa and timothy, cut and warming in the sun, the scratches that I did not realize I had until the end of the day when I washed the sweat from my body and examined my aches and pains.  The prayers that it would not rain and that the hay was dry enough that it would not mold when baled. Those were good days, days I would not have had without my husband.

And the day is filled with memories of him.  I pass the church we visited when my father-in-law  preached one Sunday.  I pass Reed's orchard where we picked so many peaches, the drone of the wasps on the fallen fruit, the juice that only comes from a fresh peach, not the green imitations sold in supermarkets. I pass the area where we went to dance and drink when we first met and where the waitress said she did not have to card him, only me, because she had seen his identification the night before.  (I always told him he was lucky he was with me the night before.)  And while the memories are tinged with sadness, they also bring a smile as I realize how very fortunate I have been.

I notice that purple flowers are starting to bloom, that the corn is starting to brown and wither, starting at the outer edges and moving inward.  I notice the first of the wooly worms and think of what I overheard an elderly man telling another during a lunch time walk:  "It is going to be a bad winter this year, a hard winter," he said."The almanac says so and I saw a wooly worm that was completely black."  I hope he is wrong, but regardless, I will survive.  I pass a house that is beautiful on the outside, old bicycles, wagons, and I think how the people living there have created a home.  Looking at it, it feels cozy.  I wonder if that translates to the inside, but of course you cannot knock on the door of a strange home and ask for a showing.

As I descend into Bethlehem, I notice how technical the descent is on this road where we normally climb and don't descend.  Odd how when you are climbing, you don't notice as many switch backs.  And then there is the river.  A tug boat pushes a load of coal as tug boats have for years. As I climb out I notice that despite the lack of humidity, it has gotten hot, but it feels good to sweat.  It feels good to feel my muscles strain and challenge themselves and grow stronger.  And it feels good to be alive and on a bicycle.

 Yes, winter will come, but first there is fall.  And all the seasons, all the feelings, all the experiences, are what gives life its very richness.  And through it all, until my legs are no longer able to push the pedals, there are bicycles. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cycling Etiquette: Potty Training 102

I debated whether to post this on my blog, but I decided to to go ahead in hopes that it will remind us that we need to respect the stores we depend upon.  The people involved are almost all good people.  What happened was not maliciousness, but rather thoughtlessness.  I, myself, have too often been thoughtless and hope to improve. The first was a light handed attempt to remind people. After a certain response, I was purely pissed off.  (Pun intended).  I decided not to correct the grammar/spelling mistakes, so if that is something that really gets to you, you might want to skip this one.


On Mon, Aug 22, 2016 at 8:59 PM, Melissa Hall wrote:

Imagine my surprise when I got to the first store stop yesterday and the woman asked me to tell the Louisville Bicycle Club members that they are never welcome at her store again.  I have not gone back yet to talk to her and try to smooth things over yet, but she did tell me that one of the things that upset her was club members openly urinating in the back of the store.  Please note that was caught on security tape as well as witnessed by neighbors.  Some of the other things she said I feel were probably misunderstandings or just plain stupid, but I felt like I needed to address this one.

When most of us were quite small, our mama's and papa's taught us to use the big boy or big girl potty.  Boys were normally taught by their mothers, and if not by their mothers most certainly by girlfriends, to put the seat back down.  All this is potty training 101.  Eventually we ditch the diapers, take up toilet paper, and become more independent.  We lower the seat because it just isn't worth upsetting someone over.

Now for potty training 102, at least per Puddle who is now 60 and thus qualified.  The polite thing to do while cycling is not to urinate against buildings or in open areas, particularly when young teenage girls or children may witness what you are doing.  This is particularly true when there are a plethora of wooded areas and corn fields.  Yes, I am sure that each and every one of you has magnificence to exhibit and that causes others to gasp and gape in awe, but some things truly should be kept to oneself and one's loved ones.  I also know it means that you have to work to catch back up with your group or ride by yourself, or gasp, ride with the last group.  Or if you IN the last group, you have to ask the ride captain to soft pedal.  But really, you ARE big boys and girls, aren't you?

In all seriousness, please remember to treat country stores, however eccentric the owner may be, as the gold they are because they close right and left as they struggle to compete with Walmart and other big conglomerates that would never even consider putting a store in the middle of nowhere.  They allow us to ride in areas that otherwise would be much less comfortable to travel. Would you want your daughter or wife or small son to look out the window and see people exposed, whatever their intent?  As I told the group I was riding with, when my daughter was young, I would have told you that was what God gave us knives for.  Think before you act, be polite, pick up after yourselves. And show a little modesty.

Just my thoughts.  I wasn't there and didn't see any of it.  Just going on what I was told.  Puddle


      From: melanie  Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 10:36 AM
Subject: Re: [kycyclist] Cycling Etiquette: Potty Training 102
Perhaps if the owners treated paying customers like customers rather than 'no public toilet' aliens?
We are good business and were treated disrespectfully the moment we walked in. No smile. Looks of disgust, up and down. Spending good money. Need to pee. Not even sure why we would have this place on a store stop knowing how much they don't want us there?


Melanie, However misguided and self centered I might believe your opinion to be, I uphold your right to have it and to assert it.  But I also uphold the proprietor's decision NOT to allow us to use the bathroom.  Now if he had said,  you can use it, but nobody that is black, nobody that is gay, no purple people eaters, I would have a problem.  But he did not.  And his refusal was for all of us and does not justify people violating his property. 

I suppose what I wonder is WHY you came to that ride if this was a problem for you.  It was clearly announced on the list serve and on the club web site and at the ride start that there was no bathroom available at the first store stop.  You could have chosen not to ride. You could have chosen NOT to use the store, the one store in a town that by last census count was around 1,400 residents.  You could have chosen to ride to the lunch stop without stopping.  I have done so before and so have others.  But YOU chose to stop.  You say they were surly.....well maybe they had a right to be.  Frankly, had it been me I would have closed up shop and not sold us anything.  And believe me, there have been times when I have had to drink water the temperature of the outside air because a rural store has closed.  Yeah, you can ride on it even when the water is 100 degrees, but it sure is not as pleasant and renewing as a cool drink.

Take a good, long look at these stores because they are living ghosts.  The man will not make $15,000.00 profit in the next year I suspect, no less be able to afford any septic repairs.  (MY most recent estimate for replacement at my home was $15,000 to $20,000.  I am VERY careful what goes down into my septic.)  If you have children, their children may see a store like this, may be LUCKY enough to see a store like this where someone still has a dream, a remembrance of what life was before everything became so darned big.  I can almost guarantee you that your children's children will never see such a store unless gas skyrockets to where they can make a profit again.  As I said before:  they are living ghosts.  Those that haunt the countryside on bicycles realize that and cherish them along with their eccentricities.  There are so few.  And I will defend them and their eccentricities.  I will defend their right to close their restroom to everyone but employees if that is what they choose.  One by one they are folding, lost to us. 

Why this store, you asked?  Because to get the rural, low to no traffic roads, that is what you have to search out these stores.  Not only did you and others foul your own nest (the owner asked us not to return), you fouled MY nest, your hostess for the ride, as well as any other bicyclist that enjoys riding in the country rather than in the city.  I ride this route by myself often, and there are no other stores close by. 

Certainly if the majority of the club would rather not have my centuries for tour stages, let the Director know.  I know many people prefer city rides. I enjoy sharing my routes with people who enjoy them, but I have friends who will ride them with me regardless of whether they are tour stages or even club rides or I can ride alone.  This route, like most of my routes, were designed alone.  I will be going to the store to apologize and make my peace so that I can continue to have an oasis in the midst of country roads where there are little choices for store stops. 


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Carefree Century 2016

"This is my fight song, take back my life 
song, prove I'm alright song.....Cause I've still
got a lotta fight left in me."
Rachel Platten

Being the worry wart that I am, I worry about the ride today.  While the humidity and temperature is predicted to be a bit more moderate, it is still going to be hot and I know this ride, how one hill is followed by another hill and another hill until your legs have been pounded to a pulp and beg for relief.  After awhile, they no longer listen when you tell them to just shut up and do their job.  And I am not sure that I have any business at this ride.  I am recovering, but I remain slow, particularly on hills. This is not fair to a ride captain on a club ride who stays back with the slowest rider. But there is something in me that makes me want to do this, to see how it goes, to measure where I am and how far I am from where I have been. I have yearned for the sights and sounds that a bicycle ride brings, for the company and laughter of friends, for solace and assurance that all will yet again be well.

And so I set out into coolness that is unusual for an August morning.  No, not that crisp coolness that makes one identify with the horses running nearby in pastures, manes streaming, sleekly beautiful,  kicking their legs high into the air just because of the joy of being able to do so, but still cooler and less humid than it has been.  As I reach the ride start, colored  jerseys assault my eyes as if they were flags of celebration. How did I ever think they were ugly, for I did at one time.  I realize I love the ride start, the precious sound of friends and of strangers sharing conversation, laughter intertwined with chatter, anticipation lacing the air.  For you just never know where a day will take you, and particularly a day with a bicycle.  Burns was certainly right about "the best laid plans."

I have no idea how I will do on this ride, for I still have bad days, days when my neck or back or hands plague me as if I were ancient and withered, and so I have no idea who I might end up spending the day with or if I will spend my day alone.  I think back to the last time I rode this course, this beautiful course that winds around the river with the occasional view that takes your breath away.  My husband was still alive then and I was preparing for the 1000 K through Virginia and West Virginia designed by Crista.  Paul rode with me that day, and whether it was intentional or unintentional, pushed me on every hill until my legs and my brain cried even as they both grew stronger.  But neither is here today:  Paul is not riding today and my husband is beyond my reach.  I say a prayer that God holds him dear and keeps him safe and warm and that finally, after years of constant pain, he is at peace.

I begin the ride cautiously, trying to listen to myself, the sound of my heart, the rasp of my breathing on the hills, the feel of my leg muscles, and I realize with some surprise that I am feeling well and strong.  So after the walking bridge, I begin to push even as I note the lushness that surrounds me, for despite the heat, ample rain has left the trees and fields sumptuously green, a feast for my eyes and for my soul.   For a moment, I think I might like to ride the day alone, for I always notice the scenery more, but I realize that finishing will be easier if I ride with friends.  I push past one group and jokingly wave my blue bandana in the air as I leave them behind. Still, I leave the first store stop alone only to be caught by Steve, and then Sara, and then Dave.

It is good to talk to Steve for I am comfortable with my friend of many, many years now.  There are still times when I question our friendship, for we differ so, politically, socially, economically, intellectually, but still it is one of those friendships you can count on for we have remained friends despite knowing each others flaws and differences.  We talk about his  new bike he is building up, about how I hate the gearing on my Surly and hope to replace it.  We talk about hobbies and catch up as we have not really talked with each other for months.  I get hugs from Dave and I realize how long it has been since we have ridden together, another bicycling friend who time has made as comfortable as an old shoe or a favorite pair of jeans.  I think briefly about how one of the things I most loathe about being a widow is not having anyone to talk to and who makes me laugh, for my husband could almost always make me laugh, one of his traits that I prized the most.

By the third store stop, it is hot.  The sun shows no mercy and beats down on us demanding surrender. My legs are asking if I have lost the last bit of sanity left to them, but still we trudge onward toward the ride finish.  We treat the sun with respect, but still we thumb our noses at him and ride on. And I realize that despite being dirty, sweaty, tired, and hot, I am thankful.  I am thankful for the day, for friends, for returning health, for bicycles, and even for hills that challenge us because somehow they make us a bit more than what we were.  The ride is, I realize, my fight song, and today at least I have won. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Healing

"Afoot and light hearted I take to the open
road, healthy, free, the road before me."
Walt Whitman

Not afoot, but back on the bike after a long, searing, desert of days where it was not possible.  Excited anticipation fills ever crack, cranny, and crevice of my being as I swing my leg once more over a bicycle.  I might not go fast, yet, and I might not go far, yet, but somehow I know I will, and in the not so distant future.
Despite it being mid-July, the world seems fresh.  I have longed for the feel of the wind on my face and the freedom that only comes with being on a bicycle.  One day, this, like everything, will be taken from me, but not yet.  Dear God, thank you:  not yet. 

The sun beats down, merciless to my lack of conditioning, overbearing, proud, but unable to break this prayer of a ride, a prayer of thankfulness, a ride of gratitude.  I am thankful to be alive.  I am thankful for the warmth of his caresses, his kiss that despite the best sun screens will leave my skin warm and rosy.  I am thankful for the greenness that still remains, as if held for my personal viewing enjoyment.  And I am thankful for bicycles and open roads and the health to once again begin to ride them. 

Oh, yeah, I am back  home in the saddle again. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Another way to be prepared is to think 
negatively.  Yes, I'm a great optimist, but
when I am trying to make a decision, I often
think of the worst case scenario.  I call
it 'the eaten by wolves factor.'  If I do something
what's the most terrible thing that could happen?
Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes
it possible to be an optimist is if you have a plan
for when all hell breaks loose.  There are lots of
things I don't worry about because I have a plan in
place if they do."  
Randy Pausch

Sometimes I think the most best part of a ride, at least a long ride, be it a brevet or a multi-day ride, is the preparation.  I enjoy planning the route knowing there are new roads that will hold new sights and, perhaps, new challenges:  the hill with the impossibly steep grade, gravel, odd sights, the road that does not exist or does not go through or is unexpectedly closed, etc.  Hopefully the roads will be  passable.  Hopefully I will not get lost.  Hopefully I will have cell phone coverage.  Hopefully, while I will have phone coverage, nobody will call.  Hopefully rest stops will be available.  Hopefully I will not run into some maniac with a vendetta against women.  But the not knowing, the trying to think of and plan for each contingency while still keeping things reasonable, that is just pure fun.  And I accept that there are those things that happen that you cannot plan for and just have to deal with as they arise.  Sometimes the wolf gets you, no matter how well you plan.
This will be my first long ride on my new Surly Straggler.  I planned and rode the course last year so it will not be completely new, but I am sure new adventure awaits.  It was passable on a road bike, but there was lots of gravel that was difficult to negotiate on my Lynskey.  This year I will be better prepared, or at least I will have a bike that performs better on gravel. I am not sure I am in as good physical shape as last year, and I know I weigh a few pounds more. Once I get out from home a bit, the roads will be like new to me having only traveled them once before.  I have little course memory anyway.  The bike is new to me.  And surely there will be new experiences awaiting.

As I prepare my bike, I find that with this bike I have even less clearance between the rear wheel and my carradice than with the Lynskey.  I have been so excited about really having room to carry large water bottles, and now this.  I suppose different equipment will be in order in the future, but it will have to wait.  One thing about being short:  there are bike packing issues that those graced with more height don't face.  I attach the carradice, change out the seat that came with the bike to my Gilles Bertaud (thanks yet again, Greg Smith, for turning me on to this saddle and literally saving my ass), and add the new Iberia handlebar bag my son and his wife bought for me.  By the time I am packed, my bike weighs 48 pounds, but I am fairly sure I have what I need to have a good ride. 

The air is thick and clammy as I head out despite it being early morning, but it is not raining.....yet.  The prediction is for showers and possible storms and the humidity is high.  I am not used to the heat yet, and if this route lacks anything, it is regular places to get something to eat and drink.  Most of the roads, at least as I remember them, are isolated and rural.  That is part of the charm of the route, but it  also  concerns me.  Still, I only have me to worry about.  Despite putting the ride on the club schedule, there were no takers.  I speculate that this was partially due to there being gravel on the route and partially due to scheduling against a TMD Stage (a local series of century rides).  It is probably also partially due to my no longer riding so fast.  Most people who would be interested in this ride are stronger riders.  It is also likely due to my now being widowed, for people do not treat you quite the same when you are single as when you are part of a couple. For whatever reason, it was as I expected. It is, perhaps, best that I ride alone anyway on this virgin trip with my new bicycle.  That way I am only responsible for me and I will notice the scenery more and have time to think and be thankful.  I will have time to stop and take photos and time to learn to trust my new bike. Odd to think one bonds with a bike, but trust does develop over the miles traveled together.  For some reason, I also suspect this ride will be about memories as I celebrate those I loved and that loved me but are gone.  "Don't take for granted the love this life gives you."  (Tim McGraw).  I don't take for granted the love that was given me even that which is gone. 

One thing I am grateful for is my freedom. What a country where a woman can plan on riding almost 200 miles and not have to overly worry about her personal safety.  People have died so that I can have that freedom, so that all of us can have the freedoms that we have. People I did not know and that never knew me.  This is their week-end.  What better thank you than to use the very freedom that they gave us.  It is one reason I vote, even when there is nobody running for office that I particularly excites me.

The first part of the route is flat and is on familiar roads, so I am grateful when I turn onto roads I have only traveled once before despite the fact that I immediately encounter a steep hill.  Why is it that so often difficult hills are foreshadowed by tree coverage?   I remember this bad boy from last year, and it is as steep as I remember. I suppose it is because it would be hard to build on the hillside. But I churn the pedals and slowly make the climb, sides heaving, heart pumping, alive.

 I become concerned about my carridice as it seems to be bumping my wheel whenever I go over a bad spot in the road.  I curse myself for taking the dowel rods out of the bottom only now remembering that Lloyd put them in there just because of this very issue.  With the lesser clearance, it is even more of an issue now. I had forgotten and taken them out not knowing why they were there, but now I remember.  With some duct tape, however, I am able to remedy the problem for this trip.  A stick duct taped across the carradice holder stops the carradice from sagging in the center and hitting the wheel.  Two would have been better, but it is what it is.  It works for the moment. (Photo taken after the ride).

I find I don't really particularly like the gearing or the SRAM shifting on this new bike.  The gearing would be fine, I suspect, when you are riding a bike that doesn't weigh 46 pounds, but mine does.  I hope to take trips in the future where it may weigh even more. The shifting is crisp and responsive, but with the terrain changing to frequent hills and climbing, I find that my short, stubby fingers are tiring of the extra reach the SRAM shifters take.  In other words, both would be find for regularly riding, but I can't say that I like them for long distance touring on a loaded bicycle.  I am probably stuck with them, but next time I will get something more suited to the purpose. Sometimes it seems I am always making mistakes. The problem is, I don't always learn from them as I should.  And perhaps I am just grumpy as the miles tax my legs and mind.

I hit my first obstacle when I reach the closed bridge.   It has never been a problem with the Lynskey.  Firstly, the Lynskey has not ever been so heavily loaded.  Secondly, it is titanium, unpainted titanium, and thus can be used rather roughly.  It is my kind of bike that way.  With the Lynskey, if it feels too heavy, I can just kind of scoot it under the blockade. This bike has beautiful paint, and while I know that eventually I will scratch it, I know I will feel badly when I do so.  It takes every ounce of strength I possess to lift it over the barriers, but I manage.  No scratches.  The first challenge down.

I think of how I love these old bridges.  Both days are filled with old bridges, many of them one lane bridges.  Near me, most of those bridges are being replaced by bridges that two cars can cross at the same time, bridges that span creeks as if they were rivers, that seem somehow an overkill.  The words of some song float briefly through my mind, "For everything you win there is something lost."

It is on Buddha Road that I meet my next challenge.  A gigantic tree has fallen during the night completely blocking the road.  The highway department is there working on clearing the road.  There is sinking feeling in my chest.  If I have to, I will backtrack and find a way back onto my route, but today's ride is 103 miles, and the remaining miles are not easy miles with the hills and gravel.  I remember how tired I was upon my arrival last year. With starting so early, I did not throw a light in my bag.  Perhaps I deserve the wolf treatment. When I get in tonight will depend upon  the length of and the terrain of the detour.  There are good people in this world though.  The highway men offer to lift my bike over for me, and allow me to climb under the tree to continue on my way.  I ask if there was wind last night or what happened.  One man tells me there was no wind, the tree was hollow, and had lost its strength. I truly appreciate their kindness, and I say a prayer for them and those like them.  I believe I would have been okay time-wise finding a way around, but one never knows when a mechanical or other obstacle will raise its ugly head.  And I think about how each of us and everything, even the strongest, have their season.  Don't waste it, I think.  Ride, ride and soak it in.

As the roads become less heavily traveled and shift from farm land to forest, I feel the verdant greenness seep into my very soul.  All the stress of the past few weeks with the overtime and work demands leaches away and I feel young and carefree.  Daisies line the sides of the road in places and I dream once more of how when we first married I would bring them in from the horse pasture to decorate our table and our home.  How little we had:  a bean bag chair, a mattress on the floor, stove, and refrigerator.  How happy we were.  I remember my first washing machine and how it cost $15.00 dollars at an auction.  I remember the elation I felt at no longer needing to go to a laundromat.  Such a little thing to bring such joy.

As I near Shoals I realize that some of the roads that were gravel last year have been chip and sealed, but there is still little traffic.  I remember that there are some rough roads between Shoals and Montgomery and mentally prepare myself, but I also remember them as being scenic.  The last few miles are mostly rough, large gravel as I pass Amish houses and fields.  The wind is picking up and the sky is threatening.  Despite my tiring legs, I quicken my pace hoping to beat the storm.   Still I notice the man plowing with five horses, manes roached and tails shortened, straining against their harnesses, working as a team, to draw life from the field.  I wave and the driver nods.  I notice that the wind is whipping his beard about. I notice the small Amish boy, perhaps three, with a tiny puppy slip into a doorway.  A horse drawn carriage or two pass me, the women with their hair mostly covered and in their dresses.  What they must think of this heathen.  It is like being back in time.  I hate that I am in a hurry.  I hate that is is rude to take pictures.  But I press onward, my legs complaining against the pace.

And I almost make it in before the rain, but not quite.  About one half mile from my destination, the rain begins in earnest.  What is the big deal, I think?  So I arrive wet.  The wind has picked up, but there is no lightening arching across the sky. It is hot.  And suddenly I am delighting in the coolness of the rain washing away the sticky hotness of a difficult day of riding.  I am laughing like a mad woman as I make the final turn into the Gastof Amish Village where my motel is located:    Two older people, sitting at the motel entrance in rocking chairs, look at me rather strangely.  I want to hug them and tell them how very lucky they are to be given the gift of aging together, but I know they would never understand.  I know I did not understand the magnitude of this gift until it was taken from me.  But I will not be sad.  Rather I am glad for what I was given.   Some people never have that.  I would have liked to have more, but it was not to be.  Suddenly, I am ravenous and looking forward to the Amish feast I know awaits me at the buffet.

And surely enough, after showering and walking to the restaurant, a feast awaits me.  Everything tastes heavenly, my appetite honed to a fine edge by the time in the saddle, but when I to the dessert section and there is strawberry pie, every pedal stroke it took to get here is worth it.  These are not the large berries that one finds in the grocery anymore, almost apple sized.  There are the small berries I remember from my youth, brilliantly red,  and the taste is heavenly.  Sometimes I think we have bred the taste out of everything, whatever the reason.

Returning to the motel, I fall asleep easily at 8:30 and barely stir until morning.  I am filled with anticipation wondering if the first of the day is as beautiful as I remember it to be and it does not disappoint.  There are long stretches of little to no traffic once I leave the city, bridges and creeks and train tracks that remind me of the growth of this country.  The catalpas, one of my favorite trees, are weeping their blossoms, and I feel like a bride with flowers strewn on the road to celebrate my passing.  The house where the pack of dogs chased last year shows not one sign of a dog and I wonder if she has moved or has them indoors. An old woman is walking slowly along the road, getting her morning stroll in.  "I am on your right and don't want to scare you," I yell.  She does not turn her head, I suspect due to an arthritic neck, but as I pass she cautions me to be safe out there.  For just a moment we are joined in wishing each other well and enjoying the beauty of this fine morning, the day still ripe with promise and expectations.

  Turtles are everywhere, and I move eight of them off the road before the end of the ride.  While there is little traffic, I want to try to be sure  they are not squashed.  As always, I wonder if people hit them on purpose or accidentally.  Probably both.  I think of the time when I saw a car back up to run over a snake again and again, out in the middle of nowhere where a snake should not be a big concern. I determinedly push this negativity from my mind, and a bit down the road I stop to eat the Amish bread and butter I have brought with me from the breakfast buffet and delight in the yeasty freshness and the taste of real butter.

I stop at Orleans for some lunch and mourn the ending of new roads.   There will be a few  new roads between here and Salem, but very few, and none as I near home.  Still there is loveliness around me.  The land has flattened and the riding is easier.  Forests have yielded to the farmland that will sustain me with her bounty.  Farmers, hemmed in this year by the rain, are working on the Sabbath.  I repeatedly step off the road to allow them to pass and not to impede their progress.  And I am home.  Despite the effort, I am sated and satisfied, at peace with my world and myself.  None of the catastrophes that might have happened did happen, but then I really did not worry at all about their happening because I had already dealt with those that could be dealt with in my mind.  A weird kind of optimism but optimism just the same, this not getting eaten by wolves. Still I wish my journey had been longer.  I wish there were more.  Forever the greedy gut.   Now to plan a new adventure.