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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."