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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.