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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

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