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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Midway Century Ride

"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as
life lasts.  ...There is something infinitely healing
in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance
that dawn comes after night, and the spring after winter."
Rachel Carson

Murphy's law of bicycling:  if the club ride you want to do is scheduled on Saturday, the weather on Sunday will be more inviting and vice versa.  And this week-end is not different. It does sometimes seem that way anyway.  But I set my alarm and prepare as much as possible the night before the ride so as to give myself a bit more time in the morning.

I know this ride and I know that it will be demanding.  But summer approaches and it is time to pull myself up and out of the melancholy and the winter doldrums.  It would be easy to sit at home on the couch and dwell on past misfortunes and losses, but that is not the way forward.  Sometimes I think you need to reach for happiness to grab it.  Past experience has taught me that, but despite having had the lesson, it is not always easy to apply.  I know there is beauty on this ride, though until I am on the bike and on the route I forget how much.  I also know, greedy gut that I am, that there will be a delicious lunch.  Ride to eat or eat to ride or a combination of the two. 

It is a small group of people that show, but I did not expect a large crowd.  It is early in the season, and this route has lots of climbing.  The weather is deceptively mild and windless and later I am so glad that I listened to the forecast before leaving for the ride because the temperature does not rise, maybe even drops a few degrees, and the winds pick up and become quite boisterous.  In fact, there are times I wish I had left on the additional layer that I shed prior to the ride start.

The four of us head out, chatting, joking, and laughing the way old friends do when they have not seen each other for awhile.  I have overwintered without seeing Dave, and have seen Steve only once.  Tony I have seen more frequently, but there are lots of topics to be covered and lots of miles to cover them in.

The sun that graces the morning hides behind the clouds early in the day, mocking us as the winds rise.  But there is beauty everywhere on these back roads.  Stones show in the fields in a way that they will not once the grass greens and rises.  On hills, the water has carved various paths. A few brave daffodils remain and I think it is the in-between time.  The daffodils, at least the early bloomers, are finished, but other flowers are not yet showing themselves and the red buds and dogwoods do not  yet appear to be blooming.  I love the places we pass that have old, deserted dwellings but are surrounded by daffodils.  A thing of beauty left behind, a reminder that people lived here, loved here, fought here, and perhaps died here. 

Midway in the ride, we pass two riders going the opposite direction and Steve recognizes them.  We turn around and find it is indeed Johnny Betrand and Steve Wyatt.  A brief hug, a short bit of a chat, and we are back on our way.  They are on their way to Lexington for lunch and we are going to Midway for lunch at Wallace Station.  It seems forever before we arrive, and the line is out the door, but there is really no place else to eat and who would want to forego the delicious food.  There is a reason that the line is out the door.  Still, I find myself shivering until we are able to enter the building, and I find myself dreading heading back out into the cold.  At first I am so chilled that I put my gloves back on to hold my water.  Steve manages to nab one of the scarce tables, and the food and company warm me.

Hill after hill assaults our legs and my thighs begin to warn me that they really do not appreciate the demands that are being made on them.  And then it happens.  My bike shifts itself into my granny gear and will not shift out of it.  This has been an on-going problem for me since last fall.  I try to remember how many times I have taken it in to the shop to be fixed.  At least three, possibly four.  I have even explained how important it is that I have a dependable bike as I really do not have much of a rescue squad.  I can limp home in the small ring, but it will be slow going.  Steve is able to loosen the cable, manually place it in the middle ring, and tightened the cable back.  He issues a strong warning not to shift and I pray that I remember.  I also hope I remember the fix because I no longer feel confident that my bike will be reliable even after I take it to be repaired again.  I hate not being able to trust my bicycle. 

I need to learn to do this for myself, to figure things out and fix them, but it does not come naturally to me.  This mechanical has sapped the joy from the day until I determine that I will not let it.  Sometimes all the things I have had to learn to do since Lloyd died seem overwhelming.  A few tears seep out as I hate being a burden, but it is just the way it is, at least for today. The ride has become grim, however, as much from the cold and the wind and being tired as it is from my issue that was quickly resolved. Chatter lessens.  There is no more laughter.  I force myself to remember the beauty that surrounds me, to listen for sound, the sign that spring nears, but rather than birds or frogs I hear wind in the leaves.  Still, there is a melody here and once again I begin to sing softly to myself.  Wheels hum.  On hills, the sound of our breathing, so symbolic of life, is clearly audible as none of  us are in prime riding condition.

I can't say that I am sad to see the parking lot as I am after some rides, and I am tired, but I feel better than I thought I might with the physical demands of this course.  And that is a comfort.  Spring IS coming.  There will be warm rides, maybe even some of those slow, intimate rides with close friends that I treasure so, the ones where you talk about anything and everything without being judged, the ones where  you laugh and stop to take a photograph of something that draws your fancy. The ones where speed isn't an issue and there is no hurry to finish what is a lovely day.  And rides like this will make me ready. And the beauty of the day, despite a few snags. has left me oddly refreshed and temporarily sated.  Spring WILL come after winter. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

An After Work Spring Ride

"Daffodils That come before the swallow dares,
and take The winds of March with beauty; violets, dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, Or Cytherea's breath."
William Shakespeare

It is the perfect weather for a short after work ride.  Bathed in unseasonable warmth, I leave the house in a short sleeved jersey despite the wind.  She is strong, but her breath does not chill today, only modifies my already leisurely pace.  No need to hurry.  I will not be rushed.

Purple, faint, almost imperceptible, yet not imaginary, begins to tinge the unplowed fields, fields that later will be burgeoning with corn or soy beans or hay.  I know these flowers whose tiny petals compose the purple mist on the fields.  Not their names, but I know them well.  The bees love them, and I think of how the bees strongly objected when I would clear them to make way for planting in our garden.  I still see me, running in the house in a panic, a bee tangled in my hair, seeking clear skin for the bite, me yelling for my love to save me before that happened.  He would crush it between his fingers, taking the sting for me, vowing to get rid of the bees, his second love, until I could cajole him into keeping them, for despite the occasional sting, I loved them too.  Mostly I loved how he hated anything that caused me pain. 

The Easter flowers are up, bright yellow, raucous, curving a smile to my lips.  They are early this year, and it is rare to get to enjoy their beauty while being warm and in short sleeves.  Yes, they "take the winds with beauty," almost dancing in what seems to be glee that the season is changing.  My wheels seem to know the way to where they lay, their beauty a balm not just for my eyes, but for my soul.  Oh, the places our bicycles can take us.  The things we notice that go unnoticed when we are in a car.  Sometimes I wonder, is it the speed or something else that makes us miss or disregard the beauty that surrounds us.  Or perhaps it is just me and others notice the same things while riding or driving in a car as they do when on their bicycles.

This week-end the time will change and there will be more chances for after after work rides, for longer rides without the press of darkness.  And I smile. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Maple Syrup Ride 2017

"Man plans and God laughs"
Yiddish Proverb

While I am not overly excited about the cold start, I am excited about the Maple Syrup ride.  I have so many memories of this ride.  So I head to bed early so that I won't be tired as well as weak.  While it is normal in the winter to lose fitness, circumstances have caused me to lose more than normal and I am feeble.  It will be so nice to see everyone though, and I have ridden a couple  of centuries lately albeit slowly.  I know I can finish:  it will just be slow. And I need company.

At 2:00 a.m., however, I am rudely awakened by a loud ringing.  Cats arch their backs, puff their fur, and scatter from my bed in a dead run.  A few years ago I had my basement waterproofed, and that included a pump with an alarm.  The pump has stopped working. The alarm courses through the house in warning. Instinctively I know, there goes my three pay check month. 

I don't fall back to sleep despite telling myself this is silly.  The house did not have a pump for many years.  In the early morning, right before departing for the ride, I e-mail the installer feeling he will probably come the next week. It is, after all, a week-end.  Rain is due later this week which worries me, but I lack the skill to fix it myself.   Bike packed as well as an extensive wardrobe that allows for last minute clothing changes, I head out.

 I arrive and there is a large crowd despite the cold.  Many I don't know, but many I do and it is so good to see them.  I realize that my eyes have been starved and I look forward to a day of company and conversation.  As usual, I am not sure who I will end up riding with, particularly with my weakened state, but regardless it will be delightful to be  on a bicycle and to have conversation with camaraderie. 

Suddenly I receive a text.  The repair man is coming and coming today.  I pack up my bike and head home, disappointed but glad I don't have to miss work next week to deal with things.  As I head home, I realize once again how much my life has changed in the past few years. I think of how, while I always loved and appreciated my husband, I appreciate him even more now.  Not too long before he died, he asked me why I always thanked him when he did things that he should do.  And I explained that just because people should do certain things, they don't always do them, and I was just grateful every time he did something to please or help me, whether he "should" do it or not.  I miss that.  I miss the giving and the taking.  The things done for me and doing things for him. He would have fixed the pump or waited for the repairman so that I could be selfish and go ride.

I have a theory that things happen to us for a reason, that there is something we should learn from every experience that we have.  Indeed, as the saying goes, "Man plans and God laughs" or, as Steinbeck and Burns said, "The best laid plans of mice and men." As I told a friend recently, if I really want to exercise regularly, it appears I will start having to drag myself out of bed and go to the Y.  Then it becomes a question of how badly do you want it, for I treasure my time in the morning, cat on lap, coffee cup in hand.  I think one of the things I have learned is that we can never love or appreciate those people in our lives that care for us enough.  No matter how hard you try, when someone is gone there are always those little nagging regrets, the "if only." 

After the repair man fixes the pump and leaves, another thing that I appreciate, I decide to head to the festival anyway, but it will be a mere 20 mile trip rather than 100 miles.  On the way, I think of the brevet I missed today as well,  and while I have some regret, I find that despite the good weather, it really does not bother me that I decided not to ride.  I hope the desire to do brevets returns, but if it doesn't there is nothing to be done and the bicycle holds so many other promises. Another thing I have learned is that life is fluid.  Changes happen whether we want them or we don't.  And while I don't particularly like change, I really have very little control.

While I don't expect to see any of the century riders because of my late start, I actually pass numerous groups of riders.  Some are obviously puzzled by my appearance.  They wonder if I have just been that slow, or if I am with the group, or where I came from.   When John passes I think how I wish we could have ridden together today and talked some because John is funny and makes me laugh and I have not seen him for awhile.   The same with Lynn.  Amelia and Mike pass, but  I know I would not have kept their pace today.  Cathy and Kirk pass.  All of these people I have met through bicycling. 

By the time I get to the festival, there are no riders left.  I park my bike and make my intended purchases.  Christmas presents for certain people are bought.  For this purpose, I put my carradice and large handlebar bag on my bike and rode the Surly.  I sit on the hill in the odd warmth of the early March sun eating Maple Cotton Candy, a treat I allowed myself since the line for pancakes is longer than I am willing to wait.  And for awhile I lose myself in memories:  Dave standing too near to the heater and melting the material on his riding pants,  Mike Pitt laughing and joking, Grasshopper, Steve, Randy, and more and more.  I wonder how many of the riders today knew that I originally designed the course, and how during the design I came upon a motorist bent on terrorizing me.  

I slowly pedal home, thoughts still swirling knowing there are a million chores waiting for my return.  I keep saying that one day, when I retire, I will get them done.  But I am wiser now, at least when I remember to be, and know that while I plan, God laughs.