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Sunday, May 28, 2017

A New Century Route

"The right to play is one of the divine rights
of men and women, of boys and girls, and is just
as essential to the peace, happiness, and prosperity 
of the world as is the right to pray.  Never be afraid
or ashamed, my young friends, of honest, vigorous,
healthy play." 
Silas Floyd

A new century route.  I have ridden it, I have even shared it with a few friends shortly after its creation, but it has not yet been a club ride.  It has been a rough week, and I need to play.  I feel it in the core of my being, in the tears that have seeped out despite my best intentions, and I look forward to the release that a long bicycle ride can bring.  And it is almost always nice to share a route, to show people roads that they have not seen before. 

The idea for the route came from Steve Montgomery a few years ago; however, he never put it together.  Because I admire Steve and I like the idea he had of bringing lunch business to a small county store, I breath life into it.  And now he is going to co-captain the ride with me.  I hope I can let go of the sadness and anger of the past few days and play, truly play, for play is so restorative.

With it being a holiday week-end and with a popular paid ride, I am unsure how large the crowd will be, and I am a bit taken back as car after car pulls into the start until we have over thirty riders.  I am delighted to see a few people I have not seen in awhile.  Just the sight of their faces curves my lips in a smile and lifts my heart skyward. Earlier in the week, the day looked to be filled with thunderstorms, but gradually the forecast has mellowed until there is less of a chance, at least until after 4:00.  It is humid, but the cloud cover is a blessing and remains with us much of the day.

As we ride, there are wild daisies everywhere, splotches of white and yellow amidst the dark greenness that announces early summer rather than the tentative, light greenness of the first of spring.  I thought there would be orange day lilies starting, but it is still too early.  Another week or two and they will be here, lining the roads, their bright, cheerful faces greedily tilted toward the sun. There are the starts of gardens, mostly well tended this time of year.  Experience has taught me that some will remain this way while others become a festival of weeds.  A few fields of wheat are beginning to ripen, yellow streaking the green.

The ride quickly separates into groups, some faster and some slower, multi-colored jerseys blanketing the grayness of the sky and the road with color and life.  Chatter, teasing, giggles, and some talk tinged with seriousness seeps through the air and into my ears, a tonic. Today I am at the back, part of ride captain responsibilities, and I do not mind.  I will miss chatting with some of the friends I normally ride and chat with, but I will enjoy chatting with those I don't know as well and just enjoying the day and the slow pace.

At the first store stop, a group we thought was in front arrives having missed a turn.  One thing I have learned through designing multiple routes is that no matter how carefully you prepare a cue sheet, it is almost inevitable that someone will get lost.  With myself, I find it happens most often during conversations with friends, but whatever the reason, it seems to happen on almost every ride.  It is, however, more of a concern on a century ride than on a shorter ride, because the distance is already a challenge.

The major climb is after the lunch stop.  I think that perhaps for once I am taking Paul Battle on a road he has not ridden, but I later find that while he has not ridden it for years, he has ridden it before.  The majority have never done this climb out of Bethlehem.  And what a climb it is.  It is beautiful, forested on both sides, and shady, but it is steep and rather long. Two in the group we are shepherding come off of their bikes. Steve and I dig in and climb.  He reaches the top and waits for me and we both wait for the others.

This is the point where two of the riders begin to really struggle, one cramping and the other just worn out.  Even minor hills have become a challenge.  My heart goes out to them, but there is nothing I can do to help them.  If you don't ride distance rides regularly, you can just expect it to hurt, even at a slow pace, particularly if you are older.  I think of a few of the times I have bonked on a ride, either from lack of preparation, weight gain, or just being the weakest in a group, and I remember how miserable it can be.  Steve tells me that one of the struggling riders did not eat at lunch, and I remember learning that lesson both through my own experiences and through listening the others who were more experienced and taking their advice to heart. And the rest of the route, while it has only one more significant climb, has lots of rollers, many of them steep despite their shortness: leg testers. It is on the last of the significant climbs that the rain begins, threatening worse than it becomes.  A brief patch, a few booms of thunder, and it is over.  By the time we reach the third store, we are mostly dry.

And we manage to bring them in.  Near to the end, Jeff White has ridden back to join us.  Hopefully everyone, even those struggling, feel a sense of accomplishment.  I feel certain it was not a play day for them, but one of those rides that are more like death marches, but those are the miles that make play on a long ride possible.  I think of brevets, of that inevitable time when you ask yourself why you are doing something that is painful, that most people consider insane, and yet, there is the je ne sais quoi factor, that indescribable something, that not only makes you finish but makes you eager to come back for more.  Play, my friends, play on your bicycles, it is important.  Play in your bedrooms, in the workplace, in your day to day interactions with people. Play may, in the end, be what it is all about.  Never forget how to play. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bike to Work Day 2017

"Forget yesterday for it has already forgotten you. 
Don't sweat tomorrow - you haven't even met.
Instead, open your eyes and your heart to a 
truly precious gift - today."
Steve Maraboli

It is bike to work day Friday, but I know that I need my car to work that day, so I look at my calendar and decide upon an alternative:  Wednesday.  The night before I plug in the battery for my light, the one I use on short rides.  I pack my back pack with the work clothing I will need that day, check my tires and tail lights, then head to bed a bit earlier than normal and set my alarm a little earlier than normal.  
I wake at 5:00, right before the alarm goes off,  knowing I need to leave by 6:00 to make it and have a bit of a cushion to ensure I get there on time.  Rain is not predicted, but it is abnormally warm and stuffy.  As I slip out the door, I miss the coolness that would normally greet me this time of morning, but it is nice not to have to wear a jacket.  I always think of him when I leave, of how if he were awake he would urge me to be careful, the concern in his voice wrapping itself around me, the brief shelter of his arms.  He didn't hate my cycling like my mother did, but he did worry.  I miss that.  I miss the touch of him, the smell of him, the sound of him, the love of him.  But I have learned to survive and even to thrive. Life is not the same, it is different, but it is still precious. 

The first couple of miles, normally mellow and relaxing, are tense.  Due to the state road closure, the cars that normally would not dream of coming this way are coming in what seem to be droves and the roads are narrow.  I can tell I am quite visible though as I see them slow, almost seeming to pause, in my rear view mirror.  I think about how circumstances change things when I find myself glad to reach the wide shouldered road I normally ride in on because it is quicker than the back roads I love so.  I will ride the back roads home, but I am not willing to take the extra time on the way, at least not today.

I notice daisies and honeysuckle and the first of the sweet clover as dawn pushes herself into the world.  The moon hangs off to the left, pale and solemn, not quite ready to yield.  Though I am heading west and not east, clouds tinge briefly with pinkness as dawn insists on having her turn.  I think of how I missed the night riding this year with not doing the brevets.  

I climb the hill thinking of how Tiffany and I came  here to gather rocks for landscaping her new home.  We ate Mexican that day and were approached by a geologist who mistakenly thought we were there looking for a certain type of stone.  I think of how I worry about her and her brother sometimes and decide that is just part of motherhood:  even if I live to 90 I assume I will always worry about them.  I think of how I miss my mother, not as she was at the end, but as she was when she was still healthy and had her memory.  I wonder if I will lose my memory.  It seems almost as if that is the same as losing yourself. After she lost her memory, my mother always enjoyed it when I regurgitated the stories she had told me about herself, and I wonder if my children will tell me my stories if I forget them.  

And in the midst of my reverie, I find I have arrived.  I bring my bicycle inside the building, change clothes, and begin to deal with those issues that need to be dealt with, that I am paid to deal with.  And I anticipate the ride home.  Today is, indeed, a gift I gave myself, enriched by a ride to work. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

One More Year of the Pam

"To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily.
To not dare is to lose oneself."
Soren Kierkegaard 

Quite honestly, I don't want to ride today.  I remember all too well how cold it can be when it is in the low 40's and raining and I am on a bicycle. I remember how fingers stiffen, as if the cold freezes the joints, and toes ache until the only thing you can think of is a bath tub full of steaming, hot water.  Cheeks redden and noses run.  Rides starting with some laughter and jokes become death marches, quiet with one goal in mind, the only background noise the steady thrumming of the rain.  Rain mixed with road grit splashes from the road into your mouth, into your eyes or onto your glasses, onto your water bottle. But somehow I get myself out the door.  I unpack the wool clothing I thought I would not use till next year, my bar mitts, my rain cap, my rain jacket, and I go.  For I know how wimpy I am becoming, and how weak.  I had to turn down a ride I would have loved to have ridden because of it, and I know the only way I will gain strength is to go and hurt a bit.  For it is not just the unseasonable cold and the weather prediction, but the course.  I know all too well I am going to hurt before the day is through.  But I need to do this.  I am losing myself, and I am not ready to do that.

I don't know what I expect, but when I get there it is only Steve, the ride captain, Jason, and Matt.  Jason really surprises me because of the longest time he would not ride when it was at all cold.  It tickles me to see him and lifts my spirits as I see someone make their way over to the dark side of distance riding. It helps that it is not yet raining.  I remind Jason that he has not yet sent me a link to donate to the MS ride.  I have two friends who have spouses with MS and I try to donate something.  More than many people, I know what it is to love someone who is ill and has no way of getting better.  Later in the ride, when we talk about some political issues, I wonder how Jason feels about the new health bill for certainly MS would be a pre-existing condition.  I may or may not be the only Democrat on this ride, but I can't believe he would favor a bill that penalizes people for their misfortunes, even if the misfortune is not of their making.  I wonder if the others think of this as we talk.  I wonder if Jason thinks of it.  Briefly I think how most people become more conservative as they age and I wonder what it was that made me become more liberal. I think that I am glad we can have these discussions and still be friends.

The rain begins shortly after we leave the parking lot and continues until after lunch.  I chill at the first store stop and I am glad the stop is brief.  Matt drinks coffee to warm himself.  I stick to V-8 and a banana. I know I must make myself drink for I will not want to drink on the ride as I am cold.  I am surprised that Jason and Matt are still with us.  Steve undoubtedly feels obligated to stay with me, no matter my pace, since he is ride captain, but they are not obligated.

This ride is a beautiful ride, and in places the creek bordering the road practically screams with water from all the rain.  I like the sound of the water as it rushes toward the river, carving rocks and taking dirt and smaller things along with hit. I think of how as children we would float leaves and sticks in the creeks, or how we would block the gutters at the end of the street and cause ponding until we got caught. The trees are green and lush in a way that they only are when they first burst forth in the spring. In places there are wild flowers.  The only thing I miss that I normally notice on this ride is honeysuckle.  And then, right before Hanly Hill, as we cross a stream of water and mud running across the road, Jason's rear wheel slips and slides out from under him, dumping him unceremoniously on the ground.  Luckily, while he tears his rain jacket and loses some skin to the road, he is not seriously hurt.  Shortly afterward, on my climb up Hanly, a climb I made but was unsure that I was strong enough to make this year, I almost join him as I stand and my rear wheel spins out.  Steve later says he has the same issue.  I celebrate internally at the top of the steep climb.  I don't mind walking a hill, but I don't like walking a hill because I am too weak to climb it.  And I hurt.  My thighs threaten cramping that never quite materializes but hides in the background. 

After lunch it seems to be even colder as it always does on this type of ride, but at least the rain has stopped and, while steady, it was never a downpour, just a gentle drip.  I know we have the short, steep climb after the park.  Steve's wheel slips on the climb and he is off, but at least he does not fall.  It serves as a reminder to remain seated.  People climb hills in different ways.  Some rarely stand.  Some stand the majority of the time.  And some, like me, do both.  Today, however, until the rain dries, on steep hills there does not appear to be a choice. 

Soon afterward, Jason and Matt do decide to ride ahead, and Steve, being ride captain, stays back with me.  I get to hear about some of his interesting projects.  He reminds me of Lloyd in that way:  he always is into something new.  I briefly think that he would probably enjoy beekeeping if he ever tried it because the bees always outsmart you.  You can try to keep them from swarming, to reduce swarming, but you will rarely succeed, and if you do will not the next time you try the exact same thing.  In other words, you just never can really quite figure them out.  But it is not his thing.  It was my husband's thing.  The trait of liking to figure things out is probably one of the few personality traits that they share. 

Near the end of the ride, I realize that I am warm, even a bit too warm.  I also realize that I have made most of the hills albeit at a slow pace.  Next ride, perhaps, I will be a bit stronger.  I am not yet ready to lose this piece of myself.  Thanks, guys, for making it a doable day.  Tomorrow my bike will need a scrubbing, but tomorrow the sun is supposed to shine.