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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. 

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