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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Donut Ride

"I got nothing to do but today...."
Steven Stills

Two days off work,  though it will really only count as one extra day as I have to work Sunday for the Foster Parent Appreciation event.  My daughter and I were supposed to go the water park, but the distance combined with the prediction for thunderstorms caused us to  reschedule.  I have an entire day to myself a day, an unplanned day with no expectations or obligations.  "Why," I ask myself, "are these so rare." And so, as I debate what I should do with an entire unplanned day, I decide to ride to Salem for a donut and let the day unfold from there.  I love donuts, and a fifty mile ride will certainly give me the justification to eat one, if I even need a justification.  

The weather is a bit cooler than it has been, though it is still humid.  No jacket or vest is necessary. Shorts and a light jersey.  Everything is green.  I pass fields of corn and soybeans, hay and wheat, before getting to Eden Road and the forest.  I am thankful for those people that still work the land, mostly male in this area. 

I think about retirement.  I don't want to wait until I retire to think about retirement and the life I want to have. I have gradually been trying to decide what type of things I want to do with my time, and I decide that during nine months of the year, this might become a once weekly activity.  Fifty miles is enough to stretch the legs and to make you feel as if you have exercised, without leaving you with the residual tiredness that sometimes comes with longer distances. I know I will want to ride with one of the bicycle clubs at least a few days weekly, but I also know my proclivity toward solitude, quiet time with just me and my bike and the road.  The thought of a new beginning, a new life, excites me, and I wonder how and if I will change.  Oh, I know my basic personality is not going to change, but interests and activities do change.  I think how disappointed I was looking into adult education to see that this has been ended at  our local university.  Going back to school, but without the tests and tensions, was alluring to me.  I keep a list of things that I might want to do, and despite the fact the non-stressful option is gone, school remains on the list as a possibility.

I am startled from my thoughts by a deer as startled by me as I am by her, powerful haunches moving her deeply into the woods and into safety.  I notice a multitude of road kill, and it saddens me.  I think of something my husband said about aging and how he grew to feel more empathy for others, including animals, as he aged.  So much wisdom he passed along. I think about how I miss my husband, and as I pass the sweet clover think as I often do of how after a ride I would tell him what bee pasture was in bloom.  I don't talk about him much to others anymore, people are uncomfortable with it, the depth of my emotions even after all this time, and I no longer grieve him so, but I suppose I will always miss him.

 I miss the whisper of his hands as they caressed me, as light as butterfly wings,  and I think of how before we moved and our work schedules changed, he would kneel beside the bed and gently kiss me before leaving for work each day, even if he thought I was sleeping.  I miss being cared for.  I came to treasure him more and more because he treasured me.  Love is different as the years pass: deeper, more accepting.  I would not give up the passion of those early days for anything, but what came afterward was something I did not even know could exist, and I am glad our love had time to mature.  Would that we could have grown even older together, but twas not to be.  And yet again I am thankful that he gave me a bicycle and encouraged my riding, as if he knew the solace and happiness I would find here.

I see three dogs laying in the road ahead, stretched out, enjoying the summer weather, and I sing to warn them of my approach. They jump up barking. They are the most aggressive of all the dogs I see today, but never really a threat.  I dismount and walk a short space keeping my bike between me and them. One dog, solid black, obviously with lab in him,  has ticks hanging all over him,bulging tan with blood there are two right near his eye.  He obviously has been hit or had some problem, one hind leg is held up to avoid touch with the ground.  Another has some eye problem, the whites of his eyes are blood red and make me hurt to look at them.  The third only appears a bit malnourished.  As I often do, I ask myself why people get animals if they are not going to take care of them.  It does not surprise me.  I work with children who people have but don't always treasure, but it still saddens me.  Retirement again comes to mind and how happy I will be to leave that behind me.  I will miss the children, but I will not miss how their eyes sometimes haunt me, and I will not miss my inability to make things better.  Sometimes things are broken that can't be fixed, merely mended, and sometimes they are broken even past mending.

I reach the donut shop and buy a donut and some cookies to take to a friend and a drink, and I sit on the store step of the closed store next door and enjoy every bite of my favorite carmel iced roll.  I decide to take another route home.  I pass Amish wagon after Amish wagon on that route, many with young couples or a woman with children, and of course green manure scatters the road, its scent filtering in the morning breeze and reminding me of my days working in the stables.  I laugh as I wonder if there is any other animal whose excrement I would think of as smelling good.  If I were wealthy, this would be one thing I would like to have in retirement, a horse of my own, but I fear it is way beyond my means. I wish these young families all the best and hope they appreciate what a special time it is when families are young. There is a comfort when your children grow and you reach the point where you know they will miss you if something happens to you but that they will be fine, that they can care for themselves.  Still, there is a closeness when they are little that recedes so gradually that it is as you wake up from a dream and it is gone.  Can you treasure something you are not even aware that you have?

I ride to Sharon's house and knock, but there is nobody home.  I leave the cookies on a bag on her front porch chair and leave a voice mail for her that she has a present when she gets home.  And then I ride the few miles home.  I have decided the rest of the day, other than mowing the lawn and weed-eating, will be devoted to reading and perhaps a movie.  As Steve Stills says, "I've got nothing to do but today." 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Bonk

"We don't have a choice in how or when
our bad days will blindside us.  But what we
do choose is how we allow them to leave us 
once they're gone.  You can use those moments
as a catalyst to spur you on to greater things
or you can let it be the event that breaks you and 
leaves you shattered and forever lost in darkness."
Sherrilyn Kenyon

The day promises to be hot, but there is no foreshadowing that it will be a "bad," or at least a "hard" day on the bike.  True it is supposed to be unseasonably hot and I slept restlessly the night before, but when I left for the ride there was no indication that I would have the dreaded "bonk."  Sometimes on the bike, things just happen.

The century is a tad over one hundred miles, and while we have not ridden it for a few years, I do remember that it has often left me worn out.  This, combined with the weather, should have made me more cautious, but instead I start out like I am ten years younger, legs pumping, heart racing.  True, I do tell the group I am with I am going to drop back, but then everyone dropped back, and while the pace slowed for a bit, I should have known it was too fast for my condition combined with the weather conditions and the course.  Rookie mistakes.  I still make so many mistakes, but I have learned to forgive myself and hopefully use those mistakes for growth rather then letting them stunt me or curb my ambitions.

Salt River Century, a route designed by Dave Runge, no longer a club member.  And there are some beautiful roads on this route, isolated, scenic.  The problem is that I am pressing myself too hard to enjoy them except for occasionally when something striking catches my eye:  the silhouette of the trees against a blue sky, a flower, a heron gracefully winging his way to the next body of water.  Even the river crossing, normally a time for laughter, is hurried.  Interestingly, while I wait to cross, carefully putting on hospital socks left from my husband so as not to slip,  a stream of antique cars ford the stream.  And I do enjoy the companionship. 

 The difference in age and gender is beginning to become more evident, but I still enjoy being with Dave and with Steve.  I think of Bill and how I miss his company on the bike.  The three of us have so many shared memories and experiences from hours and hours spent together upon the bike.  And I love them.  But where before our paces were similar, mine is beginning to lag, and keeping up means I press myself more than I used to have to do.   I can see myself riding centuries for many, many more years, but I also see my riding more and more by myself or with different companions.  Still, the ride today will make me stronger and will help me adapt to the growing heat that is summer.   The hard rides are what give you growth to make other hard rides seem easier.  And the hard rides are normally the scenic rides.  Hills are much less tameable or cultivatable than flat lands.  

It does not help that once again, I am not able to easily or reliably shift into the big ring.  Having had a new shifter installed and having been to the shop two times for adjustment, I figure it must be the derailleur.  For now, it will have to wait and I will make do with the gears I have with my middle chain ring, for I try only to use the triple on rare occasions, and today is not one of those.  Then my neck and back begin to ache until at one point I am almost crying, partially because I am afraid this will begin to haunt all my rides as it did last summer.  The heat begins to play with me, sweat seeming not to evaporate and to sit on my skin.  

At the third store stop, I tell everyone I am heading out alone as my legs are toast.  Nancy kindly reminds me that it is okay.  I grin as I tell her it has to be okay because it is how things are.  I have no doubt that I will make it back to the start, but I also know it will be slower than the group is wanting to go.  Could I press myself and keep up?  I really don't know.  I have before,  What I do know is that I don't want to.  My body will strengthen from what I have done without having to totally deplete it.  

On my way in, I realize that I have finally ridden long enough to know that a bonk does not mean I am totally hopeless as a cyclist.  It is just something that happens sometimes regardless of conditions.  It is not a nice feeling, that feeling that every pedal stroke is a painful act of will, but it just is.  There will be good days on the bike, and this is just part of it.  And still I sing.  

At the end Dave is waiting and his arms enfold me into a great big hug.  Once again I realize how blessed I am with the friends that I have and with bicycles.  Ride on.  And don't let a bonk get you down.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

To Jiggs: A Tribute to What Was and What Is

"You shall not go down twice to the same river,
nor can you go home again. That he knew; indeed it
was the basis of his view of the world. Yet from that
acceptance of transience he evolved his vast theory, 
wherein what is most changeable is shown to be fullest of
eternity, and your relationship to the river and the river's 
relationship to you and to itself, turns out to be at once
more complex and more reassuring than a mere lack of 
identity.  You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory
asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place you
have never been."
Ursula Le Guin

Finally, a week-end where I have a day to ride by myself.  The weather is predicted to be hot and quite windy, but I have an entire day and plenty of time as we approach the summer solstice.  It seems as if it has been forever since I was able to jump on my bike and have a day to go where I will.  Yes, I have been riding, and I have been enjoying the company and the different routes, but with work there are only two week-end days, and while I could still ride both, age and the additional responsibilities that widowhood has laid upon my doorstep seem to corral that desire.  Too much riding alone eventually becomes burdensome, my mind aches to share the thoughts that randomly tumble through it with someone whose company I enjoy or I miss teasing a friend or the quiet companionship I have with a few special friends, but group riding also can become burdensome.  A mix, that is the ticket.   Unlike riding with others, when you are alone there are really no expectations.  You can ride quickly, you can ride slowly.  You can walk a hill or climb a hill or attack a hill. You can take an alternative route to avoid a hill, though experience has taught me that normally this backfires.  You can stop and take photos or sit on the road and eat a cracker and feel the cool sweetness of water easing the thirst that arises on a long ride.  You can talk with a stranger along the route.  All this without the worry that you are inconveniencing someone or making them wonder if admission to bedlam is appropriate or worry that you are boring them to death.  
I decide to ride to Norman to see if Jiggs, a restaurant in the middle of nowhere,  has ever re-opened.  The last time I passed that way, the owner had suffered some health issues and the restaurant was being run by someone else, but on a changed and limited schedule, allegedly until his return.  No , I was not close the the owner, but I know the restaurant was named for his deceased father, that he did not want to serve large crowds but enjoyed the occasional cyclist or two.  I know that cooking was a hobby that he had that he wanted to share, but that he also wanted a place where people could gather in a town that no longer had even a grocery store or gas station. I know he had a nice smile and a rather high pitched laugh, that his writing was cramped and difficult to read.  And I know that I will miss seeing him occasionally and the brief respite that his restaurant provided along my path.

The cool air wraps itself around me as I head out and momentarily I wonder if I made a mistake in not bringing light arm warmers or a jacket, but the constant activity required for bicycling soon warms me up.  It is early so there is little wind yet, and I make it to the first store with a 16 mph average.  I smile to myself thinking how things change, that once I would have been a bit disappointed with this average, but now felt quite proud of myself.  I think of a friend who recently told me this is why she is not riding anymore, because the decline in her abilities was becoming troublesome to her, and I hope that I don't follow her down that road despite the fact I admire her commitment to finding new activities and trying adventures she has not experienced before, for I love my bicycle.  I love almost everything about it, the freedom it brings, the sounds of the wheels and the gears, the sight of bright multi-colored jerseys, the feel of the wind on my face, the sound of rain on my helmet. I even love the way I hate it at times despite knowing those difficult rides are what make days like today possible where you can ride and ride and feel as if you will never get tired and will never quite have enough. Different, I remind myself, is not synonymous with bad:  it is merely different. So far, everything is comfortingly familiar, until I enter the store.  Shelves have been moved and there is obviously some type of remodeling effort going on.  

I purchase a V-8 and down it, plus some crackers for my bag in case Jiggs is closed, then head back down the road.  The route thus far has been essentially flat, but I know that when I make the turn at the old Brick Factory, that will change.  It never becomes monstrously hilly, like the group century was last week-end, but there are climbs, and the first is after the factory.  I am completely taken aback when I see that they are using the brick factory for storage and they have cut down the brush and growth and the old buildings are now quite visible.  I stop to take photographs and think of when I first came across the old factory and how I started to explore but was afraid I might fall down a well or something and only be found years later.  I think about how this was supposed to have been one of the largest brick factories in the United States, and I wonder what made it fail.  Poor management?  Location? Lack of workers?  There is a beauty in the old buildings, not yet fallen down but decaying. 

I don't know what the metal tubes are, but Steve Rice later sees the picture and tells me they are for electric.

Next to the old brick factory, is the saw mill, wood neatly stacked.   Now I know that
logging is necessary, but I absolutely hate what it does to the land I ride through, but there is beauty in the arrangement as there is the field nearby, hay neatly rolled to prepare for the winter. 

As I begin my climb, I begin to notice the growing heat of the day.  Despite the climb being shaded, the additional energy leaves my skin shiny and damp.  It feels good to sweat.  It feels good to climb.  And rides like last week make the climb relatively easy since I am not in a hurry.  My breath quickens, but it is not the deep, rasping breathing of a steep climb or a climb that you make when you are pressing the pace and in a hurry.  Because of this and the lack of company, I notice the scenery more, the fading of the daisies, the beginning of the sweet clover bloom, the glory of the orange day lilies, closed this morning but now opening their beauty as they shameless flirt with the sun,  the greenness of the trees as innocent of their fate as a small child.  I find myself gently humming to myself.  I come across a turtle, dismount, and gently move him from the road.  I grow protective toward the world. 

I am looking forward to the bridge on Jason McKreig Road despite the effort involved in lifting my bike over the barriers and climbing them myself.  I am taken back with what I find.  The bridge, the beautiful bridge, is gone, replaced by a bridge that has no beauty, no poetry.  Functional, yes, but so very plebeian.  (Photos of the old and new.  What do YOU think?)  I think of how there is beauty in the old, beauty that we carelessly throw away in our quest for the new or for convenience.  The line from a country song I used to like comes to mind, "But someday I'm sure you're going to know the cost, 'cause for everything you win there's something lost."  (Dan Seals)

The road after the bridge is fresh black top, not the bumpy, pot hold ridden mess that everyone complained about despite the shortness of the stretch.  Interesting, as I ride along, I first see the paw prints of what might be a cat or a fox or a coyote, then some type of bird, then a man's boot print, then a deer. 

Shortly up the road, I come across a deer placidly walking across the road.  She or he notices me and melts into the woods.  And then the same with a coyote, brushy tan fur, he sees me and begins his graceful lope across the field.  I grin as I see him turning his head to look at me to see if I am giving chase, knowing that if I was the lope would become a flat out run.  This makes me remember the ride this way with a group when Cafe 58 was open. We must have seen ten or twenty deer that day, but when we got to the cafe, filled with deer hunters, none of them had gotten one to fill their freezer.

All too soon I arrive at Jiggs which is obviously closed.  With the heat, I hopefully climb the porch to the pop machine, but it is dead.  A man wearing a ripped tee shirt, belly hanging over his jeans, blackened teeth, rides by on his lawn mower and stops for a chat.  He said he is not really sure what happened, whether health or the lack of customers caused the closure.  He tells me how in his youth, the building was a store and how the one side of the building was added on, how the owner died in 1990 and the store closed and no business has made it yet.  I ask about the other restaurant in Kurtz, Cafe 58, and if it has perchance re-opened, but he tells me it is now a gun store.  He said there are no stores anywhere nearby and I assure him I will be fine and can make it to Brownstown.  He rides off on his lawn tractor and I ride off on my bicycle thinking how I will miss this place.  (Old picture of when Jiggs was open and I took a group there)
I head toward Brownstown still loving the scenery and glad I have some crackers and enough water. 

The rest of the way home I think about changes and how life seems determined that I shall accept that facet of her personality before I depart.  So many changes in recent years.  You would think with age that change would slow, not accelerate.  I will still ride this route, but how I ride this route will change.  Store opportunities will be further apart.  No longer Medora, Norman, and Brownstown, but Leesville and Brownstown, not a big deal when the weather is nice, but a big deal when it is exceedingly hot.  In a way, I suppose, change blesses us in that we knew what was and get to know what is. I am so glad that I got to know this route the way it was, already twice changed with store closures, something there will undoubtedly be more and more of in these little country villages.  And I hope I will continue to get to know the route the way it is, or will have the time to make some more changes, that will then change again.  Each time you ride a route, even the same route,  it just is different and you make new memories and relive old memories.  As Ursula Le Guin noted, you can go home again so long as you know it will be different than before.