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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.

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