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Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Gravel Excursion to Nowhere

"Summer is the time when on sheds one's
tensions with ones clothes, and the right kind of
day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.  A few of 
those days and you can become drunk with the belief
that all is right with the world."
Ada Louise Huxtable
July, yet the prediction is for 60's in the morning, low humidity, and a high in the 80's.  It is hard to decide where to ride, but it sure as hell is not hard to decide to ride.  I pick the Surly and set out to find some new roads.  And once I get off the beaten path, I do.  If I happen to remember an intersection or come across a road I am familiar with, I make the decision to go the opposite way.  And of course, if there is a choice between paved and gravel, gravel wins.  I intend to try to do about 40 and to leave the door open for a century tomorrow, either the club century or a solo century depending upon my mood.  I become hopelessly, gloriously lost, however, on roads I have never ridden before, and my 40 miles turns into 60 miles.  

At one point, I cross 135 and an older woman (well I say that but she could have been my age) pulls up in her car and asks if I can help her.  Of course, having absolutely no idea what county or where in that county I might be, I doubt it, but she hands me her phone and she has a smart phone.  She is trying to find Starve Hollow.  I plug it in Google, hit go, and it begins to talk to her about heading west on 135.  The relief on her face is palatable, as it will be on mine once I get out of the back part of Wheeler Holler about a half hour later.  But right now, it feels delicious to be lost. I have asked the GPS to take me home, but for some reason it is persnickety today and does not tell me I am going the wrong way.  I am being perfectly truthful when I tell you that I actually begin to expect to hear "Dueling Banjos," a movie I saw long after it came out and have regretted seeing ever since, about the time I come to a fence and find the road does not go through.  I am really a bit spooked, too spooked to stop and take photos.  The only thing I keep wondering is why there are no packs of snarling pit bulls snapping at my heels.  Not one dog on that section of deserted gravel road.  Go figure.  Does anyone lives in these shacks?  Are they only used during hunting season now or for week-end camping?

I turn onto Ault Saw Mill road, also gravel, thinking that it will tell me where to go, but as I check, the turn becomes further rather than closer, so later I end up retracing my path.  The entire time I am laughing at myself, and I realize I am having fun. God bless July sunshine mixed with coolness and bicycles.  I come across a Butterfly plant covered with butterflies and I think how very beautiful they are.  Queen Anne's lace is scattered delicately throughout the hedgerows.  An abandoned farm house, mysterious and deserted, makes me wonder who lived their life there in that lonely valley.  Was the house once alive with the footsteps and laughter of a passel of children?  Did the dreamer who built the house ever fulfill his or her dreams before moving on to the next plane of existence?  Did the isolation bring them closer or pull them apart, his alcohol filled voice raised in anger and frustration at the weather that occasionally robbed them and left bellies empty and demanding?  
And I end up back on one of my favorite roads, though paved:  Eden/Delaney Park.  Home in time to spend the late afternoon and evening with my daughter.  Already dreaming of the ride tomorrow and already deciding to go to Orleans.  It's been awhile since I have climbed the Devil's Backbone.  Ah,

summertime, and as the George Gershwin song says, the living is easy, particularly on a bicycle.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

One Hot Ride

"God, it was hot.  Forget about frying 
an egg on the sidewalk; this kind of heat
would fry the egg inside the chicken."
Rachel Caine 

Sometimes there is a very fine line being doing something stupid and doing something brave, and today was one of those days.  A club century is scheduled and the "feel like" temperature is predicted to be between 105 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit.   As I prepare, I remember those days I have ridden when sweat has sat on my skin unable to evaporate and where thirst clenched my being with longing for something cold and wet.  Briefly I think of the first day of the Tennessee 1000K.  Along the route, one of the volunteers appeared at the side of the ride with an ice cold Sprite.  Ambrosia.  Reviving.  I could have drank at least five, I feel sure, but I was concerned that I would appear greedy so I had one and moved on.  A mistake, one I recovered from, but nevertheless, a mistake.  I would have ridden better and more safety with more cold fluids in my gut.  

I try to add my extra water bottle carrier to the back of my bicycle seat, but I am unsuccessful.  My husband was always my mechanic, and while I can do some things, I just can't figure this one out.  I think I have it tightly attached, but then find I have too much sideways movement.  I give up and will depend upon my ability to drink little and ride far.  It is very, very rare for me to drink two water bottles in 25 miles, and I know there will be three stops on the ride because that is how the TMD rides are set up.  I also stick some Hammer Gel Enduralytes in my bag, something I rarely use, and eventually even down two. 

I am surprised when I arrive and find that there are lots of riders, even some who are known for being unable to tolerate heat.  Again, stupid or brave?  You and they should be the judge.  I have determined that I will ride, but I will ride my own ride.  I will not let myself be drawn into the mad rush at the start where everyone tries to get as many miles in as possible during the cool of morning, and 80 degree morning on this particular morning.  I do not believe that the result justifies the effort. More effort, even at cooler temperatures, means more sweating.  And when it is that hot, it is nigh impossible to stay hydrated  no matter how conscientious you are. Yet again, I think I am glad I am not the ride captain.  I have captained a ride in high heat over a difficult course and thought I might not get one rider in.  I don't want to repeat that experience.   Yes,  you can take the attitude that they are adults, know what the weather is supposed to be, and make the decision, but still I would feel responsible if they had issues from the heat.   This is one area I am sexist in.  Men, at least most men I have talked to, don't seem to feel the same sense of culpability.  

The ride starts and we head over the bridge into Indiana.  Many of the roads in the first half of the ride are roads I know. Despite the heat, summer has had enough rain that she remains green.  The corn and soybeans look promising for a bumper crop. I ride for a bit with David  D., and I remind him that today would not be a good day to get lost.  For some reason, my GPS is not picking up the route correctly, and eventually I give up reloading it and decide to just trust the cue sheet.  

I ride the first part of the ride with Jason.  It is good to talk with him.  With the work I do, it is always refreshing to hear from him, to know that there are good people in the world, people who have a good sense of right and wrong and what is important and valuable.  But I know I am slowing him way down, and in a short while I tell him I am going to drop back further.  

For some reason, today I do not feel much like company after that.  I want to concentrate on riding smartly, drinking regularly, not overdoing, maintaining a steady pace.  I don't know if it is physical or mental, just that it is how I feel.  I am not down, at least not until we ride past my mother-in-law's home and I see the for sale sign in the yard.  It was little more than a shack, but it was her home, and her love made it beautiful.  She is long gone, but how well I remember the way the coffee smelled when I walked through, the front door.  I remember the kindness of her smile and how there was always the smell of something baking for she ran the kitchen at the sale barn.  I remember the sound of her laughter, and her saying, "Ah swan" over things, a term I had never heard until I met her and one whose meaning I still don't really know.  I loved her, and I hope she knew it. 

I think of how on Christmas Eve, I would send the children there with their father to take presents, and while they were gone Santa would come, because I hated it when we had Christmas in the morning and they had no chance to play with things before leaving to be with my mother.  So I began having it Christmas Eve and allowed them to play until they fell asleep, exhausted, prey to sweet dreams and laughter, smelling sweetly of childhood, and then they could sleep some more on the way to West Chester.

And then I am back on the bike climbing Liberty Knob, the heat making each breath feel futile and meaningless, as if the heat has sucked all the oxygen out of the air.  I slow my pace a bit, my heart rate slows, and the climb is behind me.   Before you know it, I am at the lunch stop.  With the heat, I am satisfied with my pace.  I am not a Subway fan, but I stop there nevertheless because I know I get as many refills on my drink as I want.  When I go to the restroom and see the yellow brightness of my urine, I  know I made the ride choice. 

Nancy says that the conditions are better than expected, and she is right.  While it is hot, it has been overcast and there has been a head wind that will become a tail wind but has served to evaporate some of the sweat, cooling the skin.  Still, I dread the climb I know is coming.  It is not steep, but it is long, and the hill is completely exposed.  Again, I ride at a steady pace, not pushing or fighting, just putting one foot in front of the other, and before you know it the climb is behind me.  My imagination had made it much worse than what it actually was.  I feel badly for a moment that I did not wait for John.  We rode this route together last year.  But I stick to my plan to ride at my own pace. 

I run into Steve Rice and Dave King at the last store stop.  Steve always struggles in the heat, particularly when it first gets hot, but Dave looks bad as well, his shorts almost white with salt deposits.  Dave and I end up finishing the ride together, along with someone named Chris who I just met on this ride. Somewhere along the way we have lost Steve.  Dave stops under the bridge and obviously is feeling unwell.  After a few minutes, we head onward toward the end.  Both Chris and I offer to transport him  home because he rode to the ride, and I know he is feeling really badly when he accepts.  I give him a bottle of water I have in my car in a cooler, and Chris takes him home. 
I feel better seeing Steve on his bike on River Road as I leave.  I was not overly worried, but I felt better knowing for sure he was basically alright.  The temperature gage on my Garmin showed it as being over 107 degrees. 

Again, fools or brave riders?  I don't know the answer to that.  I am glad that I rode, but I can't say that it was a "fun" ride.  But any day on the bike, is I suppose, a good day, if for no other reason that it means you are healthy enough to be there.  Hopefully everyone else got in safe.  But my, it was hot. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

No Orleans today

Winning isn't about finishing in first place.  It
isn't about beating the others.  It is about overcoming
yourself.  Overcoming your  body, your limitations,  and 
your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself
and turning your dreams into reality."
Kilian Jornet

After deciding last night to ride a century rather than search for gravel, I head toward Orleans.  Nearing Medora, however, my way is blocked.  While I have waded these waters before, I decide to change my route and go to Story instead.  I know it is open on Sundays.  So many stores and restaurants in little towns don't open on Sundays. And so many small stores have closed. This definitely influences my decision as I was at Story recently and would rather have gone elsewhere today.

 I do end up wading the flood waters in Brownstown on my way to Freetown, but they were not as deep or as wide as the Medora waters.  Briefly I think of Steve Rice, Steve Meredith, and I wading the waters of Medora.  Neither was too happy with me that day, but they survived.  I remind myself to think of what roads might be flooded as I plan my return trip, but I have until 9:00 with day light.  I have not yet stuck my winter light on the bike, so I do need to be in before then.

I think of yesterday's sixty miler, particularly Paul's comment about brevets and why anyone would want to do them.  He reminds me of my husband in this.  Lloyd never understood it and often asked why I do that to myself.  He supported me, but he never understood.  So today I spent some time thinking about it as next  year will be the time to begin to decide about the next PBP, 2019.  

I am just starting to feel a bit like myself.  Those who have never suffered a significant loss will not understand this.  And those that have that are different than me will not understand it. Many think I am weak, and perhaps I am.  But it is just how it has been for me.  Recently I turned while mowing and thought I caught a glimpse of him, and I was undone for the evening, unscabbed and bleeding.  A friend who lost a child told me that our loved ones check on us.  But as I said, other than the odd moment or two, I am almost back to being myself.  I sing and joke and laugh.  I am interested in things again.  I ride my bike not because I made myself to retain any semblance of sanity, but because I want to, the way I used to want to.  

As I ride, I wonder if I will recall my route that bypasses 135 because I am heartily sick of riding on 135.  It is not that it is extremely busy.  It is not.  But it has more cars than I like and while scenic, it lacks the beauty of the side roads.  There is a dearth of side roads to the north, I think due to Lake Monroe being built many years ago, but there are roads to the south that parallel the main road.  I know I will have to be on 58 for awhile and I remember reading it was closed in places.  It closes right at my turn.  I do find the roads, somehow, because I am quite directionally challenged.

I return my wandering thoughts yet again to brevets and whether I have any desire to ride any longer brevets.  And I don't have the answer.  What I decide is not to decide yet, either way.  See how my knees do, how my mind does.  There truly is no rush to make a decision.  And it is a big decision, because brevets require commitment and desire, and they require mental and physical discipline as well as the ability to endure pain.  But I am glad that I have done brevets,  no matter how crazy they may seem, because Mr. Jornet is right.  It is about overcoming yourself.  You are your own greatest asset and your own greatest liability.  And only  you can decide if conquering yourself, your pains, your fears,  your tiredness, is worth it.  

The day is hot and I end up with 107 miles and moderate hills.  I am tired. But I am glad that I rode.  Yep, I am getting back to being me.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Doing Nothing

"There's never enough time to do
all the nothing you want."
Bill Watterson
There could never be enough to these mornings, mornings when the sun in shining and the sky is a brilliant blue.  The few clouds are white and puffy without the grayish bottoms that have clothed them recently.  And the day is mine.  Last night I got the weeks clothing and sheets washed and I have hung them to dry.  By the time I return, they will be ready to be brought inside, smelling sweetly of the fresh air. 

I decide on the Surly again because I really am not sure what I am going to do or where I will end up riding.  The Surly gives me the freedom to pick gravel if it presents itself, and while it is heavier and slower than my Lynsky, it will also serve quite well for a century ride if that is my decision. 

Yesterday I rode with an old friend, Dick Rauh, who is (yeah) starting to ride again.  It seems years since I have seen him, and it probably has been well over a year, but he still looks the same to me.  I grin as we both wore our red LBC captain jerseys.

We ride and laugh about past rides:  the time he brought a heavy, beater bike to my Christmas Century and had to be dragged in, the time he sat in a fire ant nest at Mountain Home, and that followed by a broken seat post during a brevet with Steve, Dave, and I telling him he was strong enough to stand the whole way.  (and he did until it was fixed).  And while the distance is hard on him, particularly with the climb out of Bethlehem, he does well, and I know it will be no time before he can ride centuries again if he decides to do so.  It is good to catch up, to hear that he and his wife and his daughters are doing well. 

And so, because of riding yesterday and chores around the house that need doing, I am not sure how far I will ride but will just decide as I go.  It is a lovely ride, a mix of gravel roads and of paved roads.  When I can, I pick a road I am not very familiar with or have never ridden.  The Surly gives me more freedom to do that.  I hit a closed road sign and smile.  It is Sunday so they won't be working.  I am able to cross the newly paved bridge and wind my way past the bull dozer they have blocking the way. 

At one point, I become a bit frightened when a red truck, rusted and dented, slows, turns and comes back, then turns again.  The truck pulls ahead and stops and I stop my bike.  A man gets out and walks to the side of the road, and I spend a moment deciding whether to turn around or ride past.  The recent story about the couple who broke into a home and tortured the couple has me spooked.  I decide to go forward as there are no houses behind me for miles and I am on rather rough gravel.   Perhaps there are people who live just beyond the next bend. Regardless, there will be no sprinting on this pavement. I pull to the wrong side of the road as I pass and the man smiles and waves as he stands next to a creek.  I wave back, relieved that he seems harmless, just stopping to look at the creek that rushes by.

I come across a rafter of wild turkeys, probably 15 to 20, but they are gone before I can pull out my camera.  A shadow appears on the pavement in front of me, a buzzard flying overhead.  I smile thinking of my husband telling me about a buzzard who nested in a chimney at the plant.  He said they vomit to protect themselves and their nests, and the vomit is particularly pungent with their diet of decaying road kill. 

I decide to head home and not do an entire century today, to clean and have my house ready for another week of getting up and going to work.  Will I still treasure these days as much when they are all mine?  My cousin said that since he retired, he has come to begrudge anything or anyone that demands his time, and I remember my husband being much the same.  So much time spent in doctor's offices.  If there is a reason to be glad that he passed when he did, it is the new law where he would have had to go back two to three times weekly for his pain medication, unless the law provides an exception for those who are chronically ill. I know we need rules, but sometimes it seems we are trying to play God and deny free will. I know he hated sitting in those offices, the waiting, the futility of his hope to feel well again, if only for a day.  There is just so much that I don't understand, but then I have never been the sharpest  knife in the drawer.  But I do understand that I am happy here on a warm summer day on my bike, and I will miss the green and the warmth when winter knocks at the door so I soak it  up as much as I can.

Yeah, today I was doing nothing, and as Mr. Watts noted, there is never enough time to do all the nothing I want. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Day on the Surly

"There's more to getting where you're
going then just knowing there is a road."
Joan Nixon 

Bicycling can fill many purposes as a friend, Amelia, reminded me of this week-end.  She said that sometimes there are "destination" rides, those rides where you are going somewhere and the ride is less about the beauty of the route than the utility of the route.  In a sense, like a brevet, though I have found those who design brevets to be, for the most part, interested in providing a scenic ride.  Or like a ride to work. Variation is not really tolerated well on destination rides or brevets or on the way to work.  There are places to be and times you are expected to be there.

Then there are company rides, those rides where the distance, pace, and roads do not matter nearly so much as who you are riding with.  Each of us have riding companions that delight us for whatever reason:  their sense of humor, their compassion, their ability to challenge us and to bring out the best in us, their ability to listen, their ability to tell stories, etc.  I am ever so fond of many of my riding companions, and for different reasons.  Some no longer ride, some do.  I hold them all dear to my heart regardless.

There are also the "mystery" rides, those rides where you pack enough to get by for awhile without any particular store stops, turn right or left as you please, do whatever the hell you want to do when you want to do it at whatever pace you want to do until you want to turn around and try to find your way back to your home or your car or to wherever you intend to bed down and rest for the night.  These are the rides where you stop and take pictures without worrying that you are slowing others down or having to hammer to catch back up.  These are also the rides that I normally find myself riding by myself, maybe because they are unplanned. These are the rides that are all about the scenery.

Today I decide to take the Surly and to search for new roads and gravel after a week-end destination ride.  Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, visiting with friends, making new friends,  and I even found myself unexpectedly playing, singing, and laughing on the second day of the two day century overnight because I have been missing Lloyd more than normal recently for some reason.  Playing made me feel vibrant and alive in a way I have not felt in a long while.  No back/neck pain like the last century.  No dreariness.  Just fun, pressing on hills until my thighs hurt, short bursts of speed, unsustainable, but still strength building.  Teasing Dave when he got a flat which allowed the two females in the group to get to lunch and eat first.   And my bike:  my bike shifts like a dream for the first time in what seems like a long time.  It really is nice to have the use of my big chain ring back and to have it reliable throughout the ride.

It is humid out today, but for once this summer the wind is light.  It has been an odd summer that way, wind almost daily, and not light winds.  The forest and fields have had enough rain that they remain green and  lush. The wildflowers of earlier in the season are fading or faded, but there are still flowers in places.  Everywhere there is beauty.  As I reach my first gravel road, there are two county road workers at the side laying what seems to be a pipe.  One waves and grins at me.  The other, the one operating the digging machine, grimaces as if angry that I dare to be there.  I feel sure the pipe must be to control flooding, but the way that area floods, I can't image a pipe big enough to keep the water out of the fields so perhaps it has another purpose.  Sometimes when it floods, the waters come almost up to the bottom of the stop sign.  It looks so peculiar when that happens, as if there is a stop sign in the midst of a big lake.

Shortly thereafter, right at an intersection,  I pass a farm house.  Outside is a young man with a black and white cow on a halter and a lead.  The cow is drinking from a trough.  There is no fence between this cow and freedom, merely a woven plastic lead rope and red halter.  The cows rear quarter is manure stained, yellow and matted.  The young man just stares at me, no smile lights his face, but he does respond with a mumbled greeting when I say hello.  I want to ask him why he has his cow on a leash.  He is of that age where he might still be eligible for 4-H or he might have graduated.  I find as I age that it is harder to tell.  The young look so much younger than they used to. I suspect that he wants to ask me what an old woman is doing on a gravel road on a bicycle in the middle of nowhere.  But neither of us asks the other anything.  I ride on and he continues watering his cow.

As I ride I make choices on which roads to take. After passing the cow, I decide to climb rather than pick the flat roads to the side.  I am still getting used to climbing on the Surly.  For some reason, I thought the knobby, wider tires would give them much greater purchase in the gravel, but my wheel still slips and I am beginning to believe slippage is more dependent upon body position.  But I am green in this area and only just figuring it out. Despite tire slippage, I have no trouble with the climb. One or two of these roads I have traveled before, but many I have not or I have forgotten them. There are fields of corn and soy beans, but there are also some tree shaded lanes and bridges. Surprisingly, there are very few dogs, and those I do run into are well mannered.  They are curious about me, but they are

not aggressive, a good thing as I only brought one water bottle today.  Occasionally I pass a farm house, like the one with the cow, and I think for a bit what it must be like to live out here with no neighbors and no other houses anywhere nearby.  Does that type of living situation make people closer?  Or does the continuous isolation push them apart?  Or perhaps I am deluding myself.  With cars, it is not so very difficult to get places.

I think of so many things while I ride including what retirement will be like when I can get up and ride almost every day if I desire, but eventually I decide I had better begin to find my way back home as I have things that need to be completed before resuming the work week that was interrupted by the 4th of July.  And what better way to end new roads than with an old road that I have passed many times yet never ridden: Old Babe.  I think of Mike Kammenish and how he laughed when he first noticed the Old Babe street sign many years ago.  What would he think if he knew there was an Old Babe Village?  I think of the next PBP and how I enjoyed talking about past PBPs with Dave over the week-end.

Ms. Nixon is right.  There are roads to all sort of places, but there is more to getting there than just a road.  And I hope with retirement there will be more rides with no particular destination in mind and friends to ride with.  New friends and old friends.  New roads and old roads.  All have their charm.  But may there always be bicycles and roads and time to explore them.