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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

St. Nick's Hick Ride 2017

"Every new friend is an adventure...
the start of new memories."
Patrick Lindsay 

I can't decide whether to do this ride or not.  There is a ride in Madison I spot on Facebook that sounds enticing:  "St. Nick's Hick Ride."  It is on the "Born to Roam" Facebook page.  According to what it says, you can ride if you bring canned goods.  The ride is supposed to be a combination of pavement, gravel, and single track.  I click the "interested" button and decide to think about it.  To go or not to go, that is the question.

Essentially, I am a road biker.  I have a mountain bike, but I normally use it when it snows so I can get out on the roads.  I came into riding in my middle years, and I have never really done "mountain biking" per say.  While he was still alive, my husband urged me to, said he thought I would be good at it (though how he would know never having done it before who knows), but it just never seemed to fit in with where I was at.  I remember Phil Patterson asking me if I could jump curbs when we were discussing mountain biking, and telling him no and later wondering why I had not just said I had never tried because I had not. And I still have not tried it.  The thought of re-injuring either shoulder does not appeal to me.  And it is cold outside.  Yes, I have done an entire century at 10 degrees, but I was younger then, more foolhardy.  There are all sorts of reasons to change my mind, but I dare myself.

The ride description recommends wide tires and I contemplate taking my mountain bike, but I have it fixed up for Diana who is going to use it to ride the "Lights Under Louisville" ride later that same day.  I have switched out the pedals for flat pedals since she does not do clipless pedals, so when I see the ride description, I decide to take the Surly Straggler.  It has wider wheels and can take rougher treatment than my road bike. I almost don't go because I have already committed to the afternoon ride with Diana and have to be back, but Rich, the organizer, assures me on line that the ride will end no later than 12:30.  Despite worries about the cold, the pace, not knowing any of the riders, and the terrain and if I can handle it, I go.  I guess they won't shoot me if I have to turn around or can't keep up. And f I fall, well, I never have to face them again.

I arrive early and find the ride start, canned goods in a bag.  I like this about the ride, the ride fee of can donations for the needy.  Rich's wife takes the canned goods and is very welcoming.  People that care about other people, about those less fortunate, are some of my favorite people in this world because it is so easy to not care. Everyone is welcoming, but still I can tell this is a group that rides together regularly, that has forged bonds, and I am not sure if I can or will fit in.  As those of you who know me know:  I do not like to be a burden or an inconvenience. And as so often happens, brevets, distance rides, I am apparently the only female riding today.

Yet again I am amazed at how love of the bike can merge diverse groups of people. Gender, income, age, race, all fade away as insignificant and I think how God must love a bicycle because of this. The pace is easy and nobody seems to mind, there are mainly new roads, and the scenery is engaging. People climb at their own pace and then wait at the top, patiently, without resentment. As the ride progresses, personalities begin to emerge, and I find I am beginning to smile.  This smile will eventually turn into laughter at some of the youthful exuberance that has seeped into the ride that will continue to stay with me for a few days.  For the first time in a long time, I wake myself up in the middle of the night following a ride actually laughing, and it feels wonderful.   As an added bonus, not too long after the ride starts, it begins to snow and slowly the roads turn white.  Unlike my snow rides on a road bike, the Surly handles the snow just fine and I am overcome by the beauty,  particularly while we are in the state park.  What a fine day it is to be out on a bicycle despite the cold.  How glad I am that I came.  How thankful I am to Rich and the others for their acceptance of a stranger in their midst.

The trees are bare now, stark sentinels, arms reaching skyward, outlined by wispy bits of snow that are starting to cling but still ephemeral, pleading for their covering as Adam and Eve in the garden following their sin.  Perhaps they stand as a reminder.  There is beauty in their nakedness, but yet they seem not comfortable with it.  The wind is light and kind. The whiteness emphasizes the lack of color in the world.

As we descend from the state park into Madison, we ride a bit of what I think is called "single track."  I am able to handle it, it does not seem to be very technical, but the rear wheel on my bike is not and ends up rubbing and I do fall behind.  I find them waiting, but again I don't sense impatience or the feeling that they wish I had not joined them.  Instead, I am met with smiles and stories and a magnificent view and I am appreciative of their kindness.  I debate whether to stop and fix it, and decide that with the car so near I will not.  Only when stopped by a stop light do I realize how badly it is rubbing.  I can barely push the bike.  My legs are strong enough to make it go, but not my arms.  The car appears in front of me and it is over.  A lovely time, but due to meeting Diana I cannot join them for lunch.  Perhaps this is best as I always find it easier to talk and to meet new people on a bicycle rather than sitting at a table somewhere.

I am grateful.  Grateful for new friends, ones who are kind and make me laugh, grateful for my health, grateful for the snow that brightens the scenery and seems so Christmas-like, grateful for a new memory and a new riding experience.  This next week will be a difficult one one for me as it holds the day I lost the best part of myself, the stroke, the dying, the knowing that I could not save him, that it was time for him to go home and that I would be alone in a way I had not for so very long, but I also know that I will survive, that he wants me to, and that I can have fun and even laugh until my sides hurt knowing he is happy to see me smile as he patiently waits for me.  And I am again grateful for that first bike, the one he gave me when he was worried I was running too much.  Somehow I think he knew, even then, that it would help me find my way.  It has, indeed, been an adventure. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Bethlehem Century 2017

"For outlandish creatures like us, on our 
way to a heart, a brain, courage, Bethlehem
is not the end of our journey but the beginning -
not home but the place through which we must
pass if ever we are to reach home at last."
Frederick Buechner

So many Bethlehem Centuries through the years.  Some have been ridden in weather so foul that it is a miracle that we finished.  And others, like today, are blessed with temperate weather for the time of year.  With a 30 degree or more temperature variation expected through the day, I dress in light layer after layer, knowing that I will look like a pregnant chipmunk at the end of the day after I have stripped them off, and yet I don't mind.  Perhaps being rather plain has its benefits.  When I ride, I care much more about function and comfort than about style.

The Bethlehem Century is rather special to me despite the fact it is not the most scenic of my routes.  Memories make it special:  Joe Camp swirling in a yellow rain poncho he bought during one of the Challenge Series; the Mad Dog naming of Stormy when we rode the century but the stage was canceled; Steve Rice asking me if the wind ever stops blowing on this course and seeing Santa Claus at one store stop when nobody else that rode did;  three riders bailing midway and being glad I could call my daughter to sag them in as there was no shortcut to the end;  buying gloves with Grasshopper at the third store stop because our fingers were wet and frozen and the blessed gift of warmth they gave; Scott Kuchenbrod, an exceptionally talented and strong rider, his face pale and looking strained at the third store stop leaving me to understand without words that I was not the only one totally exhausted and that I did, indeed, have reason to be.  And how exhausted the holy family must have been reaching Bethlehem.  Did Mary weep at finding there was no room in the inn, her back sore from pregnancy and travel, unable to nest in the way many woman need to do soon before the birth of a child? And that even the stable was but a respite before she truly went home. Ghosts of riding companions and others from my past dance past me the entire ride, elusive yet ever present. I grow tired on the century, plagued by a cold that seems to have taken residence in my lungs, but I have not grown tried yet of the ride, the scenery, the wheels turning, the people met along the way or those that shared the journey.

Until the December my husband passed away, I used to take Christmas cards to mail on this ride.  Originally they were mailed in Bethlehem where they would stamp them with a special stamp.  When that post office closed, the New Washington Post Office took over, but you have to take them INTO the post office.  It really matters  not as I send very few Christmas cards anymore.  I still have the stack I had ready to take when he had his stroke, and I think I need to toss them. Some things left when he did.  But it was the reason I designed this century.  And I am back in my mind, trying to find my way without long stretches of gravel.  Finally successful.  I have changed and would now find gravel more acceptable, but then it had not yet seduced me seeming bumpy and just a bit too difficult to maneuver.  Speed was more important then as well I suppose.  Everything changes, always.

The fields are mostly bare,  harvest completed.  Leaves have dropped from all but the hardiest of the trees except those like the stubborn oaks who hold on as long as possible.  But there is no color there.  Reds and yellows and oranges and russets have faded into shades of brown. Occasionally as the sun warms, the smell of leaf mold wafts through the air. The last bit of green is being seeped from the grass, and I think that it is going to be a long winter.  In the morning, frost covers all the vegetation, and the sun, bright but with no heat, makes it look lovely.  The first pond I pass is beginning to freeze over, a thin layer on the top, not yet encompassing the entire surface.

I think of those who rode this century and how, other than Tour de Mad Dog centuries in the warmer weather, club centuries appear to be a thing of the past.  There are none on the club schedule.  I think of when I first started riding and how one of the reasons was to have company to make riding easier when it was cold and windy and nasty, and how things have come full circle and I will be riding mostly alone until the weather warms.  "How long," I ask myself, "will I continue that?"  And I have no answer. Steve Sexton:  no longer rides centuries.  Mike Kamenish: only rides TMD stages now.  Bill Pustow:  appears to have left century rides behind him.  Dick Rauh:  no longer a century rider.  Grasshopper:  no longer rides centuries.  And on and on, names flitting through my mind.   The few that do still ride are now much faster than these 61 year old legs can ride, particularly in the winter time and mostly are not my companions of old, the ones that know my heart and accept my song however flawed it may be.  

I cry for a bit for my brother who is having health issues that will probably mean he has to retire whether he wants to or not.  I think of how leaving a job you have had for a long time is like cutting off part of yourself even if you want to leave.  And for him, I believe, it is more important than for most.  Other than his work, I do not think he has been very happy in this life.  I think how age robs us despite our best efforts to thwart her.  I cry for my husband, the anniversary of his death looming, and for my mother, her death shortly on the heels of my husband's, and for the others that I will not be able to spend time with this holiday season.  It was on this ride that one woman told me, no too long after his death, that I just needed to get over him.  And there was, perhaps, a time when I didn't realize the sad truth and was as blissful in my ignorance as she:  we go on, we are even happy, but we never truly get over the loss of someone dear that we loved. We love again, life is good, but loss has formed and molded as surely as the womb. I think of my cousin, half joking as I cared for my mother in Hospice, telling me I will have to do this for her, for she has no children.  The fear behind the words squeezes my heart, but she is asking for an assurance I cannot give for none of us knows our destiny or how and when we will die, only that we will do so. And I cry for the riders I have known that no longer ride.  

But it is hard to remain gloomy on such a sunny day.  A nip on the leg from a dog wakes me from my melancholy and I start by being thankful he did not break the skin or pull me off the bike.  I briefly contemplate going to the door of the home to let them know there dog just sampled my calf, but there is also another dog and if they were aggressive on the road, how much more might they be on their own turf, so I sigh and ride on.  I have never had dog issues on this route before.  Many other routes, but not this one.  Dogs.  A perpetual cycling danger and bane if not well cared for and disciplined by their owners.

At the first store, I chat briefly with a hunter.  He tells me he did not get a deer, that he did not even see a deer until he was done, and I giggle and tell him the deer was probably taunting him.  He grins back and then turns once again to bury his face in his cell phone. I do not linger long as I know my pace is lagging and day light is short this time of year.

It is nice when I get to the lunch stop because by modifying the route and leaving from my home, lunch is about 10 miles later into the ride.  For some reason, I would much rather stop and have a bite to eat at 60 miles than at 50 miles.  I find that despite not eating breakfast, I am not hungry; but I know I am tired and need something.  I stop at McDonald's and am again tempted to ride on as the line is huge, but I have made that mistake before and counsel myself to patience. My recent cold has left me with little appetite and each bite is forced. But again I wonder, as I have before, what is it about this restaurant that draws large crowds of people.  It really is no cheaper than any other fast food restaurant anymore.  My taste must just be different.  Every bite tastes as if someone spilled the salt shaker on my food. To each his own I suppose.

I strip off another layer and revel in the sun and in not being cold.  My GPS tells me it is 60 out and I believe it.  Chicken Run and Deputy Pike roll by quickly.  They are very lightly traveled leaving me to my thoughts.  As always, I admire the small bit of hand laid stone wall along the way, and looking at it think of Robert Frost:  "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."  I wonder who laid this small bit and why.  It is not in front of a home, but in front of woodland.  I pass what has been the lunch stop on past rides from the traditional starting place if on Saturdays, and think of how good the food was there on one ride.  Was it really that tasty or did the company and laughter give it spice it might not otherwise have had?

I surprise myself as I end my ride by missing a turn.  I have the choice of back tracking or riding a short distance on a fairly busy state route with little to no shoulder, but I pick the state route.  I should make it in an hour or more before darkness claims the roads despite my pace, but I do not want to take chances as I have only a small light on my bike, the one I put on in late fall as an emergency light and keep on until spring brings longer days.  I think  how glad I am that I chose to ride despite knowing that it would probably set my cold recovery back a few days, and I find I have indeed almost lost my voice again.  But it will return.  This day will not.  I may remember it, but it will never come again.  Tired and with achy knees,  I pull in the drive to home, knowing that this home is also a road on a journey, a  journey that lead through Bethlehem.