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Friday, January 26, 2018

A Short Jaunt After Work in January

"So I am not a broken heart.  I am not the weight
I lost or the miles I ran and I am not the way I slept on
my doorstep under the bare sky because my apartment
was empty and if I were to be this empty, I wanted something
solid to sleep on. Like concrete.  I am not this year and I 
am not your fault.  I am muscles building cells, a little each 
day, because they broke that day, but bones are stronger once
they heal and I am smiling at the bus driver and replacing my
groceries once a week and I am not sitting for hours in the shower
anymore.  I am the way a life unfolds and blooms and seasons come
and go and I am the way spring always finds a way to turn even
the coldest winter into a field of green and flowers and new life."
Charlotte Eriksson
What is it about a sunny winter day kissed by the first hint of warmth that makes me want to jump on a bike and ride and ride.  My butt will ache and my fitness will dissolve, for this is just a teaser of what is to come.  Still, after work I jump on my bike and I ride.  Miles pass, enough to sate me physically in my current state of fitness, but not enough to sate the longing that surges through me, a longing for warmth, for long rides, for easy companions.  Oh, God, I miss Hell Week.  At least in the past on these days that stir the blood and make me long for warmth and hours on the bike I knew I had Hell Week to look forward to and that usually there was at least one day during that week that was warm, a day when the sun soaked into my bones.  Mostly, there was laughter and companionship.  I even miss the impatient but good natured waiting for Dave for each morning.

But today, I cannot regret today.  And I will not waste spending time on things that have passed me by.  I am healing, and I am alive. True, the wind is blowing, slowing my speed to a snail's pace crawl, but the sun is shining and it is almost warm.  And it becomes possible to actually believe, as Ms. Eriksson points out, that spring will eventually find her way to turn things green.  And yes, I am smiling.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Winter HIke: January 2018

"The past beats inside me
like a second heart."
John Banville

I originally was supposed to hike with a friend today, but the ice storm two days ago unfortunately made me rethink or overthink and cancel.  But today, I realize that I can't stand it anymore:  I have to get out of the house.  If I fall on the ice, I fall on the ice.  It is just the way of it. So off I go.  I decide to go the the Henryville Forestry because it is close and I really don't know how things will go.  When I was a child, I tromped the woods in any weather, snow, ice, rain....but I am not so young anymore, at least on the outside.
I do not realize all the memories this hike will bring up for me, but it does:  perhaps because I am alone and have time to reflect.  Or perhaps it is because I brought the small "I" thing, I can't its remember the name but it is a small blue square, that Jeff and Lena bought me that slips in my pocket and carries my music.  Whatever the reason, the memories arrive, ghost-like and unexpected.  

There is only one trail that I know of in the forestry, but I don't want to drive back that far to the entrance as I am unsure how clear the roads will be.  As I walk to the start, I wonder if I will be able to follow it, for while the snow is not deep, it covers everything.  I reason to myself that if I get off the trail, mine will probably be the only footprints and I can retrace my path.  And I am right.  The path is virgin with no footprints.  It is, however, recognizable. Past footprints have caused the path to sag in them middle, like an old mattress.  

While I am sure I have hiked this path more often, I only remember three times.  The first was with my Girl Scout troop when my daughter was young.  We hiked the trail and then had a cook-out.  They tricked me by icing a slab of Styrofoam and having me try to cut it before they brought out a real cake.  I have a picture that I like of all the girls hanging upside down from the monkey bars, smiling ear to ear, a brilliant moment of time captured.  I realize I don't know what happened to most of them.  One I know is tragically dead from a drug overdose.  Another girl's mother told me a few years ago had numerous kids and was using drugs.  The rest have vanished.  I had twenty in my troop.  Do they ever think of me as I think of them?  Why do we let relationships fade?  Is it even possible to keep all of the alive?  For we no longer live, as ancient man did, in small groups, huddled together for safety and companionship.

The second time I hiked this trail was when I had a fight with my husband and I came here to cry, hot tears raining down my cheeks as I ran most of the trail.  I don't remember what the fight was about, only how it made me feel as if my world had crashed and things would never be okay again.  There is a passion in early marriage that somewhat abates or changes, but it leaves behind a comforting security, at least that was how our marriage worked.  And perhaps there is a different type of passion that takes its place. By the last years we were together, I knew that it would take an act of God to separate us, and indeed, that is what happened.  The third time I hiked this trail was with my daughter, full grown, when we were just hiking and spending time together, teenage angst and disagreements a mere shadow.  

It strikes me that the woods are splendid despite the cold and lack of color, crystal snow providing relief from the stern austerity of winter landscapes.  The ice still clings to trees, hard to capture on film but shining brilliantly in the sunshine.  For some reason, a line from "The Night Before Christmas," comes to mind:  "The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow gave a lustre of mid-day to objects below."  The snow gleams in the sun, sparkling and twinkling.  The only disturbances I have seen at this point are deer hoof prints.  For once, I stop to write my name of a tree and to make a snow angel.  I am playing and it feels good.   And I know he would approve of this, my smiling, for he wanted me to be happy. And I approve of this.  How much better I feel when I make myself get out and about, even alone.

Soon, however, I come across other prints.  I don't know what made them:  errant dog, coyote?  Are there mountain lions here?  Do coyotes run alone or in packs like wolves?  I realize the only thing I know about them is the sound of their song ringing out across the night, beautiful and haunting. I feel no fear, merely curiosity. So many things I don't know.  How did I get this old and still not know so many things?

I see no other footprints during my hike.  No raccoons or birds or rabbits.  At the few places the creek is not frozen, I see no footprints at all and I wonder where the animals get their water as the creeks are mostly frozen. 

As I reach the end of the trail, I decide to hike it backwards for it is so beautiful and I don't want the day to end.  I think of the last time I came here with my husband and how the snow kept us from the target range where he wanted to go to shoot.  I think of how after that snow melted, he came on his own as I was working and, thinking his truck was in reverse, wrecked.  How the lady at the wrecker company scolded me about his not having a cell phone.  But he did:  I bought him one.  He just would not carry it.  How lucky we were that someone found him?  For that was near the end when his strength was nearly gone.  I could not scold him for I was glad that he had a hobby he could still do.  It seemed as if everything else he loved to do had been taken from him.

I toy with the idea of climbing to the top of the Fire Tower Hill, but the road here has not been treated and I have visions of sliding down that steep hill on my rear.  I remember failing the first time I tried to climb it by bicycle not understanding why I could not stand without my front wheel leaving the pavement, and Diana, at work, telling me her husband said that if I could climb it on a bicycle I was a better man than he was.  Not too long afterward I made it and went to work telling her to go home and tell her husband I was a better man then he.  Who knew that we would become friends? And who knows if I can still climb it?  Perhaps this spring or summer I will try again.

The day is over and I head home.  Entering the house I am slapped in the face by the delicious aroma of the soup I put in the crock pot this morning.  Only a bath and then it will be time to eat.   And to dream of what tomorrow will bring.  Life is good. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Born To Roam's New Years Bike and Hike 2018

"What good is the warmth of summer, without
the cold of winter to give it sweetness?"
John Steinbeck
I have been looking forward to this bike and hike, but I have to admit that when I awaken and the weather person says that the wind chill is below zero, there is a moments hesitation when the couch, a good book, and the warmth of the house beckon.  I scold myself as this is no way to start a New Year, a fresh year  full of promises, dreams, and hopes. There is a time for  gentle pursuits and mental massage, but I need exercise and to be outside.  I have been too sedentary following my surgery and the children's visit and it needs to stop before it becomes an established bad habit.  I have ridden in cold weather before and now I have the appropriate clothing.  Besides, this is a short ride, only a hour or a bit over. As with so many things in this life, my hesitation is purely mental.   I know that if I give in and don't go, if I confine myself to the warm house, I will regret it as the day creeps forward for despite the cold, the sun is to shine and my body is ripe for activity.

And the weather person does not lie.  The sun shines dazzlingly and the sky is the clear, brilliant blue of a winter day.  There is no warmth from the sun for the body, but it does provide sustenance for the soul.  There are greetings when I arrive and while I am still struggling with placing names with faces, I need no names to see the kindness and welcome shining from eyes, some familiar and some not.  Indeed, I get one greeting hug, and I feel the warmth of that brief touch travel to my core.  The children leaving after the holidays to return to their own lives and this hug remind me how much I miss the shelter and warmth of my husband's arms, the touch of his hand.  Yet still I know, somehow, that he watches over me and would be glad to see the smile that lights my face and the warmth that lights my soul.  I am grateful. Perhaps this is one of the lessons loss teaches us, for I truly believe that God places us on certain paths for a reason, introduces us to certain people for a reason, however much we struggle against him and fail to understand. 

While it is a road ride, I have decided not to bring the Lynsky but to bring the Surly Straggler again.  The Surly has pedals that accept flat shoes and in this cold, regular boots will be much warmer than riding shoes. Also, there is to be a hike as well as a bike, a hike described as having some rugged areas, and hiking without ankle support is not a wise idea for me.  Lastly, the knobbed tires are less likely to have a flat, one of the dreaded mechanicals on a cold day.   Once again the voice of Eddie D, an early riding mentor, whispers to me about the difficult of and the importance of keeping the hands and feet warm during winter rides.  So many people have helped me through the years, offered hard won advice.  Some I heeded immediately.  Some I resisted. Some advice worked for me and some didn't.  All was well meant, a gesture of friendship. When Rich talks about his camel back tube being frozen, I harken back to a hard learned winter lesson when I stuck the tube inside my jersey to warm and it leaked.  Luckily, I was only a half an hour or so from home, but I was one miserably cold woman that day.

 I am warm on the ride to the lodge where we will park our bikes while we hike.  Others complain of the wind, but I am thankful that it is not slapping my face as it often does this time of year.  At one point, I soak in the sound of the wheels turning, the hum of conversation, and the gentle laughs occasionally brought forth during the conversation.  There all types of bikes from fat bikes to mountain bikes to cross type bikes.  There is also another woman on the ride.  As I suspected from the lithesome grace of her movements in the parking lot, she rides well despite saying she has not ridden for a long time and that running is her preference.

When we get to the lodge, I did not expect to find that my bike chain has frozen and has been made hard to manipulate by the temperature.  Keith asks if he can share the chain as he forgot his and is strong enough to unwind it and secure our bikes.  It is different, this locking of bikes, but then I normally am not leaving my bike for a long period of time.  Even when I ride somewhere and stay the night, I take it into my hotel room with me.  But I am excited about the hike, something I have started to enjoy in the past year.

Originally we were going to meet with a local hiking group, but as we are running rather late and Rich says he does not want them to have to wait for us to lock our bikes and prepare, so we leave to hike from another area.  Despite the sun, the woods  are delicately laced with the alabaster snow that fell recently.  There is beauty here, just a different beauty than there is in the spring when the fecund earth gives birth, or graceful, green summer,  or fall, that grand, glorious, good-bye to color and warmth.  It is not my favorite season, cold winter with her brumal blasts, but she does, as Steinbeck notes, enhance the sweetness of what lies before and will come after.

During the hike, we come across frozen waterfalls her tresses cascading silver and white against the gray, stone background.  Icicles squeezed from earth that was too saturated,  unable to contain the fluid within, glimmer in the bright sun.  On a bridge above the falls, we note the water, bubbling, imprisoned yet still alive in the creek under the frozen crust.  Briefly I wonder if it will freeze solid before the weather breaks, for it is not supposed to get above freezing for a number of days.  As always, I notice the roots of trees in the path, acting as stairways by containing earth that otherwise would have slid down the hill.  I briefly think  of how I cherish trees. Odd, but I could tell you every tree that graced our yard when I was a child, and we had a lot of them.  On this hike, unlike the Knobstone,  there is no place where I have to silently curse the loggers for ruining the picturesque beauty of the trail. Some areas should be left alone, undisturbed.  The words of Keats come to mind for some reason, "Thou still unravished bride of quietness."

 Rich is a story teller and seems to know area history and it is interesting to hear him talk along the way.  He points out concrete fence posts from what was once a working farm.  I think of how the land yields to us and I remain glad that some is now kept safe.  Keith complains of being hot and when he takes off his hat, I notice the gleam of the auburn in his hair, short hair, but the color is still magnificent.  As with my son's curls, it seems almost wasted on a male.  Internally, I tease myself as a sexist for having this thought. It is odd how different people appear without helmets and riding apparel, as if we adopt an alternative identity. 

We arrive back at the inn, have a pit stop, unchain our bikes and head down the hills toward Madison.  It is the only time on the ride when I am cold.  My nose feels as if it will just break off if I gently touch it, but still the decent is splendid.  I find myself emitting peals of laughter on the descent in the way that I sometimes do on descents because, well just because they are descents and so exhilarating.  The earlier climb was lovely, but this is what climbs are all about, the descent, like when you drag your sled up the hill repeatedly to go back down again and again. I think briefly of the look of celebration on the face of one of my new found friends after the climb when he tells us that he has lost 36 pounds, certainly something to celebrate and to be proud of.

All too soon we are back in the parking lot.  The group is going out to lunch, but I did not bring anything to change into and decide to head home rather than to run the risk of sitting and chilling.  I had meant to pack other clothing, but I forgot in the same way I forgot my phone.  Nothing like old age.  As my husband used to say, "A mind like a steel sieve." ;-) I don't feel the dampness that predicates being really uncomfortable on winter rides when you stop, but you don't seem to notice it until you have stopped for awhile and the shivering begins as your body convulses in an attempt to warm itself.  And I do dream of a piping hot bath, delicately scented, one of my favorite treats after a winter ride.  Nothing like a soak and a good book following a winter ride.  And so I head home to prepare for the coming work week.  Holiday is over, but what a wonderful time I have had and how glad I am that I came to ride with this group on the first day of this New Year.  Happy New Year!  May you see much of it from the seat of a bicycle.  Oh, and with a tail wind and lots of descents;-)