"The hardest thing about the road not taken
is that you never know where it might have led."
Next week-end is the Kentucky 200K, and I am in no shape to ride it. I have not been idle all winter, but I have only done shorter rides and some spin classes. Accidents that left me with some lingering issues combined with the loss of the Big Dogs site and the loss of any long rides on the club schedule took away some of the motivation I had to get out and ride long rides all winter. I grin thinking of the irony of this: finally I have the clothing and the knowledge of how to pretty much stay warm unless it gets abnormally cold for this area, and I am not out there. But I forgive myself. Most of my energy is focusing on retirement now that the long awaited finish nears.
Steve Rice tempts me saying that he also is out of shape and that perhaps our paces will match each other, for while I have enjoyed solitude on some brevets in the past, being widowed I know I spend altogether too much time alone and it would be good to visit and catch up a bit. Then again, I know how hard it is to ride a brevet with someone. Energy levels rise and ebb when there is that much distance to be covered and you have to take advantage of those moments when you feel strong. I contacted him to see if the route was marked as it has been in the past, but I also tell him not to mark it my account as I am unsure if I will even attempt it. And so, I waver back and forth, one moment deciding to give it a go and another not.
My thoughts take me to the hard brevets, the ones where there were times where my strength was depleted. I am on the road with Bill Pustow, Steve Royse, and Grasshopper, the wind is howling so loudly that we can't ease the ride through conversation, the sleet falls in a slant seen only through our headlights. We lose Steve and we don't even know. I remember thinking that if I stop, if I do not continue to put one foot in front of the other and continue turning the pedals, I will perish out here. But I also remember the beauty of the unexpected eclipse that night and the elation at the end as we pulled into the last control and knew we had mastered a course that quite easily could have mastered us. I remember the companionship as we shared a meal at Waffle House before heading our cars to homeward. And I remember the warmth my husband's arms wrapped around me as he held me after I arrived home and how he called me crazy and how I knew that he was proud of my strength and my endurance despite the fact he did not understand what drove me.
My thoughts take me to brevets ridden in wind and cold and all day rain that soak into your very soul until you feel you will never be truly, deliciously warm again. Only movement can salvage any semblance of coziness and comfort on those type of days: the moment I stop I am doomed to chilling that shakes my entire being all the way to the core. I remember riding with Claudia and Grasshopper and getting almost to the end only to find a train broken down on the train tracks we needed to cross, hardly fair after conquering the mountain on Oregon Road. But then my mind takes me to the happy moments, the laughter and the companionship and the beauty that is Kentucky in the spring. One year a section of the road held what seemed to be hundreds of wild rabbits out in the dusk as I neared the last control, tails bobbing as they skittered here and there. The allure of night riding, that feeling that it is just you and your bicycle and that everyone and everything else is asleep, snoring in warm beds. My almost collision with a possum who took issue with my traversing his road. The amazement on the faces of store clerks as they sign control cards to prove you passed their way.
In the end my decision will probably depend upon the weather prediction. If it were a PBP year and if I were committed to riding PBP again, (I'm not) I could probably talk myself into an all day rain with a strong head wind on the way back or cold and windy conditions; but since I have not and am not committed, I doubt that I would once again ride some of the conditions I have in the past for I know how it will hurt. Perhaps, I think, I have had too much hurt or perhaps I am too old because I don't know if I can go there again. Perhaps I have just changed. Or perhaps I am just not as strong as I used to be. Oh, I know I could physically finish despite not being particularly fit right now. Brevets, however, after a certain point, are less about physical fitness than they are about mental commitment. I must admit, however, that if I decide not to ride, I will have the above mentioned "road not taken" syndrome, for during a brevet you never really know what might happen. Decisions, decisions.