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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Early Spring

"Spring won't let me stay in this house any 
longer! I must get out and breathe
the air deeply again."
Gustav Mahler 
It seems as if it has been raining for an eternity and I felt sure that I was yet again missing the glorious spring when green seeps steadily into the world, animals awaken, and flowers bloom.  Cold, rain, and snow doggedly hounded the steps of almost every day since spring officially arrived.  Don't get me wrong.  I love rain at times, the steady rhythm, the smells: I know rain is a life giver.  I am nicknamed for a century ride I rode in a steady drizzle when the official ride was canceled. But now I long for sunshine, bright and unadulterated, and blue, unclouded skies. Spring comes and goes with the blink of the eye, and it seems I can never get enough of her.  I am totally infatuated, starved by winter and the drear darkness. 

And it is here at last. Spring, even the word curves the corners of my mouth upwards,almost a prayer or a mantra.  The morning dawns cloudless.   Yes, more rain is predicted tonight, and strapping winds in the afternoon, but I will make use of what I am given.  As I head out, I wonder if this is the last time I will ride in a wool base layer and with booties on my feet, for despite the sunshine, it is in the low 30's.  The sunshine, however, refreshes my soul and I find I am entirely comfortable.  It is starting to profess the promise of warmth, but it is not yet the searing sun it will become in summer.  Absence has given it a gentleness that it will lose as the season ages.

The trees have not yet leafed out, but buds are evident everywhere.  The grass is greening.  As I ride on Eden Lane, I pass a church that sits across from a dog that I  seem to have a disagreement with each time I pass, a dog the owner is unable to control and seems to feel no obligation to control.  Today, however, as I prepare for our encounter, I notice activity in the church grave yard.  As many times as I have passed by this church and the adjoining small graveyard, I have never seen anyone there other than the occasional service goer on a Sunday morning:  but today there are gravediggers.  Perhaps they have complained about the dog and that is why he does not appear.  For whatever reason, no dog.  And a reminder, right at the start of my ride, to appreciate the life and health that is mine.  Selfishly I think how glad I am that I will get to see at least a bit of this new spring.  For some reason, I think of three past riders now gone:  Steve Phillips, Cheryl Brawner,  and Jim Whaley.  Strong riders, seemingly good people, gone too quickly.  Though I knew none of them well, today they whisper to me  telling me to enjoy myself and the newborn world.  How often I forget that each day, particularly those days without pain or tribulation, are a blessing.  What little things I whine and complain about.  

As if on cue, I happen upon a large group of violets.  Prior to having my basement waterproofed and all the digging involved, loads of violets graced my lawn.  Now, much to my sorrow, there are but a few.  The words of Alice Walker come to mind: "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it."  How could one not notice the rich color and deceptive daintiness? 

And then I come upon the daffodils, jauntily cheerful and sure of themselves.  As a new friend mentioned recently, they are in a place that obviously once held a building that was home to someone.  The home is gone, the person is likely gone, but the beauty they created remains, delighting my eyes and my soul.  I feared I had missed them, the daffodils, that the snow and rain and time would have claimed them,  but yet here they are, stoically proclaiming that it is spring.  I am not too late.  And as I have done so often recently, having decided to retire at the end of the summer and even having applied for social security, I glory in the realization that, barring health or other problems, I should not have to miss nearly so many nice days as I have had to do in the past to put food on the table and to keep a roof over my head. I also think that I may need to get a better camera and perhaps even take some photography lessons, for I have found that it is another thing that I enjoy, the capturing of a moment, frozen forever, renewing my memories.  I had hoped to find Trillium, but not today.  Next year, perhaps, for I know where they are abundant just outside of Vernon.

Around me, lies all the evidence of the recent overabundance of rain.  Fields that would normally be ready for plowing seem to be lakes.  Roads disappear as if they were made for boat trailers.  Streams gurgle and make that rushing noise, almost as if they are laughing.  I pass two new Amish homes, clothing blowing in the strengthening breeze.  A horse and carriage pass, the rather thin, chestnut horse straining and throwing its head to the side to try to see me despite the blinkers it is wearing.  The driver is young and the horse inexperienced, but we pass without incident.  Later I see three Amish children with their fishing poles, sitting by a pond.  Two Amish children, a brother and sister, bid me, "Good day. An excellent day." I smile at the quaintness of their speech, as if time has stopped.  No, "Yo, mama" from the Amish;-) 

My cousin tells me sometimes I need to move to where there are more things, and sometimes I must admit it is tempting.  There are so many activities I want to try and learn once I am free. My nephew has urged me to move from Indiana to a state more in line with my political leanings.  But I realize that I love this land and these roads I haunt and have haunted.  I love the memories they hold and the "to be" memories that I feel certain they hold for me in the future, for each ride is an adventure.  Some memories with friends and some alone, but all dear to me.  My tears have watered these roads, my songs have moved along the road with me, and my laughter has brightened these roads.  I love the friends I have made, bicycling and otherwise.  I don't have an overabundance (does one ever have enough friends), but I do have friends who enrich my life just with their presence.  This and the memories my house holds, the ghosts of children and the ghost of my love....I have never been very good at letting go, and to let go without a dream to head toward seems rather silly. The time will come, but it is not now.

Water guides my path to an extent, but it does allow me to get to Salem.  My destination was the bakery, and I sit on the curb and marvel at the taste of the caramel iced roll I have purchased.  Food just tastes better after you have ridden and your body needs fuel to go further.  How many curbs have I graced with my rear in how many states? How much junk I have consumed from gas stations while on rides? The thought is mind boggling. One man smiles at me and says he guesses this is why people exercise.  Where along the way did we forget that we need to use our bodies and use them regularly?  I know that a day will come when I will no longer throw my leg over the seat of a bicycle and ride out, but I hope that day is a long time coming.  So I bend and stretch and exercise and do even on those days when I would rather sit on the couch with a glass of wine and read or watch television.

I sing on the way home, songs coming to my mind from years past.  Upon reaching Salem, I have left the forested areas and will be returning through farm yards.  I think of the 300K brevet riders and strangely feel no regret. Well, maybe a tinge, but perhaps next year will be different. There is a time and place for everything.  I had no desire to fight this wind the entire day or to be rained on after the sun went down.  Tomorrow is Easter and I have plans. Something to look forward to.    I also have chores that need to be finished before returning to work Monday. Something I don't look forward to but that is very limited.  I hope and expect that I will see many more springs, and I feel certain that I will still waste entire days, but I did not waste this one.  So much beauty.  God must surely be in his heaven and all right with the world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Ride With A Friend and Texas Found

"A true friend is someone who thinks you are 
a good egg even though he knows you are
slightly cracked."
Bernard Meltzer

I have a choice to make:  a club Tour de Mad Dog century or a ride with an old friend who I have not seen for ages.  And thus, there is no choice as I know which is important.   I have spent hours riding with Bill over the years.  Some of my most epic rides were in his company: brevets where the wind and rain would not stop, fording creeks where bridges were under repair, all those things that you eventually run into if you ride enough miles and enough roads.  Not only are my eyes starved for the sight of him, but my soul has been starved as well for the nourishment that only friendship brings. Normally we catch up during Hell Week, but as there is no more Texas Hell Week, that no longer happens.  And life has a way of keeping us busy.  We had hoped that Steve would join us (though I have ridden with him more recently Bill has not), but he decides to ride the century.

The weather prediction is great for this time of  year, a bit chilly but little wind and pure, unadulterated sunshine.  We ride in the way that old friends do that no longer worry about speed.  There is a time to press myself, to feel muscles cry for mercy and yet ask them for more, but despite the hills this is not one of those days.  We catch up on each others family doings, for both of us are devoted to our family, and reading and events.  I bemoan the loss of Texas and then the funniest thing happens:  up ahead of us in the road is a large, black mass.  Being older, my eye sight is not the best anymore and Bill's must not be either because he asks, "Is that a cow in the road?"  And indeed it is, a large, black cow right in the middle of a paved road, free and unfettered.  We herd the obviously frightened bovine into a side pasture as he can't get back through the fence to his companions, and I contemplate going to the door to tell the people their cow is out, but I am deterred by a rambunctious, barking dog.  Texas, it seems, has come to us. ( Indiana goes free range;-)

We end the ride with smiles on our faces.  While the distance was not overly long, a mere 52 miles, the hills hammered our legs despite the pace.  I wonder that I am tired, but I assume it is from spin class and hiking the day before.  We part ways, friendship refreshed and renewed, and I am thankful.  It is good to have friends who enjoy your company even if you are slightly cracked.  

Monday, March 5, 2018

Kentucky 200K 2018

"The old you has been left behind to leave
place for the new you.  And it will be a new
 you that your new friends will admire and that 
your old friends will struggle to understand and that
your true friends will learn to embrace."
Lauren Klarfeld

I have made my decision:  I will ride the brevet.  The weather prediction is ideal.  Steve Rice has said that if I will ride he will ride with me. As always, I worry that I will be a bother, a fear perhaps born of having three older brothers who viewed me more as a pest than a companion.  I warn him that I will ride slowly, that I will HAVE to ride slowly, but he says it is not an issue. Still, I do have mixed feelings.  New friends have another cycling adventure planned that sounds decidedly pleasant.  But I decide to challenge myself. My longest ride recently has been a very slow 67 miles the Monday before the brevet and the brevet is a long 200K running close to 138 miles, but if I remember it correctly it is not too terribly hilly.  RidewithGPS has it somewhere in the 6700 climbing range.  And I cling to words Packman told me many years ago about muscle memory.

I prepare carefully.  I don't want to use my carradice for a 200K, but I also want to have what I need.  The GPS is charged. One thing I have always struggled with is my Garmin.  I hate to admit it, but I am NOT technologically smart.  And to make matters worse, I seem to have been cursed with Garmin units that don't act like other peoples.  Steve Rice has the same model 605, but while his will accept a battery charger, mine, with the exact same battery charger,  will reset mileage to "0" while his does not. My Garmin Edge Touring, however, tested earlier this week, appears to be okay if I  just hit not to turn off a few times, its reaction when I attempt to use a battery charger.  And calling Garmin for help, that has proven useless on numerous occasions about numerous issues. Sometimes I think I am just stupid, but the new me realizes that it is okay if I am. It is just the way things are.  I can't change it.  And I have my strengths.  Including children who both are technologically gifted.   Perhaps their father?  I briefly think of how often we judge people on the basis of things they can't help feeling pride in abilities or inclinations that we were born with and did nothing to earn or deserve, as Shakespeare noted, strutting on our stage. 

Tools have been placed a plastic baggie and are in my handlebar bag.  Wheels have been inflated. Clothes are laid out with extras in my suit case to allow for variation depending upon how I feel when I get there.  I have sent my daughter an e-mail asking that she keep her phone nearby in case I need her to rescue me.  Lights, while I doubt I will need them for very long, are charged and packed. No need for a hub generator for this ride. A spare tire, tubes, and all those minor accessories are in place.  Water bottles and a coffee mug for the drive are placed where I won't forget them. I realize that I have forgotten to pack my reflective gear, but I realize it before it is too late and pack it.  And once packed, it is off to bed early. It is easier to sleep when everything is prepared ahead of time.

I leave home in the dark to make the drive to the ride start and look for the light in the motel room window when I arrive so I know which room to sign in at.  There seem to be few cars when I get there, but I have arrived a bit early having awakened early following a restless night.  Tim Argo is there and I realize it has been a while since I have seen him.  He welcomes me back with a grin.  I like the crinkles around his eyes:  they speak of good humor.  While I don't know him well,  he has always seemed to me to be a kind person, and there is a lot to be said for kindness.  Steve Rice, of course, is also there.  Alex Mead has moved so won't be riding and Todd is in South Carolina. Dave King, per Steve, has an injury from mountain biking and won't be here. The only other rider I recognize is Steve Royse.  It is good to see him when he arrives and I think that I have never seen him look so slim and fit.  Life obviously is agreeing with him.  Another man reminds me that we rode a bit together on the Virginia 1000.  I think, briefly, as I have so often in the past how those who ride brevets have some crazy thing in common that draws them.  Later in the ride I will tell Steve, "We are not normal people."  And that is true.  Not a bad thing.  Not a good thing.  Just an observation. Perhaps a little strutting of my own.  Normal people do not blithely go out for a 137 mile ride on a cold March day however sunny it is with little to no base miles.

I sign in and go back out into the cold to ready my bike.  Unlike the normal Kentucky 200K, the weather appears to be a bit chilly, but really quite comfortable.  No rain is predicted and the wind is only supposed to be around 10mph.  I later tell Steve that I would not have ridden if the prediction were for rain and strong wind and sleet as in the past, but I also tell him that I realize that those were the conditions that best helped us for the longer, harder brevets such as the 2007 PBP.  I still remember Bill Pustow encouraging me saying, "Weep in the dojo, laugh in the battle field."  Today will not be easy, but that is due to my lack of training, not due to the course or the weather.  This will not be one of those epic rides that you remember because you persevered, but hopefully it will be one of the ones I remember because of the companionship or the funny things that always seem to happen along the way on a long ride.

We start off at a pace that is a bit faster than I feel I should go, but not unreasonable so I just go with it and I find I can hold my own.  I know that however much I enjoy the first of the ride, toward the end I will most likely be more than ready for the ride to end.  I am a bit overdressed, but not to the point where I have to regularly shed clothing throughout the day.  I try to take a drink, but the nozzles on my water bottles are frozen shut.  With some effort, I finally manage to budge one enough to take a gulp of water with tiny flecks of ice floating in it.  Perhaps it is colder than I realized, I think as my throat begins to fell a bit swollen and raw.  I pull my balaclava up to cover my mouth and feel better almost immediately, but if I keep it up too high, my glasses fog.

Steve and I have already started our political discussion and bantering each of us knowing that we will never agree on most issues and each of us, perhaps, stretching our views just a bit in order to teasingly annoy the other.  He finds it unbelievable that I am against bump stock rifles and semi-automatic weapons when I don't have a good grasp of what they are or how they operate.  I merely tell him that I believe nobody needs those weapons that have been used in the slaughter of innocents and I don't have to understand exactly what they are or their firing mechanisms.  Guns for hunting and guns for home protection are different, perhaps, but fast firing weapons manufactured only for killing people do not sit well with me outside the hands of the military.  Our political bantering continues throughout the ride and I think how much I value having a friend where we can disagree over significant things, but still be friends.  I don't think he is right, but I realize he "could" be right.  I have been wrong many, many times in my life.  Sometimes I am not sure why or even how we became friends, a rather unlikely pair,  but I am glad we did.  Like so many of the friends I have known throughout the years, he has enriched my life immeasurably and I hope I have added something to his as well. 

I am surprised at how quickly the miles go and that the pace, while not blistering by any means, is modest.  I tell him to go on if he would like, but he doesn't. Because he has not been training either or because he is keeping his word....don't know.  Later, not only because I have company to take my mind off my aching neck, the results of an accident a few years ago, and my sore rear, I am deliriously happy over this when my Garmin won't accept the charger as it did on the practice run and eventually dies.  I ask him if he knows why it would work one time and not the other.  The only differences I can come up with is that on my practice run:  a.  I was not using it on a programmed route, and b. I had it plugged in when the battery read 90 per cent and today I waited until 60 per cent.  It appears I am cursed. Back to the drawing board.  Steve said he really doesn't know and so I will have to try again on practice rides from home.

Later we ride with another rider, I believe his name was Sam, who is very happy with his Garmin, but I have decided on going with Wahoo when I buy again.  Greg Smith, whose opinion I trust, said he believes I will be able to master it and that he prefers it, and Roger Bradford has said their customer service is out of the world nice.

During the ride, I don't notice the scenery as I would if I were riding alone, but in Carrolton the recent flooding of the Ohio River is evident. The water has receded, but evidence of its power remains. Water still remains in places where it does not normally stay, the earth saturated and littered, given more than it can possibly absorb.  Odd how the very things that we need to sustain us can also be our ruination.  Steve points out the structure I sent him a picture of when I was asking if he was sure we would not run into flooding on the route.  I see a hawk flying with a small animal dangling from her/his mouth, alighting on a nest of branches, and I wonder if mating season has begun for birds.  The earth is greening from the warmer weather and because of or in spite of the flooding.  Spring is not here yet, but harbingers of her coming are everywhere:  daffodils pushing up but not  yet blooming, trees budding but  not yet leafed out.  The fields are hungry for plowing.  Birds fly and everywhere everything and everyone seems ready.

When we reach the turn around, we stop for a quick bite to eat and I concentrate for a moment on how I feel.  I am tired, but not unreasonably so for the miles and climbing.  My rear is sore, but I know I have many more miles I can pedal before having to give in.  My phone has been ringing and I know that it is my cousin wanting to finalize our meal plans for the following day, but I decide not to return the calls until the ride is over, afraid of forgetting.  Long rides have always somewhat affected my thinking, but now that I am older, I can definitely tell my cognitive abilities, already rather limited,  are slipping even when I am not riding.   It is scary, but what is the use of worrying about it when there is nothing to be done except to devise as many countermeasures as you can. I think briefly about how age has brought me much more compassion and understanding of what I saw  my mother and others go through, and I hope that I can face the changes wrought by age as gracefully and as skillfully.

At the last store stop, I see Steve get a Red Bull to drink.  I realize that I have never had one of these energy drinks, that I am actually a bit afraid of them.  I am the same with ibuprofen.  I could count the times I have had ibuprofen on a ride on one hand.  I remember Steve Royse laughing at me about it once saying it helps the pain, but I suppose I always felt I wanted to know when I was hurting so that I could judge how bad the pain was when my pain was from an activity that could, if necessary, be stopped. After the ride, that is a different story.  But I don't want to do more damage to myself than I realize I am doing though I had intended to bring some on this ride for my neck, so perhaps I lie to myself as people often do. When Steve has a mechanical a short time afterward, I do take a gel.  Luckily, the mechanical, handlebars that shifted position, is easily corrected with Sam's star tool (Sam, sorry if I have your name wrong), and we are on our way.

To my surprise, the end actually comes pretty quickly. I thrill at the sight of a large flock of crows swirling in the air as we near the end. We get in around 11 hours, by no means my fastest time but fast enough to make the time limit and leave some change.  It is still light outside.  And oddly enough, I am not completely shot.  While I have no desire to, I could ride more if required. We sign in and I take a picture of my card for my health insurance meanwhile cursing how things have changed in that arena. I am asked about the 300K and say that I am not sure.  Steve assures the person who asked that I will ride, but he is more confident than I am, particularly if the weather is bad or if I can't figure out how to make my Garmin last the duration of the ride for I truly do not like being dependent or a bother, even upon a friend.  Seeing pictures of the sights on the other ride, I do have a moment of regret, but I think the decision to ride the brevet was the right one for the time.  And soon, with retirement looming, I will have more time to ride and more time to spend with friends and hopefully to develop more friends.  Friends, they are a blessing, one of life's marvels and comforts, and I hope that all the different friends continue to embrace me as I grow and change.