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Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Trip to Illinois

"Each contact with a human being
is so rare, so precious, one should 
preserve it."
Anais Nin

With retirement, I have received a blessed gift, the gift of time, and I think of how I can best use it wisely and how I can continue to grow as a person, to overcome the baser, less admirable parts of my personality and suppress or possibly transform them.  A hopeless task, I am well aware, but still an admirable goal to strive for.  Age is not a reason to stop growing.  Instead it brings a deeper realization of how very limited our time here is and how very precious the hours, minutes, and seconds are.  I have gained a greater understanding of how Lloyd's death combined with time, other loss, and life experiences have changed me, of things that I let lapse that I wish I had not and things I have pursued that have been wasteful and even at times counterproductive to growth.  Death severs connections with a finality that cannot be denied, at least on the earthly level, but I have allowed several friendships and connections that I treasure to wither as I have turned inward on my solitary journey,  crawling toward acceptance and healing, praying for direction.

Some friends have understood that this journey was, for me, necessary: and others have not understood wanting to rush the cobbled mending that comes only with time, unable or unwilling to understand either because it is not part of their makeup or because they have not been through the experience or because it is just too uncomfortable, this threat to our fantasy of having control. Yes, I have lost friends along the way and I grieve their passing from my life.  I also realize that it is, perhaps, time to evaluate what relationships to keep and nurture and what relationships have value, but are mainly part of the past.  While all are undeniable precious and part of the fabric that is me on some level, not all can or should be maintained. Wisdom is in knowing which is which.  Unfortunately, being human and not wise, I have to lead with my heart. Connections:  they are more important than most of us realize and they sometimes, no actually all of the time,  require effort, particularly connections with family and friends who do not reside nearby. 

I am amazed at how many of my friendships have been forged through riding my bicycle.  Yes, I have friends that do not ride, but the majority of the non-relative people that I enjoy spending time with ride a bicycle.  It is not the bikes.  I often zone out when the discussion turns to gear ratios or the best head set or other such topics.  It is the people, the interesting people who share this passion.  Well, and I also enjoy talks about courses, and hills, and weather conditions, and bicycle colors and uses.  And that is what leads to my impetuously contacting an old bicycle friend, Greg Zaborac, about a visit.

On a recent ride, I was yet again bemoaning the loss of the Big Dogs Cycling site run by Dave Parker, and thought of Greg and wondered how he was.  Since getting to know him a bit, I have come to admire Greg and his attitude toward cycling and others.  He seems to know his mind.  He does not care about DNF's or other things, but about the enjoyment one gets or does not get through an activity.  He is kind, something that I have come to cherish as one of the most important personality traits.  As Jewell notes in one of her songs, "It doesn't take a talent to be mean."  This leads to thoughts of Joe Camp who lives near Greg and who is an old friend that rode PBP in 2007 as well.  I still remember his hug of encouragement when I tell the others I am riding with to go on knowing the only way to success is on my own at my own pace and in my own way.  And, I think, it would be nice to know Karen better.  When I met her at Hell Week she seemed such a nice person. 

Yes, headlong foolish as always, I contact Greg and ask about getting together for a week-end of riding, actually inviting myself.  In my head I hear my mother bemoaning my lack of propriety as she so often despairingly did in the past. In the distant past Greg and Joe have come to Kentuckiana to ride TOKYO, a four day, four hundred some mile killer ride that was the brain child of Mike Pitt but brought to fruition by Steve Rice as a PBP training tool. This time I offer to go to Illinois where Greg and Joe live.  Greg warns me that it is not nearly as scenic as the area where I live, that there is really nothing there, but I persist, and being the gentleman he is, he accedes.  Or perhaps my correspondence relayed to him how desperately I need this trip.  I ignore my insecurities that tell me his hesitation is because he would rather not deal with me.  I contact Joe who says he has not been riding much but will start.  And to my delight, I learn that I will get to spend time with Karen Scott, Greg's significant other, and meet Leonard and Elizabeth Young, also past Big Dogs.

As I drive up, I think of how I met Greg at Texas Hell Week, something else that has been relegated to the past.  I was in Texas at a store stop and Greg passed asking me how Grasshopper's leg was doing.  He grinned and introduced himself as a Big Dog.  I find during the upcoming rides that neither or us quite remember how he knew me (he thought maybe Steve had on a Big Dog jersey but I don't think Steve owns one of those).  Regardless, it tickled me and we have been friends ever since going on to ride TOKYO and other rides together.  I remember how he brought Joe to TOKYO in 2007 as we prepared for PBP and how Joe was concerned at the slow pace, but whispered so nobody would hear.  (I doubt he felt that way by day four and during my trip finally reveal that I heard him).  I remember how after that PBP, during another Hell Week adventure, I pulled into Luckenbach on my bicycle only to see Joe standing there with his bicycle and how delightfully surprised I was.

The drive goes well despite numerous lane closures after passing Indianapolis and I am surprised to find so many windmills lining the high ways. When I arrive, after meeting Zeke and settling in,  I am treated to a car tour of the town.  It is obvious that Karen knows the local history like the back of her hand.  Also obvious is her kindness. I learn that the area was strip mined and then reclaimed, and that part of the reclamation was the creation of wetlands.  We go to a park that has more monarch butterflies than I have ever seen before, graceful and delicate in their flight. Geese gather in large groups on the water.  Everything is green despite the season due to the rainfall.  It is lovely, and I think that it is a shame to have such a park and we are the only ones in it.  After the car trip, we have a lovely dinner together in town with some of the best food I have tasted in quite awhile.  Karen and Greg are obviously known there and it is interesting to see the small town dynamics.  How nice to be in a place where people know your name.

Arrangements are made as to when to get together to ride tomorrow.   My interest is piqued further when I find that the Spoon River I saw on a sign driving into town is indeed the Spoon River from the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.  While I always had a strong preference for British poets, particularly the Romantics, I remember reading some of the poems in Dr. Kraus's American Literature class eons ago.  Or was it Dr. Renaud?  I just don't remember.  I only remember how the words tasted as I ran them across my tongue the first time, tentative and questing. Greg assures me that we will see it tomorrow.  Joe will be meeting us at Greg's house.  The following day we will drive and leave from Joe's house.

Greg, Karen, Joe, and I set out and  shortly after leaving town pass by some of the reclaimed strip mining land.  I am shocked at seeing white pelicans as well as other white water birds.  They are beautiful, but I did not know Illinois had pelicans.  After I return home I read that they migrate through the area and that unlike Brown Pelicans, they do not dive for food but get their food while swimming.  Regardless, I am too stupid to stop and get a photograph so I can't share it, but they were there and so stunningly beautiful that I don't believe that I will forget them.  When we return, sadly, they have moved on.

Shortly after the first climb, Karen turns around and Joe, Greg, and I continue the ride.  We are chased by the cutest, most athletic beagle for a few miles.  He runs and runs and shows no sign of faltering or tiring. We decide to return to see if the owner is home and can restrain him because Greg says the next turn will take us to the highway.  The dog follows us home and does not seem to lose any of its energy.  Greg knocks and the woman sends a child out, but the child obviously does not know how to restrain the dog.  Luckily, the dog takes off after some unknown but definitely enticing object in the soy bean field bordering the house and we quickly ride off.  We spend some time chatting and just enjoying the ride, finally coming to Spoon River where I insist that they allow me to photograph them.  They tell me there is a yearly Spoon River festival that sounds as if it is a rather large yard sale type event.  I vow to re-read the poems if our local library has that volume.  We eat lunch and finish out the ride.  It is becoming hot and we become silent as you do when a ride progresses and you begin to tire.  We ride lots of farm land and I think how my favorites are the old barns we pass.  Joe tells me they have a ride in one of the nearby counties that goes by barns that are known for having somewhat unusual architecture and have been preserved. I tell them of the round barns in a neighboring county in Indiana.  They take me by a home that has two camels.  Nobody is quite sure why a home in Illinois would have camels, but they do. 

We return to Greg's home tired and sit in a shaded area behind his house watching a humming bird before separating to get ready to meet for dinner in Peoria.  At least I think that is where we end up.  The food is good but the company is better.  I get to meet Leonard and Elizabeth and Joe's wife.  Again plans are made to ride the next day and a time to meet at Joe's is agreed upon. 

I pack up my things in the morning before driving to Joe's as the plan is to ride and have breakfast, then leave for home.  Karen, Joe, Greg, Elizabeth, and Leonard and I set out.  Our pace is lovely, nice and relaxed, giving everyone time to talk and time to look around.  We head to a small restaurant and have delicious omelets before hitting the road back to Joe's.  On the return leg, we stop at the college Ronald Regan attended in Eureka and see a bust and part of the Berlin wall. 

As the journey ends, Leonard and Joe tell a funny story about calling Joe on New Years Eve and asking what he was doing at midnight, then all going for a ride hoping to get a century though weather intervened.  Shared memories, such a gift, just as this trip was a gift.  We get to Joe's, I change, and quickly say good-bye thinking that Winnie the Pooh was right when he said, "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."  Thank you Greg, Joe, Karen, Leonard, and Elizabeth for a very special trip.

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