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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Solitude on a Bike

"There are days when solitude is a heady
wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others
when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when
it is a poison that makes you beat your head
against the wall."
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

It has been a busy and enjoyable month with a visit to Capitola, California and Annapolis, Maryland, but I grow weary of the demands of travel and long for an extended period on the bike by myself though I question my fitness level.  I have not ridden a century since early October when Amelia put on the Medora Century.   Still, it is with a sigh of relief that I throw my leg over my bike and head off toward Livonia, the choice I feel will offer the best sample of what fall riding has to offer. To be on the bike is a bit like coming home, comforting and familiar.  It is a day made for riding.  The winds are light and the sun is radiantly shining though her warmth is palpably waning.  No more the strident heat of summer.  I celebrate as I thought that by the time my travels were through the trees would be stark, stern, and bare.  Instead, while a few trees are naked, the majority have many if not most of their leaves.  There are more yellows than orange and reds, but it is still beautiful.

Frankly, after spending a week with my nephew sampling the delights of the California coast, there is some regret in not being able to live there.  He treats me to sights that move my soul, stirring me with a strange longing as warm day follows warm day, each with at least a bit of sun and almost perfect.  He arranges for his friend Terri to teach me to paddle board on a day he has to work, something I am totally unfamiliar with, and I revel in the new experience.  When I fall, I realize how long it has been since I have tasted the saltiness of the sea. The ocean rocks me with not just the sights, but the sounds, the waves on the sand, the waves on the pebbles at China cove at San Lobos.  I see whales, something I have never experienced before.  I am awed by the size of the red woods noticing the difference in the smell on the loop through the park, climbing into the tree trunk where someone has carved a shelf and perhaps lived for a time.  So many things I have not seen or experienced before, each a revelation.

Returning from this trip, I take off for a baby shower and to celebrate the upcoming birth of my granddaughter, Ivy, and to see her mother, radiantly beautiful, and my son, no longer the little boy.  But as I ride today, I realize this, Southern Indiana,  is home though my husband is no longer here, though most that live here think less like me than do those living in California or other places. Yet somehow I know that other places are better for occasional visits unless I would find new arms to home me, something I don't foresee as I am not an easy person.

While I am thinking about how very fortunate I am to have people who love and care about  me, a coyote, lean and lank, slinks on to the road, pausing, looking the other direction before spotting me, startled,  disappearing, ghost-like, into the brush lining the road I am on hardly making a rustle.  He is beautiful, this coyote, graceful and lithe, almost a dancer.  This is, I think, the first time I have spotted one on a ride.  At night, I used to hear their calls echoing out against the dark night, lonely and wild, making me sink more deeply into my cocoon of blankets, but recently not so much.  I silently thank him for enriching my ride, for allowing me a glimpse of his beauty, and I end up saying a prayer of thanks to God for all of my blessings, including being able to ride a bicycle on such a magnificent fall day.

I think of my grandchild soon to be born, and I wonder what she will be like.  Will she be like her mother, utterly feminine, graceful and charming, or will she be what used to be called a tom boy, liking more physical activities?  I wonder if she will have her grandfather's eyes, the eyes I miss so much, dark and warm,  like a cup of dark chocolate cocoa.  How I used to drown in those eyes at times.  I think how lucky I am to know that whomever she may be, she will have good, loving parents. Like all of us, they will make their mistakes, but they will be made with good intentions.  I wonder at my good fortune sometimes, having two children that are not on drugs and are gainfully employed and who just are nice people, not perfect, but nice.

As I ride, I notice that the hills are not as draining as I expected them to be.  As I have remarked to others before, this ride can be strangely draining, tougher than it appears, but not today.  After pondering this for a bit, I determine that it is the pace I am riding.  I begin to pass the fields of rotting pumpkins and again wonder about this.  They stretch as far as the eye can see, unharvested though it is almost Halloween and nobody will be buying them. Such waste.  Since I see it ever year, I wonder if it is purposeful, if pumpkins are good fertilizer for resting soil.  I remember a rider who came from Chicago to ride this course a few years back but who was from another country and how she marveled at the wastefulness:  black walnuts unharvested on roadsides, persimmons never picked, and pumpkins, thousands of them, rotting.  She said this would never happen in her country, and while it may be wrong and I agree it is wasteful and that wastefulness is not good, I am grateful to live in a land of plenty.

I begin to think of lunch and what type of sandwich I might have.  The lunch stop on this ride made it a club favorite when I used to captain club rides, a time that seems eons ago.  The Dutch Barn.  Hard to go wrong with homemade bread and other goodies. As I near, I remember a time riding this road in winter with an old friend, Steve Sexton, and how we huffed and puffed up the hills chasing the others, winter sloth have impacted our fitness levels. And then I am there, ordering a sandwich and buying a gingersnap cookie the size of my palm to put in my bike bag for later.

The whole ride has been a glorious, riot of color.  The trees in the wind remind me of gracious ladies, their long skirts swirling around their ankles, rich in color and sound. There is still plenty of green, but I know the fall is nearing her end.  The time will change this week-end.  Long rides will require rushing and will not favor meandering and savoring.  But I feel grateful that I did not miss it.

The Red Barn is closed and so I stop on the roadside for a bit and eat my gingersnap and finish the last of my water before finishing out the century on one of my favorite roads:  Eden and Delaney Park.  As I pass, I hear leaves rustling as squirrels and chipmunks make their frantic, last minute preparations for the coming cold and barrenness.  I realize how much I have needed this, this ride in solitude, this freedom to ride my own pace, to think, to delight in the scenery, the sounds and colors that are fall.  By the end of the winter, I will long for riding companions, solitude will become a curse and not a blessed release,  but for today, this was just the ticket to celebrate that I am home and life is good. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Medora 2018

"As you get older, it gets
harder  to be mean to yourself."
Lynn Roberts

Today is the Medora century, the last TMD stage of 2018, and the weather is uncharacteristically cold for this time of year.  I have no doubts about going,  but I cannot help but wish for a touch of the warmer than normal weather we had been having.  No shorts and short sleeve jerseys today.  I pull out wool socks and winter riding gear dressing in a short sleeved wool base layer, jersey, vest, and light jacket, glad that I packed things away where I could easily find them.  I am shamed at the start which is only somewhere between nine and twelve miles away for me to find that a group of young men have ridden to the start from Louisville.  Perhaps next year, I think, knowing that it will probably not happen that way.  Still, the crowd is small as almost all of the stages have been this year.  There has definitely been a huge decline in distance riding in this area, and while I have theories I don't really know why.

As I age I have become more susceptible to cold.  Mental or physical, I don't know, but if you believe a thing to be real, it is real because belief is half the battle.  As the ride begins, Lynn and I talk about how difficult it is to ride through the winter.  It is not that you don't enjoy the ride the majority of the time, but  it is challenging to make yourself get out the door to attend the ride so that you can enjoy it.  It is the making a beginning. It is being mean to yourself. During this conversation, Lynn says the above words of wisdom and on and off throughout the day, I think of how right he is.  Age brings so many changes.  I am reluctant to face the pain of riding as hard, as long, to face the inevitable tiredness that follows.  Too much of my life, I think, has been spent in fear.  I wish better for my children.  Sometimes I ask myself if I made them too afraid of taking chances, but then I have seen them take chances without worrying that would have shattered my life for days as I visualized all the possibilities such a chance would have.

 The skies are dense with low hanging clouds, oppressive and gray, at the start, but I know they are supposed to lift during the day and for once the weather man is right.  Bit by bit,  a brilliant blue peeks through clouds that have turned white and puffy until the sun is spilling out, lacking much warmth but still lightening the heart.  I try to appreciate the last of the fall flowers, clumps of purple morning glories, aster, and others whose names I don't know.  The trees have not changed much yet, but I know in a few weeks this landscape will be bare not only of leaves but of crops.  Despite the recent rain, farmers are harvesting.  We never, however, pass the huge fields of pumpkins that normally color the landscape though we pass a few farms selling pumpkins.  After having seen so many fields of pumpkins rot over the past few years, unharvested, I wonder if more and more people are buying the plastic ones and the demand for real pumpkins has declined to where it is not worth the effort?  For awhile I am back when my children were small, too young to carve the pumpkins themselves. I would draw different eyes, noses, and mouths and they would pick how they wanted the pumpkin carved, then I would light it on their dresser for five minutes after turning the lights out at night.  I remember how we would make scarecrows and hang a ghost over the entrance to the drive and how the first year, the ghost hit my husband's windshield when he came home in the dark truly scaring him.  I find a smile on my face as I come back mentally to the group I am riding with.

The majority of these people will soon be putting their bikes up, finding other activities until warmer weather.  Hiking, the YMCA, yoga, and other pursuits take the place of bicycles. The few that don't quit riding normally maintain a pace that I can no longer match, so winter riding becomes a rather solitary activity for the majority of rides.  And there are the friends I love for what they were, for the memories we share, but who are essentially lost to me for one reason or another.

 I always feel a tinge of sadness on this ride, a course that has come to represent the closure of the TMD and the ending of the touring season, for I know I will not see most of these people over the winter.   As we age, there are those that don't return in the spring, whose bikes permanently remain in basements or on garage walls, and I hope that this is not the case for any of the few I have become close with and whose company I so enjoy.  I do know that fewer and fewer ride the centuries and some of these people have declared their intention not to ride the tour next year. 

At the festival, someone asks me how long I have been coming to Medora, since I first designed the route,  and I don't know.  I tell him that it was when the other store was open, before the divorce that ruined that business and the re-opening that was never successful.  We stumbled on the festival one year by accident and have returned every year since.  This year the main bridge into town is closed for construction so we had to enter through the covered bridge.  So far as I know, it grips nobody's wheel and there are no falls, something that has happened in the past from what I have heard though I have never witnessed it.  I remember coming to Medora in the winter with Grasshopper while he was still riding and how it snowed as we sat in the store eating our sandwiches.  I remember the wind and how without the fields to ease his strength, he sapped us of our vigor.  And yet, I remember the beauty of the ride, the flakes of snow unusually large, small flakes clumping together to make large nuggets.  I embrace the memories that flood my mind, holding them tightly, yet determined to continue making more for as long as I can.  I find I fear the possible loss of memory as much as I do the possible infirmity and illness of old age.  I fear the loss of these people that I ride with, and again realized  how much fear has dictated my life.  Perhaps one benefit is a constant appreciation of the good things.  The wise words of Thorton Wilder come to mind, "Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you.  Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every single minute?"  I suspect the answer to be no, but at least I do have an appreciation of the many, many blessings I have received in life, not the least of which is this ride, today, with these people who I cherish. 

Thanks, Amelia Dauer, for captaining.