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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. 

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