So it’s been awhile. Sorry about that. I’m…okay, thanks. How are you?
When last we spoke, I had laid out my plans and goals for the 2019 cycling season. We chatted about terminology, about the grandsons, and, of course, about her and life after losing your partner and best friend. Well, the end of 2019 is now upon us, and has John Lennon once said, “Another year older, and what have you done….Give peace a chance.”
I will save my 2019 recap for my final post of the year, as the story has not been completely written yet. There are still miles to be ridden and some goals to be achieved. However, yesterday afternoon, as the sun suddenly broke free from the clouds that had obscured it all day, I broke the 8500 mile goal for 2019 and kept my promise to her once again for this year. As I will relate in upcoming posts, this was not a foregone conclusion in February, March, and especially late June. Such a mileage goal for any cyclist living full time in the Great Frozen North (where Disney’s Elsa has apparently adopted as her permanent abode) is a formidable one. When undertaken by a formerly fat old man whose previous best was 1000 miles less just the previous year, and who lives alone (well, if you dismiss the dog, the cats, and the fish), it is, at best, intimidating and stultifying.
At the completion of my 37 mile ride in freezing temperatures, while dodging icy patches on the road yesterday, I entered the house, let out my dog (being cooped up for two and a half hours for an old dog – or old man – is a painful bladder experience!), and sat on the couch and wept. Once again, as was the case a year ago, I had honestly thought at times I would not get here. Once again, as was the case a year ago, a run in with a motorist kept me off bike (more on this, again, in an upcoming post). And, once again, as was the case a year ago, life and weather kept me from beginning the quest in earnest until later in the spring.
But here I was. On the couch. Dissolved in a puddle of tears, having just met my annual mileage goal with a bit more than six weeks to spare. Why? I asked myself if I would ever find any peace again. I walked over to my kegerator, poured a pint of Scotty Karate, returned to the couch and turned on the final episode of Poldark. Yes. Poldark. Not Lions football. I live in Michigan and know better. The NFL has apparently decided at the upper levels that they will NEVER again allow the franchise to win anything and has gone to great lengths in coaching the officiating crews to insure that outcome. It’s true. There are YouTube videos which have documented the number of times poor, and clearly wrong, penalties (or lack thereof) have been called that have cost the Lions a game.
So, back to Poldark. I love this show. My wife would have loved this show. The hero and equally strong heroine work as partners to overcome incredible obstacles for their family. In this particular episode, at the end, Demelza (our heroine) turns to her husband Ross and, smiling, points out that they must forget the past treachery of others, forget the past troubles they have experienced, and exhibit gratitude if they are to achieve peace. That’s it. I leaned in. She went on to affirm their love and eternal happiness by stating that they were two hearts, sharing one beat. Then I knew where my peace was coming from.
Now, to be sure, this is a common theme in literature…especially theatre – and musical theatre at that. “One Hand, One Heart” from West Side Story immediately leaps to mind, as does “A Man and a Woman” from 110 in the Shade. But this statement got me right in the feels because of a 16th century poem I had become reacquainted with this spring. John Donne’s “The Ecstasy” was one of his rare works that dealt with human love more than spiritual devotion. In it, Donne states that when love with one another “interinanimates” two souls, they form one “abler soul” which is more powerful and controls all defects of loneliness.
So there it is. My gratitude. My peace. Yesterday’s finish was not about me. It wasn’t about her. It was about us. We had finished those 8500 miles against all odds. I knew several moments this year where she was riding along with me, not side by side on her bike as we had done so often in the past, but rather as though she were sitting behind me on a tandem…sometimes laughing at me (I could literally hear her snort and laugh!) and sometimes urging me to gut out a bit more effort. And, yes, sometimes telling me how wrong I was….but she was most definitely there…and on a tandem, of all things! I felt a bit like Indiana Jones and snakes….”A tandem? Why did it have to be a tandem?” Although I had always wanted to try one, we had never gotten around to it. Not until we flew to the Middle East a few years ago and had a substantial layover (10 hours) in Rome. That’s when she surprised me by having already arranged to rent a tandem a few blocks from the Coliseum as my Father’s Day present. Needless to say, the first time you want to try out a tandem is NOT in one of the world’s largest cities, during rush hour, in the height of tourist season, with a language barrier! It did not go well! However, we did finally get the hang of it after awhile, and, after she was diagnosed, I purchased a tandem for our own use to try and make sure she was able to get fresh air and exercise. It was only used twice.
This year saw big milestone birthdays for all three of our grandsons. The two youngest turned 3 this year, and the oldest turned 5. Why milestones? Because we had decided that 3 was the age at which the boys would receive their first balance bike, and at age 5 they would receive their first two wheel pedal bike. Each of the boys looked forward to this. Our oldest, Rhett, had grown quite proficient in his ability to zoom around on his balance bike. In true sibling rivalry fashion, this caused no end of jealousy pangs in his younger brother, who, though appreciative of his ability to pedal his trike we gave him for his first birthday, saw that two wheels was the way to go! (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that in another 10-12 years he would be dreaming of four wheels, but….) Theo, although half a world away, just knew he wanted a bike like Papa’s!
For a retiree on a fixed income, and whose savings were literally drained by deductibles and copays, this presented a bit of a problem. Quality bikes are not inexpensive, and inexpensive bikes are not quality. No way was I risking our grandson’s lives on cheap stuff! The bill, however, was going to amount to over $700. Enter the abler soul. Theo’s birthday came first, and exactly one month before I received a notice in the mail from an investment company that my wife had begun a fund with over 20 years ago. I had completely forgotten about this…as had she, apparently. Now, this fund had been started and then stopped after just a few months when we, together, had opted to invest our money differently. The balance in her account was low, of course, but the company had been notified of her passing and was contacting me as the beneficiary. The amount, after administrative fees, was equal – and I am NOT kidding – to exactly one half of the total cost for all three of the bikes for the boys. For her ride in October, all three boys used their new favorite form of transportation to wheel around the park and terrorize our participants….each with a picture of them and their Nana applied to the top tube or handlebars. I know she was proud.
Last year I spoke of my goal to return to randonneuring and completing some brevets and permanents. My first was in April. This brevet was to dip my feet into the waters. It had been over two years since my last RUSA event and I’m not ashamed to say that the course, a 110k technical path thru and around greater Detroit, had me a bit afraid. It was going to be in territory I had never ridden before and I had no one to call if I broke down, encountered physical issues, etc. I remember setting off in the car before sunrise and working hard to calm the beating in my chest. Shortly before I left the freeway for our starting point, the sun rose and I heard her voice very clearly ask “What are you afraid of? You’ve ridden alone before. Can’t you just be happy to be out here again?”
I found a friend at the start and we rode together, chatting as we wound our way through some of the downtown streets. This was going to be easier than I thought. Until, for some unexplained reason, I followed a group of cyclists and took a wrong turn. A few blocks later I realized my friend was no longer beside me. I stopped and asked riders in this new group what had happened to the others. That’s when I found out that this group was on a charity ride. Not good. Not good at all.
I turned around and went back to the last point that was on the cue sheet. I realized I had made a rookie mistake that I hadn’t made in several years….I followed others than relying on myself and the cue sheet. Shaking my head at my stupidity, I went back to the basics and focused on that cue sheet and my breathing – which becomes problematic when I get angry at myself!
The rest of the route I rode alone. Or did I? At mile 60, I made a turn and headed down a street right along the Detroit River. Again, as became the case so much this year, the sun came out from behind a cloud, and I heard her voice say “Of course you are not alone. You will never be alone.”
Every athlete has to find motivation. Externally. Internally. What matters is that the athlete is able to discover an extra push when they become physically or mentally pushed to the brink of exhaustion. At several points this year I have been able to rely on the abler soul to get me to the 8500 miles, to get me to achieve some of the goals I had set forth last year, and to forge a path forward with our grandsons. So, having found my peace through gratitude, as Demelza pointed out, I lifted my pint of Scotty Karate to my love and reveled in its caramel and molasses goodness. Even that was a reminder…although a good scotch ale will not work as a reminder for long!
What’s your motivation? Seriously, I’d like to know. Are you motivated by rewards like trophies, ribbons, medals, badges, or plaques? Do you reward yourself by food or shopping? Is it pride? Is it your family? Do you hear voices like I do? Hey, I’m just glad it’s HER voice and not, say, Jon Lovitz, or, worse yet, Pee Wee Herman! Leave your comments below. Not every dream has to be a big dream, as Lizzie would say in 110 in the Shade, some people’s dreams are small. What matters is that you get to live those dreams. And, with Thanksgiving next week, that you find peace in the gratitude of being able to see them through.