Sunday, September 6, 2015

My Friend - My Hero

I have known this woman since I was ten years old and she amazes me more every year.  She was born on a farm in Wisconsin, boarded in town to go to high school. She went on to nursing school and was an Army nurse in the Phillipines during WWII. She later went into public health nursing, including a period providing services to migrant workers in the bracero program.

When she married and became a stay at home wife, she and her husband became our neighbors and close family friends.  As my life progressed she became my confidante,  my "other" mother and my best friend.  She taught me most of what I know about housewifery, she taught me how to be a feminist (though she never would have called it that, she just was one), she showed me the value of higher education both academic and practical and she supported me through some of the most difficult parts of my life.

She is 96 years old now and has been challenged by many significant health problems in the past few years, but she never gives up, never stops trying and never says never.  She is stubbornly insistent on continuing to be independent and I am fortunate in being allowed to help her achieve that.

My hero, my role model, my friend.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

More thoughts on grieving.

And then there was the elephant in the room.  My grieving had barely begun when the tour started and I really didn't understand some of the effects it would have on me.  It didn't take long before everyone on the tour knew of my loss and I was surrounded by care and concern.  But because I am an intensely introverted person, that in itself was sometimes hard to deal with - and though it helped me enormously in ways big and small, it didn't give me much privacy for dealing with my grief inside my own head.

I've mentioned in previous posts how totally unexpected it was to find that my brain had changed in ways that become rather important when riding a bicycle over many miles of new terrain. I thought I was managing ok, with help from my friends.  My riding companions knew I was having trouble with the cue sheets and they made sure I made all the right turns, either by calling them out, being close enough for me to follow or waiting at the turn for me to catch up.  I slowed way down on the rough roads because I knew my reaction times were slower.  I used the van, sag stops and rest days to manage my energy.  And then one day I almost turned myself into road kill.  

I'm still not sure exactly what the problem was, impaired depth perception, time distortion or just poor judgement, but the clear shot I thought I had into the SAG stop was very close to being the last decision I ever made. It shook my confidence, it made me feel even more vulnerable than I had before and made me wonder if I was endangering anyone else and whether I should be on the tour at all.   I became hyper-vigilant and even more concerned with the kinds of challenges that each day's ride posed.  I withdrew into myself even more as I tried to make sense of things and as a result rode even fewer days/miles. I distanced myself from others both physically and psychologically as I tried harder and harder to be "normal".  

I tried so hard not to burden my companions with the depths of my struggle that I was unable to share their triumphs as much as I would have liked.  I moved between being numb and being totally overwhelmed.

And of course I was being "normal".  All of my feelings, all of my struggles, all of my reactions were and are "normal".  At least that's what I hear from friends, relatives, counselors.  But it isn't my normal and I don't like it one single bit.

Now that I am home I can measure my reactions and perceptions against familiar backgrounds and that is helping me realize just exactly how far "off" I am in time and distance and adjust for it.  Here I have more control over how much solitude and how much social interaction I have and it's easier to manage my energy levels. But I don't have the same sense of direction and purpose that I had on the tour - I miss that and I miss the women I shared it with.

I am moving forward though and right now, that's good enough.

Now what?

The tour is over and done and I have been home for several weeks trying to figure out what it all means/meant to me and where I go from here.

I'm glad I went, it was rewarding in all the ways I expected it to be and I now have new friendships to enjoy.  The community of women on these tours is rather magical as our biking bubble sustains us during the trip and somewhat insulates us from the larger world.  We share a monumental adventure and yet we each experience it in our own way and we each get something different out of it.

We experienced the Atlantic Coast (and its inhabitants, human and otherwise) at people speed - fast enough to cover the miles, but slow enough to really relish the journey.  Some of our experiences filled our souls and some scared us half to death.  Some days were exhilarating and others more of a slog.  But each day was different and each had its challenges and rewards.

There are some downsides of course.  Two months is a long time to be away from home, even with today's ease of communication.  The tedium of daily routines is different from home but no less tedious - get up, pack up, load up, each day in a different place - it makes you wish for a house elf.  The suppers in the parking lot on plastic chairs (one of the best ways of getting to know each other) make you yearn for a real table, a flat place to set your drink down and maybe even a cloth napkin.  And while this mobile community gives some shape and stability to everything, a different bed every night, a different roommate every night (added on to the exertion of the day) takes its toll on your sleep.

BUT.  Those are also the shared experiences that make this type of travel so rewarding and bind us into such a close sisterhood, so I wouldn't change them at all.

So it wasn't the tour I expected, it wasn't the tour I planned, but it was the tour I was on and I did indeed learn and grow from the experience.  I had to laugh at myself as I contemplated this post - I found myself thinking that I only did 800 or so miles (out of 2600).  ONLY??  ONLY??  Five years ago I couldn't have ridden 80 miles in seven weeks, much less 800.  I rode more than I would have had I been at home and more than most people my age ride at all.  So yeah, since I did the best I could at this time and under these circumstances, it has to be considered a success.  

Random pictures from a wonderful trip.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Best ride ever - another one

THIS is what bike touring should be.

With friends Kathy and Patricia doing the thinking for me (ie, reading the clue sheet and making sure I turn at the right places) I was able to really enjoy the ride today.  Fifty miles along the coast (mostly), through small towns and on quiet (mostly), relatively flat (mostly) roads. So much to see, so many photo opportunities, so many places to stop for coffee and/or other treats - lobster, anyone?

Our only SAG stop was at the Nebble lighthouse, in MAINE!!! It doesn't seem possible that such a short time ago we were heading out along a beach in Florida, but here we are.  Lovely motel tonight and tomorrow we will be in Freeport, home of LL Bean and our last rest day.

Leaving Hampton - overcast and chilly

Drawbridge in New Hampshire

Rhododendrons in Maine

                                                         Nebble lighthouse

Stone church at the top of one of those pesky "terrain features"

Old train station in a "museum" of old structures, it was being renovated so we couldn't get very close

What a GREAT place to ride!

Winding down

We are now in the final week of our tour, the days left are few.  Lots of mixed emotions but most of us are ready to be back in our "normal" lives.

We are in New Hampshire now, Hampton to be exact, in another quaint beach hotel one block from the ocean.  This is only the second time we have had ocean and sunshine on the same day........but it's coooold. Computer says 62F, fingers say more like 52F.

New England countryside is as pretty as the pictures and I would love to come back to the area when I can spend more time exploring.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Riding in the van

No one goes on a bike tour planning to do many miles in the van instead of on a bike...but stuff happens.

When I signed up for this tour it was going to be all about the bike.  Riding better, farther, stronger. Learning new skills. Seeing all there was to see at people speed and some of it where motor vehicles can't go or aren't allowed.

That changed.  Now it is about putting together a new life for myself and adjusting to a new reality.  Because my reaction times are slower, my depth perception/judgement are altered, my thoughts somewhat scattered and my short term memory deficient I can't do all that I had planned or wanted to do.

I have a finite amount of energy to cover physical, mental and emotional needs and when it is depleted I find it hard to function in any area, much less all of them. So I ride partial days, I choose the easier rides and I spend time in the van trying to conserve energy and organize my thoughts and feelings.

And ya know what? It's not a bad thing at all.  It pulls me back to a less intense interaction with the world we are moving through and at the same time lets me realize how much is going on largely unseen and unnoticed. I get the meta-picture as we drive and hear about the micro level as we share supper in the parking lots.

 Riders have seen bears on roads just a few miles from the highways, there are calm, green oases hidden in our nation's capital, there are people in small towns and rural areas that have incredible stories to tell - you don't see that from the highway, but once you know it's there you see the highway differently.  Charles Kuralt explored that idea in his TV show.  Some days I think I'm getting the best of both worlds.

And then there's tomorrow.  One hundred percent chance of rain, hills and bad roads - I'm going in the van with the sane people.

Random photos, some from the bike, some from the van, some from just walking around.

Crossing the Hudson River

Delaware River

Don't ever forget to stop and smell the roses

ps - Betsy and Barb, thank you so much for the delicious cookies!

My perfect day......

.....let me tell you about it.  

I bumped out a bit and started my day at the beginning of the NCRR rail trail.

And it just got better from there.  Lovely mixed use trail with a mostly good surface. Enough variety to be interesting, enough shade to stay cool.

Interesting sculpture

Some nice houses

More sculpture

At the midpoint of the trail we crossed into Pennsylvania and the trail changed names and nature.  The small town of New Freedom has centered it's economy around the trail and it's users.  There is a well-stocked bike shop whose owner graciously invited us to use her premises as a SAG stop, offered us free access to her bathroom (running water and flush toilets are scarce on many trails) and gave us a 25% discount on merchandise (I'm pretty sure she did well on the deal).  Her husband did some minor repairs and adjustments for a few riders and we enjoyed visiting with them.

The old railway station has been converted to a sandwich shop and a museum and there is a replica engine that goes up and down a short stretch of track.  It was rather interesting to ride on an old rail bed alongside an active track.

We met a woman who had placed these flags along the path for memorial day, they went on for at least half a mile. She does this every year.

Tumbling water sounded so nice and perfectly complemented the fresh smells of the flowers and greenery.

I love dedicated bike paths, so nice not having to deal with cars and trucks, so quiet and peaceful.  Someone complained that you can'take ride very fast on them.  Why would you want to?