Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Beauty of the Ride

The sun setting on 2014

Normally in this space at this time of year, I reminisce about the year gone by and the adventures that Mike and I have had. Instead, I am going to share a post I drafted in May of this year, but never published. It's an important sentiment - one I (and many of us) too often forget. And now that Mike and I are enjoying some quality riding time in Maine and New Hampshire, it is even more relevant - especially as I spend that riding time reflecting on the past year, adventures shared, accomplishments achieved, family, friends, and most recently, a friend we lost too soon.

May your 2015 be filled with peace, and may you always revel in the Beauty of the Ride. xo

Last Thursday, the weather here was gorgeous. After work, the boys were heading out into the woods for a quick-paced SS MTB ride, but I didn't feel like trying to keep up. So, I kitted up and headed out for a solo road ride, intending fully to just enjoy my ride. 
Before I even really got going, I came across two youngsters on bikes on a neighborhood street. The boy, I noticed, was wearing a helmet, but backwards. I slowed and commented, "Buddy, your helmet is on backwards. Can I help you fix it?" He rode right up to me, and we took it off. I showed him how to tell the difference between the front and the back, and put it on his head. It was really too big for him, and the straps also needed adjusting. I asked him to have his parents fix it for him, and showed him on my helmet, how tight they should be. By then, we were friends, and he thanked me for helping him and exclaimed to me about how he and his friend were "racing" their bikes on the street, and when they got to the big puddle, they lifted their feet and rode right through. I left him to play, with a huge smile on my face - a beautiful start to my ride.
Not long after, between Bedford and Concord, I stopped again - this time to strip off gloves and arm warmers. The temps were warm, and I was really enjoying the beautiful weather. Cars were giving wide berth and being respectful, other riders were waving as they, too, enjoyed their rides. It was a beautiful night and everyone seemed to be enjoying and taking it in.
As I was heading into Concord, I encountered my friend Paula. I stopped to say hello, and we stood for quite a long time chatting. Sadly, Paula and I share a common bond - losing someone in our family to suicide. We chatted about how she was doing, and the upcoming 5th anniversary of my brother's death. It was good to talk to her - so many people don't talk about surviving suicide, and it's hard. Paula and I may have bonded over that commonality, but we have also quickly become good friends. I treasured that time, and rode away, again, with a smile.
In fact, I spent a good portion of my ride smiling. Instead of being down, I was happy. It sounds counter intuitive, but I thought about my brother - remembering good times, remembering bad times, but also thinking about what a big part of my life he was, and continues to be. I smiled at memories of rivalries, fights and the love we shared. I smiled because I know Paula will also be okay, and because I am glad to have her as a friend.
As I continued my ride, I saw the springtime beauty everywhere. The flowering trees, the daffodils and tulips finally in full bloom, the sun setting in the sky. I thought also of my late grandmother - she loved flowers, and the spring, and I was reminded of happy times with her. And then, in Carlisle, I passed a farm. Farms have a distinct smell, and I was reminded of my aunt - as a child, we used to visit her farmhouse and that smell was the same! More beautiful memories. I am lucky. I may have lost these important people, but they each left an indelible beauty mark on the fabric of my life.
So often, I go out and ride, and I have a purpose - usually it's training, sometimes it's getting to a defined place. Those rides are good, but with purpose, I often miss the joy and the beauty that surrounds me as I pedal down the road. It is rides like this, with no purpose, and riding only for the joy, that are the best.
When I got home, I was happy and still smiling. Mike asked, "How was your ride?" and I replied, simply, "It was beautiful".

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Winter of Great disContent

It's everywhere - on Facebook, Twitter, blogs. It's on the news, and all the weather reports. It's part of every conversation I've had recently with friends, acquaintances and even strangers. People are generally sick of winter - not just sick of it, but they're complaining about it at every opportunity. They want spring, and sunshine and warmth, and they want it NOW. Some have escaped to warmer (tropical) climates to try to infuse some non-winter into their lives, only to return to the bitter cold and snow of New England, longing even harder for the Spring to come. And this week's forecast for more snow isn't helping.

Me? I LOVE this weather! Yes, you can hate me now. But really, this IS New England, it IS early March, and Spring doesn't officially start for another two weeks. Think back to when we were kids - winter was a time when we continued to play outside, and we had LOTS of snow. And it was cold - the kind of cold where your nostrils stuck together when you breathed. Our parents sent us outside bundled up like Randy in the Christmas Story, and we only came home (reluctantly) when they called us.

Woolen mittens and hats, and felt boot liners were constantly on a drying rack, with snow pants, scarves and jackets not far away. We made our fun - sledding, building snow forts and snowmen, catching snowflakes on our tongues, making snow angels, making war with snowballs and just plundering away in whatever the weather gave us. There were no snow days, and trudging to the bus stop in the winter was an adventure.

This winter, a REAL New England winter (OK, so I'm Canadian - it's not that far off) has reminded me of those winters of my childhood. My nose has been constantly running, the mittens are always on the register, and the snow pants hanging over the rail to dry. I've embraced the bitterly cold temperatures and the mounds of snow, playing outside almost every day, and loving [most] every minute of it.

It might melt - by May
Mike and I have been lucky this winter. We've spent most of our time at our house in Maine (much of January, over half of February, and all of March so far). It has definitely been winter here - we've woken many mornings to temps in the -5F to -10F range, with highs not getting above the mid-teens many days. The wood stove has been a blessing, creating both heat and atmosphere on the dark, cold days. There is a huge base of snow that I don't expect to completely melt around the house until sometime in May, maybe later. And there is a HUGE outdoor playground right outside our door.

The primary activity for us this winter has been riding the fat bikes, something I wasn't sure I would like initially, but have embraced whole-heartedly. We've had some awesome adventures riding to places inaccessible other times of the year. I tallied things up today, and I've got between 45 and 50 days on my bike since I got it in November, am approaching 650 miles, and an astounding 42,500 feet of climbing (did I mention that it's not flat in Maine?). I currently have over double the miles on the Charge Cooker Maxi than I do on the brand new Cannondale Evo I bought in August of last year. And I hope to put on even more before the winter is through with us!



I've raced the fat bike, and shared the passion I have with other newbies. We've done social rides, had date nights, and just ridden to see where we the trail would take us. The trails here are endless, and the conditions have been spectacular. We have literally been limited only by some extreme temperatures (keeping hands and feet warm for 2-3 hours on a 10F night is pretty difficult). Some nights we go out for a ride and don't see another soul the entire time - those we do see are courteous, slowing and waving, and even offering encouragement and kudos. We were recently home in MA on a weekend road ride and I commented that I had completely forgotten how to ride in traffic!

We've also spent some time at the local cross-country ski areas, skating in beautiful weather on well groomed trails. We've done some snow shoeing as well, blazing trail from the house in knee deep powder. All of the activities have been fun (OK, there have been a couple that have been questionable, and there may have been tears once or twice) and ended with smiles and a sense of great accomplishment.

I, for one, am lamenting the pending end of the winter. I will miss riding on the snow, into the wilds, not always knowing where we will end up, or where the adventure will take us. But I do know, that when spring arrives, I will switch gears as well, and you won't hear me complaining. It is, after all, what you make it, and your cup can be half empty, or half full. Clearly, mine runneth over!