Bike Magic is Alive and Well

Monday, June 26, 2017

Yesterday, I achieved the longest distance bike ride to date: a whopping 81.8 miles. I would like to tell you about my round trip adventure in Michigan traveling from Stockton to Plymouth. To say that this was a little ambitious given that the previous longest cycling distance was 30 miles less at 51.4 miles, is actually accurate. I decided to just go for it. With a goal of figuring out these clip shoes and the hope that I wouldn’t get lost by staying on the same road to and from my destination, I started at The Double Deuce Diner in Stockton. 

The truth is, the next couple of weeks are going to be doozies, and I feel like I’m on my partner’s skateboard again. Something he did so well, me not so much and I’m heading into the downhill decent, somewhat prepared but I feel that speed wobble coming on. I remember all too well what the result was the last time that happened. This big bike ride was about taking time to accomplish something, put it in memory, so that when the bottom falls out, in my mind, I can be hauling some ass up one of my hills on N. Territorial Road again, having a coffee at the cafe while listening to a group of men speaking Italian, or riding past the horses with their new summer sleek coats glistening in the sun.

This round trip took almost seven hours to complete. I had a late start leaving my house, I was about an hour behind my ideal time. Time itself moves differently now, I seem to get caught up in more of a meandering through the day like a blood hound, I’m going from one interesting smell to the next, not following a straight line. This is what happens when your husband and partner of over 20 years dies and you’re sad about it, and doing things that make you happy so as not to think about the sad are so, so tempting. Time after time, I’ve been giving in to temptation, to laugh, to escape, and to feel everything besides my broken heart. 

The Double Deuce was the destination of the previous longest ride, and I felt right at home after I walked in that first time. It is the kind of place where people come because Sharon serves up comfort food, and people talk to each other from across the room without yelling. Clean and decorated with touches of classic cars and rock and roll, I feel like I’ve entered into a happy 1950s time warp. So today’s adventure begins here, and probably more will start from here in the future. I went in to grab a coffee to wake up, and Sharon remembered me from last weekend. I told her about my plans to ride to Plymouth today, and of course I was telling everyone else at once, too. After I finished my coffee, it was time to get on with this ride! Just as I got back out to my car to unload my bike from the roof top carrier, I realized that I needed to use the facilities. So back to inside the diner, and no more than two steps in, a man with a white beard seated at a laminate booth says with a grin “well that was a quick trip to Plymouth,” to which I replied with a smile, “yes, I’m that fast.” It wasn’t so much what we said to each other, as much as the lightness of this room that was felt by everyone, about eight people in all, each of us having a little smile on our faces and sharing a moment. After my other moment in the quaint restroom, it was officially time to start. I wished everyone to have a great day, and turned to Sharon and said “I’ll see you in about six hours or so.” Waving, smiling, nice.

Stockton is one of many small, quietly bustling towns in Michigan, connected by numbered state routes and rural roads with names I like to think about their meaning of as I ride past. I’m finding as I plan out these adventures, I’m getting better at recognizing on a map which roads may be bike friendly. Today’s route uses N. Territorial Road which is an east-west hills and curves road that passes through a few recreational parks and also has a generous amount of tree-lined canopy. I enjoyed sightings of the many “party stores” that seemed to pop up along the way, these must be a Michigan thing, plus the occasional greenhouse or farm. There could be many stops along the way if I had more time. 

This is technically my first season as a road cyclist, and I have already become accustomed to seeing roadkill. Honestly, it’s like a connect-the-dots of wildlife that once was, these poor creatures in various states of decay, and some are in the most unfortunate poses. Raccoons appearing like overturned tables with legs straight up, an opossum seeming to be taking a nap, and of course the mix of a beached man-o-war with last year’s Halloween wig which could have been anything. If someone would pay me, I would remove each one from the road and give them all a proper burial, the money could fund my cycling extras. For now, I just make sure not to run over their remains, for fear that something would get stuck on my bike wheel, and in general out of respect for the dead. 

In the first couple hours of my ride, somewhere in between Lyndon and Dexter, I noticed something unusual in the middle of the road. Each car that would pass made this smallish-oblong black and intense orange-colored shape roll one way or the other on the asphalt. Once I got close, I could see it was a bird, and I wasn’t quite sure if it was alive or dead. I stopped and was hoping that I could reach it before it was smashed to a pulp by the next passing car. I picked a large dandelion leaf and found a chubby stick, and when traffic was clear, scooped up this fragile being. It must have been struck by a car very recently, it was still warm, its head flopped to one side, and its tiny black caviar eyes were wet with tears. I have never seen a bird like this up close, its main body was an orange as bright as my safety vest, its head and wings black, with white specks sprinkled on the edges, finished with a long skinny beak. 

I took a few pictures of it lying in repose on the leaf. For those who wish to see, a picture of it is included at the end of this writing. It was time for me to continue on with my ride. Before laying it snugly in the grass beyond the reach of the road and its hazards, I did something very odd. This bird’s feathers were such a beautiful color, it did not feel right leaving it all there to rot, to become another connect-the-dot. I gently pulled seven tail feathers from its body, wanting to somehow to preserve it and hold on to its color and life. I was surprised that after the feathers were between my fingertips, they were suddenly not as brightly colored. I think the bird itself, in life and now even in death, held on to the color. It was not mine to have, hopefully my pictures will allow me preserve it accurately. I carefully put the feathers in my vest pocket, half-regretting that I had caused this bird further insult by taking something from it without its permission. 

All the while on the first half of this ride, I am working in figuring out how to properly clip in. Finally, by accident, I understand that my foot needs to be “toes down and push down” to clip, versus what I had been doing which was heel down. Now it’s just a matter of finding that sweet spot where shoe and pedal clip fit to snap in, almost like a reflex. I’m hopeful with this progress so far. I am also experimenting with which foot is best to clip in first, left or right? I found out the hard way, that for me, it is left first. I had tried to come to a stop unclipping my left first, and mistakenly leaned to the right. Suddenly, I was going down hard, and fell onto my right knee, still attached to my right clip. My bike and I are still getting to know one another, I hope it doesn’t mind a few extra scratches for us both. No less than a few seconds after my fall, as I’m trying to sit up to release my foot, two cars one from each direction stop to help me. One guy has his bike hitched on the back of his SUV, and the other car had a couple who looked like they were headed to church. It was the woman who jumped out of her car and was suddenly at my side lifting the bike off of me so I could release my foot. We were both glad for no broken bones or excessive bleeding. Thank you, kind Samaritan. I make a mental note to myself to add a simple first aid kit in my backpack next time for any future scrapes. 

Plymouth was a typical small town, but had a kind of Seattle-vibe to it. I locked my bike and headed across the street to the Plymouth Coffee Bean which had a little outdoor seating area in front. Inside, they are making crepes to order, that smell combined with the strong coffee aroma and old wood in this space is very inviting to me. I chose to sit outside though, the sunshine and the small rod iron cafe table had my name on it. I enjoyed my snack of a cappuccino, half an oatmeal raisin cookie, a dunker which is a donut wedge dipped in chocolate, and my banana from home. As I’m sitting there, I am eaves dropping in the conversations around me. There was a group of four men clearly speaking Italian of which I only understood molto poco, and a youngish couple appearing like they were newly acquainted and giving flirty eyes to each other. They could make a nice couple. 

I’m ready for my return trip to start, trying to remember if there were more downhills or uphills on the way, figuring if my time would increase or decrease. Damn it if the wind didn’t make any of that matter, it decided to blow against me the whole way back. As I’m going along doing my little Wizard of Oz Dorothy doot-to-do, I came to the conclusion that future rides should start heading west first, so I have the most energy to take on this wind. It would be much better to have the wind at my back at the end. 

The last 15 miles on the return trip were very sloggy. It felt like it was going to take forever to reach the turn where Territorial turns north onto M106. I see that a big hill is coming up, so it’s time to just get to it with a combination of head down staying in the moment and looking up to check the road ahead. As I’m prepping my gears and myself for this, out of the corner of my eye on my side of the road, a buff tanned guy without a shirt on and khaki shorts catches my attention. He has a camera in his hands photographing something in his front lawn, there are several large trees on the property. Hello, just passing through. I’m not one to stare, but he says “hey there, lookin’ good!” To which all I can reply is a side smile smirk and a half-salute, half-wave, looking good indeed. As I’m pressing on up this incline, I’m wondering if he’s changed his subject matter to be my behind. The thought of it is motivating me to pedal a little harder. 

Did you ever turn onto your street and suddenly feel “home”? Well, that’s what happened to me when I finally saw the city sign for Stockton. Once back to the diner, I see that it’s taken me almost an extra hour for the return trip. I had been texting my son about my progress, and I tell him I’m bringing home dinner. When I walk in to the diner, different faces, a little bigger crowd for the dinner hour, same lightness though. Sharon and I smile at each other, I announce that I did it and that Plymouth was very nice. She looks at me and asks if I’m training for something. Before I can catch myself, being comfortable in this space, I tell her that my husband died last fall, and that I ride my bike because it makes me feel good. I’m gushing about how nice people are in the cycling community and I’m trying to practice so I can ride with others. As I’m speaking to her at the cash register, I suddenly notice she has come around to my side. She looks at me knowingly, and says “I’m sorry to hear that, about your husband.” She saves me having to respond and asks what I would like to drink, while I wait for my order of broasted chicken dinner.

I felt for that moment that I let her in, to really see me and my situation, I felt guilty about having done that. Like the light in her happy diner flickered for a moment, but she let the moment pass, as did I, and we got on with it. My bike chain must have slipped off at least three times on this ride today, each time I stopped, looked to see which end needed a reset, and did my little “roadside fixie.” I worry about my chain locking up and slipping off when I need it to work, especially while being clipped in. Will I be able to respond in time? As my bike and I get to know each other, I figured out on this ride that when my chain first locks up, if I back pedal maybe half a turn then pedal forward again, suddenly it’s not locked anymore, like the gear just needed a bit more time to adjust, before going forward. 

Yummy comfort food in white styrofoam containers and crunchy brown bags, I said my goodbyes and started my drive home. It seemed to me like not that much time had passed, but yet so much had happened, so many miles. I was thinking about that bird again, and promised myself to look it up when I got home. After my son and I enjoyed our delicious meal, I got right to figuring out my bird mystery. It was a Bullock’s Oriole. This beauty is known for being a sign of the arrival of summer and it symbolizes positive changes and the renewed joy of possibilities. The Oriole is linked to the Archangel Auriel, who offers light to making good choices and shows us paths that lie ahead leading us to a higher state of being. 

I’ve always liked the saying “train with a bigger sword.” When I bought my used touring bike one month ago, that was my attitude about it. It has a steel frame and has some scratches and if you look closely it’s a bit worn. It makes funny metal sounds when I ride over bumps. Lifting it up to put on my roof top bike carrier takes balance and skill because it’s a bit awkward and heavy. This bike is perfect for me because it is not perfect, it has wear on it, life on it, just like me. Being a Game of Thrones fan, I understand the importance of naming a sword. So I will now apply that guideline to my bike. With all that has happened today, I feel the Universe has spoken to me in not so subtle ways. I have named my bike Auriel.~Paula

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