2,000 Miles! Goal Attained

Somewhere in the ethereal world of the Great Beyond, Michael Fronheiser says, “Way to go, baby!”

At least I didn’t let the sadness prevent me from going out for a ride this evening. I have attained my record goal of 2,000 miles for the year. The reason this is so important is that this is the most miles I’ve ever done in a season, even in my crazy days back in Colorado.

So, here’s to me! I think I’ll have a glass of wine to celebrate my victory.

The 2,000 mark occurred on N. River Road in Stow, right in front of the Kent State Airport, at approximately 7:45pm.

Now, I’m going to spend the rest of my evening gloating, as I watch the my Cleveland Indians defeat the Minnesota Twins. (Keeping my fingers crossed!)

Self-portrait at 2,000 mile point.
(Taken with my LG enV! Nice, eh?)

Unhappy Anniversary

Heidi & Michael Fronheiser
(aka Fritzy & Misha)
August 28, 1999

Eight years ago tomorrow (August 28), I married my husband Mike Fronheiser. Not that I’m asking for any sympathy cards here. Part of dealing with uncomfortable situations in life is confronting them head-on. By acknowledging this day publicly, I know that I’m unfairly subjecting people to the unwanted reminder of mortality. A lot of people don’t like this. It’s too “in your face”; they’d prefer not to think about it; they’d prefer I didn’t bring it up. But not talking about it — not being socially allowed to talk about it — is what caused my prolonged period of grief. I was hurting, but polite company did not accept me discussing it openly. I shoved it beneath the surface, where it boiled and stirred within me, and occasionally surfaced to bark angrily at friends and family (the people who understood) or to send me into a crippling bout of depression.

I’m done hiding. This is who I am — a widow, a pained soul trying as best as she can to recover. Like me or don’t deal with me. I am not going to hide the details of my life to protect your hang-ups about life and death. The only good avoidance does is make you less capable of dealing with these events when they do occur. If you’re avoiding the facts now, then it’s going to hit you harder when Death gate-crashes your party. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

I reject society telling me how I should behave when it comes to death. I reject the notion of any subject being untouchable — sex, alcohol, drugs. Maybe if we talked about these things more, there wouldn’t be such a problem with obsessive or abusive behaviors. Keeping quiet about uncomfortable subjects is a sure path to irrational behavior. As my favorite Baz Luhrman song urges you, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Are you scared of death? Good. We all are. Embrace the fear for a moment, and then open your heart to someone who has had to deal with some hardships. I’m not saying me — I’m doing pretty good now (probably could have used some help about six years ago, but that’s long gone now). I urge you to reach out to a friend who has felt pain, is currently experiencing the rough ride of grief, or just call someone you have meant to talk to for awhile. Kiss your wife, hug your kids, call your estranged brother… Life is too short for regret. I’ve lived with regret and I never want to feel like that again. I know it’s hard to give people time when we’re so wrapped up in our own busy life, but there are some moments you can never take back once you’ve let them pass.

Not that I’m perfect. I’m human, I get wrapped up in myself all the time. I often go up to a month without calling my mom. I don’t pay attention to my cats every day, and often get annoyed at them for crowding around me in the evenings when I’m trying to do things in the little time I have left in the day. I forget to call my husband’s grandfather. I neglect to visit my beloved grandma Herrmann because her current state of dementia makes me uncomfortable. (Where is the grandma with whom I could talk about anything?)

But it’s these “anniversary dates” — our wedding, Mike’s birthday, the day Mike died — that remind me of all the things I neglect to do for the people I love. My love for Mike, in a lot of ways, taught me how to love myself and other people. When he was alive, he always stressed the importance of letting others know you care and he strove to bridge those gaps where he thought he failed. I learned from his example.

Every year, I try to forget about these dates in an effort to not get all worked up about them in my head. But I can’t help it. You simply cannot forget monumental dates, even when you’re trying your hardest. They are permanent reference points in your head, like your own birthday or a holiday.

In the spirit of not hiding my past, I’m going to try something a little different this year. Instead of trying to forget the events that took place eight years ago in my life, I’m going to remember them and the man I loved with a few short snippets from our life together:

The first thing I noticed about Michael Fronheiser was his legs. We were playing volleyball at a party called Woodchuck (the famous party hosted by Chuck Hess, G-Bash regular). I leaned down to pick up the volleyball to return it to the server, when in the background of my field of view, I caught a glimpse of a sexy, muscular pair of legs. As I rose, my eyes followed the legs to the waist, firm chest, and to the youthful face (he had a baseball hat on so I could not see that he was balding on top). His eyes, looking right back at me, held an air of mischief that matched his crooked half-smile. I was intrigued by the intensity of his gaze. I vowed at that moment that some how, some way, I’d try to get his attention.

We fell in love over foosball. Well, that’s the story we liked to tell. In reality, we verbally sparred each other over a heated game of foosball at Woodchuck. In attendance at the famed foosball match were myself, five eligible guys and my cousin, Gary. It was a night to remember as I viciously flirted with all of the guys (I wasn’t related to). But Mike was my target.

Mike told me the reason he took notice of me at the foosball match was that I was “the only girl he’d met who could keep up with [him].” Apparently, not a lot of girls got his sense of humor. He thought I was right on with the give and take of snide remarks.

On our third date, Mike asked me to go to the Virgin Islands with him. And, yes, I was reasonably freaked out. But I was also twenty-four and reckless. We had hit it off on our first two dates and there was something about him that I wanted to trust. Yeah, I could have been one step away from a Lifetime channel perfect-boyfriend-turned-evil-controlling-eventually-murderous movie. I was more afraid of telling my parents. So I had to make up a story about there being a group of people going, when in fact, it was just me and Mike and another couple. Oops! (Sorry, Mom!)

Mike asked me to marry him on December 24, 1998 in my grandma Herrmann’s driveway (this is where my whole extended family used to have our Christmas party). He paused before getting out of the car, reached into his pocket, and slurred, “Will you have me?” as he shoved the ring at me.

Shocked, but not miffed by this strange proposal, I replied, “Yes!” and hugged him.

Then, I proceeded to enter the party with him. I didn’t tell anyone about the engagement for about two hours. My first excuse was waiting for my mom to arrive. Once my mom did arrive, I was still afraid to say something. Annoyed, Mike left the room in a huff. I then held up my hand towards my mom. “Look what Mike gave me,” I said, lamely.

My mom squinted. “Is that an engagement ring?”

My relatives rightly reamed me for keeping this news under my hat for so long. I won’t even go into how tongue-tied I was about telling my dad the next day. Why was I such a coward? I still felt like my parents’ little girl. I was afraid they’d try to talk me out of it. I don’t know why.

Mike had a love of physics and law. He wanted to get a graduate degree in either physics or law. Both of them fascinated him. He didn’t want to be a lawyer — he just wanted to study law. As for physics, he tried to get me to read “Paradigms Lost,” but it bored me tears (and it was supposed to be a “physics for amateurs” thing). Physics and law were both passions which I did not share with Mike. But I loved watching Mike try to explain them to me, excitement in his eyes.

Mike was a pole vaulter. He was the star pole vaulter at Westlake High School. He claimed he was like Tigger the Tiger — “Tiggers always bounce,” he’d tell me sincerely. It was a metaphor for his life — bouncing back up when others might have fallen and stayed down. He was the strongest person I knew and, as I’m told from family and friends, it was his success at pole vaulting that taught him strength.

He had hoped to one day coach pole vaulting at a local high school.

I was enthralled by Mike’s confidence, sense of humor, and intense appreciation of every moment of life. By the time I met Mike, he was at a place of peace and balance in his life. He’d made a lot of the mistakes of youth — overworking, partying, depression, anger over his past. He used to tell me that if I’d met him only a few years earlier, I might not have liked him (which is hard to believe!). He knew who he was and what he wanted out of life. For a young twenty-four year old fresh out of college, this was a welcome relief because I was anything BUT peaceful and balanced. He helped me find direction in my life.

He had a great sense of humor. He used to play with my gullibility by trying to get me to believe his outlandish stories. I learned to tell he was lying when he made what I called his “duck lips” — he’d purse his lips out and scrunch his face slightly. It sounds weird, but I always thought it was cute.

He had a beautiful smile. The trace of it is etched into my brain.

We had nicknames for each other: Fritzy and Misha. I was Fritzy; he was Misha (pronounced: Mee-sha). For some reason, he liked that name — it’s Russian from some book he read. The origin of Fritzy? Don’t ask.

Wedding Day Jitters: A look from Mike washed them away. As I am sure is the case for everyone about to enter into the serious commitment of marriage, I had a moment of doubt while walking from my dressing room to the yard in which the ceremony was being held.

“Is this the right guy?” I asked myself over and over again. “Can I trust my judgment? Maybe I picked wrong!”

Then, as the music began, I caught Mike’s eyes gazing at me with a pure affection. Unconditional love. A confident calm fell over me. Yes, this was right. It was the most right thing I’ve ever done in my life. As I stepped forward with my mom and dad at each arm, I did not look back.

“To boldly go where no other couple has gone before,” I stated in my (obviously self-written) vows. I dreamed of a life filled with the sort of adventures we’d had in our short time together — skydiving, skiing, backpacking, cycling, the Virgin Island. We wanted children. We even named them — Sabine (pronounced: Sah-been-ah) Patrice and Korbin Michael. We had plans to move to Colorado, trips around the world.

As they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men are doomed to fail.” (Who said that?)

When Mike stumbled in his (self-written) vows and couldn’t remember how he’d worded the next sentence, he just ended them at that moment with “and… I love you.” He looked me right in my eyes when he said it. It was quieter than the rest of his vows. His voice was breathy, passionate. The moment was so unlike Mike, who usually did not stumble with his words in front of an audience. But I imagine that he was overcome with emotion at that moment. It warms my heart to remember it.

Our last trip together was Holiday Valley in February 2001 (the weekend after Valentine’s Day). We skied from open to close for two days. We stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast outside of Ellicotville. I always remember that trip because we were at our most beautiful. After the craziness of the first year of marriage, we’d settled into a state of happy contentedness. We skied together all day (despite my urging that he could go do something more challenging). We’d wait for each other at the bottom of the slope, kiss each other on the lips in the lift line. Yeah, we were a pretty disgusting couple. But you would be too, if you met the “yin to your yang” as I always called him.

We formed a dream that weekend of moving to Colorado and buying a time share at a condo in the mountains so that we could ski like that all winter. We envisioned weekends of skiing and nights in front of a fireplace. We would teach our kids to ski. We would have lots of skiing friends.

Unfortunately, that beautiful four-day weekend was brought to a sad end when we returned home to find out that my grandma Emhoff had died AND we had missed the wake and funeral completely. Not wanting to be disturbed, we had turned off our cell phones for the weekend and we hadn’t left any emergency numbers with anyone. I was very upset and started blaming myself for not being there for my family.

Mike put his arm around my shoulder and said what has come to sound prophetic to me, “It’s not your fault, sweetie. Sometimes these things happen when you least expect it.”

To this day, in light of what happened to Mike, I think it was a mixed blessing that our weekend was not interrupted since it was the last vacation we would have together. I am sure my grandma Emhoff would understand. (I still feel guilty, though.)

Remembering Michael Russell Fronheiser (09/22/1968 – 04/14/2001)

In July 2001, I, members of Mike’s family, and my brother delivered the ash remains of Mike’s earthly body to the top of Mt. Elbert, the highest point in Colorado. It was his last highpoint to attain and I carried his ashes in my waist-pack the entire 5 miles up the mountain. They were heavy, but I refused to let anyone else carry them. I wanted to carry him as he’d carried me a few times during our short, but supportive relationship.

When I think of Mike anymore, I imagine him wandering those mountains through every season of the year. He no longer feels the cold of winter, the heat of summer, the lack of atmosphere; he doesn’t have to fear the thunderstorms that have twice chased me down that mountain in my own visits. He gets to eternally enjoy the indescribible beauty of this untouched, natural world. I want to think of him as the spirit of that mountain.

I’ve climbed the mountain myself three times. Each time, I have left him a card in the spot where I laid his ashes. In my next trip (probably next summer), I will bring the ashes of his beloved cat, Tanya, who died on his birthday last year. Our cats were precious to us, our adopted children we used to call them. I imagine them now, master and cat, walking together in the serenity of a setting sun as seen from the top of that mountain (which is a view I can recall vividly now). That cat always loved him best. She was never the same after he died. Now they are together again.

Call me a hopeless romantic, a nostalgic, a completely irrational flake. But this image gives me comfort. A part of showing appreciation for life is by paying homage to those you love who you have lost. Even if you don’t know for sure they can really hear you.

Happy Anniversary, my Misha.

A Sort of Fall Lament

The summer is winding down. Daylight is lessening. The “star wars” have appeared on the corn stalks (my word for the tassels). I pulled out U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” CD and began listening to it in the evenings. This is my “end of summer” CD. Its soothing low-key tunes calm me and set the tone for the coming fall. From the moment Bono sings those bittersweet lyrics on “A Sort of Homecoming,” the opening song, I ache for the summer days that have already slipped through my fingertips and my eyes are filled with a vision of harvested plants on a field alight by the golden hue of a fall evening’s setting sun:

And you know it’s time to go
Through the sleet and driving snow
Across the fields of mourning
Light in the distance

And you hunger for the time
Time to heal, desire, time
And your earth moves beneath
Your own dream landscape

So much of my memory seems to be attached to music I was listening to at certain times in my life. Though this song has a melancholic (and perhaps sad) meaning to it, I listened to this CD extensively through one of the happiest times of my life. I was traveling (driving) a lot for work in the fall of ’99 when this CD serenaded me home on Friday evenings. Because I was working in various outlaying regions of Ohio (read: southern), I would drive past many farms as the sun was setting, so I am sure the image I conjure is from vivid experience.

This song means more to me now, though. Time and experience has taught me what a “sort of” homecoming really means… You can never completely return to home — that comfort place of the past. You can only chose a new one and make it as much yours as it can be. But it’s never quite the same feeling as the “home” to which you associated that certain feeling. I’ve had three homes in my life: the house I grew up in with my parents, Hiram College, and the house I owned with my husband. Everything since then has been trying to fit myself into a mold too large or too small.

As I was driving to the place I currently call home tonight after the Wednesday night ABC ride, I couldn’t get “A Sort of Homecoming” out of my head. I passed Szalay’s farm and realized that I hadn’t stopped there all season. Last year, this farm — which sells grilled corn on a stick and fresh lemonaide — was a regular stop on my weekend 45-mile rides through the valley. I guess the problem is, I havent been doing my solo 45-mile ride through the valley on the weekends. Seeking companionship, I’ve been gorging myself on ABC rides and various registered rides. I made a note to myself that I needed to do my old ride before the season is out. How could I miss that wonderfully dipped-in-butter treat? Corn is my favorite vegetable, as my friends who have watched me consume an entire can as my dinner will attest. I wonder if Szalay’s would let me have one of the star warses (I used to play with them from my mom’s garden when I was a kid).
The ride today was especially grueling. It rained for two days straight on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday was gloomy with gray cloud cover. The sun peaked out in the evening, allowing anyone who wasn’t waiting for the measuring guy from Regency Windows (as I was) to take a ride if they so chose. I ended up mowing my lawn when the Regency guy left (newsflash: rain will make the blasted grass grow). Today started out gloomy, but by noon, the sun was pushing its way through the cloud cover. However, the rain left NE Ohio insufferably humid.

This was the first time I had been on a bike since Saturday and that was on a tandem, so I hadn’t been on my own bike since last Thursday. I just wasn’t feeling it today. One of my fellow ABCers commented during the ride that we’d all lost some of our fitness level. It must be true, for I was able to keep myself within a catchable distance of the hammerhead contingent in the longer ride route. Still, I was hurting. Every breath as I huffed up each hill was painful. I was sucking and sucking and no air filled my lungs, which seems typical in humid weather. My asthma kicked in and I started to wheeze. A 147lb weakling. My muscles ached with every turn of the crank on both hills and straight-aways. It’s so damned easy to get out of shape. I felt like I was having my mid-July slump all over again.

We did a nominal 18.9 mile route. But I decided I needed to suffer it out 5 more miles so that I could evenly hit the 1900 mile mark for the season. After almost 19 miles, I was way too close, no matter how much pain I was in, to just stop short of 1900. So I rode all the way down Revere Road to Wheatley. If you are familiar with this area, you know that Revere in that direction is rather fast and pleasant. Of course, that means the return trip is uphill and slow.

I crossed Wheatley and rode around this little housing development for extra mileage. I didn’t gain but maybe half a mile there. I crossed back and painfully forced myself back up Revere. It seemed even harder than I remembered. We rode Revere regularly in this direction. The last time I was on it, about a month ago, I know I pounded it pretty well. I was definitely slumping.

When I returned to the high school, I was at 22.67. I passed Sue, the ride leader, and her husband Mark in the parking lot and quickly stated that I was trying to get 1.33 miles for my season total goal. They just laughed with one of those smiles that said, “Yeah, you kids are nuts.”
I rode back up Revere to some other side street. Had I known that the street it connected to actually runs into Wheatley, I may have considered taking that back instead of Revere (but it was probably just as hard). I rode around the neighborhood, turned around in a coul de sac at, of course, the bottom of a hill. After I huffed back up the hill, I realized, to my surprise, that I’d actually hit 24 miles!

I slowly made my way back to the high school parking lot and packed up, finishing with 24.5 miles. Goal met.

I was blanketed in sticky, stinky sweat and I felt slightly ill. I probably needed more water. These really arent the days for me to ride without my hydropack, as I’ve been doing to relieve a shoulder ache I’ve been having since July. After loading my bike in the car, I just kind of threw myself into the driver’s seat, turned on the car, cranked up the AC and moved the exhaust so the fans were blowing right in my face.

I want to be sad about the coming fall, but I did have the brief thought that it would be nice to ride in some slightly chilly conditions. This heat has finally reduced me to whining. Though, fall also means less daylight. Less mileage. Winding down.

As if in prophetic warning, I remembered my friend Michael asking me early in the season, “Don’t you get tired of riding, though, by the end of the season?”

Today, I felt like saying, “Yes, I think I’m tired of riding.” (Shhh! I didn’t say that! Don’t tell anyone — it will tarnish my reputation as the young, energetic, cycling chick!) It’s a good thing Michael wasn’t there. Even though I know he’ll read this entry, at least I didn’t actually vocalize this thought to his certain delight.

Hopefully, though, I’m just having a down day. Maybe I’ll feel better when the sun comes out, the temperature drops some, and the humidity dissolves away.

Only less than 100 miles to my 2000 mile goal. Then, I can call it a good season. Everything else is just bonus. Right?

Roscoe Ramble: Hardest Ride Since Sliced Bread

Mars Girl (Still Smiling!) at Finish of the Roscoe Ramble Short Route

Well, more accurately: The Roscoe Ramble was the hardest ride I’ve done since returning from Colorado. Gotta give my kudos to Ohio: you never cease to surprise me, that’s for sure. Little did I realize that just an hour from my house in Holmes County there is a hilly world that rivals everything I thought I knew about hills in Ohio. This ride had a little bit of every kind of climb — long graduals, short-but-shockingly-steeps, and rolling bumps. There were may be two spots that were wonderfully straight, one on each day. And I remember each glorious moment of a steady 17-19mph. The rest of the ride? All I seem to remember is climbing. Though, I know there were beautiful descents, too, where I could hit between 30-35mph. But most of my day was consumed with climbing, so that’s all I remember.

I elected to do the short route, which was 52 miles the first day and 61 the second day. The longer route was between 70-79 miles each day. I beat myself up severely the entire first day for electing the shorter route; however, by the lunch stop at mile 54 on the second day, I was glad that I only had 9 more miles to go. Especially when we climbed a ridge out of Beach City and every muscle in my legs seemed to scream in protest at me for torturing them in this way.

You almost couldn’t ask for better weather. I would have asked for a little less humidity, but considering the humid 90+ temperatures we had at the start of the week, I can’t complain too much because both days were much cooler and more bearable. The night temperatures even dropped to cooler 60s (and I got cold enough to sleep inside my sleeping bag halfway through the night).

I started earlier than I was supposed to on Saturday around 8 am, thinking I was probably going to lag behind everyone as hills are not my forte (I like them, but I’m slow on them). As I rolled out of the parking lot of the Amish Door Restaurant in Wilmot, I had one nice slight downhill on S.R. 62 and then the turn onto County Road 200 heralded the start of what was going to become a horrendous day of climbing (though, looking back, that hill was a mere bump compared to what I encountered later).

I remember thinking, “They weren’t kidding when they said the Wilmot start immediately throws you into the hills.”

The first rest stop was only six miles in because that is the point where the longer route would meet the shorter route. Originally while looking over the route map in the parking lot at the ride’s start, I thought I would pass the (one and only) rest stop since lunch was at mile 31 and I routinely ride 30+ miles back home without taking a break and six miles in seemed like barely a warm up. Well, by the time I came upon the Paint Township fire station, I was sweating profusely and feeling a bit shocked by the toughness of the first six miles. I stopped, filled my water bottle with much-needed Gatorade (I might need those electrolytes), and slammed down a banana and a “Debbie cookie” (a cream-filled homemade sandwich cookie). I applied some WD-40 on my squeaky SPD clips (the noise my clips make when not oiled is ANNOYING). Then, I was on my way.

During the next 25 miles, I was pretty much on my own. I passed two older gentlemen, having had a nice conversation with them for a bit. The one guy told me this was his eleventh year doing the Roscoe Ramble and he was very enthusiastic about it. I smiled, thinking that this must be some great ride for someone to devoutly ride it every year. I learned later in the evening that he wasn’t the only multiple-Rambler… I met several nice people from all over Northeast and Central Ohio who said they enjoy this ride every year.

I was passed only once on the pre-lunch route by a guy who was much faster than me. Little did I know, but he was *the* lead guy (once he passed me). He had started at the short route, too, and evidently after me.

The ride was beautiful and scenic with farms on rolling hills that reminded me a lot of my rides through Germany and Italy, only with American country architecture and style. I’m always amazed by how many fields of corn and such you can grow along a hill side — I can’t image the pain in the butt it must be to plant and harvest. Maybe they have machines for that, but I am picturing pretty buff farmers. I’ve also noticed that in Ohio, you can grow corn just about anywhere.

It was like stepping into a completely different world, a part of Ohio I never knew existed. Still Ohio, but it seemed so utterly different than the other places I’d been. And also so quaint. I had a friend from Holmes county in college and I kept thinking about her throughout the whole ride. I started to understand why she was such a country girl who boasted of how great life was in Holmes County. I’d always thought it was flatlands, like Findlay.

I saw more Amish buggies than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I know, living so close to Amish country and having people rave about going there so often, you would think I would have gone there once or twice in my life. But my parents never took road trips there and none of my friends had ever asked me to accompany them. Therefore, I never thought to go. To be honest, I just had a vague concept of what Amish country was.

Our lunch stop was at Amish farm. This is not a public place, but actually the home of what appeared to be one big family (grandfather, his children, their children). I almost felt like I was putting a family out, eating all the wonderful food they had laid out and picnicking in their backyard with a group of cyclists. The family seemed really friendly and the children curious but shy. I don’t have a whole lot of experience around Amish people, so I was slightly uncomfortable. I tried to be humble and respectful in their residence and hoped to heck that none of the other riders were rude.

Tom and Mars Girl enjoy lunch on Amish farm.
Derrieres of Todd and Michael (the men in red).

In fact, I was actually the second person to arrive at lunch. I discovered the guy who passed me sitting awkwardly at the picnic bench. We were, of course, ahead of schedule and ahead of lunch, so we had to wait. We chatted for a little bit — he was another multiple-Rambler. Then, slowly, more people began to trickle in. Once the food was laid out, we all went for it. By the time I finished eating, some friends from the ABC who were doing the long route had arrived so I waited for them to finish eating so we could ride the last 22 miles together.

The remainder of the ride was more of the same as the start: up, down, up, down. We arrived in Roscoe Village and I grabbed my free ice cream before setting up my tent at the campground. I didn’t feel so bad after the first day’s ride — just a little achy in the legs. But since I’d spent so much time at the lunch stop (about an hour and a half due to my earliness), I felt like I’d actually done two separate rides since I had all that recuperation time.I began telling my friends that I was going to do the long route on Sunday. There was a logistical problem with this because the long ride starts in Canal Fulton and my car was, of course, parked in Wilmot. So, I kept trying to see if I could con someone into either driving my car up to Canal Fulton or drive me back to Wilmot at the end of the ride. I wasn’t getting any committed takers, and I was warned heartily that I might want to make this decision at the lunch stop at the second day, where both routes split again. Thank goodness for wiser people!

Roscoe Village was very cool. A town originally built next to a canal that no longer exists, Roscoe’s buildings are kept intact and the main street looks like a page right out of a history book. I would have liked some more time to explore, but most of the shops and attractions closed around 5. By the time I had gotten settled in at camp and all, it was 3:30.

I walked into the Olde Warehouse restaurant on the main street four times separate times that night. The first was to claim my ice cream. Later, I came back with my friend Michael while he collected his free ice cream and I, of course, drank a celebratory beer. Then, Michael and I left to check out the town. We returned about a half hour later to hang out with our ABC friends until the ride dinner. I had a second beer. We went to the ride dinner at the Grace Methodist Church (yummy lasagna!). Only to return, once again, after dinner, where I had a third beer. (Hey, nothing tastes better after a long day’s ride than a beer.)

I returned to my camp around 9 where I found myself drifting into sleep not much later. Of course, as it always seems to be now that I’m over 30, my sleep in the tent was something much less than comfortable. My Therma-a-Rest appears to have a hole in it, so it was flat by morning and the side that I laid on ached. My nose was stuffy in the morning despite the nasal spray I used the night before. When I looked at myself in the mirror in the bathroom, my eyes were puffy. I think it’s time for me to be one of those wussy campers and use a big air mattress. My sleep is imperative on these rides…

I started the second day with friends Tom, Michael, and Kathy. This day began with a cruel and grueling climb out of the valley. It was only cruel and grueling because it was 7:30am and I had only had a mile of straight in which to warm up. The climb itself, compared to everything else that followed, was really not that horrible. It was more like what I’d climb in Colorado — a long, slow incline upwards. It had a mile or two of glorious downhill followed by some flat areas where we maintained a general 17-19mph speed in a pace line with each other. The flat areas were a tease. I felt great after the rest stop at mile 21. I still thought I would do the longer route. It was the next thirty miles that changed my mind. The defining moment was the famous Stucky Road. At first, this road yielded another beautifully slow climb out of the valley. I love these. I was ahead of Tom and Michael as I took this nice incline that reminded me again of passes in Colorado and Italy. I thought, “This isn’t so bad… I wonder why people complain about this road.”

I found out. The last quarter mile of this hill was hell. There were too major humps with a very sharp grade (I’m not sure what the percentage is). When I came upon the first one, I had the fierce determination to stay in the saddle. Especially as Michael passed me — obviously stressed, but strong and steady as he usually is on hill climbs. You see, it is a major bruise to my competitive ego to get off and walk (and when you’re one of the few chicks in a male-dominated sport, the pressure to yourself is ten times worse). So I pushed with everything I had. I was in my lowest gear and every movement was still a struggle to stay balanced on the bike (for I was clipped in) and keep moving. Even standing and pushing was hard. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. I could see the summit, so I just focused hard on that.

Finally, I made it to the top. I congratulated myself for hanging in there. The road leveled off a little and bent around slightly. And there it was — ANOTHER bump like the first (maybe worse). I shifted back to my lowest gear and felt every muscle in my body moan as the torture started all over again.

This time, Tom passed me, laboring just as hard, but looking a lot steadier than I felt. All too soon, I was standing on the pedals again and pushing with every once of strength I had left. But I was significantly drained from a second day of hill climbing and some of the earlier climbs. My muscles were just not there the way they were on the first hump. I wasn’t dead in the water yet, but I felt that if I didn’t sit down and unclip now, I would not be able to do it in a few more minutes, drained of energy, and I would end up toppling over on the hill (which is more embarrassing than walking and may be a little painful if you fall the wrong way). So I reluctantly unclipped my feet from the pedals and dismounted. As I walked my bike up the remainder of the hill, I silently berated myself at my failure. Walking my bike, to me, feels like I did not complete some part of my ride… like it put a dark spot on my whole ride… as though the 61 miles I completed that day were tainted. I tried not to think about this though.

Later, I learned that Kathy also had to walk her bike really close to the top (though closer than I’d gotten). Some multiple-Ramblers assured me that they had walked their first couple of years as well. One of our strongest riders in the ABC made it up this year, but admitted that he was extremely slow about it. So, I take it, this hill is the True Test of hill prowess. I hope I can make it up next year. Maybe I need to do Eddy’s Sweet Corn Challenge next year for prep.

After Stucky, my muscles were in a constant state of burn. I could feel my energy diminishing slowly over the next fifteen miles. Each successive hill (and there were plenty more as we hit a beautiful rolling hills section) took a little more out of me. By the time I reached lunch at mile 54, I was feeling pain. As I stared despondently at my food for the first five minutes (lacking the energy to even lift the Coney dog to my lips), I decided that I was just going to complete the short route and call it a day. I reported my weakness to Tom and Michael, and then consoled myself that I could ride back with Kathy. We parted ways and I felt a little bit like a failure.

“I should be doing the longer route,” I regretfully thought to myself.

“You have nothing left,” my logical side pointed out. I felt less bad about my decision as Kathy and I pushed ourselves up the last big hill. We climbed onto a ridge that would probably have yielded beautiful scenery had trees not lined both side of the road, obstructing the view. There was a period of flatness on the ridge, and then a sprawling downhill on a badly paved road that made it impossible for us to enjoy the descent.

As we came down the hill, I could see a set of white buildings surrounded by a white picket fence in the distance. I pointed these out to Kathy. “Is that the restaurant?” I panted.

“I think so!” she responded excitedly. “An oasis in the desert, isn’t it?”

It was such a relief to pull into the parking lot and get off my bike. I paused for a brief picture with my bike and rider number, and then packed my bike in the car. Air conditioning blasting in my face on the hour long drive home, I couldn’t wait to get into the shower.

Despite all the pain, however, it was a great ride. Much kudos to Jim and Judy Birt of the ABC for organizing this ride. They did a great job. All of the rest stops were greatly stocked with an assortment of goodies — nutritional or sugary, whatever your pleasure. The food at the lunch stops and the Saturday dinner was excellent. I think it’s wonderful that all these people were willing to host a bunch of hungry, tired riders and provide them a great meal or snack. I will definitely do this ride again next year… when I’ve forgotten how painful it was.

The last hill, as viewed from short route finish.

A Scary Calm

It’s been about five months since I made the conscious decision to stop being angry about my husband’s death and no longer allow the sadness to overwhelm me, to remember the good things about our love with happiness instead of regret. It was something I decided, coincidentally, at the start of cycling season when my spirits were at their most elevated. As simply as flipping the toggle on a light switch, I told myself that I was no longer going to dwell. It was time, I decided, to continue living the life — sans Mike — that he and I had vowed to live together. He would never want me to waste a precious second of my life. Our whole life together was about living in the now: enjoying and appreciating the beauty of the world through outdoor pursuits and travel, experiencing all that there is to experience in this earthly existence, finding joy in the wake of our own personal sorrows (and we both had a few). We believed that money was best spent on travel and adventure. We swore that no matter how much money we accumulated in life, we would use it on “buying experiences” rather than material things. This was our dream.

Over the last few years, I’d been taking steps towards a more stable existence in the shadow of my grief. In 2005, I told myself that I was no longer going to wait around, dreaming of the trip Mike and I had planned to take to Germany and Amsterdam — I was going to do it without him and alone if I had to. Fortunately, my good friend from Colorado, Holly, was up for the adventure and we went together. This past spring, we took a second trip to Italy together and had a blast. Perhaps this trip was part of the change in me, as it was the second time I’d gone alone to an exotic land for which I had no experience. It further confirmed to me that I could travel without Mike (who used to do all the planning) and that it could be just as fun without him. Sometimes, I like to think he lived it with me as he watched from someplace else.

“That’s my Fritzy,” he would whisper. “She’s so brave, so strong.”

When most people use “brave” or “strong” as adjectives for my survival of widowhood, I normally get angry. Stumbling my way through grief and all its emotions the way I did is not what I would describe as brave or strong. I don’t know what people expect of someone who loses a spouse, but most of the time, I was just hanging by a single thread of stability. I wasn’t brave; I was lucky the thread held my weight.

From Mike’s lips, however, the words would mean so much more. He thought I was brave and strong in life before I’d endured real suffering. From him, these words are the highest praise. I always thought he was strong and brave. He used to refer to both of us as “survivors.” He used to tell me that we both could handle anything that was thrown our way because we have the will and strength to fight. Over the last six years, I’ve not felt like much of a survivor. Now, however, I’m proud to say that he was right. He knew my soul better than I knew it myself. I did survive and I’m okay. And it will continue to be okay.

That there is the scary part of my recent change: the fact that I can say that it’s okay and the confidence I have that everything will be okay. This calm acceptance of the order of things, of life and the manner in which it unfolds, was before this year a completely foreign concept to me. I don’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen to me or those I love again — I am sure there is more in store for the future, unfortunately. I’ve simply come to accept the fact that there are some things in life out of my control. I can’t change the past and, as horrible as it may have been to me, I’ve come to appreciate the time I did have with Mike. Acceptance is a huge step, as my mantra whenever I felt miserable has been to blame Mike for leaving me here to deal with it all — the pain of losing him, the loneliness, the overwhelming challenges of living on my own. Every challenge became the six degrees of Mike — somehow I could find a way to connect why my struggles had to do with his death and how I would not have to deal with them if he were still here. Part of my change was to realize that enough time has passed that it’s ridiculous to blame Mike for any of it. All my challenges are results of the hurtles placed by events I’ve actuated without him. I’m on my own now.

With the acceptance of responsibility for my own actions, I also acknowledged that blaming Mike, and often wishing I had never met him, was disgracing the love we shared together. It darkened all of the insights I learned from him, the small things he did that changed the person I was before I met him into the wife I became with him. Our marriage was everything a marriage is supposed to be: two people, independent and powerful alone; together, a new entity, and even stronger. I used to describe him as “the yin to my yang.” We were, in our short time together, that vision of harmony between man and woman written about in every romantic poem throughout time. I try to remember this every time a dark thought enters my head. It was a gift to have him in my life, even for short a time, and despite the excruciating pain that came in the wake of losing him. I should be thankful, not spiteful.

The calm I feel is reeling. It’s almost too sudden. I spent the last six years in an almost comatose state, doing a lot of things but never truly feeling. I’ve been in and out of counseling, trying to find a way to deal with the loss, and I almost turned to medication. Then, cycling season this year started for me the day before my birthday in March, and my thoughts sprouted hopeful along with the blossoming leaf buds on the trees. That first ride opened up my heart, and into my heart poured an unconquerable love of life — the very emotion I’d been missing for quite some time. Suddenly, the world burst forth with the colors I’d forgotten how to see and the air was filled with the sweet smell of living things growing. My senses were overwhelmed as I pumped my pedals along my favorite route into the Cuyahoga Valley, enjoying the sensation of my muscles aching under the strain of hard work. Every thing I could feel felt vivid again.

I worry about losing this calm. What will I do when winter comes? Has my religion of cycling been the only thing sustaining me through the last few months? How solid is this calm? Can I convince myself indefinitely that I will no longer allow myself to dwell in the sadness, anger, and pain that consumed the last six years of my life? Do I need something else to cement this trust in the future, to sustain me through the winter months and the rest of my life? I don’t want to go back to the place from which I came. It was a dark place.

This morning as I was driving into work, listening to a CD I bought the year Mike died and thinking about these questions, I had a vision of myself standing in the dark with a bright white ball of light in my hands. I intuited that the light was my soul, awakened and renewed, lighting my way through the darkness I fear. Can it be that easy? Is all I need for comfort the notion of an ethereal soul to guide me through the unknown future? My faith has always been shaky. Yet the recent calm has been unshakable.

I feel like I’ve taken some happy pill. Perhaps someone has been slipping Prozac into my morning coffee. If so, I hope they keep it up because I’ve not felt this good in a long, long time. I wonder if in a couple months I will lose this confidence, abandon my existential search for meaning, and return to the empty and angry shell of a human I was at the start of the year. Will I look back at all this positive writing and mock myself for all of the false confidence? Will I feel embarrassed that for a few short months I entertained thoughts of faith that I hadn’t touched since sixth grade? Will my friends and family laugh at me?

No one can judge me for what I feel. Most of my friends have not walked in my shoes. The road I’ve walked has been obstructed with many boulders I’ve had to navigate around. The manner in which I’ve gotten around them is irrelevant to anyone but me. It’s unfair of me to judge myself even, for I’ve managed to keep myself from shrinking into my own sad oblivion. If the image of my eternal soul lighting the darkness brings me comfort, then it is not a bad thing. In fact, it might even be a beautiful thing.

Life is full of changes. You can chose to accept or deny them. I’m done denying them. I was changed when I left my hometown for college. There, I found a community of friends and gained a social self-confidence I lacked as an underdog in high school: I blossomed into the person I’d closeted for years when trying to fit in. I changed again when I met Mike. Through him, I learned unconditional love and the stability of a marriage supported by cooperation, sharing, and selfless giving of oneself to the greater whole. I became a better person and I’m sure I helped him to grow as well.

His death changed me a third time. The naive, young girl I was passed away into the dark night as I learned that I was not impervious to life’s perils. I wasted a lot of time dwelling about the dark, my loneliness, and the loss of my innocence. Out of the pain, blossomed a woman who no longer believes she has all the answers, but is more willing to explore the questions. I’ve even found strength in the odd (but scary) calmness that has settled upon me. I wonder if Mike would even recognize me now. Or perhaps he has watched, as I’d like to imagine, the metamorphasis. I hope he approves. I hope he would say: “I knew it. You are a survivor.”

It is not easy to be a survivor. And the calm is not always easy to maintain. However, the longer I maintain the calm, the stronger its foundation becomes. The fact that I’ve done it at all serves as an example to myself in my down times. I will no longer submit myself to a life of endless dwelling in the darkness. It’s okay to feel sad, to miss Mike every once in awhile — this is only natural. But when the darkness obscures my view of the sky, I must reach within myself for that calm, bright soul-light, and find the door back into the daylight of life.

Easier said than done. But I’m trying. That’s the important thing.

Am I Wasting My Gift?

Several times over the last few weeks, I’ve received compliments from readers of my blog about my writing skills. It always throws me off guard because I don’t see my blog writing as particularly interesting. This blog is just me, spouting off my theories and thoughts as they surface in my brain. I don’t feel that anything is particularly well thought-out; it’s just random stream-of-consciousness.

I’ve heard these comments my whole life about my writing in general. I’ve always just brushed it off as friends and family having biases. Well, I’ll use any excuse to downgrade myself, it’s true. However, I was by no means the best student in my college English department. There were students there who were capable of higher level thought than I could possibly even entertain. I particularly remember one classmate reading a paper on James Joyce’s Ullysis and I was thinking, “Damn. He sounds like a literary critic.”

I write things as they are. I will never be a great literary critic. I read a book and the things I point out are never the major plot points discussed in the Cliff Notes. What I get out of the book seldom seems to agree with the literary critics. So, I have wondered time and time again, “Am I just really dense?”

My writing consists of life experiences. I use big words, but I don’t drown people in them. The plots to my fiction are seldom complex (or not as complex as Ullysis, that is). I’m sure some of my fellow English students in college would have labeled my work as simplistic. Because I can hear them thinking that in my head, I’ve always shied away from trying to publish anything. “I’m just not good enough,” I tell myself over and over. When you tell yourself stuff like this, it gets beneath your skin until becomes apart of your inner theology, and then it’s even harder to convince yourself to try.

Last night, I had dinner with Ann, a dear friend of mine, someone who knows me from my “Mike years” — the years my husband was alive. Again, I received accolades about my — to quote Ann — “God-given” talent. I never know what to say when praised so highly — my tongue gets tied and I’m embarrassed. But God-given would be the best way to describe it, as the desire to write has been with me for as long as I could remember. I have piles and piles of writing in storage that reach back as far as my early elementary years. It seems as soon as I learned how to put pencil to paper, I began inventing my own stories.

There was a time in high school when I was convinced I would become a novelist — a famous one at that.What happened in the ensuing years? A fear of failure so strong that it bars me from even trying.

As I was driving home from dinner last night, a constant thought repeated itself over and over inside my head, “You’re wasting your talent. You’re letting it all go. Why have you let this go on for so long?”

Sometimes, I picture that it’s not my inner critic who is saying that, but my husband, trying to knock some sense in me from the great beyond with this important message. “Don’t waste all this time,” he would say. “Do what you love. You are talented.”

My answering thought: “I’m too old now to start. It will never work.”

Is this really how I want to let things stand? I picture my whole life ahead of me and the fun things I can do with it. Maybe I will get remarried someday; maybe I will change my mind about kids and have them; maybe I will get to go every place in the world I desire; maybe I really will get that condo in Colorado and live in it half the year. It seems golden, great, fulfilling. Yet I have to ask myself, “Will you regret never trying to publish at the end of your life?”

Yes. The voice in my head will always tell me, though, that it’s okay that I didn’t try because I was never hurt by the failed attempt. Or I’ll convince myself that I never really had anything to say, any knowledge or wisdom to impart to my would-be readers. (Incidentally, I use this same excuse about having children: I have nothing to teach my would-be progeny about life, so why bother having any?)

Writing is hard. Any book about how to write will admit this to you. It’s a difficult process that involves a lot of self-ridicule, false starts, and the pain of brain constipation when you can’t find the right words to convey what you feel. Fluidity and ease only come after you shut off that internal critical voice (which is very hard to do). As I say about cycling great distances, “If everyone could do it, they would.” It’s the same with writing. Sometimes I fear the difficulty more than I fear the rejection and failure. So, I allow my fears to be realized: I fail before I even begin. What a ceaseless cycle of non-motion I thrown myself into!

I started this blog to force myself to write more. I’m still probably writing just about as much as I would normally, except that I’m replacing entries in my personal journal with public diatribes that I selfishly desire my friends and family to read. Every writer is a narcisist, after all.

Talents unused are a sad waste. I realize this. I just wish I could get myself to really believe that writing is my special talent. I obviously enjoy doing it.

I always get a thrill watching people do the things for which they have obvious talent. I used to get goosebumps every time Jim Thome hit a home run for the Indians. I felt a tugging at my heart when one of my younger cousins recited a rap song he wrote, even though I’m not into rap music, because the poetry of his lyrics was heartfelt. I am awed and inspired by the paintings my brother creates. I felt a surge of excitement course through my veins as I watched Lance Armstrong climb in the mountain stages of the Tour de France (okay, you knew *Lance* would come up in here at some point!).

I dream of making people feel that way about my writing. If I could, for two seconds, make people experience with me an emotion I’m describing, then the writing has done its work. This is what I was trying to do when I started writing my memoir about widowhood several years ago. Six years later, the memoir sits unfinished in the bowels of my computer. The inner critic shut me up at the pass when I was trying to write the second chapter. Several unsuccessful attempts later, my inner critic comforts me, “No one wants to read this dribble anyway. It’s too sad.”

Despite my inner critic’s attempt to soothe me, I am restless, wondering whether or not I’m wasting a skill with which I was undoubtedly born. Days slip away through my fingers and I still don’t write. Fear is pretty powerful. And the pressure to perform well is crippling. Both of these tie me down.

People tell me that my writing describes situations in a way that paints a valid picture. They tell me that this is not something anyone can just do. I think I take this for granted quite often because the act of seeing connections between events in life and transcribing them in words comes naturally to me. Sometimes finding the right words — the ones I use when writing pieces I intend to publish — don’t readily come. Sometimes what flies off my head right away is not as poetic and not as clear as the way I see it. That’s when the writing becomes hard. I’m working so hard to build the bridge to my mind that allows you to see what I see, I simply get caught up in the accuracy of the description. It’s that sort of description, though, that separates a F. Scott Fitzgerald from Danielle Steele (_The Great Gatsby_ has some of the most vivid descriptions and metaphors I know. That’s why it’s one of my favorite books of all time.)

Of course, both of these authors made money, so I don’t know what I’m complaining about. If Danielle Steele can make novels about various (improbable) love twists that turn into movies on Lifetime, even though her writing and characters are kind of bland, then surely I could make money writing something deeper from real experience… And I wouldnt waste it on wine, women, and song like Fitzgerald. (Unless it would buy me *Lance*…)

And who am I kidding anyway? I watch those horrible Danielle Steele movies on Lifetime (what else does one do in the winter when cycling season is over?). I’m feeding the system of bad writing, too.

Well, the bug is still buzzing freely in my brain, reminding me over and over again that writing is my first love. I do have something to tell the world. Even if it’s just a few words on the sadness of loss or the excitement of riding. Somewhere within me, a small fire to write still burns. This blog feeds the embers; the reactions I receive back from people fan the flames a little. Soon, perhaps, the fire will rage into a friendly bonfire around which my friends can bask in the warmth of my long-awaited satisfaction. I just need to keep reminding myself that though I’m a natural writer, good writing is hard, practiced. I can’t give up when the writing gets hard… I never give up when riding my bike… how is either one different from the other?

Saying something is always easier than doing. I just need to shut off the inner critic. Would anyone like an inner critic? There certainly are some immodest people I know out there who might be able to make better use of the inner critic than I can (since they appear to lack one).

Thank you, everyone, for your positive feedback about my blog. It may not look like it because I’m often embarrassed when complimented, but I do appreciate it. Every kind, honest word makes me realize that the thing I take the most for granted is really a skill I should examine more closely. Perhaps the dream to publish is not completely dead. I just have to find the right story. And, most importantly, I need to stick with it through the toughest parts. Just as I do on my bike.

Theory of TPL Revisited

I recently put together some examples of my creative writing and I decided to use something off this blog, since I’ve not been doing a whole lot of writing that I’m not too embarrassed to share. So I used “The Theory of TPL” entry from May. I’ve revised it a little and tightened it up. It still could use more work, but I’m hitting a deadline. I thought I would share my changes with my loyal readers… So here it is. Let me know what you think:

The Theory of TPL

When I did the MS 150 ride in 2001—the year my husband died—I had a lot of time on the road to think to myself. Especially since I was riding a mountain bike (those were my simple, slower days). During the ride, I was thinking about the course of my life. My husband had only died two months earlier and I was trying to put my life in context. What would I do now? Where would I go? How was going to continue my life without him now that we’d made so many plans? It’s on this ride that I invented the theory of TPL.

TPL is “Tolerant Pain Level.” For me, riding a bike long distances has always been about finding that level of physical pain that just hurts enough to push me onwards, but isn’t so painful that it overwhelms me. You can deal with intense pain in little spurts—fast sprints to catch up with a group or to climb up the last few meters
of a hill. But sustained for a long period of time, intense pain will cause you to burn out too quickly. So you have to find that level just on the edge between being uncomfortable and outright suffering. If you are too comfortable, you will run out of time before you reach your goal; if suffering too much, you’ll wear out and have to quit. I hate quitting.

I learned this principle of suffering early on when I started climbing mountains with my husband. I have always been good at budgeting pain, conserving my energy, and keeping myself going at all costs to complete a chosen goal. It’s my strength. It always has been. I’ve joked with my friends that I excel at suffering. It is my talent. And it’s a good thing it is. Otherwise, I would never have made it through the roughest times in my life. I’d have given up before I could even see the goal.

As I was riding the MS 150 that day, I started to realize that the principles of TPL could be applied to dealing with life. Anyone can coast the downhill parts—the rare moments of elation, the longer stretches of contentment, the ease of recognition after an accomplishment. It’s those other parts of life that take a determined toughness to push through—working towards goals, struggling to keep yourself afloat financially, making a small spot for yourself in the world, managing the loneliness and sadness of watching loved ones die.

The loss of the only person in your life who really knew you almost better than you knew yourself, the one person who completed you; the emptiness; the struggle to rediscover yourself in the face of that tragedy. To survive these things and live again, you have to take the pain thrown at you and parse it into tiny bits you can handle: discover your own tolerant pain level and manage it.

I am trying not to make this another young punk’s melodramatic “life sucks” blog. So bear with me a minute because there’s a happy ending here (which, if you know me, you would think is a major breakthrough). Because, you see, I had an epiphany and it only fully hit me recently. For the last several years, I’ve tried everything I could to ease the pain of losing my husband. Most of this involved a lot of running. I ran to Colorado, thinking a different location (albeit my dream location) would change my frame of mind. The problem with that was Colorado was our dream, not my dream. It could only have worked with the both of us. I had to make new dreams and find myself again.

Not everything in life is a mistake, though. In Colorado, my passion for cycling was ignited. Because it was a bike-friendly state, I found myself becoming more and more involved with cycling. I started riding three days a week to work (twenty miles each way). I did the Great West MS 150, which I always say was like the Tour de France—straight through the mountains, several hours up passes only to zip down them in twenty minutes (at 40+ miles per hour). I am proud to say that I did complete the entire first day’s 75 miles, and on a road hybrid bike. I only made 45 miles of the second day, as my legs were shot from the previous day of climbing. However, throughout this entire torturous venture, I gained a confidence in myself I didn’t have before, and I rediscovered the elation I feel in the suffering of a strenuous ride. It gave me a place on which to focus all of the mental anguish, anger, and frustration I was feeling. While I was riding, I only felt the physical pain, for I had little thought to spare for the mental. By the end of the ride, all the endorphins running around in my brain prevented me from feeling anything other than pride for what I’d accomplished and relief from the physical pain.

Cycling still gives me focus. Whenever I am feeling all the highs and lows of life, I have the desire to ride. If I am anxious about something, I ride; if I am upset about something, I ride; if I am exhilarated and inspired by a beautiful summer’s day, I ride. Any anxiety, upset, depression—these all get worked out on the ride. In fact, I tend to ride harder on these days, pedaling until all I feel is the physical pain. Any joy I feel gets pushed to even higher levels when I ride. It is my drug

Years and years of trying to find the one sport I could do without looking awkward and I’ve finally found it. This is something I’m good at. And I’m good at it because I don’t need to compete with anyone else but myself. The ride is all about celebrating life, feeling the emotional ups and downs with the very physical stress of driving my legs at a pace that is just between uncomfortable and suffering, matching my emotional TPL with my physical, and working it all out in the ride.

As time passes when you’re riding, you can feel your TPL increase (and this happens yearly because you always have that winter haul of not riding). I’ve learned that I can take on more emotionally, too, when I’ve taken on a little more than I thought I could handle. I’m not saying widowhood is surmountable; it was the single most horrible event to happen in my life. I am often sure I couldn’t handle such a thing again (though many people would disagree with me after reading this). I’ve merely found a way to cope with what I feel now. For the first time in years, I’m starting to feel alive again. And that’s saying a lot. I haven’t felt—really felt—in a long time. But my body is defrosting and I’m thawing in the heat of the summer. I can smell the breeze, hear the birds, and see the sun glinting through the trees. I can survive. It
took me six years to get here.

I really feel like I’m coming out of a long hibernation. I’m sure I’m still going to have those moments all my friends know so well—those times when I miss my husband still so much that it physically burns like a laceration in my heart. Who wouldn’t? He was a wonderful man and I will never meet another like him. Those who have touched our lives never leave us, not really. They always own a piece of your heart that no one else can possess. No one can judge me for this. It was a rough winter, but I’m working really hard to appreciate the spring. I’m managing my pain and finding a
new strength in it through cycling. I’ve found my TPL.