Hancock Horizontal Hundred: Practice for TOSRV!

NOTE: This entry is dedicated to Bob Whittington, who thought I would have nothing interesting to write about for the Hancock Horizontal Hundred. Look how long this entry is! =)

On September 9, I rode the Hancock Horizontal Hundred, a well-known Ohio ride organized by the Hancock Handlebars Bicycle Club in Findlay, OH. In the weeks leading up to this ride, I was warned by numerous ABCers about the boring flatness and scenery of this route. Having ridden my only other centuries in Toledo (the MS 150, where on the first day I’ve done the 100 mile route for the last two years), I thought I knew exactly what they were talking about. So I must say that I was quite surprised by the scenery and route in Findlay — both of which were not quite as flat nor as boring as everyone implied. I found this ride to be more challenging and more scenic than the naysayers predicted.

Sorry, folks, but Toledo is way flatter. The HH route did have the occasional slight incline and it wasn’t just over the highway overpasses. There were a few slight rises in geography. Still nothing to bat an eye at. In fact, I laughed when one of the Hancock club riders I rode with after the lunch stop pointed out at one part of a stretch of road, “Okay, we have to climb a little here.”
I blinked and, yeah, I could see that the road had a slight incline. I could feel an ever-so-slight tug on my leg muscles. The wind was also blowing in my face, so the extra exertion could have been from that. Still, Toledo does not even know “slight” incline. Toledo is literally flat. Findlay and its surrounding areas seem like rolling hills in comparison. I swear, go to Toledo sometime and you will get what I’m saying.

The HH route brought me on roads lined with trees that passed parks. It wasn’t all cornfields and farms. It had its charm, its moments of beauty. We went through small, quaint towns I’d never heard of, such as Vanlue. I was reminded of the first time I did the MS 150, of a riding through sleepy towns that somehow felt like home to me even though I grew up in a fairly big suburban city. I guess I’ve always had an affinity for the small little country towns; some part of me has always wanted to live in one because they seem cozy and remote. Simple and laid back. A place to set up my telescope in the backyard and look at the stars without needing to drive an hour away from the city; a place to cycle 40+ miles without encountering too much traffic. I could get to like those hidden away places in Ohio… I have many hobbies that would thrive in a place away from everything else.

I paint a romantic picture of this ride, but I’m mainly thinking of the second half of the ride when the cycling became pleasant. I woke on the morning of September 9th to a steady rain. I looked outside from the hotel room door with dismay, thinking, “I’m so not going to ride this.”

It’s a little harder to back out of a ride when you’ve already paid, months ago, to do it. You’ve worked yourself up to it, excited about an upcoming ride in a new area you’ve never been. With dread, I packed my bike into my car to drive to the starting line. I told myself that I could start the ride, but I could quit any time.

Of course, the truth of the matter is, once I sit my butt in the seat and start pedaling, I’m already committed to the ride, for better or for worse. Mars Girl never quits. Well, unless lightening is sighted. I’m a big coward about lightening.

So at around 7:30am, I reluctantly rolled out of the Findlay High School parking lot. My friends, Jeff and Diane, cheered me out the window of their truck as they pulled into the high school driveway. They were doing the 32 mile route and were therefore starting later, catching (literally, catching) their Chris Cakes pancake breakfast at the school. They sounded happier than I felt.

Right away, my legs just did not feel like they were going to get into the groove of the ride. They felt stiff and heavy. I guess my muscles were just as reluctant to take part in this ride as my brain. Still, as rain splattered on my glasses (I finally got to use the clear lenses) and water tasting of my Mary Kay hydrating cream dripped off my face into my mouth, I rode on. I hated every second.

“Well,” I thought, trying to cheer myself up, “at least it’s not raining as hard as it did on Two Rivers.”

Yeah. Well. There will never be weather like what I experienced on Two Rivers. (Thanks, Bruce.)

“This is practice for TOSRV?” my mind tried a second reassurance. The Tour of the Scioto River Valley is the premiere Ohio cycling event. Held every year over Mother’s Day weekend, the weather is traditionally pretty crappy because May in Ohio is manic-depressive (or, as I always like to say, “a cock tease.”) Last year, the weather was uncharacteristically warm, though riders reported a pretty strong headwind both days. I’ll take a headwind over rain any day. Some might debate that with me, but rain is demoralizing. I hate being wet. I decided this summer that next year I was going to try this 2-day, 210 mile ride (105 miles/day). Which means, I’m going ride through rain, sleet, hail, wind, just like everyone else. I think you’re only allowed to claim TOSRV as a ride you’ve done if the weather was bad.

A rain-drenched Mars Girl at 32-Mile Rest Stop

My misery was not abated. It became my best friend — or my ever-charging enemy — all the way to the first rest stop at 32 miles. By this time, I was a drowned rat. Fortunately, the rest stop was in the reception hall of the church running it. I got twenty minutes out of the rain in which to contemplate my situation and dread going back out in it. I wasn’t about to back out.

By the time I was ready to leave the rest stop, the rain had slowed. Filled with hope, I removed my rain coat. The skies still looked gloomy and grey and pregnant with rain. I figured, though, that if the rain just held off, I’d be happy enough with the ride, even if the atmosphere was dismal.

Of course, it started raining about two miles out of the gate from the rest stop. And then, I noticed, my front tire had a flat. I grudgingly got off my bike and began pulling out my spare tube and tools, grumpy because I knew this would take me awhile. (The last time I had to change a flat myself on this bike, it had taken me over an hour. This was on the fateful day that I met Bruce and Michael on the first ABC ride I did this season…) I had gotten used to changing tubes on my old hybrid and could readily do it in about fifteen minutes. I still don’t have enough experience fixing flats on my new bike and I haven’t had a flat since I bought new tires after the Vandalia Freedom Tour.

Fortunately for me, a couple just happened to be passing. The guy asked me if I needed help. I grumbled back to him that I knew how to change the tire, but it would take me awhile. He got off his bike and offered to do it for me. He was quick and had the whole thing installed and pumped back up within 10 minutes. I heartily thanked him. If it hadn’t been raining, I might have waived him off. I don’t like to play the “damsel in distress” card, for I should know how to change my own tire (and I do, it just takes awhile). But the quickening rain had washed away my patience and hardened feminist tendencies.

The flat fixed, I reluctantly donned my rain coat once again and got back on my bike. As I started to ride again, I found that I’d reached a state of acceptance. This is the only way to get through any ride, as I’ve explained numerous times with my theory of TPL. Tolerant pain level is not just about physical muscle strain, but also includes the pain of discomfort. I had decided that I was going to do this ride. I was already as wet as I could be — couldn’t get any wetter. I chose to ignore it and just settle concentration into the act of riding. And that’s how I managed the next hour or so.

About 10 miles from lunch, the rain seemed to be settling down again. Like a desert mirage, I thought I could see “light up ahead” and a break in the clouds (this had been Bruce, Michael, and my mantra on the famous Two Rivers Tour). I wasn’t completely giving into that fantasy, since the rain had stopped at the first lunch stop. Yet, I was hopeful.

There was a point in the route where the road markings indicated a decision: “~100 miles” turn left; “102 miles” continue straight. Considering these rides are usually short of the miles they advertise, and I usually end up having to ride around a parking lot or up and down a street to make up the lost mileage, I decided to go with the 102 mile route. After all, what was 2 more miles after 100? Nothing but a stroll down the road!

I found out later from a Hancock member I rode with after lunch that they had done a test ride of the route the previous weekend and they had learned that the route was 102 miles. Therefore, they decided to turn the route at a shorter point for those who just wanted to do an exact 100, but leaving the option open to do 102 for those who didn’t care. More practice for TOSRV, I say, where it’s not over at 100 but 105!

By the time I made it to the lunch stop (at 52 miles), the sky was indeed lighter. I parked my bike and went into the Arlington High School cafeteria to enjoy a feast of turkey sandwich, potato salad, macaroni salad, pasta salad, and a bag of Baked BBQ Lays. Yes, I ate all of that. It’s no wonder I never loose any weight from riding. I didn’t realize until I started serving myself food that I was famished.

After eating and sending a few quick e-mail and text messages via my cell phone, I off again. I was more than halfway there. The weather had vastly improved. There was still “water in the air,” but it wasn’t really raining. You kind of “ran into” the water while riding. I tentatively removed my rain coat again. My legs were feeling a little tighter than they normally do after a 50+ mile ride, though nothing I couldn’t live with. I was finally starting to feel sufficiently warmed up.

Over the next 25 miles, I ended up riding with two guys (one of them was the aforementioned Hancock Handlebars member). We rode a pretty stiff pace of 18mph, despite the wind and the fact that neither guy seemed to want to do a paceline. I was going to suggest it, but I was afraid they’d be offended or something (since neither of them offered it or showed any signs of attempting to draft off of me). Some people are sensitive about the whole “drafting” thing, so I just decided to drop it. Besides, part of me likes to do the ride by my own power. I sometimes feel like drafting is cheating.

When I hit the rest stop at 75 miles, the sun was actually out. I had to change out the clear lenses on my glasses to the ambers (which I’d packed in the morning, hopeful). The temperature went up a little and it felt a little humid. I guess you can’t have everything. I personally was glad to be out of the rain — humidity was not going to bother me now. The only thing I regretted was not packing sunblock… I guess I had not been that hopeful that morning.

The HH guy kicked it up a gear out of the rest stop and I never saw him again after the second mile when he turned into a dot on the flat horizon before me. The other guy — we’ll call him “Cinci Boy” because he was from Cincinnati — and I alternately passed each other during bursts of energy. We stayed pretty close together throughout the rest of the ride, though often riding apart from each other.

I was in good form through about 92 miles. This is an improvement over the MS 150 where I started to feel tired of riding at 83. So, I managed to get about nine more miles of energy on a century after 2,000 miles. There was a rest stop ten miles from the end of the ride. I felt the need to stop. I munched on a few items, drank some water, and calculated that it would probably take me about half an hour to complete the last ten miles. At that point, that seemed like such a long time!

During the final stretch, as the sun beat down on my arms (and I hoped I wasn’t getting cooked), I had a moment of disassociation where I briefly wondered if I was really still riding my bike, or if I was merely dreaming that I was riding my bike. I get these moments every so often — a “pinch me” moment where it doesn’t feel like I’m awake. It’s almost existential — is life but a dream? Or are we the players in someone else’s dream? I could have delivered a Shakespearean soliloquy right at that moment! To be or not to be…

I popped myself out of it a few miles later because I was worried that I’d disassociate so much that I’d end up crashing into something (or someone). Though, I’m sure the pain would provide proof that I wasn’t dream at all.

It wasn’t long before I was rolling back into the old downtown Findlay. Stopped at a red light that seemed to last forever, Cinci Boy and I exchanged a few grunts that basically consisted of, “I’m ready to be done. Aren’t you?”

I remembered riding through the old downtown in the morning. It sure looked nicer with sun. Every thing looked nicer with sun.

The last few miles seemed to take forever. I could have sworn that the high school was just around the corner from the downtown, but before I knew it, we were riding along a long winding road that paralleled I-75 for a bit. I watched my computer count down the miles to 101 just to distract myself. So, this ride was correctly measured — it would be 102 after all!

Finally, I saw a series of stop lights and a building that looked like it could be the high school. I kept watching the arrows on the road, but at each intersection, they were still pointing annoyingly straight. “Where the hell is the entrance?” I kept thinking. I was so ready to be done.
And then, there it was, my oasis of everlasting relief: the high school driveway. I turned and headed straight for my car in the parking lot. 102.3 miles.

I know I should have probably said goodbye and good luck to Cinci Boy, but at that moment, I just wanted to get to my car and remove myself from this two-wheeled device of pain. My butt was quite sore at this point and, as I would later learn, I was quite chafed. Yuck.

I was a little disappointed that I had no one to take a picture of me by the HHH sign… Diane and Jeff were already almost home. Well, I didn’t expect them to wait four more hours for me to complete my ride. I guess I could have asked Cinci Boy, but he’d disappeared shortly after I’d made it to my car.

I went into the high school to wash my face off and change into a t-shirt. Fortunately, they had some left over food from the rest stops there and I was able to grab two chocolate muffins. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone! Even this health food nut cheats! (Even though I lecture people all the time about how they shouldn’t eat crap food after exercising…)

The drive home was actually really nice. It was early evening and the world was enclosed in what I always call “The Golden Hour.” There is a certain angle of the sun in the west that causes the sky to light up like gold and the land, likewise, appears “brighter” than usual. Even the blades of grass take on a golden hue. It only happens in the evenings in the fall.

Every time I manage to catch a glimpse of the world at The Golden Hour, I can’t help but muse about how beautiful the planet is. This moment even makes me appreciate Ohio, which I openly scorn on most occasions. I guess I have a love-hate relationship with this state, mostly due to it’s winter weather and the lack of healthy attitudes among its populous. Denver was my Mecca, but I missed my friends when I lived there.

As I was driving home, tired from a long ride yet invigorated, I realized how many different places in Ohio I’ve seen this summer on my bike. Maybe it isn’t such a bad place to live after all. Maybe in all those years of complaining, I wasn’t looking very close. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to dislike the place so that I convince myself to get out. I’ve always had a problem with living in the moment and appreciating the things around me. Now, having fed my wanderlust and returned like the prodigal son, I have the time to notice and appreciate the beauty in the place where I was born. I’m starting to hate it a little less.

I’d definitely do this ride next year. I think it was far more interesting than Toledo. Incidentally, I’ve decided to abandon the MS 150 in Toledo next year for a change of pace to the MS 150 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ve never been there. As I’ve continued to learn over this last cycling season, you can’t help but notice the beauty of a new place when you’re viewing it from the seat of a bicycle!

To my sisters and brothers in grief…

With all the memorial ceremonies and such going on today, the last thing you probably want to see is your favorite (I hope I’m your favorite!) blog site adding to the melee of conversation, prayers, and odes to the victims of September 11, 2001 (aka 9-11) once again. I’m going to do it anyway because for the last several years I’ve avoided reflecting properly on this day, wrapped up in my own grief and slightly angry at the world for remembering over two thousand other lost loved ones while at the same time telling me to “get over the loss” of my loved one. The messages have always been jumbled to me. On one hand, you have patriotic Americans shouting, “Remember 9-11”; while on the other hand, the same person might say to me, “It’s time to move on.” As if mass tragedy outweighs single tragedy. One does not outweigh the other; one is simply more visible.

Despite the tone in the above paragraph, though, I really have gotten beyond being angry about this conflict of attitudes. This is simply the way things are. I’m not so sure I can even compare my personal tragedy to the tragedy of 9-11, and I probably shouldn’t bother to try. Loss to the individual it affects — and it affected many individuals that day — seems more painful to the person who has lost. I’m sure an individual widow or widower from 9-11 may have been told that it’s “time to move on” by their own personal friends. Grief in anyone’s face is hard to deal with.

On September 11, 2001, I found myself grieving a second time. I describe the moment I found out about everything that was happening in a way that reminds me of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s words in Star Wars when Aldaraan is blown up, “There has been a great disturbance in the Force…. as if a million people just suddenly cried out in pain…”

In my head, no joking, that’s what it was like. I was not so much shocked about the attack that had occurred on American soil, nor the details or the why. I simply felt as though Mike had died all over again. My newfound empathy shot hundreds of tiny pins into my heart. My first thought was, “Oh my God. Thousands more people just became widows/widowers.” And sisters and brothers and mothers and fathers — all lost in the span of a few hours (though, I learned of the towers, flight 93, and the Pentagon all at once because I was locked up in a training class at work).

I cried for everyone else who had to experience, in such a visible way, what I had a mere five months earlier. I cried because I knew that had Mike still been alive, he would probably have been somewhere — hopefully stranded and not on a plane that went down — because he traveled frequently for work. I cried as though he were still alive and in danger. I cried because I had to go home to an empty house with no one to comfort me.

It was a hard day for everyone. And I never felt more alone in those hours afterwards. Driving back to Stow (where I lived) from Mayfield Heights (where I worked), the highway was completely empty. It felt like the end of the world. When I got home, I tried to comfort myself and ease the loneliness by hiking at my favorite trailhead in the Cuyahoga Valley. Nature always clears my senses and grounds me. This time, however, it made me feel worse.

I never realized how silent the world is when airplanes are not going across the sky regularly. No one else was in the park. I could hear the breeze blowing the blades of gross across the rolling hills in front of me. I could not relax. An occasional car rolled up the road by the trailhead and it sounded like a tank. I wondered if I was “supposed” to be out.

Needless to say, I didn’t get very far down the trail before I turned around and headed for home. The silent world had made me too nervous. Worry was starting to set in about the circumstances… I wondered if the apocolypse would come in the form of the nuclear war, like the nightmare-inducing novels I’d had a sick fascination with reading as a teenager (Children of the Dust; A Canticle for Lebowitz; Alas, Babylon; On the Beach — I’ve read them all). I hoped that if anything happened, it would happen while I slept. I tried to assure myself that dying wouldn’t be so bad if it brought me back to Mike.

As you know, that night was a jumble of confusion. I remember watching network news stations, trying to decipher what was happening and only becoming more panicked (I can swear there were random reports about bombings going on in some part of the third world, but my memory about the events of 9-11 aren’t clear). Even if death would bring me back to Mike, I sure didn’t feel like I wanted it to happen. At least, not violently.

Everyone has a story about this day… It shocked us all. I think we would be amiss to dismiss it or allow ourselves to become lost in the media heat. The media will talk about anything that’s hot, but it misses the true emotion of an event, choosing instead to rip it apart so much that people are numb to listen anymore. September 11th should not be one of those over abused talking points. People should remember this day, as they remember Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, the Challenger explosion, and — more intimately — the day someone you love passed from the Earth.

I think we’ve lost the memory of September 11 with all of the side issues: the debate over the war in Iraq, the politicians bashing each other, criticism of the current government administration, flip-flopping accusations. Don’t loose sight of what occurred on September 11 amidst all the bickering. In the end, it matters much less to me why it happened than the fact that it did happen.

I’ve never made it a habit to pray, but tonight, I might light a candle and say a prayer for the families of those who are still aching over the loss of their loved ones. I know — I sound like a sentimental fool. My own ordeal with grief made me that way, I can’t help it. May the families find the sort of peace with life that I’ve managed to find in the past year… People pass from our lives, but are never forgotten (and shouldn’t be forgotten). This is the way of things.

– To the brave souls on Flight 93, I will forever be in awe of your tenacity. I would only hope that faced with the same sort of situation, I could react as you did and sacrifice my own life to save the lives of many others. (As Spock would say, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”)

– To those who perished in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, I can’t imagine losing my life in the simple act of going to work in the morning. I hope we never forget the tragic chain of events that brought about your untimely deaths.

Anyone know a grief therapist?

For the last year, I’ve been contemplating going back to school to become a grief therapist. Kent State has a counseling program I’ve been looking into. But I need to career shadow someone to know if this is the sort of job I want to do. In my heart, I feel like it’s my calling. Admittedly, there are not enough counselors out there who have actually been through grief. As a grieving person, I found this distressing because the therapist can say, “Well, that’s normal for you to feel that way.” But you don’t really take a lot of credit from someone you know just knows the stages of grief through something they read in a psych book somewhere, or that they learned from other grieving patients. I wanted, really badly, someone who knew where I was coming from through personal experience.

There is a serious lack of info about death out there. Sure, there’s lots of self-help books that affirm what you’re feeling is normal, and they offer suggestions for dealing with your grief or “moving on” (I hate that term with a passion… there is no “moving on” ever… there’s “coping with a miserable situation and not letting it drag you down for the rest of your life”… that’s not “moving on.”) But there were not a lot of books written by grievers about their grief. For awhile, I was trying to write such a memoir. I keep putting it aside, though, insecure about my writing talents (and frankly tired of people scoffing when I say I’m writing a memoir at the age of 32 — like what do I have to say about life so young?)

Anyway, I once attended a hospice program through Parma General Hospital. It was a support group for young widows, of which I was the youngest widow at the age of 26. “Young widow” for most people means in the 40s. That was a real eye-opener for me. Even among “young widows,” my case is a minority. A freakish occurrence that happens to someone so young. Later, I learned from an online young widows list I was on, of young young widows such as myself, most of the deaths have been through some sort of accident. Health/heart issues, such as the one my husband died of, were something more common in the 40-something young widow crowd. So, I guess I’m kind of an “in-betweener.”

The support group was really good for me. It only lasted about two months, though, and I really could have used something that ran a little longer… if only just a “coffee break” event every other week with the other widows so that I’d have people to talk to who were still going through some of the stuff I grappled with. There really wasn’t such a thing, and that is something else I’d change as a grief counselor.

The people who led the live support group were just normal counselors. They freely admitted to having never gone through grief, and they talked openly sometimes about their husbands and children. These kind of things grated on my nerves, though I understand it wasn’t their fault. People enjoy talking about their families. However, to my over-sensitive and newly crushed heart, it stung like an open wound. Their discussion of family life only accented more for me what I didn’t have, what I now never would have. I felt they lacked the sensitivity to understand how painful their words were that only another grieving person could.

The best support I actually got was from an online community of widows and widowers I joined through yahoo groups. These were voices calling to me from all across the world, all different religions and backgrounds and situations. They brought me a lot of peace and comfort. I was free to express my anger and talk about the things going on in my life without fear of being judged. We shared of bond, an understanding, that bridged all gaps in our backgrounds. Death, and dealing with the pain and reality of it, is a shared human experience.

Now, as time has passed and I’m on my own road to recovery from grief, I feel this urge to become a counselor myself. I want to help people in the ways that I felt I needed help. I traveled the road of the grieving process solo; I don’t think it has to be this way. My journey was long and hard; I think it should be easier for other people. If anything, I think that a lot of people would find comfort in getting advice and counseling from someone who has actually experienced grief.

On the same token, I worry that I wouldn’t get respect from grievers of other types of losses, such as the death of a child. I’ve also noticed that there is a marked difference in grieving between someone who lost a loved one at the end of a long bout with an illness as opposed to people, like me, who lost a loved one suddenly without warning. Would I have enough common experience to be able to sufficiently help these people? Or, would they think, as I thought of those who had never suffered grief, that I was talking out of my two sides of my mouth, that I couldn’t understand their suffering at all?

Recently, I’ve come to realize that another type of loss is similar to my own grief: divorce. I never thought it was possible. To me, divorce was always the equivalent of a breakup, and, while distressing, it in no way paralleled the grief I felt in the loss of a man I truly loved at the moment he died. In divorce, even if you’re the one who was “broken up with” (as opposed to the one who initiated the divorce), you knew where you stood with each other: it was not a happy marriage. I figured, as is the case with any breakup, it hurts at first, but then you realize it was for the best and you “move on.”

Huh. It’s ironic, isn’t it, how I can so easily assign the “move on” label to a life change I don’t understand at all. Even when the same phrase made me instantly so hot under the collar. In my narrow view, there was no similarity between divorce and widowhood.

I was dead wrong. Over the last several months, deeper discussions with a friend who has been divorced has opened my eyes to the fallacies in my logic. I’ve learned that going through a divorce is a grieving process of it’s own — not entirely the same as the grieving for a dead loved one, but not entirely different either. One feeling we both meet on is trying to reconcile the loss of the life we expected to have with the life thrust upon us. It’s a dream in the distance that still calls to us in lonely hours when we’re weak to melancholy.

The sudden loss of a dream — of your expectations of how you envisioned your life turning out — is a feeling I’ve learned a lot more people share. Two very good girl friends of mine have expressed these feelings in their struggles to become pregnant. Because children were never a necessary part of my own life plan, I’ve struggled on and off with understanding why such a thing was so important to them. For someone like me, who can give or take having kids (I don’t think having them would make my life any more or less complete), it never occurred to me that not being able to have them could cause the same aching sense of loss I felt at losing my husband. Not being able to have kids when it was part of your life plan is the loss of an expectation you had of your life. The death of a dream.

I’ve watched as one of these friends has struggled, in much the same way I’ve struggled, to make a new life definition for herself and her life. It’s torn my heart to pieces to realize that she feels, at times, just as lost as I did in the years after Mike’s death when I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with myself now that the plans I’d made with Mike would never happen. There is somewhat of a loss of identity that occurs there. I wanted to share the world with my loving husband as his wife; she saw herself as a mother. These are powerful definitions about ourselves that go beyond the titles themselves… Sometimes they become so ingrained in our self-definitions, our souls, that we can’t find the person that was there before we had the dream.

Coming off my self-centered world of depression, where I was always pouting like a teenager that no one understood me, opened my eyes to a world in which I could suddenly relate to my fellow human beings. In the worst of my grieving, I thought everyone else was happy and no one had problems like mine. Since I waking up and fumbling my way back into the world of the living, I’ve come to realize more and more that I’m not alone at all. I think most people try to make the best of the worst situations. But sometimes, in weak moments, they count those things they wish would have turned out differently. And we ask ourselves the important questions of “Why?”, “What did I do wrong?”, “Why can’t I have the one thing I’ve wanted most in life?” You cant help sometimes to feel a little jealous, too, “Why does she get to have what I can’t have? Don’t I deserve that too?”

I used to ask myself those questions all the time. When I’ve stopped to listen, I’ve heard them echoed in those friends who have suffered losses different than my own. It’s brought me face to face with my humanity: I am not feeling anything that was never felt before. There’s comfort and strength in numbers. Grief can make you feel really alone. I’ve had some of the loneliest moments of my life in the last six years.

I want to be a grief therapist because I want to alleviate some of the suffering for other people. No one can make you stop grieving; everyone grieves at their own speed and in their own ways. No one can change how you feel about your loss. However, you can join a circle of people who understand you and the loneliness can be eased. I wish I’d had more of that during my struggles with grief. I think because we were all so young, not a lot of my friends or family knew what to do for me or say to me, so they left me alone. I don’t blame anyone — what would I have done if one of my other friends had lost a spouse instead of me? I wouldn’t have known what to do for them either. Like everyone else I aimed blame at over the last few years, I would have been too focused on my own life — too happy about the things I have — to have paid as much mind to those around me who were suffering. I wouldn’t have been as susceptible to the empathy I now have.

I was at times vehemently angry, unbearably sad, and unrelentingly depressed. Only through experience did I learn firsthand what people during this time need. I don’t have all the answers — I probably still won’t have all the answers after four more years in college (should I chose to go back for this profession). I would hope I’d gain the tools and skills to combine with my understanding of grief issues so that I can more effectively help people than the help that was available for me.

I guess you always have somewhat of a need to make improvements on things you didn’t feel were done correctly for you. I see this a lot in parenting — people always strive to do the things for their kids that they feel were not done or done incorrectly for them by their parents. It can be reactionary and maybe serves as an imbalance in another direction. I would hope, however, that training as a counselor would provide a good counterbalance for me and that I wouldn’t swing in some completely opposite direction.

Grieving is a difficult process. It’s never going to be easy for anyone. My only goal is to help others feel less alone in what is, in most cases, the loneliest time in their lives. You never realize just how alone you are until something like this happens. I will never forget the long nights and, most especially, the aching, scary loneliness I felt on September 11, 2001 — the scariest night for just about everyone in the US — when I had to go home to an empty house and no one even called to check on me. That was my lowest point of the year (after Mike’s death). Alas, that is a subject for another time…

My wish is that I could create a network of support for people so that they would not need to feel as alone as I felt. If I’d had one young widow friend, or someone else, I could talk to when needed, maybe I would have been able to see the light of day sooner than I did. I was afraid often to ask for help, afraid to bother my friends and family who did not really know how to help me or what to say. I want to give others a safe environment in which to express their feelings without fear of the outside sources who whisper, “It’s been several months now. Don’t you think it’s time to move on?”

Anyway… if anyone out there knows of a grief therapist who might be willing to let me shadow them, let me know. I’m really curious about this profession. I think I can make a difference. I think my experience gives me a realistic and sympathetic edge to this position that I feel is slightly lacking… or maybe it’s not lacking, but it’s not as visibly available because our society doesn’t like to mention death in polite company. (I tried for months to find other services and therapy specifically for young widows, but never did find anything other than the all-too-brief young widows support group I attended at a local hospital. It only last eight weeks or so, and then I was back to my loneliness and an Internet chat group.)

Follow the Leader!

I finally took some initiative, discovered some latent leadership abilities, and organized an ABC ride on Labor Day, which I called The Labor of Legs Labor Day Ride (every good ride needs a good title). With the help of my good friend, Michael, I put together a route, cue sheet, and successfully lead a 63-mile loop from Seville to Wooster. To my surprise, a total of 14 people showed up for this ride, including a non-ABC member friend of mine named Gabe (I met her at my cousin’s cousin’s New Years party this year). A few of the people I may have bullied into attending (as is my usual method of encouraging people to participate in things I’ve got some organizing hand in). Nevertheless, it appears that fun was had by all.

The weather was perfect. The day started out without wind and a little chilly (which I liked). We left Seville and headed into the Overton valley, which part of MCBC’s Ice Cream Odyssey goes through. We rode along the winding Overton Road that twists through small communities and farms along Killbuck Creek. It’s mostly shaded and filled with trees, unlike the higher elevation that surrounds it. I’ve ridden though this valley a few times now and I’m always impressed by the beauty of what I call one of Ohio’s hidden treasures. I never realized there were other valleys this far west in Ohio. I guess I havent gotten out much!

We enjoyed a nice climb out of the valley via Smithville-Western Road. I’d climbed this road earlier this year while riding with Michael and I’d fallen on it. The beginning part is abruptly steep — estimated by a rider on Monday as being roughly 13% grade. The time I rode it earlier this year, we’d just come coasting down a hill into the valley so I was in a very high gear. When we turned onto Smithville-Western, I underestimated the toughness of this hill and did not drop to an appropriately lower gear (which in this case, would mean using my granny ring). Of course, as I tried to climb the hill, I found that I could not move my pedals and, as I struggled to both drop to lower gears and remove my feet from the clips in the pedals, it was too late and I toppled over. Followed by, according to Michael who had already rounded the first bend, a series of impolite explatives that issued from my mouth (I swear like a truck driver). And, naturally, my fall happened in plain view of a group of people in a passing vehicle — it never happens when you’re alone! So both my pride and my hip (which took the brunt of the fall) were injured. I had a huge, ugly bruise that did not go away for several weeks.

Due to this earlier incident, I was very nervous as we made our approach to Smithville-Western (another member of my ride liked to call this road “Smith & Wesson” after the gun, which he said jokingly, that he wanted to shoot me with for adding the climb to the route). The road represented a failure that I needed to get beyond in order to feel secure about my riding skills again. I kept thinking of Yoda’s warning words to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back: “Remember your failure at the tree.” These words reminded Luke that he had failed an important test of his Jedi skills when he encountered a Jedi-induced mirage of Darth Vader inside an enchanted Jedi tree.

This road was my enchanted Jedi tree. My failure. I had to remember my failure and learn from it. I could not allow myself to repeat my mistake or I’d have not learned anything. Just as Luke could only confront Vader and truly succeed as victor (as savior) once he’d had a little more experience, so could I only confront that hill after the wisdom and skill learned from multiple climbs out of the Cuyahoga Valley all summer and the excruciating pain of battling the hills at Roscoe Ramble.

So as soon as I saw the wall that started Smithville-Western, I didn’t mess around: I dropped into my granny ring and started spinning. Quite quickly, I was in my last gear, huffing it out as Michelle and Michael pushed past me as though no hill existed (I will never be as good as they are on hills! I’m in such awe!). As I was pushing myself up this hill, my tension left me as I felt the Force flowing through me and I realized that this hill was actually not as hard as Everett Road in the Cuyahoga Valley, which I’ve gone up more times this summer than I care to remember. It certainly wasnt as bad as that God-foresaken Stucky Road on Roscoe Ramble. It’s all perspective, you see, that makes your journey in cycling. At the beginning of the summer, everything looks worse than it does at the end of the summer. Ahh, the wisdom of time, experience, and 2,000+ miles!

Before too long, I made it to the top. I did not have to get off and walk. Life was good. The Force was with me. I waited at the top for the rest of my riders. The worst hill on the ride was now over. I even had the insane urge to contemplate taking that hill by tandem sometime. (As if going up it myself was not enough of a challenge!)

The rest of the way to Wooster was a nice, rolling adventure. I just zoned into the ride, enjoying the weather, the soothing heat of the sun on my back. This was a great group. Everyone went their own speed, but we stuck generally together. Everyone seemed in good spirits, no one seemed to be dying. I found myself constantly worried about people being unable to keep up or dispirited by the speed, but thankfully, everyone seemed to be fine with the route.

We lunched at the Buehler’s cafe on Market Street in downtown Wooster. It was pleasant and the food was reasonably priced. I made the misguided mistake of eating a bison burger. I’d forgotten that beef-ish products don’t sit with me well when I’m in the middle of fits of athletics. I paid for it on the return ride to Seville when I started getting cramps in my side. It’s a good thing I passed up on the coffee as well, or I’d have been in some uncomfortable state. Although, that bison burger called to me… I love bison…

I had mapped out an optional 70 mile route. I was feeling great at the lunch stop, which was only about 40 miles. I was completely willing to do the optional 7 miles, but everyone else declined, which really bummed me out. Still, I agreed that 63 miles was reasonable.

Our ride out of Wooster consisted of a long stretch of several miles along Friendsville Road. The local Wooster-ite who had joined our ride (a friend of Bruce’s from the Wooster Bike Club) explained that he has ridden this road at several different times of day, during several different seasons, under several different weather conditions, only to get the same result — a strong headwind. I’d forgotten what headwind does to you on long stretches of flat terrain. It reminded me of what lays in store for me at Hancock Horizontal Hundred this Sunday — the flat century laden with wind. Oh, yeah, that’s what will prevent me from my attempt at a 16mph average. Unless I can find a drafting team.

From Friendsville, we turned onto Sterling Road. I realized we had made a miscalculation on the cue sheet of about 3 miles, which meant that my ride was not 63 miles, but 60! Uh-oh — not even a metric century. As we neared our next turn onto Seville Road — the home stretch through Sterling and into Seville — Michael rode past me indicating that he was going to offer a 3 mile jog around a block of roads near the intersection for anyone wishing to get the actual 3 miles. Of my 12 remaining riders (two had left us shortly after Wooster to return to their homes in Wooster), only four of us elected to follow Michael for three more miles. It wasn’t the best three miles in the world — one part consisted of more northward travel against the wind on a crappy “chip and sealed” road. But then, no one was asking me to break any speed records either (though, I was lagging behind the other four who seemed to be doing better despite the obstacles).

The remainder of the ride back north along Seville Road was painful. I had been feeling quite robust until I had to force myself against the wind in what turned out to be a hot day (about 82 degrees, I’m told). That last few miles beat the whip out of me. As I rolled into the Seville Elementary School parking lot, I came up with 62.85 miles; thus, I had to ride up the street to get my 63. Life was complete now! Or so I thought. More on that a few paragraphs down!

After packing our bikes away, a few of us decided to head for the ice cream shop in Seville. I had a chocolate malt, every sip of which I still managed to feel guilty about. (Why is it I eat crap after doing all this glorious exercise? It’s no wonder I never lose any weight!)

It seemed that everyone was pretty happy with the route. I felt proud to have organized a ride. It was kind of fun. I couldn’t have done it, though, without Michael who not only helped me come up with the route (since it was his home territory), but he often rode sweep for me to ensure the slowest rider was still with us. So I can’t take all the credit — it was a team effort. (He just didn’t want to claim the responsibility of ride leader.)

Perhaps I shall lead a ride again. I enjoyed being able to provide a ride for my fellow ABCers. I need to explore more roads. It would be nice to do something in Portage County (barring their horrible road conditions in many spots) since I don’t get a chance to ride there often (probably because of their poor road conditions and they don’t have a bike club we can partner with). Over by Hiram College, where I went to school, I know there are some challenging hills and interesting sights. I’ll have to see what I can manage. Maybe call it the Hiram College Pride Ride. Or something. (Everything I do needs to have a name!)

Incidentally, to complete my day, Michael and I rode an additional 7 miles after the ice cream stop. Hey, he threw down the gauntlet because of my expressed disappointment that no one wanted to do the extra 7 miles out of Wooster. So, I did end up getting a 70-mile day in. Yes, I’m a nut. But, I ask, who is nuttier: He who suggests doing a crazy thing, or she who agrees to the crazy thing?

Hmmm… As my friend Diane stated when I posed the same question to her through email this morning, “Oh, and the one who agrees is nuttier than the suggester.”

Well, I guess no one is really all that surprised by that answer. After all, I do claim to be from Mars. I can’t be all that stable.