Reunion

Back row: Mister Handsome, Wayne, Kristi Front row: Bonnie, Regina, Laura, Mary Kay, Sara

Back row:
Mister Handsome, Wayne, Kristi
Front row:
Bonnie, Regina, Laura, Mary Kay, Sara

Bonnie has aged much better than that guy in the picture.

Bonnie has aged much better than that guy in the picture.

I hate it when people age a whole lot better than I do.  It sure seemed that way today.  Had I been vain enough to care, I would not have had such a good time.

Today was a little lunch time reunion, impromptu, mostly for the small group of sketch actors and writers who worked together to start a little theatre company at a new church in Naperville, Illinois over 25 years ago.  The group started with three of us as the nucleus — Mary Kay (writer/director, occasional actor), Bonnie, and yours truly.  A lot of people credit us for helping to grow a group that spawned a large creative arts group that is flourishing in a church that now boasts over 5000 people in attendance each weekend.  We were just having fun.. and we gave a lot of blood, sweat and tears while having that fun.

When we started our theater group, we performed sketches for every weekend service.  Until our group grew in size, Bonnie and I were on stage almost every weekend.  That is a lot of memorized lines, a ton of rehearsal time, and a lot of time spent at church.  I was like a brother to Mary Kay and Bonnie, we did a lot together.  Bonnie and I were constantly teasing each other.. like siblings do.  She even took me to family get togethers, her family like my own.  We shared a lot together.  And seeing her today was real special to me.  We picked up right where we left off some 10 years ago or more.  As you might be able to tell from the picture, we were inseparable today.  It was so much fun!

And it was great to see everyone.  Lives had changed but everyone, honestly, really was the same.  That made it so good.  No pretentiousness.  No one competing.. something that made our group so special 20 some years ago.  There were a lot of people missing from our group, cogs who added something more when they joined.  There was Thom, an advertising exec from New York who wrote some of the funniest scripts I have ever read or performed.  Eric, a professional theatre producer who eventually joined staff at the church and who is an incredible talent.  Anne Marie, who brought backstage experience and enthusiasm to our team.  Vince, a fun geek with a gift for comedy.  Gary, a humble savant who became one of my favorite actors to share the stage with — so much that scripts were written specifically for the both of us.  The list of people could go on simply because we had a good thing going that made people want to be a part of it.

I could still feel that today as I shared with some of those friends.  One of my favorite moments was when Mary Kay told about her favorite sketch, one she wrote for Gary and I — running characters that we performed many times after that first sketch.  We were Vern and Elmer, two retired factory workers who hung out on the front porch and talked about the neighbors as they walked by.  For the first sketch, Gary (Vern) learned to play the harmonica and played it as my gruff Elmer complained in patriotic snobbery as the young mini skirt clad school teacher who drove a ‘fer-in’ car walked by our porch.  In later sketches, Bonnie and Mary Kay played our big butted wives, Vernetta and Clara.  Honestly, it felt great to hear the appreciation for those characters that I enjoyed playing during what really was a magical time of my life.

Bonnie lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband now.  Mary Kay is in Indiana, although she produces for a theatre company in Chicago, asked me if I would consider a role in a production (yes).  Wayne and Regina live close by, as does Sara and Kristi.  I am the only one still going to the church where we we started.

Reunions can be fun.  I loved this one.  I am going back to the first church I served after I graduated from college.  That visit will be next Sunday.  It has been thirty years since I have been there!

You Are Never Alone

I am incredibly infatuated with you, Miss Internet.  You look out for me, you entice me with your charms.

And because of you, I am never alone.  You help me to feel good about myself by making it oh so easy to discover that there are plenty of screw up doofs just like me.  Thanks to search engines.  All that I have to do is confess my sin to Google and I see that there are indeed plenty of others with the same affliction.

Take today, for instance, when I typed “2010 VW Key Fob Washing Machine”.  137,000 results.  Forums with numerous thread posts involving VW key fobs left in pockets and washed in the laundry, more than one individual confessing that they had performed that operation more than once.

Nifty little pieces of tech.  There is no such thing as a simple car key any more.

Nifty little pieces of tech. There is no such thing as a simple car key any more.

I don’t feel so bad now.  Especially since there were many solutions posted to repair the malfunctioning key fobs.  Thanks to other industrious miscreants such as myself, I was able to find a cheap fix — a new battery.

Yes, I left the key fob for my VW in the back pocket of my bicycle jersey when I got home last Saturday morning.  My ever laundry industrious wife threw the sweat soaked jersey immediately in the washer.

A few minutes later, I wondered why I heard a clunk inside our clothes washer.  It didn’t register right away.  As a matter of fact, it didn’t register until Nate asked me for a ride to the school.  Where was my car key?  Oh yeah.  Clunk clunk clunk.

The key fob worked until yesterday, when I could no longer use the keyless entry function on my car.  Oops.

But it works now, so I am not totally stupid.  Only partially stupid am I.

I wish the solution would have been as easy to fix my 64 gig iPod Touch when I dropped it in the toilet.  Ouch.  I did find out I was not alone then either.  Plenty had made the same mistake.  Plenty had found out that iPods and water, especially toilet water, are not compatible.

Thanks to the internet, I will never be alone.

Why I Bike

Saturday mornings are made for snuggling under a warm comforter for a few extra hours of sleep.

Wrong!  Not for cyclists.  Saturdays are the day to get that long ride in, to get out with your friends for a satisfying workout.  These days I don’t use my alarm Monday through Friday.. I only use my alarm for the 5 AM wake up on Saturday morning.  I growl a little when the alarm goes off, then peel the covers off quickly, that shock of cool air waking me enough that it’s just a tad easier to swing my legs over the side of the bed.  I trudge to the bathroom, brush my teeth as the mint from the paste wakes me a bit more, then pull on my cycling clothes as I venture down the dark stairs to the garage.  From there the fun begins.

Usually I already know what bike I am going to ride before I go to bed.  It’s not an eeny meany miney mo choice because the people I ride wait for Saturdays with baited breath, arrangements for our rides set up by a string of emails by Thursday or Friday.  We know where we are going to meet, how far or long we are going to ride, what the bike of choice will be.  This time of year the bike of choice is always my mountain bike, my friends Jon and Jim always ready to ride off road when the air turns cool.  Usually we have a few other friends that join us, but it’s always us three getting dirty on Saturday morning.

So I throw my mountain bike on the back of the VW, toss my helmet, hydration pack, gloves and shoes in the passenger seat, and head out for a quick coffee to take with me to the start of the ride.  We like to get to the start before dawn, watch the sun come up as we catch up on the week, ease into the prep for our ride.  I like Jon and Jim, always casual and easy going even as the pedals start turning, very capable and experienced riders.  We ride hard, but never try to punish each other.  It’s more about being out on the trails together and soaking in the joy of creation.

palos101114

She’s Baaaaaaaack

She walked through the door last night at 7:30, a young woman with an expression of familiarity, as if she had partaken of the fruit from the tree of knowledge and tasted the sweet nectar of freedom.  I could see it on her face — an acknowledgement that the girl who walked out that door six weeks ago had changed ever so slightly.  It was as she had passed the ghost of her former self as she came through the door.  The memory of that girl still remained in our house, in her bedroom shrine, a welcomed strangeness as she ventured in.

Don’t be too shocked when we see what we have done to your room.” I quipped as Alyssa trudged up the stairs to her bedroom.  She chuckled.

Her room does look different, mainly because it’s CLEAN.

Mom stood at the front door for a full half hour, unmoving with cell phone in her hand, anticipating our daughter’s arrival as she watched for the car to pull up.  Chester, our orange cat, sat on the couch looking out the door over Miriam’s shoulder.  Our faithful Shetland sheepdog stood by her side, not knowing why she was there but certain it was important for him to participate.  I swear they both jumped in simultaneous joy as the car pulled into our drive way, Miriam literally squealed with joy, Nick barked while standing on his back legs to look through the screen door.

I stayed at my perch like the dad I am, calm and watching my text with hidden anticipation.  Alyssa had texted Miriam, so I knew she when she was close.  My instructions were to wait for the text, then place the pizza order.

Yep.  They don’t have REAL pizza in Indiana like we have here in Chicagoland.  Lou Malnati butter garlic crust deep dish, The Lou with spinach, mushrooms, Italian sausage, sliced roma tomatoes, four kinds of cheese.  Alyssa freshened up, then we zipped out for pizza.

It’s funny the difference between my wife and I.  Miriam could not hide her excitement, talked a mile a minute, smothered our daughter with attention.  I gave my daughter a big hug, followed her upstairs to her room to see her reaction, the glow of having my daughter back burning on my face.  But like always, I gave my daughter her space and went back downstairs to wait, let her relax and settle in, waited for her to come to me — because she always does.  Alyssa always seeks me out, likes to get that time where she gets my total uninterrupted attention, when it’s just me and her.  Someone caught me at church talking to Alyssa after having one of those times with her, our breakfast dates, and they tried to get a picture of the satisfied smile on my face.

Yes, I really missed my daughter.  I knew I did miss her, just did not realize how much until she walked through that door last night.

And we got our time this morning.  I took her over to our middle school, where she was asked to reunite with the girls from the flute choir she lead while she was in high school.  The band director asked her to come this morning, paid her to teach three ‘master sessions’.  I picked her up afterwards, didn’t rush back to work, spent some time with her at Starbucks instead.

Feels nice.  Sunday afternoon is when she goes back.  I will lose a bit of that happiness when she goes back.

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Miracle?

Opportunity sometimes just falls in your lap.

Your mind went there, didn’t it?

OK, maybe it didn’t.  Mine should not have.  And you may just be totally confused right now.

My wife was offered a job last week.  Out of the blue, someone she sees now and then recommended her for a job.  It has nothing to do with laps, just to clarify.  That is a different kind of opportunity and I am pretty sure Mir would turn that opportunity down.  This opportunity did fall in her lap, just as she was starting to think about applying for jobs.  A daughter turned college freshman, with real college debt to think about, had her thinking seriously that maybe just maybe it was time to try to make my paycheck do it all.  Neither is the meager pay she gets working as lunch lady at the elementary school.  So when a job coach for a disabled woman who works at the school lunchroom told her that there might be an opening with her company, Mir expressed interest.

One interview later, Mir had a job offer to work with company that helps physically and mentally disabled people of all ages find jobs, then assists them with that new job.  Mir has a sociology degree and worked for an organization called Little Friends when I met her (I was not a client).  This is a job she is qualified for.  She will have to learn to work on her own as very little of the job will involve going to an office.  That will be tough for her, but it also gives her flexibility and control over her schedule.  I am glad to see she is excited about the job.

So am I.  Hopefully this will take some strain off of our finances.  I probably should not (and won’t say) what other thought is in my head, but it might help something else to happen.  Or it might prevent something else from happening.

Miracles still exist.  I never thought my wife would want to work, actually work and earn a real paycheck.

Ain’t that positive thoughts from a positive, sunshine boy?

Honesty

The Cardinals beat the Dodgers tonight.

I sat in a Buffalo Wild Wings close to my office, by myself, drank too much, and was blissfully satisfied to watch my team advance to the league championship… again.  There is not a yawn to follow as I am happy to see my team win again.. and again.. and again.

Smug happens.

There are times when I wish I was free to celebrate with whomever I wish.  Instead, I celebrated by myself and the one Cardinal fan in the bar.

My wife doesn’t care.

And the strangest thing happened.  Friends started messaging me to congratulate me.  It may have been the beer, but it was as if the wall of defense mechanisms did not exist.  At least two friends started sharing with me in a way that they never have before.

Weird.

It was probably me.

I need to change things.

Pa Hits The Kettle

This is my "six hours on the bike delirium" face.  No, my face did not stick this way.

This is my “six hours on the bike delirium” face. No, my face did not stick this way.

 

This 53 year old child had the time of his life yesterday.. until the next time of my life, probably tomorrow morning, when I can ride my precious mountain bike again. My friend, Jon, has become a serious enabler for me this time of year, prodding me to go above and beyond on the bike. Getting on a bike at any time of the year is no problem for me, but Jon does not go out for short or slow rides. So yesterday we went to the Kettle Moraine region in southern Wisconsin to ride the John Muir and Emma Carlin single track trails. We took a relative mountain biking newbie with us, a friend I have been riding with for close to twenty years, Frank. Frank is one of those guys with next to zero body fat and such a tolerance to pain that I sometimes wonder how he can survive — I have seen him get up from a crash more than once to finish a ride with broken bones and ride a punishing pace for hours when he was not in top riding shape.

bike jon kettle

In essence, I went riding with two guys who I knew would make sure I got the most out of my ride. We rode for more than six hours, fast and on some fairly challenging trails. We rode off the trails and down the road for a short lunch at a bicycle shop deli close to the trail head, then went right back to the trails for more. The trails twisted and turned with lots of climbing, covered us with grit as we rode the sand and dirt. Rocks and log obstacles greeted us all day.  I rocketed around corners and jumped rocks like I was a kid again… so much that I started to realize that I am not that kid any more.

Funny how that happens.  And then friends who challenge you, like my friends Jon and Frank, remind me that there is always that energy reserve I forget existed.  Five hours into it, they both reminded me that there was still plenty of daylight left and we came there to ride.  So we did.

So…much…fun.

We even made new friends.  I came zipping around the corner to find a hog nosed snake sunning himself across the trail.  The snake was at least three feet long, big enough to cover the entire trail.   He picked a bad place to nap, my bike going too fast to stop and my only choice was to roll right over the surprised serpent.  Jon and Frank were about fifty yards behind me, just enough to stop before they got to the snake after I yelled “SNAKE!!!”.  I turned around and came back to find two spooked friends trying to coax the hissing hog nose off the trail.  The snake had spread out the upper portion of its body like a cobra, hissing and refusing to budge.  Slowly it crawled away, hissing angrily into the brush next to the trail.bike snake kettle

Six hours total on the bike.  Almost 4000 calories expended.  8:30 AM arrival, 5 PM departure.  One..fantastic…day!

Baby Takes Another Step

Freshly moved in and genuinely happy redhead.

Freshly moved in and genuinely happy redhead.

I’m at real peace and afraid at the same time.

The last few weeks have required some adjustment.  It is more quiet around my house, a lot more time to relax and do my own thing.

I miss her so much.  So very much.  Yet I am also happy, proud, excited to see my little girl toddle out on her own.  It just seems like yesterday when she was a tiny little springy haired redhead who curled up under my arm next to me on the couch while I read her favorite books to her.

Three weeks ago, on a Friday morning, I woke up at 2:45, showered, then finished getting the family van ready for a trip to northeastern Indiana.. move in and welcome day for freshmen at Taylor University. Miriam and Alyssa had finished packing what was left to pack while I attempted to sleep the night before. ‘Attempted’ is the key word there because I did not sleep much.  There was very little left to put in the van except for the cool bicycle I had rehabbed for Alyssa, a balloon tired cruiser bike with white walls, wrap around handlebars, fat seat, and wicker handlebar basket.  My mom gave the bike to Alyssa and it was in bad shape when we got it.

This was my mom's bike and it took quite a bit of TLC to restore it.  Alyssa really wanted this bike for college!

This was my mom’s bike and it took quite a bit of TLC to restore it. Alyssa really wanted this bike for college!

We set off at 4:15 AM, turning back twice as first Mir forgot a set of bed sheets, then Alyssa forgot her sleep mask. Dad had two opportunities to exercise patience and I think I succeeded nicely. Both Alyssa and Mir sank into a deep sleep as I drove through a deluge that enveloped the Chicago area, my hands tight on the wheel with fright as the sideways rain coupled with darkness made visibility practically nil.  I am not sure I have ever been so glad to see dawn’s light.  As we navigated the highway south of Chicago, the rain stopped and the clouds rolled away.  Driving south on I-65 towards Lafayette, Indiana I groaned as dark clouds loomed on the horizon.  Torrential rain soon greeted us, the roads partially flooded as our van turned east from Lafayette.  At times we hit water so deep that I am surprised we made it across.

We did.  We made it to the university with plenty of time to spare.

“Let’s not go in yet.  Want to get some breakfast?”

My daughter didn’t sound unhappy, but I think that maybe she wanted a little more time as our little girl.  When our van crossed into the dorm parking lot, our little girl was going to graduate to our young woman.

She has been ready to become that young woman for a while.

That storm brought hot, steamy temperatures with it.  I counted my lucky stars as two student leaders from Alyssa’s dorm wing greeted us and led us to her first floor dorm room.  Sweat soaked fathers shuffled up the stairs past us as they moved their daughters into their second and third floor rooms.  Leslie, Alyssa’s room mate, had arrived earlier in the day but was away when we got to the room.

I left Alyssa and Miriam in the room to begin bringing things in from the van while they began to plan how the beds and furniture would be arranged in the room.  The beds, dressers, shelving, and desks were all stackable.  A large armoire for each girl could be moved any where in the room.  Moving Alyssa’s things in would only be half of the task.  Leslie’s dad and I were going to have some work to do moving that furniture around.

Leslie and her parents arrived shortly after we got to the room, a couple around our age.  Their daughter is their youngest of three children, all attending Taylor.  Her parents had already found out a few things about Miriam and I, asked me if it was right that I had graduated from Ozark Christian College.  They were excited to find out that I had indeed graduated from Ozark.  All four pastors on staff at their church were Ozark graduates and I had attended school at the same time with two of the pastors.  It was cool to talk to them.

And not so cool to sweat with them.  Did I mention that the dorm is not air conditioned?

The room came together nicely, our two girls working together nicely to decide on the best arrangement.  Alyssa had planned well for her move, much of her things ready in plastic bins that we stored underneath her bed.  She had purchased a set of bed risers that have built in USB connectors and electric outlets, the risers adding another twelve inches to the height of Alyssa’s bed.  Leslie’s dad shared a lot as we worked together on the room and as we watched the ladies decorate.  He told me something that made leaving my daughter so much easier, changing my perspective in such a good way.

“My other two children came away from Taylor so much better because of this place.  It’s safe, a healthy environment where your daughter is going to grow not only in knowledge but spiritually.  She is going to be ready for the world.  Once I saw that in my kids, I never shed a tear again when I had to leave them.”

He was right and I knew it.  The lump in my throat left as I heard that.

I also realized that I was ready for my girl to leave the nest.  It has nothing to do with wanting her out.  She is a gift to me, my daughter, the girl who wants to please her father, the reason for so many smiles the last eighteen years.  No, I knew I was going to miss her.  That is a given.  The reason I was and am ready for her to leave is that I know she is ready.  This girl is going to succeed and I can not wait to see that happen.

Alyssa and Miriam fretted over the room as I sat out in the hall, a spectator.  They hung twinkling lights from the ceiling over her bed and attached to the wall, pictures pinned to the wires.  The duvet on her bed matched her room mate’s, their planning prior to move paying off.  Before I knew it, the room was ready and we had met many of the girls our Alyssa would be living amongst.

We went to our hotel.  Showered and changed.  Took Alyssa to get her student ID and picture.  Had dinner off campus, then returned for a chapel dedication ceremony.  Alyssa went to the ceremony with her new friends, promised to meet us there, but she was late and did not sit with us.  I could tell Mir was disappointed.  I was too but, well, kind of happy at the same time.  She was not having a hard time at all.  After the dedication service, parents went to a dessert reception while the students went to mandatory dorm meetings.

Then we went back to the hotel without our daughter.  Strange.  It felt very, very strange to be alone together without our daughter.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that we had left Nate at home because he had a golf meet on Saturday.  He called Miriam while we were at that dessert reception.  Crisis.  He had accidentally put a divot in the golf green at practice that day.. and was suspended from the golf tournament the next day.  So although it felt strange to be alone without our daughter, I had the familiar ring of crisis while I listened to my wife try to deal with Nate’s crisis from our hotel room.

I felt bad, I really did.  I was also really tired.  I think Miriam forgave me for falling asleep.

The next day was short.  We were expected to leave after lunch.  The school had activities and games planned for the new students at 1 PM.  We met Alyssa at her dorm after breakfast, where I helped her friend Kate set up a wireless printer.  We took Alyssa to the campus employment office to fill out paperwork, then spent some time with her before lunch in the school’s dining commons.

Lunch.  Our final meal with her.

Alyssa excitedly told us about us about the mandatory dorm meeting the night before.  Her dorm wing had met their brother dorm wing and took what was called an ‘Awk Walk” with them across town to get a soft drink together.  The town Taylor University is in, Upland, is very small.  During the walk, each girl had to walk hand in hand with a guy while they each answered a question.  When the question was answered, they switched partners until they had to chance to meet each boy.  Yes, my daughter liked that.  I might be afraid of what might be coming next.

Our daughter could not wait for lunch to be over.  She stood up, hugged each of us, turned and left for the planned activities.  That was it.  No tearful goodbye.  Mir was disappointed.  That was not what she expected.  Somehow I was not surprised.  I could not hide my smile.

We drove back to Chicagoland that afternoon through more rain, a storm so bad that we didn’t have opportunity to cry.  Mir went right to work on Alyssa’s room when I got home, the tears rolling as she straightened up the empty room.  That was tough for me too, seeing that empty room.  It will never be the same.

I go to her room a lot now.  Sit on her bed.  Look at the posters on the wall.  The window curtains are open all the time now, sun and moon shining in, remind me of the space that is there.  Yeah, I miss my daughter but I am glad she is gone, at such a good place.  I am comforted and I like the space in her room.  She is still there.  Always will be.

Sunday morning was the next morning after we returned.  Our morning, the time special, when Alyssa goes with me to Panera for breakfast before church.  I had to go there.  Our favorite girl, Kaitlyn, asked about Alyssa when she took my order.  I took a selfie with Kaitlyn and tagged Alyssa when I posted on Facebook.  Alyssa was waiting for that tag and I smiled as she commented right away.  She was there with me.  Always will be.  Sundays are when I miss her the most.  Sundays always began with my daughter and ended with my daughter.  Every Sunday night ended when I picked her up at the mall from work, stopped for a drink at McDonalds on the way home, talked about our day.  Sunday was my day with Alyssa, the day of my daughter.

Smart phones have changed things.  We keep in touch.  She sends me pictures.  I don’t have to wait for a letter.  But I couldn’t wait until I got my paycheck — I took the afternoon off, wrote a letter to Alyssa, and sent the letter off with a few twenties in it.

Mir is doing surprisingly well.  Thank god for cell phones.  We are doing well.  Thank god for cell phones.

The boy is next.

 

 

I Could Get Used To This

Quiet.  Solitude.  Free time.

I could get used to this. 

Miriam’s sister from Alaska, Betty, arrived Saturday night along with her youngest daughter, Inga.  Inga is a little bit older than my daughter, Alyssa, and she is here to attend a flute convention in downtown Chicago with Alyssa.  Nate left Monday morning with several of his friends from the high school golf team for a few days of golf and boating at a friend’s family vacation home at some lake in Michigan that starts with a T. 

All I know is that I have had the house to myself every evening this week.  It has been just me, Nick the Sheltie and Chester da Orange Cat.  Miriam has been off galavanting with her sisters all week.

I

Love

It

What does dad do when the kids and spousal unit are gone?  Monday night I rode my bicycle until it got dark.  I had the Xbox to myself on Tuesday night.  I got home from work, made myself a magic omelette with our Magic Bullet, then starting shooting.  Call of Duty called my name.  Before I knew it, the clock said 11:30 PM.  Alyssa wasn’t at her convention yet, got home then, smiled and shook her head silently when she walked in the room.

“Have you been playing that game all night, dad?”

“Maybe.”

She just laughed and went upstairs to bed.

Last night I decided that the Xbox would not win.  I set out on my bicycle as soon as I got home and had one fantastic ride.  After riding my 25 mile circuit, I decided to go out for another 14 miles.  It was a cool night, barely a breeze, and I felt better at 25 miles than I had when I started.

And a friend of mine, a friend who runs and cycles, was celebrating her birthday.  Earlier in the day, I wished her a happy birthday on FB, told her that I normally ride a mile for each day of my life to celebrate my birthday. 

Can anyone guess how old she was yesterday?  This is a picture of my bike computer when I finished my ride last night, the picture I posted on my friend’s FB in honor of her birthday!  Funny thing is, had it not started to get dark, I felt as if I easily could have gone another 39.

I could get used to this.

Sometimes celebrating a friend's 39th birthday can be strenuous!

Sometimes celebrating a friend’s 39th birthday can be strenuous!

I just finished up a great week of bicycling, one of the best I have had in a while.  Early in the season, late February and early March, I was stoked for the coming months of cycling and ignored the gales of winter that persisted late into March around here.  Every chance I got, whether it was cold and icy, I was out on my bike.

Then the rush of golf season also hit, meaning that Nate wanted me out on the course with him every day.  And trips for work took me away from my bikes.  June was a wet month, making it near impossible to get out on the dirt trails for my much needed variety of rides — I can’t ride just the road any more.

July brought me back to the bike.  The bike is my refuge, my quiet time, the time where my mind clears and I can process so much.  That is why I prefer solitary rides over group rides, although I need the rush of competition those group rides bring now and then.  There is a peace that the rhythm of pedals turning, breathe synchronized with the steady pumping of my legs, blood moving throughout me, the concentration of mind and body working together.  Survival.

July also brought me closer to another turning point in my life.  I took a step further, the last step before making one of the most serious decisions of my life.  This is the year for life change, it appears.  Will I make it there?  I don’t know.  I am a month or two away from where that step might take me.

Enough of that kind of talk, however.  My week of biking brought me other more light hearted revelations, nothing new if you are familiar with the world of cycling, but fresh perspectives for me nonetheless.

Five days in a row on the bike — three spectacular road rides that filled me with confidence with the strength I discovered in myself and my body, two frenetic mountain bike rides on the dirt singletrack at my favorite mountain bike park (Saw Wee Kee in Oswego, Illinois).  That was my week, this morning my body both tired and newly strong from just the right amount of exercise.

With the variety of riding road and off road in the same week, I am reminded of the difference in culture between road cyclists and mountain bikers.

Mountain bikers haul their bicycles to the trails.  Trails for the normal individual rider are usually not out the front door.

A road cyclist finds their ‘trail’ when they go outside and only haul their bicycle if to join a group ride far enough away that it is not practical to ride to the start.

Roadies are inclined to spandex and groups of riders, sharing the work in a paceline.

Mountain bikers don’t usually ride in large groups.  It is safer not to.

My experience lately is that the mountain bike crowd is a relaxed bunch.  I found myself sharing a cold beer (or two) in the parking lot at the end of my two mountain bike rides this week.  I’m not sure that I ever have done that after a road ride.  Both times the beer was cold, pulled out of a cooler in the back of the car, the beer brought with the intention to share.  We sat leaning against a bike or on the tailgate of a car, sharing our favorite stories from our ride that day or just plain stories from our life.

Last night, after riding a little more than two hours, I rolled off the trail head satisfied and soaked with sweat, dirty and ready to call it a day.  As I pulled up to the back of my car, another car pulled into the trailhead parking lot.  It was Robb, a guy more than twenty years younger than I, a guy who I had enjoyed a few trail rides with after I sold him my old Spinergy Rev X wheels last year.  Robb has raced and I know he is a good rider from those trail rides last year.  He jumped out of his car, greeted me by my first name and like an old friend, introduced me to the friend he brought along with him to ride the trails.

“You done riding or you ready to ride some more?”  Robb asked in one of the most laid back ways I have encountered around here, “There’s a beer or two waiting for you when we’re done!”.

Hard to turn that down.  I knew I had a little left, not sure I had enough left to ride at the speed these guys were going to ride, but I was going to try.

At the top of one of the hills inside Saw Wee Kee park last night.  This picture does not give justice to how steep the trail is.

At the top of one of the hills inside Saw Wee Kee park last night. This picture does not give justice to how steep the trail is.

An hour and a half later, I had found out it is possible to sweat more.  I also had kept up, a lot of keeping up due to knowing the trails than ability.  We had a great time on the trails, chatting and stopping occasionally to rest.  As we rolled off the trails into the parking lot my body was tired in a very satisfying way, if that makes sense, aching but not painful, fatigued but not wasted.  It is hard to describe how good that felt.  A cold bottle of beer feels very good when it is held against the forehead, the cold beer so refreshing when you know you have earned it.  No one was in a hurry to leave, folding chairs pulled out of Robb’s trunk as we sat in the lot, sharing the company as the sun set over the river in front of us.

On a road ride there is also comraderie, usually shared during that ride more than after.  The acceptance among roadies can be the same as I have found with mountain bikers, but it just has not been as common.  There is more competition, even more snobbery in the spandex clan.  More often than not, a road rider is going to be friendly, but a road biker is going to revel in and hope for the ability to make other riders feel pain (or ‘tear their legs off’).  Unless a group road ride is agreed to be a ‘no drop’ ride (not always guaranteed) you might get left behind if you can’t keep up or have a mechanical failure, not something that happens on the trail.

I like that kind of competition some times, especially when I am strong enough to be the one inflicting the pain.

Friday afternoon, my boss encouraged me to take the afternoon off to get a ride in.  How am I to say no to a proposal like that?  So I took a ride.  The neighborhood I live in is a popular cut through for road cyclists, so much so that I rarely have to ride alone if I don’t want to.  There is always someone coming along and I will join in if the rider(s) is OK with it.  Sure enough, I turned the corner as a lone rider zipped by in the direction I was about to head.  I followed at a distance, knowing there was a stop light a few blocks up.  I wasn’t warm yet, but it was my fourth day of riding in a row and my legs would warm quickly.  The riders pace looked to be close to my comfort zone.

At the stoplight, I pulled up next to the guy, clad in a nice spandex kit, a nice carbon bike with all the right gear.  I greeted him with a friendy howdy.  The guy barely looked at me, a sneer on his lips as he looked away and straight ahead, ignoring me as we waited for the light to change.

OK, Buster.

He looked over his shoulder with a frown as the light changed, standing on the pedals to get a quick start.  Past the stop light was a long hill that crosses a bridge into a nice two mile stretch of rolling hills, perfect to stretch out.  I could tell the guy didn’t want me close, but he wasn’t fast enough to lose me.  Frankly, I could feel his attitude and it irritated me.  So I stayed ten feet back, matched his pace, laughed to myself as I watched him duck down to sneak a look now and then.  At the next stop light, I stayed behind him instead of pulling next to him and he didn’t attempt to make contact.  I let him go ahead again, this time staying closer, waiting for the hill I knew was coming up.  The guy was laboring to stay ahead, was obviously doing everything he could to stay ahead of me.

It was a mean thing for me to do.

One thing mountain biking has done for me is give me very strong climbing legs.  When I felt the resistance from the incline, I announced a pass then pushed hard past him up the hill.  He was twenty feet behind me when I crested the hill.  I left him in the dust after that.

Should I have bought him a beer?