Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Puddin' Pedal and Other A-Peeling Ruminations

Bananas and I have a complicated relationship.  Bananas are one of the best cycling foods there is - readily available energy, potassium, inexpensive, portable, etc.  But I can't stand bananas if they have a single brown spot on them.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.
I'll only eat a banana if it's barely ripe enough to eat, definitely with no brown spots and preferably still a little green.  I go grocery shopping once a week, usually on Saturday, and buy two bananas.  Therefore, it's rare that I eat a banana later in the week than Monday because I'll eat one banana on Sunday and one on Monday.

I strongly identified with a recent article in The Onion:

NEW YORK—Sources at Key Food supermarket confirmed that a sad man tore two bananas from a bunch of seven while shopping alone in the store’s produce section Wednesday. “This ought to do it,” the lonely individual reportedly thought to himself as he placed the fruit in his shopping basket alongside a single pint of milk, which sources confirmed would likely go bad before it was finished. “I’ll probably have one banana today, maybe the other tomorrow or the day after, so—yeah.” According to reports, the five bananas remaining in the bunch were purchased by a smiling, cheerful man, who brought them back to a home full of people who love him very much.

The Bananas of My Youth

I've always had an aversion to brown spots on bananas, but it was exacerbated by my mother.  Sometimes for breakfast she would slice an overripe banana into a small bowl, pour in some milk, and sprinkle a little sugar on top.  As if this would make it palatable.

On the other hand, bananas were a saving grace during 5th grade.  My class must have been especially bad because almost every day that school year we had to sit in alphabetical order at lunch.  That was a mixed bag; I got to sit next to my best friend Madeleine, but we had to sit across from two boys with cooties, Wesley and Eric.  It was especially a bummer when we had silent lunch, which seemed to be more often than not.  On days that we got bananas , it was easy to entertain ourselves during silent lunch.  We would cut a slit into a banana like a mouth and make it drink milk with a straw and then burp.  Hilarious.

Bananas in My Riper Years

In 2010 Robert and I did a wonderful cycling trip in Oregon that went from Ashland to Bend via Crater Lake.  On the day before we flew home, we went to a fair that was in Bend.  Chiquita bananas sponsored one of the booths, and we had a phenomenal photo op:

Top Banana and sidekick
I also got a free paper banana crown, kind of like a Burger King crown but with bananas.  As we left the fair right at closing time, I was wearing my banana crown.  Robert had already advised me that it really wouldn't be practical to take it home on the airplane with us.  Some stoner dude saw my banana crown and asked where I got it.  I told him about the Chiquita booth.  He really wanted my banana crown, and so I sold it to him for $1.

On a more somber note, I've written about my serious crash in a bicycle race in 2012.  I broke my upper jaw, messed up my upper teeth, and got a huge gash in my chin.  My doctors did an excellent job of putting me back together (and all the wonderful prayers and other support from my friends had a lot to do with it, too), but it was seven months after my crash before I could bite again.  I never realized how much I took such a simple thing for granted.  During the time I was healing, I could eat most things as long as I cut them up and put them in the back of my mouth to chew.  This is how I had to eat even sandwiches.  Sometimes I got funny looks.  But at last I had my final dental treatment.  My dentist told me to give it a few days for everything to settle, and then I could bite whatever I wanted, except apples and corn on the cob.  (Although I'll never be able to bite into those two things again, I can still eat apples cut up and corn cut off the cob - not a huge sacrifice, all things considered.)  The first thing I bit into post-crash was a banana:

A Bunch of Recipes

Once bananas get too ripe, they must be banished to the freezer to be used in banana bread or smoothies.  Even then, I've found that they need sufficient other ingredients to mask the overripe banana taste.  Thus, many plain banana bread recipes don't really float my boat.  I have found a couple that I do like, though.  One is Banana Blueberry Banana Pecan Nut Cake, a recipe from the famous Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, about 30 miles north of my home in Monticello.

Blueberry Banana Pecan Nut Cake

1 cup blueberries
2 sticks butter, softened
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1-1/4 cups ripe mashed bananas (2 or 3)
1 16-oz carton sour cream
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9x5x2-inch loaf pans; set aside.  Rinse and drain fresh blueberries.  If using frozen berries, dust with a small amount of flour.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add bananas and sour cream.  Mix well.  Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Fold blueberries and pecans into batter. Pour batter into prepared pans.  Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool.

Yield: 2 loaves

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Another variation on banana bread that I enjoy immensely is from the Bats in the Pantry cookbook, which features recipes with ingredients that rely on bats for pollination or seed dispersal:

Banana Ginger Bread
2 cups brown sugar
*1 cup mashed bananas
2 eggs
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*2 tablespoons vegetable oil (optional)
*3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
*½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
*½ teaspoon ground cloves
*2 cups dark beer
*2 cups dates, pitted and chopped
*2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9” x 5” loaf pans.  In a bowl, cream the brown sugar, bananas, eggs, and vanilla.  (Add oil if moister bread is desired.)  In another bowl, combine 3 cups flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, and cloves.  Combine the mixtures from the two bowls; mix in beer.  Toss dates with remaining 2 tablespoons flour.  Stir dates and ginger into mixture.  Pour into two greased loaf pans.  Bake for 1 hour, or until inserted toothpick emerges dry and clean.

*This ingredient is made possible by bats!

A delicious and nutritious way to use overripe bananas that have been banished to the freezer is to make a healthy breakfast smoothie:

Banana-Fudge Smoothie

1-1/2 cups very cold vanilla soy milk or regular milk
1/2 cup soft silken tofu
2 ripe medium bananas, frozen and cut in 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon sorghum syrup or dark honey

Combine ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Yield: 2 servings

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

State Banana Pudding Festival and Puddin' Pedal

Despite my slippery relationship with bananas, I was all over the opportunity to go to the State Banana Pudding Festival in Irwinton and ride in the Puddin' Pedal today.  The Puddin' Pedal is about 18 miles long and has a stop for banana pudding halfway through.  My cycling friend Benny in Milledgeville alerted me to this fabulous celebration.

Because I wanted to ride farther, I started my ride from Gray.  From Gray to Irwinton and back, plus the Puddin' Pedal, it was about 75 miles.  I just didn't see any need to ride 125 miles, which is what the total distance would have been if I had ridden from my house.

As I approached Irwinton, I passed some of the walkers who were finishing up the 5K.  One boy heard me approaching and stared at me as I rode by.  I called out to him, "Nanner, nanner, nanner!"

I caught up to Benny and some other cyclists from Milledgeville at the Puddin' Pedal rest stop in Toomsboro.  Banana pudding is an excellent thing to serve at a rest stop.

Then we headed back to Irwinton.

Back at the Blue Goose in Irwinton, the site of the State Banana Pudding Festival, I was glad to see my friends Katherine and David.  Additionally, they assisted me with the photo op.  One of my life rules is never to pass up a photo op where you stick your face into something, especially when it's so delightfully cannibalistic:

I also took a photo with Benny:

The spoons totally make this photo op.

Then it was time for the highlight of the State Banana Pudding Festival - the Puddin' Path!

For $5 I got to sample banana puddings made by seven local nonprofit groups.  I received a spoon, a napkin, a voting ticket, and a save-the-date card for next year's State Banana Pudding Festival.  After sampling all the banana puddings, I got to vote for my favorite.  The voting cans were recycled Jittery Joe's coffee cans - excellent!

The sampling setup was just right.  I got a small cup of banana pudding at each table.  By the end, I had had gracious plenty.  The various banana puddings were delicious.  There was a chocolate banana pudding - quite tasty, but at least for this event, I was anticipating straight-up banana.  One banana pudding kind of scared me.  It didn't have any vanilla wafers or anything else solid.  In fact, I assume that the recipe bombed because it was all liquid - more like banana pudding soup.  Another group had an interesting variation that was like a banana split, containing flecks of chocolate, pineapple, and maraschino cherries in addition to bananas.  The other banana puddings mostly went heavy on the whipped cream.  I discovered that banana puddings typically are either whipped-creamy or have a meringue on top.  I'm partial to meringue, which is how my grandmother made it.  In fact, my vote for the best banana pudding went to the one that was most like hers:

Here's Grannie's recipe:

Banana Pudding

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2-1/3 cups milk
2 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
7-1/2 tablespoons sugar
Vanilla wafers
4 ripe bananas, sliced

Mix 3/4 cup sugar and flour in pan to be used for cooking.  Add milk gradually to avoid lumping.  Add egg yolks that have been beaten well.  Cook over medium heat while stirring frequently to avoid sticking.  When mixture thickens well, remove from heat and add vanilla.

Beat egg whites until frothy.  Add cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Add 7-1/2 tablespoons sugar gradually and beat until stiff and glossy.

In a 9" x 13" Pyrex dish, layer vanilla wafers, then bananas, then filling, then meringue.  Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 12 minutes or at 425 degrees for 5 or 6 minutes.

Interestingly, Grannie's banana pudding recipe and her coconut cream pie recipe are quite similar.  You go with bananas or coconut, depending on the desired end product.  I like her coconut cream pie even better than her banana pudding.  In fact, coconut cream pie is one of my favorite desserts, period.  I would have done well on Gilligan's Island.

Coconut Cream Pie

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coconut
5 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
7-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 pre-baked pie crust (homemade, if possible)

Mix 3/4 cup sugar and flour in pan to be used for cooking.  Add milk gradually to avoid lumping.  Add egg yolks that have been beaten well.  Cook over medium heat while stirring frequently to avoid sticking.  When mixture thickens well, remove from heat, add vanilla, then coconut.  Pour into pre-baked pie crust.  Let cool.

Beat egg whites until frothy.  Add cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Add 7-1/2 tablespoons sugar gradually and beat until stiff and glossy.  Lightly pile on cooled pie, making sure it touches all edges of pastry, and sprinkle with coconut.  Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 12 minutes or at 425 degrees for 5 or 6 minutes.

If only there were a State Coconut Cream Pie Festival!

After I traveled down the Puddin' Path, I decided to go down the street to Maebob's for some fried chicken.  I rarely eat fried chicken and never make it at home because I can't make it anything like an institution like Maebob's does.  So I had to get while the getting was good.  It was mighty fine.

Full of banana pudding and Maebob's chicken, I headed home in a Southern fried stupor.  There's no way I could indulge like this very often, but it sure is good every once in a while.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Double Caesar 600K Brevet

Wow, a 600K!  Even I don’t quite understand why I do these things.  Randonneuring is exhausting and even painful sometimes, but at the same time it’s so fun and rewarding.  I was psyched to complete the Double Caesar 600K Brevet last weekend.  It was the longest single bicycle ride I ever did, and it was my last step toward this year’s big cycling goal, completing a Super Randonneur Series, which is a 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K all in the same calendar year.

Six of us started the ride.  We rolled out of a Publix parking lot in Evans, GA at 4:00 AM.  I savored the first few hours of riding when I felt fresh, knowing that the hard work was to come.  (See my preliminary ride report from 4/27/16, All That Is, Seen and Unseen, for a fuller description of the first part of the brevet.)

We all rode together for a while.  Although we didn’t talk much, our group was quite companionable.  We passed a small sign pointing to a YMCA.  Not trusting myself to ride in the group with no hands, I did the obligatory gestures with just one arm.  Robert Newcomer, who was riding behind me, was confused for a moment but then knew exactly what I was doing.  More than anything, he was thankful that I didn’t sing, too.

Eventually the group spread out, and I was riding with Brian and Ken.  I was glad to be able to draft off of such strong riders, but I was also a little concerned about going too hard too early.  Not having done a 600K before, I didn’t have a reference point, and we had a lot of hours to go.  After a while, I decided to drop back a little, but they eased it back a notch so that we could stay together.  That was really nice of them.  Thanks, Brian and Ken!

Our third control (second stop because the starting point counts as the first control) was a Subway in Pendleton, SC.  Woo hoo!  Lunchtime!  Ken and I went through the line and got our sandwiches at the same time.  I sat down to start on mine while he went back outside to his bicycle.  When he joined me at the tables, we discovered that I had accidentally eaten half of Ken’s sandwich – d’oh!  He was very nice about it.  We simply split my sandwich, too, so that we each got half of each other’s.  He didn’t even mind risking getting cooties from me.  By the way, his sandwich was better than mine.

We had been back on our bikes for only about an hour when Brian’s rear derailleur broke off of his frame!  This was a major mechanical that he couldn’t fix on the road.  Therefore, he DNFed and had to call Kevin (our Regional Brevet Administrator, or RBA) to pick him up.  Brian was terribly disappointed, and Ken and I knew we’d miss his company on the rest of the ride.

At the next control, a convenience store, I bought myself a souvenir (Arrr!):

Paddling and pirates.  The only thing better is dog paddling:

Shelly the beagle, one of my beloved polyhounds

The titular section of the brevet was approaching: climbing Caesars Head not once, but twice!  (because riding 600K isn’t hard enough on its own…)  It’s more than 1,800 feet of climbing in seven miles from the base of Caesars Head to the top.  I generally do well on such mountainous climbs because I have a relatively high power-to-weight ratio (approximately 4 W/kg at threshold).  However, it’s not often that I do a climb like Caesars Head with 161 miles already in my legs.  But I felt good.  Actually, I crushed it:

Kevin and Brian passed me in Kevin's car and cheered me on!
I reached the top before Ken did and continued on toward Brevard, NC without stopping at the top of Caesars Head.  The next control was at Huddle House in Brevard.  Huddle Houses make great controls because they’re open 24 hours, and they don’t mind if you prop your feet up while you eat.  Not to mention, a waffle, bacon, and two eggs over-easy taste great after riding 184 miles.  As I lingered over my meal, Ken arrived.  We were ready to go at about the same time, and I was glad to have his companionship again, at least until the second climb.

Although this was my first Double Caesar 600K, the Audax Atlanta Club has had this brevet a number of times before.  Previously, the second climb over Caesars Head has been simply going backwards on the same route.  This year, however, the second climb was a different route because the road on the descent of the first climb has deteriorated.  Technically, I don’t think last weekend’s second climb was over Caesars Head, but we had to get back over the same ridge.  I had mapped the route ahead of time to upload to my Garmin.  As I built the route, I was fascinated by the map.  (I’ve always loved studying maps.)  The North Carolina/South Carolina state line caught my attention.  It consists mostly of straight segments except in the region around Caesars Head, which is a squiggly line that runs roughly southwest to northeast.  When I noticed the squiggly line in that area, my first thought was that a river forms that portion of the state line.  I looked more closely and discovered that’s not the case, though.  The state line follows the mountain ridge.  Even more interesting, you can see the drainage pattern of the creeks flowing from the ridge, to the north on the North Carolina side and to the south on the South Carolina side.

The second climb wasn’t the long, steady effort like the first one over Caesars Head, but it definitely had some steep sections.  It also had a highlight of my ride – a black bear!  It was that beautiful, crepuscular time of day.  I was grinding up a steep slope and spied the bear about 40 meters ahead of me on the side of the road.  I think it was a juvenile – definitely not a cub but not as big as I’d expect a full-grown adult bear to be.  It must have seen or heard me coming because it ran off into the woods.  It wasn’t scary at all.  The whole incident lasted only a few seconds, but that was the coolest wildlife experience I’ve had on my bicycle!

The last part of the descent had relatively mild slopes.  The route was just beautiful as it followed a winding creek.  I was tired, now being about 200 miles into the ride, but my spirits lifted in the day’s last rays of sunlight.

The route as a whole was mostly out-and-back.  Following the two major climbs, it rejoined the earlier route at the control where I had bought the magnet/bottle opener.  I really wanted to stop there again for a Coke, but now the store was closed.  Instead, I stopped on the side of the road for a snack break with the food and drink I already had with me.  A few minutes later, here came Ken.  I was especially glad to be back with him now that it was dark.

The next control was our sleep stop.  Usually, the sleep stop on the Double Caesar 600K is at some cabins at the Clemson Outdoor Lab.  However, they were already booked when Kevin called.  Therefore, he reserved a few motel rooms at the Quality Inn in Anderson, SC.  It was farther to get to Anderson than the cabins at the lab, but it also left fewer miles to ride on Sunday after the sleep break.

The hardest part of the ride was those last couple of hours before the motel.  I was so tired.  I had been awake since 1:15 AM and had been riding practically nonstop since 4:00 AM.  I tried some of my usual tricks, like singing to myself.  Mostly, however, I just mentally willed myself to keep going.  A stop for a Mountain Dew didn’t hurt, either.

Around midnight, Ken and I finally made it to the Quality Inn – hallelujah!  After bumbling around for 10 or 15 minutes, we figured out which rooms to go to.  Kevin had sent Ken a text with a room number and told us to look for the flashing bicycle light in the window.  We must have been too tired to see the light the first time we circled the motel.  Ken bunked with Brian, and I went to find Kevin, who was waiting up for everyone on the other side of the motel.

Kevin recommended that I sleep in the room adjoining his so that I wouldn’t be disturbed by other riders coming in after me.  He also said I would need less sleep than I thought.  A REM cycle is 1 ½ hours, and so he suggested 3 to 4 ½ hours of sleep, 6 if I really wanted it.  I had already planned on 6.

Kevin had brought everyone’s drop bags.  How luxurious to have my toiletries and clean clothes!  After a wondrously restorative shower, I put on my Elvis pajamas and went to sleep immediately:

Thank you.  Thankyouverymuch.
(Photo taken several years ago when I got these pajamas in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis's birthplace.
Best.  Souvenir.  Ever.)

By the way, Jim, who had abandoned the ride when he got to Brevard, was already asleep in the other bed when I turned in.  He was snoring, but it was the politest snore I ever heard.  It didn’t keep me awake at all.

Although I had set the alarm on my phone for 6 hours, I suppose three REM cycles were enough because I woke up after only 4 ½ hours.  I put on my clean kit.  I really wasn’t hungry, and I definitely didn’t feel like going to the McDonald’s next door, but I knew I needed calories.  So, breakfast was an apple and some trail mix from my bike bag.

It was about 6:45 AM, just late enough to ride without a front light.  I prepared myself mentally for the remaining 110 miles, knowing that I would be riding them alone.  Ken had said that he planned to sleep only 1-2 hours(!), and so he was already out on the road.  Robert Newcomer arrived at the motel just as I was about to leave.  He made it 10 minutes before the control closed!  He had ridden all through the night.  Talk about determination!  He had time only for about an hour of sleep because he would be pushing it to make it to the remaining controls (one more convenience store and then the end).

As I continued my ride, I was pleased to discover that I felt adequate.  Not exactly great, but I felt like I had enough energy to complete the job.  Normally, I can ride 110 miles in maybe seven hours.  It was a relief to know that I had until 8:00 PM to finish the brevet, although I certainly didn’t intend to take nearly that long.

I passed Ed.  He had arrived at the motel after me but not slept as long.  He was riding more slowly than I was, but then I hadn’t done a 1200K the previous weekend – whoa!  Yes, Ed did a 1200K one weekend and a 600K the next.  He’s a mo-chine!

I actually leapfrogged with Ed a few times because I needed an extra food stop.  Sitting on the curb outside of a convenience store, drinking chocolate milk and eating Cheez-Its – how quintessentially randonneur-like.

I never doubted that I would make it to the end.  It was simply a matter putting in the miles and hours – and managing the fatigue and pain.  Cycling, like life, certainly has its difficult parts.  I don’t ever want to deny that about either, but at the same time, there’s a lot to be said for choosing the good and positive.  Some self-help stuff is too woo-woo for me, but certain tools really do work.  I came up with one that helped me finish my ride.  My eyes pretty much stayed glued to the number of remaining miles on my Garmin.  (This was an indicator of how tough it was for me because that’s not my M.O.)  Starting at 45 miles to go, I thought about the best thing I could remember at the corresponding age.  I wouldn’t let myself think about negative things, and my best memories had to be things that I still consider to be good – nothing that I thought was good at the time but later turned out to be not so great.  I even did my best to remember things from my youngest ages: cupcakes for my 4th birthday at pre-K, learning to swim when I was 3, dressing up as a leopard for Halloween when I was 2.  I really couldn’t remember anything from when I was 1, but I was grateful for the people who loved and cared for me.  When I considered my best memories as a whole, it helped me see what’s most valuable in my life: my husband, our animals, experiences, and the things I’ve learned.

Even though I was smelling the barn, the final miles weren’t easy.  Some of the roads had heavier traffic than I expected, probably because of a detour.  Also, where did all of those hills at the end come from?  They sure didn’t seem so big at o-dark-thirty the previous morning.  Then there were the hot spots that showed up on my feet about five miles from the end.  I wiggled my feet and toes as much as I could and kept talking to myself: “C’mon feet!  Hang in there for just a few more miles!”

At last I rolled into the Publix parking lot.  I did it!  379 miles in 34 hours and 53 minutes.  I texted Kevin, who showed up a few minutes later with my drop bag.  (He lives just a few miles from there, which is why a number of our brevets are staged from this location.)  Thank you, Kevin, for your phenomenal ride support!  You make it possible for the rest of us to do this sport we love.

Besides working for the Super Randonneur Award, I was glad to successfully complete this 600K to show myself that I could do it.  I’ll be doing more long brevets over the next few years to get ready for my next big cycling challenge: Paris-Brest-Paris 2019!


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

All That Is, Seen and Unseen

Note: This is a preliminary ride report from the Double Caesar 600K that I did last weekend.  I’ll post a full ride report later, but I wanted to go ahead and share this marvelously magical first part of my ride, which helped sustain me the rest of the way.

Last weekend I had a new experience.  Not just riding a 600-km (379-mile) brevet, the longest single bicycle ride I’ve ever done, but also starting at 4:00 AM!

The ride began in Evans, GA, about an hour-and-45-minute drive from my house.  It didn’t seem worth it to stay in a motel.  I’m not even sure most motels have the option of checking out in the middle of the night, unless perhaps you’re a member of the world’s oldest profession.  Therefore, I went to bed as early as I could on Friday night and left my house at 1:45 AM on Saturday morning.

The logistics went smoothly as I arrived at the start and got my bicycle and equipment ready.  At 4:00 AM we rolled out.  I actually felt pretty alert.  My companions and I chatted a little bit, but none of us seemed to be in an extremely talkative mood.  It might have been the hour, or it might have been the dynamics of this particular ride.  They’re all unique.

Because the extreme distance required a mellow pace, riding in a paceline and drafting weren’t really necessary, but that’s kind of what we were doing.  We had been riding for about an hour, and I took a turn at the front of the group.  For a few miles, it was magic…

It was still a while until sunrise, and there was almost no traffic.  The moon was just past full.  The heady fragrances of various spring flowers mingled in the air.  We were riding on a wooded road with overhanging branches – an elfin tunnel.  The occasional birdsong or scampering sound from the shadowy trees reminded me of all the busy little creatures, chasing out their destinies.

Some of my favorite words filled and surrounded me: God of all that is, seen and unseen.  They come from the first few lines of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God,
The Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is,
seen and unseen.

Most confessors of the Nicene Creed probably first think of the physical world as what is seen and spiritual things as what is unseen, which certainly is true.  I also like to imagine the God of the smallest entities that are: molecules, atoms, bosons, and even energy itself.  This is the same God of the other end of the spectrum: galaxies, supernovas, and the expanding(!) universe.  But this God is not completely unseen.  At our human scale we can perceive so much beauty and wonder all around us.  What delightful irony that even these things are unseen at nighttime!  Barred owls call “Who cooks for you?  Who cooks for you all?”  Spiders quietly build fairy hammocks from their gossamer webs.  Possums throw nocturnal parties in their woodland mosh pits.

You bring darkness, it becomes night,
    and all the beasts of the forest prowl.

Psalm 104:20

I’m never afraid when I’m outside, even at night or in a remote area, because all things belong to God, and God is everywhere.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7-12

Saturday, April 16, 2016

BRAG Spring Tune Up

Every year I look forward to the BRAG Spring Tune Up (STU).

Olive cycling

My favorite part of the BRAG STU is the unofficial rest stop just outside of Rutledge.  For years, the owners of the Oreo Farm have graciously provided space at the end of their driveway for beer, Bloody Marys, and Oreo cookies.  Today I got a Bloody Mary to go with my olives:

I also got an extra special treat: an up-close visit with some of the cows:

Belted Galloway
Scottish Highland
Simply bovine

I did the century option.  After the Oreo Farm rest stop, there were only 20 miles left.  I pretended that the vodka in my Bloody Mary made me an alcohol burner like in 8th grade IPS (Introductory Physical Science).  Rocket fuel!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

There's No Place Like Home

Almost every Saturday morning, I'm up early for the day's planned cycling adventure.  I love these things, but sometimes I just need a little time at home.  Between working full time, commuting, volunteering, and riding as much as I do, I actually have to schedule unscheduled time.  Ah, modern life.

Yesterday was gloriously agenda-free.  I didn't have to set my alarm clock.  I had a leisurely breakfast with Robert and the dogs.  Pumpkin oatmeal - my favorite any time of year!  After doing some laundry, I was ready for a bicycle ride.

First, I headed uptown to The Vanilla Bean to do my Bilbo Baggins impersonation.

It was a real treat to visit our local coffee shop because I'm rarely in town during the hours it's open.  There are always neighbors to greet and excellent beverages and baked goods at The Vanilla Bean.  A cup of green dragon tea and a slice of Italian cream cake gave me plenty of fuel for my ride.

I had already planned on doing a gravel grinder, but it turned out to be an especially good choice because yesterday was very windy.  Riding under the trees along unpaved roads shielded a good bit of the wind.  I headed south to the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge (PWR).

Although I'm not very well traveled, I have been a few places.  The world is so varied in its splendor.  Maybe I just love my home, but to me there's no place more beautiful than Middle Georgia.

I love the bright, fresh hues of green in spring, and yesterday the cloudless sky was brilliant blue.  This section of the route is one of my favorites.  The trees are managed to provide the open-growth forest habitat preferred by the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker:

Later I came to this natural rock crossing.  It's kind of fun to pedal through the water:

The southernmost portion of my route went to the Ocmulgee, one of Georgia's great rivers:

I looped back north on more wonderful dirt roads, savoring the day.  When I got home, I had a late lunch of Hormel chili, my guilty pleasure.  It was my favorite thing for Saturday lunch when I was growing up.  I ate it the same way I did back then, too, with a little Tabasco on top.

After that I lay on the sofa to read a while, happy to have the dogs nearby.  Not surprisingly, I dozed off.  When I awoke, Robert was back from his ride, and he asked me if I wanted to walk with him down to the creek behind our house.  If I had a tail, I would have wagged it!

The fiddleheads of the newly emerging ferns were a delight:

I could have spent the day doing household chores, but I have to remind myself that life isn't a checklist.  Sometimes it's good just to be home.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Unique Opportunities

This blog is about riding on two wheels, but it might have been about riding on one wheel if my parents had ever bought me a unicycle like I asked for.  Every.  Christmas.

A ritual of my childhood was going through the Sears catalog in the weeks before Christmas, circling everything I wanted.  Supposedly, my parents used this wish list to figure out what to get me.  OK, so maybe I was a little (a lot) on the greedy side, asking for way more than I knew I would or should get.  But I really did want a unicycle – with training poles.  In some ways, at least, I was a realistic child.  Although I never did get that unicycle, think of how different my life could have been if I had.

I never participated in any organized sports until I started playing church softball in seventh grade.  However, my parents could have given me the look and feel of an athlete years sooner.  The Sears catalog said so:

Furthermore, I might have been an excellent unicycle hockey player.  How about this for a different spin?

As a teenager, I played a fair amount of street hockey.  It started with a group of older guys at church who played hockey in the fellowship hall.  We ran around in tennis shoes and used a soft, rubber puck.  Soon thereafter, I started playing various sports with a group of guys from school.  We met after school at Oak Grove Elementary and played softball, flag football, basketball, Frisbee golf, dodgeball, pickle, or – you guessed it – hockey.  Our hockey puck was a tennis ball.  Imagine how much more fun our hockey games would have been on unicycles!

I even could have been a unicycle time trialist:

Alas, so many lost unicycle opportunities!  But nothing could be as epic as this: