Monday, October 8, 2012

Day 50: Eight years

Before breakfast, I decided to tackle my tire that was giving me some issues the day before. I took the tube out and put it in the sink to look for a leak, but couldn't find anything (I do have to admit, however, that I wasn't looking as diligently as I did in Illinois when I patched my tire). I decided to change the tire, anyway. Everything was going well until I tried to blow up the tire using my CO2 cartridge. The cartridge didn't seem to want to engage, and when I pulled the cartridge away from the adapter, a piece shot out and I was afraid that I had hit Marie, who was watching earnestly as I worked. I think she sat back a bit after that! Whoops! We decided that the adapter was now missing the piece that punctured the cartridge, (it was somewhere in the room) and I would need to take the tire to a gas station... after breakfast, of course.

We went downstairs for breakfast, where we had the breakfast special of eggs, sausage, and pancakes (George had bacon because he is trying to eat as much as he can before the world-wide bacon shortage takes place (yes, it is a real thing)). Marie and George brought a small container of Vermont Maple Syrup. Talk about a treat. It was absolutely scrumptious and a wonderful little taste of VT (one of many). I am used to the syrup congealing before it reaches the food, so even the texture was a nice change, let alone the decadent taste.

By the time we finished eating, went to the gas station for air, and packed up my bike, it was about 9:30, and I needed to get to a bike shop to get a CO2 adapter. The closest bike shop that was open was in Ashland, so we headed up that way. I should also take the time to mention that I woke up with a lovely cold, so we made a quick stop for cold medicine and then I was off, sadly. It makes sense that my legs and my body were completely exhausted yesterday since I was apparently coming down with something.

A few miles in, I noticed that there was a familiar bumping feeling as I rode, even though my tire wasn't flat. Right away, I knew that my tire wasn't seated correctly, and pulled off to find that part of the tire was pulled off the rim, (really good thing I caught it). I deflated the tire so I could tried re-seat it, and inflated it again with one of my cartridges and new adapter. It was a tad better, but not perfect, so I decided to see if I could get to the next gas station (not that I knew where one was), or somebody with an air compressor so I didn't blow through the CO2 cartridges that I had, (I still haven't changed my front tire, and I am trying to be as cautious as possible with supplies to make sure that I am prepared). I found a garage sale, and asked if they had an air compressor or pump. The pump that they had didn't work, and so I decided that I had to use a CO2 cartridge as my tire was mostly deflated from the faulty pump. My attempt to fix the problem failed, again, and the tire felt the worse that it had been all day. I was worried at that point that it might have something to do with the rim, and as it is somewhat dangerous to ride with a tire that is not seated correctly, I decided that I had to get to a bike shop. The closest one that would really do me any good was in Medina, as I didn't get a good vibe from the guy at the last shop. Luckily my aunt and uncle were still close by to save the day. I didn't think I would see them again so soon!!

They brought me to a wonderful bike shop in Medina called Century Cycles, and I was feeling quite guilty for missing the mileage, even though it was for maintenance/breakdown purposes. I later came to the conclusion that I will be technically be riding more than "coast to coast" as my trip will total just shy of 4000 miles. I am lucky that George and Marie were able to help, (as I could have potentially needed to get a ride from a stranger), and that this didn't happen to me in, say, Kansas, and the nearest bike shop was more than 100 miles away (then I would have felt very guilty).

Century Cycles had just opened up in this particular location only three days before. I had a long conversation about biking and my trip with a very friendly lady named Cathy, who worked the floor, as Ed was taking a look at my bike in the back. He took one look at my bike and believed that the brakes were actually rubbing on the rim and causing the issue, as they must have been hit or rattled at some point. He deflated and then re-inflated the tire, and then made me test the bike out in the parking lot. Everything felt good. Cathy gave me a T-Shirt with their slogan "Define your life, ride a bike," and Ed didn't charge me for his services after he found out why I was doing the trip. They also took a picture of me to put on their blog, which was such a privilege: http://blog. , scroll down to Sept 29). They were so nice, and so thoughtful. The atmosphere in the store and the people who worked there were awesome, and it is what you look for when you walk into a bike store. They were passionate spot cycling, and were eager to help the customers that walked through their door, and more often than not, shared their passion. They practiced "personalized" biking, or tuning in on what would be most beneficial to their customer rather than most profitable. The store reminded me a lot of Onion River in Montpelier, VT.

It was 2:00 pm, and we decided to get a quick bite to eat after we left the shop. As we were indulging in sandwiches (other than Subway, how nice), I was thinking about what Ed had said, and it dawned on me that I hadn't even clipped the wire back into the cantilever brake when I had the felt the worst of the bumping, so it may not have been the brake. I decided to call Ed and tell him that, and he advised us to bring the bike back to him.

Ed took the bike for a ride out back, and adjusted the shifting, and informed me that I needed some work done to my axle and bearings when I was done with the trip as it making the frame shake a bit as I rode. He said that I could wait until I finished my trip to take care of it, and that I could get by with some touch-ups that he made. I asked them if I should get new cleats, as it was getting harder to clip in and out of my pedals, and when I held my foot up so they could see the bottom of my shoe, both Ed and his co-worker were shocked at what they saw. Ed said that they were "the most worn down cleats" he has ever seen, and his partner said that I wouldn't have made it out of Ohio without getting stuck in my pedal. Attached is a picture of the new cleat next to the old. I had to raise my seat to compensate for the difference. I kept the old cleats for nostalgia purposes. Ed had me give the bike a spin out back with my new cleats when he was done, but without panniers. He and Cathy started laughing at me when I took my first pedal and had a hard time balancing without my bags, as my front tire moved back and forth many times before I found my center of gravity. The bike feels so different without all of that weight.

At that point, it was about 3:15, and Marie and George decided that they would stay another night as they didn't want to face a 6.5 hour drive to Michigan, and I think they were concerned that I was starting to feel very lousy at that point. I was exhausted physically, and the steep hills to Streetsboro certainly didn't help, but I forced myself up them: I wanted to accomplish some mileage that day, if for no other reason but for my dad, as it was the eight year anniversary of his passing.

It is honestly very difficult to fathom that eight years have passed, and I can honestly say that many of those days were spent dumbfounded and partially paralyzed by the fact that he was gone at all. There are many times when something would happen in my life, even something very small, like finding a good ice cream spot or something that I had seen, and I would think to myself "I can't wait to tell Dad about that." And as soon as that thought crossed my mind, just as quickly it would hit me that I couldn't do that, and I would get fierce twisting of my stomach, a knot in my chest that would threaten to rise to my throat. I just didn't want to believe that my father, the man I looked up to most, was gone. I didn't want to believe the ways that he suffered. I was so hurt, and so angry. So angry.

It hit me in Kansas, and I know exactly when, and I am pretty sure I could describe exactly what I was passing as I realized this. It was the first day of the bad winds; my first taste of what the wind in Kansas are capable of. Towards the end of my 100+ mile ride, the majority of which I spent infuriated by the wind that was successfully slowing me down the entire day, it dawned on me that I really couldn't be angry at the wind: it was part of nature, there was nothing that I could do about it, there was nothing to be angry at. I had to accept it, acknowledge it, to let it be and focus on the rest of my surroundings.. The good things. And as I was thinking that, it hit me that I just couldn't be angry (or as angry) anymore about the fact that I had lost my father, that he had died, because he had lived and I had had the opportunity to have known him, to love him, and to call him Dad. It was like the wind: it just is. There is nothing I could do about it, except cherish the memories and accept that it had happened, as nature does. I can now only be angry at the fact that brain tumors exist, and that is what had put me on my bicycle.... That is a fight that can, and is being fought.

That is not to say that I miss him any less. There are so many things that I wish I could do with him, even small things that people may seem insignificant, like even drinking coffee, watch a ball game... I have a list of conversations that we could have. I would give anything to go snowmobiling with him, to have a beer, to help him clean his cars from the auction. I would give everything to see the twinkle in his eyes one more time as he is cracking a joke, or from merely smiling. I can't. What is important, however, is that I once could.

My father has given me many gifts. He has given me an incredible childhood, one that was undoubtedly cut short, but that some people never get to experience. He gave me unconditional love. He has given me countless memories. He has given me his love for people. He has given me the gift of loving to laugh. And, among many other things, he has given me the courage and the strength to embark on this journey, to dismiss my fears, ignore my vulnerabilities to just do it; to open myself up to the world and see where it may take me.

Throughout the last eight years, I tried to grasp that he is still with me, through various signs. Now, I know it, feel it. For example, my family sees his spirit reflected in the presence of the dragonfly. I cannot begin to count the times I have seen dragonflies on this trip, and I don't exaggerate when I say that when I have looked up from my bike to taken in the beauty of my surroundings (or to try to distract myself from frustration our physical exhaustion/pain), I have seen a dragonfly the majority of those times-- sometimes just one, sometimes a couple, but they are there. Lindsay would see them too, when I wouldn't. What is more is that I would see them flying with me, past me, at me, when I didn't think it would be possible to fly in the conditions, like rain, or wind. The glimpse of those dragonflies in the hardest parts of my trip dissolved my fears, my frustration, whatever bad thing I might being feeling, and replaced them with "I'll get through this, and it will be ok." I have been calmed by its presence, I could find strength to get through it. I remember fighting the 21 mph crossings the day after this revelation came to me, and I looked up and saw a dragonfly to my left, flying next to me for a moment. This may sound a bit peculiar, but I laughed, put my head back down, and said, out loud, "Some wind, huh Dad?" The dragonfly flew off. What is really notable here is that it wasn't fighting the wind, it was flying in it.

I'm finally beginning to fully understand the message that Rev. Susan Kittredge left in my father's eulogy, partially because I think I am finally ready to. Towards the end of her beautifully written tribute to my father's life, Susan directed her words to my mom, my sister, and myself: "You will begin to see his presence differently; he will not speak in words you know; he will be with you in other ways... He will cheer with you from the sidelines, sit with you in your quandaries, be present with you in your joys and in your sorrows. Know now in ways that we can only begin to understand, that he can go and still remain." I am realizing that when I get that stabbing reminder that he is "gone" when there is something that I just can't wait to tell him, that there is a good chance that he already knows.

So Dad, thank you for all that you were, and all that you are now. Thank you for helping me find who I really am. I am beyond proud to be your daughter, and to have the privilege of carrying on your legacy.

"A part of you had grown within me, and so you see, it's you and me together forever, never apart, maybe in distance, but never in heart." -- Anonymous

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