Kismet. It means fate; destiny. Today was Kismet. Spontaneous. Unplanned. Unexpected. Overwhelmingly beautiful. Every minute of it a private birthday gift to me, unwrapped and revealing a new and completely unanticipated surprise. A 51st birthday, could not have been better, had I orchestrated it myself, detail by detail. In cycling, I’ve learned, especially when dealing with hills or long stretches of hot pavement, it’s just a good idea to sit back on your sit bones, find your cadence, give yourself permission to just ride and not worry about pace, and keep pedaling. Today, I sat back and let the day take me where it would. I entered into it without a plan, and the day simply morphed into something more beautiful than I could have imagined.
Today was my birthday, but the gifts began trickling in yesterday when I had my six-month mammogram. This was a re-check on some calcifications they found in the other breast (meaning the breast I didn’t have surgery and radiation on in 2012). You never quite know what to expect at these visits: will it be good news or bad? I braced myself for the possibility that I was going to need “a further look”. Fortunately, after about half an hour the technician said I was free to go, but that the radiologist wanted to see me again in six months. Gift # 1. Kismet? Maybe.
Later, yesterday afternoon, I met up with several friends, one of them was my good biking buddy, The Poet. No, obviously that’s not his real name, but he does have a way with words. We had a few beers together at a new brew house in the valley. We languished there, a lazy summer afternoon, tasting beers, eating, conversing, laughing. It was a good time. Somewhere between Beer 1 and halfway through Beer 2, The Poet turns to me and says, “It’s your birthday. We must go for a ride. C’mon. How does 7:00 a.m. sound?”
You’re kidding me right? It’s summer. I don’t need to get up and you’re setting this thing up for 7:00 a.m. I thought.
What I said was, “It sounds great. I’ll be there. Won’t be a decent birthday if I don’t spend some time on the bike.”
So the deal was done, the plan made. Kismet (though I didn’t recognize is as such at the time). Gift #2.
This morning, at 6:00, when my alarm went off, I was not exactly feeling like it was such a gift, but I wasn’t going to wimp out on this ride on this day of all days. My 51st birthday. Not a landmark birthday, but one that definitely cements the fact that I am no longer anywhere near my 40’s. I’m getting older, and old age is not for wimps. After 30 minutes of mental whining and thinking which chamois-lined spandex kit (cycling term for “outfit”) I should wear, I hauled my expansive self out of bed. I checked the weather, chose a kit that would be warm enough for the cool morning hours, but which I could peel off the layers as the morning wore on. The temperatures were not expected to get up above the mid-70’s all day long. It was going to be perfect riding weather for me. Kismet. Gift #3.
The Poet and I met up an headed off toward Gold Hill, out Scenic Avenue to Old Stage Road, climbed our first decent hill and flew the rest of the way downhill into Gold Hill; a short 12-mile warm-up. In Gold Hill, we breezed up to Pattie’s Kitchen, a favorite breakfast joint of the locals. I’d discovered this place last summer on one of my Gold Ray Road rides. The Poet had discovered the place in a similar fashion on his own cycling adventures.
The fun thing about Pattie’s is that there is always so much life happening there. Friendly people frequent the place and they aren’t afraid to greet you and introduce themselves. Of course, when you walk into a place like that in full spandex cycling attire, people tend to stare. They also tend to engage you in conversation. Where’d you ride from? How far is that? Where are you headed? All commonly asked questions, and ones I’m more than willing to entertain. On this particular morning, the Poet and I were greeted by one of the locals who turned and started talking to us almost right away. He asked all the usual questions. Then he offered to pay for our breakfast! He wouldn’t take no for an answer. Turns out he was a teacher in Central Point for 11 years (The Poet and I are both teachers), he’d lived in Gold Hill just down Sardine Creek Road for 40 years. He was a cyclist himself when he was younger. He insisted that he pay for our breakfast. Of course, how do you say no to that? We exchanged names and numbers and thanked him for our breakfast. I did, of course, tell him how pleased I was, because after all, it was my birthday. Kismet. Gift #4.
At some point during breakfast, I remarked that I needed to ride 51 miles today, since it was my 51st birthday. Of course, The Poet was all over that. That’s when the adventure began. We’d only mapped out what would have been about a 40 mile ride. I suggested heading toward the covered bridge in Wimer. The Poet was down with that. So, after breakfast, we traveled northward on Upper River Road to Rogue River.
The first time I rode this route, it seemed like it stretched on forever. I attribute that to the fact that the road was new and I had no idea where it would lead. Upper River Road from Gold Hill to Rogue River is quickly becoming one of my favorites sections to ride in this valley, especially during the summer. It’s fairly level, it’s in decent repair, the traffic is manageable, and there is shade most of the way, and the views are soothing and serene. This area of our valley, when traveled through it on bike, calms and nourishes my soul. Today’s ride seemed to fly by and that even includes an exploratory detour up Sardine Creek Road. A road where I fell, skinned up my left knee and busted up my light, because I leaned the wrong way on the bike and couldn’t clip out fast enough. I’ve done that exactly three times. I hope that was the last. (For those who aren’t cyclists, falling in this manner is the equivalent of falling off a treadmill at the gym. It’s just not cool.)
We arrived in Rogue River, took a pitstop at the restrooms at Palmerton Park then headed down East Evans Creek Road toward the Wimer Covered Bridge. This stretch of East Evans Creek Road is absolutely beautiful. One thing I’ve learned about myself as a cyclist this last year is that I’m just not a hot weather cyclist. I’m really better off riding in temperatures that most people can’t even consider going out on a bike in. My favorite temps are the ones I experienced today: somewhere in the 50’s to mid-70’s. I pulled off wearing my full legged Canari’s and even at the warmest part of the day, I wasn’t uncomfortable. When I get too hot, I melt. When I melt, I tend to bonk. Had it been too hot today, I would never have been able to finish this ride in the shape that I did. I was grateful for the cooler temperatures. They couldn’t have been more perfect. Kismet. Gift #5.
We rolled up to the Wimer Market at the same time that three other cyclists rolled in. Before I go much further, I have to fill you in on The Relationship between The Poet and I. In short, there is no relationship other than friendship. It is one of my greatest blessings in life that I have friends of the opposite sex that I can hang out with “on bike” and not have to worry that things will be misinterpreted or feelings hurt. The Poet and I covered this territory early on. Fortunately, we have that kind of friendship, or maybe because we are both the kind of person that prefers transparency to veiled messages, where we were able to establish the friendship early on. His romantic interests are elsewhere, as are mine. Except…wait. I have no romantic interests, at this time. We both know this. We both capitalize on this at times. Today’s Wimer Market episode was one of them.
Back to the three cyclists…oh my!
So, we roll in to the Wimer Market and a few seconds later these old dudes on great looking bikes ride up. Except, here’s the deal. Those “old dudes” are in my age range. They also were tricked out in bike spanx, and sporting some serious cycling calves. There was one in particular who caught my eye. I turned to The Poet and said, “Check out the guy on the Cannondale. That’s exactly what I’m looking for in the romance department.” (Yes, that’s how we roll.) I then leaned over and whispered under my breath, “Ask them where they are riding from.” He complied.
Turns out they had ridden up from a state park in the area. This led to my next question, “So are you all local or from out of town just vacationing in the area?”
One guy, the “ride leader”, I’m guessing, said, “I’m from Ashland.” He pointed to one of the other guys and mentioned he was from Medford. He pointed to Cannondale Guy and said, “He’s from Hawaii.” After making jokes about what kind of ride that must have been, to which Cannondale Guy replied, “My tires are really wet,” we all laughed. The ride leader then suggested a route to us that would add “a couple of miles” on to our ride, but which was a beautiful ride. Cannondale Guy joked, “It’s a mythical ride” Turns out the three had tried to find it on their way to the market but had missed it. The ride leader was convinced it was there, the other two, not so much. However, this little piece of information about a beautiful ride was enticing. We were at mile 29 at this point, and taking this detour meant we would still be riding out, not heading home as originally planned. We decided to go for it and followed the Ride Leader’s directions. Kismet. Gift #6.
We headed out and followed the exact directions we were given. The Poet turned to me and commented, “Hawaii, so sorry about that.” I laughed, “Eff my life.”
We located the road easily, and kept pedaling…north. Further north. At a point in our ride when our odometers and our plan said we should have been working on going south. The names of the road we took escape me at this point, but after about four miles of mythical old growth timber, beautiful shaded roads, serene views, and fragrant hay-mowed fields, we hit West Evans Creek Road and began our trek back toward Rogue River. We were now at mile 35 or 36 and just heading home. The detour had been worth it. Kismet. Gift #7
West Evans Creek is a road that is good for me right now in my fitness. It has those rolling hills, none of which are horrible, but they demand some shifting skills. Each incline is followed by either a flat terrain or a descent that allows you to catch your breath and ease up on your legs. It’s a good road for me right now. I need to put more hills into my workout and this section of West Evans Creek does just that for me without wiping me out. I get a bit of a challenge, and I still feel successful at the end of it all. And, it’s riding through paradise. This was my third time on this road in the last week, and I my ability to hand the ascents has improved since last Sunday. Further, we rode this section in less time than I’d clocked previously.
After arriving back in Rogue River we caught a bite to eat at a place called The Station. This is an old home, converted to a restaurant. There’s a large old tree out front, around which outdoor seating is arranged. It’s lovely, and the food was fantastic. We ordered a Chicken Pesto Wrap and split it. It was delish. And the price wasn’t unreasonable at all.
We were closing in on 39 miles and the last leg of our journey. Our ride, thus far, had exceeded our original time frame and we were both worried about getting home. We decided to change our route. Instead of heading back through the fairly flat Sam’s Valley terrain, which would taken us a bit longer we opted for the Old Stage Road hill. Old Stage Road, coming from Scenic Avenue to Gold Hill is almost completely downhill. In reverse, this means about a four-mile ascent. It’s long and gradual, but it doesn’t let up. A year ago, I couldn’t make this hills without stopping several times to rest along the way. Even The Poet, who can climb hills effortlessly was dreading having to encounter this climb at mile 42 of our ride and during the hottest part of the day. We stopped at Pattie’s for a pitstop and water. We pulled off another layer of gear and set forth. I gave myself permission to go slowly and not feel like I had to be some powerhouse going up the beastly Old Stage Hill. In fact, I’d been psyching myself up for this hill since Rogue River. It was going to be a test of my progress since last year. I passed the test. I was able to keep pedaling, slowly but surely, right up that hill. Even more surprising? I wasn’t having a horrible lactic acid burn, nor was I feeling seat sore, nor was I really even feeling tired. It was a challenge, don’t get me wrong, but the challenge was in sticking it out. I rocked that hill compared to last year. Kismet. Gift #8.
Upon arriving home, I was greeted by my children with handmade cards, a bouquet, a fruit tray instead of cake and a clean home. It was a beautiful day of cycling, meeting new people, traveling new roads, and love from my kids. It couldn’t have been a better day had I orchestrated it myself. Kismet. Gift #9.
There are times in life when, if you let the day just carry you, it carries you to the most spectacular places and introduces you to the most interesting people. When you sit back on the sit bones of life, settle into your cadence, learn to shift into gear effectively, and just keep pedaling, this thing called life is a pretty amazing ride after all. This is the lesson I learned today. Gift #10. Kismet.