Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Yesterday, I saw some photos I took of Paris Roubaix 2011 and now I realize why I have have emptiness always tugging at my gut. One of the photos, there sat my 2 bike loving boys standing in the sun patiently waiting for the racers To arrive.
It was our second time going, but the first time taking one of the children. Driving from Zolder, it is a long 12+ hour day and a great deal of it in spent in the car.
Beginning at 5A.M. We packed the car with food and drink, maps and plenty of clothing. We woke up Jelle who was then only 8 and piled him into the car. Being his "Papa's" boy he was excited to spend the entire day with us chasing down Paris Roubaix.
Yves had a system. An old school plan of sorts. We had done it the year before together and it was a combination of frenzy and exhilerating timing. He plotted out sections that we would view and by calculating the estimated arrival time of the racers and then adding in beating the road closures we would secure a good viewing spots. He estimated 6-8 stops.
We started in Lille, watched the athletes sign in and oggled their often special bikes and set ups for the "Hell of the North". The bikes and racers were all so clean and fresh; something that would not last long in THIS epic gruelng race.
However 2011 April was an unusually warm spring month and not a drop of rain fell. The temperatures were unseasonably warm thus the Pavé would be dry and dusty. There was not a cloud in the sky. A very NON typical day in Belgium.
As the race was about to start we jumped into the car and headed to the first spot and repeated this until we arrived at Roubaix. Unbelievably Jelle never complained, enjoyed the excitement and cheered along side of me and his Papa. The crowds in Roubaix are thick and wall to wall people line the velodrome. Those who spend the day there buy tickets and watch the race on the Big Sreens…
The year before it was Spartacus, soloing in the make the final laps on the oval. This year it was a complete surprise as Johan Van Summeran had the lead. When he came barreling around the barriers we knew all of our Limburg Provice was proud!
Because we did this the year before, we knew the drill. Cross the lines and cut through the barriers to wait in the team areas behind the cafe and near the famous showers.. Photos were to be taken..Seeing the riders one by one riding up with (this time) black dirt and dust covering them from head to toe in addition to the worn out tiredness from a long day in the saddle over hellish terrain is a sight every cyclist should see. Humbling to say the least..
Thus after some time of photo taking, team bike washing and water bottle collecting for Jelle and his brother and sister, we once again packed into the car for a long drive home.. Exhausted and exhilarated, I know I shall never forget this wonderful day with the boys I lost and hope young Jelle will also remember……
As Paris Roubaix is nearly upon us, this time I watch from the comfort of my couch but the memories and love will never die… Spring is in the air!
Sunday, February 10, 2013
I try to understand all sides. We all have so many stories that make up who we are.
Some of us will continue to make stories until the day we no longer exist and others let the stories make them.
I choose the first option.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Tales of Tenerife
Here I sit in the sun in 23c watching beachcombers soak in the precious rays overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Yes it is January, and yes I have escaped the grey, dark and wetness of Belgium for two weeks. It is my 10th day cycling in the mountains, refinding some fitness but not over doing it. The original mission was twofold: Avoidance of depression that would have surely taken hold if I stayed in Belgium during the holidays. It was only the 2nd holiday season without Yves and the kids and I knew it could be difficult. Biking in the wet, grey and cold weather just is not motivating. Call me a "softie" or call me smart. Choosing an option with sun and big climbs over flat wet and possible depression seemed a "no brainer".
Secondly, I have committed to two big race events in June and July and getting a winter phase one on the bike training is a practical way to jumpstart my fitness.
Thus here I sit for 2more days before going back to reality.
However, one particular event made me realize why I am REALLY here.
One evening after a long ride, I left my hotel room to get some dinner. The dining area is located on the lower level of the building. While in the elevator, a older man with white hair, heavyset build looking a bit "off" got in. The door opened at the lobby and he asked me where the restaurant was. I informed him that it was one floor lower thus he stayed , and we disembarked together. I found a table and started to proceed to the buffet. Just at that moment, the same gentleman asked me if I was sitting alone and if so, could we sit together?
"Why not" i thought. He looked harmless and I am always open to chatting.
After retrieving our food, we sat down at the small square table. Bad Christmas music played in the background. The restaurant was filled with retired couples, Russian and British tourists and well as a group of young track and field athletes there for a winter training camp. Add me in and we are an eclectic group to say the least. If it weren't for my obsession with the bike, I would not be there at all!
As we sat with our food, the gentleman introduces himself and proceeds to tell me his "story". Oskar is his name and he is from Finland. I can see he is troubled so I say nothing but listen. He tells me he and his wife come to Tenerife every year for a winter holiday. They enjoy the winter getaway but this time it went array. Oskar's wife became seriously ill and after few days had to be hospitalized. She got some sort of lung infection, and had to stay in the hospital for 2 weeks. In this period, she lost all motivation and of course Oskar was helpless. One morning he wakes up and sets off to the hospital like he has been routinely doing for 2 weeks. However this time his ankle is severely swollen and he cannot walk! He too gets admitted to the hospital and has to stay a few days to get it all sorted out. Meanwhile the couple who have been married Over 40 years are laying side by side in hospital beds. He, of course, is now beside himself. Eventually they discharge him, but his wife must stay until she is deemed fit enough to leave as well as cleared to fly back to Finland. All the while as he is telling me this, his eyes well up and the tears begin to flow. He is clearly heartbroken, worried and most of all in need of a listening ear. I understood it ALL to well. I know what it's like to ave the "rug pulled out from you" and the need solely to express yourself.
After listening, I shared my own story of why I was there, what steps I am taking to move forward and of course made him giggle by pointing out the irony that at least they got to share te same hospital room. We smiled, we laughed and we shared many stories of our histories. He shared his passion for motorcycling and I knew he understood my love of the bike.
We had a nice dinner together and he left saying that when this wife was cleared he was returning to Finland, retiring from his job and spending his precious time doing what he loved again. (Motorcycling, spending time awith his wife and traveling).
The following evening when I went to the hotel restaurant, I did not see Oskar. Immediately I was concerned. Perhaps he was at the hospital all day! I tried to stay positive. About a 1/2 hour later, Oskar and a white haired heavyset woman who looked just like him came strolling to my table. I jumped up! She was his wife and out and cleared! Yippee, some stories DO have a happy ending. They were holding hands and smiling ear to ear.
Before they left he stopped, thanked me and gave me a hug. He looked me in eye and I knew what he felt. For one small moment I was able to be his "Angel" . Really all I did was nothing more than listen, encourage and give him positive energy but that was all he needed.
As I sit here alone at the beach, I know my Angels are looking after me. I am healing but have a long way to go. One step at a time. My heart is heavy but stays open....
Sunday, November 4, 2012
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Then back home while riding my bike it hit me! I had never before seen the connections. John was my elderly friend that I became friends with. He was 79 years when we met.He was the oldest member of the gym I worked at in the financial district. He was a creature of habit. 5 days a week at 4:00pm he would come for a workout. He did an array of machines. I always smiled and said Hello. I approached him and gave him advice. He was so thrilled! He listened intently and added in my suggestions to his routine. He was so appreciative and expounded on his improvements.
Whenever I was available and saw him, I always made a point of talking. At one point the gym offered a very affordable promotion for personal training. John decided to give it a try and split a number of sessions with me and another good trainer. He shared more information about his life. He never married. He had joined the army in WWII and completed a full tour as a gunner as part of a bombing unit based in the UK. In the 1960’s he visited and fell in love with San Francisco and made it his home. He worked in a print shop and later with the municipal railway. We were friends and in an obscure way we were kindred spirits. He believed in me. He listened intently to my advice and my life stories. He had never married. For the past 40+years he lived alone in a small apartment on Jones Street in San Francisco. He had little family and the few he had left were all living in Detroit. He was alone but he never acted or seemed lonely. He had his routines. He went to the gym and he went to church daily. He followed the stock market ferociously. He proudly gloated that he had many shares in Apple. He was up on every new product and announcement yet he owned no computer or electronic device. He listened sharply to the stock reports on the television. He had macular degeneration and his eyes were progressively getting worse. Yet he got himself around and adjusted the routines as his blindness became more evident. He was a tough independent man.
He had loved to travel. He loved that I too liked travel. He lived vicariously though my bike adventures. He seemed to enjoy hearing of my physical endeavors and challenges. He always showed me his true self and was a gentleman. He lived his life ever so modestly. I respected his humbleness, his devotion to the church, his simple life, and his sense of humor, independence and physical strength. As his eyesight worsened, I knew he had no one. I felt compelled to help, to make him laugh, to give good energy to him. when I relocated to another fitness facility, I made it a point to call and visit him regularly. He needed help writing checks as he could barely see. He would not let me go without reciprocation. I told him it was not necessary as the gift of giving was my intent so he always put a “twist’ on it to make it a “win/win” situation. He insisted that he should buy me an Iphone as if he bought it, it would only strengthen the stock! We laughed and we smiled. He had a certain gleam in his eye when he made a joke. He was old fashioned yet flexible. He always wore a coat and tie. I had no idea the importance of our friendship. The more he felt comfortable with me, the more he would share some stories. He loved to hear of my bike trips and daily commute and yet was always genuinely concerned that I ‘was careful’ with the traffic. One day he shared some photographs and gave me a small face portrait from when he was in the armed forces. He laughed out loud and told me to tell my friends that I needed to show it and tell them, “he would date me but I was too old for him! He smiled ear to ear and thought that was so funny…
I could see his health declining. Things started changing. He needed more care. He was too proud. He would not concede. He made many changes to his will. He wanted me to be trustee. Then he started to show signs of early dementia. I was to learn from all these signs as shortly after I would deal similarly with my mother. My instincts knew and sure enough he had to go to the hospital. I knew it was a matter of time. He was tired. His old body was ready to go. He believed in the power of the church and his afterlife. He was done. I visited him in the hospital, held his hand and he was clear to me that he no longer wanted to live. I listened and I understood yet I did not want to hear it. The plans the doctors had devised were just too much for him to take. He either wanted to go home to his apartment or to his eternal home. There was No in between. I understood and knew what was coming.
Sure enough he died. I was not ready or able to take the responsibilities of the trustee of his will. After all, I was dealing with my own mother and her rapidly declining health as well as working full time etc. I delegated the responsibility to second in line who happened to be a head priest at the church he visited and prayed at daily Notre Dame des Victories Church. I knew he would have the resources and experience to better get the job done.
Knowing that John had a very small world, I was curious to see who would be at his funeral. Besides one nephew and his son who flew out from Michigan, there were his young neighbors from his apartment as well as some of the church Parrish. I took my seat in the church and as the priest began I could not hold back the tears. I was not prepared for this. I was torn. I was raw. Even thinking of it now brings me to tears. Why was I so attached? Why did I feel so much loss? 3 years later it would hit me…
A month after John’s death, I would go on my Italian race/holiday and meet the future love of my life.. We would share 2 amazing years together building on new life and unconditional love. Little did I know?
Thus when I was in Rome, I had an instinctual mission to spend time in the Vatican. I had to go to the Sistine chapel and I had to see the art. John’s death was a sort of preparation or premonition in a sense for Yves. Their sense of humor, the kind hearts, the attention to detail, the dedication to their loved ones and own pride were similar. John is one of my angels. Although he died before my fairy tale love story game into fruition,I know he approves. And so it goes and they are with me, in mind body and spirit as I move forward along this path I call life.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
Oscar Wilde once said "life imitates art".
Perhaps for some, but I think more accurately Life imitates cycling.
Every day on the bike is better than none, but just like life, it can be unpredictable. Bedsides the obvious predicament of the elements playing a great role, there is more relevance between the connection of mind and body.
If the mind is willing to comply, then ANYTHING is possible. If not, then kiss it goodbye. Anyone who has spent significant time as a cyclist knows this well. There will be good and bad days. Understand it, accept it, and move forward.
Cycling is so much more than turning the wheels.
I cycle to distract and let the mind wonder away from the everyday diversions that we call life. I cycle to feel the exhilaration of my blood rapidly pumping circulating through my body. I cycle to appreciate the rhythm of my elevated heart-rate and the heightened senses of awareness that accompany it. I cycle to let my mind rid of conscious and subconscious thoughts. I cycle to address my fears. I cycle to my welcome my strength. I cycle to forgive my enemies. I cycle to honor my loved ones. I cycle to laugh and I cycle to cry. But most importantly, I cycle to feel free.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
I am on my quest to find my new way; I must create new experiences, do what gives me great joy and ease the pain of loss and loneliness. Sunshine, mountains, and my bike give me the strength to know I can be strong, happy, and channel my energy inward and outward. Yves and I shared this passion and now that he is gone, I still do and somehow even more. I think of him and how he would be happy to see me happy. Sometimes I feel like I am running away from life but I just want to find peace. I miss him so as I lost the best thing/person I ever knew.
Two years in Belgium, I am all too familiar with knowing the seasons pass quickly. Belgium has such a short summer. So this year, I took full advantage of the slow work time, the good European weather and decided to travel. I made several trips with my bike this summer and have regained much of my prior bike fitness. I accomplished my Marmotte goal and then some. I used my heartbreak to fuel me to excel. May as well try to turn a negative to a positive.
When I’m away from Belgium, the sadness of being in the house without Yves and the kids is quickly forgotten. Thus, I decided to take one more bike holiday before summer officially ends. This time I wanted to revisit Provence. Fortunately Linda could join me. She is as bike crazy as I, so we are the perfect partners in travel. I am blessed our paths have crossed and she has become a wonderful friend. Laughter, sunshine, bike suffering and bliss is always better shared.
We are on a quest of daily riding, enjoying the warm sun, eating the ripe grapes and figs along the roadways and exploring the ancient French villages and of course climbing Mt.Ventoux. Ventoux is such an amazing mountain as it sits so differently than the others around it. Although it is not particularly high in altitude meters, the last 5km are barren rock and from afar give the look of snow. It’s Tour de France fame and austere beauty attracts people from all over the world. Elite cyclists riding lightweight carbon bikes donning multi colored matching team wear mingle with everyday folks in t-shirts and floppy hats on street bikes. All can be seen riding up with the quest of conquering the climb and often the notorious winds. It is truly a spectacle and often circus of sorts.
There are three approaches to the summit. The steepest side starts in the town of Bedoin and is 21km in distance. The kms average from 8-10% and is no easy task. The second challenging approach starts in the town of Maulecene. The gradient seems to fluctuate between 5-10% and is also about 21km in distance. The third and easiest approach starts in the town of Sault. The grade is quite doable, the distance a bit longer but the road is wide open. Therefore the wind can be treacherous.
In 2010, Yves and I rode up Bedoin and frankly, at the time I was not mentally prepared. I remember being a bit grumpy as the climb took forever. However when I saw the carts of candy and cookies on the summit my disposition quickly turned around. It was a beautiful calm day and the views were fantastic. On the descent we stopped at the Tom Simpson memorial where we took a few (and now) cherished photos. It was a grand day and we were in love. The following day we planned to ride up from Maulecene then descend to Sault climb back up and finish by descending to Maulacene. However that day we were deterred by gale force wind. We summited only to be greeted by ferocious winds and had to abort the double.
So in 2012, a year since Yves was killed, I’m back in Provence. I brought the last of his ashes with me with the intent of spreading them behind the Tom Simpson memorial where two years prior we sat. Linda and I began in Bedoin and I road as fast as I could sustainably could to the summit. One hour 40 minutes with Yves in my pocket. After waiting for Linda, and shooting some photos, we stopped at the Simpson memorial, spread his ashes and took more photos. This time I sat alone.
The following day we summated via Maulence and today attempted from Sault. The winds were all out so we decided to stop at Chalet Reynard.
Tuesday the plan is to do all three. Hopefully the weather will comply. I want to suffer as well as enjoy knowing I can do this. Yves would be proud and I ride for him. I will be back in Belgium soon thus I must relish the next two days of sun, biking, good food, companionship and no stress….
Love you Yves, miss you, and I aspire to find my way to make you proud.
Unfortunately the weather did NOT comply. We got pummeled with a bad storm while descending climb one to Malucene. We took refuge in a café then as it started to clear climbed back up to the summit. While there the rain once again poured and had to find refuge in Chalet Reynard 6km from the summit. One espresso, Two bowls of soup and tea did not stop me from shivering.
I shall return!