A Bike Community Celebrates and Mourns

I look over the photos I took this weekend, and there’s so much warmth, beauty, joy, friendship, and happiness in them. Athens’ biggest bike weekend, Twilight Criterion weekend, Christmas for cyclists.

This year’s weather was the best I can remember, clear blue skies and temperatures reaching into the 70s, the intense heat and humidity holding off for another weekend. Friday afternoon I picked up one of the demo bikes that Specialized makes available fullsizeoutput_57e0through my bike shop Georgia Cycle. I had a $9500 Tarmac Disc Di2 to ride, something that will be ridden in the Tour de France in two months. I locked it up at home and grabbed my blue touring bike for the Bike Athens Friday Twilight Joy ride that left from city hall and meandered through neighborhoods promoting in-town bike transportation fullsizeoutput_5805and fun. Twelve-year old Sophia’s mom’s bike wasn’t working right, so I rode with Sophia and learned all about her equestrian activities on her thoroughbred. It was her mom’s idea to do the ride, but Sophia handled it just fine despite her too-small bike.

Afterwards we gathered at Little Kings for beer and small talk. I hung out with Bike Athens shop and Nitty Gritty buddy Don and met three“young people” – Adrienne, Thomas, and Robert. After my first beer spilled on the picnic table, the friendly bartender gave me a free replacement of the beer that Don had bought me, and we learned about Thomas’ and Robert’s GA environmental protection work and Adrienne’s water epidemiology research.

I told Tyler the registration for the September Six-Gap was open, and we got ourselves psyched about doing it – a perfect goal for my 6-0 birthday this year. 11,230 feet of vertical climbing over 103.8 miles.

By Saturday morning at 10 am, I was lined up along with about 300-400 others to ride the Gambler. In 1992 I rode my first Gambler, proudly finishing the 50k/32-mile route. I remember the sore hip that lingered for weeks after doing that ride. Fast forward from 34 to 59, and there was no choice but to do the 100K/64-mile route. This many years of bike riding around Athens means I have a large bike community, and during the ride there was always someone to ride with. Libby and I met up at the starting line and fullsizeoutput_5825chatted away until Smithsonia when she headed back toward town. I rode alone for another six miles to Watson Mill where I met up with Steve, one of my Wednesday night Nitty Gritty Bike Band buddies. So many miles of friendship and conversation. At the Devil’s Pond sag stop, Georgia Cycle Micah set up Strava on my phone so I could check my energy output on my fancy bike for the day. Between my crossfit regime and fullsizeoutput_583athe fancy bike I felt strong for the final twenty miles, despite the head wind.   Too bad I forgot to hit STOP on the Strava at the end of the ride – no stats for me.

I drove home for a quick shower and returned to watch the Twilight. Gathering by the Athena statue in front of the Classic Center has been a tradition since arriving in Athens, and Karen’s been there with me since we were there with just our first babies, Clare and Alice. Merin and Anne joined the families, we added more Athens Montessori families, the girls all grew up, and there we were last night, just Karen and me.  As usual, the race provided the atmosphere for our conversation and laughter. Libby and Bonnie joined us, and during the evening, others dropped in. I took a break fullsizeoutput_5853from our lawn chairs and visited in the Georgia Cycle corral, another branch of my cycling family. It’s all a roving bike Twilight cocktail party of sorts, time to catch up with old friends, make new ones. Sometimes we pay more attention to the race which passes just inches in front of us, forty laps for the women and eighty for the men. Sometimes we pay less attention. This was one of the “less” years.

In Athens this year, the poignancy of it all was highlighted by today’s Sunday ride, not part of the Twilight schedule. It was a ride in memory of fellow cyclist Karen Tinsley, theimg_1296-1 victim of an April 3 car-on-bike crash. A white ghost bike was placed on Astondale Road at the sight where she lost her life. The ride had been scheduled for two weekends ago but was rained out. In a way, it was better that it was today. The whole weekend was a celebration of the Athens bike world that Karen Tinsley part of. She should have been one of those people stopping by last night where I and Karen (Klingel) and I sat.

My fellow-mother-friend Karen was part of another one of Karen Tinsley’s Athens communities, her tennis family. In fact, the two Karens had played on the same tennis teams for years. Athens is like that, our worlds overlap; everyone seems like they are one person away from all of us. Karen K actually knew Karen T much better than I did, and it was Karen K who had forwarded me news of Karen’s death that I then shared with my bike world. Steve, who I rode with yesterday, knew Karen professionally from her UGA academic life where they both did community outreach work. These overlaps, these connections, are what make our lives in Athens so rich. Perhaps this happens everywhere, but it’s only the magic of the Athens community that I know.

Today we rode in Karen’s honor, in her memory. We all know that it could have been any of us that had last their life just weeks ago. I saw Karen’s partner Art weeping today at the crash site. Otherwise, it’s still hard for me to imagine that she is not alive. A year ago I returned from a very difficult tour leading experience and put a last-minute bike ride on the calendar for the following Sunday that left from the parking lot behind the Oconee img_1269County courthouse. Afterwards I wrote a blog post titled Healing Bike Love (May 6, 2017) in which I wrote,“ I was enveloped by love, friendship, laughter and happiness. How soothing and healing that was for my soul.” And then I thanked Georgia, Carmen, Evan, Melanie, John, Steve, and Karen for being there for me.

Karen, if it’s at all possible, I hope that you felt that bike love from all of us today.  The weekend was a nearly perfect celebration of bikes and you, rides and bike friends you would have loved being on and among. I wish you had been there with us. We miss you.

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A final note — I am so thankful for my Athens bike community and to have so many good bike buddies. We’ve covered so many miles of road and life together. Thanks for being there.

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https://www.redandblack.com/uganews/uga-remembers-karen-tinsley-s-passion-for-biking-improving-georgia/article_cf666b78-3b57-11e8-a615-3ba7de405a48.html

http://www.onlineathens.com/news/20180409/ugas-karen-tinsley-recalled-in-campus-memorial-service

 

 

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A Holy Place, Home

fullsizeoutput_56c9Home again but this time different again. It’s been a year of many differences, many changes.

I just completed 2080 miles driving up and down the east coast from Georgia to New York and back, and now I’m returning to start a new life.

In June 2017, I was up in New York too and took a short bike ride  from Baldwin over to Freeport on Long Island and returned to Silver Lake Place with enough bike riding endorphins that I suggested to my mother that she come down to Athens and that we live together. She had been sick once again and was very slowly recovering from a UTI. Illness, days of sleeping, old age were becoming too much for her – she had run out of the strength needed for living independently in the house we three siblings had all grown up in.

fullsizeoutput_56caFast forward to late September, and I was in Baldwin again, this time gathering the energy for packing up my mom’s house. Before I left for Morocco and Anne’s wedding in August, my mother had resisted even culling rows of books. “Later,” she would say. “We need to get Anne’s wedding done first.” She also needed time to let the idea of leaving New York and Baldwin sink in. It seemed pretty impossible from my perspective to pack up, move almost a thousand miles south to Athens, Georgia, and start a new life at ninety, even if it was a place you’d visited many times to see your granddaughters.

We moved slowly in late September, but in October, we got busy. I would empty out a cabinet and put things on the dining room table. A pile of things I thought worth taking, a pile to get rid of, and another pile for my mom to figure out. She’d shift things around, I’d pack things up for travel, giving away, or disposal, and then the next day we’d do it again. Mom had started letting people know about the move in August, but now it was time for some goodbyes, last lunches, a chat on the porch. Marilyn, our realtor, would come over to help make house-prep decisions before putting the house on the market. Donald helped me carry furniture to the curb and boxes of books down from the attic to the garage. Mary Chris and I worked together packing crystal and china. Nearly every day I drove over to Rockville Center for a spin class. At five, I’d walk through the park to my cousin Clare’s for happy hour on her screened porch.

fullsizeoutput_56d9Long Island life was feeling comfortable. I was back in my NY element. Marilyn was a Menching, a family of six, all of whom attended St. Christopher’s with Rosemary, Charlie, and me. Peter Menching and Charlie are still good friends; Marilyn was in Rosemary’s class. Donald, a retired NYC cop, was at Maria Regina High School with Charlie. Mary Chris and I have been friends since grammar school. Cousin Clare was always a bunch older than me but now that age difference disappeared. My cousins Nancy and Barbara visited on the porch with me and my mom. George would drop off his copy of Newsday each morning after reading it. Deacon Charles came by with communion for my mom. It was a new life in Baldwin, and just as I was moving my mom down South, I was becoming comfortable in New York again. I was hesitant to return to the South. A Yankee is never a Southerner, something that might sound strange to a Northerner but is not questioned if said down here. My people were Long Island Catholics and darked-haired New York Jewish kids, not blond Southern Baptists.

Still we left. There wasn’t a choice. And by the time that last Tuesday in October came and we pulled out on to Merrick Road and the Belt Parkway, we were ready to start our Southern adventure.

fullsizeoutput_56c7The most incredible thing was my mother. By the time we were crossing the Verrazano bridge, there was no more sadness. We were on a road trip. Going west toward Scranton, she looked out the windows at the sky and fields and loved it all. At the two hotels we stayed at, we had glasses of wine each night. We stopped to explore downtown Roanoke for lunch on day two. On day three, we meandered off the interstate for a few hours, and my mother had her first biscuit of the trip. That would become her thing – the search for another biscuit. By the time we got to the Georgia Welcome Center, I was grabbing brochures for ideas of trip to take my mom on, to the coast, to the mountains, over to Calloway Gardens.

My mother turned 91 in Athens two weeks after we arrived. She was a transformed woman – relaxed and happy. And we ended up being the best roommates. Easy-going and comfortable. I’d get her a coffee in the morning, bring in the New York Times, and help with breakfast. She had her chores to get down, things to unpack, bills to pay, letters to write. I’d go off into town and report back on the coffee I had with a friend, my meetings, or some music I’d go hear. My bike rides with friends were her chance to see the countryside though my photos and hear about the latest bike gossip. At night, we’d watch a little tv together – Vera, a British detective or the Great British Bake Off. Rosemary would come over for dinner or to just catch us up on her day. Every week or so, we’d take a ride in the country, adventures through my bike riding routes, or Rosie would take her out for a special treat.

fullsizeoutput_56d0Christmas came, and Clare and Alessandro were here from Paris, and Anne from Morocco. Charlie and Julianna drove down from Maine. We were creating new memories, new traditions.  In January, it was time for a little recovery from the holidays and our big move. I took off at the end of the month for a New York visit on my own, and Rosemary stayed with mom.  This was our new life.

And then poof, it all changed. One day Mom was just having another UTI and another slow recovery, and then days later, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and we knew this meant a quick end. My father had died of pancreatic cancer twenty years before, two months after diagnosed. February and March became about my mother dying. She was so accepting and fairly content until that last week. She wanted a Catholic “happy death”. She got that, almost.  She was happy in having led a good life, having so many people she cared for, interests she’s pursued, causes and ideas that were important to her, and small pleasures that filled her days.fullsizeoutput_56cb

I was able to help her a lot this past year, and she helped me an awful lot, more than I ever imagined she would be able to. What I have not mentioned is that Richard and I split up this past year after many, many years of marriage. It is amicable; we are on friendly terms. But this past year was transformative and often traumatic.

I would never have said that my mom was my best friend. I didn’t share everything with her. But this year, I shared a tremendous amount with her. It wasn’t just words; in fact, it was mostly just being there for each other.

And now here I am, just ten months after I suggested to my mom that she move down here. I have come back once again to Georgia, and now she is not here. I am in a new home that she and I created together. It is a warm, homey place, full of sunshine and bird song, and now it is place full of some of the best memories I have of my mother. My friend Steve suggested that it was now a holy place because my mom died here. I think he is correct.

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Easter Week Holy Again

Happy Easter.  🐣🐇

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These are my mom’s Easter eggs, many of which she made herself. Clare reminded me to get them out, and so Wednesday, I sat in my mom’s room, opened up the boxes and made this display. It was such a pleasant, fun thing to do as my mother slept.
When she woke, I carried the green plate of them, with the stuffed bunny on it, over to my mom. Her eyes opened slightly, and I’d like to think she got a glimpse of them.
I look through photo albums and see yearly photos of us all dressed in our Easter outfits (see below). Then last night I went over the Easter vigil at the Catholic Center. Father Frank, who visited my mom several times prior to her death, was saying mass. He was the first one at our side when my mother died. I think it was the most special Catholic mass I’ve ever been too.
Sometimes a family member’s death on a holiday can make that holiday very difficult. For me it’s making Easter week holy again. Thanks, mom. She would like hearing that.
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My mom with my sister Rosemary

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Rosemary by the grape arbor

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My sister, brother Charlie, and me. At our cousins, The McCabes, for Easter.

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Another Easter at the McCabes with my mom and dad

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It’s Christmas in this one.

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Lots of photos were taken in the side yard. I must be about 9 in this one.

 

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Mom, Rosemary, and Dad in front of the house.

 

 

Posted in Dying, Life lessons | Leave a comment

Watching My Mother Die

It’s been over a month now that I have thought my mother might die within the next 24-48 hours.

I am lucky. I am 59, not 29. My mother is 91, not 60 nor 41 with life left to live. My mother is fairly peaceful, pain-free and not highly medicated. My mother is living with me, and either I or my sister are with her every hour of the day. I am sitting here in a cushioned chair just feet from the bottom of the hospital bed where she sleeps. To my left, there are double glass doors out to a tiny deck from which a bird feeder and suet feeder hang. A goldfinch perches just eight feet from me for an afternoon treat. His goldfinch family joins him on the branches close by. Next to my mother sleeping, a clear bird feeder is suction cupped w6waBlPnSYWuhG7Qd24jYg_thumb_3ec8to the window. A Carolina chickadee, a tufted titmouse, a cardinal, and a cowbird feed there throughout the day. One of our favorite photos of my mom is from around 1990. She is sitting on a picnic table bench in the Baldwin backyard. A bluebird has landed on her hand. She is delighted.

Just now, my mom moaned a bit in pain. There’s a sore spot on her tail bone. She has lost so much weight that she no longer has much cushioning on her behind. As I leaned over to adjust the pillows and then pushed the button to lower the back of the bed, the tufted titmouse landed to grab a bark butter bit I just put out; my mom nods that she sees it too.

When my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on February 22, my sister and I JEcPXZ1fTRWVa9jncBN9hA_thumb_3ecedidn’t think she’d be alive at the end of that month. She had already been sick enough that the previous week I had called the funeral home, prior to her cancer diagnosis, to see how to proceed when she died. My dad died of pancreatic cancer in 1995. He was a healthy 71-year old before he was diagnosed on June 5 and died two months later to the day. My bosom friend Maggie had colon cancer. It was only in her last month that the decline was significant, and then she was gone. My mother started off far older and far weaker than either my dad or Maggie, but her last days have gone on for much longer.

When we started this journey over a month ago, my mother could spend a few hours in this chair. She would look at the front section of the New York Times and eat a quarter or two of a grilled cheese sandwich. That was in the morning. Early afternoon came, and she slept and slept. We would help her to the toilet using her rollator and then Rosemary went out to Rite Aid and bought a bedside commode. That was days before we decided to go to the St. Mary’s emergency room where kind Dr. Neil Priest came out into the hallway and asked me if my mother had ever had cancer before.

Within twenty-four hours, hospice had set up a hospital bed in her room with one of those hospital tables that can be rolled over the bed. We waited for the hospice transport f+fV8peKQyepgzfHSypiMw_thumb_3ecato take mom home to her death. Mom had known she was very weak and elderly, but we had thought she needed to be in the hospital just for hydration and nutrition after a difficult-to-beat UTI. When we heard that it could be another four hours before the transport home arrived, I made the decision to just drive my mom home, just like I had driven her over there two days previously. In fact, with the IV drip, she was stronger leaving than when we arrived. But now we knew we were going home to the end of her life. With the help of a hospital volunteer, mom got into my Prius and we took a winding way home to see more of the early spring color that had opened up.

At home we started our new reality. During her good hours in the morning, she talked to close friends and family telling them of her news. She reassured them, telling them that she felt calm and accepting, two words I hadn’t expected to come out of my mother’s life x9n4tV4rSUe1gmYGST86PA_thumb_3ec7as she closed in on death. Soon she would switch the conversation and ask, “What’s going on with you?” She amazed us with her calmness. Always, though, once noon passed her energy drained away, and she slept and became weaker. The pounds were shedding off her. Each night Rosemary and I would peak in her room to check whether her chest was still going up and down with each breath.

The first week was full of our new Hospice cast. Amanda, the sweet home health nurse, who had started in late November with twice weekly visits was replaced by Krista and Linda, the Hospice nurses who checked her vitals twice a week; Jennifer and Cathy, the aides who gave mom her twice weekly baths; Robin, the social work; the Hospice chaplains, David and Craig; and then Father Frank, the Franciscan priest from the Catholic Center.  New processes for mom and Rosemary and me to adjust too. Lots of activities for all. The days passed before we knew it and mom lived on.

The oncologist had advised that family come soon so that they would be here before my mom was non-communicative. He was right. My brother Charlie flew down from Maine. Rosemary, Charlie, and I became a team, sometimes smooth working, sometimes worn out with ourselves and each other. There was my mother’s care, but there were also the worlds inside each of our heads and the new reality that was coming up upon us three. Both my daughters Clare and Anne are very close with my mother, and both live overseas. But it’s only Clare whose work can move with her. She booked a flight from Paris to Newark to Atlanta and spent two weeks here. My cousin Nancy hadn’t been on a plane in about fifteen years, but she maneuvered the world of Internet booking and spent a long weekend with us. Each of their visits was important for them to make, to give them a time to say goodbye to my mom, to care for her, to support Rosemary and me. With each of their visits, we wondered if my mom would be alive when they left, but she kept going like she continues to do so now.

l92edxC9QzCqWDLe1mOv4g_thumb_3ed5My mom got to hear from Charlie about what his kids — Hagen, Ella, and Ford– are up and to reminisce about the days she sat in the bleachers watching all Charlie’s baseball games and about how she let Charlie ride his bike with his friend Peter out to Montauk when he was just sixteen. I’m not sure we were even wearing helmets then. With Nancy, mom talked of places in Manhattan and about her mother and father. The weekend Nancy visited Mom had had a surprisingly strong Saturday. She wanted to walk into the living room and watch an episode of Vera, the BBC mystery that my mother and I had become addicted to.  Before she went to sleep for the night, I threw out the idea of a Sunday drive as a possibility. Morning came, and she was eager, so we wheel-chaired her to the car and drove through the countryside to Watson Mill Bridge Park. That would be her last time out of the house.

My mother’s relationships with both my daughters have always been special. Clare used to spend a week or so up on Long Island with my mom each summer. My mother would send her home with a scrap book. This visit was even more special. Clare is a great cook and made my mom NYTimes chicken pot pie and some chicken and fish cakes, all of which my mother had requested, though she only took the tiniest helpings of each. My mother had Clare read to her, a reversal of Clare’s early years when of course my mom read to Clare. The started with Henry James, my mother asking for Clare to turn to certain sections of A Portrait of a Lady. A day or so later, Clare was reading poetry to her and then the light-hearted P.G. Woodhouse short stories. Another of the last days my mom made it out of her bedroom, she and Clare spent a few hours looking at the birds on the deck.

Now those days seem like dreams from a distant past. My mother hasn’t been out of bedaFHKy5JuSUmsIhwZ71SqxQ_thumb_3ed4 in over a week. Last Thursday she got a catheter, so the pee goes neatly into a plastic bag hanging from the side of the bed. Rosemary and I take care of her other custodial care, cleaning her up like I did my daughters so many years ago. We wash her face and feed her ice cream and pudding and guide a straw to her lips so she can sip some water, milk, juice, coke, ginger ale or Carnation breakfast drink. A couple of weeks ago I bought a cordless bell at Lowe’s, very helpful but now mom can hardly push the ringer. As I sit here typing, she’ll whisper “drink, drink.” I get up again and again to adjust the army of pillows that we retain to support her in different positions. My crossfit training is getting used, as I kneel upon the bed, engage my abdomen, straighten my back, and hoist mom up a few inches  so her feet stop pressing up on the foot of the bed.

For the last few days, she’s been restless and more agitated, wondering if we will offer her food or if we have taken her chocolate. “I’d take medicines if they would offer me any,” she said to the nurse yesterday. At times she has obsessed on her dentures, insisting we don’t lose them and then trying again and again to get them in herself.

My mother does take some medications but very few really. Her nausea has eased up during the day, something Krista told us happens as people come closer to death. God’s gift to the dying, she said. Right now, there’s a 1 ml of haloperidol at night along with a 1-mg tab of lorazepam, both to quiet restlessness and allow her to sleep through the night. On occasion during the day, we give her a tiny white anti-nausea pill or a docusate to avoid constipation, a common problem for the dying.

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Last week, I was getting worn out and restless from the waiting. My Saturday bike ride cleared my head and revitalized me for this last stretch. I now know that each death is really different. There is a comparison between birth and death. The entrance into this life and exit out of it are sacred times, both for the person experiencing the moment and for those greeting and saying farewell. To care for a person at both ends is a gift, to see life begin and end. To experience its grace, its hard work, its power, its sadness, its joy. So many people die alone. To be with my mom through this process is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done for my mom. But births, though incredibly hard for the mother, happen in hours or at most days, not in days and weeks and months like death.

Each time the nurse comes by, I ask questions searching to understand what goes on physically as one dies. It’s futile, but you want to have some control and be ready. And though I’m here beside my mother so often, there still is no way to know what she is experiencing. At this stage she is too weak to tell, and she seems too weak to really know or to be afraid herself. Her goal seems to be to get through each moment. She is ready for death. Her body is hanging on, but it will soon be gone too.

After all these weeks, I finally feel calm just waiting.

Posted in Dying, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Southern Tier as Solace – A Year Later

I have spent the last few days editing and deleting my many photos from my Southern Tier cross-country bike ride last spring. As the title of this post suggests, doing so has helped me as I care take my mother during the last days of her life. I pull up the photos and use my gut to delete and crop and edit photos. The process is simple and has given me something to do during down moments when there aren’t chores to do.

The five short (approx 5 minutes) video slideshows are posted on YouTube at the following links:

Southern Tier 1 – San Diego to Phoenix   –  https://youtu.be/jagpVBsG7VY

Southern Tier 2 – Phoenix to El Paso – https://youtu.be/gjCeIL9k1zc

Southern Tier 3 – Texas – https://youtu.be/XqTxvnrSzgU

Southern Tier 4 – Louisiana and Mississippi  – https://youtu.be/SHvNbkA6emk

Southern Tier 5 – Alabama and Florida –  https://youtu.be/IT8lygQExUQ

A year ago I was in the Southwest. On St. Patrick’s Day I was cycling through an Apache reservation, a beautiful day until a wild, perhaps rabid, wolf came out from the dry ditch on the north side of the highway and started chasing me with his open mouth ready to clamp down on my leg if only he could run a little faster or wear me out.  He didn’t maul me to death as I imagined at the moment he would. Some cars on the road chased him away, and I survived to continue my ride and first tour leading experience, an Adventure Cycling van-supported ride across the Southern Tier from San Diego to the Florida coast.  A year later, I’ve finally finished editing my photos from the ride.

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The trip was a tumultuous one, full of goodness and good times and good people, but also full of the opposite. It’s taken me a long time to be able to or to want to look through all my photos carefully.  Now though the pain has gone. I’ve gotten the resolution I needed from Adventure Cycling, my faith in the organization partially restored.  My self-confidence has been restored and even grown stronger .

fullsizeoutput_468dThese past few days the photos have been my solace as I sit beside my mother watching her get closer and closer to death.  She moved down to Georgia at the start of November. We moved into Walt’s house down the street from where Richard and I lived for so many years. Instead of the move being a traumatic one for her, it was a transformative one.

Who would have thought that at 91, you could move out of the home you’d lived in for sixty-two years and away from the New York city area where you’d lived your whole life, and it would be a wonderful experience. When we were still in NY sorting through her life’s belongings, I didn’t believe my mom when she said she was looking forward to the move, but she wasn’t just exaggerating to make her daughter feel better. From the day we drove off Long Island over the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island and then headed west across Pennsylvania to Highway 81, she was happier than I’d seen her in years.

fullsizeoutput_4691By the time we got to the Georgia border, I stopped at the welcome center to grab brochures about attractions in the mountains and at the coast we could later visit. Once in Athens, she loved the new house, the birds that came to visit us, the drives in the country or through Athens’ neighborhoods, and especially the biscuits.  Clare and Anne came from Paris and Morocco to visit at Christmas as did my brother and his family from Maine. New traditions were started.

But then at the end of January she started getting weaker. In mid-February my sister and I took her to St. Mary’s Hospital and within hours she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.  My dad died of the same thing twenty-three years ago. We knew the disease and that my mother did not have long.

Now, almost a month later, we are waiting for my mom to die. Our hospice nurse Linda visits twice a week, and aids comes two days a week as well to bathe my mom. The rest of the caretaking is done by my sister and me.  My brother is here now on his second visit from Maine, my daughter Clare came over from Paris for two weeks, and my cousin Nancy came down as well from NYC. They have all helped tremendously with my mother’s  care

Being with someone as they die is to be in a special place of clarity and love. I was fortunate to be with my dad when he died in 1995 and then with my friend Maggie when she died almost seven years ago. You see life clearly, know what’s important.  Being with them made me comfortable with death and the dying. I don’t really believe in an afterlife, but I do know that there’s an energy that appears as someone dies, that emits from the transformation of life into death. Perhaps there is something afterward. It doesn’t really matter to me. Though we are just short sparks of life in the enormity of the universe, the lives we live are precious. That, I know is true.

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Posted in Bike touring, Dying, Life lessons, life transition, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Just forget about it. 

Tonight Mr. Hay told me to just forget about it.

Mr. Hay lives next door to my mom, and he and Mrs. Hay, Ester and George, were my first bosses. It was this time of year but forty-five years ago. It was 4th of July weekend and they needed some extra help at the beach club down at Atlantic Beach, and so they asked me if I wanted to work. Beach club members had cabanas and access to the Atlantic Ocean, and they also had the beach club food that Mr. and Mrs. Hay provided.  I have no idea what was at the other end of the food line, but I helped at the drink end, with ice teas and ice coffees and, if I was lucky, mixing the milk shakes as well.

That was the summer I was thirteen turning fourteen. I worked weekends for the Hays. The following summers after 9th, 10th, and 11th grade, I worked down at a neighborhood beach club in Baldwin Harbor, a much smaller establishment than the one down at the ocean. This beach club was very local, so I could ride my bike there, and I worked five days a week. I’d start around ten and do the prep for lunch — the boiled eggs for egg salad, the chicken and tuna salads, the cut-up fruits and vegetables. We’d be ready at the grill and the salad bar for the Jewish mom’s down in Baldwin Harbor to order their health salads and ice teas. I was a Catholic girl who lived up above Atlantic Avenue and had gone to St. Chris. The beach club was a whole new cultural experience for me.

There were lots of kids at the beach club too, who’d come up to the candy and ice cream window, but lots of the neighborhood kids were off at summer camp. My best friend Mary Chris worked there too with me. Mrs. Hay was our beach club mom. The life guards were our summer amusements. We were thrilled by our paychecks. I saved money from those summers working for my first 35 mm camera and for graduating early from high school and going off to Paris.

Mr. and Mrs. Hay taught us about working hard. They were the best first bosses I could imagine. They taught us how to cut tomatoes and cantaloupes, how to work efficiently during lunch rush hours and weekends, and the importance of prep and clean up. Mrs. Hay was always happy to see us and kept us on our toes. On the weekends after busy Saturdays, they would mix up some sangria during the end-of-the-day clean up. We might have only been fifteen and sixteen, but the drinking age was eighteen back then and we were hard workers. We learned how to enjoy an end-of-the-day drink with them and to do so in moderation. And then we got back on our bicycles for the ride home.

When I went off to college, Mrs. Hay was always there for me next door. I’d visit my parents, of course, but I was over in the Hays’ kitchen eventually. Mrs. Hay would call to Mr, Hay, “George, get some Duckie from downstairs. Carol’s here.” And Mr. Hay would go downstairs to their walk-in cooler and pull out a bottle of sweet and sparkly Cold Duck wine. I would catch Mrs. Hay up on my life. She was always there with a smile, enthusiastic to hear about whatever I was telling her. She was one of my most enthusiastic early supporters.

Mr. Hay was quiet and in the background, but now it is he who is still alive and who I See each time I return to Baldwin. It must be twenty years ago that Mrs. Hay died from an auto-immune deficiency syndrome. I came back up from Georgia for her funeral.

I never learned to call Mrs. Hay “Esther,” but I now finally call Mr. Hay by his first name George. I am 58 and he is 90. Tonight I asked to use his gas grill for hamburgers for me and my mom. In the south shore suburbs where I grew up and where I am now with my mom, our neighbors’ back doors are quite close. I can be at George’s back door as quickly as I can be on the front porch, and his gas grill is even closer.

When I went over to check the temperature of the grill just one more time, George came out to suggest that I light up the other two burners. He always knew how to grill burgers, and so I followed his advice. I turned to Mr. Hay and asked him if I was a good worker way back when, and he give me a definite “yes” in reply. Perhaps it was the wine from my happy hour with the cousins that loosened my tongue, or just my ease with sharing my personal stories, but I told him quickly about the awful bike tour leading experience I had this spring. I don’t think I have ever cried in front of Mr. Hay, but once again I got teary thinking back on that awful bike tour leading experience, without a doubt the worst work experience of my life.

And that’s when Mr. Hay said, “Just forget about it.” He was so certain that it had nothing to do with who I am. I appreciate his reminder that this two-month tour-leading-from-hell experience is not who I am. IF the dice had rolled differently and I had been paired with a different co-leader, the whole experience would have been different.

“Just forget about it.” I’m trying, George, but it’s taking some time.

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A 4th of July in Baldwin, NY

I didn’t expect so much from the Fourth of July.

I have been with my mom in NY for the last month. Age is finally taking its toll on my mom and she has been weak and in decline over the past month.  When I retired two years ago, it gave me a little peace of mind to know that I would be able to be there for my mom when she needed me. That time has come. And so the days have been quiet.

But tonight sitting on the screened porch, there are fireworks all around me. And no crowds. It’s as if all the people in a radius of a mile who are into fireworks spent wads of money on large piles of explosives, ones so impressive that they light up the sky in different colors and with different effects. Above what I still call the Pepper’s house, there were just about fifteen fireworks that went off in row. I’m sitting here alone. The streets are not full. Stars exploding raining down in silver, purple waterfalls in the sky, bursts of thousands of little stars. And when the sky is dark above the Pepper’s house, the sounds of fireworks are non-stop in other directions, fireworks exploding that I cannot see behind the trees. This is not the Baldwin I grew up in. Then there would have been a crowd of kids in the street with me as we lit sparkles and someone exploded a few firecrackers and a daring cherry bomb.  My mom sat with me here for a bit on the porch and then returned to the fireworks broadcast from Brooklyn with the Manhattan skyline behind them.

Earlier in the evening, my mom and I went over to my cousin Clare’s for a small 4th of July celebration with my cousin Gracie and her husband Charlie Bamford, visiting from Belfast. It was a big deal that my mom had the energy to get over there, but she did and we had our happy hour drinks and snacks followed by hot dogs, potato salad, corn on the cob, and broccoli slaw.  Happy hours with my cousins have become a regular part of my day, a gift of family that I wasn’t expecting when I headed up the east coast at the end of May.

I thought I’d overlap with Charlie and Gracie just a few days, but now it’s been almost three weeks. They have been here for me with support and good cheer through a couple of tough weeks – time that will transform forever my relationship with them. We talk about our days and catch up on our children’s lives, but there’s been more, so much more, that is awfully hard to put into words and perhaps too private as well. For a week too, we had their son Patrick, once the older cousin running through the sprinkler with his sisters and his younger Georgia cousins Clare and Anne. Now he is grown, and he and his wife Joe were here with two-year old George. As happens when there’s a toddler in your mist, George provided easy amusement for us with our glasses of wine. How easy it is to chuckle over a cute two-year old grabbing potato crisps and cherry tomatoes and handing them out to each of us.

Once again something special has come into my life when I wasn’t expecting it. Thank you, cousins.

 

 

 

 

 

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Homage to the South Shore and my mother

I am visiting my mother in Baldwin on the South Shore of Long Island. She still lives in the house we grew up in on Silver Lake Place. We are a short walk to the canals that were carved into the shore of the bay that separates Long Island from its southern barrier islands. Across the bay from Baldwin and Oceanside are the towns of Point Lookout, Lido Beach, and Long Island that face directly on to the Atlantic. Further east and across from Freeport next door to us is the barrier island that houses the state park of Jones Beach and Gilgo and Cedar Beach and Captree. Further east still, you cross over another bridge over to Robert Moses State Park on the eastern point of Fire Island. All IMG_1740these areas are the playground for my mom and me when we take our drives. We have special stops where we take out mom’s rollalator so that she can take a walk. We sit on a bench and watch the water, the boats, the birds, the people fishing. We get to sit outside in the sun or just in the fresh air with a breeze on a cloudy day. Outside time is good for all of us.

Yesterday my mother and I did a usual route of our, through Freeport and south on the Meadowbook Parkway to Jones Beach, about a fifteen minute drive. We continued on to Tobay Beach where we at lunch at the now upscale Tobay Seafood Shack on the bay side of the island. We chatted a bit. I have been showing my mom photos from my Southern Tier trip, a couple of days at a time. She knew all the characters and was eagerly waiting to find out what would happen next. The day before we had reached Austin in the photo show and so that led into the whole story of the traumatic ending to my trip, my early termination in Tallahassee. She like everyone else was appalled and shocked. She is my mother, and she knows my work and determination. Something wasn’t right, she said. Even incidents prior to my dismissal, my being 45 minutes late arriving in camp with the van and trailer (I did send text messages from the Walmart) and an emotional response to yet another accusal with mean-spirited words from one of the riders, did not warrant the firing I got. She is absolutely right, and so at the restaurant, she would ask me a question about the trip. But then we’d end up looking through the binoculars and the swimmers training for a triathlon and the birds at the water’s edge. There were laughing gulls and my big sighting, a black skimmer with a its long, partially orange beak. It would fly low to the water, dropping its lower beak into the saltwater attempting to skim some food to eat.

From Tobay, we ventured further east, first stopping at Oak Beach to see what its ocean side restaurant offered. In the evenings, that would be beer, mixed drinks, and beach volleyball. But there was also a kitchen with hamburgers, fish sandwiches and clam cakes. We put that on our list for another visit.

A beautiful bridge brought us over to Fire Island and Robert Moses Park. We parked at the end of parking field five pointing toward the ocean so my mother could look at the Atlantic and doze while I followed a boardwalk through beach dunes and grasses and marshes to the lighthouse. For the walk back, I chose the ocean and walked through the water that would run up from the waves. There is no question for me that ocean wins out over mountains and lakes. Maybe it is what you know first that tugs at your heart.

We had one more stop, the Captree Fishing Peer, where charter boats were lined up waiting for recreational fishermen to join them for the 6-9 evening fishing sail. We listened to the pre-fishing chatter of men hanging out by the boats they would soon embark on. My mother walked the length of the fashioning pier and then I walked out to

the pier that jets out into the water and fills with Asian Americans IMG_1784catching crabs.  On our walk back to the car, a couple my age eyed the binoculars hanging around my neck and asked if I had seen anything good. IMG_4072.jpgThey were birders, new to the sport but much more experienced that I am. I hadn’t seen anything but seagulls and charter fishing boats. Still that started a conversation IMG_1785.jpgand somehow I mentioned my bike trip and listening to the bird songs and then my mom walked up and before long she discovered that Tim had delivered newspaper growing up to the only people my mom knew who lived in the Oak Island just a bit west of where we were then. Tim and Dianna were as happy to talk with us as we were with them. And it all reminded me about how if you are in the right frame of mind, that there are kind, interesting people all around to meet and learn from.

On the way home, my mom remarked on how I got such pleasure from little things, from washing my bike in the morning and sorting through a box of papers to the small day trips we were getIMG_4060ting and my delight at the light on the ocean and ordinary people we would meet. Getting pleasure from small things does make life more enjoyable. And really, are these really just small things, or are they all that makes up life.

By the time we got back to Silver Lake, it was almost 6:30 pm, and my mom remarked, “You are good for me, Carol.” Touching words for a daughter to hear.

 

 

 

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Southern Tier Memories & Trump’s Wall

On our third day of riding on the Southern Tier, we reached the Mexican border close to a town called Jacumba Hot Springs. Previous to the trip, my focus had been on finding a place for the group to stay each night and so the idea of hot springs excited me. I love water, being by it and more so being in it. But the Jacumba Hot Springs Spa and Resort no longer wanted traveling cyclists to camp there, and so I had realized we would have to ride on to Brawley where we had a local contact with the parks department who’d let us camp by their cattle arena facility.

I lucked out of the third day’s cycle vs. drive-the-van rotation with Jared once again and got do the day’s ride that had us pedaling right by the present wall with Mexico, a tall red fence. I was fascinated by the wall and the world around it and couldn’t help but be briefly brought out of the bike bubble I had already entered at the start of the trip, a bubble that had its own rhythm and intrigues but kept me separated from the drama, tweets, and daily news cycle  that had already become the norm of the new Trump administration.

Cycling gives you a perfect view of the world as you travel. Cars get you there faster, but they are really little different than planes in transporting across miles without any immersion in the geography, the culture, or the people whose worlds you pass by. I-10 is a bubble itself, revealing almost nothing about the states its passes through. Walking, on the other hand, is the total opposite, but it is so slow that your observations are not as sweeping perhaps, though I really know nothing about trying to traverse the country on foot. On a bike, though, you are part of the landscape. You see the countryside like the wolf or deer on its daily jaunt. You cover 50-70 miles and observe and compare town to town and the lands between. The trees reach out to you with opportunities for shade, the grasses show you the direction of the wind, the clouds provide needed relief from the sun and are themselves a grand canvas of beauty, your rolling screen saver each day. In the towns, you find food and water. But its really the people and their homes and businesses that trigger your imagination as you wonder about their lives, their communities, their struggles, their daily routines. The interactions I have with the store clerks, the other customers, the guy picking up trash on the road, those are the little jewels that get me even closer to the worlds I pass through, moments of personal intimacy, gifts to my soul.

IMG_9090And so cycling by our present wall with Mexico, I was fascinated. I passed several properties as I got closer to the border in California that piqued by interest where their odd and quirky decorations of patriotism. Were these Americans flexing their muscle to those trying to invade our country, saying we will toughly defend our nation from you southern invaders.

Later just east of El Paso, we stayed with David Cantu in a WarmShowers place, his home that he opens up to traveling cyclists. David is real West Texas, living about 15 miles east of El Paso. The Rio Grande is within walking distance of his home. His family routes stem from the native Americans who had lived in the area for centuries and others from below the border, a mix of Spanish and indigenous peoples. He is trying in his small way to keep the culture and history of his people alive in San Elizario.

I asked David about the homes flying American flags. In rural Georgia where I live, I associate those flying the flag, not just on Memorial Day, as America-first people. The US flag has become like the confederate flag that flies on homes in the South, a defiant stand against the “others” threatening what is perceived as the American way of live under attack, meaning the American white of European-descent way of life under attack.  I thought the same would be true along the border and was thus surprised when David told me that for the most part that these were people like him flying the flag, showing their pride in being Americans and often their support for their military sons and daughters. I thought then of the names and faces that PBS would display in silent each night on the PBS NewsHour of those who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan and how so many of those faces were of men and women of color, a color besides white.  What did I really know about those people back in Jacomba Hot Springs with their quirky displays of patriotism. It is too easy to prejudge, thinking we understand others when we are all more complex than we ever know.

Trump’s budget was released today. “A New Foundation for American Greatness” is its absurd America First title. In his America, you cut budgets for the poor, from health care, from food stamps and disability payments and student loans to make the country great.. In his  America, you make the country great by spending our country’s money on bigger military and a massive  wall with Mexico. The towns around the wall with Mexico are poor and depressed. I wonder who is in there now buying up property to sell to those needing land for their wall construction

 

businesses and temporary housing for those building the wall. Like often happens, I’m sure there will be small pocket of locals who profit greatly from an infusion of money into their communities. There will be others who get jobs from the wall construction. But there are others who will be in uproar as the feds try to confiscate their land for building. There are already passport checks points all along the roads close to our Southern boarder. I passed by several on my bike. For those living their lives there and not just passing through, there already exists an eery military police state presence that doesn’t seem normal to anyone from some other part of the country.

Later in west Texas as we descended from Sanderson, TX, toward Del Rio on Hwy 90, the closest road to the Rio Grande. The river winded back and forth like a snake in that part of the country. The land was desolate, with steep mesas and scrub cactus-covered hills, hot, bleak and very windy. The day we cycled form Sanderson, TX, the winds kept increasing as the day went on. The day’s route was long at about 80 miles, but it was the last twenty miles that killed us. From Langley to Seminole Canyon State Park, the winds picked up to 30-40 mph, directly in our faces as we tried to climb up hills through cut-outs in the canyon walls. Those last twenty miles should have taken us two hours. With such a strong head wind, we were barely making 3 miles in an hour. As usual, I was in the back sweeping and had caught up with Fuat hours ago. He was having back/leg pain and struggling. I got in front of him to pull him the best I could by blocking the wind for him. The wind was incessant, the strongest head winds I’d ever ridden in. It was easy to be discouraged. 

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But we had it easy. We knew there was a place to stay up ahead, and that as long as we stayed on the road, we’d be found. We were running out of daylight and knew we wouldn’t make it to camp. That 20 mile ride was going to take six hours instead of two. We wanted to call the van and get sagged back into town, but there was no cell signal. Still, we knew the van would eventually come and get us as it eventually did. The tandem couple had already been rescued when Jared and Evan reached us. When we eventually reached camped, everyone had a story of struggle and bike despair, but we were all safe.

Back when we were on the road, I couldn’t help but think of those trying trying to make it overland to the US across the Rio Grande and then across the wasteland we were cycling through. At one point when Fuat and I were taking a short rest from the wind, I remember telling him, “We are not going to die. We have enough water.We are not going to be captured by Border Patrol and put into an detention camp for illegal immigrants where the lights are never turned off.” More than reassuring either him or me, I was reminding myself how easy we really had it.  Our circumstances trying to cycling that day were arduous and exhausting but the day would become a story, a feat we had accomplished. We weren’t risking our lives because our entire lives were so bleak that we had to flee our homes and families to get to American and its dream.

What is this Trump wall really about? Those who come over our border are desperate. They take endless chances with their lives. If they have the strength of will and body to make it here, perhaps we should listen to their stories and value the courage they have to have to get here.  Who amongst us would risk what they have now for such a journey. How dyer would our circumstances have to be take the chance to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles over incredibly arid treacherous terrain and at the mercy of coyotes, wolves, and snakes. There would be no convenience stores to grab some more water at, or bike angels bestowing small gifts and smiles on you. Instead, there’d be dry creek beds, temperatures from 90-120 degrees, ruthless smugglers, the fear of border patrol agent.

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My heart is sad thinking of this wall that Trump wants to fund and build. What is in his heart? Is there no love there for others, empathy for their plights, understanding of our shared humanity?

What a different and unfriendly world it must be to live with such aggression, anger, and fear of others and such self-importance.  And how dangerous for all of us it is to have a leader as him and with so many cheering him on.

[Of course, that leads me to another blog post to come because it’s not so easy to group people like we want to….some of my closest and most supportive connections on my Southern Tier trip with good, smart, and special people were Trump supporters, while my worst companion was an anti-Trump man.]

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A Day on the Southern Tier – Emory Pass, New Mexico

Emory Pass was a surprise to me. On the Southern Tier my focus was so much on being a tour leader and the group dynamics that I wasn’t spending much time thinking about my own cycling. But the days on the saddle were my treats. I got to focus on me and my bike and making the two work together to get me down the road. Emory Pass in New Mexico was one of the biggest treats of all.

FullSizeRender 5In the morning we cycled away from Mountain Springs RV Park. I had pulled the van and trailer into the RV park and thus gotten to know the hosts better than I would otherwise. I chuckle thinking how they gave me the rules but then told me “you don’t have to follow the rules either.” They had an office rec room that we all used that afternoon and evening, the only place of the trip where came into serious contact with national news of what was happening in the new Trump presidency. Matt and Steve set themselves up on the couch in their and did a mixture of reading, writing, and watching Senate confirmation hearings for several hours.  On most trips I take, I buy a pair of earrings. My earrings from this trip were from the display case of jewelry that the RV host makes herself.

In the morning, everyone took off on their bikes for the day’s ride up Emory Pass. IMG_0942The husband host telling me that it would be cold in the shade as I climbed up so I made sure to put on layers before I took off, a good twenty to thirty minutes after the last rider left camp. There were always last-minute chores that needed to be done to get all my stuff and then the group stuff ready to go for the day.

The climb that day was breathtaking. I was on my own and turned on some music for the long climb. I would eventually catch up with someone. The climb took a good two-to-three hours to get to the top of the pass. I passed through the various state campgrounds that would have been possibilities for camping if they had not been still closed for the season. By all of them, there were signs warning of flash foods, the kind of signs we saw regularly through our travels in the southwest and until Austin. I had started making little videos as I road, thinking about how my 90-year old mother would love to watch them. She is my biggest fan when it comes to my travels and seeing my photos. She can no longer travel the world as she used to and so relishes  the the worlds I bring to her through my adventures. In those videos, my delight in this long climb is evident. Long climbs, in contrast to rolling hills, end in a culmination, the top of the climb — the view it brings and the satisfaction of accomplishing the ascent and then the reward of the descent.  Watching those Emory Pass videos now bring me right back into the heavy breathing and mindset of my long climb.

IMG_0962Up on the top, I expected there to a crowd of my fellow riders. I still did not really understood that they were not riding like I did on the Northern Tier. They were sticking to being road riders, keen on making the distance for the day. They were not soaking up the ride itself, taking long breaks for picnics, meeting locals along the route, and reading the historical markers. I was looking forward to a long stop on the top of Emory Pass with time to eat my lunch and take in the views. I was pleased to find Sue and Annie up there at the top next to the sign recounting how Lt. W.H. Emory traveled through the area on an exploration expedition for the U.S. Army.  We shared the excitement of the reaching the summit. For a tandem to do that climb was an even greater feat than for the rest of us. We snapped each other’s photos and then they were off. No long IMG_0964stop and lunch for them. That left Fuat sitting on a rock on a little incline eating his lunch. He was just finishing up so he gave me his rock to sit on while I ate. I was learning by then that it would always be Fuat at the end, simply because he was the only one cycling like I did across the Northern Tier, willing and wanting to soak it all in, to “smell the roses” and in his case listen to and watch the birds.

He and I finally took off, with me speeding down the mountain side and then stopping to take photos. He took the downhills more cautiously but we both then reached the bottom together. You kind of feel like the day should be over after such a long climb but there was still more of the day and I had a tour leader mission to accomplish as well. I needed to cancel our Las Cruces hotel reservation so that we would not be charged well over $1000 for a night’s stay. Instead we would be staying at a KOA campground instead. We had used up our allotted hotel budget for this part of the trip back in Tempe and at the Apache Casino motel. But there had not been a cell signal when I needed it for the last day and a half. I stopped again and again checking to see if I had the bars to make the call.

In Hillsboro, we met an older gentlemen in his workshop FullSizeRender 19making leather chaps. He headed me toward a rise out of town where I might be able to get a signal, but it wasn’t until Fuat and I made reached the last ascent to the top of the mesa that I found a strong signal. Up there thIMG_1031ough, the wind was blowing hard, at least 20 mph, and I needed Fuat to hold my reservation confirmation sheets while I finally got through to a hotel.com support person in the Philippines and cancelled those rooms one by one.  What a funny site that was, that long conversation to Southeast Asia from the top of a mesa in New Mexico.

We still had a descent to the Caballo Lake reservoir and then seven miles south into a head wind but we finally made it to camp just as dinner was served.  This was IMG_1042probably one of the days that was marked down in the black notebook someone was keeping on me as a day I arrived late to camp, but we did save over $1000 and I did have a beautiful day of riding.

http://www.nmts.org/rides/emoryPass.htm

A few more photos and then a short video on my climb up and then one on the descent.

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