Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This past weekend did not live up to the fun schedule that was laid out in my last post. As noted last Thursday, August 12th, I was turning over my laptop for a clean install of Windows 7. Knowing that I would be without my connection to the blogosphere other than through my Blackberry Storm II, I laid out an ambitious final weekend of preparation for the upcoming Blue Ridge Breakaway on August 21st. Only a small portion of the planned training came to pass. More on that later in this post…

Friday was a sad day for us on two fronts. Our friend Big John Medford was buried following his battle with ALS for the past 6 years. John was a big man with a bigger heart and his passing was felt throughout our community. He was known for his generosity of spirit and willingness to help others. He will be sorely missed.

Big John Medford(John Manson Medford)

I’ll get to the other sadness in our day later… First though, let’s talk riding!

Saturday morning presented the opportunity to try out the 40 mile route for the upcoming Blue Ridge Breakaway. Several of us agreed to meet at 8:30 and ride the route checking road conditions and potential hazards to address before the day of the ride.

I was the last to arrive of the 4 folks riding that morning. Cross Country Stan was already there and warmed up. Ken Howle, one of the race coordinators was making his final preparations to ride and Christina from Sarasota, Fl decided to join us before returning home with her family. We met Christina at our Thursday night ride when she joined us for our weekly beginners and newly returning group ride. She informed us that she had begun riding in April of this year and had just completed her first triathlon.

After final checks and chats, we headed out south and west on US 19, which pretty much immediately becomes a climb of about 2 miles to the intersection of US 276. The grade isn’t bad so I wasn’t expecting any trouble. Ha! Within about a mile, I was already losing the wheel of the  rider in front of me. I seemed to be going backwards compared to my 3 companions. I was breathing hard and struggling. Now, I know that some days you just don’t have it but, generally, it takes more than a mile for me to figure that out. I looked down at my computer and realized that my good buddy Cross Country Stan was taking us out at a 16 mph pace going uphill. I couldn’t do it and found myself adopting Kent “Mountain Turtle” Peterson’s philosophy of “hasten slowly.” So, I did…

I settled into my own pace and slowly hastened right on back up to the crew where they were waiting on me at the crest of the climb. I apologized but told them that going from 0 mph to 16 mph with no warm up was more than this old body could do! From there, we settled into a nice rhythm going down US 276 along Jonathan Creek. This is flat for the most part and we had a nice 22 to 24 mph pace going as we approached the turn to Coleman Mountain.

A right onto Coleman presented the first climb of the day. With warmed up legs, we all pedaled our way to the top and then enjoyed a nice twisty descent to Iron Duff Road. We then dropped down to the crossing of the Pigeon River and took a moment for some pictures and to hash out the ride thus far.

Resting over the Pigeon(l-r, Ken, Christina, Stan) 

At this point, the metric century ride will turn right up river while the century and 40 miler will go left down into Panther Creek. We discovered later in the weekend that a cyclist riding on Rabbit Skin Road was taken down by a loose dog and is now paralyzed as a result. The rider was scheduled for surgery today Tuesday, August 17th. Apparently the dog is well known to many of the area cyclists, who ride that particular route. This event must have happened near the time that we were in the general area and within just a couple of miles. Panther Creek Road goes down the north side of the river and Rabbit Skin Road goes down the south side.

Three thorns over a river! (Three thorns as opposed to a rose between 2 thorns above!)

Upon resuming our trek, we climbed out of Panther Creek and dropped back down into Fines Creek where we checked out a water stop at the Fines Creek Community building. After giving it a passing grade and petting a well fed, happy Labrador Retreiver, we moved on and ran by a pack of dogs laying in and out of the road. One dog began to give chase but it was redirected by Cross Country Stan and his water bottle. Ken will be making a home visit to ask these mountain folk to put their dogs up next Saturday morning. Should be an interesting conversation as, culturally speaking, dogs often have as much or more rights than humans here in the mountains. Hopefully, the folks will be aware of last weekend’s tragedy and will be happy to assist us in getting some 250 cyclists through the county.

We enjoyed a brief stop at Ferguson’s Supply store at the intersection of NC 209 and Max Patch Road. This is also the base of Rush Fork Mountain and we were going to be climbing to the top. From the north side, the mountain is arguably one of the top 5 climbs in the county. The south side is likely one of the two toughest climbs in the area. It is for more experienced riders than I to come up with the final rankings. I do know this – it will wear you down with its 13% grade over approximately 2 miles.

We all made it to the top – some quicker than others and then enjoyed an exhilarating descent reaching 40+ mph on the straight stretch as we blasted past WeKirk Farms and the G.C. Palmer dairy. We had one more short climb on NC 209 to the Crabtree First United Methodist Church where a water stop will be located and the metric century riders will rejoin the route. Time was running low at this point so we opted out of the climb up the backside of Hyder Mountain and headed on back to our starting point at Lake Junaluska Assembly. Christina found some new juice in her legs on this final stretch and pushed us up to about 20 mph pace before we said our goodbyes to Cross Country Stan and made our way around South Lakeshore Drive to the starting point. 38.5 miles later we were back after enjoying a fine morning in the saddle.

This ride really whetted my appetite for the upcoming metric century. I’m looking forward to this Saturday!

The other sad event…

On Thursday evening, the Navigator and I came to the sad conclusion that Mattie Anne, our 13 year old Golden Retriever,  had reached the end of her time with us. Three weeks ago on Sunday evening, we noticed that she was having difficulty breathing. She had been fine up to that point. We took her to the Vet on Monday morning and he took a quick look at her and agreed that she had the swelling in her throat that I had felt on Sunday. He said he wanted to run some more tests and would call us.

Less than 30 minutes later, he was on the phone with me asking that I return to the clinic. His tests confirmed what he suspected when he first examined Mattie. She had lymphoma and it was very aggressive. Without treatment, he predicted that she would last no more than two or three days.

After hearing our alternatives (put her to sleep now, Prednisone to make her more comfortable, or chemo), we chose the middle route of Prednisone. It had a remarkable and quick affect relieving almost all of her symptoms within 24 hours. To look at her, you would not be aware of the insidious disease taking its internal toll. It also bought time for extended family to say their good-byes.

We knew it was only a matter of time until the Prednisone was no longer working its magic and we knew we would be facing a decision soon. Mattie was originally a niece’s dog but spent most of her life at my father-in-law’s home when the niece moved on to other pursuits. My “better half” and I took over care of Mattie some 8 or so years ago when my in-laws began experiencing their own illnesses.

Finally, this past fall was a time when my father-in-law could no longer do the day-to-day care for Mattie and her health needs so she came to live with us and became an integral part of the daily routine along with Zeke and Orla, our two Labs.  Mattie would greet anyone and everyone with a big “smile” and apparently could not be petted to a point of satiation. She never met a stranger, either human or 4-legged. I don’t think I ever saw anyone turn away without a smile on their own face after a few seconds with Mattie.

Toward the middle of last week, Mattie became noticeably weaker and by Thursday, I was having to pick her up so she could walk. Her appetite was off and you could see the weight loss she was experiencing. We are thankful that she never seemed to be in pain but clearly, it was time…

So, Thursday night was a tough night as we tried to wrap her in as much love as possible knowing it would be her last. On Friday morning, we made her last ride in the truck and the Vet and his staff did a wonderful service in helping Mattie move on to her next journey. I sat in the floor and she laid her head in my lap as the Vet administered the sedative. It was a quiet and peaceful transition. I hope that I’m that lucky when my day comes…

Mattie Ann - a gentle soul!(Mattie Anne – a gentle soul has left us leaving a void in our home.)

Until later,

- Zeke

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