A Dog Ate My Bike and A House on Fire: Louisa Re-Membered

Mary has written yet another of her delightful ride reports! Here she recounts the eerie atmosphere surrounding Crista’s Louisa Re-Membered ride from Ashland, Va. Mary nicely omits the fact that some of us were still recovering from Saturday’s DC Randonneurs cold and windy 200K.

Louisa Re-Membered, Sunday, February 4, 2007
Mary Gersema

As I was sitting in my office (working of course) Tuesday afternoon, I received a call from tandem partner Ed Felker. The weekend ride announcements had arrived in our email in-boxes.  “Did you see Crista’s Sunday ride?”  Ed and I had planned to spend the weekend in Ashland, Virginia with Crista and friends.  We had registered for the 200K Saturday “Brevet of the Month” and then reserved a room in Ashland to prolong our time with Chuck and Crista by doing a Sunday ride, too.  I had seen the ride title only and responded, “Yes, it’s Louisa remembered. So what?” Ed directed me to the ride description.

LOUISA RE-MEMBERED,” starting from Ashland,Virginia. While nursing a hot cup of cocoa at the Reva Market on a cold December day in 1997, Jim, Chuck & Crista scanned the front page of a local newspaper and noticed a gruesome story about a dismembered female corpse that had been discovered at the bottom of a well in the tiny town of Louisa, Virginia.  Ride carefully – we want everyone to come back in one piece!!!

Hmm. Well, that is not a bad title, necessarily. Clearly Crista wants to make dear Louisa whole again through creating this ride in her honor. What a nice gesture.  Count me in!  I’m not sure where I got the idea that the name of the town of Louisa was in honor of the dismembered/re-membered woman, but it seemed to make sense at the time!

Sunday morning a small intrepid re-membering party congregated in the Ashland Tea and Coffee parking lot– Carol Bell, Paul Donaldson, Lothar Hennighausen, Chris Mento, Chuck, Crista, Ed, and me.

The ride started at a mellow pace and we began our pilgrimage to Louisa, Virginia.  The terrain had some little rises, and Lothar remarked that he did not feel like riding any hills today. Well, even in Ashland, Crista will find a hill for you!  Ed and I poked along, and five miles into our day we had fallen back from our friends and thought our group ride might have turned into a solo effort.

At mile 12, however, we caught up to the group, as Chris and a country dog had brutally collided.  Everyone was stopped.  Dog, bike, and Chris had all gone down in the unfortunate event.  Carol took off to find the owners of the dog.  While Chris appeared ok, a remaining bright red stain in the road indicated the dog was not, and Chris’s front wheel was looking as though it had had a rough day. It would not spin, and two spokes lay in the road.  It looked like Chris’s ride was over.

The group began discussing options for getting Chris and his bicycle back to Ashland.  Carol rejoined us after locating the dog’s owners, and suggested she could ride back and then drive out to fetch Chris.  Not long into the deliberations about what to do, one kind driver stopped and said he was happy to take them to town.  “Everyone here has a pickup truck!”  Lothar said. These are the advantages of group rides in the country, I thought.  You’re never far from a vehicle with capacity for hauling a bicycle around.

The driver stepped out to help Carol and Chris load their bicycles into his vehicle. After quickly looking at their bicycles he pulled out a blanket or two and said, “You may want to wrap those up.” Carol looked thrilled!  Her beautiful Spectrum and Chris’s ailing Litespeed were going to make it back to Ashland all safe, cozy, and swathed in blankets. Such Gucci service. Carol and Chris waved goodbye to us, and told Chuck and Crista, “We’ll see you at lunch!”

Lothar, Paul, Chuck, Crista, Ed and I rode down the road. Two miles further into the ride, I looked over to my right and noticed a house with smoke billowing out of its roof. How strange, I thought. Perhaps something is up with the chimney? I gave another hard look. “Ed! That house is on fire! I’m serious!”  Some man, apparently the resident, was quietly standing outside the house, just watching the smoke pour out of it.  Paul commented that the guy needed to have his flue cleaned.  Yeah, right.  That was no flue issue. That dude’s house was burning.

Chuck and Crista moved on, apparently unfazed. “Crista did you see that house on fire back there?” I asked her. “No. A house was on fire?” It was true. Over the next fifteen minutes we heard the sirens and experienced all the local volunteer fire departments whizzing by us to make their way over to put out the blaze. This ride was getting stranger by the minute!

We kept plodding our course. I started feeling apprehensive.  At each intersection, downhill, or slight bump I advised Ed to use extra caution.  I thought about how Louisa must be really mad at Crista for naming this ride after her. She did not like the gesture, I decided. Good thing Ed and I decided to take the shortcut so we would not be going to lunch in Louisa’s town. I felt a little worried for Chuck and Crista, though. What would happen when they entered Louisa, Virginia? Louisa was on some kind of post-mortem tear, it seemed.

Crista interrupted my thoughts by saying “What a lovely day!”  What?!  I looked up, and said, “I guess you’re right, Crista.  Crazy things are going on all around us, but it is good weather!”  Paul laughed and said Crista was ever the optimist.

Ed and I soon left the group at mile 24 and stopped for a lengthy coffee/rest stop. It felt decadent! I wondered how the other riders were doing. “I hope they are being extra careful. I don’t think Louisa wants to be re-membered by us!” I told Ed.

The rest of our shortcut ride involved perpetual reminders to Ed about being careful, and frequent thoughts of how angry Louisa was in her death.  We didn’t mean any harm, Louisa.  Really we didn’t.  We are peaceful bike rider people!

Ed and I completed our short ride at mile 57, and dodged into the Ashland Coffee and Tea to grab another cup of coffee and some yummy lunch. I imagined that Chuck, Crista, Carol, Paul, Lothar and Chris were also stopped somewhere in Louisa for some midday sustenance.  We strolled in, ordered, and Ed wandered off to the restroom. Suddenly, I heard my name. “Mary! Mary!” I turned around to see who might know me in Ashland, Virginia. There, sitting, chatting, and drinking coffee were Chris, Carol, Paul, Chuck, and Crista. And everybody was wearing street clothes!

What was happening? Hadn’t Ed and I shortcut? Weren’t Crista and Chuck still riding?  Didn’t Carol and Chris say they were going to meet them at the lunch stop?  I thought fast.  I know we did the shortcut. I just know it!  What is going on here? I felt completely confused. What was everyone doing there?  Where was Lothar?  Crista replied, “Oh we did the same shortcut you guys did.”  What?  Really?  “Really!” Crista said.  “And we’ve just been sitting here drinking lattes and talking.  Lothar is going to ride 90 miles.”

Ed returned to join me, and we all chatted a while before the group, sans Ed and me, headed off to lunch. “Leave it to Chuck and Crista to beat us to the end of our own shortcut,” Ed commented. We thought we were the smart ones for shortcutting, and were so certain they were off eating lunch and fending off Louisa’s crazy pranks that I never considered they would shortcut and finish the ride before we did.  I said a little prayer for the safety of Lothar, the lone cyclist who remained on the ride.

Well, I like to say that I never know what is going to happen on a ride with Chuck and Crista, but today’s ride took it to a completely new level.  Rest in peace, Louisa. I’m taking next weekend off!

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