Yep yep ... it's been pretty quiet on this site for a long time; but more content is on the horizon. For now, we're still out there writing a great story.
How 'bout you?
The view from Signal Oak, 7/5/2021
I write this with a great deal of hope for the new year, as it seems the headwinds are ... slowly ... shifting toward a better outlook. While it might be another full 12-months before we're truly back to "normal" (whatever that looks like), it feels like there is more bad news behind us than in front. There's still a lot of caution required, and being this close to the finish line I cannot even begin to suggest that anything is "over" until it is well and truly over. I think it's fair to say we cannot approach a new season of riding with reckless abandon but it finally feels like the season can, at the very least, actually happen. It is up to each of us.
All told, the prospect of posting new events, instead of canceling them, is exciting.
After a full year of introspection and discovery, I have begun looking at the bikes - and myself - and wondering of what I might be capable. I wonder how many others are wondering the same thing. Winter is loosening its grip, and I cannot help but notice the slow march of morning sun across a different part of the floor in my work-from-home office. Gads, I need to get out of this little room... if only for a day. A blissful, warm day full of sunshine, the faint tinge of chain oil in the air, and the reassuring promise of cleats clicking into pedals accompanying the first birdsong of a new dawn. Let's GO.
Wait a shake... how long has it been?
Well, for me, it's been a bit. After a long, long while under wraps during the last year it is probably safe to suggest we could all use a little less stress in our lives, especially if we're out there trying to ride away from it. The first few events on the spring calendar are fast-approaching, so it's time once again to check your bag!
Tubes. Yeah, yeah... after lots and lots of research, tubes are very much still relevant for a lot of riders, even serious ones. I won't debate things here. If you catch me talking about marginal gains, hysteretic damping, rotating mass and angles of attack while I'm riding around with four full water bottles, a canvas saddlebag and at least 20 lbs of COVID weight around my midsection.... you should hit me over the back of the head with a really accurate torque wrench and call my wife. Yes, the horror ... INNERTUBES.
Little else is as frustrating as reaching into your seatbag to swap in a new innertube and feeling the sticky, rubbery resistance of a spare tube that has pretty much welded itself together due to age and oxidation. Check your spares! And hey... check them early, and get in touch with your local bike shop ASAP. Supply chain issues and backorders are still a problem going into the new year ... which is both a good thing, and a terribly bad thing at once.
On that note, how new are your tires? If you spent a lot of time on an indoor trainer over the last fall/winter, your bike tire might be completely torched, also.
How about your patch kit? Tire boots?
Okay, okay.... to make sure I'm not talking to nobody here: when was the last time you refreshed your sealant? Got enough plugs? Tubeless folks, especially, how IS that spare tube you should be carrying anyways?? Maybe that spendy Tubolito thing isn't such a terrible idea after all? After all, it takes up a lot less space in your bag, right? There.
Wait... what's in my bag, anyways??
For me, I still fall into the trap of the "ample" saddlebag. It's apparently like this with laptop bags, full-frame hiking packs, as well as cycling seatbags: the bigger the bag, the more apt one is to want to fill it. Further, the easier it is to forget what you have in there!
Each year it is important to take full inventory of one's saddlebag contents and repair kit. On my last run-through, I found I had been carrying around a spoke wrench for a type of wheel that I'd sold off maybe seven years ago. Maybe it was a good luck charm? yeah, yeah... that's it. Further, while I'm all about preparedness, I'm not sure I really need to be carrying around waterproof matches in July. Or a space blanket... despite that one, really nasty experience ages ago. Or spare postcards for information controls... which, maybe aren't even a thing anymore? Maybe those are good fire-starter kindling... or could work as a tire boot... the places my brain goes sometimes...
Granted, a big saddlebag makes it easy to want to carry the kitchen sink - and REAL tools, in the heat of a ditch repair, are FAR more useful than weirdly-shaped multi-tool tools, but an annual inventory is a good exercise. Spread everything out on the dining room table, and just walk through WHY you're carrying it in the first place. Remember that ingenuity weighs nothing, so it's important to consider that in those roadside moments you should never let what you do not have prevent you from being inventive with what you do have. Little zip ties and a couple feet of duct tape? ...yeah, those can stay in there. But, that really specific spoke wrench for a wheel that I'm not riding? Yeah, back in the toolbox at home. Even that couple of bucks in quarters for a random vending machine... I dunno, but it did save my ride that one time up in Iowa... and I'm still on the fence about that tiny Swiss Army knife in my kit that I have, literally, never EVER used. Sigh.... I'll sleep on it.
More stuff to check after some time away from randonneuring....
My cleats. All the fasteners on the bike... are they snug? Are all my generator light's wires in good shape? When's the last time I checked the battery on my spare headlight and taillight? Is there any cushion left in this handlebar tape?
It's not like our bikes have been dormant, or left collecting dust, but, these sorts of annual checks can prevent a lot of roadside heartache when it comes time to get out there on a long ride. Take the time, and ride assured!
Maybe we'll see you out there this year!
Addendum: (1/18/21)Added in a few days later, yeah ... the above may come across as "harsh" in places with regards to indoor training. My season (2020) would be in the dumpster without Zwift, however. People will have their opinions on it, but, when the goal is just good training without the hassles of traffic and finding the right stretch of road, man... it's REALLY hard to replicate what indoor training can do for the aspiring cyclist. Heart rate control, managing effort, endurance, FTP gains ... especially for riders who don't have the benefit of power meters on their outdoor bike ... there is a lot to be discovered indoors, and honestly -- while I am not in a hurry to stay inside, the benefits the experience have provided are already paying back on the road. I've used it even in the best of years, including last year, just to focus on improving fitness. Most of the time when I ride outdoors I am not focused on such things, and the trainer forces focus. It is efficient. Using TrainerRoad in the past has yielded big gains, and Zwift has been terrific throughout this very odd season. Would I replace all of my outdoor riding with it? Of course not ... I'm not sure any of us would. But, doing those hard indoor miles, whether they are "real" or not, is no different than yoga, stretching, lifting weights ... it prepares and enables more enjoyment once you're back outside again. I convinced myself that 3-hour tempo sessions didn't get me anything but a raw number, but, I've already seen evidence to suggest otherwise. I ultimately do plan to invest in a better indoor trainer for even more improvements in the future, based on real power numbers and utilizing variable resistance. For now, well, I have taped-up the vents on my shoes and busted out the gloves, because I have to be ready for cold brevet starts, for sure. One thing the trainer definitely doesn't prepare me for are headwinds and chilled legs! But, seriously, make no mistake: if you want to get faster or better at climbing, tempo, sprints, or "whatever", using an indoor trainer and a structured training plan will get you there. It's not a bad investment at all.
... But, this time it's 2020 ... (sigh)
I'm not going to say much about it here. Why add to the noise? Until this whole thing blows over, I'm basically sticking to my original plans to limit contact with people as much as possible.
It's not you, it's me. (<-- cool, I finally get to say that to someone!)
It's not ALL bad news, however. Outdoor activity here is alive and well, and my bike store friends are calling it "the great bike boom of 2020", something we've all been secretly wishing for ... but certainly would have preferred under better circumstances. I can't even get inner-tubes right now!
(gawd, he STILL uses inner-tubes?)
Among all the bad news out there, at least some industries are set to thrive for a long time. When it blows over, the FB Marketplace and garage-sale market for bikes and parts is going to be IN-SANE. Time to rebuild the stable with some solid beaters.... yissss
See, silver linings abound... patience...
For my own outdoor activity, I'm focusing on trying new things this year. The daily commutes to/from the office - obviously - are long gone, the panniers packed away, replaced with a steady cadence of lunchtime rides instead. A lot of additional motivation has been provided by various virtual challenges, helping keep me focused (distracted) and staying active. On the weekends, I've fallen into a decent habit of longer rides ... and while I did grab one 200km back in May, I've pulled back and embraced the 100km distance. Further, in the absence of RUSA rides for the majority of the year, it has been deeply satisfying to stray off the beaten path, discover a lot of new roads, and - ahem - steer clear of the usual string of c-stores, the usual pockets of traffic, and see some new horizons.
100km. I always sorta poo-pooed that distance, and I'm not sure why. I was definitely a 200km junkie. There was a lot of chatter in the forums surrounding the permanent's program earlier this summer that unleashed opinions about what does and does-not constitute a "real" randonneur. Depending on the perspective, well.... I am not, and never will be, a randonneur. That's fine. Much like the stigmas about bike racing .. and how much it costs to be "competitive" these days, apparently I don't clear enough annually to be a "cyclist" at all by some definitions, which is also fine .. and that's assuming I have the physique or the genetic talent to look like or perform like a racer in the first place. Zipp wheels? I still doubt I've spent that much on all of the wheels I've ever had built up. Also fine. I'm dancing around a lot of highly-charged social commentary here, but ... in general ... people will continue to divide themselves, even as I am doing here. I don't belong anywhere, and so I separate myself even more to make sure that I don't. I'm getting too old to lose any sleep about "fitting in" anyhow, even though I'd like to. I'll just say it, as much as it has become a "necessary evil" in our society, social media certainly doesn't help. Comments like, "those aren't real bike-packing bags", "that's not a rando frame", and "that's not very fast"... and those "what the ___ are you doing here on THAT bike" looks in the group ride parking lot before the start ... yeah, I'm good. This isn't a "better than thou" statement ... though if I have to type that.... HAHA... maybe it is ... but many riders I've encountered lately seem to still be preoccupied with pointing out differences instead of simply accepting them and trying to learn from their surroundings. I just wanna ride my bike. That's ultimately all we're doing, right? We all want the same things, right?
Morrissey seems to get it. I'm okay by myself. I don't need the draft, the noise, the politics, the hatred, or the attitude ... even though, yes, I'm slathering on a thick attitude here just by bringing any of this up. Nice and cozy, hiding behind the keyboard again.
It isn't always sunshine and roses, no. And, yeah... I suppose I AM degrading into "grumpy old man" mode. Or is it "angry, middle-aged jerk-face"? Depends on when you catch me, I guess. I've been called worse, for sure.
Maybe I've got it all wrong ... again.
Compared to years past, in 2020 it does seem that cyclists DO, finally, wave back. Almost universally, at least in this small slice of the world I see lately. I think maybe we all sorta realize how lucky and fortunate we are to have the freedom to do what we do, and that by cycling -- in all of its forms -- we are overcoming the toils of this particularly nasty year, separately, but somehow together. A nod, a tip of the cycling cap, or a full-on, arms-up wave. I've seen it from kids on the sidewalk, the hybrid riders, the racers, and the weekenders. Helmets, no helmets, mountain, road, e-bike (grumble). We've all waving back. It's nice. We're all trying to improve ourselves or just escape. We're all out riding a bike ... no matter what that looks like. We've either been doing it for 2 weeks, 2 years, or 2 decades.
Especially since I am struggling with a cycling identity crisis of late, I'm down for waving at EVERY-body. That previously-mentioned ugliness that popped up in the forums earlier this year, the more I think about it the more upset I get. Most times, those hiding behind their keyboards do NOT represent majority thinking, myself included ... but, that fact aside, when you are already comfortably identifying within a niche of a niche, well... maybe there shouldn't be any loose stones laying around in this particular garden, eh? No matter how you define "randonneur", one does not climb Everest without first learning to climb the hill behind their house. We should spend a bit more time giving one another a chance, and less trying to sort ourselves into boxes.
Whoof, so 100km ... Besides being long enough to satisfy any distance itch I might have, it has served keep my weekends a little more open, allowing more time for around-the-house projects that I've been ignoring for years now. Now that I'm stuck in with DIY projects, my brain is being exercised in new ways, and my confidence is growing new roots in more diverse areas. I think for a while there, I was using the bike to avoid such things. Chicken. I've grown a bit in the last couple of years, if nothing else. Now I ride for the health benefits, for the mental benefits, and to get out of this increasingly over-populated suburban deathtrap for a few hours. Perhaps before I was riding to prove something else? I dunno ... not enough space here, but I have thought about it. I still enjoy it, love it, but it is nice in some ways to not "need" it quite as much as I once had. That's progress.
All told, I will likely continue to stack 100km rides ... even as the weather turns, and various bikes go into dry-dock for maintenance, we have also embraced the interesting novelty of Zwift and indoor riding. WHAT? The dude?!? Say it isn't so!
Oh, c'mon.... it's training!
Well, it seems to help anyways ... weights, treadmill, core, stretching, and yes -- indoor mileage. Since my personal Achilles heel on brevets always seems to be long, flat stretches of road with seemingly no end, well.... Zwift has already started to pay back a little. I mean, if nothing else, it is NOT comfortable. Those guys that did a virtual RAAM this year? COME ON MAN.... I think that might actually be more difficult than the real thing. So, if I've gotten into the habit of watching football games from the saddle, instead of from behind a bag of chips ... that's 3+ hours of really long, numbing, uncomfortable slog on a really, really long flat road. It's working. It's all about the mental game. Because yeah, I want to be halfway through a 600km ride in a few years and be able to say "hey, at least we're not stuck on an indoor trainer for this long!" Those little "I've had worse" nuggets HELP.
With that, HA.... "Thanks, George!" <-- you know who you are... apparently I have 15 more 100kms to go this year if I want to claim a sticker that says "Ultra 100km" or somesuch... better get to it. Hey, that sticker means a LOT right now, pal. LOL
It has been, and continues to be, a remarkable year.
Yeah, I can't wait until all of these bothers are behind us ... but, I have to remember that, historically, humanity comes out of adversity with a newfound appreciation for nearly everything. While 2020 was supposed to have been "the year" for a lot of things, it is impossible to say what our collective redirection yet means in a larger, longer sense.
Only time will tell.
My personal timidity will change with time, certainly; but for now I am keeping things safe and distanced. I don't lose very much in that scenario - nothing I can't deal with, anyhow. In another few months, things will begin to look progressively brighter for everyone, and then it will legitimately feel "right" to return to what we love ... no matter what that looks like at an individual level.
For now, stay safe, take care of each other, and ... yeah, maybe start a blog?
|Maybe I'm not as weather-hearty as I used to be, but Zwift sure is nice when it's just miserable outside.|
|Who let the cows out?|
|Variety is good ... although I'm not ready for 100km on FOOT, a half-marathon might do here and there.|
Walking ... we're not completely crazy. These knees can't take that anymore.
|Where ya been ridin' lately?|
|No longer hunting for R-12 this year ... just out collecting old bridges and schoolhouses.|
|Long distance in 2020 ... "Just add water."|
|I like local, but when I can't get it my notion of "local" simply expands a little bit. Long considered the best and strongest bottle cages money can buy, King Cage in Durango, CO, USA is the best way to add more water-carrying capacity. These "drop cages" slide the standard 63mm mounting points up an inch, which can allow for larger bottles in the frame, or to better fit bottles under an under-top-tube frame bag. In this case, they help get my bottles in the right place on what I will call a "weird" fork ... with bizarre, non-standard braze-on locations. At the bottom, I used a longer bolt to go through the cage, a washer, the fender stays, another washer, and into the fork.... which, I know, trust me: I cringe when I read that last part out loud. I prefer and strongly recommend ONE fastener for ONE thing for each ONE braze-on... but, like I said, this is a weird fork. The top mount is held in place using a King Cage bolt-clamp, basically a really good quality hose clamp with a M5 stud tacked to it, all stainless, super-strong. The included washer and nylon lock-nut cinches everything down nicely. Repeat on both sides of the fork, and - boom - two extra bottles.|
|The unique challenges of a weird fork with canti brakes caused a bit of a faf, but once complete I can carry double the water and extend my radius ... and avoid needing to stop anywhere. I envy those with "real" triple-bolt forks and disc brakes right now, but, this'll do nicely. After 130 miles on some questionable pavement and rail trail, the cages didn't move a millimeter.|
|The King Cages are really good, and I had little doubt about their ability - but, a full water bottle mounted in a non-standard location creates extra loads and forces in odd directions: so, to be on the safe side and help protect the cages and keep the extra water in check, a couple Voile straps around the fork leg and the bottle's neck ensure nothing wobbles about or rockets loose while riding along. Looking downright Bike-Packer-ish here! What you don't see are the 2L of water inside the Carradice saddlebag and one more 21 oz. insulated bottle for my center back jersey pocket, two flasks of Hammer Gel and four Honey Stinger waffles. That last piece, the food, yes.... part of my personal notes, that is not NEARLY enough food or water for what I was about to undertake. I figured that out at mile 87, big-time.|
Once said of firewood for a Canadian winter: chop what you think you need, then double it. You don't want to find out you were wrong in early February. That mistake could kill you.
|Yeah, do not jump any fences around here.|
|The Rock Island Spur Trail, which currently runs from Pleasant Hill, MO. out to its intersection with the KATY Trail in Windsor, MO. The surface is great.... for a rail trail ... and with the headwind and rolling-resistance-sapping surface, well... I'd burn a lot of energy in this middle 40-mile section out to Chilhowee, MO. In retrospect, I should have pushed an additional 10 miles to Leeton, MO., and hit the Casey's there for a complete refill of water, and the purchase of a lot more food. Instead, keen on remaining contact-free, I opted to ration my supplies and turn around at Chilhowee for an even 200km day. Big mistake, considering I'd be forced to abandon my zero-contact plans later anyways, after bonking hard and running out of everything. As counter-intuitive as it might have seemed at the time, the extra 20 miles out to Leeton and back would have netted a better overall ride later.|
|...But, it was absolutely worth it. The rail trail system offers views of the countryside previously reserved only for the railroad employees, and some areas have been untouched since the railroad was cut through. Really old, original blastings through limestone and ancient trestles, it is a trip one should definitely take. But, yeah ... there are no services, at all.|
|Arriving at my new turn-around, and the regrets that would follow. In my mind, at that time, I was being more sensible by not stopping anywhere. Considering the time lost later on, and the physical toll, pushing to Leeton should have been the smarter option. At this point in my ride, however, it felt good to have arrived somewhere, and that I could turn around and enjoy a tailwind. There is a c-store in Chilhowee, yes.... as a big sign on the trail-side professed, but I was dead set on my zero-contact plan, personal safety, hydration, and caloric deficit be damned. Instead of being sensible and making a quick stop at a store that likely held very few risks for me, I saw the need to refill as a personal weakness. "Quit being a complainer, and just pedal." Stupid.|
|Legacy farmland far from anyone's eyes for decades until the rail-trail conversion was complete.|
|An old Rock Island / MO-Pac system switch and signaling cabinet at a long-forgotten at-grade crossing, on MO-131. I remember seeing one of these alongside MO State Route O, on the Mighty Peculiar permanent route, and thinking that "someday" the rail-trail would be there, and I would ride to it a different way. Mission accomplished.|
|Bikepacker-chic in appearance only ... still a lot to learn, for the rider. Atop the East Lost Creek trestle, WAY above the trees and creek below. 100+ year old steel and rivets, apparently un-phased by decades of neglect, now proudly supporting traffic once more.|
|A smiling selfie, only 10 miles or so before the bottom would drop out. This is my "I'm fine, having a blast" face. Apparently I'm just a human, and can't really knock off 90 miles on 800 calories ... you'd think the 'Quarantine 15" might have kicked in at some point ... and really, I probably did burn quite a bit of fat, ultimately, but yeesh man EAT something. It helps. You're not Rob Kish ... who famously rode something silly like 800 miles on ONLY WATER. Yeah, NOBODY is that dude, except for THAT dude.|
|MO State Route P and Funkhouser Road ... forever a personal memorial of how NOT to do a self-supported, supposedly zero-contact 200km ride. After leaving the Rock Island Spur only 4 miles earlier, with a short rest and some texts home, my mental outlook had been fresh. I was full of the excitement of a near guarantee of more speed from smooth tarmac, leaving the trail behind and having access to a tailwind. Leaving the shade of the trail behind, however, and sitting atop fresh blacktop, maybe the sudden spike in heat was a factor as well. Thankfully, some clouds rolled in to block the sun.|
|I need to do some research on the massive farm which seems to straddle both sides of I-49, marked by signature stone columns across the roadway and various old, abandoned driveway entrances. A family compound of some kind from a distant past, even having its own water tower, consistent visual evidence of the property repeats for miles and miles along 195th Street around Raymore, MO.|
|Lights ablaze, miles away from the bonk, at least we're moving again.|
Thank goodness for generator lighting ... I had not planned on being out after dark, and once again what I tend to take for granted comes to the rescue. Like extra food and water, the marginal weight and drag of a generator system is NEVER lamented.
|The past is in the past.|
(Sidenote: The Bontrager Flare-R taillight really does burn for 12+ hours; despite what was just mentioned above about generator lighting, the addition of a day-time visible taillight and nighttime strobe helps identify my position and is probably more effective than a reflective vest, where the steady-burn generator taillight provides a consistent position indicator. Together, this two-light system is just about perfect.)