August 5, 2021

The Horizon Gets Closer

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


March 1, 2021

Spring Training

 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! 


January 10, 2021

Getting the Best Out of the Worst

Welcome to 2021 ...

But, before we get all wistful and begin predictions on how great this year will be, I just want to take a breath and hope for a second that we're all not just fooling ourselves.  2020 taught me a LOT, and even if "normal" is never really normal again I have a lot of tools in the shed to at least make it easier to navigate things.  

As I look down the barrel ...ahem ... to the hopeful horizon of this new year, some thoughts.

The commute is dead

"We're not even considering having anyone back in an office until the end of 2nd quarter."

Those words sorta hung in the virtual air during our last executive conference call last month.  No matter what happens with the virus, the data is in, and working from home is not the slacker-ridden filth-storm all of the naysayers assumed it might be.  We are more productive, happier, and - yeah... at the end of the day, because a lot of folks don't know how to clock out when the laptop is 20-paces from the couch, they're getting a lot of bang for their buck out of us these days.  The office lease is up this year, too ... and with all of this evidence in place why would ANYone renew it?

(update:  harrowing statement was revised later:  "we're not going back to the office until 2022, at the earliest.")    What is "commuting," again??
That in mind, I have been looking at the bikes lately and wondering why I still have a rear rack mounted.  It's basically a REALLY heavy taillight mount, and has been since March 13th, 2020.  Fenders.... well, granted, on a must-finish brevet they are worth their weight.  On a commute, they're essential ... even on nice summer days, the bike trail is usually riddled with run-off, puddles, mud, dust ... there are always sprinklers running somewhere along the way ... I don't think I can bring myself to remove the fenders, even if it "never rains".  All told, the concept of "riding to work", which has been a massive chunk of my annual mileage since before this blog existed, is sorta dead.  I'm also inherently lazy, no matter what my mileage numbers look like.  Without the NEED to ride in the morning, I don't.  I have long since traded it for extra sleep.  No matter how much I try to trick myself into riding a quick AM loop to my own house, I haven't done it.  I'm looking forward to the time when I could actually wake up, ride to some cool coffee shop and hang out for a spell, and then ride back home for work ----- without the crushing anxiety and COVID worry that accompanies my personality type.  I could see adding that into my morning routine.  Right now, it's just not something I'm willing to do.  I'll give it a few more months, and maybe my morning commute comes back in that sort of guise.  For now... the rack is still mounted.  I keep getting these inklings that as soon as I undo those bolts, they'll call us back to the office.

I also forget that the rack and my commuting panniers can also enable touring.... just keep 'em, dude... think ahead.

All told - when it comes to cycling in general, riding back and forth to work is terrific ... but the only thing it really prepared me for was ... well, riding 12 miles at a time.  Yes, you CAN gain fitness within that framework, but my commute miles were largely spent in "no man's land".  Not losing fitness, but not really gaining anything either.  The rest days always too hard... the hard days not hard enough.  Finally being free from that framework has allowed me to switch to longer lunch rides, where I can apply a bit more training theory.  I'm still terrible at it ... but, I think I'm farther along than I would have been had 2020 been "normal".  2021 will be more about embracing this new framework, instead of wondering if I'll ever ride to and from a particular building again.

And maybe removing the rear rack.   Maybe.  

Getting the best out of the worst

Sometimes I need to get pushed outside of the box to move forward.  Maybe that's the case for all of us.  2020 was weird in so many ways, so it's no surprise that my mileage fell into the same category.  "Weird."  Many would say "fake", and part of me agrees ... more on that in a bit.  

I never really latched onto the concept of the 100km ride, but this year I managed to rack up thirty-four (*) of them.  When it was warmer, they were all genuine, outdoor gravel adventure rides ... not terribly fast (never are), but all within RUSA guidelines for the distance.  Turns out, for me, 2020 was terrific brevet training for a lot of the little intangible things.  The goal was as-little-as-possible contact with stores or towns, and sometimes I managed zero-contact rides with no stops at all.  Well, not including stops in the shade.  Ultimately, running into a C-store, once I was okay with it, really wasn't that big of a deal.  Just be sensible.  Put on the mask, go get what I need, and get out.... you know, like normal (but with a mask).  This has helped me get better at the get-in/get-out concept, which - on control efficiency - has always been a problem of mine.  I dawdle.  I'm WAY better at it now.  

Go Longer

While brevets should be manageable for all skill levels, it came up in a recent conversation that having controls too close together can become a crutch.  Sure, the sport will - and should - stretch people; but, for new riders used to charity events, passing a store every 20 miles or so - even if it isn't a control - is really helpful when easing into rando.  For me, again with the laziness.... I often leaned on them a little TOO much.  I either hydrate too often, or, carry too little to stretch much beyond 30 miles between controls.  While most would consider this to be reasonable, it isn't always practical.  Some of the longer events get into areas where it can be 45-60 miles between towns, and sometimes you're lucky if you get a store at all ... sometimes it's a water pump or a vending machine that might be working that day.  My "pack everything" 100km solo missions this summer helped me better understand how much I can carry, how much bike weight doesn't matter, how many calories I actually need, and how to manage pace and effort when it is just stupid hot and there is no store to fall into for 30-minutes of air conditioned recovery.  In a "normal" year, I'd never have tried it ... and while I won't know until later this year if it pays off, I have to think it will be something I can pull from.  

Fake Miles?

(*) Fake miles...  ultimately, my bubble popped.  I occasionally suffer from burnout, in a bad way.  As much as I'd like to be one of those guys that can just perpetually keep knocking out 800-mile months, I reach a point where just getting dressed for a ride starts to feel like a struggle.  This is all mental: anxiety, stress, mental fatigue, way too much internal dialogue, self-doubt, excuse-making, fear.  Sparking this, during one of those personal 100km rides in late summer, I had a close-call with an automobile and it rattled me pretty good.  I wish I had the ability to just let things roll off my back so I can move forward - but even at my age I still struggle.  I've been working a lot on mindfulness this year, for that and many other issues, but sometimes various feelings and incidents are at the front of my mind like a brick wall that I cannot scale.  As a result, the existence of a single car on any given road pegged my needle immediately as "too much traffic."  ANY wind is hurricane force.  If it's below 60 degrees F, it's "freezing".  By mid-October, just the slightest drop in temperatures was enough for me to justify spending the rest of the year inside.  All the winter gear, past experience ... didn't matter.  The upswing in COVID cases didn't help the process.  I wasn't going out there.  I dove into work, worked through lunch, and worked late, skipped taking vacation.

Another part of my brain, however, was still keen on various numbers and goals. I mounted the road bike into the trainer, activated a Zwift account, and took to cyberspace.  This was also something I'd never have previously considered doing at the lengths I did in late 2020.  I've used TrainerRoad before in Jan/Feb to get high intensity and threshold training - which has always paid off - but never for more than an hour at a sitting.  Cut to today, I have effectively ruined the bearings in the trainer's roller, have flattened and worn out the tread on a perfectly good tire, and watched most of the first season of the Original Star Trek series while finishing a virtual challenge that saw me ultimately stacking up seventeen of the years thirty-four 100km events inside the garage.  If I hadn't had the permission to finish the rides indoors, the challenges would not have been completed.  I'm confident of that.  

What I learned from riding seventeen metric centuries on an indoor trainer is summarized as pure saddle time and mental patience.  I cannot say it's any easier or harder than riding the same mileage outdoors; but I can tell you that it is extremely uncomfortable.  Without the floating feedback from the road to keep muscles and tendons from locking up, without the ability to coast, without the rewarding distractions of fresh air and scenery ... yeah.  It may be fake mileage ... but I begin to understand why a few ultra-distance professionals offer that if you can't ride RAAM (for example) on the indoor trainer, you probably can't ride it in real life.  A local gravel legend even took the concept to the outdoors itself ... gravel racers often poo-poo riding on pavement as "junk miles" ... and he often retorts "if you can't ride a double century on pavement, you can't ride it on gravel."  There is truth in that.  "Fake" or "Junk" miles still have their place, and trust me: being able to sit on a trainer for four hours, even with tiny breaks, makes riding outside feel like cheating.

Would I ever do it again?   Probably not.  The translation to actual outdoor road speed is absolutely disappointing - especially in my case, using a classic trainer.  Apparently, I can hammer out 62 miles in under three hours in this virtual world, but in real life?  Heck no.  While I can sit on a bike for far longer now at a stretch, climbing real hills with real wind resistance? ... yeah, I'm no faster outdoors than I was in September.  Has the time indoors helped?  In some ways, yes.  Indoor training is just a tool, and what I did this fall is largely incorrect use of that tool.

Indoor training is not "worthless", however ... if that were the case, professionals wouldn't do it at all.  But, slogging away on an indoor trainer for three hours is not "training" unless I make it "training".  At the end of the day, all I was doing was "getting the number".  Investing in a smart trainer would help me get closer to a real experience, and would genuinely provide real, focused, measurable training; but, honestly, If I had a grand to spend on anything I'd be riding a far nicer bicycle.  All told, I don't think upgrading my indoor experience helps me improve as a rider the way riding outdoors year-round has in the past.  I need cross training - not "more cycling", so, dollar for dollar, I'd buy a rowing machine.  In any case, I'm cancelling my Zwift membership and putting the old, worn-out classic trainer in the dumpster.  Partly because the bearings are shot, but partly because it's time for me to just "get out there" again.  That's not a judgment on indoor training - that's something I need to do, for many reasons.  Despite matching my 2019 mileage and getting some gains, all told I have still gained the wrong kind of weight, and have gotten very soft with regards to the weather.  Gotta work on this.  Soon.

I'm still glad I did it.  If 2020 was about trying something new, that accomplishment was a biggie.  Goals achieved, gains achieved in butt-time, pure cardio, and mental patience ... but, I don't think an "indoor 12-hr challenge" is in my future; and while I'm proud of my ridiculous result - yeah, it's sorta ridiculous.  I may be able to sit on a bike for longer now, and that will certainly help - but now I need to get back outside and learn how to sit on a bike for longer when it is cold and windy.  If it really is absolutely nasty outdoors, then I probably need the break anyways ... especially considering what I mentioned earlier about burnout still being a very real thing for me.  But, today, the combination of 2020's massive late-season base will absolutely pay off this year, and I'm happy with the result.  Should the asterisk be there?  Well, I'll be the first to put it there.  With my brain, and the challenges of 2020, I'm glad riding indoors was an option.  I'd hate to see what condition I would be in right now had I not logged those trainer miles.  Even if there was no pavement passing under my tires, my legs, resting pulse, my backside, and how I feel riding outside again each convince me it was, indeed, "real".  Not fake ... just different.  Like 2020.  YMMV.

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.

Here We Go Again

Even though I finished with the first chapter of my return to school back in August, with the last assignment turned in and the final grades posted, I knew I wasn't finished.  I took the fall 2020 semester off, yet as I write this I'm only a few days away from starting the graduate portion of my education journey.  The online, compressed format will afford me a Masters degree in only 20 months ... but, it's another 20 months of saying "maybe" to myself and my riding buddies.  

It will pay off.  It will pay off.  /repeat/ ....

If anything, I am already used to the routine and have a good idea from others on what to expect.  It should actually be less hectic, in some ways, than the accelerated undergrad program proved to be.  So, with high hopes, I just need to give myself permission to take a break and go ride.  The 2021 brevet schedule is out, and I have a plan.  Time to execute.  I will absolutely NEED the mental breaks that randonneuring provides.  A good, long ride ... yes, challenging, but challenging in a way that returns energy to handling life's (and schools) challenges.  In any case, this post serves as a small preamble to the forthcoming silence ... this basically means the fingers will be typing for academic purposes only, and that once again the blog will get a little stagnant.

By the time I post again, heck... maybe things WILL be "normal" again.  Whatever that means.  It is impossible to know what life will bring, but worrying about it is pointless.  It isn't always about what we've been handed ... it's what we can make of it.  Even though 2020 was very "weird" in a lot of ways, even from a cycling standpoint, I think I managed to make the best out of the worst.

I'm looking forward to spending a little time outside now, taking some photos, and always, always learning a little bit more about myself, how I can improve, and how I can help others.
Hopefully 2020 yielded some positives for all of you, as well - as "weird" as it was.  

Cheers, friends -- and thanks for reading!

November 12, 2020

Another End-Of-Summer, Fall... Post

... 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?  

Never know.  

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? 

Where we measure time, and distance, in centuries

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?

Hidden treasures

No longer hunting for R-12 this year ... just out collecting old bridges and schoolhouses.

Long distance in 2020 ... "Just add water."

May 3, 2020

A 200km Tale: Flirting with Disaster ... again ... and Lessons for Long-Distance Cycling's New Landscape.

  More than a photo dump from a recent big ride, this post hopefully serves as a personal list of do's and don'ts for any of my future events in this "new world" we live in these days.  Little doubt exists that ... sigh, do I HAVE to type it out? ... COVID-19 has changed everything, quite literally.  I do not think any aspect of our lives have remained unaffected by this pandemic.  Long-distance cycling is no different.  

No matter how many times we have said across myriad long-distance webpages, and randonneuring-speak in general, the descriptive phrase "long-distance self-supported bicycling" has never really resonated until very recently for me.  Granted, resupplying oneself at a c-store in "the old world" was still considered self-support: the phrase originates from the idea that, unlike professional cycling, you cannot have a support car following along or handing things up to you while riding.  You're largely on your own, and in this sense perhaps randonneurs were already good at this sort of behavior.  It simply is and has been "what we do."  

However, the concept of removing the c-stores, usually spaced every 50km at a minimum for most routes, has changed quite a bit of the tone of "self-supported."  Like a long-distance tourist, perhaps akin to those brave souls that pack up for a multi-day epic across Asia, it has become paramount to change how we approach randonneuring.

I do not want to get on record as saying that traditional, pre-COVID-19 randonneuring was "easy," because the distances are still daunting, even with regular control breaks.  By comparison, however, yeah .... I suddenly miss being able to stop at a c-store, with nary a care in the world, pull up some sidewalk with a bunch of fresh water and food.  

Granted, I suppose this new behavior varies depending on regional realities and personal preference.  The c-stores are still there, many still open and serving their local customers - with lots of changes in place, of course.  For me, however, living in a densely-populated (by contrast) area, I still do not feel comfortable intermingling with smaller communities who should not have to worry about who I am, where I came from, what I might be carrying (even though I know that I am, more than likely, not carrying anything), as well as the risks of me entering unfamiliar areas close to highways which may be exposed to travelers from who-knows-where.  

There is little need to belabor everything we already know ... no need for reiteration.  
Maybe 20 years from now, someone reading this might need some context, but the rest of the internet might suffice in filling that need.  We ALL know what's going on today, in the early part of 2020.  

So, how does an aspiring long-distance cyclist cope? 
We add the ability to carry the only things we really need to keep moving: 

Food and 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.

Food and water,

... food and water.

  As much as I DID carry, it ultimately ended up not being enough.  Drama suspended, if I had just two more water bottles, one extra liter, the last part of the ride would have gone far better.

Some quick notes (as quick as the 'dude gets to ANY point, ever):

ALWAYS take more than you think you need.  

When a respected ultra-cyclist and multiple DK finisher (including DKXL) says "take the Camelbak," no matter how much you don't want that stupid thing on your back.... TAKE THE FREAKIN' CAMELBAK.  If you still don't want to, then wait until the next weekend when the other two bottle cages arrive for the rear rack, and then go.

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.

There is a saying that you should do things that scare you a little bit.  This is good for you.
BUT, you should absolutely control your own destiny and guarantee yourself some success.  The part that scares you should never, ever be your logistical ability to complete the event. 
Either carry enough stuff, or don't go. 

The positive aspects of carrying a LOT of extra stuff enabled me to pick a route that would likely never fly as a RUSA event.  Almost no way to control it, passing absolutely no services of any kind, and no way to get the traditional brevet card signed.  As a straight out and back, there's no way to shortcut it - but short of a GPS track there is scant little way to prove you actually rode it.  Well, save for the receipts one might get had they been smart enough to stop somewhere to re-supply.

This all makes for good training:  riding a fully-laden bike loaded with 9 bottles of water, that bike normally meant for gravel rides, and one that's a bit heavy and slow on pavement on a good day ... yeah, that's good training.  Adding in 40 miles of rail-trail, well, there's no way around it:  it's slow going, and even if it's fast going it surely takes more energy for the same speed compared to even traditional gravel.  That pea-gravel just sucks the speed out of anyone - I swear regular gravel roads are faster.  Add in a consistent headwind for the first half, and that it was the hottest day of the year so-far in 2020, and that I had not ridden a single 200-km ride in over a year (Feb. 2019), and had only ridden two 100km rides this year, one in March, one in April, both paved ... well, I should have been a little more prepared.  

Food.  I'm not sure why I thought just four Honey Stinger waffles and two flasks of Hammer Gel (one serving per hour for 10 hours) would be enough food.  I had plenty of normal food at home I could have packed... but for some dumb reason, I just didn't.  

The Hammer Gel is always around for my long rides, but just as "top-off" fuel.  It was always used on the assumption that I was stopping at c-stores and buying as much real food as I could stuff down, like Casey's pizza, potato chips, the occasional Snickers or Mounds bars, or fast-food fare ... and for this ride it apparently did not cross my mind that those four Honey Stinger waffles would not nearly fill the gap of c-store food I would normally enjoy every 20-30 miles or so.  A massive, gigantic calorie hole was waiting for me... and in typical fashion, one falls into that hole suddenly and dramatically.

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.

After 40 miles of rail-trail, I was excited to get back on pavement and "fly" home, with better rolling resistance and a persistent E, NE tailwind promised.  Only four miles later, however, the plug was pulled from the drain in dramatic fashion.  My caloric needs had been increasing over the past few hours, and I had not kept pace.  Rationing water all morning, as well, I had fallen into a deep hole.  Climbing a hill, the crest in the photo above, suddenly I felt a dramatic reduction in power.  I could not push any more, I began to feel nauseated, I suddenly began to sweat a LOT more, and felt a little dizzy.  

I was reminded of a MS-150 ride, years ago, where I had something similar happen ... feeling awesome, setting personal bests all the way, and then BANG:  I was in a porta-john, bidding farewell to everything in my gut, shivering from being completely dehydrated, and on the edge of passing out.  Today, it felt like history repeating, and the biggest bonk I've had on a ride in ages.

I stopped and dismounted, and just stared at the ground for a while, concentrating on breathing easily.  I decided, we're not passing out.  We're not going to throw up.  We're going to breathe, we're going to drink the water we have, and slowly eat something, and we're going to stand here and cool down until we feel better, because we are NOT going to the hospital.  No sir.  

It took time ... thirty minutes, who knows.  It would have been time lost to the sidewalk at a c-store in the "not so old" days, so, who knows why I had been so dead-set against not stopping, not resting, not giving in to the essentials.  I replayed images of myself getting refills and real food in Leeton, or even Chilhowee... no sense dwelling, your plans just changed, Jack.  

The closest pass to a town left on my route was Peculiar, MO., and the Casey's there.  Two miles off course, but now essential to me finishing what I'd started.  I knew people would see my GPS track hitting the c-store, and I was ashamed.  I knew that I had failed at my zero-contact plan, and I was upset.  I didn't want to do it.  I even called ahead to make sure it was okay with the store employees, almost hoping they'd tell me "no".  It was open, with all current rules and guidelines being observed.  Finally feeling human again, instead of on the edge of a cliff looking into the abyss -- but now with only enough water to make it to that Casey's, and not all the way home -- I headed out again, thankful.

Sometimes the best-laid plans require modification.  I got over it pretty quickly.
Flexibility is key when the chips are down, I suppose ... there will be critics, but none louder than me.

A reluctant left turn, then a right, and then the Casey's. 
Normally a brevet oasis, and a very welcome sight.  
Today... anxiety.  Dread.  

Three minutes.  A liter of water, a bottle of V8, and a packaged, employee-retrieved slice of cheese pizza.  A carefully distanced transaction.  A quick joke about a line from the movie Aliens, no receipt, and I'm out the door.  Barely touching anything, no-one else inside the store... I'm fine right?  Right?  This would repeat for hours after the visit, every time I had the urge to dab my nose with my glove... still today, as I type, I replay everything.

But, in the moment, REAL food... V8.... and precious water.  
One freakin' liter, man .... if you had just packed two more of those half-liter bottles in the saddle bag.  They probably would have fit fine.  Idiot.  Just a couple of PB&Js.  
So many notes for "next time", and an anxious 5 days to wait and see if I doomed myself and my family because of my stupidity.  

Ultimately, I have to let it go.  But these days, my impact on others is a point of concern, as well as the impact of poor planning.  This is the reason, perhaps, I should not have gone out.  For now, I can statistically hope for the best after visiting a store in a town with very few confirmed cases at all, in a scenario where almost no person-to-person contact took place, and certainly none within the recommended six feet.  

I am smarter for all of this.  If there is a next time, it will be vastly different, if not far shorter.

Perhaps I think too much ... 
After all, in these circumstances the statistics are on my side, but, I still have to consider my impact on others, myself, and ultimately my family.  It is not to be taken lightly, and clearly I do not.  In retrospect, I should have instead taken part in the shorter, more local, virtual Fleche that took place ... but, I knew I wouldn't have been able to get out as early as that ride had begun.  So many what-ifs ... so little time. 

I have to move on, mentally -- and on the ride in that moment.

Reflective vest on, ankle bands on, it was time to at least be clear of any heat-related issues, and enjoy some night riding on limp-mode.  

Even with the rush of calories and the worry of water removed, the bonk had taken its toll.  ANY hill of ANY gradient became a struggle, and my moving pace plummeted.  In some ways, this is the sort of ride I typify:  tenacious, not fast beyond a point, but I will simply limp it home if I have to.  We aren't breaking any records here.  

Considering this had been my first 200km ride in over a year, and with minimal training to ramp me up to this distance again, of course the speed was going to suffer.  This was simply "butt time," getting acclimated again, especially on this bike.  A capable as it is, it is not "fast" by any stretch, certainly not when compared to the bike I'd normally use to do these rides.  Thank goodness for tailwinds, and downhills.  At least I was moving.

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.)

I don't personally know if a zero-contact 200k is feasible unless I add another two bottle cages to the rear rack, or -- ahem -- actually take the advice and just wear the Camelbak.  In addition, maybe take along some ACTUAL food beyond just a few short-distance cycling nutrition items.  Cold pizza, PB&J ... if I can get more water ON the bike, and out of the saddlebag, then carrying more food will not be a problem.  I have seen others post "fan-blade" rides, like Audax KC has done with events like St. Joe Crank ... where an event like 1,000km is split into stages that all begin and end at a central hotel.  You can carry less, and you are back at one location for resupply at set points.  Using the home as a hub, I can simply head out for a few 30-mile out-n-backs in various directions, and I'm back at the "home control" for refills as needed.  Of course, that makes it hard to head back out ... something I've struggled with at past ultra events... it's almost better if I go WAY out with no choice but to make it back.  We shall see.

Still, all things that I might trial at the 100km distance before heading out to make more mistakes - especially considering that even hotter weather is ahead.  It's barely May, and if I'm having problems with hydration due to restrictive rationing NOW, then I definitely need to add at least two more bottles, if not four.  There is a company called Widefoot in Nebraska, where I have been looking at their triple-mount bottle cage that holds a full Nalgene-style liter of water, and the even bigger Nalgene 48 oz. silo of water.  Fashioning two of those to the rear rack, with cages or simply with Voile straps, held like panniers, would supply more than enough reserve.  Lots to consider.  Though it does add extra weight, over time I will get used to it ... and the extra weight means diddly if I'm bonking and fighting heat exhaustion because I don't feel like I can drink at-will for fear of running out.  It's the same as the generator lights and fenders ... the extra weight of the water is quickly forgotten in times when it is desperately needed.  Just carry enough, and enjoy.

We can still enjoy long-distance riding, yes, and ultimately I did enjoy this ride. 
With time, especially with the confirmation that I dodged a bullet with my c-store visit after a week or so, this will likely go down as one of my most memorable rides.  

If nothing else, it has reinforced self-sufficiency, and on perspective - yes - when things return to normal, the standard brevet format will indeed seem FAR easier by contrast.  It's also really nice to just ride, free-route, and go explore without worrying about c-store locations and control spacing.  Big jaunts into the Flint Hills could happen, long, uninterrupted stretches of remote gravel, tile-hunting without restrictions ... all seem do-able now.  

March 21, 2020

What We Can - and Should - Do.

Some of this is echoed in social media already, but expanded-upon and revised, so give it a read – even if you already have recently:

I’m trying to avoid typing any buzzwords here - that's not the sort of click-bait sorta stuff I'm into; but, if you're reading this in the early days of Spring 2020, well - ha - you should probably know what I'm on about.

Right about now I'd much rather be blogging about a successful 200km ride; but, clubs around the country - the world - have pulled the plug on their calendar of events. 

I normally shy away from social media, for various reasons; but lately, there isn't much else to do.  I found myself falling into a dark web-hole, unfortunately, reading about lots of cycling stories taking on a dark light amid misinformation, maybe fear, and realized that we - as cyclists - do have a larger responsibility to one another and to the communities with which we often interact.  With everyone essentially being told to stay indoors and not travel anywhere, we cyclists tend to stick out like a sore thumb if we choose to venture out solo.  Professionals and amateurs alike, most of what we love is gone right now.  However, for many of us (your author included) cycling is something we desperately need on a deep, mental level.  So, we are heading out solo.  According to city, county and state governments in even the most tightly locked-down communities like NYC and San Fran, this activity is still considered acceptable, so long as it is not done as a group. 

Locally, my county is on a hot-list now, with news articles coming out from surrounding, rural counties recommending a 14-day self-quarantine if you have visited the K.C. metro area recently.  What does that look like, from their perspective, when a lone cyclist rolls through their town, then? 

It got me thinking about our responsibilities as long-distance cyclists.  Even though I am okay to bicycle solo, I could introduce risk to small-town c-stores at which I might normally stop for resupply. 

Consider that these stores are often THE gathering place and perhaps the sole source of groceries for these small towns.  Though I am symptom-free, the folks in these towns don't know that, and shouldn't have to wonder about me and my impact on them.  Golden Rule stuff.

To my fellow cyclists out for big miles these days:  consider the opportunity to train for the long-haul:  I can think of a few local brevet routes that have 60-plus mile sections between controls, often a logistical challenge.  This is the time to train for such rides.  Roll heavy.  Pack extra water and food. 

While I like to think we help support these communities with our purchases, we can - and should - pick that up again in earnest on the other side of all of this.  In the meantime, pack like you're on a long, self-supported tour, and just move on through, keeping a safe distance as you do, and don't needlessly hack or spit on the roadside near anyone, or anyone's home.  Wait for a clear ditch in the middle of nowhere.  Heck, that's a good guideline in the best of times ... imagine being a homeowner, on your own, quiet patch of land ... and some random guy on a bicycle hocks a fat one on, essentially, your front lawn.  That's just rude, regardless.  Put that in your cheek and wait, or spit down the front of your baselayer.  You're already disgusting anyway, right? 

Think beyond the moment.  Golden Rule... repeat... 

Just honest, simple steps like these can go a long way.  While cycling is often ALL about us, remember it really isn't about us right now in these regards.

Finally ... be smart.

Don't needlessly inject yourself into the healthcare stream: ride with your head as much as your legs: be safe, be seen, be courteous, be conscious, be aware, wear a helmet, and don't take unnecessary risks.  Imagine if you do fall, and end up in the ER: likely right where no-one wants to, nor should be, right now.  Don't pull healthcare and first-responder resources away from where they're truly needed by being an irresponsible jack-wagon on your bike.  Traffic counts are low, which makes for some good riding ... but, please be smart and avoid complacency, and don't become an accessory statistic. 

I look forward to better times when we can all get together en masse once more.  I dream of a 15-strong pace-line on a glorious stretch of country farm road, and a cold beer waiting at a CROWDED bar at the finish.  That will be sweet, and I won't even care if I can't get a table.  I'll happily stand shoulder-to-shoulder once more with my fellow cyclists, friends, and strangers.

In the meantime, be good to each other.

Thanks for reading, as always.