Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

October 2, 2016

The Summer Retrospective ... gone?

  The massive, 20,000-words-or-so post with the full summer retrospective and ride reports dating from June suffered an accidental deletion this morning, and after some rather frantic and unsuccessful clipboard recovery and cache scouring attempts, I simply don't have the energy to go through all of that again.  I suppose that's the risk associated with not editing this in Word or something with a good backup strategy, and instead using the built-in editor and trusting my flying fingers to not accidentally hit the wrong combination of keystrokes when doing something seemingly simply, like pasting in a new photo.  I'd been working on that post since late June - five and ten minutes at a time, which was the reality of my available keyboard time, and now it, like the summer of 2016, is all gone.  

It's possibly better this way, because with this the giant self-wielded death scythe of recursive analysis on this summer can, maybe, finally be tossed in the grass and I can walk away with a clear head.  I'm treating this as a stark "moving forward" maneuver, then.  The past is in the past, and that is that. 

So.... how y'all been?

Looking north into the humid haze of a blazing August afternoon of gravel riding.

August 18, 2016

On Commuting

My rhymes and structure 
and meter aren't great
but I know how I feel,
so, I'll lay it out straight.

The alarm sounds.  
It's dark, ....
...but the coffee is hot.  
The daily decision - to drive, or to not.

Zip up the bags, 
air the low tire
Out of the driveway
and into the fire

The side streets are quiet, 
the commuter's best friend
There's risk that remains, though, 
around every bend.

Keep watch, eyes up, 
stay sharp, don't blink
Is that a mailbox or a jogger?
Car passing, don't think.

Free of the roadways 
and onto the trail
Shift gears with a clunk
We begin to set sail

The surface is crappy, 
my joints are complaining
At least there's no mud... least it's not raining

Don't take it the wrong way
because I'm not complaining
I love it out here, quite simple
There's no need for explaining.

Frogs, crickets, squirrels, rabbits abound
An owl, a snake, and a rustling sound
The morning sun, the last of the fog.
Looks like the city finally moved that old log

Dog walkers, elders and Pokemon trainers
So many hurdles, the car's a no-brain'er
Turn the key, buckle-up, adjust a dial
Time gets compressed - one minute per mile!

"You live WHERE?", "It's too far", 
"I'd probably die after a block!"
The heat! Rain! Cold! 
Why is what I do such a shock?

The ease of the throttle, the cool, processed air
Trust me, I get it - why would anyone care?
Gas is "cheap", the planet's "fine".  
Mind your own business, and I'll mind mine.

We know you don't get it, 
we see your disdain
We don't want your approval, 
but we do want the lane.

I'm not the reason you're late
I'm not in your way
I'm not 6 meters wide
This will not take all day

I don't like who I am
when I'm behind the wheel
The stress, the anger
the tension is real.

You want me on my bike
Trust me, you do
It's one less car
One less tailgater for you

My children will thank you
Please stay off your phones
Your Facebook and texting
Versus my broken bones

Just give me my 3 feet,
My freedoms, my right
We both want the same thing:
Get home safe, every night

- Keith Gates; August 2016

July 25, 2016

Milepost 1445 - Short Posts from the Open Road

The trophy wall gleams with this, from Thursday's KCUC Belgian National Day Ride. Hard-earned: 115°F heat index, a blocked stomach and the beginnings of a summer cold that may finally be letting go at this writing. Thanks to Josh and David for a great day out, and cheers to P-4... 1/3rd of the way there, maybe we can start calling this a streak. Looking forward to R-4 on Wednesday, if I'm healthy.

From Instagram via IFTTT & Twitter (@RUSAdude)

July 18, 2016

Milepost 1445 - Short Posts from the Open Road

Footprints from DK, in downtown Madison, KS., June 4th, 2016.

From Instagram via IFTTT & Twitter (@RUSAdude)

Milepost 1445

239th and Pflumm, northern Miami Co., Kansas, looking north on a very hot afternoon's training run. Railroading and gravel riding meet.

From Instagram via IFTTT & Twitter (@RUSAdude)

July 4, 2016

Post 7-Eleven

The concurrent pursuit of R-12 and P-12 awards has been interesting, thus far, having wrapped up this third month of action.  I'd almost forgotten to do it, in fact - the old habit of only pursuing one long ride per month being the "norm" in some ways had me, again, suddenly seeing the 100km requirement as "opps, I haven't done this yet!"  So, in fine fashion I managed to sneak one in with a couple gents and captured some photos along the way.  Enjoy:

Paul in the early miles, leading the charge south.

Sometimes randonneuring requires creative thinking.
(Photo by Josh Stadler)

What do we do?  Refer to the socks, that's what we do.

Southbound on Old KC Road.

A lone rain shower, west of Paola, KS. as we make our way to the halfway control in Osawatomie,

Awesome perspective shot from Josh manages to get all three of us in the frame!
(Photo by Josh Stadler)

That lone rain shower becomes an attention-getter again, so I grab this shot while we enjoy a mid-ride snack at the "We-B-Smokin'" BBQ joint.  This little gem is right on the tarmac at the tiny municipal airfield between Paola and Osawatomie, and definitely worth the trip.  For under $3.00 you can get a mound of fries the size of your head, and they have cold beer.

This was a great ride with a couple great guys.  We did a blistering-fast control at Osawatomie and ended up on-pace to do a pretty darn fast 100km, overall - but, ultimately opted to stop for a nice, relaxed lunch at this great BBQ place at the Paola airport instead.  Worth it.  

The two weeks off the bike between vacation and transportation duties keeping me from riding to work had definitely taken a toll.  I felt disconnected, lethargic, and heavy... still do.  I have to do some serious work to get where I need to be ... that's not the "two weeks" talking, but many, many months of anti-calorie logging and laziness - basically.  There's so many goals and aspirations I have on my list suddenly, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed - so I need to buckle down.  While I did "behave" on vacation, I certainly didn't lose any weight - and certainly didn't hit the gym.  Enough self-loathing, already.  Time to DO WORK.

On that note ... why am I spending SO much time at the computer??

Gotta go...  

July 1, 2016

Mighty Hot & Peculiar

The June 200km ride... always a good time.  Things like gloves, warmers and ear covers are finally put away and even the early morning hours of loading up the car and preparing to go is easy.  The sun rises early and sets late.  The birds are out.  The roads are calmer, somehow, and moods are good.  These are the easy months for the R-12 chaser.

Easy.  Right.

As I type this, a cold front has finally pushed through the region bringing some AM thunderstorms and a shift in the wind.  Much of the month of June, however, has been hot.  In fact, Steven W.'s successful run at the DK200, only a week prior to this ride, remarkably became the hottest it'd been all year to-date, and many riders had suffered for it.  Things that hadn't been an issue all springtime, like carrying extra water, sunscreen, electrolyte balance... what do those things even mean?  April and May had both proved almost unseasonably chilly in some regards, and with very little ramp up - BANG - it was summertime hot.  As Josh and I readied our bikes in the light of a freshly risen sun, the sweat was already beginning to accumulate on our brows.  Normally, not a big deal - but this is the Mighty Peculiar.  

A route of my own design, the Mighty Peculiar is 218km of rolling terrain and long, unbroken sections of state highways and backroads stringing together, at the onset, much of the last running of the local Kansas City MS-150 routes as they'd stood from about 1996 to about 2010, before the Kansas and Missouri events merged and changed locations and routes.  This, the old Sedalia, MO. route, runs through Strasburg, Kingsville, Holden, Chilhowee and Leeton before breaking tradition and diverting to Calhoun, MO. for the halfway control.  The first portion of the ride is standard 200km fare, with controls and c-stores spaced pretty evenly along the way for easily planned stops and the normal complement of two water bottles being "perfect".  Beyond that, however, things get "interesting".  While the profile of the route remains consistent, with only a few climbs worth remarking on, the density of controls drops to almost zero for the last half of the route.  

The economy of the region, sadly, simply doesn't support much in the way of commerce between towns which haven't been connected to anything since the Rock Island railway stopped operations here back in the early 1980s.  Since then, things have - literally in some cases - crumbled, and keeping a gas station or a c-store in business quickly became a losing battle.  Since its introduction in 2011, the last half of the route has seen stores close, reopen, and close again - making scheduling a bit of a nightmare and requiring a lot of route updates.  For a few years until only recently, the entire last section of this route required riders to fend for themselves for 67 miles from the halfway to the finish line, without very much of anything in between in terms of vending machines, water hoses, houses, or even shade.  During the colder months, not much of a problem --- but, when it's warmer... packing smartly, wearing a hydration pack and riding within one's limits becomes paramount.  It's a challenge... a Mighty good one, at that.  

I gotta say, I (quoting Danny C.) do indeed like a certain kind of misery... and this is one of my favorite routes.  I intend to ride it a bit more often, because - at least on the last half - the solitude and low traffic are worth the effort and exposure.  In the near future, when the aforementioned Rock Island railroad corridor is finally converted to rail-trail and opened for use, the route will undergo another redesign to offer riders the option to explore then new trail and some shade... but, that long 2nd half will still be there to test those hearty enough to give it a go.  I recommend it - for, while challenging in many ways it does help to get out on a piece of road and extend the mental expectation of when a rider sees services.  Where most 200k routes tend to have stores and gas stations along the way, even between controls in decent frequency, it's good training - mentally - to experience a route where there simply isn't anything.  It can set a person up to push their horizons and tolerance for ever-longer intervals in the saddle between stops so one knows what to expect on longer brevets, and has one consider logistical challenges and self-sufficiency on new levels.  If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Let's get to it... 

The expanse of West Central Missouri opens up ahead of us, on State Route J east of Peculiar, MO.  The sun is already beating down, promising temps in the upper 90's, heat index even higher.

As we made our way east, Joshua engaged the Turtle Rescue Squad tactic twice, helping a couple of box turtles get safely across the highways.  As MO-58 unfolded, we slipped through Strasburg and Kingsville and arrived in Holden for the first control.  The heat... we found some good shade on the east side of the building while we enjoyed our resupply and prepared or the next section out to the halfway point.  The arm coolers came out for some sun protection - a cycling innovation that I'd been quick to poo-poo in the past, but have since proven indispensable on days like this one.  I'm not quite sold on the knee coolers, but, I have considered them.  If a ride like this became a week-long tour, perhaps they'd be a good idea.  

We ventured back out onto the route and made our way out onto Route O and toward the first encounter with the Rock Island Railroad trail conversion.  So much has happened in the last few years since I'd been out on the course with regards to the long-awaited rail-trail connector from Kansas City out to the Katy Trail.  Someday soon - reportedly before the year is out - cyclists will be able to ride a short distance out to this connector, and then onto the Katy Trail, practically being able to ride across the entire state without touching public roads.  To the west, the work near Osawatomie, KS. continues towards improving how riders access the Flint Hills Nature Trail, which will accomplish the same feat nearly to the Colorado border.  While a lot of work is left to be done, the dream for the adventure tourist is coming true.  I can't wait to take advantage of this, but it's still very satisfying to see the progress unfolding.

The old switch box is still here, which is really cool - and we really do hope that they keep it here just as a visual reminder of what was once here.  Since a lot of clearing and rail removal has already taken place, and full pea gravel improvements only a couple miles east of here, maybe they're thinking what we're hoping!  Some of the Rock Island hardware out here in the weeds dates back at least 60 years, and I've found tie plates with weld marks indicating manufacture in the 1910's.  Here, in 2016, Josh and I survey the progress.
From November of 2013, here's the same view point along Route O..  

From 2011, another section of the railroad sits and waits.

From 2016, looking back west from the same place along Route O, the rails are gone and the brush is slowly being removed.  On the pavement below the shot, spray markings from utility companies are evident, as the corridor will likely be used to bring fiber connections to the small towns along the abandoned rail line.

After leaving the rail trail crossing behind, we continued east to Chilhowee, MO. and beyond on highway 2, soaking up the great hills I remember from the MS ride days.  This string of hills was always surprising and became the sole topic of conversation at the lunch stop, which was usually in Leeton only a few miles beyond the crossing of MO-13.  It's still a critical stop, turns out.  Running low on water again as the heat of the day increased, we hit the shade of the roadside Casey's and refilled our bottles.  From there, the opportunity for some choice stops would evaporate quickly.

Approaching the intersection of route O and MO-2

Josh eats up the miles approaching Chilhowee, MO.

The miles mounted and soon we were entering the small town of Calhoun, MO. for the halfway control.  In my mind, this is where the real ride begins.  Yeah, yeah... maybe it might have been easier to simply make this an out and back route, but the traffic density back in Holden and Kingsville increases dramatically after midday along MO-58 (one of the reasons the MS folks ultimately moved the ride, especially on the return from Sedalia on day two) so, while possible it certainly doesn't make for a good time.  Sometimes, to get just the right feel for a route, the loop is the only way. 

At Calhoun, preparing for the 50-mile expanse of "nothing" before the penultimate control, we develop a bit of a drinking problem.  The eight beverages in the foreground are all for me, yes; nearly 200oz. of liquids - mostly water, with one caloric addition added with the 16oz. Coke can.  With about 85% used for drining, and the other 15% for dousing myself to keep cool and prevent cramps, I ultimately would use every drop before arriving at the next stop.  It seemed ridiculous, needing to almost make two trips from the c-store table to the bike and back just to get everything situated, but it was well worth it.  Temperatures in the mid-90's and rising, and humidity remaining firmly in place, and me without a Camelbak, well - what choice was there?  I will say, the all-road bikes I've seen at events like DK with four or more bottle cages are beginning to make a lot of sense, but, the full-back-pockets and saddle bag works quite well.  Not all days are like this, but, faced with a long unsupported section - which Josh had dubbed "The Desert" - it's better to carry more than one needs, rather than not enough.

Missouri State Route J, north of Calhoun, with open skies and fields of rolled hay.  There are long sections of "maintained" pavement that had me questioning my tire size choice - but, mainly only because I'd had the 700x35mm tires of the gravel bike as a new comfort yardstick.  I've certainly had worse times on worse roads - but, having the immediate comparison in my head proved frustrating sometimes.

Arm coolers, check.  Josh and I rolling along Route M, no shade in sight, and constantly fooled by false-alarm flat tire checks, which turned out to be the sun-baked road tar slowing our progress.  You know it's hot when the road begins to melt.  Yikes.

The Corinth Baptist Church, somewhere along Route M.  No well, no spigot, no hose, no pump... but shade.  We'll take some shade, please.  Outside the shade, it's almost too bright to look around for very long.  Welcome to the hottest part of the day. 

The answer is "N O".  The questions being, "are we there yet?" and "is there a store in this town?"  Yeah, "no."
We stopped along the roadside in Blairstown, MO., only a few miles from here, to grab some shade and dig deeper into our reserve water supply.  My saddlebag and beer koozie had barely kept my 16oz. can of Coke from Calhoun cool enough to enjoy - and it tasted great.  Right before leaving, I realized what had looked different about this odd little town: Josh and I were taking our break next to a large pile of rubble which used to be the only store left in town.  Any chance of this becoming a control again are pretty much gone, thus the reason for the long stretch.  The original control had been a small c-store, but it had only lasted a few months before shuttering back in 2012.  There's a post office, but I've never been here when it's been open.  I've tried for Blairstown, as it's well-positioned along the route compared to other options, but there's just nothing here anymore.  Time to keep moving.

The breaks along the way helped tremendously, but, the cumulative toll of being out and active in a heat index approaching 115ºF were certainly evident.  Sunscreen wouldn't stay in place anymore... it was like it melted off the skin.  Aside from dodging large hunks of missing pavement, the roadway behavior also involved trying to find a good line on the road that didn't happen to be melting in the intense sunshine and heat.  What had seemed like a dragging brake or a soft tire ended up being very soft pavement, which would often make loud cracking and popping sounds as we rolled over the tops of bubbles in the liquefying tar.  I think I've only had that happen one other time over the decades of road miles behind me - it was remarkably hot, for sure.  Keeping the extremities cool helped, but I was ever watchful of remaining water to ensure I'd have enough to drink in.  Electrolyte tabs came in at the top of every hour, in addition to the steady diet of Skratch Labs drink in the insulated bottles on the bike.  I was happy to have never cramped up on this section - more water, rather than not enough, is always a good thing.  But, the National Weather Service calls them Extreme Heat Advisories for good reason - we certainly weren't breaking any speed records, and it was obvious after Blairstown that some cold A/C and fresh ICE water would be really, really nice.  Gotta get to it, though... so, reluctantly, we saddled up for the next section between Blairstown and Gunn City, the next town on the map that would at least have some trees.   

An old farmhouse stands against the elements along Route N, as we inch close to the turn north back toward "civilization"

One could even say "it LOOKS hot." -- something about this shot seems to sum it up perfectly.  Even as the shadows lengthened and the day slipped to late afternoon, the indicated ambient temperatures on our devices hovered around the 97-99ºF mark.      

Seriously, how long IS this road??

Route N out of Blairstown proceeded to beat me senseless with it's dried-out asphalt fractures leaving scattered rock and elongated potholes all over the roadway from curb to curb and leave me with daydreams of larger tires, but soon we crossed into a new county and things improved dramatically.  From here, we began to see the signs of improvements as we entered the far eastern reaches of Garden City and right about the time when I'd normally begin to wonder "shouldn't the turn be here by now?", the turn north on Highway ZZ appeared.  At about time time, Josh and I got separated - different shade schedules and different road speeds is all it boils down to, but we ultimately joined back up in La Tour, MO., right at the return to MO-2.  I rested for a minute or two under some deep shade trees - which felt amazing compared to pedaling along under hot sun.  Regrouped, we decided to continue onward and see what the next town held in store.  While only five miles up the road, it was still five more miles in the oppressive heat.  We buckled down, and saddled up. 

HTFU, you say?  Even the Tour of Qatar and the Tour Down Under (or, Oondah (LOL)) are held in January each year, not June (or October).  Even the UCI would alter the start times if the Grand Tours had days like this one, and they have support cars.  I invite those quick to judge with the following notions of "you had to be there" and an open invite to join me for this route next time out.  We are bad-asses. Come ride with us.  Don't take this too seriously.  We don't.  We just wanna ride.  A LOT.

Hitting stride, we arrived at Route M and made our way toward Gunn City, MO., and what would become salvation.  In my control-focused state, I initially arrived at the curve in the road near the old gas station (which has always been closed in the past) and had full intent to carry onward to East Lynne and the real control ... but, seeing the door swing open and someone carrying a bottle of water... or something ...I couldn't go any further.  This is teh rando-norm:  see store, will stop - control or not, it's allowed.  But, I had to make a full u-turn to get this one, being on a 15-second mental delay.  Under the shade, and with Josh close behind, we stopped into our new Oasis, Mike's Place.  Cold Beer, the sense that there was also food to be had (though we didn't order anything), and most importantly, cold soft drinks and water.  We refilled and stocked up and soaked in the cold A/C and shade.  IT may be a literal hole-in-the-wall, but it's the best little c-store & watering hole for miles and miles and miles.  The timing was perfect, as the heat of the day had just begun to break as the sun marched back down toward the horizon and evening began.  Thank goodness... we survived "The Desert".

After our provisional "control" was done, we returned to to road refreshed and recharged, ready to wrap things up.  We hit East Lynne in good time, then made our trip north and west - stair-stepping back toward Peculiar, just in time to watch the sun dipping toward the horizon ... just like we'd watched it rise in front of us as we prepared for the day almost 14 hours earlier.  Yeah, at nearly 219km, it's a longish "200k", but thank goodness for the extra time - we finished with a bit less than an hour to spare, having managed our time wisely despite the tough going in the last half.  I quote Steven Williams' battle-cry from his DK run, which - if I recall correctly - is a quote from yet another randonneur:  "relentless forward motion."  It works.  When in doubt, just.  Keep.  Pedaling.  Even "slow" is "progress"., and it'll get you there.  Finishing is everything.

Stay tuned, and stay cool... starting to get caught up on ride reports and photo-logs, and the next post isn't far away!

June 15, 2016

(Paved) Roads? Where we're going, we don't need (paved) "roads".

The month of May is coming to a close quickly, as I sit down on a lazy Memorial Day weekend afternoon for some keyboard time.  Let me make sure this goes on record before going any farther:  It's important to remember Memorial Day for its reasons, and it's not to be taken for granted how a simple bike ride becomes representative of the freedoms we enjoy in this country.  To travel widely from town to town, state to state, no papers - yes, it is only a peripheral byproduct of a larger cause, but on a personal level it certainly resonates.  It's a big part of what makes life rich and satisfying, being able to just "go" - the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle should always be so simple.   ... This, yes, from a guy who has far too often made this simple thing much too complicated.  One has to fall before one can appreciate the act of rising back up. 

This month has been quite productive.  I finally feel back in a place of familiarity, a place where fear is beginning to melt and yield to results and progress.  The tenuous 111km in April, the downright painful 225km at the end of that month (saddle slightly too low), all openers to a successful May charge.  Morning temps finally cooperating and making it easier to get back into a steady streak of commutes, and making logistical concerns on longer riders a little easier - we're quickly getting into the annual glory days of cycling here.

My printed calendar hanging in the garage hasn't been as full of ink as it is now.  In this day of technology, apps, and digital logging -- YEAH, I *know*;  heck, if you didn't REALLY think I was a true troglodyte, maybe this cinches it for youI log my mileage manually, with an ink pen, on a paper calendar.  

WHAT?!  That's ridiculous!  

Is it?  Maybe... but, I can't tell you how satisfying it is to reach the garage and to physically tick off a day's work with mileage, average speed, weather conditions, and my feelings on the day.  Ultimately, this does make its way into a digital log of some kind - sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly - but mainly as a backup, and as a way to keep track of tire, chain, cogs, etc. mileages for maintenance.  I prefer it, however - it has proven easier to remember to do once the day is done, and most importantly it provides a constant reminder that I need to DO something to fill that daily square.  It's motivation and confirmation in one, and I haven't yet met an app that does this as effectively.  ...for the way my mind works.  And, if nothing else, I never have to plug it in or reboot it when it freaks out and erases itself.  

Do something.  It's a pretty basic statement - but, linked to the calendar I've mentioned above, that has become my only real goal this year.  Just to DO something, ANY-thing, fitness-based and measurable, every day.  This has often been a brisk walk over lunch with co-workers, a run, push-ups, yard-work (like, hard-core manual yard-work such as reducing a bunch of downed tree limbs into a pile of size-matched firewood with a hand saw and a hatchet ... mowing the grass doesn't really count)The point, however, is that I've modified my approach away from simply trying to ride every day.  Sometimes, at this important stage in my kids' lives, cycling to and from work doesn't compute.  Sometimes waking up early doesn't compute, nor does staying up late, so I've adjusted appropriately to keep things positive ... not to be so down on myself for not riding, but to encourage the simple act of making every day an opportunity to get some sort of exercise logged.  It's working - as mentioned, May's calendar page is nearly full - and, a lot of it actually happens to be cycling-based, too.  

"Whatever you do, just don't do nothing."            - Daniel Swanson; April 2016

I do, however, have more things to put into play.  Now that this healthy habit of logging some activity daily has taken hold, it's time to add the dietary logging to account for the other 85% of the equation.  That's proving tougher - but, hey, one day at a time.   

So, all of that aside, let's get into the real meat of the May post -- the 100 and 200km offerings toward my goal of hitting one each per month in pursuit of those tasty RUSA awards on offer.

While April may have been a happy accident - what, with the April 10th 111km ride supposed to have been a 200k - I've found myself now with 2 months in a row with both a 100+ and 200+km ride logged for RUSA mileage.  Might as well keep this going!  Adding to the "perfect" plan-B, I'd signed up for the Gravel Worlds race in Lincoln, NE later this summer, so, turned out I needed some gravel miles, too (oh, for those playing along at home, plan-A would have involved not getting sick and missing key KCUC rides).  The platry 12 miles or so of gravel on the Border Patrol Express route are fine for the occasional road-bike venture onto the choppy stuff, but for real mileage and aspiration for things like GW and DK, one needs more exposure.  Local gravel hero to the rescue, we happen to now have two routes (and likely more coming) that are probably 80% gravel ... which, is saying something because with each passing year I am beginning to wonder how quickly that percentage will fall on otherwise identical routes, as Johnson County seems to have a mind to pave everything by the end of the decade.  Ugh.... stop!  It's fine, really, because it simply adds to the personal business case I'm writing - which strongly suggests I move somewhere else.

On to the riding....

The "Do You Feel Lucky" ride.... 130km of gravel, ridden on Friday the 13th (of May).  Well do ya... punk??  Josh and I met up at the start location and began the trek south on roads which were generally familiar to me at the time - John M., these routes' creator, and I had done a scouting ride on a large portion of them at some point last year, out to the Lousiburg Cider Mill and back - and a lot of the shorter training routes I've been running from the house lately have used MurLen/Renner to death, it seems.  If nothing else, it was nice to know the roads to get settled in.  This isn't going to turn into a gravel-specific training notebook or anything after this; I mean, honestly, I've been riding gravel for a long time - ever since Randy Rasa ripped off the band-aid of hesitation and led Noah and I out into the wilds on a minimum maintenance road a few years back, I've been hooked - but, still have been mostly a roadie.  I will say, this experience has me looking at my routes with a lot of scrutiny now, like my old Border Patrol route, which will be on the books a decade in 2018; the way I get into and out of La Cygne, KS. on that route seems really, really silly now, in retrospect.  Granted, I'm not sure I'd have been able to scope out anything different with 2008's eyes ... but, I'm certainly giving a lot of thought to re-designing and resubmitting that section in particular now that I've seen it from a different saddle, so to speak.  On another note - one should realize that A) I'm really late to the gravel party, that's clear, and B) I'm not a gravel racer... not yet, anyways, and not without some serious training and improvement.  The numbers you'll read, the personal notes on things inappropriately called "speed", are referring to the basics of physics, strictly the rate at which I cover distance.  Don't confuse this with "fast".  I had the pleasure of starting off the inaugural KCUC Gravel Series of 130/201km rides on May 7th -- yeah, it's primarily a rando thing, as we are primarily rando people, so, don't get all jazzed about this becoming another storied gravel grinder race; it's not.  BUT, it is good training for anyone with those aspirations, and so I was witness to a handful of DK-bound gravel racers showing up for the 201km distance and finishing REALLY quickly.  At least one guy I'd call a potential podium stander; young, ambitious, strong and fast.  Good lord... so, yeah, please make no mistake - this isn't me.  This is randonneuring... without the pavement.  That's my groove, and I'm cool with that - because, at least at Gravel Worlds it seems like that's the sort of rider who might have the advantage.


After a few miles of unavoidable pavement, Josh and I arrived at 191st & Renner and dropped onto the crumbly stuff for our first taste of the day.  Thankfully, the rains weren't quite as ridiculous toward the beginning of the month as they've been recently - while it had rained quite a bit a couple weeks earlier the gravel had drained really well.  Gravel roads, by design, are lower maintenance, overall, and with the runoff channels being so well-established, it takes a lot to get these roads out of shape - relatively speaking.  Josh and I got to talking about pavement on the Missouri side versus the Kansas plan, and there are pros and cons either way - yet, for a lot of these low traffic farm roads it seems like gravel was the best option.

After hydrating quite well and reaching the crossing of K-68, 
...or, as I like to call it "The Gawdforsaken Expressway of our Discontent"; it's taken only a short decade for this highway to change from "why is this highway here?" to "why is this highway still only 2 lanes?".  Still, I have fond memories of riding along its endless - but tiny - shoulder from the Missouri border all the way to the west side of Ottawa, with hardly any traffic to speak of.  Those days are certainly gone.  
we ventured onto the portion of the course of which I'd been less familiar.  On a fateful ride back in January I'd managed to accidentally ride a lot of the outbound route in reverse on the road bike, but, in the opposite direction things already looked and felt different.  I had memory of a thrill-ride descent which was now a seemingly endless climb, a rest leg tester.  I love it when roads emerge from behind the trees to surprise me like this.  Big slabs of bedrock peeking out from underneath the scattered gravel and packed ash served as stair steps on the way up from creek level, and finally we could see the next dozen miles stretching out ahead of us, the trees parting and opening up our view to brilliant blue skies.  Man, we got some great weather for this outing - the only minor concern involved a pesky headwind on the trip south, but, honestly we had very little to complain about.   

The rest of this post is likely going to be wrapped up in photo captions... I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  I'm running out of ways to make time for the whole bloggist thing.  As much as I'd LIKE to relate full-on novellas of my rides, sometimes the photo captions and social media threads will have to do.  I started drafting this post immediately after the gravel 200km ride mentioned herein, and is now June 8th - three weeks, roughly, and SO much more has happened SINCE that I have yet to post anything about.  I hope to have a LOT more time on my hands someday - but for now, yeaaah.... 
"Life is short...let's go for a bike ride!"   -- Keith Gates, right now.

So, that said ... here you go!  

Josh and I pausing at 311th and Somerset Road on the southbound leg.  Brief hunks of pavement served mainly to make me think something was wrong with my tires - which took a while to get used to.  More on that later, - Episode 2:  Noob-Alert!

Somerset Road goes on forever, and the party never ends... Josh, on point, hackin it up as the hills tumble one by one.

Yep, you guessed it -- obligatory over the shoulder headshot which will undoubtedly become the 2016 social media avatar, if I ever get this post finshed!  The state of things behind me opposite the photo above.  Nothing quite beats the Kansas countryside, and one certainly can't complain about the traffic counts.  #unlearnpavement , indeed!

"The Bicycle Fence" somewhere out there on the route.  Even if I told you where it is, good luck seeing it unless you have someone like Josh who doesn't get tunnel vision on fast downhills the way I had on the 5/13 ride... I never would have seen it had he not hollered at me.  To be fair, it's a FAST downhill that brings riders past this - so, maybe I can blame it on my first passage up this particular road.  Of course, once upon a time, I had logged 10 passes of my own Border Patrol 200km route before Randy Rasa pointed out an historical marker that I'd simply NEVER seen previously.... and it was only 10 feet off the roadway.  Widen your view, 'dude, seriously!

Josh checks things out while we take a short breather near the Bicycle Fence.  Gentle breezes and blue skies abound, but, it wouldn't last.  Out of frame to the left is a big expanse of blackening sky, as the thunderstorms forecast for later in the evening had begun to build up earlier than expected.  My first long ride on a bike without fenders in almost a decade, certainly I was setting myself for death an misery.  (Spoiler alert:  I didn't die)

Ask your doctor is more music is right for you.  Well, I am not really an Apple fan-boy, mainly due to their insistence on proliferating ridiculous proprietary connectors on the world, no matter how great of an idea they might be... don't get me started.  ANYWAYS, IMHO, one of the things that Apple gets right are the iPod Shuffle players -- you can't get much more "perfect" in my estimation.  Tiny, brilliantly simple to operate, hard to break, does the job, actually has highly-rated sound quality for a portable.  Add to this list, "fits inside a standard RX bottle", and you have my contribution to up-cycling.  Some circles of PE foam added under the cap and at the bottom, and I have a nice, sturdy, rattle-free container for my little mental-booster.  After realizing that most of my riding takes me outside the range of my favorite radio stations -- and, that nothing kills the mood like commercial radio -- I've gone back to making my own playlists and keeping this little fella on standby.  It works for me... but, I still don't always need it.  Good conversation with a riding partner goes a lot farther, I think.

The run to La Cgyne in the books, we refueled in the air-conditioned comfort of the Casey's and then turned our attention back north - bottles topped off and calories accounted-for, Josh and I mounted up and headed north out of town.  To our northwest, a dark patch of sky which continued to grow and expand ... but, for that moment the only real worries we had involved the gravel itself.  

Tires.  Once upon a time I thought I had things all figured out, and now this whole gravel riding experience has "ruined" me.  Higher air pressure is not better.  Thinner tires are not better.  Neither of these things, it turns out, are even FASTER... I knew this to some extent after some revelations courtesy the fine publications of Jan Heine, but, still - I only THOUGHT I knew what the "deal" really was.  Josh and I headed north along what had become New Lancaster Road, and ended up on some of the nasty kind of gravel roads:  the kind that had probably been washed out in a recent storm and had since been maintained by the county with a fresh scattering of bright white aggregate, none of which had packed or settled - and ALL of it on the hilliest part of the route, it seemed.  So came the sketchy mixture of noob gravelite versus crappy road versus elevated tire pressures, as the shoulder came up and the tension rose while my speed increased and I - magically - managed to barely stay upright as I white-knuckled the downhill from the right edge of the road to the left, desperately looking for a better line than the one I'd chosen, finding none.  Thankfully incident-free, we made it to the other side of this section of road intact, and wiser - whether we'd realized it at the time or not.  

We happened upon the New Lancaster General Store, only just re-opened from a full restoration by its new owners.  This would become quite a welcome stop on the next run of this route - more on that later. 

Back on pavement, at least for a couple miles, we ultimately crossed K-68 again and then began to look for some water along the roadside ... not yet having taken advantage of the services we'd just found a few miles before.  After a successful garden-hose refill from a local, we continued to make our way north and west as the skies above us continued to darken and swell with clouds.  

We made it to 255th Street, which I might end up calling Dinosaur Bone Road - for reasons I'll need to photo-document next time (later in June, I think) - and then onto the stairsteps of east and west route jogs meandering around dead-end streets and non-existent bridges.  We passed the bicycle fence (photos, above) and then arrived at a railroad crossing at 239th and Pflumm, a high point in elevation which laid out the rest of our ride for us.  We scoped out water towers and considered our hydration, remaining food, and the looming clouds.  Reaching the end of the gravel at 199th and Lackman Road, we were all smiles.  Questions about what the gravel became during a heavy rainstorm were left unanswered - and probably for the better, all considered.  I don't think either of us were in the mood to really test ourselves on the snotty peanut-buttery gunk that would have awaited us should the rain have started.  This day, as if the spirits heard our trepidation, the rain began to fall on us about 30 seconds after we crossed onto the pavement which would make up the remaining miles of the route.  Lucky us!

Josh and I enjoyed the cooling effect of the gentle rain, took on the first clap of thunder and the let the resulting downpour rinse off the day's sweat and dust, a perfect cap on the last two miles of the ride.  We pulled into the 7-Eleven looking every inch the gravel warriors we were slowly becoming.  130km in the books, and so many questions answered -- all with big smiles and hearty handshakes.  

... now, on to the 200km version of the same ride, with a guy who's DK-ready... 

No pressure, 'dude.

So, Steven W. - who would (spolier alert) go on to a brilliant 1st-ever personal finish at DK only a couple weeks later, and I ventured out for (him) one last tune-up ride on gravel before the big event.

In case you've been living under a (hah) rock, DK = Dirty Kanza is THE world's premier gravel grinder, and has set the bar for toughness on a bike for 11 years now.  Keep watch for the 2017 sign-ups, and "Find your Limit"....   (commuterDude is not a paid spokesperson, just a huge, huge fan of the event and what it and its organization does for cycling) 

Steven and I met up and headed out into the humid morning air, and for me - into a bit of unknown.  Steven, in preparation for DK, had logged this local gravel 200k perhaps eight times already, so I was anxious to see what he had to show me, and what the unknown-to-me parts of the course had on offer.  I have to be honest -- I'm still approaching the coming Gravel Worlds and next year's possible DK running (which will be my first time behind the handlebars instead of behind the wheel of the support car) with a lot of trepidation.  It's not equipment-based now that I have a working and capable gravel steed rolling - it's all still personal.  I have weight to lose, I have training to log, and personal fears to exorcise before hitting the Flints with attack-mode engaged.  But, I don't plan on quitting.  Quitting is not an option.  We're randonneurs.  We don't "quit".  

The first part of the course under our belts, Steven and I hit the Casey's in La Cygne and refueled quickly for the next segment ... and for me, it was into the unknown.  Once I get a route under my belt, it's no biggie... but, I think anyone might relate:  that first time seeing "the hill", or finally experiencing "that one rough section" can get inside one's head pretty firm and mess a person up.  I was a mess, my shoulders were tense, and my brain working overtime while I waited to see what was what.  Basically, the Olathe-to-Mound City 201km gravel run is about as much gravel as one can get out here.  Johnson County and even parts of northern Miami County Kansas are developing rapidly, and roads are being paved as a result.  I don't know the current state of lane miles "lost" to the paving crews each year, but, I know that routes like this will be less and less useful for true gravel training as the next decade passes.  I hope I'm wrong, honestly - because pavement only means one thing:  traffic.  I am really, really beginning to despise traffic.  I need to move.  Randy had it right.  

I've got a lot of road left to discover out there before I'm truly out of options, and this route was really only the beginning.  This route is - more or less - the same sort of journey my Border Patrol 213km permanent route takes, but is instead using all of the back roads and gravel to do it, and halfway'ing at Mound City instead of Pleasanton.  It's a neat, neat route - and it offers a view of parts of the Linn County countryside that I hadn't expected.  The shorter 130km version that Josh and I had ridden only a handful of days earlier barely scratches the surface of "remote" - but gets close.  Ease into things, and ride both routes, eh?  It's a good time!

Leaving La Cygne, I followed Steven's wheel as we rolled east for a bit on K-152, previously the only road that "mattered" heading into and out of the town, and then turned south and into the unknown.  Seeing all of this gravel and exploring all of these previously "verbotten" roads (from a pure roadie perspective) has opened up so much now - especially with a proper bike that can handle larger tires.  (oh yeah, tires....)   It's got me completely revamping my approach to riding and route design - because, really, these are all roads that a decent road bike CAN handle, carefully.  There's almost no reason NOT to explore, even when the largest tire one might be running is a 25mm.  Okay, THAT might be pushing it, but, one can always slow down and take it easy on the bumps for a couple miles.  I think it's far, far better than enduring high-speed highway traffic, for example.  I'm seeing things with new glasses, for sure.  Randy may have started this, years ago, but this recent stuff has certainly clinched it.  

Tires... speaking of tires, and "clincher", I'm also starting to see the light when it comes to tubeless and running lower pressures.  On the ride with Josh only ten days earlier, my tire pressure in my Kenda Small-Block-Eight tires had been set to about 70 front and 75 rear - against a wide sidewall rating range of 35-85 PSI of possibility.  For me, generally, this is already sorta low, considering my vast experience being limited to 28mm pavement tires, where 105 PSI on the sidewall was considered "normal".  After graduating to a more modest 80 PSI on those sorts of tire, the 70 PSI range for commuting and spirited road riding didn't seem too bad, since the tire volume (at 37mm marked, more like 35mm true width) was higher anyways.  It never occurred to me that I might have been simply slowing myself down and adding unwanted shock to my ride quality.  Also, the rock-hard tires (in retrospect) seemed to be the larger cause (in addition to inexperience) for the sketchy downhill on loose gravel the ride before.  On this excursion with Steven, before really talking about it and without doing much reading of any kind, I'd already lowered my pressure to a mild 60 PSI front, 65 rear.  That'd be alright... right?  

Ha, wrong.... As the subject approached tires and pressures, it became apparent that even THESE numbers were WAY too high.  After Steven had ridden this route a few times, and - importantly - once with John M., local gravel guy (okay, legend; sorry, John), Steven had come to learn that the best way to determine ones optimum tire pressure was to keep lowering it, ride after ride, by about 5 PSI... until you'd pinch-flat.  After that, add 5 PSI back and that's your number.  WOW.  Okay.... so, what would THAT be like???  So much to learn --- and, that's with tubes:  running tubeless tires, one can run them even lower, if it makes sense, but the possibilities become even larger when the tube itself is removed.  Counter-intuitively, this creates a ride that is FAR more comfortable, control on loose stuff increases dramatically, one's ability to find good lines and avoid trenching into the soft stuff goes up, AND one's average speeds tend to increase.  Too good to be true?  Um, yeah --- try it.  At Mound City, after this revelation on the road during discussion, I let a "couple seconds" worth of air (no pressure gauge) out of each tire, and thus far on the 2nd leg I was quite pleased with the results.  Lack of experience on this new-to-me section of the route factored in, it wasn't exactly apples-to-apples, but, the ability to pick my lines and relax on the chunky stuff improved right away. 


I'm not sure what kind of snake it was we'd seen, slithering toward the ditch as we approached - but, it was large, and didn't look like your normal Eastern Kansas "harmless" garden snake, for sure.  I wish I'd gotten a picture.

My first indication that cross training on gravel under mixed conditions would likely have been a good idea came soon after we hit the first shady patches of road along the vast Marrias de la Cygne floodplain we'd been traversing.  While the previous ride had taken place on largely granular and raised roadways, the heavily packed and often washed-over roads I found myself on hadn't fared so well in the recent heavy rains.  While largely "dry", the surface was covered edge to edge in a thin sheen of - well - peanut butter.  This, I realize, doesn't compare at all to anything a truly seasoned gravel or off-road rider would likely have seen.... but, to my new eyes, it was certainly not "regular old dry pavement" or even "regular old WET pavement" for that matter.  In an instant, self doubt and insecurity began to eclipse any actual traction any surefootedness I might have had going for me.  While I managed to remain upright while tracking Steven's lines, it took a while to get comfortable on the snotty stretches of road.  I had to exercise some trust in my tires, which never let me down despite a couple of very slight slides when exiting corners - and more than likely that had been caused by my tight shoulders and poorly distributed balance in those moments.  Relax!

I channeled advice proffered by Cameron Chambers a few years back when I'd worked with him at Bike Source: "just put your hands in the drops and throw it into the corners... it'll stick."

It'd take a few more miles before my virtual coach's advice would sink in.  

Steven and I stopped for a quick rest and adjustment along the route near.... wait, where the heck are we???
I'd have to look at a map, but I know that we'd just passed the "shady triangle" where Steven mentioned he'd rested in the past, but despite being on the route the whole area certainly felt remote.  We'd been close-encountered by a vulture and an owl, and had witnessed small rodents and at least one other snake since leaving La Cygne, and hadn't really seen any cars or trucks in some time... this was the wilderness that the pavement had been protecting me from all this while, I suppose.

Confused?  Ngghhrrraaaaarrrrr!

Steven and I continued on to the south, and soon I realized that we were getting close to crossing some of the roads which make up my Border Patrol route... but, it was a fair bet:  if we were to cross ANY pavement at this point, it'd probably be part of that route.  The slimy mud continued here and there, but, mainly the hills were coming.  I knew all too well, the big ridge that marked the edges of the river valley were coming - there was no getting around it.  Also knowing that we were NOT on pavement, another factor was clear - that paved roads are generally graded at some point, to relax the natural grades to benefit safety and convenience of the local through traffic.  The gravel roads, by contrast, tend to be steeper.  The game was on, and Steven had talked of a hill that he'd YET to climb without having to dismount and walk.  Yeesh.

The hill did not disappoint - and yeah, I totally ran out of gearing.  Steven, DK-ready, didn't have to walk it.  The rise to the pavement complete, we did a quick u-turn back onto gravel around the next bend near an old schoolhouse, and then paid back all of the elevation we'd just gained with a wicked-fast downhill rush, back into the valley.  Amazing --- fast, and a little scary... just how I like my downhills.  

More bends and twists, old buildings and barns, and soon the endless grass and wildflower shoulder trimmings gave way to cut grass and driveways, and the wilderness slowly became the outskirts of Mound City, and the halfway control.  

Casey's... it never fails to feel like "home."  Call us randonneurs what you might... heck, maybe I'm my own worst critic, but, we know how to party, c-store style.  Every c-store, after a few years of brevets, starts to feel like an old friend - I don't want to get too romantic about it, but it's nice.  Don't knock the Casey's.  Especially after XX miles of pretty much nothing and a lot of bumpy roads.

Pizza, Pringles, Chocolate Milk, and another second (or two) of air released from the tires... I didn't really know what my pressure was at that point, but, the tires passed the squeeze test and would prove to hold my weight.  If a little less air went well, then a little less than less would be even better (no drama - it was).  Onward to the north.

We made our way out of town and back onto the gravel goodness, and thanks to our route designer, the route back is slightly different which adds variety.  The way back seemed even more remote than the way south, and one section seemed like a mountain passage along the side of the big ridge holding most of the climbing - exciting!

Speaking of exciting, you ever wonder if the guy you're riding with knows something that you might not?  We transitioned back to a portion of the route that seemed a little more familiar to me, but, it was holding a downhill that I had no real memory of - climb-wise - from the trip down.  Steven clearly had remember it, and had begun to slow down as I rolled past him.... but, what I'd mistaken for maybe good wishes or notes on a nature break was probably more like "dude be carefullll (doppler effect)" as I whizzed past for one of my usual brakeless gravity fliers.  Little did I know, this hill was a bit of a steep one... and, growing ever larger in my field of view sat the sharp 90-degree left bend at the bottom, complete with line of thick overgrowth and trees beyond it.  Oh.  Oh, snap...

Trying to stay loose, low, and connected, I began to reach for the brakes -- just the rear, which was proving useless under the high speed and relentless acceleration at hand.  What can I say, yeah, I didn't die --- but the adrenaline rush was palpable and the white-knuckle rush was handled with a flurry of nervous laughter.  Big downhill at mile XX... yeah, noted.  Wow.

An awesome vista looking north across the rive valley south of La Cygne, complete with pond and cows and Steven on point up the road.  Blue skies, sunshine, and no traffic --- perfect.

A local relic for sale at the New Lancaster General Store, while we stop for a welcome liquids break - some Mountain Dew Throw-Back for me.  It's not beer, but it's darn tasty anyways.

Hittin' the old General Store at 367th and New Lancaster Road.  Stop in, won't ya?  Good folks here.

I'm really diggin' this new adventure, and it's already tripled my shopping lists... which is good AND bad.  

A quick inventory of the garage has me realizing that I've equipped myself quite well to never, EVER upgrade to disc brakes without major upheaval, for starters ... but, I suppose that's why the swap-n-shop culture is alive and well in the cycling world.  Someday... but, I already have a strong desire to come up with a one-bike-to-rule-them-all, because the already rampant parts duplication and issues therein are getting tiresome.  If I knew then when I know today... yeah.  That nugget.  Honestly, I can't get too hung up on equipment - although, it's SO easy to.  Having now come back from DK and the blizzard of equipment envy that ensues, I can't tell you how hard it is to look at one's own stick and think "nothing I own is good enough, modern, race-ready..."  It doesn't (or at least shouldn't) matter.  I'm not going to turn away someone offering to let me try out a Salsa prototype for a potential 2017 DK run, that's for sure... hint, hint?  

Steven and I rolled out of New Lancaster feeling pretty good and fresh, and chunked off the remaining miles in style, and I - once again, trying to change the sort of rider I am - managed to finish strong.  These are good signs.  

A couple weeks later, Steven successfully capped off a third-time's the charm DK finish - congrats, Steven!!!  I was lucky enough to crew for him again this year - but, I'll tell ya, he's a different rider, stronger, more assured, confident, calm, and consistent.  He's got a great year unfolding - and I'm taking notes.

It's taken WAY too long to knock out this combo post - but, better late than never.  Hopefully I can make the time to keep this going, as I'm already looking at June unfolding the same way.  I've managed to knock out a terrific 218km ride with Josh (the Stad-man) as of last week (June 10th) which proved, well... "Mighty", for sure.  Mighty hot, mighty crappy pavement, mighty ... Peculiar... I hope to have at least a photo post coming for that adventure, as it was a doozy.  After that, another 130km gravel run out of Olathe on the 26th to catch the "P-12" requirement for this halfway marker on the year 2016.  Wow, time flies... to think, only three months ago I was teetering on the edge of apathy and under-training... just a small push back in the correct direction, a few reaffirmed goals, and now here we are.  

Now, to get that waistline back in order... no blog posts on diets, I promise... 

Gotta go ride... stay thirsty, my friends; and thanks for reading!