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Friday, April 11, 2014

Perspectives on Princeton - the KCUC 200k, 2014

It's another finish, another March, another one in the books!

It never gets old, somehow; however, I keep finding less and less to come to the keyboard with as this year unfolds.  I'm definitely going to stick to the photo-post idea, however... each ride does deserve its mention - but, I don't know if I need to dedicate as much time to it as I used to; especially on repeating routes.  I feel a finality approaching, something akin to a new frontier opening while many chapters of struggle close.  Not really sure what that's about - where it's coming from - but, it's great.  It's almost as if I've said all that needs to be said, I'd rather be riding than writing about it, maybe.  What I'm feeling borders on feeling personally complete.

  Maybe after all these miles, at last I feel as if I've found what I've been looking for.  Just in the last six or seven rides, and with the difficulty of the last year in general... There is a feeling that Del G. best submitted in the last few miles of this ride:  "(after all we'd been through last March, with the snow), what can't I do now?  I can do ANYTHING!"  This shouldn't be confused with a sudden, brash profession of superiority or is, instead, a long-absent feeling of self-worth, confidence, and empowerment.  Invincible?  No.  Hardly.  This feeling reminds me of how I felt after the 600k in '07... it's a natural "high" that one can ride for months afterward.

   There remain big milestones to reach... Another 600, another SR series, a 1,000, a 1,200...a 1,400km... Touring...   Wow... So, so much could be uncovered even on a short tour!  Then there's a pull toward another 24 hour race, just to try it again - to push myself.  Tejas, darn it.  Not to HAVE to do it over, but because I still want it.  I'm young.  I have time.  I'm not in a rush anymore to check all these things off.

Who knows - this is only the moment.  This isn't a declaration.

All I know is, it was terrific to see Glen, Steven, Del, Terry, Gary D., Gary F., Spencer, Rod, Jack, Mark, Bob, Robert, all the rest I'm stumbling over mentally, and all the new riders I met out there on the 29th.  It was a great day; my only regret surrounds the inevitability of different packs forming and splitting apart, and not being able to stay with all of them.  I ended up feeling strong all day, really enjoyed myself, and had a great time hanging out with Del and Steven again... and I'm definitely ready for longer distances, if only conversationally:  Del and I finished up at the last control in the midst of a discussion on tubular tires...and it seemed like we had been in the middle of a 400k, not arriving at the end of a 200: tons of conversation left to cover.  It wasn't a relief to finish, like my rides have gone in recent months; it felt instead like I was just getting warmed up.  A fella could get used to that.

Not sure if I should go down this road, but, one thing that has changed has been my weight; which isn't as important as the healthy diet I've adopted and the benefits I've enjoyed therein -- weigh, after-all, is only a number.  However, the change remains: big shocker, giant newsflash:  treating myself well seems to make the rides go well... "wow."  The result of cross training and a cleaned-up diet is, yes, weight-loss... but, I feel better than I remember feeling back in the much-storied "2003."  Enough wishing - it seems I'm finally "back."

Note to self:  STAY THERE this time.

As for the ride itself.... dangit, yeah, I'm sorta phoning this one in.  It's been JUST long enough that some of the details have become fuzzy.  Don't get me wrong -- it was a terrific time, but, I think that some of what I'd mentioned in the 100km post from 3/15 has happened here:  I felt SO good, the conditions were SO nice, the conversation SO engaging... well, there isn't much else to report!  Captions and bullet points, then.... sigh: 
Better than nothing?  Maybe...

As we start off, the long rise over the highway goes well to get things warming up, and it's nice - once again - to have a little tailwind assistance for the chillier portion of the ride.  Glen and I pair up and chat for a while about how 'done' we both have been regarding the cold temperatures.  It'd been a long, long, LONG winter season.  Heck, fall, too:  only recently with our local climate finally agreeing to it being Spring, we achieved the warmest temperatures since last October; and for the region, that's un-usual.  Usually, milder weeks will pop up between rounds of wintery precip - but this year, not so.  

Soon, Mark J. and I linked up and started talking about routes and such while pedaling out the miles of 83rd Street - maps, routes, ideas... I love the process.  The local catalog is growing, and that's a good thing.

Before long, all conversations take a back seat, as the earth drops away and we fly down the steep descent into the Cedar Creek valley.  Brakes confirmed as working, we all regroup and head through the picturesque forestland of this tucked-away paradise.  This is a great piece of road - probably my favorite part of this route.

With the sun coming up, and warmth coming quickly, riders cross the iconic Cedar Creek Bridge - one of the last "old" bridges in the area, tucked away in the shadow of K-10 and surrounding old-growth trees.  I could have done without the 34 degree (F) start temperature... heck, we ALL could have... but, with the promise of warm temps and this acting as an official "welcome" to Spring ride - It'll do.  I dare not utter the occurrences of twelve months prior!

Thanks to a smudged lens, this shot came out blurry.. so, I added some filtering to make it look as aged as the bridge we'd been crossing when it had been taken.  The result is sort-of romantic in a way, don't you think?

Steven W. nearby, Glen, Gary, Spencer, and more up front crossing the span - on the way to the first (only) really big hill on the course.  This road carries so little traffic, it's my hope the county never finds justification to replace this bridge for a long while yet; but, just up the road, its old twin has long-since been replaced.  Maybe time will tell - it always does, somehow.  The morning is crisp, the backdrop full of jackets and covered faces, still, while we wait for the sun to change things in our favor.

The hill that comes immediately after this bridge is one of the more challenging in the area - but, I've never really given it a nickname.  It's just a big meany.  It's the type of hill that looks intimidating as I round the bend and see it looming, each and every time I ride this route.  Closer inspection often reveals a fair amount of the "wall" effect can involve optical illusion - but, not so here.  It's perhaps steeper than it even appears.  I've tackled this hill consistently the past few outings by simply getting into the easier gear I have, and hammering it for all I'm worth, just to get it over with.  If I hesitate for even a breath, momentum is gone and I'm reduced to a painfully slow cadence and have to shove it out at the edges of my anaerobic threshold.  Chain-popping, knee-binding, frame-tweaking torture.... instead I attack, and try to stay on top of the gear.  It sorta works, and I'm shocked to find myself alone at the front... not really part of the plan, and almost too-bad this ISN'T a race... I haven't climbed anything with such vigor since ... (crap, again?)  2003.   LOL.  Sorry.

Only for a brief moment, I'm back on Renner Road, heading south - over I-435 - just like we'd done only a dozen miles before on this day... yet, I'm transported backwards in time a decade, astride an Ultegra-equipped Bianchi Reparto Corse road frame, made from Columbus EL-OS tubing... lugged, light, nimble.... the LAST of the great, major-builder produced steel frames of the era - Columbus' last offering proving that steel - executed correctly - is as light as carbon fiber, but SO much more "alive"....little else trumps Italian passion, no matter how unfounded; dark blue and chrome over pearl white, signed by the builder in paint and clear-coated... why, WHY, did I ever think it was a 'great idea' to sell that frame?  Why?  (sob)  - the dude, is a colossal idiot - 
...just behind me is Paul Fancher, local racing legend.  (I'll bet he's still destroying the Master's groups on the local crit scene, but not 100% sure)  ... the "Big German" and a fourth rider are struggling to hold my tempo up the grade - my moment to attack had come, and our lead breakaway had been a group of four just a bit too long, with a scant 5 miles to the finish-line - I had to make a decision, a decisive blow on this critical, feared-by-all climb.  Gritting my teeth, shifting once or twice, I lifted the pace until only Fancher remained locked on my wheel.  It remains one of my proudest moments from the saddle; actually succeeding in riding clear of a portion of the leading bunch!   I had been in rare company - but, from the gun, after chasing down the pace motorcycle, this last group of the four of us had taken turns setting the pace, and, one rider at a time, we'd whittled down the pack.... 12 riders.... then 10..... another hill.... then 7 remained.... 5...... then 4:  Paul, myself, the German, and one other remained by the time Renner Pass had come upon us.  Unfortunately, for me, my glory had been short-lived:  Paul's moment to attack came only a mile later during the one-lap circuit of Shawnee Mission Park.  Salt in the wound of an already exhausted rider, I had completely forgotten about the lap ... and it's many, many testing climbs.  I held onto Paul's wheel - just - and passing the Marina, I could feel my legs stiffening... then came the back side of the dam, at the west end of the lake.   Paul, taking a quick peek over his left shoulder, read my face too well - shifted, stood, and leaped forward.  Game over.  Another confirmation glance backward saw the gap growing, as I clawed for gears and scrambled for any reserves... anything to hold his wheel - but, the effort on Renner proved too much to recover from.  Rookie mistake.  Still, I managed to ride solo to the finish, holding off my pursuers - locked between the lone leader and the rest of the bunch cast like stones across the map of the course.  I finished only 2 minutes behind Paul.... an eternity by race standards... but, with third and fourth finishing 2 minutes behind ME, I still felt immense pride.  Too bad it wasn't REALLY a race... just the Tour De Shawnee, from the storied days of the police-controlled closed course and the torturous 47-mile long-route.  The front runners always treated it as a race - and this time, I was in the lead break.  I was soaring.... 

but, then Glen appeared over my left shoulder, after I realized where I was, and that I didn't necessarily WANT to be off the front on this - one of few - group rando rides.  Old 95th St. stretched out ahead of us, and the group began to recollect in time for the ride through Clearview City.  

The DeSoto control - fast, fast work by many:  I'm still amazed how slow I am, still, at the controls compared to other riders.  I suppose I still need to take some notes - but, I always end up the one being waited on!  I need to figure this out in a couple weeks time.  Maybe... I'm still torn between being spirited, and being a tourist, on such scenic rides.... in a way, it's almost wasteful to ride heads-down at tempo on a brevet.  There is SO much to see out there, and I've had my head down for far long enough -- but, recent healthful changes remind me of that taste for a good chase and a solid time.  Ugh.... quandry!

For today, I bask in a little of both.

The hazards of trying to snap pictures while wearing gloves results in another smudged lens.  I need to find a better solution for pictures during "full-finger glove season" apparently.  Still, I left these in - they're worth it, in my opinion.  Here, I tail Steven for a minute or two to admire his home-brew beer-can splash-guard.  It adds a touch of finesse to the high-class zoot his new VO stainless fenders bring to the road.  Further, the removal of his rear rack changes the look of his ride further toward the realm of full-custom rando-machine.  Well-thought-out additions and hacks throughout, it's a quality build-up.

While the fields remain brownish and the trees largely bare, the day has begun to moderate and the sun is high.  Up ahead, mere dots on the roadway, the pack of perhaps 25 riders peppers the stark landscape with neon brilliance as we all pedal west on Douglas County 460 toward Vinland.  This vista remains a favorite; inviting and daunting, at one glance.  Yeah, we don't have mountains - but ours is a great state.

An odd mix of NW winds and low humidity, tossed together with full sunshine - the morning became a comical exercise of zipper adjustments and confusion.  I'd become hot... then chilled... then too warm again, all within a span of a few miles.  Chilly arms, but the feeling of sweat rolling down the small of my back.  Strange weather, indeed... but, no snow = no complaints!

Steven and I motored along the long stretches of Douglas County highways, finally meeting up with Del G. farther down the way.  We make the approach to Baldwin Pass together, and ease our way up over the giant lump (running into Gary, too!) and then enjoyed the long downhill into Baldwin City, and the next control.  

The control is abuzz with cyclists - some from the fast group, taking their time - a few from the larger middle-pack, and then us stragglers rolling in time to watch most of the rest leave for Ottawa.  Ugh... so it goes!  Waves and high-fives, and the guard at the control changes over.  Restroom, water, glub glub, chomp chomp - pack away a couple layers, and we're off again - Del and Steven right beside.  The '13 Oak Grove Crew rolls again!

"Off to Ottawa we a-go... off to Ottawa we go.... hi-ho!  Slap yer ..."   wait, what?

Le Journal de la Mec.... Day 3.... 
The French press has been unkind... there is talk of deceit on the roads to Princeton, the foul stench of fast food thick in our nostrils, the fans aghast at those who ride fast and eat well... as we five silent randonneurs sneak past the McDonald's south of town - waving smugly at those inside whose faces we could not see... "let them eat their McMuffins, and listen to their "rock-n-roll"... while WE conduct missile drills... "   SOUTH, LADS! comes the cry - we've linked up with two strong riders from parts unknown  ... Gravel Mistress, and the Tall Cervelo.... we talk of Dirty Kanza, advanced freewheel technology, and conquest!  Our passage through town complete, our foes - caught with full mouths and resting cycles - behind us;  the press will write what they will, but they will also write of those who caught out the leaders and disappeared into the Brittany countryside - on to Brest!  on!  Tres bon!  

Dreams of P-B-P... it's never too early to dream.

The five of us, clear of Ottawa and I-35, and onto the gravel-strewn shoulders of US-59 to Princeton;  we form up, and Tall Cervelo takes point with a rock-solid tempo.  We fall-in, Gravel Mistress ahead of me, Steven and Del behind... the rotations begin, hesitantly:  we randonneurs, long relegation to solo riding allows dust to accumulate on our paceline skills, but we make do, and each take a turn.  That old fire, somewhere down deep, makes me forget the mileage yet to come, the length of the day compared to the brevity of my stamina:  a few miles pass, I peel off for the back of the group to rest for the next turn, and find the back of the group gone!  Crap - sorry guys!  Wisdom takes over, and I ease off the gas --- our new friends in black and orange begin to disappear up the highway.... FAST.  Strong, strong riders.... fare thee well!

Mere dots on the highway shoulder - they advanced up the road so quickly, by the time I had the camera out, they were nearly out of range.  Tall Cervelo and Gravel Mistress, almost out of sight here on US-59 southbound; the hallmarks of long, hard training - their form was spot-on, and tough to hang with!  Hope to meet up with them again one of these rides.

Same vantage point, but in reverse -- in neon colors, Del and Steven smartened-up before I had, and decided on a more tourist's pace for the rest of the long day ahead.  After all, our old friend John Brown was waiting for us.

Princeton, and our conquest came to an end:  full of food already, the Ottawa breakfast bunch hit the Princeton control, cards-ready... in, signed, out.  Wow.  In a flash, the c-store was full of cyclists, and then, silent again.  Del and I sat in our booth near the windows, just resting, while it all happened.  We ate our share, and then rolled around to the back side of the building for some sunshine... something that had NEVER occurred to me to do, in the umpteen visits I've made to this place.  Warmed up in the sunshine, we watched as Terry B. and Gary (no, the other one, Gary F.) pulled in for the stop.  After a long rest and some good stories, we all mounted up and started off for John Brown, sending stabbing glances toward the fidgety flags foretelling false tailwinds.  So much for forecasts - but, hey... it was getting downright WARM out here!  

Del, Steven, Gary F.  (I need a better nickname for this guy..... uhhhh.... )   and I made our way to John Brown Highway... 

Well, we'll tell a little story 'bout a man named Del;  a hard randonneur, rode his bike from here to hell.  Back last year when the snow came out to play; he stopped, fixed a flat, and we finished anyway... 
Princeton, that is...  Roundabout... two-hundred K...
Well, the next thing ya know, ol' Del's back on the bike.  He drove all night from central Kansas, quite a hike!  He yelled, "John Brown!  That's the place I wanna be!" , so we loaded up the bikes, rode to Osawatomie!
Kansas, that is... false-flats... chip-'n-seal....  
...the Princeton Roundabout! 
(cue banjo breakdown... )
(original song by some dude in Hollywood, re-purposed on the John Brown Hwy by the mind of Steven W., and finished after a couple weeks in my subconscious = sheer gold!)

With the lead pack well gone, and the day reaching its halfway point, the pace began to relax and we began to enjoy ourselves on the John Brown Highway, instead of forcing the issue.  For once, every miles of the long road felt pretty good - no bonks, no mystery resistance, no depression.  I think sunshine and NOT having a headwind made a gigantic difference here; but, after many many outings dreading this road, Steven remarked later, coming off the section, that it'd been the best he'd ever felt on that stretch.  Not bad!

Gary Two (maybe?) .. is up the road from us, here, somewhere along the early stretch of John Brown Road - as best as my memory serves, that is.  With the brown parchment landscape and the perfect blue sky - and my constant riding partners - I can't tell one photo from the next!  In order, Steven, Del G. in orange, and Gran Fondo... (maybe that's a good nickname?)  

A bit later, the eastern horizon comes into view atop one of many ridges.  John Brown, therefore, gives its riders an occasional strong notion of "never going to get there"

Over the shoulder, Del and Steven cry foul of not having signed a photo release waiver.  Too bad, people!  Gran Fondo is in teh background, riding his own ride --- he's only recently returned to the bike after many years away, and he works patiently on his form and pace.  No rush on such a gorgeous day, anyhow - so, it's all good!

John Brown is ultimately behind us, and we arrive on 6th Street, Osawatomie - and the Casey's.  We're back!  Only two weeks later - but the Casey's is much quieter today without the giant 100k pack in attendance.  Ron A., however, *is* here - out on his own 100k for the day, having needed to miss the 200 after a hectic week of business travel.  We chat for a bit, while he gulps the last of his refuel grub, and makes a phone call.  Before long, he is rolling north.  Bottles filled again, and a bit more chow circulating as we all consider the mileage remaining.  Gran Fondo arrives, only minutes behind us, complaining of a hurting knee.  Del goes to work getting him to talk about it, and off of the subject of quitting.  This is delicate territory:  I fear knee issues.... who DOESN'T? ... so it's difficult to tell if one is giving GOOD advice, or simply trying to prevent a DNF.  I struggle with this... even in the throes of "never say die" RAAM-crew training, we had been careful to diagnose and differentiate the REASONS to stop, as opposed to the EXCUSES to stop.  Where pain is involved, it gets complicated - because one becomes empathetic:  if MY knee was hurting, heck, *I'd* stop, too.... so, how can I talk someone into ignoring their instinct?  We talk of seat height, WHERE it hurts, level of pain, suggestions are made.

Fifteen minutes pass - Gary rests, refuels, keeps drinking, while Steven, Del and I discuss anything other than knees.  Before we know it, Gary is ready to roll again - giving it a try.  this is awesome news... a DNF is never fun to call in, and the decision must lie with the individual, but, for now, he's up for more.  We pack up and roll out once again!

The wind isn't bad, but it's there -- compared to recent weeks of training, personally, it's nothing.  I had begun to make a habit of getting out on especially windy days of late, purposefully hammering INTO the gale-force winds of a Kansas springtime.  30-35MPH with gusts, I don't even mount the computer - the numbers are meaningless here, and only damaging.  I hammer hard, making a point to relax the shoulders and arms, keeping my head low - but still begin able to see the road ahead.  Relaxing means more stamina... no wasted energy bracing muscles which will add nothing to the pedal stroke.  Just like in the Matrix... its mind over matter, mind over mileage.... there is no wind...

I pull the train for a few turns while our group rotates nicely along headed NW out of Osawatomie, toward Paola - and the last control.  Steven is a mule... he pulls for an eternity, uphill, catching us up to Terry B., and then getting us up and over the railroad bridge, and up to 327th Street @ Old KC Road.  We hit Hospital Road, and advance slowly up to the climb near US-169.  Our paceline.... ahem, MY paceline skills still need work, so, after a few un-intended drops, I make a habit of glancing over my shoulder to confirm contact with the group.... maybe it finally IS time to invest in a good mirror for the helmet - if for no other reason.

Paola... more sittin', more card signin', more rando-grub for the journey home.  It's a great day to be on a bike, and we end up in a couple short conversations with the locals inside between bites of food.  Terry B. pulls in, Gran Fondo seems good with the knee issue - and, in a snap of time, we are all mounting up again for points north.  Last control in the hopper, the ride is all but complete!

We depart the Paola 66 station, and the headwind greets us once more - but, it's tolerable.  Steven takes us up over the first, always forgotten little bump near the town Walmart and high-school, and then I jump on the front for some payback.  I've sucked wheel for too many miles this last year, so I start my new habit of checking over my shoulder every 60-90 seconds, and try to keep an even tempo.  We crossed the nasty RR tracks, passed the castle, the roundabout, and Hillsdale, negotiated the long climb away from Hillsdale -- paused for the cause along the way to water the bushes, and then we knocked out the rest of Old KC, finally arriving at Spring Hill, intact as a group - largely.  Gran Fondo's knee is the pits - but, he's muscling through the pain.  Steven, Del and I snarf a bit more for good measure, and talk about wheel building and spoke tension for a bit, and we head out once more.  GF is holding back, but plans to finish -- we wish him well, and depart - chasing down Terry B., who waved as he'd passed by a few minutes before.  He seems content to keep moving - even on the really long stretches.

With the ride feeling in the bag, the headwind becomes less and less of a concern... I'm not certain if it was dying off, or if we'd just chosen to ignore it.  We traded pulls here and there, made Olathe, then Lenexa.... and then we spotted two non-randos, at least - not part of our ride - up the road on Renner near 119th.... giving chase, just for fun, we were disappointed when they turned off right before we caught their wheels.  Curses!

The mood was SO high - thanks to Hammer Gel and terrific weather and conversation, that I barely remember the hills from Renner being their usual "problem."  I even took a penalty lap at one of Lenexa's many Renner roundabouts north of 95th Street.  Just for grins.  After a thrilling fast downhill, we finished together - more or less - at Shawnee, with a pace good enough to have been less than ten hours, had we not been so pokey at the controls.  Again, though... we got a full day's worth of terrific conditions, despite a chilly start - and why rush that?  

Great day out.... 

Thanks, to all that came out - and to Steven and Del for sharing the bulk of the miles with me.  always a pleasure... looking forward to the 300k!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

It's Dag Nasty.

One critical photo I'd indvertantly excluded from the 100km Ride Report.... my choice of jersey for the ride that day:   As the layers came off with the rising temperature, nothing could have prepared my riding counterparts for the sheer terror which awaited their retinas.  Pure, unadulterated, unfettered 1980's Italian glory, in original Spandex.  Size, XL... you know, for the Italians that are in the clydesdale-class of 120lbs.  LOL.  Euro-sizing makes me sick.  

Behold.   Best $10 I ever spent.

Diggity-dank threads...  is that your wife's jersey, Nancy?

...the 300k cometh.... stay thirsty.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Old KC - A Popular Populaire

Well, you'd been warned -- "this blog is about to get a LOT more boring."
That's sorta happened of late.  I've largely hung out a shingle here strung from the pegs of struggle, hardship, personal discovery, and self-loathing.  A lot of that has none-too-soon become water under the proverbial bridge.  Still, there remains much to share -- so, it's far likelier these pages will continue to amass, as opposed to the alternative.  Yet, sometimes I have trouble telling the GOOD story, as opposed to "whatever horrible thing" might have happened on the last ride.  The old saying goes "hope for the best, but prepare for the worst," So turns over my entire outlook on life... previously prepared for the worst and fully expecting it, I'm now focused on being prepared for the worst, but enjoying the NOW.  

To wit - this last ride went SO well, I'd nearly forgotten I'd participated in it until I stumbled over the photos I'd taken with the camera that day.  So, a quick post is definitely in order here -- to capture the essence of the great memories this ride produced --- sure, maybe they won't make for riveting commentary - but, hey, we can give it a shot.

Briefly grabbing the reigns from Bob and Spencer, our own Ron Alexander -- former Topeka perms coordinator turned OP resident -- came out and offered a few 100km rides to book-end Bob's usual brevet series this year.  I'm personally looking forward with great anticipation the August editions, later this year!  Even the cue card was unique, the usual boxes for signatures and time-stamps set opposite a nice write up on the history of the route itself.  Even the front of the card had been tweaked; instead of the usual RUSA logo a depiction of an old Ford business sedan from the 1920s graced the card's cover.  Very cool!

A brilliant day on tap -- sunshine, and relative warmth, the parking lot at the local coffee hole began to fill to overflowing with eager cyclists.  As the start time approached, everyone had fallen into an interesting, repeating rotation between the start area where Bob Burns had appeared, and the trunks of their cars -- discarding additional layers, just waiting in the parking lot.  Even the promise of a bit of headwind couldn't erase the bright smiles cascading through the gaggle of bicyclists.  It's been a long, long winter.

It's such a good feeling - such an atmosphere of hope and the true beginning of the new year for many a randonneur.  Handshakes, smiles, laughter in abundance -- new friendships about to be made, old ones resparked after months apart -- some people whom one only knows to recognize with sunglasses, a helmet, and a high jersey collar - and the conversation between them launches from right where it'd left off the year before, or at least from the last email exchange.  Spencer is here, Bob, Jack, David, Glen, Gary, Terry, Mitchell, Steven, Ron, and a host of others the names of which I often forget... but the faces are forever in the backdrop of these rides.  Acquaintances cast in concrete and asphalt, cut with sweat and hardened with rubber, steel, aluminum, and carbon fibers.  An unspoken brother and sisterhood of cyclists that, somehow, are just a touch crazier than all the others - we randonneurs gather for ourselves and each-other in the same breath - these bonds do not tear easily; between welcoming those for which the day represents their first long ride, and in speaking fondly of those we can no longer ride alongside in body, the tendrils of randonneuring lore reach well beyond the here and now.  There is more happening here than meets the eye.

The gathering.  Sometimes the best part of the ride.  New friendships made, old ones reinforced.  The clicks of pedals, the hiss of air pumps, the steam from coffee against the sweet tinge of grease and oil and rubber.  Racks, bags, even bar tape are compared, scrutinized, appreciated.  Frames are gasped upon - "that gadget I read about" over there, someone running "those cool new tires" over there, and "where did you find that!" echo from back over there.  The parking lot mingle is priceless magic, and it seldom gets old.

More of the same, my new friend sips down the last of the morning goodness while bags are zippered closed, and Bob gathers everyone's attentions for the start.  The temperature, meanwhile, continues to rise!

Before long, the top of the hour had arrived, and the clutch of cyclists slowly made their way out onto Blackbob Road for the first of the ride.  I'm immediately impressed at the bike-handling skills of a nearby rider -- I think it might have been Cody (?) -- pulling off a sweet, sustained and lengthy trackstand on his road bike, while we waited for the first traffic light to change green:  no easy feat, as this light is never in a hurry.  The dude barely flinched, surrounded by less-worthy cyclists, us, all uncliped with a foot down.  Cool.

The route barely required a cue sheet -- my favorite kind, of late.  All familiar training grounds for practically everyone in attendance, we headed generally south and west toward Spring Hill, KS., and smaller groups began to form.  I fell in with a great group, a couple that had ridden TO the ride start from Weston, MO. ... which is (at least by one route I maintain which turns around there) a full metric century away on its own!  Impressive... showing up for a 100k ride with 100k already done, these guys must be getting ready for something big -- and they officially got the bad-ass of the day award, by a longshot.  Terrible with names as always, John, Cody (the same trackstand guy from above, assuming I got that part right), and a nice gal... uh.... darnit.... we'll just call her "the bad ass."

So, SO nice to take a draft from a big group, Glen and I - early on - paired up for some chattin' at the back of our group.  We justified that we'd earned our place at the back of the peloton, even if we only take our last couple rides together into consideration.  We got a good laugh out of that, and then took the front anyways to pull the group down 327th street, later on after passing through Paola later on.  Steven, too, appeared after a minute or so with his terrific-looking VO stainless fenders.  They look remarkable, and instantly got me to thinking:

Fidgetty sidebar:
Those fenders really transform a bicycle's look - all while being classically functional.  I'm very, very tempted to be a copycat and grab a pair for myself from VO -- very solid, very shiny.. but, interestingly, because of their curve, not blinding to follow - even with full sun overhead!  Still, I've got no good reason to get 'em other than curb-appeal... my old SKS fenders are still going strong, though riddled with tiny holes and leftover RTV smudges from over a decade of taillight wire routing, zip-ties, and alternative mounting arrangements as they've moved from bike to bike to bike with my formerly frequent stable alterations.  I suppose I'll wait a bit -- at least as long as it will take to figure out if those fenders should be part of a larger project.  Such as, while I laugh at myself restarting an old phase of "the grass is always greener under someone else's bike - even if it's one of my own bikes" problems.  My recent return to the saddle of the Trek 450 on occasional commute days may ultimately talk me into a full component swap between my two bikes.  The Trek seemed horribly under-utilized just hanging in the garage shod with studded tires... especially now with spring here.  So, recently, I removed the studded tires until next winter, and threw on the Paselas for a few days here and there... just to shake things up, and give the Kogs the occasional break from action. 
Crap.  Kinda like the blue pill vs. red pill discussion... sometimes, I wish I'd just leave well-enough alone.
The Trek is SO smooth: engaged; snappy, powerful, light; yet, somehow, still rock-stable.  While I've been sorta testing out the tires I'd posted about last time, I've had the old Paselas on the Trek... and, interestingly, the Trek feels better than the Kogs had with the same tires.  Granted, there's a lot going on here.... I need to make sure I'm not mixing up "better" and "different" before I grab any wrenches.  Still, there ya have it --- it's been marked enough for me to notice each time I switch bikes.  
I'm splitting hairs, yes -- but, there truly is something special about the right tubes and the right lugs in the right hands, no compromises.  The Kogs, after all, is still an outsourced price-point bike -- albeit a fancy one; and while the Trek began life in the middle of its manufacturer's lineup, it was still brazed by hand during a time when perfection spoke louder than profit for the big American frame-builders (to the ultimate demise of their steel production, sadly).  Opening the bottom brackets of each bike, and comparing the threads and the finishing on the tube joints --- which is ALL inside, concealed, and something most people wouldn't EVER see --- the Trek is clearly the winner:  you can see the brass, still shiny, no oxidation, perfectly filled - no gaps, very well-cut threads - CLEAN.  You can see the care, the temperature control, the skill.  The Kogs', conversely, the threads are so-so, but still strong; the tube ends aren't mitred (but, why spend the labor money to do so - no-one will see that!)  The brazing is there... but, there are small pits and voids visible, and some discoloration.  None of that will affect strength (under my legs, anyways), thanks to REALLY chunky lugs -- but, there you have it.  It's best covered up... the Trek, you could nearly showcase it.  It speaks volumes about how the rest of the build process had likely been treated, in both cases. 
 This all creates a chorus of self-directed questions.  Counter to my previous flightiness in this department, I'm carefully making a list of pros and cons before doing anything rash - but, the whole concept of the Trek as the main brevet and weekender, and the Kogs as commuter steed, is suddenly interesting.  My only reservation lay with the Trek's finish:  most importantly, a promise not to have it refinished remains as locked as my word and my handshake (neither of which I give lightly).  As if I would require such an agreement!  I cringe at the mere notion of losing the originality and gracefully-aged patina of the factory decals.  Yet, I equally fear the inequity of rust creeping in and ruining the dream as I would suddenly thrust the frame-set back into hard duty.  Nothing a fresh coat of internal Framesaver couldn't cure... but, tough choices: and, just because I CAN make a choice, doesn't mean I should.  There is nothing at all wrong with the Kogs - not enough, anyway, to warrant its relegation to commuting - thusly reversing the chain of command in the dudegarage.  For starters, I'd need a new seatpost (another mark against the Kogs, with it's super oddball 27.4mm seatpost (??), I'd want a new headset.... ugh.   Here we go!
Nothing to lose sleep over right now, because all of this becomes silenced when I remember I have a bicycle to finish for the boy!  Priorities = Problem solved... for now...   ...and, in reality, what do I really have to complain about here?  Not a whole lot... as I type and polish this for the blog, the 200km ride has already happened, and it happened on the Kogs:  complaints?  Nope.  That nagging "yeah, but if the Kogs was good......"   Yeah....    

Oh yeah.... 

Meanwhile, back on our ride...

A gorgeous day shaping up for the KCUC debut - arm warmers begin to disappear into back pockets, and unzipped jackets add a flapping accompaniment to our symphony of southbound motion.  Here on Webster in Spring Hill itself, John, Cody and company set tempo as the temperatures continue to moderate upward.  Not a cloud in sight!

Glen, heading south out of Paola on Pearl St., and the old, OLD US-169 alignment near 327th street.

Nasal check?

Behind Glen and me, Steven, Gary and the Weston bunch pace-up and chat away the miles under brilliant skies while warm breezes push temperatures ever higher - a terrific day for a ride, and the best was yet to come!

Speaking of 'new fork', it has proven difficult to find a builder willing to make JUST a fork - they usually want it paired to a frame, which is understandable:  it's difficult to match a fork to a frame one's never seen in person.  Iglehart, however, has created many great forks to pair with many great bikes over the years - this example mounted to a Gunnar frameset.  He's a good candidate for my business should I choose to update the Kogs - but, someone with a Big Grin may win the prize, because I'll get to wield the torch!

The melee invades the Osawatomie Casey's store!  More conversation bike-talk, amid water refills, laughter, and the snarfing of foodstuffs --- the temperature is right HOT, and bare skin comes out of winter hiding, to gather some rays and feel the spring breezes.  Great day - just need some leaves on those trees!

Coal train passes over the old highway as we make our way back north under blue skies, and with a full-power assist from a growing southwest wind.  At long last... a SOLID tailwind finish on tap!

Inspired by our new tailwind after refueling at Casey's, the pack once again splits apart on the roads northbound back toward Paola and points north.  Zooming along at 25MPH, nearly effortless, tires and bearings in full song... a proper reward for all the long, cold slogs into seemingly endless, spirit-breaking finishing headwinds.  The days ride, now measured in smiles instead of miles, becomes a long overdue treat for the spirit waiting in our legs.  We FLY north!  

I feel reborn.  Tempted and teased by faster riders just in-sight up the road, I shift a few times and begin to try and find the edges of my nutrition and strength.  First, I hammer up to the pack ahead -- then let off, drifting backwards and recovering the heart-rate; then repeat.  Yo-yo'ing becomes a game, and doesn't feel like "training" at all --- but, it's nice to feel benefits from all the running and cross-training I've added since the beginning of the year.  The wind direction absolutely helps!  I am torn between the chase and the promise of good conversation as Glen closes the gap to my wheel - so I ease up a bit more.  Why rush a great day like this? 

Hard to describe, however, the urge to push!

Old KC Road, just south of Hillsdale, KS., the temptation of the pack up the road is tangible - I linger between packs, take a few picks, and enjoy the sensations of freedom and speed, hands-free, sitting back and enjoying the pure pleasure of cycling.

Glen, enjoying the day as well, just 100 yards behind me.

Packs come together once more as we cross through Hillsdale, KS. and continue north to Spring Hill.  Old KC Road becomes a bit of a love/hate scenario on this six-mile hunk of pavement comprising the old highway.  Lake traffic, namely, granted the same rights to this scenic road as we are, yes, but always frustrated at our presence it seems - at least a few of them.  Pickups with boats and trailers zooming by, only inches away - despite the state law dictating a 3-foot rule (no really, look it up) for passing cyclists.  I always get a little confused by their frustrations, considering they could get home a LOT faster if they'd just go a mile east and hop onto US-169, with its 70MPH speed limit.  Whatever.

After sitting in on the long climb leading out of Hillsdale, I decide to get some personal work out of the way.  While my motivation was a little silly (getting upset about the traffic, really) and I should have picked a time with fewer riders around, I popped out on the left of the line I'd been sitting in, stood up, shifted, and hammered hard.  For the first time in a long time, I unleashed fury on the pedals and tested myself to see what I was worth.  Felt pretty darn good, and it certainly squelched the frustrations resulting from a few miles of being passed dangerously close by traffic on Old KC.  If nothing else, I was "done" with that road at that moment.  Sometimes taking a breath and counting to ten isn't going to cut it, and hammering it out won't get me in trouble with anyone.  Eyes down, both hands on the bar, dude... 

After doing a few cool-down laps in the Spring Hill Price Chopper parking lot, I rejoined the route at 223rd and Webster, looking ahead to see Gary and Glen motoring along together, so I briefly make chase and catch their wheels.  No more of this solo-nonsense for me!  Soaking up the goodness of the day, we angle up towards 199th street, over to Ridgeview... familiar territory, but somehow strange - none of us could recall ever feeling so fresh at this particular junction, seeing as - normally - we'd be 100+ miles in, not 50!  

Tailwind fever... that's all I can say about the rest.  With the heavy hand of mother nature firmly pushing us along at 27MPH on the flat, with little effort, there were nothing but smiles as far as the eyes could see.  The long, long stretch of winter seemed, finally, at an end.  

Glen and I played around with a finishing sprint, but ultimately it was Gary who caught both of us out... but, no matter:  coming to our senses, we all chilled out for the last couple miles, hit the Starbucks with a decent finishing time, and a great cup of coffee.  

What an awesome day!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

You want this...don't you?

I'm so excited for the 300k next week.  Yeah, I miss the old Albany route, but this Oak Grove ride is an instant classic; I think this is the third year for it now. goal is to make it back to the McD's at Higginsville, MO before sundown...or at least before they close!  Need shake!  Need fries!

I wanted to invite all our new riders off the fence and out to our 300km on the 12th.  There is something about this route... A classic, somehow.  Hills, but not too many.  Long, uninterrupted stretches to extend your thoughts and enjoyment.  A major river crossing of the muddy Missouri at Glasgow.  A chance to see the sunrise AND the sunset from the saddle ... Or, a chance to try and beat the sunset, for the spirited.

You've got the 200 licked... What's another 100k, right?  It's a great milestone, a full day of adventure, and a great test.  Hope to see you there!

The Shamrock Shakes at McDonalds taste awful good on the trip back west, by the way... 

Oooo, you're all in, now, aren't ya??
Yeeees.... Gooood...

"...but with the blast-shield down I can't see!  How am I supposed to ride?"

Reach out with your feelings, Luke...

Team 'Ride-to-Eat', mount up!