Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

November 15, 2015

Guest Post: There ARE still good people out there!

Every once in a while a story comes across the forums that captures my imagination, reinforces a core belief or introduces a new way of looking at things for all of us riders "out there" on the gravel, pavement, trails, or paths.  This time, a local rider who has taken part in a handful of rides on my routes and joined me for the Hard Cider trial run earlier this year, John M., took to email to recount details of a recent and seemingly unlikely experience while out on the roads of Eastern Kansas... thanks, John!


From John M., October 14th, 2015

There ARE good people out there!

Last month I needed a 200K and wanted to do my last long ride before RAID (Ride/Race Across Iowa in a Day).  As I do too often I waited until the last weekend of the month to ride my 200K.  Sunday morning, dark and early, I headed off to ride the Free-State Border Patrol 200K (route #386).

Prior to the ride I had asked, and was approved, to ride some bonus miles during the 200+km permanent.  Permission was granted based on me both staying under the time limit and exiting/returning to the course at the same location.  

It was cooler that morning when I'd left home, and I'd thought about adding a bag to my bike to store extra layers.  Ultimately I decided I could just put my arm warmers, cap and vest in my jersey pockets.  I rode my gravel-ready Salsa Fargo, and after checking in at the Pleasanton control I headed off course and rode some good bonus gravel miles.  At my furthest point south, I stopped near Prescott and took off the last of my cool-weather gear, repacked my pockets and proceeded to head back north.  I re-entered the course in Pleasanton and began the ride on toward La Cygne.

When I got to the Casey’s Control in La Cygne. I grabbed some pizza, a cold bottle of Gatorade and all the usual stuff.  Piling it all on the counter, I reached into my pockets for money.  What a surprise and shock it was to find I had NONE!  No Money, No Route Card, No receipts, NO ID, No Credit card.  The Ziploc bag which contained all of that important stuff was gone!  Fortunately the good people at Casey’s helped me out and took good care of me.  But I still had NO money, Nothing!

I left the Casey's befuddled about my lost card and cash.  Without that route card my ride wouldn’t officially count.  Without my cash it might make it a bit harder to ride home.  I thought to myself, I knew I had everything at the farthest south turn-around.   Trying to think back, I'd thought I’d maybe reached back into my pockets, maybe once, only about 10 miles back from LaCygne.  I'd convinced myself I must had lost that bag at that point!  Resolve bolstered, I decided to ride my route backwards and find my stuff before riding back home. 

I had to save my 200K!

Unfortunately, I never found my Ziploc, and, finally I had to abort looking and head home.  Empty handed.  By then I'd assumed my stuff was blowing who-knows-where on the wind, never to be seen again!

I rode back to LaCygne and remained on course back to Olathe... not that sticking to the course matter much at that point.  When I ride the Fargo on that loop I don't normally need to stop after LaCygne... 
but, that's mainly because when I know I have cash, I know I can stop anytime I need to and get anything I want. 

Of course, when I don't have any money all I can think about is all the stuff I want but can't have!  It made for a long ride home!  ...forget the fact I'd blown my September 200K!  Sure, I had a good 200 mile training ride, but I was not a happy camper!

Since this had all happened on a Sunday, I elected to officially get my 200K in by taking off early on Tuesday afternoon and departing for a 3:30pm start.  I enjoyed a nice evening ride, well past my normal bed time... but I got my September 200K on the books!    whew

Lessons learned:
- Don't wait till the end of the month to ride your 200K!  (If it hadn't been for a cancelled customer meeting I would have been out of town and would have lost my hard-earned R-12 in the process.)
- Don't keep all your eggs in one Ziploc!
- Pay attention to your stuff!

Keep the important stuff in a zipped pocket, in the seat-bag, or otherwise stashed away ... ANYwhere other than back pockets that you might be getting in and out of all day.  Just pulling out a cue sheet or a snack might seem easy enough, but you can never know if something stuck to it, or if a gloved-hand accidentally grabbed onto something else in the process.

I thought that was the end of this story. . . 

. . . but, there are actually Good People out there!

First the Good Folks at Casey’s gave me anything I'd needed, as I stood at the counter emptying my pockets all over the place.  There I stood, not a penny in hand!  Yet, they still helped me!  This is the payback of always being polite and appreciative of our hosts along the route.... yes, even if they have no idea what they're hosting.  The attitude we put out there could pay us back someday!

A bit later, life going on as usual, I arrive home from a week of being out of town.  My wife does a great job while I'm gone, taking care of many things!  One of them, of course, being the mail.  She takes care of the important mail, gets rid of the junk mail, sorts the work stuff and leaves me the few fun/personal items I occasionally get.  Upon examining this, and to my surprise and amazement, I have waiting for me a nice hand-written note, my route card, cash, credit card, ID and receipts...  everything I lost on that Sunday ride!

This Great American found my Ziploc while walking along a gravel road not far from his home.  He'd not only found it, but took the time to write me a note and mail all my stuff back to me!  Yes, indeed, there really are GREAT People out there!

God Bless this Country and all the Good People that make it Great!

John Mathias
Olathe, KS

Keep 'em rollin'!   Yeah, that's not John... but, hey, every post needs at least one photo.

October 21, 2015

What's love got to do with it?

Well, everything really. 
Even though it took the better part of three weeks to finalize and post, the last ride report and update was a fun one to put together... But, relating things in type is time consuming.  I love doing it... Therefore, it's not a chore.

For some reason over the summer, riding to and from work became "hard", and I have just recently crawled back out of the cellar once again to regain my love for the simple act of riding.  The love there sometimes fades, and I'm not sure why.  I go into these phases where I start to tinker and tweak and build... And the love moves from the the activity to the objects used in the activity.  It's seems now that I'm back to the actual riding again, which is cool... And just in time for it to be cooler, season-wise. 

Leaves are back on the trails, squirrels are everywhere... yikes, there's one now ...and the longer nights are creeping in on both sides of the workday.  Maybe it's the solitude of night riding that really does it for me.  The lack of traffic, the bugs and frogs singing, the stars out... The gentle cast of a lone headlight beam on pavement, the distant moan of a freight train, and how you can suddenly hear cars approaching from miles away.  They see us, and we see them... And all is right.  Just now, typing this, I've watched two pair of evening cyclists silently making their way down the neighborhood streets, taillights glowing confidently, headlights painting their way forward as they dance along, drifting silently into the orange haze of overhead streetlights and disappearing again, over and over as they fade into the distance.  I love seeing that, and being that.  A more ambitious version of me would have already scheduled a dark side ride by now.... a less occupied version of me.  Those days will come again - right now, I love being a Dad far more.  But, an overnight 200k?  Yeah, I'm tired of stuff getting in the way, and chilly as it might be; well, I may yet grab October.

I love a good streak, but, apparently I've been afraid.  I don't know WHY or of what I am afraid, but, there it is.   I plan, I pack, I ponder, and I pack it in.  Again.  The excuses ever more elaborate, ever thinner.  I'm too cautious, too afraid to screw up at work, too afraid to let on that maybe the love is gone from long distance riding.  Is it?  No.  I honestly don't think so, because I keep thinking about it, gazing longingly into the illusion of depth and space captured in desktop background photos from PBP and local rides from the past.  Camping, brevets, often in deplorable conditions - and yet there we are, smiling.  There I am, smiling.  Have I become so cautious that I'm shying away from the adversity that has defined me as a person?  Why do I assume it's going to be horrible?  Why am I negative?  Is it loss of love? 

Does love have anything to do with it?

June, July and August all saw really awesome brevets and permanent, but, stuff changed... And change, for me, has often proved crippling.  Unsure, confidence shaken; despite being a part of a massive opportunity at work which has seen me thrust into the field of work I'd longed to take part in, there is nothing negative about Any of it.  Stress is lower, I'm sleeping better, and hopefully financials will change for the better so I can maybe relax for once.  But, it's still change.  Altered routines, new surroundings, new coworkers, new systems, new new new... During times where I should be hanging onto the things which remain familiar in my life, I instead panic and abandon them.  The three month streak resets, the rides to work cease... And the hole magnifies.  Now, weeks later, I am at last feeling settled.  While I would have liked to say that I triumphed and grabbed September at the 11th-hour with a good friend on an epic overnight ride, I panicked and dropped the ball.  All this while, still learning how to live better in my own head, there are still bumps and curves to negotiate.  October is growing long, and the question comes again... Do I want it badly enough?
Do I want I badly enough to get out there on my own?  I tell you, motivating myself in the wake of change has been tough.  I set a date, but, schedules are constantly out of alignment - the magic of the last couple years of almost being guaranteed a ride partner for the monthly 200k are gone, and stirring up the gumption to get myself out there has been tough.  This isn't guilt on anyone, just a personal observation; as my first ever R-12 took place almost exclusively solo, it took me a while to actually become cozy riding WITH other people.  Now, it's circled entirely the other way.  Do I still love it enough to get out there and grab a tough month like February solo again?  I can envision it... But, I remember positive visions of September, too... And it wasn't enough to avoid clamping onto the first excuse that came along to cancel... And I wasn't going to be solo that night.  What, precisely, is my issue?  Yeesh...

Lament no further.  As I have awoken now, apparently, I rise earlier, I dress faster, and I have taken to the intended fall season act of "JRA": just riding along.  I did so Monday, riding to mail a letter at the post office in Spring Hill, which is 12-15 miles away, depending.  I rode gravel and watched a few passing trains.  I watched the railroad crews working on the new second mainline running along US-169 highway.  I took a MMR "road" deep into the middle of nowhere and stopped in the middle of a giant field to connect with nature...just me, the sun, the wind... just "being".  I've taken sunrise photos, watch deer drop their guard and become at ease with my presence; just three animals near a winding creek enjoying the peace of a new morning.
It's been a while, but, the love is returning, and it feels great.  Cycling is a relationship between man and machine, and sometimes it wanes... But it never dies.  Yeah, its just a "thing", an activity, or exercise... But, its also a vehicle that takes me to places and states of mind that help me become who I'm supposed to be. 

What's not to love about that?

October 14, 2015


August?  September?   .... man, this summer has completely gotten away from me, utterly and completely.  I'll tell ya, my streak which started in June is over.  I'm okay, and it's not the end of the world, but, wow... the month slipped out of my hands like a stick of butter on a hot day in Alabama.  LORDY-my!

So, a clean slate, and today is October 1st... for ME, personally, the first day of Fall.  Nature was right on schedule this AM, greeting me with 46ºF on the mercury, and northern breezes.  Sweet!  Long pants, long sleeves, ears covered... maybe a bit much, but, hey... last week, today's HIGH forecast is cooler than the LOW had been.  That's a bit outside the normal 20-degree swing that most folks can handle without it feeling especially cold/hot.  Great morning for a commute... birds, some deer, and practically no dog walkers or joggers.  Ahhh... nice!

Back on August 24th, a Monday, a few of us local KC boys headed out onto the (ye olde?) Border Patrol route.  Terry B. came down from St. Joseph, Gary D. rode to the ride from near State Line, Josh came in from Lees Summit, and then little old me, performing the gargantuan task of riding to the ride from about 3/4th of a mile away.  Don't hurt yourself, dude.

A quick couple of activities inside, and the ride was ON... nothing new to report here, except for what happened almost precisely 45 seconds into the day.

Under the otherworldly orange glow of sodium vapor incandescence, the grim grey of pavement became broken as a lone shadow upon a bicycle burst forth from the shadows of a side street, ran his stop-sign, and merged directly into my line.  It was close enough, unexpected enough, a touch of brakes came almost involuntarily, and behind it frustration at my own reaction.  

"..what the....," came near involuntary, too, as I took in the view ahead, this specter of the pre-dawn road; helmet-less, sneakers, t-shirt, baggy gym shorts, road bicycle of indeterminate make, model or vintage, and nothing more to mark his existence than the rhythmic oscillation of amber pedal reflectors this person proceeded to raise his pace in an effort to outrun my shout of protest against his scoff-law ninja-biking.  

"yeah, that isn't gonna work, pal," I muttered while reaching down to grab the next gear in my cluster to give chase.  Things like bicycle, clothing, heck - even helmet or no helmet doesn't bother me all that much anymore; but, being cut off in the face of a group of four riders' blazing LED headlights, not so much as a wave of apology or a middle-finger of disdain accompanying it?  This is a clear indication, most likely, why I don't like who I am behind the wheel of a car... and I was letting myself slip into that vindictive, vigilante, ego-driven and maniacal revenge-glutton persona while on the bike.  Call it racer-rage or whatever... there was no way this guy was going to break free.  Not today, not like this, and not in my neighborhood... lest ANY of us wonder why that minivan, contractor pickup, or business-class sedan driver LOATHE cyclists so much, to witness such an example of the very root of the problem materialize right before me and not react?  Damn the engines, full-speed-ahead!  

Muscles firing with the flow of rage pulsing and turning pedals, I had his wheel in no-time, and settled in to allow him the consideration of his own shadow cast from my headlight beam mere feet from his rear tire.  Let's see what you got.  Juvenile, indeed; I didn't care.  Our speed pulsated up another mile-per-hour as we approached the traffic signal at 159th Street... which was red.  Instinctively, I slowed - and watched as my adversary refused to.  Our steel weapons paused above the Hall effect sensors just long enough to swap the opposing lights to yellow, he rolled through without breaking cadence an iota.  I followed on the green, and wound him back up into the glare of my LED beam whilst the road pitched upward and begged more.  The crescendo and the curve beyond, and my fitness gave way to my opponent's relentless escape.  

No, dude.... no.... 

Another gear, another dig into the pit of pain ... not warmed up, not in shape, not ready to lay it all on the line in the first three miles of a 214km ride, and to let this person put a gap on the road.  Did he even know I was there?  How could he not have?  Two miles now, staring at his own shadow - but never once had I found a twitch, a glance, any acknowledgement of my presence, perhaps he'd already cast his own actions, and me, aside.  On principle, I pushed, and pushed, and pushed to regain his wheel before the roundabout - where again, not even a marginally detectable sideways glance saw him enter and exit around the bend and back onto the southbound road.  Granted, no cars, no joggers... but, really?  Glancing backwards, I half-expected at least Gary to have been planted firmly on my rear quarter, enjoying the brisk pace, yet I'd ... we'd ... done the damage.  No headlight beams.  Nothing.  My shadowy counterpart lifted the pace once more only to be answered.

"Oh, I'm still back here buddy..."  I muttered to myself, collecting my breathing and doing my best not to let on the agony growing in my quads.  This was going to be yet another example of stupidity, surely, in only eight short hours - long after this guy would be wherever it was he was to be later that day, and this - all of this - forgotten.  For naught.  For what?

Before I knew it, 175th street and the next stop sign loomed ahead of us, and for once I watched as a face turned my way - only for a blink - and being on his left flank, there was no way he hadn't seen me, then.  With a twist, and a flick, suddenly his entire mass crossed the road in front of me in a calculated u-turn - mere feet between us, this time, I didn't pull the brakes at all.  I didn't care -- I became him, and I became ashamed of not being able to just let it slide.  Not even enough time to allow his face to be burned into my minds eye, he remained only a shadow with no name, no face, and no merit; his morning workout had reached its halfway, and - honestly - I had been bested, both metaphorically and physically.  Behind me, still no sign of my companions, his shadow blended with the dull gray of the pavement and the blackness of the predawn morning until he vanished like smoke.  

As I crossed carefully onto 175th street heading to points east, I never once lifted my pace.  I hadn't uncorked like I had that morning in years.  Screw the reserves, the worry, the potential for absolute slog-mode later in the day - I had to get the rest of the adrenaline - if that's what it was - out of my system or I'd spend the rest of the day grumpy.  With that, I broke a PR climbing the hill on Antioch, ate up 199th street, then Metcalf came... the bridge (with a sign announcing construction was to begin later that day)

um, wait... that's today...

Sunrise from somewhere along Metcalf near 223th St.

 ...and the cross streets fell like dominoes.  223rd...  247th...  279th... and the BP station, often a guaranteed stop on this route despite not being a control, which was no different today.  I paused for a moment or so, considered refilling one of my bottles and slugged it dry for good measure.  No sense getting dehydrated after that little fit.  No headlights... hmmm... The pause grew longer, but, I'd really no idea how far along they'd come, and any illusion of speed I'd thrown down was likely to be answered in much the same way it's been for the last few years, anyways:  feeling good, strong, and confident - only to turn around and find my pursuers still lingering within a half-mile of my tail, and usually there at a comfortable pace... not "pursuing" me at all.  Today, however, was different.  As I squinted north along the length of pavement I could see, I didn't even see automobile headlights approaching.  Bicycle lights often stand out far better under such circumstances, but there were none to be seen.  I clicked in and proceeded to pick up where I'd left off.  Cool down now, and the first nail would be in my coffin, surely.  

From the southern edge of Louisburg come the hills of old Metcalf leading into the undulating valley of Middle Creek and other various tributaries.  Past the giant pipeline installation, past the bridges with their pitted and tortured bumps and dips, to stand and climb and relish in the morning air.

Air?  What's that squishy feeling?  Ugh... there's no mistaking it.  The rear tire, having picked up who-knows-what, had gone soft.  Rolling carefully downhill, rear wheel unweighted as best I could, I took one more rise to get beyond 295th Street, where I'd remembered wider shoulders and a fairly new, and paved, driveway.  That was my preferred spot.  Bottles out, helmet off, pump, spare tube out of the saddlebag... no sense rushing, after all.  Happy as I was with myself and eager to try for more, the fact remained that I'd started the ride with good friends - and trying to go for a solo effort seemed... well, wrong.  But, if I'm honest, I'd really wanted to make it clear to La Cygne and the first control to wait out my efforts with some coffee and a donut.  This would do, I suppose.  Sweaty from effort, even my sunglasses felt as if they were keeping in too much heat as I flipped the bike and released the rear wheel to examine the tire.  

Ugh... mystery flat... "Hate" is too strong a word here, but that notion that there is potentially something else afoot besides a telltale tack, thorn or hunk of glass can sit on my head like a house-fly.  Sure, it only weighs a fraction of a gram - but, you can feel it, and it's annoying - and, that's assuming it doesn't decide to bite.  

Another swipe of the inside of the tire with my thumb yields nothing... maybe I just brushed it away already, or it fell out.  

As a matter of backstory, I was pushing my luck with that rear tire.  For years now, I've run the venerable (well, maybe among commuters and randonneurs) Panaracer Pasela TourGuard... now called the Pasela "PT" to designate a revamped approach to flat protection.  These tires have always been terrific, no complaints, and good for a solid 4,000 miles rotated front to back at roughly half that.  OF course, we all know that the dude gets bored and starts believing everything he reads, so I've recently (has it been a year?) switched to the Grand Bois 'Cerf' model; which is effectively the "same tire", insomuch that Panaracer produces it for Cycles Grand Bois and has their markings on the sidewalls - which are the trademark tan I've come to love.  The tread compound and casing differences aside (and elsewhere in these pages), the end result in my experience has been a smoother ride and - as they're about a full millimeter thicker than the Pasela's - longer lasting.   BUT.  
Keen to find out about HOW much longer lasting, again, I'd been pushing my luck with this one.  After 2,000 on the front wheel and having since been moved to the back, this tire was riddled with small cuts and holes where various things had entered and left the tire or otherwise chafed the rubber, so finding today's proved impossible.  With almost 6,000 miles logged (I'll have to look for the exact total), it was remarkable that I hadn't flatted sooner, as the 5mm of fresh tread had been slowly eaten down to about one.  Velodrome tires, anyone?  Yeesh.  

A quick over-inflate of the tire-less tube produced the tiniest of pinholes through which a gentle hiss of air escaped.  HA!  A quick patch from my fave Park Tool SuperPatch kit, and back into the tire and onto the waiting wheel.  

Pump Pump Pump Pump ... check pressure... repeat... wait, huh?   

The tire had seated, but little else - whatever hole I'd found and patched clearly wasn't the sole culprit here.  Grrrrrrrrr..... 

Off the rim, and out of the tire... did I miss it?  Crud, who cares?  New tube time!

Resorting to defeat and cursing my inner Poirot, I grabbed a fresh tube and called it "good enough", the flatted tube (already home to three patches before I'd begun, so maybe that was the problem?) deposited into the home-owner's rubbish bin at the end of their driveway-turned-service-shop.  

Right about then, the unmistakable clack of a pedal unclipping followed by another, as Gary and Josh arrived on the scene.  Beginning to wonder if they'd ever see me again that day, after what - to me - seemed like at least a five minute gap, smiles and relief came to my face.  As much as I'd liked to have turned the morning into my own time trial, the frustration of a flat is far easier to shake when one has company.  We all chatted, talked about the morning, cycling caps, and the promise of the day at hand.  Within a few minutes, Terry arrived as well and we were a group once more.  

...If only briefly.  It's a given, the impossibility of keeping a group of cyclists together on the road.  Each set in their own way, pace, mood, bicycle weight, climbing ability, all conspire to separate us.  It's a metaphor for life, as much of cycling is.  I won't bust out the doctoral stuff here... not today.

Terry had already pulled away while I kept at packing back up from the flat change, and half clipped in, Josh and Gary were itching to get back into action again.  Before I knew it, I was alone again - but not in the way as before.  Right after the driveway, a brief downhill and then the next climb began.  I caught back up by the time 311th street came into view and we made our way the remaining distance to La Cygne, and the new Casey's - which I hadn't visited since it'd been rebuilt - nice place!   As an added bonus, it's now on the east side of the railroad tracks, which really only matters on the way out.  

Josh, atop a new steel steed from the archives.  Celeste... need one say more?  Classic Bianchi, up to the task like it was made for it.  Gary on point at the helm of his new classic, setting a solid tempo as always.

Yeah it's the same photo, twice.  I know.  But, I had to address this.  Gary doesn't understand why everyone considers him "fast" when he starts to disappear off the front of the group during our rides.  Um, a look above the orange arrow, at left, might explain things.  He's a humble guy... but he can sure make a bicycle talk.  

Once again, the concept of the quick in-and-out control completely escapes us.  We loiter, consider things like the restroom, and enjoy our drinks and snacks with feet firmly planted underneath us.  Oh well...  this is probably the best part of the whole ride process, honestly - regroup, discuss, plan, laugh.

Terry rolls on early while the rest of us three finish our individual control voodoo and saddle back up.  Eventually we've turned onto one of my favorite county highways, Linn County 1055.  This meandering ribbon of pavement contains three challenging hills and a lot of great scenery, including an old schoolhouse and the site of a long-gone Kansas town.  Along the way, the conversation flows nicely as the miles pass effortlessly under our tires.  We revel in the high speed of the first long downhill, without any thoughts about needing to climb it later on.  I'd forgotten how much I enjoy this route, despite having ridden it so much over the years.  It had been long enough, though, that I'd forgotten about the hills and their length.... still, I ended up pleased with myself on both the outbound and inbound legs and the triple-threat of grunt-inducing climbs.

Gary and I stop briefly at Linn COunty highways 548 and 1055, soaking up the awesome weather, and making some slight adjustments before the final six miles to Pleasanton.

Being the halfway, an extended break at Pleasanton seemed like a great idea.  Sitting down in the miniature booths lined up along the front window we filled bottles and mouths with good stuff to fuel our return, and I enojyed a cheese-filled soft and hot pretzel rod.... which is probably going to be on the menu for me the next time I'm down this way.  WOW, what a flavor punch, and HOT... something I don't take near-enough advantage of, considering that nearly every c-store I've ever visited seems to have a microwave on site.  Man, if I can find (or pack) a couple of heat-n-eat sandwiches, dude, bet on it!

Fueled, packed and clipped in, we polished off the trip back in short order, playing speed-tuck on the first giant downhill; payback for the arduous climb up on the trip out.  We teased each other on our ability to let gravity do all the work, and for how long we could hold onto the rollout afterwards as we leveled out and ate up pavement at 23mph on flat ground.  The day was perfect... I can't recall temperatures, nor wind... that's all the qualification for perfect I require anymore.  If I don't notice the conditions after a few miles, yeah.... excellent day!  

We passed the time chatting about commuting, Josh being the latest to take up the torch having started only a couple weeks prior.  Baggy shorts, things to pack, things to leave at the office, etc.  While there are many randonneuring parallels, it certainly brings up some unique problems for everyone at some point or another.  I still highly recommend it, despite having been witness to some personally disturbing changes over the past few years.  

I suppose it is all relative to what one considers normal, which is always at risk of becoming defined strictly by the past.  The new normal involves smart-phones, and the coming principle that the smartness of one's phone tends to inversely affect the intelligence of its human user.  Mix this with the responsibilities of the average automobile operator, and, well - yeah, that whole overused (justifiably) buzzword plaguing the developed world these days.  One of these days, possibly in my lifetime, technology will catch up and help render the scourge of distracted driving a thing of the past.  Perhaps it is a generational problem, in much the same way that seat belts are still not compulsory for a large majority of Americans; the very existence of this problem I still can't quite grasp.  Hadn't we solved that one?  Anyhow, getting back to local concerns, and how I've watched traffic increase as the population outpace the roadway development needed to support it.  Yes, "normal" is simply the state of existence right at this particular moment in time; not the baseline past of any one individual.
 Trying to keep that in mind is one thing, commuting is probably no more dangerous than it had been the first time I rode to work out of necessity nearly two decades ago.  The state of today's concerns, however, are not the same.  More and more commuters are taking to recording their rides, often with two cameras.  Some motorists, armed with their device's cameras have sought out creative new ways to gain YouTube notoriety by physically assaulting cyclists in various ways from their cars.  Other drivers are so distracted, they likely don't even see most cyclists - until they accidentally strike one.
I have lost friends and fellow riders this way.  The myopic American consumer has demographically proved that petroleum availability and environmental responsibility are only popular topics when it affects ones cash flow, so ever larger SUVs and Pickup trucks have begun to pour back onto roadways nearly as fast as they can be built: when not so long ago, vehicles like the Hummer H2 had bore the brunt of so much criticism it'd been rendered almost worthless on the used market, and vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt came from concept to road - and, as tends to happen, absolute power corrupts, no matter its form or scale.  Give 'em an inch, and their vehicle becomes an extension of ones own self-entitled ego.  Add a lift kit and large tires, and then place a cyclist in the flow of traffic with them.  It is - clearly - a point of frustration for any cyclist, and in some places like Australia (if the news is accurate) riding a bicycle tends to make one a target; sometimes in the literal sense.  It becomes tougher and tougher each year to proffer advice on commuting to work when I myself inch ever closer to admitting how ill-advised and risky it has become. 
BUT, I doubt I'll ever stop' and - in reality, and NOT in the paranoid overthought of my mind, commuting to work is no more dangerous than it was when I first started.  It is just different, and the dangers that are inherent in ANY outdoor activity on or near roadways still exist.  Is it worth the risks?  Yes.  Every time.
Josh, then, takes up the torch and disproves me, an ever-more-crotchety old man in the making:  I finally begin to see what H.G. Wells was on about, that despite all evidence to the contrary, someone younger than myself has chosen to take up bicycling - not only long distances, but as transportation.  I see this, and I, like Wells, no longer despair for the human race.  All is not lost.  In the same way fairness lapses the instant someone from the U.S. arrives in a part of the world not to their exact standards and declares it "primitive", I can't fairly judge the conditions of the present strictly by comparing them to my own past.  Billy Joel probably said it better:  "the good ole days weren't always good, and tomorrow's not as bad as it seems."  Keep the faith, dude.  Guys like Josh are evidence that we really ARE probably gonna be fine, and "the kids are (indeed) alright."

As the Casey's in La Cygne fell into the background again as our caravan made its way to the east and north once more, we once again spread out.  Gary, on a mission, began his characteristic advance up Jingo Rdrenaissancehe distance.  Terry had taken off as well, as far as I can remember - mentally, at this writing, I'd lost track of him, for, advancing onto US-69 for the quick three miles north, that funny feeling came back once more.  That squishy feeling.  Crap.

Once again, I quick peek down and back confirmed the rear tire had let go of its air once more.  

"geeez, not now..." I muttered half to myself.  While it likely would have been just fine, the thought of fixing a flat along the side of 69 highway and its 75mph traffic whizzing by didn't seem like a terrific idea.  I considered the ditch beyond the wide shoulder - and the ticks and such I'd likely endure from an extended, crouched-down visit.  Goody....   no, that's not going to work, either.  Enjoying a brief renaissance of speed, I'd pulled ahead of Josh, who then caught me as I slowed to a crawl while the ever flatter tire began to roll and mush along underneath the rim.  

"I'm waiting until I get off of here before I do anything."  I proclaimed as he passed by with concern in his voice.  Continuing on, I began to wonder how much more gambling I was willing to do with this tire, and I started remembering all of the talk about packing a spare tire and how little weight and space something takes up when you really, really need it.  Unfortunately, since this was "only" a 200k, yeah - I hadn't packed it.  Terrific, dude... just great.  Well, have at least four feet of duct tape, will travel.  Worst case, I can roll home on ANYthing... as much as I kick myself about not packing a spare, I remember Ort or Texas' successful finish on a destroyed tire that he patched up with duct tape, electrical tape, tenacity, and a sprinkle of hope and crossed fingers.  I got this.  

I sure as heck wasn't going to waste any time alongside this highway.  Tire flat, tube empty, and rim barely protected from the pavement by the mushy and lumpy mass of tube and tire bumping along underneath me.  This is where some of the bike handling skills I've absorbed from extra gravel miles seems to have come in handy - the bike wanting to dart all sorts of directions..., the tire rolling left and right, and skating each time I tried to change direction.  Finally reaching the top of the exit ramp at 335th street, I stopped and planted both feet.  Thank goodness that was over... time to change this dang tube again.  My only hope was that I hadn't utterly ruined the sidewalls with the two miles of run-flat.  

Old barn and buildings near 247th and Metcalf (IIRC)

Upon dismount, I looked up the road toward Metcalf and started eyeing the shoulders for some shade - when my eyes met with Josh's lone figure in the shade of a tall spruce tree.  Nice!  Fixing a flat is almost always a one-person job, but, morale support - right then - was appreciated on a scale I'm not sure Josh understood at the time.  Kicked back in the shade, relaxed as always, just taking in the day as I rolled up.

The tire had somehow remained in surprisingly good shape - so the panic was unwarranted; though, to be honest I'd not like to repeat that maneuver anytime soon.  Flatting on a busy road stinks.  New tube in place, and the number of spares dwindling, we packed up and headed in to Louisburg for the obligatory in-n-out control routine... which would still take the better part of 20 minutes.  It happens.  Sun high, humidity present - but not horrid - it was warm enough to give us reason for a pause in the we took it.  

With Gary long gone, and Terry slipping past us while we rested or hung around inside the c-store, we two hit the road again without knowing where we were in relation to the others.  The only bogey now was that potentially closed bridge near 207th street on the return leg.  Time passed, distance grew between Josh and I ; just pacing perhaps, but, I would soon come to miss his straight-forward approach to construction and detours.  Looking back, not seeing him at 223rd, nor at 215th, I figured I'd be on my own for this one - so, the detour I had in my head would have to do.  

Construction here over the last year or so has altered the way traffic deals with local railroad traffic if they plan to head east on 207th street.  Where in the past motorists would negotiate a level-crossing, the resulting traffic backing up onto Metcalf proved problematic at certain times of the day; especially when it involved an especially long train which had been instructed to stop before the nearby switch off the mainline.  To mitigate this, the level crossing had been removed, and a spur road reconnected 207th to the east by first crossing over the tracks on the bridge passing over them on Metcalf itself.  In my mind's eye I had envisioned this spur simply producing a longer waiting-pad for motorists, and the level crossing being moved a bit farther away from the main road above.  Of course, I had never before seen the results of the construction with my own eyes; so it was quite a surprise when I turned right onto 207th street just before the road closed signage signalling the bridge work to see it extending AWAY from the railroad tracks in the opposite direction and not crossing them at all.  Uhhhh.... huh?

Not terribly anxious to bother any construction workers with my nuisance of asking for a pass -- fully expecting the standard "if it says closed, it's closed" speech, to which they're absolutely entitled -- I neglected to retreat and instead looked to my left, found a quick pull-out and stared across the rails to examine my options.  The underbrush isn't that tall.  Hefting the bike, I crossed over the double tracks and shaky ballast to find the remains of the previous section of 207th still accessible, still leading up to Metcalf.  Back on course!   Little did I realize that Josh, definitely the bolder of us that day, had simply asked for permission and rode across the completely open and passable bridge, which was only undergoing joint filler replacement.  

Convinced I'd remain solo for the rest of the ride, I pedaled on toward 199th and made the turn west for the final 12 miles or so.  At that point I reached the gas station near the highway, against which leaned a familiar-looking machine... Terry's bike!

It was not catching someone that did it, it was the confirmation that everyone (as far as I knew anyhow) had made it past the bridge construction without any mishap.  Terry had indeed passed us back in Louisburg, but had started to feel zapped - he's usually not one to stop at a random gas station so close to the finish.  We chatted for a bit, and I was perfectly happy to hang out for a bit and just chill.  Our mistake came while waiting for Josh.

...and waiting...

...and waiting... 

I can't remember which one of us made the decision, but it was clear he had taken an alternate route or had been through dozens of minutes beforehand, unseen; so, we carried on.  Gary?  He was probably home and showered by then!

Along the road toward 199th street, another cyclist appeared on Antioch from the south - which also marked our turn north toward 175th street again.  Josh?  That was my first thought, but the silhouette and color of the bike weren't right - just another rider out enjoying the day.  As I turned, he crossed and followed - eventually catching up and passing me.  Despite my greetings, there were no words - which became an unofficial invitation for me to let him get up the road a bit before chasing him down again - repeat.  Training?  Maybe... I was happy to have had the legs to continue the same buffoonery that'd started the day, albeit decidedly more slowly in the afternoon.  We both descended the monster hill on Antioch, enjoyed a few moments north of 40mph, and then stopped for the traffic snarl that was 175th/179th streets near Antioch.  Ugh.

"Oh, how I hate this road..." I offered to my un-named fellow cyclist.  There was a mutter of agreement as we waited for an opening.

...and waited...

...and waited...

Good lord... 

While I don't like constantly touching and tweaking routes to meet the conditions of the day, this road may prove an exception eventually.  Similar to K-68 highway as it used to relate to some of the routes out to and through Ottawa, KS., 179th Street has been witness to dramatic traffic volume increases in the last two years.  The BNSF intermodal facility to the west in Gardner, the near-continuous home construction which has now crept into this part of the county, the traffic from the massive Blue Valley middle & high school complex, and the expected addition of retail and business developments - well, this isn't the quiet country byway it was even as recently as three years ago.  It's, frankly, nuts, and the discussion post-ride seemed to indicate I wasn't alone in this thinking.  I dunno.... will have to see.

Wrapping up ye olde 175th street time-trial Worlds, however, is still a treat.  It's a deceptively gentle climb but it never seems to quit gaining altitude - and, my companion on the road for a short while at Antioch - who had departed across the intersection prior to me - had become a target.  I just had to see, after the entirety of the day, if the spark remained alive somewhere down in my gut.  

Game on, I slowly ramped up the cadence and proceeded my attempt at reeling him back in.  By the time I'd reached Quivira, I had managed to close the gap enough to pick out the details on his bike - barely.  By Pflumm, I could start to better resolve his jersey details.  Right about here, the road pitches up again for a final bump to Lackman - I flagged a little, but then started to realize how little road I'd left remaining ahead of me.  If I was to catch this guy, I'd have to move soon.  All the while, he's got no idea I'm back here using him for motivation... but, I continue to treat him as the ever-out-of-reach adversary... Hinault to my LeMond...  There would be no photographs, no distractions, as I took another gulp from my remaining fluids, shifted back onto the big ring, and began to shove like I hadn't before... well, apart from that morning, of course.  The distance between us... 1/8th of a mile now, since I'd slipped off?  Who knows... too far.  Too far...   I banished the impossible, and pushed again.  Eating up the shoulder of 175th, dodging debris, hurling globs of bodily protest from my maw when the timing of my breath allowed it.  I'm sure I looked like a snarling dog chasing down a would-be thief, or perhaps a week-overdue dinner in the form of a rabbit or squirrel.  I sucked in air and spit it out again, 200 feet.... 150.... 125..... I could hear his chain at 75.... 50 feet..... 25 I felt like I could reach out and grab his wheel.... 20 feet.... dammit!   MurLen!!  I have to turn!!  

Forever slave to the cue sheet, I SHOULD have taken the time to continue the chance for another mile, JUST to have successfully pulled into his draft to say "hey, whassup?" as collectively as possible before peeling off again and finally gasping for recovery.  But, not today... time shortened, respite waited at the 7-Eleven... not on the wheel of an unknown cyclist headed who-knows-where.  The snarling dog, hearing its master's call, returns to the course without so much as a passing thought or attempt at reason.  Randonneuring is obedience, sometimes.

The final three miles saw my smile increase slowly -- what a remarkable day this had been!  Final box checked, final receipt gathered, I joined Josh in the shade of a large Oak in the abandoned parking lot of the shuttered grocery store across the street from our final control.  Cool breezes licking away the day's sweat, the soft ground easing any discomfort gathered along the way... 

This is living.  

Summer may have gone according to the calendar, but days like these?  These are the gifts that summer's long hard tasks had wrought.  These are the day when we randonneurs rise above the populous; the masses teeming in rivers of traffic, going everywhere and nowhere at once, bereft of the joy that 125+ miles of labor and toil somehow bring to the soul of those willing to accept sacrifice in the face of a society bent on ever-more indulgent laziness.  We are the last gasps of humanity, in my tiny mind's eye... not taskmasters or overlords - just quiet rebels enjoying the fruits of a tree that grows out of sight of the rest of the world, tucked between two crowded buildings and hidden from view by the glare of smart-device screens and the distraction of honking horns and waving fists.  

Who knows how many countless hundreds endlessly passed along the road just meters behind our reclined bodies as we sat under that shade tree; but I wonder more of the small number of eyes who'd seen us... not as cyclists, not as humans strangely-dressed and perpetually "in the way;" but who'd seen what we are, and who'd felt a twinge of envy and desire, a twinkle of understanding.  They'd give a quiet head nod to the scene because they somehow know, and know better, and dare to question and wonder their place beyond the shoreline of the road that traps them.  Get them a bike.  Let them see.  Let them talk, and dream of a time when these rivers run dry and we all sit and revel in the places our simpler machines take us - physically and spiritually.  Let those times come.  Sit with us, covered in salt and grime, and take a long, slow pull from a tall, cold beer.  Pause and absorb these slow moments, and slow down these times with us.  The times when the season is always "summertime", and where the livin' is oh, so easy.



September 24, 2015

Checking in from beyond... bikes I want, stuff I've done, and random.

Things have been... that ole story?  everyone is busy, dude.

Yeah, so, I have finally come together with a plan for the stable.  I acquired a gravel bike finally in late April, and now have taken steps to prep it for fall commuting duty.  The Kogs is great, but hey... sometimes N+1 makes good sense.  Fatter tires, lower tire pressure, room for chunky and un-compromised studded tires for ice and snow AND fenders.  YES.  Finally.  A great fit, and a great multi-purpose - to quote the Jellyfish: Swiss Army bike. 

 Josh... The Stad-man... The man goes by many names, and has talent.  I've spent a lot of miles with him over the last few years, and it's become one of those relationships where everything starts to blend a little over time.  When we rode that 400k, or was it the 200?  or... ya see?  It starts to blend, but, the elements of time when it comes to long distance cycling don't necessarily follow the normal flow.  Right now, I can just pop back onto 335th Street near Rutlader on the return from Drexel.... or watching him, er, his taillight, disappear into the darkness of an Iowa summer night.  It's a comforting feeling riding with this guy, whom I can only describe as a shaman... or like, I dunno, a cool old surfer.  He's new to the sport of randonneuring, but, he talks, acts, rides and eats like he's done it for decades.  He knows training, wattage, he practices what he reads and applies it to the rides.  He jokes, smiles, rocks out, and then suddenly starts talking finance, politics, science... There is ne'er a dull moment riding with Josh.  Nosir.

 Now, if I wanted to combine all of this into a single bicycle... well, it'd be this:

The VO Campeur.  VO makes specific front and rear racks for this frameset, and every inch of it was purposely designed to be a "Swiss Army bike".  The price point will astound you.  If you don't instantly dive for your pocketbook, there's something wrong with your sense of value.  It's an absolute bargain.  On the white background, you can really see what this beauty is all about.  Note the third bottle cage under there, the pump peg, the abundant braze-ons, the big - but not TOO big - tires.  It looks good.

I like to pimp the blogs I like, especially when they can write a WAY better review than I can, especially since I have the small problem of not yet owning the bike itself... yet...
Check this out for a great follow-up review on the Campeur, and some great photos of how it should look in the wild.  

...and here's a cool, artsy shot of how the Campeur should probably look once built-up.  Step one, buy Campeur.  Step two, quit job.  Step three, ride to British Columbia.  ...and back...    Rinse.  Repeat.

...or it can look like this.  Look at those meats!!!   This bike just looks STUPIDLY awesome no matter how you roll it up.  Smooth... classic... bad-ass.... full-tilt purposeful... It's just a great bike.  Daddy want.  NOW.

And, this is a snake.  No reason.

For NOW, however, I have a Swiss Army bike - fully capable of just about any darn thing I want to do.  The Kogs can now be focused on pure rando... and the occasional commute for good measure.  But, hey... if it keeps a few extra miles off the "fancier" components, all the better for my bottom line.  It meant spending a little cash now, though, to get the Retrospec up to... er... "spec", for daily duty, night-time use, and the usual trim of fenders and rack.  All is removable:  I kept this in mind everywhere... no weird zip-tie arrangements, no perma-glue - when DK comes around, for example, an hour in the garage puts her back in super-light (riiight) "race trim", ready to get wild and dirty.  Stuff like mixed-terrain brevets (which , get ready KC... we're workin on it) will be a snap on the Kogs OR the Retro... it just depends on the mileage on tap.  I'm excited.


(stop it.)

SO, I took the Retrospec from stock spec:

Stock!  A great deal... Kenda Small-Block 8 tires, decent hubs, decent rims... I wasn't expecting to be impressed, but, then again it was only ever going to be a template for the plans ahead.
And the more-or-less finished product.  The 130mm crankset has since been replaced with a 110mm crank and a 34t chainring, to match the Shimano SLX 12-34 cassette.  Pushing through snowdrifts and climbing ice cliffs?  No problem.  Standard-for-me drop bars, same brand and model as the Kogs, Specialized's new, grippy and rad-neon "Roubaix HD" bar tape, which almost perfectly matches the neon green accents on the frame.  Bomb-4130 TIG-welded tubes, beefy dropouts to support any drivetrain I like, old Blackburn rear rack, gen lights.  It's the weekday special, no matter the weather.

Maybe I've been watching WAY too much anime lately, but, I keep having these visions of being on a ride and this whole troupe of female cyclists in green and orange skinsuits who accompany us on brevets and fight the forces of evil and darkness (read: traffic) with various weapons, magic power, and coy sexuality.  I've always wanted to date a girl called "The Power".

I think I'm dehydrated., anyways, that's what's been crawling around in my head lately.  Bikes, bikes, snakes, girls in skinsuits, and bikes.  

I'm not sure I'm paying my therapist enough for this.

I still owe this blog a post about the last, adventurous 214km perm from August, the Border Patrol.  Still a great route, but, in need of a slight redo, I think... more on that in that particular post.

Stay tuned, bitches.

Love ya, k-bye.

September 10, 2015

Two-Hundred & a Dozen Commutes

It's been a Pantani-sort-of-summer;
documentaries at night,
bicycle commutes during the day,
and the realization that
cycling caps are the new jerseys.
Cheaper, they don't seem to care
 about body weight, easy to store...
Compared to previous years, this once-per-month posting average is a bit pokey.  Hell, I didn't even HAVE a post for July.  Oh well.  That usually, lately, means I'm preoccupied with things I ought to be preoccupied with... like riding.  Well, that's not the ONLY preoccupation, of course, but it's the only one of consequence in these pages.  

So, welcome back, dude.  

This summer, while the year started very slowly, has been great.  I've been riding again with increased fervor and ... not "reckless" abandon, but, something like it.  I'm not holding back as much.  I've started to let go of the aesthetic stage I'd gotten trapped in, personally - wherein I'd spend countless hours tweaking things on looks, and not functional importance.  I tried the front bag, and rack, and then removed both.  They're on the shelf for a future front-loaded touring bike.  Who knows when that will happen, but it's not worth selling.  It's paid for and I'm intent on being patient until the time is right.  One thing I've grown to recognize, however:  burnout, for me, often involves needless wrenching, needless re-zip-tying, needless cosmetic purchases.  When the riding is too much, I start to fiddle... but, I seldom ride these creations much.  I keep going back to what has become "normal".

Yes!  Since I, A) don't fit into them as
well, and B) I don't really go for
the marketing-heavy pro look, for many
reasons, most of my trophy jerseys
of old are hanging on the wall of
the man-cave.  The man-cave is more
of an overall homage to my fave
bike store of old, Acme Bicycles / Old-
Town Cyclery, back in "the day".
Cycling videos running at all hours, the
gentle hiss of the epsresso machine, and
the sweet tinge of fresh tire rubber
and chain oil and grease... (inhale)...
yessss....   The Pantani Corner of said
man-cave is indeed a place of honor,
and someday when it becomes ragged and
faded, my new Mercatone Uno cap will
hang right above this prized jersey.

Oh yeah... *actual* 1985 World Series
pennant!  LET'S GO ROYALS!

The same applies to the Kogswell and it's inevitable refinish.  I have artwork drafted up, I have colors picked and got as close as having the bike torn halfway apart.  Right about then I began to notice the evidence of decades-old parts which really could use some attention, so the refinish will have to wait.  Patience.  

The Trek 450... a great machine; backbone, really.  The frame and fork still sit in wait in the garage, in a place of honor above the workbench, and, instead of me someday building it back up into a go-fast fenderless speed goat, it instead appears that my ever-growing teenage son will likely start needing to ride it, instead of the Bianchi that is shrinking beneath him lately.  As he has matched eyeballs with me now, and still shows signs of another year of growth, it's a chance the 57cm+ frame will likely fit him better than it does me anyhow - but, it's a great upgrade for him.  It will see more miles, for sure - and a new generation of cycling enthusiasm.  We're still spending a lot of couch time catching up on cycling tours from the summer, as well as the classics, like "A Sunday in Hell" with Eddy Merckx, and the rise of a younger Greg LeMond.  It's great bonding time; and we take that energy out onto the trails and battle it out like the proverbial badger-slaying we've soaked up.  

Mindless purchasing aside, I have been finally building on the stable -- with a bold move to two bikes, now.  The second I bought originally for Dirty Kanza, but I ended up not riding that race for a few reasons, none of which hold any real water, and aren't worth discussing.  However, it's very very nice to have another stick to grab when the mood strikes.  I've begun to take advantage of this new bike's versatility to start fiddling with parts in order to make it fit me better.  It's got me a bit Superman at the moment, so a shorter-reach set of 'bars is coming, and despite my plans to ride single speed, I'm aiming for more versatility by tossing a rear derailleur and "mountain-bike"-ish cassette.  I've found myself with an extra set of wheels, so studded tires with ease comes to mind again.  An opportunity for a redundant generator hub positions both bikes to simply be ready-to-grab, no matter the time of day, weather, or state of my memory when it comes to charging batteries; something I'm honestly not used to needing to do.  This is good stuff - and while I doubt I'll try and get back to the dozen or so bikes I had hanging around 15 years ago, it's nice to finally have some options at my disposal.  The utility, gravel/commuter bike will see a lot of use, I think - especially this coming winter.  No more frame limitations, no late-night, last-minute tire swaps.  It's gonna be nice, and the Kogs will get a much needed break.  Yeah, I'll have to wait on its refinish - but, at least I can keep it off the salty roads this next season.  


Yes, I've been back on it for the most part - really enjoying the bike time, instead of the car time.  It's such a powerful ally:  my outlook on life is better, I can breathe more deeply, the pounds... ugh, the dang pounds.  There are other issue afoot in that department, and some recent photos really have me frowning at myself.  There, solidly, sits my mid-40's gut - and it's sorta hard to admit, but I've been fooling myself by trying to just suck it in.  Everything above the waist and below the shoulders is way, way outta shape.  I'm not inviting any negativity in here... but, I have reaffirmed my personal goals in that regard.  I'm tired of trying on jerseys, and not having them fit well.... which is to say, "fit loosely."  Stupid food addiction.  Stupid dopamine-enthralled brain.  

Keep me away from frozen custard, and M&Ms.
Far, far away. . .

Despite the tyranny of the American male mid-section, I have managed to make strides in the "training" department.  The abandon I referred to earlier has resulted in slowly pushing my personal walls back to where they were 15 years ago... not because things were so much better then, just because that's a convenient point of reference when considering my personal abilities.  I plan to exceed them, basically.  We're not "getting back", we're charging forward.  My average speed on commutes since March have progressed from the low-14s, to 15, now 16, and recently (though it's a bit dependent on trail traffic and safety, honestly), the low 17-mph averages for the 12-mile sprint.  My bike handling skills have improved with the constant muddy encounters on rain-flooded trails, also, which will come in handy come DK '16 time.  I'm happy, and excited.

Madness?   This is COMMUTING!

Yeah, a little muddy lately.

It's hot, baby!  It's bright, and you can almost see the humidity

Too much bikey?
Commuter returns from Iowa, forgets what
mouse is for.  Briefly considers mouse is
new rechargeable taillight from Niterider.
Writes scathing review.

Mayhem!  Rider caught in the shockwave from a commuterDude
fly-by suffers trauma.  Emergency medics called in!

Sometimes the storms are 50 miles away...

...sometimes they are right behind you!

Gorgeous skies and fields;  the bike commute route is
way, way better than your drive to work.

Enough is enough!  I am sick and tired of all these mutha-flappin'
snakes on this mutha-flackin' trail!
I remember these being a lot bigger.  (That's what she said)

This all started back in June with the Iowa 400k; after stripping off the front rack when the p-clamps failed me on a 100km attempt.  It wasn't really a reduction in weight that'd made the difference... it seemed like a handling thing, and - most likely - a mental thing.  Getting all of that extra stuff off the front of the bike turned out to be fairly "freeing", and the Iowa 400 had gone very well.  I'm not really sure why or what-for I'd been holding back; and while the speeds weren't anything amazing, I finished the ride stronger than before and quite a bit sooner.  There still remains a lot to be done in the control time department, but, 

that will come along.  After returning from Iowa, the speed on my commutes began to steadily improve.  

Back in July I was afforded the rare treat of a ride with Spencer K., our RPC and the RUSA RBA Liasion, and a good friend.  His palmares tend to bury my own, and 

from that he's become a wealth of great insight and information, so any chance to shoot the breeze and share some miles is time well spent.  

Left of Centerville's debut

The 2014-2015 winter is usually when I start pouring longer cups of coffee and begin pouring over maps for new route ideas.  This is a forum I hope to bring to the masses this coming season, if the interest is there (and I think it is).  Anyhow, this results in my annual contribution to the RUSA pool of Permanent routes around the KC area, and this time around it is the Left of Centerville 200km route.  Spencer and I headed out to the start in Paola for the official pre-ride:  one final certification of the cue sheet before releasing it to the masses.  

I tell ya, if you're a RUSA member and you're out there in "somewhere, USA" and are looking for Kansas and Missouri for your American Rando award, shoot me an email.  We've got some terrific routes out here in "flyover-land" that I'm sure will delight and challenge you, no matter where you hail from.  This one should be no exception, and I try hard to keep this in mind while designing....  thought it's rare, what IF someone came to town on business and happened to have a Bike Friday and a day to kill?  I'd be happy to join you on a ride and point you to the area's lodging options.

This thunderstorm sat directly above the Left of Centerville route the
day prior to our ride

So, Centerville... it's a little known ghost-town out there on the plains which just barely skirt the eastern edge of the Flint Hills, and while I was plotting potential along county highway 1077... by the way; thank you, Randy Rasa of Kansas Cyclist, for helping scope out this road a few years back:  your adventures have helped me discover many great roads from afar, and one of these days I'll start looking at ways to extend our rando reach down into your new neck of the woods, if the interest is there.  This little road, and the small town of Parker, KS., helped set the stage for 125 miles of terrific pavement, quiet byways, old railroad lines near historic depot towns, and some awfully good eatin' opportunities.  This route should make a wide range of folks giddy with pre-ride anticipation:  active rail-lines, prairie highways, farms, old barns, a Civil War historic battlefield, an American Indian historic site, cool old abandoned gas stations, old bridges and highway alignments, a bratwurst stand, a roasted Almond and nuts shop, an old cafe and c-store built into old railcars, and - of course - any Casey's General Store I could find along the way.  There's nearly something to satisfy everyone on this loop through rural Kansas and Missouri.  

Spencer and I headed out into a nearly mirror copy of the weather I'd experienced in Iowa only a couple weeks prior:  cool, moderate temps, overcast skies, drizzle, and 99.999% humidity.  Yikes... when the profuse sweating starts while unpacking the car, and signing the waiver resembles someone trying to autograph a t-shirt, yeah... it's July in Kansas.  After weeks of heavy storms - one of which having only passed 24 hours earlier - there was no short supply of swampy conditions.  At least we'd be on pavement.  From the Casey's in central Paola, we headed out through the county seat's historic neighborhood architecture toward the old alignment of US-169 highway, also known as Old Kansas City Road.  

hey, look.... another Casey's!.... this must be a big town.... 

This route has also been designed with variety in mind:  Paola has a couple of cool old-style hamburger stands along the route out of town... but, alas, they aren't open until much later in the day consider most of us start these rides near dawn.  While there are a couple opportunities for breakfast, too, this route is registered with RUSA as a reversible loop, so, try it one way, enjoy the good eats on the east side... then try it the other direction and hit the stuff you'll have wished was open from the first ride.  Two rides in one!

Am I playing the salesman here, or what?  ;)

Old KC Road wraps us into familiar territory, as many routes crisscross around these parts from all over the region; this time we head straight out through Osawatomie and across the first of a couple 1920's highway expansion era bridges, big ole concrete treasures over winding rivers.  After that, it's "click", and we're out on an old Kansas state route headed for Parker.  

The grass is bright green and healthy, and the tiny roadside wildflowers paint the byways for miles at a time.  These little bluish-purple guys caught my eye on the road to Parker;  some of the only scenery for a while as drizzle turned to rain, and the cycling cap kept the rest of my view fairly well shielded.
The literal middle-of-nowhere stone farmhouse and silo stand like sentinels on the outskirts of Parker, KS., along highway 1077.  The rain from a day earlier looks to be drying out a little, but the flat, perforated farm fields good drainage paints a false picture of just how intense the storms had been, as we'd overhear every time we'd stop in a small town.  Area creeks and rivers had been just at the edge of flood stage in nearly every section of the route.  Our timing had been perfect.

The old Parker, KS. school building, no longer in use and sitting quietly in wait for.... demolition?  I certainly hope not, but, the circumferential "Keep Out" fencing and scattered debris seems to spell the inevitable.  This is the third time I've been past this neat old structure, but, I still felt compelled to snap another picture.  

Here's the same building shortly after its completion in 1922.  It's really neat to see this sort of archived material, especially for the size comparison of the then freshly planted trees.  Photo Source: Copyright: ©Parker Community Historical Society 2001-2015. All rights reserved.  Source URL:

The rest of the route is pretty darn good, and I'm going to leave the rest to be yours to discover, aside from some personal moments and observations from along the pre-ride.  


THE WHAT ?!? !?!?!!?
(sub caption:  "This tastes like dirt!")

A small bit of heartache from the drive down to Paola to the ride start.
This is US-169 and 255th Street in Miami County, KS., near Hillsdale.
The object that looks like a big "L" just left of center is the remains
of the old farmstead home that had been there effectively forever.
Clearly there was a fire - and the house looks to have sustained at least
70% complete consumption.  I'm not sure if the home had been occupied,
and if that was the case, I certainly hope everyone made it out
unharmed, but, if it had been vacant - well, I hope this was not the
result of some sort of juvenile misdoing.  Unfortunate loss.  

Spencer K. leads the way down 327th Street, jut a few miles into the adventure

Finally the drizzle begins to clear - on old K-7 south of Osawatomie, KS.

Centerville, KS.  A rest stop for railroad workers, really.  The feed-store / c-store on the corner takes cash and had cold beverages on-hand, as well as any of your farm-animal veterinary vaccination needs.  Be mindful of UCI controls; apparently goat steroids are still illegal during competition.  The post office next door is a compendium of poor house-plant care.
The only available restroom is a porta-john, out of frame.  This is a spartan route.  Bring cash.  Pack extras.  This is how we like our rando!  (okay, it's not that bad.)

After Spencer and I wrapped up business at Centerville, we were back on course and headed across the expanse of Kansas prairie and back east toward Mound City.  Although it isn't a control, there's a new Casey's here - which was good since I'd run out of water.  The humidity was downright ridiculous, to the point I couldn't ever really be sure if it'd been raining, or it was just because I'd been sweating so much.  My gloves were soaked, jersey, shorts, saddle... good grief I sweat a lot, but, BUT, compared to so many past summers my hydration plan was working perfectly... thus being out of water, I was actually drinking it.  Imagine that!  Skratch Labs.  That's all I'll say about that.  (OH, really?)  Yeah, yeah, yeah... here we go again with another powdered energy drink, eh?  No, no... this is hydration only, with maybe 40 calories per serving.  I've been down this road in the past;  Accelerade, Gatorade, Powerade, Hammer HEED, and just popping plain-ole Endurolytes (also Hammer).  All of them had worked pretty well, but, eventually calories or cost, or both, made with use prohibitive.  Skratch still costs money, yeah, but it's not too spendy and a little seems to go a long way.  Also - a biggie - it really doesn't take up very much space... anywhere.  I can carry an over-estimated amount for a 200km ride, something like 12 servings, and it barely occupies one back jersey pocket.  If I have a bag (which I usually do) it's a non-event to carry 600k worth in a regular-sized rack trunk or saddlebag.  The way Skratch smartly packages their product, further, if you plan to use enough (like for a 600) you can just toss the whole package into your kit.  It's basically a big, heavy-duty zip-top pouch with an included serving scoop.  Easy.  

So, THAT, he,he, is all I'll say about that.  Hydration covered, what about calories?

Calories - it's tough for me to eat a ton at the stops, but, a "ton" isn't what I've been needing.  Less, more often, has worked far better for me over the last year or so - and the c-stores always have something that hits the spot.  Tossing in some REAL food somewhere around the halfway is always good, too.  For the opening miles, however, I start with bottles pre-mixed with a mild dose of Carboplex-Gain-Cytocarb Maltowhatever powder and the appropriate scoop of Skratch Lab's hydration mix.  This makes for a nice early miles perk-up and some fresh carbs to hopefully be used as the body warms up and gets settled-in.  AFter that, the bottles are for hydration only.  Hammer Gel comes along for the ride in a 5-serving gel flask.  I still love the Hammer guys, and their focus on great endurance nutrition; and, pound for pound, their large bottles of Hammer Gel are an inexpensive and effective way for me to get the calories I need while riding.  One serving lasts about an hour - that's all I usually need to stay topped off between controls.  The days of munching from a mix of various nuts, crackers and (yick when I say it outloud) candy are long gone.  The handlebar bag is a LOT smaller now, and really only exists for easy Hammer Gel, phone (for the camera) and cue sheet access, and some meds that sometimes come in handy from the saddle.  Short of that, nutrition has almost become "easy" with this system, and I've been able to feel it in my recent performances.  Two to three-hundred calories at the controls, some liquid, some solid, are easily put away and don't cause any stomach distress or leaden feeling legs once rolling again.  Combined with envelope-pushing during commutes and some cross-training, the alteration of my calorie intake has yielded the ability to maintain a higher cruising speed.  Three long rides in a row now, it feels like second nature so it should be easy to stick with.

Back on the road, Spencer and I enjoyed some nice miles together talking about route design and RUSA stuff, life in general and bikes, and eventually the pacing bug began to itch at the backs of my legs.  Up came the tempo I'd been drilling myself on, and before long I was up the road a few clicks.  The long, uninterrupted stretches of Linn County highways lulled me into a good rhythm and the next major turn sat at a Tee intersection... impossible to miss.  I settled in, and did some calorie destruction.  Along the way, the effect of rains from the previous day's deluge became more difficult to ignore.  The storms had blossomed and strengthened in the late afternoon heat, with plenty of fuel in the air... but, a stalled boundary kept any movement to the east minimal, so, all night long the storms recycled themselves and trained across the same area of the state, over and over.  Some estimates were solid, some tall-tales; but, generally, the area had received 6-8 inches of rainfall in just a few hours, sending area fields, streams, creeks, and ultimately rivers well-up on their banks.  Riding along, uncharacteristic streams of silty mud crisscrossed the roadway, along with big clumps of corn stalks and hay.  The roadside's open culverts flowed from field runoff, even these dozen or so hours later, and tall grasses bordering the fields had been lain flat against the ground from rushing floodwaters.  It was hard to believe, but easy to see that the roads we had traveled were likely under a couple inches of water only a couple hours prior to our start.  I began to envision each of the remaining low-water crossings and bridges along the route ahead and started to wonder if the ride we'd set out upon could be completed.  Kansas county roads enjoy a good amount of maintenance, but, on the forthcoming Missouri side a few of the older county highways had been afforded only modest improvements, depending.  I started remembering all of the "Impassible during high water" road signs I'd passed on previous recon rides.  Uh oh.  With "interesting" comes risk.
I guessed we'd just have to wait and find out.

After leaving Mound City and the comfort of the Casey's, we made our way across KS-52 highway east to an old section of the original alignment of US-69 highway, which sits atop the original alignment of the older Fort Scott-to-Fort Leavenworth military road.  Here, though the pavement has been improved, an old bridge sits and welcomes travelers keen on "the long way 'round".  

Spencer on point takes the scenic route (okay, the entire route is based on 'the scenic route') across the old Mine Creek bridge, built in 1927, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.  I remember driving across this bridge when I was in high school, when more of the old highway had been accessible.  With the new US-69 highway's recent improvements and widening, many of these old highway alignments have become segmented or truly "lost".  There were some opportunities to save bits and pieces of the old road, like the scenic section near Trading Post, KS., an historic little town in its own right, but, in this age of tighter budgets much of the previous alignment was used in the creation of the new divided highway, the rest left as shorter spurs and dead ends.  Still, it always invites me to explore and remember a time when a younger nation first laid these narrow strips of pavement between towns, back when this would have been "the" only road to Kansas City from this part of the state.

This jaunt to Prescott revealed a bit more about the power of the thunderstorms that had ravaged the area around the route the night before.  We'd stopped long enough at the Casey's in Mound City to overhear locals talking of long waits under highway overpasses due to reduced visibility, strobe-light lightning frequency, water over-running the roads and high winds.  Here, riding along toward Prescott, KS., larger diameter downed tree limbs and sections of roadway covered with twigs and leaves told a tale that seemed to reinforce local beliefs of at least a brief tornado - but, thankfully, the only damage we witnessed was limited to the arborist's realm.  

Prescott greeted us with welcoming arms, but, in an interesting turn of events - and more evidence of the storm's wrath - we happened into the Prescott control and c-store to find them without power.  Thankfully, most of the beverages in the coolers had remained cool, and - thankfully - I had brought enough cash to cover my purchases, as my usual "have-debit-card-will-travel" payment solution clearly wasn't going to fly.  Did I mention that cash is king?  Yeah, on this route, it's a great idea ... and, lately, I've been pretty happy with my previously un-used stash of cash deep, deep in the saddlebag kit.  I hadn't had to dig into it ... ever, as far as I can remember prior to this year.  Once I found a working pop machine stand up in Iowa on the 400k there, the decision to just stash a few bills and quarters "just in case" paid off huge.  After replenishing it, here I was dipping into it again.  One just never knows what'll be out there, whether it's the seldom-open feed store in Centerville that just happens to sell sodas, or this modern c-store suffering from a power outage, it's nice to have a fallback to paper bills and metal coins.  

After squeezing my gloves and cap of excess sweat, drinking my fill and refilling my bottles with fresh Skratch Labs, it was time to head out again, into the strangely dejavu weather.  HUMID.  HUMID.  HUMID... and almost no indication of a shadow, no breaks in the clouds, and no way the swampy conditions were to burn off anytime soon.  Headed out onto the long Kansas highway leading straight into Missouri, eventually I knew the question of the route's pass-ability would be answered.  Of all the bridges and overpasses we'd forded, each with raging high water beneath them, at least we'd remained above grade.  On the Missouri side, however, my memory of low water crossing signs and old-school roadside flood gauges seemed to indicate our trip waited to be cut short.  For the moment, deep in time-trial mode, inspired, well-fueled, and comfortable - I pedaled to points east without much concern.  I let the fear of the unknown pass away while I lifted my cadence and ducked down into the breeze.  For the first time in a long while, I felt content and purposeful behind the handlebars - and having fun to boot.  It was a terrific day out. 

Hume, MO., and the Missouri back-country.  Lumpy pavement, sparse services, unapologetic hills.... The "back-nine" of this route is a bit of a booger, but a great route all the same.  Traffic isn't too bad, and - thankfully - the water never showed its face; all water crossings and bridges certainly showed evidence of the rains, but, we made it through with ease.  Slowly, the sun had begun to peek through the clouds - and with the high humidity, yikes.  Water was consumed quickly, and thankfully, right at a tiny town called Virginia, MO., right on MO-52, sat a little roasted nuts shop...and thankfully, inside, a cooler with sodas and bottled water.  Yes!  The services aren't what most rides will be used to, but the ones that are here are a blessing.  

Finally refilled, Spencer and I paired up on the road for the final push back into Paola, KS. from the back way.  We made our way first, though, through Amsterdam... once, back when I'd started this rando thing, Amsterdam was basically a road sign and a gravel parking lot.  Perhaps it was once a burgeoning rail town, sitting right on a N/S alignment of the Kansas City Southern railway it isn't hard to imagine it as such... but any hints of an old downtown, a depot, or farm houses ... it's pretty spartan, nearly erased, a true ghost town.  Today, however, it's a place... nay, a reason... to stop for a break.  There is a great c-store and bratwurst grille on the south side of the route which - if your timing is good - yields what is sure to be terrific rando-food.  
Past Amsterdam, we traverse the La Cygne reservoir dam and powerplant... always a bit surreal.  Making our way up over the "hump" which separates Linn Valley from the rest of, well, Kansas, we make it up the old highway and over hill and dale to Paola, finishing in decent time, and most importantly, with a smile.  

Spencer and I, bikes packed, made our way across town to celebrate and chat.  What more needs to be said?  An amazing day out, great conditions, and what turned out to be a home run for the route itself.  

What more does one need after 200 awesome kilometers?
The Martin City Brewing Company.  Recommended.
Want to END your day here?  Ride the Archie Bunker 200!

Although... it was a little sweaty, and I got a little dusty... much to the delight of my fellow bar mates.  

Tan lines, Midwest dust-bowl style.

Stay tuned for my next post, in progress, about the August 200k ride we knocked out only a couple weeks back... though, as usual, it already seems like it's been a year.  I gotta get back out there... and if the cards look right, I might be headed north for something a little loftier than the usual 200km monthly fare.  Fingers crossed... maybe my 2015 goal isn't all lost after all?

Thanks for reading!