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Friday, April 18, 2014

Solid Oak - the 2014 300k Report

   The Oak Grove 300k is in the books -- and while things genuinely seemed FAR better than last year's 'gale-force' edition, with winds likely 10-15 MPH less intense, it's still a brute of a route.  After a brilliant opening 27-miles (gee, Dude... repeat yourself much?), things began to settle -- but I didn't really want to let things go.  The recent weight loss, the cross-training, I felt amazing -- but, I really need to exercise these "uncorking" sessions for shorter, solo training rides, or a club ride perhaps - to help build a different kind of base for maintaining more speed for longer periods:  develop on that stamina, and perhaps a touch of self-control and smarter or riding.  It's still fascinating to me that riders like Gary D., Rod -- heck, nearly everyone else in the pack -- can maintain such a high pace:  a performance that feels EPIC to me is their version of "being sensible during a long ride."  I know I'm hard on myself, but I still have that desire to hang-in as long as possible.  I have no problems at all where or whom I end up with at the end of the day, to be clear -- these are personal goals, brewing at a slow simmer inside the soul or someone never quite satisfied with himself.  I, like other matters I've worked to set right, either need to start doing intervals and speed work, or just decide that where I am is where I am... and it's fine!  Because, really - aside from personal goals, everything IS fine

I have goals, not complaints. 

Del, Steven, Gary D., Jack, Rod, Spencer, Joe, Kier, David M., Josh, Mark, Paul.... It was a great day, but, I think everyone would agree, it was tough.  The section from Fayette back to Slater on the return was just as rough as before.  I only remember ONE year where that section was actually tolerable! 

 Last year as a whole made us stronger -- and, honestly, I don't give our group as much credit as I should here, after thinking about it a bit on the drive home.  Last year we limped in at 1:20AM.  That was after a punishing return leg in single-digit speeds, and an hour-long rest in Fayette, and again at Slater, and yet another long rest in Marshall... heck, we rested nearly everywhere we thought we could get away with it, watching the clock constantly.  THIS year, by contrast, we finished at 1:01AM...which initially felt disappointing.  Yet, we knocked out the first half in under 7-hours with stops included, enjoyed a sit-down at Fayette - about the same amount of time as last year, but, un-rushed.  Almost "fresh" feeling.  The leg back to Slater - punishing as it had been this time, wasn't nearly as bad as 2013.  Even when I fell off the pace of Del and Josh - the day's strongmen among us - I was able to maintain double-digit speeds on the flat in that wind, solo.  Earlier in the day on the long section of MO-20, compared to last year, I fell off the main group on-purpose (as opposed to absolutely dying on the road) to try and keep the back of the pack in contact with some bridging assistance.  It never occurred to me that they'd been totally OK with being off the pace and riding their own ride.  Ahhh, dude.... watch too many stage race videos lately?  :)

So, the eventual depletion of my reserves came not from under-training, but instead from feeling pretty awesome and putting myself out of drafting position too many times - ultimately melting my own candle.  On the way back, it was all fatigue;  but, I felt good, because I knew I'd worked.  I just need MORE of that same training on shorter rides.  In other words - the weight loss is only the start:  I still need to work for it, if I want it.  No problem.

The sky lightens as the pack zips along the highway, one of the few sections we'd get to enjoy the benefits of the strengthening south winds.  Headlight beams, birds in song, the air thick with conversations and jokes -- best part of the ride, I think.  My attempts to hang in, later, stem primarily from THIS sensation... not the urge of competition or ego:  staying with a fun bunch as long as possible is the prime objective, and it forestalls what John Hughes calls "the ugly middle" of the ride.

Courtesy Paul T., this great group shot along as the sun inches closer to peeking over the horizon.  Tiny packs are already itching to get down the road before the wind picks up too much - a great morning on tap.  Finally - some green in the fields!

Along Highway FF heading east toward Higginsville, MO. as the day breaks.  This is a shot one can only get when conditions are just-so:  there is a mid-layer of humid air (which storms will fire-off from about 24 hours from when the shot had been taken) and the first rays of the sun create a giant "cone" of light refracting through the atmosphere - one of those hard-to-explain instances wherein we can see the sunrise before it actually happens.  I find myself staring in awe at the resulting scene -- amazing morning.

More of the same vista, only a minute later as we prepare to cross MO-131 - the first of three landmark stop-signs helping to punctuate the long, 26-mile stretch of Hwy FF.  Barely noticeable on the trip east, they become essential mental markers on the final leg of the journey - for me and a handful of others, still 16 hours distant.

"St. Joe" Joe, up the road and looking strong as always, flushes a lone deer out of the brush north of the road, and we all watch as it attempts to flee into a stand of trees across the highway, only to run in a large arc, which eventually has it crossing the road again - only a dozen yards in front of Joe - before disappearing into the trees at left.  Climbing up a big ridge here, we sorta get to see the sun rise twice!

Courtesy Steven W., over-the-shoulder shot of the pack in triple-wide, zero-traffic bliss.  From left-to-right, behind Steven, yours truly (sporting another in my prized collection of REALLY horrid jerseys, which now all fit again!), new-to-the-distance Josh (who never should have been worried about the distance), .... unfortunately, even the giant-sized version got pixelated on my screen, so, I'll try:  Paul T. (I think), Spencer K. in foreground next to me, and then... crud:  the cut-in-half guy just barely out of frame... I want to say is David M., because of the RUSA jersey... but, the bike doesn't look right, somehow.   I almost know who it ISN'T, more than I know who it is.  This is a terrific shot... sorta has a fish-eye effect, without being distorted.

Jack warned me to be careful.  Rod G. sure knows how to butter up a guy.  He started out indicating he hadn't recognized me, which is a huge complement - then went on about how fit I was becoming.  LOL.... well, I suppose that may be true for the first 30 miles or so... after that, reality sets-in pretty darn quick.  I may have dropped more than two stone, and counting, but - the bursts of speed I'm enjoying are simply due to the mismatch in power-to-weight ratio.  Climbing is FUN again... and descents, I fall behind.  I freakin' LOVE that:  I can't lie - I miss being able to descend like a bomb from a plane... but, I suppose I COULD start pedaling to maintain speed.  There's a thought.  (doy, Dude)  But, the climbing... can't lie about that, either.  Even at my heaviest, I still enjoyed climbing... but really wished for more gears.  It's the form I never should have lost, but that's in the past - where it belongs.  The hard work is worth it - and it was not easy, no sir.  Anyone can do it, yes, the losing weight part... but, from someone who definitely handles stress by throwing bags of chips and donuts at it, I understand - the willpower part is tough:  but, it's only the first ten days that will test a person.  Get past those, and you can sail toward a goal.  Now, the trick is keeping it going, now that the workplace competition is behind me.  Without the weekly weigh-in and accountability, well -- it's already too easy to slip.  Gotta nip that... and stay focused.  

Res Firma Mitescere Nescit

The sunrise over with, and the pack stretching its legs a bit, the first of the challenging hills came up - requiring a healthy, high-cadence kill.  Another arrow in my quiver, after much deliberation I'd finally decided to point my cash smartly toward new chain-rings, instead of a whole-new compact crank-set and bottom-bracket.  Quite a bit of savings, and I get to keep my fave 9-spd Ultegra cranks.... no, not classic, but darn sexy.  Most compact cranks, further, dump one down to 36, perhaps 34 teeth.... which, yeah, I know:  one simply ends up closer to one end of the cassette, rather than the other.  However, I've enjoyed the way I usually find myself smack in the middle of my rear cluster, and haven't been keen to change having access to several gears on either side of the cruising-cogs.  If I keep the cranks, I keep the 130mm bolt-circle, so, I find a 38-tooth ring - the smallest I can fit on that pattern.  For the large ring - though it hasn't arrived yet, will be a 50-tooth... not too big, but not too small, either:  and the 12-tooth difference provides a closer gear-ratio between big and small rings, allowing the rider to establish small-ring-up / big-ring-down gear change rhythms on rolling terrain.  The stock 14-tooth difference (53x39 gearing) is fine... but a mite tall for my legs, yet, the old-school 10-tooth (52x42 gearing) is a bit short not to require a tweak on the cassette between shifts up front.  So, in theory, I've got my own custom drive-train in the making.  

For my next trick, I'm seriously considering a move toward a non-Shimano cassette - something like Miche, where one is able to create a custom cassette...more importantly, where someone (once the system is adopted) would be able to replace ONE worn cog, rather than needing to replace the entire assembly.  After recently finishing my son's ground-up road bike, which is setup with 8-speed out-back, I became aware that the 8 and 9 speed cogs themselves are essentially identical:  only the width of the spacers between them had changed with the addition of the 9th cog.  So, using a mish-mash of leftover SRAM and Shimano clusters, I created a nice, tall cassette with a "Juniors" or "U21"-approved 14t cog as the smallest (combined with a 52t largest ring on his triple-crankset)   It's sometimes difficult to find a specific, 14t finishing cog sometimes - but, I happened to have one.  So, if he decides to try his hand at "CAT-J" this summer, he's inspection-ready.  The whole process really got me thinking about how many near-new cassettes I have in the garage which have worn-out 16,17,18t cogs... but are otherwise still fully-functional.  Shimano has a nasty habit of (for good reason) riveting the tallest three cogs of their 9spd clusters together, to better spread the higher loads over the cassette body - but the remaining cogs are loose.  I could slowly replace them - one at a time if needed - with the equivalent Miche cogs, or buy a cheaper 8-speed cassette and simply reuse the 9spd spacers with it.  The risk is slightly sloppier shifting - but I'm not typically in a hurry to shift anyways.  After all, I've got bar-ends ... I can't be in much of a hurry to begin with.  It seems odd to nit-pick about this after discussing the finer points of $60 tires a few posts back, but, sustainability and low-cost running remain important.  My preferred 12-27 Ultegra cluster is still north of $100 retail - and, I still prefer my bike to be equipped as-lightly as feasible while still being durable.  If I'm willing to put some weight back on the bike, however, I can get rolling for 1/3rd less coin with a 12-27 HG-50... or, I can start rolling-my-own.  Time will tell - but, the mileage is creeping up on the current cassette, so it will be time to make a move soon enough.  
My rather circular point: after all these reviews, personal tests, component discussions and general weight-weeniness, randonneuring CAN be expensive, but it certainly doesn't need be.  Case in point - Gary D.  He has a well-earned custom rando-machine on its way to his anticipating hands; but this comes after almost three years (if estimates serve me) on a 35-year-old bicycle he purchased at a garage-sale for $75.00; and, he's been riding it as-is, with the original 5-speed freewheel, and 52/42 crankset.  And while there is something to be said for mental approach, fitness, and the patience that comes with about ten more years of living, I have not been able to hold his wheel for probably 6 months now.  Like, not even a little -- he's just plain gone, over the horizon, home in bed before I finish.  It's remarkable - and it's a perspective that will likely make it perfectly okay to run that $30 cassette; because anything lighter and more expensive will not make a dang-bit-a difference.  He is a good barometer to have.  It's also, still, notable that my fastest ride times remain associated with my single-cog days:  so, the solution is simple:  stop niggling the details, and just ride harder.  the cassette is the least of my worries. 

For that matter, so may be gears in general.  It may be the challenge I've been looking for:  Spencer will laugh, rightly-so; but, for me, coddled by gears now for the last decade since re-mounting the derailleurs, it would indeed prove challenging to build-up that old Trek (which has the correct dropouts) and start my 5th R-12 run with one gear under me.  I think swapping now, only a week from the 400k, would be a mistake... yet, it's not too hilly a route, either.  It may boil down to how much spare garage time I end up with this week.  I still have a big parts list to check off before the Trek would be ready, honestly --- best not to rush these things.

Unless of course I can interest anyone local in some bartering so I might procure a silver 27.2mm Thomson Elite zero-setback seatpost, and a Silver 32h Surly 130mm O.L.D. track-nut threaded flip-flop rear hub and 17t fixed cog w/ lockring (preferably with the Phil Wood 7901 bearing swap), hand-built with Wheelsmith DB14 stainless spokes to a silver Open Pro rim.
and another GB saddle...
and another rear rack...
and generator taillight... 
and and....

Not that I'm picky or anything.   Ri-iiight

Past the first control, which I actually managed to depart from BEFORE everyone else had left - yet, I was caught in short order.  The pack, together again, heads for points east as the sun climbs higher behind the Higginsville water-tower -- short sleeves come out to play, and fingers press into bar-tape for the first time in months, it seems.

Over my shoulder, same 'water tower' shot, but reversed; Steven and Josh chat it up as Higginsville begins to shrink behind us.  The countryside opens wide in just a few short miles, a carnival of rolling hills on highway-AA awaits us.

The Boneyard, north of Corder, MO. at Route V and MO-20.  There may not be anything in this vast junkyard newer than 1975... and I still may be off by as much as a decade.  I can see, just in a quick glance across the front two rows of these rusting hulks, Edsel, Pontiac, possibly a Studebaker, but can't be sure.  In trim pieces alone, it's a gold mine.  I'd love to spend a few hours just walking up and down the rows of old Detroit.  A different kind of car show.  May have to take a trip back out here one of these days when the clock isn't running.

The faster pack begins to make some headway as we roll over the top of the ridge near Blackburn, MO., while I drop back to attempt a hook-on capture of the folks behind me.  Suddenly being alone in the south cross-wind makes for great training... but it's tough on the reserve tank, for sure.  I manage to, three-times, get the riders behind me hooked up - and then slowly open the taps to a closing speed.  Ultimately, though I would get within shouting distance of the leading pack, I couldn't make the moves stick for everyone involved.  On a final attempt, right before the first of two curves leading into Marshall, MO., I managed to get Josh glued to my wheel, and we successfully bridged-up, just in time for the city-limit sign.  I was happy with the effort, but I knew I'd begin paying for it before too long.  Almost time to take on more fuel, as Casey's rolls into view once more!

Compared to 12-months ago, I arrived at the Marshall, MO. Casey's with a broad smile across my face.  8,765 hours have passed since I'd arrived frustrated, sore, tired, and ready to quit.  I still - quietly - thank Glen and Steven for having been there that day; had they not pulled up, I would have pulled out my phone.  Nearly sure of it.  Today, instead, I hopped off the bike, grabbed something tasty, refilled my bottles, and hopped back on - ready to get to my second-favorite road of the route, Hwy O.  Rolling hills, great scenery and solitude, and railroad tracks.  Bring it!  Perspective and attitude - it changes everything.  

Another quote from the annals of Ultra-Cycling - and I can almost hear Ort saying it outloud, somewhere north of Liberty, MO...

If whatever you're feeling will heal in two weeks, keep going.

And, one of my other go-to's:  not having fun?  wait fifteen minutes.  Fifteen minutes can sometimes change everything.  Even reading some notes from social media written by some of my riding partners this time out confirm what I often ignore; one in particular, upon arriving at Blackburn on the return trip (mind you, this guy had been soloing off the front, and arrived there when the sun had still been up!) had expected to see services -- maybe he was mentally early on arrival at the new c-store near MO-20 and MO-23 -- when he didn't, despite the "risk" of stopping  (yeah, this still isn't a race - but sometimes one is racing against oneself)  he instead stopped, dismounted, sat down in the grass, and had a picnic.  Smart man.  If I get tired, I usually keep rolling - and suffer for it.  I can burn that extra time ON the bike, or OFF, but I'd bet the ETA would round-out from being rested balanced against "keep moving" while the fatigue builds and the speed drops.  Last year, neither of these things had been on my mind.  I just didn't want to ride anymore - but, somehow, I still finished.  Still glad I had.

Today, finishing was almost a non-issue.  With time in the bank at the halfway, my brain was clear and empty.  No worries.  I had even been looking forward to finishing in the rain!

Josh (orange) hooked up with our group after the stop in Marshall, and really rounded out our pack well.  Viking beard, lightning-fast wit, and strong legs - he and Del continued to prove how good of a day they'd been having, yet, with a relaxed sort of air, somehow:  knowing that one can hammer out a monster pace, but, being cognizant enough of the surrounding scenery and company to avoid being in TOO much of a hurry - a great combo.  Here, Hwy O stretches out ahead of us - another of the short sections where the monster south wind actually HELPED our pace.  Tires singing, smiles wide, we ate up the countryside.  So drunk on speed, I didn't want to slow down - not even for railroad tracks; pulling off my favorite Hwy O trick from last year, a full rail-width bunny hop of the crossing at the bottom of a big hill.  Good fun.

Man in motion - Steven W. on the case, Hwy O - somewhere between Marshall and Slater, MO.  The thickening clouds seem to confirm forecast rumours which had been brewing all week long... but no matter.  The tailwind excitement made us all feel invincible - if only for a few short miles.  These were the sort of sections which elevated the day from a mere ride, to a full-on fun-fest.

The section out to Slater behind us, we stopped in for another break at the new Casey's there, reminiscing about the cozy table we'd sat down at a year before, watching the flags being destroyed by the gale-force winds, while watching the clock continue to deliver bad news.  It felt really good to arrive there with time to spare, and far calmer winds... if you can call 15-25mph with gusts "calm." 

Del proved to be quite the rabbit, feeling awesome and smiling all the way, we departed Slater and headed east along the levee wall separating MO-240 from the Missouri River just to our north.  Along the big, wide flood plain, the wind did its worst ... but I could only smile, knowing how much worse it could be.  What a stellar day!

I still miss the old bridge structure over the Missouri River here... 

Note to self to ride the White Cloud route again ... soon.

As the day grew longer, the usual pace drop occurred, yet it was received well - and opportunity to rest after a day's work.  Kier, proving solid and strong all day, had made a lot of headway on the road to Slater - and we'd be playing catch-up for the rest of the afternoon and early evening.  Strong rider!  Jack, sadly, succumbed to a nasty stomach malady and had to hang it up at Marshall - so, we limped him back as best we could, offering help along the way - all politely refused.  He's a strong rider, too - but, sometimes, for any of us, the cards aren't there.  I wish him a speedy recovery, and good luck for the next ride on his list!  Rod, Paul, Spencer, Gary D., all the rest of the faster pack - nothing but a memory, tales of "another group came through about 45 minutes ago" from various C-store clerks is all we knew of them.  This is rando... mingle, shake some hands, work the parking lot, and try to hang in to the first control --- for a lot of us, that's all the time we get with some of the faster bunch - but it's always a great time.  Next year, I'll hang-in just a little bit longer, eh?  If I can turn down that burner a bit for the first 25 miles, maybe, just maybe, I can finish alongside Gary D. again... here's hopin', just as a personal goal.

We didn't quite make it back to Higginsville before dark, but no matter:  the shakes were cold, and the fries were dropped fresh as we pulled in, our group of five - soon to become six, as we catch up to a resting David M., who'd been waiting for us to arrive for a group to accompany to the finish.  We enjoyed a good sit-down and some hot food, and the mood was reserved - due to the effort and the toll of the day - yet, spirited, as jokes and smiles echoed across the table.  Business attended to, and full stomachs, we emerged into the night air and formed-up the late train across highway FF, back to the finish.

Distant, silent signal tower lights blinking slowly, a jetliner passing overhead, a distant train horn, and good conversation wrapped up the miles.  My iPod had come out, but had spent the last few hours turned off, earbud dangling... not really sure I need this thing anymore, but keeping it in the bag - just in case.  Ultimately, our pack splinters again with Josh, David and Del making headway, while Steven and I mosey along the highway -- no traffic... like, none I can remember, most of the remaining 30 miles back in to the finish .... my favorite part about riding out here on this long 300k - it really is quiet.  With thunderstorm tops visible WAY off over the horizon, flashing brilliantly, we made it back to the "T" marking one of the last turns home.  Some winding turns and hills, and something resembling a tailwind???  Wow.... bonus!  Finally, a few random sprinkles - just enough to cool the skin and feel amazing after a day full of sweat and sunscreen.  Steven and I finally make the hotel parking lot, just a mite past 1:00am.  Perfect day!

The drive home, almost alone on the interstate at such an hour --- I partly wish I'd ridden to the ride, instead of having driven the car.  I pause for a moment, and ponder the possibilities of apologizing to the wife after sunrise when she'd find me missing, as I pass the highway exit marking the start location for the Super Big Gulp 200k route.  

Hmmmmm.....   with lightning in the distance, and the winds finally gone... what's another 200k?

Nah.... let's go home, kid.   Save it for the 400.

You know I had to.  Much later in the day, based on my choice of head-cover I'm guessing this is highway O on the return leg, but, I can't be sure.  Photo activity dropped off drastically after the halfway mark, as I'd neglected to put my phone into airplane-mode to prevent fruitless, battery-sucking signal-searching out in the barrens of Missouri.  No cell signal?  Mission accomplished --- I love it out here!  Granted, these rides seldom exceed day-trip length for me, but, it always makes for a terrific vacation.  

Thanks for reading!

The 400 is coming next... stay hungry, rando-readers... see you out there.

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!