Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

April 17, 2016

The lab is open

After being lazy for the winter I'm looking past the horizon and focusing on how to approach things on the bike now that I'm "back".  Each passing year brings more challenges against staying healthy and fit - and it has become very apparent and important to me to finally put an end to my cyclic yo-yo approach to dieting and fitness.  The time has come to get fit, live cleanly and consistently, and then enjoy those benefits instead of always feeling as if I'm working to get them back each spring.

A big part of this, specifically for this blog, involves the approach toward cycling.  After a few great rides this last week I've clearly retained my love for it.  Motivationally-speaking, I really don't have a ton of interest in watching a lot of professional racing, however - my choice of role model has changed quite a lot since the whole "Lance thing", and I'd rather watch baseball, lately.  When I do gravitate toward cycling, I prefer the old catalog ... call it, the LeMond years and prior.  Motivation, regardless, still comes in film form - mostly documentary, but with the same general themes of overcoming odds, perseverance, and the acceptance of failure as a positive teaching tool instead of a reason to crawl inside oneself.  Things like "Charge" on the interesting world of the first competitive electric GP motorcycles at the Isle of Man TT (one of my favorite motorsports events), and a terrific film on The Barkley Marathons.  These tales of overcoming make me want to leap from the couch and get to work, and the stories and lessons translate to work, school, sport, parenting, and optimizing my thoughts toward becoming the best version of myself possible. 

To the meat of things.  Going back to my very first journal entry circa 1998 when Warbird and I began the march toward an MS-150 goal the themes toward preparation remain consistent; yet, there is a recurring theme.  I know how to GET somewhere... staying there, however, remains elusive.  There is a part of me that handles goals - regardless of their context - as a finite journey which requires an end.  Once arriving at that end I have simply stopped working.  Recognizing this and understanding that my larger overall journey will NOT end until my body physically gives out, becomes a pivotal theme with which I must remain in touch, while shorter temporary goals will become simple milestones to be achieved all the while.  Continuing to start and stop entirely only creates the personal animosity and frustration which ultimately yields self-destructive behaviors and backsliding, and consequently creates more obstacles when the realizations finally arrive to set things right.  Quite simply, I will never be finished attempting to maintain a healthy weight, I will never be finished trying to be a good father & husband, employee, mechanic, guitarist, trail-runner, fabricator, etc., etc., etc.  I will never be finished trying to be the best I can be:  these things are not mountaintops to reach, they are endless pathways to walk - and enjoy.  There should be no drudgery here - I've been looking at things with the wrong set of eyes.

Looking at cycling, my approach will fall back to what used to work.  The return to heady days of reckless abandon on the bike may not be entirely justified here, but, examining what had worked in the past is certainly worth investigating.  What I used to do involved riding fast right up until the point where I couldn't anymore.  At the time my goals weren't rando-oriented at all, but were focused on ultra-racing.  Faced with a very unforgiving clock (compared to rando) my original approach to riding brevets was easy:  just GO.  Yet, when ultra began to take a backseat to rando, my tactics didn't seem to represent terribly smart riding, so I began to conserve...but, then, I never ended up speeding up toward the middle, nor the end.  I've observed these two opposing approaches to have an end result which winds up roughly the same:  I end up limping to the finish.  On one end, the cause was sheer exhaustion from pushing tempo all day, the other simply exhaustion from being in the saddle for so long.  

However, while I'm seeing practically no difference in finishing speed, I find a definite change in ride TONE when comparing one approach to the other.  In the former case I'd be finished sooner and with a better overall average, and I'd feel happier... and, most importantly, I'd begin to see physical gains from having pushed myself.  Compounding my frustration has been the latter slow-n-steady approach, which has done nothing other than increase my caloric efficiency - making it harder to manage weight off the bike, and creating the frustrated feeling that I've finished slower than I could have, should have, or used to.  Part of my approach, then, will involve just GOING, instead of conserving and waiting for the right time to go faster...which never comes.  

Further, my old approach tended to demonstrate my point of exhaustion in each ride would begin to occur later and later each ride... and, eventually, one year on the 300k route, I actually ended up finishing strong, before sundown, and with a personal best for that route.  So, for whatever all THAT analysis is worth, that's what I hope to put into practice with my randonneuring again:  pretend (or not) that I'm preparing for ultra-racing.  If it leads to that, terrific, but in whatever case I should begin to see my goals come back into focus.  I'm calling it my Dark Helmet approach:  "we're always preparing.  Why are we always preparing?  Just go!"  

You went over my helmet??

Somewhere between smelling too many roses and snapping photos, and hammering along heads-down and too focused to enjoy anything lay the "butter zone" where I would like to be.  Now, enough talk ... time to Leroy Jenkins this crap already.

I've signed up for the Pirate Cycling League's Gravel-Worlds event in August, to put some fire under my backside.  At 150 miles, it's no Dirty Kanza, and it's not really long enough to be called an "ultra" - but, it's a challenge.  I need a challenge.  I need a scary, improbable, out-of-character challenge to get jump-started - and this looks perfect.  Should be a blast!  I don't see a winner's jersey in my future... (well, not with THAT attitude, certainly) ...but, if nothing else it will provide a nice change of scenery and texture, justify the gravel bike I bought this time last year, and definitely get me stoked for personal improvement.  

Clinical trials are over, the laboratory is open, and it's time to see if this latest experiment will pay off. 

Screw that.  It's time to MAKE this experiment pay off.  
Been there - done that = can be done again.  The challenge will be staying there.

Game on.

April 16, 2016

Mini-post, mini-post!

This is WAY better than no post at all, eh?  Mini-post for my most-recent ride and return to the exciting world of ACTUALLY RIDING a bicycle... wow.  Gasp!  Amaze!

The Border Patrol Express is quickly becoming my go-to, easy-to-do, no-excuses training route:  it's close to home, it's familiar, I can navigate it blindfolded, and it's just challenging enough to keep things interesting., this ONE time I've ridden it for credit in at least two years, probably three... yeah, "normal training route", whatever, dude.

I was solo for this most-recent ride, but here's a photo from a hot day a couple years back with the Stad-man on the Border Patrol Express Route.  Good times... that day, it actually DID rain.

It does represent another new day in the life of the dude, if nothing else.  With no outside help, no prodding, no additional riders, and nothing but self-motivation and excuse-elimination - i actually printed a card, mounted up, got my first receipt, and rode a RUSA ride for credit.

Motivation?  Self-assuredness?  Self-accountability?  Yeah... I'm no-good at it.  

September.... I think I printed no less than five separate cards for myself for the Border Patrol route (the full 200+ km), yet, in each case the date came and went and the cards went unused into the paper shredder for recycling.  This had begun to compound the personal frustration and found me further and further away from my "last decent ride" of any length.  Before long, the excuse algorithm became self-aware and Fall yielded to Winter.  Without my tried-and-true accountability chain in place, it had become FAR too easy to just not bother trying.  I got more deeply entrenched inside my own head.

But, we are again... the weather becomes warmer, the skies lighter for longer, and the weight that had come on starts to interfere.  This is all good, because - clearly - I've needed to learn how to become SELF-accountable for such things.  And, yes, this entire time there have indeed been other perm route owners out there to request rides from, including the personal routes of our own perm's coordinator - but, the damage had been done and nothing about my personal situation with turmoil and change was going to allow me to ride.  All of the uncertainty, the fact I'd been responsible for my own routes simply became another thing that created a convenient excuse.  There ya have it... what I said I didn't want to get into in the previous post, looks like it played out here anyways, for better or worse.  I'm okay with that, because - now, finally - I'm riding again, and loving it. 

...and "Top Gear" as we knew it is ever-closer to debuting on Amazon Prime sometime this coming summer.  Hallelujah!

Compared to a couple months ago when I'd attempted the Border Patrol Express and came up short, this time out was quite enjoyable.  For being sick for nearly a month, I was at least able to stand up and climb without feeling like I'd been weighted down with a leaden vest.  My average wasn't fast, I took some short on-route breaks, and I probably hung out at the control for too long - but, what else is new?  I enjoyed the day, ignored the clock, and focused on finishing without over-doing anything.

The gravel section comprising the middle of the route was a blast, and despite the headwind on the trip south I managed to make the control in great time.  Upon arriving, I mixed up my Cyto-carb and Skratch Labs carloie-booster, to help compensate for traditionally-low control calorie uptake, packed away the morning's layers, and popped in the FM radio earbud for the trip north.  I looked forward to the tailwind that had been promised all morning, and enjoyed eating up the gravel miles while playfully dodging chuck-holes.   

New tires?  Yeah, I decided to try some new tires for a few reasons - but, flat frequency had become an unfortunate and frustrating self-talk topic of discussion, and I ultimately began to argue with myself on the real reasons I'd basically been paying more money for less technology.  Now, I'm not going to start getting into a full review mode here, and I'm certainly not going to waste time bashing a product for what had clearly just been a string of poor luck on my part experienced while riding on the litter-strewn streets and trails of late-winter Johnson County, KS.  Whatever tires I'd been running before are not "junk", nor are they over-priced, nor are they deserving of "one star" above a hastily-written and poorly-spelled "review" on some webpage or another.  I don't do that.  Tires, chain lube, brake pads, athletic clothing; all of these things' performances and their consumer's perspectives are heavily influenced by uncontrollable variables which directly color how their performance is interpreted - unlike, say, a digital camera (e.g., it either takes quality photos or it doesn't, all things being equal is well within a photographer's control).
Conversely, boo on me for letting these variables get the best of me... but, so far I'm quite pleased with my new tire choice.  I'm not quite ready to jump over to tubeless on the road bike (maybe the next wheel rebuild will mark a decision opportunity there), so they're still the traditional inner-tube and clincher arrangement - but, they do have a modest flat protection belt included, are cheaper per tire, and are locally-available at my fave LBS . . . no more mail order, at least for tires.  From Specialized, I took my positive experiences from the Espoir model I'd run for a while a few years back and decided to try a pair of the Roubaix Pro model; but, in a "dude-approved" 700x28 size.  They fit well, mount easily, are well-made, have a nearly non-existent tread, and despite the addition of the flat protection belt they feel supple, it feels like they roll fast, and they iron out the pavement/gravel/asphalt surfaces quite nicely... dare I say, better than those tires which they've replaced.  Time will tell, as we're only inside the first couple of hundred miles . . . but I'm pleased thus far.  
More to come on that subject.

Songs in my head?  Sure, why not!  
Before the FM radio came on after leaving the halfway marker, I've had a few of my faves from my local fave radio station circling in my mind as the miles rolled under.

M.Ward - "Confession"
The Record Company - "Off the Ground" 
Cold War Kids - "First"
Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop - "Every Songbird Says"

These songs, especially the uplifting, motivational, and hopeful tunes, seem to propel me further down the long, long road and keep the darker voices from being heard.  It really depends on my mood, but I like to think the tone of the tracks in my head on these journeys often become indicative of where I'm headed... not of where I've been, and certainly not of the mistakes I might have made.  As I re-listen to these now, through good headphones originating from lossless files... I feel good, and I feel hopeful. 

My next step involves a 200k later this week - solo again, just to gauge progress and make determinations on whether or not I can join the KCUC series already in progress at the Oak Grove 400km event.  I'm not crossing my fingers, because luck is not a factor.  I'll have to wait and find out if it's indeed the right thing to do.  

. . . but, I can always turn around.  While I realize I recently mentioned that this concept, to me, somehow seems "wrong", well... since when is riding a bicycle, no matter for how long or short, ever "wrong"?  This time of year, with birds singing and sunbeams tickling my forearms... why worry?

See you out there... 

April 8, 2016

Blame Jeremy

My previous post probably has a lot of folks assuming many things about me beyond what the post actually describes.  I can imagine these culminating into a picture of an unshaven version of me wearing all wool, including shorts with genuine leather chamois, turn-of-the-last-century eyeglasses, suspenders, and riding a bone-shaker with oil lamps front and rear, because - dangit - that's how it's supposed to be done!  Well, not really... I'm not a knuckle-dragger about everything.  The backbone of that piece should have taken readers down a road of preparedness and redundancy, not to have them shun every gadget and convenience available to the modern cyclist.  

What "Golden Age"?  They still make downtube shifters in 10-speed, and there are rumors about demand for 11-speed downtubes as well, while at this writing they only make bar-end shifters for 11-speed, as the only "traditional" option apart from STI or electronic shifting.  

But, be it a cost concern, a reliability or field repair-ability concern, or simply an aesthetic concern, any cyclist can ride satisfied these days.  It's the continuous mix of old school and new school that keeps a lot of our diverse cycling market alive and well, even well into the 21st Century.  I dig that.  I can get modern parts that LOOK retro, but have benefited from lots of technical advancement compared to their decades-old cousins.  Chain-rings, down-tube shifters, pedals, whatever... "they" probably make that.  

Reminds me, I need to order up one of these babies:   I am not a
paid or compensated spokesperson - I just like this bell

It's a bell!  It's way awesome, eh?  Spurcycle, people.  DO NOT BUY the Chinese knock-off.
The real-deal is overpriced, you argue?  Ehhh, for American-made quality and a modern take on an age-old concept?  To help a start-up?  What's "price", anyways?  And, heck, it sounds good... 'scuse me while I dust off my vinyl and clean the volume potentiometer in my vintage '60's stereophonic amplifier... but sound & quality matter.

I digress...

SO.... what are you doing, dude?

No it's not a burning question, and goodness knows there are bigger problems facing our nation right now.  Prepare to vote, people.  PLEASE.

I digress...again!

Now, the WTF section.... 
Exactly... WTF, indeed.

Personally, I haven't been the same since Top Gear stopped airing on the BBC.  I blame Jeremy Clarkson... ... you know, no, no, no ...I can't blame Jezzah.  Honestly, I woulda socked the guy, too.  C'mon, dude, did you think you were catering to Wolf Blitzer or someone?  Good LORD, man.  Anyhoo... 

I've had a few people reach out to me about this blog, my state of mind, and why I haven't logged any "credit" miles since August.  Yeah... August.  I can't believe it.  Time does fly.

Well; I've learned to keep things a little shorter so I won't drag this out into one of those old school "woe to me" posts where I question everything, create drama, and wax on about the champions of old.  Sometimes, the truth is enough - and it really makes it easier to just get past this already.  We have stuff to accomplish, right?  Who READS anymore, right?  Yeesh... brace yourself for the new video-blog format, coming to a YouTube channel nowhere... like I got time for THAT.

SO, I'm not going to wax philosophical and get all "weird" - I haven't ridden a 200k since August of 2015.  My total mileage for March is about 140.  Pathetic... sure, whatever.  Not much can be changed about it, but, I'm officially done being and feeling "done."  That's enough of that.  

Most of it is bad timing.  I wanted to be ready for this season.  Unfortunately, the annual illness that usually socks me pretty good decided to show up in late March instead of January like usual... and I finally completed round 2 of antibiotics earlier this week, and finally stopped coughing like a 1840's coal miner a few days ago as well... plus, the neon-green silicone-consistency goobers I've been hacking up have abated.  All told, I'm grossly under-trained, under-prepared, and pretty embarrassed about it.  Showing up at tomorrow's 300k just isn't going to happen, which is hard to do because it's the return of one of my FAVORITE all-time routes; home to the worst day I've had on the bike, as well as some of the best days I've had on the bike.  Yeah, I could call it a training ride and just turn around... but, I don't show up at RUSA events planning to turn around.  It just seems ... wrong, somehow.  When I show up, I want to KNOW that I'm going to finish - and right now, I can't say that.  

Yes... challenges HAVE to have some element of doubt around them.  Some amount of unknown... otherwise, it's NOT a challenge.  Yes, I need some challenges.  I've missed the DK sign-ups for 2016, but instead of whining about it, I jumped on a personal bandwagon and signed up for the Pirate Cycling League's Gravel-Worlds event in August.  I bought a gravel bike, so I might as well use it for something besides winter-time riding and single-track, right?  Challenge accepted.  The 600K?  Yeah, I still want to do it... but, I need to finish the 400k on 4/30, and finish with some personal respect to know that I can actually salvage this season without the "shorter" rides included.

I've got 20 days from this weekend until the 400k weekend on 4/30.  The plan:
I will ride a 200k on Sunday to assess where I am.
I'll call that "basecamp"... once at basecamp, I'll acclimate with some focused, extended commutes, some gravel, some thrash, some speed... AND some tailored rest and stretching.  Ten days later, on or around 4/20, I'll ride another 200k for conditioning.  Then, more focused rides, commutes, whatever-you-wanna-call-em... making sure my body is up to these tasks, and not over-doing it... and then, 4/30, "summit" at the KCUC 400k.

That should at least improve where I am, even if it doesn't fully prepare me to excel at the 400k, it will be a far-cry better than - almost literally - crawling out of bed and dusting off the bike to try a very hilly 300k tomorrow.  THAT, I feel, would be a recipe for injury... and while starting right off with a 200k isn't exactly "ramping up", it's safer to do it closer to home if nothing else, just in case something bad really DOES happen.

This isn't over, and I'm certainly not "done."
I just fell down.  

You know what we do when we fall down?  

We get back up.

Stay tuned. 

After all, "Top Gear" - or whatever they'll call the reboot - is gonna be on Amazon Prime soon.  I mean . . . how hard can it possibly be?

February 14, 2016

How far we've come . . . and how I haven't really followed.

Randonneuring often becomes a hotbed of technological innovation and adaptation, despite being a niche segment of the larger bicycling population.  The distances we ride, the obstacles we face, and the amount of information we sometimes desire about the unknown areas through-which we travel tend to invite the latest, greatest and techi-est of gadgetry... for better or worse.

Yes, in my opinion sometimes for worse... I will not begrudge anyone for exploring the outer limits of what is technologically possible when it comes to bicycling long distances; however, there is something to be said about ye olde printed maps and situational awareness.  The undertone herein should be redundancy, and many folks I ride with already adopt this method.  While GPS is terrific, while generator hubs, power converters and chargers, jump batteries, LTE tower coverage and other niceties have indeed come a LONG way, just in the last three years, always - always - keep a printed copy of a paper map of your route, and a print-out of the cue sheet safe and sealed in a water-tight bag of some kind.  Even if it remains deeply stuffed into a saddle bag or repair kit, never to be seen, you still have it if you need it.

OK,  the above personalised disclaimer aside - I often marvel in amazement (and, yes, frustration about that which I cannot afford at the moment) at the constant flow of technological wizardry thrust forth for cyclists to absorb.  The engineering opportunities to solve specific problems are as old as bicycling itself.  I have been riding long enough to have witnessed the beginnings of what we enjoy today, and it's staggering how quickly some of these marvels have emerged.  Generator lighting, well --- that's been around the block more than a few times.  My father's '68 Schwinn Varsity, with Schwinn-Approved tire-driven generator is testament to that, and any quick web search of 1950's Euro-rando will show earlier iterations... surely, the design goes back even further; and I'm quite certain evidence exists of oil-lanterns affixed to turn-of-the-last-century boneshakers.  Sundown has often been a barrier to adventure, and bicyclists have been lighting their way for the better part of a century, certainly ... but, the efficiency... the power... the last 10 years have seen a watershed movement in LED lighting, generator efficiency, and the harnessing of power.  It's remarkable; almost amazing:  

I pull my father's bicycle down from the rafters, engage the tire roller of the bottle generator, and give the wheel a purposeful spin... and nothing.  Nothing but a quick "whirrr" and the wheel comes to a halt.  Even in a darkened garage, one would swear this 60-year-old relic of filament wire and heavy magnets was long broken, as not even a hint of electricity makes itself seen across the tungsten deep inside the thick glass light bulb.  But, mounting the bicycle and rolling down the street - though one would swear the brakes had been dragging - the eager, yellowish light of the sealed beam arcs to life once enough speed is generated.  Six volts... three watts... but, oh, OH so narrow, dim, and wavering is the beam lighting my way.  At one point, this was the state-of-the-art.   

Returning to the garage, I pull down the Kogswell - the generator hub consequently set into motion simply from the slight rub of tire against ceiling hook as I lower the bicycle to the ground for a comparison.  There's no need.  Just the gentle, 2 or 3 mph equivalent spin of the front wheel as I move it through the air is enough to emit a couple of startling pulses from the LED headlight and taillight.  A gentle spin of the elevated front wheel, and both lights leap into life, illuminating the entire inside of the garage for a few moments in a combination blue-red glow.  Amazing.  The night, for many years now, isn't something for which to be prepared... not something through-which to "survive" until dawn, but instead something to look forward to... a chance to play.  

I've been riding long enough to have witnessed this rapid march forward, to the point where bicycle generators produce power-to-spare at efficiency levels that few cyclists would even register while rolling along the open road.  I've regaled many a-rider with this personal tale, and I'll echo it here, again:   Back in roughly 1999-2000, when I first began actively riding my bicycle to and from work, I didn't use a front light.  For a long time, I didn't bother using a taillight.  At that time, the ubiquitous red LED taillight we all take for granted today was still in its infancy.  Peter White Cycles, my source for the latest and greatest in generator lighting in the US, had only recently emerged on the World Wide Web as a seller of generator systems, but many of the taillights still used halogen bulbs behind red lenses.  The first LED taillights - not even mentioning headlights - were battery hogs & costly.  I once had an early Cateye offering (them, for me, representing the most-trusted name in bicycle electronics) that ran on two AAA batteries, with a run-time of 5 hours... on flashing mode.  I mean, wow

This is a shot of the complete NiteRider Flamethrower HID headlight kit, with the aforementioned water-bottle sized 13v battery.  This boasted a run time of 6 hours... which, is still 4 hours short of the shortest summer night we'd get at my latitude.  That was, of course, provided you didn't hit a bump too hard and destroy the metal-halide capsule.  It retailed, originally, for over $700 and weighed about a kilogram.  You can still get a replacement battery, however.... for $159.99.  Really.  The last handlebar-mounted self-contained LED headlight I bought last year was under $100, runs for 10 hours on its highest setting, and is light enough to sit on a helmet without causing any issues.  We've come a long long way, baby.

Headlights?  Puh-leez.  Unless you were a racer, or just had money to burn, real headlights were out of reach for most folks... at least, the circles I ran in had it seem that way.  Most early efforts were effective, but required heavy batteries that would occupy an entire bottle cage - and would still only run for a few hours at most.  I originally purchased, from Peter White actually, Cateye's Micro Halogen headlight, a small miracle with a very tiny halogen bulb (like the Maglite flashlights used) and a great reflector design.  This little light, which was a great price, small, portable, and ran on normal AA batteries, was a game changer for me.  A lot of rando guys used to run these, even though they only would last for maybe 4 hours on a set of 4 AA cells.... in the days before AA rechargables were really affordable or effective yet.  I know, personally, my short commutes would result in needing a new pack of AAs every week.  

Still, this was a GREAT light... today, with generator hubs and super-efficient bottle generators, lights like this are all but obsolete... despite, honestly, still being effective and producing light you can ride with.

Fast forward to today, LED generator-powered headlights are throwing more light on the road than quality LED battery headlights were capable of only a few years ago.  The technology is advancing so quickly, I'm not even going to put any statistics here in print... they'd be out of date by the time you'd read them.

Why am I going into all this?   Hell, I dunno.

Hey, a radio!

Oh yeah.... THAT'S what I was gonna talk about . . . 

They got it right, kept it right, and we can still buy them!

Nothing, and I'd be willing to debate this, empowered people and nations of people moreso than the transistor radio.  Yes... the newspaper was effectively "first" when it comes to the dissemination of information, but, I would offer that literacy has often been outpaced by the written word, sadly.  While newspapers and such were "the source", it wasn't until the literacy barrier was broken by the return of the spoken word... and, by return think back to your barkers, your town heralds of old, shouting out a King's proclamation, or announcing noteworthy happenings in the town squares of centuries-past.  The RADIO brought this back, and the portable transistor radio brought it out of the living room and onto the streets, and to the masses.  

Now, still, this isn't what I'm on about... not yet... 

Music is not "news"... but, somewhere along the lines, just in the last decade or so, music's portability has taken the place of the radio's portability.  Granted, there is nothing sadder in my opinion as a music lover than the state of modern commercial radio in a post-MP3 world.  THAT aside, the "DJ" (even if it's a big corporate computer on "shuffle") is far better, far more sustainable, far more listenable than one's own collection of digital files on repeat.  Where once we simply turned a knob, and with that satisfying, mechanical "click", a steady stream of continuous music, talk, chat, advert, noise...  well, now, we are reduced to being our own "DJ", curating and collecting our own files and downloading them onto innocuous little MP3 cubes and sticks and gadgets for our entertainment.  Long live the American radio disc jockey, say I.  Radio is not only relevant, still, it's the future.  The concept of "radio" is not only evident on nearly every formerly-music-marketplace-only service like iTunes and Google Play, it's evident across every traditional broadcast's webpage... the streaming option.  Yeah, that's still "broadcasting" in the dictionary sense... but, over-the-airwaves radio?  Yes... it still very much has its place.  The ballgame, the newstalk or call-in radio show... the original "social media".  Long may it reign...   

no, really, are you going to talk about something - or is this post completely random??

Hey, I'll get to it...!

While I do ride with one of those (above) little miracles, with one less earbud attached than shown, ... I've had less and less time to do what the music industry used to do FOR us, and that's come up with interesting playlists that I won't grow tired of during long, long bike rides.  Granted, the last few trips out on the bike, I haven't needed tunes at ALL, which is a good thing -- but, for the mental excuse eliminator, for me, nothing quite tops music when it comes to just keeping the ole negativity at-bay and maintaining a good pedaling cadence.  Sometimes, I need it.  But, do I have to work so hard for it?

Last season, I became enamored with radio once more while riding alongside Steven W. during the Iowa 400k.  The KC Royals were marching onward toward another great season of baseball, and while the sun began to set on a lonely and quiet stretch of highway, Steven's radio was switched on to invite the soothing play-by-play tones of Denny Matthews along for our bike ride.  The hours FLEW past as the Royals played ball, and the trio of me, Steven and Josh ate up the long miles of road back to Liberty, MO.  

Man, why don't I do that more often???

Further, there was nothing to think about, no skip or replay buttons, no decisions to make... just "click"... and boom, radio.  

Simple.  Sustainable.

Hell, even if I couldn't care for the song being played or the topic being discussed, that's what the tuning dial is for, right?  No matter what, it's better - FAR better - than becoming mired in one's own thoughts of dread and "what if" when the ride might enter a dip in emotion.  It happens.  

Roughly twice the height of the average MP3 player, the tiny AM/FM radio is alive and well in the marketplace.  I've opted for the little Sony gem on the left from the shot above, pulled from a backpacking website.  The Sangean has a few more features, like digital tuning and presets, but, the sheer size and simplicity of the Sony proved more attractive to me.  I can't wait to lend an ear to whatever I happen to across the dial when I commute and rando this year.  Running on a single AAA battery, I don't even have to worry about carrying along a charging cable for my MP3 player anymore - nor do I have to spend the random hour here and there updating my playlists... again...  In those two regards, this little radio is already saving me time and hassle.  Just pop it into the rando-bag, and go.  What a concept!

Yeah, this post is pretty darn random, maybe; but, my point is specific.  Keep things SIMPLE, above all else.  GPS, smartphone apps, fancy multi-function watches that are all the rage nowadays; don't get me wrong - I *love* technology.  I love the technology that have some to the bike, but, I caution everyone I talk to on the subject... keep it simple.  There is a time and a place, and sometimes I'm not sure long distance bicycling is "the place" for some of these innovations.  That's probably just me exercising the survivalist rant inside, as many a GPS user I know has enjoyed countless 200 and 300k rides without a single incident.  But, keep that paper map.  Tuck it away.  I know at least one or two riders I frequently join on adventures who do this - and, while I've never had to watch them pull out that map or cue sheet, it's there.  Just in case.  Like those self-adhesive tire boots I bought ten years ago and have never had to use... they're not there to play with, they are there just in case.  Give me a good, solar-powered analog wrist-watch and a printed cue, and I'm good to go, however.  I don't have to upload anything, cross-check anything, wonder, worry, or fuss.  I don't have to charge it up, sync it up, or load it up.  My printed map won't suddenly change from central Missouri, to the central Atlantic Ocean, and paper doesn't ever ever need to reboot.  My little AM/FM wonder, yes, will occasionally need a new battery... after a month or so of sporadic use... but, those batteries are sold ... and dare I use this term... EVERYWHERE.  Granted, there is an AC outlet everywhere, too... but, when my device drops dead, not only is it not a ride-stopper, I don't have to remain lashed to a wall while my power source is replenished.  I pop in a new cell, and leave.  

Feel free to tear these arguments apart when you consider solar trickle chargers, jump-batteries (power banks, whatever you wanna call 'em), and - bada-bing - generator-powered charging systems... which are now widely available for around $75.  Yeah, yeah... I know... my old, knuckle-dragging ways are holding less and less water with each passing month of technological advancement, I'll grant you that.  I'm okay with it, really I am, and - my final assessment is "to each his own".  For me?  It's not about the money, or the perceived hassles (of which there are only a few, honestly).  For me, it's just simpler... like a steel framed bicycle.  Yeah, materials have come a long way, and anything can ride like anything you want it to... even aluminum... but, I just choose cheaper, more honest, simpler materials.  I like it this way.  I have enough gadgets at work... maybe consider, bicycling is my time to get the heck away from that stuff, eh?  When I'm nose-deep in a good, scenic 400km ride, I don't give a rat's backside what "KML" even stands for.    

I want my navigation, my bicycles, my baggage, my electronics, my inner-tubes and my entertainment the same way, thank you.  Thank you very, very much.  

See you out there . . . 

ADDENDUM:  added 2/15/2016

An offline conversation resulted in some valid thoughts and concerns on this subject, so I felt it appropriate to add a few lines here to accompany my original thoughts above:

Music on the bike.... safe?
We started talking about the use of Bluetooth speakers on the handlebars, and generally - open-air speakers versus earbuds, and the safety concerns therein.  So, it must be noted;
Quite often, I use music as a treat for the last ten miles or so on a brevet, and generally that's been the case.  On winter brevets, I've been known to use it after reaching the halfway point.  On longer rides, when traffic dies down and the thoughts wander, I'll pull out the tunes at sundown.  I don't "need" it as often as I used to, that's for sure.  We talked about focusing on other things, too, like finding something interesting to snap in a photograph, focusing on cadence, and other distractions.  Yup, I do that, too.  Sometimes, though, when my mood dips, it's only music that can get me through.  It tends to occupy the part of my brain usually consumed with quitting or complaining, so it defuses a lot of potential problems.  When the dip passes, I usually turn it off and put it away.

In-ear, vs. Speakers:  yeah, I've used both, and I go back to a single earbud in my right ear, every time.  One, it uses less power:  where I usually need to turn an ambient speaker volume pretty high to overcome wind noise and their inherent omni-directional design, I end up creating noise pollution.  I often hear this evidenced on the bike trail, where I can hear an oncoming radio perhaps 30 feet before actually passing the cyclist it belongs to.  I don't feel this is people being obnoxious, I feel this is consequential:  When I turn on my speaker and ride down the road, I have to keep adjusting volume upwards until I can barely hear it... Then I'll stop, dismount, and walk away from the bike... and I can hear the radio sometimes 25 feet away from the speaker itself.  With the single earbud, this doesn't happen.  Since I often like to enjoy the bike trail for the nature sounds and solitude, I can't run an open-air speaker in good conscience because I'm likely ruining it for other trail users.  In the case of the Royals game on the 400k with Steven and Josh, I had to stay pretty close to Steven to hear the radio - but, we were also miles from anyone on a stretch of highway a few dozen miles between towns, so noise pollution isn't as much of a concern when using a speaker.  We probably make more noise just talking and laughing.... and FAR less than any passing cars or trucks.  Regardless, the power requirements to drive a speaker are very high compared to an earbud; I can run a radio for days with an earbud on low volume, but a speaker will only last for a few hours.

Safety?  The single earbud - decidedly NOT the "in-ear" or "plug" design, and no-freaking-way-EVER anything with the term "noise cancelling" in the name - doesn't block any ambient noise, because I keep the volume low enough that I can't hear my music when a car passes me.  The same holds true if I'm riding into a headwind:  I also can't hear the music, by design.  By following those guidelines for volume, my ears maintain focus on my surroundings and the music is where it belongs - in the back drop.  I can hear the music fine when the road is quiet and traffic drops, but, I'm specifically looking for the mental distraction, not a fully immersive audio experience.  If I find myself complaining about not being able to hear my music because there's too much traffic, um...duh, dude, maybe I ought to be paying attention then?!?  I do this on purpose, so I don't get isolated from my surroundings too much, mentally drift too far astray, or miss a car approaching from any direction.  Heck, what if I sail past a turn and my fellow riders are trying to shout at me to get me back on course?  Thus, another good guideline, I need to be able to hold a conversation with my fellow cyclists, while rolling, without needing to pause the music. 

Finally, I take none of this lightly: It took me a LONG time, personally, to be okay with myself "caving in" and allowing an earbud in my ear AT ALL during a bike ride... I felt like it was mentally cheating, somehow impure, and I definitely became even more paranoid.  This is partly why I never agreed with that whole "anti-helmet" notion that helmets actually result in MORE injuries, on the notion that because I'm wearing a helmet I'll suddenly start riding in an UNSAFE manner, because "my helmet will save me."  Baloney.  Normal, thinking individuals simply don't behave this way.  I don't think for a second that wearing an earbud means that I *think* I'm enough of a bad-ass cyclist to get away with it, or that the rules don't apply to me somehow... I take this coffee with a LOT of salt, people.  Ride scared.  If you wear a helmet so you can do stupider stuff, and ride with full, studio-can headphones at full volume, you're not a "cyclist" in my opinion, and Darwin has an award application for you to fill out.

By contrast to my own behavior, I've ridden past cyclists wearing two earbuds with their volume such that *I* can hear elements of *their* music when I pass them on the trail:  that is TOO loud, and situationally dangerous... because they also, consistently, tend to be surprised or startled when I pass them.  The human senses work as a team, and assuming that ones eyes will catch everything one might need to be concerned with while cycling, or jogging, or walking, is a fools game.  I'm not professing anything like "I've got this figured out" or that I'm somehow better than "X"... no.  I'm responsible for me, not you.  Your mileage may vary, and I may get hit by a bus tomorrow.  So be it.  Sometimes I need my tunes.

Stay safe out there, folks - above all else!

January 19, 2016

Changes in Focus

  It's already been an interesting year, despite only being a few weeks old now.  I've taken some long overdue inventory and have managed to get back into the gym and have finally taken to a more serious diet plan, since someone hoisted yet another workplace weight-loss challenge.  The timing couldn't have been better, as getting and staying focused hasn't been easy... nor have I been terribly motivated to do so.  I've taken, again, to the horrible habit of packing for the morning ride to work, only to cave to the perceived safety and warmth of the car.  I've maintained a pretty solid streak of trips to the gym lately, but without it being paired to a consistent diet, well, you can imagine the results.  

January 11, 2016

Guest Post: Dirty Kanza Inspiration

   Surely as the registration window opened - and, as it turns out, quickly closed - the adjacent forums and email lists, silent for months, began to buzz with proclamations of new goals, aspirations, and stories from years past.  What for, one might ask?   Isn't it just a ride?  Video, blog-post, photos have come close while in concert with one another; yet, short of the actual experience ... which, I still do not have (at this writing) amount of words or photos can truly convey what I'm on about here, what I've only yet witnessed from the seat of the support car.  I have so much to say, though none of it adequate.

   As the Dirty Kanza "registration weekend" closes out and we all return to work for another dreary Monday, there's little doubt as to the nature of our daydreams.  Conference calls, mundanity, and chilly weather.. who could be blamed for thinking ahead to June, for planning, and for dreaming?  

December 28, 2015

Milepost 1445

Finally, I think some form of "winter" is upon us here in KC... Thankgawd. I thought I was never gonna get a chance to use the studs this year. Trail time!

From Instagram via IFTTT & Twitter (@rusadude)

December 26, 2015

Keeping it simpler

  So, I really wish I'd've stumbled upon this video before I'd made THIS post back in April of this year.  This, I suppose, might be best explained because of my lack of boating experience, but, looking at the final result I feel this strong sense of "ooohhhhhh!".  Self-deprication is one of those things I'd prefer to leave in my past (unless it offers comic relief); but, a token of honesty that will simply *shock* regular readers:  I do tend to overcomplicate things.  
This revelation supplies a re-title for the previous post, which might read like:  "A complicated home-brew saddlebag bracket for saddles without saddle loops when all you have laying around is some 90°-angle aluminum and a dowel rod, and no internet connection".  For those criteria, I stand by my beautiful results.  I also satisfied the battle cry of the frustrated inventor:  I figured out a great way to NOT make a saddlebag support.  Yes, it worked, but not as well as hoped.

The solution in the video:  genius, even if it doesn't 100% satisfy my personal preference for having things super tight ... and that could be easily remedied with a single well-placed toe strap cinched around each of the cleat horns on the outside of each saddle rail, or something even quicker like a figure-8 loop of bungee passed thru the cleat's center cutout and stretched across the top to keep the cleat snug to the saddle rails - not super tight, more of a rattle preventative. 

 It really makes me think farther outside my own box:  it never would have occurred to me to seek a bicycle baggage solution at my local marina.  The internet is truly a beautiful place.

I'm beyond this particular stage now, as I've moved up to a new saddle which seems to have provided the best of all worlds for me, and it has bag loops:  but, for the adventure bike (gravel bike, whatever it's called), this may provide a great solution - that's where the saddle mentioned in the April post ended up, and who knows what lay ahead for that bike as far as configurations go.

Credit where it's due:
Video comes from the Carradice Hacks page, a subpage of Wallingford Bicycle Parts.  The original post comes from one of my new favorite reads:, described as 

"Reviews of all things touring, commuting and lifestyle related for the discerning cyclists with a mildly sardonic tone". 

The post is a share of a video by Chris Quint.  

I very much appreciate the hard work and hours which go toward the creation of pages like 'Epicurean' - these are the sorts of pages I look to for great ideas, time savers, and succinct commentary. My niche is, by contrast, storytelling.

Oh, yeah... and riding, eh?
Gotta go . . .

December 12, 2015

The Paths of Least Resistance

It's all over the internet, and I don't know if it's urban legend or just a good architectural parable; but when I first heard it recounted by my lifelong friend, the Crowbar, it stuck firmly in my head ... especially when visiting a locale which has clearly never heard of it.

I've enjoyed this analogy in the past when trying to relate design philosophy to folks at work, especially:
  I can't recall the name of the college campus, but, the story goes that the buildings were all originally built with NO pathways between them; just open grass between the parking lots and each dorm and/or classroom or lecture hall.  Over the first year of operation, the students and teachers would do what anyone would do in an undefined space:  they walked to and from each building along the shortest route, or the routes that made the most sense - diagonals, curving around terrain, etc.  After this first year, the trodden pathways across each of the grass areas took shape.  Only then did the design team return to lay down the paved walkways, using the exact routes that had been worn into the grass.  Those who newly attended in the years afterwards would consistently comment on the genius and efficiency the layout of the campus provided, and how fast and easy navigation became compared to the usual array of 90° angles and grid-style walkways-to-nowhere.

  I always look for this echoed in ride behavior; if riders are always hitting a control and then rapidly leaving for "whatever" on the other side of town, it's a chance to consider a positive change.  When designing routes, try to keep this in mind.  Not only will it likely prevent you from worrying about shortcuts, it will provide the sort of natural flow which riders will naturally be drawn to follow; which presents fewer opportunities for anyone to become lost.  At least, that's the hope... and, ultimately it's just my opinion, and definitely not a criticism of others.

Here in the KC area, the grid system reigns... other cities once visited, while initially conveying to a "grid veteran" a sense of confusion and poor design, they ultimately reveal the same patterns one would naturally take if no roads had been in place:  the roads go almost directly to wherever it is they are headed, instead of drawing squares around them and boxing everything in.  Dallas and its surroundings, for example - an area I've bashed in the past, yet has one of the most active and successful randonneuring scenes in the world - if you're in Waco and you want to head to Tyler, the roads to get there create a straight-shot, almost the same route one would take in an airplane.  Two similarly spaced towns in KC, one follows roads along a strict staircase of 90° turns; one has to get creative and make their own diagonal path.  Now, in neither area would one put a good rando route on the exact roads most cars would be using, but many of the old farm roads follow the same rules as the main roads in each respective area, too.  It's interesting, traveling from place to place, discovering how a region has been navigated over time.  I'm not saying KC is somehow doomed because of the old farm section road plan, but only that one need venture farther afield to get to the good stuff.

True, this doesn't work everywhere.  Near rivers, mountains and railroad lines, however, the natural flow and sense of destination the direct, curvy roads often invoke also make for some of the best bicycling experiences.  The low resistance of the old country road, county highway, or original U.S. route system are all great examples.  The way original railroad alignments arc gently across huge expanses of prairie - no wonder rail trails, or highways alongside them, are so popular!   No wonder the Flint Hills 225km route creates such a strong mental picture once one has ridden it.  Powerful stuff.

While I'd often sought out routes beginning close to home for my own convenience, now I've begun to look outward to the places still small enough to evidence the long, open stretches of long distance cycling perfection.  I can't wait to spread out and ride some new territory next spring, and explore that flow.  It's sorta like lightning during a thunderstorm:  the path of least resistance doesn't seem to have a pattern or purpose at all ... but, it's undeniably beautiful, powerful, and intriguing.  Those are the roads for me.  As I take pen to map once again this winter looking for the next great route, all of this flurries around in my head - and then I look out the window, and dream of these faraway roads traced only as thin gray and blue lines.  I slowly drag the pencil across the page from one town to the next and see the long, flowing printed lines underneath... There.  That one.
Let's ride that one...
And it begins.

Stay rando, my friends.

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 case, 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.