Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

August 22, 2014

From A to Z, Everything In Between, and Whatever Lay Beyond.

They call the route "The Hell of the North", a partial homage to the legendary Paris-Roubaix race in northern France held each April, yes, somehow still apt for the generally north-south oriented Liberty-to-Albany, MO. 300k of KCUC fame.  Infamous, perhaps?

I love this route, and I really - sincerely - hope that Bob brings it back for 2015, as preparation for P-B-P.  Selfishly, I must admit... with most folks satisfied sticking to 200k for their monthly rides (me included, if I'm honest), it's really, really difficult to ride this route as a permanent unless one enjoys being alone.  Finding anyone to accompany me on this route has proved difficult in the past . . . and, it's proved difficult for me to attempt it on my own.  Mental, nothing more.  It's a route map and profile that can creep into one's head, if allowed, and it's aptly-named.  So, too, is the Ride with the Devil 200k permanent route - which passes this same intersection from the opposite direction.  It's a different slice of "hell."  Tasty... but tough.


Whichever distance, whether alone or with someone else...  it beckons.  I cannot wait until I'm cleared for riding longer distances...and, thankfully, it's a personal clearance:  I've permission from the surgeon, so it's up to me as to what I can tolerate.  Knowing what I've been through, I'm not rushing it.  That may work out fine... doing either route in the fall?  Maybe with calm conditions yielding a northern wind in the afternoon, for the push home?  Perfect.  Not very likely, mind you - diving back in with a 300k isn't smart.  200k may be slightly smarter, but I imagine I'll return at something like "the commute", then ease my way to 100k.


...but, being up there... as I had been in the photos.  It always gives me pause.  I look fondly upon this as a personal landmark - a reminder, each time I see my own mug ruining an otherwise magical view of Missouri countryside and "that storied highway" leading to the horizon.  I'm fairly confident that cyclists invented the 'selfie' long before it became 'a thing'; and for the requisite, yet unofficial, proofs-of-passage we randonneurs often create around the region, this is my favorite photo spot.  My facial presence aside, the image remains inviting, alluring . . . begging one to ride, to see what's over there.  

This otherwise uninteresting intersection is one of countless in Missouri, home (as far as I know, anyways) of the "lettered" rural county highway system.  A-though-Z and every letter in between, sometimes doubled up or mixed (like "RA", or "VV"), the lightly traveled highways zig-zag across the state in every direction.  Also "as far as I know," this intersection is the only one with the first and last letter of the alphabet placed next to each other - albeit backwards in this case.  In the already curious and cryptic vernacular of the common cyclist, the lettered roads serve to further confuse our non-cycling friends and onlookers, as we wax philosophical on "how many K will be left once we get to O and C", and how strong the winds had been the last time we'd come through.


Yet, this place has become more than that.  It's a milestone, a shrine, a monument... for me ...of what I am able, what I have done.  It's MY intersection.  I have never been there in a car, only under my own power.  It represents one of the worst days I've had on the bike, and one of the best.  Here lies the old me, may he rest in piece (and good riddance) and, still, the new me waits to be picked up . . . a hopeful hitchhiker, thus-far not confident enough to carry the responsibility of truly meeting his potential.  

Oh, I've seen him standing there, in the rain, waiting - eyes empty, face blank, wrapped up in shadows and waving grasses, staring at me from behind the signpost - yet, I can only see him from my periphery.  If I try to make eye contact, he is gone - vanished behind throngs of fans bracing against the barriers for a closer look.  I extend my arm, yet he remains out of reach.  The crowd never parts, their screams are always louder than mine.  In an instant, all of it is gone.  I stop, wander, gaze into the sky, off to the horizon, stretching my ears against the silence of the roaring breeze...  I can no longer hear his calls - and he ignores mine.  But I'm there.  I'm always there.  I huddle under a space blanket, counting the seconds until I see a pair of headlights and their blinding salvation.  I stand tall under the bright sun, arms reaching to the heavens, mouth open in a soundless scream, triumphant when others had faltered.  I shake hands with myself, we high five when I pass, and we weep together while the horizon changes - year over year - after all the memories are dust, after the cheering crowds leave for home, after the presses stop, after winter's gale carries away the fire's last breath, we will be entombed beneath mankind's paving stone, our fate sealed beneath concrete and rebar


You see, we can never leave.  For some reason this ignorant intersection, merely the result of two lines meeting on an ancient map, becomes the center of all we know.  No-one who treads here knows what it means to me, just as I have no idea what it meant to those before me - perhaps nothing, perhaps everything - merely a flash of light to the omniscient.  I have to shield my eyes from the pulsing waves of intense light, the result of the sun rising and setting at thirty frames-per-second in my minds eye, the road-sign's very existence doesn't register at all.  Here for a moment, then gone.  The sky changes from white, to orange, to red, until fire consumes it - until nothing remains but a pure, deep black - so rich, so endless, it pulls the at the threads of my mind - unraveling - as the space between blinks grows wider and wider, until they stop.    

A rush of hot air, an alarming jolt; a passing farm truck flings sand, like the sharp bite of reality, against the side of my face - crisp as a fallen apple.  My eyes snap to focus.  I am back on my bike, gazing just to the right, a slight grin replacing the agony of the last hill.  Is that him, grinning back at me?  I pass by this lonely road-sign at 15 miles per hour, and as my mind's eye stops once more to watch me riding away, leaving myself behind, I come to rest on a perfect chair, my wife, my kids, my dogs, my family nearby.  We rest here, wrapped in the most comfortable of clean, white rooms - a room with only three walls, we face outward at the world.  We sit; happy, smiling, comfortable, warm, weightless, without a care or worry on this Earth.  We sit.  We rest.  

Off in the distance, I watch -- straining to see myself cresting the last hill at the far horizon.  I reach with my gaze, my arms, my spirit -- I am only a tiny black dot against the giant orange disk of the sun.  Take me with you...

We are only tiny black dots to each other, but, cresting the hill I turn around in my saddle and wave back with a knowing smile, an accepting smile - we connect across the infinite, our condolences exchanged, our measures counted, our ledgers balanced.  I watch as I turn my wave into a vertical reach, touching the top of the setting sun, taking hold and pulling it downward like a window shade - his arm, and the sun with it, drop from view.  Night unrolls across the fields toward me and my eyelids grow heavy.  The edges of the world rise, the trees gracefully take a bow, the road folds away, the hills flatten, and I recline.  The silence multiplies, words touching words, ink upon ink; the jumbled smear of nonsensical perfection creates a complete darkness; warm, soothing, honest, fearless.  I close my eyes with a satisfying, palpable whuoomp.  I pause for a moment to consider my own weight, and, cradled safely in the arms of the author, I am comforted; acquiescent; whole.

We ascend the ladder together.  An arm outstretched along the circular walls of an endless collection, I am angled and maneuvered precisely - the silence briefly interrupted by the gentle slide of binding leather against polished walnut, grain caresses grain emitting a gentle whisper, a small feather of dust takes to the air - and with a satisfying, tactile thunk the motion stops, and we are home.  Home at last among the billions, our story told.  From my lofty vantage point, I catch a last glimpse -  a thumb, a forefinger, a link of chain, a pull, a click.  Lights extinguished, debts settled, and the most comfortable of pillows in which to sink a tired head.  


Photo from Last Chance 1200km Grand Randonee, 2008 -- credit to RMCC

August 18, 2014

Omaha Newspaper Heralds one of KCUC's Finest

As human interest stories go, randonneuring must reside high on the list of leisure activities overflowing with metaphors on the endurance of the human body and spirit, and the rewards of "reaching."  A regional newspaper recently caught up with KCUC member Joe Edwards for just such a story, talking about our sport and its unique challenges.  Read the article here.  Congrats, Joe!

August 17, 2014

Boredom stinks

Granted, I have plenty to occupy me - but, boredom when it comes to the bike.  I think this is what got me into trouble with the "fit phase" where I had problems.  Hide the tools... the dude is bored.

It's been an interesting 24-hours in the stable, all on the same bike - the Kogs.  Boredom first led me down a pathway which began with a dream of riding single-speed again, as I'd done successfully for several years about a decade ago.  Alas, the vertical dropouts on the Kogs presented obvious problems - but, after finding a photo online with a 'magic gear' (a combination of cog and chainring which creates perfect chain tension on a bicycle with vertical dropouts, and ideal without the use of a half-link).  After some tinkering, I found that gear - and, miracle of miracles, it happened to provide the exact same gear-inch result as my "old standby", the 42x17 (about 66") combination.  I'd successfully slayed Bob's old Liberty route and the Appleton City 400k on that ratio, without any major issues recorded.  In fact, I ended up catching and passing people.  It was magic time again!  

Then, I took her around the block.  First, the entire bike felt weird... and it had nothing at all to do with the gearing - it was just me, returning to the bike after about six weeks off.  Settling in, and finally grinning (yay!  I'm riding!) my left arm (the surgery arm) began to stiffen and weaken considerably.  Uh oh.  Quickly moving from the hoods to the flat part of the bar and wincing a little, I turned around for home.  Ouch... not cool.  Nothing sharp and stabbing - just an amazing amount of fatigue from having to hold myself upright.  Dangit.

Oh, the gearing?  Clearly I've strengthened in the last ten years, which reinforces I'd been on the right track this year, finally; however, the olde 66" gear seemed WAY too easy to spin out of.  At a comfortable cruising cadence (which, on one gear, represents how to dictate things - the speed is incidental), I'd only been good for 14 MPH tops before beginning to feel like I was spinning my legs apart.... all while trying to get my left arm to shut up.  How did I ride this all the time?  Maybe the math is off... and this isn't the gear I think it should be.

Back in the garage, the parts came off far more quickly than they'd been installed.

Then, I tried to manage installing the gear I'd finished riding fixed on:  My not-so-olde "speed" favorite of 42x15, or around a 74" gear.  This gear ended up getting me some of my old PRs... and, again, it's really not the gearing so much as the lack of easier gears which did that. 

       Which, is really the whole point here... talking to myself:  simply having the gears shouldn't turn into an excuse to use them.  It's okay to push, hard.  You shouldn't have to take gears AWAY to get faster, assuming that's what you're after, dude.  Wise up...

 Unfortunately, even with single-tooth increments in cogs and chain-rings I couldn't get anything any taller than 66" to work - even with a half-link... well, at least with what I had laying around; and online calculators being what they are (amazing, but faulty sometimes), it appeared I'd end up with either too-short a gear, or something akin to being stuck in a 52x14.  Ugh.  It simply wasn't meant to be, not on the Kogs... and one of these years, I think I'll likely build up the Trek 450 again as a fixie -- but, a NICE one... Phil Wood hubs and cogs in 1/8", and a Gold Izumi Track chain... you know, REAL bling - yet, tasteful.  For now, lesson learned:  I pretty much wasted a day trying to get something to work, something that - with horizontal dropouts - should have taken about 3 minutes.  And, I know.... chain tensioner.  I won't do that.  Just can't.

SO... at least the annual disassemble and re-grease routine is complete now!  

 I still appreciate the simplicity of the single-cog, single-ring aesthetic - and part of me was looking forward to challenging myself in a different way - a way I'd forgotten.  Plus, talk about maintenance-free, practically!  It could have also turned into a money-saver, although, who am I kidding?  Road cassettes these days can be had for cheap, and even if they only last a season - that's only a couple dollars a month.  Everyone has to buy tires and chains - so, money-saving isn't the reason I should be using here.

So.  Now what?

The Kogs is back, more or less, as she was on Friday afternoon.  New bar tape awaits, once I figure out my next conquest:  shorter-reach handlebars.  

Despite doctor's reassurances that the bicycling - even excessive - wasn't responsible for my torn shoulder, the first round-the-block test ride seemed to indicate MAYBE things wouldn't be so tender if I wasn't reaching quite so far.  Looking down at the front hub, the handlebars flats are (according to ancient philosophies) where they should be... but, the reach of the bar itself puts the hoods, well... out of reach.  I miss my old Easton EA-50s.  Dang it.  

Still, I can't fault the VO Grand Cru handlebars... they have everything else I wanted in a rando handlebar:  flat ramps, flared drops, and long, parallel drop extensions.  They're great... they're just too freakin' long, front-to-back.  It seems like this "Mark" character I keep reading about gets all the cool, wacky 'bars HE wants, yet, I can't find one that works for me.  Grrr.

I worry about getting a shorter stem for knee clearance issues, so I'll need to take more measurements.  I also don't want to render the bike twitchy or unstable by squishing the cockpit... so, a while a shorter stem might solve the reach problem, it might cause problems elsewhere.  It's good to talk these things out.  

Also, option 2 -- and maybe the smarter one ---  don't do anything quite yet.  The pain I'm feeling is temporary, of course -- so, once I'm back to being able to ride more than a few thousand feet, I will reassess.  After all, if the torn-up shoulder hadn't caused me horrible issues on rides as long as 400km with these handlebars... a fully-healed me likely won't have any issues with them at all.  

Still... I logged a lot more miles on those Easton EA-50s.... maybe someone makes something within 90% of the VO bar, with the reach of the Eastons.  Salsa Cowbell?  Hmmm.... 
I'm keeping the new bar tape off, and have moved the bar-ends to the down-tube position, to facilitate faster 'bar swaps, should I find something.  

The hunt continues.  

Yeah, it's boredom... and if I can't ride, well, at least I can tinker.  BUT, comparative to my usual destructive silliness, I feel more solution-focused and patient ... and also willing to accept that perhaps nothing is needed at all.  I shouldn't be wasting time solving problems that may not be there.  Novel idea!

So, about that boredom...  time to go for a run.

August 12, 2014

July from the pit lane, what-the-heck is "rundonneuring", and gears... who needs 'em?

It's a good thing I did, pulling the plug on the two streaks I'd had running back in late June.  Ambitious; in the past I'd woven my plans from the most hopeful of textiles - only recently have I learned the patience necessary to weave only when practical.  'Using my head,' as it were, often seemed like some sort of excuse not to attempt a ride or event; now, (though no easier) I find myself able to make more intelligent decisions.  That doesn't always mean that will be the case, of course:  take Dirty Kanza.  I don't really have "the bike" for the job - but, that's really the only excuse, and it's still pretty shallow.  It's just a tool, after all, and most successful events don't have much to do with that part of the equation.  I'm - oddly - not worried about that bit.  But, fighting the doctors and surgeon when it comes to injury - that's nothing with which to mess.  June became July became August, and as soon as the extent of my shoulder injury revealed itself to those who had fixed it, I knew I'd made an intelligent choice.  R-12 #4, complete, it was time for a good, extended rest.  I can already see the benefits, and I know I will come back stronger without much ramp-up time.  When the time comes, that is. 
Still, had I maintained those streaks I would have done so at the risk of un-doing what has been a successful shoulder repair, would have been stressed, and would have watched those streaks evaporate the hard way.  It's all good.

Driving around, and back and forth to work, during the best months of the year - summer - is difficult.  It's only been a month and some change - maybe five weeks since I'd ridden to work, but, it seems like an eternity ago.  Time has passed slowly.  I see riders on the roads, and paths, and I still look longingly as they whisper in and out of sight, trapped in the pit lane waiting for someone to come in for service.  While life happens quickly from their saddles, I wait, watching the clock.  I watch the calendar for a date which I don't yet know.  Frustrating.  Still, I have managed to shift gears and try my hand at more running.  Er, jogging.  Possibly "limping" at times, depending.  Walking briskly, with the occasional "hop"?  

One thing running has taught me, if nothing else:  cycling is  E A S Y.

It seems the old LeMond quote holds true here, as it does for bicycle racing:  "it never gets any easier, you just get faster."  While I have doubts about my speed, it's likely I have slowly gotten a smidge faster since I took up running again at the first of the year.  The company weight-loss-challenge became far easier to attack when I'd chosen an activity that I knew my body wasn't accustomed to, and, sure enough, the calories I'd burned seemed to take more weight with them when I hit the scales and each 30-60 minute session on the treadmill proved far more effective than similar duration on the bike.  When the contest wrapped, I tapered off and dove back into cycling, as usual - but, this is the first year I've managed to maintain a healthy dose of running and core training to help improve the cycling game.  If I'm not losing weight, it's strictly because of dietary hiccups.  When we went to the Gulf of Mexico on vacation in mid-June, I took to running on the beach almost daily - easy on the joints, but hard work.  Therein lay a small clue - I've been steeped enough in the activity I'm beginning to make sense of many of the things I see runners do, like jogging in the street, instead of on the clearly available adjacent sidewalk.  I would have thought it rubbish previously, yet, now I can truly feel how much "softer" and forgiving an asphalt surface can be, compared to concrete.  Late in a run, when it begins to hurt to scale something as silly as a standard 4" curb, the more cushion the road surface gives, the better.  This is also about the same time during the run when the insoles of my shoes transform from supportive, cushioned poly-foam into uncaring slabs of flat Masonite trimmed with sandpaper and finishing nails.  The parallels to cycling are remarkable - just as I ultimately bought a fine leather saddle, I am beginning to make sense of the differences between $40.00 cross-training sneaks compared to $200 ultra-light endurance running shoes.  Granted, I'm not investing in such a thing quite yet - but, I can appreciate it.

Slowly but surely I've evolved from 20 minute sessions, to 30, to 60 - and then, off the treadmill and out the door.  At the Gulf, I progressed through daily 5k (3.1 miles) runs, and then the 10k barrier.  I remember the "Nose Run" back in .... gosh, I have no idea when; but shortly after high-school, I think .... when I ran a 10k with Crowbar (and I say "with" only because we rode to the start line together in the same car).  I still have the t-shirt somewhere - but, afterwards, I never ran again... at least not intentionally.  Now, it seems 10k is filed under "just getting started."  Since the shoulder surgery, I have slowly worked beyond the 10k distance (6.2 miles) up to 8 miles, then 10 miles, and finally this last weekend I reached the half-marathon landmark of 13.1 miles by knocking off 13.4 miles in just under three hours; though not "official", not at a timed event with witnesses, anyways.  I'll be honest:  these are not blistering times, no - but, I'm not one really known for that, regardless of motive power.  Still, interspersed with 1/16th - 1/8th-mile resting walks every mile, I managed to "run/jog" 90% of the distance at something faster than a walk, and the rest at a fast walk - until the last mile back to the house practically had me crawling.  Now I suppose it's high-fashion to go buy one of those oval "13.1" stickers for my bicycle roof rack, eh?  Maybe I should hold out for the full marathon.  Is that inevitable?  Mmm, it might well be, as I'm beginning to see running from the same perspective as I view cycling distance challenges -- although, I'm going to be careful not to get TOO nutty.  Things like Badwater are intriguing... but I'm not sure I need to officially do anything quite like that, especially when I have a nice 135-mile route (am I *really* typing this right now????) that starts right up the street, normally reserved for cycling.  Two-hundred kilometers on FOOT?  I won't likely do anything of the sort - but, I have to say, I once said that about the 400k brevet.  I've only dipped my toes in the giant pond of "running"... and the thought of doubling this weekend's distance (if I would ask my feet) is terrifying, and - despite being a HUGE personal accomplishment - it would only place me into a large population of folk who have completed a marathon.  Knowing what happened to me after I completed my first cycling century ride, would it be enough?  So, then working toward doubling it again?  ...and then AGAIN?  ...and then adding whatever's left over?  Are you NUTS???  On a bicycle, I can stop pedaling, coast, stand up and stretch, eat, drink water easily, and largely enjoy myself - even in the midst of late-ride discomfort and fatigue I'm still covering ground.  If I stop "running", I have only a very short amount of time to rest and walk before the muscles begin protesting and tightening up... and all the while, I'm not getting anywhere.  As the mileage crosses into double digits, each passing mile has the brain calling out for more rest.  Only recently have I begun to understand that resting on the bike toward the end of the ride is detrimental -- i.e., the faster I try to go despite being largely spent, the sooner the finish line will arrive and the agony will cease.  On foot, however, trying to run faster to accomplish the same only serves to drive more nails into my coffin.  Only through small increases in consistency and stamina can such a feat be attained.  I'm not sure it's on my list.  Pulling back to reality, having done a "half" feels pretty darn satisfying.  I'll give it some time, and if I find myself inching a bit farther than that in the future... well, I'll have to see.  
On the way to the ten-mile barrier, along Renner Rd. between 191st and 183rd streets.  Gravel is better than asphalt for many reasons:  less traffic, better scenery, more cushion-y surface.  One of the best things about cycling compared to driving: the amount of things you see at a slower speed.  That multiplies again when I slow down to running pace, as I'm accompanied by butterflies and bugs, have more time to talk to the cows, and can actually read and consider some of the smaller, hand-written roadside markers.

I am hereby considering copyrights for the tags "run-do-nneuring" and "randorunning" -- mainly because I am not, nor do I envisioning being, "fast."  It seems only fitting that making checkpoints and landmarks along a set course toward an ultimate mileage goal would fit someone like myself.  Curious about my outer limits as a human being, but not in a terrible hurry along the way.  

The inevitable truth is I think it's time to invest in a "lumbar hydration pack."   (because if they still called them "fanny packs" I'd have to quit right now.)

Nice ear-lobe.  Another over-the-shoulder shot.

As this isn't (yet) a multi-sport  ACK!  pffffft....!  (scratch that)  ..sorry, "multi-sport" implies triathlon.  Nothing wrong with that, but, no matter what you EVER read here about foot or cycle travels, there is absolutely nothing in my being which maintains parallel aspirations for watersport or swimming (read: flailing in open water).  The only good thing to come out of my forced shoulder surgery rest period is my surgeon putting the kabash on swimming, seemingly permanently.  No argument here.

As this isn't (yet) a dual-mode travelogue involving both foot and cycle adventures, it well could be.  An occasional change of pace is never a bad thing, and I've admittedly been a one-trick pony for an awful long time.  I still don't see cycling ever fading into the backdrop in favor of foot travel, but who knows?  The area rail-trails and even the fairly pedestrian paved bike trails take on a whole new feel and challenge when the bicycle is removed.  As my physique has become accustomed to cycling over the last decade+, foot travel seems to provide a much more effective workout - and, either activity tends to benefit the other, assuming both are accompanies by a solid stretching routine afterwards.  Riding a bike to the Louisburg Cidermill is a great time, and a good workout - especially in colder months.  WALKING there is an all-day challenge and adventure!  So, who knows... but, while this downtime has prevented me from enjoying my preferred cycling habit, I haven't exactly been sinking into the sofa, either.  Something I used to loathe has become a worthy replacement for satisfying that itch to "go farther."  

Just need to come up with a new blog title, methinks...  "commute-a-rando-running-Mandude?"  ugh... considering I've had a lot less to say about commuting (for at least two years, perhaps more), I could default to "what's in a name?" -- change for the sake of change is annoying, but, something "activity agnostic" might be in order, perhaps.  Is "dude" a bit sophomoric for a 40-something corporate cubicle occupant?  If you subscribe to Hollywood, I should be unemployed and unshaven at the very least to qualify for dudeness.  I don't even bowl.  This isn't the first time I've thought about this ... off and on for at least the last five years it's bugged me.  How do you shake such an ingrained moniker?  Does it matter?  Shouldn't.  Like I don't have enough to think about.  It's likely more accurate it's taken on enough of a life of its own, that I'm the only one noticing.  Surely as I've reinvented myself over the years (or at least evolved), the title is not "me" anymore... it's simply the name of my blog.  Too much self-analysis and dribble... that's not why I came to the keyboard today!  Moving on.

Boredom is a dangerous thing.  In efforts to keep the bike from gathering too much dust, and as soon as I had the strength to pull it down off its hooks, I started disassembling it.  Surely this would make a surgeon smile - an activity he'd indicated would be back in my regimen in perhaps four months, if not longer, NOW is the time to perform some long overdue maintenance.  If it's in pieces, I can't cheat and injure myself.  Within this activity, however, things like cog and chain-ring wear receive the spotlight's full attention.  Something else I've been kicking around for a few years is a return to a single-speed configuration.  I find myself replacing 9 cogs every nine months or so, depending on mileage and whether or not that familiar skipping has started up - but, I continue to find wear on only the middle 3 or 4 cogs.  While chain oil occasionally leaves a mark or two on my largest rear cog, reserved for the steepest of hills, lately it has remained dry - as have all the smaller cogs.  I won't waste time theorizing on Shimano's desires to remain profitable, yet, I'm convinced that as soon as I switch to Miche cassettes and their individually replaceable cogs, that company will likely decide to stop making them.  Internal geared hubs are interesting - but, I'm still too much of a weight weenie...while smart enough to know the extra weight won't really matter, I still can't bring myself to do it.  Then there's the pinnacle (in my eyes) of long-term components:  a Phil Wood freewheel hub and a good ole 5-speed cluster out back.  I still see these old freewheels at swap meets, with former owners indicating they'd put xx,xxx miles on them, yet they look as if they just came out of the factory wrapper.  Cheap, too.  Well, the HUB isn't.  Grrr.  Finally, I look back in my journal at the tone of my writings surrounding fixed and single-speed riding, the infrequency of maintenance notes, and the consistency with which I'd been able to tackle any ride I set out upon - only occasional comments on wishing for a taller hill gear, yet, never a mention of having walked.  I remember selling off my White Industries freewheel, with the same observations mentioned above -- knowing full-well it'd endured two seasons of commuting and brevets, yet, appearing brand new.  The 42-tooth steel chainring I still have in the garage, looking ready as ever.  The biggest "ding" is my need, once again, for a new rear rim - after finding tiny hairline cracks around various spoke eyelets.  It's not immediate, but it does indicate the end approaching.  I remember the Surly hub'd Mavic CXP33 wheel I'd owned, and how I'd never had to true it once, despite my continued seasons of punishment and gear mashing.  All my talk of choosing components with a long service life, and I'd gone and sold them all off in 2006 or 07.  Gates, you wretched moron.

So, sitting on the ledge of clicking "submit" for a new rear wheel, I keep making mental pro-con lists about going BACK to single-speed.  (Yes, fixed is awesome - the ultimate extension of longevity and purity... but, I know me:  I need to coast occasionally.  Sue me.)  All the math points to a single-speed wheel being cheaper.  Even when I throw in a new White Industries freewheel, it's only $20 north of a new rear cassette hub'd wheel, out of which I can only reasonably expect another two years.  It's a combination of my riding style and the un-even spoke tension invariably caused by having a dished wheel.  I suppose I could run a heavier rim, yes... I still don't know.  In spite of all the positive evidence in favor of single-speed again, I can't deny the evidence of its eventual departure from the garage in favor of gears.  I can't seem to read the subtext in my own posts - but, it seems to point to a lack of self-confidence.  Others don't, so I assume I can't.  I distinctly recall removing the single-speed set-up from my bike only days before leaving for Oklahoma for a 12-hour race there.  While the race itself had me tackling other challenges, I can't help but wonder:  what was I afraid of, and how much farther I'd have been to the front runners if I'd left things alone?  Time and again, me + single-speed = personal records.  Why does this eventually fade in importance?  I suppose this is how these periodic cycles unfold:  I can't remember, so it's obviously a good time to try it out again, right?

Problem... a real problem:  the vertical dropouts on the Kogswell will provide a host of challenges.  HOWEVER, amazingly, I've been able to find ONE, single photo online of a Kogswell Model P in my size set up as a single-speed WITHOUT a chain tensioner.  The only problem with the photo lay in its small size and the fact it is also one of the few bicycle photos I've found which has the driveside facing AWAY from the camera.  While I can, and have tried, to guesstimate, count teeth and chain links, and desperately find an email address for the photographer (who, in the notes, isn't the owner - and therefore probably of no help anyhow), I don't know for sure what gear combination is being used - but, I at least can narrow it down with the evidence at hand, and some on-line calculators.  Between apparent tooth count on the front ring, number of links, and chain-stay length from center of bottom-bracket spindle to center of rear axle... well, I have most of the variables.  It's still going to cost money, time, and a lot of garage experimentation.  Adding to the fun, I also know that chain TYPE can make or break a vertical dropout "magic gear" single-speed project.  Hard to swallow when part of me knows I may not even like the results.  Suddenly the extra money for a new cassette rear wheel seems cheap.  Dangit.

I've thought about the Trek, with its semi-horizontal short dropouts, too, as a perfect solution here... but, I can't compromise:  It would solve the drivetrain issue perfectly, but I have already swapped the wheels across to find I wouldn't be able to run fenders with my preferred 700x28mm tires.  That's a deal-killer.  No amount of "wow" factor matters when it's 40 degrees, raining, on a must-finish ride, when you don't have fenders.  That's just MY comfort, not to mention the leather saddle and bag enduring direct tire-spray, having to move my lights (as they won't handle direct spray from underneath, either.  H-a-s-s-l-e.  Compromise.  I don't want either, and while I have been green-lighted to make some changes to the finish, I can't stomach moving the rear brake stay.  Add in the 650B "solution", and the money involved, and I'm out.  Cards down, fold.  She's too sweet a frame to cobble about and compromise with.  Back to the magic-gear headaches and the Kogs... which, come to mention it - if I wasn't so worried about its own tube brittleness, I'd have long horizontal dropouts installed to replace the verticals - and it needs a repaint anyways.  More money, more problems.  Ugh.  

Back to gears?  Perhaps that's best... but, my simplicity angst gets in the way, as does my desire to have a practically maintenance-free ride.  Heck, so does my desire for speed of late - faster brevets, more consistency:  for me, it has been proven time and again, even when I slow down toward the end of a long ride, I'm still in a bigger gear than I'd choose had I the choice.  That makes me faster, more consistent.  Sure, with a 35 MPH tailwind, I'll get left behind... but that hardly ever happens.  

Perhaps I'm just bored.

Actually, I feel like a sensible person trying to make a sensible decision.  The wheel in question does indeed need replacing within the next 500-1000 miles, so I don't think I'm bored.  Plus, if I can get by without having to replace that wheel for five years, nor buy cassettes every nine months for the next five years, nor worry about replacing shifter cables and housing -- well, the maintenance list begins to get shorter, the costs lower, the potential for problems on a ride is reduced as components are eliminated, the weight of the bike goes down, the enjoyment (far as I can read) goes up.  Five years?  The kids will be done with school then.  If cycling is still on the radar, the replacement for the Kogs is, also.  Custom, fancy, fine... and drivetrain flexible.

For now, I need to decide... is knocking off a half-marathon enough of a confidence boost to help me make this decision?  Is sensibility REALLY leaving things alone, and being satisfied that un-used gears are there IF I need them... or does removing them re-enliven my cycling, reintroduce some challenge?  Will DK go better, as the race in Oklahoma ten years ago would have, if I don't have the burden of extra gears -- burden, mentally, as-in I can't limp along with a crutch if it's simply not there.  In the fine tradition of HTFU... maybe that's precisely what I need.... 

... LESS.

From early 2004, the Trek 720 fixed gear.  You might notice by the length of exposed seatpost that the frame was ultimately too small for me and what I wanted to do - and I should have waited, scoured, and searched for the exact same thing in a 56cm.  I still am, in a way.  Triple bottle cages, long horizontal dropouts, low-trail fork, long wheel-base, Reynolds 5-3-1 steel, room for massive 700x32mm Vittoria Randonneur tires (though I'd run GBs today), this was the solution to all my issues - and would be today in the right size frame.  These old Treks are harder to find every passing year, and I have to face that.  In five years time, however, a custom builder will get a phone call from me with these pictures to follow.  Maybe an inch shorter rear wheelbase, add a taller headtube, some wire guides and pump peg, and that pretty much nails it - right down to the color.  

...or do I just leave well-enough alone, and stop fooling myself.  It's not as if that last five years have been "boring."  It's not as if the hills are truly "easier" with a taller ratio under me... it's still a grind, not a high-cadence Euro-racer tempo.  I've always been a grinder.

Then, still, part of me envisions the hills of Knob Noster, the Border Patrol, Might Peculiar, the Archie Bunker, and A Mere Two-Hundred, Oak Grove and Ride with the Devil, and I think... no, you need gears, man.  

... and then there's that voice that screams:  "yeah, but what if you DIDN'T?"


July 23, 2014

The Injustice of Speed

It happens to me at least once a year.  The need... for speed. 

"Talk to me, Goose."   Shortly after that, I find myself in the garage, starting silently at my bike and some of the old frames ​resting in the storage room.  Blast.  
Here we go again.

Stuff that hangs from my bike suddenly looks out of place, heavy, as aero as a​ fallen​ log, bulky as a bag of leaves.  Why does this happen?  Why is the bike the first place I look for speed?
I think we all do this, as cyclists, once in a while.  For me, the goal is to get out of the garage before I get the tools in my hands.  At the worst of times I had managed three complete bike builds in one weekend, the last one being the re-rebuild of the bike I'd started with.  See, Ieventually listen​ed​ to reason... b​ut only after swapping parts across three frames. 
 Exhausting... and time better spent riding, instead of thinking and lamenting.

I find myself, however, at a unique crossroads now.  The Kogswell has been static for a while now, as I've managed to calm the restlessness of the past.  The repeating cycle of winter bike projects has, meanwhile, freed up the old Trek 450 frame set​ (again)​ - which IS fast.  As I think further about my plans for Dirty Kanza next year, I begin to wonder if I'm asking too much if the Kogs...

July 10, 2014

Guest Post: Glen R. - "The Ride From Hell"

The Central Iowa 300k - a.k.a. The Ride From Hell
By Glen Rumbaugh 

Ok it wasn't that bad at all; I only listed as the Ride from Hell so you'd read it.
It was a dark and stormy morning, or so they said it would be. It did look like we would get wet Saturday when we were receiving our ride safety briefing from Iowa RBA Greg Courtney.  Yet, as we rode east out of Ames toward the dark rain clouds, the rain ultimately disappeared and, later, so would the clouds. 

The summer Iowa events are run on a single weekend, allowing riders to pick their preferred distance, and allowing those same riders to share miles with other riders doing other distances.  Twenty-two riders started: eleven doing the 200k, five for the 400km, three for the 600km, and three for the 300km.  You can see the benefit of the multi-ride instantly:  three people tackling 600km makes for a lonely day...but being able to start the ride with over seven times that number is neat.  

We all began together riding in a nice line East from the hotel. The faster riders, doing both the short ride and the longer rides soon pulled away. Some would be caught later as they burned their energy early on.  When the routes split in the town of Nevada I met a rider from Minneapolis who was also attempting the 300k.  His name was Vincent D. and he spoke with a definite Minnesotan accent. He reminded me of

Two streaks buried - for the right reasons

It bears mentioning that the shoulder surgery I underwent this week - as expected - created a welcome 'reset button' for me to press, despite some bullheaded notions about keeping a streak of streaks going.  The June visit to the Archie Bunker route marked the completion of my fourth R-12 run - but, these four were not achieved back to back, so the importance of keeping a month to month run in play sorta lost its importance a while ago anyhow.  There aren't any points for that sorta streak, even when it comes to the new Ultra R-12 prize RUSA.  I'll likely get started on run number five later this year, instead of my original plan of riding a July 200 sometime during the first three days of the month and then foolishly trying to continue it with another 200 by the end of August; and risking injury.  The personal pressure 

July 9, 2014

Reprise: A Last Chance Story (feat. Mark Jilka)

By Karen Winterhalter; 
The Last Chance at 1,200 & 1,000 kilometers
  We left at 3:00 am in the only rain Denver had seen for 2 months. I was very cautious of the white painted stripes on the road; they attract oil, and can be very slick. My goal was to get out of town without getting lost. The rain continued off and on all day for the first 250 miles. At the first checkpoint (70 miles), we were already losing people. Having a support car is not always a good thing.  See car, get in car, quit.
The front group of riders had 6 in it, and of them 4 already quit. Leaving the checkpoint, my feet were cold even with produce bags on them. I lost my balance and fell in the driveway. With blood running down my leg, I rode on knowing the rain would wash it away.
The car pulling the trailer with our drop bags in it was at the next checkpoint. I quickly got my rain pants out of my drop bag and put them on. The volunteers even made hot chocolate for us. Many of the riders bought gloves at the store. I put a grocery sack on over my new wool KC Randonneur jersey, then my rain coat and reflective vest. Ralph Rognstad and Dan Pfaff from

June 28, 2014

Multi-Ride Late Spring Wrap-up Mega-Post! (w/ June 200k report!)

It's too big!
That's what SHE said.  huuhuhuhuhhuhuhhhhuhuhuh.

I couldn't possibly keep putting off what has now become ... let's see ... at least seven rides now that at least deserve some sort of mention, and probably three that would warrant full-on posts, lavish and thick with metaphor and literary magic (right, let's not get carried away).  I had planned on waiting until my shoulder surgery to sit down and click away to publish a ton of new updates and ride reports, but, I'm told - in this instance, as well as in regard to many other 'plans' I have - that I'm fooling myself:  in fact i just tried to type one handed with my right hand, and simply the drop in words per minute has me frustrated and uninspired.  So, typing is added to the stuff that I'll likely get a break from.  So be it...

Spring is here!  Spring is here!  Life is Skittles and life is beer!  
But, there's one thing that makes life sweet for me... 
and only one thing that makes Spring complete for me...  

Riding.  Apologies to Tom Lehrer.

While I love nature, I have the unfortunate distinction of not really being able to able to nurture and control it the way - say - a professional landscaper or gardener.  Animals are one thing... plants and I sometimes have a misunderstanding.  Still, I have a few hearty flora here and there courtesy my home's old residents and the magic of deep bulbs and perennial growth patterns.  When this beauty blooms, I know the good weather is finally here to stay.  

- Family Training - 
Late May, 2014

My son is quickly growing,

June 27, 2014

A Moment for Mark, please

​It is with particular sadness I write to report the loss of one of our own, Mr. Mark Jilka, a long-time participant with our randonneuring group.  Mark had been riding southbound on the shoulder of K-177, approximately 3 miles south of Manhattan, KS., when a vehicle - also travelling south - presumably left the lane and struck him from behind.  The internet news links below contain details - I take no pleasure in posting this information, however, we felt compelled to inform the cycling public and our members as soon as possible.  Please take a few moments to remember Mark.  Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.