Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

June 17, 2017

Retrospec... what the heck is that?

This has probably been a really long time coming, so better late than never.
A few years back I had some Dirty Kanza aspirations, but no bike.  

Alas, I've been ever fond of the concept of under-biking ... the smile on my face in some of the photos from that post are clear indication that pavement isn't "everything", and even recently this post has been mentioned and re mentioned in social media.  It had a profound impact on me, and very, very few of my personal rides on the road bike don't involve at least a little gravel or light off-road.  But, DK demanded a bit more respect and attention... at least, more tire volume and mud clearance than my traditional road bike allowed.

Keeping with the advice of The Dirt Bum, our sage guide for the post mentioned above and purveyor of all things that make good sense, I sought out a low-cost entry into the world of gravel bikes by way of a tip on about the brand "Retrospec", and specifically their model called the AMOK, now on version 2.0: a basic, no-frills cyclocross bike with the clearances and rugged simplicity an event like DK seemed to demand.  The local garage sale scene would have also been a great place to start, but, at the time and the price -- which was (for whatever reason) FAR lower at the time of my purchase than Amazon lists today - it was hard to ignore the value.  Essentially, I was getting a 4130 CroMo 'cross bike for far less than I could have likely cobbled together on my own.  Done.  That was April of 2015.

In short, it's all been money well spent, even if only for the frame-set.
The frame is solid, stiff, responsive, predictable, and yes, probably a lot heavier than it need be; but, it feels and looks purposeful.  It certainly doesn't feel "cheap", which is an indication that a lot of price-point bikes (save for weight and tech) have come a long way in the last decade.  

Wheels, however -- one gets what they pay for.  Considering my investment, the wheels could have been in pieces when shipped and I would have been happy.  Overall, this is usually where off-the-peg bikes tend to suffer most; likely the reason the best money one can ever spend toward the upgrade of an existing bicycle is toward a wheel set.  The hubs are house-branded - loose ball bearings with retainers and poorly-designed seals which either drag too much or let too much water and dust into the hub body - take your pick.  The spokes are straight-gauge, traditional J-bend at the hub flanges, and the rims are no-name with a semi-aero profile, about 23mm wide, to allow easy adaptation of larger tires.  However, they ultimately proved their price-point:  after a few thousand miles, the rear drive side spokes (which were laced only 2x instead of my preferred 3x) began to let go, around the same time the hubs began to demonstrate knocking and wear.  After a few rebuilds and replacement of spokes to little avail, they've since been retired.  Initially I'd been using them as backup wheels for the studded tires I'd bought - finally once again having a frame which would accept big, meaty, studded winter tires for commuting.  For daily riding, and many of the gravel brevets I've enjoyed atop this bike, I'd adopted my old standby road wheels for the job - a generator hub up front (because it's me.) and an older Shimano Ultegra hub in back, laced 3x to Mavic Open Pro rims.  This is the part where the forum posts go wild -- yes, I'm probably 12 kinds of crazy and stupid for running such a "spindly", "roadie" wheelset for gravel... but, c'mon.  I'll allow you to exercise the "I told you so" if I ever end up dead in a ditch because of my wheel choice - but, again:  it's me.  #1, they are in the garage already... and #2, seriously, if I could even approach affording Chris King or HED or anything else "bomb" for my rides, I probably wouldn't have picked an bicycle purchase in the first place, right?  Right.  Let's keep this real.  The only real takeaway here:  buyer beware with wheelsets supplied with ANY complete bicycle purchase, unless you are shopping the top 10% of available bikes.  If you reach a certain price point, the included wheelset is likely something pretty special... but, if you don't see names you recognize on the rim and hubs... sock away some cash for a future upgrade.  This is where the internet trading market is terrific:  finding anything with a Shimano logo, Sun rims or Mavic, Alex or similar, will usually yield a better platform than most no-name wheels out there.  My Ultegra hub, now in daily duty on the Retrospec, is approaching 40,000 miles of trouble-free service, compared to the couple of thousand I got out of these "house label" wheels before the problems began.  Most folks buying this sort of bike, fairly, may never exceed 3000 miles in the bike's lifetime... so, they are equipped appropriately.

Tires:  Having nothing to compare to, the included Kenda Small Block Eight 'cross/gravel tires (in 700x35) were pretty darn good - albeit noticably slower then the road tires I've been used to: that was fully expected.  It wasn't until I finally burned through the tread and changed to the "Trigger" model from Specialized that the comparable flaws in the Kenda became apparent.  It was hard to ignore the Specialized's improvements in rolling resistance and comfort, even in a slightly smaller 700x33 size (though Specialized sizes, compared to other industry players tend to run bigger than the sidewall indicates).  Currently I'm maximizing frame clearances and running the Specialized Trigger in a 700x38mm size... again, the forums will ignite with cautions about running a wider tire on a narrow road rim, and of these concerns I am fully aware - but, I'm also intending an eventual wheel rebuild before too much longer, likely switching from the current Open Pros to Mavic's wider and stronger A719 rims.  

Yeah, I still don't run disc brakes... It's not a political thing, it's a frame thing.

The stock headset was "okay", but quickly started to pit - partly expected from another one of the no-name parts included in the build.  Since - again - the initial value was so high with this purchase, it was easy to justify the $30 or so for a FSA "Pig" DH headset with roller bearings.  WAY overkill for my purposes, but hey -- I like it when I can pre-load a headset and not have to touch it again.  Ever.  I generally classify headsets in the "buy it once" column, and prices for really good ones have come down in recent years. 

On that note, I'd opted - as a bit of a builder - to order the Retrospec as a single-speed configuration, after confirming they simply used the same cassette rear wheel as their multi-speed offerings, but equipped with spacers and a single cog, sans-derailleur.  This gave me the flexibility to spec my own rear derailleur and cassette and give myself a bit of an upgrade out of the gate.  For these I chose the venerable Shimano Deore mountain/touring long-cage rear mech, which has a massive wrap-up to handle big cassettes (granted, I'm still running in the 9-speed range so... this keeps it cheap.)  I opted for a 11-34 rear cluster, giving a lot of gear range for my desired 1x9 set-up --- although, I'd end up experimenting a LOT with front chainrings over the 24 months since my purchase.  After running a paranoid-of-climbs 34t front ring (and finding myself in the 11t out back all the time), I moved slowly up through 36t, then 39, and finally landed on 40t being my Goldilocks chainring.  With good chainline in the cruising gear and more climbing gears than speed gears, things are just about perfect now.  I've made some other small changes here and there - namely swapping out the supplied handlebars for some of my fave Soma Hwy One road bars.  The supplied canti brakes have been upgraded to Tektro's CR710 model, which have worked out nicely - offering better modulation and adjust-ability compared to stock.  The stock saddle was (as most stock saddles) wretched and made from nails and evil... so I swapped on a Brooks C-17, and life is amazing again.  Yep, again, it's "me" - so mild upgrades here and there over time are all part of the plan.  Start with a good backbone, and you'll get a great bike.

As far as bikes go, this one has proven out as one of the most versatile I've ever owned.  
The geometry is very comfortable, and I could easily swap in my regular road wheels and tires and ride a 400km tomorrow without many gripes.  I have a problem with multiple bikes in my stable... see the upgrades above, and you'll understand.  I like a single bike, one chain to lube, on set of tires, one saddle, one set of measurements... so, getting this bike as comfortable as the Kogswell - which has been the sole bike for a long time - was paramount; but, now that I'm there I am finding things that this bike does better than my road bike... and so, fleeting notions about making THIS the sole bike have come and gone.  Instead, I've used it as an opportunity to keep miles off the "good bike" and use this as the jack-of-all-rides that aren't brevets.  I've ridden rail trail, paved trail, have commuted, have ridden gravel at distances up to 200km so far, and lots of stuff in between.  Further, because it's heavier and obviously has higher rolling resistance, when I do ultimately jump back on the road bike, it feels light, quick, responsive, and fast.... and it's really none of those things compared to modern race bikes.  I'm not sure it's supposed to be - but, the Retrospec has provided a terrific training platform and has removed a lot of barriers to some great riding, be they snow, gravel, mud, dirt, single-track, and more.  

Other suggestions -- any old road bike will do.  A lot of 70's and 80's road bikes have terrific all-road geometries, and few realized their full potential.  With loads of tire clearance, one can (again, see Dirt Bum's site) come up with a great gravel solution.  But, there are solutions like the Retrospec which can fit the bill, too.  Yeah, it's no Specialized, Trek, Scott, Ridley, or Canyon.... but, you don't have to let a tight budget stifle gravel road enjoyment or all-road adventure.  Just know, while you should always support your local bike shop, there are options available to help you get out there now, getting dusty and putting a smile on your face.  Enjoy! 

Last year on a particularly hot and brutal gravel 200km ride.  Enough salty, sweaty brine to ruin a pair of bike shorts, but the Retrospec did great and got me home.

Before adding the rear derailleur, I enjoyed a few hundred miles on the stock single speed arrangement.  Note the highly-versatile rear-facing, long horizontal dropouts with position-adjusting bolts/chain tensioners and derailleur hanger.  Importantly, the dropouts are thick, the welds and tube joints are consistent and clean, and the entire frame is straight and tracks well.

Yeah, I tried that leather saddle on this bike, too.  I guess I'm just not a leather saddle guy, after thousands of miles of trying.  Here, as commuting duty became more of the focus, the fenders and rear rack were added, as well as the rear generator light.

Rear rack riser in view here, made from some aluminum stock.

On the Flint Hills Nature Trail, enjoying some miles fender and rack-free.

A wide range cassette to smooth out the sharper gravel road climbs out there.

Don't be afraid of this sign... it's where the fun starts!

Taking a break on a gravel metric century last summer.

Generator light mounted on the fork blade with some aluminum stock, to keep it out of the streak of tire debris; Josh on point as we rack up the dusty miles.

Approaching sundown on the evening commute home from work.

Gravel road exploration yields some of the best scenery and old buildings.

Bar tape wear... I just can't bring myself to change it out yet

Stormy weather?  Just ride... it can take it.

April 14, 2017

Leavenworth - Oregon - Leavenworth 300k: "This is what we do."

"The weather (and route) is what it is.  You can either handle it, or you can't."   - Les Stroud

I chose to preface this post with this simple, and one of my favorite, quotes; said at least a decade ago during one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows, Survivorman.  Les, the show's creator and host, is right.  I say this in the context of randonneuring to make it plain --- everything I've written here in these pages over the past fifteen years has been written from my own perspective. My perceptions are my own - and shouldn't be taken to prevent you or anyone else from trying this great, great sport I love - endurance cycling.  There is nothing "hard" about this sport - not really -- if you are ready, prepared, and smart about it.  Further, "ready" and "fast" aren't the same thing.  I'm not fast.  In the 20 years of serious adult bicycling I've enjoyed, I've only been truly "fast" for maybe 5% of those total miles.  It's not a requirement.  Seriously, the roughly 9.5 MPH total elapsed time requirement to make the controls of a RUSA-sanctioned brevet or permanent isn't something you "can't" do.  Sure, like anything else - train.  If you want it, work for it.  BUT, none of this is impossible, and while I tend to mentally have my own struggles from time to time, and I do tend to dramatize, but I've sometimes unintentionally painted a picture of something a bit "too hard"... maybe I'm compensating, call it whatever... but, the people I look up to (some of whom I am lucky enough to ride with) do some truly difficult things.  *I* do not.  I'm not fishing for complements or validation - though perhaps I once had been - but, I'm lucky enough to have the health to do what I love, and that's about it.  If it's ever "hard", it's because my lack of nutritional discipline or fitness or mental state in a given moment has made it so.  It really is up to me, and you, because when you boil it ALL away... it's just a bike ride.  Yes, yes... it IS, SO MUCH MORE... but, maybe you get my idea here.  Don't over-complicate, OR over-simplify.  Just try it.  You might hurt for a few days... but the memories you will pull from years from now are worth the temporary discomfort.

I want to encourage ALL of you to read this post quickly, then grab your credit card and go to and join up.  In today's world of annual music service contracts, pay-to-play apps, and wireless bills, RUSA is a still a real bargain.  Commit.  Join the club of one of the most satisfying physical things you will ever, ever do with your spare time.  It's truly rewarding, and I can't wait to share some miles with you.  Don't sweat the small stuff.  This VERY ride, I finished alongside a young dude on a really, really nice Cannondale machine, and right next to us was a long time friend riding a bike he'd literally pulled out of a dumpster back in January and revived as a fixed gear.  The bike you have right now is probably just fine.  Let's do this!

Okay... the magic of a brand new route.  What more can I say?

The journey in photos and captions, because .... let's face it:  It's nice outside, and while I've already gone for some interval training this morning, I just think time behind the handlebars is better for me than time behind the keyboard.   (Interval training??  yep, time for me to get serious again... I don't need wider tires, I need a narrower ME)

I love the idea of tracing out old highway alignments if they're largely intact.
This Audax KC (formerly KCUC) 300km brevet would take us along big expanses of K-7, all the way up into Nebraska.

As much as I'd been looking forward to it, I found myself running late.  First indication of a potentially tough day, I'd arrived with a scant 7 minutes to unload the bike, prep everything, sign in, and roll out if I was to leave with the group.  I shoved food into my face while making final closures on various leather straps and such while Spencer rounded up a full parking lot and made the route announcements.  Ugh, I hate being rushed but I'd done it to myself.  My usual habit of arriving at least 30 minutes early to a distant parking lot had vaporized, but I wasn't going to let it set the tone for my day.  It had already been a tough week ... I needed this ride for a lot of reasons.

My only regret came in the first three miles and involved me not asking a ton of questions of the rider pictured at right in the first of my shots, below.  Steel frame, VO fenders, loads of braze-ons, larger tires, front rack, front bag, wicked track-stand skills -- and power.  The dude was gone after mile five.  Pretty much what appeared to be my ideal bike... the Kogs is great, make no mistake; but, for me it represents a decade-old approach.  I'm using it as-designed:  rear bag, 28mm tires w/ fenders; but, the whole paradigm of what I'd now prefer in a rando bike had shifted to have the bag up front, a lower trail, and tires about 5-7mm wider than I can fit.  Someday... and, really, truly, as I mentioned before:  I don't need this... I do need to work on my current bike's engine, but, it's always a treat to see what other folks are running - and I'm always guilty of gear-envy.  This guy was a strong rider, however - the sort that could have had one of his brakes dragging or a couple of cinder blocks inside a pannier and it wouldn't have slowed him down a bit.  It's very motivating - thus my return to tracking caloric intake and pushing myself more on the bike.

Steven W. at left on his fixie with two fast guys whose names I hadn't caught, passing under the orange glow of streetlights on Santa Fe Trail Drive heading north out of Leavenworth in the ride's early miles.  

Over the shoulder, the glow of headlights from our 17-strong pack of randonneurs pierces the early morning darkness.

Headed up the "trail" toward "Eight Mile House", located about eight miles along the trail northwest of Leavenworth.  There isn't much on the web about this house, but what I could find indicates it was a tavern and hotel of sorts located about where the Ft. Riley and Old Oregon trail branched apart from one another.  It's still here, right beside the road which follows the original trail alignment pretty darn closely.  Here, Paul T. and I count dots of red taillights stretching up the highway as the rising sun illuminates the front of the structure.  Sadly, my photo is a little blurry, but you can get more detail here and here

Up on a big plateau, Steven W., Dave M., and Adam (R-to-L), with Paul up ahead on the road, then Karen & Greg on the tandem, and on and on we stretch, enjoying a wicked tailwind express northbound toward Atchison, KS.

Yeah, the token selfie.  Why not?

Old barn along K-7 near Iowa Point, KS.

It's always a bit exciting to cross a state line on a bicycle.  Without much fanfare we cross into Nebraska, and K-7 comes to an end.  Here, I'm enjoying the tailwind perhaps a little too much - burning the candle a bit, I focus on trying to reel-in an unidentified threesome of neon-colored "dots" on the road ahead, which seem to be inching closer.  I'd come to regret this move a dozen miles later.  One thing I need to remember:  when I ride hard, I need to remember to EAT and DRINK.  Just meters from the back wheels of Gary, Adam and Steven, I popped as soon as the road turned and exposed me to the crosswinds coming from the river valley.  So close... but, typical mistake of trying so hard to bridge I didn't keep enough to stay connected.  It's all in good fun... it was satisfying enough to have gotten close enough to identify my targets!

Crossing from Nebraska into Missouri along US-159 at Rulo, NE.  The view is still impressive, but, I still miss the old steel girder superstructure of the original bridge we once enjoyed crossing here.  The full power of the tailwind we'd been enjoying became apparent as the road turned us into it as a crosswind, and my caloric reserves (which I worked in vain to restore, all too late).  Steven and I managed to drop into the river valley together but soon became separated - then, Paul caught us and smartly organized us into an echelon to battle the winds as we continued toward the halfway control, still a dozen or so miles distant.

The halfway control, a true oasis.  I don't think I thanked Paul and Steven for their help in getting me there, as - right near the turn from Forest City onto the climb to Oregon I began to feel the needed assistance from the calories I'd been trying to add; despite a bite from a Snickers bar almost turning my stomach.  For a dozen miles before that point, I'd felt like dirt, couldn't pull a gel out of my bag - much less two other riders into the wind.  I owe a lot to those I've had to draft in time of personal miscalculation and having ridden myself into a hole.  Lots of other things going on there - which I understand now, in retrospect - and can learn from; but nutrition, in the tough moments of a ride for me, is sometimes more complex than it should be.  

Looking back, there were things I'd have changed about my first control in Troy... like, maybe EATING SOMETHING.  I think that change alone may have made all the difference, but, alas... I still made it.  Somewhere about the time Spencer, Dave M., and Joe E. passed Paul, Steven and me along the expanse of US-159 on the MO Valley, however, the mental thorn got shoved pretty deep.  As I dropped off all of the wheels ahead of me, a resounding "you can't finish this one, pal" washed across my mental foreground.  It's important to understand and remember that those moments happen to all of us from time to time, and that they're temporary.  For some it can happen on a 100km, for others it only happens on the toughest 1,200km rides... but, it's temporary.  First, stop the negative thought, smile and realize what you are doing may not be "fun" at that second, but is still genuine FUN... then, take some positive steps... a gel, some water, tell yourself a joke, take a short roadside break to stretch, wait for another rider... and give the solution at least fifteen minutes to work.  Keep moving if you can... it'll pass.  Even when I think I can't, I still can - and want to - finish.  It's not really the wind, the weather, or the route... it's usually just "us", and that's okay.  We recover, we bounce back, and we keep trying.  The good AND the bad make both the ride and ourselves better.  Take it in.  We can handle it.  This is what we do. 

The 275 Grille in Oregon, MO. is such a great little restaurant.  I'm glad they were there, and the food and service was terrific!  Sitting for at least an hour felt good and was needed.  We were blessed with TONS of time in the bank after making the halfway control in six hours, but getting back... yeah, it was going to take the time back.  I shifted my brain into tourist mode as we mounted up under terrific sunny skies.  Paul, Adam, Steven and I left the comforts of Oregon, and headed out of town on quiet roads and beautiful pavement.

Steven W. on his fixed gear machine, enjoying the weather (and the remains of our tailwind fun) along US-159 north of Oregon, MO.

Paul and Adam at center on the open road.  I always get nervous at the prospect of so many highways miles, but up here away from the city and between small towns, the traffic is very sparse and consistently friendly.  Good, hard-working people up here, usually with a wave, a smile, and lots of passing room.  We appreciate that!

Old barn and purple fields

So much time seemed to pass between stops now that the wind took center stage.  After completing the loop up to the information control, we crossed the big Missouri River valley and crossed back into Rulo, NE., where I stopped in for a photo and a water bottle refill at a local bar.  A cool feature, part of the old steel bridge which used to provide the river crossing here had been salvaged and welded into the initials of the bar here, just out of frame at right.  Out of frame to the left waited Adam at another small local bar, whom I hadn't seen immediately.  Mounting up again, I rode maybe a tenth of a mile, and stopped again.  A smart rider, Adam was waiting for a few riders to show up here to help handle the wind.  While rando can often be a very individual sport as the miles inevitably spread people apart, there is nothing in the rules about being resourceful and sharing some pulls into a strong headwind.  I was happy to dismount and rest a bit, as we waited for Steven W. to catch up, also.  

Some historical markers near the river.  The history along this route is rich and plentiful.

Rack 'o Fries:  Steven W's bike and some last minute caloric load as we prepare to "pay back" the tailwind from hours earlier in the day.  Our eventual finishing time, I feel, doesn't do complete justice to the consistency of the two riders I ended up with for the last half.  We all traded pulls and took plenty of breaks, sitting for food at each opportunity we found - control or otherwise.  We spent SO much time off the bike, that - really - our *rolling* time on the finishing leg wasn't as abysmal as I'd originally assumed.  I can account for at least an hour in Oregon, another in Rulo, another in Troy, and at least 30 minutes in Atchison at the Dairy Queen there.  All told, no - we're not wicked fast riders - but, we also didn't NEED to be.  Consistency, persistence, good food, and a positive attitude are all that's needed for a successful finish, even if the wind is unfriendly.  Our little contingent had this on-lock.

After long hours of doing good work, we found ourselves back on the Santa Fe Trail heading back into Leavenworth.  Sometimes it just boils down to keeping the pain down and the pedals moving - but I will say, it was SO NICE to be back in the hills.  Flat roads... people say they like them, but, man... especially with wind, I don't.  Give me some good climbs, and the miles fall so easily.  After dark?  Heck... that's my favorite time to ride.  I wasn't in a terrible hurry, and even here - late in the ride and definitely the last three on the road, I didn't care.  The hard work of the day, despite all the long rests and breaks, we were still enjoying a buffer of over two hours to finish with a scant 10 miles to the end.  No complaints!  

After March's solo run at the R-12 requirement, it was nice to ride with some good friends again, and to make some new ones.  Thanks to Steven and Adam, and ANYONE else's wheel I might have borrowed over the course of April 8th's 188 or-so miles.  Can't wait for the next one!  For me, this checks-off round 6 of my hopeful fifth R-12.  Halfway, baby!

Now, remember:  go join RUSA, check out the website of your local rando club, and go ride!
You won't regret it!

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

March 28, 2017

Getting up to speed

SO, I can’t just NOT post anything, right?
Okay, maybe… with a return to the rigors of academia I’m effectively getting the creative life squeezed out of me, but, occasionally I suppose inspiration will strike.
For now, I’m filling in some big, big gaps - all of which has to be reduced to bullet points.
There’s just too much material to tackle otherwise, and I’m trying to avoid the whole TL;DR effect.  (Finally, right?)

Yeah, these aren’t “bullet points” in the traditional business sense... it’s me.  Puh-lease.
So, on that, let’s work on getting back up to speed -- what you missed, in 12 brief snippets:

  1. Things began to dilute around July of last year; work got real busy, life got busy, and there was a LOT of riding going on ... so much so that writing about it much became a big chore.  Before long a massive mental backlog began to amass, a lot of which was brain-dumped into a huge blog post that would eventually end up accidentally deleted.  Lacking the fortitude to re-conjure all of those miles and words, I simply stopped.  It has literally taken almost exactly this long to return to the keyboard with anything much to say with regards to ride reports
  2. There were a few bright spots, however - there are ride reports posted from May, where I tackled my first distance runs at gravel, and for June for the Mighty Peculiar and Old KC Road rides; the growing theme, however, had been the heat.  While May wasn’t bad, June’s rando rides were met with humidity and high temperatures which would begin to do wholesale damage to my performance and recovery.
  3. Dirty Kanza 2016 found me acting again as crew chief for one of our local boys, Steven W., who achieved his goal of finally finishing this beast of a ride.  Good memories from early June, I’m looking forward to the day when I can finally commit to seeing this great event from the saddle, instead of the sidelines; but, man I have to say ... there is something awesome and satisfying about crewing, and I can’t think of a better event for which to volunteer - this, also, was the first time the heat really became a factor in 2016; while Steven finished well, my experience in the pits saw many strong-looking riders bowing out from dehydration and exposure.  It was to be a rough summer
  4. July became the tipping point:  Josh and I, having been focused on heading north to Nebraska for Gravel Worlds, continued to ramp up the gravel riding at distance - but, more than anything else, the heat became the real opponent - the surface almost didn’t matter.  After a brutally hot Mighty Peculiar in June, and a hot 100km on the Old KC Route in late June followed by countless 100-degree (F) commutes, the July 100km for Belgian National Day turned into a suffer-fest and study in dehydration and fatigue.  Finishing with only minutes to spare on an otherwise benign 104km route was a bit demoralizing, but, we knew it was “good training”.  Only a week later, Josh and I headed back out into the summer furnace for 201km of gravel from Olathe to Mound City and back ... an epic journey that rightly deserves its own, full blog post.  July 21st - possibly one of the most difficult finishes I’ve personally logged, I limped to the final control and obtained my last receipt with only eight minutes left on the clock; dehydrated, cramping, dizzy, and sore beyond belief; upon arriving home I laid on the cold garage floor reeling from what was surely heat stroke, cramping badly at any attempt I made to rise to my own feet.  I didn’t feel quite right after that ride for over a month.  DId it have to be that bad?  Hard to tell - I do not want to over-dramatize things, and I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes with nutrition and hydration, and the fact that it was a gravel ride likely had little to do with the outcome; but, I captured a screenshot of 109-degrees near Louisburg late in the ride.  Sometimes, it’s just plain hot - and I probably wasn’t taking great care of myself, but, also fact:  the combination of dust, heat, and sweat created a briney, sunscreen chemical laden runoff which - literally - ruined my cycling shorts.  I’ve never had a ride go quite like that.  Huge props to Josh for finishing under his own power, when a phone call would have been the easier choice.  Despite not making the final control time cut-off, he still pedaled it back home which is saying a lot.  This guy just doesn’t know how to give up, and that’s huge.  Hats off, in a big way - because, truth be told, under a tree somewhere on New Lancaster Road, I had my phone out and was staring down my wife’s text message avatar.  Hadn’t been there in a while, that’s for sure
  5. Still knocked backwards by the late-July gravel 200k, Gravel Worlds was far too easy to skip.  Didn’t go, didn’t happen - and I’m using it as motivation to continue to train and practice until I get “there” - wherever “there” may be.  The level of fitness apparent in my peers is impressive - and until I can knock off a gravel 200k with the same relative ease as done on pavement, I have no business signing up for ANY event.  Not going to make it a big deal, or a “must-do” - but, at this age in my life if I’m going to get serious I need to just do it.  The time for carrying around extra body weight and doing these rides, but then complaining about ‘being slow’ are in the past.  I don’t want to squeeze the fun out of what I’m doing - because I still have a great deal of genuine fun on long rides - but, I can’t be complacent anymore, either.  The “solution” I’m seeking has almost nothing to do with how long I’m at at a control or not, nor how much my bike weighs, or what sort of tire I’m running.  It has everything to do with my body, how much I should weigh for my height, and how I treat myself.
  6. While I did log an August 100km ride, there was no August 200k and no September 200k, and no October 200k... and barely any commutes to speak of during the period.  July punched me out, but hard.
  7. Beginning to feel again like I should do SOMETHING, November’s 200km came with mild temperatures, but a LOT of wind.  Terry and I battled strong headwinds down to Pleasanton on the Border Patrol route and almost timed-out on the road to the halfway control.  In a time of change, it was the last time we’d visit the old halfway control; their last day of operation as a new Casey’s opened for business a couple hundred yards to the east.  With the wind at our backs, we managed to make up time easily and finished on quiet roads after dark.  I didn’t consider it a “Streak starter” at the time, only that it had been nice to knock out a “good weather” 200km in November, since I’d had to drop the previous streak in August last year
  8. After the November 200km I’d become keen on trying to do a double-streak of a 100 and 200 kilometer ride each month – something I’ve since gotten over:  after the November 200k, though, it seemed like a good way to work on going a little bit harder and treat the 100km distance more like a time trial.  As a result, on the Old KC Road route, I managed to grab a “fast for me” result – only missing my 2014 group paceline performance on the same route by a handful of minutes.  Other differences, as the final control on the 2014 ride had been manned and “instant checkout” in nature, compared to “wait for receipt after eating” this time around, all-told I possibly recorded my best time on that course.  This was helped tremendously by Steven W., who – after enjoying one of the fastest seasons of his riding career – was happy to tow me along for a great deal of the distance.  It was rainy and breezy, conditions I seem to enjoy – and the cold brew afterwards was a great prize (yeah, beer... I’m not going to torture myself!)
  9. December’s 200km came late in the month on a whim that a rapid succession of a December permanent and the upcoming New Year’s Day 200k would result in a mini-streak, basically knocking out the toughest months of the year for long rides.  Heading out with Paul T., complete with Xmas tree and sleigh bells attached to his bicycle’s rear rack, we tackled the Princeton Roundabout nicely.  I began to take some notes here, as well, noticing that my own speed and efficiency had fallen off a bit.  While some would call this phenomenon “winter”, I began to look for opportunities to improve caloric intake, hydration, and how to squeeze more speed out of myself in the closing miles of longer rides – instead of each ride devolving to a death-march - a lot of this came alongside the aforementioned personal promises of looking after myself - much of what I seek can be traced back to what I’m putting into my body in the first place.  (Yeah, still had a beer after this ride, too -- all in moderation, friends.  This time I didn’t enjoy 10 lbs. of fried foods along with it.  ...only 4 lbs.  LOL)
  10. Only a week later, the New Year’s Day 200km ride was upon us - and while I hemmed and hawed about it in the comfort of my car’s heat at the cold start line, I ultimately made the correct choice for 200km to keep the streak going (as opposed to the also-offered 100km option that day).  In strong company with John M. and Spencer K., and thankfully with John nursing an injury (lest we never see his wheel again after mile 15), we enjoyed a nice day out on the Princeton Roundabout route under brilliant skies and passing clouds, capping off the day back at Barley’s with Spencer for another great post-ride brew... I could get used to this.  Rewards are good!  That whole moderation thing still in-check... waking up the next day, legs feeling fresh like I hadn’t even performed anything beyond the strain of walking the dog.  Nice!
  11. February, finally it appears that the toughest months of the winter season will provide just enough of a window of opportunity to grab the monthly R-12 ride without much hardship... but, it’s Kansas: if it’s going to be a mild temperature, it will be windy.  Very windy.  This time, Paul and Gary came along to enjoy another stab at the Border Patrol route - first heading directly into a strong southerly wind (18-22 MPH with higher gusts), which still felt lighter than the November gale Terry and I had endured a few months prior.  At least my speed was firmly in double digits -- now that’s progress!  We three traded pulls here and there in the usual disorganized randonneuring sense, and reached the halfway control with time to spare.  The trip back north was to be a tailwind charged adventure, and Paul - looking fit and on-form - appeared to shot from a cannon after turning north on LN-1095.  Gary and I caught a brief glimpse of him leaving the La Cygne control just moments before we managed to arrive there.  Paul would ultimately finish a full hour prior to us, and we didn’t exactly dawdle on the return leg -- all in all, a great day on the bike, and February firmly in the bag
  12. March has brought a bit more enthusiasm and opportunity; but, still I found myself kicking the MArch date downstream a couple times.  Anxious to knock it out on the 6th, plans changed.  The 20th came, but, I had fallen ill.  The 27th... icky weather... but, no more month left and no more opportunities!  If I’m going to do it, it has to be NOW.  That was yesterday.  Amid a mishmash of self-talk I ambled out of the garage and started at a “traffic-friendly” (and yet, sleep-friendly) 8:30AM to grab the March requirement, amid what I will call “aggressive drizzle” and a nice northerly tailwind (which I’d come to curse later, for obvious reasons).  Back on the Border Patrol route - not what I’d wanted, since variety is a good thing - but, necessary under the circumstances.  Still, could be, could be starting all over now!  After reading a great article on the trials of achieving the Ultra R-12 award (see RUSA’s webpage), and the whole concept of R-120 (!), I’m inspired to keep the streak going.  Granted, talk to me in 12 months and wee how life has allowed this - but, really, it IS possible.  Sometimes “possible” is all I need.  

This latest run at the Border Patrol had me trying some new things learned over the last couple of brevets with other riders present.  Discussions about fighting fatigue and dilution-based dehydration (almost hyponatremia, but not quite - just low on electrolytes due to too-dilute of a solution), and “smarter calories”.  Things like Snickers bars.  I mean, they’re EVERYWHERE - at least in the realm of c-stores, and yet, I’ve never had one during a ride.  I know what they ARE, mind you - but, in the context of seeing if they’d work for me on a ride?  Heck no, that’s “candy”... right?  Well, I tried one, and BANG... that’s good cycling food, dude. At least on that day, at least at that milepost.  Knowing that I have WAY more options at the stops solves a few problems:  less hauling around powdered nutrition that may not be doing me any real good, and less c-store aisle paralysis.  The bigger my list of “food that works”, the faster I can get out of a control knowing that I’ve got good energy on-board to make it to the next one, and so-on.  

Same with hydrating... I’ve noticed a lot of “camel-like” people just sipping water on hot rides, never complaining about cramps or fatigue, where -- by comparison, and especially when looking back at July ‘16, I’m guzzling water and trying to stay ahead of a hydration curve that I can’t really beat.  Now, it’s not HOT yet... so I have to continue to practice this carefully... but, this notion of maintaining an isotonic environment.  I’m glossing over the science here, because you can read a lot about it elsewhere... but, my theory involves not really hydrating correctly when I should be, not recognizing the warning signs, and not acting accordingly.  It’s tough to do in practice, when it’s hot and one isn’t feeling well, which is why so many people get themselves into trouble when the temperature skyrockets.  I’ll be approaching hot weather rides with a bit more intelligence this year, to see if I can remedy some of the issue that derailed my efforts last year.  

So, there you have it... you’re up to speed, and so am I.
Back into a steady streak, enjoying commutes when I can, and revelling in the nice springtime weather.
No complaints, really.  

Stay tuned... while the post frequency is likely to remain low for at least the next couple of years while I remain involved in worthy pursuits, I’ll at least try to keep up the occasional post and ride report.  

Enjoy spring!  Riding weather is here!

February 5, 2017

The Cost of Admission

Cycling is a terrific pastime.  The spirit of adventure and freedom which surround the bicycle have inspired generations of innovation and advancement for the bicycle itself and for items surrounding it.  The impact the bicycle has inspired is practically immeasurable and has created jobs, driven industry, and created a myriad of products.  While at its core the bicycle remains a simple thing, as things go, the immediate complexities created by modern cycling landscape can be intimidating and - for some - a source of frustration and even exclusion for those who choose, or don't have the means to afford, some of the technological advancements which have come to signify a perceived cost of admission for cycling, certainly racing, and sometimes randonneuring.

Now, this won't become an exhaustive dissertation on the why and how of the state of the bicycle market these days, but instead only a cautionary reminder that our pastime shouldn't become yet-another marketing sink-hole.  

Over the years I have had the privilege of being shamed by many a strong rider riding equipment "far less appropriate for the day" compared to whatever I'd been riding that day.  I remember being perched atop my Ultegra-equipped Bianchi race machine and desperately sucking the wheel of a guy who had ridden the Longview Lake weekend hammerfest on what appeared to be an early mountain bike with knobby tires and a giant grocery store milk crate zip-tied to his rear rack - and, ultimately, I was dropped.  

I remember a terrific 217km brevet with Ax0n, who'd ridden the entire distance on a mountain bike with slick tires, a rear rack and full panniers loaded with PB'n'J sandwiches and extraneous techy gear ... just 'cause, well why not? - and despite my additional time riding longer distances and my purposeful randonneuring steed, he and I finished at the same time - both with big smiles.  

I've caught myself suffering on long days while riding my "perfect" and well-maintained road bike and later finding out that one of my riding partners had ridden the entire distance on a partially-seized and horribly loose bottom bracket...finishing an hour ahead of me.  

I've relished the cozy cocoon of a new wool jersey alongside folks riding the same 200k wearing a basic button-up short-sleeved work shirt and camping pants, astride a 40-year-old road bike obtained at a garage sale for $25.00.  

I've ridden with guys who'd become horribly lost despite having cue sheets right under their noses, and with people who never seem to miss a turn while having "never gotten around to" installing even the most-basic of cyclometers.  

Even today, some of the best riders I have the joy of sharing time and pavement (or gravel) with are riding a wide myriad of bikes, bags, clothing, and gear.  No matter what, no matter what I've chosen to buy, sell, borrow, or modify over the years - I tend to experience cycling the same way:  I finish when I finish, I'm as comfortable as my mind allows me to be, and the bicycle is always, somehow, the right bicycle.  Sure, that story may vary depending on when you ask me, but overall - from 100,000 ft. above myself - these are true statements.  Only in retrospect, perhaps.  

In this moreso-than-perhaps-ever "first world" in which we American randonneurs live and ride, I feel it's important to remember these simple truths.  There are so many gadgets and innovations and specialty items available it often becomes easy to fall into a trap (of which I, too, am often ensnared as well) that the reason the last ride ended so poorly is because you chose saddle A instead of saddle D, or that your tires aren't hand-glued by Italian artisans, or that you had no earthly idea what your wattage-to-body weight ratio was when you rode your last training loop.  While I begrudge no-one for their choices, nor their reasoning, nor their gear, I must say that when working to grow our pastime we must each take pause when advising those new to the scene.  I have seen too many shy away from taking part because of a misguided notion that "they don't have the right wheels", and I have equally seen folks never return to riding because they don't have the "right bag"...despite their particular bag having been perfect for the day and conditions.  We have to caution ourselves from saying too quickly a phrase containing some version of "if you don't get one of X, then you're going to Z," or "you NEED this."  While most will agree, consider, and possibly also buy - we NEED to be cognizant of that rider on the $25 garage sale road bike from the 80's that "can", and indeed "will" wipe the road with all of us.  If she doesn't feel like she can't join us because her handlebars aren't adorned with the latest tech triumph, or her tires aren't mounted on carbon rims, that she somehow isn't worthy of the group ... then we all lose.

Certainly in these pages I have had no good part in this: I've touted this or that, or expounding the virtues of a tire I like, or a frame material, or a particular fabric - so, no, I'm not infallible here --- only now when I read of decline in RUSA's numbers to I reflect on the many, many mistakes I've let slip past my lips to eager riders over the years.  
While this guise of cycling exclusivity (either real or imagined) may never go away, I certainly need to stop perpetuating it.

It would be foolish of me to try and posit why each of us ride what we ride, use what we use, go where we go and for as long or as short as we choose to; I only know these answers for myself - and even then, those answers change with the season and sometimes my mood.

But, where we can help swing the membership pendulum back in the correct direction, I know I will be tendering my opinions a bit more carefully, and stick to the important stuff:

Does your bike work?  
Is it safe and sound, structurally and mechanically?
Do you like it? 
Does it fit you well and not hurt you after X miles?
Can you carry what you'd like to? 
Will you be able to navigate to the turns with some accuracy and confidence?

That's all you need.  
Let's go ride!

December 23, 2016

Year-end and a new commuting challenge!

   It's only been two months since my token post about baggage, or whatever that was... so, I figured it was good time to wrap things up for 2016, and put a big fat bow on things.  Life has been busy, however, I've managed to get more miles than lat year... and the year before that, which honestly surprised me.  More indicative of business, perhaps creativity or focus, blog posts have been down.  For 2014 I ended up with sixty-five (65) posts in total, while 2015 closed out with forty-one (41).  While total posts has never really been a goal, there's no denying that I'm a numbers guy, by profession and practice as well as by nature; so, as I write this, only the seventeenth (17th) post of 2016, it's clear from where my attentions have shifted.  I've had plenty to write about, but, even if I consider the five ride reports I effectively lost when a computer issue deleted my backup of a massive post I've been working on in October, the resulting total would barely be half of what 2015 brought in terms of content.  

The fog, however, may be lifting.  Social media is a bit hollow and I rarely have less than 140 characters to say about anything, so, perhaps the "lost art" of the blog will return with some energy behind it for 2017.  I wouldn't count on it, yet; time remains precious, and I'm about to return to school in addition to the two jobs I've managed to hold.  I don't stop.  Neither should anyone.  Enough about that.  Well, hell... if nothing else, follow me on Instagram, eh?  A picture is worth 1,000 words, so maybe THAT's where the creative energy has been landing this year.  Blogging is dead, after all.  Meh.  'Evs. 

It's fun being weird... you should try it sometime.

One worthy challenge is looming, however,and it returns this blog to it's original design intent... commuting to work, and how to do it.  I've had it fairly easy in the sense that commuting to work has been almost a non-thought process with regards to what I have to work with at the office.  I've been enjoying a cubicle-based existence ... which, trust me, is ONLY good from a commuting perspective for a lot of folks... but, one tends to take the space they have for granted until it's taken away.  Yes:  ample drawer space, overhead bins, and a literal upright bookshelf/cabinet arrangement that has served me well for hanging up layers for drying after the morning ride.  All of that, thanks to an office modernization and minimalism project, is going bye-bye.  Now what?  

Honestly, our old cubicles were MASSIVE, and even in "horde-mode" I couldn't fill it.
I personally think it's cute that I only had ONE computer monitor at this point in my career.
How did I live?!?

I've already gone through the range of emotions and have landed on acceptance, because - honestly - it's not THAT big of a deal.  The alternatives could be a forced work-from-home policy, or yeah.. no job at all.  What am I REALLY complaining about, right?  Yeah, I'm not.

In the same cubicle as above, but out of frame to the left... A BOOKSHELF cabinet with drawers!?
Re-purposed shelf supports, some speaker wire, clothes pins and zip-ties = commuting ease!
. . .but, not any more, in just a few short months.
I'm not complaining... because, honestly, we haven't needed this amount of space for years now... it all makes good sense; but, it adds a layer of challenge considering I've taken this sort of accommodation for granted.

But, it does remind me a lot of when my primary job was at a much, much smaller desk space, with practically no drawer-space and no overheads or spare cubes to string clothes-lines across.  Heck, at the bike store - something I didn't really think about - there was almost NO available space to dry clothes, because there was no concept of "desk" anywhere!  People do this, every day... and since I've already decided that this is not going to prevent me from being a responsible citizen and active commuter, I, too, will find a way to adapt.  Documenting it, however, it the next step - and it will have the effect of revitalizing this blog a bit.  Things I haven't had to think about for over a decade will become new challenges to overcome, and - who knows - maybe it will help someone out there who isn't quite sure how to get started with commuting to work by bicycle to their office.  No matter how limited or cramped - this IS possible.  It's time for me, once the final office space is complete, to adapt once more and keep moving forward.

One solution, just NEVER change out of my riding clothes!
Problem solved!  Customer meetings are for chumps!

Drying clothes?
It's not like anyone ever gets wet
on a commute to work, right?

 So, stay tuned... as the "drama" unfolds, so will updated and new pics on how to adapt.  It's going to be interesting, and I already have some ideas that my new, close-by neighbors in the new work-space will SURELY love and adore.  Riiight... time to stock up on deodorant, and re-examine the "shower-only" office gym membership (speaking of things I shouldn't take for granted).  

In other news, time to start back on the holiday season diet and get back on the bike.
I enjoyed a terrific 100km flyer with Steven W. a few weeks back, clocking an ALMOST personal-best (the only problem being the post-paid receipt nature of the last control); hey, considering how I've been my own worst enemy when it comes to riding pace, "training", staying on top of my fitness and diet, I'm LOVING the fact that I was able to knock out that pace!  Anyhow... not bragging, just trying to be the best version of myself I can.  More on that, and more ride reports to come in the new year. 

Until then, happy holidays to everyone!

I'll be back.... bet on it.