Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .
December 31, 2007
Officially, I raise a glass to friends and family, and wish you all the best in the new year - good health, happiness, prosperity, and fortitiude to handle lifes many challenges.
My only regret at this writing is that I don't have the "new" Trek ready to ride just yet. At this writing I have amassed caliper brakes, brake levers, the stem, the seatpost, shifters, rear derailleur, front derailleur - anything not mentioned I already had in my possesion. In fact, the ONLY pieces missing are the bottom-bracket and crankset, and some incidentals; chain and brake cables. I have three permanent routes submitted to RUSA, and all three have come back as pending, with a few minor modifications needed here and there. As soon as I have a permanent number for any one of them, I'm riding a 200K! Very excited!
2008 should be a fantastic year -- and it's good to put this trying 2007 behind me. I'll likely remember it with the same reverence I remember 2003, honestly. It is the hardest times that make us stronger, and ultimately who we are. In that vein, 2008 should be my strongest year to date. So, as the northwest winds howl outside my window tonite, and the cold Canadian air filters in for a low temperature of +6ºF overnight, I can't think of a more fitting way to start off this new year; from the bottom, looking up - and full of hope.
December 21, 2007
To resolve, to fix, to remedy.... so for me, resolutions this year are simple. Consistency.
I already consider 2007 to be over, cycling-wise. Yeah, I only commuted once this month -- and that feels pretty crappy to me. I've really lost consistency - but, it's been THAT kind of year - and I'm okay with it -- REALLY. The trails are getting better, but I need to find an overland route to home and work - one that won't get me killed, basically. After attempting the trail last week, and ending up being about 45 minutes late to work for it, a reroute until spring is neccesary. It's hard to get back on the road after enjoying the seclusion of the trail, the protection. But, in years past I'd commuted in all weather on all roads - so I just have to get back into that mindset if I want to get the consistency back. Yeah, the studded tires and pull-behind plows are a great idea, but MAN -- I'd have to work on 7-miles of trail, and get there before anyone else does. What awaited me this week was rutted ice, filled with "pot-holes" from foot traffic by hearty dog walkers and hikers -- and the result, well I don't even think studs would have helped that. Still I did make it work work, but it was slow going. That afternoon, I took 143rd Street primarily, now that it's open again - not my first choice as an east/west route, mainly because it's not completely redone yet: there are new areas that have four lanes and a good shoulder, but there are still the old sections between Switzer and Pflumm that are two-lane country road with no shoulder. Traffic was understanding, my lights were more than effective, so it was fine --- but it's a dice roll on those narrower sections, close to dusk in winter-time, and I'm not really anxious to play the odds. So, a little creative zig-zagging might be in order, and that's fun - exploring a little on the way home to find that perfect bypass. I'll get on that next week. But as far as frequency, I'm not going to stress myself or kill the mood by trying to do too much. I'm not putting a number to it.
Resolutions..... hmmmm.... fixing stuff.....
Well, one of my goals for sure is to NOT get so worked up about stuff in 2008.
I'm still flying under the RADAR -- actually, I fancy myself in spy-place fashion, flying WAY
above the RADAR at Mach 4+.... classified, of course --- but either way, cropdusting or star skipping, I'm not planning on anything big-deal for 2008 - and if I DO, I'm sure not announcing anything until I'm darn good n' ready to. And darn good n'ready to succeed at whatever I choose. That's not to say that I'm not going to challenge myself and take a risk or two -- if we DON'T challenge ourselves, well, you get the idea... I just don't need the extra pressure if something changes, because life is unpredictable. I'm a Dad and husband first, and if that means that I'm not going to announce "ok, here we go, I'm gonna do the Badwater race in 2009", so be it -- because I have to live life one week at a time now, as far as cycling goes.
I'll still commute, and I'll still randonneur -- THAT is who I am. Can't change it. Can't bust it.
Rando FOREVER. But rando will always be there. Kids? You get the idea... So, there -- that'll keep ya'll guessing. If you're all worried that I'm not setting any goals, you're reading this blog for the wrong reasons and you need to get out there and set some goals of your own. I ain't no hero -- knock it off. Go root for Lon Haldeman or Sam Baugh or someone like that, seriously. Those are the cats I look up to -- I may have knocked off a 600K, but *MAN*.... I ain't even in their class, no way, no how. Would I LIKE to be? Heck yes. But it's gonna take work.
...And that leads me to my next resolution. WORK.
There are things that I complained about in 2007, like my weight. In reality, I could be a lot worse. Now, THAT sounds like a big cop-out.... but it's really not. Because when I say to myself "you could be a LOT worse off", what that really means deep down is that I could have like 200 lbs to lose or something. THAT would be BAD. In reality, I'd only LIKE to lose 30 lbs. That's DO-ABLE... so what's the freaking problem? JUST WORK AT IT. I wasn't working at it in 2007. I was eating anything I liked, as much and as often as I liked. The fact that I managed to finish the longest brevet I've attempted to date, and still manage more than a double century at Tejas is amazing to me considering how much I've let myself slip. I have simply NOT been taking care of myself the way a cyclist should. The fact is, it's NEVER too late to change a behavior, and I simply got complacent and lazy. Boo hoo... move on down the road, and get to WORK. Over the last two weeks I've lost 8 lbs., and the initial tummy grumbling and hunger pangs have subsided. I already feel better, and I'm starting to regain touch with the guy that was determined to lose the weight and be successful on the bike in the first place, back a few years ago. Yeah, it's only 8 lbs., but it's a start. Next week, it'll be ten, and the week after that it'll be 12, then 14... and so on. When the brevets start up in March, no-one is gonna want to draft me anymore, and some of my favorite old jerseys will fit again. It just takes work, and I'm finally ready to DO IT.
I'm pretty much on a "not" kick for 2008, as far as resolutions go beyond the stuff I've already mentioned. NOT be lazy. NOT set ridiculous goals. NOT run. NOT enter any "races". NOT treat my body like crap. It's easy to say I want to ride XXXX number of miles in 2008, or I want to weigh XXX, and I want to compete in X -- but what I really need to be doing is setting goals that will get me those things by consequence. If I do NOTHING else, I'll have lost some weight and will be healthier for it.
Finally, I owe a great deal of thanks to my dearest friends that have listened to me rant and vent over these past six months, and helped to point me back in the correct direction. While these aforementioned ideas and goals are my own, the tools that helped forge them were placed into my hands by people who cared enough to see that which I was blind to, and for that I am eternally grateful. You know who you are.
Other projects? I have three RUSA permanents entered into the pipeline, and I'm anxiously awaiting approval so I can get some focused training started. Training for what? I dunno. Wait and see. I have my own ideas that I'm kicking around. But, it'll be nice to support a REAL route, something on the books somewhere that people can take part in for their goals, and something I can use for myself also. If you are interested, punch up www.rusa.org, see about membership, check out the links, and see if randonneuring is for you. If it IS, then riding a RUSA permanent is a great way to get started. Life begins at 200km!
Will brevets and perms be the ONLY rides I'll do? Good grief NO. I can't wait to hit Longview Lake again for the big group ride! I can't wait to get a clear weekend and try out the new Olathe Saturday AM ride that leaves from Bike America's new location! I want to try out the Kill Creek ride next Spring! The Spring Classic (if it doesn't fall on a brevet weekend, like it always seems to, that is.) I can't wait to finally hit Tour De Shawnee again next summer! And whatever impromptu rides come up between now and then, I'm probably game, too! There are a lot of fine, fine folks that I haven't seen in months, and I ache for a good ride with them -- again, you know who you are. Day or night, if the conditions are right let's hit the bricks for cryin' out loud! It doesn't have to be a group of 25 riders for it to be fun; I've finally let go of that "super ride organizer" mode I was trying to get in. Yeah, I love makin' maps, and gathering people -- but you know, it started getting in the way of the ride ITSELF. Heck, I don't want to take over the world, or even the city... I just wanna ride.
That's my 2008 preview.
Happy Holidays, ya'll!
December 12, 2007
Of course, as soon as I FIND one of these bikes, the ice will be gone - so maybe it's okay to just take a few days off and save my money! The cash to drop on a pair of Nokians will buy a lot of bus passes! Still, it would be nice to be totally self-sufficient that way, but I might wait until next season, summer-time, to build it -- something to build AFTER I finish the Trek 450.
Above-freezing temps in the forecast for tomorrow -- maybe today it will dry out a bit. I'm ready to suit up and enjoy some winter riding!
December 6, 2007
<-- This is Kansas.
I'm awash with geographic jealousy for Ort and his warmer climes only a few hundred miles south of here. Deep in the grip of a North-Central Texas winter, they've played with the lower 40's.
Up here, we might see out first brush with the teens in the next 72 hours, as seriously cold air settles in just north of us. I feel daunted, and small in it's looming shadow. Around me, other riders that have not had quite as challenging an annum as I have are headed a little bit farther south for a brevet around Springfield, MO -- others still are braving the nasty conditions even farther north that I am. I ache for fitness, weight loss results, and just a little dry weather to test my wings. This is all good - because I haven't ached for a ride like this in quite a LONG time! Keeping that want occupied in the gym, however, is kind ... well, sucky. Weights class, rowing machines, stair-masters, and dumbbells are doing their jobs for me, and yoga is calming the soul and clearing the mind -- but I really REALLY want to feel that fine Italia leather under me, the feedback from the road, and the rush of air around the face. The dangling carrot of an extra permanent route card has been dangled in my face, so to speak -- and part of me really wants to jump. Then, of course, there is Texas in January ---- my RUSA breatheren.... they are always there to help, and encourage. I appreaciate that a lot. While I don't feel strong enough, I hear things like "It'll be a slow ride...", and "plenty of people to ride with" -- along with "just do it". A smile and good conversation await, and the commonality of the bike. I'm tempted in a lot of ways...
I've been keeping myself occupied, one way or another, though - the time is not wasted. Plenty of good kid-time, playing, reading, goofin' around. Good wife time, too -- TV, talks, etc. A little "me" time in the garage with the Trek 450 - which is shaping up nicely. It's getting too cold in the garage lately to keep the touch-up paint sticking, so the rest of the refinish and touch-up may have to wait until spring - but most of the bigger spots are faded in to the rest of the paint. It's THICK factory paint, too. Good stuff. I only have a handful of items left on the purchase-list, too - but I'm still not in too much of a hurry. I actually found a clamp-on Shimano 105 front derailluer (FD-5500) with the CORRECT clamp size of 28.6mm - which is harder to find than I though it would be. It's lighter than the stock Shimano 60 model, and the spring action is lighter - for smoother shifts. Plus, it's a good shiny silver color to match the rest of the components. I chose 105 for the front derailluer, mainly because this is the one place on a bike where it almost DOESN'T matter that much. There's simply not much you can do to it to make it better than itself - and the only difference between the 105 front D and the Dura-Ace front D is weight. The shaping of the cage, the spring, the adjusters - it's all the same. So, a little de-stickering, and it's nice and generic looking, but appropriate for the bike - and a perfect fit, with no weird aftermarket clamps or adapters or reducers. The Dura-Ace rear D cleaned up nicely, and is awaiting service. The Dura-Ace downtube shifters, indexed 9-speed, will solve the old auto-shift issues the old friction Shimano 600's were having, and they look REALLY sharp. The de-logo-ed MAvic Ksyrium wheels look awesome, too. The new stem is top-shelf Nitto -- very slick. The only thing left are bigger items - the bottom bracket and crankset, namely - and a good handlebar. Plus, sadly, probably a new seatpost -- I swapped in my Thomson Elite seatpost, which is probably the best seatpost available - I'm glad I kept it. With my older Selle Italia Flite T/A saddle on it, it's my perfect package. Only problem is, it's black -- it was originally purchased to match the Cannondale. Ugh. I didn't think it would matter to me, but honestly I'm taking the time to do this bicycle RIGHT, and with all the shiny silver components already installed against that gorgeous red paint, the black seatpost looks out of place. So, I've added that to the list of "nice to haves" --- the current one will allow me to ride it, so it'll work - but it won't last long, I'm sure. Same goes for the brakes. I found a set of close-out Tektro 420 road brakes - short-reach, which this bike takes, silver, so they match - but they are heavy, and sorta clunky looking in a way. The price was right. The take advantage of the Cane Creek SCR-5 brake levers, however, in that the brake calipers themselves don't have quick releases on them. The CAne Creek levers, however, DO, so I'd still be able to get the wheels out without issues -- but they just look odd. It's a Campy thing, having the brake release in the lever, but these are certainly not Campy-quality calipers. So, that might ALSO be on my list for aesthetic reasons alone. Tektro makes a FINE brake, and these dual-pivot, modern clampers will be a LOT stronger and more reliable than the old Dia-Compes they replaced. Still, they are kinda low-ball, component-wise - something that would come stock on a lower-end road bike today. Not sure if I want to call that "good enough" for this steed. We'll see. If my goal is to have her ready for a 200K by the end of March, then she'll be ready --- but maybe just not "perfect".
There's always time for upgrades...
The holiday haze, aside from the good points above, has got me shaken up a little, tho. It's hard to stick to the diet, stay in the gym, and put up with the ride-cancelling weather. I suppose it could be a lot worse - but it's hard to not just collapse on the couch with a plate of cookies sometimes. Now, I have not done that - and don't plan to - ecause I FINALLY feel GOOD -- REALLY GOOD -- for the first time in months. My system is clear of excess sugars, and I know it sounds weird, but I feel better. Spring-ier. Does that make sense? It feels good to take care of myself -- because I hadn't been for about a year. Maybe a 200K is exactly what I need...
Still thinking about it. Only a few short months, and this whole "winter" thing will be behind me. But, I'm defintely taking a jaunt south to LSR-Land early next year --- I just HAVE to get a break from this scenery, and feel some mid-60's weather again, now that I'm really itching to ride!
November 21, 2007
A good, short week - two commutes WORLDS apart, in typical Kansas weather fashion:
Monday, 74 degrees - short sleeves, shorts, no socks - lots of sun, and strong SW winds.
Tuesday, rest day - helped clean out gutters at the old homestead.
Wednesday, 37 degrees before dawn - drizzle, then heavier rain closer to work.
Wednesday afternoon; 30 degrees, 28 MPH North winds, freezing drizzle mixed with snow.
Dang. THAT was weird. Monday feels like it was a month ago, as I arrive home today with a numb face, and snow-caked sleeves and chest. Wow! An awesome commute, honestly -- only a month ago, I would have talked myself out of it - but this morning and afternoon, I was undaunted by the weather. It was just a fun ride home, in the snow.
Oh, and for the record --- WOOL, WOOL, WOOL. Even if you can only swing ONE wool jersey, make it the long sleeve winter weight wool jersey. I like Woolistic, or Portland Cycle Wear, personally -- but there are lot's to choose from like Boure, Ibex, and some others I think - there aren't any bad ones, as far as I've read. Today: Wool + snow + sub-freezing temps + no rain jacket or barrier layer * nervousness about getting wet and hypothermic = making it 12 miles in thick snow and arriving home perfectly comfortable with big chunks of snow falling off my sleeves and a perfectly dry base layer. WOOL, baby. It's only expensive until you USE IT in conditions like this -- and then it's suddenly the best deal in the world. You only need one good set. For me, next; wool tights, so I can complete the package.
I love this time of year, and I love that I'm coming back on form - coming out of the burnout.
I have a lot to be thankful for, besides - of course - but it's the small things sometimes.
I arrived home with a big grin on my face, thinking that a friend down in Texas that was completing the November leg of his R-12 run was missing all the fun up here.
Again, have a good Turkey Day, ya'll!
Talk to ya next week!
November 13, 2007
First off, the "Tree Video" is here --- I only wish it was longer, but honestly there is nothing from stopping me from continuing it a little. My ultimate goal would be to take additional shots until the first snows come, maybe catch some ice on the limbs, etc., and catch it rebudding next spring.... stay tuned, but for now here's a taste of what I've been working on OFF the saddle. In order for this to flow better, I have already learned quite a bit -- for example, the initial pictures were much larger, but I had to pick objects in the frame to crop at, in order to get the tree centered (more of less) in each frame. This comes from rushing down the deck stairs, aiming the camera, shooting, and walking back upstairs every day. What I need is a tripod, something permanent, preferrably with a remote trigger - like a true time-lapse set-up would have. If I could have a static set-up and computer control, I could pull off a shot every 5 minutes, say, and then when composed at 30 fps, I tell ya -- that would look pretty cool. Something to think about for next year, perhaps. Anyways, enjoy --- I had some fun with it, even tho it's short.
Next, a taste of what I was working on LAST year, as well... the fabled Coffee/Coffee Ride, caught on film... and my first foray into video experimentation:
Next, several clips from the 300K and 400K this Spring. I wasn't able to get these edited together, as my current video software doesn't like the 3gpp2 format very much - but eventually there will be freeware editors for this kind of thing, so I'll clean them up -- until then, capture the raw, unedited carnage that IS a brevet! Ok, that might be a little dramatic. It's more like endless rambling, often masked by windnoise, and cinematography straight from the black box of a crashing airplane. Yeesh. Get a stabilizer! The quality, however, I have to apologize for -- these hyper-compressed mobile device video formats leave a lot ot be desired, but at least they are more tollerable than earlier versions! I can't deny the compactness of it all, tho -- on a long, long ride when the mind wanders a little, the built in MP3 player and external speaker keeps me entertained, but safe - no headphones needed. And the camera and camcorder is really nice to have in one small package, so some sacrifices are acceptable, I suppose. I'm sort of a tech-geek, so it still amazes me that they can do stuff like this! I remember when camcorders came with a BAG to carry the VCR in, and NiCd cells that weighed 10 lbs. Yikes, we've come a long way. I digress.... (what, again? me?!? get OFF subject?!?)
First, from April, the 300K brevet -- details from the day, in three parts when I finally got SO looped out from the day that I decided to record a monologue - this was a hard one. The full story is buried HERE if you'd like to pre-read the tale. After hours of rain, cold, and hardship, I was DYING to talk to SOMEONE, and here is the result, in three parts:
Episode I - A New Dope.
Episode II- The Dude Strikes the Record Button
Episode III, which is really Episode VI, Return of the Moron:
SO, you get the Tree Video, the Coffee/Coffee montage - the collection of 300K videos, *AND* the collectable plate?! YES! NOW how much would you pay?
But WAIT! There's freakin' MORE!
Finally, in two glorius parts, the 2007 400K video -- the story is featured "on the cover" this month, and you can read it HERE if you like. Same kind of deal as before, but what's interesting - to me, at least - is how the differences in the videos tell how trying this ride became near the end. In the first video, I'm chipper, almost - really enjoying the day, riding along, smiling... and then later, after the sun has been down for hours and hours, I'm just whipped. It's almost funny. I don't remember that 2nd part of the ride, but there it is -- enjoy!
...and then, 11 hours and 38 minutes later...
November 12, 2007
Still, it wasn't SOLO, for once! Wasn't a commute, wasn't some lame solo training -- just a good ride with a couple other blokes.
Started out from home, rode to the ride start, then basically almost rode home again, passing within a couple miles of the home-20, and then working back towards the start again - afterwhich I rode home, much the same way I had ridden there.
The result was a good 40-mile workout, and some pretty neat scenery along the way. Because of high south winds, we decided to ride towards the south first and get a little push all the way back, but that quickly turned into bike trail abandon as the south winds proved a little strong for some. Since I was just along for the ride, I didn't have the heart to say "uh, I just came from this way" -- it was too good a vibe to spoil with pettiness about the route.
Jeffrey and Jim led the way as we proceeded SW on the trail system, towards Olathe. Leaves were everywhere, and the condensation from a particularly wet airmass made the pavement sweat - keeping things damp, without rain. Thick clouds blanketed the sky, and the ride had that flavor of fall that I really like - but unfortunately I was a little over-dressed for it, temps were in the mid-60's - which was weird for November, but had the markings of the steady fall rains that I kinda like. The thick southern wind were'nt as bad back in the trees, and so we settled in, conversation, occasional avoidance of oncoming joggers, riders, dogwalkers out for probably one of the last good weekends of the year.
The scenery was the same as usual for me, but something about riding in a group made things seem a little more exciting today. My mind was relaxed, no work to report to, and the bike felt spry and ready without the normal baggage of the workday strapped to the rack. Rounding underneath Antioch and behind the ballfields near 137th St, we were all three surprised by a sudden encounter with a red-tailed hawk that had found his breakfast, or early lunch. No caring that we were bearing down on him on the trail at 16 MPH, the hawk spread it's wings and appeared from above, landing past Jeffrey, and just to the left of the trail and about 5 feet (no kidding, FIVE feet) from me in a pile of leaves -- and before you could blink, he was airborne again with what appears to be a clump of leaves, wherein was probably a squirrel, mouse, something like that. Hawks are brave, smart, and it didn't seem to care that we were there, or didn't size us up as a threat - either way, it was business as usual. The hawk re-perched from where it launched, and proceeded to examine the catch of the hour as we rolled by, awestruck. While a common sight on top of lightpoles, trees, and circling the air around town, I'd never been THAT close to one, and the color and detail were amazing -- I really wished I'd had a camera ready. Instead, some stock photos will have to suffice. It was rare, the smell of the leaves and the fall air, thick with humidity, and the stillness of the moment was almost surreal, hearing the wind beating beneath wings, the effortless grab and ascent, and the faint humming of drivetrains and bicycle tires in the background.
We rolled on, through the interesting part of the trail that I usually avoid - even though I end up catching the trail again later on by using 137th street to bypass this section, it is worth the small detour during the week. It's twisty, tight, blind corners, and the thickness of the woods here makes the trail a slurry of dead leaves, mud, and slick spots even in the summertime -- because of the additional care needed in negotiating this section, I often save a few minutes by detouring around it. Today, however, there was no time to save, no need to reroute - we advanced through, around corners, up hill, down, over the broken branches and leaves and slick mud, carefully arriving at Switzer. Things were about to get interesting - I knew this section of trail well, part of my daily routine in the afternoons. This is where I pick the trail back up again normally, and awaiting it a steep grinder 10% and above, with a few curves thrown in for good measure. The condensation here on the lee-side of the hill is thick on the blacktop, and the thin dusting of dirt from recent landscaping over at the golf course has made for interesting traction conditions. Jeffrey, leading the climb, stands out of the saddle only to have his rear tire slip on every pedal rotation. I'm seated, and actually have a similar problem! It's low-gear chaos just to get to the top, as I stay seated to harness whatever traction I can get, and just spin it out. The other side, usually a reward, is also just sloppy enough to make the next mile of descent into a brake-riding nervousness. Eventually "out of the woods", we are soon back on the flat heading towards Quivira.
Just about then, we three regroup and begin to enjoy the scenery again - when we are rewarded again with a rare treat. Normally very shy, we catch up to a bobcat that is on the morning hunt.
The clouds and humidity must be playing crazy with some of the wildlife, because this is again a first as a normally semi-nocturnal prowler is caught in action. Not as bold as the hawk, however, our latest encounter is short - one quick glance, and the bobcat leaps with one muscular bound out of our sight and into the brush closer to the creek below.
No, not THAT one.
Mercury Bobcat? Rare, yes... but no.
That's the one!
We coutinued onward to the west to trails-end, and then joined traffic on the roads for the rest of my usual commute homeward, along 143rd Street through Olathe towards Mur-Len, eventually heading north finally, and enjoying a tailwind treat. I felt a little guilty for enjoying it, since I'd been playing 2nd wheel for a while - but hey, I'd forgotten how much fun it is to actually FOLLOW someone! Tejas was a non-drafting event, the MS-150 had a little paceline fun - but was mostly solo, and before that was the 600K, which was all solo primarily -- I hadn't ridden with someone in front of me since the 400K back in May. Ok, there were some night rides in there, too, but that goes back to August, at least --- yeesh. Group rides are a treat anymore - and I need to change that, because Jeffrey and Jim are beginning to get warmed up. We reach 127th street, and begin the mildly hilly march back towards Antioch. I'm allowed to pull for a little bit, and the climbs are going fairly well considering. I can still feel the weight - not the bike's weight, but MINE, holding me down a little. I'm not exactly poking up the grades, but I'm not flying up them either - and I can feel my legs groaning under the first real efforts in months. It's just acclimation, I tell myself -- done it before, just need to blow out the cobwebs and do it again.
We reach Pflumm, and a lucky green light that allows us to continue pace towards Quivira. This is where things got interesting, and I felt like I got a little training today. First, Jim advances on the left, sweat apparent on the tip of his nose, working -- I jump on, and proceed to hold pace until we hit the top of the hill at the intersection. A brief rest, and we get the green light for a nice downhill. I coast it out, and then the grade pitches up again towards the ascent to Nieman. More action -- but this time it's me at the front, and I think I have Jeffrey in tow. We hit the intersection, and get the green, and the grade continues. I hear a shift on my left, and there's Jeffrey spinning a big gear. He advances up away from me, one bike length -- I try to answer... two bike lengths... I'm dying fast.... three bike lengths.... four.... he's away, and my legs are screaming! I thud back into the saddle, and shift down to spin the burn out of my legs. Dang. Yup -- outta shape! Gasping for breath, I manage to catch up near Grant street, as Jeffrey lets up and looks back to assess the attack. Jim and I bridge up, and next is Antioch, what I affectionately refer to as "the hard part" of my morning commute towards work. Here, from 127th street, the road is a steady climb of about 4%, then peaks at the overpass for US-69 and hits a solid 8% - which doesn't seem like much, but the way it's delivered slowly and then redlines at the end, it's torture -- toss in relentless traffic, and the stress levels make the climb a do-or-die affair. The only way I've found to get driver's respect here is to LOOK like you're not trying to stay in their way for very long. Out of the saddle is essential, and usually the effort requires it anyways. I'm at the front, and manage to pull our group up and over the bridge, and then a little downhill on the other side awaits before turning onto 123rd street. Then, a short downhill, little faster, and then another climb. My legs are always on fire by this point, and today is no exception. Thankful that at-least I don't have full panniers to lug up the bump this time, I settle in and try to control the breathing. There is a lot I've forgotten since riding to try and keep from getting passed. Even though this is a leisure ride, there is always something to be gained. For the moment, I'm managing to get some good training off the front. It's cool-down time behind me, and we eventually regroup at Metcalf - then to Lamar, and finally back to the ride start. It was a great time, but sadly with conflicting schedules and holidays coming up, it may be the last time the temperatures cooperate at this level. We'll see, but I look forward to the chance to do this ride again.
For now, it's time to head homeward - and I sincerely think about waiting for the wife to show up so I can get a ride home. Nah... you've had worse, remember? But, the vague soreness of not having ridden even THIS long for over a month was really apparent. Gotta push it home, man...remember your deal with yourself from years ago? If I leave the house under my own power, I get home that way, too. Earn it. If it was EASY, you'd never have gotten OUT of shape, right? I put the helmet back on, fill the water bottle, and mount up.
The ride home is fairly pedestrian, the same route as my normal commute - and solo again. Still, the busy squirrels, the birds, the colors - it's still a treat for the senses, even if this would be the third time I'd see it today. Doesn't HAVE to be like that, though -- and quickly, I start to get that old feeling back -- the old feeling of, "let's try THIS road" -- the long period of burnout must really be behind me now, because I haven't wanted to shake things up like that in a while. Today, I have the urge, and I start to remember the old-days again, and thinking about WHAT got me into shape: Switzer... Ah, Switzer... part of the old "standard loop", today, I hit it a little late --- normally, one of the best training runs I can get to from the house is just Switzer from College Blvd, heading south to 175th Street. It's got everything, really, and a fair amount of climbing. From creek-level at the trial crossing just south of College Blvd, it's a steady climb all the way to 127th Street, two miles worth with a small break in the middle. Then, a fast downhill with a curve in the middle takes you to another long climb up to 135th street. Invariably, you are caught by the traffic light here, so it's a chance to rest before the next interval. Recently widened, Switzer between 135th and 143rd has lost a little of it's punch, but the grade is still there. A slight downhill all the way to it, today in a headwind, and then you climb the rest of the way to 143rd street. After that, ANOTHER downhill with a curve in it, and then the long, steady climb to 151st street. With a new traffic light, 151st is a LOT safer to cross than in years-past, and after you reach the other side the fun continunes as you climb AGAIN, steadily to one of the highest points in the county. Stopping just before 159th street confirms it, as you can see for miles in almost every direction from here. After that, a really long downhill, un-interrupted cruising until you reach 175th street, then 179th and the Tee. You can pick out any route you like now, as 179th is a great road to ride on, or you can continue the training and turn around -- the trip back north on Switzer is just as challenging, but the hills are longer and steadier heading northbound. It's no Johnson Drive, but it allows you to get into more of a realistic rhythm - where Johnson Drive and the hills surrounding it are just pure punishment. Swizter is good training! Today I take is as far as 141st, and then zig-zag my way southwest towards the new trail that parallels 151st, and finally home. Right at 40 miles, and a lot of fun today!
stay tuned --- more good riding to come!
November 8, 2007
Heck, I remember when he bought this bike - one warm summer day he brought it over to my parent house, and let me ride down the street on it. It was the first time I'd been exposed to any bicycle that WASN'T a Schwinn. I was impressed. It was light, fast, and had components from companies I'd never heard of, like Shimano and Ofmega. But, at that time, I was cleaning out the inside of my car - mired in THAT new experience, and the cycling bug hadn't bitten yet. But, I still remember it.
Ever since I let go of my old 1982 Trek 720 in 2004 that I'd bought used, which was ultimately too small for me, I have wanted another vintage Trek back in the shack. I did a couple Corporate Challenge time-trials on it, commuted on it, rode it geared and fixed, rode it on Ride the Rockies. It was only on brevet where the size issue really started becoming a problem, and it was sad to come to that realization because randonnuering was REALLY what that bicycle was meant to do. The 720 was a perfect bike in most every way - the only thing I can say to really drive that home is the success of Surly's Long-Haul Trucker frameset they currently have available. While the construction and tubing are different, the geometry and usefulness of the frame largely echo the way good frames used to be designed and made. Longer headtubes up top, longer chainstays, more relaxed angles -- still responsive if you wanted to stomp on it, but comfortable all day long, and able to take a load and remain stable. The 720 was excellent; Reynold 5-3-1 tubing and fork - light, quick, strong, and cozy. It was a frameset that retailed for over $800 back in 1982, and you'd pay handsomely to get something comparable from a current custom builder. This latest acquisition is a 1985 Trek 450, which is everything the 720 was -- but leaning towards racing, rather than touring. The angles are a little steeper, but not ridiculously so. The wheelbase is shorter - but interestingly only a cm shorter than my Kogswell. The SUPER-tight racing frames of today would almost serve to make the 450 look like a modern tourer, in that respect. This frame, while tight, will actually take 28c tires, and probably fenders and a rack, too - which drives home it's original purpose. Trek knew that anyone buying such a frame wanted a useful bicycle, too. If you REALLY wanted a custom racer, you went to a custom builder - or to something Italian. It reminds me of the Bianchi Reparto-Corse EL-OS frameset I had a couple years back, but better: it solves all the problems I had with the Bianchi, tight clearances and subtle twitchiness -- This Trek has braze-ons for a rear rack and fenders, and while it will take a load if you ask it, nothing is sacrificed in the handling department to make that possible. It's WICKED fast in a corner, but not twitchy. When you stand up on the pedals, it FLIES -- but you won't find yourself in the ditch if you point it wrong. It's well designed, but not so compromised as to get "all-rounder" label. It's a racer. It's just not a pure-bred, race-only weekender that will only fit 20c tires and makes your back hurt after 30 miles.
The execution of that design is terrific - the best American tubing in the hands of the best American frame builders, with Trek-made lugs designed for a specific purpose. The result is a pleasure to examine; the lugs are minimalist - but attractive and strong. The joints are perect - inside and out. Even the INSIDE of the bottom bracket shell looks as if it was intended for presentation. No burrs, no runs, no ragged edges. Each lug is cast with the "Trek" name on it, when pride meant something special. The dropouts are simple, and strong - elegant, but not showy; they're purposeful. The seat-cluster with its socketed seat-stays is unique and signature to Treks of the time. A tasteful "U.S.A." decal is displayed on the seat tube, and a simple "TREK" in matching font on the downtube.
Simple and clean; not the loud and gawdy sticker-sets of today with swooping graphics that seem to try and hide the frame details and lines. This frame is one color, bold scarlet red - and the simple graphics let the frame speak for itself. Elegant, smooth, CORRECT. This marks the near-end of an era of American bicycle craftsmanship, because shortly after this frame was produced - infact, within the next year, 1986 - Trek would slowly start transitioning to aluminum and early carbon fiber designs, leaving eventually only one model of steel frame, the last 520s made of TIG welded Cro-Mo. About that same time, Bianchi, Schwinn and others would abandon lugged steel forever. In my opinion, 1985-86 were the last two years Trek would produce it's best stuff. Trek, don't get me wrong, still builds a good bicycle --- but something got lost when the torch-wielders were handed their walking papers. To me, that period represents the pinnacle of American frame-building, tied with the Waterford-built Schwinn Paramount frames of the time.
I tell ya -- I don't want to turn this into a rant about what-ever-happened-to American manufacturing and superior craftsmanship and pride, but it's hard not to looking at this frame and comparing it to what we call "good" today. I think of things like Collins Radio, in the amateur radio scene. I think of back when the 1970 Buick GSX was the quickest car on the planet, and was comfortable and well-built, too, and Asian and Italian offerings were laughed at - although there is strong evidence that American car-making IS coming back. While there are things like this that partly make me weep for what we've lost touch with, I can still smile that there are small builders that are trying to bring that vibe back, as well -- some that never left, like Richard Sachs. There is still a lot to be proud of, but it's frustrating that there is so much push for faster, lighter, cheaper that we sometimes forget that, occasionally, we had it right the first time.
I digress... I'm happy to have been given the opportunity to give this frameset some new life. I have already spent hours in typical Dude fashion polishing the paint, rubbing compound, buff, repeat, getting out the faded spots and grease deposits that had seeped into the top layers of gloss. I have degreased parts, taken the toothbrush and Q-tips to the nooks and crannies, and made my shopping list. It's good to have a project again, and the result is going to be one fantastic bicycle. One of these days, I'll return the favor to the Warbird -- I'm not sure if he knows how much this meant. Well, he probably does NOW. (bow)
It's been a good diversion, honestly -- the 1st anniversary of my father's passing is coming up next week, and it's hard. Uncharted territory again, emotionally. Things like riding a bicycle or polishing a chainring become essential to survival.
Time and distance, it WILL get easier - but things have not been, and never will be, the same. Keep moving forward. Along with a tribute and homage to America craftsmanship, and keeping an example of it relevant and operational, this project is a tribute to the practice of things I was taught. Patience, doing it right, carefully, with pride and proper attention. It's a chance to put these teachings to use, and that makes the project even more worthy. That's why getting that spot out of the paint becomes important. Never saying "good enough", but making an effort to get it right, make it good, make it shine. It takes extra time, but it makes me appreciate that I HAVE the time, even when life becomes busy enough to make me think that I don't. Life is short... polish that chainstay, because someday, someone will care. Like MY son. Sure, there are things that can be rushed, the folds in the bath-towels don't HAVE to be perfect; but, there is a time for the finer things to be appreciated. Whether it be pocket watches, classic cars, coins, an old waffle iron, I dunno -- the extra effort becomes very worthwhile. So, here's to a cold beer and an old rag, some polishing compound, and something old and timeless to polish.
November 1, 2007
A couple of good commutes this week, after getting re-inspired this week by a visit with the Warbird, as he comes back over the pond for a few days. Honestly, even though it didn't exactly work out, the promise of sharing a ride home was just enough motivation to actually get me in the saddle again this week. I hadn't been on the bike since October 11th, and after yesterday's commute the total number of ride I had for October 2007 is a whopping THREE. Yeesh. But, I'm getting back into a routine, finally. The cold air is not that cold anymore, and the promise of a good morning warmup on the bike is excellent and propells me through the work day. In the evening, shielded from the low sun by my cycling cap, the early spark of fireplaces and the constant crunch of fallen leaves against the asphalt of the bike trail lulls away the stresses of the day. The notion that cycling somehow had faded as a stress reliever for me was clouded by the fact that I simply hadn't ridden enough lately to allow it to happen. I have to let the release come, to stop thinking so much, to allow the miles homeward melt away the day - and eventually upon arriving at home for a hot shower and warm flannel, my day is summed up by the last first and last thing that I did -- the ride.
Mildly frustrating, however, another "first" for 2007 - but not on such a good note, on Monday's ride home from work, the first ride in almost three weeks, I got passed from behind on the bike trail. It's something that I'm not used to - a matter of timing, and personal speed that keeps most recreational riders off my six. Monday, however, a close proximity and the fire of youth got me. Upon reaching the bottom of the big hill near the golf course, I came upon a teenager, jeans, sweatshirt, skater's helmet, walking his hardtail mountain bike up the steep grade. I geared down, and never having had to walk this monster, I proceeded my laboured out-of-saddle rhythm towards the top. As I passed him, I muttered "well, THIS sucks!", to which he chuckled and replied in the affirmative. I figured that'd be the last time I'd see him, so it was my way of offering a litle encouragement in a language he could understand. What I hadn't bet on was his prowess on the downhill side of things. About three miles later, after passing under the bridge at Quivira Road, I heard it -- first the faint whirr of knobbies on pavement, just coming over the wind noise in my ears, and then the "on your left" -- it was him, passing in a flurry of pedalling cadence that indicated he was either geared out, or didn't want to shift. Talking about 120 RPM easily here, turn and burn, then coast. He didn't pass me very fast - but he DID pass me. Before I could really react or counter, he peeled off into the grass, clearly arriving at his home, or near it at least. Ugh. Safe in my small chainring, I COULD have shifted and answered easily, but I hadn't - and really hadn't seen the need to. While it kinda put a dent in my personal record of never having been passed on the trail since probably 1999 (then, a mountain bike also - and a good story in itself - Warbird knows it -- "get it on!"), I wasn't really totally bummed about it. It happened -- and while I did have the desire to answer, I simply didn't have time, and that's okay. Even though answering has changed a bit over the years, I still had that DESIRE to in my gut, which means I'm not ready to simply be complacent and allow the passings to begin. I just know I have work to do, and need to get my game back up. Why is any of this important? You have to be a cyclist to understand --- there are two types of riders in the world: those that pass, and those that are passed. EVERYONE is either, depending on the day. Sometimes you're the bat...sometimes you're the ball.
Wednesday, the Halloween Commute, complete with blue flashy pumpkin that makes an appearance on the rear of the bike once a year.
A colder, crisper morning than Monday - but full of the promise of warmth and a nice tailwind on the way home as a cold front whips the wind around to the north. It's too bad the Warbird's plan didn't quite work out, but hey - life is like that sometimes, and the stars just weren't right. Still, it was a good time, as I made a conscious effort to keep things in the small ring for the trip home. Temps were higher, the sun lower, and the leaves danced across the trail and the still-green grass waved as I passed. My body was sore from weights class, but in a good way - the kind of way that makes you want to stretch a lot, which feels great. Yeah, I'm back in the gym at work, too, and planning on sticking to my goals for once. They're going to be more personal goals, but basically they involve getting fitter and slimmer. But, MAN, that class whipped my backside GOOD, and the ride home from work was for recovery only. The tailwind was fun, but I kept things concervative and just enjoyed the hills and flats, and paced carefully up the monster hill on the bike trail again - this time no-one to pass, or pass me. The only other cyclist I saw was at the top of that hill, taking a short rest, staring off into the golf course scenery - a Boulevard Racer, or KCBC - I couldn't tell, but the colors are similar I guess between the teams lately -- anyways, a local racer, slim, fit, strong looking in his full kit and on his race bike, he was clearly doing hill repeats on the monster - confirming my notions that it's one of the steepest climbs around here, as most roads in the area have been graded flat. As I passed towards home, he turned around and descended the hill for another round of pain. It was a good day to be on a bike - chilly, but sunny.
I don't really have a good wrap for this entry, only to say that it's realy god to be back in the saddle with some regularity again. Tomorrow, Friday, I'll ride again to round out my every-other-day pattern plan for this week, and hopefully will get myself together to check out a Saturday ride for the first time since the Spring. It's the perfect season to get back into the swing of things -- the holidays are coming, and I have to be careful not to stack myself against more caloric adversity. I can feel the focus coming back, the drive, the desire to improve. The shackles of this summer's struggles are coming off. About five months until the first 200K of 2008, and only two months until I decide whether or not to make an R-12 RUSA medal attempt, which is a brevet or permanent every month for 12 rolling months. I re-read my 600K account from June, and I liked what I saw; it still seemed like it came from another rider, but I know it was me, and I want that feeling back -- these last two days on the bike, I can feel it coming back around again. It feels good! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!
October 26, 2007
I think one of the biggest differences you'll probably see here is more talk about what I've DONE on the bike, as opposed to what I'm GOING to do on the bike. This is precisely why there hasn't been much to write here lately, as I've entered a sort-of recovery period, mentally and physically, from what I can only sum up as a really tough year. This isn't really the forum for sorting out my personal crap - it's too "out there", and honestly kind of a downer.
I haven't been on the bike since October 11th, and I've reached a new sort of goal to NOT ride at all until November. Now, I'll have to see if that really happens, because I have been getting anxious to get back in the saddle and was hoping to start up again Monday. This is a goal I don't mind not reaching, though -- if I'm ready, I'm ready. It's halloween season, after-all, and I don't want to miss the leaves falling and the first shots of cold air that have already started locally.
Finally, I can see a light at the end of this recent tunnel. Football games, kids birthday parties, family events, all have kept me unable to ride - but the best thing I can take away from that is the fact that I've actually HAD the desire to ride, and was disappointed when I couldn't. That alone means I'm not "done" yet. This is what I do, and everyone has a hard year here and there. It'll pass.
The first weekend in November, if the weather holds, I'll finally have a chance to saddle up and ride with some friends again.
So, this is essentially the beginning of Part 3 of 2007. Had a great spring, a tough summer, and now the last couple of months should be alright. Next time you read this, it'll actually be about a ride!
October 21, 2007
October 15, 2007
Since lifting some of the personal burdens, and refocusing a bit, I've had a decent week. Stressful, yeah, but in productive ways, if that makes sense.
The boy had his first Boy Scout campout Friday night into Saturday morning, and I gotta give props to him here. I'm proud, can ya tell? Friday night, it was clear, cool, a little breeze - perfect weather for sleeping outside, under the stars. Stars? Well, maybe not -- the forecast called for a little rain, but instead we got more rain in 12 hours than the area has seen in months, combined. It freakin RAINED.
The boy slept thru most of it, not complaining, not tossing or turning, not even really conscious, surprisingly. perfectly at ease with sleeping and not paying much attention to the deluge falling outside the thin walls of the tent, about 6 inches from his head, he just laid there and dreamed. I knew this because *I* kept waking up -- but, mainly because my alter-ego meteorologist kept wanting to check the conditions. Then, at about 2AM -- KABAMM!!! The heavy rains turned into a collection of chained thunderstorms. The campsite being on an abandoned golf course, you can start to see my nervousness. Thankfully, the generator-powered tower of lights about 20 yards from our tent acted as a nice lightning rod. Yeesh. At least three direct hits - lightning timed perfectly with the thunder. You could feel the heat wave from the bolts -- scary. The boy slept thru it. Meanwhile, the campsite was clearing out, in the rain and thunder no-less. people were leaving, tents were leaking, kids were crying. Keep in mind, this was my kid's FIRST campout EVER, first time sleeping outside, and in a severe thunderstorm and flash flood warning scenario. I have a feeling we'll be doing more of these! He simply wasn't freaked out at ALL. Again, I'm proud as hell. Amazing. Morning came, and the rain STILL came down HARD. We woke up, sat up, and sulked a little bit about the camp breakfast being cancelled - so we had some granola bars that I'd packed, and that cheered us up. Outside, the exodus comtinued, and the campsite at 7:00am was about half of what it was when they called lights-out the evening before. The rain continued, and continued - no sign of letting up. Finally, I decided to "cheat" and turned on the cell-phone and punched up the web and the local radar picture. Egads... we were gonna be in this tent a WHILE. Might as well go, or we were going to be there until 1:00pm. Tummies were growley -- time for grub!
Unfortunately, a creature of the forecast, I had expected a little overnight sprinkle that would let up by 5AM, and we'd be dry for breakfast and the rest of hte activities. To that effect, I hadn't packed even a trashbag - much less a poncho or rain jacket. Ugh. Not really an issue for me - though I would have liked it - more an issue for the boy. So, I took the only plastic I had: the Wal-Mart grocery-sized plastic bag that his clothes had been jammed into, empited it, cut a couple of holes in it for arms and his head, and he at least had a half-poncho. It would work for the half-mile walk to the car. We left the tent, and the field was simply a swamp. We trudged through it, in the downpour, and finally reached our car at the bottom of the terraced, grass, off-road parking lot. THIS would be interesting. I started the car, and the heater, and began manuevering through the pile-up of stuck cars -- the upper layer of grass had been tire-spun away, and the only thing left was a soupy, jello-y mess of mud. No traction to be found - or at least very very little. I got very lucky, and found myself spinning my tires at 6000 RpM (oh yeah, for some reason my shift+p key brings up Windows Media player -- I'm starting to HATE THAT.) Anyways - an HOUR later, I was clear of the muddy lot, and back on pavement! The boy was smiling from ear-to-ear... a big fan of Monster Trucks and getting messy in general, the mud-fest was a delight, and his attitude about the struggle was wearing off on me, and I was laughing and hooting about finally getting free of the mud pit. The tent, it was left behind for a personal mission in the rain later that day, when I would return for the gear -- in the rain, which I thought would let up, and didn't. Wet to the bone, again! What a day!
That campout was GREAT!!!!
Later that day, we drove out to Baldwin City with his cousin and grammy to the Midland Railway, an historical society re-claimed private railroad that makes 24-mile round-trip excursions out of the original Baldwin City railroad depot that used to be on the old Santa Fe line that ran east-west across the country, long before the highway system was built --- the rail-line itself dates to 1867. The history, scenery, incredible. The boy and I have rediscovered railroading together over the last couple of years, getting involved in modeling again with the wife's dad in his basement, train-spotting at some of the locations *I* used to train-spot long before I had even met the wife, and reading lots of magazines on railroading, reading big hardback locomotive history picture books, and dreaming of trains while whistles sound off in the distance at night. It's a childhood passion rediscovered for me, and started for him. Anyways, this trip was a LONG time coming, as he'd never been very close to a REAL locomotive, much less getting a chance to ride inside a REAL train. This was no mall choo-choo for the kiddies, this was the REAL deal. Restored engines from actual stock, and not reproductions, this was rolling history, and the result of 20 years of hard, not-for-profit labor by some really passionate people with skilled hands. We're talking about maintaining 12-miles of out-n-back right-of-way with HAND TOOLS, people. These old railmen are the real deal, doing it because they love it. I want to, someday. We rode along inside an ex-Canadian Pacific Pullman-style passenger car, #801, built in 1936.
Motive power was supplied by a 1951 ALCO ES-3m diesel from the Missouri-Kansas and Texas Railway (the Katy line, from which the Katy trail gets its name), and the consist was rounded out with the #32 caboose from the Great Northern Railway, built 1960. The original wood sillplates, the original cushioned seats inside the passenger car, it was amazing -- sadly, I couldn't find it listed on the roster on the Midland website, but I think it was recently aquired and hasn't been catalogued yet. Still, it was pretty flippin cool. The boy LOVED it, and so did I.
Oh, and I rode to work Thursday, the first time on the bike since Tejas. Felt good - faster - fresher. But, ya know, I'm not too worried about that. I had a great week OFF the bike, and I think eventually that will help me have more fun ON the bike, too. Like riding the Katy trail with the boy. Hmmmm...
October 9, 2007
"It's supposed to be fun... if it stops being fun, you should stop doing it."
That's a rough paraphrase of multiple comments I've received off-line to this year, cycling, goal-setting. Most recently, someone coined the phrase and advised caution against setting goals for the sake of setting goals. It's dangerous business, and can lead to even MORE burnout. My tenacity and desire to keep true to what I set out upon is admirable, I don't mind saying so -- but it's also like continuing to hammer a nail that's already bent flat. No good can come of it, and it will only take more and more effort to get that nail out and straight again.
Despite yesterday's post and the beginning of a change in scope and focus, I'm withdrawing my goal to run in the 2008 WDW Marathon. The fact of the matter is, as I sat in the garage and put my old running shoes on again last night, there was NOTHING crossing my mind equating "this is gonna be fun", or "I can't wait to go on this run." My whole approach was "I have to do this." -- WHY??? Yeah, I have this goal, a goal that I set back in early June, when things were VERY different, but it's JUST a goal -- it's not a goal that will be fun reaching. It will be a means to another end, the end of getting fit again for cycling. I don't enjoy running -- I don't know how that is suddenly going to change enough to get me ready to do 26.2 miles of it. Mentally or physically.
I know -- blah blah blah -- but I'd rather bow out of this now, when I have this realization, instead of dragging this out for three more months, turning this into a runner's blog, and then dissapointing myself and anyone still silly enough to read this with another shortcoming. I don't want to do that to myself, much less anyone else.
Will I cross train? Yeah -- but it will be towards my REAL goals, which are all cycling-related. I'm a cyclist, not a runner. No pretending. No apologies. Now, sure, I'll get a few runs in -- probably do a 5K this November, an annual fun event. But, I can't fool myself into thinking I love running enough to have such a lofty goal. I think with the proper training, yes, I COULD indeed finish a marathon. Do I "NEED" to? No. I think I'm making the smarter choice here, for my mental well-being - which is why I stepped away from so much recently in the first place. Getting the passion back for cycling isn't going to come from torturing myself in a discipline I don't enjoy.
This is why close friends are important -- the confusion I heap onto myself, the stress that I bring on MYSELF; it's nice to have people close to the home camp that provide a lot of clarity. There is something honarable about sticking to my goals, but I have to believe that there is also something honorable about realizing when those goals are misguided. The only thing I risk here is accountability -- saying one thing, at one time, and then retracting it. This is why I'd never go far as a politician. I actually EXPECT people to hold me acocuntable for things I've said I'd do! Shocker!
Certain goals remain: lose weight, get faster, and ENJOY riding. How I get there has to be my business. I don't think running my buns off is gonna do it all. Yoga and weights-class, however, man I REALLY enjoyed those! Nothing wrong with that. But I'm not setting any ridiculous goals like "be the next yogi" or "kick the weights-class teacher's butt.", or "be the next ultimate cage-fighting champion."
It's the same kind of thing, really, and when I put it in perspective, it really DOES seem silly to try and prepare for a marathon in three months when I HATE RUNNING. There, I said it. Now, I WILL push myself and run some 5K's for training, but I'm not going to push my luck. I need my mid-section burnt off, and running WILL help - but I need to keep that perspective, and focus on the goal of burning off my midsection. The running THEN becomes a method by-which to accomplish THAT goal. And that makes a TON more sense.
My brain is a confusing place -- a place where one moment I can say with such conviction that I'm going to do "this", and then later getting this "dude, you're dumb" realization. It's happened a lot. The Cannondale fiasco; looking back -- wow. What the hell? I never claimed this blog was going to be the place where all of your answers would come, where great examples of achievement would come. I will give you heaps of honesty, though. Eventually. I have to figure out how to be honest with myself, first. I'm getting there.
October 8, 2007
Yeah, I haven't forgotten that goal, as mentioned June 8th, 2007.
Since the cycling calendar is now clear, it's time to shift gears - and if nothing else prepare for a successful 2008 cycling season. Honestly, I think a change in approach and type-of-goal is going to be a good thing. I already have some space between me and Tejas, and the future is clear.
The only thing I probably need is a heart-rate monitor. Universally, that is the one thing that I've read in all of these "running-for-dummies" books (Not to be confused with the not-so-best-seller "Running IS for Dummies"). It makes sense for cycling, too, from a training perspective -- while it might just be another number to keep track of, it can truly be a good gauge on how hard the body is working, how well I'm recovered from an effort, whether I should skip training, or train harder. It can also be a terrifc gauge of improvements, if used consistently and on the same course. Since my training is mapped out on the same out-and-back course from the house, this might work well. So, something from Polar towards their cheaper end might be on the list soon, if I can unload some other random cycling items to recharge the budget.
You know, looking at cycling compared to my current goal and how I've been thinking about how to accomplish this new goal, it's clear that I've almost become "bored" with riding. This is a clear sign of burnout, perhaps. Goal or no goal, it's clear that I should have hung up the bike for a while regardless. I haven't paid THIS kind of attention to cycling method for a while, and that may be the difference. While I know a lot, I certainly don't know everything about cycling training - but I have gotten to the point where I barely want to ride - much less practice a particular training platform, ride intervals, do hill sprints, etc. Perhaps I can learn a few things with running, and transfer them over once I've had a chance to reset. The only thing I'll be doing with the bike for the next couple of months is commuting -- which is something I can use to recover from runs, keep the joints limber, and stay stretched out. But things like cadence and trying to improve my average speed will be on the back burner. It might be interesting to see if, while I train for this new discipline, anything improves by consequence. Over the course of this spring's brevet series I watched another rider, Jeff, ride faster and with more focus and endurance that ever before -- the difference was revealed as a few months taken off to train for a marathon. By consequence, his speed on the bike rocketed up, and he was consistently the first one to finish each brevet, or at least in the top five riders. While finishing fast isn't the goal at a brevet, you see my point; the training benefits of diversification are clear. While I can't expect a carbon copy result, it should help me in a lot of ways, physically and mentally, and if my goals are beyond the brevets, then speed and endurance are a huge plus. It seems these last couple of years the only desire I've been able to maintain is the desire to show up at these rides.
But, let's not get ahead of ourselves; I've only got 2 miles invested towards this thing so far --- part of the beauty of the blog is accountability and the ability to look back at my own thoughts. Looking back at June's entry and the announcement of the marathon goal, the tone of my writing is markedly different - a tone of hope and spirit that is absent from recent posts: a clear indication of how stressful the summer was, and how things changed. The June post seems like it was from LAST year, seriously -- but I am sticking to that goal and will try to recapture the spirit of the guy that wrote it only a few months back. As the leaves change and the air turns cooler, it's time to leave the stresses of summer behind, and try something a wee-bit different. Stay tuned as this new chapter unfolds.
It will be hard - like nothing I've ever done - but I think that's exactly what I need!
October 3, 2007
Ever since last year, I have been thinking about this race. As a recap, last year’s Tejas 500 (www.tt24tt.com) was quite a trial, personally. I was ready, with a new bike, a strong will and a good base of training (so I thought). I ended up being no faster because of the bike, and the lack of training was showing through by mile 100. Making matters worse, I had not trained for sleep – and had not trained at enough distance to get my body ready for the challenge. Finally putting the nail in my coffin was a twisted ankle that turned into an over-use injury by mile 150 – and I made matters worse by thinking I could ride past it and keep on going. My average speed dropped, pain increased, and by mile 220 I couldn’t walk more than 10 feet without horrible pain. I was off the bike until December. Needless to say, I was a DNF. I have been replaying that 36 hour period in my head for over a year. I wanted revenge.
After last fall's challenges, emotionally, and the subsequent time off the bike, I was discouraged about 2007 from the get-go. Depressed, trying to find my groove again, I found myself sleeping a lot, missing commutes, missing weekend rides – and the winter came and went without much in the way of rebuilding or improvement. The cold weather only made the ankle hurt worse, so I essentially waited until March to get started again. With the help of Ort, I utilized a spreadsheet to track mileage to ensure I wasn’t adding too much too quickly, but to also ensure that I was riding enough to achieve my goals. The goals for Spring 2007 were the same as every year – the brevets – my favorite type of riding, and the perfect base. For 2006, I rode the 200K and finished it, but I missed the 300K, and the 400K turned into barely a century. I didn’t even try the 600K in 2006. For 2007, the brevets were greeted with a different kind of approach, and it proved successful – I completed the 200K, the 300K in the worst conditions I’ve ever ridden it in, and the 400K on an unknown route with unexpected wind and heat. And, finally, the elusive 600K – nay, Bob Burn’s 600K, the BEAST of all 600K’s in the nation, arguably – I finally finished it. My mind was in exactly the right place for the rest of the year, and if nothing else I can consider 2007 a success simply because I finished my first 600K and my first complete SR series – something I’ve been trying to accomplish since 2002!
The summer was to be perfect – a slow, steady ramp up in speed and distance with sights set on Tejas, and personal revenge. With the right mix of speed and training, including some night time loops, I was going to be in much better shape for Tejas that I had been in 2006. Then, unfortunately, things outside of cycling changed for the worse. Schedules were suddenly compromised, stress increased, and I found myself struggling to stay on top of everything. It’s proven to me that not only one’s cycling performance has to be top-notch for success, but the rest of life has to be in the right place, too. In an event such as Tejas, where so much of it is mental, even non-cycling issues become gigantic thorns in the mindset of someone trying to complete the seemingly impossible on a bicycle. I picked up another job, as did the wife, and life suddenly became more hectic than relaxing – only with all the chips in the right place can one truly be effective and able to accomplish goals. I’m certainly not diving for excuses here, but it certainly has an effect.
Then came July; While I had come to accept and adjust to the new stresses in my life, I was starting to worry that I had not been spending enough time on the bike, and had not been building speed enough for the big event coming up. Time was at a premium, and it was starting to show. I was not about to let cycling cut into family time, and I don’t regret that at all – but it was clear that my goals either needed to change, or I needed to really get busy training. Meanwhile, I was enjoying a warm day with the promise of rain on the single speed Surly. Joining me was Crowbar on his commuter steed, and the destination was the T-Bones baseball game up north. Getting in close to a metric century, it was a great distance and a great chance to just spin out some quality mileage. On the way back south after the game, nature added a little interesting mix of heavy rain. By the time we reached the railroad tracks that cross K-32 near K-7, the road was a mess. I hit the railroad tracks at what I thought was the correct angle, but I was wrong, and I went down hard – and Crowbar then landed on top of me after meeting the same fate with the tracks. I was jacked up, but managed to clean up and ride home, which probably made things worse. Bad, deep cuts on my right leg and a deep hip contusion were the result, and my bike time was cut again. The next week, I felt good enough to ride again, so I held a night ride which was painful at best. Probably too much, too soon, thinking back. I was not giving myself time to heal. The next morning, I elected to drive and let things heal a little more. On the way to work I was rear-ended by someone, which pushed me into the car I was following, and that impact happened while I was practically straight-legging the brake pedal, and subsequently jammed my hip AGAIN. The pain was ridiculous, to the point where the wife forced me into the ER for x-rays. I feared the worst, but was given the good news that nothing was cracked or fractured. Still, I was off the bike again for a while.
There are stories of riders overcoming incredible odds and adversity to perform amazing feats, I’ve read some of them – but I was expecting my season to be over. July was over, and August didn’t see much improvement. The speed work I had planned was not to happen, much less anything else. I started to weigh my chances. The entry fee was already paid, non-refundable. I could always change to a lesser event, maybe the 24-hour race instead of the 500 mile monster. Heck, maybe the 200-mile UMCA event was a better choice? I emailed the ride organizer and it was okay it I wanted to, since I’d given enough notice. I slept on it, and decided that I would just give the 500 an honest try. After all, I had entered the event the previous year with far LESS training, and managed to complete half of it, with half of that on a badly inflamed ankle. Surely if I could avoid injury and keep turning over the pedals, I could finish 500 miles in 48 hours. September came, and the MS-150 saw my first real saddle time since the first week of June. It didn’t go like I’d planned – there were brief moments of glory followed by hours of painful damage-control riding. Lack of hydration, specifically lack of training, was really the culprit – you have to train to learn when to drink, a constant challenge for me. This year’s weird weather threw me for a loop, too, with the high temp at the MS-150 only reaching 76 degrees. So much for heat training!
September flew by, and shortly after the MS-150 I found the weekends coming and going with many family activities, and very little riding. Tejas was practically here – I began to pack, wondering what I was getting myself into again, but resorted and relaxed that I had done all I could have with all the challenges and trials of the previous couple of months. It was test time.
It’s amazing how my perspective had changed over the year. I went from being on top of the world at the end of the 600K, to feeling like I was trapped under a heavy weight of lack of training, personal stress, work issues, scheduling issues, and pain – all in the course of three months. Honestly, the summer has been SO trying that the 600K finish seems like it happened LAST year, for real. In the meantime, I missed a lot of my favorite rides – the Lone Star Century, The Spring Classic, Tour of Shawnee, the Summer Breeze Century – all EXCELLENT training and terrific fun with other cyclists and great support. The summer was just a mess for me, cycling-wise.
That brings you up to speed on events leading up to Tejas, sort of a recap of the year to date -- This write up is about Tejas, tho… so let’s get to it:
The morning dawned fresh and bright. Humidity low, temps moderate. A perfect day to start a really long ride. Ort and I headed out to the race site and got our tents set up. That alone was an exercise in hydration, but I refused to let that get the best of me. I started in on my sports drink to stay on top of what I was sweating out, and I was on the hydration game like a pro all morning and afternoon. We had SO much spare time, we actually found ourselves helping Dan and crew set up tables, move coolers full of drinks for the volunteers, and sweep out the pavilion. It’s not like we had a huge bike ride to rest up for or anything. Yeesh. Over-achievers. We finally wised up and excused ourselves from duty to prepare for the ride and get our riders packets. It was a sweaty, ridiculous afternoon. I continued to drink, supplement electrolytes, drink, pee, drink, repeat for hours. Felt great, even in the heat for once! Eventually, the clock ticked down – three hours to race time! Time for a pre-ride meal! This would be the first mistake I would make; instead of a nice, easy Sustained Energy cocktail, I decided it was a great time to crack open that leftover pasta that I had in my cooler from dinner the night before. Cheese tortellini with mac and cheese mixed in – just the way I like it. Wooooo, baby that’s GOOD food. Let’s not forget that the entire summer was overshadowed by weight issues, as I never got back down to the race weight that I really wanted – let’s add some heavy pasta with BARELY enough time to digest it. Good idea, dude! It was yummy. More water, water, water, sports drink, hydrate! Felt great. After sitting for a bit longer and sweating in the shade, it was time to suit up. One hour to race time. I was starting to regret the pasta. And, let me tell you --- it’s hard enough being a little too big for my cycling shorts these days, but trying to get into them while already being sweaty – man, what a sight I was. Glorious, like trying to get a water balloon into a saran wrap bag. Ort mentioned something about stuffing a giant bratwurst as he tried to accomplish the same thing inside his tent – which I instantly took the wrong way and that was good for some laughs. What a great way to start the ride! Bike, ready – me, ready… time for the pre-race meeting, and the start horn. I made my way to the start finish line with Ort. Heeeeere we go!
Ort and me, right before heading to the start. We'd never look this fresh again.
After the usual “be careful” talk, and reminders about not drafting, and how to call out your laps, the countdown was beginning…. 5…..4……3……2…….1….. GO!
Drafting was allowed to the first stop sign, so quickly riders began to group up as we left the start area to claps and cheers, and made our way out onto the course.
The bike felt great, fenders gone, rack gone, and skinny tires mounted up, the Kogswell felt just like the Cannondale had the year before, only the nasty chip-seal pavement was muted nicely with the smooth steel tubing. Heavier, yeah, but only by a touch, the ride quality and feedback of a good steel frame more than makes up for the small weight addition. This was gonna be a nice ride!
The only indication that problems were afoot was when I suddenly started finding it difficult to stay with some of the riders. Sure, part of my plan was NOT to explode on the first lap, which is a mistake I’ve made in the past, but I also didn’t think anyone was going terribly fast. The hot shots were already WAY off the front after the support truck, so there was no catching them, but some of the other riders were getting harder to catch, including Ort. Now, this is not to be taken the wrong way – Ort has by contrast had a SOLID year, low stress, injury-free, and not only did he ALSO complete his first 600K and first full SR series this spring, he was also in the hunt for the R-12 award, and had at least a 200K every month this summer with some strong riders -- but LAST year, I was already ahead of him. The LSR group down here treats brevets a little differently, and Ort was showing signs of being a MUCH stronger rider than the guy that moved away from Kansas only two years before. As we started the long climb up to the Lime Plant, Ort was almost un-reachable, as I reached for more gears and started to spin. I wasn't tired or having problems, but my push was not there like it was the year before. That’s okay… I knew this was going to be like this, don’t panic, just pedal. Long days ahead. Treat it like a brevet, and you’ll finish.
We reached the Lime Plant, enjoyed a brief downhill, and then the pack began to thin out again. No problem. Pedal. There would be no worries about having to spread out after the first stop-sign THIS year for me. I was firmly near the back of the pack. Other than that, I felt GREAT. Hydration was going to plan, the heat of the day was fading (6:00pm start), and I was mentally prepared for a century after dark again, just like last year.
The course was coming back to me, but not the way it felt last year. The hills were there, but they were NOT as steep as I remembered on the back side of the course. The front side was still a challenge with nearly 4 miles of it being a continuous climb, almost like Colorado, but not quite with the lack of scenery to accompany the slogging pace up the grade... but it still wasn't as daunting as it'd felt the year before. It was frustrating that I was obviously feeling stronger, but the speeds were not reflecting it. The back side was more fun, undulating with fast downhill sections, including Goatneck Hill with it’s 40 MPH charge into the valley below before arriving back at the start/finish.
“5 – 0 – 7…” I called out and waited for it to be echoed back to me as I crossed the line for the first of MANY times. Lap one, down, 24 to go.
Lap two, the same – but darker. Headlights and taillights came on. At least I knew THIS part I was trained for.
Lap three, the same
Lap four, things turned to the worse for a little while, while I revisited the old 70-mile wall that used to haunt me all the time. My pedal stroke turned to mud, my stomach cramped, and my legs didn’t have any push for at least 10 miles or so on this loop. Along with that, the mental collapse of “you can’t do this”, “you aren’t ready”, “I just wanna go home” began, as it always does. One has to remember that these episodes are temporary – as I remembered. Hydrate, drink some calories, get back on track. The 70-mile wall came, and went.
Unfortunately, the stomach pains were real, the leftovers of the heavy pasta meal that hadn’t full digested. Ugh. The mistake began to manifest.
Lap five, back to normal – and the 100 mile marker.
This time last year, I was laying down for an hour nap that turned into a 7-hour full nights sleep. Dumb. Not this year!
I filled my bottles, still staying firmly on top of hydration and fuel, feeling great, slow and steady. I headed out for lap six, at about 12:45AM, I think…
As the laps continued, it was becoming clear that there would be no placings for me. Finish only, that was the goal – but it was sometimes frustrating, and at the same time inspiring and amazing to see the faster riders hammering out the course and flying past me, often on the uphills where I used to excel. The only riders on the loop were the 500 mile racers, the 24-hour group had not started yet, but these guys were making me look stupid on the first long climbs, spinning FAST up the hill maintaining a monster momentum, and basically passing my like I was standing still. Amazing, but I reminded myself I had to ride my OWN race, and not compare. It’s hard to do, tho. Someone passes you, you want to jump on their wheel and chase – but even if I was allowed to draft, I did not have the push. My speed was beginning to drop to my MS-150 pace a couple weeks before. Lap one my average was a modest 17.3 MPH – contrasted to nearly 22 MPH LAST year. Lap two, my overall average dropped to 16.5. Lap three, overall average was 16.1. Despite consistent intake of fluids, feeling good, good fuel intake, I was just not doing well in the speed department – but I was still doing well enough for the minimum average speed, if I stayed on the bike. No problems! Tons of time to finish.
The next four laps were carbon copies of each other, blending together. The only thing that broke up the monotony was the fact that each set of headlights that passed me from behind was a little different. HID beams, Schmidt E6 headlights, other odd LED lights, and I would marvel at the taillight and reflective gear patterns that would advance up the road away from me in the night. Occasionally there was a phantom dog that would jump out into the road, but under the full moon he was only able to startle me once. Each lap after that, I had him marked. It kept me alert for a short time, until the longer part of the climb began and demanded my attention anew. All the while, the Lime Plant at the top of the hill hummed and clattered away. It was the only constant. The sky was brilliant, a bright FULL moon, big stars, and the skyline of Cleburne in the distance as we rounded over the top of the big climb. Peeking back over my shoulder I could see headlights strewn across the expanse of the route, all slowly coming up to meet me. In front of me, on the back half of the loop, taillights strung along the roadway leading to the horizon were a magical diversion to the fog in my head, the fog that accompanies randonnuers and ultra-racers at some point or another, where all you are doing is turning the pedals in some sort of surreal dream-state. Just follow the line, pedal. The brain is unplugging.
Unfortunately, all the while I felt my push was consistent and my fueling and hydration program was working perfectly, was actually declining. The lack of speed training, and consistency training at distance was beginning to show through. My average speed at the end of lap nine was all the way down to 14.7. Yeesh. That was rolling time, too, and as much as I needed the break, I knew that if I laid down I would have to make it up, because the clock never stops.
I was hydrating well enough that I was having to stop occasionally on the loop for relief – things were going pretty well, but the SE was not sitting well on top of the pasta (yup, STILL there like a brick on my intenstines) so I switched to Carboplex instead – essentially the same maltodextrin form of carbohydrates, but no protein. Hammer Gel packets were working, tho, as the sleepies started to invade I put them to rest with caffeinated gel. Worked well. I was clicking off two-lap sets between stops for fresh bottles and the miles were mounting quickly. It’s amazing how this kind of event contrasts to something like a club century or the MS-150, where that century seems to take forever – in an event like this, it seems like the first century is over in a heartbeat. Before I knew it, I was knocking on the 300K door, and the sun hadn’t even come up yet. With 9 laps in the bank, and 180 miles on the clock, I elected to lay down for a short amount of time – I think it was about 5:20AM, roughly, and the sun would be up in about and hour and a half – perfect – and much needed, as the caffeine began to lose its effectiveness and the yawns got longer and more frequent, as did the realization that I was gazing off into my headlight beam, and not REALLY concentrating. I can rise with a little sleep in the bank, and the sun will greet me, resetting the brain and tricking it into starting a new day.
I crawled into the tent, took off my shoes and helmet, set my alarm clocks (that’s plural!) and laid down.
Zonk, snore!… in a flash I was awake again – a little drool, which is a good indication that I REALLY got some REM brain-resetting sleep – it was about 7:05AM, and the sun was lighting up the eastern sky. I got up, out of the tent, and found the morning air moist and almost foggy, and the temps were in the high 60’s – a perfect morning. MUCH better than last year’s 38 degree wake-up call. I had brought warmers and a wind vest, but thankfully I wouldn’t need any clothing changes this year! I trotted over to the pavilion, plugged in my headlight battery to charge during the daylight hours, hit the porta-john, refilled my bottles, and headed out for lap 10. Feeling good, but careful not to push too hard without stretching out a little, I started the climbing again. Whooof… after this lap, 200 miles! I was only 20 miles away from everything I had achieved last year, and roughly 8 hours ahead of myself from the previous year. Not bad! Unfortunately, that wasn’t saying THAT much, considering the numbers. My time off the bike, while being far better than last year, was not enough to make up for the fact that my speed while ON the bike was not where it should have been, and while I slept my average speed TOTAL time had dropped below the minimum required to finish the race.
Comparing the preliminary time splits and results now, my lap times were fairly consistent, to my surprise, but not fast enough. My off the bike time was better than last year, but it was not perfect. The 4 hours and 25 minutes of off the bike time between laps 9 and 10 includes the actual lap 10 ride, so my lap time again was fairly consistent – however it was starting to get real. My lap times were not going to be enough to support the time I was taking off the bike. Compared to those riders that I would put in my class this time out, those that had an overall average speed of 12 MPH or less for the course, my lap times were consistent with theirs for the first 6 laps, and after that I started to slow down. It doesn’t appear to be much, but ten minutes extra on the bike per lap is an eternity.
Time for lap 11; this would be the hardest lap I would ride. I mounted up, with full bottles and a lot of hydration already in my system from simply getting ready to ride again. The one thing that was different besides the fact that the sun was up again was the heat. The heat came up QUICK, and it was hotter than Thursday had been. In very little time at all, it was instantly 90+ degrees outside, and the humidity was back. Quite seriously, by 8:00AM on the top of the big hill on the front part of the loop, it might as well have been 3 in the afternoon. It was amazing, and the blacktop was alive with heat waves. It’s evident, competition-wide, that everyone started to slow down here. Ort would later recall not even remembering this entire day. It was bad. Unfortunately for me, I would remember this lap. I never cramped, I never felt thirsty or hungry as I continued my usual food and drink plan, but something was changing. Soon, my water bottles, that were supposed to last two laps, were starting to get low. I was drinking enough to compensate for the heat, but I also noticed that I'd stopped sweating. My arms were dry, almost clammy. By the time I had three miles to go on the lap, my head was throbing at the temples. Had I taken electrolytes? Yeah… same as usual. I popped an extra Endurolyte, just for good measure, and drank the rest of my sports drink and the rest of my fuel. Yeesh… what happened to my push? I started to really like the downhills simply because I didn’t have to pedal. Dang. Just like that – CLICK! I was dehydrating rapidly.
I made it back to the start line, called out my number, and someone asked if I was alright. In an event like this where EVERYONE looks whipped, for someone to ask if you are alright means that you look absolutely terrible in relation to everyone else. That’s not good. That’s the LAST thing you want to hear from someone.
I dismounted, refilled my bottles, and sat in the shade behind my tent. This is not good. Over the next two hours, I consumed six water bottles before I felt like I had to produce anything at the porta-john, and when I finally did it didn’t look good. In a little over 20 miles I went from peeing crystal-clear, right before I had departed, to being completely dried out. I felt dizzy, the headache was there, I wasn’t sweating, my stomach felt like a knot, and my heart-rate would not drop until I’d been off the bike for three total hours since completing lap 11.
As I sat, watching the clock tick, wondering when it would be time for me to get another lap again, everyone around me reassured me that I had made the right choice. Each rider that came past looks progressively worse for the wear, drenched in sweat (I was jealous) and looking salty. About this time, STRONG riders began to leave the race. RAAM-Qualified riders went home. An Ironman finisher that had come from Hawaii quit. I suppose I was in good company, but I was determined to get back in the saddle. I drank, sat, drank, soaked my headband in cold water and reapplied it to my head, drank, checked my pee, checked my heart-rate. All the while, I checked my time, and it ticked down again. My last average speed check was 9.55 MPH. The minimum to finish officially was 10.814 MPH. This was not looking good. Yeah, it’s something that COULD be made up for – after all, I was awake, and ready to ride – but the writing was beginning to show on the wall. My steady decline in average speed was not going to help, and my speed at this distance was NOT going to improve – I simply hadn’t trained for speed at ALL this year. I had plenty of base mileage, but a foundation like that does little good when making up for a constantly ticking clock is the goal. I was barely on pace to finish a 600K in enough time for it to officially count as a brevet finish. Frankly, this was starting to suck. If I managed to get back on the bike, and STAY on the bike, I might just barely squeak by, but the math just wasn’t working out.
With 220 miles, my heart still racing from the dehydration, I checked in with the race desk and announced that I was giving it up. It just wasn’t going to be my year. Two hours LATER, I was finally peeing clear again, and by that time it was REALLY too late to make up the time.
Even with the hydration figured out on the bike to the point where I never cramped, never felt thirsty, there is a LOT to be said for acclimation. This summer in Kansas has been milder than in years-past, and the truth of it is I had not trained in the heat at all, not even moderate heat. The MS-150, again, the high was only 76 degrees on day one, and not much warmer on day two. I didn’t ride in any of the title club rides or centuries, which usually provide excellent daytime training for such things. Even on my commutes I was only out in the heat for short periods of time, and usually in the shade of the bike trail. I have noticed consistently ALL year that hydration has been a problem, and much of it was coming from lack of acclimation to the heat itself, lack of exposure. Even OFF the bike doing yard work, I had often times this year succumbed to headaches and feeling zonked from the heat of the afternoon. I don’t know if I simply can’t hack the heat anymore, or if it really is just lack of exposure. All I know is, I REALLY need to TRAIN next year, and when I train I need to train in the conditions I hope to perform in. There was a time when I had an EDGE in the heat, specifically at Tinbutt ’05 when the temps were just ridiculous and top riders were going to the hospital, I was on the bike and riding with temps in the 115 degree range and high humidity. But that was a hot year all around, and I trained in it. That has to be the difference.
All the while, I knew in front of my mind that I had done better than last year in many respects. I slept less, I drank more, I ate right (except for the pasta, which wouldn't pass until 6:15pm SATURDAY). The speed just wasn’t there, and when the sun came up neither was the heat tolerance. It was not a mystery: I hadn’t ridden enough over the summer. The brevets themselves, alone, are not enough. They have to be built upon. Speed training is essential, even if you don’t plan to average 20 MPH per loop, it raises your ability to maintain a better pace. It eliminates lap times as being a main concern, so you CAN have off-bike time if you need it. And, I need a crew. These races can’t be done without a crew, period. Mixing my own drinks is for the birds, takes time, focus that may not be there after 24 hours, and getting off the bike kills rhythm even if it is only every-other lap. There is no mystery at all why MV24 was a success, and this event has not been. I need a crew member. Ort’s wife offered to help, as always, but she was there for him, not me, and it’s too much to ask of one person to run two rider’s races. This was my plan, and it wasn’t working. The small amount of training I DID manage over the summer had all been at night, and while that is essential so you know what to expect at night, it doesn’t prepare me for the DAY. The heat. Heck, even staring at the sun-lit road was tedious simply because I wasn’t used to doing it! How crazy is that? Despite all of this, while I talked to Dan Driscoll about my decision, I was smiling, clear-headed, and not disappointed at all. I was perfectly comfortable with my decision – it was becoming futile, and I was done.
When he asked me what I was going to do, I replied “I’m gonna make sure Ort finishes HIS ride.”
“What a friend!” he replied.
But it was more than just that. It was more than just me no longer having a ride to race, and doing something because I was bored. NO, it was more; It was vindication for last year, and if I couldn’t get it for myself, then I was gonna get it for at least one of us.
I put my bike on the roof of the car, and got into street clothes again. Time to get to work.
Ort's tale is an epic one, ((I’ll link to here later on once it’s posted)) and I’ll leave most of the details to his ride areport and try not to take too much away from it here. But to recount my involvement, some details are neccessary:
Ort's ride was more solid than mine, but it was not going perfectly to plan, either. Problems sleeping were catching up, and despite solid lap times of 1:30 nearly each go-round, he was putting in a solid ride and pulling from a huge base of fast brevet training all year long. It wasn’t smoking fast like some of the higher-placed riders, but it was a good ride. The problems were mounting with off the bike mini-naps and trips to the bathroom with food issues coming and going. As Friday carried on, and again he would later say he didn’t remember Friday much at all, things were beginning to look as bleak as my ride had become. Plus, the heat of the day was proving to be a real problem. He was staying hydrated and he kept moving, but it was taking its toll. Finally, 6PM came, and the heat of the day began to break. Despite all the hardships, he was going into the evening of Friday with over 300 miles on the books!
Over the next couple of hours as the day became night, things would get dicey. The sleep monster would visit, the stomach issues would come and go, and the mental games played out as the same tired loop was repeated for lap after lap, up to lap 17, where Ort would finally lay down for a while. At this point, he knew my decision, and I started to help with the between lap prep work, getting bottles mixed, doing the hand-ups, and helping him find a place to sleep. His pace was his own, and he was getting frustrated. More than anything he was sleepy-tired, and needed to reset his brain. Finally the chance came between after lap 18. With 360 miles in the tank he simply collapsed into a lawn-chair and slept under the stars. I finally got some sleep of my own, too.
The sun was showing again, headlights came off for the last time, and bottles were mixed fresh once more. Over the night, some of the faster team riders had completed their races, clicking off the 500 miles between 4 fast riders in 29 hours and change, some even faster. For the solo riders remaining, there was still work to be done. Shaking off the last of the sleep, Ort mounted up, clearly discouraged.
“I’ve been doing the math all night, and I don’t see how I’m gonna make it, man. The math just ain’t workin’”
Trying to keep him focused, I blurted out something or other, and got him moving. He was right. Over the night between several laps and fighting sleep, his ride was tanking the way mine had earlier. His total average speed had dropped below 9 MPH. This was going to be TOUGH, but mentally there was no-one else I knew that was up to the challenge. The only thing now was to keep him ON the bike, period. Char and I talked and planned the next few laps, what to do, how to do it, how we could shave time. She is a fantastic supporter, but admits that even while she had learned a lot the previous year, she didn’t feel confident as a solid and impartial crew member. After all the support and the times we’d ridden together, and for all the times I was supported by someone else and never got the chance to repay the debt, this was my time to help. I had changed roles, was no longer thinking even remotely about my ride, but was now referring to Ort as “my rider”. Here comes “my rider”, I need to check lap time on “my rider”, etc. It was time to get a finish out of one of us.
Laps 19, 20, 21 were nearly carbon copies of each other. Every hour-and-thirty Ort would roll up, I’d eject his bottles and insert fresh ones: Carboplex in one, plain water with Elite electrolyte hydration mix-in in the other, loaded with ice to stave off the heat. We tied a bandana around his neck filled with ice, a Tinbutt trick he’d taught me. With wife and daughter on either side of him, fresh sunscreen was applied, his face was toweled off, and we’d push him on down the road. It was working, and the total average speed was slowly coming up. In three laps his “off bike” time was under a minute. The new approach, rider and solid support team -- We were doing it! Even other crew members were pitching in, which is a testament to the brotherhood of ultra-racers in general. It’s the same for everyone out there, no matter what the speed – this stuff NEVER gets easy. You simply get faster. As Ort rode off again, a crew member from a UK team came by and offered up some energy drink, and after Ort had asked for more Hammer Gel packs and we came up dry, I had his daughter go on a scavenger hunt across the start-finish area asking for Hammer packets from anyone that had some to spare, maybe from a crew who’s ride had already finished, and we struck gold by producing two packets and a full flask of gel. When Ort came back around, he looked saved as he took up the gel and fueled himself. Everyone truly pitches in to see riders through at these events. But, ultimately, the clock was still ticking, and time was running thin again.
By Lap 21 things were looking dangerously close. One thing I have learned is that off-bike time is EVERYTHING. After the trials and episodes of the first 36 hours were in the books for good, there was NO getting that time back. When he got back on the bike that Saturday morning he had 140 miles to cover in 11 hours time. That’s a 12.7 MPH average, very do-able – but not after the fatigue of 360 miles immediately prior, and essentially only 30 minutes of GOOD sleep. THEN it becomes tough, especially considering we were basically suggesting that he HURRY a little more on each lap, something that is nearly impossible this deep into this kind of distance. His lap times were between 1:30 and 1:45 ET, and that isn’t quite enough. Things were getting nervous. Even though I wasn’t riding, I couldn’t rest, sit down, or eat. I was anxious for Ort to come around again, anxious for the race officials to post the last lap splits so I could report back his overall average. It was slowly coming up: 9.74 MPH….. then it was 10.17 MPH….. then it was 10.282 MPH….. then 10.377 MPH…… AAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!
With two laps left, it was going to be dangerously close, and Char and I were losing our minds. 10.418 is all we needed…
Lap 22 was one of the hardest. An hour and thirty came, and went………
“He needs to get here NOW” we’d say…. Looking down the road…. Is THAT him? Rushing to the cooler for bottles and getting the vitamins and sunscreen ready, and fresh ice…… "no, false alarm"..... ugh….
We’d see riders that were behind him on the previous lap come thru…
WHERE ARE YOU, MAN???
The strict rules about NO personal support on the route, NO rovers, NO reports, NO radios…. we were blind, had NO idea what was happening on the course. Had he flatted? Had he stopped? There was nothing we could do…. It was all on him.
“THERE HE IS!!!!!” We rushed and got bottles and rinsed him off – he could barely form words as he put his head on the handlebars while we worked.
“just plain water this time...”
He had not consumed much out of his previous bottles, not a good sign…
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever done to myself…” he mumbled… we could only encourage, and push him onward. Focus on the goal, man…. You want this…. You are so much stronger than anyone else out here….. go go go!!!!!!
He was off again…. Lap 23…. TWO more to go…. 40 piddly miles seemed like NOTHING after all of the riding, all the pedaling. Char and I basically collapsed into our chairs…. Alright, we need to get ready for the next lap, he’s gotta hurry on this one or we’re not gonna make it. It sat heavy on all our minds. The numbers don’t lie.
We waited, and waited, and waited… 1:30 came…. And went…..
“oh no….” Char said… this was getting hard to handle, the emotional investment… you start playing scenarios in your mind and wondering what he’s going thru out there on the course... we could never know, but I could imagine.
One hour, 45 minutes came….. and went…….
False alarms, squinting down the long lead-up road, looking for that helmet, that jersey….
THERE!!!!!!! Off schedule, but still focused, he was back again …
“Guys, I gotta go…. “ he muttered, shaking his head; determined, but visibly whipped.
We put bottles in, and pushed him off for the last time…
There he went…. The LAST LAP.
It was all on him now, there was nothing more we could do but wait. There were no words, we knew. We all knew... he had to do something special this last lap, or that was it. After all that mileage, all that suffering, to walk away with nothing?
It was getting real.
The clock, it was TORTURE. The time seemed to take forever as the clock creeped past 5:00PM….. 5:15……. 5:20...
6:00PM was like a wall, a deadline, like the timer on a bomb in an action movie, but more real than you can imagine. The tension was almost making us sick.
We made our way to the start/finish line, fully expecting to have to cheer and push him all the way to the last second.
Based on his last lap time, I knew there simply wasn’t enough time left. There was no way. If he was THAT whipped after that last lap, how in the world was he going to be able to do THIS one, this most important lap, faster???
Everyone else had come thru…. There was no-one on the road….
And then, bursting out from under the pavement climbing that final rise before the finish line, was a bobbing helmet.
“THERE HE IS!!!!” someone shouted, and all fanfare broke loose…. It WAS him!
A miracle lap, back down to an hour and thirty, and JUST enough time – twelve minutes to spare.
Twelve TINY minutes, NOTHING; a flat, extra wind, ANYTHING would have eaten that time away, but there he was, and a weak smile spread across his face. The crowd noise lulled just a little bit as he had to call out his rider number one last time for it to be official…. In the most exhausted voice I’d ever heard pass Ort’s lips,
“ FIVE…. ONE ….. TWO……” and the crowd erupted…
It was magic.
So, yeah, the headline for this post might be a little misleading – but even though we didn’t start as a team, we ended up a team – and that’s how it went down. In retrospect, about two weeks before the ride I emailed the organizer about changing events, but I really should have just bowed out all together, and crewed for Ort from the get-go. I knew I wasn’t ready, but I was prepared to at least try. My only regret was not being there to run those hot laps on Friday for Ort, keeping him on the bike and moving, so perhaps the finish would not have played out so close to the wire – but hey, a finish is a finish. I consider this a complete success. But you might then ask how can I possibly consider this weekend, this race, a success when my own ride was yet another shortcoming? It’s hard to explain, but the feelings of accomplishment I feel from seeing a good friend finish something so tough, knowing that I had a small part to play in that feat, was enough. I had no trophy, no glory, but I feel full, whole, and satisfied deep down in my soul. Being on a crew is THAT rewarding, and I am SO glad that I’d decided to come to Tejas again, and that the events played out the way that they did. It has taught me that crew can help win a race when all else seems impossible. But, the crew does nothing without a solid rider, and this year’s ride has shown me the tenacity of a rider that sees his goal and never wavers no matter what the odds, and gives me someone to point to and declare “THAT is how it’s done.” Hopefully, next year, I can pull from that, if I do come back to this event.
There’s quite a bit of weight on these shoulders as I step away from this ride – there is the personal desire to earn that trophy for myself next year, or some year in the future. With that, I have broken down and finally have learned to let go of some of the things that have been occupying me so much these past few years. I need to regain the focus, the desire to do better at these events, the training to excel at them if I truly want to continue being someone that looks at a century ride and asks “what’s next?” I’m not ready to quit. I’m not dead. But, the rider that I speak of so highly from 2003 *IS* dead. I can’t bring him back. I can only build anew. I can take this tired body, and teach it to shed weight. I can take these legs that have learned to accept a slower pace, and teach them to spin strong and hard. I can take these latest lessons that I’ve seen of courage and fortitude, and use them as a map of how to build my own mental toolbox. It’s time to move on to version three of me. Version 1 was the fat guy that was on his way to a heart attack. Version 2 was the fledgling aspiring ultra-racer that lost his way. It’s time to take all these lessons, forget the past, and start fresh.
A few commutes will lead back to consistency. Finally visiting the club rides that provide the rabbits that I need to chase in order to get faster. It’s time to look at the brevets, not as something to simply finish but something to better myself at. It’s time to look at the forecast, find 100 degree temperatures, and suit up for a fast metric.
I know the path. I know I still want to follow it. It’s time to have a better 2008, and put this year aside – yeah, it wasn’t perfect - in certain ways it was pure hell - but it was SURE good in many ways. I learned a lot, and sometimes that’s all we can hope for in life.
I’ve said it all before, sure...
...but something in me changed this last weekend.
It’s time to wake up.