Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

July 24, 2007

Dude 0, Railroad Tracks 1

Life is freakin busy right now , and I'm getting into this nasty habit of letting too much time pass before documenting stuff... booo! You stink!

ANYways...

So there I was, just riding along.... hahaaha!!!!
Yeah, let's do this a little differently this time, eh?

Corporate team outing time of year, the group at work decided they wanna go to the T-Bones game, which sounds pretty cool, since I'd never been there before.
For those non-sports types like me, and for those not in KC, the T-Bones are Kansas City's minor league team, and they have a really cool stadium with a lot of interactive stuff that makes it a lot more fun than a major league game.
Not being much on sports involving balls, I tihnk this is the closest I'd probably get to a sporting event anymore, so it's cool, not too corporate - very down-home.

As usual, the chance to sluff off a days work always sits well, and it's even better when the chance to ride to the event arises! So, a fellow commuter and I take up the challenge and ride from the comfort of suburbia into the northland delights of hills and industrial highways... get it ON.

Crowbar, since he refuses to send me his bio and I'm forced to make up his nickname - so I default to an old CB handle of his. So there!

Crowbar and I meet up at Prairie Star Parkway and Woodland for the jaunt north. It's a perfect day, a slight threat of rain in the area has a nice deck of sun-blocking clouds above us, and traffic for once is kinda light. It's a great day to ride, and we revel in the downhill of Woodland Road at high speed, taking in the fresh air and green grass. Hippies.

It's urban mayhem!!! Well, not really.
We make our way north, up the first couple of nasty hills of the day, and past a rousing crew of road pavers on rural Woodland. Some poor soccer whore in her Hummer is forced to turn around, probably worried about the road tar and her paint. tee-hee. Crowbar and I roll on past, hot gravel flying.

Rolling past a roadside park on Woodland, we pick up a passenger - a tiny girl on a nice road bike follows us the rest of the way up to 47th, and then in a flurry of gear clicking she passes us on a downhill. But, we have other plans rather than following her, as we turn north on Theden Road, one of my favorites curently - which is sadly on the endangered list. There is an industrial park in the plans, which will likely have this road off limits until it's "improved". Ugh. That just kills all the flavor. It's fine as it is, I think - but that's usually how I think anyways. Nice big fields of corn and beans currently line the road, which is board-flat at river level, and has a ricketty old concrete slab truss bridge that crosses over a little tributary before you reach K-7 to the west -- it's pretty cool, and I need to take some pictures before they bulldoze it all. Ugh.

Crowbar and I finally reach K-7, and it's time to cross the river on one of the few bicycle-legal bridges in town. Good scenery, but dang - the traffic is relentless here. Lots of debris in the shoulder. Neccessary evil.
We make it across, unscathed.

Now it's time for K-32, the industrial artery just north of the river that runs thru and between some of the little "forgotten" towns up north. Towns that most of the southern suburbanatzis have never been thru before -- Bonner Springs, Edwardsville, to be exact. K-32 runs west all the way to Lawrence with a good shoulder - but today, we head east.

Running big tires sometimes has it's disadvantages, I think -- when you go REALLY big, that is. There is lower pressure, and higher contact area - and that invites a lot of deformity over surface maladies -- which is GREAT for comfort, but not so great for really big, sharp objects that might want to push their way into rubber. It just seems like there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to tire size. For Crowbar, it's about 26"x2.1", or whatever monster size those Michelin TransWorld City tires are. I ran these tires once, and I got a massive flat the second day on them -- it was a piece of expanded steel from a lawn-mower trailer or something! HUGE. A skinner 700C road tire probably would have just glanced over it, but it pushed thru those Michelins like they were molded from creme cheese. Today, it's Crowbar's turn - but on a smaller scale. Something white and plastic, fully visible while he was rolling at speed, was stuck in his rear tire - the closest thing I can akin it to was part of a toothbrush handle. Crazy - but at least it was easy to find the hole! A quick patch job, and we're done. The NICE thing about such big tires, and schrader valves for that matter, is the gas station air-pumps don't have a tendency to blow them off the rim and into your face.
Yeah, yeah -- There is a chance for flats with ANY tire, but my theory stands -- on 700x32c Pasela's, I rode over the same nasty shoulders without so much as a tread cut. Things like that plastic piece are just not gonna press into a tire at 100 PSI with a harder compound. At a nice, soft 50 PSI, with thick rubber sipes to hold onto debris, I think the odds were stacked against him. Still, it's fixable, and we were on our way in short order.

So, what's the biggest tire *I* would run? Oh, heck, I dunno -- whatever's on sale!
Actually, I'm curious to see how 700x37's or 42s would feel on something like the Kogswell -- assuming they'd fit. I think that frame will only take 35's as a maximum, but I'll bet that's a sweet ride, and at 85 PSI max pressure, my theory would pan out. The NICE thing about high-volume, lower-pressure tires: with a frame pump, you can actually hit maximum pressure without breaking a sweat during a flat-change. 120 PSI with a mini-pump? fuhgettaboutit. Thus the advent of CO2 inflators. Oddly, for now, The Kogswell is shod with Gommitalia 23cs, which kinda blows my whole theory above - but it's for Tejas training. There is a slight weight and speed advantage, yes - but it's also a race, and races are about efficiency - it simply takes less effort to spin that rubber over 500 miles than a larger tire, and I have to take that as having some value after 30 hours of pedaling. After Tejas, the tread will likely be gone, and Pasela's will find their way back onto that fine frameset, probably in a cozy 35c for winter riding. Sweeet.... but I digress...

Back on the road again, we hit Edwardsville Rd, aka 4th street, aka 110th street, whatever they wanna call it, it runs north to the speedway, thru Edwardsville, past the fire station, and up a long steady climb - a climb that isn't nearly as bad as I remembered it being. I remembered once on the Tongi Tango with Badgerland that coming DOWN this hill, I was coasting for a VERY long time -- but my memory deceives me, and even on the Steamroller stuck in one gear, this hill isn't that horrible.
Crowbar, always harder on himself than anyone else, is keeping the pace nicely, proving that he's more than ready for the MS-150 coming up.

We crest ths climb, and head around the bypass road to the ballpark, on the north side of the speedway. Traffic picks up, and riding defensively takes over -- in an instant we transition from quiet country spin, to suburban death-match. Awesome?
We arrive, after a little school bus (aka, Zabriskie Death-Wagon) polo and hide-n-seek. Fun parking lot antics aside, we find a big real-estate sign and lash our bikes. Ahhhh...success.

The game doesn't really warrant much notice -- it was fun, very cool compared to a major league game, and it kept my attention: but my attentions were literally more on the goings-on, the crowd, my co-workers, and the pizza and cheap beer in concession. I don't know who won, but friend-of-the-show Dansting won 5 Whoppers from BK by answering a trivia question about some guy that had hit his 100th homerun the previous evening. Nicely done, man... enjoy the free meat.

Sprinkles -- then bonafide rain -- and the crowd begins to reach it's tolerance level. Crowbar and I join in the shuffle, and decide it's time to roll out before traffic gets silly. We uncheck our rides, and head out onto the streets again, into the rain -- it's nice and warm, steady rain, and I don't even bother with the rain jacket -- but taillights and headlights come on. We're past the worst of traffic, and in another instant we're back in country spin mode again. Right about this point, I'm really missing my fenders. The Steamroller has been stripped down from commuter mode into almost -urban-warrior mode, in preparation for a component's swap to the Kogswell again, which has been reborn. With all that silliness of Cannondale vs. headset hassles, I'm full circle again -- more on that later, perhaps. Still, the Steamroller is bare-bones, and I'm getting wet and dirty. I think that's the difference, really: its been discussed recently that fenders in a heavy rain don't really afford you that much protection, on the notion that you're getting wet anyways, so what's the point? Easy arguement for a bike that simply won't TAKE fenders, but from this little foray into rain and nasty debris-ridden shoulders, I can tell you that fenders do very little to keep you any drier: but they do a TON to keep you CLEANER. As I occasionally get a piece of gravel or grit thrown up into my hair, onto my neck, down my back, and the fronts of my legs look like concrete pillars from the nasty road spray. Yeah, we can all shower -- and I can put up with it today for the next 30 miles -- but on brevet? Forget it. When the rain stops, I don't want to have to worry about it. It saves a LOT of post-ride cleanup, in more ways than one, and I will always run fenders on brevet - no exceptions. The benefits far outweigh the weight and mounting hassles. Am I digressing again? YES.

Back down Edwardsville Road in the rain, an interesting time around certain corners, and we're back on K-32. Crowbar shouts out that my taillight is having issues - specifically it's shorting out all over the place, moving from steady to flashing to off modes randomly. Ugh. Another case for fenders, I suppose -- keeps the road spray off your lights. Pretty much convinced I can't do anything about it after a little fiddling, I have to rely on the fact that I'm wearing a bright orange tee shirt, and I have a shoulder to ride on. Roll on. Of course, this HAS to happen along a highway. Great. Only a few miles until K-7, and then the backroads again.

Did I mention sometihng about railroad tracks? Oh yeah. I love em. They are the pathways for my other passion, railroads and trains. Since childhood, I have loved the railroad, and therefore I don't loath tracks the way some cyclists do. I know why they are there, and I revel in the times that I catch a train actually crossing the road in front of me, for the short rest, and the sight of it all. The rush of so much weight and power, it's amazing to me. Unfortunately, my OTHER passion, cycling, and the incumbent skinny tires and rubber vs. metal traction laws, make railroad tracks a thing that most cyclists cringe. I've had my share -- close calls on weird angled tracks, and the double pinch-flat that I had after a 30+ MPH fly-over at the bottom of the hill near Mission Road and 159th Street back in 2001, I think. I give them their due respect and caution, but I've also crossed them without incident hundreds of times. Here comes THESE tracks, now.

First off, the angle is ALL wrong. They are sloping across the road at a steep angle; if I was riding right up the hour hand towards 12-noon, these tracks were crossing at a 11-to-5 o'clock line across the road. Second, they are WELL worn. Not the polished "don't hurt my SUV suspension" grate decks and leveled crossings that suburbia offers, no - these tracks have been hammered with heavy truck traffic, and the road bed in between the rails is rutted and recessed, the rails sticking up farther than they should for some cars, much less a bike. Third, it's raining - and only has been for about 15 minutes -- long enough to wash the oils and soaps off the roads most anywhere else, but this is K-32. There is a petroleum-based slime covering everything MOST of the time up here. Just goes with the territory. Fourth, I look down, and my taillight is out. In order to hit these nasty tracks at a perpendicular, I would have to swing out into the lane and off the relative safety of the shoulder. With no rearward warning to the truckers on the road whizzing by, there was NO way I was about to do that. Maybe momentum will take up the slack, and I can off-angle them like I had on the other side of the road on the way outbound... Here I come.

And then I was on the ground. It didn't even happen in slow motion. It was fast -- one second I was up, the next second I was on the deck, burning to a stop - literally, burning a hole in my shirt, burning skin off bones. Biker down. Crowbar's account of the wreck from the rear, he said it was almost cartoon-like. In his words, it was like someone had reached down and jerked the bike out from under me, and for half a second I was fully airborne, and then gravity took over. This was evidenced by the fact that the Steamroller didn't have a ding on it, and aside from the slight scuff on the right pedal it didn't look like it'd hit the ground at all. Me, on the other hand, had - hard. Adding to the fun, here comes Crowbar -- having all the same train track issues that I had to deal with, the fifth variable for him was suddenly *I* was on the deck in front of him. I heard his back tire lock up on the gravelly surface, and then he was airborne, too, tumbling onto my leg and finally bouncing beyond me and landing without so much as a scrape on him. Lucky. For me, having 170 lbs of person dropped on the leg I had just landed on HURT. It hurt enough to make things go that oddly-numb feeling, when your nerves kinda shut down from the trauma. I could not get up, could not bend my hip, knee, ankle, toes. I was knocked silly, just about. Eventually, however, I DID get up on my own, and thankfully nothing was broken or cracked. The steady rain and my abrasions however, it looked like I'd been in a machette fight. It was actually kinda gross how much blood there was for a second there, and even grosser was the cargo I'd assumed from the ground. Bits of wood, glass, gravel, a small nail -- wow, this won't get infected at ALL. Niiiiiice.... After another couple minutes assessment, we mounted back up, and rode to the BP station on the other side of K-7 where I bought a bottle of water and began to rinse out and pick out the debris from my arm and knee and ankle. For a minute or two, it looked like I had something actually stuck IN my ankle, but it later turned out to be just a stain from something, who knows what. A borrowed 3x3" bandaid from the mechanic's first aid kit, and a little waffling, and we were back on the road. My shoulder and hip were sore, though - and suddenly this ride turned into a death march of survival. Fun fun, and climbing to come!

With each pedal stroke up the coming hills, I'd wished for gears - or a car. I was gun-shy at every pavement joint for at least a couple miles, suddenly not trusting anything that looks like it might be enough to throw me off the saddle. You all know how I think (read: OVER-think) stuff, so you can imagine something like this and its after-effects on my riding. Eventually, the confidence comes back in a few miles - but you'd have thought I was riding on eggshells for a while, at least until after we'd gotten off K-7. finally off the highways, I could relax a little, and Crowbar and I maintained a good pace on the return trip. The hills, however, MAN the hills HURT. Even the slightest hill made my right hip joint hurt like all get-out. It hurt to push, it hurt to stand on the pedals, and my shoulder made it hard to pull and push and counter-act the handlebars for leverage. Damn this one gear.
Still, I made it, even up the long monster of Woodland Road from 85th back up to Prairie Start Parkway - notably the first time I'd ever climbed that particular hill. Next time, it ought to be easier.

Crowbar and I parted ways, and I continued the slog-o-doom homeward, up and down the rollers on Woodland southbound back into Olathe. Ugh... what a ride. I suppose things didn't hurt that much after a while, tho -- but MAN I was gonna feel this the next day! After arriving home, and tweaking the hip REAL good on the dismount -- I would have fared better just falling over in the grass upon arrival -- it was time to recount the tale to the wife, take a hot shower, and does up on the Advil and Aleve. Yeesh. What a ride. Perhaps THIS is why I don't ride mountain bikes. I ain't much on this "falling" thing. Still, all-in-all, a good ride, a good single-speed metric century in the bag, and a good story -- I just hope certain parts of it aren't repeated for a while. At least another five years, as that seems to be the track records for me so far.

So, not counting the double pinch-flat of 2001, it's tracks 1, dude 0.

Curse you, railroad-crossing highway-maintenance worker.

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