The Summer Gets Wrapped Up.
Talk about a roller coaster summer – this is one for the books, and it’s not even over yet. Last time I updated this page with a good tale was after the failed 600km brevet attempt back in late May – other than that, there have been occasional random tales, but noting solid, like usual. The company I work for has been through a merger, and my department has been thru a few re-orgs and process shifts, which has occupied me to full capacity. There hasn’t been time to record anything of value, and by the time I get home to even think about doing something like that, well, I’m so tired of looking at a computer screen that it takes a serious back seat. It’s time to remedy that, with a new outlook on things and a fresh commitment to get something on this webpage with some meat to it at least once a month. Let’s get to it – it’s been a busy couple of months, with ups, downs, and lots of mileage! Let’s go back, first, to Tinbutt in Oklahoma.
This has pretty much been established as the one, big, outta-town Ultra Racing event that I’ll probably be attending for the rest of my life. After last year’s inaugural event, I was very excited to get down there again and experience the small-town niceties of Stillwater, OK – my home town. No trip to Stillwater would be complete without staying at the Best Western on Perkins – I have always had a connection to this hotel, since coming to town back in 1990 with my good friend Johnny ‘Crowbar’ Sunuke. Crowbar and I took a wild summer road trip once, and ended up crashing in this place – and the genuinely scary thing is that the only thing that’s changed since then is the sign out front – logo update. That’s it. The faded 15 year old picture I have from the third floor looking down into the lobby could have been taken yesterday. The carpet’s even the same – and it smells like it, too. Awesome. Not really a hole in the wall, but darn close. In 1993, my Dad and I took a road trip down here again, and stayed here. Much later, in 2004, I was back – this time a very different individual, my bike and I occupied a room once again for an epic and strange Tinbutt 2004. This time, 2005, I was back at the hotel with good friend Del T., the Hammermeister himself. After HHH in 2004, and a brevet series filled with epic tales and mixed results, we were ready for as many miles as we could get in 12 hours in the Oklahoma heater. HOT… that’s a freakin’ understatement. Let’s put it this way – since returning from Tinbutt, it has NOT been hot – even though the heat index a couple days ago was 110º - it was NOT HOT. Oklahoma was HOT.
As if they knew we were coming, the gods of record high temperatures were in town to make matters worse. We knew it was going to be a rough time, as we drove around town that Friday afternoon, and witnessed the bank thermometer sign at the edge of town reading 114º, which we were certain was horribly miss-calibration – at least we hoped. In any case, even plus or minus 10 degrees, it was stinkin’ HOT. Morning dawned on Saturday the 23rd of July, and there we stood at Lake McMurtry Park, sweltering in the already 80º+ temps and humid haze. The gun went off at 7:00am sharp, and we were off!
Trying to be smart about things, compared to last year, I stayed at an even pace for the first lap – a large paceline formed, and began to gain momentum as we exited the park for the monster descent at Airport Rd., for the southbound run out onto OK-51 highway. I let them go. I was going pretty well so far, pacing along at a pretty good clip – somewhere in the 20 MPH average range (still movin’, but comfortably, unlike the 24 MPH pace of last year’s first two laps) – the paceline was still in sight in front of me, about a mile up the road, and the nearest rider behind me was a good ways off. Perfect time to get into a rhythm and start hydrating. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with these rides and me, something was unfolding that would eventually bring about my undoing. Silly, silly me. One of the primary rules of ultra racing is to have a plan, but if that plan doesn’t work CHANGE IT. CHANGE IT FAST before it’s too late. I had read this before, and since, Tinbutt – and for some reason, I just forget about the important stuff --- this is part of the reason having a support crew that CAN remind you of these things is really, really important! Being a bit paranoid, and a touch of an OVER planner, I mixed up all of my drinks before hand in the hotel, and had my strategy down: two bottles would last two laps. I had one bottle of SE and HEED mixed, and one bottle of plain water for every two laps, which would have been about perfect if the temps had been in the 80 degree range. Since things were about 20 degrees hotter than that, I was sweating a LOT more – even more than normal, and even though I had started to increase my electrolyte intake to compensate, it was too late.
By lap two, my average had dropped only slightly, but by lap 3 I was starting to see my speed drop, and I was not consciously slowing down – I limped thru part of Lap 3 on reserves, and made it to a water stand that was set up at the half-way mark of the course --- doing something I generally don’t have to do, I stopped and took on water. I had not carried enough, and I was running on a severe deficit. I was dizzy, nauseous, and for some reason could not stop yawning. This was NOT good. Having been hospitalized in the recent past after a hard, hot ride for severe dehydration, I at least knew the signs, and was trying to repair the damage – but as anyone will tell you, there is nothing you can do to get re-hydrated while ON the bike – it’s too late – you have to stop, rest and refuel slowly until things normalize. That was my goal – get back to the park, and stop for a bit until I could continue. My dreams of an age-group placing were hosed, but I didn’t care – my goal now was to stay out of hospital. It was the end of lap 3, finally, with major cramping in my legs for the first time in years, and exhaustion – as I crossed the line and got my number punched, the ride organizer read off the temperature – 102ºF. Dang. I sat in the shade and started to drink and fuel up.
Stronger looking riders came and went, as I slowly recovered in the shade, drank until I started to sweat again, my headache went away, the nausea ceased, and some clarity came back into my mind. After taking in nearly a gallon of water, I felt ready for another lap – there was no chance of a medal this year, but I was at least going to get a century in. Five laps would put me at 110 miles – get it done, slacker. I announced my intent to the organizers at the start line, and proceeded back out onto the unshielded course – the temperatures might have been tolerable with a little shade, but there was little to be had on this course. Once you get out of the park, you are on your own: Airport Rd. bombs downhill to Redlands Rd, which climbs out of a shallow river valley at lake level, and spits you out onto OK-51, which runs east-west to the south of Lake Carl Blackwell – this unforgiving strip of pavement is hard enough to negotiate, with steady climbs that go on for 2 miles at a time – it’s a terrific road for practicing your pacing abilities on long, sustained efforts, and it’s got a nice 8 foot wide shoulder, so you feel pretty safe with the 65 MPH traffic flying by to your left. This year, however, with the 100+ temps, the SW winds, and the re-tarring crew that just happened to be working today – well, it was a little slice of death, right here in the Midwest. In fact, I think Death Valley itself was probably cooler that day – the temp at the start of my Lap 5 was 106ºF, and the humidity had the heat index at 114ºF – before I’d left again, the park ranger was kind enough to take air temperature outside the park; about one foot off the pavement read 126ºF – and it’s a fair bet that on OK-51, right around the re-tarring truck, it was probably in the 135º range near the pavement! I could feel an extra blast of heat as I rolled over still-molten tar, and rolled past the gas-fired liquid tar truck.
Lap 5 was looking bleak enough with all that extra data in my head, but it was time to get it done, and get back to the park and rest again for lap six. Things were looking bad again already – I had plenty of spice restored to get back up to OK-51 again without any major issues, but I started to feel the beginnings of cramping again in my quads and hamstrings, despite taking in water and electrolytes – no matter how I dosed the salt intake I was horribly imbalanced, and my muscles were not firing correctly – any moderate uphill push was a torture session, and coasting just seemed to make things worse, because it hurt to get the legs rolling again. I drank, fueled and salted up, but it was flowing out of me faster than I could take it in.
Yikes --- only 11 more miles, I told myself, as I turned north on OK-86 for the western-most leg of the rectangular-shaped course. Thankfully, there was a little bit of a tailwind here, to help things long, but it was almost a devil in disguise: the lack of air blowing OVER me was making it feel even hotter than it really was. Despite the lumbering headwind on OK-51, at least it was offering some relief – but now, with no wind at all, it was like riding into an oven. By the time I got to Bronco Rd. for the final turn back towards the park, I was dried out again, cramping badly, and the headaches and dizziness returned – even the radio I’d brought along for lap five wasn’t doing much to keep my mind off the cramps and heat. I felt in generally high spirits, but even since screwing up my fluid intake with lap 1 and 2’s “two bottle” formula (which should have been 4 bottles), there was no way to recover. Whether my mind was in the game or not, my body was nearly finished. I limped back to the park, barely keeping cramps at bay again, and checked in. Not content to quit just yet, 132 miles was looking pretty attractive – lap six, plenty of day left: but it was time to rebuild again before tearing myself down. I sat, and started the process of taking on fluids until I felt human again. An HOUR LATER, I finally had to use the bathroom. That was not a good sign, because I hadn’t had to go since leaving the hotel that morning! You know the hydration expression for cyclists reads “drink until you pee pale”, right? Well, I might as well have been brewing coffee. I was BADLY dehydrated – OK, I thought, no sixth lap until THAT looks RIGHT. I sat down, and started to drink again, taking in water and electrolytes, SE, HEED, fig netwons – I would’ve given you $100 for a bag of pretzel salt right about then, too. Del showed up, after completing his 5th lap, and sat down with me – eventually, Kincannondale showed up, too, calling it a day as well. Eventually, it was clear that I was done, too… considering I was unable to rise from my chair or bend at the waist without cramping horribly, there was not much more I could do for recovery right then. Going another lap would have been stupid, as the temp peaked out at 108º at the start tent.
Inspired, and looking fresh, Del decided that 110 miles was not enough – he was up for Lap 6, and had been fueling smart since lap 1 – it showed – he rose, loaded up bottles, and took off out of the park again! Kin, after resting and taking a dip in the nearby lake, also decided that 5 was not enough, and went out to chase down Del. Alone, I began the self-talk rituals, but try as I might, the legs would not agree – six was right out. I sat again, and continued to drink fluids, V8, HEED and eventually retreated, since I wasn’t getting back on the bike, to good ole’ Coca Cola to get my blood sugar out of the basement. It worked, and I started feeling human again. Whew --- goal achieved: I stayed out of the med tent. Close. Later that day, however, I was in for a surprise. We all gathered in a circle near the start/finish, and organizer Don began to announce the day’s winners – serious riders walked up and shook hands, collecting their prizes, including a REAL ultra rider, that, despite the conditions, had logged an amazing 220 miles in the heat – suffering all day, this guy got DOUBLE the mileage I had achieved, hitting home the notion that I need a LOT more work and knowledge before I’m going to be truly competitive at this. Del got 3rd in his age group with that sixth lap, his first ultra medal! Nothing shocking – the strongest looking riders all collected their hard-earned accolades, and then Don shouted off the last few awards, including this speech:
“This guy was our only fixed-gear entry, and eventually came to his senses earlier this week and decided to ride with gears instead – but he was still the only person in his age group, so…”
…and as he called my name, I think I visibly got shorter in stature. Shaking my head and smiling sheepishly, I walked up to collect my gold medal for men 30-34. Geeez. I almost wanted to give it back! There were guys out there that had logged dozens more miles than I had and only walked away with their sweat, and only because they had a different birthday than I do? Sure, I suffered, but only because I was stupid and didn’t drink enough! That medal will always have an asterisk beside it, as far as I’m concerned – but it was still nice to have something to point to after all that mess. What a ride, and what a day ---- if it’s even 15º cooler next year, it will be SO much easier – but I can tell you one thing: I’m not pre-mixing ANYTHING. How come I never learn these things in TRAINING?! This is a call out to all you 30-34 year-old ultra riders and randonneurs – you’re coming with me to Oklahoma, so I can win this medal fair and square! Ok, TRY to win it. I’ll be the guy with the Camelbak.
Overbrook…and a wake-up call.
After returning from Oklahoma, it was clear that I needed to take a break from the heat, and recharge a little bit – prior to Tinbutt, Del and I had been discussing the future, and big goals. Things like Furnace Creek and RAAM itself (the big daddy of them all) came up in conversation, and even initial plans and sponsorship ideas began to materialize. If I was going to get serious, it was time to start training seriously – a few more weekends of fun stuff and then it would be time to get into focused speed-work and carefully plotted distance run-ups. First order of business was to get this hydration problem solved – I had to train to drink right, and it was time to get it ironed out while it was still hot outside. The next Sunday it was about perfect – at 9:30am it was nearly 85ºF, and sticky. Let’s get to it! With an open calendar, I decided this was the prefect day to get in a solo century, so I left the house and headed west.
I didn’t want to do laps, or be tempted to cut anything short, so an out and back route was best – but, again, I didn’t want to ponder routes all morning, either, so I just picked a road – this time 199th St., which eventually turns into US-56 highway near Edgerton, KS. This also was not a day for speed work, so I took a nice, even, steady pace – not pokey, just steady. US-56, if you can handle the mere 3 foot shoulder and steady 55 MPH traffic passing you close-by, is a terrific road for getting into a steady pace – in retrospect, I would have been better served to have used K-68, but it’s a lot farther south from the house. I followed US-56 past Edgerton, past Baldwin City, past US-59 – and too my nervous surprise I found the shoulder kinda disappears west of US-59 --- uh oh… things were going so well, though, and I noticed that the bulk of traffic coming west was actually turning either north or south on US-59, and not going straight. Hmmmm --- Should be ok, then!
I continued on, enjoying very little traffic, and a light tailwind – but it was getting HOT, and temps had soared into the upper 90’s already – thankfully it would not get much hotter, and compared to Oklahoma the week before, it felt pretty good, actually! After getting passed by the occasional 18-wheeler and just ticking off the miles, I arrived at my turn-around at Overbrook, KS, and the Casey’s General Store there, for a rest and refuel. The tailwind was a little better than I’d thought, and I showed a terrific 19.4 MPH average at the 50 mile marker – sweet! Orange Juice, V8, a couple fig bars and a shot of Hammer Gel later, I was off again, back eastbound. The rest of the trip, I pedaled head down, deep in the drops, trying to keep a steady pace back into the wind – I took in the sights, too – endless vistas of green grass and knobby hills and fields – wildflowers dancing just over the road-surface, only inches from my feet and the rush of traffic, the gold-ish red of the Osage County pavement that had been used west of US-59, cows, and huge communications towers, littered with aerials and arrays of different kinds. It’s interesting how quickly you are surrounded by the way the REST of Kansas looks only a short time after leaving suburbia, and it’s refreshing. Say what you will, but I do love this state sometimes. After crossing US-59 again, and breathing a sigh of relief knowing I have a good shoulder for the trip back east from now on, I stopped for another refuel at the gas station there. Orange juice is on the menu again – and it hits the spot; loaded with natural sugars and potassium, it’s probably not a bad choice, either – fig bars again, some more Hammer Gel, and water refills -- I feel boosted and ready for the last charge across the rest of Douglas County, and then the last 20 miles or so to get home again. I stop again at Edgerton for more water – getting HOT, and I feel something that resembles a cramp, too --- uh-oh… ok, this is what I’m out here for: fix the problem! Electrolytes are doubled up, and water uptake increases, and the problems go away --- I’m definitely drinking more that I had in Oklahoma, but maybe I have to drink even MORE when it’s above 85º? I’ve definitely noticed a pattern, and now, yes – 85º and above gets a whole new rulebook.
This ride was almost so fun I hate to call it a training ride, but I did learn a lot. I gotta tell ya, training kinda sucks. I wore the heart rate monitor for the first time in over a year for this ride, and I didn’t pay hardly any mind to it – I didn’t try to stay in any zone, and didn’t really know where my redline was. I had the bike computer mounted again, for the first time in a while, and I barely looked at it – and even though I had a nice tidy mileage total on the display at the end of the ride, I still pulled out the map book and traced my route just for grins – (I almost made it off the page today!)
For as compulsive as I am about nearly everything else, bicycle training has always been tough for me. I’m very much a perceived-effort kind of rider. No, I’m not the smartest of riders, that’s for certain. As it was mentioned to me recently, I’m either sprinting, or crawling. I can’t learn to walk. To those that CAN – my hat is off to you. I have a lot of learning left to do, which is the great thing about cycling: you never stop learning about yourself – but my big questions lie in whether or not I NEEEEEED to. Every once in a while, something like Oklahoma happens, and it makes me stop and re-think everything – why? What happened? Should I change anything, or should I just alter small things here and there to compensate? Do I need aerobars? Do I need a heart transplant?!? AHHHH!!!!!!
It’s far too easy for me to start stressing again – and as soon as I start stressing about cycling, it stops being fun. It’s EXTREMELY important to keep it FUN. So many people I’ve known have been completely burned out of the sport; good friends that I have lost touch with for one reason or another, passionate about the bike, but too serious, too involved – too much sprinting and not enough resolve for the crawling. Over-trained, never to recover. I’ve seen people get amped up, only to hang up the bike after only a year – one extreme case just up and sold his road bike after only a couple months; it was apparently too much, too fast. Others still, were smart enough to realize that their cycling ‘ship’ had sailed long ago, and it simply wasn’t their path anymore. Another I know rides very little, hardly trains, but he’s always there at the MS-150 and always has a good time when it counts – I’ve never held it against him that he may train a whole season with only as many miles as I commute to work in a whole month – bacause he gets it done out there, and is a great friend. I have some other friends that are JUST getting into the sport, and they are worried already about getting faster, training, upgrading to a road bike – my advice to them: slow down. Not in actual speed, but in drive – it’s easy to get carried away, with the ‘Lance Effect’ and high-zoot marketing of race bikes, but don’t think that the fun and passion lies with racing alone. If you race, and you’re happy – DO IT. But sometimes, just getting out there and riding is enough – the health, the speed, the fitness all takes care of itself – but I won’t push you: I’d rather have you on the bike, next to me at the next coffee ride, than off the bike explaining why it wasn’t fun anymore.
Recent talk of big future plans has me thinking about money, obligations, stress, and thinking about what happened the LAST time I started up with big plans with another cycling friend a couple years ago – it went downhill, and fast. Some people are content to race and train and strive for greatness and accomplishment. For me, in my experience, it’s not what cycling takes you towards – it’s the ride itself. For me, training sucks the fun right out of cycling. If I’m fast, it’s by accident. If I know how to climb well, it’s purely by chance. I haven’t ridden by the numbers in years now, and I’m not sure I want to again – and strangely, since abandoning organized training practices altogether, I’ve had my fastest year ever. That tells me one thing: if I keep it fun, I will be rewarded.
Despite all the ups and downs, the big plans, and the breaking of them, I’ve had a BLAST – and I want to keep it that way. I owe everyone around me that truth. If IT’S not fun, then neither am I – and I have a family to think about. They deserve to have me in a good mood, and it’s up to me to keep it that way. I stress too easily as it is... and turning cycling into stress, instead of keeping it as the tool that KILLS my stress, would be a huge mistake. That ride to Overbrook was SO MUCH FUN, and no-one was there to hand me a medal at the end – and that’s perfectly ok. It’s time for me to put the camera back in my jersey pocket, and chill out.
Crashing the Blast…
The Baldwin City Blast – and awesome recreational century ride that the JCBC puts on every year was here – and once again, I didn’t get my registration fee in for it, and had a noon obligation to look out for, so – again – I had to miss it. This is a ride that I’d been looking at since ’98, and still hadn’t done or seen in action – so at the very least, I would watch it from the sidelines. Rising early, I started my trek west towards Baldwin City again, much like I had the previous weekend, but wanting to alter my route, I took 143rd Street out of town, and eventually ended up on 151st, then 143rd again, and eventually 900N headed into Douglas County. Wanting to get in a little speed work, to pretend I was training, I pushed the pace up and held a 24+ MPH pace from the county line out to the tee at DG1061 – whoof. That felt good! (ouch)
I limped up the climbs on 1061, and eventually got to 460, turning west again – I started to see signed for the Blast posted by the JCBC the night before, and I hammered onward, getting excited about possibly sharing the pace with a few pacelines – beats training in solitude all the time!
I continued west, reaching Vinland, and then turned south on the road that eventually becomes 6th St. in Baldwin City, finally seeing some cyclists – all heading in the opposite direction! Figured… but it was nice to SEE ANYONE! I continued south, thru Baldwin City, past the college, and onward toward Fowler Hill and out of Palmyra township into Franklin, near Le Loup, KS. The view from the top of Fowler Hill, by the way, if you’ve never seen it, is especially breathtaking, if you have time to look after grinding up the grade – it’s one of those things that makes Kansas attractive --- suburban Johnson County is NOT IT – it’s stuff like this. Heading beck east now, I notice a TON of cyclists coming up the road towards me – and in a nearly solid gesture, I ride about a mile with my left hand extended in a continuous wave, as streams of people fly the opposite direction towards the big climb and Baldwin City again – possibly the short route? Not sure – but there were a LOT of riders out there!
Near Le Loup, I turn south, just barely catching a route marking sprayed on the pavement for a longer route – I start heading south on the fabled Tennessee Rd., heading south into the farmland of the Peoria township, and passing in sequence over Wolf Creek, Spring Creek and Walnut Creek before arriving at K-68 highway. With a check of traffic, and passing a rest stop that I could not use (having not paid), I carried on, knowing roughly that I was near K-33 and Wellsville, one of my favorite stretches of pavement! Another five miles back east, and a little bit of a tailwind now, I arrived at K-33, and turned north – welcoming a brisk tailwind, blowing at about 12 MPH. Shifting (yes, shifting as I’m riding the good bike) I start picking up the speed, and picking off riders on the 7.5 mile rifle-shot north to Nolke’s Cash-Saver gas ‘n grocery in Wellsville, KS. – paradise. I fly in, head inside for an orange juice and water purchase, down the OJ, pop a couple fig newtons, a few vitamins, and slug some water – a racing brevet style stop, I’m back on the saddle in less than six minutes, and headed back north --- at this point, I know exactly where the route is, because as I pass a turn marker outside the gas station, I hear hooting, hollering, and whistling behind me from the riders I’d departed from at the station, all pointing back west – I missed a turn, but I waved and smiled, indicating in some non-verbal fashion that I was not really on their ride today – some poor recumbent rider a few miles north of there was not fortunate, or didn’t hear the cries – he stood by his machine, holding his chin in one hand and the route map in the other – as I passed, he glanced up and asked if he was in the right place, to which I made clear he was not, and pointed him back on the right course --- or at least that’s the message I HOPE he got from my gestures! Flying along with the tailwind again, I probably looked a little comical communicating in my pseudo sigh-language. A few miles later, I was back at good ole US-56 highway, and only three miles outside of Edgerton – well on my way back home; it was another awesome ride, and after getting home and logging the 80+ miles for the day, I felt, at least in spirit, that I’d done part of the Blast – next year, I’ll have to do it officially!
A taste of things to come…
The next weekend, things turned a little bit, as a series of cold fronts and shortwaves blew through from the Rockies, and began to stir up the previously hot, sticky, near-record temperature weeks we’d been having in Kansas this season. Instead of flirting with 100 degrees again, Sunday the 14th of August was reminiscent of LAST year’s C’Dude III ride, where yes – according to the calendar, it was summertime, but it was COLD and foggy! This year was not as extreme, but it was definitely a sign that the sun was beginning to march back south for the winter. I woke up to 58º and steady, misty rain! It was going to be one of those flahute-type of days, so I mounted up the single-speed mountain bike with the fenders, to make the best of things. Rain jacket in place, following my 60º rain rule, I headed out of the garage for New Century Air Center, to meet up with my eventual ONLY participant, Thursby! It’d been months since we’d ridden together last, so this was a treat indeed – unfortunately, he had forgotten his rain gear, but didn’t seem to mind the prospect too much, as the precip seemed to be lifting a little bit as we headed north into a stiff headwind. After a short while, we were warmed up again, and noticed a lone rider deep on his bike, about ½ mile ahead of us – without really trying, we began to reel him in, and discovered a hard-pedaling gent on a nice Kestrel, with aero-bars – he was deep in a tuck, working hard into the gale – as T and I floated right past him – it must’ve been a recovery ride for him, which showed a lot of discipline on his part to not try and hammer back past us or something, considering I was passing him on a herky, fendered, mountain bike with only one gear, and a too-big rain jacket flapping in the wind behind me, and T was practically sitting up in the wind, not even in the drops.
Hmmm… we carried on, eventually hitting 151st St, and marching west, essentially on the same route I’d taken the previous week on the Baldwin ride – we grunted up the big hill heading into town on the north end of Baldwin, and took a rest stop at the US-56 and 6th Street gas station. At this point, I think the temperature was actually dropping! The wind had shifted, and was now blowing out of the northeast, which was about to make our return trip a little interesting – we decided to mix things up a bit, and take US-56 all the way back to Edgerton, which was about 9 miles worth, I think – it was not too bad, but traffic on a highway is always a little disconcerting. We took it as easy as we could, pushing into the gale-force winds and chatting about work-stuff, usually a no-no on rides, but there’s BIG stuff happening at our company lately. Eventually, we made Edgerton, rested again, and then took side roads back towards Four Corner’s Rd, getting stopped by a fast freight train along the way, eventually riding straight thru Gardner back to the air center – it was an awesome time, and it was great to ride with T again – hopefully he’ll be able to make it along on the 9/4 ride, which is the last one before this year’s MS-150. As attractive as New Century is for a starting location for group rides, I’m just gonna have to bite the bullet and start these rides a little farther east if I’m really going to build rider-ship. After changes at work, and changes in philosophy this month, I’m moving things to a more monthly time-frame to keep things fresh, and ensure that things don’t get boring for me or anyone else – the coffee ride format will probably be back, as part of that initiative, too. Yummy!
Thanks for the ride, T!
THE SUMMER BREEZE?
Now, when someone says to you “this is gonna be a BREEZE”, what do YOU envision? I know I start to think about a nice, leisurely ride in the countryside, taking in the sights and puttering along to the next rest stop. When the KC Spinman says we’re doing the Breeze, however, he’s talking about a whole different thing. This year was the first time I was gonna do the fabled KCBC Summer Breeze Century ride, which heads out of Longview Lake, down to Belton, Cleveland, and Drexel, and back, over some awesome roads. However, this would be no cake walk, friend. Spinman has spent the last couple years really getting his game up, advancing up thru the ranks of the Cat.5 USCF field locally, racing with the Bicycle Shack race team – this is a talented group of racers, from Cat.5 all the way up thru to Cat.2 and the legendary P.T., who usually joins these kind of efforts for a nice recovery day (!!). Crazy excited, I reach the parking lot in my jalopy, unload the bike and meet up with Spinman, chatting it up and getting back up to speed on things – before long, it’s time to ride, and with the hearty cry, “remember, it’s a race, not a ride!” from one of the bunch, we head out of the parking lot onto the route.
After a five mile, get-to-know-ya pace, things started to heat up, and some of the talent started to show their guns. I’ve indeed been doing ultra distance way too long, which is good and bad: I have gotten slowly faster over the years, but the key word there is “slowly” – with focused training and shorter distances, I could be up at the front taking my turn, instead of hanging on for dear life, mid-pack. Fortunately, however, the ultra-distance training DOES allow me to hang in longer than normal, and I have noticed at this mush-faster-than-normal pace, I’m recovering from effort faster. In the recent past, one of my biggest problems was over-extending myself and never being able to latch back on – this time, the pace is high, and I’m feeling it, but I’m able to stay attached to the bunch ---- mainly because the big guns are not flexing yet.
We fly up the long climb towards Byars Rd., and I manage to head the pack for a short time, and still manage to hang in up the Byars Rd climb a mile later – going thru Belton, and thru Richards Gebaur Airport, I somehow get off the front – but I come to find out that it’s mainly because someone lost their sunglasses, and the group waited up a little – that makes a lot more sense than non-racer-me pulling off a solo break at a measly 23 MPH! After a quick regroup at rest-stop 1, we are still waiting for the remainder of the group to catch back up, and I am rejoined by Spinman and a Reggie from the original pack – then I spot him: remember the ‘Belgian’ from the Spring Classic ride a couple years back?? He has advanced thru the ranks of USCF racing in the past year, and has made a legend of himself in local circles – after learning his real name (Thomas), it’s better than getting his nationality wrong all this time. Duh on me. He is wearing the sprinter’s jersey today, and looks lean, fresh, and relaxed as always, waiting for the next paceline to gather and leave the stop. Spin, Regg and myself decide that waiting for a pair of sunglasses is silly, so we decide to advance out onto the route again, and just get caught by the pack later on. Our formula doesn’t work out: To our left, we see Thomas and about four other riders, two un-labeled racers and two Boulevard/KCOI racers, whom I’m told are Cat.2 level. Holy… well, it’s worth a shot, right? They say the only way to TRULY get faster is to ride with people that are a LOT faster than yourself, over and over again – get dropped, get humbled, and come back again until you DON’T get dropped – then, and only then, should you consider racing, and taking a turn at the front – if you’re not strong, sit in – and as Spin reminds me later on, “don’t take a pull – they’re working harder than you think!”
I try to heed this advice as best I can, but the flip side of that coin is not to gain a reputation as a wheel-sucker in high company. We leave town, into the murky, cool air, and begin hammering out a stiff pace. Without a computer mounted, it’s hard to tell, but Spin mentioned at one point that we hadn’t dropped below 25MPH in a ‘while’ – over hill and dale, and around some fast corners at the route turns, we eight blistered the road – eventually it was just six riders as we made our way onto “Y” highway on the way towards Cleveland. This road was AWESOME; twisty, hilly and fast pavement – like an arrow, the line, consistently pulled along by the Blvd./KCOI pair, simply didn’t slow up much, regardless of terrain. They were even patting each other on the back and holding a NORMAL conversation at this speed, which for me was just barely sub-puke on the perceived effort table. Amazing. Over the years, I have gotten faster, but THESE guys were the real deal and I felt honored to even be there. Shifting carefully, spinning carefully, being careful not to muscle anything more than I had to, I stayed connected and paid attention – there was something to learn here. Eventually, after realizing the group had gotten a little smaller, the two teammates decided it was time to see if the pack could be weeded any more. It was time to change up the order, and get the rest of us into a rotation. There was KCOI guy #1, the strongest of the bunch, then came Spinman, then Reggie ahead of me in third slot, me, the other KCOI guy, then Thomas in fifth slot.
The head-horse peeled off, Spin followed him – not ready for his pull and taking his own advice, thereby leaving Reggie exposed – Regg did a masterful pull of about a mile or so, and then it was my turn – I didn’t think there was much to lose, considering the main Bicycle Shack pack was still behind us, and the next rest stop was close – here goes. Down a hill, onto a flat, and then up a short but seat-able climb, I pulled as hard as I could, to keep the pace high – and yes, probably to prove something – and then I felt it: that “holy-crap-that-burns and this-is-what-fitness-is-about” feeling in my quads and hams – GEEEZ, I gotta get off this before I explode! – with a twitch of my left elbow announcing my intent, I peeled off, and to my SHOCK and again to the credit of the TRUE racers I was with, the KCOI guy that had ended up behind me said, in full-voice, unrushed, and with no indication of exhaustion at ALL, “nice pull, now head back and rest a bit, man” – first off, my plain jersey and likely choppy-looking effort probably indicated my true caste in the racer world, but he offered the right encouragement, right at the right time. Getting a “nice pull” from a freakin’ Cat.2 racer is HUGE for me, but the way he said it truly drove home how fit one has to be in order to ride at this level, and deliver a multi-sylabic sentence without sounding whipped. In response I think I drooled on myself and maybe grunted, and then drifted to the back of the pack, where I fully expected to just drift off into the next ditch.
Instead, I actually managed to HANG ON! Totally uncharacteristic to previous efforts, I lingered a little, took a drink, and found my heart rate coming back down and some feeling coming back into my pipes. SWEEEEEET! The pace didn’t relax after that, in-fact, as Thomas came to the front, it came up another notch – we managed to stay together on a steep downhill that transitioned into a steep uphill right-hand sweeper – it was a beautiful turn, and as soneone announced our top speed of 47 MPH, we began to crest upward, and passed two recreational riders at warp speed – “WHOOOOAAAAA!!!!!” they let out, as we flew UP THE HILL AT OVER 20 MPH! It was probably the single most exciting and exhilarating climb of my entire cycling existence. Seriously --- it was freakin’ SWEEET! We all got a rush off that climb, and for the last two miles into Cleveland and the second rest stop we hammered out hard-core, and flew into the parking lot for a rest. Hand shakes, shoulder pats, heaves of exhaustion, and endless smiles; even the hardest of that pack knew we had just pulled off a miracle-run, probably averaging 26 MPH for the last 12 miles from Belton to Cleveland. I even got the elbow-tap from Thomas himself. For me, it was a rite of passage, almost – not getting dropped on that run, hanging on by a thread and still staying latched to the back – I have always said that a ribbon of pavement, and my own thoughts were all I ever needed on a ride, and solo randonneuring is STILL some of my favorite stuff, but there is something magical about fast pack-riding, the feel of a road race, the adrenaline, the pain, the rewards for suffering – it’s indeed something I think I want more of.
Even later in the ride, when the main pack got back into the game and the Cat.2/3 crew decided it was time for a REAL workout on highway 2 near Freeman, just before turning north onto C highway – which is where the pace came up FIERCELY and I got dropped for good at the 60 mile marker – it was probably the most fun I’d had on a bicycle in years! Hammering out my own pace from there, sweeping up what I could of the rest of the paceline debris that had held on longer than I had, I made it back to Longview Lake, only to get a sidewall flat a mile from the finish – at that point I was a full 15 minutes behind the leaders – but I still could not stop smiling, even after I started walking my bike back to the lot with a flat tire. To the gent that picked me up and ferried my bike and I back in, many thanks again – I owe you a handshake, at least! What a ride!
The rest of the summer…
The summer for most riders I know is slowly drawing to a close, as most of the big tours are over, the racing season is essentially winding down, and the final chapter is about to be written with the MS-150 series coming up, and finally the terrific season-closing Octoginta ride in early October. This has been an interesting year, with many stable changes taking place – the good bike alone going from gears, to no-gears, to gears, to fixed and back to gears in a six month period alone, and the addition of two new beaters to fill the commuting gaps for year-round use. I have no doubts the MS-150 this year will be a real treat, and a new challenge to boot – last year, I rode the MS-150 on a single-speed, geared 38x16 for about a 62” gear, if I remember right – after changing to a 65” gear over the winter on the old Trek, I polished off 200K and 300K brevets on 42x17 single – and finally putting the good bike into play on the 400K with the same ratio – eventually, that gear proved too short, and I ran 42x15 free for a while, including the team triathlon bike section at Shawnee Mission Park, helping capture gold again for our corporate team this June. But, there has always been the cry for fixed – and I’m finally there. After careful consideration, 42x15 fixed is the platform for this year’s MS-150, and I’m very excited to see what no-coasting for 100 mile will do to me! It’s not super-human – there is a guy that rode this ratio recently on the SIR Cascade 1200K – so it’s do-able; just new to me!
First things, first, however – the geared bike and I have a date at the Tour De Shawnee and another shot at local non-racing glory!
Tour De Shawnee!
Well, it’s that time of year again, and time for what has quickly become my ‘excuse’ for training at least a little bit throughout the year. Not balsy enough to race OFFICIALLY yet, this is somewhat of a personal proving ground, safe from the real racers, and not done under the watchful eye of the official race clock. This year, however, was to be slightly different. The word was out, and as many familiar faces gathered at the parking lot, including Paul – the previous ten-year’s winner – and Thomas (on a tandem, no less!), and Spinman, and Matt, and uhhhh… wow… two Cat.2 riders from Team X, a couple from the Trek team from the bike shop up the street, and a smattering of other local talent – even a few VeloTek Juniors were there for the action! This ride was getting serious attention this year, and it was looking grim for a repeat of last year’s glory-run for second place. Unofficially, of course.
The countdown, the horn, the mass start, and Paul and pack are off like a shot – the juniors are up front, along with Paul and the rest of us in tow. Initial indications are that the pace is a touch hotter than last year, and a lingering intestinal issue that I’ll spare you the details of was making things a little uncomfortable for me, at best. Overall, tho – no excuses… they were FAST and STRONG today, and I was not. I managed to maintain the front group, taking short pulls, enjoying pacing off the motorbike escort for the first 6-7 miles, taking turns with the Team X rider, Paul, and a few others as the pack migrated here and there across the road. Slowly, the pace began to put the hurt into some of the riders, and the front group got whittled down quickly from nearly a dozen riders, to ten, then eight. Thomas on the tandem was in the hunt, Paul, Spinman, Matt, myself, a junior rider, and Team X and a couple others. Onto Maurer Rd., I took point again, powering over the overpass that runs across Shawnee Mission Parkway, after which the road pitched downward for the first fun downhill of the course, and gravity yanks the tandem to the front, and everyone follows hard! At this point, the nails in the “going-out-too-hard” coffin are being driven home. After bombing down Maurer and taking the 90º right turn at the bottom, I found myself off the back a little – so I hammered up to the back of the pack, which was a mistake – I should have saved some for the big hill that was coming up next, but I didn’t. We turned right, and started climbing up Renner Rd., and I popped a little. The gut problem, and not having recovered full from the previous week’s hammer-fest – I was running through the gears, and finding it hard to stand up on the pedals, so I spun it out – which is pretty much how I’d handle the rest of the day’s climbing. The pack was still in sight, but Paul and the Cat.2 engines at the front were not letting up, and soon there was a ¼ mile gap opened. I tried to recover, and bridge – and I got close, but it was not enough. Dropped on the first hill?! Yeeesh. Time to slowly match efforts and try to get back up there!
I pushed as best I could, found Matt hooked onto me, and another gent whose name I never caught. We three continued up Renner, past Johnson Drive, and to the killer downhill to Holliday Drive. We must’ve hit 50 MPH, bombing down the grade and negotiating the nasty corner at the bottom, which last year claimed more than a couple victims. Staying upright, and finding new trust in my new brand of tires, we dumped onto Holliday Drive, and saw the pack up the road – this time by about ½ mile --- apparently they had HAMMERED down the hill, taking risks, knowing that it would distance them from the more inexperienced riders – it worked, as a smattering of pack debris was evident on the road behind them, including Spinman, someone else, and one of the juniors. Slowly, as I took point again, we began our bridge attempt to the main pack, but again it would prove fruitless. We picked up Spin, as he was the only one that could hold the pace as we passed, and proceeded up the road to the next series of climbs, heading west towards Monticello Rd. One climb, I dropped the junior, and climb two I had dropped our little three man chase group, but it wouldn’t last – the coals were ashing over, and my fire was dying out. I hammered on Monticello, trying to bridge the group that I could no longer see – but it was not to be. Not this year. With Paul and two Cat.2 riders up front, there was no catching up. The pace was too hot, and I was drained.
We flew up Johnson Drive, I spinning out the climbs, and Matt taking the flats, as Spinman finds his second wind and advanced up the road to try and bridge on his own. We catch a group of TeamKC riders that had fallen off the front, and swept them up – the pavement turned to chip-seal, and the pace reflected it. There were those that trusted the traction, and others that were unnerved by it – a few more climbs, and onto Mize Rd for a quick lap back to 83rd St, and then back towards Hedge Ln Terrace. Thankfully, we had not seen the lead group yet, which means we were both on the Mize loop at the same time – maybe not all hope was lost!? We pressed on, and I found my ability to push was lessening with each hill. My efforts seemed sluggish, my pedal strokes square, and my will was fading. Somehow, I kept managing to shove out the pace, but I was getting passed now by members of the chase group, even on hills – yikes. I was toast!
Matt advanced up the road, followed by Spinman, but eventually he waited up for me, and we two hooked up again, this time to try and catch Matt… and then we saw him off the bike!
Up ahead at 83rd and Hedge Lane, was a rest stop – normally something I don’t see as an option on these rides, but there stood Matt, refueling – Spin and I didn’t even question it – we drifted across the road, unclipped, and stopped. Rest stop personnel made me feel a little better, announcing that we were only 5th and 6th on the road currently, and it had only been a short while sine the leaders had come through. Hmmm… encouraging! Water, a banana, and a little respite from the pace seemed to help, but the clock was ticking – and after ten minutes, the first pack of fast recreational riders was coming up the road towards us – time to MOVE guys! We three mounted up, and began to hammer up the road towards our objective – catch them! The break certainly didn’t help that effort, but it was worth a shot, none-the-less.
Thru the hidden suburbs of old western Shawnee, we dove and turned, running down the bluffs towards Shawnee Mission Parkway, and another fast downhill with a corner at the bottom. Suddenly, Thomas on the tandem was here! WHAAA??? Apparently, a wrong turn got them off course, and they were playing catch-up, too. He reported that the main group had splintered, and only a few were left up at the front, including Paul. Wow… crazy! Spin, Matt, the Tandem and me worked hard, got to Midland Drive, and began to prepare for the big task ahead: the Col de la Renner (over I-435) and Shawnee Mission Park beyond it. We turned, and started down the run-up to the hill – first, Spin, Matt and the tandem advanced, then the tandem dropped back (tandems always make a climb hard, so it’s no discredit to the pilots – if Thomas had been solo, we would not have passed him – not a chance!), then I managed to catch Matt and Spin on the way up – but I didn’t feel the same kind of push I’d felt in year’s past. It was a struggle, but I managed to hold the front, and grunt it out. After reaching the top, we all caught a crazy sight out of the left side of the road – the pace motorbike, with a Sunflower Racing Team jersey-wearing racer attached to the back of it – he was drafting the motorbike, and there was NO-One with him. He must’ve made his move in the park, and no-one was able to answer. Paul and the TeamX rider must’ve still been inside the park, as we saw no-one else headed outbound as we turned into the park itself. Inside the park, I felt a little fresher – We three, less the tandem, started hammering thru the hilliest section of the ride, and eventually hit Renner again for the run back downhill and onto Midland Drive – the end was coming, and I started to wonder what kind of time’s we’d be able to salvage. Catching Paul and TeamX, much less the Sunflower rider, was right out – now it was a matter of NOT getting caught from behind. Having lost track of whom the lead pack consisted of, we began to get confused on the road, passing riders from the shorter loops as we went, looking for familiar faces. Eventually, we got back on the other side of Shawnee Mission Park, and passed a VeloTek junior racer – he was fast enough to have held on nearly until the end, but was now by himself – That left Paul and TeamX fighting for 2nd or 3rd, assuming Sunflower held on for first! Right about then, the battle for 5th, 6th and 7th was heating up – somewhere up there was a 4th rider, probably between Paul, TeamX and the junior – but we were’nt sure. Matt, Spinman and I began to up the pace, including a guy on a Trek that had joined into the fun somewhere back on Midland Drive. We started upping the pace, taking risks on the frontage road’s corners, and I found myself at the front! Uh,oh… I may not be a racer, but I pay attention, and this was not the place to be – this is where the lead-out man would be, not the eventual sprint winner! Ugh… too late… 200 meters out, Matt appears on my left, followed closely by Spin, and that was all she wrote! I settled for 7th place, un-officially of course, with a finishing time to match the others in our little chase pack of about 2 hours, 10 minutes (not including our stop) for the 48 mile course. Sunflower finished in 2:03, I think, and Paul finished in 2:06 --- subtracting out our ten-minute break at the halfway, we MIGHT have caught sight of them eventually, but who knows? As whipped as I felt, and with that rock still in my gut, I was happy enough when I realized that I wasn’t any slower than I’d been in previous years – the difference this year was the REAL racers that showed up, and the fact that Paul has the talent to hang with them. I do not --- not yet; combined with last weekend’s summer breeze training race, and this hammer-fest, the die is cast for a faster 2006, I think. Yes, randonneuring will play an important part in building my base – but shorter, more intense rides will be on tap, so maybe next year I can get back in the hunt for the virtual Shawnee podium. MAN! I LOVE THIS RIDE! Thanks again to Paul and all the hammers at the front for making it another one to remember! I think I’ve said it before: the only way to get faster is to chase those that ARE faster… and today, there was plenty of talent to chase.
For now, I focus on a nice, relaxing MS-150, and letting things wind down naturally. It’s been an AWESOME summer!
More to come... Thanks for reading!