It's unfortunate that I never had much time to write up this edition of the R-12 quest RIGHT after I rode it. It was an interesting ride from a soloist standpoint -- solo riding is something I've become dangerously good at, as often now when riding in a pack I forget that someone is following me, or I daydream my way into someone's back wheel. It's never caused a wreck or anything, but lets just say my pack riding skills... well.... they suck.
ANYways, this was another one of those brain-on-autopilot rides that I've been practicing - the kind of mental training that gets someone ready for 1200kms, let's say. Not announcing anything. But, it is the end-all for randonnuering, and its on the to-do list someday.
This ride was to be exceptional -- a nice day was on tap, maybe warming into the 80's for the first time in a while. I set the clock early, set for a 4:00am departure. I managed to make it up to the 7-Eleven and get my card signed at 4:08am. The first 46 miles would happen in the pitch dark of a moonless night -- the last day of May. Talk about cutting it close. Weekend after weekend had come and gone, and I had been unable to ride. Finally, only days before missing the cutoff, I managed to get this last Saturday, on the last day of the month, scheduled. Whew....
I tell ya, no more cutting it so close like that (I can especially say this since I'd also cut June so close, too.)
Patchy fog, and calm winds met me in the darkness as I motored my way south on MurLen. Dim streetlights and shadows, and my thoughts. That was it. No cars. NO activity. It even seemed like the crickets and frogs were asleep. My morning jolt of caffiene was beginning to work, and I was not so much awake as "aware". The road zipping underneath me, and the fog...hmm... the fog. It was building from patchy to spotty... to hazy... Crossing near water, close to large wet fields, there was a lot of moisture in low spots as I made my way east on 175th Street. Still no cars. Weird.... Eveen for this early hour, it's not unusual to see someone coming home from a late shift, or starting off on an early one -- but 8 miles in, not a single soul.
Sitting atop the Trek, with the Dinotte headlamp beaming into the thin foggy patches ahead, I climbed up Antioch with relative ease compared to the March edition of this ride. Perhaps some of the fitness was catching up? Certainly the body weight was not... not yet. I could still feel it in the climbs, but not to the same sluggish degree that March was. Certainly my mental state and the conditions had a large part to play. I silently rolled past the Shell station at 199th and US-69, where I finally did see a car or two up on the highway. Past the empty Stilwell Grocery, and onto Metcalf, pointing towards Louisburg. In the low light of my mini-headlamp, I checked my speed and was surprised to see I was cruising along in the 20's. Hmmmm.... I AM feeling pretty good, apparently. The effort seemed relaxed, even. But, there I was, motoring along. Some of it the bike? This was the first time I'd had the Trek out for a run since the April 200K in Liberty, so perhaps that was some if it -- but after an hour of it, I was starting to wonder about a tailwind. There wasn't much of a wind forecast, but something had to be helping this along. I'll take it... but I instantly turned my thoughts to six hours ahead, and the return trip. Ugh.
If the pace felt relaxed now, I should take advantage of it, for sure.
Sunrise started to light up the sky as I turned onto US-69 for the midsection of the ride. Then came the gravel -- dry, thankfully. This would be the first time I'd get to ride this section dry. It was fast, and manageable, and the Trek didn't toss any surprises out on the sketchy surface. Not surprising, though -- it's a very stable platform. Along Jingo Road, after the gravel, things began to turn a little, condtions-wise. What had stayed pretty moderate as patchy fog here and there was beginning to accumulate, and thicken. Not really being close to any water, it was a little weird - but the huge empty fields on either side of me probably had a lot to do with it, and it was probably blowing downwind from the Marias des La Cygne River just to my west. Either way, I was getting wet to the point where I couldn't see well out of my glasses, so I risked it and took them off. Now, I'm effectvely blind without my specs, but the foggy blur was at least visible now, instead of shrouded my droplets. I had to take the lesser of the risks. Risk.... hmmm...time for another modification. This worked really well on the March ride in the nasty conditions, snow and sleet. Since the sun had come out and hit the air with enough energy to light up all the fog down to about 1/4 mile visibility, I started to wonder if anyone could see me at all. I stopped, took the Dinotte off the handlebars, and then hung it under my rear seatbag, facing backwards - then put it in flash mode. It will run for days on flash mode, and it's like an emergency flare. The bright white beam gets a LOT of attention, and the conditions today - it made me feel safer. When a car eventually DID pass me, I could hear it slowing down, and it gave a wide berth and a wave out the window. Good stuff. I'm planning on taking it along, even on the Kogswell with it's generator system, should the weather ever turn foul, that's the way be seen. Good timing, too...
a bonus -- my brand new NiteRider 5.0 taillight was dimming... on fresh Lithium AAAs, no less. This is the 2nd taillight I've noticed to do this. Planet Bike models are notorious, two that I REALLY wanted to like a LOT, also. I can't remember the model number, but the Planet Bike model with five LEDs housed in a CPSC reflector -- a terrific package, brighter than the Cateye TL-500II model. A LOT brighter... but the circuitry is weird... the energy seems to get wasted a little as heat, and as the chip heats up, it lowers current to the LEDs. I don't know if this is how they squeeze 60 hours of runtime out of it, or if it's a fluke -- but the LEDs after a few hours become dangerously dim. I've had this happen with lithiums and alkalines alike, so I'm stumped.... but I do know that Cateye, B+M, and Spanninga taillights don't have this problem. I had recently picked up the Niterider 5.0 taillight, too, thinking it might be a good solution for the Trek. I mounted it on a seat-stay bracket, and it looked good and was aimed perfectly. But, this was the maiden voyage of said taillight, and after reaching Jingo Road and dismounting, I noticed that it, too, had faded to almost NO light output at all. Scary. And this thing was SO bright on initial start-up that it cast a faint beam on the pavement, and a reddish halo on the backs of my legs as I pedalled. Rounding out an otherwise good design were two smaller LEDs pointed 90 degrees out to the sides. A well thought layout.... but apparently the same chip fault or thermal issue.... I can't tell, and I haven't had a chance to put it on the test meter.... but same deal: after a couple hours the LEDs are so dim, you start thinking about batteries.... but turn the light off, and back on a couple hours later, and full brightness will return. It's weird... defintely a "just get me home" taillight, and not an all-nighter.
Back on the road, with my photon cannon pointed behind me, and me squinting into the growing fog, I reach La Cygne, and descend into the valley. Today, what is normally picturesque I can't even see. Just a big white haze of nothing. Creepy. Cars appears on K-152 as if from no-where, dim circles of diffuse light creeping out of the mirth. Luckily, my little helmet LED light has a flash mode, and I feel confident from the front or the rear approaches. Highway traffic is light this morning - thankfully. I pull into Casey's for the first control, some coffee and a hashbrown.
Refill bottles, and on my way. Solo mission... I am out of the control in five minutes, maybe a little more -- my bike computer had not yet "timed out", which I think is ten minutes. A good self-check at controls to avoid the time warp effect. Before leaving, a concerned motorist gives me the once over.
"Where you headed?"
"taking 1095?" she asked...with a turn of the head...
"yeah...." I replied.
"Well, be REALLY careful.... can't see anything out that way this morning."
"Always, ma'am...thanks..." I showed off the Dinotte and my reflective gear.
With that leery warning echoing in my head, I set out west, across the La Cygne bridge and into the thickest fog I've ever ridden through. This is bad.... I cross the bridge, and I can't see the other side of it, and I can barely see the surface of the water below me of the river. A car approaches, and I can't even hear it coming because of the sound-deadening effect of the thick air. It's moving SLOW.... so this is good. At least nobody is trying to be a hero in this soup.
One car approaches from the rear, at least I can HEAR it... but I can't see it until it's passing me... thankfully, I could hear his speed drop - probably the Dinotte... I peer over my shoulder, and the Dinotte is throwing a cone-shaped arc of light back into the fog. Impressive... and life saving, I have no doubt. Visibility, seriously -- I want to say zero.... maybe a 1/16th of a mile. I finally reach Linn 1095, but the fog is so thick that I can't actually see the intersection itself until it's actually time to start turning left. I hear an oncoming car, and I sprint to make the turn.... geeeez..... not a close call, but talk about getting the heart rate up. A half-second earlier, I didn't even hear it... no idea how close it was... but I could hear it pass by behind me about ten seconds after I was safely on the new road. Whew... now, the hilly part.
The fog remained, and the spooky, surreal nature of this lonesome country highway became even spookier. No roadsigns, no signs of life --- just me, on the road, a road that seemed to dissappear only a few thousand feet ahead of me into a white haze. With glasses back on my face since the control, it seemed like it might be thinning a little, as the droplets aren't so bad now. Still, I can't see much. But, I can see a bright blob over my left shoulder... the sun was beginning to make its way thru the layers... and another few miles later, I could see clouds above, instead of white nothingness. The fog released its grip, and slowly the day began to turn.... very slowly, as grey clouds hung low, and covered up the sun that was visible only for a half hour. CArry on... at least now, I don't have to worry about a random car coming around a bend too fast in the fog!
The hills came, one.....two...... three...... on a solo ride like this, there was not much to think about: head down, and push. Stand and deliver the climb. Push it. I didn't realize it yet, but I was indeed making good time. I had hit Casey's at 7:06am, a touch less than 3 hours for the first 46 miles. Certainly not a land speed record, but compared to the March ride I was flying. After the last big hill, I was dropping into Pleasanton, and I hit that control at the hafway at 8:33am. Not bad. Hmmm..... not really a PR pace.... but I could still have a little fun on the way back. After all, it seemed like the wind - which was forecast from the northwest, wasn't quite blowing yet. I'd seemed to have a little push on the way down, but all the flags I'd passed were limp. Probably from the wet air, but still.... not a lot of wind, clearly -- the fog itself is evidence of that.
Now that the day was clearing a bit, it was time to work this out and see if I could make it back by 2:00pm!
I fueled up, and departed Pleasanton - towards more dark clouds... back to obscure the sunshine again. UGH... another day where I wonder why I'd put on sunscreen at all. The clouds came closer, and then... rain.... not much, but defintely rain. But, we're talking seconds.... barely worth mentioning... but odd enough to mention anyways. Another 200K of mixed bag weather, apparently. Later on, that would become even more apparent, as the farther north I rode, the sunnier it became again. Before long -- 10:07am to be exact -- I arrived back at Casey's.
Lo and behold.... riders.... not just ANY riders, but Mike and Jeff W. from the Longview group! Out for their last-ditch R-12 ride, too, Jeff and Mike just happened to arrive at their halfway (for the Super Big Gulp route) here at the Casey's only a few minutes before. AWESOME! And talk about rare and a small world. Even if I'd tried to coordinate such a meeting, it wouldn't have worked out so well. They started at 6AM, from Grandview, so they were motoring along at a fair rando clip, too. I had noticed, also, that my speed on the return was pretty consistent with my speed on the way down, again an indication that there wasn't much wind interference.
We chatted for a little bit, and they took off for the last half of their 200K. I ate up, and discovered Casey's breakfast cheesy potato bites. Holy........ THIS is good stuff!!!! I downed the entire thing, and drank up some more water. HEED powder in the bottles, and I was ready to attack the last section back to Louisburg.
Ahhhh.... there is something that happens when the sun comes out after a particularly wet episode. It's the bane of every Kansan. Humidity. Dude.... NOW I was starting to sweat, as my shadow danced across the road nearby. The sun was out, and the air was clean - and I could feel exactly where all the black graphics were on my black and orange jersey. Which is why I have now gotten rid of it. Seriously... give me plain colors, light colors - reflective colors! Feeling like I had two big heating pads on my back now, which I suppose if a good thing if I'd had back issues, I was working up a good stink, and what.... WHAT? A tailwind??? Flipping sweet!!!
While it wasn't much, it was reducing resistance just enough to allow that little extra push, and so I took advantage of it. After leaving Linn Valley, and hitting the gravel once again, I got onto Us-69 highway towards 335th Street, and was flying along at 26 MPH, without much effort it seemed. Either that, or those potato bites were like rocket fuel. I was feeling awesome!
A nature break at Rutlader, and on to Louisburg... where another stop was needed at about 11:15 am. The humidity was taking it's toll on internal water stores, and my bottles were dry. Good stuff... unfortunately I was OUT of the "good stuff", the HEED. So, time to see what our friends at the high-fructose-corn-syrup farmers association of America have for me inside the c-store.... Yup, Gatorade... but a new type... Gatorade G2... about half the usual sugars. Ok, ok.... only 24 miles to go, give or take... I can do this. I drink it down, and put about half into a water bottle for a little later on. It's okay, compared to regular Gatorade -- but I think there is something about the sugars that settle the stomach, or some nonsense -- because THIS G2 stuff was not sitting so well. Not really causing any catastrophic distress, but it was making me "aware" of my gut... and not in a good way. Still, it's better than cramping up hard and bonking. A Nature Valley granola bar rounds things out, and I'm ready to wrap this one up.
Speed is fun when you can get it --- the biggest of the hills behind me now, I was getting busy on the flatter roads in south Johnson County, making short work getting to 199th street again, the tailwind increasing? 199th, Antioch, and the wicked downhill... and then the silent personal challenge to try and nail a 17.0 MPH average for the while ride. It's amazing how much slower you have to ride, or faster for that matter, to make a difference in your riding average speed when the clock has been tracking for 9 hours. At that moment, however, I had the bike computer right on the edge of two stats.... 16.9MPH....17.0MPH....for the average speed... it sould drop to 16.9 on a hill, and then halfway down the other side, 17.0.... it would dance back and forth for the last ten miles. It became a game that totally ate up the last miles, mentally -- there was no late-event despair or exhaustion like usual... I wanted the numbers!
MurLen came, andit ws clear I was struggling more and more to keep the 17.0 number peeking onto the display... and there were hills, too. I never saw anything less than 16.9.... but for a while there, in the last three miles, I wasn't sure I'd get it back - fighting, riding hard -- forgetting all about the previous 130 miles... it was kinda cool, it's good to have a small goal like this, no matter what it is... and, then, right before reaching the 7-Eleven parking lot...bang! 17.0!
Well, then I had to ride home -- but I'm taking 17.0!
Again, not a land speed record -- not UMCA territory... but it felt good, for all the wallowing in low-speed, low motivation land this year, it felt good to get a nice result for this route.
What started out as a weird, foggy, creepy day turned out to be sunny, breezy and downright HOT in the mid 80's. A great May ride... and R-12 continues on, just in time!
Thanks for reading!