Recalled from the mental archives - this ride took place October 25th.
Or, early fall nights, perhaps.
As sure as Orion was rising on the eastern horizon at the end of the ride, somewhere close to midnight on 175th Street near Lone Elm, I knew that this was the last time that such a nice evening ride was going to be possible. Only a few hours later, the wind would shift, the clouds would come in, and the temperatures would drop. Looking into the crystal eastern sky that night, it was like saying hello to an old friend, in Orion, and saying a quiet farewell to summer, all at once.
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the best of times for our tandem riders that night - struggling with their third flat of the evening on a troublesome rear wheel (still not sure what the prognosis ended up being on that). Terri and Dave are troopers, though -- forgive me if I botched the names! They continued to be in good spirits even after finally catching up to us at Lone Elm. We had made the best of the situation: good riders, good conversation, and a lot of good tips exchanges on tubes, theory on tire mounting, pump use, inflator choices, etc. It really was an interesting time for everyone there.
Earlier in the evening, I was pretty happy to see all the people show up. There was Badgerland, Noah, at least three Dave's, ugh -- forgive me, guys and gals: it's been over a month: it's surprising I remembered that I'd forgotten to post about this ride! I remember faces, that's for sure, and something about Nine-Toes.
** stepping out for a second, after re-reading Noah's post on this ride - it was a ride of double names... we could almost call this Dark Side Ride the "Evil Twin" edition: Randy (nine-toes), Randy (Nine-toes friend), Mike, Mike, Badgerland, Me, Noah, Dave, and finally Dave and Terri on the tandem. Say it with me now... oh, there's... Randy Randy, Mike Mike, Dave Dave, Terri, Noah, Badger.... la, la, la, la.... *** Back to the tale as I recalled it:
We met up at the new Price Chopper, 159th and MurLen. Coffee is a fine tradition on these night rides, and so I ran inside and got myself a big peppermint mocha for the occasion. Noah arrived in style with a full thermos of Roasterie Nitro coffee --- FAN-tastic stuff. There was a slight chill in the air - but not too bad: perfect coffee sipping weather however, and I was enjoying nearly every drop of brew. You know, I call myself a commuter - but really, if you are looking for quality advice and a REAL day-to-day commentary on commuting, Noah is your man on the street - check out his blog, here. That's the second time I've linked to his page, for a reason: always a good read, and very consistently posted. I'm a little scattered, and really most of my posting has taken a real randonneuring slant of late. I look at a lot of Noah's posts and I get a sense of nostalgia for those first couple of years when I started commuting -- a lot of that stuff is still buried on this page, way back in the archives, but it's always good to get more than one approach to commuting. There is no one-size solution, and I've even been asking him for advice on a few topics lately. Let me tell you, Olathe to Overland Park is one thing - but he's doing the Lenexa to KCMO grind -- that's a different commute, lemme tell ya. If you don't find what you're looking for here, pay his page a visit, fo sho. One of the reasons I mention this at all was because of the thought that pops into my head every time I see Noah at a ride -- there is NO-ONE I've met that USES their rear rack to the fullest like this guy. On a summertime Night Ride, I think last year, he showed up with a 2-liter full of ice water to supply us along the way. This time, a full thermos of coffee. Panniers, etc. - this guy knows how to live from the saddle. My panniers usually stay home for these rides - but why? Sometimes its just nice to have some stuff along! Why not?
Anyways, back at the Price Chopper parking lot one by one the riders show up - a quick discussion about the route, which would later prove nearly useless, and we're off. We head south on MurLen; for the first time in a long time it's actually open to traffic. The long downhill and semi-gravel pavement are gone now, replaced by a gentle curve in the road that sweeps around some topography and passes near a new school. Later, a new bridge replaces the old one-lane potholed bridge that I'd stuck my foot into way back in March on R-12, pt.2 - I kinda miss the quaint rural feel of it, but I won't miss the death-defying descents into the unknown that dip always provided. The semi-steep uphill is now graded out more gently, the bane of nearly every road around here in the last decade, it seems. Nothing interesting anymore, all graded flatter, smoother. Sometimes, in the dark corners of my mind, I even miss the drop-into-hell that was Mission Road at between 151st and 159th Streets. While that is still a grunter of a hill, it's not as bad as it used to be! Murlen falls to the transit's beam, and is made tame for humanity. Ugh. So be it - it's still a hill that will make you shift.
From there, we slide over to Ridgeview Road - the first re-route since I keep forgetting that not everyone on a bicycle appreciates gravel roads in the dark! Opps. So much for the easy rectangle shape of the route! Ridgeview is okay, though, another rural-esqe road that hasn't quite caught up to the rest of Johnson County quite yet. Next stop, 183rd Street, passing the Ensor Farm and approaching the railroad tracks, and the first train of the evening! A long freight rumbles by as we stop at Woodland to pick up two more riders. Nine-toes is there, making it across before the train arrives - and his buddy is on the other side of the train, HID headlight blazing between the passing railcars. Time for another re-route, dude! Woodland has been freshly bouldered-up with new gravel, and again: you can't ask the 23c crowd to smile along trying to navigate THAT junk in the dark. Not a good idea! This is the punishment the REST of the riders have to suffer through because of my hasty planning, having thrown this route together only two days before in a panic. It's always best to have a route in mind BEFORE announcing the ride! Ugh. Knowing they'd be caught, the tandem decides to take off back for Ridgeview while the rest of us wait out the last of the freight train and out last rider.
All as a big group again, we begin to head back towards Ridgeview to catch the tandem, light blazing, taillights flashing happily into the night air. It's a touch chilly, but not bad -- but the extended stop at Woodland makes me pull my windvest's zipper higher once we begin to roll again.
This is the best part of the ride -- pace comes up, groups form a bit, and conversations begin to flow. Introductions are made - introductions that, while some have trouble with names (like me), seem to stick. I don't know if it's the rampant passion I have for cycling that makes my brain especially conducive to recording nearly everything that goes on, but I can recall verbatim conversations, smells, the bikes I saw, what the pavement looked and felt like, from rides dating back nearly ten years now --- simply re-reading a blog post takes me back, and other times I don't even need the written words. I can transport myself back, and I remember nearly everyone I've spoken to along the miles. Sometimes I can't even remember what happened in the last staff meeting at work, but I know what kind of water bottle so-and-so was using on that one ride in June 2002. I don't know if it's like that for everyone, but there is something about cycling and my brain that just clicks. They say that a bad day on the bike is still better than a good day anywhere else - and I believe it. I hear introductions being made in front of me and behind me, and I wonder if those riding along have the same feelings that I do at those moments.
We arrive at 199th Street, and another Dave - we'll call him Trek 5900 Dave (ok, that's kinda long) Or was it a Madone 5.2? I can't keep up. Anyways, Dave and me chatted it up about RUSA, long-distance riding in general, etc., as he was unfamiliar with the oft-touted "article 10" of the RUSA rules - which are specifically about nighttime riding. We talked about brevets, permanents, and the R-12. We talked about lights, reflective gear, and he regaled me with tales of the "old days" in Iowa when the object of the game was NOT to be seen at all when riding of commuting. Man, I sort of remember a time like that up here - riding home at night without any lights at all! It's remarkable how the sport has evolved, but the consensus remained that rural Iowa will probably always be rural Iowa, unfortunately, with regards to bicycling. About this time, we were finally crossing US-169 near Spring Hill, onto the "other" 199th Street, towards Gardner, KS. It was at about this time that folks would begin to get frisky. The hills were coming.
I'm not sure if we had a little bit of a tailwind or a headwind, or any wind at all, really, but something began to get ahold of the group. Trek-Dave started to lift up the pace, and the two mountain bikers in the group, Nine-Toes and Friend (still can't remember) began to chase up. Badgerland joined in the fun for a couple miles, and eventually the pack began to spread. This was new territory for me - riding solo for so long, not having anyone to chase, I started to wonder if I could do it - catch Dave? Even only a few days ago, my doctor and I had begun talking about a rebuilding plan, how to get back to form, and why cycling had "stopped working". I needed to take things up a notch. I began to forget I was on a leisurely group ride, one that I'd organized. All I could focus on was Dave's fading taillight. I drafted for a few minutes, then pulled alongside one of the riders that was also chasing (on a mountain bike, I might add, in case you forgot! Fast guys!)
"something got ahold of him..." I said.
"Yup, he's getting harder to catch..."
Still, I was starting to feel that small voice, pushing me a little. Might as well give it a shot -- after all, 199th isn't getting any flatter! With that I began my advance, slowly, surely -- like the diesel I'd become. Certainly not a sling-shot move, but more of a slow crawl up through the RPMs and gears. Yeah, the Kogswell isn't lighting quick anyways - not really what it was designed for, but I have to remind myself constantly that it's NOT about the bike. This bike was underneath me when I pulled for three miles at 24 MPH at last year's MS-150. I can do this. Unfortunately, we're talking about Dave here... and as someone would say later, "if Dave doesn't want to be caught, he's not going to get caught." Understatement.
As if he was watching my every move from a mile up the road, I would sprint up hill - practically into puke-zone, and I'd look up and he'd be just as far away as before. Knowing I was heavier and on a heavier bike, I'd take full advantage of the descents with my falcon-like tuck position and drop like a bomb on the other side of each hill - look up.... and he seemed exactly as far away as before. Whatever I was doing, he was doing it better. MAN ALIVE. Eventually, it was surely a losing battle. My heart rate was up, and so I knew I was doing myself some good -- but over the last few months of doing NOTHING but slow commutes and 200+ kilometer rides, speed work was not faring well. Every other breath (read: sucking in of air) resulted in a frothy whitish hocker on the pavement. It was like cleaning out the air tanks or something. I was reaching to tap my reserves of deep cardio, only to find them essentially full of cobwebs - and it felt weird. No choice - let up before you pass out. But, this is still good work -- the more I poke into this territory, the better I'll be at staying there effectively. But, catching Dave -- not tonight.
I had managed to drop everyone else, but probably because they were actually trying to ENJOY the ride that was supposed to be enjoyable.
Eventually, Dave let up about a mile east of Gardner Road, and we waited -- rather HE waited and I continued to gasp for air -- while the rest of the group caught up from behind. It was neat seeing all the headlights, the mix of HID, LED and halogens, coming up the road towards us, under a canopy of brilliant stars. What a night!
After a regroup, it was time to roll onward towards the first and only control (er, break) on the route, at Edgerton. We managed to get past another couple of big hills, crossed over I-35, and descended into Bull Creek Park knocking on Edgerton's back door, finally crossing over another two sets of railroad tracks before arriving at US-56 highway - just in time for a fast freight stack train to pass behind us at top speed. Thankfully, the trains out this far are cruising fast enough, so we won't be separated from the group for long -- as another split forms along the way.
Finally at Edgerton, it's restroom time, Fig Newton time, and Nitro Coffee time courtesy Noah! Mmmmmmmm, tasty!!! It warms the spirit and speeds away the chills - nice! A touch more than halfway done with the ride, it's soon time to get moving again before the chills catch back up. The thermometer is dropping!
We head back out onto US-56, westbound, towards a road that I hadn't been on in a long time, Edgerton Road. Back in the days of starting a lot of rides at the New Century Air center, this road was a staple of many C'Dude routes over the years - but I must say this is the first time I'd ridden it in reverse after dark. Thankfully, no surprises: it looks like every other road after dark around here. Dark. Taking the place of blinding road glare is warm conversation, this time I'm up front chatting it up with Nine-Toes, a quality guy, racer from what I can gather - a lot faster that he's letting on to be on this ride, that's for sure, simply based on the people he knows and rides with. We find out we have a mutual friend that works at the bike store with me, which is cool -- small world of cycling! Along the way I'm checking out farm houses, oil derricks squeaking in the night air, and dogs in the distance - even a plane passing overhead and a lonely train horn way off in the distance, possibly the same one we had pass us earlier, based on the pitch. Soon, we're at the turn at 175th Street, to head back east to Gardner - but after a few folks look around to count riders we realize we're down a couple folks. Seems like the tandem and Trek-Dave are missing? Uh oh... flat? Mechanical? The rest of us decide to stop up at the municipal airport just up the road a piece, and wait.
The lonely sweep of the airport beacon, and the ghostly glow of our red taillights bouncing on the pavement, plus a slight breeze - that's all that accompanies our conversations as we wait, and wait ... nearly to the point where we start to wonder about riding the route backwards to find out what happened - and then there they are, headlights coming over the last hill. Whew... and came to find out it was a flat, unfortunately, on the tandem -- all good now, however, as we regroup and soldier onward. But, within two miles the tandem signals again that the rear tire has gone soft. Uh, oh.... never a good sign, but a sure sign that either something has pinched, or something that was in the tire before is still there. The difficult part comes after finding nothing in the tire, nothing in the wheel or on the rim strip, not even finding the hole itself to try and patch things; we all offer up spare tubes, and the tandem captain (also Dave?) produces a smartly-carried spare tire, a brand new one. That ought to put THAT issue to bed!
Before long, we're on the road again - and what a solid group, despite the coming chills and the cooling down of muscles, no one is concerned about the clock - we all just hang around until we can ALL ride together again, no worries.
But, it is getting late, and I decide to cut the more scenic old 56 highway section out of this ride, to save about six miles or so. We continue straight through Gardner, down main street, past the Tumbleweed Saloon (nice joint, full of bicycle lovers, apparently.) and onto what I still call the "new bridge" that goes up and over I-35. We pass one of those saloon-goers (alleged) that has been pulled over by the local authori-TIE, pass the Waffle Heezay (which sounds and smells pretty good for some reason!) and on towards 175th Street on the other side of the highway, with the good shoulder. It's still a great night, and traffic is actually mild. I'm enjoying things, and Badgerland, Nine-Toes and friend are advancing up the road, lifting the pace. I've already done my fair share of that action, so I pull out the Phone/MP3 player and put some tunes on the open-air speaker. (I'm still not a fan of cycling with headphones on... but the MP3 players that have a small speaker work nicely. I can hear some music, and if a car approached from the rear I can still hear it, along with anything else around me that might make noise.) The group widens out a little, and everyone seems to be taking their own pace on this last long stretch of open road back towards Olathe. Ahhh.... and there is Orion coming up. What a night - could be a touch warmer, but hey, it really doesn't matter at times like these. With "My Baby" by Big Shark Jackson playing on the shuffle, I'm pedaling along, glad I'd stayed up for this one.
Unfortunately, the tandem wasn't having as stellar of a night; a third flat! Seeing that they weren't coming up behind us, everyone started to stop at Lone Elm -- after all, this is the spot where Nine-Toes and friend said they were going to peel off for home anyways, and we'd even shaken hands already and said our goodbyes, but as they stopped, I felt compelled to also - everyone was looking back up the road, watching for the extremely bright HID lights that the tandem and Trek-Dave had running. We weren't seeing them again.... ugh. Finally, there they were ... whew! At least they were still moving, but upon arrival they announced that technically they were already working on the fourth flat -- a quick repair, and again by the time they reached us at Lone Elm it was going soft again. Nine-Toes offered his truck, and the tandem team accepted, turning us all loose for home - their ride was over. Still, they reiterated how good of a time they'd had, regardless - this was their longest night ride, and despite the flats it was a blast! It was hard to leave them on the roadside like that, but we knew they were in good hands with a ride home only minutes away.
Noah, myself, Badgerland and ... ugh, guy who's name I can't remember in the red and white jersey (Mike?) crud -- we continued east on 175th, arrived at US-169 again, and Noah and I were lucky enough to have been looking slightly upwards as a really bright green streak of a meteor blazed a trail across the sky from south to north. Amazing sight... lucky... Badger and Mike were making good time, but I was getting spent at this point -- tired physically and mentally, a long day and a long night, and a hard chase down attempt earlier, I was ready to be done, that's for sure! Noah and I made our way back to Murlen, north to the Price Chopper, and said our farewells to Badger and Mike, and then we made our separate ways homeward, Noah back to Olathe Medical Center (see his blog for details on that, from his report on this ride) and me back to mi casa. What a night! 1:00AM almost... I can't recall, but it was LATE.
I slept well that night, let me tell ya. Big changes came with the weather only a few hours later, and I woke the next morning to gale-force north winds, plummeting temps, and cloudy skies. What a change... but what luck we found. I couldn't have planned the weather portion better. The route? YEAH, I probably could have worked that out better, but it was still a good time.
Warmer weather, I'm hoping and looking towards 2009 for Dark Side Ride IV.
Always a treat, if you weren't a part of this one, you should consider coming out. It's a rare experience, indeed!
Thanks for checking in...
The first snow is coming to the forecast as I type this up -- it's late, and I can't sleep.... but this coming week may bring the first snow commute and then later, this coming weekend, is the 11th edition of the quest for the R-12 award... stay tuned!