The biggest thing I can take away from this weekend's permanent:
ONLY ONE TO GO.
There are nearly 300 million people in the United States.
There are currently only 147 people listed as having earned the R-12.
In one month, I'll (hopefully) be number 148.
I feel pretty darn proud of that. It's hard to be humble, because this hasn't been easy... and getting number 11 proved it to me. Pending the coming weeks and the holidays fast approaching, I knew that weekends were going to be scarce, and I knew that eventually the weather would NOT cooperate. "Good riding weather" becomes a VERY relative term this time of year, especially in the midwest. Weather changes on a dime, and even the local National Weather Service office admits, sometimes forecasts have to be updated hourly when winter approaches. Will it be sleet? Will it be dry? Will it be windy? NO, it'll be 50 and sunny... and the next day might be 14 degrees at dawn, with flurries. Planning a bike ride? Good luck to ya.
Noah and I got lucky, relatively speaking. As I went to bed Friday night, the temperature was actually rising after the sun had fallen. Weird. When I woke up it was still 40ºF. Very weird. Unfortunately, I had watched all week as the hourly graphs pushed back my plans at a miracle run. The mystical double tailwind. Monday, it looked possible. By Friday, the wind was going to shift too early -- and it did. WAY earlier than expected. In fact, only 15 miles into the ride. Honestly, if I'd been alone, I might have cashed it in if I'd had less riding on it. MIGHT.
In stark comparison to last month's -- more like two weeks ago's -- permanent on the Border Patrol route, I was actually feeling strong and ready. Still no results to speak of at the scale, but the workouts of the week left me feeling charged up, instead of sickly and drained. Carboplex was back in my water bottles, and I just love the way this stuff goes down: literally, like WATER, compared to Sustained Energy. No protein component to worry about, and no simple-sugar mixing hazard. Not that I was gonna pound a lot of sugar anyways, but you get the idea --- FREEDOM. Plus, as an added bonus, it packs lighter and takes up less room in the back pockets.
Along with some caffeine-charged Hammer Gel Espresso flavor, MAN - I was feeling awake, ready, willing. The new helmet light was proving to work pretty well (more on that in another post, perhaps - a great new product from Blackburn called the Flea), and most importantly I could feel a difference in helmet weight since the switch to it. Also, the bike was working pretty good --- except I think I might have left my last chain on a little too long... the brand new chain was installed, and this was the first ride on it -- and those first couple miles, well, a little auto-shift, a little "groaning" feeling... like perhaps there was a little fitting to be performed, perhaps at the cassette cog level? Ugh... no stopping it now... 130 miles of hills coming, and it's get fit to the gears one way or another.
Renner Road at night -- interesting. Surreal. I really like this road -- one of the first road rides I ever rode was along this stretch, and with all the other development out here, I really like the fact that Lenexa hasn't taken the torch to some of the scenery yet. Off to the west are the same pristine fields that have been here since land was first divided up. Too bad it's dark... Noah and I are chatting it up, spinning along, having a good time of things with the last breath of tailwind we'd get from the south today. Soon, the hills were going to start, so it'd be okay -- despite the grades, at the very least sometimes they can block the wind.
Soon, we're bombing down the fabled Renner Hill that is a favorite part of the local Tour De Shawnee course, onto Holliday Drive, right before a morning freight makes its way east just past the trees farther down the slope of the riverbank. The wind coming across the river stings the eyes, though -- it's colder down here, no doubt about it. Peering ahead through my own tears driven by wind, Noah and I make our way along Holiday Drive - another sorta surreal landscape since construction wiped clean the old, rutted, twisty country lane that used to be back here. All the trees are gone, and only the giant sloped face of the landfill to our south remains. As we roll by, my eyes catch the eerie dance of a purplish-blue flame coming off of a fairly low smokestack attached to a small out-building. Something is getting burned off, that's for certain, and Noah and I confer and think it's probably methane - likely pumped out from under the landfill itself, and burned off on these flare towers. What's interesting to me, in this day and age -- seeing an open flare like that... isn't that kind-of 1970's mentality? Yeah, the spooky, silent, deep purple flame looks cool - probably isn't even visible during the day... and sure, it's cheap -- but part of me wonders how many homes they could power in northern Shawnee? I'm not gonna get all weepy and green, but crud -- at least be selfish and use that to heat something like the security out-buildings, instead of just burning it off.
And since the last update, I received good news from an anonymous commenter:
Just an FYI comment from a Shawnee local... Deffenbaugh does have a methane plant at the Johnson County landfill so some of that gas is used for energy. Here's a link to an article from a few years ago in the local paper:
Heat.... mmmmm.... it looked nice and warm, that's for sure, as my attention turned back to my wind-bitten face.
We approach the triple railroad tracks and the intersection of Holliday Drive and Wilder Road, one of my memories that few seem to remember. There is no cornerstone, no cemetery, no markers or any kind. The little town of Holliday, KS., which used to sit here at this point, long before Defenbaugh's needs extended this far west, is long gone. But, I still remember that old guy that used to sit on his porch and watch life happen, and watch the busy trains on their way to and from Kansas City.
The below is a snippet from the Blue Skyways website:
"Holliday, a village in the extreme northern part of Johnson county, is located on the south bank of the Kansas river at the junction of two lines of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R. R., 11 miles southwest of Kansas City and about 13 miles north of Olathe, the county seat. It has a money order post-office, telegraph and express facilities, general stores, and in 1910 had a population of 150."
It was transcribed to that webpage from documents published in 1912 based on census data. The town is long gone now - sadly nothing of historical significance to help it's fate aside form its loose connection to Cyrus K. Holliday, for whom the town was named I assume - but I remember driving here looking for spots to watch trains back in high-school, and I assure you - it was there. I have a feeling that lone old man on the porch I saw was the last resident, because only a few years later that home was empty. Makes me wonder. The interesting thing: the name 'Holliday' is still searchable as a place, and shows up on Google Maps. It's nothing more than a stand of trees next to a railroad bridge. But, as I try to include on all my bike routes, it's a small piece of Kansas history.
We continued on, up Wilder Road heading towards K-7, thankfully on the upwind side of the river now, and with a few hills to help block the breezes. At least finally the sun was starting to show its face, VERY slowly, as the clouds and night sky began to get tinted with a vague pinkish purple. Pretty cool. On to the rough pavement of Theden Road. I like this road -- another example of "let's just leave this part alone for a while" land, still safe (for the near future) from the bulldozer and the property developer. Diving down to an OLD set of railroad tracks, which used to head north to Leavenworth, with another spur heading to Euroda. This road is old, and the 5-ton limit truss bridge that spans an old creek is older (above, snapped on the return). But, it wouldn't be a C'Dude permanent route without some sort of old, nasty pavement included. Soon, K-7, the first river crossing of the day, and K-32. Finally a little tailwind again, pushing us east towards 86th Street, which I promptly overshoot. A quick u-turn corrects that, and we're back on track. Unfortunately, the flat terrain of K-32 is over with now, and the road begins to talk a little. 86th street, and pretty much ANY street leading north away from the Kansas River is NOT flat. The best thing about hills, they tend to warm you up. State Avenue, I-70, and finally QuikTrip at 83rd and Parallel. The first control.
Some quick work getting cards signed, refilling water bottles, and buying anything that might equal more push and more heat, we were soon ready to head out again. The run to Weston was ahead, and the wind was not getting any lighter. Noah and I, recharged for the road, headed north on 83rd Street to Georgia Ave - a deceptive little road, one I'm still not sure why I picked for this route. As if there weren't going to be enough hills today, Georgia Road pitches up to at least 17% grade right near 91st Street, leaving you a heaping mass of heavy breathing guts and sore legs at the top, right before dumping you onto a fast downhill leading towards Leavenworth Road and Wyandotte County Lake. Interestingly, as I prepare myself and Noah for the hill, I completely forget that this stretch is far worse on the return.
The scenic glory of Wyandotte Lake park is next, and the hills are muted by the glorious overlooks and the waterfowl that are bustling about. I happen upon a gaggle of Canadians that take flight as I approach - magical. Loud. The road here is twisty, exciting, challenging. Unfortunately, it's also here that the distances between myself and Noah begin to spread out a little, which is something that happens on every randonee I've ever done. Eventually, the terrain has more of a say in who you talk to that you do. Exiting the park, it's more surrealism on the roads of Kansas. I have YET to see ANY other cars on this next four mile stretch of road in the five times I've ridden this stretch. Weird. Of course, shortly afterwards, we are off of 93rd Street, onto Wolcott Road, or K-5 highway. This is another route up to Fort Leavenworth, and was designated part of the Frontier Military Scenic Byway system a decade or so ago... but it's clear that the military would have probably used the alignment closer to where US-69 is today. With these hills, I can't imagine hauling munitions or supplies by horse and wagon. Yikes. As the flat section ends near today's Lakeside Speedway, alongside the tracks that lead to the Fairfax plant, the hills begin in earnest. At first, a gentle rise, but eventually more rollers and grinders that demand attention away from the scenery up here, which is spectacular. Rolling hills, farms - it's nice. This section of road tends to be something of a time warp, I've found - and today is no exception. Even though it's only 8 miles, I've spent time here wondering if I'd EVER see the other end. Noah and I stopped a few times to rest here and there, to rest and recoup along the way. Instead of being a fun little jaunt, this was turning into a real struggle for Noah, and questions about whether or not there were 80 more miles in the legs came up. Territory I've been in before, for sure. At that point, the only person that could answer that question was Noah, and so I kept my mouth closed. At least when it came to these point in my riding past, it always seemed like the other guy that was trying to talk me back onto the road was saying "blah blah blah", "it's all in your head", "you'll be fine." -- well, it never had the desired result on me. I'd hear the words, and then my own internal dialogue would jump in, telling me "no, it's not just a few more miles - this sucks". I'm kinda of the "do unto others" mentality, and so I deemed it best to just not say much on the subject. After all, these things come in waves. Eventually, someone will speak up and say, "okay, guys - I need a reason to still be out here, please." Then I'll start talking. But only if I think it'll help. But, I do offer what I can -- electrolyte tabs, hammer gel, ANYthing that might make the difference. I try my best to hold back and provide a draft, but the hills are really bad in here and the gaps open. It sucks, not being able to do anything. If there were 30 people on this ride, then things might have been different - but I wasn't about to leave a rider out here alone today.
We finally made it in to Leavenworth, traversed downtown, and made our way to the big blue bridge to cross the Missouri River into the Show-Me state. MAN, the crosswinds coming across the big bridge, probably 60 feet off the water, dude ---- glad there was a guardrail at certain points. We crested the bridge and made our way to the Mo-45 spur, and finally a rest from the wind. A NICE tailwind. I tried hard not to think how difficult this section was going to be on the return, but I couldn't help it. We made the information control at Route 45, only a minute before an empty coal train would blast past us at open throttle. Pictures transmitted, we rested for a bit and then faced the demon. The wind.
Route 45, towards Beverly, MO (another forgotten blip on the map) was only three miles, but I assure you it was a HARD three miles. Board flat, no features. The opposite bluffs seem to do nothing but help concentrate the wind in this valley that stretches between Beverly and Waldron, towards Parkville. Considering a long time ago, we'd be in a foot of water, that gives you an idea - this i nothing but a huge flood plain. There's nothing to block the wind except our bodies, and better yet it's more of a crosswind than a true headwind, which makes drafting along this shoulderless highway pretty difficult. There aren't a lot of cars, which is good - but still. The buffeting, the constant roar in my ears, I can't tell if my efforts to help draft Noah up this stretch are working or not. If I turn my head, I fear being blown over. Instead, I maintain the best 10 MPH pace I can muster, focusing on nothing but my computer readout --- 9.8, 10.2, 10.6, 10.7, GUST.... 9.3.... PUSH! 9.9, 10.3.... for what seemed like an eternity. It was only until the sun peeked through the thick clouds that I realized my shadow was alone on the road. Where was Noah? I peer back, and there he is... just a dark spot on my peripheral vision. I slow the pace, and eventually he latches on again. Then there is the incredible urge for evacuation -- all the good hydration chose HERE to make itself known, which made the pushing into the wind all the more difficult. Good gravy..... this is DUMB. But, I knew we were close. Only perhaps 5 miles from Weston, from warmth, from a cozy chair in a tiny cafe, and hot food, excellent coffee... I started to eat those marvelous breakfast hashbrowns in my head... I could taste the peppers, the onions, the melted cheese.... the coffee.... PUSH! another gust drops my speed into the 8 MPH zone.... push!!! back up to a comfortable 10 MPH again. Finally we reached Beverly, MO. and I pulled off to find a building, a signpost, ANYTHING to empty the bladder. This was stupid. Torture.
Better. Back on the bike.
As if the wind wasn't bad enough, as soon as we reached the face of another bluff to block the wind, the hills started up again. We would have to climb 250 feet up to State Route JJ in the next mile, not to mention another 2 miles of climbing just to get to Weston itself. Noah holds the quote of the day... "why does everything around here have to be so freaking STEEP???" I dunno... I'm the moron that decided THIS would be a good permanent route. Ugh. Something nice and flat sounded really good right now. Finally, FINALLY, we reached the Weston Cafe - nicely nestled at the bottom of a HUGE hill, which we'd curse after lunch. Until then, however, we had made it, with 14 minutes to spare. Granted, last month I'd have a pretty rough time of things, and I honestly didn't want to cut things so close again - but today, the hills, the wind, it was hard to avoid. We got our cards signed, got our receipts, and THEN sat down to eat something. The clock was ticking... but I wasn't going to just rush back out of Weston after all that slog. FOOD. FOOD. FOOD.
A grilled swiss cheese and fries, two cups of coffee and some water later - man, I was feeling good again, but I was also getting those full-body chills from the effort of the morning -- just like my body was letting go of something that had been building up for the last 64 miles. The coffee here, I just can't describe how good it is. It's definitely small-town diner, and they've gotten new coffee cups since the last time I was here - but the flavor is the same; full, rich, mmmm-mmm good. The sandwich is awesome, the fries awesome --- man, everything was good - even the strawberry jelly packets I was treating like energy gels. Sluuuuurp! Ahhhhhh... Look on, mortals. Look on. Noah is decidedly less droid-looking than I am, but we're clearly both cyclists - and the stares are there. In my REALLY bright yellow jacket, smelling of wool and chain lube, fancy tights and shoe covers -- I was lookin' GOOD. That's right ladies: couple of hot guys in the corner. Holla. Actually our waitress was pretty nice, not too bad lookin', didn't give us a hard time - it was a nice meal, and a good experience. Considering last time I was up here, the place was practically empty (because it was a Friday morning) - today it was chock full of antiquers from all parts of the midwest, which I found amusing. Heck, even Santa Claus stopped and said "hi" and asked a few questions about our bikes and lights. And, of course, Weston the Cat was there, too. He seemed to remember me. Nice cat. I like Weston -- but I like the locals more than that touristy aspect of it: but anything to keep a little town like that going, I'm okay with - lest it go the way of Holliday.
After finishing our hearty meal, we depart - roughly an hour after arriving, it seemed. It's easy to kill time in that restaurant, but we really needed the rest. After coming back out, the rest was officially over at the first hill leading out of town. Freaking crazy -- not even gonna wonder too long how people get around here in the winter. EVERY road thru town has a nasty grade. We're out of Weston, finally, amid a flurry of traffic that would make Oak Park Mall jealous. My favorite. Rampant shoppers behind the wheels of SUVs. Most from out of town. Florida tags, Nebraska tags, Ohio, Illinois, etc. - "great" drivers. Maybe I WILL ride this ride on a weekday again. Yeesh. After getting free of town, I stop to delayer a little. The tailwind is feeling nice already, and the sun is out - yeah, it's only 42 degrees, but it feels NICE out here. Stuff comes off. Feels good!
Finally, we get a little repayment on our slog towards Weston. Back on MO-45, the long downhills await, and a nice long flat back towards the 45-Spur leading back to the big blue bridge. This is where the fun began, one of the only fun parts of the day, really, from a riding perspective. Noah and I pushed the gears, bombed down the hills at top speed, and cruised along at 23 MPH on the flats. Passing thru Beverly in a flash, we're back on the part of the road that was such a pain with the headwind, but the tables were turned -- and a little treat was making it's way up the railroad tracks on our right. A fully loaded coal train, lumbering along at about ... hey, cool... about 23-24 MPH.... taking point, I began to lift the pace. Enough dawdling, it was time to make up some clock and chase me down some train! Goal? Get to the crossing at 45 spur before the end of the train did.... GAME ON! I lifted, and managed to get up to about 27, managing to hold it in the stiff tailwind. This was AWESOME... not too hard, but not easy either... I knew I had to save something for the coming hills, but it felt like this ride was finally turning around, as I was sure Noah was right behind me, enjoying things as well. I managed to check off three rail cars.... almost four..... and I can see the crossing ahead, with a line of cars waiting. I might make this! Ugh... then I hear the engine inside the pusher locomotive start to spool up, and then the clack-clack of the wheels over the rail joints begins to increase. Time to work! Alas, the tank was almost dry again... all of the slog had definitely taken some of the gas out of my reserves, and right when the road began to roll upwards JUST a smidge. Soon, the engine came into another throttle notch, and I could hear the pusher getting closer even as I had the intersection and grade crossing in sight... I at least wanted to try and get there before the crossing gates began to lift, that would count, right? But it was not to be -- SNAP! My cadence broke, and my speed dropped -- whooof, there he goes! No matter what the advantage, you just can't beat 4400+ HP, and that's just the engine at the back of the train! But, I managed to make it to the crossing before the last car that was waiting to cross made it through! Oh well... it was cool to unload and push the mark a little! Heaving breath, I stopped on the other side of the tracks and waited for Noah, whom I dropped in the process of getting so excited.
Together again, we began to ride back up 45-spur, and, unfortunately, back into the wind. Though, with a tree line on the north side of the road, it wasn't too terrible. Still, I would have preferred to have left the last of the wind back in Weston. After what seemed like and eternity, and after trying to once again shield Noah from the gale, I arrived back at MO-92, looking west to the bridge, and looking back for Noah. Things were getting rough back there, I could tell, but he was being a trooper. We joined back up, and proceeded west on 92, hoping to make quick work of the bridge - but Noah announced he was dropping back again to poke along over the grade. That's cool - I'd meet him at the next turn.
Together again, and back on the Kansas side, we began to move back south through Leavenworth, and it was unfortunate that the damage was done -- Noah was having a hard time of things, which stinks. Been there, for sure. Finally, nearing the VA hospital, we talk about it, and he cuts me loose. I gotta tell ya, if it hadn't been for the R-12, I would have just opted to stay with him as long as possible. I hate leaving someone out on the course, like I said before - especially when it's only the two of us. If there were 12-15 riders still behind us, I'd know he'd be in good hands, but in efforts to grow the sport and offer encouragement, I always try to stick with the riders that come along on these. There will always be time for personal sprints and such, but today was supposed to be a group effort. I felt a little guilty there, but Noah was right on the money. If I didn't get moving, I wasn't going to make it back to the QuikTrip store by 3pm. As we're discussing this, it's 2:00pm on the nose. Uhhhh... and without my cue sheet, and not normally having to worry about it, I honestly at that point had no idea how far away the QT store was.... and I had an hour to get XX miles? No matter the distance, it was time to step on it if I was going to capture December's R-12 requirement.
Unfortunately, the information I didn't have would have scared me. The fun-run following the train, and the last few miles of stop and go were taking their toll on me. What I had ahead of me was 16 miles, exactly. In that 16 miles were 20 hills, with a maximum grade of 16% in the last 3 miles, and a total elevation gain of 1375 feet. A nice little ride. I had an hour, and this was mile marker 80 for the day.
The next 16 miles, I worked harder than I probably had in months, maybe years, on a bike. I had my computer screen locked on time of day. I knew the course. I knew what was ahead, and I pushed as hard as I could. Each new hill seemed harder than the last, and each downhill was a study in masterful aerodynamic tuck after slamming the biggest gear I had on the bike to get a running start. I gulped water when I could, I tucked and pushed on the flats -- the LONG, torturous flat along side the railroad tracks. I entered Wyandotte County Lake park, and didn't remember at all how steep those hills were. Grunting in my shortest gear, gasping for air, I pushed. I felt bonk-ish, I felt dizzy at times, and felt like I wanted to puke others. But I pushed. The clock kept ticking by -- time was not going to wait for me to finish this ride. Time didn't care if I had the R-12 or not. It was all me. 2:39pm.... 2:43pm.... I'm finally reaching the end of the hills in the park, but 91st Street and Georgia Road lay ahead... WHY, OH, WHY DID I SPEC GEORGIA ROAD FOR THIS ROUTE???
2:47pm, I'm gasping for breath at the top of 91st Street, and I drop onto Georgia Road, accelerating down the massive grade only to be reminded that coming BACK was harder. The entire course from the VA hospital back to this point trends upwards, gaining more elevation than is lost along the way. I feel it everywhere. The grade is so steep that my front tire skids sideways across the pavement as I grind out the only gear I have left. 2:49pm... "crap.... I'm not gonna make it..." I mutter to myself..."BS, dude, c'mon, man, PUSH, not today -- you're not going to lose this today... DO IT!!!" I let out a groan rolling over the top of the hill, and there is no rest -- just a flat road ahead, I shift and try to push harder... less than a MILE, c'mon!!! MOVE! Inside my bag, my phone rings... I know who it is, and I'm immediately EXTREMELY hopeful that my computer clock matches the clock on Noah's phone, and the clock on the register inside QuikTrip. GO GO GO GO GO !!!! 2:53pm, I round the corner and fly into the QuikTrip parking lot, leap off the bike (something I don't normally do, nor gracefully) and rip into the seatbag getting my perm card and money, dash inside, and thank GAWD there is no line at the register!!! I thrust my hand at the candy rack and come back with a Reeses PB cups 4-pack -- "that it for ya?" "yeah, scan it, please..." I am literally shaking, my legs quivering, my lungs aching, even my arms are weak. MY receipt reads 2:54pm. SIX MINUTES TO SPARE. Holy........ I then apologize to the clerk for my rush, as he remembers me from the morning, hours earlier. It's all good, and realizing where I had come from and what time it was now, even though I had pushed the mark closer than I'd ever done, he was still impressed, dumb-founded that someone could have ridden a bicycle from there, to Weston, and back, in 7 hours including stops. I felt completely destroyed, inhaling the PB cups after calling back Noah and just about bursting into hysterics. Okay, seriously, dude... can we stop seeing how closely we can push the time limits??? PLEASE???!!?!!?
I collapse to the sidewalk and inhale the peanut butter cups, and they taste OH, SO GOOD.
I doesn't really get any more exciting than that, so the rest of the ride isn't really worth a mention, in my opinion.
After a fifteen minute rest at QuikTrip, and MORE food that just those Reeses cups, I mounted back up and traversed 86th Street Southbound, again, steeper on the return that on the outbound. The route seems to stack up that way, overall -- it's worse on the way back. You have to climb Renner's biggest hills coming south from Holliday Drive, then coming from creek-level all the way up to pass underneath Shawnee Mission Parkway, and finally crawling up over I-435 near Midland Drive. All steeper than the opposing grades on the way out. As if fatigue wasn't enough, I've managed to create a route that is harder on the return, and every passing mile I was glad I was still inside the time check. All I had to do was get back to Olathe's 7-Eleven by 6:28pm, and I was good. Darkness came as I made it to Johnson Drive and Renner, and I caught green lights at 119th and 127th streets after making it back past Bass Pro. The home stretch, fresh pavement on Ridgeview south of Santa Fe, and smooth sailing back to 151st and Murlen, where I enjoyed a chocolate milk, getting my final receipt at 5:57pm. A nice, comfortable 30 minutes to spare this time... better. But it's time to hit the house, and I poke it home with chocolate milk in the bottles, and my MP3 player blasting a Kings of Leon tune into the open air. December is done.
Thanks for reading...
The goal for January, get to a control TOO EARLY.
I know how lucky I got, make no mistake --- even something so much as a missed shift would have knocked a hole in my pace. A flat? That would have been disastrous. A fall, a slip, a dog, ANYTHING could have taken those six minutes back from me. Next time, no more risks! I can still be nice, but Noah was right -- I had way too much riding on this, he had a route sheet and a cell phone. Just go, don't look back!
It's nothing personal. It's my own fault for waiting too long to jump - but, you know, things worked out. I either finished, or I didn't - and finishing is everything.