I rose on time, leapt from my slumber and hit a hot shower to get ready for what would certainly be a long day. How long, I had no idea. Coffee on the back porch, and that familiar clang of windchimes around the neighborhood, the rushing of wind through leaves all around. Wind. My old foe. Even on the drive north, I could tell the wind was putting up a good fight. I arrived at the Perkin's in Liberty at 5:00AM, and exited the car - immediately greeted by the cool wind, and began to shiver while I talked to Bob Burns and got my registration straight. After unpacking the car and preparing the bike, my post from last ride was riht on the money - pack everything, right? Good move, because I promptly took everything out of the bag one by one and donned it. A friend on Facebook nailed the notion: it's very odd indeed that a mere month ago 60 degrees would have been considered nice and warm... and that morning at 47ºF reading on the bank thermometer across the way was confirmation enough that it was downright COLD. Not the coldest 400K start, but still. Perkins opened at 5:30, and I was quick to rush inside to warmth and the requisite pre-ride restroom break. Some toast and jelly, and soon Bob was rounding people up outside. Time to ride.
A good showing, and a lot of the usual rando-crowd - Dale B., Jeff W., Jack R., Spencer K., Steve B., Kent F., Karen, a tandem couple from Colorado (word is getting out!), Alex, Danny "Clink", the yellow Litespeed, a recumbent, and (crud.... one mental casualty I'm missing one name.) I'm getting better, I promise I'm trying.
I did it yet again... I don't know WHAT it is about highway H headed out of Liberty, or the thrill of being with a group instead of solo, but I ALWAYS do this. Hey, look ... someone's riding fast! Get 'em! Even though time and time again, I know what the price is for that move... but, interestingly enough that price is slowly becoming more speed at distance. Today, however, it's a move I'd regret for many, many miles. Move #1, there is a mileage error in the cue sheet that the four of us up front realize at the 9.9 mile marker... knowing the turn off this road for the 200K is normally at the 12.1 mile marker, and on Google Maps (my usual preview source) the prescribed turn was AFTER this point. So, we rode on, slowly, and looked and looked - and we passed a road with no road-sign... which was THE road. Did we turn? No... "that can't be it..." - but it WAS it. Cut into the hills of Excelsior Springs, miles later, we got directions back on-route, and rejoined the correct road, with bonus miles in the tank. Ugh... not what any of us wanted, but hey... it's early. The problem now, nobody knew who was behind us, who was in front of us. For the trio of Alex, Steve and Jeff, however, this was not a problem. They make up time by simply riding a WHOLE lot faster than I can (yet). Before even a half-mile has elapsed, they three were advancing up the road towards whomever was up ahead. Little did I know, it was Spencer, Danny and friends - I think. Honestly, at this point, I knew that I was probably in for another long solo-mission on the roads of Missouri. For now, and for the next 55 miles, we'd be on ONE road with no turns. Welcome to US-69 highway. Sounds forbidding, but really with Interstate thirty-five SO close-by, there was not much traffic to speak of on the highway - a nice surprise. Still, this would prove damaging as the day progressed: part of my mental tool kit for dealing with these rides is checking off the turns - and for this ride there simply weren't that many of them.
We passed a little gas station at Lawson, MO., and I quickly stopped to regroup myself, hit the head, and get more water. Note to self: the third-water-bottle trick I'd used for the 300K was a GOOD idea, and for some reason I took the notion from this route that since there was a C-store every 20 miles on average that I'd just tough it out on water storage. That's one of the things I'd change about this one. I just like having the surplus, as opposed to completely running out. Feeling that burst of air from the water bottle as the last drops of water are blown past thirsty lips is one of the most harrowing sounds in long-distance cycling when you are still miles from the next stop - especially with my tendency to process water so fast. It happened more than a few times, and I remembered how nice the 300K went and smacked myself, mentally.
After emerging from the c-store restroom, I had no idea who had passed by, who was where, or what -- all I knew was, I had to ride to Pattonsburg and get my card signed. That's it - that's the next move. Just pedal. And, so, I did. The next 25 miles, I was alone, pedaling up over hills, along the highway. I don't remember too much about that part other than the fact the WIND began to annoy. Thankfully, along came a threesome of Dale B., Kent and "Yellow Litespeed", catching me up. Always a pleasure to ride with, and a gentleman, Dale invites me to hop on. I do. Those following 25 miles were FAR easier. Thanks, guys!
We ride and ride, northbound, fighting the wind, fighting chills, fighting hunger and fatigue, dodging pavement anomalies, and finally we arrive in Cameron, MO. It's not a control, but it's a chance to stop and regroup, physically and mentally. "Three hours is plenty," says Dale, and we find a Burger King near US-36 and stop for a break and a bite. REAL FOOD. This is something that I don't normally engage in on these rides. I'm usually the guy that is laden down with powdered fuel, drinking happily from control to control on my steady, predictable, and easy to handle "engineered nutrition" plan. It's seldom failed me. However, due to a pre-ride blunder involving me not reordering my trusty Carboplex, I was flying on very little on-board food. I had a back pocket dedicated to it - just munchies, stuff to sustain me between controls. Peanut butter crackers are the norm here, since they seemed to work okay on the 300K. Thankfully, I did have enough Carboplex left over from the 300K to stoke the bottles for the first leg of the ride - which effectively has got me to Cameron. The wind requires a lot more energy to pedal through, so intake was up. With both bottles already diluted from the stop in Lawson earlier, I was running on Carboplex vapors, and was starting to feel it as we climbed the hills going thru Cameron, up to the ridge on-which US-36 rests. Us four rolled up, dismounted, and headed inside for the feast. Egg and cheese "Croissanwich" tasted like pure heaven. The lights came on a little - being a vegetarian, it's hard enough finding the right fuel at a c-store that won't give me problems yet still provides enough protein and calories - but, this good, hot food was perfect. I highly recommend it. I just have to remind myself not to go TOO crazy... you want to be satisfied, not FULL - be careful not to overload the system and cause issues down the roadway. It's all personal, all open to YOUR experimentation - I can't officially recommend anything here. What works for me works for me. The breakfast sandwich was a great idea, tasted AWESOME because it was earned, and provided the lift I needed and the fuel to get me to the control at Pattonsburg - which was still 27 miles away.
The four of us continued to work well together, taking pulls, managing the hills and the wind along the way to Pattonsburg - we passed thru Winston, near Altamont, and reeled in another rider about 10 miles shy of the control, and hooked him onto the paceline. About this point, Dale could "smell" the control, and the pace came up - unfortunately, not everyone was able to keep up. I tried a couple times to get our new fifth rider back up to the pack, but it just didn't work out - the hills were taking their toll - and so I found myself in-between riders, solo again. Thankfully it didn't last long, and I arrived at Pattonsburg for the control, and more food.
There is something to be said for backup plans, and my old nutrition plan, and arriving at a control later than other groups in these smaller towns. After realizing that the pizza in the hot case was already gone-thru, I opted for a pre-packaged bean and cheese burrito, which went down really, really well, and sat good for hours to come. Tired, I answered a phone call I'd missed from the wife, ate my food, and started to get ready to go again. We'd caught up with the next-fastest group, and arrived in time to see the leaders on the road, Jeff and company, getting ready to depart - so, really, I was making good time. The only variable was how long they'd rested. I made as-quick of work of the control as I could, but eventually opted again to wait for the rider that was behind me to be ready in hopes I'd have someone to ride with. Unfortunately, pacing is what it is, and after a couple hills we were separated again. This time, I'd be alone for a WHILE. A LONG while.
I had very little idea how far up the road Spencer and the "middle" group were, but I knew that I couldn't see them cresting any hills - no specs of bright yellow or the flash of sunlight off of a helmet to be seen. The scenery was breath-taking, though. The rains of April have painted the landscape up here a brilliant green as far as my eyes could see - and I smiled a lot about that, but the distraction was always temporary. It was getting warmer, and layers had come off at the last control - so I was enjoying some late spring cycling in lighter clothes, but the wind... man. Constant. No shelter. No treeline, no ridge, nothing. Very little coasting, even on moderate downhill sections. There were hills near Bethany that were interesting, and a long, steady climb up US-136, upon-which US-69 overlays for a while before turning north again. I stopped in Bethany at the Casey's that would serve as a control on the return, long enough to refill my bottles and take a nature break, and then it was back to business. More peanut butter crackers, too, although the burrito lunch was still providing the push I needed. I worked my way out of Bethany, and continued north. At this point, I'd wondered how upset I'd be with myself if I'd just turn around and start back home. The lack of turns, the constant fight against the wind, and being upset with myself for getting lost - which set the tone for missing riding with a group - taking too long at the last control, etc., basically letting the groups get away. It's hard to chase something you can't see - but that's essentially what I kept telling myself: push. They are just around the next bend. Mentally, however, after dozens of bends later and no result, I was getting frustrated. Some people get mad at it, and it makes then push even harder... for me, it becomes brood, it slows the legs, and saps the spirit. I let it happen too easily. KEEP PUSHING. I tell myself over and over that the next hill is one hill LESS until the turn-around. I tell myself how nice things will be after the turn-around, with a near guarantee of a tailwind the entire trip back south. The occasional dog jumping from a front porch was the only thing that lifted my pace, however. It was just steady, steady slogging north... chipping away at it, one pedal stroke at a time. Drink, eat, pedal, repeat - and try not to think. I don't remember much else from this section.
Crossing into Iowa was anticlimatic, as a result. I was too whipped to really "leap up and down" about it, mentally. I stopped and took a picture, and took a leak. A little for Iowa... a little for Missouri... ni-iiiice.
Re-mount, and ride. Even though this was a good sign, a sign that I was getting closer, I couldn't relax yet. I wasn't at the turn-around. I remembered something in my head that Spencer told me back in January: "Whenever I make it to the halfway point, I know I'll finish the ride." I repeated this over and over in my head. Legs? Strong. No cramps. No issues. I was drinking enough, and I stopped at the Casey's in Lanomi, IA to top off the bottles again, which were empty upon arrival - so hydration was good. 3:24 PM. I was climbing strong, in large gears - even standing up to do it, as opposed to just sitting and spinning as easy a gear as I could get away with. Physically, I was on-form and having a good ride -- but mentally I was suffering. This "wasn't worth it", "this is dumb", and "I wonder if the wife would even consider driving up here to get me - would the scolding be worth it?" Ugh.... keep pedalling.
The next section was interesting - I find it hard to say this, but the GOOD PAVEMENT OF MISSOURI was behind me as I rode from Lamoni to Leon, IA. I think the highway there is in a state of transistion, and my attention turned to dodging monster shoulder drop-offs, pavement joint break-ups and cracks, and sloppy asphalt fill. Traffic was acceptable, and I was finally starting to feel closer to a turn-around, physically and mentally. Keeping my mental tank topped off was the fact that on this out-and-back route, I had not yet seen the fast bunch headed back south. Despite my mental struggles of the last 60 miles, I wasn't exactly poking along considering I had been doing solo battle with the wind, where others had enjoyed a group and a draft. Perhaps I was coming back to form, after all? My average speed wasn't too horrid, even though the last section's average speed was a paltry 12.38 mph because of the wind - but, overall, my spirits started to lift as I assessed the total information. It was right about 4 miles from the turn-around that I saw the fast trio come around a bend, headed south - still looking fast - but, again the variable being their rest-time, who knows how far "behind" I really was. Not really the point of all this, I told myself, but I smiled to myself none-the-less. That means, potentially, the middle group was still at the control!
They were - but, just like at Pattonsburg, they were wrapping things up. After riding in, and apparently looking as smoked as I was thinking I felt (again, all mental), I got the advice to get some calories on board, and I'd feel better. All true. I ordered up a cheese sub from the lunch counter, had some famous cheesy potatoes bites, a Coke, some Powerade Zero (Gatorade-style quenching refreshment and electrolytes, withOUT the high-fructose corn syrup and potential stomach upset the old "G" can give. Probably the BEST thing to show up in c-stores since... well, beer.) and some pop-tarts for the back pocket, for later. I ate like a c-store KING, and so-far I was not paying any price for my lack of engineered nutrition. Perhaps a little consistancy - and as I'd find later, I think there really is something to be said against high-fructose corn syrups and such in the food I was eating: even the PB Crackers have some of it. I think after a certain number of hours, you muscles - sure, they'll still burn it - but they "know" the difference. I seem to run-out too fast as the day wears on, and HFCS is not something you want to run out of on a ride like this, because the bonk is tougher. I think it makes you hungrier than you might really be, and it's not "pure", "natural", "good" fuel. It works, but there IS better.... like that cheese sandwich and potatoes I had. More than anything else, THAT real food was what would get me all the way back to Bethany, MO. Upon emerging from inside the Casey's, the now nine-strong middle group, complete with the Colorado tandem, was gone. Alone again. I ate at my own pace, and rested my head, repeating my mantra: it's only going to get better from here. But, in the back of my mind, I knew what time it was. I'd arrived and had my card signed at 4:50pm. We'd left the Perkins in Liberty at 6:00am, and it was 5:02pm when I left from Leon, IA. Eleven hours. Into the wind. Heck, that's a respectable 200K time, really! But, I still had to ride allllll that way back. Every inch that I had come, I had to cover again. My spirit needed a tailwind, and thankfully I was given one.
The next three hours were simply brilliant. I took on a new mental technique, and started resetting the "trip distance 2" counter on my computer every time I saw a new highway sign that, for example, would say "Eagleville: 7 miles". I'd watch the smaller number, and check it off as a small victory -- the tally of each small victory resulting in another small step towards finishing the war. I should have done this on the way UP, but it's not always within our control what kinda of tricks dawn on us, and when. But, it made the resulting leg back to Lamoni quite fast... fast enough to start raising the total average speed a few tenth's of MPH at a time, ever so slowly. Feeling the wind, and feeling inspired with a new goal, things really started coming around. Thinking that part of my success from Leon to Lamoni was Coca-Cola-related, I stopped at the Lamoni Casey's again, got another 12 oz. can, slammed it, and hit the bathroom again. It was now 6:07pm - what had taken me an hour and 16 minutes to cover I had just polished in about an hour - most of it east-west without the true tailwind yet. I knew that I was wasting time stopping, but it was all towards that new goal: catch the middle group at the next control, and stay with them. After all this nonsense, there was no freaking way I was going to ride solo all through the night, all the way back to Liberty. Despite the mental hardships of the previous few hours, it was now time to work. 6:17pm.
And work, I did. Starting to wonder - in spite of the HFCS questions - if engineered nutrition was anything to worry about ever again, I hammered along the miles without any hint of consequence from my day's dietary choices. I was focused, relentless, with the wind my new ally. Towns that I had struggled to get to were now flashing by at speed. "I will not ride alone tonight ... get to Bethany".... over and over....
7:44pm. I arrived at the Casey's in Bethany, MO. From Lamoni to Bethany, an average of 19.2 MPH. Not bad, and mission accomplished: There was the middle group, still on the sidewalk - and I had made up enough time that they were still sorta midway in their control prep, getting ready for the next leg, instead of ready-to-roll out. I asked what they were doing, what their plan was, and rushed inside to grab a couple things and get my card signed. Of course, there is one local guy in line that wants some weird chew that isn't stocked currently, five dollars on Powerball, and a pizza to go - all for the one cashier that's working there. I'm standing, and waiting, and standing, and waiting - and I can see the activity outside on the sidewalk -- cyclists AND bikes are moving about, and I know the writing on the wall. Crud.... then Clink peeks into the store: "you plannin' on being here long?", to which I replied that I was hoping to catch a group back in if they didn't mind waiting -- WHEW... thank goodness.... Danny went back out, spread the news, and the flurry of activity stopped. Time to make good. Customer gone, I got my card signed, food paid, out the door, extra layers from the morning off the back rack and back on my body, while eating, Kent offered up a refill on my bottles which saved a trip back inside, and someone took my trash and deposited it for me -- it went off fast, and hectic, but I didn't want to make the group wait. Success! We all rolled out of the Casey's together, and for the first time in 100 miles I was finally not alone, I took a deep breath, and relaxed a LOT. Eighty-six miles to ride, and the sun was getting low. Time to move.
Because the road is so long, there are no turns, and at night things become quite featureless, the last part of the ride seemed to take forever. Being with a group now, I had conversations and pack dynamics to keep my mind off things - just eat, drink, and pedal. A couple hours later, Kent flatted and we all got a little bit of a rest - local sherriff stops by and provides some extra light so the repair can be made. I call the wife and kids and say goodnight... still a long way to ride, as we're only just south of Pattonsburg ... 65 miles to go? Yikes... don't think too much. You're not alone. 9:05pm.
We all regroup again, and roll out. And that's pretty much how it went for miles and miles and miles. Little towns and houses were checked off, occasional dogs in the distance let us know they were awake and watching us. The big nearly-full moon came up, and we actually howled at it. We're all nuts. I love that...
10:26pm. Winston, MO., another C-store... the first one in hours, it seemed, and we stopped for food, warmth, and rest. Nine miles later, we're in Cameron, MO., another control, and we stop again for rest, food, warmth, more layers. 11:18pm. Our pace was still good, but we were all taking longer and longer breaks, and no-one was really complaining about it. Plenty of time to get back, with a 27-hour cut-off. It was getting chilly, and everyone was wearing everything they'd brought with them. It's strange, I didn't bring my third water bottle, but I DID bring a thin thermal head-and-face cover (balaclava?) and had it in my back pocket all day. I'd done that occasionally in the past - ever since the '05 400K which got so cold at night - because if you can cover your head you WILL stay warmer - plus, you just never know how cold you are going to FEEL, despite the temperatures. I was happy that I'd had at least remembered to bring that little gem... I folded it over itself once and turned it into a watchcap, just enough to cover the ears - and combined with my cycling cap, for the rest of the ride I was perfectly cozy. There are others that are real soldiers; strong, strong people: one guy with no warmers, maybe a vest, no full-finger gloves that just rode along in the upper 40's without so much as a complaint. Other people had to give him a hard time just to get him to acknowledge he was sorta wishing for a jacket or some warmers. His "kung fu" is strong.
After Cameron, more of the same. Eventually we rolled out of town, and continued south.... south............ south. Yeesh. Thank goodness for nearly PERFECT pavement, and light traffic, and a nice moon-lit night. It really was, despite the growing fatigue, the concerns about water, etc., a great night for a bike ride. It's just too bad it took ALL DAY to get this this point. Ahhhh, I take that back... you have to take the bad to appreciate the good. A few things that are probably over-used, but relevant: that which does not kill you makes you stronger - true. Pain is temporary... glory lasts forever - true. Adversity is like a strong wind - fight it long enough, and it strips away everything and reveals who you really are. Nice to meet me. I was encouraged to find that after 130+ miles into that headwind, I turned right around and fought hard to get back to Bethany in time to ride with a group, stayed focused on that goal, and made it happen. In the face of such a long road back, knowing what I had just experienced on the way up, I am proud of the fact that I stood up on the pedals and kept right on pushing. After I turned around, the notions of quitting never came to mind again. I'm pretty happy with that.
If you're going through hell, keep going. ~Winston Churchill.
More of the same all the way back into Excelsior Springs, and finally a huge check-mark off the list as we crossed the citiy line: we were within 20 miles to ride. Slowly we navigated the streets and empty intersections of Excelsior and found the little road we were supposed to have taken 19 hours earlier - well, the little road *I* was supposed to have taken, that is. Everyone else in that fine 9-person group had made all the correct turns. After a quick break, people started to "smell the barn" and we all broke apart into mini-groups and started making our way back southwest on highway "H" towards Liberty, each at our pace. It's odd, in all the time I've passed over this road, I'd never ridden it IN to town before; the return route was always back into Liberty from another direction. It's a neat road - sorta eerie after dark, not a lot of traffic, as usual. Nice. I finally got up the nerve to check the clock on my bike computer -- okay, not TOO bad... 1:53 AM... so, we're not going to finish before Perkin's closes at 2AM. That was a small disappointment, because part of my focus for the last 30 miles was a nice, hot stack of pancakes, coffee and juice, maybe some hashbrowns.... with cheese.... OH LORD that would have tasted GOOOOD. Still, I knew there were other 24-hour food options, but I really kinda wanted that pre-2:00AM finish to work out. Maybe next time.... yeah, yeah. Mentally, I decided that this is probably my last brevet of the year over the 250km mark - the verdict is still out on that one, but I need time to recover, rest, and forget. It's Tuesday, and - going back to nutrition again - I know there is a difference: when the engineered nutrition folks claim you will "recover faster", I think I know what they are talking about now. While I don't think I'm damaged - I'm sore from the RIDE, not poor bike fit or anything - I can almost 'feel' the toxins in my leg muscles. I've been drinking a LOT of water these last 72 hours, that's for sure. Some of it might be from the effort itself - because even though this one was mentally exhausting, there was a killer headwind which I fought alone for nearly 100 miles solo, this was still my 2nd BEST finishing time for this distance. Not by leaps and bounds, but it should be noted that the other 400K times were on *shorter* courses. I showed 263.7 miles at the finish of this one, really making it a 424k ride, and the Grandview and "East" rides are right around 252. Despite all the hardship on the way up, and all the extra rests on the way down, I managed 20 hours and 35 minutes. I can handle that. Rolling time was around 17 hours and change ... numbers aren't in front of me. So, my goal of a real rando test, on a new route, with a lot of unknowns, no engineered nutrition to "boost" me along, borderline dehydration because I was dumb and didn't run three bottles, and getting lost at the beginning - well, I'd say I passed. Not sure what that really means, what it "gets me ready" for, or whatever - but I'm a happy randonneur, that's for sure. I got my card signed and handed it to Bob Burns, who was back in the parking lot checking on people, at 2:35AM on Sunday. Done. Done. DONE. Verdict is still out on the 600K at this point - honestly, this year, it might be too much. Can I? Yes. Should I? mmm.....
I can only say this now: Saturday was a great day.
After ALL that, how can I say that? People have asked me, and it's hard to describe. Basically, it's a great tool for life - at least it is for me - to absolutely get the snot kicked out of you once in a while. With time and distance, you see yourself for what you really are, what you can handle, what you are made of. There is little else left in this world that gives a person that feeling, honestly, the way it was MEANT to be given. Quite literally, this sport gives back everything I throw into it. People can say I'm nuts all they like, shoot me looks, comment on the outfits, the bags, the helmet - but I know myself. I know what I am, what I can do, what I'm worth. For me, it involves a bicycle -- but it's not really about that. I could just as easily walk or jog a ridiculous distance, and accomplish the same thing. But, to be able to look over your shoulder and say, "I rode to freakin' Iowa from KC on a bicycle.", it's like... what ELSE you got, life? It may not be all sunshine and roses, for sure, but you'll know what your limits are - you'll probably surprise yourself and find that your limit is farther out of reach that you might have thought. Everyone says the same thing to me: "that'd KILL me," or "I can't do THAT." - BULL. You should have seen me in high school; if *I* can do this - then anyone can, and I really mean that. No, you don't have to do exactly what I do - but, do SOME-thing, anything - spark it, find it, REACH. You, and your very soul, deserve it. I think it's part of the human condition: strength through suffering, finding importance in your family, your faith, your self; the latter of which doesn't have to be "selfish" - know thyself, right?
When you're hungry, tired, it's dark, you're frazzled from passing traffic, spooked by charging dogs, you've had a flat tire, you're out of water, it starts to rain, and then someone says, "only 70 miles to go" - and you can find a silver lining in that??? You're ALIVE. Relish it.