Further, have you ever gotten “news” or had a “test” run on yourself – like at the doctor’s office - and you had to wait to hear back on the results? Were those results potentially life-changing? Well, that was me at the onset of this particular ride, further reinforcing my need to get out and rest my brain. There is nothing quite like a long day on the bike to help that effort. By day’s end I had ended up getting positive news, but at the time I didn’t know – and that’s why this ride was special, and why it will be held up as one of the best rides I've had in a long while.
Why was the ride so good?
The ultra-rare, super-special, Double-tailwind, that’s why! We started the day with a very slight northwest wind, which – at about the halfway – flipped to become a southwest wind later in the day. Living and riding in eastern Kansas, I’d been victim to the reverse of that scenario on many occasions. It’s character-building, that’s for sure – and I’m quite a character because of it. Getting a reward like a double-tailwind? I was so happy I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.
Another reason: sunshine. Finally! It was a cool start in Olathe, KS.; about 37 degrees F, which is alright in my book considering it was thirty full degrees colder last month when I rode this route. Factoring in the slight tailwind, it was downright balmy by comparison. However, I always forget about the weather once I ride out of “town” into the more rural section of the route, closer to the river crossing near La Cygne, KS. Along K-152 highway, I was sure that I was feeling that "change" in the air hitting my face, like the moisture contained therein wasn't quite the same... like it was frozen. Sure enough, the bank thermometer in La Cygne confirmed that it was indeed below freezing… but even then I was still smiling, because the sun was coming up. After the long, dull-grey winter we’ve had here in eastern Kansas, I was simply overjoyed to at least see my shadow for once. It’d been a really, really long time. Temperatures moderated quickly once the morning aged, and I got to feel bare handlebar tape under my fingers, and got the season’s first whiff of sunscreen in my nostrils. Bliss. The only unfortunate part was getting back on the bike after the first control, putting a slightly sweaty cyclist right back into that sub-freezing air. Shudders. Later, however, it was short-sleeves and smiles all around!
The pace was pretty good today: I actually managed to get off of Jingo Road and most of the way to the first control at La Cygne before the sun even peeked above the eastern horizon. Not bad! I might have gone out a little hard, sure... but it didn't feel forced this time around, compared to the February edition. In fact, I clicked my helmet light on at one point to check the time and speed and was surprised, almost shocked... didn't seem like we were going THAT fast, but sure enough, there it was the number! Cool! Ok... now slow down a little. I guess the additional training shake-up was working out, and the addition of the Monday night rides for that critical "chase-someone" speed training, a little more active rest and recovery, and more careful dietary choices between rides had made things go far better this time.
Good Company! Again this time, I had two riders along with me; Randy of Kansas Cyclist fame came out (a RUSA member, but not riding for credit) for part of the route, and soon-to-be-RUSA-member (after I prod her some more) “DiNewt” as well. Them coming along was fairly last-minute, but it made for a good day – occasionally riding alongside someone for conversation is always nice. Riding an R-12 on my schedule usually finds me alone on these routes, but I've been lucky enough recently to have at least one other person along for the ride. This is good in a lot of ways: I don’t end up talking to myself as much – I’m already nuts, but holding conversations with myself puts me into another category altogether! – and it means that more people around here are curious about riding longer distances and joining RUSA. I like that. Thinking back a month, having “DMar” and “LMar”, new RUSA members 6059 and 6060, along for the “fun” was probably the only thing good about the February permanent ride! Headwinds, freezing temps, and my lack of training… if not for someone to ride along with, I wouldn’t have finished. Riding with a little company is always good.
Food, drink, and effort: The big hills between La Cygne and Pleasanton, KS, were a smidge easier this time around. Upon riding back north, where the grades are a bit steeper in the 12-18% range, I actually felt pretty solid where last month I'd almost - forget "considered walking" - been forced to walk up the hills. Improvement is good!
I think energy was on the mark this time, maybe 5-10% down... the stem bag I picked up to get munchies right in front of me and easy to ingest worked like a charm. No more back-pocket fumbling, or forgetting to eat. I had munchies right there in front of me, and I ate more often as a result, keeping the tank topped off. I still might have to consider a small tube-style handlebar bag, as the stem bag makes climbing out of the saddle kinda "weird" feeling, as the bag brushes against my legs, alternately with each pedal stroke. Not a big deal, not painful or terribly noisy, but I found myself trying to compensate by moving my knees out of kilter, which can't be good.
Hydration? Still going well, but still maybe about 5%-10% short... some cramping near the end with about 12 miles to go, probably due to sweating more than I expected to with the new-found warmth of the days now... so, that notion of "drink more than you think you need to, and before you're thirsty" guideline is still true. Electrolytes, and fast intake of fluids, and the problems ceased quickly. I just don't like that pre-cramp feeling when it happens, whether I know the fix or not, and I need to get it sorted before it gets really hot outside in a few months.
Perfection! The sky was brilliant blue, clear for miles up... bright contrails of white as we rode under the skyway. The moon-set was magnificent... a big orange ball in the west as we came off US-69 highway and onto 359th street on the way to the first control. Awesome... breath-taking. Later on that night, long after the ride had wrapped, I got to see the moon-rise, which rounded out the day nicely.
The sunrise! The colors! The steam plume from the La Cygne power generating station was going straight up and stalling at a few hundred feet, backlit by the eastern twilight; confirmation of the lack of wind, and quite surreal looking. Did I mention the lack of headwinds? VERY nice not to have to ride head down into a gale for a change and it helped, mentally and physically.
Birds in song! Heck, even the “attack dogs” seemed to be in a better mood; and without the heavy weight of cold on our bodies we were in better stead to outrun them. The smells of spring waking up: the first hints of green in the fields, buds on the trees, the first tiny smack of a bug against my arm. Compared to the browns and grays of 30-days prior, the scenery along the Border Patrol (permanent route #386) was brilliant and exciting.
Warmth! After months of rides that began and ended with every stitch of extra layers, warmers, jackets still on my body in the exactly the same places as when I’d started, if maybe only unzipped a little, THIS time my knees eventually felt full sunshine and warm air rushing past. Extra layers removed and bundled on the rear rack, finally! Ahhhh.... from the upper 20's at the lowest, to the 40's, then 50's... the temperature rose fast! I shed two layers on the leg from Pleasanton back to La Cygne alone, and finally ended up with just shorts, a base layer and my trusty RUSA wool jersey by the end of the day... it'd been a long time since I’d been dressed so lightly for a ride!