Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

March 30, 2010

Perfection

Sometimes you don’t really need to travel to exotic destinations to take a “vacation”. Sometimes it’s enough just to schedule a day off from the stresses of the office and head out for a nice, long day in the saddle. After missing a particularly rainy and windy 200k brevet the weekend before, I decided to take just such a day off to get out and clear my head. It was a little bit of a risk being so close to the end of the month, but I’d manage to get my 2nd ride requirement in the books for my 2nd R-12 run.

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!
Pure enjoyment, and lots of moments where I'd be spinning along, low effort, cruising, smiling, just taking in the warmth, the sun and our “new” surroundings, quite literally seeing things for the first time with Randy's help - I learn something new every time I ride with Randy, about local history and landmarks, and today was no exception. When riding alone, I'm far too "heads down"... things I've passed more than a dozen times if you consider the out-n-back nature of this route, I’d simply missed them before. Today, I saw things like I was on a brand new route.

All in all, everything about the day was truly a blessing from above. I have no illusions about luck or timing; I needed a good day out, and it was provided. I was thankful, VERY thankful. My phone rang with the "news" I'd been waiting for at about 14 miles to go, but I simply put it back into my pocket and kept riding... not knowing what to expect, just relishing the moment, the day, the ride; knowing whatever the news on the message was - good or bad - that I'd had a perfect day on the bike; no sense spoiling the last few miles. Any of the challenges I did happen to experience - the cramps near the end, too much of this, not enough of that - I'm just tossing all of that away. It was a perfect day.

Photos in this post courtesy Randy Rasa, www.KansasCyclist.com & www.theDirtBum.com
For quality reading, and all the latest on cycling in Kansas, give BOTH of those sites a visit today!

Thanks for reading!


March 17, 2010

KCUC Season begins, March 27th

Come out and test yourself, train for that next big thing, or just enjoy watching Spring wake up on the open plains of Kansas.

March 27th, Saturday, 7:00 ride start.
Visit kcbrevets.blogspot.com for more details and registration information!

This first jaunt is 200 kilometers (125 miles), starting in Kansas City, KS., travelling through Bonner Springs along the Kansas River, meandering through Eudora, Wellsville, to Ottawa, KS. at the halfway point, and returning.  Quiet county backroads and byways yield challenges for the legs, and wide-open adventure.

The journey, no matter the distance, begins with a single pedal stroke...
Hope to see you there!


View our brochure HERE

March 13, 2010

Spring is nearly here - are you ready?

From a fitness perspective, I personally have a long way to go. I wasn't kind to myself over winter, but it creates an opportunity to light a fire under myself and get moving. Lessons learned have been plotted, and I'm ready to work.

For a lot of rando guys and gals out there, this is a pre-PBP year, which means a LOT of "getting ready". Myself, I won't be across the pond this time: in fact, I have yet to go... looking forward to 2015, already! For those that ARE going, there is a lot of training ahead.

Part of that training is preparedness, and ensuring your own success. I'm piggy-backing this notion on the heels of an SUPERBLY written article in this quarter's American Randonneur magazine, published by RUSA. This article highlights a LOT of things that I'd never thought of, and if you know someone that has a copy (like, if you're a new RUSA member or a "thinking-about" rider), I highly recommend reading it. I'd link, but there's no online version, sadly.

This article eludes to preparation OFF the saddle, namely bike and personal maintenance. This is the time to lose the pounds you want to, and fix things on your bike that you might have over-looked these last few years.

Handlebars. Yep... hairline cracks, anyone??? Have you looked? I haven't... and I'm going on six years on the same aluminum bars. I'd rather not find out the hard way; because it's cheaper than jaw replacement, after all! Bottom bracket... how long have you had it? Heck, even your frame needs a good look. Take the time, and avoid surprises.

How about a visit to the doctors? Get the engine checked out! They always say to consult a physician before engaging in a new exercise program, and while cycling isn't "new" to anyone here, it IS a new season... preceded by a long winter which saw a lot of us off the saddle.

Something I did today was dive into my seat bag. I've been blessed by a long streak without much in the way of roadside repair needs, so it made sense to make sure I still had what I needed - even though nothing had changed, really. I'm talking about tubes and patches, primarily. I was surprised to find that all of my Park Tool patches were stuck to each other, oddly... they're all backed with wax-coated paper, like any sticker would be, but the edges of the adhesive had seemingly run together after years inside a black seatbag. Several hot summer rides had clearly been the culprit. While prying a few patches apart wouldn't be too much of a hassle, I suppose, it's a surprise that no-one deserves after getting a flat - much like salt in the wound. So, a re-purchase is in order, and I'll save these old ones for the commute seat-bag perhaps, or the workbench drawer. They make good pool-toy patches, too, so I can save the old ones for that use.

Tubes are worth looking at, also. Rubber dries out, and depending on how you pack your seatbag you could come to find a chain tool, Allen wrench, or even something as benign as the end of a zip tie has rubbed a tiny hole into the surface of your spare tube. More often than not these discoveries are made on the roadside, where - again - you don't deserve that kind of surprise. So, take your spares out, inflate them, check for holes -or, avoid the roadside curse-fest and buy some new ones - you can donate the old tubes to the workbench tube drawer, recycle them, or make something cool out of them like a giant sling-shot or sew yourself up a waterproof pouch for this-n-that. Certainly not trash... even if thay aren't road-side repair worthy.

There's not much else to check inside your seatbag, unless you are ultra-prepared. Things like your bonk-rations... that well-wrapped energy bar, or energy gel that you stuffed in your bag for that "just in case" moment... is it expired? Did it melt? Is there a small hole in the wrapper?

What about things like your first aid kit? Yeah, I carry a tiny, tiny one -- antiseptic wipes, and a few gauze pads that I can apply to a sizeable road-rash event with electrical tape, until I get home. But, those little things like alcohol wipes and antiseptic wipes and antibiotic crash-cream can dry out also, so check your stash.

My seatbag list is pretty specific, but I also tossed in something for the mental toolkit. A roadside repair, in the dead of night, in the middle of nowhere, in the rain -- it can be frustrating. It can potentially be ride-ending. So, my advice is practice: If you've never re-laced a broken spoke with a (IMHO, essential) Fiber-Fix spoke, why not give it a try? If you've never fixed a chain with a seat-bag sized chain tool, do it! Practicing flat changes is even a good idea. But, something else I tossed in the seat bag - along with my "lucky rocks" and "lucky coin", is a fortune cookie slip that I got about five years ago.


Something a good good friend told me a long time ago while I was deep in the throes of giant-saddlebag purchases (and feeling the need to fill said bag) was that I can't carry a spare bicycle with me. In short, I should stop trying to envision every conceivable failure, and simply take the essentials and prepare to be resourceful. Zip ties, folded electrical tape, a small chain tool, and an endless and varied array of roadside trash are REALLY the only things you need to finish a ride - of any distance. Patch kits and tubes, yes - they are essential. I also, as I mentioned, put the Fiber-Fix spoke in that category. However, beyond that I've seen my friends finish 600Ks with electrical-tape and dollar bills holding tires together, and at the extreme, finish rides with roadside sticks, saddle covers, and velcro pump straps holding their FRAME together, no less...NO kidding. If you stop, think, and breathe - you can fix anything, no matter what happens*. Worst case, as recent forum posts have outlined, you can even walk if you have enough time. There is nothing in the rules indicating you have to ride on top of your human-powered vehicle.

So, just because you didn't carry a spare rear derailleur, or tire, doesn't mean you can't have a good ride. Just smile, relax, take the repair into the same personal-challenge category as the ride itself, and you'll come out okay. Sure, sometimes you just have to cash it in... but, don't get down on yourself if that STI shifter locks up... just by-pass it, and make the best of it. This year, the year before PBP, is a great time to test yourself for the "big one", and get prepared in more ways than simply riding the bike can do.

*ok, a completely shelled-out bottom bracket is pretty bad... but that's all I can think of, because it also recently happened to a friend of mine. That caused him to make a phone call, and really - there is nothing to be done about that occurance. It nearly ended his streak of consecutive 200Ks, but he shuffled a few things around and got the ride finished in the last weekend of February... his 50th consecutive 200K in as many months. His tenacity and resourcefulness is a large part of that success!

It's stories like that, and that fortune cookie note, that help keep me focused and calm on the roadside... to get that next "finish" in my ledger.

See you out there!

March 4, 2010

Make no Mistake

In my last post I eluded to the fact that I might have been lucky enough to pull off a zero-ramp-up 217km permanent, without consequence.
Clearing the air, if I had it to do over again I would have done it correctly.  Ramp up slowly is still very good advice.

Anyone can do pretty much anything... it boils down to survival afterwards.  You can go run a marathon, with your previous distance being only 5km... but you probably won't be walking the next day, maybe the next week.  To be clear, I'm paying for it.  The hamstring issue seems better, but my knees are sore.  I've checked them carefully, and it's not a fit issue -- nothing on the bike had changed (thankfully) so the pain is simply from overuse, and too-much-too-soon.  I did a full commute (no bus) yesterday, and I was feeling the effects all evening - despite best efforts to "take it easy".

If nothing else this blog is a compendium of ways to do long-distance riding incorrectly, so make no mistake:  I got really lucky.  Knocking off that distance last Saturday, without having ridden a century since early September, was foolish.  The cramping, the bonk, the hamstring pull, the knees today... it's really doubtful I'll look back on this ride as a hallmark of training mastery.  I'm taking extra care now to recover.  The ridiculousness of sudden over-training that I'd mentioned in that post, "knee-popping, ankle-swelling stupidity" was pretty much aimed directly at myself -- Tejas 2005, very little training, and I paid the price by not begin able to walk correctly or ride for five months.  I'm upset with myself for flirting with a similar outcome.  I've seen very fit individuals - good friends - that have been injured beyond repair, and it's irresponsible of me to flirt with that same outcome and pretend that I'm somehow immune.  I'm not.  With each passing year, my ability to recover slips... I have to keep that in mind, and be smart.  I pray for my friend's healing, and am hopeful for my own.  

So, careful recovery, and looking towards the end of March for #2 still on my mind... but if things aren't right, this next R-12 starts over in April.  Maybe.

 

March 2, 2010

Baseline

It's a bold claim that I'm already tagging this with an "R-12" header, but that's the plan. As the year shakes out, this is a reasonable goal that will keep me fit - but won't dent the pocketbook too badly and won't require tiresome single-car-family logistics to maintain. I really enjoy it - it keeps me motivated in all areas of life, and gives me something to strive for each month. At any time, however, the streak could end - for any number of reasons. I have to be smart, careful, and plan ahead to make it work. It's not easy, and often it's not the riding a bike part that makes it difficult. So, with high hopes, here's to one out of twelve, eh?

I'll try not to make this an epic saga... life has gotten more "interesting" lately, with new (er, additional) responsibilities at work taking the stress level to new heights, and making it harder to imagine sitting in front of a keyboard at home to write anything of length. Somehow, I always end up with at least a page of dribble, so let's just get to the old 'dude-style storytellin'... instead of hammering this out in three hours, it's taken me three days.

Ramp up slowly. I've said it to people. I've read it. I've heard and have seen what happens when you don't. Over-use injuries, knee-popping, ankle-swelling stupidity. Well, some people are lucky, I suppose. The body does remember, assuming all things are equal, and I truly feel like I pulled off a personal miracle. After 2008-2009's R-12 run, and then a 300K in April 2009, and the Leon, IA 400K last May, I'd taken a layoff from distance riding of nearly any kind. Taking into account the barely-handful of times I rode something other than a commute in 2009, I'm kinda surprised I was able to survive this jump back into long-distances. Let's see, realistically I did ride the MS-150 in September... so my original notion that I hadn't ridden any distance since July was a false one. I'd simply forgotten - not sure how - that the MS-Ride this year was not only a good time, but a fairly good showing. Before that, yes - it'd been since July's bike camping trip. So, let's say I had ridden 186 miles over a weekend in September... that's still nearly six months, since the ride was early September, that I'd ridden farther than my commute distance of 24 miles per day, in two 12 mile hunks. Combine that all with borderline burnout, typical February for me, and weekends littered with snow and ice events - the most in a decade, it seems - I hadn't had time to get in any weekend riding farther than 30 miles, either. Add a little winter weight-gain, and I was asking for trouble. Might as well just ride myself back into shape...

Coming along with me were two new randonneurs, and always erring on the side of not publishing names, we'll call them D'mar and L'mar. A married couple, very nice folks - and D'mar I'd met once a long while back at the New Years Day ride at Longview Lake, which was a LONG while back, come to think of it. Three years ago? Yeesh... I need to get out more.

So, once again, I recruit a couple new riders. Longest distance before this one, 104 miles. This would also, I believe, set a new record for both of them for a cold temperature for a ride start. It was cold enough for anyone, trust me ... no records broken, but 20 degrees was probably optimistic, and there was a stiff NW wind - not howling, but not kind. The air was wet, and I was chilled to the core in the first block of riding. Ugh!!! Dressed appropriately, so I thought - always just a wee chilly before riding.. knowing that the effort will warm me up. But, it's dark - 4:00AM start - and humid. I was wishing for another layer. Please, give me something else to remove later... I'll take it. Cold. The only saving grace was the first section gave us a tailwind.

After checking in at 7-Eleven, slugging some hot coffee, and going over brevet card protocols, we were on our way south into the darkness and chilled air. Headlight beams blazing away. Compared to previous weekends, the shoulders of the road didn't seem all that terrible, salt-n-debris-wise, so it was easy going. I was nearly expecting a flat and pothole-fest with the winter onslaught we'd endured, but it wasn't bad. The worst road was actually Antioch, south of 179th street, where construction of some kind has sorta messed up the pavement here. The first test of the day, I managed to climb the hill well enough - but also managed to find all of my gears, and watched as someone clearly much fitter than I danced up the hill and into the darkness - only a taillight remaining. Yikes, I'm outta shape... Part of me wanted to try and chase... which is good for a cyclist, after all ...but I knew I'd pay if I'd tried. Next time, next time... patience...

This is the attendant side-note for 2010: get out, and hit some "racer" rides this spring. Get faster, even if you don't plan to use it.

As the morning progressed, we approached Louisburg, KS. and the BP Gas station. Time to warm up. Frozen bottles were becoming problematic, and while I was doing my best to stay hydrated it was difficult with all of the ice clogging the nozzles, and trying to unscrew the tops with gloved hands was a dangerous prospect. A little hot water from the coffee machine, a little microwave activity, and we were back in business - for a while anyways. This time, I'd leave the spouts open between drinks! This isn't a stop I'd normally take on the way out, but MAN... it was essential to fluid-up, and take a nature break. My breakfast was sticking, so far.. but not eating or drinking enough was not a way to start this ride. Nutrition: this time, I figured I'd return once again to my old friend Sustained Energy for a little while - if not trained, if not conditioned, perhaps getting the correct amount of calories would help? I tend to ignore my own notes sometimes, and float back into old formulas - even after I've written them off. That's chronicled a lot in these pages. Haven't had time to order any Carboplex, or anything else, convinced the c-stores wouldn't do it this time, so I picked up some of the special Hammer sauce. This time, to prevent the old "where do I put all this powder?" problem, I tried #3 on Hammer's recommendation: paste. Mixing scoops of SE with small amounts of water - flavoring with Hammer Gel (chocolate) to taste - until the consistency of pancake batter is reached, and pouring that into Hammer Gel flasks. Tasted good, like Chocolate Hammer gel with "something" in it. Nice. Several hours of fuel stored in a small space; as long as I drink the correct amount of water to process it, I'm good. Frozen bottles, though ... in temperatures cold enough to keep the SE mixture stable for the whole ride, frozen water bottles make it hard to take in enough water to help it work... and it was a growing problem.

After the BP station, and trying to ward off the shivers with a few good hills on Metcalf near 311th Street, the sky started to lighten a bit. I knew there wouldn't be much warmth, but the sun had to help. Finally the headlight beams were offset by the appearance of the road's shoulders, then houses and trees stood out, finally clouds; orange, pink, purple... and then a gloriously huge orange ball of sunshine. Ahhh... I swear, it felt just a twinge warmer, right then. At least, my soul felt it. Along the shoulder of US-69, approaching 359th street, I let out a yelp of happiness... Cycling like this, it's magic. The cold, the frozen bottles - all forgotten in an instant. A huge migration of small birds happened to be passing right over the highway at that moment, from south to north in huge, swirling tubes of flight - each bird seeming to follow its neighbor, and the whole writhing mass tumbling and filling the sky, almost at arm's reach it seemed. Tweeting and diving, occasionally splitting to evade the perceived threat of a passing car on the highway, then joining back together again, all the while moving north and west - tens of thousands of birds, easily. Long distance cycling - I've said before - is mental, and part of the addiction of cycling is "payoff" like this moment ... for every low point I tend to lament about, there is an equal and opposite high. You had to be there, at that moment, to know what I mean - maybe you've been lucky enough to experience it for yourself, but it was surreal and divine - and it seemed like we three riders were the only one's in the world witnessing it. For a brief moment, it was like floating.

I knew this was going to be a rebuilding day, but the feeling of not being able to push when you have a tailwind is a frustrating feeling. I even reached down at one point and released the rear brake caliper's quick-release lever, because I thought the pads were dragging. They weren't.

I was thrilled to see that Jingo Road from 359th to 367th was now paved -- nothing wrong with gravel, mind you and this was one of my favorite sections because of it, but this should invite more riders to try this route -- but I was a little concerned that something might be happening with the old section of Us-69 that'd been sitting dormant since the 60's. Maybe it was just clean-up from the construction, hard to tell - but I kinda hope they keep that old strip of concrete back in the weeds. I like it there.

Jingo road always seems really long, and I was ready for some food at the Casey's in La Cygne... getting the overwhelming feeling that we'd never get there. A couple random dogs, a new water tower? And a really cool view of the orange sun reflecting off the reservoir with the powerplant's twin stacks billowing steam into the cold air - and reminding me of the wind direction.

Finally at the Casey's, potato cheese bites all around. Getting some hot food into my body was such a relief, and the hot coffee was oh-so-nice on the hands. I microwaved my gloves until they were dry and toasty, and the three of us did the usual card-signing routine, bathroom rotation, and rumination of the miles ahead.

"Only 20 miles, right, to the halfway?"

"yep..." I said between bites.

"Is it hilly?"

"a little, yeah..." I was trying hard not to under- or over-sell the middle section of this route, because it's all relative to your experiences. Truthfully, I was also trying hard not to remind myself how hilly it really was in areas. Gorgeous, totally worth the trip - but, yes, hilly in places.

Prepare for sad rant on the state of highway funding and engineering in the early 21st century -- After crossing over the horribly boring and clearly budget-driven new concrete deck bridge on K-152 which takes us over the Marias des La Cygne river....

...seriously, even if its only cosmetic, I think it would have been neat for the designers to have used the old upper truss section of the original bridge as ornamentation along the sides of the new bridge. Just repaint it, and bolt it to the concrete. That bridge made La Cygne unique, and it's just gone now. ...okay, that's all I'll say...

... we turned south once again onto Linn Co 1095 highway for the middle 40 miles of the ride. Pleasanton was in our sights at last, and the sun coming up had actually made it possible to unzip things a little, and consider removing the wind-proof headband. Still, even with the sun getting higher in the sky, that cold northwest wind was still there - essentially it was turning into a day where not a single core layer would be shed, just minor zipper adjustments here and there.

First indication of my outta-shapeness came with the first good hill. I won't call it a cramp, not a full-on lock-up, but more of a tightness, a fatigue, and pre-cramp. Both legs. This is about the time where I'd begin to find my new baseline for the season. Don't get me wrong -- with March 27th a month away as I rode, and the way the winter has been, I knew what I was riding for today: a finish. The hydration problems of the morning were finally thawed out, but it was a game of catch-up. It's frustrating, knowing that hydration drives just about everything in cycling (for me), and not being able to follow you own rules. With that first hill still hot in my legs, I drank more water and popped an electrolyte tab or two.

The conversation was good, dogs few and far between, as was traffic. Not a bad morning at all, but I can't wait until a couple more weeks when hopefully some green will appear, maybe some color in the trees and in the fields. With the moisture we've had here, it should be an explosion of spring... today, the stark browns and bare trees looked a little depressing against the bright blue sky - in-which there wasn't a cloud to be seen. If nothing else, I could finally see my shadow on a bike ride! It'd been too long.

Arriving at Pleasanton, and feeling good about making the halfway mark, I was beginning to feel the effects of not eating very much - not even my SE paste. I don't know if I'm out of practice, or what - but I just didn't eat very much. D'Mar was kind enough to offer up some Fig Netwons, but I foolishly bagged them for later. I bought some Gardetto's snack mix, and ended up bagging most of that, also. The nutrition I really should have been eating for the return to La Cygne would spend most of the next section hanging out in my back pockets. The new rando folks were drinking and eating, had a few complaints here and there - but really were doing quite well! I'm not sure if I really had any preconceptions about how long we'd be riding together at the start - D'Mar was clearly in better shape, more trained - and despite L'Mar's talks about not liking hills she was going better than I was in places. Now, however, the return trip was in our faces -- and the headwind.

Hydration was catching up as nature breaks were coming more frequently - but the food deficit was going to start becoming more real. There is a new gas pipeline head along this middle section of route now - which is interesting - but outside the fenceline is a porta-john! Sweet! So, I answer the call... something usually impossible on this very exposed road. Nary a tree to stand behind. Back on the bike quickly, I proceeded to try and catch back up to my companions - but it would take miles and miles to do it. After turning a corner, the first big hill was already looming - and the hills are worse on the return trip here. I could see the bright orange vests (good job on visibility, guys!) of my fellow riders, but couldn't seem to reel them in. I slogged along into the headwind, which - I'm sorry, the forecasters were wrong on this one again - was stronger than the advertised 8 MPH. I've ridden this route into a 20-25 MPH headwind, and it was not that bad today - but trying to set fatigue aside, this was no 8-MPH wind. No way. I looked down at my bike computer, and then learned not to bother.

More pain, more pre-cramping, and nausea? Yikes... either I was face-to-face with my old nemesis (the 80-mile wall) or I was just in horrible shape.. maybe both. This section was a struggle. On the 2nd hill, I just KNEW that I was done for. I remember writing this a long time back, I think it was the March ride - R-12 vol.1, no.2, where I felt like I just wanted to stop, get off, and walk this monster hill. I almost did this time. I even looked up and watched as D'Mar (a tad closer this time but still at least 1/4 mile ahead) was actually zig-zagging up the climb once or twice, to get the RPMs up. With traffic not on my side upon reaching the same space, I couldn't copy that move -- and the direct mash up the grade was hurting me. Knees, fine. Lungs, fine... but my legs felt dead, and my gut hollow. I could feel every pound of winter mass. I managed to make it up, without dismounting. Things crossed my mind, like making a phone call at La Cygne.

After the climbs subsided, I felt like things would improve. I mentally checked the middle section off the radar, and focused on La Cygne. Pizza, fries, whatever junk I could get my hands on. I wasn't going to be picky. However, as soon as I turned right, and headed back east on K-152, it hit me like a lightswitch had been flicked: bonk. The hole in my gut got bigger and I felt dizzy, really tired, and leaden - all at once. While not completely debilitating, it wasn't going to get better. Even my upper body faltered, like I was tired of holding myself upright. I watched as my companions advanced up the road, and - even with a slight tailwind - watched my speed drop like a rock. I maintained balance, kept from getting wobbly, and just focused on continuing to pedal lightly. If I stopped spinning, I'd lock up for sure. Two miles to Casey's, I can almost smell it... just pedal. All the while, stupidly, the nausea of the previous dozen miles became clearly a sign that - while I didn't WANT to - I should have eaten something. My back pockets were full, but my tank was empty. I squirted some SE paste into my mouth... but couldn't seem to swallow it. Ugh.... dude, what are you *doing* out here? Thoughts of that phone call crept into my head again.

Randonneurs tend not to quit... we tend to wait. Wait fifteen minutes. Everything in long-distance riding lasts fifteen minutes. Get to Casey's, eat something, relax, don't think... don't call anyone... don't make any decisions. Not yet.

Finally: cheese pizza, potato bites, chocolate milk, a 5-Hour Energy shot, and some Fig Newtons. Remembering stories of people blowing food all over the inside window of c-stores and onto gas-station sidewalks, I was carefully chewing and drinking water while I ate... and instead of nausea I felt that welcome surge of life come back into my legs, arms, neck, and mind. Like waking from a dream-state almost, not really clear on how much time has elapsed, I double checked my brevet card to make sure it'd been signed already - it had. Wow, man... nice goin'. I now think I have another "worst case" baseline for how long I can ride without eating much of anything. Not something to repeat.

At about 1:00pm, back eastbound on K-152, the damage was done. I was alive, awake, and fueled - but the thrashing my legs had been given over the first 85 miles of this ride wasn't going to right itself from the saddle. No making up time, no miracles, no showing off. Just make it home. All-in-all, the day had been pretty productive: we may have gone out too hard, but it hadn't seemed like it. Instead of trimming the minutes to each control like I'd done in 2008 on a couple occasions, we were sitting comfortably with over an hour to spare at any given time, often more than that. The new riders, despite their original nervousness, were proving to "have the stuff" - no real complaints, no doubts... if it took every last minute, they were going to finish. It was hard all around -- but the headwind and the trials of the morning were taking their toll. The long march back from La Cygne was on.

The last third of this ride has to be checked off in sections. K-152. Jingo. The Highway. Metcalf, south of Louisburg. Metcalf, north of Louisburg. 199th. Antioch. 179th. Each section was a mental check-off, and some were faster than others. Some where embarrassingly slow. But, I was re-learning: feeling the effects of the lunch I ate at La Cygne, I re-wired the connection that food + water = feel good = push. Somewhere along the way I've definitely made the transition from a racer-wannabe mindset to a randonneur mentality: Real food, instead of engineered food. While Carboplex is perfect, adding zero taste and zero texture to the water it is mixed with, I just can't drive myself to mindlessly consume things like SE anymore. It worked for a while today, but I grew very tired of it too early in the ride. Now, I was working out of the feed bag that I'd stocked in Pleasanton - something I should have been eating from before things got so bad. Leftover potato bites, fig newtons, snack mix -- all of it went in while I rode, and I think that made the difference after Louisburg. I bought more fig newtons there at the BP station and made a habit of taking one in every few miles for the rest of the ride. The tank empties faster as you ride longer, and I wasn't going to let myself slip again. Electrolyte tabs, and water. In, in, in. Another nature break. Hydrated, nice. Keep pedaling.

The doubt was leaving. I felt like a finish was within reach. The clock wasn't where I'd have preferred it, but I was still in the time windows - so I focused on that positive. Even the "practiced" rando-riders forget little things from time to time, and I chalk this ride up to just that. I knew what I needed to do early on, but frozen bottles made things tough - which built a deficit that I could have been smarter about overcoming. Without having ridden too far for six months, things were turning out okay. How I would feel the next day, that remained to be seen. It wasn't going to be pretty!

After another nature break at 199th and Metcalf, D'Mar and L'Mar caught up and we proceeded to roll along together again, which was nice. I don't know where I found the push to open up a gap between us, but apparently the return to correct fueling helped. The only final shortcoming, right at the Shell station at 199th and US-69, my right hamstring locked up hard. REALLY hard... I coasted down the grade, thankful it was there for me at that moment, and tried to massage it out. More water, more electrolytes to the rescue... I was burning through fuel much faster now, and my legs were clearly finished for the day. More food, in. Nine miles left.

A long downhill on Antioch, and the two mile climb up 179th street to finish off the day... with the sun getting lower in the western sky. Wow... LONG day... indeed. A final card signing, all of us finishing together give or take, and a quick ride back to the house to get a hot shower. A LONG hot shower.

Couple of things for next time: simple, cheap things: While I'd love a proper handlebar bag, my bike really isn't made for one - so I think I'll opt from something I've used in the past, something that L'Mar had on her ride: a triathlete's stem-bag. Small, but very accessible: if the food is in front of me, I'll probably be more likely to eat it. That ought to leave one off my back pockets open for another trick that ended up being a bit of a "duh": if the bottles are freezing, put one in your back pocket! A difficult as it sounds to put a cold bottle against your back when it's freezing outside, I think the alternatives must be weighed. Ride harder to stave off the chill, and have liquid water to drink. Thankfully, a few more weeks and we won't have to worry about that anymore.

BIG congrats to D'Mar and L'Mar, husband and wife team that came out with me for their first EVER trip well beyond the century marker! It was a big undertaking for a February in Kansas, and personally I don't know if I would have preferred to try my hand at long-distance in the less-than-ideal conditions we'd started into. They are strong riders, both, and I hope they'll be back. It was a pleasure... After reviewing this write-up it seems weird saying that.. because it wasn't always a pleasant ride, but it wasn't because of the company.

I'd eluded to it before -- long-distance cycling has really high "highs", but also has really low "lows". Sharing the experience with someone else is always rewarding because of the memories it inspires and the stories it creates. I think cyclists in general have a special bond... but long-distance cyclists? It's a gateway to lifelong friendships, for sure. You can't go out and suffer like that with another human being and not connect on some level. Enough with the mush, but I love this sport.

For me, for now... rest, recover. The hamstring issue, 48-hours later, has righted itself and I don't feel anything lingering aside from a LOT of fatigue. A short to-the-bus-stop commute this morning, and I can feel it for sure... I can barely push my easy-single-speed up any hills. Hydrate and ride carefully, and I should be more than ready for what's next.

Thanks for reading... stay tuned for another one in March!