Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

March 27, 2012

DSR, Decade, and Life-lessons

Sometimes timing is unfortunate -- but, "it is what it is".  We learn, in the wake of those who lived a full and gracious life, how to roll with the punches.
It wasn't heavy snow or a ridiculous work schedule that prevented my attendance at this past weekend's KCUC season opener and 200km brevet, but an unfortunate passing in our family.  This isn't a grab for condolences or anything like that, nor is it the typical need for social justification on why I can make certain rides and not others -- just a mention, and a marker in time for my future reference.  My wife's grandma, however, will indeed be missed.

Similar to the passing of my father several years ago now, the last year of her life was especially challenging, and, realizing that teaches me once again to be mindful about that which I choose to complain.  Gracious under pressure, quiet dignity, a smile, and a "just fine" when asked how things had been going, regardless of the truth.  Positiveness begets positiveness, and may we all find a reason to smile in spite of life's little pains and problems.  

Headwinds.
Rain.
Hills.
All trifles.

Truly the simple blessing of taking in a breath-full of fresh, morning air - each day until our last - is gift enough, and the rest just icing.
With such expectations perhaps enjoying life itself, for "what it is", becomes easier, its challenges less arduous.

Sure - with the purported "best weather in five years" for KCUC's first ride, it was a shame to have missed it; however, sitting in an armchair among family and friends, talking about nothing in particular, over good food - even in spite of the occasion for the gathering - always turns out to be a fine way to spend a weekend.  The bike seldom entered my mind - and I think that means I've got things figured out.  Surely as the bicycle hangs upside-down, in waiting, in the garage at home - I can grab a ride any old time.  The times with family are precious - and life, all too often, shorter than we'd prefer.

As I pass into my 4th decade, perhaps I'll have less and less to complain about.
Perhaps I'm finally finding it far more rewarding to simply enjoy the ride, no matter the vehicle.

It's been a remarkable month - 
The first DSR was an intimate affair, and, with technology and good discussion in tow, we enjoyed clear skies, bright Venus and Jupiter setting, and the challenges of riding the last few miles on completely empty stomachs, thanks to a c-store which wrapped up business earlier than their operating hours sign had otherwise suggested.

The tenth anniversary of my first brevet was to be a compare/contrast exercise - what have I learned in ten-years of randonneuring?  
I'm personally still waiting on the answer; though I know it to be strictly rhetorical.  My journey has been complicated and contrived, and with each passing year I find myself chuckling, not only at what I had yet to learn 10 years back, but also what I'd elected to re-learn only a few weeks ago.  My memoirs will be clogged with self-confusion and the fallout of a far-to-noisy inner monologue, which I've yet to figure out quite how to silence.  It's easier than it used to be, though, which is progress, as I slide ever closer to the Zen-state of "just pedaling".  My cycling career is a comedy of errors, perhaps best related via the dry, sardonic wit of British humour.  Perhaps Rowan Atkinson would be up for the role of "Dude" in the film of my cycling career, who knows.  Perhaps I watch too much Top Gear (UK), but I find the commentary from my rides much more entertaining when read aloud in my head via carefully metered exchanges between Jeremy Clarkson, Phil Liggett, James May, Paul Sherwen, and Richard Hammond, all while run through a template of Monty Python skits.

Some say he can spot equipment mislignments on a millimetric scale from twenty paces, and that he thinks every hilltop during a brevet has leader's points... all we know is.... he's not the Stig... but he *is* the Stig's American randonneuring cousin....

All in all, it's been an interesting month - the R-12 streak continues, though it feels as if the last ride was months ago.
April looks good, and my next permanent ride towards R-12 (despite the minimum requirement being 200km) may be a 300k, to prepare for highly anticipated 400km Brevet up into Iowa on April 28th.

Despite the cycling-centric crux of this blog, the lessons resonating from what transpires *off* the saddle remain most engaging.  Therein sits the most important lesson of all; it really *isn't* about the bike.  Though I've never professed my cycling to be more important than any other aspect of my life, surely as it's not, sometimes I leave such an impression hanging in these pages.  Certainly in the office and to the readership at large I come across quite one-dimensional.  What's most important, and I think Grandma, and definitely my father, would've agreed: at the end of whatever our day brings, when things are stored away, the time-clock punched, it's those moments around the family dinner table which make it all worthwhile.  

Its not about what you do... its about who you share it with.
The only thing cycling REALLY does?  
It helps transform me into a better person while I'm off the bike, where it counts.


March 4, 2012

The Big Payback

“Did you have a good ride?” asked the middle-aged gentleman re-entering his car.  He seemed genuinely interested, curious... maybe even a glimmer of a knowing smile, like he, too, could have been a cyclist.  

I paused... but I knew my answer already.

Similar to last month, I had a mind to get March's 200k R-12 edition checked-off ASAP.  Thinking back to 2009, fresh from R-12 #1, I’d been keen to continue my streak; that year I rode a particularly difficult and lengthy "200k" (more like 225?) in February, and nearly vowed never to ride again afterwards - alas, those feelings come and go, but always pass.  I'd decided the best way to make good on that hard-earned Feb '09 200k involved keeping the streak going, and getting #14 that March.  "March 27...Bob's brevet series... that's in the bag."  Oh, how wrong I’d been that year - March 27th, 2009, I believe we awoke to 8+ inches of thick snow, which wouldn’t melt for possibly a week afterwards.  A rare occurrence, Bob cancelled the March 200k that year, and I didn't have enough time left in the month to make anything work to make up for it --- so 13-in-a-row ended there.  Fast-forward to this year, I look to avoid that scenario again - this time not merely faced with starting over so much as faced with flushing 9-in-a-row in progress on R-12 #2.  The winter season has been strange enough without me tempting fate, and, with Bob's ride sitting on March 24th this year, it would be good of me to get cracking.  So, several weeks back, I scheduled my March 200k for the 2nd.  Seemed like a terrific idea at the time.  Why, oh why, didn't I make it for March *1st*?

To paraphrase a recurring, and oft telling, theme from one of my favorite shows; in the immortal words of the ancient philosopher Clarksonius, 5th Century B.C., "how hard can it be?"

After all, it's March!
Sound the trumpet call, release the doves, let sash and cottage door swing open, and breathe free all ye cyclists - cast off the shackles of natures icy, grey grip!   (okay, a bit much)
February holds all of the mental cards when it comes to my cycling, yet, this year's leap-month had been very tolerable.  The February 200k, only a few posts back from here, warmed into the lower 60's by afternoon - with a south wind!  March had to be at least that good.  Kansas weather can be a bit tricky, at best, however - in the 72 hours leading up to the ride, I’d witnessed 73ºF, then the lower 30’s, thunderstorms, tornado warnings only one county west of home, and strong wind from every compass direction.

Finally, the evening before, I packed for rain.  Specifically, rain in the 40ºF range, which calls for wool and the rain jacket.  Anything warmer than that and the rain jacket becomes too much.  Heck, pack it anyways... pack it ALL.  The battle van readied: bike loaded, bags packed, nutrition, cue sheet, route card.  I bedded down for a nervous, fitful sleep - typical of ride-eve, for me.  

Beep beep!  Beep beep!  [smack]
 
Shower, dress, keys -- proceed to ride start.  I've reached a point of complacency in preparing for and riding these 200 kilometer events.  I'd mentioned in past posts that these distances have quickly become "training", instead of the "event" for which to train.  In a few weeks I'll be stretching out towards 400km and beyond, so I need to get into a rhythm and routine that will work, consistently.  The problem with that approach, at least for me; ‘routine’ becomes boring.  I have this problem with diets, exercise, work, nearly everything.  Things get old, and I become compelled to change something.  Oh, how I wished I'd had the willpower to take back the change I made on the way to the ride.  

Danny Clinkenbeard exemplifies randonneuring legend, in my humble opinion.  In 2005 Danny, along with only four other individuals nationwide, finished all four continental-U.S.-hosted 1,200km (750+ miles) grand brevets offered that year.  Few cyclists with a RUSA membership would consider trying ONE, much less two or more.  Adding to his accolades, Danny C remains one of two riders - and only two (the other being Spencer K) - to have completed the longest RUSA permanent ride on the books; the monstrous 3,100km "Pony Express" permanent from Sacramento, CA., to St. Joseph, MO.  Near as makes no difference, that ride strings together consecutive 200km rides, daily, going on two weeks solid.  Finally, and to your author ultimately fascinating, Danny rides on hardly anything other than fast food - specifically McDonald's.  Never have I seen such a spectacle as Danny; a whisper of a man, barely 150 lbs., consuming so much fast food at one sitting and then riding weightless like a falcon over hill and curve with a smile, a song, and a shout.  

... and, today, I wanted a HOT breakfast to take the place of my usual, soul-less, tepid energy bar or tablet.  I wanted McDonald's.  

Egg and cheese biscuit, rectangular hash-brown, coffee.  

From the drive-thru, to the highway, to the first control.  MAN, that tasted good!
Upon parking, I pulled out my phone and checked the forecast one last time - and, there it read - the "s" word.  Really???  I looked at radar (while drinking coffee, which everyone knows I do) and tried to size up trends and patterns, and, bearing in mind the generalized nature of area forecasts, came to the conclusion that whatever the forecasters saw would pass safely to my north.  I'd see a little rain, nothing more, I decided.  Still, something convinced me to pack the rain jacket onto the rear rack anyways, just for good measure.  "Snow... pah.  It won't snow."

Compared to last time out on the Princeton Roundabout route, in January, the c-store's register read the correct time - so, my usual 5-Hour Energy purchase made, receipt obtained; out the door I flew.  Lower 40's, and a tailwind for the start... not bad.  I began climbing Renner Road, as it crawls up and over I-435 near Shawnee Mission Park.  I have fond memories of this hill:  a photo of me in the newspaper from a long-ago MS-150 training ride; and, years later, the tactical move that paid off, wherein I dropped two strong riders on the way to a 2nd place finish in the Tour De Shawnee back in the day... I love this climb, and I love how it comes in the first mile of this 200km ride, perfect positioning to get the blood flowing for the task ahead.  This time out, however, I could feel that something hadn't settled fully.  Not soreness, not cramping - something simply felt "off".  Atypically out of breath and grimacing, I made it to the top with questions - obvious questions about my breakfast choice.  Stupid of me to so brazenly dismiss what has worked in the past.  I'd never eaten McDonald's before a ride, at least not that I could recall... heck, I couldn't remember the last time I'd consumed ANYthing from that establishment.  My body proceeded to continue with the digestive "WTF?", while I adopted the "15 minute" rule and continued to push through it.

...une (randonneur) ne peut pas se battre l'estomac vide...  - Napolean, para

"It will pass..."
The sky lightened while I rolled west towards K-7 highway on 83rd, approaching my favorite section of the route - Cedar Creek valley.  As I crossed underneath "new" K-10, enjoying the solitude of "old" K-10, the first raindrop hit me square in the jowl.  For some reason, I grinned.  I don't think I had been looking forward to difficulty or extra challenge, but I somehow always manage to find enjoyment in a rainy ride - even in a cold rain.  No need for the rain jacket; the raindrops only barely coloring the pavement ahead of me, I'd let the natural wonder of wool do its job.  A surreal blanket of calm descended over me as I pedaled along, alone this time out, no conversations save for the chatter in my head.  Thick cloud cover hid the sun from my view - no shadows.  A crosswind grew on my right shoulder.  I passed through Clearview City, and gazed off into the silent, eerie Sunflower Army Ammunition plant complex.  A single car passed.  A group of students stood huddled under an awning, waiting for their school’s doors to open - silent: no jeers, nothing heard.  The only sounds aside from my own breathing had come from a lone meadowlark, following me along in flight while I rode.  A sign of spring, his song gloriously bright amid the grey haze that surrounded me, and a tad incongruous.  Eudora had begun to come into view, and its morning traffic.
 
After checking in at the Eudora control, then battling my way through several school zones and intersections, finally out of town (always busy on a weekday nearing 8:00am), I became free to fly south on DG-1061 towards points south, and ultimately Vinland and Baldwin City.  The rain hadn't really been a problem at that point.  Eudora saw me pass through dry, but chilly.  Typically, thinking back to the forecast review in the van a couple hours prior, I scoffed aloud... "rain... hardly..."  The wind increased dramatically, another indication of frontal passage.  Content that the worst had passed, I put weather concerns out of my head.
 
In the back of my mind, big hunks of the ride felt exactly like the January edition... except that it felt colder, I saw no sunshine, my stomach hurt, and I rode completely alone... except for all that, yeah, exactly the same ride.  HA!  My only companion spoke in an occasional howl and whistle; the sound of roadside power lines straining against the gale-force northwestern winds.  This tailwind-fueled blast southbound would need to be paid back, and I knew it... so, I tried to tender my pace, making a note to save the push for later for when the headwind would demand it.

I took in the sights and wondered if the sun would eventually come out as I turned west on DG-460.  I considered the dark, grayish skies farther north, pondering the weather I’d been lucky enough to miss.  I thought about Baldwin City, and whether or not a second McDonald's run would somehow cure the first.  Ugh...  Although the engineered, tabletized nutritional pellets in my back pockets had begun to work well at eclipsing the breakfast rock in my gut, things hadn’t returned to 100% yet.  I passed the old church at Vinland and took respite from the growing crosswind in the shelter afforded by trees and town buildings - just in time for the turn south, and more tailwind-driven action for the run to the next control.

The airplane hangers at Vinland had come into view, and another rain drop splattered against my glasses - the first of many.  This time, it'd be an honest shower - yet, still not enough to warrant the rain jacket.  Baldwin Pass approached - might as well stay ventilated.  I grumbled at the notion that the forecast might have changed, that the radar trend might have twisted back south - who knew.  Pedal - no amount of data or information would change where I’d been and where I was headed.  Some of the rain looked a little... thick... well, that's weird... and therein lay the magic spark where thinking, reasoning humans pause for a moment - where things stop, or at least slow down, while the brain catches up to the obvious.  "uhhh...... is that snow?"  So, they were right... but, it's in the 40's, and it's gotta be the back edge of ...whatever, it'll be fine.  I even reveled in the opportunity to ride a miniature mountain pass in the snow... I had visions of Hampsten on Gavia; I geared down and rolled out tempo on the local beast, and smiled.  Yeah, only a light rain/snow mix fell, and yeah the road stayed clear, and yeah I don't ride for 7-Eleven... but, what a neat moment!  Even though I've developed a strong dislike for "pro-kit" advertising wear in the recreational venue, a 7-Eleven team replica jersey (in wool, better) would be an instant purchase, no hesitation.

Satisfied with my exploits, I then enjoyed the long, steady downhill run into Baldwin City, and reached the next control a little after 9:00am.  Wet and chilled despite my wool togs, I stepped inside the control and did the needful:  coffee, Clif Bar, restroom, card, receipt.  Usually content to go immediately back outdoors to prepare for the next leg, this time I elected to rest.  I set up shop near the front door, and proceeded to sip on my hot beverage.  The morning routine continued outside for Baldwin's residents; people filed in and out of the shop - each one giving me a long, careful consideration - the usual treatment for the cyclist, so out of place in dress.

"You're gonna get wet..." offered a local quarry driver, fresh from the warm cab of his still-idling Sterling-chassis dump truck.  We talked about the weather, the roads, and what the radar looked like - good info, from an unlikely source.  I like to think of it as the dubious brotherhood of men who wear reflective safety vests; men linked in spirit, regardless of individual pursuits.

I finished my coffee and watched as the rain and snow intermingled -- the rain winning -- and decided the time had arrived to get moving toward Ottawa.  The worst should be over.  Head out!  Still thick with cold rain, and with a bank thermometer across the way which read "36ºF" (it had dropped 3 degrees in 20 minutes), I finally pulled the rain jacket off the rear rack and suited up, zippers pulled high.  At least I couldn’t see the snow anymore... could be worse.  Despite coffee and food, my recalcitrant gut still stood unmotivated to feel better - more "slow and steady" pacing ahead.  Barely able to push even a languid pace thus far, I gave thanks for the tailwind.  Standing on the pedals, Ohio Road stretched before me, I watched as the pavement under my front wheel gained speed.

Maybe I’m riding back into it, I thought.  

First, a little more snow mixed in with the rain.  The snow then intensified and effectively replaced most of the rain - and then a mystical silence, typical of snowfall, fell hard over the countryside around me.  I could hear my breath, and the constant hiss of my tires cutting a groove through thin slush on the roadway.  The ever-growing snowflakes seemed to stand bolt upright on the tarmac and then fade into it as they quickly metled.  I peeked out from under my woolen brim to see what I could of the landscape, most of which had begun to fade, slowly consumed by endless white.  The silence intensified, broken only by a passing car - thankfully passing slowly, cautiously, clearly aware of my presence by their occupation of the opposite lane of traffic.  People of different cycling upbringings will maintain their opinions on reflective gear, safety vests, and the utter dorkiness of ankle-bands, reflectors, and lights - but at times like these, those things matter most.  Confident I could be seen I pedaled on, heads-down against the growing onslaught of larger and larger snowflakes, then clumps of snowflakes - big, wet, snow-bombs.  Snowball sized hail?

Last month, I suffered a cracked wheel - something that began to materialize towards the end of January's 200k, and finally revealed itself at the end of a commute.  The rim material above the horizontal crack in the sidewall, a product of wear on the braking surface of the wheel, became thin enough to separate, and had been pushed outwards slightly by the pressure of the tube and tire mounted upon it, creating a thump-thump-thump timed with each wheel revolution when I’d apply the brakes.  Since then, the front wheel has been rebuilt, and a new backup wheel has been placed into rotation at the rear.  All good.  So, one could imagine the surprise, shock, and frustration -- and associated shot of adrenaline -- which overcame me upon grabbing my brakes to stop at the intersection of Shawnee and Ohio Roads.  Thump-thump-thump!  I released the brakes as quickly as I heard the sound, then reapplied... surely I'd imagined it, but it remained.  If today held a test for me, I suppose there really wouldn’t be a good time or place... so be it.  In heavy snow, I dismounted and crouched down to examine things more closely.  Locating the source of the noise, near the rim seam, I applied the brakes while rolling the bike back and forth to recreate the sound.  There it was!  Thank goodness... the offender, a small rock stuck in the brake pad on one side, had just been catching the slightly raised edge of the rim seam... NOT a crack or break in sight!  Rock removed, braking silence restored... I remounted, just in time to catch the stares of disbelief from the occupants of a passing car.  "Mornin'", I mumbled to myself, pointing the bike west.  Into the wind.  Into the snowstorm.

I could envision the only item of clothing I found myself wanting safely stowed in my bag, back in the van, back in the parking lot.  Shoe covers.  As the snow became heavier and heavier with each passing moment, flying at me sideways in the 25MPH north-west wind, every nook, cranny, crevice and crease in my clothing began to gather snow.  Helmet vents became filled, as had the gap between my helmet and the visor of my wool cap, the crooks of each elbow, the front folds of my jacket, the tops of my legs - even in pedaling - and the tops of my shoes.  The Velcro closure straps seemed especially good at gathering snow, which slowly melted and compacted, gently heated by the warmth from within my shoes - warmth which had begun to fade as the snow-melt seeped into my socks via the shoes ventilation mesh.  Even my headlight struggled; normally generating enough heat to quickly melt off snow, the lens became covered over and required frequent clearing - as did my right eyeglass lens.  I rode with my head down, tilted, trying to preserve my vision and my face; the onslaught of thick snowflake clusters hit my cold face with stinging blows, bearable, but distracting.  A screen of white and the fuzzy remains of a gray slice of pavement extending into it comprised the whole of my view.  Another car passed (also positioned to indicate that he'd seen me) and quickly disappeared into the white haze ahead, consumed by the snow... which gave me wonder on how invisible I must have been.

BARK BARK BARK!!!  Of all the times for a dog to jump from the roadside and give chase -- and WHAT a dog, an angry German Sheppard -- why then??  I'd let out some sort of yell, and managed to raise pace just long enough to hold him off.  Not invisible enough, apparently.
 
All of the following happened in mere seconds, while I considered if the rushing noise I’d heard behind me had been another car, or simply the wind.  I could see the face of my Dad in the white, snowy sky ahead of me.  Yesterday would have been his 65th birthday.  You can draw, as I did, on the parallels of Obi Wan Kenobi appearing to Luke in the snows of Hoth after he'd escaped from the ice cave - but, in my darkest hours of self-doubt sometimes Dad shows his face, when I seem to be on the edge of giving in.  Go to Ottawa, Luke!  I laughed at myself.  Apparently, this had been one of those times where my mind wandered too far.  I never coasted.  I never shifted gears... at least, I don't remember doing so.  All I remember came as a warm smile, and a hand on my shoulder.  I saw my kids, and made sure I remained as far to the right as possible - just in case.  My wife...   I laughed with friends at work, over drinks, over chats online... and began to filter through the "I've-had-worse" file until I realized that perhaps I’d begun a new page, altogether.  I uncorked motivational phrases, and the one that stuck came from (shocker) Survivorman:

"The wind and the weather just ARE; you can either deal with it, or you can't"  - Les Stroud

“Deal with it, Dude...”  Leaning sideways into the cross-headwind, pounded by snow, buffeted by gusts, my helmeted head heavy with packed snow - icy needles of cold, melted water leaked into my shoes, ran down my neck, down my forehead and, yet, strangely, I felt perfectly dressed... damp, but comfortable.  (Thank you, wool.)  There would be no phone calls, no stopping, no complaining.  I cracked a meek smile at the elements, shifted, and upped the tempo...  I watched as the snow tried to win the battle against residual pavement heat with its sheer numbers -- the blobs of white stayed upright a little longer now, and I started to leave a visible trail in my wake -- but, finally, the snow had begun to give up.  The sky lightened, the snow changed back to light rain, and eventually it all faded entirely.  As I rolled along large slabs of snow began to fall from my bike and my body ... "doubt"... "impossibility"... all fell from my arms and shoulders and melted away into nothingness on the pavement behind me.  I paused near some railroad tracks to remove my helmet and help the rest of them along.  Though the hour had seemed to last a day, I’d only one conclusion:

that ... was ... AWESOME …

The rest of the ride pales in comparison to the challenge of punching through a snowstorm over 15 miles or so, smack in the middle of what ultimately totalled 127 miles and change.  The skies played games for the rest of the day - brief hints of sunshine would lift my spirits, but more clouds would close in to dash them.  I enjoyed a wicked-fast run from Ottawa to Princeton (after drying out inside Casey’s on 7th street for about 30 minutes, with coffee and hot food).  My average speed at the halfway point read “only” 15.8MPH, but I felt ecstatic at the number considering the challenges I’d endured to that point.  I paused there, too, feeling destroyed, whipped, and hollow.  

My lower gut still not in the mood to cooperate, I rested.  The entire 2nd half of the ride lay ahead with a huge question mark.  I recalled SK’s mindful words:  “when I’m halfway, it’s in the bag.”  Chin up, I ate what I needed to - knowing that a full-on bonk would be far worse than the stomach issues I’d been enduring.  The lack of push reminded me to gear down and spin.  Enjoy the day!  (at least try...)  Sometimes, the fifteen minute rule needs to be repeated for a few hours before it works.  

I stowed the rain jacket, confident at least the remaining ride would be dry, and proceeded north for only a couple tenths of a mile to return to the eastbound section of the ride.  Those couple of tenths presented a preview -- 25MPH, gusty northwest winds conspired to shove me backwards as I pedaled... holy crud.  No worries... I turned east, safe from the headwind at that moment.  Upon arriving at Osawatomie, 17 miles distant, I’d have to bear down and face roughly 50 miles of gale to get back to the start/finish.  Eat, drink, pedal -- and don’t think about it.

I did what I could to enjoy the ride, marvelling at the picturesque vistas of Franklin County and seemingly endless fields beginning to take on a slight hint of bright, spring green.  Birds spoke in song with the teasing of sunshine -- more meadowlarks, robins, wrens, cardinals, and magnificent bluebirds occasionally brightened my mood, and took my mind off my inability to push very hard.  I arrived at the Casey’s in Osawatomie, refueled, and began my nervously anticipated march northbound.  

Songs popped into and out-of my head - but none lasted very long.  My brain longed for distraction from the task ahead, but all I could muster came in short bursts of self-talk - the snowstorm had presented a challenge, and possibly the most intense precipitation I’d ever ridden through, but that encompassed the extent of its remark-ability.  Now, long into the day, low on energy, accelerations punished with gut cramps, I sunk deep into the low end of the motivation pool after Osawatomie.  Slowly advancing towards Paola, nausea came into play.  I lingered in a strange place where-in I knew food would be beneficial, yet, the thought of eating turned my stomach and left me very aware of my tongue.  Plain water -- that’s all I’d want.  

Paola:  the good, old 66-Station, and a place to sit.  

I normally don’t like to sit down at controls.  The desire to sit often wins the argument against standing back up to continue riding.  Maybe it comes from past experience... the few times I’d sat down during past rides, I’d ended up making a phone call shortly afterward.  Feeling weak, nauseated, sleepy and dazed, I sat and stared at the floor.  The c-store gal and I chatted for a bit while I snacked on good, stable food - potato chips and water.  Nice and slow.  

Slightly renewed - frustrated that I could neither pass away any of the discomfort in my gut, nor expel anything forth to calm my nausea, I saddled back up again and looked north.  The wind, fiercely tugging at flags and power lines, howled and laughed -- Hedge Lane... the roundabout... Old KC Road.... Hillsdale.

Oy... stopping again?  YES.

My mental ammunition had run dry.  My head produced no thoughts - good or bad.  I knew I had until 7:38pm to finish this ride - I only had to average scarcely 8 MPH to finish on time.  Surely I could pedal that out.  Yet, for the first time in years - out came the phone.

My wife isn’t a cyclist.  Specific things about cycling exist that she - same as any non-cyclist - doesn’t “get”.  But, she knows me better than I know myself.  I needed someone to clear through the noise in my head, and get me straight again.  Sometimes, I just need a little pep-talk.

Three minutes or so.  Done.  Thanks, honey...

Back to work.  All my legs could muster hovered around 13 MPH, but, movement trumps loafing.  Late afternoon traffic began to filter onto the local roads while I inched closer and closer to “town”, sharpening my attention.  Spring Hill prompted another stop -- it seemed I’d been retaining water, byproduct of stomach distress perhaps, and now I couldn’t sit for more than a few miles without needing a nature break - but perhaps something had turned a corner, digestively.  I took it as a sign to put more fuel in - proven fuel:  Hammer Gel to the rescue ( I hoped )

More traffic - time to work through suburbia.  Past Spring Hill High School, to Olathe, and stoplight mania.  Full, 100%-power never really arrived, but traffic presented a worthy distraction while I navigated roundabouts, dodged afternoon drivers, and crawled ever closer to the finish.  

Renner Road, positioned at the end of a day such as this, embodies pure evil.  No sense trying to muscle the climbs - spinning, just like last time out, I checked off the hills one-by-one, finally arriving at 87th street.  

“TWO MILES!”  … and it came.  The final, long descent down Renner towards Midland Drive allowed me to stop pedaling... “finished”...

Yet, still, despite it all... after receiving the final stamp and receipt to finalize my route and prove my passage ...a smile.

Not all of these rides can be easy, not all of them can be fun.  I don't enjoy doing things that aren't fun, and as seriously as I take my riding, I try not to take it TOO seriously.  This fact stands vitally important here:  I have been criticized, as has randonneuring, as being sadistic.  Long-distance riding has been classified as something that simply doesn't sound fun at all to a majority of cyclists.  I often wonder if my portrayals lean too far into the dramatic (well, duh, it’s my style).  Do I paint perhaps too gloomy a picture of randonneuring?  I wonder if the club here suffers by my pen.  No matter my take on things, rides like these won’t appeal to everyone.  

*I* like it, though - I keep coming back, year after year, because the rides remain long enough that they never really become “easy”.  I have a lot of fun on shorter rides, dabbles with gravel touring, bike-camping, and local club “race”rides.... but, randonneuring offers a test.  I like the personal test.  I admire that, for unique and talented riders, these rides appear REALLY easy - and I aspire to their approach and technique.  I like that no matter how many of these I finish, there remains something to reach towards.  I like that the entry fees have stayed cheaper than t-shirt rides, sometimes on the order of 10:1 in price.  I like that I have quantifiable proof of my passage, and that I can earn medals.  They’re just small mementos, worthless to most; but, I fancy sitting in a recliner someday, grandchildren at my feet, and I’ll produce a tarnished, silvery medallion from a shoebox and spin a story or two from a time where men and women rode free in the open countryside.

It's not all sunshine and roadside flowers, no - but, in the darker moments I find out more about myself - I make myself stronger, somehow.  Maybe it’s not fun when it happens.  Suffering is relative, after all -- I’ve never seen combat.  I’ve never been injured so badly that I genuinely had to say my goodbyes to anyone.  I’m thankful for those things, and many more.  Yet, when I find myself on the saddle of a bicycle and things begin to lean towards difficulty, when nature starts to hammer through my clothes, skin, muscles, down to my bones, to marrow, down into the intangible fabric of my being... overcoming those moments -- for someone whose childhood had unfolded rife with self-doubt and “can’t” -- reminds me of what I am capable.  It’s not heroic, it’s not impossible.. yet, somehow, it’s necessary.  When given the choice, yes:  I’d much rather have the double tailwind, the sunshine, the heat of a summers day, but days like March 2nd, 2012 teach me how to stand fast in the face of adversity...perhaps even how to smile at it.  On balance, I gladly accept both extremes.  I still strongly contend that randonneuring’s good moments, though they occupy fewer lines of text, greatly out-number the challenging ones.  Part of me feels just a little sad sometimes that we don’t have more riders, more people with whom to share the moments.  Even at the end of this particularly challenging day on the bicycle, I ended with a smile.  I always do.  There’s “fun” there... but, something deeper, too.  The rides manage to extract a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that borders on euphoric - and few other activities these days can offer those feelings the way randonneuring does.  

“Did you have a good ride?”

The question still hung in the air as I twisted the cap from my freshly purchased, and earned, 20 oz. Coke.  A satisfying hiss filled the gap between his last utterance and my careful pause.

“Absolutely... a GREAT ride....”  I smiled back, raising my drink.  

“Heckuva day, though...” he offered with a raised eyebrow.

“...coulda been worse...”

We both laughed.