Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

December 30, 2013

Princeton-Polar Ride, it's a finish

Glen, Steven and I headed out into a dangerously cold morning yesterday, and came home with a finish.  I have never been so cold, for so long, in my life... despite the amazing micro-climate afforded by layers of technical gear amassed over the last decade.  A longer post to come, as usual, but, for now, the streak is still alive with only two days to spare in December, and in a very tough 2013.

Tenacious, or galactically stupid... it's a fine line:  but, we're alive, warm once again, and all of our extremities are intact.  Sure, it was no Arrowhead 135... and if you'd like to read some truly epic tales of wintertime suffering, check it out.... but, I'll take our finish.

We three, in my mind, conquered a tough one... and I mean *JUST*.... we BARELY made the cutoffs, and I didn't know just how closely until this morning upon going over the cards and receipts.  It's probably better none of us knew during the ride itself.  Sure, none of us are wicked-fast riders to start with, but, therein lay an indication of the conditions:  cold joints and muscles, aching respiratory systems, frozen faces, glazed eyes, delirium, cold-induced drowsiness, constant mental arguments against continuing, rougher-than-I-remember pavement amplified by hard, unyielding tires, icy roads, frozen bottles halting hydration, temperatures bottoming at 12F (-11C), almost no sun, and a roaring, unforgiving northwest Arctic wind at nearly 20mph sustained with higher gusts, resulting in static wind-chills of -5F, and probably more like -15F cycling through the air.  For thirteen hours.  At the end, far too committed to consider quitting and throwing away all that suffering for no reward, the ride degraded to nearly constant clock-watching panic; yet, no extra push to do anything about it.  Every stoplight through town - which we seemed to catch every last one of them on red - all I heard in my head was "tick....tick.....tick....TICK....."  How fast are we going?  How many miles are left?  What time is it?    

This, in itself, is almost post-enough for the likes of such a ride.  What else can be said, really?  We finished.  I have no complaints.  I credit my riding partners, Steven and Glen:  without them I would not have started, and without their tireless pulls, I wouldn't have finished.  Heck, Glen and I, having met up early, were convinced that none of it was necessary - and I was already okay with ending my streak, right there in that dark parking lot, without so much as a pedal turned.  Steven showed up with a smile, a confident air, and the right attitude... and, so, Glen and I mounted up.  Crap.  LOL.  BUT, the feeling of confidence and satisfaction I feel at this writing makes it all worth it.  I am hearing all of the occasional chatter in the office today about how miserable yesterday had been, having enjoyed near-60F temps the day before (no kidding, in December!) before a monster cold-air mass arrived overnight (so markedly that the initial wind gusts shook the house and woke me up, as cold Canadian air dumped into the area).

I am proud of what we-three accomplished... knowing also that we're also probably a touch lucky, too.  One flat tire, one miss-step, one or two more trains or red lights.... crud, ANYthing.... I don't want to think about that.  Not only would we have not finished with credit, it's a fair bet that hypothermia would have come knocking in the event of any roadside repair.  The old Survivorman mantra for winter... "if you sweat, you die" ...is so true... but, finding that balancing act with clothing when exercising???  There's almost no way.  One must choose between being dry, but cold ALL the time; or comfortable and at least a LITTLE damp.  It's safe to say, for me personally, I was comfortable - but dangerously damp most of the time.  I actually brought along matches, a flint striker just in case, a field knife, some light kindling (some scrap woodshavings, dryer lint, and cottonballs mixed with petroleum jelly) and a small folding camp windblock, and had every intention of starting a small fire if needed.  Overkill?  Perhaps.. especially since it never came to that:  but it only weighs too much or takes up too much room until you NEED IT...and really:  that whole kit is no larger than a cellphone... but, there is no sense standing on the roadside, shivering, waiting for the Calvary to show up, arguing with oneself about whether or not it's "bad enough yet" to take action.  Yesterday, it would have been bad.  Just like a TV show, yeah...disclaimer: seriously:  this is just a dumb cycling blog, and I'm not an expert... if you have the choice, stay home.

We three, no matter what Glen and I were talking about in the parking lot, didn't know how to quit.  Odds stacked, we all three stood up on the pedals and fought for it.  This is rando... sure, we should have picked a better day, sure we could be faster with more training, sure we could manage our control time better.  Whatever.  We took what we were handed and produced a finish.  Cheers, gents.  Bigtime.

Next month, if it isn't at LEAST above freezing, it's over.  LOL.

I'm going to go sit in front of the fireplace some more.  Whoof.


December 25, 2013

Year end wrap-up, already?

Well, yeah... as I sit back and chill on the afternoon before a company day-off, with the sun dipping, the shadows lengthening, and my afternoon coffee steaming next to the keyboard, yes.  I take a break from surfing across various chain-rings and eccentric bottom-brackets/rear hubs, and various tube-final guitar amps I can't afford to summarize the year that was (er, is still) 2013.

Mileage...  what mileage?  This, with few exceptions, has proven to be one of the lowest mileage years to date at 3,400 miles.  I haven't had that low of a number since prior to starting this randonneuring thing back in 2002.  There was a time, prior to '02, wherein I didn't even log commuter-miles, and in one case I'd almost bested this years number.  Now, there IS one more 200km permanent coming in a few days time, and that will bump me above the 3,500 mile marker -- but, that's still pretty low for me.  But... how do I FEEL about that?  Heck, I'm okay, really.  It's been a rewarding year in so many more ways than JUST cycling... so, who can complain?  Not me.  However; well, I think I see a higher number for next year.

Complaints?  Really?  What do I POSSIBLY have to complain about?  Middle-aged-married-suburban-livin'-cubicle-worker-with-two-point-five-children-who's-never-missed-a-meal problems, that's what.  In short, nothing of consequence.  I've overheard and been shoulder-for enough over the last year that I don't have any REAL complaints.  I've helped out at reStart over the last year, have helped feed some folks at various places, helped at Harvesters, and heard the stories of hard-working folks who've

December 18, 2013

Empty Promises

I mean well, I honestly do.... but, it's time for me to get real (again).  
This blog isn't a full-time gig.  I don't make a dime from it, as much as I wish I did.  Perhaps that's an indication that I haven't tried hard-enough, that my annual URL investment of $10-or-so isn't working FOR me... it's merely a labor of love, an outlet, a way to get thoughts out of my head.  Perhaps I SHOULD try harder... but, I lack -- rather, I haven't MADE -- the time.  Maybe it's advertising, maybe it's trying to sell branded stuff like stickers or custom caps, maybe it's continuing to pimp my stuff to various outdoor and cycling rags.... heck, I've had tons of ideas in the hopper, but, apparently I'm truly spread-too-thin:  school, kids, a full-time-plus desk job, still finding the time to RIDE - lest I have nothing to write about, and then - of course - making the time to write ANYthing of substance, and to post photos.  Maybe the social media presence is enough, I dunno.

What's the point of this post?   Oh yeah.... 

Well, a couple posts back I got REALLY excited about the "free time" I'd suddenly uncovered, with a major milestone in my life and my kid's lives wrapped up.  I promised reviews of some products I've acquired, and updates on previous reviews for products in the arsenal which still carry on strongly.  Here's the honest, apologetic bit:   I can't.  I won't make the time.  I'm sorry for that, but, really... there are lots of folks across the interwebs posting high-quality, well-written reviews on everything I've promised, and more.  Real reviews, with excellent photos, REAL scientific data on lights, lumens, watts, run-times, etc.  Actual bench-tests of tires, rolling resistance, tread-wear, measured against competitor products.  Well-written, edited, staff-supported excellence, rich with content and data, filled with links and references.  I can't possibly compete.... not with the time I've allotted.  This is just a blog.  It's a brain outlet only, and - while I KNOW if I gave it maybe 10% more attention, answered more of the supposed-spam-but-maybe-legit email offers to cross-link, review products, try this and that.... hell, if I think I'm pressed for time NOW... yikes.  Despite how genuine my intentions have been, I already have a workbench full of items I can't get to.  Keeping up school, fixing the brakes on the car, home-owner projects, a crappy yard that won't fix itself (don't get me started on WHY I feel like I have to be part of the greater neighborhood property-value paradigm - speaking of downsizing), really wanting to go back to that part-time job I loved and feeling horribly guilty about it - yet still knowing I face the same problem with that as with everything else here, computers and phones to fix for family members, that fence I need to fix so the dog will stop getting out, and MOST importantly, random stuff I've promised the kids: promises that I absolutely MUST keep.  

It's who I am... part of me knows that none of this should be apologized for; but guilt is part of my personality.  I'm thinking about it, no matter what "it" is, even if nobody else is losing sleep over "it".  It sucks sometimes, and it's probably why I'm in this particular boat.  

It'd be one thing if commuterDude.com was THE job.  I really want to step back, downsize, assess, and figure out -- if I REALLY want to -- how I can make a living off of that about which I'm most passionate, and still make ends meet... and, still -- the biggest hurdle -- make sure my family is insured, medically.  That is the tallest, most insurmountable hurdle facing us.  This won't turn into a segue about "Obamacare" or anything like that... but, honestly, it's real.  It's a tough choice, and it's kept me from making the step I'd truly prefer.  A kid that needs braces, surgery that I need for myself, and that scary "what happens if..." element.  

Don't get me wrong --- I *LOVE* what I do at my day job.  I'm not sure many can truly say that.  The bikes and the riding are truly an outlet and escape mechanism... and, sure, horror-of-horrors, if I had to do bikes all day long, I'm sure I'd get sick of it (not bloody likely, but I'd like to find out how long it'd take - HA!).

All in all -- it doesn't REALLY matter that those reviews I'd promised won't materialize.  I'm really apologizing for posting about it and getting all excited, well -- that's a small picture of my reality.  I honestly WANTED to... but, eventually, reality always sets in.  I hate that I put that teaser out there, getting people (and myself, honestly) excited about it... and then realizing that I'm never going to get to it.  In short:  The Light & Motion light is terrific, the Axiom bags are still going strong, Panaracer can't (in my book) do any wrong in the 700x28c tan-sidewall department, and I've created a few hacks that are working well.  One of these days I'll figure out how to push that extra 10%.... but, I'm exhausted.  

On the pathway to being a genuinely happy, well-adjusted, stress-free bicyclist with a day-job, I have to be my own advocate and get some of this self-inflicted stuff off my plate.  Limiting this blog to ride reports only is just one step.  I appreciate your understanding, and rest-assured:  the ride reports will continue.  I receive a lot of positive feedback, for which I'm thankful and grateful, and my goal of highlighting randonneuring and commuting by bicycle as worthy pursuits continues; if for no other reason than to outlast another supposed "commuterdude" in Atlanta whose only goal appears to be giving motorists an outlet to complain about potholes.  I want my Twitter name, pal.  Give it up.

As always - thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the December ride report!


December 14, 2013

Precious Metals


Weather-wise, the hammer has fallen in the KC-area.

The last couple weeks have seen some dips into the teen's for HIGH temperatures, and we've already been glazed a couple times like a frozen donut.... not the GOOD kind, but those artsy pastries with a thin sheen of glaze - because too much would be considered "tacky."  Just enough to be mildly tasty - but somehow leaves one feeling teased or punished.. yet, it's still gloriously, decadently dangerous.  It's not really "winter" so much as it's a lack of nice weather.

It's the season of the car keys, the DNF, the DNS, the reschedule, the "wait until Spring."  

It sucks.

BUT, it's life in the midwestern plains.  I'm told, season after season, that it's a great time to diversify and try a new sport.  Pfffft.  What, like cyclocross?  Okay...  oh, no?  oh... so, running?  Cringe.... next.

A good amount of us try to make-do, waiting patiently for the roads to dry; or, in my case - each year reinventing the (ahem) wheel and building up another winter beater.  This year, if you've followed the social media, it's "The Goat" -- or, as I've recently decided is far more apt: "Deathwish VII."  The Peugeot, obtained slowly over a long period of time from my wife's uncle, is a nice ride... as long as you don't plan on riding it.  This wasn't really apparent while it was dry during its first two voyages on the studded tires.  Noisy, yes... but, manageable.  More than anything, with its 42x21 single-speed drivetrain, it proved very capable and torquey enough for seated climbing on any of the myriad hills dotting my various routes to and from work.  Perfect!

So I'd thought.

I had been willing to forgive all the bonkers, proprietary French sizing of the seat-post, the quill stem.... okay, nearly EVERYthing... simply because I finally HAD a winter-bike again.  Fenders mounted, studded tires fit nicely, good brakes, rear rack -- all parts that were either on the bike already (in the case of all the goofball odd-size stuff), or items I'd had in the garage already.  It wasn't until yesterday morning on the ride to work when other, indeed important, factors became obvious.  Things like geometry!

This won't be a lecture on geometry, why "something" is better than "something+1" -- it's only to say that some of the weird French "character"  (yeah, we'll call it THAT)  had trickled into the frame and fork themselves, apparently.  All straight - nothing cracked, bent, or warped... I checked.... but, what translated as "spirited" when the pavement had been dry began to embody near-terror when the pavement became wet and icy.  I'm not even talking full-on snow here... just a little freezing drizzle on already-treated roads.  

The tires?  Sure... studs must be ridden differently -- after all, one is nearly skating along on 100 or more tiny metal beads, essentially.  You can't carve corners... you need to stay flat, if that's possible, while turning.  In short... the studs WON'T render the rider invincible:  much like 4WD (are you listening, local SUV drivers???), the technology only helps ASSIST in a situation that already requires a modified approach.  So, one still had to ride carefully... the studs, then, do the rest.  That is, of course, assuming you have a nice, stable platform.  

Sure, perhaps, too, I'm not yet used to the Peugeot.  Simply standing up out of the saddle to climb a small rise in the road proved how nervous the front end of this bike behaved... I should have known then.  I've ridden a LOT of different bikes from different eras and builders - and this is the only one that has (short of tallbikes, which I swear are more stable) proven genuinuely "nervous" in the handling category... which is weird for a middle-of-the-road, European, mid-70's sport-touring bike.  It's to the point where I think there may be something wrong with it, somewhere I haven't discovered yet.

It was a short honeymoon.

I've since cancelled my subscription to "Interesting French Stuff Monthly", and have moved back into a standby mode, wherein - like last year - I'll simply wait until the roads prove drier, safer, and very-well plowed indeed before pursuing future winter commutes.  Now that we've had a couple small doses of winter-scare, the roads are in the right shape where studs are effectively in the "overkill" department... and I can't waste a lot of the time I already don't have enough of trying to figure out what's up with the handling characteristics of a bike I'll probably only truly NEED twice a year.  In fact, the Trek 450 is looking AWFULLY good in the guise of a fixed-gear once-in-a-while commuter machine... and those studded tires DO fit... just.

Bah.

The other remarkable bit this week involves local traffic and driver-behavior in general, which reminds me of a quote by Dennis Hopper's character in the ole movie fave "Speed,"  wherein he teases his oppressor in a verbal pissing match, something to the effect of "aw, see?  In 200 years we've gone from 'my only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country', to 'f&*k you?'"  In effect... yeah... we're there:  Ten years ago on a blustery, wintry commute to work I had two separate people offer me a ride to wherever I was going in the short time it took me to make it the last couple miles to the office one particular morning.  Yesterday, by contrast, I had two drivers inform me that I was "an idiot" for riding my bike (in that weather, or in general - I dunno), and one suggested rather eloquently that I get my fine self of the road.  The otherwise abandoned, residential, really-doesn't-go-anywhere road that he and I both happened to occupy at that particular point in time.  Nice.  Although I don't know WHO they are, still, I have a rather keen eye and something of a grudge for certain makes of car, and sometimes bumper stickers and the like, when it comes to keeping an eye out for those that feel it necessary to have words with me, and I took a LOT of personal satisfaction upon arriving at the office, locking up the bike, and walking in.... only to see the first gentleman (the more polite of the two) passing by the crosswalk and heading to the parking garage down the way.  Basically, I'd beaten him to work -- and like a friend on social media outlined:  so, I helped reduce congestion, saved some oil, improved my health, AND arrived earlier than this other motorist, and - somehow - *I'M* the idiot?  Yeah.  

It's been an interesting week, to be sure .... and I've already felt my internal frustration peak a bit, about the twitchy winter "solution" (which I should have test-ridden more before ordering the studded tires), and the state of the city within which I live... and, the opinions of some of the people I work near/with.  (Sigh...)  I need to find a new route to work... or a new city.  TOWN, preferably - if you catch the difference.  

The one-bike-theory isn't a bad one... but, as numb as perhaps I've become from over a decade of riding in traffic around here, to suddenly be VERY aware of how snarly and nasty traffic (and the people IN it) are becoming, I'm beginning to see why my dad stopped riding his motorcycle here, decades ago.  It's getting kinda stupid.  Is that my AGE and the perception that comes with it, or reality????  

Dunno yet.

I'm gonna sleep on it... and, probably ride to work next week, at least once.  

I know, also, that my recent experiences are exceptions to the rule.  
I've had far, far, FAR more uneventful commutes, pleasant commutes, and friendly motorists who occasionally have been known to give a thumbs-up, or a wave, or at least a wide berth when passing... far more of that, preferred behavior, and not-so-much of the wearisome nonsense I'm noticing lately.  The holidays are stressful, the days are short, the sun merely punctuation to long, cold days.  People are on edge.  Heck, *I* probably am, too.  

Deep breath... but, yes:  do find that quieter route, I think.

Tomorrow is another day.


Now, if I can stop wasting time on bikes that AREN'T Surly's Long-Haul Trucker... perhaps I'll be ultimately happier - if not a little lighter in the wallet.  As much as I have a soft spot for interesting frames with interesting stories built from various blends of steel and other precious metals, I've only been talking about a LHT being THE commuter/camper/winter solution for, what.... five years?  More?  

...but, that's another discussion....  




November 30, 2013

well... THAT'S odd...(The November Ride Report)

    
First off, even typing the title (the parenthesized bit) gives me a smile and a shrug of personal disbelief:  it didn't SEEM like I'd checked off November upon finishing this great ride; but, sure enough, one ride to-go and this year is history already.  I'm still on the fence about a December edition - but, especially after conversing about it at work with a close friend ... yeah, it'll happen.  This "rando" thing... this "commuting" thing --- surely on the latter, no - I don't do it as often anymore as I'd ideally prefer; however, that embodies idealism in general - and if it's "only" once a week, that's a GOOD thing, not something to asterisk with "well, I *used* to ..."  Streak, no streak... riding a bicycle still holds value:  slow, fast, plain-clothes, kitted-up, fixed, free, touring, racing, shopping, pubbing....once a day, once a month:  doesn't matter.  

It's what we do.  

Be proud of it; and, if the mood strikes, saddle-up.  If not... dream big, and long for Spring.  There's nothing at all wrong with that.




   Ever since I was a child, thanks to my parents and friends, I quickly started to develop a sarcastic sense of humor.  No, really.  (ok, just stop it.)  While in the early stages of teenhood, we'd often head out on a road trip to Grandma's house, in far flung southwest Missouri - and, along the way out of town on US-71 we'd pass by the signs for Peculiar, MO.  

"well... that's odd.... "   

   No response... not even once.  Either my parents and sister simply couldn't endure the spine-tingling horror of another one of my groaners, or they simply didn't hear me . . . but, it's always been something of a personal inside joke, that particular town's name.  It's a nice little place, and like a lot of towns around here it's actually not so"little" anymore; but, I have to wonder from where the name had originated.  Maybe I should research it... or maybe I should just continue to smile to myself.  Either way, when I started looking for an east-west route to complete my personal "master-plan" of permanent routes that start relatively close to my home-base, Peculiar, MO. ended up sitting in just the right place for roughly 200km of fun-ness.  The route's name, said with that long-forgotten western drawl of a cowboy-type trying to describe somethin' he ain't-never-done-laid-eyes-on-a'fore, became the perfect moniker... even if the route itself isn't really that strange at all.  In fact, it's terrific... only the towns along the way are "strange", perhaps, and hold unique stories of their own... stories of a part of west-central Missouri that time has neglected, of a strong railroad gone-under and the economy that went with it, and of a regional highway network that stole the rest.  

This is the story of The Mighty Peculiar.


The first truly cold ride of the year was upon me..although, for November in eastern KS/western MO., it could have been a LOT worse.  The bag-of-plenty packed, bike at the ready, I headed off into the darkness for Peculiar - and the promise of a hot breakfast at the 24-hour Denny's there.  I've really taken to planning my routes around services like this one; it just makes things a lot nicer for riders.  Heck, this one is centered around the Flying-J travel plaza: with a few small, inexpensive motels nearby, and hot showers within the travel plaza itself - cleaned and maintained via a reservation system for professional over-the-road drivers - it's an oasis of randoneering wish-list items.  Sure beats changing clothes in a cramped bathroom stall, and eating yet another ClifBar after a long day in the saddle!

So far, so good -- Terry sat waiting for me in his truck, fresh from St. Joe, and - honestly - it didn't feel too cold out...certainly the forecast gusty winds hadn't started yet.  Time to eat!

Soon, Gary D. showed up, and the food began to hit the table inside the warm, inviting Denny's.  Even on a weekday, things weren't too busy - we nearly had the place to ourselves upon arriving a bit after 5:15am, the coffee was hot and fresh, and the food top-notch.  Thankfully, any stomach issues were distant memories--- which, in retrospect likely had more to do with me possibly carrying around a stomach bug than the locale last month -- but, it was nice to eat hearty for the day and not end up punished for it.  Checks paid, we three ventured outside and prepared for the journey ahead. 

Third (maybe fourth)  month in a row, we take our sweet time preparing, reconsidering gloves/hats/windbreakers, and don't get our first receipt until about a quarter-after the intended start time of 6:00am.  The air was thick with moisture, cold... the coldest ride-start in months, perhaps in a year, really:  I personally started the ride wearing nearly everything I'd brought with me, including a warm-up layer that I'd intended to take off right before departure and leave in the car.  Instead, the biting, wet air prompted me and my companions to dress far thicker and warmer than originally planned.  We headed out, despite the light winds, braced for cold and puffing clouds of condensed breath from behind face covers.  Even after a few hills, my internal furnace hesitated a few times before truly kicking on and warming my extremities.  BRRRR!!!  As we turned west into a lightening sky, we longed for sunshine and kept a finger or two crossed for no changes in the forecast!

We ambled along on the new route, taking in the growing silhouettes of houses and barns as they appeared out of the darkness along the way, up and over slightly rolling terrain - a good, early warm-up for the first dozen-or-so miles of the ride.  We trailed along behind a school-bus making morning pickups, and then we had the country roads to ourselves while we quietly retraced the old MS-150 route, which used to start at various places, but, in its last years with the old Sedalia destination it had started off north of Peculiar on the same roads Terry, Gary and I pedaled along for this ride - a large part of my route intent.  for as much criticism as it'd received for being "too difficult" for the novice rider (hills), I have fond memories of the annual trek east, toward the promise of cold beer and good music at the old Sedalia MS-Ride overnight event.  

As Gary and I chatted away the cold, early miles discussing custom bikes, frames, racks, gearing and bags, the sun ultimately appeared and began to burn off some of the chill.  Terry only a second or two behind us, we three ate up the mileage - still chilly, but improving - as the wind began to turn up the volume knob, ever-so-slightly.  Expected, and partially welcome:  as the wind would increase, its direction would promise a speedy return trip later in the day!  None of us had enjoyed THAT for months... what a tough year it's been!

As we ate up the remains of State Highway "P", I got my first "cue sheet wake-up call" in a while... being a new route, well, sometimes there are surprises.  The first, a big "Pavement Ends" sign on the right side of the road... 

"uhhhh.... that's not what I remember...."  I muttered... 

Echoing their hesitation, my companions also slowed a bit, while I peered at my copy of the cue and down the road... was that gravel??  surely.... 

Well, no ... it ended up being fine, and I remember distinctly feeling much the same way during my last outing on this road:  the sign remains, but the road surface has long-since been paved over.  No worries after all!  I need to make a note of that on the cue.... ugh... 

Coming off the back-roads, we emerged onto the old "main drag" which had taken thousands of riders east, over the years, to the first MS-150 rest-stop along MO-58 highway.  Part of the reason the MS Society (allegedly) had elected to abandon this route and merge with the Topeka, KS. event involved complaints of MO-58 being too busy a road... and, I'll grant you, in the afternoons it can be:  today, however, light traffic...typical of the morning out this way, the route is designed to keep folks off the main highways (pending your start time) until "rush-hour" is largely over.  For us, it worked out nicely.    

As the cold continued to tug and chew at my fingers and toes, the camera remained nestled cozily in the front bag despite repeated notions to grab it an snap shots.  I already adore this route for its scenery:  the vast and rolling western Missouri landscape contains working and abandoned farms in such density, few miles pass without something interesting to ponder.  When warmer months bless us once again, I'll photo-document the opening miles more completely; but - future riders take note - the mystery is there for the discovering.  I won't, and shouldn't, take TOO many photos, lest I rob anyone of the joys of discovering that awesome old barn for themselves.  

Along route "O", after pushing up several rolling grades and enduring a bit of headwind, a break - and exposing fingers to morning, Fall air finally comes without the urgency to quickly re-glove.  Pictures - I'm learning - help me focus on the chronology and important bits, rather than rambling on - editor-free - about "notmuch."

Thus...

Terry on approach - the 20-year paving plan of rural Missouri exercises the tires and punctuates the hills under the crisp blues and whites of icy-cold fall air, far above us.  The trees are only a few days bare, it seems - the Gales of November have rested, and the leaves are elsewhere.

"That Old Rock Island Line"
Along Highway "O", rural Johnson County, MO.


Looking longingly southeast along the abandoned Rock Island right-of-way, the remnants of a grade-crossing signal & wire box at left (no, not a ramshackle bookshelf).  Thirty-three years of overgrowth clogs any chance of exploration - even in the bug-friendly month of November, but all the steel remains in place - some just a few inches below the grass, some still exposed, and holding strong against time.  Someday in the next ten years, this will all be cleared to make way for the Kansas City extension to the famed KATY Trail.  Yep, it'll make a fine update to this particular route, as it will shortcut perhaps a mile here or there along the way to Chilhowee, MO. -- I'll update the cue by then, but at 216km there's no cheating the mileage on the Mighty-P anyway... trail or no trail.

  The skies a bright blue, wisps of high clouds and a roar from the northeast... a glorious sight, a B-2 bomber flies overhead - good time for a roadside break, Gary and I shed a layer and grab a snack from various bags.  We're greeted by a local farmer headed to the end of her driveway to get picked up by one of her hands, both off to rescue a calf that had gotten out.  Terry catches up shortly afterward, and we talk about .. well, how awesome the weather is proving out.  What a great, great day!  One at a time, we click back into our pedals, and let gravity do the work of getting us back up to pace... "how 'bout them hills??" the sign used to say, stuck in the grass alongside the highway - greeting and taunting MS-riders at the same time, teasing with "5-miles to lunch!" and "almost there!"  I glance occasionally off to the grass lowering beside the road... partially hoping to see one still there.  Has it really been 11 years since my first time out this way?  So many miles since then... and, like an adult returning to their childhood primary school desk - perhaps at a conference for their own kids - I think for a moment, have the hills shrunk?


Gary D., waiting eagerly for me to do whatever it is I have to do at the Casey's in Leeton, MO.  Once upon a time, this was the town for the lunch-stop on the MS-150 route to Sedalia, after some great rollers near Chilhowee.  Today, just another restroom stop - not even a control - on the way to Calhoun.

The Kogs, caught loitering.  Shhhh...!

We watch Terry slip by, undeterred and patient, with a confident and happy wave.  He's a relentless metronome of a rider:  strong, quiet, unwavering.  He's self-described as "not fast", but he always seems to catch up, only minutes behind us - no matter where, or what, or when.  We're all fairly seasoned as a group now, fast approaching the makings of a solid Fleche team one day, I'm sure, with some minor tweaks... which, basically, means we need to start riding like Terry.  Back on the road, Gary and I catch him up after a few minutes... but, it's a slow process, each of us seeming to ride within 2% of the other, on any of our previous six or seven outings.  Consistency is good!


Highway "J", headed southeast into Calhoun, MO.  A terrific stretch of road, on an increasingly gorgeous day.  Gary at the helm, we eat up the road and wander past yet another scenic farmstead as we approach the halfway point of the day's adventure.

Probably the only time of year when the plaid wool and facial hair look appropriate, the obligatory "selfie."

The halfway control comes into view, and we all dismount for some good eats and a rest.  A sure indicator that I'm acclimating nicely to the chillier conditions, it's nearly HOT pulling up to a stop in the full sunshine and southerly winds.  We saunter inside, cards signed --- and, realizing that I'm indeed breaking new ground with this route, I proceed explaining to the confused cashier what the card is for, why it's okay to sign it, and just "what the heck we're doin'."  It's all received well, and before long the inviting food behind the counter attacks our senses - Gary and I begin ordering this and that, and check out with armloads of goodness.  

Chomp!  

Biscuits, chicken strips, gizzards and livers... frog legs on Fridays!?  This is a well-stocked control.  Terry rolls up, and the scene repeats.  Food is stashed away in stomachs and in waiting bags for the road -- the next fifty miles won't have a lick of services, so, despite the chilly air, an extra 20oz. bottle of water makes its way into my saddlebag, just in case.  

We all proceed to pack up and lash this and that to the tops of bags and racks, second-guessing ourselves at least three times.  Is it warmer in the sun?  Is the wind increasing?  What's the temperature now?  Layers on... layers off again.... the first relatively cold, layer-heavy ride of the season proves again:  we're out of practice!  

Under or over-dressed yet to be decided, we roll out -- the wind at our backs!

(you have no idea how nice it is to type THAT!)



On the way out of Calhoun, the inevitable questions of earlier came to their answers, as sweat began to roll down my back as I pedaled along... yep, too hot... overdressed.
Unconcerned, I stop and begin the process of shedding and storing layers... almost too many layers for my ample saddlebag to handle - thank goodness for external lashings and d-rings.  Gary begins to shrink on the immediate horizon, and then Terry slips by - atop a hill, next to a farm gate off the road along highway "J", under a deep blue canopy of heaven - grass and tree limbs singing, and a distant hawk crying with joy beyond... man... what a great day to not be in a hurry... the thought was fleeting; but, honestly, after recent weeks and workstress - in a terrible hurry was the last thing I wanted to be.  It was like, standing on that hilltop watching Terry and Gary become distant dots on the horizon while I wrapped up my extra layers and took long gazes into the distance ... I finally understood the point that Spencer and a what I remember of a few guys down in the Texas LSR (Lone Star Randonneurs) club were talking about:


I flash back to February, 2008 - I'm on a great section of Texas highway shoulder, on the way to the first control, chatting it up with Ort of Texas and enjoying the mild weather... almost 600 miles south of the ice storm and freezing temps of Olathe.  Ort described the LSR scene, at that time, a part of which he'd only been a member for a few months; he talked of the guys now called the "K-Hounds" - a fast-but-friendly, hard-edged-yet-encouraging and well-drilled group of front-runners who'd polished their rando-routine to a high sheen.  From the outside looking in, it might have seemed to most that the entire LSR group would be tough to hang with... but, not so:  he went on to describe a polar-opposite group of LSR riders, serious in their pursuits, yet somehow more casual.  Sneakers and flat pedals, and a determined goal to finish ... but to finish and use ALL the allotted time to do so.  At the time, I was dismissive of the mere notion of riding slow and taking one's time on purpose - but, therein, I think I'd missed the point.  A finish is a finish... 8 hours, or 13 hours:  the ACP doesn't care, nor does RUSA.... so why do *I*?  Make no mistake... those tennis-shoe'd riders were indeed strong, and consistent, and able to time things JUST so... for maximum enjoyment and ride time.  After all, if one is out there to enjoy the day, and the day is as good as it is long, why on Earth would one be in a hurry??  

Meanwhile, I recall reading a ride report from a 600km event, written by our own Spencer - wherein, while my writing style had been busy outlining my struggles and hardships in great detail, HIS ride report mentioned only one, true issue during his 600k:  that (paraphrased:) on day three, sometimes a feeling resembling sadness would set in - because the end of the riding was drawing to its inevitable close.  I had never understood what he'd meant - not really - not until very recently.
Perhaps it's a convenient justification for me as I've noticed my average speeds leveling off, along with my anxiousness about those numbers, that my new motivation is to just slow down and enjoy -- but, after reaching the halfway and beginning to reap the benefits of a strong and growing tailwind, I found myself in LESS of a hurry... not quite so anxious to take maximum advantage of the speed assistance.  I took one more long look around, and then mounted up -- first motivated to catch.... then, more reserved.  The tank was full.  I felt fantastic.  No gut issues.  No saddle issues.  I just ... relatively-speaking ...became keen on enjoying the day itself, not worrying about what time it showed on the clock, nor what time I thought I might finish.  

For once, I just RODE.


State Route CC, a great ribbon of road in Henry County, MO., connecting not-much-of-anything to MO-13 to the west.  Hilly, scenic, rustic pavement... a treat to ride!

A bit later down the same piece of Route CC, the road pitching upward and around the bend - out of sight.

Still content to take my time... which is to say, "It's difficult to chase what you can't see," I took in the sights, smells and sounds of the route, meandering along Route CC toward the west and the bottom portion of the Mighty Peculiar loop.  Along the way I happened upon Terry taking a quick roadside break - but, Gary... gosh, who knew if I'd see him again anytime soon.  I seem to have, however, learned from my past shortcomings with regards to knowing the land, and landmarks, of a new route... compared to the Border Patrol route, for example; which I've ridden perhaps 15 times, and it wasn't until visit #10 that another rider had to point out a scenic marker that I'd never noticed before... despite it being maybe only 10 feet off the road.  Surely I'd missed some of the smaller, yet-to-be-discovered details on this new route -- but, for the most part, I don't know if I missed much, my head on a swivel as I rode past barn after barn.


Lone grain silo along Route CC

Looking north at the intersection of MO-13 and Route CC, a nice old house atop a hill


... and, looking south at MO-13 and Route CC, another fine example.

Along Route M, and typical of the 2nd half of the ride:  it's best described as "a whole lotta nothin'"
If you enjoy long, uninterrupted stretches of road, this is your ride.  It reminds me a lot of some of Bob's old routes, way up north of Liberty, and such.


Blairstown, MO., looking SW at Main Street and Route N.  Old telegraph office??
  
The old feed store, Blairstown, MO.  Aside from a few businesses clinging to life and a post office, there didn't seem to be much here... and certainly nothing a randonneur would call "services."  My favorite part:  the giant statement "No Water" hastily spray-painted on the side of the local firearms shop.  Errr, yeah... moving on, then...

Unfortunately, a lot of cars in various states of repair sat scattered around the town - and in this shot, they block all of the interesting bits of this site, the remains of an old corner gas-station.  The stonework appears to be in good shape, but it also appears some of it has been removed since my last visit.  Other items removed include the old gas pumps - who knows where they ended up.  The intersection of the tree in the background and the remains of one of the stonework awning supports is purely accidental.


The Blairstown Post Office.  I hung around town for perhaps 15 minutes, taking the opportunity to have a snack and shed yet another layer as the day warmed.  I didn't see a soul.

Highway N, west of Blairstown.  More of the same:  trees lining the road, rolling terrain, old farmsteads.  Good riding!
   
An old schoolhouse, perhaps?

The sunlit side of the schoolhouse.  Sunlight.... 10-12 hours of exposure in fall-like temps do wonders for acclimation, and, at this point, I had begun to take on a full sweat.  Another layer comes off.  Whoooof, and it's probably only in the mid-50's F.  
  
Highway N seems to stretch forever . . . long enough for me to think... "hmmm, did I miss the turn?"
The answer was "no".. I hadn't reached it yet; but, after stopping I got a good chuckle when I noticed the roadsign next to me reads "Lost Rd."  Good timing... It's one mile from the turn I'd been looking for.  So, if you ride this and you reach "Lost Rd.", take heart... you're not lost!
  
Highway ZZ, and more rolling hills.  If I'd had a permanent marker in my bag, I'd have been very tempted to add the word "Top", underneath the "ZZ" on the roadsign... but, we don't condone that sort of houliganishness around these parts.  But, heading north with a strong tailwind pushing us along, we did feel on "top" of the world.  The horizon far distant, and the afternoon's lengthening shadows coaxing more speed, Terry and I found each other along the way and traded road positions a few times.

Horses and a donkey occupy this farm near the edge of La Tour, MO. -- vive La Tour!

Along Highway M... no, a different one... south of Gunn City, MO.  Shadow Riders, Terry and I make our way to the penultimate control, thankfully only five miles distant as I sip down the last of my water.

Signs of a more prosperous time, an abandoned gas station in Gunn City, MO.

Moments from the East Lynne, MO. control, an old bridge 


Terry and I finally make the East Lynne, MO. control after the 50.4 mile jaunt from Calhoun.  Spirits high, but tired, we both take to the inside, get our cards signed and eat something while refilling our bottles.  Checking the sun angle once more, it seems we'd only have 30 minutes of daylight left - so, the regular glasses come back out of hiding, along with a few layers to put back on.  This time of year, when the sun goes away the heat quickly follows.  Finally feeling good after several ounces of water (slight headache coming on?), we mount up and start to make our way back out.  Gary?  Heck... haven't seen him.  Not even a glimpse on the horizon, and Terry tactfully and purposefully does NOT ask the lady working the counter how long it'd been since his passage.  Things like that, best to keep them out of our heads -- and he's taught me another solid lesson there.  After all, having that info... what good would it do me now?  Confirm the obvious?  Why mess with that... ride your own ride, 'dude.  Satisfied, with extra grub at the ready in the front bag, Terry and I saddled up for the last dozen or so miles to the finish.  Twenty, tops.  Breezes dying, heat leaving, and shadows growing very long... time to move out.    



My headlight beam lights the way as we are treated to an amazing sunset.  Perhaps 10 hours earlier, we'd witnessed a great sunrise, the same way.  Awesome day... fully played out from the bike seat.  Only a bit later, we turn off of Route K for the final few turns east and north, back to Peculiar, MO.  The landmarks of progress come quickly on this part of the route, by design: on the local roads instead of the highways, the finish is quiet and easy to navigate.  We cross highway MO-7, then some railroad tracks, then MO-291... check, check, check... the miles melt away.

Perhaps three or four miles out, the lights of the Peculiar, MO. truck stop are clearly visible as Terry and I check off the last few turns.  The evening sky is breath-taking, as are the last couple surprise hills - thrown in, just for kicks.

Photo of the day -- just look at that beaming smile.  Gary D., earlier in the day as we pause along Route "O".  His expression seems to last mile after mile, hill after hill - and it's infectious.  That attitude, along with his '80's RAAM pedigree and his no-nonsense approach to riding in general, it's a treat to share miles with this guy.  Schedules are changing, winter is approaching fast - so, it's hard to tell if I'll get the opportunity to spend as many miles in the immediate future as I have this year with "the boys", but it's been a real pleasure.  This image probably sums up how our little group handles rando... a little bit of "hurry-up," balanced with a smile and a good laugh.  Cheers, mates!

After 11 hours and some change (okay, a LOT of change), The Mighty Peculiar - no, we didn't break any records.  The weather was kind, and the miles came easy... easier for Gary, obviously: as we'd later discover he'd finished nearly 50 minutes ahead of us!  (And, yes, he's still riding that old, garage-sale acquired Astro-Daimler 10-speed!)  All in all, however, the wind was kind, and the temperatures for November???  Wow....!  What an awesome ride!  Note to self, however:  if I could have changed one thing, it might have been to add toe warmers for the first 30 miles - but, really, that's me searching for a complaint... aside from that, absolutely zero to complain about!  

Looking forward to December... yep... still on the fence.  I have to make sure I keep a close eye on the "fun meter," because - going back to a recent conversation at the office with a fellow cyclist, if it isn't fun, why am I out there??  Surely as the sun will rise and the midwestern plains-states weather will remain difficult to forecast, a rare, mild December week will materialize - and hopefully I get the timing just-so to enjoy the benefits.  Considering the KCUC crew in general already had a wintry, snowy ride back in March, maybe I'll get a break? 

Ha.... right.... 




Thanks for reading, as always --- and stay tuned!



November 20, 2013

Peculiar success!

Wanted to post a quick note that yesterday's maiden-voyage of the new Mighty Peculiar route came through as a rousing success!  Many thanks to Gary and Terry for coming along for the adventure -- a great morning, awesome sunrise, lots of scenery, lots of good hills, a tailwind finish (!), and a great sunset over the western Missouri countryside.  Great day!  

Stay tuned for photos and the usual ride report... 
Now, with three of these darn R-12 things under my belt... am I REALLY gonna push my luck with a December attempt?  Hard to fathom, knowing that I've wrapped up 11 especially challenging months of brevets and permanents now with this nearly-perfect November:  a tailwind?  60 degrees?   Wow, that was NICE... 

So, stay tuned.... yeah, yeah, I'll probably keep the streak going, but man... if yesterday had to be my last ride for a while, I can rest happy.  Awesome day!


November 11, 2013

Coming Soon! Reviews, wrap-ups, & long-term tests

  A long-standing and genuine hope of mine has involved running the occasional product review on this site, geared specifically toward the commuter and randonneur - and, with some extra time finally cropping up here and there, well, it's time to make good on some long-standing teasers.  

Speaking of teasers, this is NOT that post... not yet!  (booo!)   
To whet the whistle, however, prepare for a few of the following:


  • Long-term wrap-up:  Specialized Espoir Elite 700x25 tires
  • Gilles Berthoud Aspin Leatherline saddle:  the first 1,000 miles
  • Long-term update:  Axiom Monsoon waterproof panniers - STILL going strong!
  • Long-term report:  Blackburn Flea - will this thing EVER die?
  • Initial Impressions & Why You Need a Helmet Light:  The Light & Motion Urban Series hits LBS shelves
  • For Better or Worse?  Panaracer updates the venerable Pasela tire lineup

So, aside from the usual ride reports, it's time to throw more meat on the grille in the c'Dude shop!
Stay tuned! 



November 10, 2013

The Flint Hills Report

After a few hiccups, the Flint Hills ride report from October is up and working again... sorry for the mess this might have caused in anyone's RSS or reader... but, this should be all figured out now... enjoy!



November 9, 2013

Something's in the water...(A Flint Hills tale)

Update:  Videos corrected!

Bout time, eh...  ehhhhhhhhh    /Arthur Fonzerelli

     September and October, for me, represent one of my busier times of the year regarding family activities - and 2013 has been the busiest ever.  I purposefully placed the October ride, therefore, at the back end of all the hectic activities to serve as a big stress reliever and personal vacation opportunity.  I looked forward to the Flint Hills route in a big way for those reasons - yet, no matter when I'd have scheduled this ride, the scenery, history, and absolute marvel of the Flint Hills region of Kansas is always worth the drive.  Nestled comfortably at the crossroads of the Santa Fe Trail (mostly overlayed by US-56) and the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway (K-177) sits Council Grove, KS., which once represented the last major resupply station for pioneers headed southwest across the great open prairie in the mid 1800's.  Beyond the city limits, the landscape hasn't changed much in 150 years - I like that.  Lots.  This was going to be a great trip - awesome weather on tap, if not a little windy... but, as I recall reading, and experiencing, several times along many Kansas routes:  "it's Kansas... it's AL-ways windy."

Cool temps, Kansas breezes, and no rain ... wow!  Compared to last year's edition, that last element alone proved most exciting, but, with the new bags and plenty of room for extra layers, the wool cap, and more - who cares?  I like being in this particular place in my cycling evolution:  the weather can do whatever it will:  Especially after this spring's brevet series, I am prepared for, and comfortable in, whatever comes.  Just get on, and ride!  First, however...a close second to a long bike ride... road trip!  I like a good, long car-ride.  

Weird scheduling, but it'd have to do; Glen and Terry came along for this month's ride - and Glen brings along the RAAM-wagen... complete, stocked, ready... sleeps 3 comfortably, with all their bikes and gear.  It's paradise on wheels - no lie.  Yeah, I like my routine, I like my space, I like having things laid out "just-so"... but, that kind of anxiety is becoming less and less of a personal issue as time passes, especially in the face of a 3-way gas-money split that comes in far less than a hotel room - a sleeping space far more comfortable than my reclined driver's seat - and the ability to get ready for a ride with a lot of extra time in the bank.  Heck, this place even has a shower and restroom inside... what's NOT to like??  It's new, different, and it takes someone like me a few trials to get comfortable... but, yeah:  the idea of an RV in my future is sorta making sense.  Maybe a VW Eurovan, with the camper pop-up.... THAT has popped into my head a LOT recently.  It's like the Astro van I used to have... but better.  (Unless Chevy made an Astro conversion that I don't remember?)

The RAAMwagen heads west as sunset approaches

The only concern with the RV (which is a smaller, Dual-wheel van-chassis) is finding adequate (and free) parking somewhere in town, which Glen knows all the angles:  easy.  We rolled into Council Grove with sunlight to spare, parked, secured everything, and picked a place to eat dinner.  Now, I'm a bit of a mess, personally, sometimes.  I've got a pretty narrow margin for error when it comes to food, being a vegetarian since '97.  That alone produces plenty of challenges while riding -- but, I really didn't start riding longer distances until 2002 - so, it's not like things USED to be easy, and now I've made them more difficult.  I don't like making MY issues and choices a difficulty for anyone else:  which is why a lot of people are consistently surprised when they learn about this and other things about me.  I try not to wear these things like an arm-band:  they are my choices, and I don't get weird or stand-uppity when other people make their choices in front of me.  On that note, I learned a long time ago that I don't have to limit WHERE I eat... just "what"...and it seems that even in small-town America, the term "vegetarian" doesn't make somebody sound like they're from Mars, like it used to.

As an example, we elected to try out the famous Hayes House restaurant on main street - famous for being the oldest continuously operated restaurant west of the Mississippi River - originally opened to serve it's first meal in 1857.  Now, this isn't a restaurant review - but, the food, service, atmosphere all proved great.  Good smells, clean, stocked salad bar, quick service.  All good stuff, but, the dinner menu is probably "$$ - $$$", as most charts would read for dinner.  I was excited and pleased to see "vegetarian platter" on the menu, too - which, for a state and region founded on cattle and good beef... well, I was impressed they'd even considered it.  Of course, with the ride coming up, I gave the vegetarian platter the usual pass-by, (and it PROBABLY would have fueled me just perfect... I need to get out of some old habits here.) and I chose instead the pasta-based meal, with 4-cheese sauce and breadcrumb topping...baked... yummy.  Now, this may have been an issue, but in most places it seldom is:  on the menu, the description included bacon mixed in with the breadcrumbs... but, that's an easy deletion.  Waiter asked, request affirmed, and delivered - no issues that I could see or taste, so no biggie.  I can eat anywhere, with a few tweaks.  Tasted like magic, good salad, tasty bread.  Desert?  Mmmmm, pie.....  Ahhh...game fuel!  


One of the old brick buildings along main street, Council Grove, KS.  Typical of the period, these brick faces serve well as advertising space, and more recently for interesting town murals depending on where one finds themselves.  This one, also typical, shows decades of building occupancy changes and progress.  It's hard to see under the layers, but an old GM/Delco parts logo on top of "something-Block", on top of something else occupies the top half, and a hand-painted rendition of the famous Coca-Cola logo on the bottom half.  Old-school Americana at its finest line both sides of main-street Council Grove, a great town!

Sun setting, Glen's camera looks further down main street, 19th century flat-front brick and stone with ornate touches dominate.  Long paved-over brickwork still peeks through holes left by hunks of missing asphalt - and, aside from the modern roadsigns, occasional neon, and abundance of late-20th century sheet-metal parked up and down the way, anything taller than 20 feet or so looks the way it did when horsepower was counted on one hand.


   The sun dipped as we crawled back into the RV and headed out of town toward the Corp of Engineers lake north of town, and their well-maintained campsites.  We had the place to ourselves - with cold air on the move and only a week until the gates would be shut for the winter, the place was literally deserted.  Only one vehicle came through while we were awake, and the highway was quiet and far enough away that we couldn't really hear it at all.  Camping perfection... and, another plus, the walls of an RV are much thicker than those of a tent.  Yeah, I know that's not really the point - but, it was nice to bed down without shivering... which really speaks about my inability to build a good fire, and is not really a bash against tent camping.  
Seems like, however, in either case - camping takes some time and set-up.  You can't ever really just "park" an RV.  Glen skillfully went through the checklist of leveling the camper, hooking up the water and electricity, and converting the tables and benches into beds and producing sheets and blankets from various cabinets.  I'm pretty sure that, if it came to a race, setting up a tent would take about the same amount of time.  So, yeah -- it's just another way of doing things - but, it's a far cry more comfortable inside Glen's RV compared to the last time I unrolled my sleeping pad onto a random patch of ground.

The night's sleep was restful, nearly perfect -- and accompanied by lots of yawning and post-meal lethargy, timely, as well.  Each of us settled-in, the lights went out, and it took mere minutes for me to drift off.  I woke up once, barely remembering where I'd been, and peered out the side window - which faced east - at the rising moon, a lonely, orange-ish disc slowly crawling up the trees surrounding the campground.  Pulling the shade down a bit, I drifted off once more - and that was it until my alarm sounded at 5:00am.  

We rose right at the alarm, and instantly the action began.  Bags appeared, Terry took off for the shower-house up the hill, and Glen slipped into the RV's bathroom for his shower.  I unpacked and laid out my assorted gear.  The wind was nearly non-existent, and the temps... not too bad... both items arriving as good news compared to the way forecasts had read the night before.  We'd all been quietly dreading the results of a promised tailwind on the way out of town, which would, by consequence, make for a long, tiresome slog back north into it.  Maybe this won't be so bad?  


Eventually, it was my turn for a shower - and it was an interesting experience showering in an RV... maybe hotel rooms are worth the cost after all?  I dunno... I can't really call it a make-or-break deal, because the water was clean and hot and it definitely woke me up, and I only had to move about 10 feet to get to it.  Combine with the notion that not all small towns have hotels, well, you get the idea.  All considered, yeah -- it's a REALLY small shower, as showers go... but, it worked fine.  I got out, and dried off, and got into the leg warmers and shorts.  That's when a coughing fit ensued.  I've never had this experience - nothing had been eaten yet.  I downed some bottled water at wake-up, but that was all.  Still, thick mucus began to boil up from below - feeling a little like heartburn - and, ultimately, things progressed enough to activate "the button."  The details will be held back - but, clearly something wasn't happy in Stomachville, and I still can't figure out exactly what it'd been.  Maybe something was in the water.... or the pie?  A lot of things are possible... maybe some bacon sneaked past my sonar nets, maybe it was a temporary bug, maybe it was just the phlegm triggering an involuntary reaction -- but, the damage was done.  The other unfortunate item about an RV; you certainly can't be shy or want for privacy.  I'm not sure if either of my RV companions heard the ruckus - but I'm sure it didn't sound all that good from the other side of the door.  Everything cleaned and sanitized, I emerged after a REALLY long interval, and proceeded to continue dressing for the day's event.  

Sometimes, if a short-term bug IS to blame, clearing the upper GI system provides almost instant relief.  In this case, I did feel a little bit more awake - but queasy, and like I'd been punched in the gut.  More bottled water, please, to hopefully negate any fluid losses.  I finished dressing - feeling cold and weary and not even underway yet... not a good sign.  

Strangely, I felt good enough to feel hungry -- maybe that was a good sign?  Getting in enough water, the smell of hot coffee and breakfast food filled the air and met with positive vibes -- back once again at the Hayes House.  Ok.... so, logic dictates that if one seems to think a certain restaurant may have been partly responsible for stomach distress, that one wouldn't intentionally return within a short timeframe to the same establishment.  The chances of my issues truly being the fault of the restaurant, however -- especially with a full meal-genre change -- seemed pretty slim.  So... breakfast, something hot, something OTHER than c-store food, still spoke louder than whatever had popped up in the previous hour.  

We met up with Del G. from central KS., chatted for a few minutes, and found our way to a table.  Del had ridden with us (er, me) back in April, as he'd come into town for the Oak Grove 300k... otherwise known as the "headwind of doom ride", and before that I'd met him on the "Snowpocalypse 200k" only a few weeks earlier.  His normal mode of cycling is long-distance self-supported touring, so there isn't much you can toss his way that he can't handle, readily.  

Hot coffee tasted great, water chaser, and a short stack of basic pancakes and maple syrup... can't go wrong.  Excellent food, and the breakfast prices are super-cheap ... great value.  With breakfast accounted for, we relocated to the start-area, and started to unpack the gear and bikes for the ride.  Waivers and checks handled quickly, and final layers chosen, it was only a matter of minutes before we'd be off, on the road to the Flint Hills!

Uh oh... this time, a definite gurgle from below after swallowing my usual morning vitamins and such with another small bottle of water from the fridge.  At this point, I was starting to get frustrated - but, the thought of NOT riding (at least starting) never really took hold in my mind.  I, instead, stepped back into the RV restroom - and the "evil from within" proceeded to "smack the button" once more.  

Uuuuffff..... more cleanup in aisle "B", I emerged again, this time feeling a bit more shredded - a  bit less easy.  Glen may have mistaken my groans and cumbersome for hesitation about the weather or the promise of the headwind... hard to tell...but, words of encouragement came my way.  He's a good "voice of reason" sometimes... and I continued my start-up routine, ultimately rolling out for the c-store only a half-block away.

Here's where I stop remembering things.

Now, clearly I know I was there -- I know I was riding a bike; but, my usual eidetic memory (with regards to rides - unless it involves skunks) seemed to go offline here.  I don't really remember the long climb out of town, the sunrise, or what/when/where we passed anything notable visually, audibly, or otherwise.  Things like the big barn on top of the ridge, a few photos down, were explained to me by my constant companion, Del, but the information came in transcendental waves, between jaw-dropping stares at the vastness and the clarity of dawn, and the heavy exhales of a man not quite at ease, physically, with whatever it was he'd eaten.

Here, the photo log is dominated by Glen's shots, as I often thought about snapping a photo or two - but found myself once again frustrated by compromised equipment... this time, wool gloves vs. the slide-to-take-a-picture touchscreen of my "smarter-than-YOU, silly rider"-phone.  I know there are "silver thread", touch-screen friendly gloves for phone users, but I file that under "really?  we can't stop for a second to take off our gloves?".... and since that's compounded further by being on a bicycle, I find it safer to simply wait until later for pictures --- unless I want to stop.   ANYhow.... The pics will speak for a little bit:


First, I need to give Glen a hard time for not setting the time/date on his phone after his last battery swap.  He,he... this isn't a glimpse into the 2007 New Year's Day ride, no.. this is indeed October 22nd, 2013.  :)
As the sun lightens the sky to our east, the flash captures the effectiveness of our reflective gear.  Here, Terry and Del sit only a moment behind me as we make our way into the vast Flint Hills region, only having left Council Grove an hour earlier.  I'm still amazed at the reflective power of the French-made L2S, Randonnuers-USA logo'd reflective wind vests.  The European safety standard is a little further ahead than our DOT and CPSC standards, and I remember prior to P-B-P in 2007 there was a mad scramble to get the Euro-spec reflective vests (a P-B-P night AND day-time requirement for all entrants - an event first that year), because the USA ANSI-Class2 and such wasn't up to the requirements.  Granted, I'm not sure the human eye of the common motorist can even tell the difference, as both the ANSI and EU reflective material is VERY bright, but shots like these seem to show that - wet or dry - the European reflective tape is just a smidge more intense.  I'm not saying YOU need to spend $$$$ on a fancy imported vest (but if you do, visit the RUSA store) - but, I am suggesting that ANY true 2"-reflective tape ANSI-certified vest is a good purchase for any touring or commuting cyclist.

I love the majesty and defiance represented by the occasional lone tree out on the big Kansas Prairie.  Today would prove no exception, as I'd mentioned before:  it's always windy, there is no shelter from biting and harsh north winds in the winter, and brutal, blazing sunshine in the summer.  I find it remarkable for ANYTHING other than native grasses and scrub to take root, and a testament to the tenacity of nature at the edges of survivable climates.  We randonneurs - me especially - often wax poetic how we can appear to stand out in the same way on these long, open stretches of highway.  Just as I view the lone tree's majestic standoff against its surroundings, I wonder how many motorists see us - if only for a moment - as representatives of the potential of the human spirit.  Just as I occasionally happen upon a long-distance runner miles from nothing on the occasional bike ride, am am fascinated... "how did she get out HERE???"  Wow.  If I might be so bold - yes, the shot above has yours truly as its subject - the image of a lone cyclist against the backdrop of a road extending to infinity, and a stark landscape beneath an endless sky... this is rando.  

More awesomeness, we approach "the barn" at the top of a ridge - which, if I recall, separates the rolling Flint Hills from the high plains to the north.  It's the highest point for miles, and looms like a monolith against an endless blue sky as we approach.  Del here would stay close-by as I continue to struggle with something resembling dehydration, exhaustion... whatever it was, I know I felt like I'd been shoving through the last 20 miles of a 200k... not the FIRST 20 miles.  I also, however, knew that it would pass.  Unfortunately, this is the time I crawl inside my own head... try to fill it with positive, simple thoughts:  pedal.  breathe.  pedal.  look around.  repeat.  Other than the situation that placed me in that particular mode, I had no complaints:  Temperatures?  Perfect.  Company?  The best.  Scenery?  Please.  What magnificence lay ahead!

The old stone schoolhouse (Lower Fox Creek School?), atop another hill - timeless guardian of the memory of a time gone by.

Whomever lived here had lived well - a proud property, now safeguarded within the confines of the Flint Hill's Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.  An awesome spectacle, and a reminder that all of this... ALL of our surroundings as far as our vision could stretch, up to 13,000 acres at one point, had been held by one family.

The massive, all stone barn and adjacent silo on the NTP property.  The three-story stone mansion (above) is out of frame at right.  Both were constructed of stone quarried near Cottonwood Falls, to the south, including (not certain if all or most or any of it is still in place) the once 30-mile long, 5-foot high stone fence encircling the 7,000+ acres of the original ranch.

The Santa Fe railroad depot just on the edge of Strong City, KS., near where Highway 50 and K-177 cross.  We were treated to a couple train fly-bys here as we cycled through.

The bicycle and the tree, near Matfield Green, KS.


At this point, my situation had begun to improve, the gloves had come off, and the camera is out.  Terry and Glen are "miles ahead" (really, they were only minutes ahead, just around the corner), and Del and I become engrossed in conversation and sightseeing.  Above, a BNSF freighter cuts across the prairie, as the railroad has since the mid 1800's.  Change the motive power to steam, the process to black & white, this scene remains unchanged by time.  Note the nearly-full moon directly above locomotive #3, edging closer to the western horizon.  The depth and clarity of the Kansas sky can't be captured by something as "human" as a digital photo.  I highly recommend making this trip for yourself, and taking a moment to stop and stare up into the infinite.  Agoraphobes need not apply.

As K-177 winds and dips around the landscape, the railroad must do its best to stay level and minimize gradients - the railroad's engineers and builders often faced the improbable task of moving massive amounts of earth, or simply following the landscape's highest line.  Here, many feet above us, another freight train waits for it's southbound companion to pass, as each must negotiate the same single mainline beyond.  The signalman, semaphore and lantern have long-since been replaced with radio, telemetry and digital control - but, the waiting game is the same.  Giant iron hulks thumping and pulsing with energy, spitting bursts of air and ticks of unbridled electricity, resting ready until their taskmasters shout permission to let loose the strength of 16,000 horses upon patient steel rails:  the soundtrack of 150 years of American commerce.
Friendly competition:  Union Pacific automobile cars on a BNSF train and line, crossing a modern concrete and steel trestle.  The railroad was here first, the bridge only necessitated by the coming age of the automobile as engineers learn to undercut and shore-up old hillsides to make way for the new "concrete railroad" - a misnomer to be sure, but an oft-heard moniker for the new network of highways zig-zagging the prairie, as the 20th century took hold.  Once nearly silent as the age of the motorcar ran rampant, the 21st century has seen a railroad renaissance in the face of rising energy costs aside ever-higher demand for goods.  The railroad will never die.


Built in 1936 - the railroad proved resilient, even during the Great Depression, with nearly constant right-of-way improvements taking place steadily and providing American jobs for decades to a lucky few, comparative to the scores of unemployed across the nation.  A railroad or highwayman's job was a proud badge - and still is today, in my book.  It would have been neat to see the original wooden plank bridge which this concrete and steel had replaced - but, such is the case across nearly all of the original bridges and trestles, which had already been approaching 100-years of service when this plaque was set into it's concrete.  This bridge, though iron oxide seeps to the surface amid scattered surface patchings, likely won't need replacement until 2036 - which is the railroad's design standard to this day.  Built-to-last.


Zoom to full-screen on this shot, and see another scene cut from another time:  Honest-to-goodness horse-mounted cowboys, at work on the range corralling cattle.  Only the power-cables in the far background lend a time-stamp to an otherwise classic vista.

The sign-posts are the tallest thing for miles, as Del and I pedal onward to Cassoday, KS.

Aged barnwood, some shade, and a place to rest - the Cassoday Country Store is a welcome stop.  Terry swaps layers and takes in calories for the next leg of our journey.

I greet the other half of our riding party with a hearty thumbs-up and a grunt as I waltz into the Cassoday Country store.  The previous hours have given way to an improved state, my speed had begun to improve, and the calories taken in back at Cottonwood Falls (which I barely remember having passed through), proved priceless.  Hydrated, feeling fresh, the day became suddenly as bright as the skies above had been.  Perfect weather for wool, camera pointing everywhere, and a spring in the pedal stroke -- it took far longer than the usual "just give it 15-minutes" mantra... but, things finally had passed.  Regrouped at Cassoday, Glen, Terry, Del and I enjoyed the comfort of the benches inside as we crunched and slurped up the needed grub for the next leg of our ride to the halfway point at El Dorado, KS.  The wind from the north, however helpful at that moment, would begin to occupy our minds the closer we came to heading back north.  Confident, and determined to not let anything get to me after having endured a tough 45 miles or so, I placed the thoughts of headwinds and struggles in my saddlebag under lock and key, and saddled up for the highway once more.  



All smiles finally - rockin' the full-sleeve RUSA jersey, and enjoying a weird cross/tailwind of increasing strength, the fuel on-boarded at Cassoday proves perfect as we eat up road on the way to El Dorado.  It's still very scenic here, but we're slowly slipping out of the actual "scenic byway" region.  No complaints -- it's a far-bit more scenic than where I spend my weekdays.  A little concerning are the criss-crossing rubber marks we occasionally see -- but, traffic is extremely light, almost all the time.  Strikes me this would be a "sleepy" highway at night, however - so maybe that's the case here.  

After turning north and climbing over another set of railroad tracks, we get the full force of the tailwind and begin zipping along at 27MPH.  In the process we zip across one of the arms of El Dorado Lake.  Last time Glen and I came out this way, a full-on thunderstorm raged nearby!  This time, full sunshine!  Never know what October will bring!


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 A taste of high-speed tailwind-driven pleasure along K-177, heading due south toward our halfway control.  Good times!

After enjoying a nice sit-down at the halfway control, the headwind makes itself known, and the cameras hide back in their bags for a while.  After fighting for a bit to make up the former tailwind section, we ultimately turn back east and get something of a break.  Paralleling the railroad again, I'm treated to a coal-train fly-by while I try to chase (unsuccessfully) the tiny figure of Glen on the road ahead.

A reminder that wind-power is nothing new.  Nearing Cassoday, I grabbed this shot of gorgeous sky and puffy clouds, and then encountered a couple of long-distance cyclotourists, fully loaded, making their way west along our previous route.  Waves exchanged and such, I'm left wondering where they were ultimately headed... and couldn't help dreaming of a time where I, too, could load up and discover what else is out there in western KS.  A neat moment on the road.

Del and I, together again after Cassoday, we do battle with unchecked headwinds from the north as we (sometimes almost literally) crawl and claw our way back toward Council Grove, KS.  Here, we approach the same railroad bridge as earlier, this time quite a bit slower going - but even more gorgeous of a day all around.

Good news on the road sign - but the wind had been taking a toll.  We would arrive at Cottonwood Falls a full 2 hours later.  For some reason, spirits remained high -- but forward progress became real work.

Another shot of full sunshine, and a passing train.  Never gets old!


Passing Bazaar, KS., and the cemetery there.

Horse and Donkey.

Silver horse.


While I drop back a bit to get this shot, I'm reminded how much more difficult battling a headwind alone can be - but, after the trials of the morning behind me, I'm finding very little to frown about.  It's a great, great day in the country!  Ahead, Terry is FINALLY caught, after hours of seeing him just ahead on the road to Cottonwood Falls.  Glen is only a memory, obviously the strong-man of the day and time-trialing his way home, literally miles ahead this time.  By the time we'd reach Cottonwood Falls, Glen (according to the c-store employee) was perhaps 45-minutes gone.  Amazing in that wind!    


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Here, after catching back up from taking the shot above, Del and Terry climb out a particularly long and windy grade, as we finally get Cottonwood Falls into our sights.  The shadows are growing longer, however, and soon we'd be resorting ourselves to finishing under nightfall.  (no complaints from me!)  The microphone noise and flapping reflective vests here only hint at the windy battle -- still nothing to compare to what we'd all endured back in April on the Oak Grove route, but still a challenge.


The Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse, at dusk.  Taillights on, Terry on the march ahead of us, Del and I settle in for the night shift.  I love this shot... almost want a poster-size version for my desk at work.  With nothing to block the horizon, twilight would linger for a long while, and it began to feel a lot like riding in the desert -- something I hadn't experienced since crewing RAAM last year, while we crossed Arizona.


I'm very glad this turned out - an over-the-shoulder shot that should have been all crookedy and wobbly ends up as another personal favorite:  that same schoolhouse, shadowed by the dipping sun, and its companion, lone tree.

After clearing Cottonwood Falls, Terry, Del and I started the last 20 mile leg back to Council Grove under growing shadows, and - graciously - calming winds.  Calm is relative, but we'd take any improvement!  Just as it tends to do in the desert, very little exists in the Flint Hills to hold in heat after the sun dips this time of year, so out came the layers from the morning to help us home.  The headwind battles of the hours from El Dorado had certainly taken their toll, and while I knew Glen was likely enjoying a cold beer and waiting for our return, I wasn't - and couldn't really be - in any kind of hurry.  The stars came out, and so did the MP3 player for a little inspiration on the final leg.  Low traffic, but some of the larger cattle trucks - resplendent in modern LED lighting, and representative of owner-operator pride - came out of the darkness like spacecraft.  Professional, courteous - traffic remained forgiving as we plunged further into the blackness of a moonless fall prairie night.

The Big Dipper, passing planes, and the twinkling lights of the far-off radio towers marked the horizon line, and Del and I pedaled the last few miles into town, enjoying the last, long downhill into Council Grove immensely, as the last gasp of gusty wind finally faded into memory, and the chills of the Flint Hills valleys gave way to warm streetlights and the smells of hot food.  Ahhhh, the finish!  Glen had retired to the RV, while Terry was found inside the last control - we wandered in, smiles of relief across our faces -- another epic journey in the books!

Take aways.... not many, aside from perhaps trading variety for more predictable restaurant fare.  Boring... but, it beats blowing choad the morning of a long ride.  The thought crossed my mind only for a fleeting second that venturing out after such an eventful restroom experience that morning would be a bad idea... but, heck, what was I gonna do?  A repeat of Iowa, day 2?  Maybe I'll wander over to Pizza Ranch... again.   No.  No way... even if it'd only been a 40 mile out and back to Cottonwood, I was GOING to ride.  I'm so glad I stuck it out... it was worth it!
What a great trip!  

Man... thinking back, it seems, already, as if this ride happened MONTHS ago, not weeks.  I long for the open skies out west... but, I've traded those thoughts, recently, for the satisfying crunch of fallen leaves under my tires, and the cool, inviting fall rains.  

Still, I can hardly wait to return.

Glen, Terry, Del... thanks, again... it's always a pleasure riding with you guys!


Songs of note:
This is What it Became - Kutiman (from ThruYou)
Feel So Good - Mase
Start Me Up - Toots and the Maytals (live)

Stay tuned for the November ride.... already running out of month, it won't be long! 


Thanks for reading!