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Saturday, January 12, 2013

January in the bag

updated and corrected:

The WMG Memorial permanent, which I had a hand in designing, presents riders with unique challenges.  It, by design, strings together bits and pieces of various challenging routes I've taken part in throughout the years:  By consequence of crossing the Kansas river at Bonner Springs, it borrows from the All's Wellsville/Junction City 600k route and uses K-32 for a spell, it traces the locally famous Tour de Shawnee route for a bit, and retraces a popular monthly ride which heads to Weston from Wyandotte County Lake Park.  I have a love/hate relationship with it, because it always tests me... sometimes more than I care to be tested.  The climbs are memorable, right up until the point I forget them... which usually takes about 6 months.  At least, I'm sure I remembered the hills back in May, when I rode this last.  The satisfaction of finishing tends to make such things a memory.

It was with this blank slate that I began the WMG Memorial ride, starting at a forgiving 7:00am this last Saturday, from the 7-Eleven in Olathe... ah, my old friend.  I've struck up a good relationship with the guy behind the counter, usually working the tail end of the late shift when I start my o'-dark-thirty epics -- he's bought his first "real" road bike, a 70's vintage steel frame of indeterminate make, and is in the process of converting it to a fixed gear... I'm excited to maybe ride a few miles with him one of these days.. maybe, just maybe, he'll tag along on a perm or two... I'll have to wait until rides end today to chat it up, as he's not working this shift.

With Glen and Terry along again - we're turning into a three-man touring band, like ZZ Top - we plug in our guitars.... er... we straddle our bikes, carefully stepping around patches of ice on the pavement, and begin our odyssey ... step one, get out of the parking lot upright:  one customer slipped and took a spill right in front of us already.  At least it's technically above freezing... warmer than forecast, and so far the call for a rain/snow mix is nowhere to be seen.

Five hour energy... consumed.  Might as well.  It will be a good five hours to the turnaround in Weston, and with the tail end of a chest cold hanging on I'd need all the help I could get.  I was fairly well stopped-up when I rode the Dirtbum Birthday Ride on the 29th - it was a great tune-up ride, and it certainly dulled me to the anxious possibility of having to navigate some leftover patches of snow and ice; but, the lingering cold I hauled around on that day was still sticking around.  Medicine notwithstanding, I felt decent-enough, but I could tell from the first gasps of cold air on the few introductory hills on Renner Road that it was going to be a long day.  There would be plenty to take my mind off of things, however.  A full-steam train flyby on Old KC Road, prior to Renner, set the tone.  I love it when the rides and the train schedules coincide.  With the lingering darkness of winter hanging on well past the start, and the low traffic of a weekend morning (starkly contrasting to our usual weekday starts), I imagined riding along a gravel-strewn Renner Road... perhaps before it'd even been given that name... before Bass Pro, before the highway and the apartments... just me, the countryside, my bike, my mates, and a passing freight... hissing and snarling in the predawn chill...

I snap to... darn traffic lights.

The ebb and flow of Renner leads us to Midland Drive - the start, and finish, of the Princeton Roundabout route... I joke, quietly to myself... "ok, finished!"    Ha!  ...Only 112 miles to go, dude.
I quietly remind myself why I'd chosen to DRIVE to the Princeton Roundabout, only last month.
So I wouldn't have to ride Renner in the other direction.
Uh, oh.

My resolve has been rekindled, of late, oft repeated in these very pages of my desires to drop a little ballast and regain that svelte climber's figure of years past, and, typical of a man my age, it's a tough negotiation.  Alas, and trite as it may be for the time of year, I'm investing once again in the effort - I know all too well that it can be done, I've simply lacked the willpower of those previous years.  I feel it returning as I lug myself over hill after hill... knowing I'm getting stronger for the effort, yet growing weary of knowing it could be slightly easier.  Patience.  Those rewards won't come today, but, come they will.

The road closed barricades of the previous week are gone - Renner open.  At least we won't have much detouring to do today, then - the alternative being two quite steep hills of Johnson Drive, instead of the one remarkably steep hill on Renner.  We three gently arrive at the bottom, and Holiday Drive, where sometimes I wonder "what if" of the bridge that once went straight over the railroad tracks ahead of us, over the river, joining this very route on the other side, continuing north.  Only on an 1887 road atlas can such a dream be seen... long since washed away, replaced, forgotten.  Today, it will take a circuitous route of almost 12 miles to travel just one mile as the crow would fly.  Of course, we wouldn't be able to claim 200k, if not for "progress."

It begins to snow, lightly... and it's kind of nice.

It's an especially long-feeling 12 miles, but soon we arrive on the grades of 86th Street north of the river.  We pass the Penrod Motel... which has clearly seen better times, but remains prominently listed all over the internet, with phone number.  Hitchcock comes to mind, courtesy Glen.  There's a very interesting building just to its north, however, that I'd like to know more about -- each time I pass it, I take in a little more.  Constructed of about 3/5ths stone, and capped off with wood framed construction in pale yellow, it sits by itself in the middle of a field off a small lake.  There are doors, highly elevated, suggesting a complex deck structure has been missing for some time, as well as a porch; yet, there it stands.  Can't find much about it.  I find this part of town interesting -- where I assume, heading north of the river, that industry and city needs would have long since swallowed up every available plot of land, there sits this house and lake, and only a few miles farther, right on the edge of I-70, is a working ranch with horses.  Strange, and sort of out-of-place... but I like that.

QuikTrip... chilled, feeling tired already, I try to make quick work of things, and we're soon ready to roll.  Still a spitting, sporadic snow/rain mix -- but it never seems to take hold.  Weird weather... but, oddly pleasant, if not a little damp and chilly.  Combined with the humidity acting on the pavement, we had yet to ride on dry roads.  Thank goodness for fenders.  Shivers... time to move.

We reach some of the tougher hills on the course, one reaching 11%, though they're short and manageable - and it's early.  Wyandotte County Lake Park offers a break from traffic and the banality of suburban scenery, offering up instead thrilling, twisty roads set against old stone walls, deep forest, and a crystalline lake to enjoy.  It doesn't last as long as I'd like, but it is a good-sized park.  Makes me wonder about riding in Colorado again, or the American Northwest.... how awesome that must be, if it's anything close to the scenery here!  Would I change where I am?  Probably not... but, it does lend me to consider a time in life where I'll be able to travel farther and wider to check off the monthly ride.  Nebraska, Iowa... that's only the beginning.  But, I have to be patient -- those days may come, but today is now.

Making our way out of the park and north to Wolcott and the beginning of K-5, we pass along the railroad tracks and a shady, forgotten section of road deep underneath I-435, still icy and snowy in places - making for some interesting maneuvers.  We roll, upright, out onto the long, flat section of K-5 prior to the next section of climbing.  It's a great day for a ride -- light traffic, and a little help from the wind - not a bad combo.

K-5 is a great highway, and a fitting tribute -- back in the day, I recall tales of my father enjoying motorcycle rides along this ribbon of twists, bends and hills.  Now, also on two wheels, I can't really say I'm having as thrilling a time while climbing, but the downhills are terrific.  We wind past hills and farmland, not too far from - but out of sight of - the nearby river, and soon find our way to the Leavenworth city limits.  Glen and I talk about extending the route even farther, to Atchison, to St. Joseph... and K-7 continues all the way to Rulo, NE.... an epic, river-based 600k, perhaps.  We make our way up Espanlade Drive, with historic homes on the left, and a stunning river overlook on the right - capped by the looming blue steel monument of the Centennial Bridge, which - opened in 1955 - celebrated Leavenworth's anniversary as the first city to be incorporated in Kansas.

We pause at the information control at MO-45 and the old "Leavenworth Cutoff", and fill in control cards and postcards with chilly fingers in the increasing wind.  A train accompanies us along the long, flat pan of the river valley on MO-45 as we roll through Beverly, MO. with hints of rainfall trying to get a foothold in the midst of a swirling weather system that couldn't seem to make up its mind.  Weston is close, and I can almost smell the cafe.

Grilled cheese, fries, a pitcher of water, hot coffee... and a table for three.  Good times.

The sun comes out... inviting us back outside.

The climb back out of Weston is full of promise, on a full stomach and faint tunes in my right ear, to help keep the legs motivated.  I'm already tired, a sentiment echoed throughout the group, and it's only halfway.  As I've said, though... at the halfway, it's effectively "in the bag"... unless it's a route like this one, for me.  Having tried to balance the dial between stamina and speed, fuel-stores and knowing about a waiting headwind on the return, I walked the line of fatigue, and could feel it in my legs... almost like the formation of cramps in my quads.  With recent saddle position changes, and not many training rides to adjust, I knew I was likely just exercising a portion of my muscles not previously up to the task, and this would certainly be the hilliest ride in months, a real test no matter the time of year.  Drink, eat, and pedal... just keep pedaling...

Leavenworth, and out of earshot, Terry suffers a flat tire.  Already through town when the voicemail rings on my phone, Glen and I are instructed to keep moving.  Terry has the fortitude of ten men when it comes to riding solo - strong, confident, steady.  I'm not feeling so strong.... with brief moments of goodness unfolding as the grilled cheese and fries finally made their way to hungry legs, I began to feel better than I had at the halfway, at least.  Speed?  Don't even bother looking down, dude... just pedal.  Glen begins to make a little headway, only caught up by a cue sheet check at a cross-street.  The steepest parts of K-5 behind us, we make the flats of Wolcott again, and set our sights on the park, and that nasty little hill before the QuikTrip control.

Peaking at barely under 12%, we're over the hump on Georgia Road, and back to the control in a flash.  The sun comes out again, and orange juice, crunch donut minis and fresh Carbogain powder carefully saved for the last leg of the ride comes out from the seat bag to help carry me the last 30 miles to the finish.  I'm careful not to overload, but real food tastes good and goes down smooth.  86th street waits - more hills.  Each section in my head on the return legs contains at least one good challenge.  The last 30 miles contain, in my mind, no less than four.

Challenge 1:  86th street itself.  Long, gradual climbs here and there are no big deal, but the poorly placed stop signs break up good pace and momentum.  The real boogers sit after I-70, long and grunting pushes over some geographic anomalies left over from the formation of the river banks, before the typical long, fast downhill to K-32.  Visiting my 27 tooth rear cog more often now, I curse myself for designing a route that bites back so hard in the last quarter of its length... but in the same breath, I'm thankful for the challenge, and how it tends to reset some of my personal goals.

Challenge 2:  K-32, the river, K-7, and 43rd Street.  After so much climbing, the board-flat highway section, river section, and the return east afterwards represent (as previously mentioned) a circuitous 12-mile journey that could be solved with a simple 1-mile bridge extension of 86th street.  Instead, riders head west to Bonner Springs via Edwardsville, over the river on bicycle-legal K-7, and then make their way back east to exactly the same spot, but on the other side of the KS River.  With the leaves absent from the trees, upon reaching the top of the last hill on 86th street, southbound, you can actually see where you'll end up on Renner... but you can't get to it.  These factors combine to unfold this section of the ride with deceptive lethargy and tedium.  On a hot day, there are plenty of c-stores, however... and that can be a welcome thing.

Challenge 3:  Renner Road from Holiday drive.  After the 12-mile=1-mile river crossing mind-trick, riders must climb the opposite river bluffs, nearly straight-on.  This hill represents the steepest average grade of the entire ride, if my math is correct - but its arrival at milepost 105 is perhaps good for another few percent slope.  Carefully breathing deep, taking in a final Hammer Gel from my back pocket a couple miles ahead of time, and trying to cough the current crop of cold leftovers out of the way of my breathing, I turn right, look up, and shift down.  Good grief.... the climb levels temporarily at a slight curve in the road, and then pitches up for the steepest portion, only a few dozen yards long, maybe, before it begins to ease up for the last half-mile.  Wheezing for air, blinking to confirm whether or not I'm actually beginning to grey-out or not, I unclip and put down a foot.  Game over.  For the first time since the Knob Noster 200k back in '09... but, this hill is steeper, I suppose, and I guess I had been getting over a cold.  I can make all the justifications I like, but I didn't have to walk it in May, or the time before that... so, a little miffed at myself, but sometimes we do what we have to.  No matter, though... I shake my head, allow myself 15 seconds of negativity, and walk the rest of the way up.  Next time, next time.

By comparison, the rest of the hills are nothing to write home about - it's more of the same issue with where they lay in relation to the day's mileage.  I enjoy the wicked-fast downhill back to Midland Drive, and - of course - catch the red light there, killing about 40 MPH of speed.  I climb over I-435, pass the park, and make my way to 87th as the daylight begins to dim.  A brilliant, attention-grabbing sunset is on tap - nearly unobstructed save for a few trees to my right as I navigate through the roundabouts and onward to the last two hills before things finally flatten out in the last 4 miles of approach to the finish.

Challenge 4:  The hill up to the interchange with K-10 is a real booger, but nothing too daunting by comparison to the previous climbs... just that pesky red light at the top.  Then to College Blvd... more of the same awesome sunset to my right as I pass the old barns and last remaining farm fields that haven't yet become business parks... (hold off, Lexena... just hold off...) ...and, at last... flatter roads...

Really, if I'm honest, the actual 4th challenge becomes me against my own anxiety... and the worry of the hills probably carries as much weight as the climbs themselves.  Now, with the last climb behind me, NOW it's in the bag... yeesh.

KC Road, Ridgeview, and back through the other roundabouts along Sheridan, I feel a little kick coming from somewhere deep in the reserve tanks, smelling the barn again, and manage to finish within 10 minutes of Glen - who I'd lost sight of miles before, somewhere along K-7 while crossing the river I thought I'd seen a glimpse along 43rd street, but too many curves between us to be sure - I'd figured he'd been long, long gone, especially after I'd walked the big hill.  Not bad for feeling pretty well destroyed!  Having recovered from his flat tire, Terry ended up being about 40 minutes down -- afterwards, since the ride starts so close to home, I rode home, grabbed the car and drove backwards to make sure he'd been on-track - and I only ended up driving maybe a half mile, and there he was - in typical Terry fashion, pushing the same steady pace he'd held all day, and finishing strong.

I think last time I'd mentioned how cool it'd be to get back to a form that would afford me more of a finishing kick... or, in reality, more steady and consistent delivery of speed throughout the entire 200k, like Terry - but I'd be lying if said I wasn't still interested in personally working toward some of that old speed I used to have ...and I'd be foolish to think it would've happened in the scant four weeks since the December 200k; but it puts more fuel on the fire, this ride.  I'm happy to have this one finished, and if I want to get what I want, it's simple:  I have to work harder than I have been.  Diet.  My old foe.  I know what I need to do, and I know I haven't been doing as well as I should.  Time to get that old focus back - new year, new ideas... yeah, yeah, resolutions, what-have-you.  I need to turn them into the kind of real, sustainable lifestyle changes that will allow me to continue these pursuits throughout this, my fourth decade, and smoothly into my 5th and 6th.  It won't be deprivation, it won't be suffering - but it will be responsibility, moderation, and healthy.  Those are the only mechanisms that will provide the return I seek.  Time to work on that.

I find it comical, reading backwards through my own journals, how unsatisfied I've been with myself -- I'm not very good about counting my blessings.  Despite the shifting tone changes between great times with awesome scenery, immediately followed by the misery of climbs and sketchy weather, I don't honestly have much to complain about -- yet, I'm always reaching, striving to be just that little bit better;  reaching for teh best "me" I can be, to distance myself from the wreck I remember from the years prior to my re-discovery of the bicycle.  It's that fear of full regression that continues to drive me to complain, never rest, never settle - I may never be satisfied, but that's what keeps me going - better or worse.  I refuse to give up, even if 90% of the time it's just talk.  Occasionally, the talk turns to action - and I feel such a change occurring now.

For now - it's another finish.  That should be good enough - the rest is commentary.


11 hours, 15 minutes total.
9:18 rolling time, for an average of ... I'll take it.
Tough, tough day... but, really, it could have been worse.

Chilly, but not painfully so.
Snow and rain... but not enough to worry about.
Amazing scenery juxtaposed against tough hill climbs.
A vague, grey sky yielding to sun... then clouds again, and finally an amazing sunset.
Riding along with some great, strong riders, good friends.
What more could one ask for?

So,
Until February.... the streak continues...

Thanks for reading!
And... Happy, Healthy, New Year to you all!


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