Cold temperatures and a steady NW wind drove away participants, but I was keen to grab a few rides to bolster my (so far) untested cold weather riding for the season. I'd been wimping out hard ever since the temps had fallen and the first snow had come, but with the next 200k coming I had to get crackin' and remind myself that riding in the cold really isn't that bad once one gets moving. Mental fortress... Engage.
So... One of my more memorable rides from 2012, in brief snapshots from my memory:
215th street, west from Spring Hill. I'd never taken it before... In fact, when Randy had asked if I'd taken it since they'd paved it, I'd thought he'd meant 215th EAST of town, back toward Renner. Once we turned west, it sunk in. Ok, I'd never been west of US-169 on this road. Uncharted territory... Good.
The snow of the previous week had been left largely a memory, just patches of snow scattered on the occasional shaded sections of various lawns. On the back roads of Miami county, however, the shade grew longer and deeper among the hills and valleys of the road network. We enjoyed a long descent, down to creek-level, and then started to climb back up...along a shady section of road. The ice covered the pavement from edge to edge, tossed with a thin coating of grit. It was enough to provide traction...barely. Seated, shifted into a casual gear, shoulders dropped, and cautiously holding the best line I could, I ascended the steep, icy grade on my 25c slick road tires, preparing myself for a comical fall. The last half dozen pedal strokes were answered with tricky wheel spin... But we were over the grade, upright. My smile grew... Having long since sold my mountain bike and its Nokian studded tires, I felt trepidation even being there, what with my substandard equipment, but it's remarkable what one can get away with. Confidence restored, I began to look forward to the gravel... And whatever else Randy would toss my way.
215th extended much farther than I'd anticipated....
I need to get out more.
A black lab - only one of countless and widely varied dogs we'd hear - and occasionally see - decides to join our adventure. He lopes alongside me, always an arms reach away, smiling and panting happily for at least a mile, maybe more, never threatening. Good dog.
We ended up at Waverly, then 217th, and became faced with a treacherous downhill, north-facing, shaded, with a curve at the bottom. It was a "treat"... Rounding the curve confirmed indeed some ice and snow remained in place, and we floated down, carefully spaced, entrusting our fight against gravity to our thin rear brake cables on full squeeze. Don't touch the front brake... Breathe... Touchdown, onto a quiet old bridge over a dry creek, and into a whisper-quiet country scene.
A pause, and the plot thickened.
Here, I'm led through a narrow fence marking the entrance to well groomed singletrack, masked by leaves and snow. From pavement, to gravel, to dirt... It's best to forget which bike you brought, and just pedal. The smile is dialed up a notch, again, as we silently dash along a dreamscape of silent, leafless trees and undergrowth. A crunch of leaves, snap of a twig, the crisp yield of untouched snow under bicycle tires, we glide through the forest. Not even a bird is seen.
A creek crossing, it's wicked-steep.... A tire swallowing chasm, full stop, dismount, and hike up the other side. I part wish I'd have tried to ride up it... Next time...
A pause and a snack at the edge of Bull Creek... Frozen motionless.
We mount up and point the bikes east, for the bridge across the water has been a memory for decades.. No trace. We navigate the trees and emerge from the dirt trail back onto a gravel road I don't recognize... Steep hills, stacked like stairs leading away from the water, and more ice to navigate - uphill and down - Randy expertly finds the best lines and grip, but the gravel itself helps tremendously.
A Great Dane, gorgeous in speckled grey, helps me up the grade. I'm seated atop a bicycle, and we're nearly at eye level with each other. Big dog.
I pop to recognition as we pass the Antioch School and head south to 231st to cross the northern arm of Hillsdale Lake. I forget to ask Randy if he knows the answer to a personal curiosity: as some road names go: Edgerton Road, Plattsburg Road, Kansas City Road... Generally they lead to the town they were named for, eventually. There are a few alignments I've never been able to connect, however, like Olathe Road near Westport, and this: Antioch, KS. (what's left of it) and this schoolhouse, and the fact that Antioch Road as I know it is so far to the east. Certainly, it's either a coincidence in name only, or some old map buried in the courthouse archives holds the answer. It's a local curiosity I haven't ever sorted out, and I imagine it predates the lake. I digress.
At 231st street, we pull off into a small parking circle, which is normally right on the water's edge. Now, the lake level is so low the water is perhaps a half mile away. Time to take a look, we advance out onto the dried lakebed. It's eerie, quiet, and desolate...I feel as if I'm on another continent. Remarkable.
We proceed west to Rock Creek ... Past the cemetery and on to another pause at the Rock Creek schoolhouse. It'd been since perhaps 2010, maybe even 2009...but I remembered it well from my first gravel adventure with Randy back at the Hillsdale bike camping trip.
We head south on Pressonville Road (so, where's Pressonville, then?) ... What is it with the north/south roads out here? Boulder-sized gravel, freshly laid, jars the body and makes it hard to find a good line. I follow Randy's lead as best possible, and catch up at 247th. With the wind at our backs, and smoother gravel under tire, this section feels like flying by comparison!
Bethel Church road... More roughness, but I'm finding my stride, and the phrase "Dirty Kanza" passes my lips with a smirk... I can only imagine its far, far worse than this weekend stroll. I check my speed, and snap back to reality. "Riiiight..."
271st ... More boulders, on what was once a nice, worn-in MMR. We stop for another snack, and a nature break over a small creek. Emptiness surrounds... I know civilization is close, but it looks like the Flint Hills. Amazing... I unzip the jacket... Is it above freezing finally? Maybe.
We continue along 271st, tackle the fairly hardcore (my measurement scale may not match yours: ie, "hardcore" means I had to put my foot down occasionally, largely due to lack of skill, and partly due to really deep ruts and a missing bridge.) We emerge at Lonestar Road, and head north.
Down on the service road behind the lake's spillway, Randy suffers a flat front tire, and its a booger: the classic mystery flat that eats patches, makes one question their pump, their patch choice, everything. Eventually, we successfully patch the original tube, and head out, but it eats daylight and puts the rest of the gravel sections in question. We finish on pavement, heading back up Old KC Road, and back to Spring Hill, for my finish.
This ride will certainly roll around in my head with good thoughts for a long while, capping off a year full of great, memorable rides with good friends. I've seen more of the US than ever before this year between RAAM and randonneuring, but rides like this remind me of what I hadn't yet found in my own backyard. It's definitely a reminder of what's possible on a basic road bike with skinny tires - and really, if it's dry, it's rideable.
2013 ... Who knows what it'll bring, but I'm already looking forward to following the Dirtbum around some local goodness again.
Not a bad last ride for any year.
Happy New Year!