And now.... A few pictures and some words about the big weekend up in Iowa, July 13th, 2013!
As time passes, I'm hoping that some of the other details about the ride will come flooding back to my brain. This might be an indication of how rough things might have become for me, late in the day on Saturday the 13th. I can usually recall sights, smells, sounds, and conversation from rides like they had just occurred a few minutes ago... but, this time, aside from some exceptions, there remain gaps in the portion of the ride I participated in (the first 410km). The photos will likely help my memory, but, there is so much to cover - in mileage - the post, had I remembered every detail, would quickly become a chore to read (and write). As much as I enjoy writing... well, I need to get back to riding, too! For now, enjoy!
410km, roughly, in random pictures and captions....
Abbreviated, yes... but, at this point, it's probably the only way I'll be able to memorialize this ride:
Terry and I prepped our stuff, and laid things out for the morning - a process that took surprisingly little time compared to ride prep I've performed in the past in a hotel room. I guess that's the byproduct of meticulous packing, and not bringing along too much stuff. This was a big deal, but, I really only needed to have stuff ready for day-2 upon reaching the hotel room again, some 20 hours later. Aside from that, the general kit remained the same as for any other ride. The cue sheet was thicker, but, that was about it! Not bad, and a big step forward for me. Terry and I settled in, while Glen and Gary occupied the RAAM-wagon mobile command center RV out in the parking lot. The sun dipped while we watched the last 50 miles of the latest Tour de France stage unfold on television. Lights out.
After a surprisingly good night's sleep, my alarm stirred us, and we began the morning's activities. Shower, food, roll the bikes outside, check in with the RBA. Find Glen's missing gloves... ultimately find mismatched glove, turned inside out, it fits. Check. That's resourcefulness!
|The KC crew, with David M. hiding behind the camera (booo!)|
I felt fresh and ready... mainly because I hadn't crawled onto the bike yet!
Reflective gear anyone??? Check!
From L to R, Terry B., Gary D., me, and Glen R.
|The sun begins to paint the eastern sky pink and blue, while Greg Courtney (Central IA RBA) gave pre-ride information and details of the route, weather, safety briefing, etc. Just a few minutes before 6:00AM... the start cometh!|
|Thumbs-up shot, on the road to Maxwell, IA, and the first control - somewhere along route S27.|
It's almost too warm for the vest, but the sun won't come out!
I can even tell by my body language in the photo above that something isn't quite right - arms locked, back arched... I wouldn't really begin to feel the results until nearly the century mark, but I'd been continuing a rotation of pedal 10 times, slide forward, push self backward with knees and arms, repeat. After a few miles, Glen and I would leave Terry behind, and ultimately, Glen would begin to pull away from me. It was beginning to shape up like a typical 600k... few companions, if not solitude... I had hoped to be able to hold together with one or two guys the entire day, yet, I remained motivated to make that person Glen. What it created instead was a more-tired me (and frustrated, especially after having done well at White Cloud in June). I began to settle in to the idea that I'd be alone for some hours. Gary? Whooof.... LONG gone at this point, he'd passed us on the road to Maxwell, and wasn't around when we finally arrived. He keeps it moving!
There was a lot to see after Maxwell, but I neglected to reach back for my camera for any of it. Some of the sights will stay in my memory - truly unique and outstanding. Passing a little time involved diagnosing a rattle on Glen's bike, which ended up just being some loose cargo inside his rack trunk -- frustrating, however; gosh don't I know that feeling! After miles of really nasty "diamond-pattern" grooves and grating along K-7 only a month ago, can't really blame either of us for being paranoid about random rattles, though; I think we're both still waiting for something big to fall off our bikes.
After reaching Polk City along a long, LONG stretch of open rural highway, we crossed Saylorville Lake - an experience in itself, as the bridge is marked with wind socks and warning signs about the potential for strong crosswinds! Thankfully, the wind had been light - but traffic and proximity to the guard-rail filled my head with images of my smartphone/camera twirling off into the drink below. LONG bridge, too!
One of the highlights of the ride, we then navigated onto the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which is a converted Rail-Trail, covering over the old Milwaukee Road - which, the RRVT folks have a great website which covers the history far better that I can here. It's - honestly - a GREAT trail, and one of the best I've ever ridden. The other "best" comes later in this same ride! Amazing riding up here... for real!
|The Raccoon River, I trust? Glen snapped this photo... and, weirdly, I barely recall passing this neat waterfall scene, complete with folks fishing and dipping their toes. My brain may have already been on its way to check-out.|
If memory serves, I have a picture of Glen and I stopping at a water fountain, and chatting with a couple of local trail riders who'd been saving a special upper-cut to the face for whichever weather forecaster had uttered "light winds" the evening before. The winds had been anything but light!
We continued once again onto the great RRVT, for another 10 blissful miles. Hundreds of riders - no kidding - hundreds... the trail was packed, but everyone was courteous and well-paced. With a slight benefit from the SE wind, and a bit of wind-tunnel effect created by the tree-lined right-of-way, I began to try and make up ground on Glen and Terry. At some point, again, I had lost track of them - but I knew they'd likely be just ahead, maybe just around the bend. Occasionally, zipping along the trail at 23 MPH (! FUN !), I thought I'd caught glimpses of Terry's reflective triangle... or was it Glen's? Who could tell, but, I might have been gaining? Foolishly, as often happens with me, I chose not to just settle in and ride to the next control - for some reason, it escaped me that if I could "see" them (if that bobbing neon yellow triangle about a half-mile ahead WAS either Terry or Glen), then I'd meet them at the next control in ten miles, where we would ALL have to stop. Instead, my ego chose gears that my body couldn't.... well, you know the rest of that one. In the blur of shadows and riders passing the opposite direction, amid the occasional overheard tune from someone's iPod speaker system (perhaps a good headphone alternative... one of the 300km guys was jamming on some tunes that way!), I tried like a moron to bridge up to someone, anyone, to maybe salvage a draft, and keep someone in arm's reach should I miraculously recover from the growing pain and mental stupor I seemed to be drifting into.
Perhaps it's my defining characteristic. Perhaps this is a reason to get into really good shape, and race masters? Pfffff-shhhyeah.... as-if... But, that "all push, no brains" mentality maybe isn't the best for rando... although, it had worked for Jure Robic. Since we're tossing around metaphors I can't possibly back up, I will say that it felt a lot like that highly improbable gap closing, that last-ditch effort by a lone racer in Le Tour, desperate for the sweet taste of the podium steps... peloton breathing down his neck, he never looks back... but just focuses on that bobbing neon-yellow safety triangle affixed to his worthy "opponent."
|Redfield, IA. Casey's... after a while, these places all begin to look exactly the same.|
Evidenced by the photo above, we all joined back up at the next control.
It had taken every last yard of the 9.8 mile long RRV Trail section to confirm I'd indeed been chasing Terry. Who knows how long he'd been on the trail before I'd given chase, but I was proud enough for being able to knock off a dead-flat personal time trial to bridge the gap... no matter how stupid of a move it really was. Sometimes, I just have no patience. I should become a for-hire tandem stoker, and just leave the thinking to someone else. Yeesh.
Within seconds of each other, Glen, Terry and me - all rejoined at the Redfield Casey's for powder, water, food, and rest. Eighty miles accounted for. A bit less than 300 to go... and I was whipped. Clearly, I had come to the event with a 200km rider's mentality. Worse things could happen -- at least I'd begun to grow numb enough to no longer be in too much discomfort, pretending that's a good thing, somehow.
Next, the leg to Audubon, IA, 48 miles distant. Terry, confident that we'd catch him again, (ha!) mounted up after a quick stop, and started on his way. Other 400km riders came and went, too, as I operated in a bit of a haze. I do remember someone hollering at one of the 400km riders, a younger gentleman on a gorgeous burgundy Trek 520, who had begun heading the wrong direction from the control... who knows how long it would have been before he'd have realized his mistake, but we got him turned the right way 'round. Before long, Glen and I mounted up, and headed out, too. It was about 20 miles until the next town with a c-store -- the route on day one proved very forgiving, services-wise, with stops (controls or otherwise) evenly spaced almost every 20 miles on the nose. It made for easy planning! It would take, however, only a fraction of that to lose Glen's wheel again. Time to settle in, and start to ride with my brain instead of my ego. I smiled to myself, and started to just pedal what I could reasonably manage. Still convinced that nothing was amiss with the bike, I also came to the conclusion that stuff was just going to hurt... deal with it.
|Glen, making headway as the giant expanse of central Iowa bids farewell to the myriad small towns, and expands into endless farm fields and rolling hills. Bye, bye, Glen...at least for a few hours.|
The next 20 miles would begin to collect on my mind as some of the most scenic and satisfying of the entire journey... although, I was drifting in and out of mental acuity at times.
More information on the photo above: J.E. Moss was a Civil War veteran from the area, and these markers are found around the land he'd originally owned, which was sold to the state for used in the construction of the Lincoln Highway. More information can be found here , here , and here. The Lincoln Highway? It was America's first transcontinental route, I believe opened or declared completed in 1919. We rode along this magnificent road for quite a few miles, and I didn't know much about it until arriving back home. Pretty cool... and it gives me a great idea for a future self-supported cross-country tour route.
Eventually, I did pull the camera back out for a few shots of my surroundings... the expanse of Iowa overcame my senses, and I recall just coasting and thinking "wow" as I stared off to the horizon in all directions. No traffic... no others riders could be seen... just the open road, and me. Sometimes, this is exactly how I prefer life.
|Staying chipper, somehow - maybe a bit slap happy. This is the road behind me...|
|...and this is the landscape to the south...|
The next dozen miles covered, I inched closer and closer to the turn-around control at Audubon, and some food and drink. Hydrating well-enough, I felt alright -- but I knew that I hadn't had to take a nature break in a very, very long while. Still sweating, however... no headache, no cramps... all good. I took a few more swigs from my ever-lighter water bottles, just for good measure. Despite growing discomfort, I knew I was at least getting the hydration thing right.
A few more miles pass, and I come upon a rider changing a flat tire on the edge of a small creek overpass -- I signal for a thumbs-up, but there is no response... heads-down, tube and tire in hand, he clearly had things in order. He had been on the opposite side of the road, also, which meant only one thing... I now knew exactly how far ahead the faster riders had been. Whoof... but, really, I suppose it wasn't too terrible, considering. At the time, I maybe had another 3-4 miles to the control... in only 128 miles, however, the fast bunch was still eight miles ahead... probably more, without the flat.
A mile later, Gary D. and another rider flew the other direction with big smiles and waves... which I returned. Gary D. is showing the kind of form that I remember seeing from the Warbird... focused, with no concerns for the distance itself... just one speed: hard. My phone is ringing again, with the caller-ID showing "wake up." I have to ride my own ride, especially at this point in the day... the point where I'd normally be signing my card at the LAST control, I was still just 1/3rd finished with the ride.
Another mile, and here comes Glen, over the hill joining the small loop that would take me through Audubon, to the control, and then back out of town on the same road. Glen looked good, fresh, smiling... but, he also indicated that he certainly felt like he'd just ridden 130 miles, for sure. None of it was "easy", no matter how much the case it appeared to me. We chatted about the day a little, and what the rest of the route held in store for us. I quietly hoped to catch up to him and maybe ride the night section with a restored group, but I knew better. Even if Glen had taken a very quick stop at the Casey's I'd still yet to reach, he was at least 30 minutes ahead of me. The good news involved Terry still likely being there, so Glen and I parted ways, and I continued into town for the next signature on my card.
Upon arriving, Terry had just begun preparing to depart - which was a bit of a bummer. Too prideful, I refused to ask if he'd mind sticking around for a few minutes, for I knew I wouldn't have been able to hold his wheel anyhow.
|Terry B. bringing it home! 600km in the bag, with shadows growing long - the smile says it all!|
|Proof in the numbers, a snapshot of Glen's trip odometer, back at the parking lot in Ames after completing day-2's two-hundred kilometer leg. 600km, signed and sealed!|
For me, the day became night - the controls became fewer and farther between, and the goal of making it to the Flat Tire before closing time began to evaporate as the sun dipped and the stars and blinking lights of the region's communication towers filled the darkness. Everything had begun to hurt, even the arches of my feet and my jaw bone... but, I joined up with Dan P. and Ralph R. from Springfield, MO., and we three haphazardly traded pulls and mainly just kept each other company as the hours unfolded. Miles of endless highway, long, flat sections of road passing by underneath us while the hemisphere slept. Dancing headlight beams in a sea of black. This stood out as one of the best parts of the ride for me, despite the sometimes demoralizing headwind, which remained until probably 1:30 in the morning, making it seem as if we'd never reach those red blinking lights on the horizon -- which probably belonged to some other city besides Ames, but gave me a target, nonetheless.
I made the information control at 12:30am, two hours off the schedule I'd hoped to keep. A nice bench, and a cold drink. Three riders, alone in the darkness, surrounded by silence.
My total pace was cripplingly slow. There were brief moments where I felt strong, climbed well - but they didn't last. Ralph began to experience unbearable foot pain, and while Dan had the best push out of all of us, it was simply a long day on the bike for everyone. My issues had radiated out into every limb and joint, and so I caved and finally started caffeine and ibuprofen to hopefully improve my mood and condition. Somewhere in the dark, I quietly quit the 600k... all I wanted to do was get off the bike, and lay down. Things that had gone numb began to sing with alarming nerve twinges which caused me to shudder, and the thoughts of a long recovery seemed to confirm that continuing for another 200k would only make things worse. The thoughts of hitting every last control, and finding none of them open, began to depress the spirit. No Flat Tire, no High Trestle Trail lights on the bridge, no hot food... ugh. Every third and fourth-level goal, vaporized. It took three hours to cover 30 miles to Madrid, and by then, it was nearly 4:00AM. The last 23 miles took until 6:30AM. I was done riding, and nobody was going to tell me anything to the contrary.
It was a great feeling, though, to see Gary and Glen burst forth from the RV with thumbs-up and cheers -- even if I was too out of it to show my true appreciation.
Hotel achieved, I showered, ate, and got 15 fast minutes of sleep. Decision time.
Everything was sore, my mind scattered... but mainly loaded with the word "can't".
Glen and Gary rolled out, then Terry... which left me with my thoughts, and we pretty much know how THAT is gonna go. I got as far as suiting up and riding from the hotel to the I-35 overpass, maybe a half-mile...
Nope. Gave it a shot. (sure you did...)
The wind, the full sun, and the remaining pain - yeah..., for me, in that moment - it wasn't worth it.
As it is said, it is what it is. I still had a very memorable 400km!
Another hour of sleep, and then a days-worth of regrets and "shouldas", just to get it out of my system, but it was really cool getting to see Terry, Glen, and Gary finishing their ride!
As for riding in Iowa.... I am SO glad I went up there! It really ended up being a great ride because of the time I'd spent with friends, and having the chance to ride with some folks that I usually only get to read about. It was a great weekend, and I can't wait to head back up there someday.
I am starting to see a pattern, unfortunately - a pattern that needs to be broken.
I wrote about 1,000 extra words here, all self-examination and rhetoric, and then deleted it all.
It's for me to read, maybe a year from now... certainly 6 months from now. But, I clearly had a lot of personal, internal dialogue to unload -- and the keyboard just happened to be right in front of me.
I have since taken those concerns and questions to where they belong: home, with my wife.
She knows me better than I know myself -- and that's the best way to sort it out, because it's only bicycling-related on the surface.
For now, no matter how often, or how infrequent, I may post here: know this:
Life IS truly good.
The streak will continue.
This (whatever "this" is) is temporary.
Those friends and family that are always made aware of my plans will continue to be made aware, for safety-sake.
However, I can't ride to create drama that might keep these pages interesting. I swear, creating drama is not what I've been doing... everything you've ever read here is very, very real and captures the moments as they occurred. But, subconsciously, something is going on ... self-sabotage? Fear? Burnout? It's only beyond 400km, apparently... but I know the barrier isn't physical. But, even at the 200k level... every once in a while, "something" always seems to happen. It's not normal for someone of (forgive me) my intelligence and capabilities to keep repeating silly mistakes and foibles, and taking stupid risks with formulas that have worked in the past. Making saddle adjustments the week before a big ride??? A history of getting dehydrated easily, and having a few beers the evening before a 600k??? If anyone should know better.... good grief. I honestly don't get it, and it concerns me that I can't figure myself out.
I either need to learn to accept my limitations and say "no", or stop creating excuses and do what I set out to do. Assuming I even want to. Sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, I will be here, and I will be thinking about riding. It's just what I do. But, I need to reaffirm that I'm really okay doing it for ME.
The stories are beginning to blend together, same routes, same situations, same outcomes.
Only by stripping away all that I have used to hold myself accountable will I truly know if I am riding for the right reasons... only when it is good enough to ride x-number of miles without telling anyone about it will I know. Would I still ride, even if it didn't "count"?
I love riding my bike ... the rest is just accessory.
To do list:
Put tape over the speed readout on the computer.
Stop thinking, and just pedal.
I know how to eat, drink, and prepare. Just execute it, and start enjoying yourself.
If something adjusted feels good and doesn't hurt -- don't. freaking. touch.
I need to find out... do I really have the inner desire to ride farther than 400km?
Is having done X in the past GOOD ENOUGH?
Is it okay to leave a DNF out there, and never go back? (Tejas)
Am I letting my automatic self-comparison to the accomplishments of others -- even my own past accomplishments -- stand in the way of my own enjoyment?
Get out of your own head.
Is blogging therapeutic anymore, or does it actually CREATE the stress of feeling like I "have to", instead of feeling like I "want to"?
Am I, therefore, holding the shovel responsible for the hole I'm trying to crawl out of?
Am I already out of that hole, and just too stupid to realize it?
Get out of your own way.
If it isn't fun, it really is time to hang it up.
For now, I need to stop trying to prove things to everyone else...sometimes I fear I have crossed the line from "sharing" to "bragging" when I do well, and just out-and-out complaining like a whiny child when things don't go well. I don't want to be that guy.
I hope to look back on this post and have more answers than remaining questions.
Until then, in all seriousness - because you certainly don't have to: thanks for reading.
I love riding my bike.
For now, that's what I am going to do.