As each week passes, the shoulder which had been repaired back in July continues to improve. I've been in the gym consistently, I'm back to riding with ... er, some ... consistency, and I've managed to scrape and crawl my way back into good eating habits. All of this is focused on a big goal I've set for myself this year: finally tackling the Dirty Kanza 200 gravel race in late May.
This is sort of a big deal for me, as it's not only the first major event I've signed up for in over a decade, it's also the first time I'll really be stretching my comfort zone by doing it all on gravel. This course, further, apparently doesn't treat the uninitiated kindly - so a fair amount of specific training will be needed. I'm up for it.. and hopping a little bit outside my personal box will keep me focused, and will maintain that tiny bit of nervous, anxious energy that I used to take with me to each event. Basically, this is only a 12-hour ultra: my goal is to get to the level where 12 hours finally equates to 200 miles. Thinking back to Tinbutt ten years ago, it's a mile marker that's always eluded me. Something - usually mental, if I were to boil it down to root causes - always pops up and puts me in the shade for an hour or two, or worse - as a DNF. I'm not so sure I need to worry about that, not at this writing. A decade of more personal comfort and experience underneath my tires since then, I'm not going to stress the issue: but, mental training will also be key. Add in the punishment of gravel, the fatigue of unpaved hills and constantly watching my line - and everyone else's - and the un-sheltered vastness of the Flint Hills at the end of Spring... if the sun is out, it will be hot - with no shade. If it's raining... If it's windy... if... if... if... Well, it's a big, tall order of pain, regardless: and that's something I'm looking forward to. One of my strengths, developed slowly over the years, sets me up for smiling and joking when others begin to frown and let the conditions creep into their mind. That's not always welcome in a group setting - but, when in a race environment I pride myself on being able to suffer more than the next guy.
The next guy... that's where I plan to not take this too seriously, despite what I've outlined above. I'm not competitive from a speed perspective. From a base-building perspective, yikes: December's 200k - the first since June, and the first since surgery - wasn't fast, but, I still finished handily despite my left arm losing interesting in holding up my body weight with roughly 45 miles to-go. The experience had me wondering why I'd waited so long, like, perhaps I should have returned to randonneuring in August or September. I can - as a friend once put it - essentially fall out of bed and do a 200k, and a double-century? That's only 75 more miles. You're already out there, might as well keep going, right? Right. Keep it fun! There will be folks there who's fun meter is tweaked and honed to function properly with the effort of a 17mph average speed. I'm not that guy. At least, not yet... and it's a taller order to train precisely enough to get there this year. Not impossible, but perhaps not the challenge I'd like to lay out. Setting myself up with any goal other than "finishing" is a fool's game. Especially considering I don't even have the right bicycle for this event yet.
I swear, I need to stop hesitating. Twice in as many weeks on a local swap-n-shop page, I've watched two excellent cyclocross bikes pop up, and this morning I felt like I was being teased, watching an All-City Macho-Man in my size pop up, yet, by the time I refreshed the page to find it again later and type a message asking about it, it was already taken down - probably sold. The other is being parted-out as I speak, which does me little good since the fork it'd come with has already sold. The resulting solution, so-far, and on-the-cheap as my constant companion, the Trek 450 gets called up to service again.
Not only is it a tested, strong, light, and nimble road frame... its angles are just inside the realm of touring, right on the edge of racing... where most modern 'cross bikes live... BUT, the Trek has a lower BB drop than a 'cross bike - which, in my eyes translates to lower center of gravity for me, the rider, and more stability. The issue is tire clearance. I just can't see modifying this thing. It's great steel so things like brazing on canti studs or raising the rear brake bridge - while tempting - just aren't going to buy me much, and take away the originality of the frame in the process. No, no... 700x32mm tires will HAVE to do... and if I want more volume I'm going to focus on procuring some wheels, instead: 650B wheels, specifically.
Since the "27.5" craze seems to be sweeping the off-road world at the moment, as the perfect bridge between 26" and "29'r", the amount and range of 650B wheels has increased dramatically just in the last year -- however, because of the off-road focus, many of these come with non-standard (for road) axles like 15mm thru-axles and 144mm rear spacing. In order to get what I need, I will likely end up building my own on road touring hubs like Velo-Orange makes (for the right price for my situation) and some good strong rims to match.
To round out the build-up, I'll need extra-long reach caliper brakes and - ideally - another front generator hub, like a Shimano. Hopefully I can get these things lined up in a timely-enough manner to actually be able to train on the darn thing before the event. But, the Kogswell... well, it's "done." I'm sticking to that. I just can't keep trying and trying for the "one-bike" theory anymore. The Kogs will do gravel just fine, yes - but, I'd need to take the fenders off, and even that seems completely silly at this point. I'd rather be riding than tinkering in the garage, after all, and I deserve something I can just grab and go.
So, we'll see how this plays out. I have the goal. I have the will to prepare for it. If the bike doesn't work out (which really means, if the money doesn't come together) there's always next year. As awesome as the 10th anniversary event would be, as amazing the energy will be if its at-all reflective of the speed with which registration filled up... man, I want to be there. I was parked in front of the computer at 8:29AM that one fateful weekend for a reason. But, if the equipment is going to hold me down, and borrowed gear doesn't get the job done (still one possible option there), then I'm not going to deny someone else a shot - I'll sell my registration slot to someone who couldn't get in.
For now, though - that's not happening.
For now, I'm hanging up the keyboard and heading out into this rare, 60ºF+ Saturday to ride into the wind for a while, until I get tired. Training... even if I don't know for-sure what it's for. If it ends up being a 1,000km later in the summer... heck, either way, 2015 is going to be a great riding year.
Okay... see ya on the road, eh?