Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

September 10, 2015

Two-Hundred & a Dozen Commutes


It's been a Pantani-sort-of-summer;
documentaries at night,
bicycle commutes during the day,
and the realization that
cycling caps are the new jerseys.
Cheaper, they don't seem to care
 about body weight, easy to store...
CAPS!  YES!  CAPS!
Compared to previous years, this once-per-month posting average is a bit pokey.  Hell, I didn't even HAVE a post for July.  Oh well.  That usually, lately, means I'm preoccupied with things I ought to be preoccupied with... like riding.  Well, that's not the ONLY preoccupation, of course, but it's the only one of consequence in these pages.  

So, welcome back, dude.  

This summer, while the year started very slowly, has been great.  I've been riding again with increased fervor and ... not "reckless" abandon, but, something like it.  I'm not holding back as much.  I've started to let go of the aesthetic stage I'd gotten trapped in, personally - wherein I'd spend countless hours tweaking things on looks, and not functional importance.  I tried the front bag, and rack, and then removed both.  They're on the shelf for a future front-loaded touring bike.  Who knows when that will happen, but it's not worth selling.  It's paid for and I'm intent on being patient until the time is right.  One thing I've grown to recognize, however:  burnout, for me, often involves needless wrenching, needless re-zip-tying, needless cosmetic purchases.  When the riding is too much, I start to fiddle... but, I seldom ride these creations much.  I keep going back to what has become "normal".


Yes!  Since I, A) don't fit into them as
well, and B) I don't really go for
the marketing-heavy pro look, for many
reasons, most of my trophy jerseys
of old are hanging on the wall of
the man-cave.  The man-cave is more
of an overall homage to my fave
bike store of old, Acme Bicycles / Old-
Town Cyclery, back in "the day".
Cycling videos running at all hours, the
gentle hiss of the epsresso machine, and
the sweet tinge of fresh tire rubber
and chain oil and grease... (inhale)...
yessss....   The Pantani Corner of said
man-cave is indeed a place of honor,
and someday when it becomes ragged and
faded, my new Mercatone Uno cap will
hang right above this prized jersey.

Oh yeah... *actual* 1985 World Series
pennant!  LET'S GO ROYALS!

The same applies to the Kogswell and it's inevitable refinish.  I have artwork drafted up, I have colors picked and got as close as having the bike torn halfway apart.  Right about then I began to notice the evidence of decades-old parts which really could use some attention, so the refinish will have to wait.  Patience.  

The Trek 450... a great machine; backbone, really.  The frame and fork still sit in wait in the garage, in a place of honor above the workbench, and, instead of me someday building it back up into a go-fast fenderless speed goat, it instead appears that my ever-growing teenage son will likely start needing to ride it, instead of the Bianchi that is shrinking beneath him lately.  As he has matched eyeballs with me now, and still shows signs of another year of growth, it's a chance the 57cm+ frame will likely fit him better than it does me anyhow - but, it's a great upgrade for him.  It will see more miles, for sure - and a new generation of cycling enthusiasm.  We're still spending a lot of couch time catching up on cycling tours from the summer, as well as the classics, like "A Sunday in Hell" with Eddy Merckx, and the rise of a younger Greg LeMond.  It's great bonding time; and we take that energy out onto the trails and battle it out like the proverbial badger-slaying we've soaked up.  

Mindless purchasing aside, I have been finally building on the stable -- with a bold move to two bikes, now.  The second I bought originally for Dirty Kanza, but I ended up not riding that race for a few reasons, none of which hold any real water, and aren't worth discussing.  However, it's very very nice to have another stick to grab when the mood strikes.  I've begun to take advantage of this new bike's versatility to start fiddling with parts in order to make it fit me better.  It's got me a bit Superman at the moment, so a shorter-reach set of 'bars is coming, and despite my plans to ride single speed, I'm aiming for more versatility by tossing a rear derailleur and "mountain-bike"-ish cassette.  I've found myself with an extra set of wheels, so studded tires with ease comes to mind again.  An opportunity for a redundant generator hub positions both bikes to simply be ready-to-grab, no matter the time of day, weather, or state of my memory when it comes to charging batteries; something I'm honestly not used to needing to do.  This is good stuff - and while I doubt I'll try and get back to the dozen or so bikes I had hanging around 15 years ago, it's nice to finally have some options at my disposal.  The utility, gravel/commuter bike will see a lot of use, I think - especially this coming winter.  No more frame limitations, no late-night, last-minute tire swaps.  It's gonna be nice, and the Kogs will get a much needed break.  Yeah, I'll have to wait on its refinish - but, at least I can keep it off the salty roads this next season.  

Commutes! 

Yes, I've been back on it for the most part - really enjoying the bike time, instead of the car time.  It's such a powerful ally:  my outlook on life is better, I can breathe more deeply, the pounds... ugh, the dang pounds.  There are other issue afoot in that department, and some recent photos really have me frowning at myself.  There, solidly, sits my mid-40's gut - and it's sorta hard to admit, but I've been fooling myself by trying to just suck it in.  Everything above the waist and below the shoulders is way, way outta shape.  I'm not inviting any negativity in here... but, I have reaffirmed my personal goals in that regard.  I'm tired of trying on jerseys, and not having them fit well.... which is to say, "fit loosely."  Stupid food addiction.  Stupid dopamine-enthralled brain.  

Keep me away from frozen custard, and M&Ms.
Far, far away. . .

Despite the tyranny of the American male mid-section, I have managed to make strides in the "training" department.  The abandon I referred to earlier has resulted in slowly pushing my personal walls back to where they were 15 years ago... not because things were so much better then, just because that's a convenient point of reference when considering my personal abilities.  I plan to exceed them, basically.  We're not "getting back", we're charging forward.  My average speed on commutes since March have progressed from the low-14s, to 15, now 16, and recently (though it's a bit dependent on trail traffic and safety, honestly), the low 17-mph averages for the 12-mile sprint.  My bike handling skills have improved with the constant muddy encounters on rain-flooded trails, also, which will come in handy come DK '16 time.  I'm happy, and excited.


Madness?   This is COMMUTING!

Yeah, a little muddy lately.

It's hot, baby!  It's bright, and you can almost see the humidity

Too much bikey?
Commuter returns from Iowa, forgets what
mouse is for.  Briefly considers mouse is
new rechargeable taillight from Niterider.
Writes scathing review.

Mayhem!  Rider caught in the shockwave from a commuterDude
fly-by suffers trauma.  Emergency medics called in!

Sometimes the storms are 50 miles away...

...sometimes they are right behind you!


Gorgeous skies and fields;  the bike commute route is
way, way better than your drive to work.


Enough is enough!  I am sick and tired of all these mutha-flappin'
snakes on this mutha-flackin' trail!
I remember these being a lot bigger.  (That's what she said)











































This all started back in June with the Iowa 400k; after stripping off the front rack when the p-clamps failed me on a 100km attempt.  It wasn't really a reduction in weight that'd made the difference... it seemed like a handling thing, and - most likely - a mental thing.  Getting all of that extra stuff off the front of the bike turned out to be fairly "freeing", and the Iowa 400 had gone very well.  I'm not really sure why or what-for I'd been holding back; and while the speeds weren't anything amazing, I finished the ride stronger than before and quite a bit sooner.  There still remains a lot to be done in the control time department, but, 

that will come along.  After returning from Iowa, the speed on my commutes began to steadily improve.  

Back in July I was afforded the rare treat of a ride with Spencer K., our RPC and the RUSA RBA Liasion, and a good friend.  His palmares tend to bury my own, and 

from that he's become a wealth of great insight and information, so any chance to shoot the breeze and share some miles is time well spent.  











Left of Centerville's debut

The 2014-2015 winter is usually when I start pouring longer cups of coffee and begin pouring over maps for new route ideas.  This is a forum I hope to bring to the masses this coming season, if the interest is there (and I think it is).  Anyhow, this results in my annual contribution to the RUSA pool of Permanent routes around the KC area, and this time around it is the Left of Centerville 200km route.  Spencer and I headed out to the start in Paola for the official pre-ride:  one final certification of the cue sheet before releasing it to the masses.  

I tell ya, if you're a RUSA member and you're out there in "somewhere, USA" and are looking for Kansas and Missouri for your American Rando award, shoot me an email.  We've got some terrific routes out here in "flyover-land" that I'm sure will delight and challenge you, no matter where you hail from.  This one should be no exception, and I try hard to keep this in mind while designing....  thought it's rare, what IF someone came to town on business and happened to have a Bike Friday and a day to kill?  I'd be happy to join you on a ride and point you to the area's lodging options.


This thunderstorm sat directly above the Left of Centerville route the
day prior to our ride

So, Centerville... it's a little known ghost-town out there on the plains which just barely skirt the eastern edge of the Flint Hills, and while I was plotting potential along county highway 1077... by the way; thank you, Randy Rasa of Kansas Cyclist, for helping scope out this road a few years back:  your adventures have helped me discover many great roads from afar, and one of these days I'll start looking at ways to extend our rando reach down into your new neck of the woods, if the interest is there.  This little road, and the small town of Parker, KS., helped set the stage for 125 miles of terrific pavement, quiet byways, old railroad lines near historic depot towns, and some awfully good eatin' opportunities.  This route should make a wide range of folks giddy with pre-ride anticipation:  active rail-lines, prairie highways, farms, old barns, a Civil War historic battlefield, an American Indian historic site, cool old abandoned gas stations, old bridges and highway alignments, a bratwurst stand, a roasted Almond and nuts shop, an old cafe and c-store built into old railcars, and - of course - any Casey's General Store I could find along the way.  There's nearly something to satisfy everyone on this loop through rural Kansas and Missouri.  

Spencer and I headed out into a nearly mirror copy of the weather I'd experienced in Iowa only a couple weeks prior:  cool, moderate temps, overcast skies, drizzle, and 99.999% humidity.  Yikes... when the profuse sweating starts while unpacking the car, and signing the waiver resembles someone trying to autograph a t-shirt, yeah... it's July in Kansas.  After weeks of heavy storms - one of which having only passed 24 hours earlier - there was no short supply of swampy conditions.  At least we'd be on pavement.  From the Casey's in central Paola, we headed out through the county seat's historic neighborhood architecture toward the old alignment of US-169 highway, also known as Old Kansas City Road.  

hey, look.... another Casey's!.... this must be a big town.... 

This route has also been designed with variety in mind:  Paola has a couple of cool old-style hamburger stands along the route out of town... but, alas, they aren't open until much later in the day consider most of us start these rides near dawn.  While there are a couple opportunities for breakfast, too, this route is registered with RUSA as a reversible loop, so, try it one way, enjoy the good eats on the east side... then try it the other direction and hit the stuff you'll have wished was open from the first ride.  Two rides in one!

Am I playing the salesman here, or what?  ;)

Old KC Road wraps us into familiar territory, as many routes crisscross around these parts from all over the region; this time we head straight out through Osawatomie and across the first of a couple 1920's highway expansion era bridges, big ole concrete treasures over winding rivers.  After that, it's "click", and we're out on an old Kansas state route headed for Parker.  



The grass is bright green and healthy, and the tiny roadside wildflowers paint the byways for miles at a time.  These little bluish-purple guys caught my eye on the road to Parker;  some of the only scenery for a while as drizzle turned to rain, and the cycling cap kept the rest of my view fairly well shielded.
The literal middle-of-nowhere stone farmhouse and silo stand like sentinels on the outskirts of Parker, KS., along highway 1077.  The rain from a day earlier looks to be drying out a little, but the flat, perforated farm fields good drainage paints a false picture of just how intense the storms had been, as we'd overhear every time we'd stop in a small town.  Area creeks and rivers had been just at the edge of flood stage in nearly every section of the route.  Our timing had been perfect.

The old Parker, KS. school building, no longer in use and sitting quietly in wait for.... demolition?  I certainly hope not, but, the circumferential "Keep Out" fencing and scattered debris seems to spell the inevitable.  This is the third time I've been past this neat old structure, but, I still felt compelled to snap another picture.  



Here's the same building shortly after its completion in 1922.  It's really neat to see this sort of archived material, especially for the size comparison of the then freshly planted trees.  Photo Source: Copyright: ©Parker Community Historical Society 2001-2015. All rights reserved.  Source URL: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~kspchs/prhs.htm


The rest of the route is pretty darn good, and I'm going to leave the rest to be yours to discover, aside from some personal moments and observations from along the pre-ride.  

STORY!
IN!
PICTURES!


THE WHAT ?!? !?!?!!?
(sub caption:  "This tastes like dirt!")


A small bit of heartache from the drive down to Paola to the ride start.
This is US-169 and 255th Street in Miami County, KS., near Hillsdale.
The object that looks like a big "L" just left of center is the remains
of the old farmstead home that had been there effectively forever.
Clearly there was a fire - and the house looks to have sustained at least
70% complete consumption.  I'm not sure if the home had been occupied,
and if that was the case, I certainly hope everyone made it out
unharmed, but, if it had been vacant - well, I hope this was not the
result of some sort of juvenile misdoing.  Unfortunate loss.  


Spencer K. leads the way down 327th Street, jut a few miles into the adventure

Finally the drizzle begins to clear - on old K-7 south of Osawatomie, KS.


Centerville, KS.  A rest stop for railroad workers, really.  The feed-store / c-store on the corner takes cash and had cold beverages on-hand, as well as any of your farm-animal veterinary vaccination needs.  Be mindful of UCI controls; apparently goat steroids are still illegal during competition.  The post office next door is a compendium of poor house-plant care.
The only available restroom is a porta-john, out of frame.  This is a spartan route.  Bring cash.  Pack extras.  This is how we like our rando!  (okay, it's not that bad.)


After Spencer and I wrapped up business at Centerville, we were back on course and headed across the expanse of Kansas prairie and back east toward Mound City.  Although it isn't a control, there's a new Casey's here - which was good since I'd run out of water.  The humidity was downright ridiculous, to the point I couldn't ever really be sure if it'd been raining, or it was just because I'd been sweating so much.  My gloves were soaked, jersey, shorts, saddle... good grief I sweat a lot, but, BUT, compared to so many past summers my hydration plan was working perfectly... thus being out of water, I was actually drinking it.  Imagine that!  Skratch Labs.  That's all I'll say about that.  (OH, really?)  Yeah, yeah, yeah... here we go again with another powdered energy drink, eh?  No, no... this is hydration only, with maybe 40 calories per serving.  I've been down this road in the past;  Accelerade, Gatorade, Powerade, Hammer HEED, and just popping plain-ole Endurolytes (also Hammer).  All of them had worked pretty well, but, eventually calories or cost, or both, made with use prohibitive.  Skratch still costs money, yeah, but it's not too spendy and a little seems to go a long way.  Also - a biggie - it really doesn't take up very much space... anywhere.  I can carry an over-estimated amount for a 200km ride, something like 12 servings, and it barely occupies one back jersey pocket.  If I have a bag (which I usually do) it's a non-event to carry 600k worth in a regular-sized rack trunk or saddlebag.  The way Skratch smartly packages their product, further, if you plan to use enough (like for a 600) you can just toss the whole package into your kit.  It's basically a big, heavy-duty zip-top pouch with an included serving scoop.  Easy.  

So, THAT, he,he, is all I'll say about that.  Hydration covered, what about calories?

Calories - it's tough for me to eat a ton at the stops, but, a "ton" isn't what I've been needing.  Less, more often, has worked far better for me over the last year or so - and the c-stores always have something that hits the spot.  Tossing in some REAL food somewhere around the halfway is always good, too.  For the opening miles, however, I start with bottles pre-mixed with a mild dose of Carboplex-Gain-Cytocarb Maltowhatever powder and the appropriate scoop of Skratch Lab's hydration mix.  This makes for a nice early miles perk-up and some fresh carbs to hopefully be used as the body warms up and gets settled-in.  AFter that, the bottles are for hydration only.  Hammer Gel comes along for the ride in a 5-serving gel flask.  I still love the Hammer guys, and their focus on great endurance nutrition; and, pound for pound, their large bottles of Hammer Gel are an inexpensive and effective way for me to get the calories I need while riding.  One serving lasts about an hour - that's all I usually need to stay topped off between controls.  The days of munching from a mix of various nuts, crackers and (yick when I say it outloud) candy are long gone.  The handlebar bag is a LOT smaller now, and really only exists for easy Hammer Gel, phone (for the camera) and cue sheet access, and some meds that sometimes come in handy from the saddle.  Short of that, nutrition has almost become "easy" with this system, and I've been able to feel it in my recent performances.  Two to three-hundred calories at the controls, some liquid, some solid, are easily put away and don't cause any stomach distress or leaden feeling legs once rolling again.  Combined with envelope-pushing during commutes and some cross-training, the alteration of my calorie intake has yielded the ability to maintain a higher cruising speed.  Three long rides in a row now, it feels like second nature so it should be easy to stick with.

Back on the road, Spencer and I enjoyed some nice miles together talking about route design and RUSA stuff, life in general and bikes, and eventually the pacing bug began to itch at the backs of my legs.  Up came the tempo I'd been drilling myself on, and before long I was up the road a few clicks.  The long, uninterrupted stretches of Linn County highways lulled me into a good rhythm and the next major turn sat at a Tee intersection... impossible to miss.  I settled in, and did some calorie destruction.  Along the way, the effect of rains from the previous day's deluge became more difficult to ignore.  The storms had blossomed and strengthened in the late afternoon heat, with plenty of fuel in the air... but, a stalled boundary kept any movement to the east minimal, so, all night long the storms recycled themselves and trained across the same area of the state, over and over.  Some estimates were solid, some tall-tales; but, generally, the area had received 6-8 inches of rainfall in just a few hours, sending area fields, streams, creeks, and ultimately rivers well-up on their banks.  Riding along, uncharacteristic streams of silty mud crisscrossed the roadway, along with big clumps of corn stalks and hay.  The roadside's open culverts flowed from field runoff, even these dozen or so hours later, and tall grasses bordering the fields had been lain flat against the ground from rushing floodwaters.  It was hard to believe, but easy to see that the roads we had traveled were likely under a couple inches of water only a couple hours prior to our start.  I began to envision each of the remaining low-water crossings and bridges along the route ahead and started to wonder if the ride we'd set out upon could be completed.  Kansas county roads enjoy a good amount of maintenance, but, on the forthcoming Missouri side a few of the older county highways had been afforded only modest improvements, depending.  I started remembering all of the "Impassible during high water" road signs I'd passed on previous recon rides.  Uh oh.  With "interesting" comes risk.
I guessed we'd just have to wait and find out.

After leaving Mound City and the comfort of the Casey's, we made our way across KS-52 highway east to an old section of the original alignment of US-69 highway, which sits atop the original alignment of the older Fort Scott-to-Fort Leavenworth military road.  Here, though the pavement has been improved, an old bridge sits and welcomes travelers keen on "the long way 'round".  


Spencer on point takes the scenic route (okay, the entire route is based on 'the scenic route') across the old Mine Creek bridge, built in 1927, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.  I remember driving across this bridge when I was in high school, when more of the old highway had been accessible.  With the new US-69 highway's recent improvements and widening, many of these old highway alignments have become segmented or truly "lost".  There were some opportunities to save bits and pieces of the old road, like the scenic section near Trading Post, KS., an historic little town in its own right, but, in this age of tighter budgets much of the previous alignment was used in the creation of the new divided highway, the rest left as shorter spurs and dead ends.  Still, it always invites me to explore and remember a time when a younger nation first laid these narrow strips of pavement between towns, back when this would have been "the" only road to Kansas City from this part of the state.


This jaunt to Prescott revealed a bit more about the power of the thunderstorms that had ravaged the area around the route the night before.  We'd stopped long enough at the Casey's in Mound City to overhear locals talking of long waits under highway overpasses due to reduced visibility, strobe-light lightning frequency, water over-running the roads and high winds.  Here, riding along toward Prescott, KS., larger diameter downed tree limbs and sections of roadway covered with twigs and leaves told a tale that seemed to reinforce local beliefs of at least a brief tornado - but, thankfully, the only damage we witnessed was limited to the arborist's realm.  

Prescott greeted us with welcoming arms, but, in an interesting turn of events - and more evidence of the storm's wrath - we happened into the Prescott control and c-store to find them without power.  Thankfully, most of the beverages in the coolers had remained cool, and - thankfully - I had brought enough cash to cover my purchases, as my usual "have-debit-card-will-travel" payment solution clearly wasn't going to fly.  Did I mention that cash is king?  Yeah, on this route, it's a great idea ... and, lately, I've been pretty happy with my previously un-used stash of cash deep, deep in the saddlebag kit.  I hadn't had to dig into it ... ever, as far as I can remember prior to this year.  Once I found a working pop machine stand up in Iowa on the 400k there, the decision to just stash a few bills and quarters "just in case" paid off huge.  After replenishing it, here I was dipping into it again.  One just never knows what'll be out there, whether it's the seldom-open feed store in Centerville that just happens to sell sodas, or this modern c-store suffering from a power outage, it's nice to have a fallback to paper bills and metal coins.  


After squeezing my gloves and cap of excess sweat, drinking my fill and refilling my bottles with fresh Skratch Labs, it was time to head out again, into the strangely dejavu weather.  HUMID.  HUMID.  HUMID... and almost no indication of a shadow, no breaks in the clouds, and no way the swampy conditions were to burn off anytime soon.  Headed out onto the long Kansas highway leading straight into Missouri, eventually I knew the question of the route's pass-ability would be answered.  Of all the bridges and overpasses we'd forded, each with raging high water beneath them, at least we'd remained above grade.  On the Missouri side, however, my memory of low water crossing signs and old-school roadside flood gauges seemed to indicate our trip waited to be cut short.  For the moment, deep in time-trial mode, inspired, well-fueled, and comfortable - I pedaled to points east without much concern.  I let the fear of the unknown pass away while I lifted my cadence and ducked down into the breeze.  For the first time in a long while, I felt content and purposeful behind the handlebars - and having fun to boot.  It was a terrific day out. 

Hume, MO., and the Missouri back-country.  Lumpy pavement, sparse services, unapologetic hills.... The "back-nine" of this route is a bit of a booger, but a great route all the same.  Traffic isn't too bad, and - thankfully - the water never showed its face; all water crossings and bridges certainly showed evidence of the rains, but, we made it through with ease.  Slowly, the sun had begun to peek through the clouds - and with the high humidity, yikes.  Water was consumed quickly, and thankfully, right at a tiny town called Virginia, MO., right on MO-52, sat a little roasted nuts shop...and thankfully, inside, a cooler with sodas and bottled water.  Yes!  The services aren't what most rides will be used to, but the ones that are here are a blessing.  

Finally refilled, Spencer and I paired up on the road for the final push back into Paola, KS. from the back way.  We made our way first, though, through Amsterdam... once, back when I'd started this rando thing, Amsterdam was basically a road sign and a gravel parking lot.  Perhaps it was once a burgeoning rail town, sitting right on a N/S alignment of the Kansas City Southern railway it isn't hard to imagine it as such... but any hints of an old downtown, a depot, or farm houses ... it's pretty spartan, nearly erased, a true ghost town.  Today, however, it's a place... nay, a reason... to stop for a break.  There is a great c-store and bratwurst grille on the south side of the route which - if your timing is good - yields what is sure to be terrific rando-food.  
Past Amsterdam, we traverse the La Cygne reservoir dam and powerplant... always a bit surreal.  Making our way up over the "hump" which separates Linn Valley from the rest of, well, Kansas, we make it up the old highway and over hill and dale to Paola, finishing in decent time, and most importantly, with a smile.  

Spencer and I, bikes packed, made our way across town to celebrate and chat.  What more needs to be said?  An amazing day out, great conditions, and what turned out to be a home run for the route itself.  

What more does one need after 200 awesome kilometers?
The Martin City Brewing Company.  Recommended.
Want to END your day here?  Ride the Archie Bunker 200!


Although... it was a little sweaty, and I got a little dusty... much to the delight of my fellow bar mates.  

Tan lines, Midwest dust-bowl style.



Stay tuned for my next post, in progress, about the August 200k ride we knocked out only a couple weeks back... though, as usual, it already seems like it's been a year.  I gotta get back out there... and if the cards look right, I might be headed north for something a little loftier than the usual 200km monthly fare.  Fingers crossed... maybe my 2015 goal isn't all lost after all?


Thanks for reading!















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