March 29, 2006

The Liberty 200K - Postcards from Hill Country.

It was shaping up to be another rare morning, as riders from all walks of life and schools of cycling-thought began getting ready, zipping up wind-vests, checking tires pressure, and carefully folding cue sheets; all the familiar and distinct sounds of the readying randonneur.

I love those sounds.

It was the long-since-heard voice of Dale, from Iowa, recounting tales from the some 400K, somewhere. The sounds of Bob Burns answering last-minute questions while pouring over the pre-reg sheet, the sounds of clattering plates and hot coffee being poured into waiting cups inside the Liberty Perkins. This was going to be a good day. In fact, the temperature was about 10-12 degrees warmer than we’d all expected, and the fog from the previous-nights forecast was nowhere to be found. In wool and lycra, we were ready for a ride. A long ride.

It was a familiar cast, many faces from years past, and many new ones, too. Spencer was there on his magnificent fixxie, Del on his gorgeous Lemond, a gent on a REALLY nice Rivendell Romulus, replete with fenders, racks and lights. Some really nice racer hardware was present, as well, making this another who’s-who of cycling in Kansas City – racers looking for a solid base-building day, randonneurs looking for another solid SR series, and classicists out for a good days’ jaunt on their pride-and-joy machines.

And, once again, me – trying to be everything at once on my Bianchi, out to once again distance myself from my checkered physiological past, and test once again the bounds of my mental toughness, and rebuild last years’ fitness-lost.
I was a little more prepared this time out, having learned a thing or two, and having remembered what had worked for me in the past. The route was familiar, but the cue sheet was fixed to the handlebar stem, and even though the back-pockets were relatively empty at ride start, I had food at easy reach in a new-fangled goodie stasher bag, up front. I had even made a seriously fool-hardy choice, something that I knew better about, but for some reason was willing to risk today:

A new saddle.

...well, not TOTALLY new – evident in my LAST blog entry, I was at a saddle crossroads, of sorts, and had settled on a Brooks Team Professional saddle to see if it would be the magic bullet I had been looking for. After about 6-hours of time on the trainer with it, and countless micro-adjustments, I was VERY, VERY pleased with the performance, but I knew better. But, over the days leading up to the ride, the scepter of yet another 200K on my previous saddle was enough to make me jump.

I mounted the seatpost carrying the Brooks onto the Bianchi, and crossed my fingers.

“Here goes nothin’…”

With that, the ride began...

The first part of the ride was pretty hilarious – at least for me, Del, and the “Spinergy guy”. Seems that we were the only ones that took the correct turn on the first part of the cue sheet, literally about 100 yards outside of the parking lot!
A little confused, and half-wondering what was going on, Del and I continued checking and rechecking the cue sheet, trying to make sure that WE were correct. Yeesh. We went on trust of previous years, and the fact that no matter how much second-guessing we performed, we were indeed on Kansas Avenue.

The Spinergy guy, in training for PBP ’07, was looking really strong. He kept darting up the road, and then Del and I would catch him stopped, checking the cue sheet, or adjusting something on the bike. We’d pass him, only because we’d caught up – and then later on he’d pass us right back because he was faster. Dang. Of course, I knew what I was doing here… training, too, but really rebuilding. After a really lackadaisical end-of-season, and THREE occasions of complete burn-out last summer, I had become a really poor, poor rider. In fact, on several occasions, I think the “me” from 1998 would have beaten me, flat out.

Sure, I had my moments – but they were short lived. We’re talking about a solo century at 19.2 MPH average, and then a 20 mile ride where I bonk the next weekend. It was pathetic – and a clear sign that, perhaps building up over the course of two years, I was burnt-out. Severely.

I took on a new philosophy for 2006, and – so far – it’s paying off well. So far, even though we were only about 10 miles into the ride, I was actually making a fair run at holding Spinergy-guy’s wheel. It would not last – but for the first time a LONG while, I felt the strength coming back. After seeing him step-up the pace a few too many times, I backed off into a normal, more-realistic-for-me, 200K pace. It was gonna be a long day, and reminders from two weeks ago had me thinking long-term. This was about a ten-times-hillier ride than two weeks prior, also.

Time to conserve.

Unfortunately, because of the wrong turn by 90% of the pack, and Del’s smarter-than-me pace, I was alone. Mile 12 – yikes. After turning around a couple times, I didn’t see Del’s bright yellow jacket anywhere, or anyone else. There was no catching what’s-his-name, so I was alone. I didn’t really want to be alone for the next 115 miles, but it was shaping up that way – despite the fact that in the back of my mind I knew I’d be swept up by some of the talent later on in the day, assuming they turned around at some point. I turned off of State Route “H”, and began to weave west towards Cameron Road, crossing Mo-92, and US-169 highway, and heading north towards the Jesse James Farm. Thankfully, Missouri wised-up and repaved some of these really badly neglected roads in the last couple years, making for a pretty nice ride – which was especially good since I was still relegated to 23c tires by my Bianchi’s tight clearances. The hills began to show up for the fun, too, though pretty shallow and evenly spaced for this early in the ride – the fun part comes much later.

Climb after climb, and a few random dogs taking chase later on, and I was nearing Kearney, MO. I was feeling REALLY good at this point, and my fuel choice for the first half of the ride (nothing but Fig Newtons) was working out REALLY well. This was an experimentation that I’d also previously alluded to in past posts, and it was working nicely – good, steady energy, and no stomach distress. FIG BARS, baby! I figured out a rotation of one fig bar about every 10 miles was a perfect balance – but in the grand scheme, that’s really far short of the amount of calories I probably should have been taking in. Still, I never really felt a deficit of energy during this part.

After Kearney, rode up the highway a piece and continued east, eventually ending up at State Route “C”. This is the only highway section that really makes me want to write a letter to complain to Bob. I hate this highway. Looking at a map, I’m sure it’s a necessary evil for these northern routes, but MAN… traffic is relentless, taking advantage of the lack of state patrols, taking liberties with the speed limit, and there’s no shoulder. I nearly get clipped into the ditch by a truck and trailer. Nice.

“…not gonna die today…” I hunker down near the road’s edge, and count the kilometers until I can turn off. Ugh. Another fanatical motorist whizzes past, coming over a blind hill. This makes me feel GREAT. Not soon enough, the turn for State Route “W” arrives, I check my six…and check it again, and turn off. Whew. Time for a little solitude on these back roads. After a few more miles, I start nearing Smithville Lake, and suddenly there is Spinergy-guy, again – from the rear? A wrong turn, and back-tracking, and he’s passing me. Dang. At least he’s consistent! We chat it up for a few miles, but at this point the fatigue is beginning to build – which, looking at my bottles, had nothing to do with lack of hydration, and in retrospect had more to do with caloric shortcomings. Maybe TWO fig bars every ten miles? – I couldn’t keep his wheel for very long at all.

With the lake spreading out around us, gulls sweeping to and fro, and the gentle breezes giving way to warm sunshine, it was an excellent place to be on a bicycle. Wow. A few hills later on, and passing another arm of the lake, we approached the turn for “F”, and a jaunt north through little Trimble, MO. The Spinergy-guy and I traded positions on the road for a short spell, usually until I tired-out again, and then I would watch him distance me up the road again. After another short run north on US-169 Highway (which was more well-behaved than “C” had been) we turned east again on “Z”, for the final run into Edgerton – the unofficial resting place, perfectly positioned at the 45 mile point of the ride. At this point, a larger majority of the pack was beginning to catch up to me. Spinergy-guy was out of sight, and probably not planning on stopping at Edgerton, but I HAD to. It’s the neatest little gas station/c-store I’ve really ever been to. Has that flavor of small-town, his-n-hers bathrooms, an old tile floor, and usually a good beer special on the wall. Chocolate milk and fig bars for me. Perfect. A short break, and I joined up with Spencer, whom had slowly but surely caught up to me, along with everyone else in the wrong-turn pack.

Spencer and I see eye-to-eye on a lot of things – we finished the 400K together last year, both on one-cog – which was a real binding point, the brotherhood of the single-ratio riders. The shared appreciation for lugged steel doesn’t hurt the conversation either. We pedal out of Edgerton, and turn north onto “B” highway, passing up Del – wow! There he is, motoring alongside the Romulus rider – we exchange hellos, barely, as we grunt up a particularly large hill. The “fun part” was beginning.

Spencer and I motored along, chatting about lugs and bags and personal quirkiness when it comes to riding, and then turned west on State Route “E”, a gorgeous chuck of pavement that leads into Camden Point, MO. I love this highway – well, it’s more of a love/hate relationship, really. The hills are enough to put you sideways, but they are so much fun n the downhill side, some to the tune of 50+ MPH. It’s a BLAST, but the tradeoff is the relentless grunting of the uphills. Spencer and I begin to drift apart – he’s stronger today, too, and I’m still in the conservation mindset. After a few miles of pain, Interurban Road is upon us, and a long, steady respite from any climbing at all. It’s really flat – probably not perfectly flat, but very flat compared to what we just rode over. After an endless flat section, the right turn towards the west comes at route “HH” – which, I have affectionately referred to in the past as “Holy Hell” road.

“HH” is a hodge-podge of really fast downhills, grueling uphills, corners and sketchy pavement that makes the hills on “E” only a few miles earlier look sorta tame. The interesting thing is that they are all optical illusions: for some reason, they don’t LOOK steep, but you know they are instantly, as momentum is drained, gears run out, and legs protest loudly. My quads wanted to jump right out of my skin on the aptly-named “welcome to Platte City” hill, which pitches up violently and then drops you like a stone on the downhill side as you careen towards grade-level with I-29 – only to pitch upward again for the final haul up to main street, high on the bluffs on the other side of the interstate. It’s crazy – but at least the worst is over, for the first half of the ride. A left, right, and right, and the Casey’s marking the half-way point of the 200K is here – and I’m pooped.

There’s already a good number of people here, sitting on the curb munching on whatever, mixing up whatever and just relaxing. There are more smiles than frowns – so it’s a good day all around, it seems. I proceed with the brevet process, grabbing wallet & brevet card from seatbag, and heading inside. Two quarts of water, a big bag of cashews, a pint of Chocolate milk, and a Mounds bar. Mounds bar? Nothing offending on the label, and darn-skippy I was gonna burn it off later. A strange choice – one that even *I* questioned AS I grabbed it, but wow – it tasted and felt good. Narf, narf, narf, a few mumbled words, and gulps of water ensured, after the card was signed and safely returned to the seatbag, and I sat down for a rest and refuel.

I gotta tell ya – up to this point LAST year, I was hating my saddle, cursing the hills, and wishing for a ride home. But today, I was right on the mark with last year’s time – my card got signed at 11:25am, which was pretty good --- it was no 9:57am like in 2003, but one thing at a time, dude. Speed comes later.

Del and Romulus-man rolled in after a few minutes, looking pretty good – but Del was complaining about the knee issue again. Man, Del can’t catch a break this year – I’ve never before witnessed something standing in the way of a man’s passion like this before, and I was having sympathy pains. Determined to carry-on, he went through the routine, too, and returned to the parking lot with a slice of pizza and a determined look about him. Another bathroom break, and in less than 20 minutes we were back on the streets again, heading west out of Platte City, and into destiny.

Feeling superhuman with my gut-full of chocolate milk and Mounds, I took point, and held it for the first 10 miles back out onto the route, up 371 highway all the way to State Rte. “U”, which turned back into “E” near Camden Point (yes, again) – at this point, I didn’t really feel my pace slow down, but my pull was appreciated, and I was passed up by the four I had been pulling – well, three… where was Del? I scanned the horizon behind me, and came up dry… crud. I’m not sure what I would have been able to do, but I really wanted to turn around and ride back, a few times. The reality of it is, at some point, each man’s battle has to become his own – and Del was fighting his right now. All I would have been able to do was watch in powerless frustration. Short of a shot of morphine and a 2000mg muscle relaxer (neither of which I had on me), there was not much I would have been able to do. But I still felt badly.

The monsters of Camden Point came howling again, and eventually – after much struggle (did these things get STEEPER?), I arrived at Route “EE”, heading north out of Camden and into oblivion. I sat and waited for Del for abut 10 minutes again, and then rode on. Sorry man…

“EE” is a roller coaster – up, down, up, down, up, down – for about seven miles, and not one hill is really noticeably steeper than the previous – they just come at you in succession. Then, the big dome of the KCI Doppler radar site, and then comes highway “Z”. This is another roller coaster of a road – but with more flat sections, and a few steepies as you mosey back east towards Edgerton. Traffic is pretty good, but more remarkable are the way the skies were shaping up – the mostly cloudy morning had given way to partly cloudy skies, and brilliant sunshine. Ahhhhh… the headgear came off, and glove liners were stowed – the temps had made it into the mid-50’s, and it was shaping up to be a fantastic day for riding…. And, shhhhhhh! Don’t tell ANYONE, but there isn’t any wind….!
Flags hung dormant on their flagpoles for the first time in “I can’t remember when” on this ride. This usually turns into an epic struggle to gain ground despite the gale, but today, nature was calm – and the day was as pretty as a postcard.

Feeling fantastic with my fuel choices back at Platte City, this hills were being checked off with more fervor now, and with fewer gear changes. The first half of the ride was relegated to fig bars every ten miles, but for the last half I was playing with Hammer Gel again, and I could definitely tell a difference in my performance, which, at 80-miles in, should have been degrading. Quite the contrary, I was feeling a strength coming into my legs that had been absent for months. Edgerton came again, quicker than expected, and I dismounted for another quick break and refuel. Sure, I was making more stops – but I was feeling good because I was eating and drinking enough – if the tradeoff was more bathroom breaks and re-fuel stops, so be it! It was better than slogging along in misery!

After a brief break, it was northbound on Route “B”, up towards one of the hard roads of the ride – Missouri State highway 116. Whoo, baby… home of the BIG hills. But, this year – it was either the successful fueling plan and hydration that helped, or the comparison to the hills in Platte City that really flattened the 116 hills for me – I floated up and down, up and down, and eventually reached – earlier than expected, US-169 – crossing over to the same road, Mo-116, but a newer version of it, with shoulders and graded pavement that resulted in less-steep, but longer, hills. Unfortunately, there is a reason this highway was improved, because the traffic is definitely there to support it. Contrasting to getting passed only a few times in the past 20 miles, I was now getting whizzed-past by all sorts of traffic, all making a bee-line for Plattsburg to the east. That’s okay here, though – nice shoulder.

After another seven miles or so, Plattsburg, and another “mandatory” rest-stop, perfectly placed for tired riders. Not an official control, Dale from Iowa said it best:

“every-time I don’t stop there, I regret it at the end.”

He’s right. The crux of this 200K is really the last 20 miles. People forget the endless stress of the return to Route “C”, and the endless grind of Plattsburg Road, and finally the torture of Glen Hedren Road in the last five miles. As if the length and breadth of the ride wasn’t enough, a fair chunk of it’s total climbing comes in the last 15 miles alone! At least, fatigue would make it seem that way.

I refueled again, gulped down my 4th pint of chocolate milk, and set out with full bottles and good fuel in the tank. This last 22 miles was going to be FUN, dang it!

And, it was … despite a few more “get on the shoulder! – oh wait, there IS NO shoulder!” moments on Route “C” – Bob, are you reading this? Add a few more miles, and get us off this road! – once I finally got to Plattsburg Road, things were good – no cramping, not a lot of fatigue, and a fair amount of big-ring fun thrown in on the down-hills for good measure, I practically sailed home – it was thrilling to finish the ride this way – oh yeah, and in nearly complete comfort: remember that possibly fatal mistake that you should never-EVER do, but I did anyways?

The saddle?

Brilliant move. Seriously – I would really advise AGAINST it, but I rolled the dice and installed a nearly brand new saddle which I’d never ridden on the road – trainer only – and took it on a 200K. It was fantastic. Not only were all the pain problems of the old saddle solved, but I was actually able to just SIT. This is a difficult thing to put in perspective, but while riding, your weight is shouldered in sections, by your arms, your legs, and your backside – you’re never really SITTING all the way on the saddle. By this notion, many racing saddles are really not meant to be SAT ON for very long – you are leaned forward, pushing with your legs – and therefore the saddle really isn’t doing much. This is why saddles which normally feel good at 50 miles end up feeling horrid at 150 – because you eventually get tired of holding yourself up, and you just want to SIT. For the first time EVER, I was able to just SIT – where previously, if I wanted relief I was STANDING on the pedals because I wanted to get OFF that old saddle.
The Brooks Team Professional – FOR ME – is great! It was a risky move, but no saddle sores, no chaffing, and good comfort – all day long. To be fair, sitting on ANYTHING for 9 hours is going to hurt a little bit --- but the Brooks felt as-good at the end of the ride as it had at the 20-mile marker. It’s quickly becoming the best cycling-money I’ve spent, next to my Shimano sandals. It’s that good.
Forget the weight, and give Brooks a chance.

After the best downhill in the entire world _ that last one before the end of the 200K, and finally at 4:35 PM, I rolled into the Perkins parking lot, with my 200K complete! Wow. Not a stellar performance, certainly not my best, but respectable. I’ll have to look at the stats for comparison, but I think mile-for-mile I was no slower or faster than I had been last year, with only one gear. What does it mean? Nothing, really – it’s all riding, no matter what the method – I had FUN today, with the benefit of being finished, I could now call it “fun”… because it truly was. The weather, the feel of the bike, finally breaking my ties with engineered nutrition and still having a good stomach and fuel day; all around – a good ride! Not even Spinergy-guy reminding me how well I’d finished in 2003 would take away from the day’s result – okay, maybe a little. I really didn’t NEED the reminder, but yeah – my speed and fitness has slipped, but I know why I’m here: rebuilding. After the end of a long journey with equipment and fueling strategies, I am finally back at a place where I can just RIDE – and with that comes the notion that one might ride a little faster, just to push himself… so, now that the base is in place with two 200K rides in a month, maybe it’s time to start up those “try and stay with the pack” rides, and see if some of that spark can come back.

For now, though, as I put away my equipment, peel off layers and sip down my “recovery” chocolate milk – pint number five, courtesy Perkins – I’m happy.

Very happy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice ride report Keith. As you know, I am a big Brooks fan. Although my favorite is a B17, I have found that I rarely run into problems with them.

I have done similar "silly" things like putting on a new saddle 10 minutes before starting an 11 day tour that covered over 1,200 miles.

Welcome to the knuckle dragging club!