August 10, 2006

The Tongi Tango - a chain-poppin' good time!

Two weeks after Tinbutt, and I was ready again to enjoy a weekend ride. I’d been commuting again since the Tuesday afterwards, but it was a slow progression to get the feeling back in the legs, get the tolerance for the heat re-charged. It’s been really, really hot here – hotter that I can remember it being. I recall when I was working near College and Lamar a couple years back, it was like 106º, and a fully frozen water-bottle I’d brought along for the afternoon portion of my ride was literally completely thawed by the time I made it the 7 miles to my second job. It’s been nearly that hot these last couple of weeks. I’ve since upgraded to the newer “Polar” bottles, which are insulated to keep drinks cooler, longer – but even in this heat my drinks are still lukewarm by the time I reach the house in the afternoons.

Heat. It’s gettin’ OLD.

I read back at some of the older posts, from last fall, and autumns-past, the rides in 50º weather seem like a memory – like magic. I’d give nearly anything for a cloudy, 55º day, with a slight north breeze, 30% humidity, and maybe a slight chance of drizzle…at sunrise…on a Sunday with no traffic…maybe on Hedge Lane, just north of K-152. Mmmmmm…..

Too bad, Dude --- I pull up to Badgerland’s house, and start unloading the bike, and I’m sweating already. I snap back to reality, and realize that unless I get really good with umbrella modifications, I’m not gonna get any shade today. I’ve got the sunscreen on so thick that I leave smear marks on the car as I pull the bike out of the trunk. Yep, I broke down and drove up here – I don’t need another 100+ mile day in this heat. Talk about burn-out!

It’s a pleasure to ride with Badgerland – always has been – but more-so now that he’s mounted-up on some really nice eye-candy; a gorgeous Rivendell, complete with bags, lights, racks, and good tires. I feel slightly less fancy on my Kogswell, even with the saddlebag mounted, and frame-pump secured with a leather toe-strap – riding next to something from Walnut Creek’s premier bicycle shop makes anything else seem plain! His bike is CLASSY. Polished aluminum gleaming and leather mud-flaps waving, we head out into the northern expanses of Shawnee.

As we make our way, we start to talk about the usual things that cyclers like us end up talking about:

“When I moved here, there was nothing out here!” He chimed as we pass yet another residential ground-breaking site. “That road we just came from used to be the runway for a small airport out here, used to be Johnson County Agricultural Airport!”

We share the same frustration with over-building and shoulder-less 6-lane super-thoroughfares that seem to be popping up around here lately – today’s ride will take us far away from such things, and provide a taste of what we like to ride for.

The first turn leads us onto K-7, near the Kansas River. It’s a great road, with a good shoulder, if you can catch it early enough in the day, that is. Not for the weak of heart, perhaps, but still one of the only ways to get across the river, without taking a major western detour first. We head down the ramp just after the northern levee, and down into Bonner Springs, and K-32 highway. This is more of a rural bypass anymore, ever since I-70 took over. Mainly local traffic, and not much of that even, awaits us, as we pedal thru the outskirts of town and along the railroad tracks that parallel the river banks. We head out of town onto Loring Road, and follow the river on a flattish section of road with endless fields on one side, and the mechanized sounds of locomotives to the other. I’m something of a railroad buff, so I spend time looking left, then right, then left again – just to see what’s passing by.

We notice that the cars become fewer and farther between, as we approach the point where Loring Road bears north, and Golden Road takes over to the south and west. We turn north, and face the fist hill or the day, a real grunter. This is the same route, since Bonner Springs, that the 200K in March took, and I love just about every inch of this route. It’s challenging, and the scenery makes it easy to forget that you’re only a few miles from a shopping strip or two. I love it up here. With the first big climb behind us, the heat of the day becomes more apparent. My back is already soaked thru with sweat, and it’s barely 8:00AM!

The glorious road transitions to another one, even MORE glorious; we approach the payoff for the climbing so far, and slide down a long, shady descent, back into the river valley near Desoto, KS., and motor along a terrific flat as we cross the county line. The shade helps, and a slight tailwind doesn’t hurt our mood – we’re making good time so far, even though that’s not the goal. We pause near an intersection to check out maps, and head west towards Linwood.

This is one of the best parts of the route so far, as the road gets shaded over by a canopy of trees, and the houses become quite palacial in nature. A long, stone fence lines the road near one of the great homes, giving the surroundings a decidedly northeastern feel. The road pitches uphill, and curves north back towards K-32 again. We transition onto the good shoulder of K-32 and spin away on the smooth pavement, passing a field of sunflowers and an old guy and his truck, complete with farm dog. With a rousing "hello" and a wave, we exchange good-mornings - enjoying the gentle breezes and scenery as we approach Linwood proper.

Linwood is quite a small town, almost forgotten along this since-bypassed route to Lawrence to the west, and it's reflected in the near lack of traffic. Most of the traffic here is carried by I-70, which is both good and bad. Linwood will likely stay untouched by time, and this is a great highway to ride on - things that you'd find me hard pressed to complain about, but it's a little piece of Americana that is typical leftovers from the Interstate highway push of the 50's. Still, at the very least, they didn't rip up this pavement - it's still here for people to discover.

We rolled on, past Linwood, and further west on K-32 towards our next turn at 222nd St, or LV-1 northbound towards Tonganoxie. We finally turned north, after some long, steady highway-style climbs, and with a tailwind at our backs we enjoyed the first section of 222nd Street's long downhills - we flew down, slightly up again, and then down again into a big valley with rolling hills and scattered farms. This was another great piece of forgotten road, with almost NO traffic -- I think we saw three cars in an hour, and two of those were headed south in the opposite lanes. The chip seal was giving a little buzz to our frames, but big tires and steel always handle those conditions well. We smiled and spun along in the sunshine, taking in the sights. So far removed, visually, was this place from the usual Kansas backdrop that it was easy to breathe deep and invision ourselves in Wisconsin or the Dakotas - Leavenworth county, as I've been taught in the last couple rides up here, is very scenic, and nothing like the image most people have of Kansas.

Eventually, we came to our next turn, which took us on a dog-leg to US-24. This is a Federal highway, mind you, and there were absolutely NO cars today. Very odd, but nothing to complain about! We took off farther north on the wide, glass-smooth shoulder and made our way into Tonganoxie, turning again at Washington Street for the trip back east towards Kansas City, and the Speedway, about 6 miles away.
Washington Street was another chip-seal adventure, with rolling hills, and lined with older homes, one of which was complete with older Tongi resident, with a hearty "good mornin'" and a wave and smile, we made contact with the way life has been in this small town for decades. This is how life SHOULD be.

After scaring a jogger half-to-death with my obnoxiously loud brass bell, we rolled onward towards salvation - the Casey's Store. Nearing State Avenue, and the return to the 200K route from March, we stopped in for a much-needed break. The heat was still there, just in the background, and I was starting to feel it - plus the pangs of hunger. Over halfway done, I had not been eating enough - and Badgerland was at the rescue with a full sleeve of Fig Netwons, and Casey's provided the fresh water and ice. A 20-minute break, and I was starting to feel good again, ready for the next part of the ride! One thing I found interesting, people's looks towards us had changed. Instead of disdain and confusion at our spandex and racy bikes, we were getting nods of approval from folks as they milled around and in-and-out of the gas station. With the large, traditional-looking baggage, and purposeful looking machines we had propped up against the side of the building, I think people looked upon us as tourers, instead of traffic-blockers. Hard to tell -- maybe it was an off-day for them. Curious, just the same.

We packed up our supplies and headed back out onto State Avenue, and a long downhill that Ort might remember (oops.) - this time it WAS the correct path, and it led us down some good road -- although there was a good shoulder, there was a fair amount of trash and automotive debris strewn about, but our sturdy tires shrugged it off. We climbed some pretty good hills here, too, making our way east - and that's precisely when it happened: PING!! skee, skee, rattle!!!

What the??? My chain, for the first time since I'd first started riding, had broken! Uh, oh. I called out to Badgerland, whom was already stopping to see what had happened. We surveyed the damage, and lo, the SRAM Power-Link that was holding the chain together had popped off during my latest move from big ring to small ring. There was no finding it, as it was likely deep in the grass, or in the traffic lane -- or being two-pieces, maybe both. This is another example of the RIGHT way to ride - preparedness. The extra space and weight (in this case, less than 2 grams) of certain spare parts can save a lot of headache, a lot of gas from the ride home you'd otherwise need to get, and a shameful phone call at the very least. Badgerland and I were both equipped with extra Power-Links -- HIGHLY recommended. You might be asking how I could trust it after what had just happened? Well, what's my alternative? In this case, I knew that I had previously RE-used that link, who knows how many miles ago, or chains-ago - so much that the gold anodiziation had worn completely off in neat, circular patterns. It was simply time for it to break! I pulled a nice, shiny new one out of the saddlebag, and less than ten minutes, and ten greasy fingers later, we were back on the road again.
Beats walking!!!

Back on the road, we approached the Kansas Speedway, getting a neat view of the complex as we rolled up from the west. We bypass the complex to the south, and enjoy a REALLY long and fast downhill, which vaguely reminded me of Colorado in some ways. Deep in a semi-tuck, I let gravity do the work for over two miles of tree-shaded bliss, tires singing, and - again - practicaly no traffic to contend with!
I came to a slow stop back at K-32, near Bonner Springs, but this time to the east of K-7. Another C-Store beckoned to us here, and we stopped again for more cold water and a quick refreshment. We were almost done, but there was no reason to rush today! Even with the heat coming up even more, it was a great day to ride. With the loud blast of a passing freight train behind us, we pedaled out onto K-32, headed back towards the birdge that would take us back into northern Johnson County.

A great view of the river and a few good hills on 47th Street, and we were back in Badgerland's neighborhood, and soon after that back at the house. Whew! Nearly 50 miles, some quite hilly - but nothing horrid - and our day of riding was complete!
Badgerland ran inside as I packed my bicycle back into the trunk of my little car, and then returned with two Mason jars filled 3/4 full with some familiar golden liquid. AHHH! Now you're talking! Always the gracious host, Badgerland and I raised glasses of cold honey lager and toasted the day's workout. I don't know if it was the heat, the hard ride, or the flavor itself, but that was the tastiest beer I've had in a while. Smooth, and refreshing to the core, we were all smiles as the jars became empty. A excellent day! Thanks for the ride, Badgerland!

No comments: