March 25, 2007

The Best 200K Ever. Well, maybe.

Let's get the numbers part out of the way, shall we?
7,000 ft. of climbing in 126 miles. That's quite a bit.... but not as much per-mile as my monthly ride --- hoo, hoo, hoo.... my kind of scum. Fearless and inventive.
Uhh, WHAT? Dude, focus.

Ok... the best 200K EVER?!?! Possible!? Well, that's a bold statement, but I'll start by saying this was the best I've FELT before an event like this, the most prepared I've EVER been, the most well-trained I've been, the strongest I've felt, and it's the WARMEST a brevet here has EVER started, to my knowledge. Above average temps greeted FORTY FOUR riders on a dark Saturday morning outside the Liberty Perkins. Awesome turnout, awesome weather -- even a few sprinkles were welcome, because the forecasts for steady rain were being abandoned in lieu of "partly cloudy" skies. Excellent weather! For the first time in years, I'm able to start the first brevet of the season WITHOUT something covering my ears for protection.
I was all smiles!

It wasn't going to start off without SOME level of panic or hardship, however. As I pulled the bicycle off the roof rack, and inserted the wheel, I started to do what I ALWAYS do -- put the front wheel on. No biggie, right? Okay....
I use bolt-on skewers -- its a commuter-thing. Quick-releases are "too easy", and anything that will complicate the theft of a front wheel is a welcome addition --- however, today, I'm not commuting. Still, it's there, it's ALWAYS been there, it's just a bolt.... but like ANYTHiNG metal, it apparently has a service life, and this one's service life was exactly six years. This is the skewer that came with my Dynohub that I bought back in early 2002. I guess THAT'S ow long those last.... hmmm... As I twisted the trademark C'Dude finishing-torque on that old front skewer... PING!!! The bolt head twists and seperates from the rest of the shaft. Uhhhh.... ok. NOW WHAT???? This is one of those things that is SO reliable, that it's really not even worth mentioning. Wheels come with them, you use them. You usually end up with a few extra in the parts drawer in the garage ... which is a good place for them when something like this happens, right? Calmly, and not prepared to have my day ruined by this development, I wander into the Perkins where the bulk of todays riders are still shovelling in pancakes and coffee, and just ask the question: "ahem...Anyone got a spare front QR?"

"yeah.. I got one. You ready?"

"yup." I subtlely sigh, and follow my savior - Steve - outside to his truck, and after a little fishing around he produces a Spingery quick-release. Thank the maker, and thank Steve for keeping a parts bag in his truck --- something that will likely be in MY aresenal until the end of time, from now on. Of all the spare tubes, spare spokes, spare tires, spare gloves, spare this-and-thats I have stuffed into my seat bag, there is always ONE thing that you just don't think about bringing along. I've often said that I learn something new on EVERY long-distance ride I embark upon... Let's have THIS be the limit of it today. Whew. Steve -- thanks again. I'll find a way to get this back to you.

My ride saved, it was time to get the rest of my stuff ready to roll.

The route - the same as always, and safely memorized in my head -- a day without wrong turns and cue-sheets flapping in the breeze. I love this ride -- it's simply a great route, save for a few state highways we'll get to later on. I had been chatting for two weeks with Dale ---- yes, ANOTHER Dale -- NOT the Warbird that is mentioned here often, but a new Dale, we'll call hime Dale II. That'll work. Also not to be confused with Del, aka Ort. What is it with me and guys with "D" "E" and "L" in their names? Dale, Del, Dale II. Weird. But, once again I find myself with a riding partner whose name I'll likely never forget how to pronounce.
ANYWAYS... Dale II and I meet up, and quickly realize that we had already ridden together many times at the Grandview ride, and we just both happened to work at the same company -- I think Spinman gave him my name or something -- but it's all good. Dale II was turning his attention from racing to distance, and was looking for advice. I was happy to offer it up, as always - and cut to now, here we are, ready to ride with 126 miles ahead of us!
Usually it's a hard thing to stay with someone during an event that is so individual, as far as pace, method, etc., but Dale II and I are pretty well matched on speed for this time of year. We post up, listen to Bob Burns remind everyone twice that this is NOT A RACE. What? IT'S NOT A RACE! Ok. Weird how that falls on deaf ears sometimes. Hey, guilty --- I have blown myself apart a few times trying to hammer this whole ride, and MAN -- one does indeed pay the price.

The opening gun sounds, and the parking lot begins to empty. A lot of racers getting their bases, and a lot of equipment-savvy randonnuers. Spencer is here on his fixed-gear Gaansari (GORgeous machine), there is a Riv Romulus, an older Tankara, a Fuji touring, I think even a Ramboillet in the crowd - but a lot of modern stuff, too, carbon this and that, late-model Treks, etc. Always a good tiem for a bike geek to browse the tools of the trade.

I knew it was going to be another one of those days, as my conscious gets the best of me after the first mile. Putting along, and just about to climb the first hill of the day, the huge pack begins to spread out a little, and then POW-HISSSssss s sss s s s......
Dale II has a flat within the first mile. 23C rubber on wet pavement, and likely some stray glass. I ask if he's okay, and he says that he is -- but the previous two-weeks of advice and chats online float back thru my head, tales about his being run off the road accidentally by another cyclist on the KCK Brevet two weeks earlier, and spending the entire day off the back, solo... I'd been there before. I stop and turn around to offer a hand -- randonneur spirit WILL get you!

After a few minutes wrestling with a Vittoria tire, we're back on the road, and dead last in the pack -- which, for this not being a race, is fine. We chat it up, and negotiate the first few turns thru town, and finally reach Liberty's edge and slip out of town on highway "H". I love this road -- pure country, with gorgeous rolling hills, old barns, and practically no traffic, as usual. These first few opening hills tend to thin out the pack a little, but we weren't seeing anyone up ahead yet. Again, since this was the first time in memory the temperatures were above freezing for this ride, I was actually able to lift my head and look around at the endless vistas and fields of cow grazing in the early morning light, and was noticing things that I hadn't in past years, either from sucking someone's wheel, or keeping my watering eyes out of the wind. The lack of cold air, however, makes something else apparent -- the smell of the country is THICK this morning, especially with the heavy rains that had fallen earlier in the week. Whoooooo-nelly!

Dale II and I, again, are pretty well balanced on the roads -- it was becoming apparent that I was a little better of a climber, while he was much stronger on the flats. I'd make a little headway on the hills, and he'd catch up quickly on the other side. It was working perfectly, and without having to give it much thought we were sticking together as a team quite nicely, clipping along at 15-17 MPH, with a little hint of a tailwind to help out.

Crossing thru Prathersvilleburg-whatever-that-town-is, we turned west and then north to cross US-69, and then continue north onto Cameron Road, one of my old favorites, where I reminiced that in 2003 it was a HORRID stretch of broken pavement - now a glass-smooth blacktop. Up ahead, a peek of bright safety orange. Bob, and RUSA for that matter, have REALLY stepped up the safety of randonneuring -- they figured that if people weren't going to do it for themselves, they'd just make it a regulation. Now, the road is alive with bright orange vests, now a requirement in low light and otherwise murky conditions. Still, some take this "rule" lightly in the name of racer fashion -- but I'm here to tell you: on the roads, it's the difference between a vague shadow on the roadway and a definte PERSON on a bicycle. I take no chances these days, but I can't wait until my British-style sash arrives, which will not only be more visible, but far more comfortable than the pull-over vest I'm wearing today. Still, it's also a good thing for "rabbits" -- and I spot three of them up the road from us. Our first catch of the day.

Although we make no tactics to catch them, we are making headway Dale II and I. By the time we reach 164th Street for the turn west, we have caught them - but they are stopping for a stretch and a snack. We wave and exchange good-morning's while we continue onward. The hills on the way to Kearney are coming!

Skip forward a few miles, and we spot three more as we bob and duck under hill after hill near the Jesse James Farmstead historic site, and soon we are making our way to highway "C" on the other side of Kearney - and I take a nature break on the other side of my usual hill. Afterwards, we are on my "favorite" highway. Highway "C" this morning is uncharacteristically slow, not a lot of activity has Dale II wondering what my problem is -- I tell him to wait about 7 hours. He,he.

Soon we are making our way onto Highway "W", towards Smithville Lake, and we still haven't caught our next three rabbits. Again, it doesn't matter at all, but there is something comforting about NOT being the last one on the road. On the acsent of the dam on the other side of Smithville lake's western arm, I reel in rabbit number four, and focus on five and six on the road leading up into Trimble, MO. On 169 highway, we bridge up, and it's good timing -- traffic here is also full of shock-factor after being safely tucked back on the rural roads along for so many miles. Safety in numbers, Dale II, me, and our two captors -- clearly seasoned randonneurs -- climb the final hill and then turn right onto "Z" highway towards our first little stop in Edgerton, MO.

After a quick snack, we head out of Edgerton and towards highway "B", and more troublesome hills -- but they only feel steep because of the stop. After warming up again, the constant rollers on "B", and then "E" are handled in succession without any major issues. The tailwind that was helping us along on the ride up "H" earlier was beginning to show it's might as a headwind now, as we made our way farther west.

Quick snack, by the way -- I have to smile and think of Ort, and previous advice and curiosity about my seeming inability to remember certain things about certain foods. At Edgerton, I grab a pint of Chocolate Milk. Whooo.... tasty. But, man what a gut bomb. I feel a little chill, and a shudder - and it sits HEAVY for the first five miles afterwards. Ugh. Moron. Chocolate Milk is the BEST THING IN THE WORLD --- **AFTER** A RIDE. ***AFTER***. I'm writing it down, Ort. I promise. Yeesh. It wasn't even that hot yet, but man... for a few miles there, I felt like blowing a dairy product slick on the road. Yummy.

I will RE-affirm that Fig Newtons, however, ARE the best thing in the world. Dang tasty, and good fuel. Hard to eat and chew while riding, though - assuming you also want to BREATHE. Recommend consumption while OFF the bike. Although, random fig newton crumbs vs. 15-mph spokes is quite comical. POOOF!!! Like a wood chipper with the safety guard removed, I snarf a few bites and a big chunk falls off and turns into wheat-dough aerosol in the whirlwind of my front wheel. he,he. It's so cool I do it again on purpose. Dale II thinks I'm nuts.

Oh, yeah ---- PEANUT BUTTER CRACKERS!!!! In this enviroment of high gas prices, it's easy to get excited about a good deal on fuel of any kind. I'm talking about the old stand-by, Lance Brand Peanut Butter and "toast" Crackers, in the thin little six-pack. 36 CENTS. That's *IT*?! I buy two, one for me now to wash down the chocolate milk -- strike that..reverse it... -- and one for the back pocket. Little protein, a little salty crunch, and surprisingly easy to eat while riding, assuming you stick to one at a time. Best thing EVER.

Ok, where are we now? Oh yeah.... he,he.... I tell Dale II... "ok, everything between here and Platte City I affectionately refer to as "the fun part".
We were about to enter the outskirts of Camden Point, MO. My favorite little town.
For HILLS BABYYY!!!!!!! Aw, it's sick these hills. Just sick.

We hit the first three before even getting to town, on the eastern bluffs of what was once the Platte River, maybe 100 years ago. It's moved a little since, apparently. After that, we hit a plateau and then fly down into the town itself, and then KAPOW!!! I start laughing out loud as we climb another one, and Dale II askes if I'm psyching myself out or not... I'm not sure. Then, there it is: the crown mommy of the hills so-far. Welcome to Camden Point, you sorry bastard. Shift down, or forever hold your piece. It's a bottom gear grunt-fest, but it's over fairly quick -- All I want for the holidays is a camera mounted at the top of this hill so I can capture the agony. Sweeeet.

On the other side, the LONG downhill that leads away from the monster, and to Interurban Road --- the longest road in the world. Well, at least on this ride.
It seems like it is, anyways -- no climbs, nothing fancyto look at - just a long, diagonally oriented pice of pavement that runs to the outskirts of Platte City, so locals have an option besides using MO-371. There's practically no traffic here. Dale II and I chat it up some more, and soon WE are caught by two riders that we'd seen at Edgerton -- on whose name I can't remember, who was only doing the 200K and thought we were all silly for considering anything longer, and one - whose name I can't remember, either...(I suck at this game)...who WILL ride the longer stuff, and formerly rode a Softride, which I get the impression he wanted to rename the "crotch-boot" from his description, now mounted on a full carbon standard double-diamond frameset. We approach the second half of "the fun part"... "HH" highway. Which I'm pretty sure stands for "holy hell".

It's a PAIN, this road. The final link to Platte City, it's one of those roads that make one wonder about the limitations of old-school highway engineering. Maybe there was a sever shortage of explosives or dredging equipment. Yeah, I REALLY REALLY hate it when a city bulldozes a perfectly good hill, and I prefer it when roads follow the countours of the land -- but this road clearly is a bad joke for some psychotic group of civil engineers. One way to keep a clamp on over-development in a region? Design the silliest, hilliest, most ridiculously steep roads. Opon the first turn off of interurban, you are headed UP. Fast. It's at least 9% for about a mile, and then you level off onto a nice ridge -- face full of wind later, and you are decending, only to climb something else ridiculous. Then, after a few more absolute bottom-gear grunters, and a REALLY nice LONG downhill at 40 MPH+, THEN, there is ONE MORE mutha of a hill... with a aptly-placed "Welcome to Platte City" sign... as if to say, welcome to Platte City. If you can't handle this hill, we don't even want you here. You might as well man-up or turn around.

Good gawd, I never do really remember accurately how nasty that last hill is.
The Warbird never got a chance to experience this hill - he would have laughed about it. the three or four times we did this 200K ride together up here, interurban road was still being BUILT, so we were always routed around this hill via MO-371, in AND out of Platte City. 2005 was the first year it was back on the maps, and ever since this brevet has been a little bit harder. After climbing --- nay, surviving --- the Welcome-to-Platte-City hill, you are rewarded with a MONSTER downhill into town, and after a few more turns, we're at the Caseys - the first and only official checkpoint.

The details of the control are un-important -- just know that in twenty minutes time I consumed fig newtons, corn nuts, water, V8, and more peanut butter crackers, changed headgear, washed my face, "used the facility", and removed a couple more unneccessary layers of clothing. Feeling good, it was time to roll out -- Dale II was right behind me. There were a few more rabbits on the road ahead of us, but I was surprised to see how many people we had "caught" still at the halfway. For stating off at the back with a flat and losing maybe 10-15 minutes, we weren't doing too badly, and our average was a solid 16.0 MPH. Not bad, honestly, for this route -- not my best time, but that was a long time ago. I'll be there again someday. It's gonna take a LOT more training, and some more weight loss, to get back to the speed neccessary to arrive at Casey's before the checkpoint officially OPENS. THAT was a fast day! :) Anyways - back to today. Not getting ahead of myself, or wallowing in the past - today is only the first stepping stone to a long rebuilding path that WILL get me back to that form.

Dale II and I are working our way back to MO-371, for the leg north to loop back thru Camden Point. We stick together, again yo-yo'ing a little as I work the hills, and Dale II hammers the flats in the aero-bars. We arrive at the turn for "U", which turns into "E" after climbing up over I-29. I smile as I remember the 13-mile detour the Warbird and I took once, totally missing this turn. "was that big thing there before?" referring to a gravel conveyor that crossed over the highway. "" he,he.

The other best-part of this day -- no rain. My previous post talked about rain being pretty much a guarantee, but so far there had only be a few VERY short periods of sprinkles, and now the sun was casting our shadows on the roads. It was a great day, but then I started to wonder about instability and heating possibly turning those chances of rain into reality.

As we reached the western edge of Camden Point, I should have had the foresight to turn around and bid farewell to Dale II, because when he was in front of me for a bit on the road over I-29, that was the last time I'd see him. The day we beginning to take it's toll, and that first massive hill leading back UP the Camden Point Monster was the nail. I turned around, and never saw him coming. Fearing my own leg-lock and fatigue, I had to press on -- so, here's a glass to ya Dale II.. I hope you had a good ride after that, and I'll talk to you Monday!

After sweeping up another rider up the monster, I flew down the other side to meet highway "EE" -- or Bob Dylan Road... (read: "EEeeeeeeee!!!!") .. another fave set of hills, just for the scenery. Roller after roller after roller, and the green green grass of spring with all the rain and early heat, it looked like mid May already. It was gorgeous. Flying down hills, and up, I exchanged directions with a fast rider that passed me to ask for directions at the next turn, and then oddly I passed him again and didn't see him again for several hours. The best part of "EE" was coming up, the big golf-ball of the Doppler radar assembly up on the big hill. Awesome...

The turn onto "Z" -- ahhh.... that much closer to being "done", I suppose, but also a good slice of road. I hunker down into a good gear, and it's apparent that the headwinds are now here to stay as I take up the drops. Still, it's more of a crosswind - but it's howling. The final turn south later on is gonna SUCK!!!
Finally reaching Edgerton again after a few more hills, I am actually feeling so good in the saddle and strength-wise that I elect to skip this usual re-supply and rest spot. I re-check my bottles to be sure, and do a little mental math on how far away Plattsburg is, and point the bike north on highway "B", and bid farewell to Edgerton's little c-store until next year. I have more fig newtons in the back pockets, and a full-flask of Hammer Gel as well. I'm good for at least 40 miles on that combo, and Plattsburg is only about 14 away, give or take.

Highway "B" is another "man-I-wish-I-lived-up-here" road, with endless vistas of rolling hills and farms, old barns, sheds, feed silos and livestock dotting the green pastures. It's so inviting, it really re-affirms my loathing for modern suburbia, and the rapid real-estate business in general. Sadly, it's only a matter of time before all of this beauty is squandered to pad someone's property-value day dreams. For now, and hopefully for the next 40 years, it's just picture perfect.

"I think I'll live in Montana, and own a ... how you say? ... recreational vehicle."

Tasty dreams.. I have images of a long driveway, far off the road, right off some perfect bike route, with options.

Powee, I'm back to reality as a couple of riders meet up with me from behind. We chat for a bit about the weather, and compare "worst-brevet-ever" stories -- easy thing to do when the weather is SO good there is practically nothing else to talk about! They advance on up the road, working hard together, and soon we are only a few feet from the turn onto MO-116, and a new set of nasty rollers - some of my favorites, and I always forget how challenging they are. This is an exceptional route -- but man, you better bring your "A" game. It doesn't suffer the unprepared kindly!

After the sixth monster hill, and subsequent monster high-speed downhill, we cross US-169, and I am only a few meters behind my passers-by. In fact, for the next 6 miles into Plattsburg itself, we will change places on the road at least five times at varying paces, with a little smile and howdy each time. Good people out here today. We finally hit my decided checkpoink, the Phillips 66 station midway thru Plattsburg, MO. Awesome! A full complement of breveters are there, in typical pose: seated. Spencer is there, and a few of his day's companions, some other riders, and the two with whom I'd ridden with in some fashion since highway "B". There is nothing quite like the scene at a gas station when riders are on brevet. Smiles, tales, food, water, the clicking of cleats and the zipping of seatbags, shuffling of receipts and the clicking of computer buttons to see "how far it is until _____". I love this sport!

I head inside for my final refuel session of the day. Water, V8, fig newtons, corn nuts, and PEANUT BUTTER CRACKERS! BOOOOOO-YAAA!!!! I'm such a happy camper, and I eat until I almost can't chew anymore. The tank is full, fill those bottles and get back on the road before you cool down -- a call home to the wife and kids, and I'm back in the saddle, only a couple minutes behind the rest of the groups that had left a shortly before. The gas station isn't cyclist-free for long, tho, as I pull out, two cyclists right behind me pull in -- we exchange waves, and I'm back on the road, on to highway "C" (ugh) and the final turn south. Right into the wind, which was now howling at 20 mph SOLID, with gusts. Crap.

I placed my bets and settled on 10 mph average. I'm pretty much a realist about this stuff. I know my fatigue, I know the winds up here and the roads ahead. While others were talking about maybe another hour and thirty to complete the last 26 miles, I knew. We're 8-miles past a century already, and those that aren't used to riding after this much time in the saddle are going to start to feel the day -- and I had experience on my side. Two hours, maybe more. It was 2:45 pm. Let's get this done.

On my way out of Platypusburg... er, Plattsburg ... I came across that rider that had asked for directions back on Bob Dylan road (EE..eeee!!!!!!!) and he was propped up at the little corner gas station on MO-116 and "C". "you know the way back?"

"yeah... but I can't guarantee anytihng, speed-wise -- it's windy!" He agreed, and I started to pull him out of town. Now, yeah, it's WINDY, but this guy has a reputation of being fairly fast. I knew that eventually he'd simply pass on the right and be on his way. The first part of the southbound run on "C" wasn't too bad, but then we came around a bend and into a facing clearing, and WHAM -- the wind was just brutal. Again, 20 MPH solid, and a little gust extra in there every 15 seconds or so. Flags were whipping, trash was blowing around, and the trees were singing. I looked down, and I was doing NINE MPH. Holy crap, this is gonna take all day. Two hours? Who am I kidding?? I'm not sure what the guy behind me was thinking, but he wasn't coming around so I just kept on pedalling. We climbed a few hills, and on the subsequent flats I was starting to get whipped, so I turned out a little to see if he'd come up for a pull... and he wasn't there. Not only that, he wasn't anywhere to be seen. He either turned around to wait for someone stronger or faster, or he was having THAT bad of a day. He's a strong looking rider, and I dropped him at a whopping 10 MPH pace? Geeeez. This sucks. Head down, knowing now that I wasn't gonna get a break, it was time to suck it up and just let time pass.
Ten MPH is fater than three, so I'd eventually get there. Work it out. I suck down another electrolyte tab and some water and gel, and put my head back down into the gale.

I hate "C" Highway, and it never disappoints. Traffic was again a bear. What's the freaking deal with motorcyclists? Nay, NEWBIE HARLEY RIDERS?? Seriously, if you are a hard-core, I-can-kill-you-with-my-stare kinda motorcyclist, hat's off. Keepin' it real since the Carter administration, am I right? No, I'm pissed at these freakin' tax attourneys and PC-techs that wear Dockers while riding their Fat Boys to work. For crap sake, get some manners. You ain't hard-core, and you don't need a full lane. Why is it these freaks on the weekend version of Easy-Rider-Gets-A-Day-Job have to clip bicyclists so close??? My favorite is the little wrist-flick pipe-shot they feel neccessary to add on when they fly by. Ease up there, Chet. You can't finance toughness. Tough guys are only tough when they need to be. You're out here on the highways of America pimping out attitude like you own this thing, and you don't even know the difference between a Cafe bike and a Night Hawk. Grow up. Putting this in perspective, earlier in the day on "W", going past Smithville Lake, I got a very short little "beep" of a horn from 1/4 mile behind me, and shortly after a younger kid on a Yamaha sport-bike zipped past me, WAY over in the opposite lane, and with a friendly wave afterwards as he used his SIGNAL to get back into the correct lane. You older morons have a LOT to re-learn about courtesy -- if ANYone should be a prick on the road it's the sport-bike crowd and its younger demographic - but no, it's you OLDER jerks. Why don't you just buy a condo in St. Barts like all the rest of the 50-something washouts, and give me some freakin room on this road? By the way, while I'm at it: My DAD rode REAL bikes. A MODERN Harley isn't a real bike. It's a real EXPENSIVE bike. Get a CBR-750, or an old Triumph, and stop being a prick.
Ok, I'm done.

So, back to my EXCELLENT RIDE... wheeeew!!! Tangents are a bitch, aren't they?

Occasionally I look up to see my progress, waiting for that familiar narrow water tower to appear on my left, indicating that I'm at least HALF-way done with this gawd-forsaken highway. That's when I start to see it -- cyclists, that I'm about to pass! Let's be clear here... I was not passing them because I was faster. They were stopped, and safely off the road in the ditch, some of them looked like they were asleep. Others were fumbling with cell phones with frustrated looks on their faces. As I passed, I offered a thumbs up in question, looking for a similar response - and I consistantly got it. No mechanicals, no flats -- just plain WHIPPED. I passed no less than SEVEN riders in the next 12 miles. I was starting to feel pretty good about my stamina, if nothing else, becasue each check of the computer revealed the same thing -- about 10-12 MPH, maximum - slower on the hills.
But, I was moving. Those that had hammered hadered than me earlier in the day were now paying their own price. It all averages out in the end.

Finally, I arrive at the turnout for Plattsburg Road off of "C", and bid farewell to my "favorite" road. Ugh. Now, on to my ACTUAL Favorite road... Plattsburg Road is THE road, baby. Hilly, technical, sweeping downhill corners, scenery - and TREES, finally some minute shelter from the wind! Ok, it didn't really make a difference, but I'll take the mental advantage. Only a handful of miles left from here, which is good because the wind is taking it's toll. It's like a 26 mile climb, all the way back from Plattsburg itself. More fuel, more water - the fueling strategy was working out nicely, and I was never really at a loss for calories, never felt dried out, never cramped. Wow. Come to think of it, I don't think I had ever finshed a brevet this strongly, save for possibly 2003 (again with the past. I'll get there...there are PR's to break.). Still, Plattsburg Road, while devoid of the traffic density of "C", had it made up for in hill quality. They were longer, steeper, and more numerous per mile. One by one, though, I checked them off and started to make note of the decreasing address numbers. 174th Street..... 164th Street.... 144th..... 132nd ..... 119th.... and there it was... the humm of I-35's traffic was fianlly close enough to be heard over the growl of the wind. I was within 4 miles now!

The frontage road, much the same as always, was there to have it's words with tired cyclists that had forgotten about it. The home stretch is not exactly kind, but the long, fast downhill on Clayview Drive is always a treat. Finally, the parking lot!
YEAH!!!!! Inside, card signed, turned in, and a large chocolate milk to-go. Awesome! Spencer was there, reclining by the side of the building eating a muffin, and contempating the day and the wind, and looking forward to a good push home towards St.Joe later that night. Lucky man... I oft wondered what it would be like to ride home from the brevet, but the constant and consistant south winds of spring nearly always talk me out of it. I would not want to slog the extra 50+ miles south to Olathe after THAT.

Another great 200K, despite the hardships.
But, I'm putting regular QR's back on the bike now - new ones.
Aside from that, I'm not sure I'd change a thing. A really good day!

And that afternoon warming and thunderstorm activity I'd wondered about?
It happened on the drive home. Good timing, nature... thanks!
The only thing that would have made that slog home on "C" into the 20 MPH headwind WORSE, would have been a thunderstorm - and I was spared. It can indeed ALWAYS be worse.

I'm looking forward to the 300K in a couple weeks... more later!
Thanks for reading!

March 21, 2007

TDT, or Tour De Thunderstorms!

Well, it's again been an interesting couple of weeks here at C'Dude central. After a rousing round of layoffs at work, which I survived (whew), a lot of birthday parties and running around last weekend, and general maylay, it's nearing the end of week....what, seven, eight? I dunno.
I'm gonan start doing this backwards now... ok, so that's, well - nevermind, it's week nine now. Whatever.


Finally, winter is officially over... and whether or not it gets cold again, winter is officially un-invited to my party. So get off my porch, winter. And take your pre-paid minutes with you! Don't come back. (that never works.)

So, back to week nine. The niner.
The first 200K of the year (for me) -- 22 hearty souls rode the KCK 200K a couple weekends ago, and 22 finished -- it's defintely a Paris-year - that's a big number for the first 200K. They enjoyed good weather, etc., and I have to say that I *LOVE* that route. It goes over some of my favorite training grounds out south of town, and parallels railroad tracks for like 12 miles or more -- very cool.
Anyway, I skipped it - slacker. It was not in the training-plan.

Kinda regretting that decision now...

Still, the dice roll, and sometimes they come up snake eyes. It depends on the game you're playing as to whether or not that's a good roll!
I love rain rides --- but it's been a LONG time since I've been on a *LONG* rain ride. In fact, the 400K attempt last year was pretty rainy, but it dried out eventually. Still, my memories of rain and brevets are not good ones. Note that was a 400k *attempt*. Hearken back to the 300K *attempt* of 2002, and my WORST day on the bicycle PERIOD, and that was another rainy brevet.
So, there is retribution to be had here... and it'll come this weekend, apparently.

A rather unsettled weather pattern has settled in over the area, and even tonite we're expecting some severe weather (awesome). Actually, I'll be gettin' my hip-hop on for most of the evening at "The Roots" concert, but afterwards we might have to play in the rain. We'll see. KABLAM!!
Whooooo!!!!! Look ma! Tornadie!!!

Anyhoooooo... what the hell was I talking about? Oh, the 200K.
I have the attention span of a wet green bean sometimes.

So, this brevet, one of my favorite routes because of the torture factor, takes place over some of the nastiest severe weather territory in the nation, much less the metro. Cities like Plattsburg, Camden Point, Platte City, Edgerton Missouri -- you know, the ones that they are ALWAYS mentioning when there is exceptionally horrid weather, like grapfruit-sized hail and 100+ MPH winds... any that ain't no fabrication. Wheile I'm sitting at home waiting for doom to strike, watching the skies, I always cringe and moan when I hear the words "..and the tornado should be near Plattsburg by 7:16 PM....", and thank the maker that I'm not on-brevet THAT day. Well, this weekend MIGHT be it! I'm all for storm spotting in a CAR... but on a bicycle, things like "(blank)-sized hail" and "straight-line winds in excess of (blank)" tend to be taken a little more seriously. There's nothing quite like trying to break a personal mileage barrier and suddenly getting blown into a ditch and pummelled by 200 MPH hunks of ice. That's like Greek mythology stuff, man.
The skies were angry that day, and the gods struck me down with icy spheres of punishment for thinking I could ride a bicycle farther than Zeus. Bastards.
I pity anyone with more than 12 letters in their last name, or the letters "us" at the end of their first name, this weekend.
He was a handsome man, Steveus Polynothiardianuslospadronos.
You think I'm making fun of the Greeks? Not hardly. Can you image learning to WRITE with a last name like that? Poor kids. Seriously. I thought I had it bad with five letters in MY last name, but crap -- poor Steveus probably ran out of paper before he got halfway thru his. Geez.

There's that wet veggie attention span again.... BREVET.

200K --- am I ready? Yup.
Am I ready for the rain? Yup.
Actually, I pride myself on not taking too many chances anymore with weather on brevets. Good rain jacket, full fenders, extra tubes, etc...all good things, but there's not a lot one can do for severe weather besides find a conveinience store and hope the clock doesn't run out before you finish riding. There is nothing like absolute misery and nature-based torture to cap off an epic ride, so long as you're an official finisher. If the clock runs out - as it has on me before - it's simply a bad story. It's all about that medal at the end if you've had it especially bad.

So, game plan? Ride as fast as possible while the weather is good. Outrun the afternoon instability, and finish dry -- maybe. Somehow, I don't know if that will work or not - but we'll see. Then lock the bike to something solid, and drive the route backwards to pick up those less fortunate. Those roads up there are not kind to the unprepared. It's amazing how close to civilization you are, but how far away from it you are at the same time. There just isn't much up there, and if the hammer comes down midway between towns, you're hosed.

So, good luck to all! It'll be great fun!!!

Nice closing, green-bean boy.

March 13, 2007

Do you like music? Do you like freedom?

I do. On both counts. BOTH, however, are being squandered by "the man", and it's a little disturbing. We're talking governmental profiteering, big-radio lobbying, and general unfairness happening here.

I have been "off the grid" with regards to commercial radio for years now. It all started many moons ago with the format change at 105.9FM, KLZR, broadcast out of Lawrence, Kansas. A *FANTASTIC* college radio station gone big, with a huge transmitter and a tower up on a hill, you could listen to The Lazer anywhere in the metro with good reception. We're talking serious radio play for artists like Radiohead (not just "Creep"), 7-Seconds, The Cramps, Pavement, Helmet, and many long-since departed local acts like PAW, Kill Whitey, Trip Shakespeare, ALL, Green Card, Two Car Family, and more. The Lazer, as it USED to be, was the SOURCE for cool, edgy, new music that was decidedly NOT mainstream. Then someone bought them out, and the format has never been the same sense. For the longest time, I didn't have a home on the FM dial. The came 96.5 The Buzz, and they've done, honestly, a really good job - but in my opinion in the last two years they've kinda gone soft, and the corporate blur is showing. To that effect, much of the decent talent that used to man the microphone - DJ's that used to know the difference between Archers of Loaf and Meatloaf, for example, have left for bigger markets -- or have been disenamoured and have left the microphone for good.

Since then, I have left the commercial bands, and have delved into the realm of NPR-land, because there are slowly emerging a couple of stations that actually play MUSIC, instead of jsut classical, jazz, or re-runs of Prairie Home Companion. All god stuff, mind you -- I'm just a fan of MUSIC, and I can't wallow in stuff that was written 150 years ago, or radio theater, etc. I need MUSIC. I need modern artists honing their craft far outside the reach of giant labels with bottomless cheque books, and spin-men that aim to redesign a band's sound to "appeal to a larger audience".

To that end, I have since discovered internet radio.
Specifically, , out of Paradise, California. Not only do I hear a LOT of good music, it's all in the guise of a good NPR station, in the sense that you get commercial-free music, all day long, and it's all listener-supported - and I contribute often.

Let's be clear about a few things: there are a LOT of internet radio stations out there. A TON....some of which are NOT legit. Radio Paradise, to be VERY clear, is NOT a pirate radio station. Since this latest set of events, prompted by a royalty decision made by the U.S. Copyright Office, has brought to light many internet radio stations that aren't legit - and I get the impression that was their intent. However, LEGITIMATE internet radio stations that have already been paying royalities and licensing fees to artists and record labels to rebroadcast their music, like Radio Paradise, are set up to fail and suffer by this new decision that I'll link you to below. So, again, to be clear: Radio Paradise is NOT a pirate station. Furthermore, I do NOT steal music - I'm not a party to it. Personally, but unofficially, I think if a GIANT artist like .... uhhh, let's just say Christina Agulera, has a bunch of teenagers ripping and copying her tracks and she's not getting a cent from it - too bad. She, and her record label, already make so MUCH freaking cash, it's not really an issue worth discussing. It's a loss-leader, at best. What REALLLLY erks me are the indie artists working out of a garage or basement getting THEIR rightful due stolen by pirate stations and Napster-esc operations. Stop it, guys.
Bands like The New Pornographers, Guster, Stereophonics, Porcupine Tree, The Wreckers, the Be-Good Tanyas, The Eels, Tragically Hip (yep, still together), The Doves, and many, many more (just scratching the surface here) that NEED that money to simply EAT, legit internet stations like Radio Paradise provide a SERVICE to these artists, and their listeners, by paying-for and playing their music to a HUGE audience that - thanks to corporate make-a-buck radio - might otherwise NEVER even know they exist. I'm all for it, and this latest move by the gov seems to threaten to take that all away.
To be clear on another point, Radio Paradise has prompted me to buy MORE music, not less, and has not been some outlet to circumvent copyright law or record label's bottom-line's. Far from it. Whether it be a trip to the local CD store, or iTunes, I pay for my music. I sleep well at night. Stations like Radio Paradise should be able to continue to thrive and prosper, so I bring this issue to all of my reader's attentions:

PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK, and read up. If you are inspired, like *I* was, please write, post, Digg, sign the online petition, write your congressman, etc. Get this reversed, so we can all benefit from the true artist's out there, whom we might otherwise not have an outlet for.
Thank you for reading!

Here you go: <- It's free to listen, but I encourge you to contribute. These fine folks are worth every cent. <- the Radio Paradise blog, outlining the entire sorted story of the U.S. Copyright Office's decision, how it affects us ALL, and what we can do. READ IT.

I know this gets away from cycling for a little bit here, but I feel it's worth it.
For me, personally, it would represent a HUGE hole in my life -- I give Radio Paradise my ears 8-hours a day at work, and most of my weekends - and when I'm not streaming live I'm listening to MP3s that I've purchased or ripped from my purchased CD's of music that Radio Paradise has inspired me to buy.

Yeah, seems a little weird for me to keep inserting that word "purchased", etc. -- but it's to reiterate a strong point. The U.S. Copyright Office seeks to punish those that would obtain music illegally, and clearly it's a decision that adversely effects those that ARE NOT doing anything illegal. It's an unjust, uninformed, unrealistic decision. I urge your support!

Thanks again for reading ---- now, back to our regular programming....

March 9, 2007

Why pros are lucky.

Welp, week.... dang, what weeks is this?
six, yeah.... week six is drawing to a close, and I'm a little miffed at myself.
I blame the alarm clock, and bad habits.
After November's tragic turn of events, I have gotten into this little no-waking-up-with-the-alarm-clock habit. This is a dangerous thing to someone that is trying to train for events, and it's really shown the past couple of days.
I just haven't wanted to get outta bed -- at all, with anything that dings, buzzes, beeps, or chirps. I'm about to turn into one of thsoe guys that has random alarm clocks all over the bedroom, forcing me to get out of bed to turn them off. Yeah, that'll fly well with the wife.
Especially with the upcoming brevets that will require a 4:00am rise time. yeesh.
See, I think it's WORK. I'll pop right outta bed for the brevet, come to think of it. Yeah, it IS work. Even with the promise of a 60+ degree ride home in the afternoon, I just haven't wanted to go to WORK, that's IT!
Another dangerous habit to get into. Let's not get into the whole reason WHY work is SO fun lately -- that'd get me into trouble. Still, this too shall pass, and I think NEXT week will be better - simply because the AM temps will be above freezing.
That's another thing -- it's March. I'm officially DONE with temps that are below freezing. I think I got my last good does on the 3rd with the ride in the post below. Holy..... yeah, I'm just not real anxious to get back into multiple layers this year. Winter should be over.
I need to move to Arizona, to "training camp" territory. This is dumb. I have a friend in Texas that's already had to "deal" with 80 degrees. The midwest, as I age, is starting to get a little tired. Of course, in a couple weeks it'll be the best place on earth to live. Hencky.
I think the solution is to make work as fun as cycling. Yeah.
I've already decided that winter is NOT my season -- even tho I love the epic conditions some times, I at least need to live somewhere where winter is about a month shorter - as far as conditions go. So, working for Trek or Waterford is right out.
Let's see.... Soma and Rivendell are out in California, right? Hmmm.... Walnut Creek is a little farther north, tho.... There's always Oregon - simply for saturation-sake, there's a lot of bike culture there that I'd probably hop right outta bed in the mornings for.
I'd get my training locked up, then. HEck, I should just ride for a team. Pros are lucky. "I have to train today.... oh wait, that's my JOB. Pinch me."
Bummer -- I have to go for a ride today, and get paid for it. Shoot me. Please.
And just think of all the swag, and thousands of adoring fans that don't speak a lick of English!
Oh, no --- I have to relocate to the villa in Spain for mountain training. Francesco Moser might join us for a couple days, too. Bummer. What a drag.
Think of all the free EPO, too. And the peer pressure to use it --- common, all the cool guys on the podium do it! Ugh. Pancreatic cancer? Never heard of it. You'll be faster...taunt, taunt...
Oh, and pee in this cup every five minutes. And those guys over there with the stand-alon mustaches and perma-scowls -- that's the French press (yes, not just for a hot cup of coffee anymore...) -- they will probably smear your whole life story and call you a liar, but you'll get used to it. By the way, it's prounounced "Kwaaah-saaawnt!!!".
Watch out for Christophe Moreau, too -- he'll just haul off and smack you for no reason. Just let him pull, ok?
Oh, and you probably won't get to see your wife for a while, and your kids will watch you on TV, so it's almost like being home every night. They'll forgive you in about 20 years. No big.
Oh yeah, and I know you LOVE to advertise, so here's a gloriously detailed jersey and bib shorts kit - you must wear this at all times. They are the one's paying for you to ride -- remember to zip up before you cross the line, or we'll get a nasty letter. Oh, and keep the victory salutes clean, too, so we don't get any fines. That is, assuming you can win anything. There's a whole bunch of Aussies showing up lately that are just making it really hard to get to the front.
They'll probably haul off and smack you, too.... but they usually have a reason.
Oh, and it's probably a good idea to start listening to these Berlitz tapes.... let's see, we've got Belgian, Italian, French, German, Dutch (yeah, it's different), Spanish, Portugeuse, Russian, South American Spanish for those Kelme guys.
Oh, and I know you prefer steel, but here ---- here's a custom fit carbon fiber bike with Dura-Ace and such... don't lose it, or scratch it. The head wrench is a little skitso about that kind of thing. And, no, you can't work on your own bike. Please! He'd freak.

Ok, maybe I can just learn to wake up earlier in the mornings.
Kansas ain't so bad.
I'm 54 miles short this week, with three days left..... I think I'll just suck it up, enjoy my freedoms, and sleep in my own bed at night.
Proof that even a "dream job" can be a nightmare.
I love my cubicle. Really.

March 4, 2007

The ride of the snow-bikers

March third...a morning that, based on recent mornings, should have been fairly pleasant. Winter had other plans; a last-ditch effort to show seasonal authority. After a long night at one of my fave establishments, the Bottleneck in Larrytown, seeing a couple of decent bands play for about four hours, it was hard enough to wake up on time and get ready for the ride without it being a fairly nasty weather situation. I'm definitely getting "too old" for the 2am bedtime, 6am rise time for a 7:30am ride. Yeesh. Ok, the music was worth it. (For more on the cow-punk showdown, search for The Fast-food Junkies and Truckstop Honeymoon. Good stuff, if not a little off the edge of my normal radar screen) But, nevertheless, I rose on-time, showered, brewed a little stronger-than-normal coffee, and was out the door. I arrived at the parking lot in a haze of blowing snow, and a NW wind at a steady 20mph. It's beginning to look a lot like... well, someplace cold. "Freaking crackers." ...or some paraphrased version... slipped past my lips, as I cracked the window and let in a howling 20-degree breeze followed by a flurry of icy snowflakes. After already listening to a voicemail from an unidentified rider indicating that the conditions were "ridiculous" and he was headed home. I still don't know who it was, but it was a clear enough message. This was dumb. I watched the clock, and counted down to the time where I could declare a no-show and go back home to a warm bed. Then, they came. The hearty. The strong. The nuts. First, Dave - ready, willing, and deceptively underdressed? Dude... He emerged from his car, and we talked a bit about possibly calling it... I was considering it. He retreated to his car and called another rider to see if they were still coming out. I remembered Badgerland was gonna meet us en-route.... and then another car showed up. Dang. It was, quite literally, the northern midwest contingent -- natives of Wisconsin and Minnesota. I was in for a ride, whether I liked it or not. Yikes. You know, I've always said that these rides are partially for me, and not so much for everyone else. I need the accountability, the motivation, to push myself to do these rides so I can get back into shape for future goals. Seriously, if no-one had shown, there was NO WAY I woulda ridden this one in these conditions. No freakin' way. But, these, my angels in disguise, swept in to yank me from the excuse-laden car, and into a VERY chilly saddle. I'm glad they came.... but I didn't realize this until later. With freezing hands, I extracted the bike from the trunk, and started the ride. The wind was still howling - and I mean it, absolutely HOWLING - out of the NW, and the snow was getting worse. The roads, that were not supposed to attract accumulation, were getting dicey. With taillights on, and a few random mutterings addressed to the complaint department, we were off. It was a great group of four, and from afar it must have looked impressive -- or foolhardy, not sure which. As we headed towards the remains of one of the most impressive hills in the county (old College Blvd. between Ridgeview and Woodland, now under construction) for our turn north on Woodland, it was clear to me that cutting this one a little short might be in the cards. The northbound turn onto Woodland clinched it. As most of you that have been reading this blog for a while, you know I have a rather impressive resume when it comes to the "I've had worse" category of rides. In fact, I FINALLY broke down and bought a jersey that is sorta dedicated to that notion. It simply reads "Flandria", which potentially has lots of references - historically to the area in northern Belgium today, and in cycling specifically to the region that hosts many of the "Classics" -- the epic, single-day spring rides that typify hardship, tradition, struggle, and encapsulates the true drama of the sport. In the case of this simple jersey design, it's a vague reproduction of the old "red guard" team of Flandria Bicycles/De Clerck. In the mid-to-late 70's, this team consisted of the dream team of Roger de Vlaeminck, Walter Grodefroot and Rik Van Looy. Hard to pronounce, but easy to remember -- De Vlaeminck won Paris-Roubaix FOUR TIMES, among other famous exploits. Of course, the most famous Belgian cyclist would have to be Eddy Merckx... but Roger was better at Roubaix, as Eddy only pulled out three wins in his career. In fact, it's really a Belgian race, despite the locale: the Flemmish have taken this race more times than any other nation in the race's 102+ year history. They're still at it.... Tom Boonen won it in 2005. Still, Grodefroot and De Vlaeminck rode for the Belgian home-team, as it were, and probably put the best stamp on that race of any riders since. I highly recommend the documentary film "A Sunday in Hell". It shows Merckx and the Red Guard boys battling it out on the cobbles in the worst possible conditions. Simply timeless. Lance, eat your heart out; with all due respect to the big Texan, THOSE Belgian guys knew how to suffer. The word "Flandria" to me conjures suffering, strife in the saddle, and epic racing drama, so I bought it. Simple, not garish or sponsor-laden, but it makes a statement. Sure, maybe it's my own fault that I sometimes prefer rainfall and the choppy bite of a gravel road in south Johnson County on a hearty, steel road-bike to the manicured shoulders of 175th Street on a sunny day - but, I have a kindred connection to the cobbles for some reason. Ask me about the 2002 300K brevet sometime. Suffering!

Anyways, back to this latest edition of struggle -- leading out the small paceline, I turn north onto Woodland Road, and the snow has gotten heavier, and the driving wind is blowing it horizontally, up my nose as I suck air on the first of 40-some hills. The only thing keeping the stinging snow out of my eyes is my well placed cycling cap. I can only see the road about a meter in front of my tire. I dare not glance up - but I must to check for traffic at passing intersections, and I'm punished with a sinus-freezing blast of 20-degree air. My double-stacked wool gloves are starting to show their weakness in such a headwind, and soon I can't feel my pinky fingers. I tuck them inside the inner gloves and eventually have most of my fingers wrapped under into my palm, holding the handlebars with a sort-of thumb and forefinger claw beneath my mitts. Thankfully, my torso is insulated enough - but everything else is beginning to protest. The usual warmth generators of climbing are stricken useless by the constant stripping of our cocoons of body heat. There is no shelter. The road pitches down underneath K-10, speeds increase by gravity, and it gets worse. Eyes water, and freeze. This is nuts. We advance up Woodland, slowly, being careful to point out ice and especially thick patches of snow that has accumulated near the curbline. The long steady slog to Prairie Star Pwky leaves me breathless, and still there is no reward - the internal furnace keeps getting blown out. My ring fingers begin to numb-out, my pinkies long since falling off the nerve-ending checklist, stinging and numb - frostbite crosses my mind. Every so often, over the gale, a cough, a shudder, or a moan emanates from the frozen pack-mates behind me. It's a death march, northbound - and ahead is the 8%, 1.5 mile-long downhill from 90th to 83rd street. Normally a 45 mph thrill ride in warmer months, this time it's almost requisite to pedal - but no-one has the energy. Zippers that can't be pulled higher are tugged at anyways, and eyes are closed in pain as the speed pass 30, then close in on 40 mph... the combined wind chill dropping to an effective minus-3ºF as we dive into the valley below. Finally, after leveling out, we turn west into a berth of trees and a steep climb --- whew! The heat begins to return in our new shelter! Thankfully, frostbite leaves my vocabulary as I begin to feel my digits coming back online. We cross 83rd, and catch up with Badgerland who is coming from the north with words of caution about the road we're about to traverse. It's a snow-packed, slicked-out mess with tight curves and blind hills. Yikes.... Badgerland is used to it, the consummate all-season commuter from Wisconsin - his "I've had worse" file is much thicker than mine! It's good to see him, but his addition to the pack is evened out, as Tim has turned around for home. The day begins to take its toll. Dave, KCNan, Badger and me continue north. Some treacherous turns, unexpected traffic, a railroad flyby, a hill or two, and we arrive at the worst road yet, old Midland Road. It's partly gravel underneath from disrepair, but all of it is hidden by runoff ice slicks, frosty potholes and fresh snowpack. Thankfully, it's all uphill, so butts are in the seats and gears are low to provide traction and control. Oncoming traffic complicates things, eliminating the best lines and forcing us into the chop near the edge. What a ride, so far. Is this Tour of Flanders training camp, or what? The epicness of the whole thing is beginning to come out in references, innuendo and catch-phrase. Still, it's delivered with smiles. Somehow this is all far better than being shut inside for another winter's day. I, for one, have been inside far too long this season, and now that I can feel my fingers, I'm smiling too. We finally reach the first of our rest-stops, and with frozen water bottles crunching free from their cages we trudge inside to the warmth of the c-store. It's COLD, and everyone rushing inside to pay for their gas gives us a similar look, a cross between respect, confusion, disbelief, and sympathy-for-the-dumb. The two teenagers working the counter look as if a pack of Llamas just trotted in for donuts. Their expressions change little, as if they simply can't process the whole scene. They want to laugh insecurely, but something behind their eyes seems to indicate they might be afraid of being attacked. After-all, bearded, sun glassed, spandexed, and obviously hearty enough for the conditions, is it really a wise move to laugh openly at a winter cyclist?

We venture back out, and back onto the route. Badgerland takes point, saving my fingers from another bout with the frozen gale and we zig and zag our way towards Johnson Drive for the first real challenge of the day. The snow seems to be slowing at this point, and the sun even makes a few random appearances from behind thick clouds, but the warmth is not with it. Something in the upper atmosphere is playing a mean point guard against the rays that might have made things better. At least now the winds are at our backs! Johnson Drive's first hill looms, capping out near 13% in places, as we circle away from the ballfields, past Barker Rd, and onto the climb. From behind me, someone asks -- "oh, geez, is this Johnson Drive??", as if they just realized where they were. It has a certain reputation, this road... and now I fear this ride does, too. So be it. Momentum, gone, along with gears, the conversations begin to fade as thresholds are reached on the way to the summit. From the first time I climbed this beast, I have respected it, loved it, revered it -- this is Warbird country... and I have yet to meet a cyclist that has simply been able to throw the gauntlet, shift, and FLY up this monster since his departure. I almost see a ghost passing on my left as I grunt up the grade trying to shake my pre-season unfitness. The grade levels, and Dave is next to me -- what a climb, and what a view, but another eye-chilling downhill awaits - this time, with the tailwind, it's not too bad, and I actually enjoy a bit of a tuck and peek into the low 40MPH range, approaching the end of the Johnson Drive double-header that takes us up over I-435. We cross to Renner, puffing, and the strong winds literally gust strong enough to give a noticeable push up the very last part of the grade. The gods of cycling are smiling on us for being brave enough to be out training - perhaps the Belgian gods of cycling, specifically, giving a little push to the back, like an enthusiastic fan on the side of the mountain pass, giving that little bit of "professional acceleration", as Sherwin would put it. There isn't a commissar in the world that would scold us for taking the assistance today!

Badger and Nan make it back up to Dave and I and we all turn north again, this time on Renner Road for a thrilling downhill - taken with caution as always because of its history - towards Holliday Drive -- it's tempting to let it hang out, but brakes are at hand, even though most of the snow has since been blown clear of the pavement. After looping around, we head south on Quivira, and the road again pitches upward - the famed "Alpine section" of the course, with three good climbs in succession. It's almost like a full Tour stage, super-compressed; the profile is foreboding, and there is a hellish mountain-top finish at 55th Street. I love it... simply love it, even for all the suffering it shells out, maybe more so than Johnson Drive -- the wooded beauty of the Lake Quivira area, it's future secured by land grant and golf course, trees line the road all the way to the top and a fresh coat of blacktop makes the usual pot-hole dodging a thing of the past. Dave and I pair up again and grunt out the climb at a steady pace, talking about Floyd Landis, Lance, Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, etc., and actually referencing back to Greg LeMond on the highest notes. It's a good distraction from the knee buster we were slogging up - soon the reward, the first fast descent, actually enjoyed with a little unzipping, as the sun begins to help finally. Maybe this isn't such a bad day after all? On to 55th Street, and I can feel the remains of my fitness slipping away - the last of the three climbs is a REAL grunter, the Koppenberg of the day, perhaps -- again with the Belgian references, but hey -- sue me: A 77m-long cobbled hill that exceeds 22% in places, so steep that even professional riders have to stop and run up the beast on foot??? Show me a climb like that in one of the grand tours, and I'll stop talking about Belgium. I promise. So, the final climb to 55th street isn't QUITE that bad, as it peaks at 14%... it's the worst of the day today. We regroup, and decide that this day is becoming too much to bear. We reroute to our second stop of the day, at QT store at Johnson Drive and Quivira, a touch to the Southeast, after climbing up the beast of 55th Street itself, which in itself is no ant-hill, another 13%+ hill. Finally we dismount at the QT, and rush inside - as rushed as our weary legs will take us! It's warm, so warm that Badgerland burns his hand at the cappuccino machine! Opps! Numb fingers will get ya! The snow begins again, with a little less punch than before - but still notable enough for Dave to bring up Andy Hampsten's exploits at the '88 Giro. At Gavia Pass, in a snow-storm, Andy captured the overall lead in the Giro, and kept it to the end. Epic. Suffering. Ahhh....

After a quick, awkward interview with a mom and her young daughters about why we are crazy cyclists, we re-mount and head south to rejoin the route again at 67th Street.
As we turned west onto 67th, we rejoined the route, and the wind. Although possibly diminished, it was still there, but the temperatures had moderated enough that I began to hear trickles of water in drainage grates as we rode past them, and icy slicks on the roadway began to shimmer with the addition of fresh melt driven by the sunshine. We rolled towards 71st Street, and another little section of tough rollers. At this point, I was beginning to regret a couple things: forgetting my wallet, my cell phone, and my hammer-gel flask. Gravy, dude, are you just TRYING to make things hard on yourself? Sure, weight-loss is the goal, but it's advisable to EAT occasionally. The miles were mounting, and it made me recall a time where someone asked me (you know who you are) how many miles we had ridden because that number was exactly how many miles a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich was worth. I was starting to feel that little pang in my stomach -- so I slugged some semi-frozen water, and pushed on. Only about 10 miles left, really...give or take.

We reached Lackman Rd and then made our way west to Renner again, this time south of Johnson Drive for the LONG and storied climb (this ride is full of 'em) up to Shawnee Mission Park. This is another hill that I have seriously fond memories of, and before long I am looking down at Badgerland's rear wheel and having visions of the Tour of Shawnee -- no, not another Belgian race, but a local favorite reccie/racer festival in late August that comes up this road. It was here that I was having probably my best day, as I was part of a four-man breakaway that was at the front of the race (ok, it's just a ride... but man, I tell you what... at that exact time, it was a freaking RACE, baby, as real as you like.). We four; the big German Feltens, another riderwhose name I can't remember, and Fancher - the nine-times winner at the time, and favorite. I simply couldn't believe that I was staying in that group, and after nearly 30 miles of hard, HARD tempo, we arrived at the base of that climb. I found myself on the front, which was tactically not a good place to be, but I gave it a good shot - and something that will stay in my self-esteem file forever, I dropped two riders on that climb, never to be seen again until the finish. By the time I was shifting into a bigger gear at the top of the climb, it was only me and Fancher -- but I was spent, and Fancher left me inside Shawnee Mission Park -- he was the stronger rider that day, but my head still stays high. I kept clear of the two racers I'd dropped, and took second place. A pack that started with ten, and was whittled to 8, then 5, then 4 and then two -- and I survived to solo to the line behind someone that had won that event NINE times. He made it an even ten that day - but I could not stop smiling. I love this damn hill. I just want the fitness that made that day in 2004 possible BACK. This is the year I get it.
Today I didn't have it, clearly -- despite the cold and the wind, I was managing to knock on history's door by passing Badgerland (only because he let me, most likely) and pulling Dave the rest of the way up, only to shift into an easier gear in self-disgust about 2/3rd's of the way up. It'll come. Time. Give it time.

At 83rd Street we bid farewell to Badgerland as he turned homeward, and then it was down to three riders - we crossed 87th onto Renner, which is undergoing something of a facelift with new roundabouts and such, complete with a blown-over road construction sign! Did I mention this was a windy ride? After reaching Prairie Star Pkwy again, we bid good-day to Nan also, as she took a more direct path homeward -- it was down to two. Dave and me rode side by side, enjoying the tranquility of PSPkwy, but missing the treeline that had been providing a windblock on Renner. Up on the ridge again, zipper were pulled high and faces began to shudder -- even with the temps above freezing, and the sun trying to come out, there was a wet, bitterness to the wind - and it chilled straight to the core even at that later hour. Woodland came, and nearly the final turn southbound back towards the high school, with the promise of warm cars and an end to the torture bringing a grin to my face. My stomach was screaming, my waterbottle dry, and my legs sapped -- I counted the miles until I saw the little black cocoon of my car peeking at me from over the roadside. There was no line sprint, no speed play, simply no hint of spring or summer cycling. We were finished, and that was all there was to it.
Dave and I quickly said our goodbyes and thanks, packed the bikes, and retreated into our steel shells. Wow.

I want to thank the brave souls that made this epic ride possible, for without them I would have simply gone home and gotten back into bed like a slacker.
I'm endlessly grateful that your presence got me out of the car, and onto the road - sincerely.

To Badgerland, KCNan, Dave and Tim

Comrades thru Suffering; it's the CommuterDude way!
See you next month!!!

March 1, 2007

Week four/five - and BIG HAIL!

It’s been a while since I’ve had enough spare time around the house to do an update here…so, I’ll do one from work instead. Hoo, hoo, hoo….
Anyways, I think this is nearing the end of week five, officially on the training schedule, and things are looking up – After a bout with the flu the previous week, I waited until Wednesday last week to get back in the saddle, and proceeded to hack the rest of my infectious leftovers all over the roads of suburbia like some nasty, festering bread-crumb trail. Gross. But, better out than in, I suppose. Didn’t Shrek say that? Whatever.
The yoga continues as well, and after a short break from it during flu-week, it was good to get back in the studio and discover that the rest actually did wonders. The flexibility, compared to week one, is simply terrific. Workouts on the bike are recovered-from faster, and balance is improving and translating to bike-handling skills and out-of-saddle stability. I don’t feel like I’m flailing all over the place, like last year. A lot more control. Helping everything is the loss of the first of ten pounds! Everything is fitting better, and it’s only getting started. That puts me at 168 this morning. Intermediate goal points to 166 pounds, where I started at (gulp) 181 at the middle of January after returning from vacation in Florida. Yeah, I only said ten pounds lost – and the math doesn’t work there, but I don’t really count the first couple of pounds. Simply coming back from vacation and returning to the reality of normal food helped a LOT, so the first three pounds are a gimme in my book. I didn’t start actively keeping track of calories until early February, really. It’s working, and I don’t feel wiped out – this new approach works fabulously.
The real personal test will come this weekend, with the first REAL mileage of the year. Yes, I have been riding outside – but it’s been limited to commutes. I have not done a complete stretch of more than 12 miles at a time since January 1st’s New Years Day ride at Longview, which, with breaks, was 30 miles total – and probably 17 miles of that before the first break. So, for un-interrupted miles in the saddle, this weekend will be interesting – and hilly. This will be the first edition of the 2007 version of the C’Dude ride, which I haven’t been bold enough to add up all the vertical elevation gain, but it’s a doozey, containing just about every hill worth mentioning in the county, save for a few way out south. Oughta be a lung-buster, which is good considering how chilly it’ll be at the start. Winter is still hanging on!
Odd thing to consider, since yesterday afternoon I rode home from work without knee-warmers for the first time since last September! It topped out at 70º, which felt AWESOME even with the headwind – and later that night my other passion was ignited as thunderstorms popped up and dropped hail and a LOT of rain on the area, including a couple tornadoes in the counties immediately south of us. Close call… so, I spent part of the evening cooling down at a remote spotter location, watching the clouds and waiting for action. Overall, yesterday was a great day for a lot of reasons. Spring --- my favorite season is coming fast!
Stay tuned…. Week six is just around the corner.