April 29, 2007

The long road back to form

It is indeed a long road back to the form that I'm most proud of, my landmark year of 2003. As cycling goes, that's when the magic elements of body weight, mental toughness, caloric methodology, and execution were at their peak. Not beeing too old yet, I am determined to get back to that form that I let slip. Either complacency, over-confidence, or the notion that getting to such a place was a destination and not something that needed to be maintained, have taken their toll. I was wrong. It DOES take work to stay at a certain weight, a certain level of fitness, and I wasn't doing it. I coasted thru 2004 on the previous year's successes, and did fairly well. 2005, I started slowly gaining weight, and losing my self-control with regards to food intake in relation to exercise. By the middle of 2005, I had over-trained myself twice, and then the recovery from those processes began to take longer and longer. Speed slipped, and instead of owning it I chalked it up to "having fun" and taking a slower approach to cycling in general. Instead of planning hard-charging metrics, I was planning coffee and pastry rides - there's nothing at all wrong with those, assuming one works in moderation and burns off those pastries. I was not. Then came 2006, a year with big plans that fell short. Jumping to quickly to the notion that I could easily jump back into distance rides, the only brevets I actually finished in 2006 were two 200K rides, neither of which were anywhere close to indicative of my previous showings. The 300K didn't happen, and the 400K was a sad attempt. All the while I searched for excuses, magic-bullets, and misguided solutions. It was always something OTHER than me. It was the bike, the gearing, the bags, the lack of bags, the food, the magic powders, or real food -- something was always the culprit. So long as it wasn't MY fault. Several bikes later, several trips to fixed gear, single-speed and back, minimlist packing to horrid OVER-packing, I had played around more than I had trained, and I still wondered why the results were not coming, while eating too much, training too little, and generally assuming that I had some sort of natural ability that would come to my rescue. Then, at the end of 200, I saw my average speeds dropping again and finally the whole thing came to a head in Cleburne, TX., when an attempt to return to greatness was cut short by a nasty ankle injury. Then came family tragedy. Eventually, I was off the bike for a long while. It was time for a clean slate, whether I knew it or not. 2007 was here.

I still know that I have a lot of work left to do, but all of the above realizations have led me to the conclusion that I either want it, or I don't. The time for waffling & citing shallow excuses, and retelling the 'glory days' with the reverence of someone twice my age need to stop. The glory days are not over - I simply lost my way. This year has proven different. Injuries have healed, and the pain of loss has subsided enough to allow a return to normalcy - which has refocused my mind towards a more goal-oriented approach to cycling. Things like gear ratios, number of gears, bags, packing arrangements, and food choices have taken a back-seat to the notions that I simply have something to do: HOW do I want to do it? Instead of making excuses, I've taken up the reigns of action. It's not WHAT fuel, it's simply making sure I'm getting the energy I need to continue riding. Excuses like "the fuel wasn't sitting well" have fallen out of my vocabulary, in the sense that I'm muttering these things after I have switched game-plans and found something that DOES work - rather that moaning about it in the car on the way back to the start location with another DNF. My focus now, at least by attempt, is to take the good with the bad, and know that these rides, these goals I set for myself, are NOT easy ones and I have to be prepared to take the consequences of my choices - good or bad. Otherwise, I should simply not set these goals. I'll stop setting goals when I'm dead, frankly. If one wants to affirm one's life, one has to be prepared for the fact that it ISN'T easy. There will be punctures, crashes, hardships, pain, sores, stiffness, upset stomachs, burnt-out light bulbs, and dehydration. It is how important to you the realization of a goal is that makes the difference and makes the suffering worthwhile. Even the sweetest of ride finishes are never made without some hardship. As is such with life. Simply put, it's why things cost what they do. There is always a price.

This year, differing from the last three, has begun to prove quite satisfying. While sore and tired, I have finished his year's long rides with a smile. The 200K was cold and bleak, with a killer headwind. The 300K, it snowed and rained - but there was a reward. The 400K, completed early this morning at about 12:40 AM, was long, hard, tiresome, and had it's share of ups and downs -- but it was a great success. The biggest indicator I can offer to that effect is that despite stomach distress, a wicked headwind for the about 80 miles of the ride, a LOT more climbing that the old 400K route, and a 30-mile death-march slog for the last endless leg of the ride, I STILL managed to finish only an hour-and-40 off my best time EVER for a 400K, which was 18 hours, in - you guessed it - 2003. Considering I'm personally 35 lbs heavier, on bicycle that easily is 10 lbs heavier than the other bike I did the 18-hours upon, with front and rear saddlebags, full fenders, and a freakin brass bell. On a route that I had never ridden before. I call that a success. Perfect? No. Should it be? No way. But, it's a finish for an event where the ONLY objective IS to finish. I'm really proud of this one, and even though there is a lot of work left to be done with regards to weight loss, I'm currently enjoying leg strength that rivals 2003-levels, a mental toughness that hasn't been around in a while, and equipment savvy that isn't exactly racer-esqe - but purposeful, prepared, and long-day performance oriented. Yeah, I had more baggage on my bicycle than anyone else did, but I didn't finish last -- nor was finishing place ever important. I was comfortable, calm under adversity, and never cramped. I had a fresh change of clothes at the last control, food at hand, and easy access to the route map - in short, the perfect setup for ME. There are a few opportunities for improvements, specifically with regards to the seatpost QR for the saddlebag, or rather its elimination in lieu of a rack that would have the bag lower so its mount doesn't poke my backside with every pedal stroke forcing me to sit on the saddle nose for most of the day -- but that's easy to remedy. Ouch, by the way. Other items for improvement might have included a cooler jersey for the hottest part of the day, but oh well. It really wasn't that bad, and after dark it was perfect.

So, after all that hoo-haa above, and bringing myself and everyone else up to speed, let's get to it, in no less than five parts, the 2007 400K story:

Part One - Grandview to Holden:

The start of the day was nearly perfect, just the way I like it. A little foggy, very little wind, and about 50 degrees. You can almost smell a full day of cycling in the air. With nearly 30 riders in attendance, it was refreshing to be a part of a big PBP year again - even though I can't make it across the pond this year, it's a good feeling to be a part of something that is building in all of these individual riders. You can feel the anticipation, and the conversations are excellent even to be a fly on the wall for - talk of plans, switching bicycle computers from MPH to KMpH, etc. And, finally, for the first time in a while, many of the who's who of local ultra-cycling are back in the hunt. Byron is here -- yeah, no kidding. I hadn't ridden with him since probably 2003 (there's that freaking year again.), and suddenly there he is! Danny "4-hole", "certain kind of misery" - the guy that rode all four 1,200 KM rides in 2005 -- the Gold Rush, BMB, the Cascade 1200, and Last Chance. And finished all four. Yes, kids... we DO suck. Bow down, and eat an egg burrito in honor. Seriously. Ed is here. Jeff is here -- a rare combo of speed and endurance that rivals the likes of Dan Jordan (Jeff ended up finishing at 9pm, barely late enough to justify a headlight!!!) Spencer is here, on the fixxie as usual. The boys from Iowa were here, including Dale on his trademark Steelman bicycle - this time the orange one -- DANG I wouldn't mind having one of those! NICE. It was a good showing. Bob gave the usual run-down, and we were off racing east towards the rising sun - which was still over and hour away.

After some interesting climbing on a detour over on Chipman Road (wow) we were starting to make our way out of town -- the only bad thing about this ride was all of the in-town riding, which seemed to take forever. After many turns, and many intersections, and a little traffic, we were clear - the streetlights fell behind us, and we started to get out of the reach of society. Ranson Rd. brought us into Greenwood, and then we found 150 highway and a clear passage to the east greeted us with the rising sun, and lifting fog - it was turning out to be an awesome morning. As usual, the pack was big at first and then slowly started to thin out a little bit, eventualy breaking into groups of matched riders. The first big hill, and a couple of poorly timed freight trains also played a big part. You know I love trains, and the fly-bys were perfectly timed for my pleasure - I ended up on the correct side of the tracks, but was still close enough to see the action as I rolled on.

Leading out the middle pack, I pause for the over-the-shoulder shot, as Byron and Ed (two bikes with the prominent headlamps) gaze left to watch the sunrise peeking over the fields.

We passed out of Greenwood, and parts of the route started to look familiar -- most of this ride mirrors the KC MS-150 route, which was neat - but also strange, strange to ride these roads without 1000 other bicycles, route control, and the signature Opie's water trucks waiting every ten miles. That last detail was REALLY going to become important later on, as the perfect temperature, the good company, and the rising tailwind was making it difficult to remember the simple things, like drinking. Although it wasn't going to be a gigantic tragedy, it would become a factor later on in the day. Meanwhile, I was taking the time to catch up with Byron, and enjoy the rare opportunity to ride with a larger pack - a big contrast to the usual solo efforts these rides usually end up being. With each passing mile, the conversation flowed, and the speeds seldom droped below 20 MPH - we were all flying along, soaking up the perfect conditions. Even the roadside cows seemed to be smiling at us, as we rode along. It's funny - I remember climbing, but I don't remember the hills. I'd sure remember them about 14 hours later.

Sunrise, eastbound on 150 highway, west of Lone Jack, MO.

The only unfortunate thing about individual pacing, control routines, etc., is that eventually you start to slip from the pack a little. We reached Holden FAST, it seemed - unfortunately I don't have my timecard handy to reference the exact time, but it was still really early in the day. The fast pack arrived WAY early, and I think they were actually already gone by the time I rolled up. Our pack obviously, even though I tried to hurry, seemed to be on a mission for the next control, and while I took a much needed bathroom break, I emerged to see many of the pack already leaving the parking lot of the Holden Casey's. No huge deal, but it's hard to accept the solitude of the road after a few hours of good conversation -- but that only confirms that I still need to shape up and plan my off-bike routines a little.
The ride to Sedalia was next - basically completing the first day of the MS-150 was in the cards with only one stop along the way - not bad. Seems like I've tried and tried in the past for a good result at the MS-150, but today, without even thinking too hard about it, the lack of stops and the steady tailwind was putting me on pace to hit Sedalia before noon. Things were going well!

Bob Burns, RBA, looks on as busy cyclists prep for the next leg at Holden's Casey's

PART TWO: Holden to Sedalia
This was an interesting part of the ride, from a scenic perspective. As the faster group had already departed the Holden control after my restroom break, I was getting ansy to get back out there before the legs cooled down too much - there was really no hope of catching them, but I did have them in-sight for most of the length of Highway 58, just over the horizon, and gaining ground with their multiple numbers. It was solo-time again, it seemed, which is fine by me - sometimes. After a control it's hard to keep track of who-is-where on the road, so I went on the assumption that most of them were ahead of me. Still with a mild tailwind, it was easy to maintain pace and I was zipping along at around 20MPH without even thinking too hard about it. Shortly, I turned south on Route F for some nice steep rollers - and I was encouraged to see a "share the road" sign along this seemingly deserted rural road. Odd, but welcome - obviously there is a bicycle club presence out here, as we're getting close to Warrensburg. This must be one of their loops. Before long, I'm turning onto Route "BB", a diagonal road that heads NE straight up into the edge or Warrensburg itself. These roads in Missouri are always good for scenery -- not a straight section road, but a slant, clearly a road to a destination and designed to get around certain geographical hurdles. Twisty and hilly, no doubt. After some good climbing, the road levels out onto sort of a plateau, and I was rewarded with a fantastic view to the Southeast, and I think I could pick out the watertower for Green Ridge, maybe even Windsor, in the distance -- the sky was brilliantly clear, and the sightline was endless. The sun was high already, the tailwind brisk, and the road was nearly perfect. I like this road. The good part about a completely new route is this kind of discovery - new vistas, unfamiliar barns, fields, and the mystery of a road that seems to go on forever. In fact, we're on this particular Route for almost 10 miles, one of the longest stretches of the day on any one road.
Eventually, the fun is over as we roll into Warrensburg, and discover traffic and sprawl. Anyone reading this blog for a while knows that I'm not a huge fan of development in general, but on brevet where I expect to escape some of that element it becomes a little more frustrating. Thankfully, Bob tries to make these sections of route as short as practical, but still there is much traffic. I get to Route "DD", and one of the more scenic portions of the route that goes through Knob Noster State Park - but very unfortunately seems to be a major through-route for just about EVERYONE that lives here. I pass up the Casey's near the highschool, and wave to some riders that have stopped there. I half consider taking a break, too, but the fuel is working and the day is young so I carry onward. This is a good section to start with pre-warmed legs. The first of the long hills comes, and I settle in. UGH, THE TRAFFIC! The small area of shoulder that is available is too narrow and chucked to be safely rideable, so much of the time I'm riding the white line. Cars, trucks, heavy trucks, all whizzing by -- much like a commute in suburban Johnson County, KS, it seems a little more arduous after almost 80 miles or riding. Eventually, however, all things come to an end and the bittersweet section of road is behind me as I turn onto MO-23 to snake around the airbase and transition onto Route "D". Right about here, luck runs out. After being solo for probably two hours, I am caught! I joke about it a little, but the only one laughing is Byron, most of the rest of the group all serious and focused on the task at hand. Hey, that's okay sometimes, too. Byron ended up taking a wrong turn, so he's a little amped up to make up for the lost time - still never in too much of a hurry to exchange a little banter as he pushes over his big gear and advances up the road with the rest of the group. Dale is here, too, this is likely some of the group catching up from the stop at the Casey's in Warrensburg - again the group effort summing up to be faster than the solo. But, still, I notice that it's getting harder to keep up the speeds the longer I'm out here. DRINK! Oh yeah.
Eventually, the 14 miles of Route "Y" are taking their toll - this is the final push into Sedalia, and it's a long one -- I can see the big water-tower which marks the Casey's there, but it seems like I'll never reach it. There are long, steady rollers here, and I'm starting to feel weak -- DRINK! Fool! Adding to the mayhem is the increase in traffic again as the control looms nearer - lot of development, and it seems that this kinda of thing is not limited to my area back home, nearly 120 miles away at this point. Can't escape.
The control is a welcome sight - I roll in and grab a section of sidewalk and proceed with the usual fare of getting water, getting the card signed, etc. It's getting warm, too, so layers are coming off, leg warmers getting stashed, etc. Time also to strap extra layers to the top of the saddlebag to let the sunshine dry them, after a good soaking from the morning fog.
This next section should go quickly -- only 25 miles to the turn-around!

Part Three: Sedalia to Windsor and back

What should have been a short and sweet section for some reason just seems to drag on forEVER. This little piece comprised the longest single piece of road of the entire 400K, Route "B", which we were on for almost 22 miles. That's a long time to be on one piece of road when most of my mental game comprises checking off the turns. This section only had five lines of directions, so this middle section is - mentally - taking forever. Highway "B", however, IS gorgeous -- another long stretch of seamless pavement, not nearly the pavement problems that the highways north of Liberty suffer from, and lot's to look at - large expanses of green grass, fields of cows, sheep, horses. Yes, THIS is America, jack - and America's not boring. However, this section of road was getting old -- and I think it was the headwind. Even though this was an out-n-back route, part of it tracks back west so we were getting a preview of how the entire last half of the ride would probably go. It was neat, though, passing through Green Ridge and doubling back a bit as the route curves, crossing the Katy Trail as it goes. That's still on my list of things to do -- I love these old highways and rural roads because they are off the beaten path -- only locals really use these roads, the rest of America is blasting past everything on 50 highway, or I-70, or I-44 -- but these smaller roads hold treasures for the senses, and a vision of the country that hasn't changed much since the road was originally cut. The Katy Trail offers that same notion to a higher degree. Back in the trees lies a secion of America that only railroad men used to see, and now it's open to the public. No cars, no traffic, no hassles -- just mile after mile of flat road that likely reveals just some fantastic scenery. My bicycle is equipped perfectly for such a journey now, so one of these days I'll ride her. Today, however, there are no shortcuts, no time for detours - I ride past the intersection of the trail and continue on the pavement towards Windsor, at a snails-pace it seems.

Mugging for the camera, the obligatory self-headshot at intersection of "B" and "AA", in the middle of no-where, halfway to Windsor, MO. It's pronounced "Baaaaaaa!"

Finally, the next turn comes and I'm only a couple miles from the turn-around, where I'll take a short rest. Grabbing for my waterbottle, I notice a bizarre fact - the fact that it's nearly half-full still, and I have a complete OTHER bottle. This is not good, dude --- you haven't been drinking enough! At the Casey's, I dismount and take care of business, and proceed to drink a LOT of water -- but I get the impression that it's too little, too late. The heat of the day is here, the first real HEAT of the year, really, and I'm not used to it. Clearly, this is something that I CAN recover from, and I'm aware of the issue, so it's not something I choose to let get the better of me. A long rest, and the format for the rest of the day was going to start panning out. Ed and Dale E. were with me, many of the faster riders had already departed, fully refueled and ready -- no real hurry now - this was the halfway, and every pedal stroke was getting us closer to being finished.
With bottles full, we headed out onto the hot roads of Windsor, pointing west.

The long, endless straight stretch of highway B north of Green Ridge.

This next section, since refueling and topping off the water reserves, seemed to go better - and partly it was because of the aid of the tailwind now that we were headed back east again towards Sedalia. Dale E. (this is confusing... I keep ending up riding with guys whose names sound and spell alike.) was there this time, so there was conversation and someone to stick with - the extra motivation helps a lot. Ed was also in attendance, but he defintely likes a certain pace - a pace that I just wasn't able to hold at the moment. Still, the k's are clicking by, and the day is PERFECT, the heating of the afternoon causing little puffy clouds to pop up and dot the sky, offering a little shade here and there. Excellent conditions, gorgeous sky!
A couple of morale boosts came along towards us on the road, other cyclists that were far behind us, just now getting to where we had been hours before, and I smiled to myself. It was going to be a long day for those folks, and I knew how that felt having been there before - today, even in the face of a growing battle with dehydration, I wasn't doing too awful bad. Finally, civilization was becoming more apparent as we made our way back into Sedalia - and the TRAFFIC!!!! Where was everyone GOING? Again, it was just like a days commute back in town, so I'm ready for it - but just not in the mood for it.
Eventually, past the hoo-haa of the main thruway in town, we're back on highway "Y", and the Casey's is just up the hill. Ugh. Nearly 2/3rd's done! It's hot, and I'm getting tired. Again, my bottles are not empty enough. This is a habit that apparently I've forgotten.

PART FOUR: Sedalia to Holden

Leaving Sedalia was a relief, finally the busy burg was past us. After realizing my water intake problem was still a problem, I had really started to take in more water, but I realized that I was one bottle short for these 50 mile sections. A little note for future rides like this, three bottles is really neccessary - or a small Camelbak: but realistically, with all the luggage I already have on the bike, there is no reason I can't get an extra bottle on there without ading a THIRD bag on my back. Silly. Still, I'd rather have the extra water. SO, knowing there was that handy Casey's about 2/3s of the way back to Holden, it was a good time to start drinking a lot more water. We made our way back, us three, the way we came. The turns came quicker, and my spirits started to come up after reaching the point where I could burp again. Cyclists understand this fact; means digestively that things were coming back online, and I was starting to feel like riding again --- unfortunately, the fatigue of riding on low fluids for almost 160 miles was going to have a few things to say about that.
Yes, once again the hard lessons of rando riding are so oft forgotten by a one... let's call him, Dude. Nice. So it goes, we rode west from Sedalia and made it across highway Y's vast expanse and approached D - all to the glory of a couple of bomber touch-n-go's near the airbase - very cool. Even took the time to shoot a few videos, but just like last time they are in a weird format, and I'm postponing putting them on here until I can get them straightened out a little. Talk about rambling - but the before and after video is PRICELESS. He,he. I'll figure it out. Anyways, highway 23 came and went - with a VERY welcome and LONG downhill... wheeee!!!!! I tell you what, mock the handlebar bag -- but it's actually something of a fairing -- I tuck down deep behind it, with my helmet practically resting on top of it - just barely enough room for my eyes to peek out, thereby eliminating the air-sucking hollow under my chest. I don't think it makes a darn bit o' difference, honestly - but I don't tend to get passed on downhills, and it sure felt fast - and another nice thing is that it kept the camera handy as well as snacks - fig newtons, baby!
Back on highway "DD", my favorite road to hate, with good scenery, decent pavement, endless hills .. and traffic. Freaking traffic. I hate Warrensburg. There I said it. Home to many, a great AFB - but crap, would you people learn some manners behind the wheel?! Where's the love, honestly? Makes me want to eat donuts. So I did.
We hit the Casey's by the high-school, and I was determined to get refueled. I had some potato wedges, and a donut... a GOOD donut with chocolate glaze. Duuuude, that hit the good button. Water, water, water, and I am straight again.... except there is more freakin' Warrensburg to ride thru. Ok, ok, ok. So, we-three elbow our way thru more traffic and get to highway "BB", safety and solitude once again on my kind of road. The donut it working, the water is working - but again the fatigue is making it hard, as is the headwind, to push anything very fast. This is turning into a long day. The sun, also, was beginning to get lower in the sky... ahhh, my favorite time of day. Finally reaching the end of highway BB, and onto highway F - more hills, a random dog, a hairpin turn, and there we were again on highway 58, westbound now -- this was the longest section of straight east-west road, and the best indication that the day was finally coming to a close. Holden itself was still only eight miles away, and the hour of 8:00pm was fast approaching. Sundown. The flashing taillight gets turned on, the headlight flicked on. I call the wife and kids - goodnight wishes - the sun is setting on another 400K, and there are still many miles ahead. Night is coming.... and I am smiling. This is my favorite part...

Part Five: The long march home from Holden

The sun going down, to most, marks of the end of the day. To others, it's simply another chapter in a long ride. Tonite is one of those nights. Ariving at Holden's Casey's just before sundown, the timing was perfect to finish off the last of the preparations for the evening ahead. The last signature finally on the card, it was time to relax, knowing that I now had until 8AM Sunday to finish this puppy. Whew. There is some massive relief in getting the last control on these rides - even though there is still distance left to ride, the journey for all intents is just about over. SO, the card is signed, water bottles filled, snacks bought -- this time, more donuts, two this time, perfect for the last fifty miles back to Grandview, a couple handfuls of Corn Nuts for salty and crunchy satiation, an electrolyte tab for good measure, and a shot of caffiene-impregnated Hammer Gel to keep the senses sharp. Hopefuly for this ride, the sleepies wouldn't be an issue - but just in case. At the very least, caffeine is a great mood enhancer, which never hurts. Weighing heavy on our minds is the long sector of in-town riding, which is always a chore - but thanks to the estimated late hour of arrival, traffic should be at a minimum. Then there is that muther of a hill on Chipman Road.... that'll be "fun" coming right at the 240 mile mark! My legs are already tired, so pushing a gear of any kind up that beast is gonna be interesting.

Final equipment checks, and I'm ready -- but the others are not. Dale is cramping, and Ed's headlight has shot craps. Thankfully, Bob is there again at the control for the neutral support. A little re-crimping on the connector solves the problem, and Ed's Schmidt headlight is ready to beam the road up again. Dale reminds us of the clock, and the previous random goal of finishing before midnight is slipping by, so it's time to move out. We bid farewell to Bob, and head out on MO-58 westbound for home. It's dark. Really dark, but thankfully there is a nice 3/4 full moon overhead to help with the shadowing. Now, my Lumotec is pretty bright - but I haven't ordered new lightbulbs in a while and it was showing. Ed's fairly new lighting system was the same hub and same wattage bulb - but MAN, it was VERY bright compared to mine -- the Schmidt E6 headlight is simply amazing compared directly to my Lumotec, and I'm envious. Easy enough to fix, as I simply add it to the mental list I already have running in my head of things to get/fix before the 600K -- including the saddlebag rack issues that are now making things downright painful. Unfortunately, with a minimalist toolkit, there was not much to be done about that during this ride - nor was there much to be done about the headlamp -- more than sufficient, I carry on - knowing that it's only when surrounded by others that the light pales a little.

The traffic isn't too shabby, even on the state highway - and it's apparent that our visibility packages are working well; the cars that approach from behind slow down well in advance and give a wide berth when passing -- very nice. Tail-lights flashing into the darkness, we are the night cyclists - this is our road - and it shows how nice a ride can be when the rulebook is used as a starting point, instead of being viewed as a nuissance. MO-58 is a great road for a lot of reasons, and as I alluded to earlier in Part One, one of those reasons is the long railroad line that parallels the highway. This U.P. line carries a lot of mixed freight and coal, but is also one of the main east/west lines for Amtrak, and tonite we get a rare treat - It's, after researching, the Ann Rutledge 313 Train finishing it's daily run from Chicago to Kansas City, heading for Lee's Summit with a targeted 9:20PM arrival there. It was going to beat us. It was pretty cool, and even in the dark you could tell it was bright silver, and the business-class cars were brightly lit inside, as it blew its whistle at us three times in short succesion after clearing the crossing, maybe a hello? - but pretty neat in any case. Soon, it's twin red rear lights were out of sight ahead of us. Gotta love a railline that follows along the highway! About 20 minutes later we'd be treated to something a little more normal, but still pretty neat seen from a bicycle saddle at night, another westbound freight heading thru Kingsville and Strasburg alongside us as we pedaled along. The stars were bright, the moon sliding farther behind us, and the road outstretched. Conversation about the day flowed, and we knocked off the remaining turns one at a time as we turned north on highway "E" towards Pleasant Hill. Now I was getting tired - not sleepy, just fatigued and beat from the road. The bike is fantastic, but there are things that are beginning to show up since the passing of the 300K marker. The brake hoods are too low, and everything that Rivendel raves about the Noodle handlebar's (Nitto Model.177) flat ramp are starting to make really good sense. An adjustment is needed back home -- unfortunately, the new handlebar bag's fixments are blocking the stem's fixing bolt, so an on-road adjustment is out of the question especialy after dark against a ticking clock. Next, the gawdforsaken saddlebag rack has GOT to go. My backside is raw for all the wrong reasons - no saddle sores - we've gotten past that - but the saddlebag straps that have been poking at me have forced me to slide forward onto the nose of the saddle for most of the last 80 miles, and now THAT is starting to hurt. Again, on-the-road adjustments of such things are a little dicey. Wasn't a problem on the 300K... but it SURE IS NOW. Other than that, however, I'm cozy: while others in the group are complaining about the cold air at the bottoms of hills since the sun went down, I'm perfectly comfortablein my long-sleeve wool. At least the clothing is correct this time! The conditions, actually, are quite good, and there are not too many complaints at all, even if the valleys are cooling off some. Finally we arrive at highway 150 again, after a LONG day away from it. A little more climbing that I remembered, of course, and eventually we are back at highways 7 and 150, for a quick 3/4 mile sprint to get off the main road. We are lucky -- there is a lull in traffic. The Greenwood, into the southern sections of Lees Summit on Ranson Road (where I insert a useless quip about the only lettered route in Missouri designated by two differing letters, thus highway "RA" -- thanks, Cliff Claven) and finally find our turn onto Bailey Road, which means the last of the rural highway riding is over. With a grunt and a sigh, I'm quite pleased that Ed had ridden past this turn -- I can rest, the excuse being waiting for his return to the proper course -- but honestly I'm beat. The first good yawn of the day hits like a brick -- I'd been awake since 3:00AM, and it was nearing 11:30pm. Milepost 220. Yeesh. This is it - and I didn't even really realize it at the time but this was the point Id know whether or not the ankle was completely healed - this was the exact mileage I'd attained at the Tejas 500 last Ocboter, and today, no problems at all. Wheeeeeew. But, that was the only thing that was in good order -- I had water, I had been drinking plenty - but I was getting TIRED, and the wah-wahs were settling in; you know, those head vibrations from extreme fatigue, sometimes you can artificilly get them at the dentist on "the gas" -- but this was strictly fatigue induced. yeeehaaa... time for more Hammer Gel with caffiene. Gulp -- and 15 minutes later, and a run-down of the next few turns, and we're ready to hit it again. We reach the outskirts of Lees Summit, and start to make our way thru town, zig-zaging over 291 highway, along the frontage roads, and finally reaching Ward Rd., I see Bob again in his van - he waves, headed eastbound, probably back along the route to find the group of five or so riders that are still behind us to meet them at Holden. It'll be a long night for them!
A few turns left and we hit residential, snake our way through, and before long we're on Chipman Road again -- we ride west, and then it's time for the hill. Seriously, I'm not sure it's the steepest I'd ever ridden, because 15th street at the end of the southern-route 400K seems steeper at roughly this same milepoint, but MAN this hill was tough. I show a top speed of 57 MPH on the computer for the descent. I haven't seen numbers like that since Colorado in 2002! The climb up the other side was thankfully NOT that steep of a pitch, but it was long - at least 3/4 mile, maybe more. In the dark, who can tell? - you just keep pushing until the effort drops away, and then you know you are at the top. Finally, the worst mental part of the ride is over! The next sections are all super-familiar to me, a loop around Longview Lake, up to Byars Rd, to 139th and 140th, and then the Philips station at the top of another, smaller, hill. That was it! We were BEAT; DEAD tired. 12:40AM. I managed to get to the top of the hill first, but then waited for Ed and Dale, hoping they'd get the message that we should all finish together after so much time on the road, but it didn't seem to register - we were all pretty strung out, the last section performed at a whopping 12 MPH average. Wow.... Not since 2005's 400K on single speed with near-freezing temps for the last 50 miles was the finish of a ride of this distance SO sweet. And yet, so exhausting! Time to rest, at last....this one is in the bag!!!

Seriously, thanks for reading, and riding along with me... see you for the 600K!

Notes - from one foot in the grave:
Another thing that's interesting -- dehydration.
I've been here before, dehydrated that is, at a clinical-level.
For some reason, occasionally, the conditions are perfect for me to simply dry out like a sponge left in the sun. I hearken back to the ride home from Longview Lake one summer where I managed to finish the RIDE okay, but I neglected to replace any of the fluids I'd lost. Later that night I was in the hospital with a couple of IV's hooked up to me. 3-liters of saline later, I was human again. Dumb.
Later, I drove down to Oklahoma to do Tinbutt in 2005, and pretty much neglected to drink very much the day before. It was HOT. I felt zapped. You, know, feeling "zapped" is usually an indication something is wrong. That's part of the reason that ride went so horridly. Today, as I type this, I have come back from the brink AGAIN. Apparently I was drinking just enough to keep my head (pun intended) above water DURING the ride, but I flat stopped drinking afterwards - I had a chocolate milk, and went to bed. I felt okay on Sunday, the usual stiffness and fatigue - Monday I felt kinda off, and yesterday (Tuesday) I felt downright ill. My stomach wasn't emptying, and I ended up skipping lunch and dinner. Finally occured to me, after drinking 2-quarts of water at work, a Coke (how is THAT smart?), and not feeling any better, that I might have a problem. I started to think about the last time I'd felt this way, and it dawned on me. Might be a little dry, dude. So, on the way home from work I stopped and got a bottle of the "liquid evil". Yes, Gatorade. After blowing this stuff all over the road on various occasions, and watching other riders blow it all over the sidewalk at a control one year, I never drink it DURING a ride - but afterwards, and possibly before for prep, I'm getting the impression that this stuff WORKS. I downed a quart, arrived home - seriously feeling more stiff and worse than I had immediately after the ride. I talked to the wife about it, and I was instructed to stop being a moron and lay down. So I did. I slept like a rock until probably 9pm, waking up occasionally to drink ANOTHER quart of Gatorade that she'd picked up from the store for me. Nice gal. Three quarts of Gatorade, and two quarts of water later, and about 18 trips to the restroom, my legs came back to life, my headache faded, vision stopped bing blurred, and I felt human again. So, seriously -- another lesson learned that I have to pass on: drink. before, during and after. There is defintely a cumulative effect to rides of this distance, and I'm totally at fault for not staying on top of my fluid intake. It's amazing, all the preparations that I had been making, and sometimes I just forget the simple stuff. If you do these rides with nothing else, at least DRINK enough!!!
I'm getting the impression that water and endurolytes might not be quite enough, so I may be tossing in some HEED or Endura on the 600K, just to be sure I'm allowing for assimilation. Meanwhile, I have a very hilly 44-miler this weekend, and the KCCC time-trial Sunday, so I better get myself straight.

See ya next time!

April 26, 2007

The beast beckons

Spring is actually seeming to stick around lately, save for this morning's foray into the upper 40's temps again, after a really hearty round of storms. The grasses are REALLY green now, and there is that smell around... and with it some of the usual sniffles and occasional hayfever headache. Ugh. More coffee! Actually, with summer not far behind, it's time to rediscover tea, most likely.... but either way.

Stepping right along is my seasonal shifting of the bicycles, where I start to wonder why I took certain things apart the previous year, etc. After a winter with the messenger bag keeping my back toasty, it's now time to swap back over to the 70+ degrees formula of saddlebag mode. That is, of course, if I can find the parts from the mount from last year. After I quick cal to Harris Cyclery, I find them (sorta.). Turns out they magically regenerated themselves in the parts bin of the bike shop. Weird! So, I'm all set for spring-into-summer riding again!
Come fall no doubt, I'll probably wonder why I ever stopped riding with the messenger bag. Silly dualist.

This weekend is the 400K brevet, and I'm VERY excited about this one for a couple reasons; number one, it probably WON'T be raining, and it will actually be warm! Not only will it be above freezing, it should be WELL above freezing at the start, too! Shocker!!! Seriously, anything short of a major hail-storm and I'd be happy, after a huge addition to the I've-had-worse file two weeks ago. That certainly turned out to be a great ride, but my complaining about weather conditions is pretty much a thing of the past. Another reason to be excited is a new route, which can sometimes carry a little scepter of its own -- it's been several years since the navigation aspect of randonnuering had to be utilized, so it ought to be a tale rife with terms like "got lost" and "5-mile detour".

The next 36 hours will be full of clothing choices, bag-packing, and carb-loading, so stay tuned for the 400K report, complete with a decent video accompanyment. Assuming I remember to bring the camera!

April 16, 2007

Permutation of asperity realized - the 2007 300K brevet

The front finally passes...

OKAY... Let's get to the story...

Standing at my favorite spot on the planet. Once again, the intersection of highways A and Z in rural Gentry County Missouri. I was about to turn north into the nastiest headwind in years. The last time I was here was in 2005, and I was in short sleeves. This time, it was barely 40 degrees, with a 22 MPH north wind.

Ladies and fellow ultra-distance freaks... the 300K report:

First and foremost, a couple of notes -- just getting them down in print so I remember them - because as you know, some of this blog is for my own record keeping.
So, handlebar bag. I have been in this territory before, but it was a cheapy handlebar bag that took up most of the bar itself, instead of being held out away from the bag. I simply don't have the backpocket space to support the amount of calories and REAL food that I've been carrying on brevet lately. While entertaining the very leading edge of a bonk, I got smart and stopped the bike to fish some more grub out of the saddlebag. With a bag - a GOOD bag - right in front of me, I can load it with snacks, Hammer Gel flasks, crackers, whatever, and continue riding, without cooling down the legs or burning clock. Sometimes it's good to take a rest -- sometimes, however, when you're being dumb and weighing continuing riding vs. that pain in your gut - it's time to find a solution. Add in the bonuses of a nice place to stash a camera, maybe a radio, a place to hold maps, a place to stash extra layers if the back pockets are already full, etc. It's a good idea, so we'll give it a shot.

That's really it for gear notes, tho. Everything else worked PERFECTLY, which is code for - HEY, Dude: don't change anything!!!

Now, the ride itself:
This was one of the most nasty rides I've ever started, weather-wise. I'll put it that way.
This has been an interesting year for that kind of thing, honestly. The First C'Dude ride on March 3rd, as you've all read before here, was COLD and snowing. But, it was light, and really didn't pose too much of a threat. Ok, until Woodland Road. Whatever. Then a string of warm rides, a cancellation of another horrid C'Dude Ride, and then the week of torment and second guessing that started with a phone call from the RBA, Bob, on Thursday night. SNOW??? In mid April???
Yup - apparently so, and this time the forecasters were indeed correct. This was gonna be just nuts. Snow is one thing -- snow on BREVET? In the northland? In rural Missouri? On the VERY route where in 2002 I had the WORST day on a bike for me, EVER??? What was I thinking??? I mean, I'm not going to Paris, right? I don't REALLY need to do this ride, right? The conversations started, the panic, the emails, figuring out the schedules -- Bob was offering a rare opportunity to complete this ride on Sunday, if we wanted to. The forecast for Sunday was a cold start, and warming to the mid 60's. ANd, looking back as I type this on MOnday night, THAT forecast ALSO panned out -- Sunday was gorgeous.

What was I gonna do here? From one side, there was the "you've had worse, are you a randonnuer, or a rather-not?" internal conversation... then there was the, "you fool, don't pres your luck - you almost died up there in 2002, and you're gonna go for it in WORSE weather? TAke the out and ride Sunday!"

What am I gluton for punishment? I was gonna ride this thing -- I just wasn't sure when, and I had support from either end. It was up to me.
In the garage Thursday night, after talking to Bob on the phone about it, I continued my routine of getting things ready. Tires look good, spare tubes are still fresh, not dried out or cracked, patches are plentiful, Fiber-Fix spoke looks good, flashlight, multi-tool, tire lever, cheese whiz, WD40, zip-ties, wire hangers, etc. Check, check, check, check, check... uhhhh..... yeah. All the usual stuff, packed and ready in my Carradice bag. Chain lubed. Skipped the usual "make bike pretty" pre-ride wipe-down. It was gonna get sloppy. Thank goodness for fenders!

I was ready. I went to bed Friday morning, and said to myself "just check the weather in the morning, and see what's happening up there." I reminded myself that no matter what I would see outside the door Saturday night, it was probably NOT like that up north. Don't be reactionary.

The alarm clock rang at 3:30AM, and I crawled out of bed - in usual pre-brevet fashion: almost JUMPING out of bed, in hard contrast to the usual snooze-repeat routine of waking up for work. I carefully walked over to the window, and parted the shades... snow. Yup. They were right. Still coming down, and there are tracks in the streets. For some reason, I didn't do what I thought I might do - that constant duality didn't kick in like it had so many times in the past. I went to the kitchen, grabbed my drink bag out of the fridge, poured my coffee into a water bottle of Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel for my wake-up cup, and went downstairs to shower. Thirty minutes later, I was all suited up, and opening the garage. There was at least 3 inches of heavy, wet slushy snow on the driveway. I've never loaded he bike onto the roof of the car in weirder conditions. Never. I took a long swig of coffee, and started the car for the drive north. I never looked back.

I don't know if it's age, knowledge, preparedness, the mental portion of the yoga I've been taking, the meds, or just finally arriving in a really good, solid place: but the voices were silent. FINALLY. I was actually looking forward to this. I only know why in retrospect. At the time, there was no reason visible for me to be thriled about riding in the present conditions - but I drove, slush slapping the underside of the car, listened to music, and sipped coffee.

I was 5:10AM, and there I sat, with Bob Burns in his van, getting my brevet card and map, and a couple of plastic bags. Tim sat up front, chatting up Bob on PBP. So far, and quite oddly, we were the ONLY two riders present. Normally, less than an hour from the start of a ride of this caliber, people are here getting stuff ready, pumping tires, etc. I asked Bob how many he had contact him about riding Sunday instead, and he replied "five...there are supposed to be 22 riders here today."
I was shocked -- I knew randonnuers were hearty folk, but I was more surprised to not see the parking lot reflect the number of pre-registered riders. This is a Paris year, and these are must-finish rides. If you don't have the ire to ride in THIS stuff, well... don't buy your plane tickets yet. The conditions were not that bad -- the farther north I'd come on the drive, the moe the snow thined out, and now in Liberty it was just rain - but it was a thick, soaking, cold rain with the temperature hovering around 34 degrees. Snow would have been one thing, but this was just rain - and my spirits were already calmed. I thought to myself that I might just go home and come back Sunday, but it was only because I really didn't want to do this ride alone. Tim is faster than I am, and I knew how things would pan out. Regardless of intent, it's hard to keep riders together over these distances. Pace is personal.

A few minutes later, a familiar truck pulls up, and inside are Spencer and Jack. Jack I had ridden with before, probably a couple years back, but again a victim of pace, it wasn't for very long as he quite the hammer - even at distance. Spencer is the consummate randonnuer. Wool. Good bags. Experience. FIXED GEAR. This guy is *IT*. I don't owe him any favors, either, kids -- if you ride alongside him, LISTEN.
You'll learn something.

This would be it. It was 5:30AM, and this was it. Out of 22 sign-ups, there were FOUR riders here. So, here *I* am, a rider with a spotty performance record in the past and a poor ration of personal pride heading out into the dark, cold rain with three solid, strong and proven randonneurs. Wow. This was pretty cool, indeed! With the usual fanfare, Bob saw us off, and in a flash we were on the other side of the main road and onto the route. The rain, and wind, were steady. For once, learning from all the past mistakes, I was comfortable, however; I have to tell you - comfortable brevets that go exactly to plan don't make good stories. Randonnuering is about hard-charging cyclists that don't take words like "can't" and "hard" and "suffering" too seriously. This ride is famous for changing people. It had already changed me once before. I respect this ride, the terrain, the route.

Us four made our way "out of civiliation" after crossing underneath I-35 on Plattsburg Road -- the road narrows, drops between the tree lines, and that's it. YOu're out of town. Tire spray, rain, cold wind, but a good group with good lights and good spirits - the conversations were already beginning.

It's really nice when everything sorta falls together. The memories of last falls' ankle injury still occasionally make me wonder, but the bike fit is now perfect and it is SUCH a difference. When I want to push, the bike responds, and the joints are happy. But, I'm still watchful, and thankful for a good recovery. The gear and equipment, all in the bag and there for a reason, puts my mind at ease. Even a change of shorts, extra wool gloves - the little things that don't take up to much room, but can make a WORLD of difference later - they set my mind at ease. For once, the distance ahead is not a burden, even with the rain.

I'm more thankful as the ride continues, as Jack gets the first flat tire of the day. With an offer of help refused, I carry onward -- it's one of those things that I sometimes feel bad about, but each one of us knows what to pack, how to hange a tire, etc., and four hands are not neccessarily beter than two in these cases. We all stick to our routines, and we get back on the road.

We are soon north of the 200K route, turning north on Route "Y" towards Stewartsville, about 16 miles to the north. This is the section of road that about 9 hours later I would film a couple of ridiculous videos. he,he. For now, it was all business. The rain was beginning to lighten, but the wind was picking up to take it's place on the hardship board. As we began to pull farther and farther away from the lines of trees to the south, the wind had less and less to inhibit it, and my speed was beginning to suffer. Draft? Not today. Randonnuers don't generaly like to draft - it's a matter of pride, unless by agreement you do good rotations of one or two mile pulls, or you are helping a rider that is having a bad day -- but generally, we are out there to prove something to ourselves - so we'd rather ride side by side and talk, rather than take the easier road.

Still, whether I wanted to or not - there are only four of us up here, and Tim and Spencer are a ways up the road already, having a strong morning. When nature calls, you have to let the group go, so I did at Plattsburg. Eventually, I would catch up to Tim, only to have him pull away again - all the while Spencer's bright taillight teasing me from two miles up, maybe more. Then, Spencer gets a flat - so we all regroup. Eentually, we all get to Stewartsville within a few minutes of each other, and it's a decent showing. 9:20AM -- not bad... not the 8:30am that I pulled off in 2005 (probably a south wind), but it'll do for today. Fuel, water -- WATER!!! -- cards signed, and we're off again. This next stretch is a doozey. Nearly 50 miles to Albany, MO, and the halfway point -- and it's a LONG 50-miles. No services, period. Barely any buildings. It's LONELY, and as Spencer said best, "this ride takes a lot of patience." The brain wanders, and things like self-doubt can creep in in you're not careful.

As we leave the safety of Stewartsville behind us and turn onto highway "N" northbound, the wind once again reminds us who's boss. The pavement this year is pretty good, actually - repaved since 2005, obviously. Once again, the group is together, and Spencer and I set up shop in a two-abreast fashion, helping Tim (if I recall correctly) for a bit. The rain has yielded, finally, and I finally have the rain jacket packed up - but the wind has me still layered up against the elements.

Water, electrolyte tabs -- yes, even when it's cold, you sweat and lose fluid -- and peanut butter crackers pass my lips now on a regular basis, as the mileage mounts. This is, as I said, a long, lonely section of the ride here. The BIG middle, nearly 100 miles with one stop at Albany, if you chose to view it that way. I'm not sure how I've become mentally able to handle this section, but it's become easier over the years. Today is no exception - but I dare not take it for granted. Only 5 years earlier, I was having quite a rough time of things right about now.
Soon, we were on highway "H", and the pre-advertised "bad" section of pavement. bob delivers. It's pretty bad, in desperate need of a repave. Thank goodness for wide tires. Again, the lessons of the past gaining favor in the eyes of adversity.

After what seems like an eternity on this one road, the turn onto "Z" finally comes, after a quick rest near the very confusing intersections of H, E and Z. I think A is in there, too. Ugh. Would someone give Missouri a couple of numbered signs?
Please? Yeesh. A few crackers, water, and a stretch, and getting an extra layer off my head, and I'm back on the case again -- now alone, having lost track of Spencer as he dealt with his third flat tire, and losing Tim off the back somewhere, too. Jack passes me eventually, asking if I'm okay, and he's off in front by at least a mile in what seems like no time at all. He's the strongman today -- good thing it's not a race, because moves like that can sometimes be a big mental blow.

Carry on -- Alone again, on one of the hardest sections, after turning east onto highway "Z", finally. You know, I love this road, but it's a BEAR. A roller coaster of hill after hill after hill -- it's almost worse than Mo-116 that rolls into Plattsburg for the 200K. This kids, is why I tend not to complain about hills like Johnson Drive and other local "walls" anymore. At least you can tame those hills without having to ride nearly 80 miles to get to them. Oh, and did I mention you have to ride the other side of each hill on the way BACK, after you've got about 110 miles in your legs? He,he. Yes, what about the TORture??? Muaaahhaaahhaa!!!

I ride on, and approach the subject of the opening photo, of me and the highway sign. The intersection of highways A and Z. I don't know what it is about this intersection, but I always stop to consider it. Maybe I'll have a house up here someday, I dunno. Still, in an area of the state that is at least 50-60 years away from EVER being devloped, or having a Starbucks or a Subway, it's nice to enjoy the EMPTINESS. The cows calling, the wind howling. The highway that runs from nothing to nothing, essentially - maybe 50 cars a day. Maybe. I only see two while standing here for a few minutes. NO MUGGLES! In 2002, I don't remember this intersection. In 2003, i got one of my first photos of myself on a bicycle, courtesy of Warbird's Dad mirroring us along the route and taking photos for the memory log -- and this webpage. That perfect shot, sunny day, Warbird on point, me feeling strong, looking lean - something I'm still trying to get back to - wearing a jersey that now hangs on my wall because it's too small -- the pavement of highway Z stretching WAAAY back to the horizon. I love that picture. In 2005, I sat here waiting for Ort to show up - but little did I know a nagging knee problem had sidelined him, miles behind me. That time, I mugged for the camera with the Trek 720 single-speed in the background. Another good, sunny day. I wish I could have seen my face in 2002, when I was having a HORRID day, just for contrast. This time, the weather is just as bad - just not raining. Yet I have a pleasant feeling about the situation this time out.

I pull the bike back out onto the road, assess things, and turn north. WHAMO... holy gawd. Somewhere between the last turn north and THIS turn north, the wind REALLY picked up and was blowing - nay, howling - out of the north at least 20 MPH or better. OH well ... head down, and stroke it out. Unfortunately, fatigue is setting in, but really I'm having a good day so far, considering the wind. THe push is still there, despite the fact I'm beginning to run out of food and water. There are only 17 miles to go when I realize this fact -- but 17 miles can be an eternity in wind like this. Fueling is more about TIME than it's about DISTANCE. It's "only" 17 miles, but so far my plans to get to Albany by 1:00pm were not looking too good. In fact, my 2nd notion about 1:30 started looking bleak, too, shortly after. The hole in my stomach was growing -- so I downed the last three crackers I had in my pocket, and slugged some water. It seemed to help, but the body is in full tilt now, and metabolism takes everything it can get. In ten more minutes, the hunger is back and stronger. Ugh.... push, fool! Working my butt off, I look at the computer and see 6 MPH at times, as the hills are STILL a factor. THere is nothing flat about this route, ever. I reach the bridge where Warbird and I talked out the bad day back in 2002, and I give invisible knuckles to him in mid-air as I roll past the fateful site. I know, it's cheesey, but the older I get the more I value things like this. I have always had a soft spot for "that barn", or "that barber shop" -- but I've had more of a soft spot lately for places I went with Dad, places I have taken the kids and had those bonding moments, the place where I met my wife, gave her the first ring I gave her, stuff like that. And, yes, old roads like 159th that USED to be safely ridable -- the old "standard loop" as it was nearly 10 years ago that the Warbird and I used to train hard upon, racing each other without cares of cars or suburban turn-outs. This bridge, the northern edge of the northbound lane, specifically, is where the Warbird saved my ass by stopping, talking, and agreeing to pick me up. If he hadn't --- well... I'm glad I don't know. It's a memorable spot for me, and so, as no-one watched, I raised my fist against the wind and sent a quiet salute across the Pacific Ocean to "the man".
Come hell or high water, we'll ride together in Kyoto someday, man.

15 miles to go from there.

Then came Evona, MO. Quiant, but oddly-placed little burg only a few miles south of Albany signals that I'm getting close -- a huge downhill, which is really not that fun with 20 mph winds in the face slowing me down. My top speed for the day isn't nearly as high as it should be. Finally, I see the Phillips 66 sign at the edge of own, and then the standard-issue "welcome to" sign for Albany, MO. The WW1 cemetery is on the right - a lot of history here in this town. All I care about at the moment is the Casey's a few miles up. I pass the local pool with it's killer water slide, and then I'm there. Wheeeeew!!!! Hunger simply slamming my gut, I grab my brevet card and rush inside and buy at least $10 worth of water and food, and sit on the curbside, snarfing -- careful not to OVERload. Most of the purchase goes into my saddlebag for later.

It's almost 2:00PM. Holy crap, that took a long time. Nearly an hour and forty minutes to traverse 20 miles? Dang. Doesn't matter now... it's 2:00PM, and I'm halfway done with this ride. And the BEST PART, the part that NEVER happens, EVER on this ride --- the promise of a tailwind!!! Sometimes the weather service is wrong, and sometimes they are so, SO right. Dude, this was gonna be sweet. the same wind that was hampering our travels all day, and especially over the last 2 hours, was going to be at our backs! Spencer rolls in, singing a bar of the classic "Kansas City Lights", which brings me back to riding along on a car trip through a toll-booth on I-70 in the backseat of our old 1976 Buick Regal, Dad at the wheel, mom in the passenger seat, and my sister and I fighting for legroom while stretched out trying to sleep while we all drove thru the night on the way to Colorado or South Dakota - I can't remember where. But that song was coming softly over the radio, on the AM dial no-doubt, while the 350 V8 punched a hole in the deep Kansas night, on cruise control - back when gas was cheap, and the future was brighter. Isn't it amazing, the human brain? Things like a bridge or a bar from a song can draw up SO much... Spencer had no idea what he was making me think of just then, so I just smiled and hummed a few extra bars in my head while I finished off my Mounds bar. Hmmmm....yes.... complex sugars, dark chocolate, coconut.... good for at least 20 strong miles. BABAY YEAH!!! CHOMP CHOMP!!!!!

2:30pm, time to roll -- I mount up, and we are off again. FORTY-FIVE MINUTES later, I'm back at the intersection of A and Z. Yep. Fast, baby. The wind is even stronger now, and the only gripe I have is that I only have a 49x12 maximum gear to push. Not to bore you, but seriously, even the masive hills of highway Z were much easier to tolerate with the strong cross-tail wind from the NE. I was in cycling heaven. Even pushing the 49x12, sometimes dipping to 49x15 or 16 for the steeper stuff (!!!) - the hills were there, but not bad. They still sapped speed, but the wind was making the energy reserves last SO much longer. This day was TOTALLY worth the trip.

Sometimes in the face of masive adversity, the silver lining shines all the brighter. At the beginning of the way, there was no way we could have seen it, but certainly the Madonna Ghisallo was smiling upon us now. We earned our stripes, and our names -- well, MY name at least, as Spencer is truly already DEFINTELY a "Randonneur" (Last Chance 1200K on a fixed gear, anyone?) Jack was fast, all day, riding a Surly Karate Monkey modified for road touring use and wonderfully equipped (do you thinkit has anything to do with gear NOW? Stop saving for a Ramboillet and just GET OUT THERE!) Dude, these are STRONG riders. I think I got a little closer to that distinction Saturday. After finishing the 600K this year, I'll be even closer -- but to have the choice to ride in a rain/snow mix with a horrid north wind, or wait until Sunday with it's promise of clear skies and 60 degree temperatures... and to choose the FORMER???? There is either something wrong with me --- something VERY VERY WROOOONG with me! --- or, perhaps, I too am a Randonneur.
Trial by fire, and reward by tailwind. I felt knighted, sitting high on the saddle, smiling, and flying southbound, checking off landmarks and grinning bigger with each mile closer to home.

Of course, the mind does still get tired and bored -- thankfully for YOU (egads) I had a camera, and therefore "someone to talk to". The Warbird is probably laughing louder than anyone right now, because he remembers Ride the Rockies 2002, and the video documentary crew that was interviewing riders atop Molas Divide at nearly 11,000 ft., after a gruelling 3-hour climb to the top --- I was babbling like and idiot, dropping words like "culmination" and talking about my "tumultuous journey" -- thankfully for everyone else in the world, hey edited most of that out... unfortunately for you, I have no editor. MUAAHAAHHAAAHAHAAAAA!!!!!!

Still, the frivolity of the portable video recorder - and the memory cards' capacity - eventually wear thin. Shortly after, I'm in Plattsburg again, feeling strong, and still enjoying a tailwind. THe long journey back south along highway "C" takes no time at all, a big contrast to the 200K three weeks earlier when the wind was just as strong, but in the wrong direction.

Eventually, I catch Spencer, and realizing my ultimate goal for this ride, we hit Plattsburg Road before the sun dips. Whew! Stopping for a bit, I pull on a few extra layers forthe coming cold air of nightfall. The wind dies a little, but doesn't shift -- and the ride south on Plattsburg, one of my favorite roads, is a good one -- except for my one mechanical failure.

Yeah, I thought you'd like a little drama in there -- but this time it's pretty paltry. The only thing that exploded was the filament in my lightbulb. Weird, and only the second time it's happened while on a ride, since originally purchased in April 2002. That's not to say the original bulb lasted that long, it's just the first time I hadn't hanged to a new bulb before the brevet series. Oh well -- spares abound in the saddlebag! See, paltry drama. The only BAD thing about preparedness is the fact that it tends to ruin an epic tale of suffering. Oh, mark me, I'm sure there will be another nasty adventure coming up. Ask me in about a month when I cross the 300 mile barrier for the first time.

New bulb in place, I continue on, soaking up the excellent night, and pulling zippers high again. Shortly after, I'm back at Perkins, checking in -- and if it hadn't been for the "nice lady" that was being REALLY picky about the Sticky Bun selection, I would have had my card signed at 8:54PM -- but instead I have to settle for 9:02 as my official finish time.

Yeah, no records broken -- 15 hours and change, total time -- and 12 hours 14 minutes 09 seconds rollng time, or an average of ... yuck, 14.3 MPH... and you know what... I'll take it. Considering that my average speed upon arriding at Albany was 12.9 MPH after fighting all that wind, do the math on my return velocity needed to raise that back up to 14.3, and that's a pretty good ride - like two completely different rides, really. These aren't about speed -- especially THIS one, with a boasted 27,000 feet of climbing recorded by GPS one year. IF you can average better than 14, you're doing pretty good. Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
The days of hitting Perkins at 7:37PM (2005 on a SINGLE SPEED!) will return, probably NEXT spring considering I'm starting over this year, after last falls events and injury. I'll freaking take it!

Chocolate milk never tastes so sweet. I drove home, all smiles.

Thanks for reading ----- the 400K is coming 4/28... and I'm all over it, cousin!

April 12, 2007

Wax yer bag.

Dudes, seriously.
Let's go back a few steps.

March 3rd, the first C'Dude ride of the year -- snow, 20 degrees, 20 MPH NW winds. Did it.

March 24th, the 200K, gorgeous weather. Awesome ride.

April 7th. The second C'Dude ride of the year. Cancelled. 17 degrees, 25 MPH NW winds. Just can't take it anymore - ride cancelled. Nobody complains. Rightly.

April 14th, the 300K. 2-3" of snow, 33 degrees and NNW winds at 18-20 are forecast. Are you kidding me?

Well, I'm either a randonneur, or a rather-not.

So, I'm doing it. There is a VERY fine line between "hearty" and "stupid", however.
I like the way Chris Martin of Coldplay says it: "steeuwped."

So, taking a bit of knowledge from the forums from the other side of the big pond, I hit the hardware store and picked up a tin of Sno-Seal, brought it home, and applied it to the Carradice bag --- yeah, yeah: I know what you Carradice proponents are saying, nay - screaming - at me right now: "that bag is already waterproof!!" -- no, it's not. Actually, details, details: the BLACK Cotton Duck bags, like my full-sized Super-C saddlebag, *ARE* waterproof. However, I erred on the side of fashion and purchased as a smaller bag the Pendle in fancy "olive drab", or - as the kids call it, "green". Fancy bag. NOT, however, Cotton Duck. It's just straight cotton canvas. Now, granted, they might have changed this - but a direct conversation with Carradice at the time of purchase revealed in-fact that the material came from another supplier and was NOT cotton duck. So, one de-merit for fashion.

Easily remedied, I suppose. Silicone sprays don't work. Seriously. Quit making such a smelly mess and just get the good stuff. Bean dip, also, is a terrible waterproofer. Tasty, yes, but not a good waterproofer. The good stuff, purportedly, is Sno-Seal.
This stuff is mainly marketed towards LEATHER care, which is handy since some parts of the Carradice are leather - but it works JUST fine for canvas and other fabrics, like old-school tents -- I mean REALLY old school tents, like plain green canvas army tents. You get the material hot with a hair dryer, and also immerse the tin of Sno-Seal in a pot of just-boiled water to melt the contents, brush it on, blow-dry it in until the fabirc simply won't take any more, and then let it dry. Buff off the excess, and this bag is more waterproof than the Cotton Duck bags are. The nice thing is, also, it that the material doesn't really stiffen up any, and the wax stays put. Contrary to Cotton Duck - with which there is nothing at all wrong - the material won't gain water-weight in the rain. Not a big deal for someone that is using a Carradice bag, but Cotton Duck does tend to absorb the water enough to cause the fibers to swell, thus sealing the bag. It's stays "wet" thought, while the contents stay dry. The Sno-Seal proofed bag, however, the water hits the bag and simply beads and runs right off. So, it's just two different ways to accomplish the same end result -- the stuff inside stays dry. This will no-doubt be important this weekend after a few hours in the rain/snow mix. A nice, dry pair of shorts to change into at the turn-around will be VERY welcome.

So, wish us luck -- it's a Paris year, so there will be riders, and these riders will be awfully detemined to finish, regardless of conditions. This is the stuff that legends are made of, and excellent stories. I'll be thinking back to the names of Flanders again, as I pull on the wool, and pull the bike off the rack for another ridiculous, epic, and fool-hardy Kansas City brevet.

At the very least, my saddlebag is ready!
Stay tuned ---- this is post number 99, by the way, so the next report, the 300K report, will be the 100th post for this blog!
Will it be bad, good, long, short? Who cares. Stay tuned!

After writing this article, I figure fact was better than notion, so I did a little research: The first-run green Barley and Pendle bags were the initial test product for the green fabric/tan straps color scheme, and the fabric was supplied by a different company, and was not originally Cotton Duck material. After the initial supplies of these early green bags were exhausted, the demand dictated that the color scheme would stay, and at that point Carradice began sourcing the more-expensive Cotton Duck material in the green color. There are no serial numbers or dates that coorespond with this change, however. The best way to determine if your bag is indeed Cotton Duck is to give it a good soaking in a COOL shower (NOT HOT), and test the waterproofness of the seams. The nature of Cotton Duck causes the fabirc to swell shut around the seams, locking out water. If your bag's seams leak, then it is NOT Cotton Duck. It is suggested that you obtain from a lisenced Carradice stockist a tin of their "Reproofing Wax" and apply as directed to protect your bag. The Black bags with white straps ARE, and always have been, Cotton Duck, and currently all green bags sold are ALSO Cotton Duck, as Carradice has expanded this production to include many other bags in their line in this alternate color scheme. Buy with confidence EITHER color, and enjoy!
If you have an older green bag, waterproof at your own discretion. My method should not be considered the optimum method, but it certainly works. It may, however, have voided my Lifetime Warranty - but that is a decision I will live with, as the bag itself, purchased in early 2004, has never needed any repair or maintenance after 3 years of hard commuting use.

April 9, 2007

History Repeats Itself - but hopefully not.

Week…. Oh, whatever.

Well, this week’s training has gone well, but MAN I’m SORE. This upper body stuff is for people with…. Well, upper bodies. Ugh. You know what’s also a good idea? Doing serious yard-work Saturday morning and giving the midsection another good lashing. I still can’t bend right. Ouch. It will pay off – that’s what I keep telling myself. Oddly, I’m already feeling SOME benefits in the saddle – which is encouraging: while climbing out of the saddle, it seems that I don’t tire out as quickly while trying to hold my body out of the saddle – arms are showing some definition, too. And that flailing around feeling is starting to become minimized. I suppose the reason I’ve always been a better seated-climber, as opposed to a stand-and-attack climber, was lack of core strength – and it’s becoming more apparent now that I AM getting some core strength. Yeah, I’m no Pantani – at least not yet. You can leave your drug references aside – I still look upon Pantani as one of the greats, and the media dealt him a raw card. Anyways – dopers suck: I just believe that Pantani was not one of them. Never proven. I still have the issue of VeloNews that paid tribute to him hanging on the wall, alongside my Mercatone Uno jersey. I digress…. I shave the head and sport the goatee because it looks good on me, but there are parallels there – to climb like he did would be sweet indeed.

Again with the digression! Back to real life, and training at the end of week – what, 12? 11? Who knows, and I don’t wanna look at the spreadsheet right now. Crap, I can’t help it…. (opens spreadsheet)… ok, week 12 is jus beginning. It’s a brevet week! Yippeee!!!!

I’m actually really excited about this 300K coming up – not only has it become one of my favorite routes, it’s also been two years since I’ve ridden it. Last year, medical reasons kept me from participating, which was the nail in the coffin for the subsequent 400K ride. It was a tumultuous year, 2006… now, fresh, ready, and paying attention to training like a good cyclist should (well, at least one interested in competing at some level), I feel ready and am more than willing to ride 186 miles this Saturday. Similar to a couple weeks ago, however, there are concerns again with the weather. It’s looking like a repeat of 2002’s horrid ride might be in the works – which is, as any of you that have read this for a while know – my worst day on the bike EVER. Someone was asking me about that recently, and it struck me that I’ve never chronicled that ride in these annals.
Once I get done rattling here, I will, tho.

So, once again we prepare for the epic haul north to Albany, Missouri. More than anything, the epic 60 mile haul from Stewartsville to Albany – and then back. That middle section of the ride always teaches me something. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes bad. Hopefully, with the amount of preparation I’ve undertaken, it will have only good lessons. One never knows what one will get up there, seriously.
In 2002, as I’ll get into later, it was simply horrible. In 2003, I brought vengeance on that fateful ride with a superb performance – but it was a complete opposite, and near 95ºF and blazingly sunny. 2004 was an “off” year. 2005’s ride was done on a single speed, and was my best ET to-date on that route – but was still a hard ride, but there were fewer hard lessons to be learned. 2006 didn’t happen… and now, here we are – history repeating itself, perhaps? It’s a perfect opportunity to see if the tests of the past have yielded any knowledge. Rain jacket is ready, and of good quality. Heck, I even have a 3”x3”x0.75” emergency space-blanket packed – simply because you NEVER know. Extra tubes? Yup. A REAL tire pump instead of inflators? Yup. GOOD tires? Yup. Extra layers? Yup. Food? Yup. I’m ready. Long sleeved wool jersey? Yup. You know I’m ready, boy. Fenders? Who in their right mind rides WITHOUT them???
We’re sooooo ready. Taking enough, but not too much, and ready for the worst. Heck in 2002 rain wasn’t even in the forecast – but this time it is. Mother Nature, not to be fooled with – she’s got a good memory, and she will test us again. Pity on those that don’t heed her call.

Only time will tell if everything comes together, but I am ready, willing, and itching to ride!

There was a time, however, when I had never done this before. There was a time when I felt like I was almost obligated to go – I was still not sure if I WANTED to ride this far. There was a time when a light, fast bicycle was all I wanted – fitness be damned, I would let the equipment make up for my shortcomings. There was a time when things like tiny seat-bags meant you were a racer, fast. Carrying more than one spare tube meant you were paranoid. Fenders were for sissies, and tires only came in one size – 700x23.
There was a time where Mother Nature followed MY schedule – and if there was a ride happening, then weather would just have to wait.

Until April 20th, 2002.

I thought I was prepared to some degree. I knew rain was a slight possibility, but honestly it wasn’t supposed to rain until Sunday. Still, being reasonably paranoid, I started out the day with a wind/rain jacket and rain pants stuffed into my center back pocket, underneath my small Camelbak. The day started in the mid 40’s, and wasn’t supposed to get much warmer than that. I had knee warmers, booties, a base layer and jersey, and my wind jacket – ready for the day, I thought. Despite all the preparations, I was nervous; today would mark my longest ride EVER. In 2002, my first brevet season, every distance mark was a new personal longest ride. It was scary.

My bicycle at the time was well outfitted, so I thought: my orange Schwinn Passage (7005 series aluminum) road bike, with Shimano RSX 8-speed, mini seat-bag, and Continental Ultra 2000 700x23c tires, and no fenders – was ready for the challenge.
The 200K, two weeks earlier, had gone pretty well, I suppose – but it was a struggle – a recent personal-best distance. I was still sore from that day as I lifted my leg over the top-tube and prepared for the day.

Food? I thought I was ready there, too – but there is something to be said for reading the fine print of a label. I had recently discovered, after getting an earful of advice from ultra-cyclist Byron – future RAAM 2-man winner, and UMCA’s Kansas cross-state record-holder – that Sustained Energy from Hammer Nutrition was the absolute BEST fuel for ultra-riding. I picked some up, and tried it. Today was the first ride of any length I was going to use it on, however. I was loaded to the gills with the stuff, carrying the spare powder in two Zefal Magnum bottles that I had mounted to a Profile Aqua-Rack behind the seat. The other two bottle cages on the bike were filled up with a slurry of SE and water designed to carry me multiple hours on the saddle. I’d drink one bottle per hour, as recommended… at least, as I’d read it was recommended. In the Camelbak was 50 oz. of Accellerade sports drink. I’d use that as my hydration, and the SE as my fuel – it seemed smart, especially since I’d run the 200K previously on Twinkies, trail mix, and Gatorade. Yeesh.

Feeling strong, we set out on the road. This was a ride of legends, and I was feeling inspired. Byron R. was there, Dan Jordan was there, and the Warbird was there, too. Strong riders all around; definitely an Ultra-Racer group, as opposed to a Randonnuering group, if that makes sense. Dan Jordon had already done RAAM, and Byron was on his way to his first solo effort that June. Resplendent and strong, he trudged the way on his yellow Titanflex bike, and it was hard not to try and latch on and follow. For those of you that ride these brevets today, this is not that long ago – but it seems like forever ago, because Plattsburg Road was not NEARLY as well paved than as it is now. Driving that point home was my 26 lbs. or harsh, straight-gauge 7005 aluminum transmitting the brunt of every ridge in the pavement directly into my body. Feeling good, though, I found myself running off the front of the pack – which in retrospect was just dumb. It’s not a race, but this is before Bob preached so loudly about that fact – we were just having fun!
As a group, we all hammered out the route, approaching 144th and Plattsburg, and the jog in the route east, then north. This was at approximately the one-hour mark, so I reached down and grabbed the bottle of Sustained Energy, and brought it to my lips.

Let’s bring you all up to speed – there is a portion of the Sustained Energy label that talks about simple sugars. Maltose, Dextrose, Sucrose, Fructose – or any derivative of simple, refined sugars should absolutely NOT EVER be mixed with Sustained Energy’s special maltodextrin mixture. Why? I’ll spare you all the glycemic index ratio and stomach emptying formulas in relation to hydration, etc – in short, DON’T DO IT.
This is clearly printed on the label. I didn’t notice it. I’m dumb. Having been sucking down Accellerade, a good hydration choice – BY ITSELF, for the first hour of the ride, I was happily “drinking enough” and just riding along. Isn’t that your FAVORITE way to start a bad story? “I was just riding along….”

Even after having received accolades from Dan about finally discovering the right fuel, I didn’t know how badly I was about to have things. I brought the bottle to my lips, popped open the top with my teeth, and sucked down the ENTIRE bottle. One per hour, as directed. One down. (maybe they meant over the course of an hour?) It took about 10 minutes, maybe a little more, for the effects to hit the legs. Only a few miles later, the group hit the end of Plattsburg Road and made the turn north onto highway C (back when there was no traffic on it.). It was RIGHT then when it hit light someone had flipped a light switch. One second I was hammering along, in the big ring, and staying with the group – then next second, BANG, the engine stalled. Hard. Something felt “off”, and I started to lose my push and began descending thru the gears. Spin it out. Drink. And, so I drank, and drank, and kept wondering why things were getting worse. I slogged along, never realizing what was really happening inside my body. I kept stopping for pee-breaks, WAY more than usual. My gut felt weird. I couldn’t push the gears over. Up on a ridge, after a long steady climb, I just stopped and rested my head on the handlebars. The true rando-riders started catching up to me, and stopping to see if I was okay. Asking what I was eating, how I was feeling, etc., they tried to offer their help – but as I’ve discovered over the years, a true rando rider probably wouldn’t consider using SE – they, smartly, let the c-stores carry their fuel. As fool-hardy as my 200K fueling strategy had been a couple weeks earlier, I was actually on a better track there than I was at the 300K with my powdered miracle-fuel. Having never ridden this far, and not being experienced, I simply thought I was tired, overtrained maybe… anything but the fuel, because the OTHER riders that were using it were miles up the road from me, having a great ride! What’s wrong???

I soldiered on, knowing even then one of the primary rules of ultra-distance riding: keep moving, it will get better eventually. Most setbacks are short-lived. Keep riding. There is no team-car to retreat to. Keep riding. You can do this. Keep riding. Repeat. I made it to Stewartsville, got my card signed, and filled my Camelbak up with – yeesh – more Accellerade powder and water, and topped off my SE bottles for the long slog to Albany. Thankfully, there was a little town about halfway there, so I’d be able to stop again if I needed to. I slogged north on highway “N”, then “H” – I was the last one on the road, with the final rider checking on me, and then riding past me. At least the skies seemed to be clearing up a little, though! Gulp – more SE. Why do I feel so rotten??? The roads are bad, too, on top over everything else – my new Aqua-Rack's fixing-bolt pops loose, and thos whole thing starts flopping back and forth with my legs smacking into it. Thankfully, a spare hose clamp stashed in the seat bag fixes the problem. Weird, to this day, how i had *THAT* in my bag, but only two spare tubes.

You know things are going well for the lead rider when he passes you from the opposite direction, as he’s already on his way back south on the out-n-back route. Dan J. was FLYING southbound with a good tailwind and the polished efficiency of a solid and well-trained rider. I was still nearly 15 miles out of Albany when this happened, meaning that NOT including whatever time off the bike Dan had in Albany, he was 30 miles ahead of me. THIRTY MILES. Taking this into perspective, imagine riding your favorite 30-mile local Saturday ride, and the fastest rider has to finish the ride before you are even allowed to START. THAT is an insurmountable gap. Still pedaling, I reached the overpass on “A” highway over the Grand River, right about the time the Warbird and Byron R. come flying southbound. Warbird sees me, peels off the pace and we meet on the bridge’s north end. He’s having a fantastic day, feeling strong, soaking up the same Sustained Energy *I* was using. What the hell? I mumble something to the effect of I’m having a terrible day, and we talk it out together. Maybe SE just isn’t for me, and I should just STOP using it. Sounds good to me. I know the future, and I know that I’m having a terrible ride, so I ask ‘bird to drive the route backwards after he finishes, so I can get picked up. Agreed. I know now that I have SOMEONE looking for me on the road now. Being last on the brevet stinks. If something happens, no-one is coming to meet you. Encouraged that I have a bail-out plan, even though it is at least 6 hours away, I pedal on and the Warbird (successfully!) begins to bridge back up to Byron, who has to be at least 3 miles farther south by the time we finished talking. They would ride together strong until the end, as I later found out.

I continued north into a steady breeze, and building clouds, smiling a little more knowing that the turnaround, food, and rest were just up the road. After an eternity, I arrived, JUST as the last rider that was ahead of me was leaving for the southbound portion. Wow. I’m WAY behind. Bean burrito, some cashews, and water. I’m freaking hungry now – about 30 minutes after my last sip of Sustained Energy, and things are beginning to come back online again. In reality, I should have stopped the Accellerade, but either way at least I wasn’t MIXING them anymore. I rested for at least 30 minutes, maybe more. It was not a good, fast, card-signed and go checkpoint. I pulled up some sidewalk and just SAT there.

After my rest, I started doing the math in my head. If I managed to maintain the same limping pace that I’d been performing northbound, I would still be able to make it an official finish. Time to GO! I had a tailwind, and I had seemingly figured out my fueling issues. Let’s roll!

Finally, a tailwind! Feeling better after the rest, and ready to try and no-longer be the last person on the road by catching the last guy I saw, I was pedaling along again in my big gear, feeling strong for the first time since about 7:30AM. About the time I got back to the overpass where Warbird and I conversed earlier, I knew that the rest of the ride was going to be the ultimate test of patience, endurance and tolerance. A drop of moisture. At first I thought it was sweat, but then there was another one, directly on my head. Big, fat drops. Then there were a dozen, then three dozen. Then I lost count. Right about then, there was a gust of wind – not much, but it was definitely out of the WRONG direction. What the??? It wasn’t supposed to be raining?! I pulled the rain/wind jacket out of the Camelbak’s external pocket, and pulled it on. Then, I decided to get the rain-pants on as well. At least it was warm… but there was a whiff of coolness to the next couple of wind gusts from the southeast. Uh, oh. The smart money would have been to turn around and ride back to Albany, but I was committed. Despite these new developments, I was feeling strong still, and pedaled on. It seemed every 20 minutes or so, the rain was getting harder, and the wind stiffer. And, the thick clouds and advection were beginning to steal degrees back, and soon the rain jacket was not just for rain protection, but for insulation – for which it didn’t offer much.

About that time, a little trickle floated down one side of my body – an icy cold trickle of water passing thru a seam in the jacket’s side. Before I really had time to recognize what was happening, it began to happen everywhere – and soon, my sleeves were soaked, my back was beginning to wick water, and my chest was wet. So much for water-resistance. About then, I felt it – thunk, thunk, thunk…. The vague feeling that something underneath me was not quite right, I looked down to confirm that the back tire was soft. Ugh. Here we go!

Getting a little frustrated with the clothing situation, I squished and gooshed around and finally pulled free a spare tube from the seatbag, and one of my inflators. Fancy things, these – I’ll be on the road in no-time. I ran a finger through the tire’s inside, and didn’t find anything poking through, so I mounted it, pumped it up to whatever PSI the cartridge was allowing, and mounted back up. Better. Carry on. One tube left, and two more inflators – no problems!

The rain was fierce – not letting up at all. In fact, it was nearly raining sideways because the wind was picking up, too. My fingers felt a little raw from changing out the rear tube, and I was really wishing for full-fingered gloves right about then. The temperature that had topped out about 62 degrees was now hovering in the lower 50’s, and seemingly dropping still. I pulled the sleeves on my “rain” jacket longer and tucked my hands inside – but it wasn’t really helping much. Ugh. At least the rainpants were working, I thought – which is about when I felt a cold trickle down the inside of my right leg. Oh, seriously…what is THAT? These pants were supposed to be waterproof, too, as I’d spent the extra money on Performance.com for the seam-taped version. But this was coming from the middle of the leg, not a seam.
I stopped pedaling long enough to see a series of holes right on the inside of my right thigh, near the nose of the saddle…. The saddle? Oh, geez…. Over the past couple of mile I’d noticed a snapping or clicking sound, but I wasn’t about to diagnose a bike noise in the rain. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really a bike noise so much as a pants noise – under the nose of my Selle Italia Pro-Link saddle was a plastic trim cap that served no other purpose than to cover up the saddle rail’s forward ends under the seat. The back corners of this plastic piece were catching the loose rain pants on every downstroke and upstroke, slowly pricking pinholes into the fabric. On the left leg, but not as bad, were more tiny holes – and it wasn’t long before I felt a cold trickle of water running down my legs on the left as well. Perfect.
Cursing and annoyed, I stopped, dug a screwdriver from the seat bag, and removed the offending piece of trim plastic, hurling it into an adjacent field in disgust. It’s probably still there, somewhere along highway “Z” between Berlin and no-where. Oh, yeah – Berlin has *NO* services of any kind - that's the little town I thought I'd stop at on the way OUT. Yeah, nothing there. NOTHING.

Rolling onward, one by one my defenses against the rain were failing. My headcover was soaked through, my jacket saturated, my rain pants were holey, and my booties were soaked and also letting icy water into my shoes. This was also before I’d discovered wool socks, so there was no respite even for my tired feet. Cold, wet, annoyed, and losing morale, I pedaled on – simply because there was nothing else to do, no-where to seek shelter, and no-one to call. The Warbird would be coming. Eventually. He was at least 4 hours away; even if he’d already finished, which was entirely possible, it was a two hour drive to get up here from Liberty. Slowly, I ticked by the miles southbound as the rain torrented down around me, and my fenderless tires threw gallons of it all over my backside. My shorts, too, were now a soppy burden, and I could feel saddle sores forming as my skin began to over-soften from the friction of pedaling.

I had nearly forgotten about the fueling issues of earlier, as this new suite of woes was quickly overshadowing anything that had happened earlier in the day. Thunk, thunk, thunk…..ssssssssssss….. oh, crap. Another one. What had been excellent tires in the dry were proving to be puncture magnets in the wet, and it was time to fix flat #2. Pulling aside the roadway, I pulled my second – and last- tube out of the seatbag. My fingers could barely feel the rubber between them, and were taking on a purple-ish cast as I worked to get the flattened tire free of the rim… again.
Another finger check, another new tube installed in the rain. Ok, no problem – I have one more inflator, and a patch kit – I’m good. Eventually I’ll get to a gas station and I get top it off if I need to. Maybe they sell spare tubes? Doubtful.
Wet, and beginning to shiver from being off the bike again, I started up again, tucking the fingers behind my “rain” jacket sleeves again, and not even bothering to shift. A CHURCH!!!

I pulled up into the gravel driveway of a little white church off the side of the highway – tomorrow is Sunday, SURELY there is some inside that would let me in so I could get shelter! No dice. No lights, no-one thru the windows, and no answer at the door. Instead, I prop the bike up against the entrance sign, taillight flashing up the road in case the Warbird happened by, and I ducked behind the church itself – out of the wind. Maybe I could just wait here?

My fingers now were an eerie purple-grey color – I removed the soaked half-finger racing gloves I had been so proud of, and simply left them on the rear stoop behind the building. They weren’t doing me ANY good. Maybe the circulation will help?

After a few minutes, I started doing the math again – you know, the more you ride, the closer to Stewartsville you’ll get… I decided to just man-up and get back in the saddle – and I walked around the front of the church to get the bike, which had been blown over by the wind. The handlebars were a little off, and the Aqua-rack seatpost bottle holder was again broken despite the hose-clamp fix from earlier. I mounted up and started off again, with the rack clanging and clunking behind me with each pedal stroke. Great – THAT won’t get annoying.

Still, the rain came sideways, and the wind was relentless – 15 MPH solid from the SE, and driving rain directly into my face. By now, my Camelbak was now saturated through, and felt like a big ice block against my back. The temperature had now dropped enough that I was starting to see my breath while I climbed hills on the lee side of the gale. The downhills became a cold, wet chore. Soaked to the bone, I began to shiver – not like getting a chill after taking a shower on a cold day, but a deep shiver from the INSIDE. The handlebars shuddered under me as I rode.
Dammit, Warbird – hurry up, man… ugh… I looked for someone to blame, but there was no-body up there but me. There was no-one behind me. I started to feel very alone. MY PHONE!

Being a technological hold-out, I had just recently gotten a cell phone as a just-in-case on these rides. Thankfully it was in a plastic bag to protect it from sweat – novel idea on a day like today. I took it out – dead. Stone dead. I tried to power it up, and it blinked – only to power down again. There was NO service up here anyways, and when those older phones go into “looking for service” mode, the battery gets sucked down awfully fast. Probably out of the coverage area since Stewartsville proper, the phone had been searching for service in my back pocket for who-know-how-long, and it was of no help to me now. That feeling of aloneness sunk in a little further. Keep pedaling – you can’t freeze if you are still WORKING. GO. GO. GO. Don’t think – just ride. Warbird is coming.

About this time the shivering was getting bad enough to make it hard to control the bike on the road, and I began riding in the middle of the highway to avoid tossing myself off into the deep ditch to the right. Besides, I hadn’t seen a car for at least an hour, maybe more. I started to think that if I DID see one, I’d want them to stop anyways, or at least just hit me and get it over with.

SSssssssssss, thunk, thunk, thunk. I wanted to cry. In less than 12 miles, this was flat number three. And it was down to my last inflator and my patch kit. I was going to have to find the hole in the rain and growing darkness, with numb fingers and the shivers? Fun. I dismounted, and opened the seatbag again. Inflator, check… and there’s the little patch kit. Whew… That was about the time I popped the patch kit open, and promptly fumbled the contents into a puddle underneath me. If the kit had still been closed perhaps it would have been okay, but the patches unfolded nicely in the cold murky water so I could see that they were ALL affected. I fished them out, and checked. Yup. Not sticky ANYMORE. Good gawd. Ok, NOW this is really starting to suck. Not knowing what else to do, I remounted the tire and tube and pushed the air from the inflator into it. Hmmm…. No noise… RIDE, NOW! I hopped on, and just as I should have expected the tire was flat again in less than a mile. In retrospect, I could have tied the tube into a knot around the hole, and THEN pumped it up – which would have held air, but would have had the small consequence of a bump in its rotation. Beats walking!! Regardless, magic inflator boy was fresh out of air now. Just DUMB – but I’d never had more than one flat on a ride of ANY length in the past. Why should the 300K be any different, right?

Well, I certainly know better NOW, don’t I?

Frustrated, alone, cold, and shivering, I did the only thing I knew to do – walk. Taillight still flashing into the murk, I walked alongside my bicycle, southbound. Someone HAD to come along eventually… but it was going on two hours without a single car to be seen in either direction. Seriously – there was NO-ONE up here.
It was getting late, too – as the trials of the past 30 miles had taken up about 3 hours, it was going to be getting dark in only another two hours or so, and I was still not any closer to Stewartsville. In fact, I was still at least 15 miles away from the gas station there, and it was going to be closing. Holy crap. This is NOT good, man. WALK FASTER. So I did… I even had an escort for a while, a big husky looking dog that began to follow me. In fact, he was leading me for a while, which was odd. It was just me, the rain, and this dog – and to this day it was kinda of surreal, and I’m not 100% sure that dog was REALLY there. I walked, and walked, and WALKED, generator headlight slowly flickering along as I ticked by mile after mile, burning my Look cleats to nothing along the way.

After the 5th mile, I finally arrived at the intersection of highway “H” and State Route 6. This highway was REALLY busy earlier – SURELY someone will be coming along to flag down. I propped my disabled bicycle up against the 4”x4” signpost, and waited – trying to shield my body from the gale and STILL driving rain by leaning on the upwind side of the post. It was little help – but it was something. I started to feel VERY tired, still shivering, and my nose was getting numb – which matched my fingers and toes. It had to be getting close to 40 degrees now, as my breath was clearly visible. I don’t know how cold it got, but it wasn’t cozy. I took a long look at the ditch alongside the road, and thought about a nap. This was not good.

I started to think of my options. I started to think of my kids. I started to think of my wife. And, to this day – and I hope this is the only time – this is the only time these thoughts had crossed my mind; but as I went down the checklist of my alternatives, my options, my escape routes and backup plans, I was coming up dry. For the first time in my adult life, I honestly thought that I was not going to make it home from this. Hypothermia was evident, my phone was dead, I STILL had not seen a car, there were no houses around, no gas stations, I had no map, had no clue what I was or wasn’t close to – but I knew I was still 12 miles from Stewartsville at this intersection. There were no pay phones, I had no emergency provisions, no shelter, the sun was going down, it was at least as cold as 40ºF and dropping, the rain was not letting up, everything on my body was soaked with cold water, and I was getting sleepy – but I wasn’t TIRED.
This was looking like “it”, and I was beginning to reside myself to the fact that I might not get outta this one. I was not taking it well.

About then, I heard it --- tires – four of them, slapping against wet pavement.

A minivan, headed south on highway “H”, with an Iowa tag. I stepped right in front of them, in the middle of the highway, using the last of my strength to flag them down, waving wildly. Thankfully, they stopped.

The exchange that ensued I’m sure looked rather odd to these travelers. The warmth from their heater wafted out the window and smacked me in the face just long enough to keep my words intelligible. My story was legit, there was my bike, there I was – I just needed a phone call. I borrowed their phone, and made the call.
FORTY minutes later, I was sitting in a tow truck with all of its heater vents blasting me with hot air. I was still shivering. I don’t know where my bike was.
The driver, over from Maryville about 10 miles to the east, drove me to Stewartsville’s gas station, and I stumbled inside. I got my card signed – well outside the control closing time – but dammit, I got it signed.
I started buying food, and drinking hot coffee. I was still shivering when the Warbird stopped in to get gas to continue his search for me, and we bumped into each other. Apparently, I looked so ragged that he almost wasn’t sure it was me.

A few minutes later I was getting blasted with heat again from the strong old-school heater of Warbird's Ford Crown Vic. Awesome. As I ate and drank whatever, the Warbird drove back to Liberty. As I sat there, watching the darkness and rain fly by, it was clear that EVEN if the flat tires wouldn’t have happened there was NO WAY I’d have made it back. After passing through Plattsburg, on highway “C”, and then onto Plattsburg Road, the rain and darkness were so intense, we couldn’t see ANYTHING – much less a cyclist on the road, had there been one there. Either way, I would have been in BAD shape if I’d have been able to finish at all. It rained all the way back to Overland Park.

I learned so many lessons that day, I can’t even list them, but I’m a much better rider and much more prepared than I’ve ever been. If you look at my bicycle, every accessory, every choice of gear; tires, bags, jacket, lights – nearly all of it goes back to that day, the worst that I’ve EVER had it. Those of you with skinny tires, no fenders, and minimalist packing habits – you can roll the dice all you like. You may scoff at those with saddlebags and frame-pumps, but it’s only because you’ve not had YOUR day yet. Hopefully, you won’t get served the way I did – hopefully you’ve read this and have said, maybe I should get “_____”. But if you are looking at brevets, and think “nah, that’ll never happen,” please think again. It’s amazing how close to civilization you can be, and yet how alone we really are out there on these rides. Be safe, be smart, and be prepared. You’ll make it back every time.

Hopefully April 14th, 2007 won’t be a repeat of April 20th, 2002, for me or anyone!
There’s rain in the forecast, folks – take heed!!!!
Seriously, bon chance to all this weekend, wherever you may be riding!

Looks for THIS year's 300K report next week!