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!


Spencer said...

Keith: It was a pleasure to ride with you. You are too kind with your comments about me. I will try to remain humble....

Anonymous said...

Yep that was the origin of the knee injury. But at least I finished, as painful as it was. ....sounds like a great day.

Congrats to the "real" Randonneurs....