June 3, 2007

A weekend of firsts: The 600K report

UPDATED 6/5/2007 3:55pm
Please scan for added notes below:
if you've already read it once, there's probably more!

...and probably a lot more typo corrections.

Let's begin by completely eliminating the suspense. Anyone reading this blog lately knows, and anyone that's known me since I started cycling knows, that this weekend was yet another chance to get the big one. The quintessential rite of passage for randonnuers. Yeah, in typical "dude" fashion, I gotta talk things up a bit - but seriously. Like a racer's first crit win, like the time trialist breaking the course record, like ANY big challenge and big personal wall, anything worth accomplishing, the 600K is the last in the series of spring brevets, and the last step of a journey that tells the organizers of Paris-Brest-Paris and any other crown-jewel event that, yes, YOU are worthy and ready.

I finished.


After trying at this since 2002, I finally broke past the internal barriers, the self-doubt, the planning and the mileage itself, and finished the 2007 Kansas City 600K brevet in a well-planned 38 hours, 55 minutes.

The amazing part, as I type this, I still feel a sense of surrealism about the whole thing, so I risk missing certain details by posting so soon. Still, I wanted to get it out there, to express my excitement about finally acheiving what only a tiny fraction of the human population has ever done. I have no idea how I did it.

Make no mistake, I want to go on-record and say it:
This ride was the hardest thing I've ever done. Period.

The length of the route can only be described this way -- it would take literally weeks for me to type out and describe, the way I WANT to, everything I experienced in the same fashion that I have in the past. The 400K report was long enough, and this would easily take up twice that space -- I've elected to spare my fingers and your eyes by keeping this on the "quick hits and take-aways" level. Forgive me, fellow fans of literary imagery, for I have to draw the line somewhere.

I have no idea what made me ride all the way. NONE. I've never started a ride of this magnitude at night before and the 10pm start threw my digestive system for a loop after the 10 mile mark. A full dinner early in the evening, capped off by my usual pre-ride cocktail of Sustained Energy about an hour before leaving the house -- usually a full night's digestion helps things along, but this time things would sit and stew in my system. The shorter night-start rides I'd done over the last couple months never required the SE drink before hand. I felt horrid, seriously horrid, from mile 12 onward.  Near about Mission and 175th I lost track of the main pack. The fast bunch began to advance and I quickly found that there was only ONE rider that was slower than me. Not territory I was un-used to, but gosh I wanted to hang in with the group to at least the first control. It was going to be a long night.

Lightning flashed across the night sky - heavy weather was promised and I was kinda looking forward to the light show, as the biggest storms skirted the area to our south.   It was spectacular -- as a storm spotter for my county I've seen my share of lighting and storms, but EVERYTHING changed when I was RIDING near it at night like this. The smell, the brilliance of it all with no windshieid to obscure anything - amazing.
We stayed dry for the most part, however, in this early section.

Fireflies.  On 223rd street after I passed one rider that had stopped for a break, the road is skirted by wheat fields and tall grasses. I've only ever ridden 223rd St. one other time with Ort a couple years ago, and this 2nd time was also the first time at night.  I can't even describe it hardly -- the lightning to the south, the sweet smell of wet grass, the occasional rushing squish of wet pavement under tires, and the fireflies - hovering above the fields on each side of the road, as far back as I could see. Magical, the constant yellow twinkling. A heavenly moment.

Rain - I got my wish at 1:00am at 319th and Block Road -- slight sprinkles turned to light showers, and then steady rain - making the waiting game turn to definte, so Ken and I (whom I linked up with at Paola) stopped to don the rain jackets. It would rain for the next two hours, then stop for a few minutes, and begin again along K-152, and it would keep raining until just before dawn.   It was nice -- cool, pleasant. Refreshing - but not refreshing enough to take my mind off the mounting pain in my lower gut.

The doubt, the internal dialogue. I spent the first ONE-HUNDRED miles of the ride hating every moment of it, physically. The items above were simply distractions from the intestinal distress that was making it hard to maintain pace of any kind. The fact that I lost the fast group was partly for conditioning, partly for stomach. Blood gets diverted, liquid, pressure, and it becomes hard to even bend at the waist - much less push pedals over. I planned to call my friend Alan at from the control in Butler, MO, prepared to give directions for him to get me. A call to the wife would have only brought common sense talk, and I didn't want to hear that "I could do it."  I simply didn't want to ride anymore. I wanted to turn around. I wanted to go to sleep. The magic of night riding, the nice rain, the good company of Ken, were barely enough to keep me there. I wasn't going to Paris, I didn't NEED to qualify for anything, I didn't NEED to be out here. Thoughts of Ort, completing his first 600k ride only a week before, hundreds of miles away...how would I justify myself? What cowardly excuse could I devise? What cowardly excuse could I devise for MYSELF? How could I justify once again that I was somehow unable to complete the 600k? Would FINISHING it be worth it? REALLY? Why was I here??? I was formulating every scenario in my head, over and over, literally, for 100 miles, until I reached Butler.

After Passaic my pace dropped, Ken disappeared up the road, and I limped my way into the 2nd control. At 5:15 AM, I got my card signed at Butler's Conoco control and turned on my phone, paused, and then I turned it back off again. I sat, I ate something, waited, and nature called to my rescue. 15 minutes later, I got back on the bike. I started back north on US-71, as the cue sheet ordered, but at the intersection of Rte. H and US-71 there is one last opportunity to bail. I can ride north, back towards home, or I can turn right as directed and head towards Appleton City towards the rising sun.  Maybe it was simply because "the cue sheet said so"... maybe it was because, deep down, I knew I didn't have a good enough excuse.  Perhaps something in me was changing that was allowing me to finally ignore the background din of doubtful, self-created voices.

I turned right.

The sunrise was awesome, on highway H, midway between Butler and Appleton. The rain cleared, and the morning sky was breath-taking.

I reached Appleton City, alone, the fast group evading me by only a few minutes, but I did see one cyclist JUST peeking over the last hill out of town. A rabbit, perhaps. I was lucky enough to catch him, but it would take nearly 45 miles to do so.

A short rest at the control and I depart -- again, I don't remember why -- the surrealism continues. I think it was just the routine doing the work for me, subconscious pushing me. Perhaps the push of a dozen friends out there. Perhaps the spirit of a father past. Something was putting me back in the saddle, over and over. This next section was the bad one - Appleton City to Weableau, MO. was 62 miles of unknown territory for me, never ridden, never navigated. There is something to be said for discovery and seeing a new route for the first time -- there is something else to see a route with such a reputation for the first time.

Hills.   There are no hills in Johnson County, KS.   I think I've said this before. If nothing else, THIS time it's more-so. The reputation of this middle 200K section is confirmed -- it's evil. Well, okay, that might be too harsh. After all, *I* did it - so it can't be THAT bad.   A constant string of hills, the worst and most glorious of the hills came on highway "N". Obscene. The Ozark Hills are a feast for the eyes and torture for the legs. How I survived, I credit Payday candy bars, donuts and real Coke, and some unknown willpower that I've never tapped into before.

I'm exceedingly glad that the "Dirty Harry Ride" route is there, because it's the only thing even remotely close that got me ready for this ride - and it's still only got maybe 40% of the climbing. Yeah, seriously.

Food - on that note, yep - I, the old proponent of 'engineered nutrition', once again found that my usual stuff just wasn't working. Instead of panicking, or blaming things, or plodding along on a plan that just wasn't working, I changed, adapted. Now, instead of shaking my head at the other riders with their oddball nutrition plans, I now nod with understanding. My old mainstay of Sustained Energy was ballast, and I dropped the remaining baggies in the trash at Appleton City. Carboplex took it's place - there's something about the protein in SE that eventually stops working for me. Yeah, Carboplex is still 'engineered nutrition' - but it's simpler -- IT was working. In addition, I was now free to mix it up, so I did. I tried things that I've ALWAYS shunned on long rides. I had real Coke. I had Payday bars. I had Gatorade. I had pasries. I had PB Crackers. And I enjoyed success, consistant energy, excellnt hydration, no cramps, and plenty of push all day and night. Weird -- but it worked. My advice? It's all very personal - go with your gut. Read, know, and be careful -- if it DOESN'T work, change things FAST before it's too late and remember that stomach distress is temporary.

Secret controls are cool.  Nice surprise!

Highway 13 stinks. It's got a shoulder, but dangit - it sucks. I can't wait until MO-123 re-opens. I got my only flat here on highway 13's nasty shoulder.  Frame pumps work marvelously and are completely worth the extra weight -- very handy, and REAL. I don't blame the tires -- carpet spikes will do nasty things when hit correctly.

Highway "N" is better on the way back - but only because you know what to expect.
But, it still never seems to end. 15.4 miles of continuous 6 MPH up, 40 MPH down climbs takes a LONG time. There is nothing sweeter than seeing a sign that says "JCT 39", because you know "N" is over.

"Handlebar Palsy" is real. Few notes: my handlebars are level with my saddle height, and my hoods are level, so this is not an adjustment thing. This is not a hand position thing, as I moved my grip around a LOT. This is more of a "here, hold this for the next TWO DAYS, and let me hit it from underneath with a hammer" kinda things. I'm gonna maybe shop for some of those "Body Geometry" gloves, because my simple minimalist-padded gloves that have worked on every other distance did not work this time. From the heels of my hands, to the tips of my pinkies are numb and tingly - and I really hope it's temporary. Wow. I'd still do this all again in a heartbeat, because I have options. Oh, this is also with thick Profile bar tape, and Fizik bar gel underneath, on a bike with a forgiving steel frame and fork and 28c tires. There were guys with much racier setups that were'nt even able to open their empty water bottles at the controls. Raise de bars!

Clean, ice cold well water is AWESOME. A little Baptist Church at the intersection of Rt. O and Mo-82 has an open-invite for passing cyclists to grab a refill from their pump. This is a good thing, because there is literally NOTHING else out there on this stretch. Thanks, Jeff, again! Full bottles, and a full head-under-spigott head rinse --- it's SO good, so, so, good.

Not using enough grease on pedal axle threads will absolutely drive you bananas after riding in the rain for a few hours, after things dry out. Tick, tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick tick, tick. Repeat about 278,000 more times. It's the new soundtrack for my ride. Yeesh.

Turkey buzzards are HUGE.

Yellow and blue finches are like little angels. Cool.

Ladybugs can hold onto jersey sleeves at up to 43 MPH.

Birds I saw: Turkeys, chickens, pheasant, quail, a peacock, the turkey buzzards mentioned above, yellow and blue finches, orieles, barn swallows, scissor-tails, night hawks, red-tailed hawk, crested egret, mockingbird, Meadowlarks.

Other stuff seen on the road. Weird roadkill; there was this one pile of remains on "N" that I couldn't even recognize. There were Armadillos, tarantulas (or at least some really big fuzzy spider crossing the road), snakes; mostly black and harmless. Turtles - big ones. Various moths and butterflies. Big dragonfiles. Deer, cows - including a huge Angus bull. Dogs - including one little feisty guy that simply wanted a good run: he never leaped at me, just trotted along at about arms length, smiling, and pacing me up a hill. The neighbor dog a few miles down that same road tried to kill me, but he was thankfully tied to the bumper of a rusted out truck.

Bugs.   There is a REALLY big moth on 223rd street between Antioch and Switzer. Watch out. Seriously -- something jumped out of the bushes after my headlight, and it hit me square in the chest like someone had landed a punch.  That's a big freakin' bug.

Even the cheapest hotel is better than a church bench on a chilly night.
It's worth the cash.

Ask for a wake-up call, but don't depend on it.  Set the hotel room's alarm clock, too, and place it ACROSS the room. I slept SO hard for three hours that I swear I didn't GET the wake-up call I'd asked for, but the other alarm woke me up, I remembered where I was and what I was there for, and got moving on time.

The "pampered randonneur" has this game ALL figured out!
Special thanks to Dale-from-Iowa's (Dale B.) wife for the cold pizza and cream-cheese and strawberry pastries on Sunday morning at Paola!   AWESOME fuel!!!
Next year, a couple of plans --- a little more minimalist of a plan, smaller seatbag, and since I know I'll probably hit that hotel in Butler again, I'll make a couple phone calls ahead of time and arrange to have a package delivered to a pre-reserved room with fresh clothes, instead of CARRYING them all day. Then, baggie-up the old sweaty clothes and mail them home. Similar to a bag drop, without wasting the gas to get the bag there!

Wool jerseys, caps, and gloves.
Gloves in the rain are great -- your hands are wet, but warm.
The cap, same deal; keeps the head warm during rain, keeps glasses clear like a visor, and it keeps the sun out of my eyes during dawn and dusk.
Also handy for ducking your head and blocking the bright lights of oncoming traffic on dark highways at night.
The jersey. Even long sleeve wool jerseys are comfortable and cool up to about 70 degrees. Hotter than that, and I really wanted to take it off -- so I did by switching to a regular short sleeve Voler jersey from my bag. But, at night, in the rain - even without a rain jacket for just the sprinkles - it's perfect. Cozy. And, what they say is true: While synthetics STINK after a full day of riding and sweating, when I took the wool jersey back out of the bag Saturday night in the hotel to get things ready for the next morning, it only smelled like one thing: wool.

Not all teens are apathetic societal outcasts with loose pants looking to start trouble. At the Paola control, a young guy got out of his car while I filled up my bottles and prepared to continue on. "Ok, man, my buddy and I have been tying to figure this out for the last 10 minutes...."
"great.." I thought, "here comes the teasing about the tight shorts or something."
"What does "rann-donn-ur" mean?" he asked, carefully sounding it out from my jersey. I gladly explained, and watched as his eyes became wide as saucers in serious respect and disbelief as Bob, looking on nearby, answered his next question: "so, how far are you guys riding tonite?" I grinned as he got back in his car, and proceeded to explain to his buddies what the deal was -- I heard a couple different versions of "holy sh..." coming out of the car, followed by "no way"s and "dang"s. Don't judge youth too quickly - you never know who they might be looking up to. I don't know if they'll even remember in a few years, but it was neat to be looked at that way by someone that I fully expected to be making fun of me dressed like I was. Had to be there.

Waking up at 2:45am Sunday to get a head-start on the last 100 miles of a 600K is a great idea, especially when I rode from Butler to La Cygne without seeing a SINGLE car, enjoying a full moon, stars, and perfect temperatures. I arrived at Casey's at five until six, after being caught by the faster group that left Butler about 30 minutes after me. They rode on, but I stopped for FRESH donuts and coffee and sat a spell while a long coal train rolled by, punching a hole thru the morning air with its horns. Perfect sunrise again... but the wind was coming.

Coffee really DOES work after quitting caffiene for a month, as training.   I never yawned, despite having woken for work Friday morning at 6:30AM, and finally laying down to sleep at 11:30PM Saturday night.

The faster group that eventually caught me about 5 miles from La Cygne worked well together, all equally paced -- I need to work on my speed more next spring, lose the weight that's been dogging me and keep up -- it's more fun with company and conversation.

Another cool thing about highway "F" early in the morning Sunday -- about 2/3'rds of the way to La Cygne, I stopped for a nature break on a high bridge, and took a few moments to look around -- I looked behind me, and there they were, as I knew they would be having set their sights the night beore on leaving the hotel at 4:00AM - I purposefully left early, knowing they'd catch up. As I stood there on the road, looking back east, I could see their headlight beams dancing ghost-like on the road, MILES behind me -- it was eerie and made me smile --- "here they come..."
I made it a game... can I beat them to Kansas? I did. Can I hold them off until the power plant? The end of the bridge? I lost the game before US-69 highway, but it was only a game for my own head.   Dale B., Danny C. and the crew invited me to the party with a hearty 'good-morning' and some catching up on the past years riding -- "Hey, let's ride to Paola!"  he'd shout out.   Dale B. is fun to ride with and rides awesome bicycles, this time on his orange Steelman.  I couldn't hold pace, much like Friday and Saturday, but it was nice to have someone to talk to for a few miles after spending 30 hours alone!

Back in Kansas, clear of La Cygne and headed north back towards Johnson County: in a part of the state known for it's springtime south-west gales, a NORTH-west headwind on the last part of a 600K is just mean.  Yes, we were headed north.
I really needed that south tailwind, but I did just fine without it. It's all mental, and for once everything mentally was in exactly the right place.

The only good thing about a NW wind is that 50% of it is from the WEST... turning east was FUN, and made up all the difference.

A plastic baggie with a tiny couple of holes bitten out of the bottom of it and filled with ice from a c-store, and then placed holes-down in your center jersey back-pocket, is AWESOME on a hot day! Thanks, Ort!!! I remember Tinbutt!

Egg and cheese biscuits from McDonalds are GREAT recovery food the day after a 600K.
I had two. Danny C. is right about a few things after all. A "certain kind of misery" goes pretty well with Taco Bell, actually - which is what I enjoyed in the hotel Saturday night. With no "magic ride cocktail" the next morning (err, four hours later) to screw it up the next morning, Sunday morning went MUCH better than Friday night did. 7-layer burritos RULE.

I love Aleve. You know, sometimes you just have to cave in and stop the pain.

Hydration is the best medicine for anything. I don't think I have ever been as dilligent about hydration than on THIS ride, and it paid back huge dividends. I felt fresh, no fatigue - aside from the expected "why are we still pushing?" leg pains. Drink! Seems like I got that figured out finally.
But, do it with regular water bottles, and be resourceful. Camelbaks: you won't want one on your back this long - NObody rode with a Camelbak in this group. To back up that notion:  I am big on safety so I usually wear my RUSA reflective sash during the day, in addition to nighttime when it's required, since it's day-glo yellow. It helps me to be seen better, I feel.   On Sunday, late morning, it felt like it weighed 20 lbs.   I **HAD** to take it off - I can't describe it.  It weighs almost nothing - but it was REALLY getting old, wearing it.   Now, imagine if that were a Camelbak or other hydration pack.  No thank you.

To the hydration note, and to just caving in and eating what works for ME, I feel better after THIS ride than I did after the 400K -- and what's weird, even as I hollered and kissed the ground after I finished, I could TOTALLY see doing a 1,000K. There is something within me that ALMOST didn't want to stop, even though early on as I kept continuing east after each control without knowing WHY, I was sad and envious to see the rest of the other bunch that had finished their naps in their cars at the start/finish mounting up again for the eastern 400K route that would complete their 1000K.  But, everyone has their own milestone - and now I've reached mine.

Perhaps next year I will aim higher. But, it's very true, and 400K is **not** long enough to realize these things: what I've read was right -- the pain is temporary, and after 200 miles NOTHING changes. Just keep eating and drinking and you can go and go as long as your mind is willing.

Again, you'd think that you'd discover a lot of these things on the 400K - as *I* thought - that "it's only 200K more, what's the big deal?" -- trust me:   it's a big deal.    Lots of things change -- but if you follow your plan, drink, drink, drink, and JUST PEDAL without thinking too much, you can do it.

And, now that I really understand it, I quote Byron, my original ultra-distance mentor:

Finishing is EVERYTHING.

As Bob Burns alluded to on his phone call to me tonite, as he's seen me sign up every year since 2002 and NEVER finish until now, "welcome to the club."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

DUDE!!!! :) !!!!!