August 30, 2007

You don't know the POW-ah...

Once again, the full moon calls...
This time, four brave souls amassed -- as much as four people can "amass" -- for the fifth edition of the Dark Side Ride aka Full Moon Fever.
Ok, fine I can't really pick a name. Full Moon Fever is probably good, because that's what it is, and it can only be what it is. The Dark Side ride will only invite people to occasionally dress weird.

Wrong bike, Darth.
Commander, tear this ship apart until you find my bicycle.

Anyways, I tend to forget that we're dressing funny ALREADY. I think the occasional storm trooper helmet wouldn't be too out of place. Maybe when winter comes.
Toasty... I digress.

The weather, for once, was nearly perfect -- a cool front blew through early in the afternoon, and temps were (dare I say) moderately chilly at one point -- actually, I heard someone mention that after the first (and only) stop on the route as we started rolling again. Chilly? Well, yeah -- compared to 103 degrees, it WAS chilly at about 11pm! Honestly, it felt fantastic. It never really got to the point where warmers were waranted, but it was close.

The forecast originally calling for some showers, it was also surprisingly clear outside, and the moon began to make it's way up into the dark sky amid thiing clouds. It was surreal, spooky - and looked fall-like. Ahhhh, finally -- the first tastes of fall were coming out to play. There was a taste in the air that made me smile.

We rolled out from the new Spring Hill High School a little after 9pm and onto the new section of 199th street, freshly opened. Pavement, glassy smooth and inviting, with hunks of hay strewn across the shoulder from the wind, botching the county's landscaping plans. Eventually there will be a bridge here taking traffic over the railroad tracks - but not yet. I still frown a little, but I know why they're doing it -- it's for the high-school traffic. No-one wants to hear excuses about missing first period bell because of a passing coal train. Still, part of the mystique of the area is lost - and with it Ocheltree, KS at Woodland and 199th - lost under an overpass, like so many bypassed Kansas towns of yore. So many cyclists ride right past it, thinking it's part of Spring Hill - but it's not. Originally founded in 1867, it's pretty old -- back when the passing rail-line wasn't BNSF, or Burlington Northern, or anything modern - it was the old St.Louis and San Fransisco line, long since gone, bought, traded and absorbed by modern commerce. In the 1910 census, the population was 75... in 2010, I doubt much more. Now, with expansion and this new overpass, there's a good chance Spring Hill will simply annex it. History marches on in, and over, these little forgotten villages.

Heading south on Woodland Road, just to the east of town, we rolled through the bar district (which lasts about three buildings near the old CO-OP) and south, past the county line, silently and without fanfare. The old haunted barn floats past on our left, barely visible in the waxing moonlight -- I kept it for myself. I find myself often on these rides going on about local history - but at the time it seemed appropriate to just let come of it slip by. This was a good ride to just float.

We approached 223rd Street to the haze of red lights and the hum of a pushing locomotive engine on our rights -- a slow moving coal train had just begun it's run south to Hillsdale, and was holding up traffic three deep on both sides of the crossing -- lucky for us we were headed east, so we got a little respite without the rush of passing traffic. As neat as this route is, it may be held in reserve for early Sunday mornings; I have noticed that a couple roads had been upgraded from
45 MPH speed limits to 55 MPH. Which is instant license to cruise at 65, usually. In the back of my mind was the fact that a slow-moving coal train has the tendency to hack off the casual driver in this day and age of get there NOW life. When those gates came up, we were gonna get it from behind -- MAN, that sounds wrong - but I'm too lazy to backspace that far, so I'm leaving that in there. In any case, when that first white Crown Vic, 1994 model, KS license plate VLD something-or-other whipped past us at 70-MPH, I didn't catch any bumper stickers that indicated he knew we were there. If he did, he was out for blood -- as if WE had something to do with the slow coal train. Fool.

The next fifteen or so cars were actually decent citizens, and life went on nicely. The highway, as I'll call it, of 223rd St. strecthed on for another mile before our turn came up for Lackman, and some southbound solitude. I'd only been on this road a couple times in the past, and it was as good as I remembered. Smooth, quiet, very little traffic. We approached the old town of Chiles, KS., another town that time forgot nestled in the northern Miami County landscape, marked only by the railroad crossing of what used to be the Missouri-Pacific, upon which Chiles was a station and stop. Tonite, it's asleep as we roll silently past. What would be really interesting to see, but completely impossible without serious computer-graphics, is a time-lapse sequence looking south along the railroad tracks here. After all, after all the fires, accidents, barns rising and falling, silos, farms, cattle, tractors, horses, trains and new home construction recently as folks try to find their "dream" home, after all that, these railroad tracks were here first. Maybe the road. You get the idea. With all the history, all the people that have rolled through here, our four bicycles occupy a blink of time as our tires touch the rails, one at a time, and then fade into the eastern darkness.

247th Street, or what was once called Cleveland Road, points us east towards US-69 highway, and during our stay we see maybe three cars in five miles, finally crossing over the highway and stopping at the OLD highway at Metcalf. We pause for granola and fruit here, basked in the dull blue glow of our headlights. The north wind awaits us, as we begin to roll up the miles of this, another newly-upgraded to 55 MPH road. Hmmmm. I guess the law is catching up to people's habits. Another road that is probably better navigated at night for the lower traffic density, and the fact that arguably at NIGHT cyclists are easier to see up the road, compared to the harsh grey-tone of daylight on pavement, and the thin silouhette of a bicycle tucked on the side of the lane. With bright flashers and reflective gear, I feel safer here at night. We only see a few cars, which is nice, as the pack splits and Clem and Badger head up the road quickly looking for the c-store, while Focu-Shacks and I take up the rear, and have some good conversation about fixed gears, wind noise and ultra-distance.

We finally arrived at the c-store at the 21 mile point and took a much needed rest. The pace was much lighter than last month's ride, but I was still feeling out of shape and like I hadn't ridden any distance of any kind in a while. I was able to get off the bike without laying it down on the pavement this time, which is a plus - but I still felt a little whipped, even though we hadn't ridden much farther than my total day's commute takes me. The mileage-charged and injury-free members that surrounded me looked fresh and ready - and I felt light-years away from the guy that finished a 600K only a few months ago. Yeah, I will get it back - but the road back is a long one. A quick shot of OJ, and we were back on the road. Trying to remember my plan, I was careful to not give in to the call of donuts and sugary sports drinks. HEED waited for me in my 2nd water bottle.

Only a month ago 199th street was closed off for construction - now lay before us a glassy smooth and shouldered thru-way, with a nice center multi-use lane for cars to pass us safely. Part of me really wanted to take this all the way to Ridgeview, just to see if it was like this all the way through, but tonite we turn north for an exciting bit of downhill action on Antioch -- another road that only a year and a half ago was gravel. Now fully paved, there is a nice, fast downhill right before you reach 179th Street. Chomping at the bit, and knowing it was coming up, it's hard to maintain composure -- the run-up to the downhill is deceptively long, and
the closer we got the higher the speeds became. Eventually, FoShacks and Clem were up the road by at least 1/8 mile, and in anticipation of high speeds and limited light Badger and I fell back a little and seperated. It was time to see just how effective our headlight beams would be. The hill is quite steep - something I've only ridden a few times from the north, and it's a BEAR of a climb. At night, the view is neat from behind other riders; as Clem and Shacks hit the beginning of the descent, their taillights literally disappeared from in front of me -- it's THAT sharp of a decline. Slip, and their helmets drop from view, while I still have 100 yards or so to ride before I get there, too. As I approach the drop-off, their taillights are merely dots, WAAAY below me and up the road from the instant rush of gravitationally-enhanced warp-drive. It's a rush during the DAY -- at night, the speed and wind noise come up quick, bearing singing, headlight beam and vision narrowing in the rush of high speed -- I check top speed on the other end: 42.1 MPH. Not bad! Ok, so there is one advantage to having put on a few pounds.

We all re-group up the long climbs of 179th Street, greeted in silence by the County Trooper sitting in the dark at the entrance of the Arboretum, hoping for a speeder, and probably wondering for a few seconds what we were, coming up the road at him at this hour at a snails pace. A brief flash of a red light from inside the cabin, and then darkness again. Whatever connotations come come across when I see them from a car, it's comforting to know that Johnson County is on staff 24/7 and as a cyclist basically alone on these dark roads, that's nice to know. After conquering the basically 2-mile climb back up from Antioch to almost Quivira, the pace evens out -- until Clem gets some notion or another about training -- which I actually welcome in light of my feelings of lethargy and underpreparedness. People ask me, "are you ready for Tejas?", and I honestly have to give pause and ask myself the same thing -- the answer is a shaky "yes"... but I feel disconnected from the hammerheads that will dominate the field next month, whom will turn in finishing times on the order of 28 hours and change -- I have to put things like that out of my head, and ride my OWN race. But, these little forays into the upper reaches of the aerobic range make me feel alive, and I know they will be good for the bank. I let him advance, then I slam it into the big ring, old-school Warbird style, and hammer hard - head down and out of the saddle towards his rear wheel. Collapse into the saddle, downshift, spin it out... repeat! Clem is on a hard tempo pace, and I toss the ride rules aside and enjoy a little training of my own, with Badger and Shacks in tow. We close the gap, let it grow again, and repeat at least four times, uphill and on flat. 175th is a long piece of road, and the speedplay makes the miles go by a little faster as minds wander and mental count-downs of the distance to the start/finish begin to make the legs slow a little.

We arrive at Ridgeview, and turn south --- Badger calls out that I don't really need to follow him to the start finish unless I really want to, knowing that I live to the north -- and the hour of the day makes me consider it. Then Clem and Shacks show up moments later, and I repeat it to them -- to which they scoff; "common, let's go..." I smile, click back in, and we go. Shacks mentions something about rotten eggs and finishing last, and I start to get interested again in pace-work. A few shifts, help from a downhill, and the remains of the north tailwind, and the game is on again. Speeds come up, and gears click over, and soon I'm up in the 20's again -- it feels good to push, and it feels like I'm pushing the bad stuff out of my body, the toxins, the remains of injury and the sloth of not riding enough are starting to fall away from me on the road surface as I push a big gear - maybe too big - up the first of two climbs between me and the school. The shadows cast of my spinning legs rom headlights behind me begin to fade, and soon it's me alone about 1/4 mile up from the three man pack. For a few moments, I forget they are even there -- I completely leave my own ride, my leisure ride, and see myself in the darkness at Tejas, coming up Park Road 21, the city below me, taillights ahead to chase, and 40 hours to go.... push push push, because the clock WILL NOT STOP ticking. I shove over the big gear, the bike willing and quietly humming mechanical perfection beneath me, as if she's glad and finally ready to blow out some cobwebs. The darkness conceals the numbers of my efforts, but I feel the wind, the pavement flies by under my headlight beam, and I'm at the school quick, a welcome burn in the legs. My spine tingles with the remains of the effort as I downshift and whip the bike into the parking lot, a little twinge in the deepest parts of my lungs from finally using them to capacity again. Ahhhhhhhh..... NOW things seem possible again... hang on to this feeling....

The rest of the pack arrives, and we set up for departure again, Badger headed for home while the three remaining point the bikes back north for the trip homeward. these last few miles will bring the average down, but I don't think any of us cared. A great night, the breeze cooling us, the skies inviting and clearing - even a few flashes of lightning way off to the south -- it's picture perfect in the glow of the high moon, as we chat it up and roll north in the ether of a magic night - conversation flowing. We bid our farewells at 159th, and I am alone in the night, shielded by streetlights, tires swishing and hissing in the runoff from night-time sprinkler overspray, floating quietly through green lights while the city sleeps. Midnight approaches as I hit the driveway, then the shower, then the bed.

Another magic night-time ride in the books.... morning will come quick, but the memories will last. I can't wait to get down to the maps and plan the next one of these!

Special thanks to the other three of the "four wheelmen", without whom this would have just been another boring solo ride. It's always a treat --

g'night for now...

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