October 26, 2007

2007, Part three

It's been a couple weeks since I had a proper post on this thing, so I figured I'd just write a quick entry. There hasn't been much happening, which is to say not much of note. Life has still been busy as all get-out, but I've grown a clarity of sorts since returning from Texas. The regret and second guessing has faded, replaced by calmness and resolve about the future.

I think one of the biggest differences you'll probably see here is more talk about what I've DONE on the bike, as opposed to what I'm GOING to do on the bike. This is precisely why there hasn't been much to write here lately, as I've entered a sort-of recovery period, mentally and physically, from what I can only sum up as a really tough year. This isn't really the forum for sorting out my personal crap - it's too "out there", and honestly kind of a downer.

I haven't been on the bike since October 11th, and I've reached a new sort of goal to NOT ride at all until November. Now, I'll have to see if that really happens, because I have been getting anxious to get back in the saddle and was hoping to start up again Monday. This is a goal I don't mind not reaching, though -- if I'm ready, I'm ready. It's halloween season, after-all, and I don't want to miss the leaves falling and the first shots of cold air that have already started locally.

Finally, I can see a light at the end of this recent tunnel. Football games, kids birthday parties, family events, all have kept me unable to ride - but the best thing I can take away from that is the fact that I've actually HAD the desire to ride, and was disappointed when I couldn't. That alone means I'm not "done" yet. This is what I do, and everyone has a hard year here and there. It'll pass.
The first weekend in November, if the weather holds, I'll finally have a chance to saddle up and ride with some friends again.

So, this is essentially the beginning of Part 3 of 2007. Had a great spring, a tough summer, and now the last couple of months should be alright. Next time you read this, it'll actually be about a ride!

Until then...

Song of the Week - 10/26

"Candela" - Buena Vista Social Club

October 21, 2007

October 15, 2007

Hanging with the boy.

It's been a good week.

Since lifting some of the personal burdens, and refocusing a bit, I've had a decent week. Stressful, yeah, but in productive ways, if that makes sense.

The boy had his first Boy Scout campout Friday night into Saturday morning, and I gotta give props to him here. I'm proud, can ya tell? Friday night, it was clear, cool, a little breeze - perfect weather for sleeping outside, under the stars. Stars? Well, maybe not -- the forecast called for a little rain, but instead we got more rain in 12 hours than the area has seen in months, combined. It freakin RAINED.
The boy slept thru most of it, not complaining, not tossing or turning, not even really conscious, surprisingly. perfectly at ease with sleeping and not paying much attention to the deluge falling outside the thin walls of the tent, about 6 inches from his head, he just laid there and dreamed. I knew this because *I* kept waking up -- but, mainly because my alter-ego meteorologist kept wanting to check the conditions. Then, at about 2AM -- KABAMM!!! The heavy rains turned into a collection of chained thunderstorms. The campsite being on an abandoned golf course, you can start to see my nervousness. Thankfully, the generator-powered tower of lights about 20 yards from our tent acted as a nice lightning rod. Yeesh. At least three direct hits - lightning timed perfectly with the thunder. You could feel the heat wave from the bolts -- scary. The boy slept thru it. Meanwhile, the campsite was clearing out, in the rain and thunder no-less. people were leaving, tents were leaking, kids were crying. Keep in mind, this was my kid's FIRST campout EVER, first time sleeping outside, and in a severe thunderstorm and flash flood warning scenario. I have a feeling we'll be doing more of these! He simply wasn't freaked out at ALL. Again, I'm proud as hell. Amazing. Morning came, and the rain STILL came down HARD. We woke up, sat up, and sulked a little bit about the camp breakfast being cancelled - so we had some granola bars that I'd packed, and that cheered us up. Outside, the exodus comtinued, and the campsite at 7:00am was about half of what it was when they called lights-out the evening before. The rain continued, and continued - no sign of letting up. Finally, I decided to "cheat" and turned on the cell-phone and punched up the web and the local radar picture. Egads... we were gonna be in this tent a WHILE. Might as well go, or we were going to be there until 1:00pm. Tummies were growley -- time for grub!
Unfortunately, a creature of the forecast, I had expected a little overnight sprinkle that would let up by 5AM, and we'd be dry for breakfast and the rest of hte activities. To that effect, I hadn't packed even a trashbag - much less a poncho or rain jacket. Ugh. Not really an issue for me - though I would have liked it - more an issue for the boy. So, I took the only plastic I had: the Wal-Mart grocery-sized plastic bag that his clothes had been jammed into, empited it, cut a couple of holes in it for arms and his head, and he at least had a half-poncho. It would work for the half-mile walk to the car. We left the tent, and the field was simply a swamp. We trudged through it, in the downpour, and finally reached our car at the bottom of the terraced, grass, off-road parking lot. THIS would be interesting. I started the car, and the heater, and began manuevering through the pile-up of stuck cars -- the upper layer of grass had been tire-spun away, and the only thing left was a soupy, jello-y mess of mud. No traction to be found - or at least very very little. I got very lucky, and found myself spinning my tires at 6000 RpM (oh yeah, for some reason my shift+p key brings up Windows Media player -- I'm starting to HATE THAT.) Anyways - an HOUR later, I was clear of the muddy lot, and back on pavement! The boy was smiling from ear-to-ear... a big fan of Monster Trucks and getting messy in general, the mud-fest was a delight, and his attitude about the struggle was wearing off on me, and I was laughing and hooting about finally getting free of the mud pit. The tent, it was left behind for a personal mission in the rain later that day, when I would return for the gear -- in the rain, which I thought would let up, and didn't. Wet to the bone, again! What a day!
That campout was GREAT!!!!

Later that day, we drove out to Baldwin City with his cousin and grammy to the Midland Railway, an historical society re-claimed private railroad that makes 24-mile round-trip excursions out of the original Baldwin City railroad depot that used to be on the old Santa Fe line that ran east-west across the country, long before the highway system was built --- the rail-line itself dates to 1867. The history, scenery, incredible. The boy and I have rediscovered railroading together over the last couple of years, getting involved in modeling again with the wife's dad in his basement, train-spotting at some of the locations *I* used to train-spot long before I had even met the wife, and reading lots of magazines on railroading, reading big hardback locomotive history picture books, and dreaming of trains while whistles sound off in the distance at night. It's a childhood passion rediscovered for me, and started for him. Anyways, this trip was a LONG time coming, as he'd never been very close to a REAL locomotive, much less getting a chance to ride inside a REAL train. This was no mall choo-choo for the kiddies, this was the REAL deal. Restored engines from actual stock, and not reproductions, this was rolling history, and the result of 20 years of hard, not-for-profit labor by some really passionate people with skilled hands. We're talking about maintaining 12-miles of out-n-back right-of-way with HAND TOOLS, people. These old railmen are the real deal, doing it because they love it. I want to, someday. We rode along inside an ex-Canadian Pacific Pullman-style passenger car, #801, built in 1936.

Motive power was supplied by a 1951 ALCO ES-3m diesel from the Missouri-Kansas and Texas Railway (the Katy line, from which the Katy trail gets its name), and the consist was rounded out with the #32 caboose from the Great Northern Railway, built 1960. The original wood sillplates, the original cushioned seats inside the passenger car, it was amazing -- sadly, I couldn't find it listed on the roster on the Midland website, but I think it was recently aquired and hasn't been catalogued yet. Still, it was pretty flippin cool. The boy LOVED it, and so did I.

Oh, and I rode to work Thursday, the first time on the bike since Tejas. Felt good - faster - fresher. But, ya know, I'm not too worried about that. I had a great week OFF the bike, and I think eventually that will help me have more fun ON the bike, too. Like riding the Katy trail with the boy. Hmmmm...

October 9, 2007

Song of the Week - 10/09

"Warning Sign" - Coldplay

Let's get real here, Dude.

I gotta tell ya -- I have to stop and catch myself in the act of blowing it for myself again. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on my recent decisions to simplify and clarify my life and my pursuits, and all of this feedback echoes my desire to get the passion back, get the FUN back. Fun. Hmmmm... there are a few statements that ring very true:

"It's supposed to be fun... if it stops being fun, you should stop doing it."

That's a rough paraphrase of multiple comments I've received off-line to this year, cycling, goal-setting. Most recently, someone coined the phrase and advised caution against setting goals for the sake of setting goals. It's dangerous business, and can lead to even MORE burnout. My tenacity and desire to keep true to what I set out upon is admirable, I don't mind saying so -- but it's also like continuing to hammer a nail that's already bent flat. No good can come of it, and it will only take more and more effort to get that nail out and straight again.

Despite yesterday's post and the beginning of a change in scope and focus, I'm withdrawing my goal to run in the 2008 WDW Marathon. The fact of the matter is, as I sat in the garage and put my old running shoes on again last night, there was NOTHING crossing my mind equating "this is gonna be fun", or "I can't wait to go on this run." My whole approach was "I have to do this." -- WHY??? Yeah, I have this goal, a goal that I set back in early June, when things were VERY different, but it's JUST a goal -- it's not a goal that will be fun reaching. It will be a means to another end, the end of getting fit again for cycling. I don't enjoy running -- I don't know how that is suddenly going to change enough to get me ready to do 26.2 miles of it. Mentally or physically.

I know -- blah blah blah -- but I'd rather bow out of this now, when I have this realization, instead of dragging this out for three more months, turning this into a runner's blog, and then dissapointing myself and anyone still silly enough to read this with another shortcoming. I don't want to do that to myself, much less anyone else.

Will I cross train? Yeah -- but it will be towards my REAL goals, which are all cycling-related. I'm a cyclist, not a runner. No pretending. No apologies. Now, sure, I'll get a few runs in -- probably do a 5K this November, an annual fun event. But, I can't fool myself into thinking I love running enough to have such a lofty goal. I think with the proper training, yes, I COULD indeed finish a marathon. Do I "NEED" to? No. I think I'm making the smarter choice here, for my mental well-being - which is why I stepped away from so much recently in the first place. Getting the passion back for cycling isn't going to come from torturing myself in a discipline I don't enjoy.

This is why close friends are important -- the confusion I heap onto myself, the stress that I bring on MYSELF; it's nice to have people close to the home camp that provide a lot of clarity. There is something honarable about sticking to my goals, but I have to believe that there is also something honorable about realizing when those goals are misguided. The only thing I risk here is accountability -- saying one thing, at one time, and then retracting it. This is why I'd never go far as a politician. I actually EXPECT people to hold me acocuntable for things I've said I'd do! Shocker!

Certain goals remain: lose weight, get faster, and ENJOY riding. How I get there has to be my business. I don't think running my buns off is gonna do it all. Yoga and weights-class, however, man I REALLY enjoyed those! Nothing wrong with that. But I'm not setting any ridiculous goals like "be the next yogi" or "kick the weights-class teacher's butt.", or "be the next ultimate cage-fighting champion."

It's the same kind of thing, really, and when I put it in perspective, it really DOES seem silly to try and prepare for a marathon in three months when I HATE RUNNING. There, I said it. Now, I WILL push myself and run some 5K's for training, but I'm not going to push my luck. I need my mid-section burnt off, and running WILL help - but I need to keep that perspective, and focus on the goal of burning off my midsection. The running THEN becomes a method by-which to accomplish THAT goal. And that makes a TON more sense.

My brain is a confusing place -- a place where one moment I can say with such conviction that I'm going to do "this", and then later getting this "dude, you're dumb" realization. It's happened a lot. The Cannondale fiasco; looking back -- wow. What the hell? I never claimed this blog was going to be the place where all of your answers would come, where great examples of achievement would come. I will give you heaps of honesty, though. Eventually. I have to figure out how to be honest with myself, first. I'm getting there.

October 8, 2007

The return to hard work

Phase three of 2007 began on Saturday with a 1.8 mile run -- which was probably really a 1.5 mile run, the rest of it heavy-breathing and walking for recovery. MAN, this is hard. Which is exactly what I need -- the key now is to stick with it. I have the same careful spreadsheet mapped out for a ramp-up of effort and distance, and when the weather turns nasty I have the treadmill in the house to revert to. Sunday was a rest day, and tonite after work I'll get another run of the same distance in. The long, slow rampup to what I'll need to complete a marathon begins!

Yeah, I haven't forgotten that goal, as mentioned June 8th, 2007.
Since the cycling calendar is now clear, it's time to shift gears - and if nothing else prepare for a successful 2008 cycling season. Honestly, I think a change in approach and type-of-goal is going to be a good thing. I already have some space between me and Tejas, and the future is clear.

The only thing I probably need is a heart-rate monitor. Universally, that is the one thing that I've read in all of these "running-for-dummies" books (Not to be confused with the not-so-best-seller "Running IS for Dummies"). It makes sense for cycling, too, from a training perspective -- while it might just be another number to keep track of, it can truly be a good gauge on how hard the body is working, how well I'm recovered from an effort, whether I should skip training, or train harder. It can also be a terrifc gauge of improvements, if used consistently and on the same course. Since my training is mapped out on the same out-and-back course from the house, this might work well. So, something from Polar towards their cheaper end might be on the list soon, if I can unload some other random cycling items to recharge the budget.

You know, looking at cycling compared to my current goal and how I've been thinking about how to accomplish this new goal, it's clear that I've almost become "bored" with riding. This is a clear sign of burnout, perhaps. Goal or no goal, it's clear that I should have hung up the bike for a while regardless. I haven't paid THIS kind of attention to cycling method for a while, and that may be the difference. While I know a lot, I certainly don't know everything about cycling training - but I have gotten to the point where I barely want to ride - much less practice a particular training platform, ride intervals, do hill sprints, etc. Perhaps I can learn a few things with running, and transfer them over once I've had a chance to reset. The only thing I'll be doing with the bike for the next couple of months is commuting -- which is something I can use to recover from runs, keep the joints limber, and stay stretched out. But things like cadence and trying to improve my average speed will be on the back burner. It might be interesting to see if, while I train for this new discipline, anything improves by consequence. Over the course of this spring's brevet series I watched another rider, Jeff, ride faster and with more focus and endurance that ever before -- the difference was revealed as a few months taken off to train for a marathon. By consequence, his speed on the bike rocketed up, and he was consistently the first one to finish each brevet, or at least in the top five riders. While finishing fast isn't the goal at a brevet, you see my point; the training benefits of diversification are clear. While I can't expect a carbon copy result, it should help me in a lot of ways, physically and mentally, and if my goals are beyond the brevets, then speed and endurance are a huge plus. It seems these last couple of years the only desire I've been able to maintain is the desire to show up at these rides.

But, let's not get ahead of ourselves; I've only got 2 miles invested towards this thing so far --- part of the beauty of the blog is accountability and the ability to look back at my own thoughts. Looking back at June's entry and the announcement of the marathon goal, the tone of my writing is markedly different - a tone of hope and spirit that is absent from recent posts: a clear indication of how stressful the summer was, and how things changed. The June post seems like it was from LAST year, seriously -- but I am sticking to that goal and will try to recapture the spirit of the guy that wrote it only a few months back. As the leaves change and the air turns cooler, it's time to leave the stresses of summer behind, and try something a wee-bit different. Stay tuned as this new chapter unfolds.

It will be hard - like nothing I've ever done - but I think that's exactly what I need!

October 3, 2007

"Team" G.T. finishes the Tejas 500!

Finally, the tale, as best as I can recall it...

Ever since last year, I have been thinking about this race. As a recap, last year’s Tejas 500 (www.tt24tt.com) was quite a trial, personally. I was ready, with a new bike, a strong will and a good base of training (so I thought). I ended up being no faster because of the bike, and the lack of training was showing through by mile 100. Making matters worse, I had not trained for sleep – and had not trained at enough distance to get my body ready for the challenge. Finally putting the nail in my coffin was a twisted ankle that turned into an over-use injury by mile 150 – and I made matters worse by thinking I could ride past it and keep on going. My average speed dropped, pain increased, and by mile 220 I couldn’t walk more than 10 feet without horrible pain. I was off the bike until December. Needless to say, I was a DNF. I have been replaying that 36 hour period in my head for over a year. I wanted revenge.

After last fall's challenges, emotionally, and the subsequent time off the bike, I was discouraged about 2007 from the get-go. Depressed, trying to find my groove again, I found myself sleeping a lot, missing commutes, missing weekend rides – and the winter came and went without much in the way of rebuilding or improvement. The cold weather only made the ankle hurt worse, so I essentially waited until March to get started again. With the help of Ort, I utilized a spreadsheet to track mileage to ensure I wasn’t adding too much too quickly, but to also ensure that I was riding enough to achieve my goals. The goals for Spring 2007 were the same as every year – the brevets – my favorite type of riding, and the perfect base. For 2006, I rode the 200K and finished it, but I missed the 300K, and the 400K turned into barely a century. I didn’t even try the 600K in 2006. For 2007, the brevets were greeted with a different kind of approach, and it proved successful – I completed the 200K, the 300K in the worst conditions I’ve ever ridden it in, and the 400K on an unknown route with unexpected wind and heat. And, finally, the elusive 600K – nay, Bob Burn’s 600K, the BEAST of all 600K’s in the nation, arguably – I finally finished it. My mind was in exactly the right place for the rest of the year, and if nothing else I can consider 2007 a success simply because I finished my first 600K and my first complete SR series – something I’ve been trying to accomplish since 2002!

The summer was to be perfect – a slow, steady ramp up in speed and distance with sights set on Tejas, and personal revenge. With the right mix of speed and training, including some night time loops, I was going to be in much better shape for Tejas that I had been in 2006. Then, unfortunately, things outside of cycling changed for the worse. Schedules were suddenly compromised, stress increased, and I found myself struggling to stay on top of everything. It’s proven to me that not only one’s cycling performance has to be top-notch for success, but the rest of life has to be in the right place, too. In an event such as Tejas, where so much of it is mental, even non-cycling issues become gigantic thorns in the mindset of someone trying to complete the seemingly impossible on a bicycle. I picked up another job, as did the wife, and life suddenly became more hectic than relaxing – only with all the chips in the right place can one truly be effective and able to accomplish goals. I’m certainly not diving for excuses here, but it certainly has an effect.

Then came July; While I had come to accept and adjust to the new stresses in my life, I was starting to worry that I had not been spending enough time on the bike, and had not been building speed enough for the big event coming up. Time was at a premium, and it was starting to show. I was not about to let cycling cut into family time, and I don’t regret that at all – but it was clear that my goals either needed to change, or I needed to really get busy training. Meanwhile, I was enjoying a warm day with the promise of rain on the single speed Surly. Joining me was Crowbar on his commuter steed, and the destination was the T-Bones baseball game up north. Getting in close to a metric century, it was a great distance and a great chance to just spin out some quality mileage. On the way back south after the game, nature added a little interesting mix of heavy rain. By the time we reached the railroad tracks that cross K-32 near K-7, the road was a mess. I hit the railroad tracks at what I thought was the correct angle, but I was wrong, and I went down hard – and Crowbar then landed on top of me after meeting the same fate with the tracks. I was jacked up, but managed to clean up and ride home, which probably made things worse. Bad, deep cuts on my right leg and a deep hip contusion were the result, and my bike time was cut again. The next week, I felt good enough to ride again, so I held a night ride which was painful at best. Probably too much, too soon, thinking back. I was not giving myself time to heal. The next morning, I elected to drive and let things heal a little more. On the way to work I was rear-ended by someone, which pushed me into the car I was following, and that impact happened while I was practically straight-legging the brake pedal, and subsequently jammed my hip AGAIN. The pain was ridiculous, to the point where the wife forced me into the ER for x-rays. I feared the worst, but was given the good news that nothing was cracked or fractured. Still, I was off the bike again for a while.

There are stories of riders overcoming incredible odds and adversity to perform amazing feats, I’ve read some of them – but I was expecting my season to be over. July was over, and August didn’t see much improvement. The speed work I had planned was not to happen, much less anything else. I started to weigh my chances. The entry fee was already paid, non-refundable. I could always change to a lesser event, maybe the 24-hour race instead of the 500 mile monster. Heck, maybe the 200-mile UMCA event was a better choice? I emailed the ride organizer and it was okay it I wanted to, since I’d given enough notice. I slept on it, and decided that I would just give the 500 an honest try. After all, I had entered the event the previous year with far LESS training, and managed to complete half of it, with half of that on a badly inflamed ankle. Surely if I could avoid injury and keep turning over the pedals, I could finish 500 miles in 48 hours. September came, and the MS-150 saw my first real saddle time since the first week of June. It didn’t go like I’d planned – there were brief moments of glory followed by hours of painful damage-control riding. Lack of hydration, specifically lack of training, was really the culprit – you have to train to learn when to drink, a constant challenge for me. This year’s weird weather threw me for a loop, too, with the high temp at the MS-150 only reaching 76 degrees. So much for heat training!

September flew by, and shortly after the MS-150 I found the weekends coming and going with many family activities, and very little riding. Tejas was practically here – I began to pack, wondering what I was getting myself into again, but resorted and relaxed that I had done all I could have with all the challenges and trials of the previous couple of months. It was test time.

It’s amazing how my perspective had changed over the year. I went from being on top of the world at the end of the 600K, to feeling like I was trapped under a heavy weight of lack of training, personal stress, work issues, scheduling issues, and pain – all in the course of three months. Honestly, the summer has been SO trying that the 600K finish seems like it happened LAST year, for real. In the meantime, I missed a lot of my favorite rides – the Lone Star Century, The Spring Classic, Tour of Shawnee, the Summer Breeze Century – all EXCELLENT training and terrific fun with other cyclists and great support. The summer was just a mess for me, cycling-wise.

That brings you up to speed on events leading up to Tejas, sort of a recap of the year to date -- This write up is about Tejas, tho… so let’s get to it:


The morning dawned fresh and bright. Humidity low, temps moderate. A perfect day to start a really long ride. Ort and I headed out to the race site and got our tents set up. That alone was an exercise in hydration, but I refused to let that get the best of me. I started in on my sports drink to stay on top of what I was sweating out, and I was on the hydration game like a pro all morning and afternoon. We had SO much spare time, we actually found ourselves helping Dan and crew set up tables, move coolers full of drinks for the volunteers, and sweep out the pavilion. It’s not like we had a huge bike ride to rest up for or anything. Yeesh. Over-achievers. We finally wised up and excused ourselves from duty to prepare for the ride and get our riders packets. It was a sweaty, ridiculous afternoon. I continued to drink, supplement electrolytes, drink, pee, drink, repeat for hours. Felt great, even in the heat for once! Eventually, the clock ticked down – three hours to race time! Time for a pre-ride meal! This would be the first mistake I would make; instead of a nice, easy Sustained Energy cocktail, I decided it was a great time to crack open that leftover pasta that I had in my cooler from dinner the night before. Cheese tortellini with mac and cheese mixed in – just the way I like it. Wooooo, baby that’s GOOD food. Let’s not forget that the entire summer was overshadowed by weight issues, as I never got back down to the race weight that I really wanted – let’s add some heavy pasta with BARELY enough time to digest it. Good idea, dude! It was yummy. More water, water, water, sports drink, hydrate! Felt great. After sitting for a bit longer and sweating in the shade, it was time to suit up. One hour to race time. I was starting to regret the pasta. And, let me tell you --- it’s hard enough being a little too big for my cycling shorts these days, but trying to get into them while already being sweaty – man, what a sight I was. Glorious, like trying to get a water balloon into a saran wrap bag. Ort mentioned something about stuffing a giant bratwurst as he tried to accomplish the same thing inside his tent – which I instantly took the wrong way and that was good for some laughs. What a great way to start the ride! Bike, ready – me, ready… time for the pre-race meeting, and the start horn. I made my way to the start finish line with Ort. Heeeeere we go!

Ort and me, right before heading to the start. We'd never look this fresh again.

After the usual “be careful” talk, and reminders about not drafting, and how to call out your laps, the countdown was beginning…. 5…..4……3……2…….1….. GO!

Drafting was allowed to the first stop sign, so quickly riders began to group up as we left the start area to claps and cheers, and made our way out onto the course.
The bike felt great, fenders gone, rack gone, and skinny tires mounted up, the Kogswell felt just like the Cannondale had the year before, only the nasty chip-seal pavement was muted nicely with the smooth steel tubing. Heavier, yeah, but only by a touch, the ride quality and feedback of a good steel frame more than makes up for the small weight addition. This was gonna be a nice ride!
The only indication that problems were afoot was when I suddenly started finding it difficult to stay with some of the riders. Sure, part of my plan was NOT to explode on the first lap, which is a mistake I’ve made in the past, but I also didn’t think anyone was going terribly fast. The hot shots were already WAY off the front after the support truck, so there was no catching them, but some of the other riders were getting harder to catch, including Ort. Now, this is not to be taken the wrong way – Ort has by contrast had a SOLID year, low stress, injury-free, and not only did he ALSO complete his first 600K and first full SR series this spring, he was also in the hunt for the R-12 award, and had at least a 200K every month this summer with some strong riders -- but LAST year, I was already ahead of him. The LSR group down here treats brevets a little differently, and Ort was showing signs of being a MUCH stronger rider than the guy that moved away from Kansas only two years before. As we started the long climb up to the Lime Plant, Ort was almost un-reachable, as I reached for more gears and started to spin. I wasn't tired or having problems, but my push was not there like it was the year before. That’s okay… I knew this was going to be like this, don’t panic, just pedal. Long days ahead. Treat it like a brevet, and you’ll finish.

We reached the Lime Plant, enjoyed a brief downhill, and then the pack began to thin out again. No problem. Pedal. There would be no worries about having to spread out after the first stop-sign THIS year for me. I was firmly near the back of the pack. Other than that, I felt GREAT. Hydration was going to plan, the heat of the day was fading (6:00pm start), and I was mentally prepared for a century after dark again, just like last year.

The course was coming back to me, but not the way it felt last year. The hills were there, but they were NOT as steep as I remembered on the back side of the course. The front side was still a challenge with nearly 4 miles of it being a continuous climb, almost like Colorado, but not quite with the lack of scenery to accompany the slogging pace up the grade... but it still wasn't as daunting as it'd felt the year before. It was frustrating that I was obviously feeling stronger, but the speeds were not reflecting it. The back side was more fun, undulating with fast downhill sections, including Goatneck Hill with it’s 40 MPH charge into the valley below before arriving back at the start/finish.

“5 – 0 – 7…” I called out and waited for it to be echoed back to me as I crossed the line for the first of MANY times. Lap one, down, 24 to go.

Lap two, the same – but darker. Headlights and taillights came on. At least I knew THIS part I was trained for.

Lap three, the same

Lap four, things turned to the worse for a little while, while I revisited the old 70-mile wall that used to haunt me all the time. My pedal stroke turned to mud, my stomach cramped, and my legs didn’t have any push for at least 10 miles or so on this loop. Along with that, the mental collapse of “you can’t do this”, “you aren’t ready”, “I just wanna go home” began, as it always does. One has to remember that these episodes are temporary – as I remembered. Hydrate, drink some calories, get back on track. The 70-mile wall came, and went.
Unfortunately, the stomach pains were real, the leftovers of the heavy pasta meal that hadn’t full digested. Ugh. The mistake began to manifest.

Lap five, back to normal – and the 100 mile marker.

This time last year, I was laying down for an hour nap that turned into a 7-hour full nights sleep. Dumb. Not this year!
I filled my bottles, still staying firmly on top of hydration and fuel, feeling great, slow and steady. I headed out for lap six, at about 12:45AM, I think…
As the laps continued, it was becoming clear that there would be no placings for me. Finish only, that was the goal – but it was sometimes frustrating, and at the same time inspiring and amazing to see the faster riders hammering out the course and flying past me, often on the uphills where I used to excel. The only riders on the loop were the 500 mile racers, the 24-hour group had not started yet, but these guys were making me look stupid on the first long climbs, spinning FAST up the hill maintaining a monster momentum, and basically passing my like I was standing still. Amazing, but I reminded myself I had to ride my OWN race, and not compare. It’s hard to do, tho. Someone passes you, you want to jump on their wheel and chase – but even if I was allowed to draft, I did not have the push. My speed was beginning to drop to my MS-150 pace a couple weeks before. Lap one my average was a modest 17.3 MPH – contrasted to nearly 22 MPH LAST year. Lap two, my overall average dropped to 16.5. Lap three, overall average was 16.1. Despite consistent intake of fluids, feeling good, good fuel intake, I was just not doing well in the speed department – but I was still doing well enough for the minimum average speed, if I stayed on the bike. No problems! Tons of time to finish.

The next four laps were carbon copies of each other, blending together. The only thing that broke up the monotony was the fact that each set of headlights that passed me from behind was a little different. HID beams, Schmidt E6 headlights, other odd LED lights, and I would marvel at the taillight and reflective gear patterns that would advance up the road away from me in the night. Occasionally there was a phantom dog that would jump out into the road, but under the full moon he was only able to startle me once. Each lap after that, I had him marked. It kept me alert for a short time, until the longer part of the climb began and demanded my attention anew. All the while, the Lime Plant at the top of the hill hummed and clattered away. It was the only constant. The sky was brilliant, a bright FULL moon, big stars, and the skyline of Cleburne in the distance as we rounded over the top of the big climb. Peeking back over my shoulder I could see headlights strewn across the expanse of the route, all slowly coming up to meet me. In front of me, on the back half of the loop, taillights strung along the roadway leading to the horizon were a magical diversion to the fog in my head, the fog that accompanies randonnuers and ultra-racers at some point or another, where all you are doing is turning the pedals in some sort of surreal dream-state. Just follow the line, pedal. The brain is unplugging.

Unfortunately, all the while I felt my push was consistent and my fueling and hydration program was working perfectly, was actually declining. The lack of speed training, and consistency training at distance was beginning to show through. My average speed at the end of lap nine was all the way down to 14.7. Yeesh. That was rolling time, too, and as much as I needed the break, I knew that if I laid down I would have to make it up, because the clock never stops.


I was hydrating well enough that I was having to stop occasionally on the loop for relief – things were going pretty well, but the SE was not sitting well on top of the pasta (yup, STILL there like a brick on my intenstines) so I switched to Carboplex instead – essentially the same maltodextrin form of carbohydrates, but no protein. Hammer Gel packets were working, tho, as the sleepies started to invade I put them to rest with caffeinated gel. Worked well. I was clicking off two-lap sets between stops for fresh bottles and the miles were mounting quickly. It’s amazing how this kind of event contrasts to something like a club century or the MS-150, where that century seems to take forever – in an event like this, it seems like the first century is over in a heartbeat. Before I knew it, I was knocking on the 300K door, and the sun hadn’t even come up yet. With 9 laps in the bank, and 180 miles on the clock, I elected to lay down for a short amount of time – I think it was about 5:20AM, roughly, and the sun would be up in about and hour and a half – perfect – and much needed, as the caffeine began to lose its effectiveness and the yawns got longer and more frequent, as did the realization that I was gazing off into my headlight beam, and not REALLY concentrating. I can rise with a little sleep in the bank, and the sun will greet me, resetting the brain and tricking it into starting a new day.
I crawled into the tent, took off my shoes and helmet, set my alarm clocks (that’s plural!) and laid down.

Zonk, snore!… in a flash I was awake again – a little drool, which is a good indication that I REALLY got some REM brain-resetting sleep – it was about 7:05AM, and the sun was lighting up the eastern sky. I got up, out of the tent, and found the morning air moist and almost foggy, and the temps were in the high 60’s – a perfect morning. MUCH better than last year’s 38 degree wake-up call. I had brought warmers and a wind vest, but thankfully I wouldn’t need any clothing changes this year! I trotted over to the pavilion, plugged in my headlight battery to charge during the daylight hours, hit the porta-john, refilled my bottles, and headed out for lap 10. Feeling good, but careful not to push too hard without stretching out a little, I started the climbing again. Whooof… after this lap, 200 miles! I was only 20 miles away from everything I had achieved last year, and roughly 8 hours ahead of myself from the previous year. Not bad! Unfortunately, that wasn’t saying THAT much, considering the numbers. My time off the bike, while being far better than last year, was not enough to make up for the fact that my speed while ON the bike was not where it should have been, and while I slept my average speed TOTAL time had dropped below the minimum required to finish the race.

Comparing the preliminary time splits and results now, my lap times were fairly consistent, to my surprise, but not fast enough. My off the bike time was better than last year, but it was not perfect. The 4 hours and 25 minutes of off the bike time between laps 9 and 10 includes the actual lap 10 ride, so my lap time again was fairly consistent – however it was starting to get real. My lap times were not going to be enough to support the time I was taking off the bike. Compared to those riders that I would put in my class this time out, those that had an overall average speed of 12 MPH or less for the course, my lap times were consistent with theirs for the first 6 laps, and after that I started to slow down. It doesn’t appear to be much, but ten minutes extra on the bike per lap is an eternity.

Time for lap 11; this would be the hardest lap I would ride. I mounted up, with full bottles and a lot of hydration already in my system from simply getting ready to ride again. The one thing that was different besides the fact that the sun was up again was the heat. The heat came up QUICK, and it was hotter than Thursday had been. In very little time at all, it was instantly 90+ degrees outside, and the humidity was back. Quite seriously, by 8:00AM on the top of the big hill on the front part of the loop, it might as well have been 3 in the afternoon. It was amazing, and the blacktop was alive with heat waves. It’s evident, competition-wide, that everyone started to slow down here. Ort would later recall not even remembering this entire day. It was bad. Unfortunately for me, I would remember this lap. I never cramped, I never felt thirsty or hungry as I continued my usual food and drink plan, but something was changing. Soon, my water bottles, that were supposed to last two laps, were starting to get low. I was drinking enough to compensate for the heat, but I also noticed that I'd stopped sweating. My arms were dry, almost clammy. By the time I had three miles to go on the lap, my head was throbing at the temples. Had I taken electrolytes? Yeah… same as usual. I popped an extra Endurolyte, just for good measure, and drank the rest of my sports drink and the rest of my fuel. Yeesh… what happened to my push? I started to really like the downhills simply because I didn’t have to pedal. Dang. Just like that – CLICK! I was dehydrating rapidly.
I made it back to the start line, called out my number, and someone asked if I was alright. In an event like this where EVERYONE looks whipped, for someone to ask if you are alright means that you look absolutely terrible in relation to everyone else. That’s not good. That’s the LAST thing you want to hear from someone.

I dismounted, refilled my bottles, and sat in the shade behind my tent. This is not good. Over the next two hours, I consumed six water bottles before I felt like I had to produce anything at the porta-john, and when I finally did it didn’t look good. In a little over 20 miles I went from peeing crystal-clear, right before I had departed, to being completely dried out. I felt dizzy, the headache was there, I wasn’t sweating, my stomach felt like a knot, and my heart-rate would not drop until I’d been off the bike for three total hours since completing lap 11.

As I sat, watching the clock tick, wondering when it would be time for me to get another lap again, everyone around me reassured me that I had made the right choice. Each rider that came past looks progressively worse for the wear, drenched in sweat (I was jealous) and looking salty. About this time, STRONG riders began to leave the race. RAAM-Qualified riders went home. An Ironman finisher that had come from Hawaii quit. I suppose I was in good company, but I was determined to get back in the saddle. I drank, sat, drank, soaked my headband in cold water and reapplied it to my head, drank, checked my pee, checked my heart-rate. All the while, I checked my time, and it ticked down again. My last average speed check was 9.55 MPH. The minimum to finish officially was 10.814 MPH. This was not looking good. Yeah, it’s something that COULD be made up for – after all, I was awake, and ready to ride – but the writing was beginning to show on the wall. My steady decline in average speed was not going to help, and my speed at this distance was NOT going to improve – I simply hadn’t trained for speed at ALL this year. I had plenty of base mileage, but a foundation like that does little good when making up for a constantly ticking clock is the goal. I was barely on pace to finish a 600K in enough time for it to officially count as a brevet finish. Frankly, this was starting to suck. If I managed to get back on the bike, and STAY on the bike, I might just barely squeak by, but the math just wasn’t working out.
With 220 miles, my heart still racing from the dehydration, I checked in with the race desk and announced that I was giving it up. It just wasn’t going to be my year. Two hours LATER, I was finally peeing clear again, and by that time it was REALLY too late to make up the time.

Even with the hydration figured out on the bike to the point where I never cramped, never felt thirsty, there is a LOT to be said for acclimation. This summer in Kansas has been milder than in years-past, and the truth of it is I had not trained in the heat at all, not even moderate heat. The MS-150, again, the high was only 76 degrees on day one, and not much warmer on day two. I didn’t ride in any of the title club rides or centuries, which usually provide excellent daytime training for such things. Even on my commutes I was only out in the heat for short periods of time, and usually in the shade of the bike trail. I have noticed consistently ALL year that hydration has been a problem, and much of it was coming from lack of acclimation to the heat itself, lack of exposure. Even OFF the bike doing yard work, I had often times this year succumbed to headaches and feeling zonked from the heat of the afternoon. I don’t know if I simply can’t hack the heat anymore, or if it really is just lack of exposure. All I know is, I REALLY need to TRAIN next year, and when I train I need to train in the conditions I hope to perform in. There was a time when I had an EDGE in the heat, specifically at Tinbutt ’05 when the temps were just ridiculous and top riders were going to the hospital, I was on the bike and riding with temps in the 115 degree range and high humidity. But that was a hot year all around, and I trained in it. That has to be the difference.

All the while, I knew in front of my mind that I had done better than last year in many respects. I slept less, I drank more, I ate right (except for the pasta, which wouldn't pass until 6:15pm SATURDAY). The speed just wasn’t there, and when the sun came up neither was the heat tolerance. It was not a mystery: I hadn’t ridden enough over the summer. The brevets themselves, alone, are not enough. They have to be built upon. Speed training is essential, even if you don’t plan to average 20 MPH per loop, it raises your ability to maintain a better pace. It eliminates lap times as being a main concern, so you CAN have off-bike time if you need it. And, I need a crew. These races can’t be done without a crew, period. Mixing my own drinks is for the birds, takes time, focus that may not be there after 24 hours, and getting off the bike kills rhythm even if it is only every-other lap. There is no mystery at all why MV24 was a success, and this event has not been. I need a crew member. Ort’s wife offered to help, as always, but she was there for him, not me, and it’s too much to ask of one person to run two rider’s races. This was my plan, and it wasn’t working. The small amount of training I DID manage over the summer had all been at night, and while that is essential so you know what to expect at night, it doesn’t prepare me for the DAY. The heat. Heck, even staring at the sun-lit road was tedious simply because I wasn’t used to doing it! How crazy is that? Despite all of this, while I talked to Dan Driscoll about my decision, I was smiling, clear-headed, and not disappointed at all. I was perfectly comfortable with my decision – it was becoming futile, and I was done.

When he asked me what I was going to do, I replied “I’m gonna make sure Ort finishes HIS ride.”

“What a friend!” he replied.

But it was more than just that. It was more than just me no longer having a ride to race, and doing something because I was bored. NO, it was more; It was vindication for last year, and if I couldn’t get it for myself, then I was gonna get it for at least one of us.

I put my bike on the roof of the car, and got into street clothes again. Time to get to work.

Ort's tale is an epic one, ((I’ll link to here later on once it’s posted)) and I’ll leave most of the details to his ride areport and try not to take too much away from it here. But to recount my involvement, some details are neccessary:

Ort's ride was more solid than mine, but it was not going perfectly to plan, either. Problems sleeping were catching up, and despite solid lap times of 1:30 nearly each go-round, he was putting in a solid ride and pulling from a huge base of fast brevet training all year long. It wasn’t smoking fast like some of the higher-placed riders, but it was a good ride. The problems were mounting with off the bike mini-naps and trips to the bathroom with food issues coming and going. As Friday carried on, and again he would later say he didn’t remember Friday much at all, things were beginning to look as bleak as my ride had become. Plus, the heat of the day was proving to be a real problem. He was staying hydrated and he kept moving, but it was taking its toll. Finally, 6PM came, and the heat of the day began to break. Despite all the hardships, he was going into the evening of Friday with over 300 miles on the books!

Over the next couple of hours as the day became night, things would get dicey. The sleep monster would visit, the stomach issues would come and go, and the mental games played out as the same tired loop was repeated for lap after lap, up to lap 17, where Ort would finally lay down for a while. At this point, he knew my decision, and I started to help with the between lap prep work, getting bottles mixed, doing the hand-ups, and helping him find a place to sleep. His pace was his own, and he was getting frustrated. More than anything he was sleepy-tired, and needed to reset his brain. Finally the chance came between after lap 18. With 360 miles in the tank he simply collapsed into a lawn-chair and slept under the stars. I finally got some sleep of my own, too.


The sun was showing again, headlights came off for the last time, and bottles were mixed fresh once more. Over the night, some of the faster team riders had completed their races, clicking off the 500 miles between 4 fast riders in 29 hours and change, some even faster. For the solo riders remaining, there was still work to be done. Shaking off the last of the sleep, Ort mounted up, clearly discouraged.

“I’ve been doing the math all night, and I don’t see how I’m gonna make it, man. The math just ain’t workin’”

Trying to keep him focused, I blurted out something or other, and got him moving. He was right. Over the night between several laps and fighting sleep, his ride was tanking the way mine had earlier. His total average speed had dropped below 9 MPH. This was going to be TOUGH, but mentally there was no-one else I knew that was up to the challenge. The only thing now was to keep him ON the bike, period. Char and I talked and planned the next few laps, what to do, how to do it, how we could shave time. She is a fantastic supporter, but admits that even while she had learned a lot the previous year, she didn’t feel confident as a solid and impartial crew member. After all the support and the times we’d ridden together, and for all the times I was supported by someone else and never got the chance to repay the debt, this was my time to help. I had changed roles, was no longer thinking even remotely about my ride, but was now referring to Ort as “my rider”. Here comes “my rider”, I need to check lap time on “my rider”, etc. It was time to get a finish out of one of us.

Laps 19, 20, 21 were nearly carbon copies of each other. Every hour-and-thirty Ort would roll up, I’d eject his bottles and insert fresh ones: Carboplex in one, plain water with Elite electrolyte hydration mix-in in the other, loaded with ice to stave off the heat. We tied a bandana around his neck filled with ice, a Tinbutt trick he’d taught me. With wife and daughter on either side of him, fresh sunscreen was applied, his face was toweled off, and we’d push him on down the road. It was working, and the total average speed was slowly coming up. In three laps his “off bike” time was under a minute. The new approach, rider and solid support team -- We were doing it! Even other crew members were pitching in, which is a testament to the brotherhood of ultra-racers in general. It’s the same for everyone out there, no matter what the speed – this stuff NEVER gets easy. You simply get faster. As Ort rode off again, a crew member from a UK team came by and offered up some energy drink, and after Ort had asked for more Hammer Gel packs and we came up dry, I had his daughter go on a scavenger hunt across the start-finish area asking for Hammer packets from anyone that had some to spare, maybe from a crew who’s ride had already finished, and we struck gold by producing two packets and a full flask of gel. When Ort came back around, he looked saved as he took up the gel and fueled himself. Everyone truly pitches in to see riders through at these events. But, ultimately, the clock was still ticking, and time was running thin again.

By Lap 21 things were looking dangerously close. One thing I have learned is that off-bike time is EVERYTHING. After the trials and episodes of the first 36 hours were in the books for good, there was NO getting that time back. When he got back on the bike that Saturday morning he had 140 miles to cover in 11 hours time. That’s a 12.7 MPH average, very do-able – but not after the fatigue of 360 miles immediately prior, and essentially only 30 minutes of GOOD sleep. THEN it becomes tough, especially considering we were basically suggesting that he HURRY a little more on each lap, something that is nearly impossible this deep into this kind of distance. His lap times were between 1:30 and 1:45 ET, and that isn’t quite enough. Things were getting nervous. Even though I wasn’t riding, I couldn’t rest, sit down, or eat. I was anxious for Ort to come around again, anxious for the race officials to post the last lap splits so I could report back his overall average. It was slowly coming up: 9.74 MPH….. then it was 10.17 MPH….. then it was 10.282 MPH….. then 10.377 MPH…… AAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!
With two laps left, it was going to be dangerously close, and Char and I were losing our minds. 10.418 is all we needed…

Lap 22 was one of the hardest. An hour and thirty came, and went………

“He needs to get here NOW” we’d say…. Looking down the road…. Is THAT him? Rushing to the cooler for bottles and getting the vitamins and sunscreen ready, and fresh ice…… "no, false alarm"..... ugh….

We’d see riders that were behind him on the previous lap come thru…

The strict rules about NO personal support on the route, NO rovers, NO reports, NO radios…. we were blind, had NO idea what was happening on the course. Had he flatted? Had he stopped? There was nothing we could do…. It was all on him.

“THERE HE IS!!!!!” We rushed and got bottles and rinsed him off – he could barely form words as he put his head on the handlebars while we worked.
“just plain water this time...”
He had not consumed much out of his previous bottles, not a good sign…

“This is the worst thing I’ve ever done to myself…” he mumbled… we could only encourage, and push him onward. Focus on the goal, man…. You want this…. You are so much stronger than anyone else out here….. go go go!!!!!!

He was off again…. Lap 23…. TWO more to go…. 40 piddly miles seemed like NOTHING after all of the riding, all the pedaling. Char and I basically collapsed into our chairs…. Alright, we need to get ready for the next lap, he’s gotta hurry on this one or we’re not gonna make it. It sat heavy on all our minds. The numbers don’t lie.

We waited, and waited, and waited… 1:30 came…. And went…..

“oh no….” Char said… this was getting hard to handle, the emotional investment… you start playing scenarios in your mind and wondering what he’s going thru out there on the course... we could never know, but I could imagine.

One hour, 45 minutes came….. and went…….

False alarms, squinting down the long lead-up road, looking for that helmet, that jersey….

THERE!!!!!!! Off schedule, but still focused, he was back again …

“Guys, I gotta go…. “ he muttered, shaking his head; determined, but visibly whipped.

We put bottles in, and pushed him off for the last time…

There he went…. The LAST LAP.

It was all on him now, there was nothing more we could do but wait. There were no words, we knew. We all knew... he had to do something special this last lap, or that was it. After all that mileage, all that suffering, to walk away with nothing?

It was getting real.

The clock, it was TORTURE. The time seemed to take forever as the clock creeped past 5:00PM….. 5:15……. 5:20...

6:00PM was like a wall, a deadline, like the timer on a bomb in an action movie, but more real than you can imagine. The tension was almost making us sick.

We made our way to the start/finish line, fully expecting to have to cheer and push him all the way to the last second.


Based on his last lap time, I knew there simply wasn’t enough time left. There was no way. If he was THAT whipped after that last lap, how in the world was he going to be able to do THIS one, this most important lap, faster???


Everyone else had come thru…. There was no-one on the road….
And then, bursting out from under the pavement climbing that final rise before the finish line, was a bobbing helmet.

“THERE HE IS!!!!” someone shouted, and all fanfare broke loose…. It WAS him!

A miracle lap, back down to an hour and thirty, and JUST enough time – twelve minutes to spare.
Twelve TINY minutes, NOTHING; a flat, extra wind, ANYTHING would have eaten that time away, but there he was, and a weak smile spread across his face. The crowd noise lulled just a little bit as he had to call out his rider number one last time for it to be official…. In the most exhausted voice I’d ever heard pass Ort’s lips,

“ FIVE…. ONE ….. TWO……” and the crowd erupted…

It was magic.

So, yeah, the headline for this post might be a little misleading – but even though we didn’t start as a team, we ended up a team – and that’s how it went down. In retrospect, about two weeks before the ride I emailed the organizer about changing events, but I really should have just bowed out all together, and crewed for Ort from the get-go. I knew I wasn’t ready, but I was prepared to at least try. My only regret was not being there to run those hot laps on Friday for Ort, keeping him on the bike and moving, so perhaps the finish would not have played out so close to the wire – but hey, a finish is a finish. I consider this a complete success. But you might then ask how can I possibly consider this weekend, this race, a success when my own ride was yet another shortcoming? It’s hard to explain, but the feelings of accomplishment I feel from seeing a good friend finish something so tough, knowing that I had a small part to play in that feat, was enough. I had no trophy, no glory, but I feel full, whole, and satisfied deep down in my soul. Being on a crew is THAT rewarding, and I am SO glad that I’d decided to come to Tejas again, and that the events played out the way that they did. It has taught me that crew can help win a race when all else seems impossible. But, the crew does nothing without a solid rider, and this year’s ride has shown me the tenacity of a rider that sees his goal and never wavers no matter what the odds, and gives me someone to point to and declare “THAT is how it’s done.” Hopefully, next year, I can pull from that, if I do come back to this event.

There’s quite a bit of weight on these shoulders as I step away from this ride – there is the personal desire to earn that trophy for myself next year, or some year in the future. With that, I have broken down and finally have learned to let go of some of the things that have been occupying me so much these past few years. I need to regain the focus, the desire to do better at these events, the training to excel at them if I truly want to continue being someone that looks at a century ride and asks “what’s next?” I’m not ready to quit. I’m not dead. But, the rider that I speak of so highly from 2003 *IS* dead. I can’t bring him back. I can only build anew. I can take this tired body, and teach it to shed weight. I can take these legs that have learned to accept a slower pace, and teach them to spin strong and hard. I can take these latest lessons that I’ve seen of courage and fortitude, and use them as a map of how to build my own mental toolbox. It’s time to move on to version three of me. Version 1 was the fat guy that was on his way to a heart attack. Version 2 was the fledgling aspiring ultra-racer that lost his way. It’s time to take all these lessons, forget the past, and start fresh.
A few commutes will lead back to consistency. Finally visiting the club rides that provide the rabbits that I need to chase in order to get faster. It’s time to look at the brevets, not as something to simply finish but something to better myself at. It’s time to look at the forecast, find 100 degree temperatures, and suit up for a fast metric.

I know the path. I know I still want to follow it. It’s time to have a better 2008, and put this year aside – yeah, it wasn’t perfect - in certain ways it was pure hell - but it was SURE good in many ways. I learned a lot, and sometimes that’s all we can hope for in life.

I’ve said it all before, sure...
...but something in me changed this last weekend.
It’s time to wake up.

From the Archives: Duathlon 2003

I think Yoda once said…
“There is no Tri…. Only Du…”
Good thing, considering how well I swim…

The 2003 Kansas City Corporate Challenge
Individual Duathlon!

2.4 mile swim, 13 mile bike, 2.4 mile run
official KCCC time 1:24:59 ET
Not bad for a dedicated Ultra-cyclist, eh?

The sun finally pops above the trees at Shawnee Mission Park, and I’m feeling fresh and ready for the beginning run. It’s a perfect morning, at about 70º and practically zero wind. My transition box is set up, and I’m looking forward to the bike section already!

Coming in off the first leg of the run and feeling the pain of all 2.4 miles – although I’m coming back to the bike a LOT earlier than I expected to – there are some people on the road already, but not many…

Under-way, finishing lap one on the bike in just over 13 minutes – finally feeling warmed up after spinning the run out of my legs. With only two laps to go, it was time to work – already reeled in a lot of the faster runners on the first lap, but with many more hitting the course and the triathlon folks already on the road, it was getting confusing and the road was getting crowded…

Still getting faster and more warmed up – just in time to stop riding and run again!! This shot is from the beginning of lap 3 – lap two finished in a little over 12 minutes, and I still had not been passed from behind yet. Feeling confident, but dreading the final run that is only a lap away…

Finished Lap 3 on the bike in about 11 minutes, and finally got passed by a couple folks – one Blue River Bicycle Club racer, and a strong tri-athlete on a Cervelo P3, but they were only on their 1st laps – with all of the riders completing different lap counts, and starting at odd times, it was nearly impossible to keep track of the field. All for not, now, because I was off the bike and back on my feet for the final 2.4 mile run….

50 feet to go! Focused, and just running my own race, the end is very near – didn’t even realize my wife was taking this shot! I got passed a LOT on the run, but most of the rider numbers were black, instead of red – an indication they were tri-athletes and had only 2 laps of cycling to complete. There were some red numbers in there, too, but I was happy with my result, considering how much the final run added to my clock.
It was AWESOME to finish – my first multi-sport event, a personal success!

Official KCCC results:

Rank Bib# Last Name First Name Company Div Age Group Time
10. 1857 Priest Mike TranSystems Corporation F M30-39 1:23:06
15. 1831 G Keith Relco / Reliable F M30-39 1:24:59
28. 1770 Lutz Shane Henderson Engineers F M30-39 1:32:17

15th Place overall!
2nd Place in Division!

My training regimen? Commuting to work by bicycle!

Of course, if I plan on doing this again, I may have to add some running to that!

From the Archives: 2003 KCUC 400K brevet

- The K.C. 400K –
Kansas City Ultra-Cycling

Well, it took long enough, but I finally just caved in took digital pictures of the print pictures that were taken of me on the 400K back in May 2003. Crazy! I’d only been promising this since the site first came online!

So, enjoy the shots, while I recount a few of the high-points of the ride. It was a year since the last 400K, a ride that I attempted and failed to finish, for a lot of reasons – lack of proper training, a failed 300K attempt only two weeks prior, a thrown chain only 5-miles into the ride, and finally falling asleep on the bike with only 40 miles to go, after a serious white-knuckle session on US-169 highway after dark, in construction. As I sat on the rear bumper of my car, waiting for the rest of the group to arrive for this year’s ride, I recalled each of these events in my head and wondered what the day-long event would throw at me this year. This year… a full year can do a lot if you learn from your experiences properly. I had trained harder over the winter, had lost nearly 60 pounds, made improvements to the bike’s drive-train, enjoyed good showings at the 200 and 300K rides only a few weeks before, solidified my fueling program, and was encouraged that there would be no more white-knuckle session on the open highway since the re-opening of a bypass road. I was ready to rock.
Losing weight over the early spring and coming back to form so quickly in the year compared to the year before was a huge boost to my mental game, and I was feeling downright invincible on this day in May – it was cool and foggy on that 3rd day of May – about 45ºF at 3:30am, when I made my way out to the lonely and dark parking lot of the start/finish, but it was forecast to warm up quickly, and there was not supposed to be very much wind. Any wind that was coming was going to blow out of the east, so my game plan was to get as far east as I could and then enjoy the rest of the day with a tail-wind. Unfortunately, the ride started in Grandview, MO, and most of the early part of the ride headed straight south before even turning east – it would be difficult to avoid some difficulty with the wind later.
The route was also MUCH flatter than those beginning in Liberty, MO – there would still be the ubiquitous rolling terrain of eastern Kansas and western Missouri, but compared to the non-graded roads up north this ride would be a walk in the park. The only thing standing in the way was the distance itself. After all, 400 kilometers is no country spin. Roughly 240 miles is not something to take lightly, especially when you are up against the clock all day long. Regardless, I was feeling good – a quick pep talk from the ride organizer, and the ‘gun’ was sounded – the group of 30 or so riders rolled out of the darkness, headlights and taillights ablaze. Those first few minutes of any ride are probably the most exciting; pedals engaging, chains rolling onto gears, last minute good-luck mutterings, and dozens of sets of tires crunching sand and pavement. I bid farewell to my car, and promised silently to return this time, instead of being driven back like last year.
The ride to the first checkpoint was intense to say the least. After making my way carefully to the front, I was thrilled to see one of ultra-cycling’s best in attendance; Dan Jordan. A Furnace Creek & RAAM competitor and all around ultra-distance guru; it’s a thrill to roll along-side such talent, especially as I am just beginning my ultra-distance career. There is much to be learned here, but in the early morning hours at the on-set of a 400K, there is not much time for talking. Getting east before the sun rises and the wind picks up is on everyone’s minds – the darkness is parted as our massive group blows through in a blur of headlights and heavy-breathing, and not much conversation. As we hammer thru the darkness, an early morning driver is caught taking liberties with a 4-way stop sign, nearly cutting a few riders’ ride short in a bad way. No-one expects to see cyclists at this hour, much less so many. We carry on, and hit the first major road on our way south – after a few minutes, we are in rural KC, out of the safety of the streetlights, and into the clutches of thick fog. The fog is serious enough that it might as well be raining: glasses are wet, toes chilled, tires slicked over – the dance of lights bursting from the fog confuses more that a few motorists, slowing down as we approach. Then, a train meets us at a crossing, breaking up a perfect momentum, but the rest is welcome – the pace for the first dozen miles or so was hot as everyone was trying to warm up. After the train passes and the gates lift, we’re off again, southbound on Mission Rd., to 199th, and then across into Spring Hill, KS. The twilight of dawn has snuck up on me – looking around, it’s becoming light already, and I’m already much farther along than I had been last year. Last year, on a fairly serious climb, I had wasted about 20 minutes trying to fix my fallen chain – a botched shift and mal-adjusted derailleur caused my rear wheel to lock up, and me to fall into a shallow ditch. As the pack whizzed past, I was alone with my mechanical problem, which I eventually fixed – but after that, I was riding solo for the remainder of the day, listening to a stiff link click, click, click all day long. So far, this year was going MUCH better – I motored along at 20 mph or above nearly the entire first leg, with nothing but smooth silence from the drivetrain and strength to spare in my legs. Before I knew it, I was coming into Paola, KS, and the first checkpoint.
Dan Jordan was already there – even after my hardest effort ( a common rookie mistake early in ultra-events ) I was unable to hold his wheel. His cruising speed was much higher than mine, and shortly after a close-encounter with him near 199th and Antioch, he began to disappear up the road. There would be no catching him today, as usual! I did manage to hang with another randonneur, wearing a Bicycle Across Missouri jersey from a few years back – 575 miles in around 68 hours - a strong rider indeed. We exchanged pulls here and there for the rest of the day, and it was nice to have a companion for once, after having done so many of these in solitude. We pulled into Paola’s checkpoint at 7:20AM, after the 5:15am start (long pep-talk, missing the scheduled 5:00am start) – not bad: 41 miles in just over 2 hours, and the checkpoint had only officially been open for 22 minutes; but I was pushing too hard. I would be blown before the half-way point at this pace. After a ten minute stop, we were off again. Next stop was a Conoco station in Butler, MO – 58 miles away; the longest leg between stops on the route – just in time for our east wind to start blowing. We started at a slightly slower pace, but before long I was rearing to go again and began to lift into a solid rhythm, however the wind would take a little toll. We road just south of La Cygne reservoir, and into the straight and flat countryside of Missouri, then cut south to Butler and arrived at 11:05AM, despite really poor pavement on the ‘lettered’ highways – not a bad ride so far: 99 miles total in something like 5 hours and 30 minutes – not a record-breaking pace, but it was including an unscheduled detour for construction a bridge that was unrideable requiring us to walk our bikes across it, and our 10 minute break at Paola. I was having a blast, and making better time than I expected. The only drawback was a leg cramp somewhere near La Cygne, which was quickly remedied with an Endurolyte tab from E-Caps – life saver.
We hit Butler, and checked in – a little refueling, and rest, and we were back in the saddle for the out and back jaunt to Appleton City, MO., the farthest east we would be riding – and the last leg into the wind, at least until the very end of the day near Grandview. We rode the quick 25 miles out to Appleton, checked in, and rode back, all in about another 4 hours total time, including the extended rest at Appleton City where I took the opportunity to change shorts, and refresh a little. It was a VERY welcome clothing swap, as my now-too-large shorts were beginning to start some saddle sores. The only disadvantage to losing weight: none of your cycling clothes fit right anymore.
With the rest, and a new-found and much anticipated tailwind, we hammered back to Butler, MO – checked in again, and then began the 58 mile haul back to Paola. At about that time, my parents, having been told where I was going to be and roughly when, were starting to show up along the road, taking pictures – so a few of those shots are below:

The BAM rider and me – trailing in this shot, with the backpack and sandals – making our way north on
US-71 Business, towards the turn at “F” Highway north of Butler, MO. At this point, we have been riding
154 miles, and about 10½ hours.

A little while later, me off the front on “J” Highway – still smiling after about 170 miles in – the shot is a
little blurry; it’s a digital picture of a film picture that was taken from behind the glass of a moving car.
Not too bad, actually! But, yes – still smiling despite the horrible pavement.

Not an official checkpoint, but a welcome opportunity on this particular 400K route; a Casey’s – the
oasis of the ultra-rider – at La Cygne, KS, about halfway across K-152 between the state line and Hedge Ln.,
our next turn north towards Paola, KS. A quick refuel and rest opportunity is welcome after nearly 200 miles
on the bike. Here, I introduce ‘Agent Orange’ to the camera – I just let the bike do all the work; that’s my
big secret. Later on, I would tap-dance.

It was a very good afternoon on the bike, as we continued north onto Hedge Lane and on towards Paola. We managed to reach the bridge that was under construction before the sun started going down, which was good since neither of us were looking forward to walking across it in the dark. Soon after that, we were rolling back into Paola’s Conoco, within 12 hours of having checked in there the first time! The sun was still up, and it was looking very promising that I would finish before midnight, which was my unofficial goal for the ride. At this point last year, it was dark and I was considering cashing it in – and not soon afterwards, I would. Then again, I didn’t reach Paola again last year until 10:00pm! This was going MUCH better. At this point, I was no longer concerned with holding a heavy pace – I had made the last checkpoint before the finish, and it was time to concentrate on just ‘finishing’. I let my day-long BAM companion head out, with a handshake and a smile, and said hello to my old friend Dale, who had been unable to attend the ride but still wanted to get some mileage in regardless. After a little rest, we decided to try and get a little farther north before the sun went down, preferably past the confusion of Spring Hill and the low-traffic of 199th St. We made good on that goal, hitting the pavement of 199th St, just before the sun finally dipped in the West. Taillights and headlights ON. Unfortunately, Dale’s headlight was not working for some reason – no problem; Dale would simply trail me for the ride back to my car in Grandview. Unfortunately, 199th St. is BLACK after dark. Even though I was putting a solid swatch of light on the road in front of me, Dale could not take advantage of it while in my slipstream – by the time we reached the Texaco station at 199th and US-69 Highway about 12 miles later, his arms were sore from gripping the bar so tightly. Twelve miles of riding into pitch black will do that! He decided to ditch there, and get a ride – but in order to finish officially, I had to continue. I big farewell to Dale, and continued onward into the abyss of nightfall in southern Johnson County. My last leg was one of the hardest of the ride – only a dozen or so miles to go, but there was a lot of climbing coming into the mix.
The hilly and curvy darkness of Mission Rd, to 159th, to Kenneth Rd, which then becomes State Line Rd, and then east back into Grandview on Main St. – and by this time the wind was howling, and there was actually a flash of lightning in the distance from behind me. Thunderstorms had entered the forecast at some point in the day, but they were too far away to affect me now – 5 miles left, then 4, 3, 2, and 1. And the feelings flooding over me as I got my timecard signed for the last time that day are indescribable. I HAD FINISHED, and in the process had broken my personal highest-one-day-mileage barrier with 252 miles and change. Not only did I finish the ride before midnight, I was home and in bed before midnight, too! Awesome. And, as always – I can’t wait until next year!
I was now pumped and ready for the Mississippi Valley 24-Hour race in August…

My official time card from the 400K – for those that have never done a brevet before, this is something you
should get familiar with. Not even the money in your saddle-pack is as important. Lose this card, and your
ride doesn’t count! Each checkpoint is designated, and your card must be signed and timed at each point.
After completion, your card is turned in and sent off to the officials at Audax Club Parisien for the official stamp, and
Then mailed back to you – this shows me completing the 400 kilometers in 18 hours, 4 minutes – stops and rests included.
Not bad! Plus, you get some handsome medals to hang on the wall!

From the Archives: 2003 KCUC 200K brevet

Pictures and thoughts from The Kansas City 200K Brevet on 3/29/2003 –

It was cold, windy, hilly, AND it snowed for about an hour just south of Plattsburg, MO.
Why do we ride? We don’t know.
It was an un-usually chilly morning for late March in KC – after all, Spring was supposed to have started, right???
The morning forecast was for 27ºF, but we were all very surprised to see 30º on the bank sign-board across the road as we prepared our gear with cold fingers and heads full of self-doubt. Why do we ride, indeed? But, thankfully, it slowly warmed up to a balmy 40º, making the rest of the day at least an exercise in windbreaker zipper positioning!

3/29/2003 -- The 200K Brevet!
Well, it's been a year since I totally over-estimated myself and rode my first 200K ride ---- Back then, I figured it's only the first day of the MS-150, and 25 more miles. WRONG. It was an absolute suck-fest. But, I finished, and I have the medal to prove it. But I could not have done it without Warbird's help. His tireless pull back south into Liberty from Plattsburg was the only way I made it back. The interesting part about the 2003 200K, is that the tables were turned!
I was in good form --- after a successful winter campaign of heart-rate training, spinning, and dropping about 40 lbs. of fat off of my body, I was READY and WILLING to tackle the 200K and knock it our of the park. No matter how bad last year was, at least it was about 60-70º all day. This year, it never got above 45º - and a stiff northwest wind made the first half of the ride fairly unbearable. The sizeable pack fought its way out east, and then into the wind for the trip NW to the first and only checkpoint of the day. After about 25 miles, the pack began to spread out -- each group was warmed up and beginning to find their own pace. I was managing to stay in the second group, not wanting to blow myself up too early - knowing the hills were coming up north. I maintained a solid pace that put a huge rift between Warbird and I, and most of the rest of the group behind me. At 45 miles out, I was about 30 minutes ahead of Warbird -- shocking! I was doing well, but I should not have been doing THAT well -- Warbird was not having a good ride. Fatigue, lack of training and the wind were taking their toll early. We struggled on, and after a stop (at 45 miles) we tried to stay together for a little bit, but I was feeling good and broke away again -- not 100% intentionally, though. I wanted to help Warbird stay focused, but soon he was nowhere to be found again. After some serious climbing outside of Camden Point, I finally made it to MO-371 and the trip south to Platte City and the checkpoint at the Casey's station. I got checked in, and met Warbird's Dad -- and waited, and waited....and waited........almost 40 minutes later, Warbird was finally making his way around the bend and up to the parking lot. Crazy -- he did not look like himself, and this was only the halfway point. Some pizza and rest, and we were ready to roll out again – Warbird set pace for a while, then me, then a third guy (Gary?) whose name I can't really remember....he's in some of the pictures I have, though - courtesy of Warbirds's Dad! -- we motored for a while, and eventually dropped 'Gary' -- a broken spoke on some low-spoke-count wheels knocked him out of the pace -- I'm really hoping he finished safely... Warbird and I quickly got to Camden Point again, thanks to the new tailwind, and then proceeded north and east to meet up with the monster hills on MO-116 highway. Just as I remembered them, they came one after another -- but I was not having nearly the same problems as last year -- I found myself waiting for Warbird, however, at the midway point of each riser; the once champion of the hills was not on form -- too much flat-land training. I was content to wait -- in a way, I was paying him back for the previous year with each gust of wind I sheltered him from. Despite my smaller waistline, I hope I was offering a little shelter! I just love that now --- me: once the king of descents, was now not so fast on the downhills, and was not much fun to hide behind in a paceline. Heh,heh.... But the payoff is MUCH faster climbing. That's where it counts, after all. We hammered on to Plattsburg, hit another gas station for a rest and refuel -- and were off again. Some dark clouds above, however, were about to reveal their secret cache of moisture.
SNOW. On a brevet? In late March?? Yup. Although it was not terrible, and the temps were above freezing, it began to snow almost five minutes after we left and turned south, and it was coming down about until we hit the Junction at Hwy "C" -- during that time, I stayed firmly on the front of our two-man paceline and hammered as best I could with the help of the tailwind to get us out from under the cloud deck -- Warbird hung on as best he could, huffing and puffing after putting 90 hilly miles in his legs, but holding on - the flat-land training paying off. We slammed south at between 23-27 MPH, passed another rider in the process, and then Warbird popped on Plattsburg Rd -- right at the beginning of the last batch of hills.
The last 20 miles seemed to take an eternity, but Warbird struggled on -- we were both encouraged by the fact that Plattsburg Rd was now freshly PAVED from last year -- Awesome. It made the last stretch more than bearable in comparison -- I was loving every minute of it, taking in the scenery as Warbird carefully negotiated each rise in the road so as not to completely pop and fall over. We made ourway, a few clicks at a time -- each pedal stroke was one closer to the finish. At least the wind was at our backs! Eventually, I managed to get us pulled all the way back to the parking lot, for another successful 200K finish -- and I was ready for more, surprisingly. E-Caps WORK, Hammer Gel WORKS, Sustained Energy WORKS, and Advil WORKS ---- although I need to find the solution to my left shoulder pain before the 300K -- Advil solves the pain, but not the root problem. Something doesn’t fit right…
125 miles of headwinds, hills, chills and SNOW -- what an EPIC ride!

Northbound on MO-371 ; headwinds anyone?

Making my way north, with friends in tow. – feeling good, for the moment…

Warbird, refueling --- me, contemplating the altitude to come…

Crossing the Platte River, on our way to the big stuff…

Then, the hills came --- this was a LONG day!

But for every climb, there was a descent…and a brief rest.

ALL PHOTOS courtesy Don – W0DEW

From the Archives: The 2003 300K Brevet

The mighty K.C. 300k!!!
Arguably one of the toughest brevets in the country, boasting 17,000+ feet of climbing in 187 miles.

Just one shot of the long stretches of road that comprised the day’s task – Highway “E”, somewhere in Missouri…

Our tandem-riding friends – no matter what the day brought, they always had a smile and a wave…

No matter where you end up on a bicycle, THIS is a welcome sight…. The Casey’s in Albany, MO.

The Dude – after just rolling in from the road & getting ready to ditch the heavy backpack for a few minutes of rest at the Casey’s. Only 94 miles to go from this point…

The Warbird – taking a few minutes of well-deserved rest with his trusty hound that was brought along with our photographer, Don, W0DEW – wondering if 94 more miles are worth it…

The Dude, Warbird and friends outside the Phillips 66 in Stewartsville, MO near US-36, sharing a couple of chuckles over cycling tales, while I refuel and prepare for the final 45 mile run back to Liberty and the finish. Warbird, and the gentleman in the foreground, had at this point dropped out of the running – heat and fatigue were taking their toll on several riders, and I was beginning to wonder why I was about to climb back in the saddle...

October 2, 2007

From the Archives: Commuting in the Rain

The Rain

For every dedicated commuter, there will come a time when you will ride in the rain. It can be a harrowing experience the first couple of times, but you will find that – like anything else – with a little planning and forethought, you can ride with confidence when the clouds open up.

Keeping your clothing dry is probably the paramount concern, so the first thing you should plan for is how to keep your backpack or messenger bag. I have used everything from trash-bags covering the outside of the pack, to having everything IN the pack encased in some sort of plastic container or baggie. The latter of these two works well, but requires extra steps of you each time you want to access your equipment – not to mention the backpack itself gets quite a soaking and may take a while to dry after the rain stops. The former trash-bag option is cheap ($4.00 for a roll of 100 ‘rain-covers’ at any grocery store) but can be cumbersome on the fly. For example, I often check the forecast before I leave work, or home in the morning. If there is rain imminent, I can prepare the backpack by wrapping it up before I go – to keep flapping and leaks to a minimum, there is a fair amount of masking tape involved in the rain-cover process. If you get CAUGHT in the rain mid-ride, your gear may be nice and soaked by the time you get the cover attached properly.

Something to keep in mind when purchasing a backpack or rack trunk, unless you intend to use the one you currently own, is the weather resistance of the material from which it is made, or whether or not it comes with a rain cover built in. Most better, and larger, backpacks do offer a rain cover, and some still are completely waterproof without adding anything – packs like these (one company is Ortlieb) are expensive, but versatile in any weather condition. Imagine the rain starts and you don’t have to stop and attach anything, or worry about the contents of your pack – that luxury has a price, but the superior stitching and fabric composition nearly guarantee a pack that will last for a very long time with proper care. As far as rack trunks are concerned, you will notice that even the most inexpensive models are very water-resistant right off the shelf – you may not need to add anything to them when the rain starts falling. Some of your better rack trunks are completely waterproof, and of course cost more – look at the Carradice ‘Super-C’ label – hand-crafted in England, these rack trunks, bags and panniers are SERIOUS.

Going back to backpacks, another option I have discovered of late solves three problems, one of which we haven’t discussed. Keeping YOURSELF dry is also paramount. Although a downpour may be a welcome bringer of relief during the summer months, drop the temperature to the mid 40’s and staying dry becomes VERY important. If you already bike, you may own a rain jacket of some type, but if not and you plan to commute, consider buying your first rain jacket about 2 sizes too large. WHY? You can fit your backpack UNDER your jacket while you ride. Although you will look a little “Notre Dame-ish” as you move down the road, you are keeping yourself and your gear & clothing dry, PLUS you did not have to take a lot of extra steps to do so. One jacket, and everything is protected.

Speaking of keeping yourself dry, the jacket is a given but you should also consider (for colder commutes) a pair of rain pants. These can be had for very little change, but offer protection from road spray and soaked leg-warmers when it gets colder. Most models that are inexpensive are simply rip-stop nylon pants with taped seams – very effective at stopping water, but poor at releasing perspiration. As a result, you will likely STILL have wet legs, but the moisture will be warm, not icy cold. It’s a compromise that can greatly improve your commuting comfort level. For ultimate comfort, you can always spend more money, just like with anything else. Fabrics such as E-Vent, GoreTex, XALT and others are available from a variety of clothing manufacturers as both jackets and pants, and are breathable while remaining waterproof – the trade-off besides price includes less pack-ability. These high-end fabrics do not fold as neatly or compactly as cheaper nylon-based materials.

If I find something that works well, yet remains cheap, I’m certainly going to tell you about it – in this case, that product is the O2 rain jacket from Rain Shield. It’s surprisingly cheap – so cheap that your first instinct might be “this can’t possibly be good” – WRONG. I was simply amazed by this jacket. Constructed entirely of “ProPore” fabric from 3M, this jacket simply does what it says it does: it’s completely waterproof, and yet allows sweat to evaporate. I rode in a THUNDERSTORM with rainfall exceeding 2” per hour, and I stayed DRY. This thunderstorm occurred in late May, and it was already HOT outside, with the added pressure to get home before conditions worsened, I was pushing the pedals hard --- and I stayed DRY inside, too. Astounding, especially considering I paid around $35.00 at a local bike shop. Jackets made from hi-tech fabrics that boast this same ability cost about $200 MORE. These pricier jackets DO have their place – they are heavier for colder conditions, they have pockets, reflective material, and will handle a lot of abuse, but if you are looking for a simple, effective rain jacket that will actually keep you dry, consider the Rain Shield.

Although your primary barrier to the elements will be your rain jacket year round, regardless of temperature, your needs will change greatly when the temperature drops in the fall, or in the early Spring. Keeping your core warm and toasty and dry is paramount to overall comfort in these conditions, but your extremities will need special attention as well. I’ve already mentioned a good pair of rain-pants will help your comfort level greatly, but your feet may need some love, too. Depending on the type of shoes you ride in, you may not need much more than a shoe cover with some water repellency – however, it should be noted that nearly all shoe covers currently made are designed to fit onto TRUE ROAD SHOES – as in smooth-bottomed racing soles that wrap seamlessly into the upper. If you ride on any type of casual shoe with a recessed cleat, the rubber outsole will likely give you seam-splitting fits when you try to stretch a cover onto it. It is also notable that although the most current shoe covers boast excellent water repellency, I have found that many designs on have this magic fabric on the UPPER portion of the cover – the lower section is usually something reinforced for abrasion resistance, with a CUTOUT for the cleat (read: hole in the floor) and the seams that join the upper and lower are generally NOT taped. So, when it REALLY starts coming down, or coming off your front tire, your feet will eventually still get wet – the cover still does a good job of holding in warmth, so you’re less likely to suffer like you would with no cover at all.

I personally commute on Shimano’s SH-SD60 SPD-compatible sandal, (there is an updated three-strap model currently in production) which with its open-toe design doesn’t offer much protection from road spray – besides not having a narrow enough profile to accept a shoe-cover. Super comfy in the summer months, and acceptable with a wool sock in the cooler seasons, add in water and I’m talking fully-chilled tootsies. My solution to dry feet lies with Gore-Tex socks. Granted, Gore-Tex is not cheap, but socks have much less square-footage when compared to a jacket – so they are not as expensive as a full jacket made from the stuff. They cost me about $45.00 for the pair, but are worth EVERY cent when it’s raining hard (and considering they offer better water protection than similarly-priced shoe covers) – my feet stay bone dry in the sandals, and sweat evaporates nicely – plus, the other great thing about sandals: they dry faster than full shoes when the rain stops – there is nothing worse that sliding your foot into a wet shoe for the ride home – if it’s still raining, no big deal.

The socks don’t offer much in the way of true insulation like a cover, but they do block a lot of wind, which helps – however when it gets much below 40 degrees, I’ve already switched over to my winter riding boots (Lake MXZ-300, more in the ‘snow’ section), which are quite waterproof and warm in their own right. You can add Gore-Tex socks to your riding arsenal, and ride confident that you’ll stay cozy in the cold rain – For warmer (above 60º, depending on tolerance) rain rides, leave them at home. For the most versatility with a true road shoe, get BOTH – use covers for when it’s just cold, Gore-Tex socks for when it’s just wet, and use both for when it’s cold AND wet. Bingo.

Okay, we got your toes counted – what about yer digits? Phalanges? Pinky and friends? Your HANDS! Well, that’s an easy one: GLOVES. And just like anything else cycling related, there are dozens upon dozens to choose from – just from scouring the internet, catalogs and the local bike bin, I have discovered over time that you can just about own one pair of gloves to handle ANY 10º swing in temperature you can ride in, from 110º, down to well below zero. There are triple-insulated lined mittens, lobster-claw gloves, full-finger vented gloves, fold-back mitts, thin full-finger gloves, half-and-half/full finger gloves, half-finger gloves, crotchet gloves, neoprene, Gore-Tex, PowerStretch, PolarTec, HydraFleece, ThermaTec, 3M Thinsulate, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum. There are SO many to choose from, and they are all well suited for whatever comfort mark they happen to hit for your hands. It’s as individual as cycling shorts – very hard to recommend anything, but one thing I have found that is very handy, above all else: In heavy rain, gloves get wet. Gloves have TONS of seams – water WILL get into them eventually, even with sewn-in waterproof barriers – there are still seams. Very few glove manufacturers tape these seams, to prevent a loss of dexterity – after all, having completely dry hands does you no good if you can’t operate the brakes! The sole purpose of most cool/cold weather gloves is keeping your hands warm, even if wet – the weight and construction of the glove depends on your personal tolerance for cold/wet. For those that MUST have dry hands at all costs, buy a box of latex gloves and wear them underneath a pair of long-finger gloves – when it rains, the rain water will not touch your fingers – but, just like the rain pants discussed before, you will still get wet – latex gloves will not let moisture pass from either side, so you’ll likely end up with sweaty palms, which can be almost as distracting as cold, wet hands. Take your pick! Regardless, I keep a pair of latex gloves in the seatbag – if I get caught in a cold rain without my ‘rain gloves’, I’m covered, and I’m equally covered if I have to make some unexpected drivetrain repairs on my way to work. Here, again, however, I remind you of wool gloves for rain riding – they work marvelously, as nature designed them to.

We’ve got your torso, legs, feet and hands considered now – how about your head? You will find that those nice, big helmet vents will catch a fair amount of rain as you rush thru the air. Depending on the type and breathe-ability factor of the jacket you happen to be using, this may not be a bad thing – remember that nearly 80% of all the body heat you generate escapes through the top of your head. Depending on how cold it is during the rain, you may or may not need, or want, to cover yourself much. Certainly when it’s warmer and raining you’ll want to keep your helmet vents open to balance the heat you are likely generating under your jacket. When it’s colder than approximately 50º, you can run into chilling and hypothermic problems if your head gets too cold, when cold moisture on your head starts to pull needed heat away from your torso. Assuming you care little about your helmet’s appearance, a few strips of clear shipping tape over the vents will effectively shield your head from moisture and keep a cushion of heat where it is needed – leaving a couple smaller frontal vents open will allow a little air to come in, to avoid overheating. The appearance problem arises when you try to remove the tape – sticky mess, anyone? If you have an extra helmet, this might be a viable option – especially when it gets colder & you can use it as a primary winter helmet, but there is a better way: the helmet cover.

There are several models and styles to choose from, but make sure the fabric will accomplish what you need – some helmet covers are for aerodynamics only and don’t offer any moisture protection at all. Look for good stuff from Louis Garneau, Carridice, and several other ‘no-name’ models marketed by major retailers. These are waterproof, often are striped with reflective material – your bare helmet should be, too, incidentally – and pack away neatly in the bottom of your pack or seatbag until needed. Throw one of these onto your helmet, and the combination of water rejection and heat retention will keep you comfortable about 20º cooler than if your helmet was left uncovered. They are also a great layering piece when it’s dry and just plain COLD – at that point you’ll probably be wearing some sort of thermal head-cover, or full face-mask, but the additional step of keeping air from flowing thru your helmet will make a huge difference, and you’ll stay toasty well below the freezing mark. If you get too warm, it removes easily and stows in your back pocket in a snap – no helmet removal required, which is perfect for cold winter mornings when it’s important to keep moving, but also important to release excess heat before it turns you into a sweaty and chilled mess.

You can tell most of your rain strategy will have to be run on a trial-and-error basis. It really depends on your personal preference, how much prep-work you want to perform before or during your ride IF it rains, and how much extra stuff you want to carry. If your commute is short, you could probably choose to pack light and suffer a little the few times it does rain on you, leaving heavier and bulkier items like rain-pants at home for longer weekend rides. I personally commute with a Camelbak H.A.W.G. backpack, with the hydration bladder removed (don’t need 100 oz. of water during daily commutes) – in that rear pouch where the water normally lives, I have a neatly folded rain jacket at the ready. If it rains mid-ride, I simply reach behind my head, unzip that pocket, pull out the jacket and pull it on while rolling – this can be a bit tricky in traffic, however, so if you plan to jacket yourself while rolling, practice it a few times in an empty parking lot or other safe haven – balance, quickness and patience is key. What this affords me is simplicity, but protection for me and my backpack in one quick step. Rain pants usually come along for the ride if it’s below 40º, where leg warmers alone will not harbour enough heat to stave off icy-cold water on the legs.

After all this talk of clothing there is one piece of gear than can make the difference between enjoying a rainy ride, or loathing the weather: FENDERS.
We really don’t have to go much deeper than that – get a good set, like Esge(SKS), Headland, or the like, and you will find that you get a LOT less wet than without them. 80% of the water that a cyclist has to deal with comes from the TIRES, not the sky. If you have a bicycle that will accept them, invest in a pair and ENJOY the rain rides.