Traffic Traffic Traffic. A bonafide rant.
I have led a very sheltered life up until now, as a bicycle commuter. Ever since I started riding, I have lived in the same house, and was lucky enough to have a job that was within 10 miles of home. In fact, even when I was working two jobs for about four years, BOTH jobs were close to home and located off of pretty minor streets, and both were accessible from any maze of residential streets the surrounded them. Seldom did I have to cross a major artery of traffic, and even during the school year, with traffic increasing around all the educational centers of suburbia, times were pretty good. I have been honked at only TWICE in four years of commutes, and have only had ONE close-call encounter with a car. I’m lucky. Since moving to my new house, apparently my luck has officially run out. My only pleasure, besides the house itself, is the fact I can get back into my summer figure: my commute quadrupled! Goodbye body fat. Yea! But, sadly, the best part of my commute seems to be in the morning hours only, because I have moved out into the open sprawl, where SUVs roam free and the sodium-vapor sunlight never fades.
Before I go ANY further, major dump-truck sized props go out to the urban warriors, the messengers, and anyone in a major metropolitan area that commutes daily by bike. To qualify that, most major cities with brains behind the board have some sort of planning commission to ensure alternative means of transportation are considered in these areas. While some would argue that I have it extraordinarily EASY here in suburban Kansas City compared to someplace like Boston, MASS., I would argue that Boston has a different traffic dynamic and better civic planning for bicycles than MY fair city does. That is to say suburban Kansas City was NOT planned around bicycling as real transportation. Riding a bicycle in downtown Bean-Town is not only entirely POSSIBLE, but motorists are USED to it, and there are often bike lanes to use. There is definitely a different dynamic to a developed city and it’s tolerance for bicycle traffic – Boulder, CO is another shining example: a busy college town, with a lot of traffic – but a very good public transit and bicycle system built right into the infrastructure, and it WORKS, often scoring high on yearly “best cities for bicycling” lists – compared to where I commute, it would be heaven.
Yes, I may be generalizing to a degree, but year-upon-year, I have noticed traffic in Johnson County Kansas getting progressively worse, in density and driver behavior, and keeping with volume demands the public works is doing a fine job upgrading roadways, but more often than not the city planners are NOT making accommodations for on-road bicycle traffic. As traffic gets thicker, lines at stoplights get longer, tempers get shorter – and ANYTHING apparently slowing down a motorists’ progress is perceived as the enemy. Without a legal bike lane to hide in, cyclists can become targets for redirected driver aggression. I know – I used to sit in a car in traffic, and I used to get LIVID with people. It was satisfying to gun the engine or just run over a discarded foam cup – which is one of the reasons I started riding a bike to work in the first place – life is too short to spend half of it in traffic, getting mad at people. I tried burning stress by joining a gym – and driving to it – and discovered that life is also too short to spend at a gym, staring at walls and fumbling with locker combinations – combining a workout, stress-relief, transportation, and money-saving into one activity made perfect sense, and it just doesn’t make sense why I would want to go BACK to driving again.
I mean, common; every DAY people are hacking off someone else in traffic, intentional or not, and are getting chased, followed, honked at, tailgated, flipped off, or pulled out of their cars and beaten or shot. It’s not fiction any more – it happens all over. I would not put it past any one of them to purposefully run a biker off the road just for spite. One of these days, luck runs out and you can be in the wrong place at the right time. Even if you follow every letter of the law, it’s just not safe in some areas, as I found out yesterday on the ride home to the new house on my new, carefully planned route. Many drivers have no problems making their frustrations known by squeezing a cyclist close to the curb, to the point where you can feel the breeze from their passenger-side mirror just clearing your head. Cities here assume that sidewalks will satisfy the needs of cyclists getting from point A to B, which goes against the very laws they put in place to protect pedestrians – riding on sidewalks is illegal here, unless said sidewalk exceeds eight feet in width and is therefore considered a shared path, but those are RARE – regardless, a LARGE percentage of bicycle fatalities and accidents involving automobiles take place in situations involving sidewalks. For cyclists that don’t think cars are looking out for you on the roads – TRUST ME, they REALLY aren’t looking at the sidewalk for you! Another generalization, motorists around here seldom focus on anything farther in front of them than the bumper they are following and using to gauge their speed.
To reiterate to people I’ve talked to at work, people that ask me how I get to work every day, and to those drivers that occasionally shout it out the window as they pass – RIDING A BICYCLE ON THE SIDEWALK IS ILLEGAL. Check the laws for yourself – I have. I can’t answer for every cyclist on the road out there, especially the weekend warriors and racers that blow stop signs, ride five abreast in traffic on US 24 baking up traffic for a mile (you know who you are), giving us ALL a bad name: but I follow the rules, especially in traffic. I signal, I stop, I stay to the right as practical, and I ride as fast as possible to avoid congesting traffic. Shouting at me to get on the sidewalk is ignorant, and wastes of both our time. If you want me off your lane, then help me out by writing your representatives at the city and state level to get bike lanes added to road improvement plans in the future. Then, we’ll both be happy.
It’s not like the cities aren’t trying, to be fair; the parks departments for several suburban cities have been working together for the last few years creating, inter-connecting, and improving a trail system that follows a local system of creeks and small rivers. It’s encouraging, but their focus is on recreational cycling, running and roller-blading, NOT on true alternative transportation. The routes are vague and winding, creating a very scenic and traffic-free path, but often adding miles to errands that would only take a few miles to accomplish on regular roads, if bike lanes existed. Still, in light of recent address changes in my life, I am very thankful that the bike trail system exists, because it appears that I am going to use it a LOT more often. This is to my chagrin – as a strong advocate of alternative transportation, I would actually prefer to struggle it out on the main roads, because it means I’m putting it out there, sending a message that YES, bicycles are allowed here, and I’m doing my part. But, with two kids and a wife to ride home to, and after yesterday’s experience, I’m choosing the safer route. Dying for a cause is silly if it’s not absolutely the ONLY thing you are living for, and I can assure you that I live for far more than the bike, despite what you might read here.
Side note: I have to give major praise, however, to The City of Olathe – as my new home city, I am thoroughly impressed with the existence of bike lanes on major roads, share the road signage, and the city council’s willingness to hear our cries for bicycle consideration with regards to new road improvements. It’s a great place to be a cyclist, and it only seems to be getting better. Specifically for 143rd Street: THANK YOU.
To the City of Shawnee: for all your efforts, signage, and arguably more miles of bike lanes than any other metropolitan city, THANK YOU. It’s a PLEASURE to ride within your boundaries – keep up the good work, PLEASE!
Overland Park, Lenexa – you should be following their example. Bicycles are not going away – we want to feel safe on your roads, too!
Back to my morning ride, it’s simply amazing what a difference a few hours can make. I rode to work this morning on major streets, which is what I prefer. They are direct, and they have four lanes, which simply means that with a proper taillight and reflective gear, and the typical non-existent nature of 5:00AM traffic here in town, motorists approaching from the rear will instinctively move to the left/inside lane to pass me. Plenty of room, no one gets slowed down, and life is good. Later in the day, this rule should also follow – but going back to the “no-one-looks-farther-than-the-edge-of-the-hood” driving style that is abundant here, that does not work in the afternoons. The sad thing is that it USED TO. There are simply too many cars, and too many pre-occupied, cell-phone using people driving them, for the situation to be anything but tense for a cyclist.
Motorists not only are ignorant of the rules of the road as they apply to bicyclist, but are largely ignorant of the rules that apply to THEM: You might as well remove all the speed limit signs and turn lanes – of late, people seem to make their own rules. Even when I am able to find a passable residential route for my bike rides, I am often passed by cars – which is ok – but when I am riding along at a 20+ MPH clip, in a 25 MPH zone, and I get passed by a car at CLEARLY more than 5 MPH difference in speed, something is amiss. More often than not, back on my old commute route on Lamar, I would witness traffic clipping along at over 45 MPH – drive a car on Lamar, a 25 MPH street, and obey the posted limit, and you will soon have a 12-car caravan of very angry drivers – each one following the car in front of them with nary a couple of feet to spare. It’s just not right. When I was first starting to drive, I remember things like consequence, and being afraid of getting pulled over. People today seem to drive with an invincibility about them, knowing that even if they get pulled over AND ticketed, they are twice the dollar amount on the ticket away from business as usual. Even seemingly intelligent people seem to miss the fact that when driving in town, exceeding the speed limits by even 20 MPH will only a lot them SECONDS of extra time on any trip less than 25 miles. Driving fast only saves time if you are headed cross-country, and then it’s only a few hours. Yet, still – people drive faster and faster, each year – putting us ALL at risk, whether on a bicycle, OR in a car. But, I digress.
I knew it would be a rough time, compared to the residential safety my OLD commutes used to afford, but yesterday was worse than I’d expected. In 15 miles, I was turned-left-in-front-of twice, turned-right-in-front-of once, squeezed by when another lane was clearly available several times, had people weaving their cars all the way to the curb’s edge after they passed me (looking in the rearview mirror while doing it, which to me means they were looking for a reaction – which they’ll not get from me) and had to re-route on the fly on three occasions because traffic was so thick I was unable to get over to the left to turn into my planned residential bypass, which forced me to stay on the major road I had been trying to avoid. The problem with many quiet side-roads: no controlled intersections. Compounding this was the existence of a couple major highways along the way – none of the smaller residential streets go through to the other side. In order to cross, you must use a major street. I’ll tell ya, it takes a LOT to spook me. I rode a brevet once that went thru an area where a side-road bridge was out – the bypass took us onto US-169 highway, while it was under construction, down to two lanes, in the RAIN, with 18-wheeler traffic flying by only a few feet to my left. My knuckles turn white just thinking about that night again, but I survived it, and it made traffic on 25-MPH Lamar Ave. look silly. Riding south on Antioch from 123rd to 125th St. to cross over US-69, because it’s the ONLY place to do so, at 4:00PM on a weekday, is ALMOST as bad. Doing it once is OKAY. Doing it twice is rolling the dice. Doing it every day, the odds will eventually catch up, and I can’t risk that.
So, happily, I retreat to the bike trail, and off of the 45 MPH mini-expressways that are choking suburban Johnson County. If it means I get home to see my kids safe every night, so be it. But you can bet I’ll be starting a solid letter-writing campaign to the powers that be to ensure that other cyclists out there have a fighting chance on these over-grown roads. (I remember when Antioch was GRAVEL out here, and I’m not that old. It’s SICK how fast this area grew up, and there was no planning – just expansion.) With the help of the newly formed Greater Kansas City Bicycle Federation, of which I am a member, we’ll get this town cleaned up. If a Hummer H1 can fit in one of these lanes with a foot to spare on each side then SURELY they can give us a bike lane. Ya think?!
You SUV driving suburbanites listening? Enjoy your wide lanes while you may… WHEN the city paints me a bike lane, I’ll be back on your roads where I belong. Until then, see you in the morning. I still ain’t drivin’.
[/<(-] 10/21/04 Getting old. Autumn is a season of transition, a time of aging. Leaves turn, like stars using the last of their fuel; they expire extravagantly in a blast of color rendering trees to stand with burnt-out shells of lifeless branches. The pavement becomes hard; the rains become steel; the skies blue shifts to muted grey. The gentle breezes of summer become harsh, wintry zephyrs that nibble at exposed skin, which is smartly covered in wool and fleece, old clothes from last season pulled from drawers and shaken clean. Sleeves become long, days become short; iced tea turns to coffee; and pleasurable rides become epic journeys. The trials of Fall are upon me again, bereft of light, alive with murk and gloom, shadowy and cool. The world feels older. Another morning of mist and fog awaits me and my bike just outside the garage door, as I ready my machine and me for the journey to work again. This time of year, the preparation is drawn out with a myriad of extra steps, with warmers and gloves and thicker socks, maybe a jacket. Compounding the ever shortening days is the shortened sleep necessary to ensure my continued timely arrival at work. In about a month’s time, work will be relocating again, just in time for the long winter – so sleep will become an even more precious commodity as the miles pile on, and conditions likely worsen. My commuter machine has undergone an autumn of sorts – but quite opposite of the autumn the trees go thru; thicker tires, fenders, and extra lube on the chain to stave off rust are all added on, like thick blankets against a cold chill. I depart the garage and roll down the driveway which is slick with wet, fallen leaves and broken acorns all crushed to a slimy mire that slides its way to the gutter, taking summer with it. The tires sing away, tossing water and grit to the undersides of the fenders, the symphony a prelude of my passing to the early morning joggers and dog-walkers hiding in the darkness. The stiff pavement and moisture seem to grab and pull at my tires as the shrill south wind in my ears, pushing at my chest, makes the bike feel especially cumbersome this morning. My wristwatch confirms that I am making the same kind of headway I usually do, but the lungs are heavy with wet air, and the legs feel leaden as I climb the next hill in line. I eventually arrive at work, nearly spent – and proceed to check the bike for excuses – a sticking brake, a rubbing fender, a binding chain? Nothing. It’s just me against the Fall. It’s pretty sneaky the way the fall creeps up on you. It seems like you blink, and the leaves are gone, you’ve missed the chance to enjoy the changes. Just a couple days after the Warbird arrived back in the states (!!) we sat around and spent a good few hours catching up. Sitting in my living room, each of us laid back on a separate sofa, we somehow got on the track of comparing injuries. It suddenly hit us both – two men, with feet up, talking about their ailments. How OLD are we, again??? We quickly changed the subject. Autumn in a man is a slow process – the leaves stripped so slowly, you can’t see the results until they’re right in front of you -- something is shifting. Change, however is necessary – if trees don’t drop their leaves, the snows of winter will break their branches. Perhaps it’s this same change in man that lets us suddenly feel comfortable discussing the scars we tried so hard to cover up in our youth. Later that day, I notice my food supply at work is dwindling, so its time for an afternoon errand. The conditions outside are still as nasty as they had been at dawn – its in the lower fifties, and there is a steady, cold drizzle precipitating from the thick stratum of clouds. The last time I had to run an afternoon errand, it was in the seventies outside! I don’t feel much like changing into my cycling gear for just a quick chore, so I stay plain-clothes and grab my thin gloves and my ratty, old twill sport coat. Stepping out into the foggy mist, I looked downright old-world, straddling my machine and pedaling off into the mire, tails flapping. The only thing finer would have been replacing the ball-cap with a nice fedora, or an English newsboy cap – though stylish and functional, not nearly as protective as a helmet – so perhaps not. Its times like these on the bike, although I was vaguely aware of my trousers, which make me wonder why I suit up in Lycra at all. Many a curious stare accompanied me at each traffic light, as I made my way to the grocers. Another typical day in the north Atlantic…. Oh, wait, I’m in Kansas; but with my growing beard showing off a heritage long left behind on the banks of the Foyle, and aged twill on my shoulders, I felt quite comfortable in my delusion, getting my groceries and making my way back to the office with the patience of a man 20 years my elder. I locked up the bike, and made my way inside to share an elevator with a couple of co-workers. We chatted a bit, and the conversation turned to the days fashion. “Nice jacket, man – seriously” “Thanks,” I replied “…a little old-world charm, don’t you think?” “Mmm…not ‘old’ world – more like the ‘right’ world…there needs to be more of that” To which I agreed heartily. Precisely. We are very much a country lost in the moment, trapped in a quagmire of short-term memory. Hollywood, out of ideas, is constantly remaking old movies, figuring most of the population won’t know the difference – sadly, most of the population DOESN’T. Every time I hear a remake of a song I used to listen to back in the day, I cringe – it’s painful – although sometimes the new artists are genuinely talented, doing the song a fair amount of justice, too many use the lyrical genius of others to break into a stagnated radio market full of talent-less hacks and over-produced parlour music. There are only a select few of my younger-generation’d friends that understand this musical dilemma of mine. Yet, for every one of them, there are thousands of others that hear that new cut on the radio, with an all-too-familiar sample in the background that is now passed off as their own new joint. It’s frustrating. Some call it honoring an influence. I call it plagiarism. If all you are is a voice over someone else’s riff, over someone else’s drum machine, you are not an artist. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’d rather listen to my CD’s from a decade ago than be reminded of them in a sample from some pop-queen’s latest effort. Still, the short attention span public love it, and pay for it, and wear it on their t-shirts. And in two years, no one will care. But “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Exodus”, “Kind of Blue”, “461 Ocean Boulevard”, “The White Room”, “Songs in the Key of Life”, “I’m Your Man”, “ANGST”, “August and Everything After”, “The Division Bell”, “Dig Your Own Hole”…..man, oh, man – my personal favorite albums list would consume every last byte of webspace I could pay for. It’s a quote from a movie, but it’s oh-so true: “everything’s gone to _h_t since Roy Orbison died.” Add to that the blur of new car designs every year, new fashions every year, and a man in my position is bound to get left behind eventually. The conversation in the elevator confirmed, briefly, that I am not alone. Despite the gloom outside, I return to my desk with a smile evident on my face from the encounter. Maybe I’m not the only one that thinks this way. I recently heard muttered the term “retro-grouch”, referring to cycling enthusiasts mired in the passion of steel tubing, lugs, tires with widths measured over 30mm, and waxed-cotton saddlebags. I could easily be lumped into this group, and I’m not sure I have a big problem with that. Perhaps it’s just me getting older – but as my performance goes steadily forward, I find myself modifying my bicycles in a backwards direction. After much internal debate about the need for yet another bicycle, I finally sold my original road bike to a budding local cyclist. Aluminum and carbon fiber, it represents the finest that modern manufacturing technology has to offer – but as much of a killer single-speed it would have made, I just didn’t love it anymore. I felt slightly nostalgic as I watched it being driven away atop its buyer’s car, but, like the falling leaves, it was just time to let it go. In its wake was a sort of calming sensation. Its replacement is decidedly old-world, lugged steel. In fact, there is nothing in the stable now that wasn’t produced in much the same fashion that bicycles have been made since their invention. I feel strangely at home on such things now. On that point, my commuter bike has a gigantic saddlebag now, as I have retired the fancy, aerodynamic backpack. I’m quite stuck on it, too – I ran an errand for the wife the other day, bringing home a 2-liter of soda, salad, and a bottle of salad dressing – and it all fit in the bag, along with my usual work clothes and tools. Surprisingly, it barely affected the handling of the bike. It may look a little strange to the average cyclist or racer, but for me it just seems right. All of these recent changes are slowly putting my soul at ease. It began with removing the computers from my bikes, which started a domino effect of sorts. Like autumn leaves, all of the worries and responsibilities I was needlessly clinging to began to fall away. Not worrying so much about speed anymore opened my mind up to enjoy cycling even more, and as a bonus my speed has actually improved since I’m not so preoccupied with it. Just ride fast. I was worried about mileage totals and average speeds, but eventually those leaves fell away as well. All I need is a wristwatch. I guess there is indeed something to the argument that many things are 90% mental. Plus, it cleans up the look of the bike by getting that extra stuff off the handlebar – which allows me to stress about the color of the bar tape. Uh, oh; here comes the ‘retro-grouch’ again… look out. Still, sometimes the worry creeps back in, but I can appreciate more the fact that I’m not hanging onto things I used to worry so much about. It’s another glorious part about the aging process, if you get it right. Like that ratty sport coat; two years ago I would have never worn it in public – it’s not the fashions that have changed, or the coat itself – it’s me. It’s sorta like the overused ‘glass-half-empty’ analogy. It’s not that those trees have been stripped of their leaves and they are now naked and ashamed, to the contrary; a barren tree is a proud tree with nothing on its shoulders. [ /<(- ]
A little wakeup call…9/24/2004 It was a PERFECT day in Kansas City, perfect for a ride! Today was the company picnic that I had been looking forward to all week long, a chance to stretch the legs on a little bit of an extended commute of sorts – the picnic was at Longview Lake, out in Grandview, MO, so including the ride to work that morning, it was to be about a 45-50 mile day. Not bad, considering what I had been putting myself thru the previous month trying to get that mileage goal. I was ready! I left work, and proceeded east, thru a pretty busy part of town for a little taste of urban riding – it was not too bad, considering the traffic, and the fact that about a mile of the route was ripped to shreds for re-paving – oh well, steel absorbs a lot of that vibration! I carried on – not quite remembering how much CLIMBING was involved heading east, I was getting quite a workout – riding east on Gregory to Swope Park, then east on Oldham, to 79th St., then Spring Valley Rd to 83rd and then Elm, southbound with its two good long hills, then Bannister, and then View High after crossing under I-470, which is a climb long and steep enough to remind me of Colorado a bit. But the TRAFFIC – yikes!!! Very different from the last time I had taken this route, which was on a Saturday morning. This was NUTS by comparison, but I survived. I arrived at the picnic, changed clothes, and got a little lunch – and I mean a LITTLE lunch. It’s amazing in this day and age of lo-carb, diet diet diet, and constant advertisements on TV about this medicine and that, that there are still picnics held that offer up the same old fare of hotdogs, hamburgers and fried chicken. Aside from the potato salad, not my first choice anyways – especially when it’d been sitting in the heat for a while, apparently – my only choices as a vegetarian were rolls and pickles, and corn on the cob – so I ate as much of that stuff as I could grab, and drank about 5-20 oz. bottles of water. With the amount of pickles I ingested, salt should not be a problem – it was a particularly DRY day in KC, with the recent passage of a strong cold front – I think the humidity was in the low teens, perhaps, and even though I didn’t feel horribly sweaty, there was a thin layer of salt on my skin upon arriving. Nothing I hadn’t experienced before, tho. After a couple hours of milling around and talking to some friends and co-workers, including JR, JG, Dansting, Sy-lon, Dom, and others, and confirming several times that “yup, I rode here!”, it was starting to get late enough for me to start thinking about heading back homeward. I suited up, and got ready to make my way back west – but not until I shook hands and officially met one of my MS-150 pledgers, Barb N. – it was nice to meet you! Always good to put a name and a face together! I pulled out of the parking area, and made my way out to 3rd and View High for the return run on the route I had taken out that morning. 79th street headed west was a lot more fun than the way out, with long downhills at over 35 MPH on tap for a good two miles, and then the climbing began, plus the graded and shredded pavement on Gregory between Swope Park and The Paseo. ROUGH! Plus, adding to the fun was about twice the traffic I’d had to deal with on the way out. Still, defensive cycling, taking my lane and signaling my intent at every move kept me upright and safe, and I never got honked at or sped-past. A nice change, because that doesn’t happen in Kansas (Johnson County, that is.) Say what you will about Missouri roads and traffic, but their drivers are considerably more tolerant of bicycles on the roadways. Anyway, after a long battle with traffic, especially crossing US-71, I was back on the Kansas side, and closer to home by the minute. It was a long, hectic ride, but it beats doing it in a car anyday. I hit the garage, and proceeded to cool down. Whoo! What a workout – between concentrating on traffic and negotiating seemingly endless hills, stop-and-go’s, and rough pavement, I was beat. An even thicker layer of salt was all over me, but I didn’t feel sweaty practically at all – weird. Also weird was the ¾ full ater bottle on my bike that I had neglected to put into my body. A VERY dry day for late summer, with crystal skies and low 80’s on the thermometer, it was near perfect. Later that night, I felt a little woozy from the effort, which is normal for me – after particularly hard rides I usually top myself off with extra water, electrolyte replacement tabs, and a good protein supplement – unfortunately I was all out of the latter item, so I just ate a little bit before dinner. Cut to dinner that night, and I was still feeling ‘off’ – dizzy, with a non-specific headache and generally weak. I drank a Coke, feeling that my blood sugar might have been a little low, that usually nixes it within 15 minutes, since I stay away from simple sugars normally. This time, however, the Coke did nothing. I felt completely tapped out. People started asking me what was wrong, and if I felt okay, as I apparently began to take on a flushed complexion and generally was not acting like myself. Uh-oh. After dinner I layed down in a cozy recliner, but still did not feel quite right, even after a healthy amount of food – I also noticed that my heart rate was not coming down – I was ‘racing’ in the mid-90’s, and was not able to ‘relax’ down to my normal resting pulse. Odd…a little distressing. After explaining the situation to my uncle Steve, it was clear that my usual methods of hard-ride recovery were NOT working – I needed attention, and so the wife loaded my begrudged carcass into the family sedan, and off we went to the ER. Ugh. I had been reduced to THIS? Four hours, a CT of the head, some blood work, a urinalysis, and THREE LITERS of 5% Sodium Chloride USP solution later, I was starting to feel human again – with a diagnosis of hypoglycemia, with blood sugar 65 (85-100 is normal) and severe dehydration. Even though my blood work revealed a healthy stock of electrolytes, I did not have any moisture in my body to put them to good use. I had literally ridden myself into the hospital. Yikes. I had visions of a video I’d seen of ultra-rider Byron laying in the back of a van with an IV in his arm after riding across the desert – but this is KANSAS in September: surely I wasn’t pushing myself THAT hard… but I WAS, and I simply did not drink enough – despite the 5-20 oz. bottles of water and the two full 24-oz. bike bottles I drank before and during that picnic, I sweated it all out on the 20 mile journey home… but it was so dry that it simply evaoparted right off my body. I never felt like I was pushing at all, because I never got sweaty. I still averaged 19 MPH, IN TRAFFIC – so I suppose I did put forth a monster effort to get home. Compunded by not taking my usual protein recovery formula, which bottomed out my blood sugar, I was a wreck – but I felt nearly 100% by the time we checked out that night. Lesson learned --- DRINK A LOT when it’s DRY, fool. Apparently, even the Dude needs a wake up call from time to time… this one cost me an ER visit… could have been worse, and DEFINTELY could have been prevented. Pass the word – if it’s DRY, so are YOU. Drink lots, and ride on… [ /<(- ]
8/29/2004 Tour De Shawnee It was another perfect day for a ride. I rose early and got in a little extra mileage, then made my way west to the parking lot that marked the start of another Tour De Shawnee. For those that are not familiar with the area, Shawnee is in the north-central to north-west portion of the Johnson County, Kansas, and contrary to popular Kansas myth, it is NOT flat. Not even close. Talk to anyone in the Kansas City metro, and they will agree: Shawnee offers up some of the most challenging terrain south of the river. Names like Johnson Drive, Pflumm, Ogg Rd., The Renner Hill, and Shawnee Mission Park are just as famous locally as names like Tourmalet, Joux-Plane, Ventoux or Plateau le Belle are worldwide from Le Tour. Even the short 12-mile loop was sure to be a challenge. This was to be my second year taking part in the Tour, which is a benefit ride to support the Juvenile Diabetes Association. Last year was a good ride, as I managed to pull of a second place finish overall on the 46-mile loop. To be clear, this is NOT a race – there are no USCF points to be had, no trophy, no glory other than local bragging rights – however, with such terrain, and the UNREAL amount support, including police patrol at the intersections to hold back traffic while the riders zoom through, it’s hard to not imagine yourself in a race environment. It’s literally 2 hours of fast, non-stop action. You click in, you hammer, you click out. There is no other ride within 100 miles that is like it. Last year, again, I was lucky enough to finish second, after riding hard enough to eliminate a paceline behind me, and I crossed the finish with one other person ‘attached’ to my wheel for third. The ‘winner’ was Paul F., local racer legend – a strong, strong rider that was seen SOLO off the back of the pace motorcycle from the gun, never looking back. He finished something ridiculous like 10 minutes ahead of me. Considering where I come from, physically, I was REALLY pleased with that result, however, knowing full well that if a larger complement of local racing talent had shown up, I would have finished several dozen places back. This year, I was just excited to be back, not really committed to a ‘re-match’ – just out for some fun on my newer bike, which had been exiled in the garage while I had been on early morning mileage runs for almost a solid month. It was a big thrill to see several members of my MS-150 team in attendance, Thursby, Krishna, BadgerLand and MY former captain M.ASH and his son – the famous 10-year old wonder from the CommuterDude II ride a weekend prior. We hung out for a bit, chatted, joked, the usual stuff, and then we began lining up for the start horn. I was feeling pretty good, was well fueled, but was advising myself some caution – don’t head out too fast. I hadn’t seen Paul yet (looking for the wrong jersey, turns out) but I was sure he was there somewhere. The front would sort itself out in the first 5 miles, so all I had to do was pay attention, and not try to ESTABLISH anything – if the pace was too hot, I’d just settle back and enjoy the day. Then , the horn went… and the mass start began to flow out onto 65th St. for the short run north to Nieman. Faster than I had expected, I began to advance up the road on the left, shifting smoothly, and enjoying the feel of the “good bike” underneath me. Before I knew it, I had advanced a dozen spots or so, then the intersection and the brake-free turn onto Nieman – I love the support, have I mentioned that? – Past Shawnee Mission Parkway, uphill to Johnson Dr. we flew. I jumped into the big ring, and began to tick by a few more folks. Just up the road, about 100 yards away, was the motorcycle and about six riders behind it, doing the 25 MPH work and blazing the trail. If I could stay in contact with the motorcycle’s group, I’d be in good shape. Suddenly, the thoughts of just enjoying this ride were out the window. At this exact point LAST year, the motorbike was already several turns ahead, never to be seen again. This time, he was within reach – but would it be too much, too soon? Slowly but surely, I worked my way up the road, and occasionally would catch my shadow on the road beside me, with other shadows of riders behind it. I was pulling a line of about four others, making excellent time as we began to negotiate the multiple turns of residential passageways that would bring us west and south. Eventually we made contact with the now 5 riders that were right behind the motorbike! Then there was a scare in the group – upon transitioning from Lackman to 65th St., a rider in front of me cornered hard and his sidewall takes a big hit from a sharp rock in the road – half a second later, the bulging tube goes off like a shotgun! These are not just fast riders, they are skilled riders – he manages to wrestle the bike to a safe halt near the right curb, and there are no incidents, but a scary occurrence in full lean at 20+ in a corner. I feel guilty for not stopping to assist, but no-one else in the group, save for a friend of his that announced his intent, stopped or slowed – some didn’t even turn their heads. It was suddenly clear what we were all there for – the paceline took on a ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ feel, and heads were down, legs flying in circles, and cautious fingers hovering over the brake hoods. This was no longer just a tour – this was a battle! Just ahead was the pace motorcycle, so this was THE front, and everyone wanted a piece. Sneaky tactics, like wearing out the pacemakers at the front until they could not latch onto the back, close-close criterium-style maneuvers on the road, inching between riders to test their “spook-factor” and see if they’d abandon the group – something I’m glad the “Warbird” and I had played around with back in the day – and brash accelerations from the front runners as they tried to snap the accordion of cyclists behind them, were all playing out at 28 MPH, as we bombed down street after street behind the safety of the Shawnee Police Department’s brilliant traffic control. This was speed-play – weeding out those who didn’t want it badly enough before the climbing came. I was privileged to be here, occasionally getting edged close to the curb to see if I’d flinch. Surprising myself, I didn’t flinch. I found myself looking for Paul… and sure enough, there he was. Uh, oh… It’s too early to be up here. Of course, once you are there, the key is to STAY there. If you let go now, you might never get it back. One by one, the groups’ numbers dwindled. We emerged onto Mauer, and climbed over Shawnee Mission Parkway for a long downhill to Midland Drive, and the preamble to the first climbing challenge of the morning. I was privileged to be at the front now, setting the pace, and then deep in a tuck for the downhill, and flying right-hander onto Midland, for once being able to use all the momentum from the descent, instead of having to stop for traffic. I hammered on, pulling the group – when suddenly the motorcycle started merging to the left across the lanes. “Ok…” I thought, “that’s weird…” For some reason, the motorcycle had the route confused, thinking there was a left turn at Renner, instead of a right turn – but I remembered the route from last year, and stuck to my guns – eventually the motorcycle realized the error and came back across the lanes, but I’m glad I had been paying attention! Just about then, Paul appeared over my left shoulder, saying “I wondered what he was doing! I didn’t want to climb that hill yet – but I don’t really want to climb this one, either!” Upon us was the first test of the day, the Renner Wall, heading north on Renner from Midland Drive. A big, long climb that takes you out of the valley and back up to Johnson Drive, the Renner Wall is a 45 MPH downhill headed the other direction, and climbing it is no treat. Out of the saddle, I begin the advance, and am quickly crowded to the right by passing climbers. I’m trying to take the first couple of climbs easy, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen that way today. I sit, shift, and begin to spin out the rest of the climb in the saddle, and by some miracle manage to find the front again! Eventually we made Holiday Drive to the north, and looking around there were now only five of us in the group; Paul F., “The German”, myself and two others, including I believe Brad C., from the old Team Sprint days. Terrible with names, sorry man! Same guy I talked to at KCCC back in June. Anyways, there we all were, hammering along having disposed of the rest of the group by the time we’d hit Johnson Drive again to the west. At that point, Paul had tried to get the group organized into a paceline on Holiday, and we were working quite well together. The hills were making things a little dicey, though, as we climbed up 47th to Monticello, then Monticello to Johnson Drive. Eventually we started to sweep up the early starters as well as some of the faster short-route folks. This is about the time things started looking bleak for the paceline arrangement for me. In typical fashion, since I do WAY too much solo training, I was taking too long of pulls. As we approached Clare on 55th, I had been pulling for nearly 2½ miles – far,far too long a pull at this pace, still up in the mid-20’s. We hit Clare, and I peeled off, but was not immediately able to latch back on. We passed a gentleman, deep in the aerobars, whom joined in the fun, but I was simply not able to get back onto the back. Doom was certain. The five riders, plus the new guy in the aerobars, began to advance south on Clare without me. Struggling on, I took on fuel and began to wonder if THIS was the point where I would start to enjoy the scenery, when a voice inside was shouting something to the effect of “not after that pull, this line is MINE.” I took my time, slowly built my speed back up, and waited for my moment to bridge – which was coming. After years and years of being afraid of hills, even dreading them, I have become a rider transformed by specific training. Hills have become the place where I can actually make up ground as a poursoivant. I’m certainly not the best climber in the area – not even close! – but I can occasionally use them to my advantage now, and we were coming up on 63rd Street, which has a nice, long rise on it. I conserve a little into the corner, and begin to march out of the saddle up to the back of the group, retiring the aerobars guy, and getting back into the mix. Then, a downhill and a curve back south onto Mize Rd., and another, steeper hill – suddenly I am back in business! Awesome… the aerobars guy hangs on to fight up the next couple hills, as we begin the “loop” from 71st to Gleason to 83rd and back to Mize. I’m again lucky enough to be at the front on Gleason, taking my pull after the big German peels off. I pull to 83rd, and we turn hard onto the beginning of the big, long, steady ascent back up to Mize Road. This is a tough hill, and if you let the pace drop for a second you can lose momentum in no-time. I can’t remember who took point, but they laid it down HARD. In third slot, in the big ring, it took everything I had, accelerating up the hill to stay in contact. It was clear that whoever was at the front at that particular point was really trying to put some hurt into the group. It worked, because by the time we returned to 71st street to complete the “loop”, we were down to four riders, and still there was the motorcycle, blazing the trail and announcing our arrival. Leftover from 83rd to Mize was Paul F., “The German”, me, and one other guy (this is what I get for writing the report a week later…can’t even remember his jersey now…sorry, man!) (Side note: I’m pretty close on this one: “The German”, whose actual name is Stefan, may very well BE German: resplendently dressed in matching jersey and shorts of the German national team, and speaking with a German accent, this guy was GOOD, and it was like drafting behind the likes of Magnus Backstedt – broad shoulders and TALL, this guy blocked a LOT of wind. Truly a pleasure to trade pulls, mein herr.) On we rode, still hammering at 23+ MPH, onto Hedge Lane Terrace near the highway, Paul taking the front and laying out a blistering pace again, back to 83rd Street where I took point for a bit, then onto Monticello for a run back north and some twists and turns, deep in the western Shawnee suburbs. Another tiresome pull taken too long, and I drop off the pace again – just for a spell, and slowly I manage to work my way back into the game. I start to wonder how much longer I can keep this up, since this is the second time in the last ten miles that I have slightly popped and recovered. Besides, I knew what was coming: Shawnee Mission Park. I had not ridden inside the park since the Triathlon back in July, and I was not looking forward to it now. Sure, I had a decent bike split from that event, but not after already throwing down 40 miles at nearly 23 MPH average behind a world-class group of pacemakers like this. I began to take my pulls shorter and more calculated – because completing the park circuit was one thing, but having to get up to it was another. Renner Hill awaited us. Not the Renner Wall that we had climbed earlier in the ride, but the longer hill that climbs up over I-435 to the south of Midland Drive. With the lead-up, and the “aftermath” heading towards the park entrance that never really levels-off, Renner Hill is a mile-long brute that demands your attention, and saps the legs GOOD. It was coming up! If I was going to lose contact with this group, this is probably where it was going to happen. We continued on, off of Shanwee Mission Parkway to Midland Drive to the west of Renner, heading inbound. I was just glad we were not headed up Ogg Road to get into the park (it’s ridiculous – probably the hardest climb in the county, but that’s another story) but that was the only positive thought I could muster about the next six miles. We turned right onto Renner, enjoyed a short-lived downhill run-up, and then the ‘fun’ began. I found myself at the front, which was not where I wanted to be – the climbing began, I geared down and just gave it my best shot. I looked down – a whopping 13 MPH on the clock. Mind-games…. Don’t look at the speed, man…. Just push… the climb continues, and as it hits the actual bridge structure to cross over the highway, it pitches slightly uphill a couple percent more. I maintain cadence and speed as best I can, and surprisingly, as the halfway point arrives, I have not been passed. A move of tactics by those behind me that can probably climb this thing faster, I was sure – upon reaching the top, my efforts would be wasted, I thought – it doesn’t matter how well you can climb if you have nothing left at the top to keep the gap open! PUSH PUSH PUSH, spin spin spin….! Immediately after the bridge structure ends and you reach terra-firma again, the road spits in your face by pitching upwards another few percent, and you roll over the last few dozen meters gasping for life, only to find that the grade only reduces – you’re still climbing until you are almost upon the park entrance. The road shallows out, and there is Paul on the left side – no words, just determination and sweat across his brow, he ducks in front of my wheel to return the pull. There is NO ONE behind us now… somehow, I managed to halve the group on the way up the monster, and it was sticking! Inspired, I stuck to Paul’s rear wheel as best I could, and we approached the entrance to Shawnee Mission Park. Unfortunately, it would not last – and this is why I am not anywhere NEAR world-class like these guys: The monster begins to creep back into my legs, and the push is simply not there like it was before. Another ‘spell’ – we dive into the park, take a few corners, and Paul is beginning to open a gap. He looks back a few times – to check my condition. Apparently my face says nothing – he is not getting farther away, but he’s not slowing either. Past the Marina, towards the dam, across it, I start to feel a little kick coming back, so I gear down and give it a try. Paul begins the ascent at the far end of the dam, another nasty climb that starts super-steep and then just rolls over to deliver another ¾ mile of pain before you reach the observation tower at the top. I manage to pull back a few meters of Paul’s advantage, but it’s too little, too late ---- or too early, perhaps. With all the climbing LEFT in the park, this was not the place to try to move back up. He disappeared around the corner near the tower for the descent, and that was the last time I would see him inside the park. I turn around, and the road is clear – I can still get second out of this. I may be chasing Paul’s ghost again, like last year from the gun, but at least I have no-one on my wheel this time around. If I can hold them off... Still not giving up, I hammer the rest of the park’s offerings and find myself back at the entrance in practically no time, and back out onto Renner to descend back down the monster climb and back to Midland Drive, then to Blackfish Pkwy, and Pflumm for the last of the nastiness of the Tour De Shawnee. A couple of long, steep climbs right near the end of the ride are just cruel, and Pflumm delivered with a sinister sneer. At one point, I thought I could see Paul’s stars-and-stripes jersey near the top of the second climb, but I’ll never be sure if I was actually THAT close again. He knew what had happened after Renner Hill, and he knew what hardships lie inside Shawnee Mission Park – if you are fresh enough to launch an attack inside the park, you are golden – I simply didn’t have the scratch to pull him back. Survival-of-the-fittest, indeed, and, like he had accomplished for the past TEN years, The Tour De Shawnee was in his clutches. This time, however, I was only two minutes behind him, instead of ten! Thrilled to have been allowed in such company, I shook his hand heartily, and we chatted a bit – even got interviewed by the local papers! Very cool! Not a race, no podium, no medals, but still an excellent opportunity to hammer with one of the best, in a race-like environment. A few minutes later, “The German” rolled in for third, and also greeted us with a handshake and some good conversation about the morning’s events. It was a lot of fun, and it again helped a great cause in the process in the Juvenile Diabetes Association. Twenty-Five dollars times nearly 700 riders this year will help a LOT of kids. Thanks to the City of Shawnee for an EXCELLENT event, and terrific support! See you next year!!! (news clippings and pics coming soon from Shawnee Journal Herald and KC Star!) [ /<(- ] A ribbon of pavement & my thoughts are all I need.
08/01/2004 Snooze buttons should be illegal, as should the ability to reset the time on ones alarm while in the shadowy haze of near-sleep. Some of my best ride plans have been destroyed by my uncanny ability to smack the snooze button before the section of my brain that is responsible for reason and willpower gets a chance to wake up. Also, my bomb-squad like ability to disarm my alarm completely with my eyes closed is scary. One more than one occasion, I have awoken naturally at about 8:10AM to find my alarm turned off, magically, and all hope of making the local training ride on time dashed against the rocky shoreline of my nocturnal reflexes. This morning was no exception, but eventually I caught up and actually got out of bed before all was lost. Getting out of bed at – whoof – 2:15AM was NOT in the cards. Okay, 3:15 will do. More like 3:25. I need to remove the ‘HOUR’ button from my alarm clock, or put another clock at the other end of the room or something. It was more like my planned mileage for the day was instantly reduced by 18-19 miles every time I added an hour to my slumber. So, I reluctantly crawled out of bed at 3:25-ish, hit the shower to warm the blood and wake the spirits, and whatever the shower didn’t wake up, the espresso-flavored and caffeine-enhanced Hammer Gel would handle. Time for some self-supported fun. Gardner is always farther away than I think it is – I never like to drive to a ride, but in this instance I have a route to preview for a team ride on the 21st, and a team member had mentioned that he’d like a preview also, and to meet at a certain intersection at about 6:30am. Should be perfect timing – should have been – I arrive later than expected at Gardner, and start rolling – I’ll place a shortcut in the 2nd lap to be back on time. Time. Time? It’s DARK out here, and even with the nearly full moon, I can’t read my computer’s clock. Plus, my little keychain LED flashlight is conveniently located back in the trunk of the car. Guess I’ll have to guess – but what time was it when I left? It’s amazing how little the brain wants to work before the sun comes up. Dawn’s first light starts to creep up, and slowly I am able to discern the tiny digital numbers on the display – to suddenly figure out that there is no way I’m going to make that intersection on time – the sheer fact that dawn was approaching should have tipped me off, because the sun officially rises right around 6:30 these days. I don’t know what I was thinking. I wasn’t. And it was really apparent as I rolled along at a whopping – hmmm, how fast am I going? Zero? Well, I am tired, but that CAN’T be right. In the dark, I’d managed to knock the computer sensor out of range when I put the front wheel back on the bike after transport. I slow, push on the sensor, and voila! I have speed. Too bad I have no idea how far I’ve already come! That’s what maps are for – I’ll keep track of where I am now, and figure it out later. My thoughts are interrupted by a group of four deer crossing the road just in front of me – not close enough to slam on the brakes, but close enough to hear their hooves on the pavement. A cool sight, as they bound into the brush on the other side of the road and into the trees. I take in the fresh day – the sunrise to the left, setting moon to the right – it’s an awesome morning sight, and I feel sorry for those still sleeping that are missing the sun and moon in the sky together like this, but at the same time I’m enjoying this moment of solitude in the universe. No cars, no lawnmowers or dogs – just me, the pavement, the sun, and the moon, and my bike. Simply awesome. After realizing that meeting my teammate on the road was a little out the window, it was time to shake things up a bit. Maybe I was in the mood to explore a bit, but the thought of repetitive laps this soon after the 12-Hour race in Oklahoma was sitting a little sour. It was a sure way to get my mileage, but at the same time each lap brought me close to the car – which is an invitation to stop, rest, possibly to cash it in early. Just hours earlier, as I rolled out northbound from the car that very morning, the thoughts flooded me – “WHY”…”ARE”….”YOU”…..”UP?”, “just go sleep for a bit in the car, man….”, etc. Riding early, pre-dawn, and for long distances, can really tax your brain. But, that is part of the training. Getting from a mental mess of second-guesses and talking-out-of’s, to becoming a solid ultra rider that simply unplugs his brain and rides, takes training, too. These exercises in self-torture will pay off huge next year. I abandon the loop at Edgerton Rd. and US-56 – where I should turn left to head east back to the parking lot, I head west to check out the extended leg of the upcoming CommuterDude II ride. Federal and State Highway riding is simply some of the best riding you can get, if you can stay away from large towns. It takes a bit of commuting and practice in small doses to get used to the rush of 55-65 MPH traffic blasting past your left side, but over time you get desensitized to it and just relax and pedal. Always pedal: keeping the feet moving is essential to visibility – but on these long open stretches motorists can see you for miles as they approach – you can hear the tire-whine decrease in pitch as they come up from behind, and you know they see you – often giving you a wide berth as they pass. There is a good shoulder, and the hills are diminished to shallow 3% waves that extend for miles. It’s perfect for endurance training, which is why I’m out here. Sunday morning makes things even better – over the next three miles, I am passed from behind once, and by oncoming traffic maybe four times. Everyone is still asleep today! As I approach K-33, I see those dreaded bright orange signs, marking road construction. And it’s for K-33 – there is a paved detour, thankfully, that only adds a mile to the route, but I pause for a moment to take it all in. As I do, a rooster crows behind me – time to get up? I’ve been up for a while now, friend! I head south to the Nolke’s Cash-Saver Market near I-35, the turn-around for the CommuterDude ride, and pass with a smile. Been here before! K-33 is perfectly paved now, a perfect black ribbon of fresh asphalt with bright lines and a small, ride-able shoulder – but it is a state highway, which (unless you are in northern Missouri) are even better than the federal highways. I see almost zero cars here, except for some local traffic near Wellsville. I cross over I-35, and continue south to hit K-68, with plans to ride a route that I haven’t ridden in years – last time out was with the Warbird, way back in ’02, thousands of miles back! It’s an excellent route that traverses the dam at Hillsdale Lake and heads back north on some nice secondary roads, taking you back to the New Century Air Center for about 77 miles total. Considering what I must have logged already, this would be good for the morning’s total. I arrive at the intersection at K-33 and K-68, and pause. The scenery is impressive, as this section of road is on top of a slight ridge. You can see equal distances to the east and west, and observe the seemingly endless strip of pavement stretching for miles in both directions. K-33 ends here, and there is gravel further south. Yes, several miles earlier I had decided to give that Hillsdale loop a try, but the unknown is beckoning from the west. Ottawa, KS, is only 11 miles away, per the road sign a dozen meters to my right. I’ve never been there. K-68 is another fine highway, state funded, and a link between Louisburg to the east, and US-75 at Lyndon, KS and Pomona Lake to the west. I won’t be going THAT far today, but Ottawa is within reach. I turn the bike west, and head into the slight headwind. The pavement is perfect, and the shoulder is the perfect width. Although I get passed a few times from the rear by some local traffic, there are no heavy trucks here today. The large distribution center located near Ottawa is running slow on a Sunday, so this highway is not bad at all. Even the rumble strips designed to keep cars from drifting are tolerable as I near the I-35 junction just outside of town. That’s far enough – a nice, new gas station on the left is inviting, and a perfect turnaround spot. I check my clock, and I have nearly 30 minutes to rest if I want it – but today I am in brevet-mode. Bathroom, water, mix a drink to replace one empty bottle, stretch the back, and hit the road in the opposite direction. A tailwind is always nice, even if it is from a slight angle. The return trip is all big-ring fun, even on the slight hills. This is near the pace I enjoyed on the first two laps of Tinbutt, but this time I have warmed up properly, and, wearing the Camelbak since I’m unsupported, I am actually drinking enough. Next year’s Tinbutt will be a little better, I think, as I’m remembering my previously successful fueling and hydration strategies today. Sure, I will have something on my back next time, but I won’t have to stop as much – and in Ultra-marathon stuff, NOT stopping is key. With 100 oz. on my back, and nearly six hours of fuel between two bottles, I’m good for a century without stopping. Today, one stop will do it, as I only mixed the bottles for two hours each, instead of three – so topping off at Ottawa was necessary. Still, 100 miles with one 10-minute stop is not bad. Soon, I am back at K-33, and proceed to trace my outbound route in reverse. Now with a solid tailwind from the SSW, I fly effortlessly back up the smooth blacktop of K-33, through Wellsville, back to US-56, and thru Edgerton, to 199th, and then north again on Four Corners Road, to 175th St, where a stop sign presents an opportunity. I look right – clear. I look left – clear, BUT, what’s that up the road? Cyclists!!! My plan was to head north back to 151st street, but I HAVE to catch that group. A mile later, they are mine – out for a Sunday spin, they are not difficult to catch, but it was a little satisfying to pass a group of riders while on my 90th-or-so mile! An exchange of mornin’, how’s-it-goings, etc, and I am up the road and away. That was fun! Back at Edgerton Road, I turn north and the tailwind has increased in strength – I fly north at nearly 30 MPH, ticking off the mileage. Heat is building, too – from the 68º start temperature, is must be hovering near 90º already and it’s only barely 10:00am. I have to be back to my car by 11:30am in order to get home by my noon deadline, so it’s time to work and get as much as I can. Unfortunately, I have gone far enough north that I have to head south now, into the ever-increasing headwind. It’s no bother, because I’m still feeling strong, thanks to the steady inflow of fuel, electrolytes and water. Plus, I have returned to my successful formula of SPD sandals instead of conventional road shoes. Comfort is key, and my feet feel cozy today, no arch problems. Before long, I’m back at New Century Air Center, in time to see a few more cyclists making their way around the complex, including a KCBC rider flying along, being motor-paced behind a SUV. Crazy fast, but isn’t that cheating? Maybe I’m jealous? A motor-paced, three-hour century…hmmmm. NAH. I have time left, so now I can do repetitive laps. I loop around the complex, head back north, back out to US-56 on 159th, then back down to New Century again, and hit the car right at 11:00am. That’ll do. I don’t know what my total mileage is yet, but after rolling for nearly 7 hours, it has to be close to my goals for the day. Tinbutt certainly provided a good base, because today I feel tired, yes, but still able to push – and my Camelbak is actually EMPTY, so I drank enough for once! I pack the car, and grab my recovery drink for the drive home, with the thoughts of a few more miles dancing in my head as I know that the drive-time today has taken away from ride-time. Next week, I will start from the house instead. I won’t have to rise as early that way, even though it puts me a little farther away from these empty roads I enjoy so much out here in western Johnson, Douglas and Franklin Counties. After Tinbutt last week and today’s training, I realize that this is the kind of riding I live for – the open road, a bike, a ribbon of pavement, and my thoughts. Still fast, and certainly beyond recreation; that’s about all I need. [ /<(- ]
7/24/2004 – The Larry Schwartz Memorial Tinbutt 12-Hour Meltdown Journal Friday, July 23rd – The Day Before… 6:00pm After a full day of checking out the little town I was born in a few decades back with my family, who came down to see it, too, I am ready to settle in at the hotel room, put last minute touches on the bike, add water to the endless bottles of Sustained Energy and Hammer HEED blends I have ready for the event, and get to sleep. 6:02pm I hit the hotel lobby, and the check-in desk for Tinbutt -- I meet the organizer, Don, who seems really familiar to me for some reason -- I grab my packet, chat a bit, and seeing no-one else in the lobby yet, I proceed to make my way back up to the room, when Sam Baugh walks in and recognizes me from MV24 last year - we chat it up and talk about the weather moving in and how it will affect tomorrow, etc. It was good to see a familiar face, but at the same time it was sinking in that now there was no hope for a high overall placing. 6:20pm Back in the hotel room, I mix drinks, continue bike prep, and pin my rider number on my jersey, and begin hear the thunder outside. Grrr...downpour -- crazy for July -- reminds me of severe weather in April up in KC. 7:45pm I head downstairs to check out the rain, and hit the NWS website in the internet 'box' they have set up at the hotel - I frown at the results of my glance. Oh well -- I wanted a challenge. I check BJ.com, and see Kincannondale was planning on hitting the hotel to get his packet --- uh, DUH ON ME... I shoulda just hung out there for a bit longer. Missed him. 8:05pm I try to relax with a movie, can't sleep - worry too much, and then finally lay down and close my eyes. The big day, wet or dry, is only hours away... Saturday, July 24, 2004 Tinbutt time. 4:00am The alarm goes off, and I am out of bed like a shot. It's still raining. Shower, and one final run to the hotel ice machine to top off the cooler and the water refill jugs. Even though water is provided at the event, it's not in my car -- extra walk = extra time burned. I am dressed and ready to roll...but I don't have to leave just yet. 5:00am The rain stops, almost on the nose of 5:00am. Time to rack the bike and roll. The dry window won't last, based on the radar, but it's a good thing to start dry! I hit the dark streets of Stillwater, and head west on 51 to Redlands Rd., then to the park. Sam Baugh beat me there, and he and crew are getting the canopy set up, tables, etc. I pull in as close as I can, and pop the trunk, put Phish's latest in the CD deck at low volume, and get some things ready to run. 6:00am More and more people start showing up, and the atmosphere is GREAT. Howdys, 'mornings, etc... I love a ride start. It's one of the reasons riding an organized event is so cool. Tons of different people, different bikes, different pre-ride routines, all unfolding in the parking lot..as the sun gets a little higher in the sky - only to be blocked by clouds that would eventually only break enough for me to see my shadow three times in the next 12 hours. A familiar jersey makes it's way across the street -- inside that jersey is Kincannondale -- the man, the legend - we finally meet! He's a lot taller than I thought he'd be. No matter. We set up our stuff, talk shop, talk bikes, talk weather, talk BJ.com -- Tammy shows up -- it's awesome to finally put names and faces and handshakes together... the internet is truly an amazing thing. In the throes of pre-race jitters and routines, people seldom can take the time to meet new riders, & if Bikejournal.com didn't exist, we would have never met otherwise. Slantz, are you getting all this??? You are revolutionizing the cycling community. Two cyclists, hundreds of miles apart, show up in the same park for a race, and pick up talking just like they were in the forums. Awesome. 6:55am It's GO time. Don shouts, and I move to the line. Kincannondale has someone take a picture... I shoulda brought MY camera!... hope it's a good shot! The ride announcements come --- and they are PERFECT, lighthearted, but informative -- for anyone running their first race, they are spoiled with this guy -- compared to other event's I've run in, the pre-race feel was spot-on, and every question was answered, every detail explained. No questions left. Time to ride! 7:00am The park ranger starts us, and the battery is inserted into the official race clock. The fun begins! The peloton exits the immediate start area, takes a short uphill, a hairpin, and a right turn, then left, right, left, left, left -- (whatever!) -- DEER! Two small doe prance from the brush & across the road... very neat. It's HUMID. My glasses begin to fog over. The pace comes up quick -- looks like I'll have to find a spot. Sam, myself, and three others - a John from California, and a Dave from Texas - plus one unidentified rider on a white Trek 1400, start to work hard and soon we have split the bunch and are on the way out of the park and down the nasty-looking hill on Airport Rd. Just like Kin had said, just find a line -- it's scary fast, fun. We turn onto Redlands. 7:05 - 8:00am This is an absolute blast. It's insane how fast we are eating up the road. We are at OK-86 in a heartbeat --- well, several thousand heartbeats, actually -- this pace is putting me more into race-range than all-day range, as far as HR is concerned -- might as well enjoy it while I can. In typical fashion, it seems I've gone out too hard -- we hit Bronco Rd., and I proceed to enjoy a winter and spring of nothing but hill training on my commutes. It's a BLAST, this road, slightly reminiscent of Johnson Drive in the KC area, but not as steep... well, maybe not as steep in a few sections! This is good terrain, and by lap 5 it will really start putting the hurt on people - and me. Sam, John, Dave, 1400, and me are back at McMurty Park before 8:00am - incredibly, we have completely surprised the race organization - we hit the line faster than they (or I) expected to. The hole-punch doesn't work, so a magic marker is employed instead -- bottles are exchanged, but I am good for two laps per car-stop. Time to roll again! 8:00 - 9:00am We are hitting it hard again -- so much for my theory of "one fast preview lap, and settle into a reasonable pace" -- we are hammering again, and I'm feeling fresh enough to take my share of mile-long pulls. Then, air became thicker and thicker -- wetter -- the brim of my cycling cap suddenly lets loose a droplet onto the surface of my sunglasses. Errr.... here we go. Rain! It's not nearly as bad as some of the downpours I've ridden in on the way to or from work on any given rainy day, but it will certainly be longer in duration. Thankfully, it's a warm rain -- but the paceline spray and the assault of 65 MPH traffic right next to us on OK-51 is making things pretty sloppy. To 86, then back to Bronco - but we manage to sweep up two of the non-competing riders on the route -- after only one lap? -- impossibly, our second lap is nearly as fast as the first, but we have lost one rider -- 1400 is not there at check-line. This pace is crazy -- but it's worth a shot...unfortunately, I have to stop to get fresh bottles at the car. Sam, John and Dave are off and up the road before I can even get the trunk open. 9:00am - 10:30am The third lap hurts me. The rain is slowing now, to drizzle, but the wind is picking up slightly. After getting fresh fuel, the fast pack is out of sight. I hammer thru the park, taking risks on the wet pavement and sharp curves, trying to catch them - but to no avail. I hammer the hills on Redlands, but they are long, and my reserves from two 20-something MPH average laps are running short. The fresh fuel helps, but I fear it is too late. I hit the long uphill that is immediately after the turn onto OK-51, and the tank reads empty. I can see the three up the road, but there is no more shove in the legs. I abandon to the small ring and watch them crest the hill, which is the last time I will see them for a while. I limp the rest of 51, then 86, and Bronco Rd. now is enjoying a little bit of a tailwind - I muster thru the hills, and hit the park for the end of lap 3. That stunk. Time for lap four. 10:30am - 4:30pm After lap three, it was clear it was too late to do anything about catching the leaders, and also apparent that any plans I had for an overall placing - or a age division placing for that matter - were out the window with the fun of the first two laps, and my consistent inability to stay focused on the long-term when running these kind of events had taken its toll. At MV24 last year, however, my strong spring brevet base allowed me to keep up a ridiculous pace for 4 laps of a 55 mile loop before popping. Today, it took under 50 miles to snuff the candle. Lap 4, 5, 6 and 7 were all roughly the same; singing songs to myself to take my mind off the lead in my legs, keeping a mental log of the junk amassing in the shoulder of OK-51 -- it was as if that section would never end, even though it was only 6 miles long. I'd count off the debris: metal bar.... Enervitene pouch.... french fry tray.... black plastic 'thing'.... blue plastic 'thing'.... rusty metal.... bridge.... cemetery sign.... 86.... yikes. Bronco Rd., the advertised hard section for the day, turned into the promised land with the stiff tailwind -- I practiced my rhythm while the breeze helped shove me back to the park for the end of Lap#7; but I was spent, tired, yawning, achy, mentally spent -- and really not liking my shoes very much -- missing my SPD sandals -- especially since I'd spotted John from California wearing them and realizing that on these rides, it doesn't make much difference -- I could climb just as easy on either platform, but I should have chosen comfort. Speaking of John... there he goes: with Sam and Dave, still together! I've been lapped by the group I started with. I was done. 4:30pm Sam yelled out over his shoulder at me as he flew past -- "ya'llright?" -- and John, "What happened?" -- I didn't have an answer for either... I was smoked, and the final nail was in the coffin's lid. I continued on at my own pace, limping back towards the park, watching the proud threesome, the one that last year I could have been a part of, disappear up the road --- I'm never skipping the brevet series again! --- By the time I made it back into the park, there was Sam again, coming back out after checking in, looking like he'd just gotten started - strong, focused, smiling, and with a thumbs-up as he passed again -- "Keep it up, man" -- he knew as well as I did what had just transpired, but still words of encouragement -- a true class competitor! Unfortunately, the mental battle had already been played out, and "keeping it up" was out of the cards. I reached my car, opened the trunk, took the seatbag off the bike, took off my shoes and helmet, and sat down. 5:00pm The interesting thing about mental battles is that casualties can always be brought back to life, and the battlefields redrawn. Over a 30 minute period of self evaluation, second guessing, and watching other riders come in, plus checking the time sheets, I decided that it would be better if I tried to get all that I could. I had only taken maybe 15 total minutes off the bike up to my 30 minute 'rest' session, so I had time for one more lap. But not without help -- I popped a couple ibuprofen for the arches of my feet and the general achy feeling I was having, and started to put my shoes back on. Then my helmet. Soon, I was back on the road for my NEW last lap. Ryan, the other member of our age group, already had this one well in the bag having scored an extra lap, so I was shooting for second place -- since there was no third place competitor in our group, there was no hurry. Just FINISH this. After all, a great rider once told me -- winning isn't everything...finishing is. Even though there were no DNFs handed out for the route, it was silly of me to cash it in at 7 laps when I clearly had enough clock left for 8 total. I hit it pretty good - much of it was the ibuprofen talking for me, but it felt good to not hurt so much, and finally have some push back in the legs. As an added 'bonus', tho, the headwinds from the NW shifted a little toward the north, solid, with drizzle again. I traversed the long ribbon of OK-51, hit 86, and slogged my way thru more drizzle and howling winds. July??? Whatever! Bronco Rd., I felt fabulous - so much better then previous 4-5 laps, that is. I climbed way may back into the park, and BLISS - there was the line!!! I hit it at...ughh.. who knows until I get a *real* stat chart like KIN has posted for his stuff... but in any case, that was it. No clock left for another lap, so 176 miles it is... Not bad for having no base mileage - but I know what I'm going next Spring -- I've already started it, here today === the mileage I got today will provide the base I need to have a terrific winter/spring campaign -- after which, NEXT year at Tinbutt, I will just maybe be able to stay in that lead group all the way to the finish, just like Sam, John and Dave --- at a little before 7:00pm, they three crossed the line together with 11-laps, and 242 miles. Fantastic!! Definitely something to work for. Always someone better -- but the important thing for me, am I better than I was LAST time? I can ask that of myself next year, and hopefully have a positive answer. With the driving, this has been a long weekend... but I'm back on the bike tomorrow AM for a commute and coffee run, just to see how the legs feel, and to work out some of the stiffness. Then, find a way to increase daily mileage -- by the time this rolls around again, who knows... might be a better personal result... until I have done all that I can for MY own performance, I can't compete with those heavy hitters .... but it was such a thrill to have pulled and paced with them for the two laps I managed. Unforgettable... Tinbutt: Looking forward to next year!!! Kincannondale: Awesome to meet you -- next year, dinner, or a day-before training ride, eh? Stay on it, man --- like the last guy said: you are in an elite group already: over 80% of ALL cyclists have no desire to ride beyond a century, nor will they... cheesy as it may sound, pushing yourself to hit that mark makes you a winner, no matter what color medal they hand you. With a little healing and retrospect, I think you'll see it. Trust me -- I go through that each time --- never ask an ultra-rider/racer if they'll be back next year RIGHT after a race. They'll say 'no' -- but it's amazing how fast you hit the websites looking for the next challenge after you put a couple of days past it... See you next year! [ /<(- ]
7/11/2004 – Worth a Tri… After a very successful team triathlon event back in June at the KC Corporate Challenge, it’s safe to say that I was pumped. Only a few days later, I received an email from someone about the upcoming Shawnee Mission Medical Center Triathlon. In its 20th year, the SMMC Triathlon is one of the most revered local events for the Tri-crowd. It’s tough, arguably one of the toughest in the Midwest, it always seems to be blisteringly hot, and it draws a very strong field from all over the country. What exactly I was thinking as I signed up for it, I don’t know – it was the KCCC medal doing the thinking for me, I suppose, because immediately afterwards I began to second guess my decision. What was I, insane?! Not only did I sign up for a pretty tough event, I also checked the box for the long course, which in retrospect might not have been the smartest choices in the world for my first triathlon! I don’t swim. Granted, if I fell off a boat, I could tread water or float long enough to survive – but I don’t swim well at all. The last time I swam was over a year ago, and that was simply messing around with the kids in an apartment sized pool. I think I did three laps by myself and then tugged the kids around in their floaty-tubes. But, I figured that I could just take my time on the swim and make-up whatever time I lost on the bike, right? Sure….but we’re talking about the long course, here. Things really began to sink in when I attended the mandatory-for-first-timers meeting the day before the event itself, and the race director walked all the rookies down to the dock to look at the lake course, which was already set up with large marker buoys. “Oh, that’s not so bad…” I said, half to myself, looking out across the water at the tow big buoys marking the turnaround for the swimmers. “Yeah, it’s only 500 meters…” said a voice next to me, “…at least we don’t have to do the LONG course.” Which is about when I realized that I was looking too short, and raised my eyes a tad to look farther down the lake at the two large bouys WAY DOWN by the other end of the park. “oh….MAN.” Although probably not my exact words, something to that effect ran through my head as exactly what I had gotten myself into was RIGHT in front of me. Well, this is gonna be interesting. One thousand meters is a LOT when it’s all right in front of you like that; especially with ZERO training. At least I was going to be getting it over with FIRST. The 18-miles of cycling immediately afterwards would be my chance to make-up some time and enjoy the event that I train constantly for, and after that a 4.5-mile run would round out the morning, something else I’d been training for as well. Although, even with the running I was taking a crash course; I didn’t even have a decent pair of running shoes until AFTER I’d signed up for the event! So, with a month to prepare between signing up and doing my first triathlon, my training went like this: 600 miles on the bicycle, 25 miles of running, and about 30 minutes of swimming. You can tell what I was worried most about, can’t you? In an event whose time sheets often feature swimmers that come out of the water in around 14 minutes (yes, for the LONG course), I was going to be lucky to polish this off in 30 minutes, but I clamped my nerves off and did some serious positive self-imaging, which helped calm things down a tad – even though the day before the event I was a bit of a nervous wreck, I packed my bag, prepped the bike and settled in with my usual pre-event Mexican dinner, watched a movie, played with the kids and tried not to think about the carnage that was only 12 hours away. The morning of the event, I was excited, ready, pumped. I rose early enough to hit the parking lot before the gates were even open, got a good parking space, took the bike off the roof of the car and rode down to the transition area to get set up. The biggest spark of the morning was spotting the wife and kids, as they came down to see me try this crazy thing – they were pretty excited, but the kids were a little out of character for being up so early – still, it was a boost knowing they were going to be in the crowd, yelling me along. The weather was PERFECT – 74º at dawn, practically no wind, but it was going to warm up fast. I felt a little more at ease as I peeled my shirt off (something I still feel weird about considering my past physical state, only a couple years ago) and grabbed my swim cap and goggles to head down to the lake. To get to the start area, you have to walk down the boat ramp and swim across to the beach area where the start is set up. This is convenient as it gives everyone a chance to warm up a little or in my case a chance to preview how badly this event is going to go. There was not enough positive self-talk or mental imagery in the world to get me past the fact that this little warm up swim nearly took everything out of me, and it consisted of a whopping 50 meters. This was going to be embarrassing, and possibly dangerous. Thankfully, there was water rescue personnel everywhere out on the lake, and plenty of buoy-rope to hang onto if needed – we were told at the meeting that we would NOT be disqualified if we had to grab some rope and rest, and the very possibility entered my mind as I stood on the beach, looking out 500 meters to the impossibly far-away buoys marking the turnaround. This was going to be TOUGH. Surrounded by world-class swimmers, I felt like I was on the wrong planet, but there was a lot of good support from them – as we waited for the gun, I must have looked visibly nervous, as a guy next to me said “…hey, man – just give it your best and don’t panic.. it’ll be over with before you know it, and you’ll be glad you did it. MY first one of these was only last year,” said a strong-looking competitor. …and the countdown began. 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 -
“You okay?” he asked
“Yeah…this is all I got…” I replied, just thinking PLEASE don’t pull me out, I’m going to do this if it takes all morning. I worked and worked and worked, and finally reached the short-course turnaround buoys – only 750 meters to go. Ok, keep going…. Then, splashes? I peek up towards my feet and see arms and swim caps coming right at me. The next heat of swimmers, the heat that started FIVE MINUTES AFTER ME, is catching up. This is embarrassing. Keep going. Suddenly, all sorts of voices rushed through my head. “Remember your first MS-150, how many times you got passed? You gotta start somewhere. Keep swimming – do not stop.” Honestly surprised to see themselves running into another swimmer, the faster swimmers made their way past me as I kicked and fluttered my arms at my own pace. After an eternity, I hit the big buoys at the end of the course – time to turn around! Halfway!!! I made my way around, and started in the other direction back to where I came from. I rolled over and tried to pick up the pace, and that worked for about – you guessed it – 20 to 25 strokes. Exhausted, I rolled again to my back and used my legs. Here come the short course buoys again… almost done…250 meters. And, adding to my embarrassment, a group of swimmers with purple caps started making their way around those same buoys. These would be the short course swimmers, the ones that started swimming about 10 minutes AFTER me. Jeez. This is nuts, but I can hear the cheering crowd behind me (what should have been in FRONT of me, had I been able to maintain a normal stroke) so I flipped over and gave it one last finishing try – stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe! ugh…. DONE! I put a foot down, and felt the gravelly surface of the lake nearing the shore, and met the volunteers helping people up out of the water. The one blue capped swimmer coming out of the water amid yellow and purple caps denoting later heats, I rose up, hit the mat with both feet and proceeded to run like mad up the long, uphill run-up to the transition area. Regardless of how badly that had gone, I didn’t stop once, didn’t grab any ropes, and now it was behind me. The best thing was glancing to the left as I dashed up the mat to see the wife and kids jumping up and down. I was renewed, and it was time to hit MY event.
The transition is what many triathletes call ‘the fourth event’; it doesn’t matter how fast you get out of the water if you take 5 minutes to put your shoes on and get onto the bike course. Some of these people have the exit and run-up from the water to getting on the bike course down to a sub-minute science. Everything is laid out, ready to go, swim-cap off, goggles off, throw on a shirt or jersey, bike shoes on (unless they are already on the bike!), helmet and GO. I had run my transitions though my head in preparation, but in retrospect I need to change a few things. I took WAY too long, up to 2 minutes, to get out of the transition area and moving again. Not that I was being pokey about it, but it’s amazing the things you HAVE to do, and the way they sometimes don’t work out. Fumbling a shoe, not being able to get your helmet buckled, any of the tiniest things that rob you of precious seconds all add up really quick. Ok, shoes on, helmet on, gloves (should have skipped those), GO. Trot, trot, trot on cycling cleats to the mount/dismount line…now I know why they leave the shoes in the pedals; too late now, GO GO GO! I hit the bike course with confidence, and having expected the swim to completely exhaust me I was surprised to find that since I had spent most of the swim on my back using my legs, I was pretty much warmed up for the bike and not very stiff. Time to hit it – and I did so, getting passed only once (by a guy from Bentonville, AR who would eventually take 3rd overall), and seeing myself ride past several familiar faces from the swim heat I’d started with, who unfortunately for me were on their second lap already – I was, however, making up time, but it would surely not be enough. By the time I came out of the water, most of the bike racks were empty. I had to remind myself that I had to RUN, too, and I was only here to finish – but I had a goal of trying to get in underneath two hours on top of that. I felt strong here, and I was going to take advantage of it – I found myself running out of gears on the bike, but still having legs left to push something bigger if I’d only had it available. Unfortunately, despite having been warmed up nicely, I had been in the water for over 30 minutes and was pretty much dehydrated, and on the third lap I began to feel some cramping in my right quad – not a good sign, because it’s often too late to do anything about it when you actually FEEL it – I slammed the rest of the water bottle I had on the bike, which contained a good sports drink from Hammer Nutrition, and hoped for the best. I pushed harder, past the pain, and focused on the fact that I had only a little more than one lap to go. Even on my best day on the bike I had never ridden this loop this quickly and felt like I actually had a reserve left over, so things were going well – but looking at the results afterwards, not well enough, time-wise. As expected, I was a little slower than what I had done on the KCCC Team Triathlon, but then I’d only had the bike to worry about – not a big shock that the swim had exhausted me a little bit. I hit the timing mat at the end of the bike leg in just over 52 minutes, and headed back to my space to get ready for the 4.5-mile run.
Running I had practiced a little more than the swim, and I felt confident. I threw my shoes on, and started out, but again the transition should have gone better, on a few points – I should have skipped the extra shirt change: I didn’t want my runner bib flapping in the wind as I rode, but in retrospect it would not have made a difference. The other biggie was I should have taken the extra couple seconds to put on some SOCKS. In the interest of a fast transition – and again, they ended up not being that fast anyways! – I decided I would just put the shoes on and go, skipping the socks. The inside of the shoes were surely padded well enough, right? I made my way out of the transition area, running, and out onto the course – it was encouraging to see a lot of bikes still out on the road, knowing that once I started running I would not be able to make up any more time. I did manage to pass a fair number of people, and really didn’t get passed TOO much myself, to my surprise – I just held my practice pace, which is a very pokey 8 minute mile, and managed to hold it without stopping or walking for the duration. The heat was oppressive, the temperature dancing near 90º already, and it was nice to get some shade from time to time, as the run course jogged thru the woods on the park’s trail system. I held my pace, took on water and just focused on a finish, which was ticking closer and closer with each step. It was about the two-mile mark, however, when my transition mistake was coming to a head. I could feel the blisters forming on the back of each of my heels, and on the tops of my toes. Apparently, choosing to go without socks for this run was not a bright idea, but I focused on other things despite the growing pain, and did not stop or let up, just focusing on finishing inside that two-hour window I’d set for myself. Finishing alone was not enough – I had to put a time to it, too. I lifted the pace, as much as I could, and hit the last hill – which HURT with the sun overhead – and ran up the last few meters to the timing mat that would stop my clock. DONE. Whooo!
I grabbed my finishers’ medal, threw it proudly around my neck, and looked for as much water as I could drink, as the family came over to see how I was. I had finished my first triathlon and I could not stop smiling, despite the fact my painful blisters had broken and I had bled into my shoes. One thing rang true, though, something I’ve read and experienced as a cyclist: pain is temporary – finishing is forever. The shoes can be washed, and the wounds will heal in time – but I finished my first triathlon, at a pretty tough and hilly venue, with practically no swim training, and a painful run, and I only finished 14 minutes outside of my goal. The benchmark is set; I gave it my best shot, not stopping once and just staying focused. With the top athletes finishing almost 45 minutes in front of me, it’s obvious I have a LOT more work to do in the run and swim to be competitive, but I had to start somewhere, and I have no regrets – except maybe the socks thing. Still smiling about it as I write this; it’s euphoric to have finished, and no matter how my numbers might look, the joy of telling people about it afterwards and seeing their looks of disbelief are better than any trophy, especially the reactions of those that “knew-me-when”. The verdict is still out on whether or not I will try this again, but signs are leaning towards ‘yes’ – no doubt I will be training much harder at my two ‘off’ events. Still another challenge awaits me in two weeks, a more familiar one, as I drive to Oklahoma for a 12-hour Ultra-Cycling event – something I’m not nearly as nervous about, despite the length. I think I know now, however, what I’ll be doing in the off-season. I just have to find a good indoor pool, and some good running socks.
For any of you reading this that have just been cyclists, or just runners, or just swimmers – trust me: you can do it – I just did, and I feel GREAT. Nothing sparks the fires within like completing a personal challenge like this. NOTHING. And the only person you have to compete against is yourself. Get out there!
[ /<(- ] 6/23/2004 Despair no more. “When I see someone riding a bicycle, I no longer despair for the human race.” - H. G. Wells It’s easy to get discouraged if you are even remotely crunchy about the environment and such. If you are an animal lover, a tree hugger, whatever the case – a typical day in suburbia can be downright depressing. There are cars everywhere, people making short, unnecessary errands in big SUVs, gunning the throttle at every stoplight turned green. One of the most poignant cinematic images I can remember is a scene from a movie “Joe vs. The Volcano” with Tom Hanks from (gosh, I’m getting old) nearly 15 years ago. Early in the film, they are developing characters and the grim realities of work and daily grind-stone life – the scene is the end of the morning commute, as the masses file into this big cube of a factory, and the camera pans down toward the pavement, and contrasted against the stark, lifeless grey of the scene is a little flower sticking up through a crack in the tarmac, as hundreds of feet shuffle by, no one noticing it. It’s stuck in my mind, because sometimes I feel like the only person that sees that little flower down there. Everyone rushes by, no noticing what really counts in this world – not for lack of compassion, just because so many of us have been numbed by the ‘machine’ we feed every weekday. My wife recently getting a job, allowing me to quit my second job and spend more time with the kids, has refreshed me on so many levels. There is nothing more precious in the world than spending time with your kids, because in their young lives they see things that busy adults often miss. My kids help me realize that life is not about the rush and the time-clock, but about so much more. Flowers, butterflies, rabbits – my kids LOVE to point them out, and they notice them all for the great things that they are - because they haven’t been poisoned yet by adult responsibilities, work, & deadlines. Those things will one day be important in their lives, because we all have to make a living, but the key is making sure they never forget all those things they found magical as children – those are the things that make life worth living. Most nights, instead of staring at the TV, we just stare out the window instead, or sit on the swing in the backyard, or (gasp!) go for a bike ride. The other day, on a bike ride with the kids in the trailer, I had to explain with a broad brush the frailty of life itself to my daughter, who was quite upset about a squirrel that had been struck down while crossing the street. While this happens every day, and does a certain part to control the population, most of us driving along simply don’t notice – the lifeless body of a squirrel blends too well with the blacktop we roll over at 45 MPH --- but on my bicycle, even at speed, we are moving slowly enough to see it for what it is – and my daughter never misses a mark. “That squirrel is hurt, daddy!” she cried out, pointing. “He needs a band-aid…” And so the explaining began, and a small slice of her innocence was lost forever. But, that is life, after all, and why it’s my purpose to be here to explain such things to her. I didn’t get into the whole “bikes don’t kill nearly as many squirrels as cars” routine, but it certainly crossed my mind and got me thinking about such things again. Shortly after, however, she found solace in a huge growth of giant orange flowers on the side of someone’s yard – she had found something happy again. All the things that become a blur or color while driving in a car become so sharp on the bike, especially to a child, and it’s one of the things I’m glad I have the health to do with them. As we all rush around, we sure do miss a lot. It solidifies some of my reasons to keep riding, instead of driving like everyone else, despite my efforts sometimes blending into the backdrop of the busy, fast-paced spiral that everyone else is caught in. Today, however, it didn’t seem like I was so alone in that pursuit. After years of commuting alone, and racking my bike alone day after day, I stumbled upon a revelation while running a quick errand on my lunch break today. After finishing lunch, I figured I’d run and get myself a little treat at the Whole Foods store across the way, so I mounted up the bike and rode on over. Upon arriving, I rolled up onto the sidewalk to put my bike in the rack that is in front of the store, and to my absolute SHOCK, THE RACK WAS FULL. What the…??? I stood there, next to my bike, confused, for a few seconds, and then decided to lean it up against the wall in front of the rack, and then behind me… “How’s it goin’?” said a voice. It was some older guy on a nice looking, slightly faded Bianchi bike – I’d seen him before – think he works there. Well, this was REALLY weird – not only were there three bicycles filling the rack, he I was with a fourth bike, and another guy with a fifth! We began to exchange pleasantries and comments about how strange this situation was, considering most of the time either of us were utterly alone and free to use the entire bike rack if we liked. I’ve never had to fight for parking on a bicycle before! Crazy, but encouraging at the same time! Now, granted – this is the bike rack in front of Whole Foods – speaking of crunchy people… it’s no big surprise that a few are casual cyclists also. The day I see a loaded bike rack in front of the Ford dealership across the street, I’ll be wearing a sandwich-board that says “the end is near” – but nevertheless, I was really smiling after that little situation. Perhaps things are changing for the better? I just need to contact the store management and see if they can get a bigger rack now. Upon returning to work, I settle in for the afternoon portion of my workday, slam my Odwalla drink, and start working orders and such. When, from behind me… “You got a second?” from a coworker. “sure thing…” I reply, expecting the next sentence from him to be something about an order or work-related like that, when he throws back, “Where’s a good bike shop around here?” WHAT THE…????!! Floored again, I practically had to contain my enthusiasm to avoid looking disturbed or something. He started citing things like “trying to save money”, “get healthy”, etc… which is somewhere directly out of the manifesto that’s tattooed on the bottom of my foot, which made me glow hearing it from someone else, unsolicited like that. We talked a bit, I pointed him in the right place and smiled at the fact that another seed was planted. It’s a good time to be alive! Sure, this webpage in the recent past been a place for me to rant and rave and stand on a soap box proclaiming that I have the big solution, and everyone in a car is evil, but today some of the despair seemed to lift and the world was not so dark. Sure as the cars and trucks on the highway are just as much a part of life as the little squirrels and flowers, sometimes a few people occasionally get a glimpse and wake up from a long, grey slumber to perhaps play a bit at a slower speed with half the wheels, and see what it’s like to be a kid again. It doesn’t have to become a way of life for everyone, but it sure makes life worth living to include a dose of cycling one in a while. Wind in the hair, a little sting in the legs from that last hill, and a fresh breath of life in the lungs; it’s hard to despair for anything as you roll along under your own power. With more and more bikes popping up in racks across the metro lately, perhaps there’s hope for all of us yet. [ /<(- ] 6/21/04 – If it ain’t broke, fix it. Ahhh, finally – the first day of summer, and although I started out this morning’s commute to work in pouring rain, there was a smell in the air that spoke potently about the newly arrived season. The spring rains came late this year, so it is only summer by the calendar – but that sensation is there. The sun is staying out a lot later, and coming up much earlier as well. These are days when I fantasize about riding 200 miles and not having to worry about having a headlight mounted on the ‘bars, and the only thing I have to worry about carrying along is sunscreen. No leg warmers, no arm warmers – even after the sun does finally go down. In fact, even the thin layer of wicking fabric seems like too much clothing, with humidity topping out in the 60-70% range and temps hovering near 90º already. Another summer on the plains begins, but again, this morning it’s rain. So, I mount up the ‘bad’ bike – the beater – the beast. Recently rebuilt for road use after a short time hanging in the garage (after finding my latest garage-sale gem and borrowing a few critical parts) the old, heavy, blue Univega steed is once again putting rubber on the road, in bad-weather and winter trim – fenders and cross-knobbies and all. The most dramatic of changes, though, is the fact that I can no longer coast on this machine. It’s been fixed in more ways than one, and for the lowest dollar possible. In typical ‘dude’ fashion, I have gone super cheap, soaking up parts from a local bike shop that has a very generously stocked used parts bin, and a practically open shop. I found a 16-tooth track cog among a pile of broken cassettes. I found an old bottom-bracket lockring to use for securing it to the non-track freewheel hub I had laying around. I found some chainring spacers to get the chainline right, and eliminate the extra chainwheel from the double crank that came from yet another bike I’d picked up. A little tube of LockTite was the most expensive part of the entire build-up! ..and just like that, I’m back on the road, ready for a new realm of cycling – something especially well suited for poor traction conditions like rain and snow: fixed gear. I’m a fairly seasoned cyclist, with a few hard seasons under my belt – but FIXED? That is a whole different world. Technically speaking, I’ve ridden ‘fixed’ before – way back when I had a tricycle at about age five. No coasting there, but I wasn’t exactly dealing with 21st century Johnson County traffic, either. The in-ability to coast, when that is largely what you have been ‘raised’ on as a cyclist, is – to put it lightly – a WEIRD feeling, and something of an adrenaline rush. I’ve only been riding fixed for half-a-day upon writing this, so these feelings will likely pass, and I’ve been told that I’ll probably end up loving it – but right now, it’s just different. For example: we all have a stoplight routine, right? We cyclists fly up to the light, as fast as we can pedal, and then we brake & stop pedaling, unclick and drop our foot to the pavement. Easy. Foot in the wrong place for the launch, once the light turns green? No problem – rotate your foot until the pedals ARE in the right place. On fixed for the first time, it’s a little sketchier: I see the light change up ahead, so I try to coast – but I can’t – My sudden change of leg movement turns into my backside getting lifted into the air as the momentum of the bike lifts the dead leg up – I bend my knees to correct, then remember to apply reverse pressure to the pedals and slow down – thank goodness the front brake is still on the bike, as I grab for a little help up front. I unclick my right leg, and ‘roll’ with your other leg still rotating around – BANG – the free pedal hits my free leg from behind, scolding me for clicking out too early. Silly coaster. I stop at the light – and frustration of all frustrations – it turns green just about the time I finally get my foot down --- ok, we go! …but my foot that’s still clicked in is not at the usual 10 o’clock position to get a good shove-off. A shaky start makes me look like I just started riding yesterday. I suppose I could have lifted the rear wheel and reset the pedal position, but there was no time, as the traffic light above turns yellow on me before I am across. Why did I DO this to myself? It’s almost like driving a stick for the first time, and you get stopped at a light heading uphill, and the scary looking guy in the beat-up GMC behind you is RIGHT on your bumper. Pressure? Nah. I get the same reminder a little later, as I come to the first real downhill of my morning commute – and, instinctively, I try to coast – WHOA! – I again get a little lift off the seat, and my heart jumps a hair. I’m sure I looked a little ridiculous, if anyone was behind me at that point. Pretty soon, though, I start to realize precisely why riding fixed is such a good thing in the winter. Last season, when I was sliding sideways down a hill on my route, in January, the morning after a sleet storm, I started to wonder how the east-coast set manages to commute year round – this is how. As I spun down the hill, I started to apply that negative pressure, and the bike began to slow – eventually, just to try things out, I was doing about 5 MPH down that hill without touching the brakes. Ultimate control is mine! I sped up again, and spun wildly down the rest of the hill – mile by mile, I was beginning to enjoy this fixed thing. I’m not a convert – not yet – I enjoy too many facets of this wonderful sport to go completely fixed --- again this is only DAY ONE --- but for winter/nasty weather riding, this is PERFECT. No more freewheels that rust apart after one season in the salt. I just have to remind myself a few things – look MUCH farther down the road – stuff seems to come up a lot quicker when you can’t disengage the drivetrain and let the brakes handle all of the load. After another couple sessions on this thing, though, I’ll bet it will become easier and the speeds will come up along with it – we shall see. As for the coming MS-150, I’m sticking to the single-speed – I can still coast on that thing, and after my first 150 miles on one gear I’ll probably REALLY want to! This winter, however, after the first snow falls and I find myself making excuses about the weather and traction conditions, I’ll be glad I fixed this bike, even if it wasn’t really broken. [ /<(- ]
6/02/2004 --- Sans Auto. Radical. Nut. Granola-eater. Dirty hippie. People are judgmental, aren't they? Yup, you're gonna hear stuff like that when you decide to go car-free. With gas prices soaring over the past month, however, I have not really heard one peep about my recent new personal challenge. Call it a personal quest to see just how long I can stretch out $5.00 in gas from about a month ago, but I have elected to go car-free - at least for the summer. After that, we'll have to see -- but it seems do-able. Certainly, I'm not the only one with this idea! Maybe in this part of the country - but I'm at least in a very select minority. Not everyone can or is willing to give up their car for any length of time. It's downright unacceptable to even walk anywhere anymore. Some people consider the novelty of riding their bicycles up to the local Frozen Custard stand for a treat, or to the post office just to get a book of stamps, and that's about it. In fact, this is probably the most admirable form of bicycle use, and should set a fine example for those non-extremists out there. If you have an errand to run that is less than five miles from home, and you don't have to carry anything heavy - why not just leave the keys on the key dresser? I mean, coming from an auto-service standpoint, a trip that short doesn't give your exhaust system time to heat up enough to vaporize all the moisture that condenses inside the muffler during the first 5 minutes of vehicle operation -- so, basically, you're shortening the life of your exhaust by making such a short trip -- it will rust out faster. So, you see, it's not always just about gas money. Also, it's widely known that the majority of automobile accidents happen within five miles of home. This was the battle cry of the 'buckle-up' movement, because people thought "hey, I'm only driving down the street - what's the big deal?" Well, why even drive at all, then? Jump on the cruiser bike and run that errand, and you'll automatically be more alert - even though you are still just as close to home, riding a bicycle on the road instantly makes you more alert and aware of your surroundings -- the chances of running that stop sign because "no one is EVER there" are eliminated, which is what causes those close-to-home wrecks in the first place: taking things for granted. On a bicycle, you never take things for granted like that, because that safe metal shell is missing. Here I go, sounding preachy again. It comes with have passion for this new pursuit -- as I write this, I'm half-way talking MYSELF into it, too. I made this new personal challenge when I was thinking of ways I could keep pushing the envelope with my efforts to raise money for my favorite charity, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society; primarily for the annual MS-150 ride in September. I have pledged to shave off my trademark goatee in the past, pledged to do the ride on a single speed (at the time a big deal for me), and other such gimmicks, basically trying to get people's attention towards the cause, and hopefully raise a few pledges in the process. Over the past few years, since being 'saved by the bike' in 1998, I had sporadically ridden to and from work, and like anything else, it started small. At first, it was the occasional weekend ride to job#2, back when I worked weekends. Then it became EVERY Sunday, then it was a couple times a week, then three times, then over the last couple years it has been quite often, then thru the winter -- but not EVERY day. Even still, come the weekend I would jump back in the car to run errands and deliver lunches for the week to my desk drawer, things like that. Going completely car-free was going to be a jump. But, I have a kiddy trailer that I can load with groceries if need be, and even in a town not designed for bicycle traffic, I live fairly close to every place I need to go. So, I did the math and figured out a good time to start was right upon moving into our new building at job#1, which was late April this year. At that point, there was about 100 work-days between then and the MS-150 ride. So far, twenty-seven work-days later, I still have not driven a car -- the ONLY exception being to drive across town to an ATM to get cash and buy a bike from a garage sale that I had stumbled upon on my way home from work, on the bike of course -- but since it was to salvage a bicycle, I have to forgive myself. Therein lies the problem -- it's SO easy to fall back into the lifestyle that we have been raised upon. Since the big car-boom of post-war America, this country has been about CARS. During the 20's and 30's, cars were a rich-persons luxury status symbol, but after WW2, the GI's streaming back home and industry firing back up with new ideas caused a stir in American culture that has never subsided. Cars were freedom and American pride - the Norman Rockwell image of a ranch-style home with a big Plymouth in the driveway, and there's dad smoking a pipe and leaning proudly on the fender. Cars are AMERICA, man. For generations, that's the way it has been. Cars became WHO we are, not just how we got somewhere. Cars are important, they are a rite of passage for teens, they are cool, they complete a persons image just like a pair of sunglasses. It's sad, really, how much importance we tie to what is basically a bunch of metal and rubber. Think about it the next time you are out and about, say walking through a parking lot. Look at the people and look at what they drive, how they act. That well-dressed guy hopping into the polished BMW, for example --- what's the first thing that pops into your head about him, his character? --- now, change NOTHING but the car. Give him the same suit and tie, confident walk, $50.00 cut and style, and picture him crawling into a rusted Dodge Omni. Did your opinion of him change? If not, you're a less critical American than *I* am. It's become natural, second nature, to make assumptions and judge people by their choice of automobile - and consequently, people spend ridiculous amounts of money each month on their cars to get just that image that makes them THEM. Sometimes thousands a month. You see advertisements on TV for the 'special lease' of only $229 per month, blah blah blah -- but let's be serious: you want the nice SUV, you're gonna drop $400 per month on a new one, in a heartbeat. Plus fifty a month in gas if you live a reasonable distance from work, plus errands, then factor in your insurance cost which would certainly exceed $100 - and don't get me started on accessories - I like rap music just as much as the next guy, but spending as much on a single wheel and tire as most single moms can only afford for an entire CAR, just so you can drop the phrase "I'm rollin' on dubs", is a little short-sighted. I dig the rap culture - I mean those guys know how to ROLL -- but they make $30,000 a day. If you make that in a year, you don't NEED dubs. There was a time, though, where I wanted nothing more than to take my old '76 Buick and slam it to the ground with Daytons and a airbrush a mural of a raging thunderstorm on the deck, with hydraulics in the trunk and REALLY metallic paint -- but that day has passed. I understand the need to make your car your own, but this image thing can get pricey - and although I appreciate the extra engineering and safety that comes with a high-priced automobile as much as any discerning autophile, or the feeling of pride you get when everyone you pass on the road rubbernecks to see YOUR ride -- it will in essence get you from point-A to point-B just as well as a used mid-80's Honda Accord with mismatched door panels. And you are really the same person, either way. Granted, for some, this image thing holds zero importance. We are, however, a nation of judgmental people. So, how do you think that image changes when someone doesn't get into a car at ALL. What's more, forget the suit and tie and go for lycra, in bright colors with a plastic shell for a hat. I can hear the mumbles of disapproval now. But, I hold comfort in setting a different kind of image. Nothing gives you super-hero status with your kids faster than coming home from work under your own power. After all, everyone else in their lives is following the car routine to the letter. True, when they get older they will probably drive - as they should. I would never think of depriving them of that privilege for some altruistic notion of my own. My boy LOVES cars, and wants to drive BAD. Some days, it's all he talks about. My notions, after all, are just that - my OWN. I won't push them on you (much), or my kids - but I like to think that what I do helps, somehow. It helps ensure that the $50 that I put in their savings accounts instead of my gas tank will be appreciated someday. It helps that maybe, just maybe, not EVERYONE over there is snickering at the guy in spandex, but maybe just one of them is half considering trying it, too. After all, I don't hold any candles for the ozone layer or preach about global warming - I just am doing what works for me, in this chapter of my life. In the grand scheme of things, all I have to do is stand next to Metcalf during my lunch break and count cars to realize that what I'm doing probably makes no difference at all. But hey...you can't judge a guy for trying. [ /<(- ]
5.16.2004 "Like a rock" "I gave it all I had, got dropped, and rode in to give another day. But it's hard. It's hard to have everybody see you back there. It's more than a little embarrassing, but that's what being a racer is all about." -- David Farmer, on being dropped in the Tour DuPont The only difference between Mr. Farmer and myself, is that he is a racer. I am not. Yet. In fact, I've only officially raced ONCE, under a USCF license that I (regrettably) paid the full yearly fee for. I used it once, and in retrospect should have just bought a day pass. It was the 2001 Tour of Kansas City Cliff Drive Classic. I raced in the Cat.5 field, and it was only 4 laps of a 2.75 mile course, with a hill that absolutely KILLS. It's so steep, I don't think they allow cars on it. When the mayhem was complete, I felt like I was gonna blow Gatorade all over the road. I didn't finish last, and I didn't get lapped, but JEEZ. I look back with a certain amount of reverence on that day, but I have never raced again since. Sure, I have a truck-load of justifications; I was heavier then, I really didn't have gearing down, etc,etc,etc -- I mean, I had only ridden my first MS-150 the summer before, and I'd had this illusion that I was ready for the Cat.5 bunch? The very next spring, I discovered ultra-distance - and my niche. It takes a special type of mentality to sit on a bike and pedal for 18 hours straight and 250 miles, and beyond - and apparently I have it. Upon that foundation, a certain amount of speed has developed, and a good amount of endurance for longer efforts. And after lots of mileage, and then daily commuting starting in early 2002, I have trimmed down and strengthened up to the rider I am today... but I've never been racing since that August torture session in 2001. I’ll be brutally honest – I’m a decent bike handler, purely from daily exposure from commuting, but the thoughts of hectic packs full of elbows and locking handlebars makes me quiver with trepidation, and the thoughts of snapping collarbones makes my body ache just thinking about it. A week earlier, I had watched highlights of a race where Cipollini himself ended up with 14 stitches in his thigh after getting slammed into by another bike, chainring first. Why on EARTH would I want to race again? So, when my good friend the K.C. Spinman called me up Sunday night, I was a little surprised and nervous at the same time – after all I hadn’t talked to him in a while, but I had a feeling he was calling to talk me into something fast. I had just returned from getting a little Sheridan's frozen custard from up the street on the single speed, and was settling in for a little couch and a little mint-chocolate chip action. Yummy…a nice easy frozen custard ride never put anyone in the hospital, right? "Oh, the Spinman called..." chimed the wife. "Hmmm..." I dialed, with a grin on my face. Just and hour earlier I had finished setting all my gear out and prepping the long-distance bike for a cool 100-miler to Paola, KS and back – perfect for a Sunday spin -- and 15 minutes later after a little catching up, and encouragement, I was back in the garage, pumping up the tires on the oft neglected race bike. I had been making excuses for years, despite positive encouragement; the same excuses I had been making ever since my bloody showing at Tour of K.C. -- but that night, I finally got talked into hitting the Sunday Bicycle Shack ride in Grandview. For those of you not in the know, this ride is basically a recovery/spin-session ride for the local bunch of Cat.5,4,3 and the occasional 2, racers, including those on the namesake's racing team, and a few heavy-hitting tri-guys, too. It's a good draw, but the warnings from Spinman were serious: "Ok, so-and-so got hurt last week, and so-and-so is in Arkansas at a race, so the pace should be lighter this time around, but if someone jumps off, DON'T chase or you'll be cooked, and be sure to watch out for such-and-such -- he's a wicked climber..." ...the commentary continued in my head, and right up to the door of the Bicycle Shack itself, as Spinman and I waited and watched as everyone filtered in, got dressed, pumped tires, packed pockets, adjusted helmet straps and generally shot the breeze. I was graciously introduced, and handshakes were tossed around through the morning air, as I fidgeted around in my non-committal vintage jersey, chosen for it's "this guy CAN'T be a racer" vibe. As the parking lot began to take on the green and dark-blue hue of the real Bicycle Shack racing team jersey, it was clear I made a good choice. No room for pretenders here. If I had shown up in, say, a full-blown Phonak kit, I would have gotten stranger looks than I was getting with the loud, eighties ala-Fignon color scheme, and my bright blue closeout-special race shoes. The only thing better would have been adding crochet-style gloves and a ratty old cycling cap with a 7-11 logo, but they were in the wash after a long week of commuting use. Soon, all the people that were going to arrive had done so, and it was time to roll. "well, this ought to be hilarious." I thought to myself, as we rolled out onto Blue Ridge and headed west, into the unknown for me. Visions of getting dropped at mile two leered in my head. I felt horribly out of place as a double pace-line formed up. After years of commuting in solitude, and riding ultra-distance in solitude, and training in solitude, and getting spit off the back and suffering in solitude, here I was among lean, strong, categorized, resume-building riders on serious alloys and composites -- names like Merckx, De Rosa, Zipp, Spinergy, Simonetti - not overly shiny or overly resplendent, but USED HARD -- signs that you're in the pack with serious folk. None of this polish-and-show, mine-costs-more-than-yours malarkey that is so common at some of the reccie-rides -- you know the ones that show up on $5,000 titanium and disappear off the back after the first hill (but the bike looks fabulous) -- no sir, THIS stuff was bought because it was the best and could stand the rigors of racing week in and week out. It takes a special breed to drop three-large on a frame and actually be able to back it up -- this was that group. Besides, not many people are scrutinizing your bicycle when you are flying across the line with your hands in the air, are they? There I was; definitely the only person in the pack on a pre-buyout Schwinn, and probably the only person still running 8-speed in the rear, I was indeed feeling a little hardware envy. The funny thing about a ride like this, though -- once the pace starts to rise the only thing you can focus on is the tire on the wheel that is 3 inches in front of your own. That, and breathing hard. We began to make our way west, into Kansas, and onto familiar ground - Blue Ridge near Blue River Rd. - and thankfully, so far, I had not made any pack-blunders, like I had felt the need to pre-apologize for right after the ride started. So far, so good. So came the first real hint of the day, as we began the long descent down Blue Ridge, we approached the city limit of Kansas City, leaving Grandview behind. You've all heard that city-limit sign story before, right? Well, my friends, this was IT. When I find myself 200 miles from home on a brevet, and I see a county-line or "welcome to" sign on the side of the road, it means that I'm still moving. Only 200 miles to go. For the racers, it's the green jersey points. There I was, near the right side of the road, in the drops, flying down the hill, with riders all around -- when suddenly, there it was FROM THE LEFT! ~BANG!~ Like a shot, a rider is standing on an impossibly big gear, and hammering DOWN the hill toward this tiny blue sign on the side of the road and the invisible line extending across the lane. Before I could blink, there were three more on his tail, and one by one from behind, the chase was on. It was over and done almost as fast as it had started, and in a matter of seconds everyone was back together again. I looked over at Spinman, who smartly held back. "See what I mean?" he grinned... "Uh, YEAH..." Half stunned, it suddenly became apparent that the only reason I had been anywhere near the front so far in the ride was because I was allowed to be there. This notion was proven over and over as the ride continued, even when I got warmed up and began to find my pace, somebody got frisky. After a time, however, I began to realize that the only way I was going to get faster was to chase. A break would go, and I tried to follow, occasionally latching onto a wheel -- and then realizing my mistake as it became my turn to pull. Being able to bridge is one thing -- being able to bridge, and realizing that the guy you JUST bridged up to is waiting to use you as a windbreak so he can recover for his next attack is another thing - you bridge, you're spent, you face the wind, you pop, he goes -- then the pack goes - then you are alone. Hmmmm, tactics. Lots to learn out here... Then came some hills; the old Mission one-two punch at 143rd and 151st streets, heading southbound -- always a treat for the senses, and a chance to get the legs pumping. Again, I had that sneaking suspicion that I was off the front by grace, not by talent -- anyone that's watched a grand tour race knows: Some unknown guy jumps off the front, and no-one reacts -- it's not because they CAN'T, it's because they don't have to. Give him a few miles, and he'll be reeled back in, spent. It happens time and time again. Today was just a leisurely ride for the warriors, but the occasional battle still breaks out -- it may be leisurely, but it's training, too. Feeling spry, I manage to round off the last of Mission's offerings before the twisty section and continue on, passed by one rider, then a descent, RR tracks, and then probably the most fun section of road south of 135th St. Technical, with sharp corners and the invitation of fresh asphalt, Mission Road between 162nd and 183rd is heaven for cyclists of all kinds. The pace quickened, and soon I was on a wheel -- but then he peeled off and I was at the front again -- time for another lesson: There is no shame in tactics. If you are coming to a climb and you don't want to be at the front, get outta there. Peel off, for heaven's sake, don't try to lift the pace and power over the climb when you have well rested Cat.3 guys behind you!!! DUDE!!!! NO!!!!!! Too late. Meet "The Wall". A sheer face of concrete that lifts out of the creek valley, and back onto the ridge that continues south, it's steep enough to suck a serious amount of momentum out of your legs fast enough to make you wish you had shifted earlier. I had climbed this many times before, but always under my own terms -- after all, this was only 15 miles into the 400K route that starts in Grandview -- been there. So, I rise from the saddle, and start my ascent. See, the big problem with being at the front is you can't see what's going on behind you. c"click, click, chang...and that 'whrrr,whrrr,whr,whr,whr' of accellerating rubber -- and then there was a rideron my right, then Spinman himself on my left, then another rider putting an unREAL cadence to the climb to his left. Can't just give up, so I raise the pace and reel in all but the fast-feet guy, who is making a clean break of it -- can I catch him? History does indeed repeat itself. Bridge too hard, pay the price. I worked and worked and worked, finishing off the steepest part of the wall, and then tackling the false flat that continues for nearly a half-mile after it.... and I DID it. I got his wheel... just in time for him to look back, shift down, and duck behind me. There I was, in the breeze again - a stiff south breeze that was doing it's part to take the last of my legs with it. And, since I'm a soloist and a gentleman, I make another critical error: I pulled too long. I don't want to be a guy that pulls for only a few seconds, do I? But, at the same time, if I DO, I'm toast. From the brevet school comes the randonneur’s practice of ten-mile pulls – but that won’t work at this pace! Maybe I should pull off…. This is starting to hurt… Too late. It's a bad sign when the pace line passes you on the left, and it’s not a double line. It means two things: You're pace is dropping, and you pulled too long -- you should have dropped off to the left a long time ago, and now you're spent. And sure enough...among scattered mutterings of 'good pull' and the like, I hear the words "last one", meaning the end of the pace line is here and I should duck in -- and all I could do was watch it sail right by... I pushed enough to stay on for three or four revolutions, but I was cooked. WOW. These guys are GOOD... Dropped... like a rock. Thankfully, Spinman looked back and saw me, and pulled out of the line to help out. The rest of the racers were deep in the throes of good pace line practice, so it was up to me and him now. “Aren’t ya glad I called you?” Even after getting humbled, my answer was “absolutely!” Even though it was frustrating to get dropped, this was what it was all about. Ever since I stopped riding with Dale, I was pretty much enjoying setting my own pace, logging commutes and distance rides on the weekends, and the occasional club events – only recently, with meeting up with TomKC and Bob, and now hitting this group, was I again CHALLENGED. If you never ride with a group, you are always at the front --- but I was tired of being alone. Spinman’s phone call probably saved my outlook for the season, and hopefully has started a slow march to the kind of speeds that were being demonstrated about a mile up the road from us. Once again, I was looking down a long path, and at the end of it, if I squinted hard, I could see myself way up in that pack – taking short, calculated pulls, not damaging the group, and still keeping some left for that pesky county-line sign. After all, August is still out there, and so is Cliff Drive. That phone ringing on Sunday night was probably just the wake-up call I needed. [ /<(- ]
5/01/2004 "Turn, turn, turn" by the Byrds. I had that song stuck in my head the other day. It's been a while since I've had a spare minute to update the webpage - things have been a little hectic. For one, we moved to a new building at my primary job. That alone was a little traumatic, because it's me - after all. I'm a little, or I dunno, OBSESSIVE?! Totally new surroundings and a new desk and a whole new commute to figure out; yeesh. However, as the end of my first week in the new building comes to a close, I'm quickly realizing that this particular change was for the better. For several reasons, my stress level has dropped HUGE. I have an actual view, the desk is wood-grain instead of dull-lifeless blow-your-brains-out grey like at the other building, and instead of having my ride locked to a parking garage pole where in-attentive drivers would routinely park too close, or even hit, my bike, I now enjoy a nice, solid bike rack that's bolted to the pavement below. Instead of feeling trapped, I suddenly enjoy my job - even though it's the same job it was two weeks ago. Life is suddenly a little bit better. Until, of course you get to that part of the song.... "To everything... turn, turn, turn… there is a season...." And, so it goes at my second job this week. It's almost a scary repeat of what happened at my main job only two years ago. Almost. The writing has been on the wall for a while, but last night clinched it. Changes are coming, and they will directly affect me, and my livelihood, to some degree. Once upon a time, I worked until 11:00pm nightly - until a year and a half ago when they decided it was in the best interest of the business to close at 9:00pm instead. No problem. I adjusted, and the family adjusted. Looking back, even THAT was a change for the better - despite the loss of hours, I don't know HOW I was managing to survive working until 11:00pm, and then waking up early enough to get to job#1 in the morning. Crazy...but now, we may be closing as early as 6:00pm --- and getting off job#1 when I do, that starts to make one wonder if it's worth it at all. The bridge will come, and I will decide whether or not to jump ---- so, basically, any stress reduction I enjoyed for three days at job#1 has now been replaced by stress about what's gonna happen at job#2. Turn, turn, turn.... So, how do I deal with all this stress? Well, if you've been reading this for any length of time, you probably know the answer: crotchet. Err, no... cycling, YEAH.... sorry. I've been focusing on my single-speed rebuild project, which has been a work in progress for some time now -- it's evolved from a 45 pound monster, to the latest incarnation of light, no-frills, fast, get-it-done daily-grinder. I even rode it in the rain yesterday WITHOUT fenders! (collective gasp from the crowd) Whoooo, baby. Of course, after wiping a few dead earthworms off the back of my shorts, I'm probably gonna put the fenders back on, but that's another story. A couple stories back I was writing about my issue with a rear wheel that finally failed on me. In my desperate attempts to find a silver lining in EVERYTHING (yeah, right) I have found that one of the greatest things about life is that there's generally always something to keep you busy. Oh, and stuff always happens in 'twos'. No sooner did I get my brand-spankin' new wheel in from the right-coast, what should happen but my wheel on the single speed fails, too. Uh, huh. Thanks for saving me the extra shipping cost, Fate. Since it's the 1X, the order of the day is 'keep it cheap', so no fancy custom-build from Peter White this time around --- I find my solution and order it up; this time, however, it's something a lot stronger, and a lot LIGHTER. The old single speed wheel weighs SIX pounds…the new one probably weighs TWO. However, all the retro-confidence I'd bolstered for the old, heavy steel wheels is still unscathed -- the rims are not the problem in this case; this time, it's the hubs -- but stuff like that wears out, in this case it took twenty years. The way they built them back then it takes a LONG time for that to happen, but it happened. Another top-rule of wheel-building in the cycling world - you can reuse the hub, but it's never a good idea to reuse spokes or the rim, no matter how careful you are. So it goes, and a new complete wheel is on the way. With this comes a new opportunity to dive into yet another niche of cycling culture: fixed gear. Fixed gear riding has intrigued me for a while now...after all, reading any cycling history at all you will see that there was a time that fixed was ALL there was. The original Columbia Hi-Wheelers were essentially fixed -- the pedals tied directly to the wheel, or course. The 'safety' bicycle, as was the name for the new incarnation with two, equally-sized, wheels in the late 1800's, added a chain, but the cog in the back did not free-wheel. It was fixed... if the bike is moving, so are the pedals - no coasting. Sure, Lance Armstrong is a true champion and a VERY, VERY strong rider, but look back at the Tours de France in the early 1900’s, and those men climbed the Col de Tourmalet and the Galibier BEFORE the road was paved, AND ON ONE, FIXED, GEAR. I don’t know how the French spell ‘stud’, but it probably sounds something like Lapize, Garrigu, Defraye – Magnifique! But, I digress… Although there are obvious advantages to being able to coast (ask anyone that's gone down a serious hill with legs spinning out of control at 160 rpm), but there are a lot of advantages to NOT being able to. Just this last winter, back in early December, I braved the elements and took the 1X out of the garage for what would become the longest 5-miles of my life. On that day, I swear I would have made it to work sooner if I'd simply walked. There was about a half-inch of ice on the pavement at 3:00am, and that was before the snow began to fall. All said and done, I opened the garage at 5:00am and standing at the precipice of my morning commute, I nervously clicked into my pedals for the adventure. Knowing the forecast, I had even read up on the IceBike site the night before trying to glean some tips for bike handling and such. I was ready -- to FALL! Although I was lucky and never actually fell, I spent an awful lot of time going downhill sideways with the rear brake locked up. High winds from the south after the storm had blown clear the traction-providing layer of snow from the downhill face of each hill I'd crested headed south-bound, leaving a sheer plate of ice. Making matters worse, the plows and salt trucks had not made it as far north as I was, for as early as it was. Things were dicey. After a few repeats of this sideways decent with one foot stuck out for balance maneuver, it dawned on me why fixed gear is the weapon of choice on the east coast for commuters that ride year round through those REAL winters. You can put negative resistance on the pedals as you roll down gentle hills, instead of coasting out of control, or (big mistake) hitting the brakes on the ice. None of the hills on my commute to work are terribly steep, but put ice in the mix and I might as well have been sliding down a sheer wall to my doom. Having that fixed gear would have made the difference. What normally takes 20 minutes to accomplish on a regular day with clear pavement took me a little over an hour that morning. Ever since, I've had visions of track cogs and lock rings dancing in my head. So, with my hub headaches on the single-speed this week beget another silver lining out of yet another component failure. Especially since it's a flip-flop hub -- so, should I decide that fixed is not the order of the day, I can flip the wheel and coast along at ease. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to reaping the perfect-spin benefits of a few months of fixed-gear commuting before the big MS-150 ride comes up - might even decide to do it on the 1X, if things go well. I think the only thing I might not be ready to give up are blistering downhill descents, deep in an aerodynamic tuck --- instead of my legs spinning around, regardless of my input. Of course, I can probably see myself in the garage now, with a peanut-butter wrench in one hand and a stress-ball in the other. Fixed or free? Fixed or free??? AHHH!!!!!!!!!! Turn, turn, turn. [ /<(- ]
4/17/2004 JUST LIKE OLD TIMES. tHE jOHNSON cOUNTY bICYCLE cLUB sPRING cLASSIC My first organized ride in a LONG time deserves a little highlight, I think, so here we go! Finally, the weather forecast was starting to look UP. After a long winter, then a few bouts with winter trying to hold on for dear life, bringing 45º temps back into the mix, things finally began to look like Spring as the weekend approached. I was excited for the first time in a long time about a weekend ride. I mean, let's face it: one can only drag out of bed to ride in near-freezing temperatures for so long. The morning of the ride, however, it was 65º, with just a slight breeze. AWESOME. Time to suit up and hit it. I pulled the 'good' bike down out of the garage, and headed out. Upon arrival, excitement began to build up. The parking lot was filling up fast with cars and bike, everyone milling around, putting on shoes, adjusting brakes, pumping tires -- AHHH! The sounds of Spring at an organized ride, the first big one of the year: cleats on pavement, crunch crunch -- clicking in and out of pedals as people 'tick tick tick tick tick' freewheel around the parking lot, making last minute dial-in adjustments on their rides. The smell of sunscreen, helmets everywhere, laughter, conversations, Velcro closing, opening, and closing again; It makes my heart smile. After paying my registration fee and getting the course map, I just tooled around the parking lot grinning to myself and watching the fun unfold, saw a few familiar faces, and lots of new ones -- after all, this was my first big group ride in a WHILE. Soon, the waiting was over and people began to filter out of the parking lot and onto the road - it was around 8am - By the dozen, cyclists clicked in and poured out onto the course - it was on! I decided to get in behind a big group, the Prairie Village Yacht Club group, specifically. A large and well rounded group of riders of all classes - but mostly fast folks. Should be a fun day, eh? That racing spirit was calling again from deep down, but for now I was just enjoying the company of other bikes with me on the road. Nothing quite like the sight of a few hundred cyclists hitting the streets on resplendent machines, fresh from spring tune-ups. A few smaller groups began to jockey for positions up front as the group worked itself into the pace. The early sections of these rides are always nervous as things get sorted out - no one wants to take point, pacelines are sporadic and splinter quickly, and jumps off the front are short lived. Our massive group headed down 95th St towards Renner, and then turned north, and things began to thin out a little bit along the right side of the road. Eventually, we were near Shawnee Mission Park, headed towards the big downhill to Midland Drive, always a favorite. We descended fast, near 45 MPH or so with the tailwind, and magically caught the traffic light at the intersection for our left turn onto Midland, heading west - something that never happens - so me, and a group of about 4 fast riders, managed to keep our momentum up, flew under I-435 and managed to start picking off some of the slower riders. As this group of four that I latched onto began to work up the road on the left of the pack, it was apparent that this was not going to be a leisurely ride. I had a choice to make - I could hang with this group and get a workout, or hang back and enjoy the day. Nah. Time to work. It was about this time that I began to miss riding with Dale --- the Warbird LOVED moments like that, in the pack, rushing along like mad-house. Midland Drive is always a treat - nice smooth pavement, albeit narrow in places, and not much of a grade makes for good paceline practice, but it's far too short before you arrive at Shawnee Mission Parkway and have to cross it and it becomes Barker Rd...again, our fast group got lucky, and managed to get across without having to put a foot to the ground. About this time, as we began to negotiate the decidedly hillier Barker Rd, someone appeared to my right, wearing a Nebraska Huskers jersey -- and he was asking about me, which was kinda strange -- apparently, people DO read this little corner of the web! "Are you CommuterDude?" "That's me!" I grinned. "Hey, thought I recognized you from the Bike Journal website! How's it going?" And so it went -- I'd just met local rider 'TomKC' , and his friend Bob. Bob was out for the 47 mile option, sticking to a strict training regimen, but Tom was up for the 70 mile option. Awesome -- we chatted for a time, and generally enjoyed the scenery of Barker Rd, as it wound its way downhill toward Johnson Drive - home of the big hills. A botched pedal entry slowed things up a bit at the intersection, but I managed to get back up to Tom to talk a bit while some more of the PVYC pack began to cluster in around us. I stretched a bit, too, knowing that a little rise in the road was coming up. We talked a bit about ultra, kids, breaking new ground for a new season, etc, and then, the hill was upon us. It's basically an overpass that crosses over some railroad tracks and a creek below, but it gains a serious amount of altitude (for Kansas, anyway) in a pretty short stretch of road. In an instant, I decided to shove this one home, and my effort was answered from the left... as I stood on the pedals and threw the gears over, I was lucky enough to get a PERFECT line through the crowd of riders making their way up the hill. I darted left, then right, then left again, weaving a nice line up the road and clear to the front -- and from the left was a loud voice, in a thick accent, Italian perhaps (not sure?) -- but it was kinda cool...he sounded exactly like this Belgian race commentator that I've heard call a few races like Ghent Wevelgem or Het Volk before -- wonder if THIS guy was Belgian? Cool... "ATTACK! ZER IS AN ATTACK ON ZE HILL!" With a big grin on his face, and an equally big grin on my face to greet him, he climbs out of the saddle to join me at the front, on a gleaming red white and blue Merckx bike, with Campy parts, very nice. I know, I know - it's not about the bike.... and it really wasn't after a while. This guy was a strong rider -- could have put him on a steel 3-speed and he would have flown up the road. We settled in together, me at the front (for the moment) trying to recover a little from the climb. I had originally intended to drop back into the pace and rejoin Tom and Bob, but this new arrival had me thinking in a new light: BREAKAWAY. It was now or never, so I went for it. At a serious pace, I led my new breakaway partner up Johnson Drive to Woodland Rd, where I slowed a little, then fired thru the intersection with him hot on the pace. This was gonna be fun, I thought to myself, legs still searing from the effort on the hill, and the effort so-far keeping the pace up. I'll just call him 'The Belgian' - it's fitting - but if you're reading this and I get the nationality wrong, many apologies. So, The Belgian starts to come up on the left -- my pace is dropping ever so slightly, so I tuck in behind him to recover a little. This pace is crazy, I thought to myself again, and struggled to stay on his wheel as the undulations of Johnson Drive approaching K-7 began to sink in a little. Soon, the intersection arrived, and my hesitation there cost me several bike-lengths as we drifted to the right onto K-7 northbound. The tailwind was back again to help out a little, and the road would level a tad before we had to cross the Kansas river in about two miles -- time to get this guy back! Still trying to keep myself from blowing up, I got into the big chainring and began to advance up through the gears, seeing how much I could shove to the ground. I never bothered to look back to see where the rest of the pack was sitting, but I was sure they were right behind me. I hammered out, deep in the drops, trying to find that balance of full tailwind advantage, but still aerodynamic to the front - and it seemed to be working. The Belgian was 1/2 mile ahead of me at this point, having a great time and obviously in fresher shape than I was, but I was beginning to reel him back in -- watching him pass a light pole up ahead, I counted to myself as I hammered along....then I watched him pass the intersection at 47th Street...counting again..... I was closing the gap, with two miles until the next turn, and looking down confirmed that a long winter of intensity workouts and a good tailwind were paying off in this little chase, with 37 MPH showing on the clock, and a couple gears left if I felt strong enough. PUSH! PUSH!! Another mile knocked off, and still the gap was coming down, but another mile not be enough to reel him back in. To make matters more interesting, the road was beginning to pitch upwards in preparation to climb over the river. Would I be able to get him? YES!!! As the pavement pitched skyward again, the gap came down quicker, and maybe I was finally putting some hurt into The Belgian! I reattached myself to his wheel to recover from the gap closing, and we both swept around the cloverleaf down onto Loring Rd, near K-32, just outside Bonner Springs. A third rider joined in briefly, and we held together with a good paceline until a PT Cruiser managed to mess things up a little - drivers....ugh. The other two riders passed him on the right at our green light, but confused by the fact that I was staying behind him, he decided to stop in the middle of the road and wait for me to pass him. Not good, so I passed him on the left, legally, and continued -- but then had to bridge back up to The Belgian and the rider in the Euskatel jersey, who then elected to drop off. "....If I keep up that pace, I won't finish! Have fun!" With laboured breathing and tightness in my legs, I was beginning to wonder how much fun *I* was having, and whether or not *I* would finish... but The Belgian was not waiting around. After all that work, and still no sign of the pack behind us, he was not about to let this breakaway go to waste. "Do you know ze route?" "Uh... no..." I'd never been this far north on a bike before, after all, but so far the route was well marked - didn't even need he maps! "Letz go, zey are coming, eh?" He took the front, and we hammered like mad - this time heading south and west, directly into the ever-building wind. All of that extra pushing on K-7 was going to reveal itself now, with tired legs and a struggling pace. The Belgian was still strong and fresh, but I was so busy trying to catch him that I had not been drinking enough - something that would start to become a problem later on. I took a few swigs of water, and a dash of fuel - PUSH! PUSH!!! We continued down the quite scenic and flat Loring Rd. for another 4 miles, then hit another turn --- there was some confusion about the route, but I was confident in the route markings and we made our right turn, due west and out of the wind slightly, but what a road! The Belgian looked back north Loring Rd, and could see a developing problem. "Ahhh, don't getting tired man, zey are coming! Ze pack iz coming to get us!" We were now on Leavenworth County Road 32, or L-32, and it was a climb! It reminded me a little of Colorado's mountain roads, without the sheer rock faces to the left or right. The pitch was even, but steep enough to wake you right up. For nearly two miles, we climbed - first with me at the front, out of the saddle, then The Belgian took point, then back to me again -- we swept up a couple riders that had left early from the parking lot, struggling up the hill, and made quick work of them. Up, up, up, then a slight downhill, then up again to the intersection at L-2, and a turn south again into the wind, but downhill thankfully. Through thick trees and shadowy pavement, we flew down L-2, but The Belgian was finally catching me out. I was fully cooked from the out-of-the-saddle climbing only a mile before, and where he managed to kick it up and hammer down the hill, I opted for a deep tuck and coast. Unfortunately, I don't have the gravity advantage that I used to, so my speed - even downhill - was not impressive, especially into the wind. The Belgian began to advance up the road for the second time, and I was not able to answer. About 2/3rds of the way down, I was CAUGHT! ARGGHH!! The very fast paceline that had started all this excitement WAY back at Midland Drive was back, and they were after us for a while - nearly 12 miles off the front with The Belgian were flushed, but at the very least they let me into the paceline. A little time in the draft was exactly what I needed to get some of the push back, and to get some liquids and food into me again. The Belgian managed to stay away, but we were only two miles outside the first rest-stop of the day, and it was apparent that no-one was going to skip it! We were ALL whipped from the effort. Said and done, twenty miles in a sliver over an hour. Fifty miles to go! Bottles were refilled, food disappeared, and hands were shaken -- with a hearty handshake I thanked The Belgian for the workout, and we watched as the rest of the pack began to filter in, minutes later, including Tom and Bob. Tom and I got to talking again, and the three of us agreed to stay together and take it a little easier for the rest of the ride -- something I was glad to hear! After all, now that we had arrived in DeSoto, KS, the majority of the ride would now be heading south - into the wind. And speaking of the wind, it was now howling at about 15-20 MPH. Hmmm....this might be a tough morning! Fueled and fresh, we mounted up for the battle of will against wind. We weaved thru DeSoto, and hit Kill Creek Road, passed over K-10, and started to get a very nice three-man paceline rhythm going -- short pulls into the gale, then drift back and latch on -- wait your turn. Tom, Bob and I worked like a well oiled machine - even picking up a few riders along the way -- but only to, unfortunately, spit them off the back after a few minutes. The three of us were quite well matched for the day's task, and it REALLY beat being out there alone. It was also nice, after jogging east and south again at 115th and then 127th, to start to pick up some of the riding techniques of these well-trained riders I was fortunate enough to hang with. Bob, for instance, is a very strong climber with intimidating calves. He made the rises in the road flatten out, and his even pacing was impressive -- and his cadence. I started to pay attention, because cadence is the key after all, and I had been spending a LOT of time on the single-speed commuter bike lately - a bike with WAY too big a gear, to make matters worse. In cycling, a little cross-training is good, but it's important to keep your transitions clear -- having spent so much time shoving over a monster gear on the 1X, I was not spinning efficiently on the geared bike anymore. And it was starting to show. I managed to keep the pace steady, and take my turns at the front, but I was wearing myself out too much -- and again, not drinking enough. Behind everything else that was going on, I was getting dehydrated. It was hotter than it seemed with the high winds, and I was drying out like a wet rag in a toaster oven (which is never a good idea, by the way!) We were on Gardner Rd, and only a few more miles to the next rest stop at 151st St., which is where Bob would turn off for the 47 mile finishing option. Another handshake, and a boat-load of thanks for the pulls and the lesson in climbing. Tom and I elected to keep going (after he inadvertently rolled over a big helium balloon that had blown horizontally across the road -- BANG! "sorry!") onto the rest of the 70 mile option, west on 151st to Dillie, then to 143rd, all the while chatting it up and taking a few pictures here and there. It was a nice day, despite the wind, and we were both having a pretty good time -- and a good chuckle trying to figure out where all the rest of the riders were. Certainly, upon regrouping at the rest stops, there would be massive pacelines fighting the wind behind us, and certainly they would have caught up to us by now! But, so far, we were alone on the road --- we managed to pick up another rider shortly after the 2nd rest stop, but he did not like the pace after a few miles and faded off. Tom and I were working the two-man paceline like magic, ticking off the miles quickly - not slacking at all, even though the pace seemed lighter than the assault to the first rest stop. The pinnacle of the ride's headaches came at Edgerton Road, which heads south for seven miles to US-56 highway, and the lay of the land out here meant only one thing: WIND. 25 MPH solid of it. There was not much out here to block it, save for a few minor rises in the road along the way. You can almost see all the way to where you are going, and it seemed like it was never going to end. Not since the last day of Ride the Rockies in 2002 did forward progress on the bike seem like such a chore. Tom took brilliant pulls, and I struggled to keep he pedals rotating - reverting back to my single-speed slogging cadence, which was not helping. Looking down at the computer for a speed check was a mental mistake -- frustratingly low speeds after a day of staying largely over twenty. The miles surely flowed by, and we never got caught by any monster pacelines like we had anticipated - we were doing better than we'd thought! Then, up the road, we saw a lone, blue jerseyed rider, doing solo-duty into the squall -- crazy. We caught up to him, and invited him to latch on, but he was too tired to hold the two-man pace after running solo for so long -- he must have skipped the rest-stops, too, or left really early to get this far ahead. Soon, he was behind us, and shortly after that, so was Edgerton Road. We were about done with the headwinds for the day! We rolled thru the Bull Creek area around 199th St, then turned north (finally) at Four Corners Rd, and enjoyed a nice tailwind for a change -- only to get stopped by a train a mile later! Eventually he got moving again but we thought for certain, as the lone blue-jersey caught up to us, that this is where we'd see a huge mass of riders catch up. But, again, we were wrong! Awesome! Before long, after a nice stretch of enjoying 30+ MPH effortless flying with the tailwind, we were back at the 47-70 mile split rest-stop 2-3 -- only 15 miles to go for the finish. Fully spent from the headwind trials, I began to take on water like it was going out of style, getting a little leg cramp here and there. Dehydration was sneaking up again! DRINK! EAT! (fool.) You'd think I'd learn one of these years, eh? Oh well -- considering only a week before it was raining and in the mid 40's for high temps, and today it was brutally windy, sunny and temps in the mid-80's, I can take back a few points for acclimation. This Kansas weather makes it hard to get into a routine! Back into the traffic core on Dennis, then to Kansas Ave, and Northgate through Olathe, it was clear that Johnson County is a busy place even on Saturday. In coming years, I can see this ride's start location changing, as traffic began to pile up and fill in as we reached 119th Street and eventually Renner for the final run to the parking lot. It was about this point, that I noticed Tom's wheels -- eventually, it always comes down to an equipment conversation -- Sure, Mavic sells a lot of wheels, but these were nice -- and familiar -- some older Cosmics, with part of a label missing so it reads "smic". Too much of a coincidence, so I asked. "Nice wheels, Tom..." "Yeah, picked 'em up cheap at a garage sale couple weeks ago from a guy that was leaving for Japan... not bad, eh?" I agreed, and smiled to myself. All the miles I had shared with Dale in the past, all the hours I spent in his draft, watching those familiar wheels spin around under his power, and earlier in the month realizing that I might not get to ride with him again for nearly a decade -- and there were those wheels again. Someone, somewhere, has a very sharp sense of irony. Even though he was already in Japan, there was a piece of Dale riding along with Tom and me. And, appropriately enough, near the end of the ride when I needed that extra help and inspiration to get my tired, cramping legs back to the parking lot and the start/finish, I was in familiar and comfortable territory - right on Dale's wheel. And, just like all those times the Warbird came out with me to dominate the local club-ride, Tom and I cruised on, climbed Renner's hills, hit 95th Street, and made it back to the parking lot with a 1-2 finish off the 70 mile loop. Even though it was the first ride together for Tom and me, it was just like old times. [ /<(- ]
4/15/2004 --- Mechanical difficulties beyond our control For years as a child, I remember riding. I rode big-wheels, I rode trikes, then big bikes with training wheels. Mine was purple, and sometimes I can still see it in my mind – you never forget your first bike. Sometimes the stress of the work-place is so high, that I leave for the day and can't remember my first name or birthday. Seriously. But, for some strange reason I can remember what it felt like when I rode my bike without training wheels for the first time. That fickle combination of balance, equilibrium and forward motion that we older cyclists now take for granted was so strange-feeling. It was exhilarating - enduring the bruises and teary-eyed frustrations for weeks, watching my friends ride training-wheel-free up and down the street, while I still stayed lopped to one side, held up by one or another white and black plastic wheel on a clunky metal bracket, with those little red bolt-caps off center. Borrowing a wrench from dad's old plastic Craftsman tool-box, I bravely removed those training wheels, and tossed them on a shelf one evening in the summertime, moons ago. And I fell. And fell. And fell. And fell again… but it was that same evening, as the dim of twilight cast a weird purple light on everything and the wind began to die down, that saw me alone in the front yard, one at a time putting big wheels and bikes away in the garage after another long, carefree childhood day came to a close. As I walked from the garage back out into the yard, there was one bike left - my purple bike, lying on its side in the grass next to a small maple tree (one we'd planted shortly after we'd moved in years before). I picked it up, and instead of walking it to the garage, a voice in my head said "one more time", and so I threw my leg over. I put my left foot on its pedal, and pushed against the grass with my right - then put my right foot on its pedal. …And I didn't fall -- the force of gravity pulled me briefly to the right, and I compensated with my hips and motion of the handlebars - and it worked for the first time in my life. I rode across the front yard and into the open garage, without falling. From then on, as they say, it was just like riding a bike. Time marched on. The purple bike was 'retired', in perfect working order - never a chain replacement, never a flat tire. In fact, I never really remember having to replace ANYTHING on any of my early bikes. On to BMX. My first Schwinn. I grew up near then end of practically a century of American bicycle manufacturing dominance by the giant that was Schwinn, Chicago, USA. My dad's completely original Schwinn Varsity still hangs proudly in their garage, from his college days. My mom's Schwinn World Tour, recently restored by yours truly, sits proudly in that same garage. My sister's "Miss Varsity", also in there. My first BMX bike; a Schwinn. Basically, anyone that rode a bicycle in this part of the country in the last 40 years or so probably rode a Schwinn. This was a time when bicycles from Haro, Mongoose or Dyno were a rarity in the BMX crowd - like seeing a Ferrari or something. Road bikes equipped with Campagnolo parts were for RACERS ONLY. For the real riders, it was SunTour or Schwinn. Framesets like Peugeot, Puch, & Raliegh were only READ about – seldom seen on the road. Everything else was "Schwinn Approved", and generally never wore out. Of course, as kids we never rode 10,000 miles a year, either, but it's a safe bet that I could probably pull down dad's old Schwinn, relube the chain, pump the tires and GO; possibly for years. That phrase "they don't build them like the used to" is popular for a reason. That thing must weigh 55 pounds. Steel - THICK steel. Wheels? Steel. Chrome. THICK tires. Handlebars? Steel. Seatpost? Steel. REAL nuts and bolts, instead of hollow aluminum 'fastners' like they use today. Back in those early days, a 'gram' was something you used to send over telegraph wires, and not something to kvetch over. Carbon fiber was something the boys at NASA were still keeping a secret. You could go spend $200.00 on a complete bicycle, and RIDE it, perhaps for decades before anything would wear out. If something DID wear out, your local Schwinn store would fix it under warranty, more than likely. But, as we all know, that all changed. Whether or not it was for the better? Ask any collector willing to pay THOUSANDS for a well maintained classic Chicago-made Schwinn for THAT answer. This week has me looking back at that time period not so long ago when things were built to last. Parts were manufactured on reputation, pride, and things like "planned obsolescence" and "manufacturing costs" were not terribly important. If someone bought a bicycle, and NEVER visited the shop again -- they were a satisfied customer, and companies like Schwinn rested assured that they built a quality product. Unfortunately, that chapter closed long ago. So many companies fell hard like that. Hammerlund and Collins in the amateur radio world, for example, and just like Schwinn in today's world with the "Made in Taiwan" label affixed, so many proud American companies have changed hands so many times it's impossible to see even slight resemblances to the originals aside from the name. Cars, stereo gear, toaster ovens, blenders, EVERYTHING. Which is why, after all, people go insane collecting these relics. They may not fetch much on the open market but, to a select few in the know, they are truly priceless. Don’t get me wrong – I live for technology, especially in the bicycling world. In the last ten years alone, cycling’s racing scene has created an eruption of technological wonder that can only be likened to the space-race of the 60’s, or the cold-war arms build-up in the 80’s. Carbon fiber, only something the racers could enjoy just three years ago, is literally part of EVERY facet of bicycling now, from forks, to wheels, to seats. Anything that can be made lighter and stiffer using carbon fiber or similar composites, you can bet it will hit the market. It’s only a matter of time. However, how much of this miracle stuff will still be on the road in five years? Will anyone care? In our pursuit of lighter & faster, we have forgotten about stronger & longer. A part stamped from steel ten years ago will more than likely be around in ten years time. Something that today’s craftsman labors over for hours, laying fibers for instance, may only be a memory in a recycling plant in ten years, even with careful use. It’s hard to say. Is there anything wrong with that? Also, hard to say. As for today’s go fast parts – enjoy them while they are hot, and be careful to inspect them regularly. As for the old-world, heavy stuff – collect it, ride it, enjoy it, and hand it down to your kids. It’ll still work fine. This week taught me one such lesson, a lesson in metal fatigue. After 12,000 miles, the rear wheel on my commuter bike suffered a rim failure, around a couple of the spokes. It was simple metal fatigue, hoop-stress, caused by thousands of cycles of push-pull-push-pull while I pedaled away the miles. PING! I certainly got my money’s worth out of that wheel, but it’s time for a new one. Just like that. It’s certainly no fault of the wheel-builder that made it for me only two years ago, but in the state of today’s manufacturing world – cheaper, faster, lower operating costs all translate to lower quality to the end user. At least the hub is re-usable…THIS time around. Upon arriving home last night after getting a lift, I begin to de-spoke that rear hub to prepare to send it back to my wheel-builder on the east coast. As I worked away, my eyes turned toward my single-speed beater-bike, hanging upside-down above my head in the garage. That bike was saved from a dumpster only a couple years ago, and who KNOWS how much care (or lack of care) those wheels received before I came across them. Steel. Chrome. Fat. Big, thick spokes. Signs of surface rust and pitting. But they are true, strong, and have never given a hint of a problem in thousands of miles; thousands of hard-on-wheels, single-speed, grinding-up-hills miles, no less. I may never have to replace them – they may be old, unsightly, and grotesquely heavy compared to today’s wheels, but as I hung my regular commuter bike up for however long it will take to get my new rear wheel, I began to wonder if any of that mattered. Like that old Buick still resting in my parents garage, the one I drove in high-school – it’s heavy, inefficient, and you can see daylight thru the rust-holes in the trunk, but it ALWAYS starts right up. Hmmm. They really don’t build them like they used to, do they? As I packed up the now de-spoked rear hub to ship east, and shoved the cracked and ruined rim into the trashcan, I enclosed a note in the box for the wheel-builder to read, among the peanuts and bubble wrap. “Something stronger and heavier, please.” One step backwards, perhaps – but a huge step forward. [ /<(- ]
4/14/2004 Making up for lost time I decided to snap out of the late-winter/early-spring duldrums this weekend, and make up for lost time. Instead of sulking around the house, I used two pretty good days to make up for the 200K that I missed up in Liberty a few weeks back, and get some pride back in the local mileage race at the same time. I know, I know - we are all in this for fun and fitness, and life is not a race. Whatever. Sometimes I get that competitive bug up the bumm, and *HAVE* to go out and knock some heads around a bit. Yeah, yeah. So, that's precisely what I did. Saturday, I did a quick 60 miler around some of the old stomping grounds: headed south on Mission Rd., climbed so big hills and took a detour on 159th St. to Metcalf, then south to 179th St., home of the massive shoulders. I love nice, wide shoulders. It's like your own little highway off to the right of the road, and trucks, cars, semis, are no longer a close-quarters concern. I fly down the massive hill, under US 69, at about 40 MPH -- the descent is over a mile long -- pretty good for Kansas. I pass big fields of lavender, some cows sunning themselves in a fresh green field, and I actually see another cyclist where 179th turns into 175th -- she looks a little tired, stopped, elbows on the handlebars resting with her head down, she looks up long enough to exchange waves. Cool, especially considering my cyclist encounter counter is only in the single digits since JANUARY. There were those two I passed on Lee Blvd Extension near Mission Rd. during an extended commute on the single speed last week, a helmetless mountain biker in downtown OP one night, and that other guy I exchanged hello's with at 103rd and Lee Blvd a few weeks prior during a warm snap. Oh, and then three team-gear wearing riders at 135th and Switzer before that. I think that's all.... hmmmm.... I digress. Back to the road -- I roll onward, turning north on Pflumm Rd and negotiating it's rolling hills and the stiff NE wind that had been waiting for me since I'd left the house. Off to the right, a farm house and silo off in a briliant green field, puffy clouds hanging around - I take a picture. Wish I lived out here! I roll onward, past Heritage Park and it's lake, then to 159th St I turn East into a gale-force headwind. Brutal. I only stay on for a mile, turning north again at Quivira after passing the south end of the Executive airport. Hate to be flying in THIS crosswind today! A little single-engine plane approaches and lands almost sideways - crazy. I turn north on Quivira, and head up through Morse, a forgotten little community established in 1884 -- as many times as I'd ridden up Quivira, I'd never noticed it until today - the town's Welcome sign - so I stop and take another picture. Hammer on...north, all the way to the bike trail head, and I follow that, shielded from the headwind by countless trees, until I reach Lamar - then north to home again. Sunday, day two of getting back the 200K I missed; I depart into a completely different wind scenario, so I decided to enjoy the first part of the ride and suffer on the way back. I regret that decision NOW, but that's okay! I head east on 71st St., to Cherokee, to Belinder, to Lee Blvd, and head south from there, over Interstate 435 to the extension and to the bike trail for the final push to 123rd and Mission Rd., where I climb up 123rd to Overbrook, and cross State Line, and follow a new route to get out to Longview Lake. After getting through Martin City, and waiting for a train to pass, the resulting new route is NICE, quiet, and has VERY little traffic compared to the old route I would normally take out there. I think I saw three cars in 14 miles, whereas on the old route I would have lost count in five miles. MUCH better. And I love the fore-lengthening of a brand new route: as you negotiate the route for the first time, EVERYTHING stretches out, including time. Every little detail of the road seems to take minutes to pass, and each hill seems steep and different than anything you've climbed before. On the way back it passes much faster, so much so that it becomes important to watch for your next turn so you don't miss it! So, I hit the lake, do a couple laps, and then start heading back -- into the wind again. Such is life! Certainly the headwind was a factor, but the only thing I seemed to grumble at on the return through Martin City was the fact that most of the road I had come DOWN to get here before was now pointing UP, on the busiest stretch of the whole trip. It worked out ok, but there were an awful lot of parking lot entrances and driveways to negotiate past and leftover winter traction 'sand-bars' everywhere, which made the long climb to my eventual turn a little cumbersome for afternoon time -- earlier in the morning, this would be no problem, but combined with the headwind I felt like I couldn't get off this road fast enough! Soon, I was back on the fast track to home, on the west-end of the bike trail. It may not technically count as road-miles, but after a long ride it's a pain to fight shopping traffic coming back into the core, so I will take any short-cut I can. Back on Lamar, it's a short ride and I'm home again, with my missed 200K ride more than made up for and really sore legs for the first time in a LONG time. After these two good sessions of hard training, at averages The next few commutes will be slow recovery rides, whether I want to slow down or not. It's been a good weekend – [ /<(- ]
4/3/2004 ----- A shiny red bicycle. Old glass bottles of RC, Sega Dreamcast, a table and folding chairs, random childhood knick-knacks, a stem, chainrings, pedals, helmets, a rain jacket, jerseys, saddles, ornate glass salt-n-pepper shakers, a stand-mixer, a bike work stand, and a shiny red bicycle. All for sale. Four years of recent cycling furvor goes on the table with a small strip of masking tape, and a handwritten price. Some negotiable, some not. It's a sad sight, because it confirms that a big day is coming. The Warbird is going away for a while - a LONG while. Three years in Japan, and possibly more in India before it's all done - a terrific opportunity. Very little will go with him; whatever doesn't wander from the table sold this weekend will go on Ebay, more than likely. If I had the money, I'd buy it all. I still rode away today with a new used helmet, a perfect fit – and a memento to remind me of a friend. Granted, our friendship was not forged in cycling alone; for decades we hung out, threw darts, drove too fast, dreamed, planned, wrote -- we played guitars together, we played Nintendo together, we played pool, we played trivia, we ate bratwurst and cheese together, drank together, drove endless miles for no reason together, sent morse code to each other, chased storms together at all hours of the night, and decided to ride bicycles one cold May morning together back in 2000. May 13th, actually. The journal entries I wrote back then were much shorter, but I remember it well. Have signed up for the MS-150, and training begins today - Got the Schwinn out of the garage for the first time in eight months -- eight months off the bike have caught up to me, and this first ride is proof -- although, I suppose I have to start somewhere. The bike trail is finished from Marty to Lamar now, so we don't have to cut across Metcalf on 103rd anymore, thank goodness. 52º this morning - cold and stiff headwind from the southwest as we hit Mission Rd to 159th, to Switzer, back to the bike trail on the west side and back to Dale's parent's house. Need to adjust toe-straps better - hard to get right foot out at stops again. Weird stomach problems at the rest stop at Switzer's 133rd St. park forces a stop - waiting for Dale on each hill, too, but he's been off the bike longer than *I* have. 26.12 miles in 2:00:05, 13.3 average, top speed 31.5 -- 416.62 total miles on the Schwinn It was only four years ago, but with mileage since then approaching 25,000 it's hard to believe my own entry. ME waiting for DALE on hills? Crazy. TOE STRAPS? I had not yet purchased my first set of clipless pedals yet. Stomach issue probably stemmed from the fact I was still fueling wrong for those types of rides, and I hadn't even put 500 miles on the Schwinn yet. Thirteen MPH average speed? Lots to learn - and lemme tell ya, I learned most of it with Dale by my side. OR, as a few rides later would prove, on Dale's wheel. OR, more accurately, WISHING I could hold Dale's wheel. He was a junior racer back in the old days, mowing lawns to afford a red Trek 450 that he would race and century on constantly. Shortly after that, he was able to drive -- and like what happened to me and SO many of us who grew up in the saddle, it was quickly no longer about the bike, but about the car, cruising, road trips. So was the case for 14 years, until that fateful ride in May 2000. Not sure if the old red Trek 450 was road worthy after that much time, his weapon of choice that day was an old brown Centurion. A beauty of a bike, with bar-end shifters and a smooth as glass ride, he straddled it and we rode off into that cool morning as rookies. I was still overweight, and again, I'd only logged 500 miles since starting to ride again -- but my most recent ride before that was in 1994: My 1976 Buick was broken AGAIN, so I mounted up a no-name mountain bike bought by my parents from the Bike Rack in Downtown Overland Park a few years earlier. That was my first commute to work, back when I worked the shipping desk at a local amateur radio shop. I couldn't WAIT for my car to be fixed. The bug had not bitten, and I was in horrible shape as a person - I remember that ride, too: the whopping 3 mile commute from my mother-in-law's apartment to work ON THE SIDEWALK took everything out of me, which I 'fixed' by eating a massive plate of nachos with extra meat from a fast food joint up the road. I walked there, though, on my lunch break - not wanting to saddle up again, apparently. Conversely, Dale's last ride before 2000 was probably a fast century, or the MS-150 itself many years back. Much like his brother Rick, youth was a time for fast bike rides and racing, and couple that with a genetic predisposition for musculature and endurance you have brothers that could have CLEANED UP in Europe in the mid-90's. To this day, Rick could probably still hop on a bike and out-climb most seasoned riders in the area without objection. Even though Dale has spent the last year pretty much off the bike getting ready for his assault on the Pacific Rim, he too could probably spend a week warming up again and be ready for the next crit series. Just like that. With 14 years of garage dust on the tires of Dale's old race bike, it was exactly one month’s journal entry later where I began to cite instances of not being able to hold Dale's wheel, or climb with him. He came back fast and only got faster. Every cyclist has their "Dale", though -- that intensely likeable guy that just seems like he was born on a bicycle. He's there at dawn, ready to roll, and he always challenges you. You falter, he slows down to pull you...but you try and out-sprint him and he uncorks the big one, just to let you know what the score is. You train hard JUST to be able to stay with him on the next ride, and you still get dropped. He breaks away, but always stays as an unmatchable blip, WAY up the road, yet always waits to make sure you know where the next turn is. He doesn't even run a bicycle computer, because he's confident enough in himself that he doesn't need numbers to back anything up. "How far did you ride today?" "Far enough." "Well, how fast were you averaging?" "well, no-one passed me, so fast enough" Simple, straight, honest, pure. No excuse, no compromise. This is a guy that is hard enough to continue riding Ride the Rockies with horrid saddle sores --- his solution? To take pressure off his posterior, he did an entire climb out of the saddle. Big deal? It was the 10 mile climb up Monarch Pass. And there where witnesses. Where was I? WAAAY behind down the mountain having my own problems. It's exactly this kind of cyclist that makes ANYONE around him ACHE to be faster. Inspiring. Even in this last dark year when the Warbird and I didn't manage to get together and ride, guess who was there in the back of my head shouting me on? Even though he is not physically on the road with me, I can 'see' him up the road - and I have to catch him. I owe ALL of my speed and strength to those endless miles of summer pavement I spent chasing him down. Sometimes he'd let me catch up, just for conversation's sake -- which I was often too winded to take part in -- and sometimes he'd let me pull...until the last mile or so, when suddenly he would pop out beside me again with his quick-witted catch phrase "sprint to the finish? ", while shifting to the big ring and standing. Before I could react, EVERYtime, HE - WAS - GONE. Uncatchable. Legend. Today, as I stand in my cycling gear fresh from a leg of my daily commuting ride, I glance over all of the cycling gear amassed by Dale in the past few years. When you know someone well enough, and ride with them enough, their memories become yours, as well as the objects you associate with them. That stem? I gave that to him for I can't remember what, after realizing that the reason my shoulders hurt so much after 200 miles was not because my stem was too long, it was because my stem was about 4 inches too low due to a botched steerer-tube hack-saw job. It LOOKED fast, though - foolish me. That other stem was right under my nose during the 2002 400K ride. That chain-ring saw a few miles. I remember the day that jersey showed up in the mail - a tribute to Pantani himself, back before glory was under question. I remember watching that video. I remember when he bought those wheels, too. All of it now marked with a little piece of masking tape. All for sale, including the bright red Trek that he bought when the Centurion was no longer matching the rider above it. Not the Trek 450, mind you --- that will be tucked away nicely, and like any good steel-framed bicycle will never be sold. Too many memories, and after all -- they really DON'T make them like they used to. The fast 2200, however, is on the block. It's all a little sad, really -- but understandable. I just can't help feeling a little bummed that I'm losing my motivator and training partner - selfish as that may be. It's human nature to grasp at such things as if you have some sort of ownership to them. Like his brother before him, bigger priorities and opportunities are calling him away - and away from the bike - and I have to let go and hold dear to the memories. Our friendship, because it was, again, not formed principally in cycling, will endure the time and the miles as it has before. I have spent much of the last year riding solo, commuting daily without any companionship, riding on weekends with no paceline, no chase, and these last few weekends I have felt the motivation slip in a big way - spending days making big riding plans, and not following through with them. When it came down to me, alone, in the garage, the 'go-back-to-bed' argument was louder. Sometimes, even the 'dude' needs a little shove - lately my own will has not been strong enough. But, it’s certainly not anyone’s fault – whether he rides again or not, he is above all else, my friend. But, I realized recently that the reason I write ride journals in the first place is to record the memories -- and memories are not made in solitude. The last full ride journal entry I made, besides any of these writings, was in November....of 2002. Since then, I've only recorded the numbers. Memories are made with friends, other cyclists. This season, while I will fondly remember thousands of miles of memories passed, I will be hitting group rides again to see about creating new ones. The cycle continues, and as a new chapter's first words are penned half-a-world away by Dale, I will start my own new chapter by riding with a new group for the first time in a year and a half this weekend. Will the Warbird give up on cycling completely? Not hardly. As he departs for the land of Pokemon, Karoke and red snapper, I can see it in the near future as he gets settled that things will be hectic, but university lifestyle in such a country will probably favor a bicycle quite nicely. Probably for transportation, of course, and probably an old gas-pipe 3-speed of sorts - non-descript and not attractive to thieves. I'm actually jealous - Japan, unlike the US, has embraced bicycle and alternative transportation; there are probably bicyclists on every street at any given time of day. I just pity the poor bastard that pulls up next to Dale at a traffic light on a bicycle. The Warbird cannot resist a match sprint, no matter what country he happens to reside in. Ramen and sashimi all over the road, with arms in the air and chainwheels spinning like fireworks, he’ll still enjoy the sweet taste of the occasional victory. Hopefully he’ll remember, as I do, all those awesome rides we had together – and how they weren’t always about the bicycle, but about creating memories. Nothing creates them better than shared hardships, challenges, adversity, and good natured one-upmanship. It was a really good run, man. Thanks immensely for all the challenges you brought, for they made me into the rider I am today – and since you knew me when I cared less about myself, I can safely say that I am still breathing today because of those challenges. I would not have pushed myself that hard had I gone it alone. The potential was within me, but you attacked, flew up the road, and looked back – forcing me to pull that potential from within myself from down deep. Cheers. So here’s a challenge for the Warbird: whether we fly there together from the states, or just meet in front of le hotel Saint-Louis Marais, on rue Charles V, Paris, in late August 2011 -- Paris-Brest-Paris, my good friend? That should keep us both in shape for the next decade, eh? If we have to meet there, just look for the guy standing next to a shiny red Trek 450. [ /<(- ]
3/20/2004 --- The last day of winter. I take back everything bad I ever said about mother nature. Today was simply gorgeous, as promised by a weeks worth of forecasting - but as we know too well, most nice forecasts that you make the mistake of looking forward to usually end up changing horribly by the time the date arrives. Not so today - right on the money. The first 70º day of the year. A few clouds, a warm wind, even some atmospheric lifting going on, making me wonder when I'll hear the first clap of thunder of the year. A slight smell of moisture on the wind, the grass is suddenly awake - a brilliant green, still in patches, though - car windows are rolled down, birds are singing again. As I pull on the helmet again, I can almost hear Graeme Edge of the Moody Blues muttering some tantric poetry about the whole deal - something about the flower getting covered and then finding the power to rise up thru the tarmac to the sun again, to fly to the sun without burning a wing, to lie in a meadow and hear the grass sing, blah, blah -- heavy guitar comes in, my foot engages the pedal and I roll off into the breeze - no leg warmers, no arm warmers, nothing containing the word 'thermal' under my helmet (this thing is loose...), fingerless gloves -- so THAT's what bar tape feels like... -- "ri-iiiide, ride my see-saw... take this place... on this trip ... just for me-eee.." After a few attempts to replace 'see-saw' with "bicycle", I give up and just let the song run through my head as written, pavement passing underneath me like a river. I'm never actually wearing headphones, mind you - never on the bike - but I have my head to keep me entertained. IF you're not familiar with the tune, you're missing out -- I have the coolest parents, which is pretty much why I can speak ad nauseum about popular music with a knowledge beyond my years. I was raised with no generation gap when it came to music: my Mom used to blast Queen while cleaning the house, or Billy Squier (I can hear the kids out there saying 'who?') - of course, she also liked Guns-N-Roses when they first jumped on the scene, and later on Sir-Mix-a-Lot -- I was RAISED musically eclectic. The vinyl was often alphabetized, with Beethoven sitting right between The Beatles and Billy Joel, I mean EVERYTHING was in there. Sunday mornings I would often be aroused from a deep sleep by my Dad's prized stereo, cranking out the Stones, the Dead, Dire Straits, solo Ringo Starr or even John Denver -- and let me tell you, it takes a big man to admit he's a John Denver fan, but you'd be surprised how many people join in full song to 'Rocky Mountain High' when you are climbing up Red Mountain Pass *IN* the Rocky Mountains -- it's AWESOME. Of course, most of us were gasping for breath between verses, but that's okay. After that, screaming the opening verses to 'Mountain Song' by Jane's Addiction is appropriately fun - but since I was the same guy singing John Denver 10 miles ago, people just got confused. A few knew what channel I was on, though. I'm all over the board, musically. I have friends that listen to country, I have friends that listen to folk and bluegrass, I have friends that listen to heavy metal -- and a few confused friends that once listened to heavy metal and then converted to country, which confused me for a while until I realized they were much like me. We like MUSIC, and we don't really care where it comes from. We soak it up like sponges, and it surfaces at random in our heads. One day, I think it was a Wednesday, I had so many different songs running through my head it was nuts -- I went from Rancid, to Fugazi, to Peter Tosh, to Led Zeppelin, to Kansas, to Nugent, back to Fugazi, to the Beastie Boys, to friggin Sergio Mendes, to the Pogues, back to Kansas, to DREAD Zeppelin, Moby, the Brooklyn Lords, Radiohead and Gus Black - specifically his remake of 'Paranoid'. So, anyway -- Moody Blues, In Search of the Lost Chord, 1968. I highly recommend it. So, there I am, back in the saddle again, running on bagel, coffee and Hammer Gel, making my way south into a refreshing southerly headwind for an extended afternoon training loop of around 20 miles, working hard into the breeze, uphill on a familiar road and just taking in the fresh new feelings - the feel of warm sun on my arms and legs, the feel of wind gliding around my bare skin, finally free of tights and long-sleeves, the air rushing around my ears, random squirrels and rabbits darting across the road ahead of me, enjoying the spring wake-up-call just like I am today. It's a rush to be out in warm weather after such a long, cold, dark season -- everything feels fresh and different; no more heavy, flapping jacket - just thin, airy jersey-fabric between me and the elements again. AHHHHH. I turn west after a few miles of climbing, and finally have only a crosswind to deal with - the noise in my head shifts from wind-noise back to music as I spin away these short afternoon hours. Before long, after a nice dinger of a hill climb on 143rd Street from Metcalf to Antioch, I arrive at Switzer for the turn right and find a welcome tailwind for the final push to job #2 to the north. I work out on the downhill, gaining speed and trying to hold it above 25 for the long lead-up to the light at 135th St., which is red -- I nearly make it, running a little short of steam before finally stopping. As I wait for the light, a threesome of modern Trek bicycles appear to my right -- "hey there", "nice day", "whassup?", etc... My mind wanders again with thoughts of Spring - FINALLY, the seasonal cyclists are coming back out onto the roads to play. I'm no longer alone. They are dressed to impress, matching jerseys, team gear perhaps - a mid-day training ride, eh? Maybe I can shake things up a bit -- after all, I look pretty unthreatening in my bright orange jersey, complete with backpack strewn with leg and arm warmers from the morning's commute, astride my vintage steel bike complete with bar-end shifters, and wearing sandals. I can hear that Cake song in my head, 'The Distance' -- nearly tempted to start singing it aloud to see if they're paying attention. The light turns green, and I am first across the intersection; and managed to stay in first position for a while -- a long while -- 129th, 127th, 123rd - no challengers -- of course, I probably should have looked back to see where they turned off -- by the time I reached 119th Street, they were no-where to be seen -- so much for early-season challenges today. AND THERE, CARVED IN MYSTIC RUNE UPON THE VERY LIVING ROCK....The entrance to the bike trail. ...today's bike-trail experience reminds me of an episode of a really good anime called Fooly Cooly (FlCl) where this kid is having dinner with his family and you see the whole thing like some kind of weird comic strip flying across the screen, with a heavy guitar track playing -- the bike trail on the first 70º day was kinda like that: for some reason, I can hear "Surprise..you're Dead" by Faith No More "onyourleft,squirrel,rabbit,bugs,smallittlebugs, dog, cat, dog,dog,doggydoggy woof woof woof woof, breeze,trees,jogger,rollerblades, OPEN YOUR EYES! bike bike, kids BALL, brakes, how many blind corners *ARE* there on this trail???, bike,pedal,pedal, stop yelling! tennis! creek MUD! sand! brakes, pedal stand pedal, more kids, rabbits! on your PUDDLE left, left left RIGHT! joggers, walkers, runner, runner, mountain bike, hill, curve, MUD! >slide<, screaming! kids! play! run! field hockeY!!, slow down, speed up UP UP and tunnel DARK! ROCK??!! No, leaf.... Big BIG HILL! LACTIC...done. whew...then back in residential making my way through the neighborhoods leading towards my place of employ, just cranking away, and smiling. Upon arriving at work, I stop and rest a spell, as I usually do before going inside to change clothes -- drinking water, feeling the breeze dry the sweat off my back, feeling grittiness of that thin layer of salt on my arms that is usually soaked up into arm warmers instead. Man, I missed Spring -- good to have it back. Finally the clouds are clearing in my spirit, and I can shake free from the cobwebs of winter and enjoy reaping the benefits of that gloomy season of training. All of those cold, cruddy, music-less miles, nearly 2,000 of them since fall began, are finally going to pay off. It was all worth it -- it's the last day of Winter -- good riddance. Hit the road, Jack. [ /<(- ]
03/14/2004 ---- The weather breaks! 60ºF -- breezy from the WNW at 10-15 MPH "Poppin' tires and angry, flying insect references." It's been a long time since I really laid down a ride report of any kind -- over a year has passed since I last wrote a real ride account, so I figured I might as well pass some time at night and put a few of these down on paper again. After all, that's why we keep journals, yes? Much easier to remember this stuff down the road if you actually take some time and record it! After a long year for fast rides in 2003, fast brevets, a 24-hour race, a barf-n-go MS150 edition (yikes that was rough), and tons of scattered commutes nearly every day last year, it was winter again --- up until a couple weeks ago. The weather is finally starting to break here, and even though I haven't really taken a break from any riding, I have been struggling to stay on the bike and actually get daily commutes in. It's hard to believe that after all this time and writings of the passion of cycling; I have personally been very very tired --- not OF cycling, but just tired in general -- trouble getting out of bed. With the coming of 50-60º temperatures again, however, those days are changing. After a few longer distance and COLD rides in January and February, I have not really logged anything long for March, and the weather is changing just in time to take care of that. After getting all my weekly chores accomplished, and sitting inside all day Saturday with the threat of rain outside, Sunday proved to be too god to pass up -- but it's still the time of year when the temps aren't super-pleasant until the late afternoon. I slept in, played with the kids, and then when it was nap-time for them, and wife was home, it was time to get in some miles. I saddled up on the Schwinn, and headed out south for some fun! After successfully building the Trek 720 from RTR back up into a worthy commuter machine, the Schwinn has progressed nicely into a weekend war-horse -- light-weight, nimble, not a lot of add-ons. Awesome ride -- unfortunately, I'm not sure how confident I am about ultra-light tubes in the tires these days. As I made my way out of the neighborhood, I ended up southbound on Mission Rd., the usual terrain -- after hitting Tomahawk Creek Pkwy, then Mission Rd south of 119th, some challenging climbs awaited -- first the couple of riders up Mission from the intersection of 119th will never leave you very bored. STEEP. After that, a downhill, a bump, and then the climb from 123rd to 135th St - pretty much all uphill -- devoured that fairly quickly - training and hard commuting is paying off, and weight loss over the winter of 02-03 has me sitting at about 140 lbs., another 5 of which I will lose before June arrives -- the training and diet REALLY paid off thins time around, and I'm never going back! If only the RTR group could see me now!!! Anyway -- back to the ride -- Mission to 143rd, then 151st, then the big climb to 159th, and the big downhill from 159th to 167th -- with RR tracks right in the path. I had ridden over these tons of times, but it's always advisable to take it SLOW, and try to bunny hop to take the pressure off the tires. I knew this, and I know this BETTER now.... I guess I just took things for granted and I flew over the tracks, without so much as a twitch on the handlebars and POW POW! DOUBLE flat. Well, THAT'S never happened before! (well, it HAS --- a Neven ride back in summer 2002, after RTR it happened on the Trek - glass that time) The back tire was flat almost instantly -- then the front made it's case with a slow HISSSSSSS as I rolled to a stop, into the CARStar parking lot. Out came the tool kit, and the patch kit, and both inflators -- yikes. Been a while since I'd had to replace a flat out on the road - probably September I think - and here I was again! After a cool down and flat repair session of about 15 minutes, I got both tires back up to about 110 PSI, and found myself with no spares. Should I turn back? Should I risk it? I was never one to ride unprepared, and I knew back home that the wife was preparing for dinner -- and with the kids it would be a big hassle for her to come and get me off the road. Hmmmm.... risk it. I checked the average speed on my computer, just to see what I had done so far, and was pretty impressed with myself -- 20.3 MPH average from the driveway - not bad for a solo effort! Inspired, I packed up everything and got back in the saddle Perhaps, after so much time sitting in the garage, drying out, these tubes were about done anyways --- so I have some new ones on order to quiet the demons in my head --- but on Mission road, it was about getting warmed back up again. As I had sat on the side of the road, fixing my tire, I'd seen a multitude of riders pass by, in both directions. It was shaping up to be another Johnson County summertime --- nearly each one rolled past, hardly a sideways glance - but I'm sure if I'd asked for help, assistance would have come. I can't be too judgmental there, because it was apparent that I was getting my repairs done with no problems. Onward I rolled southbound, into the fun section of Mission Rd. -- a few bits of fresh pavement greeted me, and the roads had been swept free of winter's salt and sand already -- awesome. I darted and climbed, occasionally looking down at my tires to make sure I didn't botch the patch jobs I'd performed. There was a gas station at 199th and Metcalf, so I made that my target, just in case I started to lose pressure I could use their pump. (Assuming I had a presta adapter...hmmmmm.) After climbing a wall at about 183rd and Mission Rd, and passing a couple ladies out for a Sunday spin, I rolled away the miles towards 19t9th, and then turned west, into a wall of wind. "oh, there we go..." I thought to myself. This will help my progress! I got down into a makeshift aero-tuck, sans aero-bars as I always have been, and proceeded west towards Metcalf. It was such a pleasant change to have WARM wind blowing across my face! It seemed like winter was finally losing it's grip! In fact, I had left the house with no jacket for the first time in months --- still in long sleeves, but finding them occasionally pushed up to my elbow. Warm sunshine felt GREAT on my arms. Tires looking okay, I turned north on Metcalf and began my assault on this long section of road -- it was a lot of fun, and even thought the wind was pretty intense at times, it was more of a cross wind and was not slowing things down much -- wheels and slimmer profile doing their job! Awesome --- speeds in the low 20's for the majority of the trip back. I approached 167th Street, turned West again, with the intention of hitting Switzer and making my way to the bike trail for the final approach to home --- but up a long hill in the distance I could see the familiar orange diamond-shaped sign indicating road construction. I didn't think I was that close to Switzer yet --- which may be the site of road construction this summer -- but what was this? Rather than waste time finding out, I elected to take the next turnaround, went back east, crossed Metcalf and went onward to Nall on 167th, getting a little tailwind booster in the process. Then from there, 167th and Nall to 159th, 159th (becoming unrideable still, even more so than LAST summer -- almost can't wait until it's 4-lanes, then at least I'll have a chance!) -- to Mission Rd, and then back north the way I came down. Managed to catch and bridge up to a Leawood Cycles rider on a nice-looking bike (didn't catch the make, though) and out climbed him on the rise to 143rd St. Got to 135th St, unchallenged, but caught the red light - and he managed to catch up to me. My efforts to outride him wasted, but it was still nice to talk to someone else on a bike for once. I don't think I'd exchanged word with anyone in the saddle, side-by-side like this in a while. Last time was with David out at Longview Lake, but that was a planned meeting, so it almost doesn't count -- this was a rare chance meeting, part of the joy of later afternoon riding -- EVERYONE is out, unlike at down patrol when I normally ride. After a few bits about the weather, the light was green and I was off again -- I wouldn't see my friend again that day. I worked, hit 119th, Tomahawk, then Mission again north of College for the long ride to 83rd Street. Passed a couple yellow-jacketed cyclists on the Parkway, including another almost conversation chance at the light, which turned green as I rolled up to it, so that didn't last longer than "hey there!" -- passed Lee Blvd, saw a rider in an orange jersey, shorts, on a red/white bike -- nodded my head and continued, only to see him coming up the long climb behind me as I waited for the light at 103rd and Mission. Light green, go --- and on I went, hammering a little to keep any of the people I'd passed from returning the favor, and before I knew it I was at 83rd St. Now, there are cyclists EVERYWHERE on a rare spring-like day such as this, but for some reason I doubted my own ability shortly after reaching 83rd and Somerset -- as I approached the intersection to a red light, two yellow-jacket clad riders made their way across with their green cross-light. WHA??? The first thought I had was these were the same two I had passed back on Tomahawk near College -- but how? Did I slow down too much? Were they working together? Were they that FAST? Part of me really wanted to find out, so I gave a quick chase, but before I could get to them, they were around the bend on Somerset, still heading east with a tailwind... and my turn was coming up. "ahhhh, can't be....", so I turned north again on 82nd, headed for the homestead --- I guess I'll never know, but I kinda wondered about that. Of course, like I'd said --- lots of riders out today, and yellow is a very popular jacket color. And then there is the question of my faulty self-confidence in the saddle! If it WAS them -- yikes --- nice catch! I made my way up the hill on Juniper, passed three twenty-something reccie-helmetless riders on comfort bikes, who probably thought I was from another planet with my bright shoes and helmet, tights, etc. A quick hello, up the rest of the hill, down to 77th, 76th, Nall, 74th, and then I was pretty much home! Good ride -- but it emptied the saddlebag, blew my confidence in ultra-light tubes - even though I should have been more careful at those tracks - and had me wonder about my escape velocity after passing a couple yellow-jackets, and then possibly seeing them again ---maybe.... still not convinced it was them. Geez - what's wrong with me??? He,he. With a final average speed of 19.4 MPH, I'm feeling pretty good anyways --- there will always be someone faster out there, but I've come a long way since RTR back in June 2002. Now if only I can figure out which way those yellow-jackets went.... hmmmmm.... [ /<(- ]
3/12/2004 – Summer, re-written. In the aftermath a long drama that played out over half a continent, my opportunity to participate in Race Across America 2004 has slipped away. In it's wake, a disgruntled ultra-cyclist, scattered crew members, and utter confusion. Perhaps it was just not meant to be this year, but it would have been nice to have given it a shot, or to have been given a shot. The nice thing about events like RAAM, however, is that they are always out there, tempting the strong-willed to gather resources and tackle them. In my current situation, as a dedicated father of two and a 18-hour per day clock-puncher, I have to be realistic; there is NO way I could possibly expect to be able to train and prepare for such an event without shirking my current responsibilities -- so, again, it's always out there...perhaps in a decade, I'll actually be in a position to put my personal stamp on the mother of all endurance events. For 2004, however, my list of goals gets decidedly shorter, and faster. After spending a few years hammering out courses that exceed 300 miles at times, I have dedicated myself to shorter, harder, faster events. No crits, thank you - time trials and road races, please! Granted, I am still likely participating in a few brevets this spring to get the cardio-base in full effect, but my showcases will likely not be anything super-long, by ultra standards. In my typically confusing mix of early-season events, I switch from a few 150+ mile events to concentrating on short, hard efforts - unfamiliar territory for me. Last year, for example, my cycling polarity made itself very apparent, as I completed a 400K brevet one weekend, and the following weekend participated in a ridiculously short time trial -- how did I manage to successfully train for such opposite events? Practice having no focus whatsoever - I just rode a LOT. Switching to ACTUALLY focusing on speed will be a little ODD, to say the least. First on the menu is my yearly fun-run at the Kansas City Corporate Challenge, participating in the 'Bike Race', which is the aforementioned VERY short individual time-trial. It's only two-and-a-half miles in total length. This sounds deceptively easy for someone that regularly polishes off 20 miles before the sun comes up, but the deception lies in the fact that it is indeed so short. In it's brevity there is no room for error -- you have to run a PERFECT event in order to end up with a medal around your neck. One missed shift, sprinting too early, sprinting too late, hand position, head position, tire pressure, one half-second of hesitation or a skip in the rhythm, and you've lost precious seconds; there is not enough mileage to make up for such errors. With such precision demanded, it's a tacticians dream -- an utterly flat course, a single loop around the Kansas Speedway parking lot's connecting road -- at one point or another, you will have to deal with a headwind, but then you get a tailwind. It's basically going to come down to whoever is willing to hurt the most for around five solid minutes. Last year's best time was 5:09 and change. We will have to see what happens --- I certainly have the endurance base, but I will have to focus on Erik Zabel-like acceleration and honing my game at 90% of my maximum heart-rate to be competitive --- last year's attempt saw me cross the line with a 30 second deficit to the winner...and 30 seconds is an ETERNITY to make up on such a short course. But still, not bad for someone that had trained only for long-distance. Part of my training for getting that game up will take place at Shawnee Mission Park, arguably one of the most technical and challenging cycling loops in the metro. The main park road is a 4.5-mile roller coaster of steep hills, hard corners, a few flat spots, and one half-mile long 7% monster ascent that comes immediately after a 25% climb on the south end of the dam that blocks off the lake itself - the way it sets up makes it virtually impossible to set a rhythm as you are completely taxed before the steadier climb even begins. It's a challenging ride at a leisurely pace, downright brutal at a fast pace, and has the potential to put you in the hospital at race-pace. Cyclists and triathletes flock to the lake every weekend to test themselves, and get their climbing game in order, and it's a topic of conversation at nearly every organized event in the area, often accompanied by phrases like "duuuuude", "whoooa", "insane!". It's also the site of many local triathlons, including my next event for early 2004, the Kansas City Corporate Challenge Team-Triathlon. Never having been much on swimming, or running for that matter, I managed to get in good with a group of folks at my second job that ARE, and are equally not much on cycling. It's a perfect scenario: Three competitors, each one responsible for completing their respective triathlon leg, with me taking care of the cycling portion. After a 2/3-mile swim in the lake, my teammate "Torq" will exit the water and had me the team's Velcro wrist-band, and I will be off for four grueling laps around the park road, for a total of 18 miles --- 18 miles of absolute lung-popping, leg-searing, gut-wrenching cycling at or above my personal red-line, after which I collapse and hand the wrist-band of to Eric, our star runner for the team. After last year's Corporate Challenge Duathlon, where I subjected myself to a 2.4 mile run immediately before that event's three-laps of cycling, I managed an 'okay' performance - with each subsequent lap I bettered my previous PRs that I'd logged at the lake - and I did it wearing SPD-compatible sandals - the only cycling footwear I owned at the time (perfect for ultra-distance, but not stiff enough for fast climbing or sprinting) - so THIS year with no running to worry about and a brand-new pair of racing shoes perhaps things will take care of themselves -- but I will still train hard, and with as much dedication as I would approach any other cycling event. It's just strange to train by NOT riding hundreds of miles, which is what I've been used to over the past few years. Instead of long rides at 60-70% effort, I'm looking at shorter, harder rides - with recovery sessions interspersed - actual zone training - something I've never messed with. This spring will be full of discovery and excitement, I'm sure - a quest for speed begins. It's a little exciting to specialize like this, to have a focused goal in mind, instead of wallowing in vagaries and the "been-there-done-that"s of another season of brevets - random training rides - MS150 - Tour of Shawnee - Octoginta - done. That's certainly not to say that last season was droll -- far from it, but new challenges keep the game fresh. After all, we're talking about going head-to-head with the cities best athletes -- doesn't get much more exciting than that! It's been a turbulent winter, in the sense that I had gotten pumped about a VERY rare RAAM opportunity, only to watch it crumble -- then, the Warbird leaves for Japan one month from this writing, wherein I lose a hard-charging, no-compromises training partner that has always been there to motivate and push me -- but with change comes choice: I can either be depressed about having my summer re-written, or I can realize that opportunity lies ahead. After all, as I'd said before, RAAM will always be there; Dale will always be a friend - whether he lives 3 or 3,000 miles away; and it is becoming SPRING, after all. With winter's passing should also pass depression and weariness, leaving promise and hope in their wake. There is a silver lining in everything, no matter how bleak it may appear, and even though my summer has changed dramatically in recent weeks, I still have both legs, both lungs, and a strong heart. Lucky to be alive, I can ride and choose my path for myself. Instead of flogging away endless miles in the darkness, alone, I'm looking at a veritable buffet of rides and races, many of which I have never participated in before, and a few old favorites in there as well. Any speed training I subject myself to will require an equal balance of easy recovery rides, which I can enjoy with an old friend and his new bike, and a new friend with his older bike. With so many choices and challenges on the table it's hard to imagine myself without a smile on my face this season, no matter how my season came to be this way. [ /<(- ]
3/3/2004 -- der Flahute! Saddle up. Pull the rain jacket tight. Make sure everything important is in a plastic bag. Early spring is here. A wet wind from the east, puddles, sand, broken pavement, threatening skies, gloom and doom; after a cold and bitter winter, nothing beats a 40º ride in the rain! Two months earlier, this would have been dubbed the snow-storm of the century, but today it’s warmer – a massive area of hard rain begins its conquest over the Midwest today and is forecast to hang on until tomorrow. And I am excited about it! After spending countless hours on the trainer over a handful of dark months, and watching cycling videos for motivation, lunacy is close to the surface. I NEED ROAD. With this particular changing of the seasons, the streets begin to take on a certain flavor…a flavor of northern Europe in April. A flavor of Flanders, of Arenberg, of Roubaix! Streets in disrepair from the long battle against winter are no longer an unwelcome obstacle, but a challenge – potholes become cobblestones; sand, mud, sticks, cracks and rifts in the pavement all add to the experience of riding my own personal Classic. It’s all about maintaining a heavy cadence, posting over bumps, finding a rhythm and setting tempo against the elements – cold, but not bitter, wind dancing over finally exposed skin, left pale after a season shielded from the cold sun by dark lycra – today’s peeking rays and the constant breeze are taking turns heating and cooling my forearms as I wrestle the handlebar and negotiate yet another puddle of wet sand and the last shredded remnants of falls last leaves. Gloom, glorious gloom! The sunglasses are almost too dark in the afternoon, as the clouds gather and spring’s first cold rain pours forth from the heavens, washing away the last of the road salt, the sand, and speeding winters last grasp down the gutters and back into the abyss from which it came. Soaked leg warmers, wet gloves, chin dripping with rain – and yet, despite the misery, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else but in the saddle today. Today is a day that I, like the cleansing rain, can triumph over the dark season that has held me down these past few months. It’s as if the very water is happy that it is not frozen anymore, happily careening down gullies and spillways, making noise, carving topsoil, feeding seeds, shouting promise. Birds are appearing from nowhere, deer are back on the bike trail, and so am I today – dashing through the naked woods, branches just waiting to pop with life again, as my head pops with images from all those cycling videos. My single-speed machine hums along, tires tossing standing mud and water everywhere, snapping twigs as they go. I reach down, grab a bottle and take a swig – it’s a great feeling to carry water again without the fear that it will freeze mid-ride. As I hammer along out of the saddle up a rise in the course, a path-walker coming in the opposite direction stops, steps back, extends an arm with a thumbs-up, a smile, and a muttering of some encouragement. With the wind dancing in my ears, I can’t hear him – so I pretend his words are in Flemish, instead of English. For today I am the flahute, bursting forth from the garage and the stationary trainer that held me. I am Van Petegem, I am Knaven, I am Museeuw, I am Hincapie! I fire through the rain like it is not a hinderance, but assistance – as if the weight from each droplet is pushing against my back, speeding me along. There is no headwind, there is no bad pavement, there is no chill in this air, and only after I reach the line will I worry about how much of the road I have picked up and carried along with me. I may even stand outside in the rain for a spell and let the heavens wash me and my bicycle clean, just as they have washed spotless these tired roads. >CLAPBANG!< Thunder! Spring slams its mighty fist on the table and the rain increases threefold! Time to work! Snarling into the gale, I stand on the pedals and raise the pace until my slipstream carves a pocket of air into the rain ahead of me, leaving only a whisper and a rooster-tail of spray in my wake. Cold rain sizzles off my legs like butter in a hot pan as I charge up the last of a string of hills on the way to job #2, water rushing backwards under my tires as I ascend creating an illusion of unmatchable speed. The hill takes its toll, cardio redline, and I reach down and tear open the zipper on my rain jacket to let in some air, and it flies out behind me like a madman’s cloak. Dashing, flamboyant, I reach the parking lot and toss a clenched fist to the torrent; a remarkable day in the saddle complete, I stand in the shelter of an overhang and air-dry, watching the heavy rain, wringing out my gear – contemplating getting in another dozen miles just because I can. The smell in the air is indescribable; clean, fresh, the staleness of road salt and sandy dust is leaving. Interspersed between the sounds of the pounding rain on the pavement a few feet away, I can almost hear lawnmowers, motorcycles, birds, dogs, the cacophony of clicking of pedals at big summertime group rides… this first serious rain is the gateway to the beginning of a fresh new season of riding. And as I pack my gear and head inside for work, I can hear the “Welcome Back Kotter” TV theme song in my head… ahhh, Spring… welcome back, welcome back, welcome ba-aack…
[ /<(- ]
2/17/2004 --- No bad days.
Indoor training is an invaluable part of an active cyclist’s regimen, providing a solid foundation for nearly every mile you will spin out over the spring and summer months. The aerobic benefits of zone training are proven and essential to good performance. However, it is something that most riders simply hate to do. It is rife with monotony, and slack is inevitable. There is nothing more backward in the world of sport, as bicycling is an outdoor venture; confining it to within four walls can drive you mad with nothing short of the worst case of cabin fever you can imagine. In the winter months, however, it’s nice and safe. No ice, no snow, no slush, no sand to compromise traction, and no unscheduled meetings with gravity and pavement. But you can only keep the die-hard indoors for a short while before the walls close in, and the reasons to stay in are no longer strong enough. Returning to the streets after only a week of being stuck on the trainer, it felt like I had not inhaled fresh air for nearly a month. Everything felt different; the rebound of the tires as they soaked up and retransmitted road imperfections, the sensation of forward motion, wind in the face, standing on the pedals again – everything was coming back and reminding me why I love this fixation of mine. Life, liberty and the pursuit of open pavement – these rights are inalienable and guaranteed, baby. Leg over top tube, cleat to pedal, and motion; it’s good to be out again. Spring is most certainly just around the corner – I can hear birds greeting the dawn in the mornings now, despite the temperatures still hovering below freezing. The sunrise comes earlier, and the dusk holds on a little later – it’s as if you can feel the poles tilting back in the northern hemisphere’s favor again. Nevertheless, nature is a fighter. Like Iban Mayo attacking Lance in last year’s Tour, everyone knows that spring will eventually win the day, but winter keeps on fighting to the last. Today was the sneak attack – snow! With temperatures warming into the upper 30’s by the afternoon, I was enjoying life with the zippers at half-mast – ignorant to the atmospheric activities just to the west of town. A thin line of snow was working its way across the state making a bee-line towards K.C.. As I sat comfortably in my chair at job #2 last evening, the snow began to fall outside, and increase, and increase, and then it began to stick to the pavement, totally unexpected by most. Weather in Kansas this time of year can change on a dime, and it had done it again – a cold wave that was not even on the map that morning was now parked over the city, and not moving much. By the time I was ready to leave, there was a good two inches on the grass, and about an inch of wet slush on the pavement. Thankfully the temps were still above freezing, if only 33º, but wet slush is not exactly ideal for riding. Something that would normally put a cyclist right back into the garage was now staring me in the face – and nearly eight miles away was home. I’ve had worse, I thought to myself – so I clicked in and started my negotiation of the sloppy, wintry conditions. I think every cyclist fires off into nasty surroundings thinking that same thing, but the picture can change mid-route – after a while, ‘I’ve had worse’ is a hard mantra to remember. It takes a critically dire situation to make me consider ditching and calling in a ride home, but last night was close. There is nothing quite so unnerving as negotiating a shallow curve and feeling the front wheel darting around in the loose, icy grit underneath you. One miscalculated twitch of the handlebars, and you’re eating curb. Throw a car into the mix, one that doesn’t quite see you yet because of the curve in the road, and you have a scenario that has the house odds strongly against you. After that little moment of pucker-power, I stopped and put my foot down at the next intersection – mainly for the four-way stop, but also for a brief moment of self-assessment. Not even a steep hill can spike your heart-rate faster than a near-brush with doom, and I was seriously considering getting the cell out of the bag and calling for backup. The promise of spring, the joy of cycling, and the oft taken-for-granted state of upright mobility – was it worth the risk of the next five miles to get me home? Maybe I should still be inside on the trainer after all. The snow was still coming down around me, now changing over to a sort-of slow, cold rain, and each moment I wasted with my foot down was a moment or two that could see the roads worsen still. As I stared blankly off into the white muddle, just for a moment I could see myself at another crossroads. A surprise cold-front had moved into the area a day early, and there I was, horribly under-dressed in a cold, 40ºF rainfall, standing at the corner of Missouri highway 6 and State Route H & J, standing on the lee side of a signpost trying to shelter my shivering body from the onslaught of a bitter east wind. My cell-phone was dead, my cycling clothes saturated with icy rain, fingers blue, toes completely numb, legs getting close, and my back tire flat – for the third time in fifteen miles. I had exhausted both spare tubes, and my patch kit had been rendered useless after being accidentally dropped into a puddle, the product of my frozen fingers’ lack of dexterity – both the sun and the temperature were dropping; with the next checkpoint on the brevet being another eighteen miles away, and having walked five already to get to that point on the route, things were looking bleak at best. I was the last one on the road – there was no-one else on the ride coming up behind me, to possibly lend a jacket of a plastic bag, or a tube for the tire. I was alone. This was not Johnson County, Kansas – there was not a gas station on every corner up here. I had to get to that checkpoint - it was no longer about staying on the route and finishing the ride – it was about survival, and that checkpoint was the ONLY sign of civilization up there. Not so much as a farm house stood between me and salvation, and there was no cross traffic on these roads to waive down for assistance. If I continued walking, into the darkness, hobbling along on my now shredded cleats, I would make Stewartsville in another six hours, which would have been about 1:00am. What kind of shape I might have been in at that point was hard to tell, but it would certainly be better than hunkering down in a ditch and waiting for the cold to completely take over – but regardless what I decided, there was no way in the world I was making it to the checkpoint in time to actually continue the ride and officially finish. Strangely, that was still a concern – but it was slipping away. For the first time in my life, things genuinely started looking hopeless – as my watch beeped to announce that it was approaching the freezing mark on the thermometer. Just about then, a minivan pulled up alongside me, stopping for the sign and almost rolling onward onto MO-6, until they heard me yell – I managed to borrow a working cell phone and make a call – an hour later, I was thawing out in the gas station at Stewartsville, disqualified, hypothermic, cursing my lack of preparedness, but alive and warm again. THAT was a bad day --- I blinked back to myself at the intersection of 99th and England in Overland Park with snow falling around me and five miles to go. This is NOT a bad day. I clipped in and continued homeward. After that moment of pause I felt my shoulders drop a touch, and I spent the next five miles smiling to myself, tires happily throwing slush as I hummed along my familiar back-roads on the single speed. Suddenly, this abrupt weather surprise didn’t seem nearly as foreboding as it had two minutes before. As the snow/rain mix turned over to bonafide rainfall, I reached back into my pack and pulled out my trusty rain jacket for a little extra fortification – where were you two years ago, jacket? Lessons in preparedness learned from that brevet – even in the heat of summer, the jacket is always in the pack. After a while I forget that it’s in my bag, but far better to forget it there, than to forget it and realize it’s at home when I need it! A couple miles later, I pulled up into my driveway and took a few seconds to shake the snow out of the fenders, still smiling. My neighbor across the street gets home by car a few moments later and just shakes his head at me, again. He’s probably wondering, as I was, why I spent the previous, dry week indoors, and chose THIS night to ride. Some rides are tougher and nastier than others, but it’s all relative to whatever your worst ride had been - and it sure as heck beats being stuck inside. Assuming it never gets that bad again, there are no bad days on the bike. [ /<(- ]
2/4/2004 --- Nature deals a hand.
I’m nothing special, to be clear. I’m just a guy that has an undying passion for cycling. I will try to ride in any extreme of weather, just to say that I did it. Just to prove to myself that I am capable, strong enough to handle the conditions. I guess I need that level of self-worth, considering what I used to be, as a person. It’s as if I’m making up for last time or something. One hundred pounds ago, I would have looked for any excuse NOT to do anything if I could help it, so these days it’s as if I’m constantly trying to prove that I’m not a slacker. Supposedly, no-one in my immediate circle of friends or family would fault me for taking a few days off the bike, but I still beat myself up about it. There are worse things to be obsessive about, that’s for certain – but even the experts need a break. Sometimes it takes an injury – sometimes it’s the weather. In any case, breaks from the road can be just as valuable as hard training. It’s just frustrating when you are dictated to, I suppose.
This time around, mother- nature was calling the shots, but instead of just gearing down and dealing with it I’m instead using it as an excuse to train better. I purchased a used trainer from a close friend, in anticipation of the ‘storm of the decade’, as the forecasters were dubbing it. I watched the forecasts carefully, and looked for just the right amount of justification to stay indoors, against my nagging conscience. Ice and sleet began to fall, and I kept myself to the fact that I was simply not going to get outside that day. I fastened the bike onto the trainer, put on my shoes, and clipped in for an appointment with monotony. And monotonous it was, indeed. After a few minutes, I was beginning to wonder how bad it REALLY was outside. As I engaged in a game of ‘who’ll blink first’ with the opposite wall, I felt the voices welling up in my head. This sucks…why are you IN here?...when is it March again?…hmmmm…
Thankfully, with numerical motivation provided by my heart-rate monitor, the voices were occasionally squelched by a BEEP-BEEP-BEEP from my wrist, informing me that I was not pushing hard enough. Eventually, the voices screaming for the outdoors began to change their tune, and scream towards staying in the ‘zone’. Twenty minutes would pass….then thirty… then forty… and my restless mind began to shift to other issues. Saddle feels funny…is this thing shifting right?....wonder if my stem is too long after all?...why does my right foot hurt?... where’s that big screwdriver so I can adjust that cleat?
As the virtual mileage mounted, little problems invisible on the actual pavement began to present themselves, and then the solutions would start to flow as the minutes ticked by. After my hour was up on Monday, I adjusted the saddle ever so slightly. After my hour on Tuesday, I moved that right cleat around until it felt better. On each subsequent day of indoor training, a small adjustment was made here and there and then I’d hang it up until the next day. Surely I’ll run out of things to adjust and tinker with by the time it warms up a little and the roads clear, but don’t count on it! There’s always a millimeter of adjustment left just about everywhere on a bike. What I thought was going to be mindless heart-rate training turned into a fine-tuning festival – there’s a certain duality to the stationary trainer scenario; on one hand, you’re stuck indoors and you are really meant to be outdoors – which can drive a cyclist nuts. At the same time, it makes you value the outdoors MORE. Similarly, while on the actual pavement during a ride, the constant undulations and vibrations from the road command your body to adjust here and there in the saddle, on the handlebars, on the pedals and even inside your very shoes; small misalignments seldom have the opportunity to present themselves while you chatter along on the asphalt. On the track-stand, however, you are planted, motionless, and vibration-free – it’s even difficult to stand on the pedals, because that side-to-side motion of the bicycle beneath you is gone. Little quirks and maladies suddenly pop up to your attention, and adjusting them while you are locked in the trainer indoors means they will purely disappear once you hit the street again. All the while, your aerobic base is slowly improving, so when you hit the highway again, not only is your machine in better shape, so is your heart. Win-win situation, anyone? Maybe being forced inside by the weather isn’t so bad after all…
UPDATE: …And considering today, Thursday 2/5/04, Kansas City was treated to the most snow we’d seen in nearly a decade… so, the storm of the decade was apparently five days late. So, at this point, like it or not, the Dude is marooned on the track-stand until the secondary roads clear up… So, here’s to a strong aerobic base, and some SUNSHINE and ABOVE-freezing temps!
[ /<(- ]
1/23/2004 -- Perfectionism is a disease.
It’s been a while since I’ve bitten off 100 miles in a day. The last century ride I did was way back in September which, while only really only 4 months past, seems like a year ago. Nothing wipes the chalkboard of summer’s memories clean faster than a cold winter. I can’t even remember what riding without tights feels like anymore! Sure, sure – spring IS coming faster – less than two months off now, but cycling is very much a sport of the moment. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, or how long ago it was, or whether or not you’ve ridden the same road over and over – the changing of the seasons makes everything seem fresh and different. This is why all perfectionist cyclists maintain a detailed journal. Don’t we?
I’ve got big things coming up in 2004 – a new, higher mileage goal, The Race Across America (in the support van, at least), a brevet series, maybe another 24-Hour race, and certainly daily commuting to work by bicycle with fewer missed-days than last year, and yes – finally caving in from the constant persuasion from a friend and coach – a few road races here and there. I have to start my base-mileage training NOW to be ready for these kind of events, so I’ve spent the last few days pouring over maps and hovering over the calculator, planning out my first big chunk of the season – a century ride.
It was ALMOST a 200K, but I have to stay realistic – plenty of season left for that, and even though you’d say that it’s only 25 miles more, I still want to crack this off before noon – I just don’t wanna wake up at 4:00am this time of year! Cutting off those last 25 miles affords me a little more sleep. So begins the arduous task of finding the right combination of paved roads that create the perfect loop. Do I want to go this way, or that way? How bad is the traffic on THIS road? Isn’t there construction out there right now? Routes are created, modified, torn-down, and re-built over and over again – the mileage tallied and computed. That’s only 98 miles…ugh! Let’s try this one… no, that’s 110….grrrrr…. It’s tough being a perfectionist, lemme tell ya.
Even tougher is getting the bike to cooperate with my plans, and keeping up my subscription to the “Leave well enough alone, already” newsletter. After a full year of long rides and commutes the rear tire on my brevet/commuter bike was looking a little thin. Shortly after I began to notice that fact, I managed to pick up a piece of glass that would not let go, and a flat was the result. First one in a while, but after getting the tube patched I realized just how thin the rear tire was becoming…not something I want to trust to 100 miles, far from home, in the cold! Fixing a flat on the road is hard enough without it being cold and dark outside. Time to eliminate variables!
A friend of mine, preparing for weight-loss and his first venture into the realm of road-cycling, purchased a vintage used Trek 400. An awesome black and silver steed, all original, save for the tires… ahhh, the tires: some Conti Sport 1000’s with the natural-colored sidewalls. Ni-iiiice. Might look good on MY vintage Trek, too….hmmmmmm. So that night I venture home and kill two birds with one tire pump. Off comes the bad rear tire, and the perfectly good front tire – on go some older Ultra 2000’s with the natural sidewalls that I had laying around for spares. Used, sure, but with more tread on them than what I was replacing. Not bad. Until I wake up the next morning to find the rear tire FLAT again. Whaaaa? Upon close inspection, I found the reason I’d abandoned those tires to the spare pile in the first place – a nice rip in the tread, down to the cords where the tube could poke thru. Oops. The moron award goes to…… ME. Oh, yeah… I remember THAT…. NOW.
I fix the problem with a boot, then ride off to work, only to find myself getting more and more annoyed by the color of the sidewalls – especially since I knew I had a choice in the matter – and even more nervous, not trusting the rear tire at all anymore. They’re still good tires, now that the rear was fixed, but kinda ugly against my bikes paintjob and grayish rims. Grrrrrr. Justification mounts, perfectionism rears its ugly head again. That rear tire could go at any moment – you can’t ride 100 miles on THAT, dude…
I ride home, put the kids to bed, kiss the wife, and retreat once again to the garage/shop: tire swap #2 in as many nights. This one goes quicker, though – good practice, I suppose. Before long, the nasty skinwalls are replaced with the original black Ultra 2000s: the front wheel’s previous tire on the back, and an even fresher one on the front – just spares, still, but practically new rubber. Ahhhhh….things are balanced again, and neither tire has a nasty leftover tread-cut. A nice bonus! Now that I have THOSE demons exorcised, it’s time to just relax and wait for the weekend to arrive. RELAX… yeah, RIGHT. A century…in January…it’s going to be a rare ride, surely one to remember. An above-freezing start to the morning, gentle breezes forecast and a promise of sun and near 50º temps by the time I hit the driveway again – I’m ready to knock off some mileage! I just have to make sure everything is straight, trued, my alarm is set, fuel-drinks mixed, shoes and clothes are laid out, cell-phone charged, glasses cleaned, maps corrected (one for me, one for the wife so she knows where I am) and one last check of the forecast before I go to bed to make sure I’m not missing anything, and about 3 trips to the garage at random hours to make sure the rear tire is still holding air. At least I have a healthy outlet for this kind of neuroticism! Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way – they say getting there is half the fun, so considering I’ve run the ride in my head a few times already I’m technically having more fun than ANYONE! Now where’s that broom? I’ve got 100 miles of pavement to sweep after work tonite.
[ /<(- ]
1/9/2004 -- The Fire-starter.
One of the most difficult things for a dedicated cyclist is staying focused during the off season. I walk a dangerous line, personally: I operate with a certain guise of duplicity when it comes to riding my bike: on the one hand, I commute to work daily; in of itself commuting is simply getting from point-A to point-B. Bicycle commuters get small amounts of mileage here and there during the week, and then punch out for the weekend. On the other hand, I’m a randonneur and aspiring ultra-racer; this discipline lends itself to long weekends on the bike, heading out before light and doing 100 miles before most of the city is awake and arriving home later with maybe 100 more under my belt in time to hang up the helmet and have breakfast with the kids. Combining the two takes a strong will, especially when there is no motivation at hand – no races to watch, no sunshine to inspire, no group ride to relish. It becomes easier and easier to sleep in.
During the long winter months, I may only be a dozen pedal strokes away from burnout. Getting ready for the next season is difficult, considering my season never really ends in the first place. Keeping up a solid schedule of commutes at varying intensities doesn’t really allow for a break from the bike, so a break from extra mileage and intensity is necessary. Shorter routes, higher cadence, lower speeds. I get frustrated and disappointed with myself if I take a day off the bike and retreat to the car to get to work. I feel guilty when someone asks ‘how was your ride in today?’ and my answer has to reveal that ‘the guy with the website about commuting to work actually DROVE today.’ It’s almost embarrassing, but it is of my own doing – I have made myself accountable to those that would look to this page for the very motivation and inspiration that I now seek for myself in these dark months. I have to look back at my mileage log and remind myself what I have accomplished, and give myself the ‘ok’ to take a break. But, later that same day I may look at another rider’s mileage and training log and come to realize that I am a pretender in the ultra-cycling game. What should be inspiring becomes a source of self-disgust. The flame within begins to flicker and fade.
This last month certainly doesn’t help: day after day trays of food, chocolate, donuts, cakes, and snacks; all ferried in to the workplace in celebration of the holidays. We are exceedingly food-focused in this country – if there is something to celebrate, you can bet food is the centerpiece. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I walk yet another fine line between self-indulgence and self-preservation. After thousands of miles and hours of endurance training, your body begins to burn things VERY slowly, becoming more efficient, so anything outside the nutrition program MUST be burned off on the bike – take a week off, and pay the price at the scale. Conversely, month after month of strict piety towards such an agenda takes its toll, and the justifications begin to amass along the border of willpower’s domain. I’m especially weak when it comes to dark chocolate and what should show up at work than a gigantic mass of the stuff – and of course, no one likes dark chocolate like I do, so the vicious cycle begins. I walk past it. I see it. It sees me. We converse briefly, silently. I cave in and take a big chunk back to my desk. Repeat. Before I know it, a month of solid adherence to a caloric regimen is obliterated before I can wipe the chocolate stain from my lips; the walls of a seemingly solid fortress begin to crumble. It’s my own fault. I cannot blame my own shallow will on the person that brought that dark monster to work. There are justifications on all sides, jockeying for position in my head; a virtual peloton of self-analysis, rushing towards a mass-sprint in my skull.
“You deserve it” is trying to hold off “stick to the program”, while “you’ll burn it off” sneaks around the outside of “you’ll regret it later” – but coming hard from the rear, unseen by most is “you can’t resist it”! My goodness me, it’s anyone’s race!
It usually goes to the photo, but the results are always the same: solidly in the green jersey is “indulgence”, again with the victory. Even the darkest of competitors have their moment at the top of the podium of our lives. With a sinister sneer, he raises the trophy above his head, while the deflated shadow of self-discipline gasps for air underneath his heavy boot. The press conference afterwards seems to last all day long, as opposing sides offer up justifications and excuses, trash-talk, and hollow promises. Tomorrow is another day, and another race.
No matter how dark the night becomes during this string of bleak personal failures, the tiny pilot light of cycling’s magic flame is always there, burning steady – once in the saddle for any period of time, it’s extremely difficult for that little light to go out. Even for the pros, living in busses and hotel rooms, in a different country every other day, enduring endless drug tests, unforgiving press, fickle sponsors, crashes, tendonitis, race after race after race of ‘also finished’ results; all can snuff the magic of riding out of the most ardent cyclists. Veteran rider Viatcheslav Ekimov of the U.S. Postal squad, finally tired of the whole routine after more than a decade pro, announced his retirement a couple years back, only to return the very next spring. He could not stay away. The flame was too strong.
Closer to home I have a friend that bought a mountain bike, a stationary trainer, some other assorted gear and took to riding the local trail system. A few weeks later, he was back to smoking Camels again – but then just recently re-quit and is looking forward to a few more trail rides in coming weeks with talks of a road bike purchase by summer. The flame from his cigarette lighter begins to fade in contrast to the flame of cycling’s magic and promise of health, speed and accomplishment.
Another friend, one seemingly with a rare gift for the sport, purchased a fine machine and took to the road with a fire that impressed everyone around him. On his very first ride, he was only minutes behind the main group during a blistering five mile sprint on a fast road. Upon his surprisingly quick arrival back at the ride start, Dale and I exchanged knowing looks and a smile for the future; only to see his machine for sale and his helmet hung up just a few months later. Was the flame that thin? Did it not have a chance to burn long enough? Would he come back, or did we push too hard? The verdict is still out. The flame was lit once, and it cannot be extinguished -- the trick is getting the main burner to fire again.
Sure as the trees will blossom green again in a handful of weeks, that spark will strike, the gas will flow, and the pilot light will set forth a mighty flame. Suddenly the appeal of an extra french-fry, an extra hour of sleep, “just-one-beer”, “maybe next weekend”, and “I’m too busy” will fade into nothingness – rendered to ash by a white-hot conflagration of enthusiasm for sport and wind-in-the-face. As inevitable as my will collapsing on the way to the candy dish in December, my resolve will return, too. The darker competitors in my head will take up the lanterne rouge and one by one be counted out, and the unwieldy heel of Indulgence will be lifted without regret or thought of sacrifice. To the road! In my mind’s eye I see an empty coffee can, a handful of paper scraps, a pen, and a book of matches. One at a time, I take up the paper scraps and begin to write down the excuses, justifications, self-doubts, sacrifices, and petty indulgences and toss them each into the can. A match, a spark, and a small flame beget an inferno which spreads and begins to melt away the icy darkness of winter’s indiscretions. My minds eye shifts; the flames, their duty done, slowly part from my view to reveal another bunch sprint coming up the road, but the usual suspects are nowhere to be seen – heading to the line, arms raised triumphant is a familiar face on a glowing machine, and as he pauses to zip-up his jersey to do his sponsor proud, I can see the letters spelling out the name of my favorite team: Passion.
It’s time to ride again.
[ /<(- ]
01/01/2004 --- One of my favorite roads gets a makeover
If any of you have paid attention to the reports regarding highway and street quality in America, you’ll already know that Missouri ranks at the bottom of the heap. As far as I know, there are only one or two other states that have roads that are in worse shape. I know this all too well, living in the Kansas City metro-area; I attend many rides on the other side of the state line, and let me tell you – it’s BAD. Considering that these highway-quality surveys are usually conducted from CARS, you can imagine how bad the pavement feels from a bicycling perspective. It’s downright horrid. Many ultra-cyclists and randonneurs consider Missouri’s rides to be some of the toughest in the country for two reasons: there is a good deal more climbing that one might expect for the Midwest, and the roads are rubbish. Riding, say, 250 miles on brevet is a difficult enough an endeavor without having the roads themselves command every extra ounce of your attention while you avoid pothole after pothole, shifted and broken overlay, chip-and-seal patches, asphalt ruts, bone-shaking ripples, strewn gravel and tire-swallowing drainage grates – not to mention the ever-present bonuses like tossed rubber tread from heavy trucks, glass shards, nails, screws, trash, broken lumber, hubcaps and the like. It’s a fair estimate that you can add a few kilometers here and there to each ride, just from the additional weaving and dodging you have to perform – add to all that the white-knuckle tension brought on by the lack of paved shoulders on dangerously narrow lanes leading up blind, un-graded hills and your arms and shoulders end up just as spent as your legs after a day on the Missouri lettered-highway system.
Thankfully, the state has recognized that the roads are in desperate need of improvements and through several ‘tax miracles’ and technological updates to road-laying procedures, some areas of the metro, as well as some of the highly-trafficked rural roads, are finally getting attention. One such favorite stretch of broken black-top that was in dire need of attention is Blue River Road, just on the other side of the state line from my regular routes. Connecting Swope Park to Bannister Rd., Red Bridge Rd., US-71 Highway, and finally Blue Ridge Blvd at the southern end, this oft forgotten strip of road ribbons its way alongside its namesake river, meandering along the bluffs above the water. It’s arguably one of the more scenic routes in the entire city. For eight miles or so, Blue River Road traces a beautiful path through deep woods, past scenic rock-faced cliffs, past natural spillways, and in that short eight-mile stretch it’s very easy to forget that traveling only a few blocks east or west puts you well inside the clutches of a busy, unforgiving city. Only a handful of times enroute do you emerge from the woods to accommodate an intersection with another major road, and those encounters are thankfully brief. There are so few intersections that consequently there are also very few cars. Blue River simply exists as a scenic byway, nothing more – it’s not a shortcut to anywhere – just two opposing lanes of quiet pavement leading to a park, unwilling to connect you with ‘convenient shopping’, and the surrounding terrain is all city-protected park land kept safe from the talons of profiteering land developers. If you are driving on Blue River Road, you are there to enjoy the drive. Even in the busier afternoons of the weekends it takes a while to see very many cars – it’s always ripe for cycling.
It’s primarily flat with hardly any mentionable hills along the roadway itself, but occasionally you can find forgotten side paths that lead to lucky homeowner’s properties. Impossibly steep, dead-end driveways that slither alongside the bluffs are a challenge for anyone’s legs, and said land-keeps seldom mind the trespass. There is one specific road that leads to a hill-top church that is quite remarkable; I’m not certain how far along it is, but about half down the way you come to a wide turnout fashioned into the very bluff. Sheer rock is all you can see as you circle onto this road and feel it immediately pitch upward – even the strongest riders reach for more gear straight away from their machines, and often come up lacking – the pitch holds steady and takes nearly all of the steam out of you within a few pedal strokes. Its wicked grade makes your gut wrench with effort, and just as you think it will level off, the switchback! – the only one I know of in the city – an honest-to-goodness Alpine-style switchback that requires you to break pace, turn, and tackle the even steeper section of road that immediately follows – you continue this relentless torture up, up, up to the parking lot of the church, high above the surrounding land, your legs searing from the effort, heart pounding, forehead soaked from sweat. The only way back is to go down, and the descent is thrillingly fast; gravity accelerates you up into the 40-50 MPH range in an instant, and it’s a shame there is a stop-sign and ‘Tee’-intersection at the bottom of it to spoil the fun – you have to ride the brakes for the last 25 yards to keep from flying across the main road again and into the thick trees beyond. It’s no Wolf Creek Pass, but it’s a rush all the same.
Blue River Road is a Mecca in this bustling quagmire of suburban sprawl, even in its recently ramshackle state of repair. Even with all the pavement maladies at play, my only previous complaint about Blue River Rd. was it being too short in length. So enjoyable to the cyclist is this road that the existence of sliding asphalt and potholes was almost defensible, but with the fresh face-lift in place it finally enjoys the roadway quality that makes it even more delightful than it was before. With a brisk tailwind rushing up from the south through the freshly blossomed spring trees, it is downright magical to experience. The cut of the bluff faces the west, so to ride it at dusk with the sun’s last rays painting the road orange and pink, the shadows of trees cast on the rocks dancing with the flash of your spokes, punctuated by the occasional piercing sparkle from the river below through the vegetation - it is truly a magnificent spectacle. I complain quite a bit that this town has gotten too big, with it’s snarling traffic and endless processions of traffic-lights and far-too-few bike lanes, but it’s nice to have Blue River Road – a gem, smack in the center of a tangle of streets all but bereft of enchantment. Missouri finally allocating funds to make it more enjoyable still is simply icing on an already delectable cake.
[ /<(- ]