March 17, 2008

R-12 pt.2 -- For Honor, and Glory.

After wussing out on the regular Brevet on 3/08 last weekend, I felt pretty darn good about myself. I felt like I could still get my mileage for an attempt at the R-12. I felt like I had dodged winter’s last big bullet, dodged the single digit temps and the frozen water bottles and the stinging numbness of that midwest bitter cold. I thought I was pretty hot snot: I’ll just ride a permanent next weekend – SURELY the weather will be better.

Silly boy.

As the weekend approached, I had already announced my intent to the perm coordinator, Spencer, so the date and time was set. If I was gonna bow-out, it was gonna be a DNF, officially. It’s probably not THAT foreboding, but honesty and integrity are irreplaceable: if I said I was gonna ride it, I’d better ride it. As the days progressed, the forecast changed and by Wednesday the first mention of snow entered the Saturday AM forecast. I was doubtful, watching the maps and getting opinions from TV forecasters, the rain/snow line was going to be well to the north, it’d rain for a short time and then the sun would come out to bring upper 40’s to the air – and upper 40’s is downright perfect for me after this winter. Not warm, but not cold – almost t-shirt weather. I was actually a little excited: I’d don the rain-jacket for an hour or so, and then dry out and enjoy my first permanent.

But, forecasting ANY weather is difficult – the variables are unfathomable to the layperson. Forecasting late winter weather in the midwest is nearly impossible, and it changes hourly. It’s a good-guess scenario, always. Sometimes, I swear the weather services update the webpages as quickly as they can, so they don’t look like they’re getting caught. So begins my tale.

There is something of a double-edged sword when it comes to permanents and brevets. Upon organizing such events, the rule book sets aside time constraints on the ride, based on mileage. These constraints are usually just a detail, a formality for most participants that have been riding for a while, long enough to consider doing a distance event. The long end of the clock is such an average speed that you could almost take your sweet time, and the short end is pretty fast – but not as fast as some riders I’ve ridden with, which is to say if you really worked at it, you could arrive at a control too soon for the checkpoint to be considered legal. I was lucky enough to have performed this on one occasion, having to sit on the curb for ten minutes before getting my card signed. Granted, conditions were perfect and I’ve never repeated it – but it is possible. Along with this time window, there is the start time to be considered. You set the ride time, in this case 6:00AM; the time chart works out that you have an HOUR to leave the first control. This avoids the “mass start” mentality, and allows a little room for getting stuck in traffic on the way to the event, forgetting your gloves and having to run to a store, etc., or, in this case, waiting out some particularly nasty weather. The other edge of the sword swings around when one considers that the official clock IS ticking, whether you are riding or not, so it’s not often you see people dawdling around at the first control. Most brevets are long journeys into the unknown, and every minute you can save the better off you’ll be if you get flats, mechanicals, bonk, crash, explode, burst into flames, or your helmet melts. Time is NOT your friend in the world of RUSA. It truly waits for NO-one.

I begin my morning rising with my alarm clock, and walking out to the back deck. I swing open the door and stand outside, facing the north, to size up my conditions. It was raining hard with stiff north winds, as expected, and the temperature at 37 degrees. Not horrid, and again: expected. I went downstairs and fired up the computer, punched up the National Weather Service radar, and took a look. The back edge of the rain was not too far away…Hmmmm… I knew no-one else was showing up for this one, and I knew I had that hour buffer for just such a thing – I’d never used it before, though, so I was a little leery. Something in my subconscious was obviously looking for some excuse to forestall this wet morning ride, because – after all – I was “done” with winter. Yet, here I was after skipping the seven-degree start temperature of the brevet the weekend before, trading it for cold north winds and steady rain. In typical late-winter fashion, I was starting to waver a little, mentally. If it rains LATER in a ride, I put on the jacket and keep going – but there is something a little bit harder about starting out into it. I formulated my plan, and after looking at the radar loop for a while, I could see the back edge of the system was approaching, and did some quick math – I can use that hour, snooze a little, and then I won’t have to ride in the rain for too long, right? Made sense, so I set my alarm and went back to sleep. 45 minutes later, alarm sounds, I rise, I stand on back deck – still raining, still 37 degrees. I head downstairs, wiggle the mouse and watch as the screen saver gives way to the radar shot, and I smack the F5 button… refresh, and the back edge of the rain is indeed closer to Olathe now. Perfect. I step into a hot shower, and get dressed. Let’s do this thing. He latest forecast text indicates rain will end by 7:00AM, and it’s 6:15 now – this shouldn’t be a bad day after all, as they’re still saying upper 40’s for the high and partly cloudy. I can deal with that.

Anyone that is here in town, reading this, is laughing their butts off by now.

I am warm, refreshed and awake after my shower, and I slug down the last of my Sustained Energy breakfast and get dressed up. Wool base layer, wool RUSA jersey, wool gloves, cap, ear band, knee warmers, tights, double socks – this is one of those rides, rain or dry, that wool just shines, and I savor the snuggly feel of my prized rando-gear. It’s one of those things; after ten years of riding consistently I’ve gotten to a point as a rider where I’m done buying neat trinkets and upgrades for the bicycle itself, and have concentrated on things that make riding itself more enjoyable and comfortable – that cool looking cap, those plush arm warmers, that cool seatbag. This is a day where I get to wear a lot of “toys”. Rare closet gems for that rare cool-ish, wet-ish ride that make the difference between enduring, and enjoying. I’m ready, pulling on the rain jacket and snapping the helmet closure home.

It occurs to me that it’s awfully quiet outside the garage door – maybe the rain stopped already? Knowing the forecasters often get the timing wrong this month, I push the garage door opener button:

Snow. Maybe sleet, too? Holy…. I recall mentally the text of the forecast mentioning snow, but well north of here… north of I-70, maybe even north of US-36… not HERE!? They’ve been wrong before, but like THIS? NOW? Common!!! Silently, I ran all this through my head, and in about 15 seconds I flashed forward to see myself on the road, hours from then, riding in the partly-cloudy sunshine, on drier roads. This wouldn’t last. Just do it. I exited the garage, and closed the door behind me.

To clarify, the ride start is only a mile or so from my house, by design – this is the “Free State Border Patrol” permanent, my first route to be approved, and this would be my first time seeing it on a bicycle. The obvious problem with that arrangement is the location of my decision point is not at some far-off parking lot or truck stop – it’s my own garage, with my own bed still warm from residual body heat only a few feet above my head. Getting myself out of that garage is NOT easy, where getting out of the car and realizing that you came all this way, packed the car, etc., and are likely surrounded by other riders – it’s easy, even in the rain, to get going. Today, in the dark, in the snow, solo – this was the hardest part, just leaving the house for the first control. Another thing; my route is designed largely from past experience on familiar roads, route I have culminated over years of exploring, driving around sometimes wondering “where that road goes”. I don’t always have the time to spend a day on the bike with a notepad, pre-riding everything – I just don’t have the time. It’s far easier and faster to get a rough idea from maps, then get in the car and zip down the interstate to check out that remote section with the question mark, and return home fast. This is how this route’s farthest sections came into existence. It’s not often the BEST way to design a route, I’ll grant you, but it’s what I did in this case, and at the very least I had seen it in person and my regional permanent coordinator and another rider had ridden it the month before without issue. Even though I can’t always RIDE it first, I make every effort to ensure the distances are correct, the turns are clear on the cue sheets, etc. This route was no exception. It was already proven – but today would be my first look at it from its intended perspective – a bicycle.

I arrived at the first control, and looking at the clock I had already cut myself too close – I ran inside, grabbed a coffee drink, swiped my card and nervously took the receipt from the cashier to verify the time – 6:57AM… I had made the legal start with three minutes to spare. Don’t ever do that again, dude! Back in the elements, I slammed the coffee drink, mounted up and started out. The sleet/snow mix was HEAVY, and the wind solid at 18-20 MPH from the northeast. This was ridiculous, but I’m out here! Let’s go get that March 200K! Smiling at myself for at least taking the first difficult steps, I pointed the bike south on Mur-Len and headed out of town, taillights screaming into the snowfall behind me, and headlight blazing my trail. Fenders alive with water and thin slush, but layers and wool working great, I was not feeling too bad. I was awake, and ready.

Only two miles south of the start, I wanted to be done.

As I approached 167th and Mur-Len, I reached the old part of the road, an old one-lane bridge that has definitely seen better days. After steady rain since probably 1 AM, it was covered with watery puddles – big ones, and having ridden this section a lot of times in the past I knew that at least two of those puddles were covering rim-bending potholes – but I couldn’t remember which ones. Never ride into a puddle that you can’t see the bottom of. You never know what it is hiding. Seeing no good line past ANY of the dark puddles, I slowed down – WAY down – too slow, really. As I reached the bridge, my front wheel dug into the sloppy silt right before the puddles and slid a little, which engaged my automatic response: unclip and put a foot down to avoid falling, right? Normal move for any cyclist when the front wheel slides; but with that move I found the bigger of the two potholes with my right foot, which plunged with a splash into a one-foot deep lake of ice cold, muddy water. Instantly, my warm wool socks and half my tights were soaked. “Grand,” I muttered, clipped back in shaking my head, and pedaled on past the bridge and up the hill on the other side. “That’s gonna feel awesome in a few miles!” I grumbled, but it was already feeling pretty “good”. At least it was wool – another case for the natural miracle fiber: it still insulates when wet, as I’ve said before in this blog – but now, since that wetness came on instantly, it would take a while for my body heat to start warming up that water. And, the feet don’t get a whole lot of circulation when riding – at least not for me. So it was going to be a while. Could be worse… keep riding… Even with that, I never once considered turning around, even though warm, dry socks were only two miles away, back at the house. I was already an hour under… keep moving.

The sleet/snow was coming down quite hard as I reached 175th and Mur-Len and turned into the crosswind. Though most of my skin was covered in clothing my face was still exposed, and as I began to fight the crosswind and keep the bike stable my face began to sting. Despite my cycling cap being fairly low to protect my forehead and eyes, my cheeks and neck were taking a beating from the driving precipitation – which was like a sand-blaster on low setting, someone pointing it at me from about ten yards away: not anything that would peel off my skin, but it FREAKING HURT. I could feel my skin swelling from the combination of icy nails and cold air, and my nose began to run uncontrollably, as it usually does in this weather. I looked like something the ladies would REALLY like, lemme tell you. Imagine a raspberry and coconut Zinger snack-cake, but with a thin, clear glaze all over it. Mmmmmm. Yeah. I continued on, because basically what ELSE was I gonna do? I arrived at Antioch Road and 179th Street, but not until passing the entrance to the Kemper Farm; and a silent, dark Johnson County Sheriff’s car, waiting for that early-morning speeder, no doubt. As I passed, I could see him look up, and make a face like, “MAN, I should arrest you for your own good, moron.” He didn’t flash the lights or say anything over the PA system, so my hybrid, super-SUPER bright taillight must have passed his approval, too. Side note on that later on.

The first challenge of the ride – really of the entire year so far – was upon me after turning south on Antioch, as I approached the mother of most Johnson County hills, at least southern Johnson County. It’s 40+ MPH without trying in downhill mode, and quite a grunter on the way south. Today, it would help warm things up, so I stood out of the saddle and proceeded up the grade. It worked, and I felt a little better after leveling out and spinning for a bit. Instead of looking quite so grim, it was interesting – the snow/sleet at my back again wasn’t nearly as painful as the past five miles had been, and it was interesting to hear how confused the birds must have been that morning. The sun was coming up (but was still not to be seen through the clouds) and the birds were greeting it in usual spring song, but the snowfall happening while birdsongs were in the air, it was weird. Snow was collecting on the shoulders and in the fields, and it started to feel colder, despite the growing light of day. Yeesh. This HAS to get better. At least the snow should stop soon. I had my phone handy, since I’d been recording mileage at each turn for some cue sheet tweaks, so I pulled up my quicklink for the local radar, and the back edge of the precipitation WAS indeed coming soon. It should get better – press on!

I kept on, turning east again at 199th Street to head over to Metcalf, and got another dose of sandblasting from the relentless wind-driven sleet, and a quick glance at the bank time-board confirmed that it HAD gotten colder, down to 34 degrees now! Wow. Welp, at least my seat-o-the-pants thermometer is working! I stopped at the Stilwell Grocery, and took a nature break. This would be one of those days where outdoorsy nature breaks just weren’t going to happen – every time I’d get the notion, there would be a car – even if I hadn’t seen one in 30 minutes, bang – car. I’d be “holding it” a lot today. I know – you needed to know that. Sleep well. Another bunch of “poor bastard” looks from the gas-gettin’ locals at the filling pumps, and I was off to the south. The wind seemed to have picked up, too, and now that I was on a good flat headed south, I realized I was getting propelled along at 22 MPH without much pedal input. This is not going to be good later on, dude… but the wind is supposed to die down, too. Even as I thought that very thought in my head, I damned the idea that I ever considered pursuing that particular profession. Out of all the variables they could have tossed in my lap, so far they’d been wrong on every count, so as far as I knew the wind would pick up to 70 MPH by the time I would turn around at Pleasanton, KS. Sitting up to take advantage of the tailwind while I could, with a song from Spoon stuck in my head (Rhythm & Soul, specifically) I puttered along the perfect road, free of cars, with flying snow and sleet all around me. Despite my feet slowing turning numb, and feeling like lumps of dead meat at the ends of my legs, it was a magical morning, even for a ride. I reached down and loosened the fore-straps on my cycling sandals, hoping to maybe eliminate some of the numbness – maybe it was pressure-related – but the more I rode and the more snow collected on the tops of my feet and tights, I was clear that it was just 34-degree water doing the work. Next time, some sort of Seal-Skinz or other waterproofs for the feet would be REALLY nice.

The clouds were just thick, and the sun just would not come out, nor would the sleet and snow let up. I was beginning to really drive home the notion that weather forecasters are just wrong. Logging the mileage at K-68 and Metcalf near Louisburg, I pulled off the road and checked the radar again. Well, well. That’s forecasters one, dude zero. The line of precipitation WAS moving clear of Olathe. The problem was, I was NOT in Olathe anymore. In fact, driven by the tailwind and as a matter of timing on my part, my decision to try and wait out the weather at the start resulted in me staying in perfect unison with the line of weather creating the precipitation. As I moved south, the northeast-to-southwest oriented line of storms advanced to the east, and I was managing to stay right on the intersection of my north-south road and the center of the weather. If I had left an hour earlier, there was a slight chance that I would have managed to stay just AHEAD of the rain/snow line, and might have been completely dry after advancing to the east a ways – the exact opposite of what I had figured out in my head a few hours earlier. This is like Kharmic payback for skipping the KCK brevet, isn’t it? Crud…nothing to do but keep on riding. What could have been largely avoided I had managed to keep myself stuck in the middle of – and what might have been subconscious waffling might actually have been subconscious gluttony for punishment! After all, I’m the sick puppy that decided to ride in the first place – no one held a gun to my head – perhaps I’m REALLY just TRYING to make it harder on myself, yeah… that’s it! That’s the ticket! Eureka!

The Monty Python quotes echoed across the lonely highway as I pedaled on – DO YOUR WORST! HAVE AT YOU! Energy drink slugged down like warm meade, I would triumph over this paltry weather. Build a bridge out of her!

They call me…… Tim?

FINALLY, the sleet began to lift as I reached 335th and Metcalf. FINALLY. I turned back west into the crosswind to jog over to the next southbound section of the route, which to my delight was shaping up nicely from the saddle. Coming up, however, was the road that had already gained a reputation as a benchmark for toughness incarnate. This far south, in Linn County, KS., the nature of paving begins to walk a fine definitive. “Paved” could mean anything, really – anything other than rutted wagon roads – and being quite literal, SOME of these roads *ARE* old wagon roads that have NEVER had pavement laid upon them. They are marked “Minimum Maintenance – Travel at Your Own Risk”. They don’t fool around down here, and you have been warned: you don’t DRIVE those roads unless they lead to YOUR field, because they won’t come to tow you out – they will let your car get sucked into the muck to join the other fossilized remains of cars that have foolishly trod here before yours. This is part of why this route was titled the “Free State Border Patrol”, as a lot of the land you ride across is marked with these roads that were originally sectioned off around the mid 1800’s, right when the border ruffians and abolitionists were getting mad enough to trade 50-cal. ball ammo, one round at a time. Under all the mud and slop, there is a lot of blood and history. Very little outside the current highway cooridor has changed much in over 100 years, so if you find a paved road – you take it. There are no other options. In the case of this route, when I designed it there was only one road that joined the northern and southern sections of my ride together, and it’s this single one-mile section of Jingo road. Coming from the north, it’s just a road – but coming from the south, there is a sign that reads “Pavement Ends”, and it’s apparent WHY as soon as your front tire hits it. It’s ROUGH. Now, it *IS* paved, so don’t ya’ll start getting’ skeered and thinking you gonna skip my ride. OH, no. Do it. 700x18’s might have a problem, so if you ARE running 18mm tubulars and super-light climbing rims, you might wanna stay home. Other than that, do it. It’s not that bad. It’s not gravel – which I qualify as any road improvement medium that consists of pea-sized up to 2” broken rock, spread evenly to an average post compression depth of 1.5 inches. I’m not a civil engineer, but I play one on TV sometimes when CSI: Olathe needs stand-ins:

“It looks like this one was bored….to death….” .

Anyways – this road was indeed PAVED with an actual lay-over of aggregate held in place by asphalt or bitumen of some kind – problem is, that was done in 1995. So, today, it’s a LITTLE choppy. It’s only a mile, though, and the butter smooth pavement on the other side is worth the trip. It’s one of those Kansas curiosities, however. The road that you come off of is a major county route connecting to points east and west: 359th Street – east takes you to Drexel, MO., and west takes you eventually thru Block and Paola, kind-of the back way. So, why not just continue the pavement another mile north and just connect the two? I mean, it’s 2008! Well, it’s not Linn County’s problem – they don’t take responsibility until you hit 407th Street. In Miami County, and you can see this as you approach the “questionable” section of Jingo road from the south, 359th Street used to be a 4-way stop with OLD US-69 highway – now it’s an overpass. The resolution on Google Maps doesn’t have (sadly) the resolution to see this, but one of the last pieces of Old Route 69 is actually what is Jingo Road today, and as soon as the “pavement ends” at 367th street as you approach from the south, you can see the old concrete two-lane road arcing gracefully to the northeast, barricaded off long ago, as old Jingo road continues north – since this particular portion of road was NEVER part of Route 69, it was never paved. Never needed to be – it just continues north and becomes Switzer Road and meanders north towards Louisburg before stopping short – and the “pavement” up there is REALLY bad. The highway was extended down from Kansas City, MO to Fort Scott, KS in 1935, and this part of the road dates back to that particular expansion. It was abandoned when US-69 was moved to its current alignment to the east circa 1957, part of the highway improvement acts Eisenhower signed. Eisenhower was paranoid, and the main highway interstate system was put in place with wide lanes and high overpasses for larger military equipment migrations and/or mass evacuations – something the need for which, thankfully, never arose. Some of the major Routes were given new federal funding on the new US Highway program, and 69 being one of the few complete north-south routes (1150 miles long at the time), it was given straighter runs, wider lanes and the hills were either bypassed or blasted out of the rock to flatter grades. This old section, now named Jingo Road, was bypassed – and Jingo, KS, for which the road was renamed, faded into oblivion. The road here was originally part of the 1926 overlay of the old military routes that ran from Ft. Scott up to Ft. Leavenworth. “Border Patrol” indeed; as you travel on Jingo Road you are travelling on the very longitude that Union troops were using to move supplies to the frontier forts. Later on in the route, culminating at Pleasanton, you pass very close to the Mine Creek battlefield site, where – in short – the last major Civil War battle in the west was fought, and the only Civil War battle fought on Kansas soil. The results of the battle likely saved Fort Scott from a direct attack, as the confederate wagon train that was headed south attempting to cross the Little Osage river was cut off, forcing a retreat back into Missouri. Timed closely with other battles in the east at the time, the Mine Creek battle - having taken place in October 1864 - was one of the battles that began to reveal the confederate army's fading momentum, and barely six months later the war was ending at Appomattox. Nearly 150 years later, the thought of riding over a mile of questionable pavement seems to sit easier, knowing how good we have things today. Imagine it: only 50 years later, the first automobiles began to show up on Kansas roads. 70 years after the battle, concrete showed up over the old military road. Today, a half-mile east, four lanes of 70 MPH traffic blasts past all the history – and yet the same ruts are back there in those hills, the same stone foundations of barns burned by raiders, the long-rotted wooden grave markers of the lost, faded forever. Riding this land on a bicycle, it is truly something – keeping the history in your heart – to experience. It makes me think, and it makes me proud – and makes me forget for a few moments that my feet are numb, and my legs are tired.

After nine miles of this old road, however, you come to the top of a ridge and a tee intersection in the road where you turn west towards La Cygne, and the 2nd control; the first one since leaving the start line 45 miles earlier. More evidence that this used to be the main road, the giant expanded steel "Welcome to La Cygne" sign still stands proudly on the ridge, having never been moved into view of the new highway. I’m hungry, tired, and wet – still. Even though the rain and sleet has stopped, the wet roads and humid air keep me quite wet – but I’m still comfortable in my wool cocoon. I stop in for a donut, a card signing, fresh water and hot coffee which tastes REALLY good. This part of the route I’m pretty familiar with, and this Casey’s store is probably one of my favorites of all time: it sees a lot of business in this small town, and a lot of cyclists. Two permanent routes pass through here and use the Casey’s as a control, and Bob’s 400K and 600K south routes roll right past it, making it an unofficial – but often essential – stop along those rides. Today, I feel right at home, sipping coffee and talking briefly with a National Guardsman that’s as disappointed in the weather as I was, that being his only weekend off in a while. After he left, and my coffee cup ran dry, I was ready to get this next part over with – a big unknown: the whole southern section of my route, the first time I’d see it from the saddle. I knew what to expect, having pre-driven it for review – but from the saddle, it’s all different. Here we go! At least it’s not raining/snowing/sleeting (whatever all that mess was) anymore, but there is still a bite to the air that makes me keep the rain jacket on just as a wind breaker. The crosswind was still waiting for me as I traveled west on K-152 to the next turn south.

Ahhh, the Linn County highway system: another Kansas curiosity – but not so much after visiting Texas. For my readers to the south, picture this as any of the FM roads down there. Chip seal, no real way-lines or divider-lines, not really straight, not a whole lot of signage – just a road between two places. Linn 1095 and 548 are much like this, highways that date WAY back, to towns that time hasn’t been so quick with; towns with brick Main streets, corner cafés and unlocked doors. It’s also roads that some in the northeast would call “B.C.” roads; Before Caterpillar. If there’s a hill, you’re going UP it. If there’s a creek, you’re lucky if you don’t fall in. It’s kinda neat, but after the rainfall all night down here I was worried I might have come all this way only to be turned back by floodwaters. Fortunately, that was not the case – the road was actually well protected and most of the fields were indeed dry. I think I saw a total of ten cars in 44 miles in this section, so it was right up my alley as far as ideal ride conditions, even if the weather wasn’t cooperating. Still no sunshine – not even a hint of it, and the tailwind was increasing. The first of the hills came up, climbing the spine of a ridgeline, and steeper than I remember it being in the car. Figures, but the Casey’s donut sits right, and I stand up and deliver the climb, enjoying a fast descent on the other side. The next few miles are rolling, mostly flat, passing a lot of land, a few houses, some livestock, and then the 2nd hill comes along climbing another steep geographic feature, with a nice curve in the middle of it. Another fast descent to enjoy, then more flat, a few more curves, and hill number three – just a bump. Finally the left turn for Pleasanton, but a sign that I hadn’t noticed before: Pleasanton – 6, with an arrow pointing left; Mound City – 3, with an arrow pointing straight. I sat for a second, and thought to myself --- what was I THINKING with THAT one? After all the riding, all the planning, I had ended up with a 217km ride…and here was Mound City, just sitting out there, 3 miles closer… 6 miles shorter overall… for 205km’s total? Dude….there must be something really special about Pleasanton that I couldn’t seem to remember at that moment, but I felt pretty dumb for some reason. To the point where I’m actually considering changing it or creating another permanent that goes to Mound City instead! It really doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re done – you’re done, and six more miles might as well be 6,000. Even with the tailwind, the road here was taking its toll on me. Ok, fine – six miles until food and rest. Let’s go.

I turned left. Same kind of road, and as I looked right, I was glad that I’d done what I’d done as opposed to some other route that would have me headed west from there instead – to the west, within ½ mile, was the biggest wall of a hill I’ve ever seen; it went straight up the ridge, instead of curving gently around it. Thankfully I would not have to climb THAT today…but it might be featured in a future ride, probably that one to Mound City, KS. I rode on, and came upon another short roller, and then the biggie of the outbound section. This is one of those hills that reminded me of Colorado, smack up against a rock face on the left, and a guardrail on my right – steady 7% uphill for at least ¾ mile, I think. UP, up….UP!!! WHOA! It levels off for a short time, and then there is a sign; “HILL”. Really? NOW they call something a hill? And instantly I was doing about 50 MPH. Holy……..ZOOOOOOOOM, and I was at the bottom. That was fun! Past a field of cows, and around another bend, and then there was Pleasanton – that was a fast 6 miles! Finally, I’m at the halfway – all home-ward from here! Oooo, but that last little bump into the parking lot of the Pleasanton Phillips 66 station felt a little “off”… huh? I dismount, record mileage, and reach down to feel my rear tire, which is now soft and squishy… must’ve picked up some glass or something… well, this will be interesting. I walk in and take care of business, buy a six-pack of tiny donut gems, and some water. Looks like I’m fixing a flat and eatin’ donuts!

These tires, I tell ya – even though I’d gotten a flat, I don’t know WHERE I picked it up. I did a spit-test on it after finding the puncture, and the bubbles were small and grew slow. The rubber around the hole was well sealed. And after 67 miles in the wet, where-in cyclists are 50% more likely to get a flat at ALL, I had only found this one puncture after safely reaching my destination (well, this halfway control, anyways) None of that catastrophic POW hsss, hsss, hsssssss, hsssssss…. Flat. I had barely noticed it. Who knows how long I’d ridden on it. So, with pleasure, I got the flat kit out, pulled out a really gnarly looking oblong shaped hunk of razor sharp glass. Well, that’d do it. I check the inside of the tire for leftovers, and elect to save my tubes and patch this one, since I can see it. Patch on, tire on, inflate. Spit test…. You know: slob some spit on your finger, rub it across the hole where the glass used to be, and look for bubbles; no bubbles, no more leak! So, I do it…. Oh, crud…. BUBBLES!? Must not have gotten it… what did I miss? This was after repacking the seatbag, etc., convinced I’d only the one puncture. Wrong-o! I rotate the tire about 6 inches around, and there it is; a little bump about as big around as a penny nail, blackish in color. Great. Deflate the air I just worked my arms to put IN, extract offender. Glass again, this time a roundish shard of REALLY sharply pointed glass about ½” long! Dang! Straight into the tread. Round two, patch it, reinsert tube, remount tire, reinflate… spit test….. NO bubbles… whew! Success! These tires are indeed great – which is a hard thing for me to say after a double flat like this; in the past I’d be shopping for new tires when I got home, but today it made sense. The roads themselves, 3 miles on a US-highway shoulder, “pavement” on Jingo road, and the Linn County highways – decades old chip seal probably riddled with years and years of Saturday night beer bottles, AND it was all wet. The rest of the tire surface, front and rear had no rips, no cuts, no slashes of even the smallest nature. Just two perfect punctures that probably would have gotten ANY tire – because, based on kinetic energy and such, the way these punctures went in, and my body weight – it’s essentially like taking a finish brad at point-blank range from an air-nailer. There isn’t ANY tire out there that is flat-PROOF. Considering the way the rest of the tire looked, and how slowly the air leaked when it did flat, they did really, really well – and from what I’ve replaced before, the Pasela’s would have taken more damage, for certain. Plus, unlike the old Continentals I used to run, these didn’t blossom out and just deflate instantly – I was still riding along safely when I noticed the pressure had dropped, so the sidewalls were never compromised, and I wasn’t at risk of ruining the tube. Not bad. Second flat repaired, kit repacked, donuts in tummy – time to get outta Pleasanton! I had arrived and had my card signed at 11:45, so it was time to try and make good on the time the tailwind bought me on the way down.

There’s that tale of the brevet control time warp – I wonder if ya’ll have heard or experienced it? You’re at a control – usually the halfway of any ride – it’s lunchtime, you’re with friends, times are good – so we all pick up some sidewalk and sit a spell. Talk about the ride so far, what’s coming up, that one ride that one year, etc. All while chowing on c-store eats and deciding which layers to leave on and which to take off. Pretty soon, hours have passed, and someone says it “uh, we better get movin!” Been there tons of times. Today, I knew I was in luck, because I was solo – no-one to chat with, no-one to wait for. It’s good AND bad, because I was mumbling to myself a lot more than usual, but I was moving. Even with the double flat, my card was signed and I ate while I worked, never sat down, was quick about things – no dawdling. I knew I couldn’t because that tailwind all morning was about to take its toll from me. I rolled out onto the route, and glanced down at my computer. 12:47 PM…. Ok….. whoa, what? 12:47?!? I pulled out my cell phone, absolutely CONVINCED my bike computer was wrong – there was NO way I’d been there THAT long – I ate six little donuts, mixed a drink, fixed my rear flat with two quick patches, didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t even put my backside on the sidewalk! My cell phone display read 12:48 PM!!! WHAT WAS I *DOING*??!!?? The time warp is REAL, friends… I honestly was thinking 20 minutes… maybe 30 tops… I was ALL business…. But, there it was .. over an HOUR, blown. Combined with the hour I blew at the start of the day, the math was still in my favor, but it was really not looking so good – especially when I finally turned north.

Reaching LN 1095 again wasn’t horrid, save for having to actually CLIMB the 50 MPH monster that I had descended earlier. Dang – straight up the ridge… this is a challenging little piece of road – but the downhill on the other side was totally worth it, the Colorado-style twisty descent was a thrill, and the drying out pavement meant it was time to hang it out a little bit. Fun tires, too, did I mention? More flat to rolling terrain, and the crosswind was reminding me not to get too excited about things: spin, conserve. The donuts were working, the Clif Shot electrolyte drink was working – another new “experiment” that I took away from Tejas last year. Works well, but certainly just electrolyte replacement, not really a caloric source. That reminded me – even though the donuts sat well so far, and I was trying NOT to stuff myself, I STILL really don’t know how to eat for these rides. I’ve either forgotten, or I never learned how – with all the powdered energy supplements I’d used religiously over the years. I have actually been thinking that some of my lack of speed comes directly from nutritional concerns. I ate like dirt at Texas for the Italy brevet, and today I was eating like dirt again – even though it was WORKING, it was stuff that I would never really eat off the bike, even in moderation. Heavy donuts, for example – a treat, sometimes, yeah – but would they really continue to work or would I eventually fall into a sugar crash? Had more of the ride been done just on residual calories from last night’s dinner and this morning’s Sustained Energy? I went through a whole thing where I started worrying a lot about what I was carrying – which LAST year was indeed TOO much stuff. Carrying too much powder for a long ride creates a problem – and my old formula solved most of that by adding a Camelbak system, and filling it with straight water of hydration fuel. But, I just DON’T want anything on my back anymore. Can’t do it. Can’t commute that way anymore, won’t brevet that way anymore. I have learned to DRINK enough now, and hydration today wouldn’t pose a problem at all – no cramps, no problems. BUT, calories – specifically calorie replacement: with the tally of food I’d take in, and the amount of calories I’d burn by the end of the ride, I ran a BIG deficit again. The donuts would start to turn on me, eventually, partly in waste product production, and partly in staying power. While the chocolate glazed long-john crème filled at Casey’s got me DOWN to Pleasanton, the Hostess Little Gems were about to run out, and I’d barely reached the turn six miles into the return leg. Pizza, a sandwich, maybe even a sit-down MEAL at a café, certainly an actual LUNCH would have served me better – but the time warp issue pops back into my head. If I thought I was hurrying, and burned an hour easily, what would sitting down at a restaurant do to my clock? Am I just a powdered energy drink guy, and that’s it? Why am I messing around, then? Should I do what Byron does, and just stuff the back pockets with SE again, or Carboplex? Maybe so – and to be sure, I’ll try it at the next one. Today, however, my last serving of SE was sitting quietly mixed up in my 2nd water bottle, and I knew I dare not drink it YET, for fear of a sugar reaction with what I’d eaten before. Again, why should I mess around?

Linn 1095 came up, I turned north, and WHAM… there it was, as promised: the north wind. What was supposed to have died down had increased as the storm front blew past, and the breeze was a solid 18-20 MPH. I put my hands on the drops, and my head down – time to stare at the pavement for a few hours. It was relentless, and what Spencer had mentioned about this being an “exposed” route was true. No tree line, no ridge, no sheltered road – just like the Italy 200K again – and this time, no Ort, nobody but ME – it was time to earn it, because it was NOT going to get handed to me today. I was ten minutes in to 60 miles of headwind, and was already feeling sapped. Then the first of the next three hills came, starting with a gentle 4% run-up that lasted about a mile. Then the hill itself… I don’t remember this hill at ALL, I was thinking – and for good reason. I had NEVER been this way, even in a car. After pre-driving the route, there was no reason to back-track and drive it again – upon reviewing it from La Cygne to Pleasanton in the safety of the car, I was at the Phillips 66, pretty much a block from the highway – so I, being in a hurry, took the highway home. I had never seen the route in reverse! OH, my, my, my… what was I THINKING? This hill, I tell ya – I have to ride this again in a couple months to be sure, but I can partially blame the caloric deficit, partially blame the headwind, but mostly blame the 1 mile 4% run-up to a absolute BEAST of a climb, long, curvy, tiring. I stood on the pedals for more punch, and I had nothing. NOTHING in my legs, I tell you. I literally felt ill, and fell back into the seat with a grunt. It wasn’t the pushing, it was just the act of standing, it’s like my arms had given out, too. I had already shifted down into my easiest gear by the time the run-up was over, so when the climb began there was nothing left to reach for. I was maxed out, I could feel my heartbeat in my temples – bonking? Out of shape? Who can tell – this hill was a monster for me. For about 5 seconds in the middle of it, I actually considered stopping and walking up the rest of it – and I never do that. I try to never let a hill tell me “no”. Today, I was close to that edge, but I stayed on it – my other half chiming in with whatever motivation I could hear over the noise of my own doubt and fatigue, and I reached the top. Ready to coast… sometimes I wonder if these gears are my worst enemy: have low gear, will use it. How did I used to do this on ONE gear? Answer: probably the same way I do it now – it’s not easier or harder – you either do it, or you don’t. Today, however, I was really glad I had some sort of bail-out mechanism.

The next two hills were markedly easier than that second one, but the wind was fierce and the eleven miles of Linn 1095 was thankfully over, and a little sooner that I’d expected. Back at the Casey’s at La Cygne, stomach growling, I was needing a refuel. Clearly not having learned any lessons AT THE TIME, I grabbed for what had worked earlier in the day, the donut. More coffee, more water, and some V8 – probably the only intelligent choice. The hot coffee tasted good and felt good – still no time to remove the jacket, as the wind howled and my fingers grew cold. I put the gloves back on to finish the coffee. A nature break, not the preferred variety, and I was ready to depart again – it was 2:45 PM. It had only taken 15 minutes longer to get back north, despite the wind, so I was fairly pleased. Maybe this day would turn out okay after all? Even though the scepter of the headwind that kept reminding me of its presence, I never found my mood wavering, never felt that need to make a phone call. Yeah, not my FAVORITE conditions, but it seemed very possible. But, I also knew not to get too excited – looking at the rest of the route in my mind as I slugged the last of my coffee, it would be a long time until I would be able to call it “done”. Get to it.

Off into the K-152 hallway, again – this section of highway that I ride on the 400K and 600K of Bob’s always makes me feel a little closed-in. Lack of shoulder, flat, long, and a big hill at the end (well, not so big anymore, by comparison!) it’s always a good road to get to the end of. Finally I am there, grunting up the big ridge that gets me up and out of Linn Valley, and onto the spine of the old highway again. I peer over at the La Cygne reservoir, and the KCP&L plant humming along, twin smoke stacks leaving long billows of steam trailing for miles in the cold, wet air, pointing south – reminding me again, as if I’d forgotten, about the wind. This route was designed by me, as I mentioned before, and BY design it’s for spring and summer riding. With Kansas’s prevailing SW winds in the warm months, this is a great route to get out early on, beat the heat, enjoy mild breezes in the early hours of the day, enjoy breakfast in Pleasanton, and then get propelled back home by the southwest winds, enjoy the warmth of the afternoon and early evening, and get some assistance with that distance-induced fatigue. It was NOT meant to be ridden on days like this, days where everything I had hoped was reversed. This wind is a curse on me now, and the clock is ticking loudly. Ugh, where is the sun? THERE! Peeking through a break in the clouds! MY SHADOW!!!! I actually let out a yell, not caring if ANYone was around to hear me – I hadn’t spoken aloud for hours and hours… and now a guttural hollar of pure joy just escapes from my lungs! I see my shadow! I feel a blink of pure solar warmth hit my left arm…. AHHHHHH…….. and then, just like that, it’s gone. Fifteen seconds. For the next three minutes it occurred twice more – and I thought that the end was coming, the end of the dreariness, the final clearing, some warmth, that upper-40’s temperature! Finally! I’ll take the headwind if I can have sunshine! I smiled… but it would not last. After those three short visits with my shadow, I would not see the sun again until Sunday. But, that little spark really woke me up inside, and I began to turn the pedals with a little more earnest. Despite my work, however, the wind was a rough customer – sometimes I’d look down and see 9 MPH. Depressing, but it was movement. There was no way I could shape myself, hold my head, change my pedal stroke – this was all I was able to give against the hand of the north wind. Head down, the harshness of Jingo road’s “questionable” section came up, and I barely flinched. I had visions of cobblestones, George Hincapie, gutting out the impossible spring classic, and the mile of rattling, jaw shaking pavement was over in a flash.

Finally back on US-69 highway’s shoulder, a big landmark in this ride was passing by under my legs, and Louisburg was next. I downed my Sustained Energy in my 2nd bottle, and felt it go to work after a few minutes. My system was languishing for energy, and while I was not cramping up I could feel an emptiness in my gut and a hollowness in my legs that was growing – but the SE was helping. Some push returned, and I counted down the numbered streets knowing each 8th block was a mile…. 319th…… 311th…….303rd……head down… spin….push…. pull….. one, two, one , two…. Metcalf’s rolling hills section came up…. But it didn’t seem as tough this time… push on…. 295th…..287th……..AH! The BP station in Louisburg is here! I skipped it on the way down, but now I needed it! Stop! Water! Corn Nuts and V8 might work… no pizza, nothing “food” like here. Ugh… still, it’ll work. I am sore, and I make a call to the wife – the obligatory, I’m twenty miles from home… see you soon…. I saddle up, steeled, ready – I can do 20 miles… common.

The last few miles of Metcalf pass quicker, mentally, mainly because I’d done them so may times in the past. 247th… Cleveland Road, I call it… 223rd…. 215th! County Line! Johnson County! Now, I’m getting there! The wind, though – angry now, shoving at me, I shove back… but the little bursts don’t last long, caloric deficit coming back again… grrrr… time to throw more food at it, I guess. I hit Stilwell, near 199th and Antioch, and stop again. Ok, what’s worked today? What’s gonna get you this last 11 miles, I ask myself quietly after another nature break and a quick wander around the store – stomach growling LOUDLY. Now, I have to stop you a second – I know I just got done saying that I’d been eating like dirt all day, I need to go back to something that works – but I’m here to tell you: at THAT moment, I passed the Krispy Kreme display – donuts that had been sitting in there all day. I got coffee, and I got some water, and then I got a BLUEBERRY CAKE DONUT WITH GLAZE. DUDE, that tasted A-W-E-S-O-M-E!!!!
NOW I CAN FINISH THIS MOTHER. Sometimes, it’s all about the donuts – I will make better choices on future rides for better overall performance and not as much struggling… but sometimes… sometimes… say it outloud:

Blueberry Cake Donut with Glaze… if you can say that outloud, and your mouth doesn’t water a LITTLE, right there at the corners… common, you must be dead.

Sometimes, it’s all about the donuts.

It’s nearly SEVEN PM. Yep… SEVEN PM now… I left the Casey’s in La Cygne at 2:45, roughly. What took me only three hours and ten minutes to accomplish this morning had just taken over four hours – yes, kids, that’s a whopping 10.45 MPH average. My overall average at this point was down into the 13’s – absolutely SLOW, un-stellar – and so you see the need for more training, or better nutrition after all – despite it sometimes being about the donuts, despite it sometimes being about a killer headwind – I AM S-L-O-W. It’s time to revisit Longview Lake, and start chasing some people. It’s time to try and catch Jeff Winter. SOMETHING needs to change, because as the clock ticks, I am 11 miles from home at this C-store, enjoying my donut treat, and I only have an hour and 40 minutes to finish legally. That’s sad. Yeah, I should not be rushed, yeah I have this one in the bag… but it’s going to take me another HOUR to do 11 miles IF I SPEED UP into this flippin’ gale force wind, on a caloric deficit, with ridiculous fatigue in my legs. See how that hour I blew in the morning is something I REALLY wanted back now. And, the sun is going down. MOVE, man… GO!

I mount up, happy as a clam, knowing that a killer downhill on Antioch will get me back a small fraction of time. But, I am pedaling harder, faster, and the speed against the wind is better now – mainly because of the appearance of trees along the roadside to help buffer me a little – still it howls up the road into my face. The big downhill comes, then 179th Street, then 175th Street, and finally Mur-Len again, and the FINAL turn north. Ugh, this blows… the wind puts up one more fight. Here I was thinking it’d die with the fading sun, NOPE. Up hill, downhill, over the one-land bridge where my one-foot deep pothole was dried out now. I give it the finger, like that will help. But, I laugh out loud – I’m two miles from being done, and I’m back after 12 hours of suffering. Granted, this was more than a 200K, but even with that pace I’d managed all day, it would have been only an hour and a minute faster than what I’d just managed. The last mile was here, and I was going to finish this ride with something like 38 minutes to spare. For this kind of riding, that a single flat tire, a single missed turn, anything. Blink – gone! But, the rear tire held all the way back, no flats, no issues, no wrong turns. Whew. I went into the 7-11, bought a chocolate milk, and swiped my card for the last time, getting 7:47 on the clock. 12 hours, 50 minutes. Blow an hour at the start from my allotted 14:20 ET allowed, and that’s 13:20… I cut this one CLOSE, and to boot I’d never finished a 200K anything after dark before. Yeah, I was prepared, but still… 9 hours… 8 hours sometimes if the conditions are good….my BEST was 6:45 ET. That’s normal for me…. THIS, this was a HARD DAY. Off the bike time? Not really any worse than usual… 10:26 was my rolling time, for a whopping 12.9 MPH average…. YUCK. I still did something good for myself, and got one step closer to a bigger goal, and got some excellent base building and mental training – but YUCK. I was elated to have arrived home alive, and promptly high-fived the monkey hanging from the garage shelving.

Since I hadn’t talked to anyone all day, after riding back home to the house and sitting down the wife was kind enough to listen to me just spill basically ALL of the above to her – she’s not a cyclist, probably won’t ever be, but she listens great… and I just dumped it all out… MAN what a day, but I finished it!
I finished! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… finishing is EVERYthing. Regardless of speed, the only thing that counts is the finish, and I just gave myself a GREAT goal for next time I ride this bad-boy: do it faster. One of these days, the winds will be right. One of these days, I’ll figure out the food issues…. But I still finished, and the journey is the best part.
The time for being afraid is over, and for the “I’ve had worse” files… man, this is on the top of the pile. Winter, I’m still DONE with you…. But I’ve indeed had worse now so whatever you got, I’m ready to ride – there ain’t no WAY it’d be worse than TODAY.
Looking back to 13 hours earlier, in the garage, looking out, wondering if I should go or not… I’m very, VERY glad that I went.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what a ride. It's exhausting just to read about it. Sounds like a beautiful route, though. I'll have to try that Jingo Road section, it sounds interesting.

Chris said...

Let me know when you do your APRIL 200k...I thought about you when the weather was so crummy! Great job and as always, detailed write up; felt as though I was there.

Dan said...

This is a great account of the ride. Thanks for sharing.

O. T. said...

Nice! I had three lonely solo perms on my R12 quest. None were close to this bad. Great job!!! Finishing is what counts.

BBQ sandwhiches and Pie. That is the trick.......