July 19, 2008

R-12 pt.6 - Stranger than Fiction

Success for July in the continuing saga of R-12! Six down...six to go... and the August edition should be cake since it's an organized RUSA brevet, and not a strict solo-effort. Not that today was --- a new record for one mf my permanent routes, I hosted two other guys, and it was almost three, making for a near-total of four people! Crazy... plus, two of those guys, one woulda been Noah from last month, RUSA 5062 - and newcomer JBrown, RUSA 5064. Two new members inside a month is simply awesome - considering in the time they both registered, only one other person in the whole U.S.A. got between them. This is a sport truly for the nut-bags out there... these numbers are sequential, so there's only barely 5065 of us. Let's see....there's 300 million people in the US currently...ok, we are a very small faction of complete psychos. Probably only 10% of Americas are "cyclists" -- as opposed to occasional bicycle users. Only a small percentage of them will do a century. And then an even smaller percentage of those people think a century isn't enough. If this is you, RUSA WANTS YOU. Email me***.

Anyhoooooo.... so this month saw one of our new psychos, and two grizzled veterans of the brevet circuit. He,he. Actually, JBrown, I'll have to say was already nuts before he joined up - onlythe RUSA number is new. Come to find out he rode to the Oklahoma border one weekend....just because. Ok, he's found the right club. He's also the only person that's EVER asked me about next months event immediately after finishing this ride. I think we have a winner, Bob! Quality guy - tough as nails - strong rider.

The morning started much the same way the last four or so of these have started.... E A R L Y.
My alarm woke me up at 2:15am...and I snoozed until I saw a numerologically perfect 2:22AM on the clock. The only even prime number... seems like a good time to wake up. Technically, time isn't really a number more than some archaic marker for the passage of something that can't be quantified with the decimal system... whatever, dude...you're getting off track again. PULL IT BACK PULL IT BACK!! Ack! Pfffffft!

SO.... I rise, and get a little liquid breakfast going.... Sustained Energy...mixed with a gle pack of raspberry Clif Shot, ice cubes, and cold coffee. Yeeeeeeayh.......tasty. Finally, I get to play with coffee.... the plan is still working really well... abstain from caffiene in ANY form until the morning of a ride, or on the overnight of a longer ride...maybe the 2nd morning of the MS-150, too... anytime where I need it to work. And it works. I shower, dress, and open the garage to the temple of randonneuring ... the most decorated shrine to long distance cycling in the entire area between 159th and 151st streets in Olathe. I'm fairly confident in that claim... Never know.

JBrown shows up, lights blazing into the night, right around 3:05am. Yeesh it's early, and this guy rode from HOME up a little farther north to get here! A gorgeous night, full-ish moon up high, passing clouds - and not a hint of rain like the forecasters warned. Cards are signed, procedures reviewed, waivers checked. Ort - yeah, buddy!!! - Ort from Texas, baby... back in O-town for a run at 217km. This is indeed a treat. This is the guy that did a full SR series (that's Super Randonneur series, consisting of a 200, 300, 400 and 600km brevet in the same season)...completed R-12, AND finished the Tejas 500 last year. For someone that kinda poo-poos things sometimes, he's a legend. There are stronger, faster riders that can't say what he can say. Very modest, very solid rider. Pretty flippin high on my list.

Finally, it's getting close to start time -- we hit the road and make our way to the official start at the 7-Eleven up the street. 3:32 AM... heeeere we go!

The night, again, is nearly perfect ... 74 degrees, and a little humid ... but not bad. The wind is very light, even though technically it's a headwind it's not even a concern. Dry roads, and not even the usual morning fog in the low spots -- just some really light areas where you can feel that it's cooler, but nothing visibility-limiting like the last couple of times. Good conversations are already kicking off amid us three, and the road is long and friendly.

The first real test of the day, Antioch Hill, comes up pretty quick and it's over in short order - heart rates are up, and the speed afterwards comes up a notch. This hill gets easier and easier with each passing month for me. I know that it's exposure and strength returning to my legs and spirit - but I just wish the numbers on the scale would reflect the way I'm feeling. It's hard to explain, when I feel lighter and nimbler than I have since the beginning of the year... but yet, the scale says otherwise. Muscle mass.... yeah, yeah.... but my midsection is still not where it should be. It's a common mid-30's complaint, I've been told. Still, I refuse to give up on it. The conversation turns to the folks down in LSR land, how a lot of them are true ATHLETES... as opposed to just "cyclists"... in the sense that if they wanted to do the Boston Marathon, they probably could take a month off the bike, cross train a little, and just go do it. Me, on the other hand -- I've never been much on running, as these pages will attest. Yeah, I could probably do it with a solid year of preparation.... but getting back to my point, I'm basically not ready NOW to just hop off the bike and do anything. Some of these LSR guys are, and they look it, and they are in some cases two decades my senior. There is hope... the conversation turns to the notion that "people are people", in the sense that if one person can do something, I should be able to also. That notion gives me hope.... but JBrown is right... some people are more gifted than others. Part of my persona won't let me live with that fact, however... I have to keep trying, mainly because I know that I personally have been there myself... not "athletic", but slimmer, faster on the bike - more ready. I want to look the part. There is part of me that constantly screams "not good enough". Perhaps there is still part of my plan that hasn't come together physically, and it is yet to come. My food intake is down, I am eating more sensibly on the bike, and my riding time is more consistent now... whatever it is holding me back, it will break soon -- and my pants will fit better...

A little zig zagging, and we're on the longest part of the course... Metcalf.
There are mixed feelings about this road -- mine usually come later in the day, around Louisburg. As in, there has got to be a better way. Traffic is steady - but not horrid - but one has to remember that before the new highway was bypassing the old one, Metcalf was pretty much it. I've never explored much of Louisburg aside from the Cidermill to the west, and this intersection - but the intersection of K-68 (279th street) and Metcalf is pretty busy for a town this size. Coming thru in the dead of night...not a big deal. But, in the afternoon, yeah. It's a bit of a cluster. This is part of the reason for my preference towards an EARLY start time. After passing 279th Street, the hill get bigger, longer, steeper. The real ride is beginning.

Finally we reach 335th Street, and my usual morning stop. Ahem. And we're off again, in the pre-dawn light and onto the highway shoulder. Ort mentions we need to bring it up to about 60MPH so we can merge better... This is a good section, kinda the cross-country tourer's section. A lonely highway shoulder, on some piece of highway way far away from anything. I have images of grizzly, unshaven flannel shirt-donning vagabonds with front and rear panniers and well-worn tires blazing the way to the next overnight campsite. Ahhh.... someday.

Then comes the fun part... Jingo Road... aka, the cobbled section....aka, "WHY?" Well, yeah... it's not THAT horrible. I've gotten pretty used to this section, and today with dry, hard ruts in the road I am having a blast just letting gravity do the work, occassionally steering to correct. Before long, we're done, and on the newer paved section... but my familiarity with the course is showing as I've put a little gap in, so I wait up and we regroup. The sun is coming up, and headlights turn off finally. Last month, by the time we reached 335th it was time to turn the headlights off... the season is changing fast!

Grouped back up, tales flow about riding styles, Tejas, so and so riding this, and such and such -- all good stuff. Of course, Colonel Clink' comes up, and we have to explain the long history of exploits and quotes from the man from Columbia. Awesome -- makes me laugh just thinking about it --- not really making fun, no way... but he represents the most energetic and unique personality in probably all of RUSA -- granted I haven't met EVERYone... but he was the guy that rode all four US-based 1200ks in the same year in 2005... not many people can say that.
The flying quotes about the "four-hole (whatnots)" and a "certain kind of misery" all come with a large dose of respect.

La Cygne, the first control, and cheesey potato bites. What else is there in life?
Ok, egg croissants and various other eateries. Still.... FOOOOOOD.
21 miles to the turnaround....and it's barely 6:30am. Not bad!

The next section, also is getting easier for me -- and the talent of my two companions today is showing. After talking up the section pretty good, and yeah -- it IS challenging -- it didn't really dent anyones resolve today. While small gaps opened up here and there, that's expected - and they quickly closed back up again. After proclaiming that I "didn't want to hurt today" earlier in the ride, I was living up to my end of the bargain, choosing the shortest gears right out of the box, and just lugging it out. On these climbs, that's about all you can do. Like JBrown said, they are pretty similar to Johnson Drive in grade... you just gotta gear down, and do it.
With layover panniers mounted on his rear rack, a lot of extra gear, and all on a flat-bar Trek Soho tourer with disc brakes and Shimano's fabulous 8-speed internally geared hub - yeah... this guy is a strong rider, if I hadn't mentioned that before. I don't know how much it weighs in comparison with what Ort and I were riding, but the only time it ever made a difference was when speeds hit 26 MPH or more, and the gearing simply ran out for him. In many cases, I was working to keep pace with him.

Pleasanton! Amid the usual gawking stares is my normal checkout girl, and we're practically on a first name basis now after three months in a row of this route for me. Food, water, bathroom - the usual stuff. Off again!

Pleasanton...the Linn Valley, specifically. Weird. WEIRD weather. In May, I was on the Trek utterly alone, and after leaving Pleasanton and reaching the first big hill on the return, sprinkles... It makes that first long descent around the backside of the tall ridgeline seem like it's in another world. It only lasted for a few minutes, but it was odd....aside from that early morning fog that day, it was pretty dry everywhere else. In June, with Noah, the same thing -- after reaching the first big hill on the way out of town... sprinkles again... weird.... only for about a half mile, not really even enough to wet the pavement. The rest of that day was clear and dry - and the thunderstorms we'd stared at on the way down south that morning should have been long gone. Today, July -- you'd think that thunderstorms and rain of any kind would be out of the question. In fact, I had planned for a little leftover rain at the start is all, but most of it should have stayed to the north of us, like Iowa border north. I was ready for HOT weather finally... like seriously, I was ready to have a brutal, 90+ degree sweat-fest of a ride. Instead, we reach the first hill... and begin the slog to the top. Drip... Drip.... drip drip drip..... drip drop drop drip drip..... RAIN RAIN RAIN..... what the???? This time, not only did the rain increase to a nice gentle shower, it lasted.... and lasted.... and lasted.... breaking for a short period of time between the 2nd and last hills, then picking up again. By the time we reached K-152 again, we had essentially done 90% of the section back to the next control in the rain, or at least on very wet roads. I was missing my fenders, but only from the standpoint that I was gonna have to clean off the "good bike" later that night. Small hardships, I know. Temperature-wise, this was the perfect time of year to be caught without a rain jacket or fenders. Under a constant shower, I put my head down - also missing my riding cap with brim - and just hammered it out. Ort dropped into "get this done" mode, and started to pull away off the front - and JBrown and I gave chase, only to find it harder and harder to keep the same gap, and J eventually running out of gear. I've seen this side of Ort before. The side that puts me miles behind in Texas in February.... the side that put me hours behind at the MS-150 in 2005 when I was stuck on the fixxie and couldn't catch up, talk about being out of gears! Ort was focused only on Casey's, and getting out of the rain. We HAD to chase... but we simply weren't catching him... until the downhill. Not sure what it is about me currently, or if its the bike - but I've gained a reputation of being able to descend like a bomb. While it's not usually a good idea, it is possible to make up time on descents, and today it was the only way I caught Ort's wheel. After a while, I was crazed and amped up from the long workout, and so I decided to keep it going and mash out the last four miles or so at high speed -- well, high speed for me right then; solo in the rain was good for about 23.5MPH on the flat, so I tried to hold it to the stop sign at K-152 and maybe burn off some of this midsection.
Felt good to push it... but I was also glad the Casey's was coming up.

Safely off the road, back at the Casey's the rain continued as we tried to dry off, squeeze out, and wipe down basically everything we owned. Yikes. Cards were signed, and quickly I grabbed some hot coffee and got out of the air conditioned meat locker of a c-store that was starting to cause chills. Even in summer, cold and wet is not a good combo. More food, more water....more contemplation about the last big hill of the day leading out of Linn Valley to the east.

As a trio, we mounted up and made our way east towards the last really big challenge of the day -- well, aside from the gravel section -- with my Dinotte headlamp turned around backwards and hanging under my seatbag, I felt a little safer riding in the rain now and took up last position in the mini-paceline to ensure cars could see us... but as it happened, the rain ceased, and bluer skies began to appear in the west. Ahh..... just wet roads now. We took the hill without any particular drama, and got back onto Jingo Road for the 9 miles back north to 359th Street. This is the point in the ride where the incessant techno music that was stuck in my head for some reason began to come out. I guess I have been listening to too much mindless house music at work lately, since my tasks have been all-encompassing, and I can't listen to anything with lyrics when that happens. Still, riding along, beat-boxing --- it's just the kind of weird I come to expect from myself on these rides. This was also the part of the ride where section of road and the sub-division of the remaining route becomes important, almost neccessary. It helps, mentally, when you know you've got a big section behind you - and the finish is that much closer.

The gravel section, another chance to play cyclo-cross world champion of my neighborhood, and take the mile-long acsent back up to 359th. This is my "fun part" for sure. So much fun that I don't really hear the one truck that comes up behind me - but thankfully he's taking his time and has plenty of room to pass. Soon, it's over -- and my biggest fear about it being all sloppy from the rain is proved false. This loose stone and silt takes a lot more water than this to get nasty.

Back on the highway, enojying a nice tailwind now as the morning breeze starts to become the afternoon gale, typical of Kansas in summer. Now the design and start time of this route makes perfect sense - as the last few times I've ridden it, it hasn't worked out this way! Cruising along, the highway section is over in no-time, and we're back on the other side and onto old Metcalf again. Charged up on the last of my SE and HEED mixture, and a steady flow of salty nuts and leftover potato bites, the ride becomes more fun as the rolling hills south of Louisburg begin to pop. One by one, we all climb and descend, climb and descend - over and over across the miles. Ort and JBrown are strong as ever and every time I get passed up on the flat, I have to answer with a little kick to keep up. Even though Ort starts to mention a lack of push, he is right up in the hunt each time the road pitches up. Strong guy. While randonneuring is never about head-to-head competition, it's fun to uncork like this, when the calories are right, the wind is right, and you're among friends. Normally, solo, this part of the ride becomes difficult to deal with -- today, I'm smiling. Louisburg comes, and there's the BP station -- at the last minute, I decide to stop.
I risked losing Ort at that point, as he mentioned he was not going to stop here -- but he pulled in as well. Whew... Water on the face, mens room, some sort of food perhaps... Lousiburg on the return, when fatigue sets in, and the heat comes up... I'm glad it's here. And, today, we actually see another cyclist pull up, coming from the north. Compared to last time, that's huge! It's an old Trek 2200 Composite, internally-lugged road frame...possible about 7 years newer than my lugged steel model. Nice deep burgundy against round carbon tubes.... nice stuff!

Back on the road, only the last section of Metcalf and a few more turns remain. We begin to dive into pacemaking mode, heads down and pedalling along. Spaced out along the road, the conversations turn internal, and there is a lot of watching scenery and looking at the passing fields and buildings -- at least, that's what I started doing after Ort caught back up to me and mentioned that's what he had been doing. I had gone into my head-down, staring at a spot of road about 3 meters ahead of the front wheel. Sometimes I forget that even though this is the same route for me, the fourth time over since March, the scenery is constantly changing. My favorite part of Metcalf comes up - a part that, as soon as I say it, I hope they never bulldoze and turn into strip malls or houses. A huge field on either side of the road, between 239th and 231st streets. Bright green, corn on the east, beans on the west, and that old, dead tree that was hit by a tornado or lightning or something a LONG time ago, I forget the story. The road stretches out like a long ribbon across the small valley that we descend down into and then have to climb out the other side. I love this part, and we are blessed with sunny blue skies and scattered clouds time time to enjoy it. This is the same place last month where Noah snapped a great shot of the road, and an approaching tractor.

We make it back to this section just about the time the Trek from the BP station in Louisburg catches up to us. He chats with Ort for about a half mile before proceeding up the road past us with good day wishes and smiles. It's nice to see some other riders out here, even if its only a few here and there. Mostly today, it's cars - but after passing 247th street, they've slacked off a bit and it's not as bad today. Finally, 223rd, then 215th and we're back in Johnson County. We hit 199th, then Antioch to finally enjoy the long downhill, the opposite of the hill that started our day. Unfortunately, the fun is cut short by the pavement joint at the bottom, which launches JBrowns waterbottle and headlight off into the trees. One of these nights I'm coiming out here with a bag of Quikrete and a trowel. After fearing the worst, I'm relieved when they both come over the top of the last rise together after reloading the gear. Could have been worse.

179th street, one of the last turns we have to make, and the long steady grade that seems to be a mile long gets done. Somewhere along the way to 175th Street where 179th curves north, we pick up some other rider - I say rider instead of "cyclist" because he's not wearing a helmet. I still don't get that mentality - but whatever. I've also come to the conclusion that - yeah, based on the previous discussion about people-being-people - some people just don't care, you can never reach them, and the sad fact is the world does need more organ donors. So be it.... but he still needs to get dropped. So JBrown and I proceed to drop him, and make the turn onto Lackman Road.... only two more turns... and JBrown's new mantra is getting louder....


YES! Some sort of sustainance awaits at 7-Eleven, and we are only a few miles away!
Thank goodness, too -- the heat is starting to come up, and the wind -- while still a tailwind that would have been REALLY nice a couple hours AGO -- well, it's not helping much with the rising heat. Hovering in the 80's all morning, it feels like it's defintely in the low 90's now, and the sun is out... along with a lone dark cloud that is spitting one drop at a time of rain... but nothing like before in Linn Valley. Just WEIRD July weather! I never woulda believed it. As soon as I think I've got Kansas weather figured out, I'll let you know... it's just strange, and always will be.
Makes me worry about the next six 200ks I'll have to ride out here....

Today, however, success -- Ort and JBrown and I finish together, another great ride and good times. Talk of Mexican food, beer, SLEEP, some sort of rest, etc. and we all part ways... and I have a date with the couch for a nap.... as tough as it is sometimes getting up so early, it's SO worth it when you realize that it's barely the afternoon, and you earned that nap.
I almost feel sorry for the guy mowing the grass across the street, even though I have to do that later on. What an awesome way to spend a Saturday morning...on a bicycle, on a quest...

***Quite seriously, if YOU want to experience life on the other side of the century mark, email me today and find out how, and visit www.RUSA.org for all the details, rules, awards, and more.
You gotta get out here... and if you like in the KC area, I'd love to help you get started!

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