August 18, 2008

R-12 pt.7 - The Golden Road to Nowhere

The morning was crisp and inviting. How many rides do you know of that start like THAT in August? At least not here, in the midwest. This is the strangest August weather since...gosh, C'dude III back in I dunno, 2004.... 50's and fog is all I remember. This morning was close to as-weird. Today, under a full moon and clear skies, ugh... can't get much better. Just barely chilly enough for arm-warmers, and a few jackets were seen at the start line. 36 riders showed up from many places around the midwest, as far north as Des Moines and east as Columbia... that's right, the Colonel was in the house, Mr. Clinkenbeard, the soldier, the legend. Spencer K. was there, TriMike from Grandview, Jeff W., Fine Jewelry was there, and a host of other semi-familiar faces, too. New guy Jason B. was also ready to go, this being only his second 200K event ever - and he RODE HERE from Lenexa! A great day for a brevet was shaping up, and the crowd was stellar.

This ride was part of a nationwide event marking the 10th Anniversary of the formation of Randonneurs USA, or RUSA.  Everyone riding was eligible to receive a special medal for completion, so the turn-out was near record-breaking!  Bob, one of the original group of charter RUSA members, started off giving us the full condensed history of RUSA, and went over the rules before sending us off into the predawn light. Before long, it was taillights and the clicking of pedals and shifters. Lots of cool bikes in the mix -- from Clink's Ti Litespeed with racks and bags, to a Cervelo P3-SL, a Trek 6.9 Madone, to a couple of full steel tourers, and several tandems - including a simply magnificent Calfee custom full-carbon tandem. I never got around to asking how much it weighed, but it was magnificent looking.

Right off the bat Jason and I managed to stay together, and that would set the tone for the day -- he's a very strong rider and we end up being pretty well matched on the road, so it's perfect. On 78th Street, headed down towards the river, everyone is bunched up and chatting away. It's a great morning. I don't know how else I can put it without sounding like a broken record -- the August weather overthis last week has been dry and topped out in the mid 80's. It's simply weird for us to not be bursting into a rolling sweat at 6AM because of the oppressive heat and humidity. Everyone was simply elated, smiling ear to ear, and humming a happy tune because of the excellent conditions. Even later when facing an east headwind for the return, my motivation was top notch. It was simply PERFECT weather. Ok, I'll can it about the weather for now!

The first part of the ride saw early moves and advances by the "fast group" which was dominated by the boys from Grandview -- I mean, they were simply GONE, taking full advantage of the slight tailwind and flat roads, and by the time Jason and I turned onto K-32, we couldn't really see much of them anymore. There would be no catching them today.
We then found ourselves where I usually find MYself -- stuck in no-man's land, firmly between the fast guys up the road a mile, and about a mile ahead of the next fastest group...but it wouldn't last too long, as the larger group behind us, containing two tandems, began to advance a little bit. After a few miles, and right before my FAVORITE railroad tracks in the world, the catch was made. For a long time, after safely crossing the tracks, we managed to stay in relative contact with this new group and enjoyed the fruits of the paceline for a while -- something I haven't taken part in for months now. It was pretty nice! I love this part of the route, here, after getting west of Bonner Springs on old K-32 highway paralleling the railroad tracks - which since the last time I'd ridden this stretch have gotten pretty busy. Rail commerce is on the upswing again, which I like. Eventually, the first hills of the day are upon us as we turn south up on LV-1. The first test -- well, not really. It's not like I haven't been climbing anything lately on the Border Patrol perm route, so these are truly nothing to worry about at all. Just good fun, and great scenery. The grass is green, the trees resplendant, and the butterflies are out in force which is a cool byproduct of the marvelous weather. The sun finally peeks out, and the temperature starts to rise into the promised mid 70's and lower 80's, and the smiles continue.

The first control, I'm pretty pleased. Most of the fast group is still there, and soon other groups come piling in behind us, and the c-store parking lot fills up quickly. Jason and I make quick business and get pretty much right back on the bike and head out after only a few minutes. It's a productive control, which sometimes isn't normal for me -- but this one only being 20 miles in, it's a little early to consider stopping much. Back on the road, we enjoy the last section of K-32, and then turn south towards Eudora, KS on the continuation of county road LV-1, enjoying a nice long downhill in the process. During the next several miles, events would unfold that would set the tone for some solid training.

Eudora, a little burg on the edge of the Kansas River, which we crossed at a good clip as a group. As we rode along, I really REALLY wished that I had a good camera in my stable. Something small with a good, fast chip and excellent optics. As we crossed the bridge I looked to the west onto the waters below and saw a perfect sun angle casting the shadows of our paceline onto the surface. It was truly picturesque, but my shoddy camera phone wouldn't have done it a lick of justice. A good camera is on my shopping list, and until then most of these opportunities are held only in my memory. Also something that would have made an excellent shot was a gentleman on a very well appointed A. Homer Hilson bicycle from Rivendell - say what you will about them, they are special machines with a strong mystique and superb finishes applied with care by Joe Bell. This one was outfitted for action, with a modern crankset, full fenders - including the rear 1/4 fender add-on hack which looked very well executed here. The brilliant blue was striking with the grey road surface as a backdrop - truly fantastic, and definitely a bicycle that gets USED, not just a showpiece. In fact, the only Rivendell owners I know really use the heck out of their bikes. I'm not sure where the diaper-rubbing, coffee-table art notions about Rivendell owners come from, because I haven't seen it. I still wouldn't mind having an Atlantic someday -- perfect in nearly every way, but with more tire clearance than the Kogswell. Ahhh, dreams.
Shortly we were stopped by a freight train on the other side of the river, and the majority of the pack began to regroup. It was a nice rest, and kind cool to see the train pass.

We carry on thru Eudora, and then meander across the under-construction bridge over K-10, and head south on what becomes DG-1061 highway. For the next 12 miles, the pace would slowly get lifted by the tandem, and then the trio from Des Moines - a group that I would call, the Three Hammers. Since I don't know their names, and am terrible with them anyways, I'll just refer to them by bicycle -- the Cervelo P3-SL, the Trek 6.9, and I believe an older LeMond. These three were strong riders - and when I made my way to the front of the group to take a pull, the pace slowly started coming up... and up....... and up a little more. Pretty soon, the guy on the Cervelo would inch up... then I'd inch up... back and forth.... the beginnings of a great double paceline. Unfortunately, I don't think either of us looked back to check and see what we were doing. As DG-1061 unfolded, mile after mile, we hammered -- pretty soon holding steady at about 24 MPH. I could feel the armor around my legs starting to crack a little, but I was holding on - for the first time in a while, I was pushing a pretty good pace. The Cervelo guy was relentless, however -- and ever so slightly he'd inch up, and something in me screamed "answer!", and so I'd try. Totally forgetting what kind of ride this was, forgetting who was behind us -- who was actually WAY behind us. The tandem was dropped, the other couple of cyclists were dropped, and the only ones remaining were myself, Cervelo, Jason, the Trek 6.9 and the LeMond. We were FLYING, now holding at around 26 MPH. Now, where cracks were forming in my legs, there were chunks of concrete falling away -- the breath was getting heavier, the effort beginning to take its toll. MAN I was gonna pay for this later...only 40 miles into the 130 for the day. What the heck am I DOING? Pull off! Pull off!!! But no.... that little voice... the same little voice that I haven't heard for many years... was still telling me to hang. Fight! No excuses, no complaining about the gut, the past, the weight issues - whatever, just shut-up and PEDAL!!! After about 5 miles, the first test was coming --- with a very slight tailwind and fairly flat roads, you could say that we were having it easy...tell that to my legs... but up ahead lay a hill. Nothing huge, nothing unmanagable, but at this pace it was going to be interesting. Downtube shifters, I would have to make my choice early. The legs were burning now, leaving big hunks all over the road, and this hill was going to shake it all loose and throw me over the edge - but I had to try. BOOM, the grade came on slow, but it was immediately impossible to hold the same pace... for me, that is. The Cervelo, the Trek, the LeMond - one by one they began to ascend, and I jumped out of the saddle to answer and simply couldn't. I got dropped but HARD. I still managed to shove out the rest of the climb, initially picking too big a gear, and then too small of one I ended up spinning my way up and over to the downhill on the other side, only to see the three riders about 1/4 mile ahead already.

Jason was instantly next to me... and it reminded me of Del down in Texas back in February.
"Got that out of your system yet?"... or something to that effect. This time, however, after conceding verbally, I found myself shifting up again and getting into the drops. My legs were on fire, but so was my spirit - I was not gonna let these three go without a fight, and US-56 was coming. I had five more miles or less to catch them. And soon, that's exactly what I did. Now, RUSA rides are *NOT* about this, but a little honest competition and good training never hurt anyone. I can't honestly tell if they had let up the pace at ALL to let me latch back on so the fun could continue, or if they were still hammering -- it doesn't much matter, because it took a good portion of my reserves to catch back up. Jason was still in tow, too, really enjoying himself and pushing his limits in the process. If I ever want to get back to form, get back to the point where that hill would NOT have dropped me, then I *HAVE* to chase. After about a mile head down, I was back in the hunt, back up front with the Cervelo guy, and the road was not flattening out much. Instead of the long flat sections that made up the first five miles of this road, this section was a little lumpier - and I found myself recovering better than I had on the first hill. We were not going quite as fast, but pretty soon the game of pace-raising was starting all over again. This was PERFECT training... slowly adding coal to the fire until I just run out of oxygen. As we rose over another roller, I spotted targets up the road -- we were catching someone from the fast group up ahead of us! Dang... This was the fastest I had covered ground in a while. The five of use continued for another two miles or so, and I got dropped off a little once more, but managed to catch up again a little faster than before. Man, this is hard work - and the Cervelo guy was not letting the front go at all, a real fighter. I tried a couple more times, but the push was leaving me again - and finally there was one last accelleration from the trio, and they were gone again on the next rise. Jason, once again, came up and asked if I'd had enough... a slight pause.... NO! For the third time, I dropped down, sucked it up, and gave it one more shot -- but then I lost my steam completely and grunted aloud, shouting. There was the huge stop sign announcing US-56's intersection. I'd lost the "race" to the highway... what I gained, however, I won't know until after I recover. From now on, this ride was gonna go along at a more reasonable pace.

OR NOT! The graffiti on the stop sign said it best.... "Hammer Time", props to M.C. Hammer, which made me laugh out loud, and on the other side of the highway I dropped down again and shifted a few times for one last run. These guys were probably getting really tired of seeing me, because one of them likely had a rear-view mirror on their helmet. At about 50 yards back, they all turn around and see me coming. This time, it's officially time to thank the Cervelo guy for the good training and complement his riding - because that last little burst was all I had left.

Wellsville was coming, with brick streets and old buildings. Jason and I back together on the road, back at a reasonable brevet pace, time to enjoy the day. After the bone jarring trip past downtown Wellsville, we meandered out of town and out to Shawnee Road towards LeLoup, KS., and then down towards K-68 for the last leg to the turnaround control. Along the way we were joined by a guy on a gorgeous Seven Cycles bike and we chatted for a while before he advanced up the road. Tennessee Road was next, crossing over I-35, and finally to K-68. Just as I remembered it, the shoulder exactly the same. That's all I have to say about that!
The only excitement was confirmation of how badly we STINK compared to the incarnations of cycling greatness that live among us. The FAST FAST group, the head of the ride finally makes itself seen at about Ohio Road and K-68, probably four miles from the turn-around. Yup, despite all the super-fast-action on DG-1061, we were still 8 miles behind them -- not including whatever time they'd spent at the turnaround control. Make no mistake: I AM NOT FAST.
Do I want to be, absolutely.... but there is a LOT of work to be done.

Ottawa comes quick, and the Casey's station! Whew... halfway! Bob is there with 10th Anniversary cake, too... but I pass on this round. I've learned about my stomach. Ya'll know.

Time to face the headwind, and see how nasty it is. Well, it isn't at all -- it just feel good, a nice breeze. Yup, I'll say it again: a perfect day for a brevet! The rest of the day can be summed up by puffy white clouds, a good slice of pizza back in Wellsville, good conversation with Spencer, the Colonel Clink, Bob Burns, and Jason. Mild breezes, some shade, some sun, excellent roads, a scenic detour of Eudora, some more fast action on DG-1061 as Jason gets "done", some fun on some hills that I've never climbed before on the return to Golden Road, more railroad action on K-32, ice cream dreams at Bonner Springs, the flat flat flat flat flat road between Bonner and Edwardsville, Spencer's flat tire, and finally climbing the three-mile long climb of 78th Street alongside Danny "Colonel" Clinkenbeard, the legend, the only rider in RUSA to have done every single 1200K in North America - four of those in one year. To share time on the road with this man, the stories, the character of him - it's a privledge. We climb together up this long grunting climb, and finally he lets out a honest holler at the heavens when we reach the top. It's an awesome finish to a really long, tough ride. Actually, for a couple hours along the road today I got to share some miles with Spencer and Danny - both legends, really, in the RUSA ranks for their exploits and endeavors, rightly so. They are planning a very big adventure that departs from Sacremento, CA. on the 24th of this month... the longest RUSA permanent on the books, one of Spencer's own design: The Pony Express Permanent -- 2,979 kilometers from the coast back to St. Joseph, MO. The arrival time is planned to coordinate with the start of the Tour of Missouri up in St. Joe, so it will be a sight to see, media coverage, etc. As soon as I have links to follow the action, I'll post them here. Covering almost 14 days, it's one to watch!

That's all I've got for ya -- Another step towards R-12 complete!
Stay tuned for my big adventure for 2008 in a couple weeks...
I'll be riding the Super Big Gulp permanent, followed immediately by the Kansas City MS-150 tour. That oughta be interesting!

Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

all i could think of during your description of the "three hammers", was ...

"get it on" :)


Anonymous said...

Great job! 5 to go! If you need a spot down south, let me know. I could probably drag myself out for one more before I hang it up for the hiatus.