November 24, 2008

R-12, pt.10 - Horseshoes and Hand-Grenades

The sun has finally come up, and I'm SO happy to see its light - but the expected warmth I was waiting for was not coming. I couldn't feel its rays on my raw and numb face. There I was, standing - not moving - on Jingo Road near 367th street. I have just climbed over a 12 foot high dirt and rock mound where a bridge used to be. At least I didn't have to back-track to the highway from here. My right foot is now completely soaked with ice water from a miss-step just a few feet ago. My water bottles are completely frozen solid. I haven't had a drink in 20 miles, and I can feel it. My legs are dead hunks of meat hanging from my hips. I have 12.5 miles to go to the first control. It's 7:10 AM. The control closes at 7:56 AM. So far, I haven't been able to average more than 9.6 MPH since starting. I'm exhausted. I don't think I'm going to make it. Maybe this just isn't the day.

Let's begin our morning with a stupid mistake. Figuring things wouldn't be all THAT bad, I elected to "pull a March", and sleep a little teensy bit longer. Moron. So, I make it to the 7-Eleven start line and get my first receipt at 3:21 AM. I would REALLY be wanting that twenty minutes back eventually. Never in my life have I run the time checks SO close on a brevet or permanent. It's a bizarre turning point for me, albeit a frustrating one. Sure, self inflicted with the late start to some extent - it doesn't change the fact that I was riding MUCH slower than I have in recent memory. Let's talk about nutrition. You all saw the reasons my last ride attempt didn't go so well - so I ordered some Carboplex, and hoped for the best. I should have paid for next-day shipping, because it didn't arrive on time for this weekend. So, armed with Fig Newtons, some Hammer Gel, and a prayer - I set out. How bad could it be, right?

The starting temperature wasn't all that bad... 30ºF, hey -- warmer than they'd forecast! Alright! So, I dressed for the occasion - not too heavy, not too light, knowing it would warm into the upper 40's later. I love those conditions, and I can ride in the 45-65 degree temperature range ALL day. Love it! The promise of a strong south tailwind later in the day was also inviting, and I actually set out with a smile in my heart. But that wind... I turned the corner from the 7-Eleven, and was greeted with a pre-dawn onslaught of gale. COLD gale. There was a wet quality to the air, too, that made it feel a lot colder than 30 degrees, that's for sure. Off into the dark I rode. When the sun comes up, things will improve.
Something I keep forgetting about late-season permanents, however; the sun won't be up for a WHILE.

They say it's darkest before the dawn - that's an understatement. Riding solo isn't a problem for me - by simple matter of elimination, I find myself riding these events solo more than with groups. It's almost to the point where I'm dangerous in a paceline! I just never get the chance the often anymore! So, here I am again, alone with my thoughts. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's REALLY bad. I have talked MYSELF out of a fair share of big rides before. The conditions were pushing me mentally towards another one of those. Along with being darkest before dawn, it stands to reason that it would also be COLDEST just before dawn. Also true. While I made my way south and east, away from the cushion of heat provided by streetlights, houses, the shielding effects of trees against the wind, and the icy cold emptiness of Kansas in late fall, it was clear - I should have paid more attention to the clock, the forecast, and my clothing. It was no longer 30 degrees, and while I didn't have a thermometer, I was certain of this. Icy crust was forming around the nozzles of my water bottles, and I could feel my beard stiffening. Deep inside, without the good, solid carbs I've been trained on and used to, I could feel my furnace faltering. I was comfortable - thanks to wool - but, MAN, I could not get it going. I couldn't chew my fig newtons fast enough, it seemed - and inevitably, I started to get REALLY sick of them, and the chewing. Still, I knew I needed the fuel.

I descend 175th street and turn onto Antioch --- FINALLY, I never thought I'd be so happy to see this first big monster hill of the day. Finally I can get this motor kick started! I climbed it... tough as usual, but not bad... and afterwards I kept the heartrate up by spinning at a high RPM, all the way to 191st street... and it didn't seem to work... MAN, c'mon!!! I made sure all my zippers were up, my ears covered... work! Move! But, that warm feeling of finally being warmed up, kicked on, ready to get the ride started -- it never seemed to get all the way there, and then the stomach, rather intestines, began to talk. Oh, for cryin' out loud....
199th street came, and there was that non-control Shell station by the highway. Might as well. It's 4:31 AM.... 4:31?!.... It's taken me an hour and ten minutes to come 11 miles?!? Good lord. Ok, time to get this party started.

After the kind of bathroom break that involves the amount of force normally reserved for gold-medal sprints and pulling trees out of the ground, I cleared the pipes. Ugh.....well, NOW I'm exhausted. I felt more like talking a nap than getting back on the bike. This is going SO well so far. Donut, coffee. Sit... and so I did. I sat and I ate my donut and drank my hot coffee and stared out the window into the night like someone that already had 400K under his belt for the day. I felt DEAD. Only thing to do.... get back on the bike. Even as I walked outside, my legs started knocking with deep shivers. Maybe the donut will help get the coals lit.

On to the lonely red blinking light at 199th and Metcalf, and a turn south again - back into the wind - which had gotten stronger. Now with even less to block the wind, and the temperature confirmed on a sign-board at 26ºF, I was officially on the coldest brevet or permanent I'd ever been on. Water bottles were now freshly recharged with liquid water - so let's get to work already! Metcalf rolls on, and on, and on..... there's 223rd....... dark.... there's 247th.... dark.... no cars. Cold. Here comes 259th.... 267th..... 279th! K-68! Louisburg, KS.... and that C-store that's never open when I start at 3:00 AM is OPEN? Legs fried... no push on the hills... and still can't seem to get the fire lit.... man, how much of this is mental?! PUSH! Ain't there..... more food? Okay....

I stop in, and there's the early morning crew. I grab a few things, more coffee, and pay -- it's 5:44 AM. Gravy..... it's now taken me an hour to go 10 miles. This wind is RIDICULOUS. This feeling of exhaustion is ridiculous. Even sitting here typing this up, I can't believe the time stamps I'm seeing on my receipts. It's dumb-founding. I've gone from 2003's performance of arriving at a control TOO EARLY TO CHECK IN, to running the slowest I've ever run a permanent, regardless of conditions.
I slug the coffee, and amaze the cashier with why I'm out here, what possessed me, and talk of that R-12 medal... which re-energizes me, simply in the telling. I have now said out loud WHY I'm out here. Time to go. More fresh water in the bottles, but like an idiot I haven't been drinking very much... I try to make up for it a little, but I instantly feel weird - like my stomach is too full. The bank thermometer reads 19ºF as I roll off. I wished I had ONE more layer, maybe that neck gaiter. Ugh. Push on. Hope that body heat comes on...

Unfortunately, until now the route has been relatively flat. The hills begin promptly after the southern end of Louisburg, as I was about to find out. This is good, because I think now HEAT will come to my innards. But, even pedaling on the first big downhill, I'm barely able to squeeze out 22 MPH. It's a mental hit - this wind.... Yeah, I'm exhausted, but the wind is a killer and it's demoralizing. There is nothing to look at in the darkness to distract from the endless PUSH required just to keep moving. Even the uphills don't quite light the furnace because I'm slowly losing my ability to push hard enough to get a pace going on the way up. There is no-one to talk with. There aren't even any animals scurrying across the road in the night to break up the monotony. This is torture... Earning this award? You bet your backside. At least I haven't turned around for home yet.

Ten miles later, I'm finally watching the sun come up at 7:10... I ignore the road-closed signs on Jingo Road, and advance down to what will "surely be something I can get around on a bike". Instead, I come face to face with a giant pile of rock and dirt. I dismount, shoulder the bike, and climb. I'm not back-tracking... not today... there isn't time... I had started turning into a clock watcher for the last couple of miles, wondering if my decision to turn back for home might soon be made FOR me. I couldn't remember what time the control at La Cygne closed! I've never had to worry before! But all the signs were not pointing in my favor. It was getting late.... After stumbling and putting my foot into a puddle of standing water, and breaking thru the thin layer of ice on its surface and getting a nice cold, wet foot as a result, I stopped for a few moments. Me, a dirt pile, no cars, and some thick-haired cows nearby - time for a nature break and a permanent card check. It was 7:11AM... ooop, 7:12.... La Cygne closes at 7:56.... whoa.... I let go of a huge sigh. DAMN. remembering the route, I knew that Jingo Road was another 9 miles of straight south into the headwind --- which had died a little with the first light of sun. After that, a long downhill into La Cygne -- but then it flattens out for about 3 miles? I couldn't remember. 12 miles, easy.... I've been struggling all morning so far, and I was going to have to pull off a 16 MPH miracle??!?! This is dumb. I'm turning around. There's another weekend in November... all is not lost.



I stowed the card, mounted up with a groan of stiffness. This was gonna suck, but I'm not giving this up without a fight. If I wasn't awake before, I was now. Don't take my medal. DO WORK.

Trying hard not to blow my charge in the first couple of miles, I began to ramp up the RPMs and the push. A shot of Hammer Gel (oh, yeah... I have a flask of Hammer Gel in my back pocket!!!) and a good mouthful of spit to wash it down since my water bottles have had long been frozen, I lowered myself into the drops and shifted again. Be conservative.... consistent.... you don't have to finish the whole ride HERE... just keep it above 16 MPH.... don't worry... just keep it up. The first hill came, and I attacked... AH-HA!!!! Feel that??? There's some heat!!! WHOOOOO! Push a little more... don't let that speed drop... Man, my legs started to feel really heavy. The lack of water for the last dozen miles was starting to catch up. "Please don't cramp." Speed... 18.1mph on the flat... good work... keep it going. I started to mutter to myself...

"You will get this..."

"You've had worse.... PUSH."

"C'mon, man --- make it HURT!"

Another hill, stand, GET IT... Right when I started to feel that let-up, that feeling of hopelessness and the feeling of an empty tank, I was rejuvenated by the sight of the water tower rising over the next hill -- the water tower that marks the turn to K-152 and the final three miles to La Cygne. "You're gonna get this, close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades -- you either get this control, or you go home. What's it gonna be?" I shifted again, and made another stab at the last rise up and over the ridge that drops down into the big valley within which La Cygne lies. And there is the old, water-house style water tower that is right behind the Casey's that I NEED to get to.... in.... ACK! Three miles seemed like an endless stretch of road... but I could SEE it! It was 7:32? Barring a flat, major mechanical, exploding liver... I think I've got this!!! And, I did! I dismounted, tore into my seat bag, got the card, ran inside and got my numbers and receipt at 7:43 AM. THIRTEEN minutes to spare. When you've got 14 hours and 28 minutes to finish 217 kilometers, thirteen minutes is N O T H I N G.

Want that extra twenty minutes of sleep NOW, dude? Stupid.
Even with an on-time start, that's still too close for comfort.
Last time I rode this route I got here at something like an hour earlier.

No time to dwell, literally....
With each control, the time windows get a little wider to account for fatigue - which, let me tell you, was a BIG factor. But, I had to refuel and warm up a little. I gave myself the amount of time left for the control to close before I'd need to get moving again. I was cooked from the push, but I pulled it off. I got a cup of my favorite cheesy potato breakfast bites from the hot case (I love Casey's!), some coffee, and some --- evil... --- Gatorade. Now, simple sugars can be a death sentence, but after reading a recent article about osmolality with regards to gastric emptying and how certain sports drinks are really bad, there were also tips on how to make such evil concoctions not-so-evil in a pinch. Simply, dilution. So, I drank some straight water - finally thawing my frozen bottles -- and then a little Gatorade. Then I mixed a little solution of Gatorade and filled about 2/3rds of the bottle with water only. So, a very thin, light mix of Gatorade for just a touch of electrolytes and taste -- and hopefully enough sodium to lower the freezing point of the water to the current 25ºF that the temp had now climbed to. It was a trick that would prove to work later on in the route.

Now, more work was ahead. I figured, alright -- I've earned the first control the hard way. There is no giving up now. Get the next control, and once you turn around you'll have a tailwind - and you'll have this one in the bag! But first, the hilliest, steepest 21 miles in the area. Why did I make this route so hard? Again, no time to groan about it... time to get moving. No one is taking my award today. I can rest later. Twenty-one miles, and I have until 10:08 AM to get there... it's 8:08 AM... I have exactly two hours... okay, THAT's not bad... but the wind is coming up again, and the HILLS? Will this morning's torture take it's revenge while I'm on the hills???

Just go, man... just go.

The next section would test me. It would test me strategically, and it would test my stamina. Man, I tell you - I won't lament my condition. Yes, I've gained weight since 2003. Most guys in their mid-thirties do. I've been doing this cycling gig for a while, and I simply need to take it to the next level and shake things up, rethink my nutrition, to get back on track. My body is too "used-to" it. But, despite my condition TODAY, I carried a confidence in my head the entire time in this middle section, knowing that I COULD do it. I would NOT fail. I knew what needed to be done, and I executed. I feel now, with continued focus on nutrition and cross training, that WHEN (not if) I get back to my 2003 form, I will be stronger and faster than ever. Things like Tejas shouldn't be a problem. Bold statements, I know -- but it's part of envisioning success in the future. The first step is THINKING it. Next step - do it. For now, this overweight thirty-something has to haul his dumb butt 21 miles to Pleasanton over four of the nastiest hills within 30 miles of here. Shut up, and pedal.

The wind was back, and gusty this time. Some sections I was lucky to belt out ten MPH, but others were sheltered more than the other sections. This is lucky, because I only had to average 10 MPH to make the cut on this section - but it was apparent I was going to need just about every minute of time. I had no choice but to gear down and slowly take out the hills to conserve enough to manage struggling into the headwinds on the flats and slight downhills. This is where the mental game was coming into play. Attacking the hills would have bought me very little if I ended up wasted for the flats. Consequently, attacking too hard on the flats would have made any effort on the hills impossible. I can ride against a clock, you betcha. I may not be able to out-sprint the racers, or out-climb the racers... ok, you get the point; but, I can ride against a clock. This section came down to clock management. Riding on a caloric deficit and dehydration - it became about making the distance before the clock ran out, and possibly seeing if I could gain back a few minutes in the process. Pleasanton came, and the result was waiting -- 9:51 AM, I got my receipt. Dang... 17 minutes to spare. I'll freaking take it --- because NOW, FINALLY, it's a different ride. When I head out again, the wind will finally be on my side. And JUST in time, because it was howling out of the southwest now. I ache for some REAL food, something HOT - but it's too early for this joint to have the pizza ready, and there isn't even so much as a McDonalds in this place (don't get me wrong -- thank GAWD there is still someplace without a McDonalds within 100 miles of Olathe.) But, MAN, I tell you what -- those hashbrowns up in Weston, MO., from last month's ride -- they sounded REALLY good. At least last month I had TIME TO EAT THEM.

Now things were looking up. The clock was beginning to bend to my side of the game now, and the wind was at my back. Knowing this, and knowing that I had until 12:20 PM to get back to La Cygne from here, which was 8 minutes longer than I was allowed to get down here, I relaxed a little. I ate what I could, choked down more fig newtons from my back pocket -- but the c-store fare, nothing sounded good. There were ton's of things I could have tried -- but are the potential consequences WORTH it? What if I get sick on the roadside, or have horrible stomach cramps from, say, a Hostess pie? Should I risk it? The more I thought about it, the more I talked myself out of it. There wasn't any health-food in this joint, that was certain. Nuts? Nah. PB CRACKERS! AH-ha! That little gem planted by Spencer a couple days ago lit up in my head, and so I bought a couple packages of peanut butter crackers. Mmmmmm, salty, crispy... peanut-buttery.... protein... sodium... carbs... This is good. This is really good. Time to move...

The wind changes EVERYTHING. People that ride the Last Chance 1200K don't talk about the road, or the route, or the distance... they talk about the wind. This, if nothing else today, is good training. With every headwind comes a tailwind. That's why I love a good out-n-back route. Whew. Wind changes everything. I snap a few pictures, I smile, I look around, I sit up and let the wind push me. But, you know, the funny thing about the wind -- you still have to pedal. My legs are cooked. All the pushing, the constant, food-deprived, dehydrated pushing of the first 67 miles - well, the damage is done. Can't recover on the bike. Gotta hope for the best and keep moving. Just keep swimming. But, this section feels easier now - even the monster hills. One by one I check them off, again conserving to make the most of my situation. Finally back at La Cygne, the clock reads 11:49 AM --- MUCH better! Now things are turning around. I have 30 minutes to spare now... time for more food!

Sadly Casey's doesn't have any pizza ready either, which is a real heartache. I was looking forward to that. Real food, a reward of sorts. Instead, I down some chocolate milk, more coffee and a donut. Gross. It tastes sweet and delectable, but it's not sitting right already. More bathroom adventures await. This is a longer stop than I'd anticipated, but I enjoy the fact that with the tailwind helping and the rest of the route flatter than the last section, I should be able to make it back to Olathe in plenty of time before the route closes at 5:28 PM. I hang out, warm up inside, drink my coffee, and rest a spell - which entails pretty much just staring out the window into the open space, defocused, like someone that had ridden a 400K already --- kinda like this morning. Mentally, I was nearly as gone as my legs were.

My average wouldn't be stellar, nor would my cruising speed - but my spirits were higher now. The temperature on the bank thermometer was now up to 45º, and I was peeling off layers to avoid overheating. Two different rides now. This was feeling pretty good. I finished the rest of my business, and bid farewell to the Casey's once more. I think to myself 'if I never have to ride here again, I'll be happy.' Well, in hindsight, probably not; I love this town. I love this Casey's. I lifted my aching leg over the saddle once again, and headed east.

This time, Jingo Road was a quick study. I attacked, stood up on the saddle more, and started to put time back into the bank for once. I watched as the miles clicked by, and occasionally checking my speed to find with a smile 18, 19.4 MPH - good numbers, MUCH better numbers - and without a lot of effort. The hills were easier, due in large part to the fact that I was finally getting hydrated again. I was drinking a LOT, and was finally able to find an excuse for a roadside pit stop - a good sign that I was drinking plenty.

With US-69 behind me, I found comfort in knowing that Louisburg wasn't too far away, and before long I was counting down 311th street, 295th street, and finally 279th street. Time to stop again at the BP station, and refill. I was making quicker work of my water bottles, and feeling hydrated felt GOOD. What a turn-around! Still, there was no denying the fatigue in my legs. I was smoked. Hardcore. I was able to push, but only if there was a slight downhill, seriously. Anything else, I was on damage control, limping along on stored reserves and threads of muscle fiber. I checked the clock - 2:00 PM. Not bad.

The last leg, I enjoyed a lot. Traffic immediately after Louisburg is always a "treat", but today I didn't mind too much. Eventually things thinned out, and I enjoyed a lot of open sections without a lot of cars, and good scenic vistas. The sun was out, at least, and the wind was a blessing. Even with a turn to the west at 199th Street, it was nice that the cross wind was WARM. It might have even been 50ºF, but barely. The sun was already starting to advance WAY to the west, so the long shadows on Antioch began to invite the cold chills back to my shoulders - but I smiled, knowing I was almost done. I had watched the sun move all the way across the sky today, all from a bicycle seat. Weird. Hadn't done that since, well, the last 400K I rode. I started counting down the turns remaining... three turns.... two turns..... 175th Street came... one turn left!

MurLen came, finally open to traffic, and a lot less arduous than before with some clever grading. I was alive with spirit, smiling big at a rare green light at 159th Street, which I pedaled through at "top" speed. Finally, I could smell it -- even as close as 191st and Antioch, it didn't seem real yet, that I was actually going to finish this one. But now, with a half-mile to go, I started to holler out loud. THIS was tough. This was a hard day... and while it wasn't my WORST performance ever, it was especially difficult. Probably the hardest-earned 137 miles in recent memory. I was absolutely cooked. I got in, had my card signed. DONE.

The wind helped. Even with the fatigue I was feeling, I had still managed to make it back from Louisburg to Olathe and hour and thirty-four minutes faster than I'd made that same leg that morning.

So, will I sleep-in again? NO.
Will I run one of these on nothing but c-store food? NO.
Even though this last batch of SE didn't fit the bill, I need SOMEthing concentrated. I just don't eat enough on my own.

Going back to my realization of personal strength in these situations, I REALLY shouldn't be able to do this based on my current physical condition. But I did. I am strong enough, despite my decreased power-to-weight ratio. With the right conditioning and nutrition, I will get back to where I was. This is self-affirmation, nothing more - ya'll know I don't like to blow my own horn. I'm a HUGE believer in the notion that if *I* can do this, YOU can, too. This is why I constantly try to grow this sport by making these permanent rides open invitation. There are a lot of people out there that don't think they can do these things, and I'm here to tell you that you can if you TRY. I look like a chubby, out of place, club-rider at BEST, fred'ed-out in my reflective "it's hunting season and I'm a cyclist - please don't shoot me" vest; and I can do this. I feel pretty good that I've managed to get ten of these out of twelve so far, and that's a confidence booster I don't mind touting. It's not about the environment, or trying to elevate the bicycle to some higher place - this goal is about personal accomplishment and self-worth. This is something I can point to and say - "hey, I'm GOOD at this", and that makes the rest of life worth living. No matter how bad this morning was, on this ride, I am glad I pulled it off.


December.... whooo. Might have to make a phone call or two.


Noah said...

I've got 425 miles to go, and I "kinda" know how I can pull it off without using a trainer or a 137 mile jaunt.. But I think I'm in for December's Perm, life permitting.

warbird said...

that was some read man. super congrats!


Chris said...

I knew my early morning prayers helped someone! Good Job...

Jason said...

That's building character! Great job! :)

Darius said...

Nice read and nice job.