January 27, 2009

Hard Cider to warm the soul.

I have not yet set a date, but here's a preview of a new route:

Hard Cider

I make no excuses or apologies: It's gravel. It's a LOT of gravel. Hills? Yes.

For now, I've ditched the Hillsdale Lake Metric idea that I had; I went back and looked at the route map and realized that the first stop is something like 40 miles into the ride. I remember that being a problem for a lot of participants.
This route, by comparison, is about 37 miles, give or take, and the mid-way point is the Louisburg Cider Mill.

It's a pretty straight-forward out-n-back route, with a small loop onto K-68 to get to the 'mill. There is no direct north/south road that leads to it, so the highway is a neccessary evil. Bear in mind, however, there is a good shoulder on that road, traffic on the weekends is light, and I have the route arranged so we never have to CROSS it... we make a right turn onto it, hit the 'mill, and make a right turn back north on the way back.

Starting and finishing at the Price Chopper @ 159th and Murlen, the ride will take us down Renner Road until it ends, passing near Chiles and Wagstaff, Kansas, along the old Missouri Pacific R.R. tracks. You'll earn your cider donuts around mile-15 with a "challenging" climb. On the return, we pass through downtown Chiles and return north on Lackman road, after three miles of steady climbing.

Yeah, it may sound like just another Cider Mill ride... but trust me; it's harder, and more "funner".

Official notes:
Mountain and cyclocross bikes welcome; road bikes welcome with 28C or larger tires and stout wheels STRONGLYrecommended.

You're welcome to hit this route ANY time you like -- shoot me an email, and maybe I'll come along! Officially, this will end up on a local ride calendar some time in March or April, with a possible repeat in the summertime.

Think warm thoughts!

KC Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to hold public meeting

If you live in KCMO and want to make sure that bicycling, walking and
transit needs are not left out of the budget, go to one of these
meetings and speak up.
You'll learn about projects and priorities and see how your money could be spent.

KCMO Council Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
to Host Public Meetings
Public Input Sought on City Projects - Councilman Russ Johnson, Chair
of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and members of the
Committee would like to hear from residents about projects and
services under the committee's jurisdiction. These include, among
others, bus service, streets, streetlights, trash pickup, water,
sewer, stormwater, sidewalks, city buildings, and the airports.

For more information, please call Councilman Johnson's office at
(816) 513-1622 or e-mail his office at russ_johnson@kcmo.org.

Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
Public Hearing Schedule

(The Monday meeting has already happened)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 - 6pm
Gregg-Klice Community Center, 1600 John "Buck" O'Neil Way, KCMO

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 - 6pm
Baptiste Educational Center, 5401 E. 103rd Street, KCMO

(Many thanks to Laurie Chipman for the above information)

January 24, 2009


Yup, that's what it is... COLD.
Continuing my commuting streak into the weekend, I saddled up for job #2 today, leaving the driveway with about 1/2" of snow on the ground and a temperature of 6.7ºF on the thermometer. The temperature in the garage was 51ºF, and I think that might have attributed to this:

The focus is clearly in the wrong place, but that's camera phones for ya...
I added a circle around what I was trying to shoot; the big crack in my fender-mounted taillight. This is the first time I've ever had a physical failure with a Busch+Muller product - they're tough products. The combination of probably 4 years of use on various bikes, constant vibration, temperature extremes, and tension from the stainless steel guard-bar on this model, which seemed to act like a spring in this case - pulling the plastic apart - it just failed. The plastic at the crack doesn't have the look of something that took a hit. It has the look of something that was stretched. It just popped. It's been downhill ever since October's 200K, where it vibrated apart on me: the post into-which the outer lens fixing screw attaches cracked on that ride, so I used silicone-based sealant to re-attach the lens. It seems the same plastic dry-out was waiting in the wings to wreak this havoc today. About two miles from the house, after getting fully chilled down in the single-digit air, POP.
Electrically, it still works fine. No issues there... but it's already been doped up with silicone once already, and it's starting to show another crack below the first one. Ugh... Oh well.. got my money's worth. Got a new one coming in a couple days.

Aside from that minor equipment drama, the ride itself went well. The Camelbak is fitting the bill nicely, and my routine is simplified greatly as a result. The newer drive train on the Kogswell makes the whole bike feel fresh and lively -- but since it was so flippin' cold I didn't get a chance to really put anything to the test. Survival was the order of the day... the north wind this morning was almost painful at first. The ride home in the PM, a little better... but not by much. It still beats time on the trainer, honestly, and it felt good to get a little of a challenge in the books, temperature-wise.

Tomorrow, I'll probably stick to indoor workouts -- and more snow is forecast in the next 72 hours, so the Kogs might be shelved for a few days while the Krudder is called into action, saddle and all. Ugh... bus-passes are worth their weight in gold!

January 23, 2009

Got Me Thinkin'

It's coming up on prime riding season again, ya'll... slowly but surely, I know you've all been noticing the sunrise coming a little sooner.... the sunset coming a little later.... ever, EVER so slowly...
Before we know it, it'll be time to start thinking about riding again in big groups for fun, not just transportation. I'm looking forward to it!

There are always great rides happening metro-wide:
The Monday Night "Gringo's Ride" in Olathe
The Saturday Longview Lake ride in Grandview, MO.
And more...

It's high time I started thinking about a couple as well, so I have been stewing on a few ideas. The most recent has been spurred on by the miles I've spent on the fixed gear mountain bike lately:

The return of the "Hillsdale Hill Hundred K." This is a fun and slow-paced gravel and dirt road ride that goes around the perimeter of Hillsdale Lake. Approximately 62 miles.

Stay tuned...

January 22, 2009

Ceremonial saddle burning and bag worship.

Dude, today was one of those "hard to dress for" days. I recently had a pannier failure - which probably represents the last time I'll purchase anything that is purposefully waterproof, unless it happens to be a nice set of Ortlieb panniers, maybe Arkels: in this case, the stiffer PVC fabric and roll-top design of my Axioms presented issues when it got really cold, to the point where seams that are ultrasonically welded tend to come apart... it also creates a bag that is void of pockets, neat zippered pouches and handy shock-cord external storage. This company makes really good stuff that lasts for a long time, and I know several commuters that use this brand - but this particular model, well, it's got its limitations when it comes to versatility. I still got over a year of solid used out of them, so no hard feelings.

Until I decide on a new brand or model to try out, I've got ye olde Camelbak out of the closet. So far, I'm wondering WHY I stopped using this Camelbak H.A.W.G. model in the first place: but I remembered via a conversation with Crowbar that is had a lot to do with my need to take the laptop to and from work. a practice that has since ceased since the discovery of some wicked-cool remote access software. I digress a little, but all-in-all the Camelbak was a solid solution, never bothered my back, never felt too hot, too heavy, too cumbersome - or any of the things I'd cited as a reason to go full-on pannier and rack in the first place. I ran the Camelbak for the first three years of my commuting existance, with no complaints. So, because of an untimely equipment failure, it's back in service.

One thing I noticed immediately: it makes the bike-n-bus transitions REALLY smooth. I rack the bike, hop on, and sit down. Easy. Granted, leaving the panniers on the bike and doing the same thing was even easier once on the bus... but hefting the Krudwell with full bags onto the bus's front rack, well; that's a lift. Not a deal-breaker by any stretch, but it's a lot easier to just toss an unladen bike into the rack. Especially the Krudder, which isn't exactly a lightweight to begin with. So, even though I have something on my back again for a while, it's not NEARLY as cumbersome as the messenger bag, which was my original laptop solution simply because it was so much bigger. The reason I went from the messenger bag to the panniers: by direct comparison, the Camelbak - while not as trendy or "core" as a messenger bag - has these stand-offs on the back panel that hold the pack off your back a little and let air circulate. That's the reason I never complained about the heat while wearing it. Also, the insulation on this upper-end Camelbak is far better than the insulation on the smaller, cheaper Camelbak I'd tried back in August for the 10th Anniversary 200K. That bag left me with nothing but 50 oz. of warm water after a few hours. The H.A.W.G. model always kept my water ice cold, even during the July 2003 300K where temperatures broke 102º for most of the ride. A few inches of sun-heated water in the exposed portion of the drinking tube, followed by ice-cold water from inside the pack. Brilliant. For commutes, the water bag stays home. Easy. Wearing it again, it feels instantly familiar, just in these past couple of days riding with it again.

To be fair: messenger bags are simply marvels of bag construction. I'm pretty sure the one I invested in from Chrome is probably bullet proof. It's heavy, waterproof, reinforced everywhere, and is something a working messenger would actually use. You can get it stuffed full of next-day envelopes, blueprint tubes, flat-rate boxes - and in my case a full change of clothes, a laptop, a six-pack of beer, and a tub of HEED - and the seams won't even get stressed about it. The Camelbak simply won't do all that.... but for 22 miles in traffic in the summer heat and humidity of Kansas, the heavy material pressing against my back supported only by my left shoulder, well, it proved to be too much. The Camelbak solves those problem areas, and holds just enough for my workday, so it's a good compromise trading off some storage capacity.

That brings me to today's reminder of one of the few limitations of the Camelbak platform: storage space. It's a cavernous backpack, really: I've got notes in my journal from back before I even had a blog or web-page, citing evenings coming home from my then 2nd job, rolling up to the liquor store for a 4-pack of Guinness cans, and getting them all inside the bag with my clothes and whatever else I was hauling home. Granted, and to the previous point about the messenger bag by comparison, I wasn't going to get much else inside the Camelbak on those Friday night beer runs, but it worked. Where the messenger bags are seemingly made from recycled tank plating, the Camelbak fabric feels really thin; but as thin and lightweight as the fabric seems to be, don't be fooled: I have YET to rip out a Camelbak seam with any load. Finally, regardless of cargo capacity, the hydration feature is really the highlight. Coupled with their fantastic harness system, you almost don't feel exactly how much weight you're really carrying. I rode my fastest 400K (a smidge under 18 hours) with this H.A.W.G. on my back, 100 oz. of water and all, with no fatigue that could be related to the bag. Regardless of my previous mentions of riding brevets and having a goal of keeping things light-weight and minimalist, I can't deny that most of my fastest rides were with that bag on my back. Hydration? Perhaps.

Part of me is thinking this may be a happy accident that those pannier seams gave way, because right in step with my plans towards a successful 2009 training season and future goals, I have returned to the same commuting platform that I used in the most successful of years. Surely that's not THE silver bullet, but it's interesting. But, to my original comment about the limitations of storage space, today, with temps starting below freezing and rising to nearly 70º by the time I got home, I had layers bungeed and tucked in every available pocket on the thing. It worked, but it's nice that I don't always have to worry about wicked 45 degree temperature swings. Weird day!

Counter to my experiences with bags this week, I have really had a hard time with saddle issues. Don't get too excited, because this is again on the Krudwell. I know exactly what the problem is: the saddle I'm running is NOT a circa-1999 Selle Italia Flite Trans-Am. I have two of those saddles, and three bikes... and the Krudwell is the odd ball. I've posted about this briefly before and I thought I could just gut it out, but duuuuude, lemme tell ya. It ain't worth it. The Old-school Selle Italia Tri-Matic with "Genuine Gel" (read: Genuine Hell) inserts is absolute torture. When I'm riding to the bus stop, no worries... a few miles never hurt anyone. In the afternoon, however, just adding on those extra 12 miles makes me want to cry by the time I get home. Combined with the fixed gear, which equals no coasting and therefore no standing on the pedals for a bumm-rest... you get the idea. It was annoying at first, but the cumulative effects of riding this saddle for this past week have almost made me go inflatable donut shopping. It's stupid. It's a real shame that it's such a cool dumpster-find, tho: Celeste green with Bianchi logos screened onto the leather, and contrasting dark blue Kevlar corner treatments for anti-abrasion. It's a saddle that would have looked good on my old Bianchi road bike... assuming I like to only LOOK at bikes and not ride them. This saddle has GOT to go, but what to do? ...the Krudder is supposed to be a beater, so I'm not going to scour the globe for a third Flite T/A, or anything else for that matter. The only solution is to put the Kogswell back into service, and truly use the Krudwell only for snowy, wet-road winter conditions, and many the occasional mountain bike single-track attempt coming this spring. That should give me time to heal.... yes, heal. It's THAT bad. To that point, indoor training usually makes even the nicest saddles feel horrid, but I tell ya: last night when I logged some trainer time on the Kogs while watching some crit videos, my old fave saddle felt like a Lazy-Boy by comparison. I've got an old, hard plastic BMX saddle hanging in the garage, and I swear it might actually end up on the Krudwell. Then, I can burn the Bianchi Genuine Hell Tri-butt-matic saddle in a bizarre full-moon ceremony behind the local VFW hall. I'll bring the lighter fluid and matches... you bring the whiskey. Then I'll take the skeletal remains of the Cro-Moly rails and turn them into some sort of miniature war-mask.

It's late... now I'm getting delusional...

By the way, if you even only half-way enjoy what yer reading here, please feel free to "Follow" my blog -- the link is over in the right-hand frame. Together, we will rule the galaxy as father and son...

Crap, wrong movie.

G'nite, and stay tuned!

January 21, 2009

January is almost OVER?!

Well, so far, so good --- the efforts of the previous couple weeks are beginning to show a little. I took the "hey, look how much I weigh!" counter off the webpage, but I'm happy to report positive progress towards the lower 180's.... another couple weeks of persistence and the previous posts' realizations should only help things. Un-official goal is to get firmly back into the 170's before the official Spring Brevet Series begins.

That reminds me: You interested in life after 100 miles? Wonder what a "brevet" is? Racers? Want to build a wicked base for the late Spring '09 crits? Email me and I'll give you the low-down. Also, check out the Randonneurs USA website for a LOT of detail, and official rules for riders. Further, there is this really good blog post from a relative new-comer to the sport, with some terrific insight. the Kansas City Ultra-Cycling club would LOVE to have you try out a 200K this coming March. Details to follow -- the first brevet of 2009 for the KC club is set for March 28th

So, yesterday, inauguration day for Obama -- a great day to be an American on a bicycle, IMHO. So, I mounted up, hit the bus stop -- all part of my new revelation on training, etc. Facing 11 miles of wicked north winds just didn't sound like a good way to kee pmy mental game sharp, so I used the bus in the morning. Saw Clem on the bus, jamming out - we talked a little about gloves and socks, and then went back into easing into our days with some tunes... I was enjoying a little "Cut Chemist" in my headphones... on a very low volume, ya know. As part of my winter motivational package, I've taken to using the headphones while riding. It's helped tremendously: while the music is at such a low volume it simply fades into the background where it should be, the subtle beats underneath the wind noise helps keep my mind on the task at hand, instead of on the weather, how cold my toes are, etc. Safety FIRST, however. I have the volume on notch #1 on my phone/MP3 player. To the point where I can't even discern lyrics until I reach a stopsign or something. I can hear cars approaching from the rear just fine. Sidestreets, just fine, too. Cyclists on the trail passing me? Yup. "On your left" is nice and clear. If your iPOD or whatever is any louder than that if you happen to wear one while riding, you're stupid. Sorry. You are.

That was really an issue yesterday, keeping my mind off things: I dressed for LATER in the day, knowing the bus stop was only a few miles from the house. The forecast high was in the upper 30's which is practically SUMMER weather compared to what's been happening here in Kansas lately. So, I dressed for the afternoon, designed to suffer a tiny bit in the morning. Unfortunately, the sun never came out, the clouds were thick, and the flurries were consistent. What the??? When I left the house it was 26ºF. When I left work in the afternoon, it was 24ºF. WTF??? Seriously?
Okay, whatever. Ride. At least there is a tailwind, right? Well, sorta.... NW wind generally equals a headwind if I'm headed west, which I was for a large portion of the ride. A single layer of wool socks and sandals with a 24 degree temperature and 15 MPH NW winds... well, that equals COLD TOES. At least for a while... eventually they were numb. Hey, at least I have tunes.

What I did enjoy was the bike trail. Shielded from the wind a little, but also shielded from the sunshine that would have melted a lot of the ice that accumulated last week, it was a mixed bag of fun-ness. This is where I smiled at my choice of building up a beater mountain bike for this time of year. Where the trail was sheer ice, I hit the grass... granted the Kogs would probably do okay on the grass, but I didn't have to worry as much about chuck-holes and divots, not to mention the harder patches of frozen grass and dirt. It was cool, FUN -- reinforced my new discovery that 24-Hour Mountain Bike racing is absolutely the hardest thing someone could probably do on a bicycle. Just in four or five short miles of "off road", I was pretty well shaken - not stirred. Mine's a hard-tail, rigid fork -- so, yeah, the suspension is the tires and my body... but DANG. That was hard work, especially with the fixed gear. Got my heart-rate up, that's for sure! What's REALLY cool is riding along on my way home, seeing an obstacle, and thinking "ah, whatever... roll right over it/through it." It's a lot of fun, and challenging for someone like me that's pretty much be glued to the pavement my entire cycling life. will I be rushing out to get a dual suspension XC bike, and start looking for 12-hour races? Errrr.... not yet. Ever? Can't rule it out.

In the shorter-term... yeah, January is nearly over. Yeeeeesh. That means February is nearly here... and there's only 28 days to get a 200K in... #1, it's fun. #2, it's something that will keep my streak alive should I decide in June to keep going towards R-12 Number Dos. Not a guarantee... but it will prevent me from starting over in March, for example -- I'll be one month up on it. No promises... that verdict is still out, but I shouldn't just say "NO" to something that I have a genuinely good time doing. Between now and then, I need to stay focused on shorter, harder stuff to make sure my weight loss plan takes a front seat to any secondary goals. Right now, getting into the 170's again is my sole purpose...

More to come!

January 19, 2009

2009, on my mark...

Okay, enough putzing around. Let's call MLK day my personal new years day, okay? I've enjoyed some solid workouts in the gym, and started the year right with a 200k.... but the real work is just beginning. I returned my "coach" to the LBS, and reinvested in a stationary trainer. it wasn't doing me much good to have the HRM beeping at me when I had no way to get a workout in. With the roads and my schedule, its been difficult to suit up and go out for a prescribed 40 min ride. After watching a video on a 24 hour mtn bike race from 2006, and re-reviewing my 2003 training journals, the solution is not electronic wrist-mounted tech. The solution is physical. The solution is 40 miles per day, and weekends. The solution is Eddy Merckx quoted: "ride your bike....lots." It worked for me before, and looking at my recent work, I've been riding my bike lots....just in one, slowish shot. That's a great base....now its time to build on it. Twelve months of base work...time to change it up. The trainer is set up, and I'm in for a hard 40 minutes. Tomorrow, a commute, followed by a detour home....something I made a habit of in '03 to get more saddle time. Variable efforts, "rest days" still spent in the saddle...but at a pokey pace, and directly home instead of the long way. Less food, more quality nutrition. Beer takes a BIG back seat. Rewards will come in other packages, and in due time. Time...Patience....Persistance. At my desk at work I have two photos of myself....one taken at my wedding when I tipped 245 lbs...and one of me on the bike charging up a hill at Octaginta at the end of 2003. Everytime I feel tired, lazy, frustrated.... I'll look at those pics and ask myself what I want more. Happy New Year.... time to ride.

January 13, 2009

Temps hit the floor, along with the challenge

This week has seen some extraordinary temperature activity, that's for certain. I arrived home by bike on Friday evening, and before I could make it out of the shower the winds had shifted and the temperatures had dropped 15 degrees. It was 62 that day when I made my way home. This morning, it was five degrees. Tomorrow morning it will dawn at about 28ºF, and will begin to drop around 9AM with another strong wind shift. Thursday morning's forecast temperature is zero, and some say it will drop farther. It's been a WEIRD January. Sure, temps have wavered in past years - to the teens, then the forties for a few days -- but these 50 degree swings are maddening. Temped by spring, only to plunge back into the depths of winter again. Frustrating. Hard to find a rhythm.

Good fortune sometimes smiles in strange ways. My mother-in-law's car has broken down - cause unknown as yet, but the fact is she's a downtown worker, no-where near a bus stop - and I'm not going to put her out in that fashion anyways. So, my car goes to her driveway until the shop can find out what's happening under the hood of hers. Which means, good fortune has smiled ... in a strange way, I find a way to attach a silver lining to this scenario. My safety-net is gone from the driveway. My cold weather gear is ready. Even though the big z-e-r-o is threatening; I am inspired, inspired to take my place in the peloton of those around here that don't say "too cold" or "too windy". It's gonna be a good week... and it should start a momentum of habits, and acclimatization so I can continue on until spring stays for good.

Sometimes it takes a little force to get out of comfortable habits when it's not enough to think to oneself that it's "good exercise", "right for the environment" or whatever. It's time to just get back on it.

January 12, 2009

Photo Post - 1973 Peugeot PR-10



Below, the Atax stem - subtle details in "red, blue & white" for the French flag, polished back to glory.

Detail of the Pletscher aluminum rear rack logo, and some appropriate leather straps.

Below, the non-drive side bottom-bracket shell detail, showing the unique Simplex clamp-on cable guide, and the back of the Stronglight 49D crankset - one of the prettiest, strongest, lightest cranksets ever produced.

Original Lucas Ltd. mechanical front wheel odometer. One of two parts on the bike that aren't French. (the other is the rack, above.)

January 9, 2009

The French Revolution

Welp, I've completed the Peugeot project, and it came to my attention almost immediately that I hadn't spoken much about this since I started working on it. It had really just become a secondary thing, in the garage a couple nights a week, unwinding from work, almost, with a toothbrush and some solvent - clearing off 35 years of grime and grease, simultaneously clearing off the stresses of the work week. It's a great way to unwind, if you keep things simple. The great thing about this bike: everything was original, in perfect working order, and simply needed to be cleaned off. NO scouring the globe for replacement parts or reproductions -- I like that. Just breathing life back into something that's only been sitting for a few decades, indoors thankfully. SO, I'll post some pictures soon -- it turned out far better than I expected; the freewheel rebuilt, butter smooth... the wheels, hubs rebuilt, smooth and quiet - solid... the spokes, re-tensioned and strong. New tires that have the same ole not-REALLY-tan sidewalls... dude it looks factory fresh. It's pretty cool. And, sadly for me, yes -- it IS for sale.
Not sure if I'm posting now, but probably by spring.

Stay tuned....

January 8, 2009

Don't get wet, stay cool... especially in the cold.

Dressing for the long haul when its cold outside is not an easy thing sometimes.
I’ve mentioned before that wool is nearly essential for long-distance rides in winter. This holds true. To be perfectly clear, I’m not a wool snob, or a retro rider; I sport the wool because it simply works – at ANY price, it’s simply the best investment you can make for a winter rando wardrobe if temperatures in your area are going to be below 50 degrees for the duration of the ride. Some of us can’t $$$$ put wool everywhere, so if you have to choose between tops and bottoms, choose tops – keep your core happy, and the rest will follow. While there are excellent deals from Woolistic, Jones Wear, Portland Cyclewear and more, for those that prefer to hit the LBS there are now many offerings from major players like Pearl Izumi and Specialized. Check it out. It’s no longer a fashion statement for the retro-crowd.

One thing, however, I have to stress that is often forgotten: remember to shed layers when you warm up. FAST. I made this mistake on my most recent 200K, by keeping the outer windbreaker on too long. It’s hard to judge, and it’s all personal based on your comfort level and acclimation level – but the common factor reads “dress so you are a little chilly before you begin, and you’ll be fine once the ride enters mile ten.” I made the mistake of being rather comfortable at the ride start, simply because I didn’t want to be cold. With the headwind, it was more of a challenge: I simply didn’t want to unzip my outer layer, and the continued cold air blasting against us definitely made it difficult to determine if my efforts against it were generating any heat at all. The result, my core was nice and warm – but WET by the time we turned north and west, slightly out of the wind. That’s right when the hills began, which was a good time to unzip – but still, I didn’t. The wetness was making me feel colder than I really was, and the results can be actually quite dangerous. While NOT sweating is never an option on a long bike ride, one should remember that relative dryness is paramount. I should have unzipped, suffered through a little bit of chills while still under effort – the airflow under that outer layer would eventually dry my core layers out, and return me to more comfort than before. Another good option would have been to start the ride with a wind VEST, instead of a full wind jacket. The arms can act as heat exchangers – assuming they are protected from the air itself with wool sleeves, or fleece. This can assist with keeping the core from overheating, keeping sweat at bay. The reason I felt so stiff and had mild shivers at the halfway was because of the cushion of sweat I’d built up under my jacket. If I had been wearing ANYTHING OTHER than wool, I would have been hypothermic, miserable.

So, when in doubt, use your zippers for temperature and moisture control, though at times it may seem counterproductive to your immediate comfort level. Do as the pros do: during a hard climb, unzip – let the excess heat escape. When the summit comes, even if it’s a short roller, zip back up – keep the heat you have generated, but keep the cold blast of the descent from robbing your core of too much. Repeat. The result should be even comfort for the whole of your 200K or more, even in the coldest temperatures. Enjoy!

January 3, 2009

R-12, pt.12 - The Final Chapter...

The alarm rang at 5:30am. Not too early. Nothing out of the ordinary... almost like waking up for work. This was no 2:30AM bell for a 3:00AM ride or anything like I'd repeated numerous times this last year. 5:30 is actually reasonable. For some reason, though, I didn't want to be awake. Not yet. New Year's Eve wasn't without it's libations, though limited. I didn't pull anything like a mid-20's partier would have, but I didn't behave perfectly either. Not really pre-200K etiquette, but nothing that would have gotten me arrested, either. Still, no headache, no stomach issues, no nothing -- I just didn't want to be awake. About four hours of sleep, I was TIRED. Having only decided to attempt this ride a few days earlier meant that I didn't really have my head wrapped around things. Even though the car was packed and ready, my soul almost wasn't in it. I knew, back in the corner of my mind, that I had 30 more days left to accomplish this feat, and I should probably pick a weekend where I'd get more sleep. Yeah....

But, then, there was Spencer and Jeff. I checked my email to find Jeff ill, not coming.... ugh... that was ALMOST enough for me to tell Spencer, "hey, me too, man...", but I didn't. He was coming all the way from St. Joseph for this one. I wasn't REALLY going to stand him up, was I?

With that, I was in the shower, drinking my pre-ride drink of Espresso Hammer Gel and Carboplex, and sliding carefully into my super-hero suit - as my kids call it. They're not old enough yet to realize what a dork I look like in these spandex get-ups, but it's cute and I'll take it for now. Into the car, and on the road for this one - starting up in Kansas City, KS., north of the river. No time to waste...

You know you are sleepy when driving is a chore. I haven't been tired behind the wheel in a LONG time, but I caught myself taking those really BIG yawns and shaking my head as the white lines dashed under my car, alone on the morning after New Year's Day -- all the cops are home finally, the drunks locked away, the truckers on vacation - even the rail-yards are quiet for now. Nothing to distract me... lulling me to sleep, the drone of the tires and wind... Ugh, SNAP TO, BOY!

Finally, safe at the American Motel... I unpack the car, hit the restroom a couple times, and try to keep my fingers warm - the morning air is think with moisture and still below freezing, about 25 degrees. Spencer arrives a few minutes later. Ah... this is a treat. In fact, while we have exchanged emails and such for months and months about permanent routes, planning for my next R-12 move, and just shooting the breeze occasionally about stuff, I hadn't ridden with him in probably ... well, okay, August... the 10th anniversary RUSA ride, shortly before he departed for the Pony Express permanent. But before then, it had perhaps been a year. It was good to be in ANYone's company on a winter permanent ride, but it was a pleasure to be riding alongside this guy. We're all individuals, all have goals, wants, needs, and sometimes we look at our own accomplishments with humble reserve, and Spencer is no exception. But, with what he's accomplished in comparison to the rest of the world is truly unique, a catalogue of bicycle-related achievements that is unmatched. We may not have the most robust randonneuring scene (yet), but we have some legends in our halls, make no mistake. Anyways, to share a few miles with someone from whom I can absorb technique, thought, philosophy - it's a treat. Plus, he's just a good guy.

We do the formalities of card signing, cue sheet discussion, and we're off into the pre-dawn glow of the cold morning, greeted by our old nemesis, the wind. From the southwest, and howling a bit - it's going to be a struggle headed to Ottawa today.
78th Street is over with soon enough, and we're on K-32 headed towards Bonner Springs. The conversation is terrific; I can't emphasize this enough. Only a few hours earlier I was talking myself out of this very ride, sitting on the side of the bed contemplating my very existence-- if I had been alone, I honestly think I might have turned back. Especially writing this here, tonight, knowing it was 67ºF today, with light winds and sunshine on this Saturday - even though I could not have foreseen family obligations happening overnight, well - there you have it: things worked out. But, if I'd thought I was going to get a better day in January, and I had been alone, I would not be writing this piece right now. The conversation with Spencer helped tremendously - he talked, I listened and responded, and it kept my mind off the stinging air that was working it's way through my carefully planned out layers of clothing.

K-32 became Loring Road, then Golden Road - I tell you I love this part of the ride, the paralleling of the railroad tracks, the views, the hills. This is a great route. Spencer and I climbed and climbed, and had to pedal out the downhills because of the wind. well, *I* did anyways - Spencer was on his usual fixed gear machine, a terrificly appointed Gaansari Scorcher. Still dingy from a 200K ride the week before, it still looked good, purposeful, intent. The kind of bike that says "hop on, I'll take you there." Not unlike the relationship I've grown with my Kogswell. Just good machines. Sturdy. Ready.

Yes, even the downhills required pedaling, the wind coming up through the trees and across the fields driven by pressure and heat far to the south - heat that we'd feel little of today. The corn fields of August were cut down; nothing but dried stalks beneath, revealing details in the terrain I hadn't noticed back a few months ago on this same road. Cruising along with Jason back then, warmth, short sleeves.... today was like another country, another time entirely. Ghostly, yet beautiful.

Soon we were at Stouts Corner, the first control -- only 20 miles in, and again contrast to August, it seemed a lot longer of a trip this time around. That would be the tone of the day, but not really to a negative slant. We fueled up, got our cards signed, and hit the bathroom a few times -- time to roll. Another good thing about having a seasoned randonneur at the helm of a ride like this: while often alone I find excuses to keep hanging around, to stall, while unintentional - because I eventually DO continue the ride - I think subconsciously I am trying to relax more than time would allow. Relaxing is for the finishers... while the clock is ticking, you can "rest" on the bike. While this was never said aloud, it was information that I gathered for myself. Each control, I realized that *I* was the one being waited upon. I would "hurry" like I normally do, and catch myself slowing repacking my bag, sipping coffee, pondering lipbalm or something that COULD be done while rolling. Meanwhile, Spencer was finished with all his business: standing patiently beside his bicycle, helmet on, look of encouragement on his face that says "let's go." I still have lots to learn... the Texas bunch does this, too, I've noticed. They don't call these "rests", they call them "rides". Again, never spoken aloud - but I learned something new, and it's wise to take lessons from those that have many, MANY more of these under their belts.

K-32, a good shoulder, and a steady climb towards 222nd street in Leavenworth County, KS. I was not really looking forward to the long twelve mile stretch southbound into this wind, this COLD wind. But the turn was coming up... or was it? We apprached 222nd St, or LV-1, and came upon a bevy of orange colored construction signs. Uh-oh... While most indications showed the northbound section of LV-1 was closed, there was still a sign showing that the southbound section towards Eudora - our only river-crossing within 10 miles, was ALSO closed. Ugh. This is one of those times where GPS mapping technology on the handlebars would have been REALLY nice. But, alas, we do this one old school... I actually prefer it this way. Do we ride the fours miles, and see if the bridge is open, or even fordable? That would add eight miles if we had to backtrack, and then we'd have to find an alternative river crossing. Lawrence? Bicycle-forbidding DeSoto back to the east? The very balance of this route was held on our next move. If there was no Kansas River to cross, this would not have been a big deal at all... find another road, even a gravel one, and carry on. But this... this could change a lot of things. This was another time in the ride where I might have just tossed in the cards and called it a 50-miler. A training ride. But, Spencer is the regional permanent's coordinator, after all. It IS his route. We decide not to risk the extra 8-miles to discover we might need a detour, and proceed west on K-32.

This is, by the way, completely within the rights of the randonneur: as specified in RUSA rules Article 7, quoted: "if a rider leaves the route, he or she must return to the route at the same point prior to continuing, ie. no shortcuts or detours from the route, unless specified by the organizer." In this specific case, since the organizer himself was present, and also happened to be the route designer, our move was legal. Considering the case of river crossings, you're looking at a sizeable detour anyways if a bridge is out -- not every little country road is going to be equipped with a bridge over a river, after all. Make no mistake, we added quite a few bonus miles with this move, an item later on we'd be pretty miffed about.

I hadn't ridden K-32 this far west since probably 2004, when I did the Lawrence run with ... oh, man... the way-back machine... TomKC, and Bob --- wow, guys if you're still readers, drop me a line. Would LOVE to ride with you again. Seriously...
Anyways, I hadn't seen this part of K-32 in years, and Spencer and I kept checking with each other: "Does this road cross the river?" "no... farther...", I'd mutter. I'd gathered up my mental maps. I knew the terrain out here better that I'd given myself credit for, knowing landmarks pointed out by Shorty (RWark) years before on a car ride into Lawrence on Old K-10, I sighted the twin smokestacks on top of one of the Kansas University buildings. I sighted a water-tower that looked familiar. There was the airport. K-32 ended, and we took Us-24/40 into Lawrence proper, and finally crossed the Kansas River just before entering downtown. Looking at maps later on, it was true -- there was no other way across the river. We had done the right thing. Now, get through town, and find the route again. I hadn't been to Lawrence in years it seemed, not since seeing the Fast-Food Junkies and Truckstop Honeymoon with Big-AL a few years ago (good show). We passed by Mass Street Music, the city park, all the neat houses - right south through town as we backtracked east to find a quick way back to the route.

Eventually we ended up on Louisiana Street and continued our great adventure at the behest of the route organizer. This, Spencer told me, was what a Free-Route Permanent felt like -- which intrigued me greatly. No idea where we were going, just a general idea of heading and purpose. This was COOL, roads I had not seen before. Some people - I used to be one of them - freak out at getting lost, especially on a bike. Today, I felt inspired, thrilled, excited to see where this completely foreign piece of pavement would take us, and how far! I knew certain landmarks, I knew that cross streets would eventually HAVE to meet, but for now we were adventurers!

A song entered my head, and stayed there: "Buildings and Mountains" by The Republic Tigers, a local KC band. Check it out, and if you can find the acoustic version... it's magical. Visit the link above, and that song should play automatically. Now, imagine, riding along into the high sun, the wind in your face... and the scenery, never before seen, rises slowly from the horizon as you pedal into the unknown. Dude, it was good....

We rode, quite literally, into the noon-day sun and blazed a trail that zig-zagged us back to the south and east. The road came to a tee along a stretch of the Lone Star Century route, which I knew well. We headed east. We met an intersection, and took a turn south -- the road narrowed, each new intersection we didn't know exactly what we'd see, and the hills came. Steeper than usual, as should be expected. Off in a field to the right, I see the usual scattering of cows, and a couple of weird looking Llamas... uh, no.... that's not a llama... that a FREAKING CAMEL. I swear, TWO, single hump, high-desert camels IN KANSAS, just chewing on grass in a field - alongside cows and other usual field fare. CAMELS. It's the weirdest thing I think I've ever seen from a bicycle. We reached another tee in the road, and turned east again, and the pavement disappeared... not exactly gravel, more of a silty, forgotten stretch of road that might have once been overlayed with gravel -- but it had been so long that what was left was pulverized into a fine powder, leaving a perfectly even patch of nice, quiet dirt road. Tucked back into those side roads, the un-improved sections of Douglas County, we rode into an area - I kid you not - a pure, undiscovered treasure of a landscape so post-card perfect I could barely believe I was seeing it. Spencer immediately commented it reminded him of the Flint Hills. It was literally breathtaking, even with the browns and tans of winter having taken the grass the rolling untouched hills on either side of the road were magnificent, astonishing. All of the sudden I was immensely glad I had woken up, showered, and rode.

Shortly after, we were reunited with pavement and closer to being back on the intended route. We rounded a curve and skirted Vinland before approaching Baldwin City, along the biggest, longest climb in the area - probably in the county. The climb over the ridge into Baldwin City is magnificent, but I could really do without the traffic. It's truly the only way into that city from the north, and on this late Thursday morning - which still felt like a Saturday - there were plenty of cars, trucks and duallies headed into town for this or that. With nothing to speak of for a shoulder, Spencer and I were at the traffic's mercy. This is where I have to remind on visibility and safety: in a situation like this, you just HAVE to be seen. After grunting out the climb we began our descent into town and stopped briefly at the c-store at US-56 before heading south again. We were close to the route again, and only had to traverse Le Loup, KS, and then head south on Tennessee Road and we were back on course with only about eight bonus miles so-far. That at least saved us the detour turn-back mileage, and kept us moving in a progressive direction for the day's goal. The wind was relentless, as was Spencer's fixed-gear pace, and for the first time that day the distance between us began to grow as I slacked off the pace. I didn't intend to, but something was catching up to me -- hydration?

We continued south on Tennessee Road towards K-68, and the final turn towards Ottawa, KS., and Spencer stayed just out of grasp as I began to realize my errors with the preoccupation of being happily lost, and started a strict rebuilding regiment of drinking a mouthful of water every five minutes until Ottawa... which eventually worked. They say you can't get rehydrated while on a bike... but I was at least going to try, and the end result was a renewed spirit and push by the time I was a few miles from the turn-around. Not shabby.

FINALLY, the halfway... and Spencer said it best, paraphrased, once you make the halfway, you can pretty much finish the ride. He had never failed a ride after having made the halfway point, which reminded me of my story from way back about the 2002 400K attempt, which I oddly never blogged or journaled about. Basically, I had ridden all the way from Grandview, MO. to Appleton City, MO., effectively LAST on the road, my first brevet series, my first distance of ANY kind like that. I made the final checkpoint at Paola, KS, and was on my way back north, alone in the dark, for the last 45 miles of the journey. At the time, Old KC Road was closed for the bridge that now crosses over the railroad tracks and Ten Mile Creek between 279th and 255th streets -- there was no good way across, and it was pitch black. So, I opted for Bob Burn's suggestion of just taking the shoulder along US-169. This was also under construction at the time, and the big concrete barricades had reduced the shoulder to a sliver of pavement barely wide enough for my handlebars... and it had just started to rain. The three miles still stands as probably the scariest, longest three miles of my life as 18-wheelers and cars zipped by in single file, in the dark, probably completely unaware of my presence there. I was white-knuckling the handlebars so hard, my hands hurt and cramped up afterwards. I made it to 255th street, and proceeded back to Old KC Road, to continue north -- and my phone rang. It was the Warbird. He had gotten lost, ran out of food, bonked, and had layed down in the road
miles south of me. I had thought he was ahead! He was calling from the safety of his car, already having been driven back to Grandview. At that point, frazzled from traffic, I announced that I, too, was done. I asked him to come get me, and I rode to the BP station (then an Amoco) at 255th and Old KC Road, and sat on the curb and waited in the dark until he showed up. I'd had until 8AM the next morning to finish that ride... enough time to be taken home, sleep, be taken BACK to that point, and continue the ride to finish it... but I was DONE. So, SO long ago.... But, worth mentioning.... sometimes, regardless of you situation, it just isn't going to be the day.

Hot pizza, drinks, and conversation, and Spencer and I were ready to saddle up for the last part of this ride. We mounted up and left the Casey's, and I was thrilled not to have been worried about the clock on this ride. Spencer, wicked relentless on his fixxie, was often hard to keep up with -- something that got me thinking about the times I'd broken personal records on fixed gear and single-speed bikes. Even in my fittest condition, on a light, fast bike, I had never posted as good a lap-time at Shawnee Mission Park than on a fixed gear. Not even CLOSE. Hmmmmm....Why did I stop riding fixed, again? At any rate, Spencer was making me work today, and the clock was reflecting it.

Finally, the wind was on our side: We didn't even have to hammer to get the 21 MPH pace we managed on the shoulder of K-68 headed back towards Tennessee Road. We were flying along, smiling big, good food in our stomachs, and hope in our hearts that we might beat the sundown despite our detour. We made Tennessee Road quickly, turn north, and realized that most of the wind was a cross wind now, but it was still a big help. We enjoyed a healthy pace along this stretch, made it back to Le Loup - but the distance was growing between us again. Man, I tell you what -- you'd think after all this time I'd be faster at these 200Ks, but I'm here to say that it's not that easy. It goes back to me New Year's realizations of a couple weeks back, the purchase of the heart-rate monitor, the new goals -- any fool can ride these. Spencer is trained by his fixed gear machine, and that's the pace. Period. It's nearly perfect... all things being equal, you WILL go this speed, generally. On the geared bike, I find myself sliding the chain all over the cassette, finding the easiest gear for the job, not pushing myself. Today, that lack of self-discipline was showing: when it came time to push the larger gears, I didn't know how. I kept up the hydration, and kept food incoming, and kept Spencer in sight. I'm not saying that any one method, fixed or freewheel with gears, is better or worse than the other. To each his own, certainly, but you have to be willing to push bigger gears than your choices afford you if you want to go faster. I hadn't been doing it for years now. But, now, I had a target.

We reached Wellsville, asked about the river crossing bridges - but we were too far south for anyone to know for sure. We fueled up again, and continued on. DG-1061 was fabulous, good pavement finally in Douglas County, rolling hills and gentle breezes. Fields of cows, sheds blown apart by high winds the week before, light traffic. Ahhhh... the sky was alive with blue, and the sun peeked in and out of passing clouds as the wind continued to help us move north. I like this road. Finally feeling frisky, I tailed Spencer harder now, but realized that the wind had moved a little, and so I took a few pulls. Was the wind shifting?

We made Eudora, finally... just south of our intended, original, river crossing from hours before. We asked inside, and after I emerged from the bathroom, I could tell on Spencer's face. Our detour was completely un-needed. The bridge was open... only the road in downtown Euroda was closed. ACK!!!! Well, you know, sometimes it's like that, and we can't go back and change the past. Live, ride on. We mounted up again, and laughed a little as we crossed the perfect bridge over the Kansas River, thinking about that pre-sundown finish, and how it probably wouldn't happen because of our detour.... but at the same time, countering with how neat it had been to see the unique scenery, and undiscovered treasures we'd seen. Personally, I'm glad things turned out the way they had.

Back on K-32 again, we made Stouts Corner before sundown, but light was fading fast. Vests came on, lights were checked, and layers that had been taken off in Ottawa were added back in. The last 20 miles of the day... the last 20 miles of my 12th 200K in as many months....

Twelve of these in a row... back in February 2008, which I can now call "last year", I didn't really REALLY think that I was going to do this. That first ride was really just a chance to see an old friend in Texas and enjoy some nice weather for a change... the previous winter had been horrid. Then came the 200K in March, which I skipped: the official BREVET, that is. The weather was bad again, and only three brave souls set out in SEVEN DEGREE weather (including Spencer) for that ride. I chose the following weekend, and that became the March edition, #2, of the run. It was no longer about the brevet series... I could have easily waited until the April 200K to continue the series, but something was edging me along to make this an official goal. Looking at the training schedule I HAVEN'T stuck to over this last year, it's amazing to me that I was able to complete this goal. I don't know how much of a role long-term fatigue played in my steady slowing down over 2008 on these events, but I still contend that is something that can be remedied with focused training. I'm still sticking to my guns: there will be no "2nd R-12", not this year. Will I still do the occasional 200K this next summer? You bet! Really, truly, THIS is the kind of rider I am. I love this sport, and I feel strongly attached and part of something now. Never again will I hem and haw about, "well, I don't race, so...", or "I'm not fast like you guys..." or whatever... I am what I am, and I can be as fast or as slow as I want to - that part is still up to me, and I do still need to take care of myself - but if someone were to ask me what kind of rider I am, I proudly answer that I am a randonneur. No apologies.

But, I still have 20 miles...
The sun dips fast this time of year, and as we made our way east from Stouts Corner in Linwood, KS, we turned SW onto LV-26 highway, towards the setting sun. Ahead of us was the most magnificent, brilliant sunset I think I had ever seen. Oranges, pinks, reds, purples, blues... I'm not even sure a camera would have done it justice as the colors were so explosive and overpowering as to completely surround my being. I'm lucky I hadn't ridden into the ditch, because I'm sure I was staring straight into the sky and not really watching the road. It seems silly to attach an analogy to such a beautiful moment, however it truly seemed fitting that after such a long journey I would be lucky enough to have been granted that view as I approached the home stretch. No trees to block it, and the route just happened to angle back to the southwest for just a couple miles, otherwise I might not have seen it at all. I felt my father nearby, I felt my kids watching me, cheering, my wife giving my that knowing grin not wanting to hear any excuses venturing near "I can't...". This was it. The home stretch was clear. Nothing bad was going to happen. No bonk, no flat, no hassle. Just a good, strong finish to a really long journey.

Spencer and I began to shift our focus towards our brightening headlight beams as the night closed in. The stars came out, the moon and Venus were brilliant, and traffic was forgiving. Off towards the river, a coal train blew it's horns for a crossing, and made it's way across the open fields to our south. I pulled my zipper a little higher, took a drink, and hunkered in for the last few hills that were coming around the next bend. We made our way up the long grinders, back towards Loring Road, K-32, Bonner Springs. We enjoyed long, mysterious downhills back towards the flatlands of the river bottom. We helped an older lady that pulled up behind us find her way. We heard the cries of coyotes in the woods. Another coal train accompanied us along our way back to town. We made good on green lights in Bonner Springs, passed with ease over the nasty railroad tracks near K-7, and followed the long, lonely shoulder back towards I-435. At this point, I had lagged behind the farthest of the day, to the point where Spencer's bright taillight was nearly indiscernible amid the car lights and traffic lights ahead. It took miles, but I found the spirit to lift my pace and time-trial back up to him, just barely before reaching the bridges at I-435. Even the coming hills on 78th didn't bother me; my pace on K-32 was lifted with the hopes of finishing, and realizing what I was about to wrap up had crept up on me. I was excited, but partially sad... not doing one of these in February? REALLY? Could I honestly stick to a goal of NOT doing one of these a month this year, too? It has become habit, something to plan for, month over month --- I think it's helped me get through work's turmoils, helped keep me occupied. What was I doing to do NOW? I still don't have the answer to that, but it will certainly involve riding, and fun, and the good news is that I will still have the '09 Brevet Series to look forward to. If this truly is the kind of rider that I am, should I really switch gears? February? Man.... I already said once I wouldn't, but I tell you --- it's going to feel REALLY WEIRD not to. Maybe if my training allows me to truly finish these before noon on Saturdays... maybe if I can actually take one weekday off per month, instead of killing the weekends... maybe, maybe...
Ah, just rest on it a while.... the answer will come.

Finally, the final control is in sight - and with hearty handshakes and a personal, silent cheer, we arrived at the last stop. As of this writing, only 147 people in the country have this award. I am privileged to know at least a dozen of these fine folks from the rides I've shared, and by the next few weeks when results are verified and certified, I will be "in the club", as they say. That feels pretty darn good.

But, regardless of feelings come February, a new journey awaits.

Even though it's already posted, I must repeat my thank-yous, as they can't be said enough:

My wife and kids, for being supportive, patient, and allowing me to miss one weekend day a month to do this crazy bicycle thing. I love you all very much, and this isn't worth doing without having you to share it with.

God: for the gift of a strong tailwind on the return, the strength and health to do what I love, and the most amazing sunset I've ever seen from the saddle.

Everyone that rode with me on this epic personal quest: Del, Noah, Jason, & Spencer, and the many others that attended the August RUSA 10th Anniversary ride which was part of this journey.

The Warbird. Without you having talked me into trying that first 200K brevet back in 2002, I would not be here. You handed me a key that unlocked things I didn't know I had in me.

Casey's General Stores. Thank GAWD for you guys. Hot pizza on a cold day.

That wraps up this amazing journey, folks -- thanks for all the support, and thanks for reading. Stay tuned, because this is only the beginning. For all I have done, there is SO much more left to discover, so many more walls to push, obstacles to face and overcome. So long as I enjoy the ride, that is all that matters. I can't think of a finer pursuit, and a more fitting end to a really great year on the bike.

January 1, 2009

The sweet taste of twelve

#12, finished, 6:55pm, January 1st, 2009!!!

The usual ride report is coming, and there is lots to tell - but I'm tired. REALLY tired, and cold.

First, and most importantly, I want to thank:

My wife and kids, for being supportive, patient, and allowing me to miss one weekend day a month to do this crazy bicycle thing. I love you all very much, and this isn't worth doing without having you to share it with.

God: for the gift of a strong tailwind on the return, the strength and health to do what I love, and the most amazing sunset I've ever seen from the saddle.

Everyone that rode with me on this epic personal quest: Del, Noah, Jason, & Spencer, and the many others that attended the August RUSA 10th Anniversary ride which was part of this journey.

The Warbird. Without you having talked me into trying that first 200K brevet back in 2002, I would not be here. You handed me a key that unlocked things I didn't know I had in me.

Casey's General Stores. Thank GAWD for you guys. Hot pizza on a cold day.

Speaking of which... time for post-ride food, and sleep.
More to come in a few days....