April 28, 2009

Good vibes. The 300K report.

Where do I begin?  There is so much to tell about this one ride.  Let’s catch up by saying that I hadn’t ridden this route since 2007 – I really missed it.  I can’t lie; as intimidating as all the climbing is, as hard as the wind might blow, it really is a very pretty route, excellent country, stuff you just don’t get to see closer to home.  Today, however, the ride would come in three dramatic parts.  I’ve simply never had it this weird before, and leave it to this particular route to bring a challenge. 
About 25 or so, estimates are rough, hearty riders showed up for this route, and after arriving early and paying my entry fee, signing the waiver, and beginning my prep-work, I proceeded to drop my bike.  MAN… I hate that.  Leaned up against the side of the car, seemingly safe, I guess the wind got hold of it, and it rolled backwards and tipped over.  ACK!  I couldn’t reach it fast enough – but thankfully it was a “soft” fall, if there is such a thing.  The pedal hit the pavement first, and the drivetrain rolled, slowing the fall.  No damage, nothing bent, nothing weird came of it aside from a slight buff on the bar-end shifter.  Still, it was a nice mental hiccup in a sport where mental preparedness is probably 85% of the game.  I get there, unpack, I know at least the bike is ready… now, let’s drop it on the ground!  Yeesh.  So, after polishing off my pride, I finished packing on the three water bottles, my back pockets, and putting on the final touches.  The first thing I noticed is that it was a tad chillier than when I’d left the house, and the wind was stronger;  but the best part was the fact the wind was out of the correct direction!  We are all forecast watchers, but today was difficult:  even a couple posts ago when I was talking about prepping for this ride I had been talking about the 80’s for temperatures, and I wasn’t lying.  But, in the 24 hours leading up to the ride start, the forecast had literally changed four more times.  Now, we were looking at highs maybe in the 70’s, and maybe a cold front coming through.  Just unpredictable.  MY rando advice of the day:  when packing the car to travel to a ride, bring everything you have and dress at the ride start:  that’s the BEST advice I can give anyone.  Don’t decide your clothing at the house.  Pack it all.  If you don’t need it, leave it in the car.  This was one of those days.  If it’s a 40 mile club ride, you can get away with forgetting a layer or a warmer… with potentially 15 hours of saddle time in the middle of no-where staring you in the face, take no chances. 
We all mounted up, and Bob took center stage to lay out the day’s expectations.  Dogs, bad pavement and a proposed detour.  A who’s-who of KC randonneuring was there:  Jeff W., Ed, Steve “weatherman” G., Spencer, Jack, Dale B. “from Iowa-actually from Columbia” and friend, Danny “Clink” the Colonel, Alex, Steve B., “the tandem” – whose names I can never remember, but were on this ride in 2002 and have been doing them longer than that – a guy on a recumbent, and several others of note whose names also escape me at this writing.  We rolled promptly at 6:00am, out into the streets of Liberty, and into the unknown.  None of us – save for Steve the weatherman – really knew what was in store. 
The first thing I notice, right out of the gate, the hill on Clayview is easier.  The weight-loss is going to help today, for sure.  I highly recommend it.  I am happy to be past the issues that somehow allowed me to pack on an additional 40 pounds in a little less than two years, and I place both feet forward by saying I will do whatever I can to make sure I live responsibly and not let my nutrition get out of hand again.  I’ll remove all mystery from that variable of this ride:  the hills were easier, fatigue was minimized, my back didn’t hurt afterwards, and my shorts weren’t cutting into me.  Weight Watchers:  it works, it’s worked for me twice now, and it’s worth it.  (why twice?  cuz, I'm an idiot.)  Start, stick to it, you’ll get there.  It can be the difference.  While the day still had its challenges, it would have been worse with that extra weight on me, for certain.  What comes next is more speed and fitness training, and that will come with time. 
We headed along the newly paved Glen Hedren outer road, which was actually a treat this time with wider lanes and no more pot-holes, and turned onto Lightburne, which would become Plattsburg Road.  I talked it up with Jeff W., whom I hadn’t ridden with in a while, probably since last year, and we talked about the R-12, keeping the streak going, and the subject of weird midwest weather came up, like the late March snow that reset my 2nd R-12 run.  Pretty soon, the hills were beginning to mount in succession, the hallmark of this route.  It starts nasty, early, and never really lets up – but today, the strong tailwind was a blessing.  Granted, a blessing that would eventually bite back, but we were going to enjoy it while we could.  Jeff, Alex and Steve B. grouped up, and I held on as long as I could before logic smacked me in the face and reminded me that I had 170 miles to go.  They are just plain FAST, and so I settled into my usual position.  Eventually, however, I found myself first on the road!  Jeff and company decided on a little detour at a critical turn, despite my hollering for their attention only a few clicks behind...and suddenly I was thrust into first place… which, make no mistake, means zero in the rando world.  Still, it’s fun to say.  I smiled to myself, and kept my pace up, curious to see how long I could stay off the front knowing full-well that Jeff and friends WOULD catch me once they turned around.  I advanced up Plattsburg Road, past the familiar dips and dives, the newer houses, the fields and lakes, and shared a little conversation with a gent from Iowa that I think came down with Dale B., before he was advancing up the road while I continued finding my pace for the day.  I managed to reel him up and stay ahead (big deal, I know) on State Rte “C”, and made it into Plattsburg really, really quickly – like on the order of an hour from the start time.  I stopped off at the little corner C-store, nature break, and water refill, just in time to come outside and see the Iowa express come past.  Oh well!  Still no sign of Jeff and company.  I made my way up to SR “Y” and took another turn north.  The wind was just awesome, shoving me and my bike along at a wicked clip in the mid 20’s, sometimes poking into the 30’s, even on the flats as I motored along in top gear.  This is where bicycling is the BEST, out alone on a good stretch of road, just letting it all hang out in the big chainring, and loving life – a small amount of sunshine (lot of clouds today) and a good wind at your back, and every reason to smile.  I love this stuff.  Behind me, after a couple more miles, I can hear the chatter of conversation – Jeff, Alex and Steve B are on my tail again, and we join up for the next 12 miles or so into Stewartsville, chatting it up, talking about Tejas and such, future plans.  A good time.  We hit the first control in style, out front of the group, feeling good.  Cards are signed, bottles filled, and I buy up some PB crackers to help fuel the next leg – although Carboplex is the main item on my menu today.  I still can’t quite let go of the “miracle powders” after all this time.  I can never seem to find anything at the c-stores that fuels quite the same way, and is predictable:  my only beef with the stuff, it makes my back pockets look ridiculous and makes me think about things like saddlebags and Camelbaks again, just for storage.  Invisioning the latter on my back, I’m glad I snapped out of that delusion and just went with bottles.  I carry three today, some nice insulated Camelbak “chilljacket” bottles:  my only beef with THOSE is they’re only 21 oz., but three bottles still affords 63 oz. of water, and that’s plenty.  My Zefal Magnum bottles hold 32 ounces each, and are a great solution if you only want to carry two bottles… BUT, I have had valve problems with those consistently:  they end up leaking all over me and the bike while I drink, which raises the question of not only making a mess of myself, but how many of those extra ounces I end up losing from spillage, and the sports-drink crust that I end up chipping off the top tube after every ride with them.  With the superior Camelbak Podium bottle valves, I’m only getting a drink when I want one – and the insulation is a huge bonus.  While it didn’t get warm enough today for me to really test it, it’s notable that my drinks DID stay cool all day long, and that makes me more inclined to drink – because cool water tastes better.  It's the best compromise I've found that allows me cold water on a hot day - something the insulative properties of the Camelbak backpack are good at - but without having something on my back.  This will become more important on the 600K, for sure, where the longest stage between controls is 62 miles, and it should be hotter.
Back to the 300K, just as we begin setting off from the Stewartsville control, the 2nd group pulls in, including Clink and Spencer.  We bid hello, and then goodbye, and are off onto US-36’s ample shoulder, with Steve G. and Ed and a few others in tow.  The best part of the ride was nearly upon us:  State Route “J”, or, as I’ll call it now:  the miracle run.  As the fast trio of Jeff, Alex and Steve B. turned onto this brilliant stretch of pavement, and the Iowa express and I followed along, the speeds went right up, driven by an increased tailwind of easily 25-30 MPH.  As a result, for at least five miles, I didn’t have a single occurrence when I looked down at my speed and saw anything less than 29 MPH.  It was such good fun, at times sitting in the biggest gear I had on the bike and hammering along with no regards to how many miles lay ahead, or what the weather might do to us.  We were flying.  We were smiling.  We were practically singing!
The party continued for miles and miles more, until we finally had to stop at highway 6 after blasting full-bore through Amity, MO.  Now, the real section of the ride was beginning.  From here north, the hills would multiply in double and triple force, mile for mile, and the good pavement was officially behind us.  Highway “H”.  Ugh.  Not the worst, and certainly not gravel, but definitely in need of some Mo-Dot love.  Unfortunately, if the highway department repaved roads based on traffic volume, this one is going to be low on the post.  I don’t know exactly how many cars we saw along the way here, but it was less than five for sure.  That’s over probably 20 miles, easily.  One of them was a heavy tractor, for example.  More dogs on the road than cars, probably.  At this point Jeff and the fast trio, including Iowa, were beginning to advance up the road.  Not sure what it was that had me falling off the back, but it was real, and I slowed down a bit, for a little while.  Not sure if it was a small “wall”, or a nutrition thing --- at this stage I had Sustained Energy in the fuel bottle, just to shake things up – and there may have been just enough simple sugar in the PB crackers or something to throw something off.  Who knows – didn’t last, but it’s yet another nail in the coffin for specialized fuels that expect you to operate and ride inside a perfect bubble of nutrition.  They’re good – but you have to be good, also, and I can’t carry that much powder:  been here before.  Carry on.  Carboplex is cheap, mixes perfectly, you can flavor it with anything, mix it with anything, and have no worries.  But, if I want to have a real Coke in Albany, I can.  Anyways, I digress (shocked?).  A five minute gap grows, and I’m alone on the roads and hills north of MO-6 once again.  I do like it up here, but it can feel awfully lonely.  Especially when mother nature comes out to play!  Steve “the weatherman” called it, and I’m a believer.  The national weather service eluded to it on Friday night, but it was vague and sketchy.  I, personally, have never seen it play out so quickly.  It was like walking through a door, to quote another randonneur that would recall the event later in the afternoon:  I climbed to the top of yet another long grinder of a hill, and upon reaching the top I was greeted with 20+ MPH of north wind right in the face, and the temperature dropped 15 degrees almost instantly.  BAM.  There’s the front.  I even looked over my shoulder to make sure I hadn’t missed a time portal or something.  It was THAT quick.  Along for the ride were sprinkles, barely enough to begin wetting the road.  The jersey took on a good damp feeling, and I began walking that “jacket?”/”no jacket?” line for probably the next 15 miles.  After turning east on highway “Z”, greeted by more hills and a crosswind, I elected to tough it out until I had to turn north again – but the temperature had dropped into the lower 50’s, where it had been approaching the mid 70’s for a while earlier.  I relished in the warming effect the hills were having.  Helping stave off boredom, and keep my mind off the constant climbing that highway “Z” offers, I began counting stuff.  Pop cans, McD wrappers, cigarette boxes… an unusually large quantity of Mountain Dew bottles for some reason… interesting demographic:  farmers like Mountain Dew?... as I rolled up the hills, I spotted something odd, though:  Speedplay pedal?!?  What the….?  I stop, stoop, and plop it into my pocket… I’ll bet someone’s gonna miss this… and sure enough about a ½ mile later, at the top of a hill, two riders were stopped, looking around.  Steve B. was about to one-leg it about 70 miles homeward, but I revealed my find.  Steve waved me ahead and went about fixing his pedal, and I went about riding the rest of the hills eastward towards the intersection of Highway “A”, miles ahead.  I thought perhaps that it was Jeff that had stopped to help Steve initially, but I would never find out.  Even solo, Jeff is just too quick to catch yet, and if there is an advantage pound-for-pound between me and the four riders that were now ahead of me, I was the only one on steel, the only one running an antiquated and heavy Shimano 105 crankset, the only one running a generator front hub, the only one running heavy and bomb-proof Velocity rims, the only one running bar-ends, the only one running full fenders, the only one running a rear rack, the only one running a frame pump.  Not to say this chase boiled down to equipment… bike for bike, they’re still faster riders, but I was feeling a little out of place trying to chase down a svelte carbon-fiber race bike with aerobars and Jeff W. as the engine.  Fahgettaboutit!  Of course, I just got done riding away from someone that broke a racing pedal… so, there are pros and cons both ways.  I dropped my bike before the ride, and nothing happened to it.  So there.  Still, try as I might, there was no catching Jeff or anyone else at the front before Albany.  With that knowledge, and the fact I knew my favorite rando intersection was coming up, I just geared down, enjoyed the hills and watched as more cold rain rolled in on top of me.  Eventually, at the intersection, I stopped, snapped a few photos, swapped water bottles, finally decided the last turn north into the headwind and cold rain required the rain jacket, and took another nature break.  About that time, Steve G. and someone else rolled up – I think it was Steve B., with the pedal finally fixed!  After they rolled past, and I mounted back up, I kept my eye on things from about ½ mile back as the two Steves battled out the headwind and rain.  Again, I wasn’t able to shove hard enough to catch up, but I was more in a conservation mode at this point.  I was looking forward to turning around at Albany, and enjoying the 2nd tailwind of the day – which was just weird, because I’d never had the wind shift quite like this before.  Hopefully, it’d stick.  It was cold, it was raining, it was blowing… not unlike 2002, but with me on a much more appropriate bike and a far better jacket.  In the next few miles, as I slowly but surely started to reel up one of the Steves, eventually being right on his wheel just short of the Casey’s in Albany, I was no longer envious of carbon, aero-bars, and super-minimalist set-ups.  Knowing what I know from my experience on this route in 2002, not to keep repeating the same things over and over in this blog, but I’ll keep my steel bike with full fenders and generator set-up.  It works… and as far as I can tell, it’s got a lot more to do with ME than what’s under me.  I think more than anything, the “upgrades” I’m made to my own body have helped far more than any new parts ever would, but still, there are probably opportunities in the front crankset arena that I think back to the Knob Noster 200K for, namely a compact crankset:  Yes, back on Highway “J” was WAS in 53x12 for a short time, but certainly not at a high RPM.  That’s the only time in recent memory I can remember being in that gear…or 53x13 for that matter… and needing to be.  I think I’m more in need of extra RPMs on the steeper hills, more than I’m in need of wicked top-end power during these rare super-tailwind rides.  50x12… that’s plenty big.  34x25, though, provides more spinning potential in the hills than 39x25 does.  It’s almost like having a 28 tooth cog out back, without changing cassettes… and considering my rear derailleur won’t wrap up that big of a cog anyways.  Dale B. and I exchanged thoughts on that note, climbing a hill later in the day, while I was in 39x23, pumping, and he was in 36x25, spinning.  I mean, if you’re going to be doing 7 MPH on a steep grinder ANYways, why kill your knees with 45 RPM?  I don’t want a triple… if I’m going to change parts, it needs to be an upgrade.  Not a RACER upgrade, but a sensible compact crankset with the updated bottom bracket perhaps.  A little increase in versatility, and a little weight savings.  That seems reasonable to me.  Honestly, not that appearance counts for much on a bike with full fenders, but from the side sometimes that 105 crankset looks, well, cheap.  Which, on the closeout table, it was.  We’ll see.  I have a birthday coming, and a trip to a swap meet that might raise some capital.  Certainly not a frivolous upgrade opportunity – while it works fine, the rest of the bike is higher-end equipment, and the crankset is the one thing that’s left to advance.  Might as well, right?  He,he.
In Albany, finally shielded from the rain and wind behind the Casey’s store, I began to feast on a banana, a vitamin shooter, and some of the coveted Casey’s potato cheese bites, some leftover PB crackers, and a little shot of Hammer Gel to round things out.  Bottles refilled, a little stretching, and second-guessing about whether or not to keep the jacket on, and we were off again.  We talked about the bear of a dog that was waiting for us in Evona, just up the road.  I think, honestly, next time, I’m going to ride on the other side of the highway, just to see if it makes a difference.  After stories of getting chased, getting nearly-bitten, and myself getting chased halfway up the subsequent uphill – it’s amazing, after nearly 90 miles of slog, the last 16 into a cold headwind and rain, that a large snarling dog can still squeeze a wicked sprint out of tired legs.  On the return, the beast seems to not be terribly interested at all, as he just sits by the porch of the house he’d come from initially.  On the way down, however, perhaps we’re on “his” side of the road… and that’s what launches the property protection instinct?  Who knows.  I, for one, am a big fan of leash laws.  Last time I checked, the surface of the Missouri state highway is NOT a home-owners property that a large dog would be employed to protect.  If I cross onto your grass, by all means, get me… until that happens, get off my shoe!!!  UGH!
There was little time to discuss dogs and sprints, however, as upon leaving Evona there is a long steady climb that takes you up onto a plateau, and it slows and breaks up the group a little bit as we roll along.  From this point, it’s clear who the headwind and cold section of the final trip up to Albany affected, and who it didn’t.  Jeff and the faster two guys are, well, fast – consistently.  They are up the road, up the hill, and start making time and distance from us towards Stewartsville.  Spencer, Clink, Dale B., myself and a couple others, with Steve G. and Ed along for the ride, all start working along, enjoying the new tailwind that once we cursed only an hour before.  The hills on highway Z came back, and we all safely stayed in our own little zones, climbing and descending and trying not to run into each other, all while enjoying the scenery and dodging rain drops here and there as the weather still tried to figure itself out behind the front.  What rolled through the rest of Johnson County on Monday is pretty much what we experienced on Saturday up north, about 100 miles or more away.  (seems weird saying that, especially since we were on bikes.)  I envisioned warm southerly breezes on my back porch, and here I was way up north in the chilly air.  Weird.  Usually, on these long rides, the weather isn’t all that different back home – today, I might as well have been in Minnesota.
Eventually, after the long, steep grinders of highway Z were past us, and the choppy pavement of highway H was behind us, all fueled by a chilly tailwind and sporadic raindrops, we were back on highway J on the other side of Missouri-6.  Whew… this, again from the 2002 ride, is where I always relax a little.  I’m closer to civilization (sorta), and beyond the part of the ride that gave me so much pain way back when.  Not that I wasn’t enjoying the ride, but now, I was REALLY enjoying the ride.  There is something special, reaching that halfway point, and then reaching the 2/3rd’s done point.  On a ride like this, suddenly you have this subconscious feeling that you’re definitely gonna finish, and the worst is over. 
And, there’s no irony there, intended or implied… this, really, was turning out to be a great ride.  I was mildly nervous about the prospect of riding an additional 100 kilometers above and beyond what I’d been used to for the previous 13 months or so, but it turns out between all those 200Ks and all the weight loss, I was having an exceptional time of things.  The bike was performing great, my three bottle system was working fine and I was well hydrated as a result, and for once I was actually carrying too MUCH food.  I need to work on my perception of caloric needs on the next big ride, actually:  I carried enough Carboplex to suit my effort, but I still loaded up on food at the controls.  I’m thinking possibly a one-or-the-other approach might be in order – but the good thing is my stomach meter and such kept me from over eating:  the extra food just stayed in my bock pockets, so I just hung onto it and used it to prevent purchasing at the next control, and so-on.  It never got terribly hot, but cramping was never an issue, either, which is a very good thing.
The tailwind helped propel us along on Highway J, where I played with positions and tried to bridge up between the remains of our group from time to time, testing the legs and playing in the tailwind.  Saw a lot of interesting scenery, bounced out of a pothole on a bridge in Amity – oops – and rode alongside some running and prancing baby horses (er, foals?) as we got closer to US-36 again.  I really enjoy this stretch of road!  Right about reaching US-36, however, I had a sneaking feeling the honey-moon with the weather was going to come to a crashing halt.  The clouds were a little thicker, a little darker, and there was that smell of warm rain on warm pavement.  Sweet, summer rain… Hmmmm.  A sign of heating, which increases storm intensity, noted.  Plus, I'm not sure what it is about timing:  as soon as we're on the shoulder of US-36 headed west - where the shoulder is NARROWER - the heaviest rain of the day so-far started up.  Nice.  I manage to catch up to Dale B. and Clink, and then Clink pulls off to help his friend change a flat - Dale and I continue on to the control.  Eventually, we're all together again at Stewartsville, going thru the usual brevet routine once again.  This one is a slightly longer break, and people sit down on the pavement for a spell, eating food and staring off into space.  A good time to do it, really:  this is the last control of the day - this ride is practically in the bag, with about 42 miles to ride is all.  

Eventually, though, resting TOO long, and the impending storms that are now echoed in the comments of passersby and store-keeps alike enter our thoughts.  There is talk of St. Joseph being under the gun, just to our west, and the front beginning to fire off storms, instead of gentle rainshowers.  Time to roll.  We group up, and hit the road.  I am gapped a little, after deciding at the last minute that rinsing the dead sea off my face might be a good idea - but I like the notion of playing a little catch-up back out on the roads.  I stretch the legs, and soft-hammer (as much as the 140+ miles in my legs will let me) back up to the group of 6 or 7 riders that have all lumped together.  We enjoy highway Y for a while, occasional sprinkles, and a continued tailwind.  This is pretty rare, the double tailwind ride, and nobody is really talking about it too loudly - as if we knew what was coming.  I think we all did:  it was only a matter of time before we'd cross that mystical, invisible border that we'd crossed on the way north.  Something was going to change - and as we rolled past the lonely intersection of highway "NN" and "Y", headed south, there it was... again, just like walking through a door... there was a tailwind, and the suddenly a headwind... a STRONG headwind.  Whoa... the hidden blessing was the temperatures on the other side were markedly warmer and more humid, and any notions of jackets and warmers were now unfounded.  In atypical randonneur fashion, we actually made some sad attempts at organizing a paceline and working towards a common goal in the wind.  Laughable.  We're all soloists at heart - I tihnk it's an unwritten rule somewhere.  Try as we might, it never stuck - but it DID help.  Clink would pull, then Jack, then a few of us at the back would start to feel guilty, so we moved up the left and pulled for a few miles, Spencer and I pulled the train side by side for a while to block the most wind and hopefully set up the double paceline, and then someone else came up, and I tried to start the rotation... but to no avail.  Still, the best part of all this shuffling around - we totally forgot about the miles, and how strong the wind really was.  Before long, we were poking back into Plattsburg, and turning left onto MO-116.  Wow... just like that, 22 miles to go, roughly.  Nice!  There's a little c-store here at the corner of 116 and route "C", and it's a good enough reason to regroup before the final push back south.  

But, to our north and west, however, there was a dark force looking for a drafting partner on the road.  Steely grey, with a tinge of green, and a low rumble, he was coming up behind all of us.  Steve G and Ed rolled in, and the weatherman layed it out for us.  We had to move.  I turned on my phone - battery saving move by having it "off" inside the saddlebag - and as the network kicked in, I was delivered a handful of weather-related text messages one after another.  Flood warnings, flood watches, a tornado watch, and severe thunderstorm warnings.  All of them close-by.  To give you an idea, for those that don't live here, there is a creepy pattern every spring that seems to repeat.  Call it wind-field dynamics, or the fabled "Tonganoxie split", there is a phenomena that seems to push the worst of the weather north of where the bulk of the Kansas City population resides.  Down in my neck of the woods, we always get our TV programs interrupted (to my delight, most of the time) with news of nasty weather... but usually, talk it up as they might, it doesn't hit Olathe, Overland Park, Lenexa... looking at any weather website and watching the radar loops confirms it, and the newscasters always spell it out:  Kearney, Chilicothe, St Joseph, Platte City, Camden Point, Plattsburg, Maysville... and every time they do, I shake my head knowing that only a few weeks (sometimes only days) prior, or following, that I was up there riding a bicycle.  Today, I actually was... roll the dice enough, and the numbers will come up.  It was indeed time to move out.

Amid fumblings with gloves and helmets, and smelling that smell in the air, the taste of energy just hanging in the warm thickness, I knew it was real.  But, fighting nature is a silly game, a losing game.  All we were going to be able to do was our best, after 160 miles complete, and some serious hills and a big plateau with nothing to block the growing headwinds lying ahead of us.  The first bunch headed out, and I found myself detached again, like in Stewartsville - but this time it was accompanied by a request to stay together from a couple riders that had rolled in later.  This is another rando impossibility, at least from my seat.  Try as I might, I was either going too slowly, or not slow enough.  Highway C stretched out before me, and the climbing came, and I found myself alone ultimately, my attempts to provide a draft not working or sticking.  Eventually I had to just let it go, knowing that we were all within a half-mile of each other, and that was as good as "sticking together" was going to get.  We each had to fight our own individual battle against the winds, trying to inch away from the dark competitor that was lurking up the road behind us.  I peered over my right shoulder at one point, and it was an awesome sight - forboding, seething... he was coming.

A quick regroup, and I pedal on up again, slowly chipping away at the miles of highway C that never seem to end.  There's the water tower... then Route J... then that house with the black truck.... then Route "CC".... finally!  Plattsburg Road again... relative safety.  Traffic on Highway C can be a shore, but today it really wasn't too bad.  Still, I was glad to be back on the little roads.  Despite the shifting winds that were balancing out the effort of the day nad keeping speed at bay, it was still not even 5:00pm - and while I knew a sub-12 hour 300K was not going to be in the cards on this route, on this day, it was satisfying to hit Plattsburg Road at such an early hour;  normally one of my interim goals for this ride is to make it back to Plattsburg road before the sun goes down, and today I had HOURS to spare.  That was worth something!  Reaching Albany when we did was something special, lemme tell you - a pretty good 90 miles.  If the wind hadn't shifted, we might have even pulled off the elusive "sit on the curb, because you got here too fast" manuever... excellent stuff... but now, with the hills and wind taking their toll, the numbers were certainly slipping.  Again, for this type of event, those numbers really aren't important.  You know what they call the last guy to cross the line at a brevet?  A FINISHER.  There are no places... and I think that's why I love this particular niche of cycling.  

With the darkness approaching, trying to catch my wheel, it was time to start trying to dig a little deeper.  This part of the ride is usually limp-mode - I slow down and relax the last 15 miles more often than not on this route - but today, the front was pressing the issue.  A flash of lightning, and the birds are starting to act a little weird.  Not good signs.  The raindrops are starting again, and they are fatter, signs of updrafts.  The air was thick with energy, and the hills were not making it easy.  I finally exhausted the last of my water from bottle number one - and since bottle number two was mostly fuel, I had to stop to swap bottles again (bottle number three rests on the rear rack, liek a rack trunk would:  but mine only carries water.  Yeah, it requires stopping to safely retrieve - but so would a third bottle cage mounted low.  It works.  About then, Steve G. catches up and checks in -- and Ed is out of sight, but he knows the roads well.  I mount up, and start to make my way back south again - more lightning dances across the skies... yeesh, this is a little creepy.  Move it.... don't think, just pedal and get back to the car before anything happens!  Feeling good, hydrated, and uncharacteristically peppy for so late in this ride, the last ten miles went really well.  The hills here ALWAYS top off this ride with "style" - it's usually a struggle, these last few climbs... at least one good one per mile, up and down, up and down -- it wears on you with 175 miles in the pipes... but today, I was feeling motivated, stronger... I was finishing this beast of a ride strong... that's new for me!  Finally, with the winds only getting stronger, the rain becoming more steady, and the lightning more frequent, I crossed under I-35 - the last big marker that essentially says "welcome back to Liberty."  Only a few miles to the finish -- thank goodness they repaved that outer road!  The last trip back up those last few long hills on the outer road were over with, and I was back in residential side streets, winding my way back to Perkins, down the long speed-fest of a hill on Clayview, and to a clear road to cross over to the parking lot, still bustling with activity from Clink, Spencer, and all the other 6 or 7 riders that had made it in only a few minutes prior.  I made good time, and just in time for the real rain to begin.  Finding out later that someone had spotted a funnel cloud only a few miles northwest put the final "whew" on the whole event.  And the creepy thing was there were still riders out there, hours behind us, that were going to have to make it back in the middle of all that.  I felt fortunate for the speed I managed - and I noticed that Bob's (the RBAs) car was missing.. a sign that maybe earlier in the day he'd decided to play it safer, maybe drive out and look for riders?  I didn't remember seeing him out on the road, or at the controls - but he had suited up to ride that morning.  Something tells me everyone made it back in one piece, probably with a great story.  But, man... we got lucky.  Sort of anticlimatic in spirit, as I packed the car and began to head back south I was now really able to give that storm front a run for its money... and it wasn't until hours later, overnight, that anything happened in Olathe, weather-wise.  As usual... most of it stayed to the north, up where the mystery is, up on those lonely roads.  

Road notes:  that compact crank might be a good idea, but it's certainly not a must-have.  Three water bottles are perfect.. drink without worrying about conserving, and I stay hydrated.  The insulation should prove invaluable, as the temps rise in the coming months.  It's not as clean a set-up as a third water bottle cage mounted to the frame - but it solved the back-pocket question.  When the rain stopped for a while, I lashed my rain jacket to the handlebars with a ankle-band - and it worked really well.  It kept it at hand, for the rapid weather swings, but it was out of the way, and not stuffed madly into a jersey pocket.  I've got a couple more of those ankle bands at home, and I'll take those along to create an open-air handlebar "bag" for spare layers in case pocket storage runs low.  At this point, I can't see investing in another saddlebag - yes they hold a ton, but I don't need to be carrying as much stuff as I had with me, another hard habit to break.  I like being prepared, but some of the layers I brought along I never ended up needing, which effectively just was stuff that was long for the ride.  It's hard to predict everything, but I have become more adaptable to changing weather over time, so it's time to leave some of it behind - or in a dropbag at a control if I end up not needing it.  An ACTUAL handlebar bag might be nice - but it should be smaller than the Carradice SuperC that I'd bought in the past -- that thing was massive, too large, really.  Something small and soft-sided, maybe, maybe.  Another option that I spotted on Spencer this weekend is a wind-vest with POCKETS.  SIx pockets instead of three might work...  Bike fit is good - no issues, no lingering pain.  

All I know is, I'm ready to rest up for the 400K, which is less than two weeks out.  
I finally get to ride my bike into another state... Kansas to Missouri and back doesn't count because of where I live... but, this 400K goes to Iowa.  I'm riding from Kansas City to Iowa... there is something that sounds REALLY nuts about that prospect.  I love it....  

Thanks for reading... 

April 25, 2009

300km's of success.

I'm pretty beat, but exceedingly pleased. The last time I rode a 200k, I was heavier and it took about 13 hours and change. Today, after some focused training and weight loss, I rode a 300k in 13 hours and 3 minutes. Effectively, if I was racing the February 6th version of me in a 13 hour time-trial, today's version of me would have been 62 miles or more ahead at the end. I feel pumped, like I can't hardly describe. That's total time, also. Rolling time today for the 187 miles was 11 hrs, 10 mins. I will never let my weight slip again. I'm tired from the effort, but not totally destroyed like the end of nearly every R-12 ride last year. Still work to be done: the fastest bunch were probably an hour ahead of me, and the next fastest pack was only maybe 20 minutes ahead.... but, I can't complain about that. That's not what rando is all about: I improved MY time, and that does count. Considering the first finisher today was a Tejas finisher and third in his age group (?), I know what I need to do. With shifting winds, wild temperature swings, warm rain, cold rain, and an unofficial 17,000 feet of climbing, I am tremendously pleased with my day! More to come.... time to sleep.

April 24, 2009

Rainstorms for your 300K, and a jacket review

I never plan based on the weather anymore. It's not worth the stress. I can tell you, though, I have learned not to complain over the years about riding conditions. Your comfort zone broadens with exposure, and your tolerance for adversity gets wider. Before long, you find yourself riding headlong into a 45 MPH headwind with sleet in your face, and suddenly snap out of the daze long enough to wonder if it's a good idea to put on a jacket of some sort. I call it the Dan Jordan factor. Never in my life have I witnessed a rider that can simply unplug his brain and just pedal... HARD. Back a while at I believe the 2005 400km ride, when it was a steamy 25ºF in *MAY*, and our water bottles were freezing - Dan decides the best way to get warmer in a cold headwind is to pedal a lot harder. Never saw him again. While I was lamenting about cold fingers and the inability to drink anything, he was gone. I saw him later that day... when he was on the return trip, smiling ear to ear, probably on track to finish the whole shebang before sun-down. At the time, it was hard to absorb that someone could be SO fast at these events and pack so lightly. Now, this is not to say that "I've arrived", because I certainly haven't. I've been experimenting for YEARS on these rides, and I think I'm finally getting into a groove of things that work, and things that don't, and actually not second-guessing myself all the time. Speed.....well, that will come later. This weekend should be a terrific test, to see if I can enter into this big ride without worrying too much.

Why worry? Wellll, this ride takes place in the heart of REALLY severe-weather territory. Normally, not a big deal at all. Normally, there isn't a stalled front that is focusing energy on the region, with good dew-points, and a lot of warm air advection. Of course, all of that IS the case this weekend. Leading up to tomorrow AM's start, we have forecast 20-30 MPH south winds just jacking the energy level WAY up in the atmosphere. It's actually really interesting to see how the cards stack, leading up to a weather event - and being something of a weather buff, it's going to provide a neat distraction from the endless hills to watch how cloud formations might build up. I'm looking forward to it, actually .... but what bothers me a teeny bit is that severe weather potential. Some of you know that I have a multi-faceted past, and I've been on the books as a volunteer severe-weather spotter for Johnson County for about 12 years now - which is all well and good inside the relative safety of a CAR. Hail hurts, I don't care who you are. It'll kill ya if its big enough. Helmets.... I'm a fan. ANYways... over the last couple years I've noticed a trend that involves severe weather generally taking a north-ward track, and basically pummeling places like St. Joseph, Plattsburg, Chilicothe, Kearney, etc. Basically a checklist of everywhere I'll be riding tomorrow! AWESOME. So, secondary concerns like "it's too windy.", or "it's too cold", or "it's too hot." really begin to take a back seat. It's that whole "I've had worse" way of thinking.... tomorrow, that bar might get lifted a notch! Like the sicko I am, part of me is looking forward to it with anxious anticipation. Another part of me remembers precisely how long it takes for a volunteer EMT to get from Maysville to the intersection of highways J and 6.

Weather in the Midwest: you simply CANNOT plan for it: Last time I did this ride, it was almost as opposite as you can imagine: starting out with a 22 MPH north wind, and wet snow changing to big, fat, cold rain. By the time I got to Albany, I was effective cooked, but I was well rewarded with a tail-wind driven party all the way back to Liberty. I ended up happy and relaxed, really satisfied with what I'd overcome to make it the 90-some miles to Albany and back under such conditions. It never made it above 40 degrees that day.

THIS weekend, the temperature should easily touch 80ºF, and the winds will be 180º around, out of the south at 15-25 MPH, gusting. That, actually, isn't THAT horrible, compared to what's in store for today, so I can deal with that. But, the timing and intensity of the thunderstorms that WILL occur at some point during the ride are the big dice-roll.

A short review:

So much for second-guessing: on the equipment front, I stopped by the shop and grabbed a new, super-light, super-packable rain jacket. My thoughts on the matter with regards to clothing, shorts, jerseys, jackets: technology marches on, and sometimes its worth investigating new, better, options ---- but only if they are indeed BETTER than what's worked. My RainShield jacket by "O2", is terrific, fail-proof, and just a solid, inexpensive piece of jacket tech that has kept me warm and dry ever since the Warbird and I stumbled upon them on the web back in.... errr, possibly 2002, because I had it with me on Ride The Rockies. In fact, the April 2002 300K - my worst day in the saddle ever - was the mother-of-necessity for the RainShield jacket in the first place, and since that purchase it's performed flawlessly. But, I figured seven years later, jacket tech in the mainstream might have caught up.

The Specialized '09 SL Rain Jacket is a good example of how things have advanced. Used to be you could only get a rain jacket to be water PROOF by making it out of that heavy PVC material, or risk tearing right through it with those cheaper Wally-World emergency poncho things. the only effective compromise I've ever found is the RainSheild. The Specialized jacket not only packs SMALLER than the RainShield and the emergency ponchos, but it fits a ton better: it's a "euro"-fitted cycling jacket, drop tail, compensated sleeves, a good zipper with a storm flap, high collar, reflective accents. It's comfortable, semi-transparent, and there is not a lot of extra material to get flapping in a headwind. Price: It's not cheap. At $90, it's not exactly an impulse purchase - but it's a VERY versatile piece, which I could see as a go-to for rides that start cool and end up warm-to-hot, and this jacket simply disappears into a seat-bag or a back pocket with room to spare. Other jackets have claimed to be packable. I've heard that a hundred times before, you have probably, too; but this jacket REALLY is: I was able to get the entire thing INSIDE a 3"x5" zip-lock baggie. It. Packs. Small.
This has potential because, from experience, nothing kills the space in a back pocket or saddlebag like trying to stuff a jacket into it. Problem solved with this piece.

I took one home and gave it the shower test. Dry t-shirt on, pull on the jacket, step into a luke-warm shower, wait. The material is indeed waterproof, shedding and beading water very rapidly with no time for absorption to occur. Unfortunately, like many rain jackets I've auditioned, the manufacturer is constantly battling with one simple premise: no matter how good the fabric itself is, it HAS to be cut and shaped into a garment. The most common, cost-effective way is by sewing it. So, you end up with seams. Time and again, jacket after jacket, that's the weak spot. After about a minute water began to crawl into the seams, saturating the threading and wicking to the inside. For emergencies, shorter rides, this is probably PERFECTLY acceptable: It's a barrier, and it will keep body heat in, preventing the rain from super-cooling your core, and keeping hypothermia and performance-robbing shivers and muscle-tensing at bay. But, you will be wet. Arguably, you'll be wet ANY-ways - the fabric isn't breathable (as far as I can tell), so there is a potential for sweat build-up, as is the case with most barrier jackets. But, the fabric is amazing. Nothing came through the fabric itself. I personally, however, would have liked to see one final touch made to the jacket before it was brought to market: taped seams. The pack-ability might be reduced slightly, but the jacket would be water PROOF, for sure. But, I'd have happily paid $20 more to get the storage potential and weight advantage this jacket offers, if it meant it would also be water PROOF. Shower test repeated with a new, dry t-shirt and my old RainShield jacket, and the RainShield from "O2" wins again. Proving that nothing is perfect, the RainShield jacket could benefit from a storm flap, which the Specialized jacket has, because after three minutes water begins to crawl past the front zipper - but, in practice, as a bent-over cyclist, the rain angle usually takes care of this problem. To be clear, the seams on the BACK of the Specialized jacket would be exposed to a lot more moisture; that is where the majority of seaming is placed, and where the most water came in. If nothing else, the seams on the back (or, upper) surface of the jacket really should be taped to prevent this. One could venture to a camping store and make this happen themselves for cheap, but it's hard to justify adding your own labor to a jacket that already costs $90. My RainShield jacket is the basic model, and by comparison it costs about $40. For clarity, RainShield offers a full-featured jacket that is in the $90-120 price range, and I imagine it has a storm flap - but I haven't had an opportunity to test that model. The Specialized SL Rain Jacket is a terrific product, but don't expect it to be the ultimate RAIN solution. As the ultimate packable warm-up, wind breaker and *emergency* rain solution, it's very hard to beat. There isn't a single other jacket or windbreaker currently available in this price range that packs as small, so minimalists will really enjoy this product.

So, the trusty RainShield will be along with me for this 300K that potentially contains heavy rainfall. Granted the temperatures will be pretty warm, but after a long day in the saddle, and keeping in mind I don't know WHEN the rain will start, a jacket becomes essential. You'd be surprised the temperature range in-which hypothermia can set in, and, yes, it can happen on a relatively warm day - especially considering that cyclists are usually wearing a really thin layer of clothing to begin with. I found out in 2002, and I'm not willing to repeat that day just so I don't have to carry a rain jacket. Wool? Indeed... but there are a couple factors there: my wool jerseys are now too large for me, and I wasn't able to special order a summer-weight wool jersey fast enough to get it here in time. My upper-end personal comfort level with wool is probably in the 50-60 degree range anyways, and since it'll be in the 80's, I elected not to put wool in as an option. Even still, in the 50-60 degree range, even if I was wearing wool, I still like having a barrier. It just tends to make things more pleasant on long, long rides. So, there you go ... potential questions addressed.

There you have it - a preview of this weekend's fun to come, and a quick jacket review.... a productive post, eh?

Stay tuned for the ride report, coming next week, and watch for posts from the road!

April 19, 2009

Training is going well

...if you can indeed call it "training" --- although, now that I think about it, the crux of training is preparing for an event, practicing, that sort of thing.  So, I suppose I have been.  It's very clear to me, after several evening training rides wrapping up most recently with the first official DSR of 2009, that I'm in need of some more work - and so this "training" notion is paying off.  The first step is admitting that there is progress to be made.  After months and months of riding on my own pace, yes:  I was able to knock off the R-12.  Not to poo-poo it... it's still a BIG goal, and a lofty challenge... but, my average speeds were, well, not in the ultra-racer category.  I don't want to pigeon-hole myself and admit that's what I'm shooting for, but it'd be nice to achieve the kinds of goals that have lately been out of reach:  things like 12 and 24-hour road races, errr... time trials.  That's the major difference between randonneuring and ultra-racing.  In the rando world, you're still on the clock... but it's a slower clock.  In the Ultra world, you're literally trying to beat the clock, along with everyone else.  So, to that end, speed is becoming more and more of a concern for my notebooks.  Going on rides with the express purpose of having to chase people that are already faster than I am.  So far, so good.

Wednesday nite is quickly becoming the speed-demon death trials.  Last week, a record turn-out, and some real talent in the group.  This guy, Jimbo, is auditioning his newest purchase - my dream bike.  Ugh... almost like he knew what I was thinking, from a few posts ago where I was going on-and-on about the Cervelo S3 and last year's Cervelo SLC-SL... Jimbo shows up on an SLC-SL.  Yep... just as gorgeous in person.  But, the difference here is in the rider.  An aspiring triathlete, this guy is business on the bike.  Everyone has their speciality when it comes to Triathlons:  there are some that are terrific runners, and the compete in the other two events just to compete in SOMETHING.  The challenge is there, and the necessary training makes for a more rounded-out package of total fitness.  The same can be said for swimmers;  there are some that are such solid swimmers that nearly everyone in attendance knows who is going to be first out of the water... but they'll end up getting passed on the run, or on the bike.  And then, cyclists, too, can be specialists.  I haven't seen Jimbo run or swim... but if those events are on par with what I saw on the bike... look out.  "I like hills." is pretty much all he'll say about himself when it comes to cycling talent.  He's good at 'em.  Period.  Combined with a bout of dehydration, I hit the sack Wednesday night after the ride, and I was completely and utterly cooked.  I haven't worked that hard in the saddle.... rather, suffered... for years.  I think even if I'd hydrated properly, it would have been the same result.  This is what I wanted, though, and I'm certainly not complaining.  In fact, I won't be satisfied until I can get right up there on his wheel and lock myself to it.  Then, the only test is maintaining that kind of speed for, oh I dunno... 24 hours.  
I've got two years... no hurry.   The Tejas 500 isn't going anywhere.  (You hear that, Driscoll?)


Friday night, the week was rounded out SO nicely, it's almost like someone put a big red bow on it for me.  The first 2009 Dark Side Ride went off perfectly, even with a solid threat of rain in the forecast and thick cloud cover late in the afternoon making it look serious - we stayed dry the entire time!  The winds died down, and about 14 people showed up, and we had really one of the best times on the bicycle that I'd had in a while.  About 34 miles, not including the ride to and from the house, and a terrific time with some really terrific folks.  Noah was there, Clem, Kevin on the Truckaccino, DaveK, KCNan, Badger, DiNewt, C-Foster, Darius, Staatz-Man, ..... ugh, there go the brain cells again!!!..... DiNewt's friend.... *I* was there.... A rando guy that rode the 200K on April 4th.... three more.... ACK!   thud.  FAIL FAIL FAIL.  dangit.   Gene?   The guy on the Trek 1200 that wants to do a permanent....    
I even shook everyone's hands, and that didn't work.  No offense, please!  I stink at this game. 

Anyways... out we went on 199th Street into a perfect night, and just put a TON of candlepower on the road which was really awesome to see.  Some of my shots turned out, some didn't ... I'll post those later on.  The pace was really solid, and on the way out we all stayed together;  something I've failed to do with a group in almost ten years of MS-150 teams.  It was really a good, good ride, and a talented bunch of cyclists, all very seasoned.  We floated into the night, there was good conversation, and a lot of catching up.  People rode up and chatted left and right, the groupings changed up here and there, and all in all it was just a magical experience.  We hit Prospect Road, and enjoyed many car-free miles.  I love this road... on the other side of Missouri state route "D" (aka, Holmes Rd.) traffic just dies off, even in the daytime.  Locals only.  This is one of those un-spoiled gems of country lane, passing between no-where and Grandview, MO.  This is one of my fabled "gateway" roads that gets me to Longview Lake when I feel so bold as to knock off a century from the house, heading eastbound.  We meander through sleepy southwestern Belton, waking up probably fifteen dogs, and hit the c-store on MO-58 like a wave of hungry construction workers.  All draped in reflective vests and safety lights, we look like something out of a OHSA training video - with bikes.  Hungry fists collide with peanut butter crackers, fig bars, coffee, snack cakes, beef sticks - and the bathrooms -- and before you know it, everyone is back in the saddle, and ready to roll out.  It was actually kinda neat - another one of those "moments" where all of the sudden everyone is ready to go, at the same time.  They were actually waiting on me!  What is this, a Lone Star Randonneurs' ride?  Choppy Choppy!

Meandering back through suburban Belton... easier said than done, as I get sidetracked, and side-track everyone else in the process... Ahhh... nice park!  Now, turn around!  This is where the ride got interesting - and it kinda makes me like the idea of more out-n-back routes.  The idea, which played out here, was that everyone now knows the exact way back.  The pace "restriction" can be lifted, people can drift into their own pace if they like, or pick a group and just hang out.  It's kinda neat how this happened, without really planning it, but it made for a solid ending to a really great ride, and no concerns with getting lost or missing a turn after the sleepies start to creep in.  After all, we're approaching 11:30pm here!  As 199th began to stretch out in front of us, the pace of Badger and the front group began to grow gaps here and there, and everyone began to splinter off into smaller sections.  We all regrouped at 199th and Metcalf, where Noah and Clem decided to break off and head for home via a shortcut.  Starting back up, the groups splintered again - a group of five or so up front, a smaller group of four, and then me and the truckaccino (did I mention I love this guy's bike?  I didn't?  I love this guy's bike.) pulling up the rear.  We eventually bridge up, and the trucker just kept on going, up to the front pack.  As ride leader, I took the opportunity to begin fading back to make sure I was the last one on the road.... from a leaders perspective, another benefit of the out and back:  at this point, I can relax, too.  I pull up behind DiNewt and "friend" (sorry.. Karen?  ack.)  and spin away, as we catch up to Nan and C-Foster, with DaveK in the mix, as well - with the big candlepower on the handlebars!  Cutting a hole in the night, we are all quite comfortable just spinning along in the perfect night air.  No rain... not even a lightning show in the distance... the forecast, well, it was scary - but I'm really glad we all rolled the dice and just came out anyways.  It's the middle of April, and only in the last couple of days leading up to this ride could any of us say that Spring was really here yet.

Of course, as I take a few pictures of all of the red taillights in front of me, stretching out along the valley between Quivira and Pflumm, it strikes me.... training.... hmmmm..... and, so, a little selfishness ensues, and I begin to bet myself that I can't catch the lead pack, a good 3/4 mile ahead of us, before the last turn.  I bid my farewell, and begin to push it a little.  Unfortunately, I didn't really announce my farewell to everyone, so there was a little confusion at first, but I still had to try.  Big ring engaged.... little more..... little more....  Man, this actually feels pretty good!  Harder..... harder......    ugh, not quite.  While I did manage to reel back some of the gap, I launched way too late:  which is to say, I wasn't fast enough.  But, all in all, it's good training, even in small bursts like that.  Only a couple months ago, that would have been a lot harder to pull off - or at least it would have lasted a lot shorter span of time.  Alas, a good end to a great ride.  I loop back around at the final turn and round everyone up off the course, and back to the parking lot.  Whew... still have to ride home, and Truckaccino is along for at least a couple miles.  We talk about headlights and podcasts for a bit, watching as car after bike-laden car passes us with a wave out the window, off into the night for showers and sleep.  I'm alone after 183rd street, wound up by KCNan and C-Foster at 175th Street for a quick chat, and then alone in the dark once more.  The smells of spring are heavy... blossoms mixed with freshly spread fertilizer in the fields nearby, the dash of a rabbit in the ditch, and a moth flying lazy circles around my headlight beam until I feel him smack into my chest with a small thump, and watch his shadow flutter off confused into the mirk.  A single, solitary raindrop smacks me squarely in the forearm.  There is barely any wind, no cars, no sounds save for a BNSF train sounding in the distance, another load of coal for La Cygne....  I love nights like this, and I love nights like this that come after rides like the DSR ride.  The best one yet.  

If this is what training is all about, I'm game.  

April 10, 2009

April 25th - Game on

It's my favorite route.  It's a challenge, no matter how you slice it.  Finishing it always brings a big smile to my face.  It's the KCUC 300K coming up in two weeks!

Saturday, April 25th, 6:00 AM Start time

Visit kcbrevets.blogspot.com for more details - pre-registration is encouraged, but there is day-of registration as well.  Arrive early, please -- we roll at 6:00AM.  

Lights required, for sure -- at the very least the ride starts before sunrise, and it's a challenge to finish before sundown.  Quiet roads, scenic vistas, and the satisfaction of a long ride.  

Come on out! 

April 7, 2009

Advocacy Alert - take action!

CommuterDude Readers;  From our friends and champions at MoBikeFed: 
Please take a look at the below and respond - regardless of what side of the line you live, KS or MO, this benefits us ALL: 
Take a moment, and click on the link shown below:
Take two minutes, and make a difference! 

Do you think good, safe walking and bicycling facilities (should) be included on all new MoDOT roads?
Didn't like it when MoDOT Director Pete Rahn personally shut down Missouri's Complete Streets initiative?
Here's your chance to give MoDOT a message right where it counts:

A group called the Missouri Transportation Alliance is currently taking public feedback as they start to create a plan to deal with MoDOT's current massive funding shortfall.
This is the same group who wrote and passed Amendment 3 in 2004.
Now they are at it again.  They are open to the idea of including funding for things like bicycling, walking, and complete streets.
But they can't do it unless we **ask**!
This is really a two minute job--you can send them one short sentence:  "I support bicycling and walking."

I have talked with Jewell Patek, who organized the campaign that led Amendment 3 to be passed by nearly a 90% margin.
He said the question they must answer, before including any proposals supportive of bicycling and walking: Is there support in Missouri for including bicycling & walking?
Are there votes?
They just can't include bicycling and walking unless people are really asking for it.  If we ask, it will be difficult for them to say no.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so let's squeak!

This one initiative will have more affect on the future direction of MoDOT than all others we are currently working on, put together. 
So please do take a moment to respond!


April 6, 2009

This year's dream bike

Like I can afford anything right now.... but sometimes it's a lot of fun to make plans!
Takes my mind off of how much "fun" work has been lately.
Let's get to it.... My first bike lust EVER was at Wheeler's Cycle and Fitness on Wornall Road in KCMO, a long time ago.
Sometimes I miss that place. They were the only Waterford dealer in town and, at the time, the only Cervelo dealer in town. While I wouldn't mind a fully lugged and custom-fitted Waterford tourer to replace the Kogswell in the full-rando and cross-country mode.....crud, I'm digressing already.

Okay, my first EVER bike lust was for a bright orange Cervelo Eyre-Road. Compared to just about everything else available at the time, there was real technology that went into it. Carbon fiber wasn't yet all the rage.... to a larger extent, nobody had figured out the correct application of carbon fiber yet, so even if you could have afforded a full-carbon bike in '98, you wouldn't have wanted to ride it.

So, the Eyre was all aluminum, and, puportedly, very harsh. But, the REAL aero downtube... the forward thinking.... this was what would eventually become my new dream bike.
After years of refinement, and the advancement of carbon fiber technology and far-better modulus/temperature control at the fiber level, Cervelo continues to surprise me. What started as a company experimenting with radical time-trial bikes has developed into a true cyclist's bicycle company. The design hints that went into the Eyre road have evolved into what you can see today in the new "S" series, which started out as the "Soloist", which is what I think officially evolved from the Eyre model. There was also the Cervelo Prodigy, which I think is what evolved into the "R" series of today.

So, you have three avenues to explore, looking at Cervelo: The "P" series, the "R" series and the "S" series. The P-series are the purebred timetrial bikes, culminating with the latest and most-awesome P4, which just hit. Ya'll know I work at a bike store that carries these now .... you have no idea how difficult it is to stay focused and NOT just take one of these home with me. Seriously. If you haven't seen the P4 in person, and you are remotely interested in bicycle technology, you HAVE to stop in and see it. This isn't a ploy, you don't have to ask for me - nothing like that. Just come see it. It's insane how much technology is in this frameset. It simply disappears in the wind. The P3, P2 are no slouches, either. Honestly, I've seen the numbers, I've done my own research, and you really can't do better.

The "R" series makes a lot of other road bikes look stupid. Seriously. The R3-SL is ridiculously light, compliant where it should be, and stiff where you need it to be. I attempted to match chops with a guy last summer that rode the August 200K 10th Anniversary brevet on an R3-SL. Okay, YES... it's got more to do with the rider than the bike, but once we reached the first hill after making short work of a 9-mile straght-away at 23+ MPH, that Cervelo was GONE. He shifted, stood up, and the bike just leaps forward. It's SUPER efficient. You can have your Trek Madone whatever-it-is.... okay, yes, a good bike... but the Cervelo is something special, make no mistake. Cervelo doesn't even market it as an aero frame, and it's still more aero than just about anything else on the road, and stiffer, and lighter, and stronger. Do the homework.

The "S" series.... my personal choice. They dropped the "Soloist" moniker for 2009, but honestly it's a perfect name for this series. I ride a lot of long brevets and permanent rides, by myself. This bike employs technologies from the P-series and the R-series in a perfectly balanced package that acts like a road bike, and cuts through the wind like a tri-bike. The compromises are not just left in, they are engineered out - and the result is better for it. It's not a mongrel or a throw-together, not on your life. The idea is a road bike that gives aero-dymanic advantages to the rider on a breakaway, out alone on a long ride... the soloist. That's me. Honestly, anymore, that's a LOT of us. I see more riders out battling the wind on their own more than I see big pacelines anymore. I see myself on one of these bikes hammering into a wicked headwind on the Border Patrol route for example... you can almost FEEL the seconds dropping off your time. It's remarkable. It's stiff when you stand up on it for a hill. It's compliant when the road gets choppy. The technology has finally arrived to allow designers like Cervelo to bring a really good idea to the road without having to apologize for it. It works exactly how they say it will work. Currently available as the 2008 Soloist Carbon, and the higher-end (lighter, more aero) 2008 SLC-SL model, the 2009 "S"-series will be something to behold, for sure. Oh, and they come in red. Tasty. This one is black and white.

It even looks fast on the page, eh? Yes, this is a shot of the '08 SLC-SL. The S-3 moniker replaces the SLC (Soloist carbon) label... but for 2009 it's lighter AND more aero then the previous version.
Is it the lightest bike? No. That's not the point of it... it's designed to be the best balance of aerodynamics and weight and strength and stiffness. If you're doing a gram-to-gram comparison, you're not comparing the bikes properly. I'm quite serious - there is SO much more to consider. If you're shopping only on weight, you're doing yourself a grave disservice.

BUT, DUDE... you're a STEEL rider! Yes, I am... but, a lot has changed. Carbon technology has advanced SO much, I honestly don't know if you can break one of these without ramming it into a concrete wall. All the mistakes have been made and learned from. Yes: if you're going to spend $1000 on a complete carbon-fiber bike, good luck to you... but at THIS level, the Cervelo, upper-end Trek, upper-end Specialized level - no worries anymore. Notice I didn't say "upper-end" when it came to Cervelo. Correct. If you can't afford the S3, get the S2. You won't be disappointed in the least. Even the '09 S1, being aluminum, is a terrific bike. Back to my point about being a steel guy... I know what a heavy bike feels like. Trust me... the gram game has got to stop. You're giving up being the absolute lightest guy on the block with the S-Series, but you are getting SO much more efficiency with the resulting design. If I can get the same comfort as my steel bike, and an aero-advantage, and it climbs and sprints better.... and it weighs.... (gulp) something on the order of 7 pounds less than my current bike (and that's AFTER I remove the fenders and rack from the Kogswell) -- yikes. Is it an everyday bike? Only if you're paid to train every day. I'd still do the bulk of my training on the Kogswell... but imagine showing up to an event on this Cervelo.... whoooof. Suddenly events like Tejas seem a little more do-able. Yes, I still have to pedal the thing... but lets get serious: ultra-racing, if I really want to get back into it, is a specialized sport. It's like showing up to LeMans in a Fiat 125. Great car. Yes, you can probably drive it for 24 hours. Will you be competitive? Is it the right tool for the competition at hand?

Body weight and fitness coming back into line, of course .... all things in their correct order. but, you see my point. It's a competition bike, and if you even PRETEND to ride comeptitively, you need one of these. Solidly made, loads of tech, smooth, sleek, fast, dead-on looks -- this is a great platform, a solid bike. Paired with Dura-Ace or SRAM Red, you have an absolute weapon on your hands here.

The Cervelo S3. THAT is my new dream bike. Enjoy.

April 5, 2009

The late night, last minute food work-off.

It's not often in these tough economic times that I get to eat out at a reallllllly nice restaurant - and last night was one of those times.  Granted, I still got to eat there - but the wife and I were graciously hosted on someone elses ticket.  For a few moments we got to live as if there was no care or concern, and we performed well.  A bottle of red, bottle of white, good friends, good breads, appetizers, and FAN-tastic food.  ...And, then, the guilt set in.

Having made good progress towards my goal of dropping the excuses (aka, weight) this year, I didn't really want to give myself too much of a set-back.  I suppose once every so often, it's okay to splurge -- its when one makes it a regular event that the pounds sneak back on, so I suppose all is not lost.... but I still arrived at home, relaxed for a few moments, bid farewell to the babysitter, and then said to the wife "I'm gonna have to ride a bit extra to burn this one off!".... and then, I repeated it in my head a few times... Hmmm.... it's still in the 60's outside, and the weather is going to close in... why not???  

With that, I saddled up and took to the night.  This is the common theme this year, so far.  I suppose I will indeed take what I can get, my schedule being what it is, but I would really like to ride under a warm sunshine one of these weekends!  Yeesh.... been too long for that.  Until then, for the 2nd time in as many weeks, I've taken to the streets after dark for some miles.  Not TOO many this time, only about 25 or so - barely enough to get the system warmed up - but still, it was nice.  The rainshowers of the evening had passed on to the east, and the moon was high, stars bright, and winds lighter at 11pm when I left the driveway.  It's a nice thing having the roads to one-self, at such a late hour.  Yeah, I'd like some heat, some sunshine... all in good time... there is still something magical about the night ride - especially the LATE night ride.  

On no particular course, I rode south, then east, then south again, climbing the big hill on Antioch towards 191st street -- the monster climb that begins the Border Patrol 217km permanent.  This was the first time since.... gosh, June?  July?, since I'd climbed this hill, and MAN what a difference.  That old snap is back in the legs, and I FINALLY was able to climb it without using up all my gears.  It's coming back... save your money, kids, don't worry about those expensive feather-weight bike parts... if you have a few pounds to lose, do it!  (Easier said than done, believe me - I understand).  I smiled to myself upon reaching the "top" of the hill (since it never really stops until you reach 191st street anyways) and thought about all the hills up north of Liberty, MO., that I'll be climbing at the end of this month.  April 25th looms...that will, pending the weather, be my "day in the sun" - the first in what seems like an eternity.  With the weather closed in again today, as I type this, it's hard to imagine winter ever really ending.  

Leaving the shelter of the trees and getting lifted onto the other side of the ridge, the southwest wind was still fully there - shifting more to the west, it seemed, as the night wore on.  I skirted Spring Hill High School and enjoyed a tailwind finally after doing battle on the deceptive rollers on 199th street.  As I made my way, I defintely noticed that the temperature was beginning to drop, and in the final few miles the wind had shifted to the north.  Good timing... I hit the garage, polished off the rest of my water, and hit the sack.  

They say life is about balance, and this was a good day --- an excellent, lavish meal - and a good solid bike ride to help digest things.  I'm pretty sure I'm still in the hole, calorically, but if nothing else today, I really shook up the metabolism.  I'm aiming for 165 lbs for the 300km ride coming up April 25th.... game on!  With somewhere between 12,000 and 17,000 ft of climbing, that's a route where the pounds will really make the difference.  

Thanks, as always, for reading!