October 12, 2009

What happened to fall?

Well, all estimations seem to be holding true, that this winter 2009-2010 will be especially... errr, "robust"?  Maybe that's not the right word.  I still can't help wonder how nasty things might get, as the summer was relatively kind, everyone seems to be of the opinion that we skipped fall, and we've already seen below-freezing temperatures long enough for the NWS to raise a "freeze-warning" a couple nights ago.  When we technically arrive at winter on December 21st, I have a feeling that multiple days of negative-degree temperatures will probably accompany it.  Sure, I've been wrong, and part of me hopes I am.  We've been treated to 50's and 60's on New Years' Day in the past, you all know.  I was blessed last year with fairly easy passage through November and December's 200k brevets, and had an equally good time on the January edition.  This time around, I get the notion that studded tires may not be considered overkill, and that I'm not completely daft for trying to source some Pogies for the new winter bike.  

So far, so good, however.  After having a rough couple of weeks losing a family member and coming down with a very nasty sinus infection that knocked me to the dirt for about five solid days, I'm back on the bike for the first time since the MS-Ride wrapped up.  Actually, I rode on Monday and Tuesday of the following week, despite feeling really weak... I think perhaps the onset of my illness was beginning to creep in.  After recovering from my illness, the first tastes of winter for commuting.  Wednesday, pre-dawn, with a temperature at the garage door of 34ºF and a light north wind, it was like I had emerged from a sickness that had lasted all of fall, and I had woken up in early winter.  Things went well, however.  Thursday, rain entered the forecast.  Although I was definitely on the mend, it was a little harrowing returning from the throes of sinus-ville to ride a bike in the rain.  Seemed like a dumb idea, but no consequence - other than a dirty bike, and very cold limbs.  Thursday was a double commute, also, which represents my only real "suck-it-up" comfort issues that I can't seem to get around.  I arrive at work at job #1, and have plenty of time to get my cycling gear to dry before the afternoon ride home.  If it's still raining in the afternoon and I have to get to job #2, things will suck.  the commute window between jobs is pretty slim, but thankfully when it's raining (oddly) there is less personal cleanup to perform, so changing and being ready-to-work comes faster.  Getting things to dry out, however, is a challenge.  Even the most technically advanced fibers won't completely dry from a rain-soaked state in a three hour window, at least not without help.  But, in a shop devoid of fans or space heaters or an easily accessible ventilation system vent, it's hard.  I've tried wrapping things like the shorts, socks, leg warmers in a large bath towel and rolling it up, squeezing it here and there to wick off the excess - which works a little, but the rest has to air-dry - and that's usually the problem.  Nothing is quite as difficult, or as uncomfortable, as pulling on cold, wet cycling togs.  You just have to, again, suck it up, pull them on and wait for your body heat to begin warming the layers a little...only to go right back outside into the rain.  At least, in that case, you are still wet and prepared for it.  If it's just dry and cooler and windy, as it generally is after a front passes, it depends on which way the wind blows as to how pleasant or unpleasant that last leg homeward is.  I've begun to wonder, especially for the coming winter, how much space I could take up to make a drying box, fan box, or something similar for the shop - or maybe just hit craigs-list and snag a cheap clothes dryer.  That probably won't fly with management, but oh how sweet that would be to toss some cold layers into the dryer to prep for the ride home!  I'd be pampered!  Until then, I keep running the old Survivorman mantra of "you sweat, you die" through my head as I embark into sub-freezing temps in already-wet wool and lycra.  Adventures in hypothermia.  

It takes me back to the notion that the best things in life truly are simple:  a hot shower.  a blazing fire in the hearth.  an old bathrobe.  slippers.  All steeped in the notion that while getting into a car is easier, I chose the road less traveled by.  The romanticism of it all, sometimes that alone is enough to keep me on the bike in this weather.  

The weekend of the MS-Ride was "interesting" to say the least.  Not really prepared yet for cold-and-wet, I decided to take things to the next level and ride myself and all my gear to the MS-Ride start line, early Saturday AM.  I rose at about 3:00am after getting everything ready the night before, and departed east for the Ray-Pec high school, the start line.  Everything in Olathe and Overland Park was fantastic;  151st street was completely abandoned - and I didn't see my first car until I was many miles east near State Line. Problems started almost immediately thereafter.  My usual "route planning" routine involves plotting things out on Google Maps, checking mileages and such, and then pre-driving the route to make sure it's A) paved, and B) not closed for construction.  Since I haven't had access to a car for step B since early June, that critical next-step has been impossible to perform.  Further, none of my weekend riding or other adventures has had me this far east in almost a year.  It was a dice-roll from the start, but I expected reasonable results.  Once you get on the other side of state line, however, the roads begin to take less-obvious trajectories, following the land instead of the prescribed grid of the Kansas Side.  Makes for very cool riding, but becomes frustrating when you need a detour.  

At 151st and Kenneth road, I could see the amber flashers of the road closed barriers from a mile away.  "Uh oh...", I thought. Normally, this would only mean a mile detour in any direction, sometimes less with side streets.  But, there are no side streets here.  Not heading east, anyways.  Heading south, I would overshoot my eventual target of 215th and School Road by a long shot.  The only reasonable option on the map was heading through Cleveland, MO., and I didn't have time for that much of a detour.  I didn't want to miss the start, or the breakfast I'd want to help push me the extra 103 miles to Sedalia once I got to the start line!  Thankfully it was early enough, traffic was still essentially non-existent, so I decided to divert north to 135th Street, aka. MO-150 highway.  

It's so much nicer of a road than it used to be, that's certain.  With a new, long bridge over the Blue River and a wide shoulder, it's more than I could have hoped for from MoDOT when it was built.  The road it replaced was nearly impassible by bike, but I kinda miss that lonely blinking yellow light that used to hover above Holmes Road, and some other intersection closer to US-71.  Many, many drives with Dad out to Richards Gebaur to see the air-shows, leaving pre-dawn to guarantee good parking and a good spot on the flight-line, that road was a neat trip down memory lane... and thankfully, I still have my memories.  The new road, it's handy if you have to use it by bike, and at 4:15am it was perfect.  Two cars, total...and I exit at "D", or Holmes Road.  

Highway D is another road that is not terribly kind to cyclists.  Not until you get WAY south of town, certainly south of the aforementioned Cleveland, MO.  It's been improved, and thankfully now there is a nice, rideable shoulder - but my concerns shouldn't be too bad at this hour.  Unfortunately, a very thick fog has settled in, and I can barely see.  Which means, my taillights and even my flashing white fog beacon probably can't be seen too well, either.  Two cars pass, and they seem to see me and edge over to the middle of the roadway.  The third, however, about a mile later, clearly doesn't see me.  Either coming off the late shift, the drunk shift, texting, who knows.  Tires on wet, grooved pavement approaching from the rear - you can tell from the pitch if they are adjusting their speed.  I've become rather attuned to it over the years.  I'm in the lane, because it's 4:30am or so and I can, but I can tell - this person isn't slowing at all... and at the last second or two I decide to get to the shoulder.  It was a wise move, because two seconds later the space I previously occupied was filled with car.  No room at all.  I feel the wind, the rush of mist in its wake, and the suddenness of it snaps me alert.  No waving finger, no yelling, no weaving, no horn, and no change in speed... nothing like that at all... they just flat didn't see me.  It reminds me not to be complacent.  Maybe I seem a little gun-shy, but of the thousands of miles I've covered on the Missouri lettered highways system, certainly on roads narrower than this one, often without a shoulder, I've maybe only had that happen one other time.  In the middle of all this, somewhere, I have missed my turn east.  Looking for 155th street, but knowing I'd surely gone too far, I arrive at 174th Street -- MO-58 highway, towards Belton.  I'll take it.

After crossing over the railroad tracks on a nice long bridge, I'm at Prospect Road.  It reminds me that in retrospect I probably could have taken the Dark Side Ride route to get here, since I was now overlapping it -- but during planning, it was clear that my original route would have been miles shorter, taking advantage of roads that were normally not bike-passable.  I remind myself of the fact that at least I had known the DSR route wasn't closed.  A fact I smack the handlebars about when I see signs indicating that 163rd street is also closed.  Granted, I'd already passed it anyways - but I'd need it for the ride home from the MS event.  Ugh.  "Crowbar is driving me home from this," I mumbled to myself.  This was a one-way ride, and there was no way I was going to ride these roads in the afternoon safely.  The notion was confirmed over and over the farther east I went.  Fog, hills, big potholes... a neat road, Cambridge - which skirts Belton on the south edge - but not so fun discovering it for the first time in the middle of the night, in the thick fog, with truck traffic suddenly coming from somewhere.  At least they were all courteous, and at least they did see me.  Confirmed my suspicions about the other car back on highway D, because the fog was far thicker now.  There was so much glare-back from my headlight now, I really didn't know what I was riding into.  Man, this is getting old.  

Finally, I could see and hear US-71, which meant I was edging closer to the frontage road that would take me to 195th street, under the highway, and finally to my final destination.  It just seemed to take forever, and there were more construction cones appearing.  Dang!!!  At least I was catching this workzone at the END of work, and the pavement was in-place, smooth, and OPEN.  Finally I was starting to see the rotating flood-lights from the start line.  About 30 minutes of harrowing frontage road later, and more early-morning traffic - thankfully all headed towards the ride start, so they were very bike-friendly - I arrived!  Whoooo!  Amid absolutely zero fanfare, I rolled up to the luggage truck, and offloaded the nearly 40 pounds of crud from the rack.  Time for breakfast!!!!

The ride itself was awesome - and without getting into to exhaustive of detail, it was a good test for what I have to do to prepare for next years Tejas 500 attempt #3.  Day one, hardly any wind, good temperatures and just a prefect day once the fog burned off and things warmed a little.  I managed to pull off a 17.7 average, which I'll take.  No pacelines, no drafting at all, and certainly no tailwind.  Considering I hadn't done anything longer than 50 miles since May, I felt good, strong, comfortable.  Not really pushing, just rolling out a good, even, sustainable pace:  perfect for ultra-distance racing.  Day Two, a wicked headwind from the west kicked up in the afternoon, and my average dropped to 16.6 by the end of the day - but again, a true soloist's test:  no pacelines, no drafting - just me and the wind.  Compared to last year, I felt spectacular at the last rest-stop.  Before, I felt drained, toasted, smoked.  Despite the pushing into the wind for dozens of miles, I felt fresh at the finish.  No special nutrition, and basically straight water - the one thing I did avoid actively was Gatorade.  No cramps, nothing of the sort - so my dietary electrolyte intake was right on the money.  A good test... now I just need to keep the edge honed over the winter, eat right, rest, and prepare for a fast brevet series in the Spring.  I can't exactly go do the MS route 5 times, but I can plan for a straight-thru 600k in May, and then fast 200Ks until next September.  I feel good about this next year... heck, I feel good about THIS year.  Even if I don't have a goal, even if I don't race Tejas next year, I feel in the best shape of my cycling life - which I haven't been able to say in many years.  Feels good.  

Thanks for reading!  Dress warm, and get out there!  There is still season left to ride!  


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