November 28, 2009

Shopping for a training loop

It's going to be a tall order, but I need to shop for a training loop for Tejas - something that a fellow rando guy recently back from that ride said might be tough to do.  There is a lot of climbing involved, but I think the ole' Dirty Harry (aka, 44-Magnum) loop that heads from Olathe to the Kansas River and back might suffice.  It's about twice as long at one lap at Tejas, but there are plenty of long, steep climbs to be had as you get closer to the river itself.  I'll have to see about making that a regular stop this next year.  

For now, I've been looking back at the year and I can count my weekend rides almost on two hands - and no more.  Everything else in the 5,000+ miles for 2009 has been filed under the commuting category - which is actually quite good.  The last time I was this consistent on commuting frequency and distance, I was getting ready for another big challenge:  the Mississippi Valley 24-Hour Challenge in 2003.  This is a good sign, and my intent is to keep the 2nd car out of the driveway, make it through the winter, and keep right on going.  When I need a car, I think I might rent - weekend-style.  The fee should be less than a car payment, and if I plan in advance enough I should be able to spec what I rent - ala, minivan with removable seats.  With that, instant, indoor bike storage and a place to snooze, change, stay warm at the early season brevets, and a vehicle to crew from at Tejas itself.  Careful planning required, of course, but what I'd end up paying for insurance, registration, gas, etc., on a car that I could call my own will simply go towards building the nutrition pantry and covering the registration and travel expenses for the events themselves.  

All in good time - meanwhile, my training loop shopping gets me out of the house on a particularly nice and long holiday weekend.  Sixty-four degrees on the thermometer, in LATE November?  Even the national weather service is stumped, and recent forecast discussions indicate that even the morning lows aren't in the right place - putting Kansas City on target to break a record for the latest hard freeze on the books.  It still hasn't dropped below 28ºF, officially.  

Today's research loop was about the length of one Tejas lap, roughly 26 miles of goodness.  I started off into a stiff headwind, from the south, as I rolled down Ridgeview into the countryside.  I really like spring and summer for riding, but there is something interesting about riding in the fall after the leaves have dropped and blown away.  The landscape looks very different, and the scenery changes just enough to make "the same old road" take on a new feel.  I found myself noticing "new" grain silos, and spotting water-towers in the distance that would normally be hidden from view by trees.  With the trees bare, the sight-lines seem to extend from horizon to horizon.  Horses, cattle, and people taking advantage of the temperate boost to make last minute winterizing maintenance a pleasure instead of a frigid chore.  

Today, I managed to make a few detours, and took the "same old route" theory a little farther by taking some "new" roads and turns that I might not have in the past.  The county in many areas seems to have removed a lot of the excess gravel from many rural roads, and so the notion of riding an "unpaved" road isn't such a sketchy experience on 28c tires.  I ride east on 207th street beyond where the manicured pavement runs out, and turn north on Pflumm.  More "new" things to see, as I'd never been on a bike there before.  Surprised a few dogs, too - probably not used to seeing cyclists here.  They still gave chase, however - a little sprint workout.  Onward to 183rd street, enjoying the tailwind, and then east to Quivira:  another "new" road for me.  This is the part of the county where many roads don't go all the way through, so I discover these neat little jogs and gentle curves that eventually take me northbound to 179th street.  I have plans to ride another recently discovered cycling road; Antioch north of 179th street, which also doesn't go through to the north but curves me back westbound, towards Quivira again, and over some nice rolling climbs.  It's a good workout, and there is lots to see.  I like it back in here, seeing the land of those that still farm and raise animals here - possibly safe from future development pushes, locked in by a natural watershed and thick woods.  At least, that's my hope:  not only to have these pristine reserves left alone, but perhaps to someday be lucky enough to have a home in such an area.  No more residential traffic snarl.... ah, to live on a street close to good riding, where cars-per-hour ratings are in the single digits!  I'd gladly ride the extra miles to work every day to enjoy such a setting.  

I ride west, cresting hill after hill, and then turn north on Quivira to enjoy a really long downhill, tailwind-fueled, run towards 159th:  a street that I'd long written off as being unworthy of cycling - a perfectly good road, mind you:  but traffic increases in the last five years make it less than enjoyable, in my opinion.  Still, I figure the holiday weekend may take a little off the plate for this road, and I'm partially correct.  It's a good road, still the occasional challenge, and a quick skirt of the local, small-plane airport, and I'm back into the neighborhood again to round out my ride.  A solid little jaunt, and a worthwhile way to spend a short amount of time.  It's a ride I almost didn't take - but I'm reminded that I doesn't need to spend hours on the bike to have a good ride, even if my tendencies lean towards the longer distances.  

Not sure how many more of these above-average days we'll have, especially as December looms - but I'll take whatever I can get!

November 24, 2009

Looking backwards and forwards

It'd been a while since I'd ridden anything other than the standard to-and-from commute routes, so I took occasion on the National Weather Service's professed "last day of above-average temps" to wander a bit from the usual.  This saw me taking some roads that I hadn't ridden in several years, which was a nice treat and a welcome break from the routine.  

With a slight headwind from the south and my vest zipped high, it was a good chance also to test the legs on some fairly hilly roads.  A holiday week also made things a little less traffic-logged than usual, which helps.  I've noticed, and I mentioned this to some extent in my ten-year retrospective post, that a lot of roads I used to frequent have become less desirable for bicycle riding in recent years.  This is where I find myself on both sides of a clear line:  Leave things alone, or build and improve.  Small mystery, I'm not a huge fan of progress for the sake of progress.  Sprawl, overbuilding, residential confusion and property-value-enhancing road treatments are all on my short list of frustrations, and not just from a bicycling perspective - simply from a "right way to do things" perspective.  I am grouchy beyond my years.  Honestly, if I lived downtown I'd probably be happier because, to a certain extent, there is "no more work to be done."  In the skirts of the 'burbs, though, there is always someone watching for profit, utilization, and making a buck.  Tossing up balsa-wood and wavy-walled "castles" for the opulent, leaving the farmland they are named for a wasteland of "me-too" and lawn-care posturing.  "Perfectly good" farm roads then become dice-rolls of cycling horror.  It has me really limiting the boundaries of where and when I will ride a bicycle, and that isn't good for anyone if you factor it out.

On the other side of that line, just for safety-sake if nothing else, it has me actually WISHING for road improvements.  For someone that adores sleepy two-lane chip-seal, this is a major shift.  It's gotten to the point, even in my ten-mile radius to-and-from work, where time-of-day becomes a big factor when deciding how and when to get to work.  The morning, no problem - the evenings, however can get dangerous.  Recent conversations with other would-be commuters at the recent KC-Sprints event shed light on what I suspected; basically that conditions have worsened so that otherwise savvy cyclists won't even consider riding a bicycle to work.  This is city planning at its darkest hour:  allowing these residential horror-shows to pop up everywhere, while streets and traffic control measures - and cycling accommodations - that should support them are years behind what's considered acceptable in other cities.

I left work yesterday thinking of all this as I made my way east, then south, onto roads that have nearly tripled in traffic flow in the last five years, and are yet still at least two years away from improvements.  127th from Nall to Mission is a wonderful stretch of bicycling road, and thankfully is a lane-plus in width - but busier than it should be considering there have been no residential additions in the area in a decade.  This tells me that major arterial roads nearby are at capacity, and people that don't live along this side-road are trying to shave minutes off their drive-time.  This doesn't bode well for the people that do live here, or cyclists that are trying to stay away from traffic.  I'm very much of the belief that just because the law states I can ride down 119th, for example, I never would:  I'd pick a side street.  Problems arise when 119th becomes so crowded that even the drivers follow this notion, and spill onto the side streets with me.  So, then, where am I to go?  The other streets simply don't go through, and if they do, they don't connect to anything.  Whole areas have been crossed off my list as a result.  Eventually, the side-streets do get widened and improved, which simply invites more cars.  The only hope is that the planners will listen to the advocates and include a bike lane, or that outside lane-plus - but at the very least cyclists end up with an additional lane.  What stinks in the process is that the resulting road and surrounding area becomes homogenized, grade-relaxed, sodium-vapor lit, and otherwise an uninteresting reminder that we truly live and ride in a automobile-centric town.

I end up on Mission Road at 135th, then 143rd, then 151st, then 159th.  More "progress".  159th and Mission was already a difficult road to ride compared to when I used to frequent it, but now the adjacent fields have been cleared and the roads are choked with contractors' pickup trucks working on the next "exclusive living" development that is priced far outside the realm of the working-man's income.  The old, white farmhouse on the SW corner of the intersection is long gone, and some kind of condo or apartment complex is going in.  I'll bet the sod farmers located nearby will be looking for new land soon, either by choice or by force.  Someone, somewhere, thinks that their land would make a good soccer park.  

I ride south on Mission, cross the railroad tracks, and enjoy the best stretch of road in the county.  Twisty, hilly and interesting - not too many cars - a road with a lot of character.  Character that is under fire, if you read the county planning commission's reports on what the next decade holds for this area I'm now riding through; the Blue River Watershed.  Mission road from 159th to 183rd is "unsafe", there are many animal collisions, and bicycle "incidents".  This all flies in the face of common-sense, driving according to the design speed of the road, and generally paying attention - but clearly I ask too much of drivers.  We have to text our friends, right?  In reality, it's all thinly veiled quick-talk to improve the road in order to drive in more development.  Whoever wrote that isn't concerned about Bambi and her cycling friends.  That's not why this beautiful road, with it's scenic overlooks and rustic farms, will ultimately be "improved".  It saddens me, but it is the march of time.

I turn west at 175th street, and dive sharply down to creek level and a low water crossing.  Even as I'm thinking how awesome and undiscovered this area still remains, there sit two public works trucks.  Survey work?  Hard to tell - but probably a drainage study for something or another.  For now, however, this unpaved, hilly, stretch of road is my sanctuary from modern Johnson County.  I catch a train at the crossing, and after a rest there I climb up the long grade out of the valley.  It's a sad thought, but I can almost see the shadow of a huge concrete deck bridge that will fly over the top of all of this, as those with much larger pocketbooks than mine eventually get their way and connect the railroad's new inter-modal centers in Gardner and northern Cass county via 179th street, say around 2015, 2020?  It's not all bad, mind you - 199th street near Ocheltree saw similar changes last year, and 223rd near Woodland is undergoing the same.  For now, I appreciate and enjoy what I have left to ride.

More and more, that's been the way to enjoy cycling in Johnson County.  I have seen this in a friends' blog entries, and have been brave enough to witness it firsthand, even today, as I look down previously "forbidden" roads, and decide "why not?"  Gravel.  It's the last hold-out for non-competitive, recreational cycling, and there is a lot of it to discover.  Lots of character, old bridges, forgotten farms, and land that has no "value" to someone looking to build twenty homes at a time.  As I toss up self-proclaimed boundaries in my old stomping grounds, I am stripping down boundaries that used to keep me on "pavement only" to the south.  The rewards are plenty, and the negatives are few.  Punctures?  No more-so than usual.  Granted, one does well to run larger tires - and that has greatly modified my views on what a "dream bike" entails.  Not to put too fine a point on it, Surly's Long-Haul Trucker is far higher on my wish list than, say, a Specialized Tarmac S-Works.  Forget about equipment though, it's really not what's needed here.  One only need to ride a little looser, more aware, to enjoy what's out there on the big grid.  Why not continue riding south on "road X"?  While I'd be personally nervous about doing it on 23c race tires, there really isn't any reason to second-guess doing at 15mph what the racers in Paris-Roubaix do at 25mph.  One will find that most gravel roads are quite passable.  Cars?  Far fewer.  Enjoyment?  Indeed.  The chances of your new favorite road being turned into a four-lane suburban superhighway next year?  Slim.

So, while my commute-minded self will likely be looking forward to some road improvements in the next five years to make car-free-to-work more enjoyable and safer, the recreational cyclist in me is expanding his boundaries, exploring local history, and generally having a good time of things.  My goals are still the same, and I'd wager that the training quality is just as good.  An ultra-racer peer of mine confessed to using time-trial work on the Katy Trail as the core of his training, so clearly pavement is not a requisite for distance speed-work.  In short, no worries with regards to Tejas and such.  Sometimes, I just want that quiet cycling getaway, without vying for rights with the quarry trucks and business-class rush-hour.

I arrived home via 175th street and Antioch after jogging across Metcalf at 179th, enjoying some marvelous vistas - some temporary groaning at the construction of a new mega high-school - and rolling down Mur-Len past some open cattle fields, something that I still enjoy having within a few miles from home, despite the residential growth.  A nice jaunt, and a chance to stretch the legs on home good hills, see some roads I hadn't seen in a while, and ponder the future and past.  Quite seriously, even with my questionable view of the future around here, it's a good time to be a bicyclist.  Moreover, I think it's an important time to be a bicyclist.  

Don't you love sentences that begin with the phrase "part of the problem"?  Well, I think part of the "problem" is that it has become so easy for people to let go of what they don't realize they have:  the scenery, the local history.  It's far too easy to miss these things in this digital, heads-down, drive-fast age.  I'm guilty, too, being "too busy".  A local, personal, favorite bicycle store closed its doors this week in Kansas City, and I was always "too busy" to get up there.  I regret that, even though I know it's not taken personally.  In a short matter of years, I doubt many will remember it was there - I hope that's not the case.  To a similar extent, nobody seems to see that quaint farmhouse off the road, or care about the stories of the families that grew up there - or care that in a few months it will be smashed to dust and paved over.  They see a vacant shack, an eyesore, an old world relic, a development opportunity, and the future.  Perhaps I'm too rooted in the past, perhaps I move too slow.  Perhaps I'll simply be bypassed, just like that narrow gravel road near the creek.  Looking forwards and backwards is healthy and important.  We can only go forwards, true; but one has to slow down and appreciate what we have in the present - not be too quick to bulldoze it all, and make sure that someone tells a story about it.  I know progress and change is inevitable; all the more reason to hop onto a bicycle and go see some of it before it's gone - or, at the very least, appreciate what it's becoming.

Back in the bar at the KC-Sprints, a conversation led to another one of those "part of the problem" statements - and that is the notion that we have no peers in my neck of the woods.  With the developments and the changes, it's clear that many names have fallen off the radar with regards to cycling in Johnson County.  There is a lot of disdain about this and that, some of it created in these very pages.  I have dug up cycling books from as recent as 1995, focused solely on Kansas City cycling, and have read about 1930's races downtown, the formation of this bicycle club and that, and I wonder if I have isolated myself so much, or if the landscape really has changed in the last 15 years.  Should there be more bicycle clubs?  Is there enough advocacy?  Am I just not paying attention, or has my life really become so busy?  Who holds the future of bicycling?  Who stands up?  How must they feel, those old guards of local cycling - having formed a bicycle club in the '60s, and seeing what I'm seeing today?  Who takes the reigns?  It's a very resonant sentence, the one that friend of mine muttered - that we don't have any peers.  And it's keeping me thinking.

So I ride, and I think of the future.

November 6, 2009

A decade of 'dude

The exact date itself came and went with almost no mention or fanfare, mostly because I wasn't paying that much attention to personal history or cycling back in July of this year - even though I was riding every day.  With work schedules, blah blah blah;  yeah, we all know I work too much.  That could potentially kick off an entire tangent about work-life balance, and how it can affect one's life and livelihood.  I won't go there, because it's pretty clear - all work and no play makes 'dude forgetful, cranky, loathsome, and anti-social.

Back on track, July 21st, 1999, I took my first ride on a "road bike".  Prior to that, I'd logged a few hundred miles of bike trail stuff on a cheap mountain bike, and prior to that I was in my teenage years riding an even cheaper mountain bike.  I was certainly not "into it" the way I am today, but there were early glimmers: as a not-yet-driving-a-car teen, apparently cycling had a lot of the same allure it does for me today.  The outstanding pre-adult biking milestone I seem to remember was my Dad bragging on me to one of his co-workers:  that summer - er... 1985?... - I had logged about 600 miles on the Indian Creek Trail system on a Schwinn Varsity Junior - a really heavy, red, 24" wheel, 10-speed road bike.  A solid achievement for a youth, but I was not in a position to appreciate it, cherish it.  There was a lot of promise, but I discovered cars and McDonalds and cycling was quickly forgotten.  Instead I gained weight, lost personal motivation, and got to a physical low-point that I don't care to revisit.  While I can't understand my lack of interest today, I do remember the Warbird showing up at my house with his new Trek 450 - which, yes, I ended up with and still have - and I looked it over and was either confused, or utterly uninterested.  In fact, I think I was in the process of washing my car when he'd arrived, if you can imagine.  Somehow, I think it took my total separation from bicycling to get me to a point in my life where I'd end up completely enamored with it again.  Meanwhile, the Warbird was out there with his younger brother, "Shorty", racking up miles, enjoying really early editions of the Cider-Mill Century and the MS-150, back when they gave you sew-on patches instead of lapel pins.  I honestly didn't know what I was missing.  Much later, I met my wife, got re-motivated, changed my situation, and found myself looking at a bicycle again in 1997.  That's the quick version.

Initially I got back on the bike because my 1976 Buick broke down, and I simply had to get to work.  I started back in the saddle as a commuter, indeed.  The Tour De France, I'd heard of it - only from the quick ABC Sports clips of Greg LeMond winning the tour a few years earlier.  Mountain bikes were the hot thing, and most shops didn't even have many road bikes - when it came time to purchase a new ride to replace the one I'd dragged our of my parent's garage for that to-work duty, it was another mountain bike.  For a while there, even after the Buick was running again, I'd drag the Trek 820 mountain bike out and ride to work for the fun of it.  Longer distances?  Speed?  Spinning?  HELMETS?  What the heck were those?  Looking back over the last ten years, I had no idea in early July '99 what was going to hit me.

"You've gotta get a road bike, man... THAT'S where it's at."  

It was Shorty, Warbird's taller, younger brother, that first planted the seed.  The human torque-wrench.  Seriously, it's only because I've never met George Hincapie or anyone else professional in-person before:  but I've yet to meet anyone that has the physique, the lung-capacity, the drive as these two brothers.  I won't bore you with accolades, but I have said it before:  Never have I met more natural cycling potential or prowess than I'd seen between these two brothers.  When you are out-and-out DESTROYED on a climb by someone that lights and smokes a cigarette on the way up, you know you are in the presence of power.  A few changes in personal habits back then, and there's no reason I can see that Shorty shouldn't have been in Belgium tearing up the cobbles on a paycheck.  Warbird, more of the same.  Click, click, GONE.  Even today, I have no doubts - back in May 2000:  a small matter of two months from me waiting for him at the tops of hills, to him being utterly uncatchable.  You can't do that unless you are built to do it.  Without a single day in the gym, these guys have legs that make people rethink themselves - and it's more than appearance.  The techniques, the head-down power sprints, the gut-wrenching, diesel-power, give-it-hell, get-it-on tempo on the flats, and the scream-of-terror, kill-the-hill climbing - these were the first experiences I had with road riding.  It's in my DNA, my upbringing.  For some reason, that's why it's never "good enough".  I ache for the chase because of it.  Even on days when I decide to rest, heaven-forbid I see a cyclist on the horizon, just out of reach - and I throw the rest-day training plans into the fire.  When I wandered into the Bike Rack in downtown Overland Park and picked out that metallic orange Schwinn Passage, I really had no clue what I was getting in to.  But, I certainly found out 

July 21st, 1999;  average speed was 13.5 after 23 miles.  Tennis shoes, toe-clip pedals, gym shorts, ridiculous-looking helmet, t-shirt.  A few months later, I had upgraded the tires, bought my first jersey and cycling shorts, gloves.  At least every three or four days I showed up at the power-brother's home to set out and get my butt handed to me.  Again... and again.  Winter came, and the bike got hung up - and, hard as it is for me to fathom as I write this, there was a time when I almost didn't go back to that road bike.  Spring came, Shorty wasn't riding as much, had work and school commitments, and in early 2000 I wasn't thinking much about riding.  After all, I had just learned that I was going to be a father!  After seven months off the bike, the Warbird stepped in and announced that we were going to ride the MS-150 that fall.  A perfect way to prepare me mentally and physically for raising a family - set a good goal, and go after it.  Training began in May 2000, and it was the elder power-brother's turn to whip my backside into shape.  It worked.  

The rest, as they say, is history.  The first MS-150, the first brevet, Ride the Rockies, ultra-races, commuting farther, longer and more often that ever before, and a totally transformed body, mind and soul.  It changed the way I handle stress, challenges, it molds my kids and sets a solid example, and makes me a better person.  There is nothing about cycling in its essence that is bad.  One has to remember moderation, of course - which may make you raise an eyebrow if you've read these pages for any length of time - but, yes:  family first, indeed.  Using the exercise and fresh air to make you a better person to come home to, etc., that kind of notion is immensely important.  This web page, however, is dedicated to cycling itself - so that notion of family balance may not always be apparent here.  Make no mistake - if the wife ever asked me to stop, I would; but it's up to me to be smart enough not to let it come to that.  Balance.  

On that bombshell, it's a difficult thing to explain the desire to go back to a training regime that would get me prepared for The Texas Time Trials in 2010.  Unfinished business, having seen the trophies - but not been allowed to hold one for my own.  Why do people need these things?  I never was a jock, sporty, or athletic in high school - but there is this desire to compete, to ride for more than just the ride.  This is also a manner of balance, something that the last three years of this "first decade" of road riding has allowed me to play with.  Saddle bags, vintage notions, slowing down and smelling the flowers -- there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with that kind of cycling, and I really enjoy it.  It's tailored my thinking, my equipment choices, and it's molded my appreciation of history - something else that seems to go hand-in-hand with cycling as a pastime.  Going back to what my first experiences in road cycling were like, however, it's small wonder that even on a perfectly empty road I find myself shifting to a harder gear and shoving out just a little bit more tempo.  Go long, go fast.... it's what I like.  

Coming to grips with myself as a person, as a cyclist, finding personal identity out of all of the experiences is what I think I've garnered most out of cycling.  Time and again, a decade of journal entries either spell out or elude to self-discovery, pushing this invisible wall so hard you think you're going to die, and then recovering from it with clarity, purpose, confidence.  I love that.  If you don't like what you find on the other side of the wall, there is often - eventually - some motivation to push at it again, at least for me.  I could go on and on about the metaphors for life, struggle, and more - but you've all read it before.  I keep coming back to it, because there is nothing else that gives back everything you put into it.  You push harder, the rewards are bigger.  You work hard on the bike itself, and you can feel the rewards in the next ride.  All that, and finally learning how to hydrate.  (He,he.)

Data, data, data.  Sometime next Summer I will celebrate my 50,000th mile - at least, that's the total I will have logged since that first road ride in July 1999.  Right now with over 44,000 miles of numbers to poke at, I've started to formulate my 2010 plan.  I've been able to, thanks to BikeJournal and a bunch of .CSV files, extrapolate a barrage of averages, body weights, efforts, heart-rate data, bike usage, bike type in relation to speed, nutrition notes, equipment notes, hydration notes, mental preparation, mileages when, where, with whom.  One thing I have found interesting, and it shouldn't be a shock:  it really ISN'T about the bike.  My averages have had more to do with mental state and body makeup than what was underneath me - and that seems to follow for gearing, also.  I've had fast averages on brevets on single-speed as well as geared bikes, fendered or not, heavy or light, fancy or beater.  It just doesn't matter.  What does matter is health, nutrition (as-in eating right, as opposed to engineered nutrition vs. PB&J, for example), my body weight, hydration, and consistency.  The one chunk of data I'm missing and would REALLY like to have is wattage.  

For a solid comparison of how I performed in one scenario vs. another, the only thing differing being the bicycle, wattage data would help - though I'm certainly not running out to buy a PowerTap hub yet.  Power to weight ratio is essentially everything, and professional racers take this to an extreme by being very fit, very light - yet muscular - and riding the lightest bikes they can get away with.  Many over-estimate the importance of a really light, high-end race bike instead of focusing on the total package.  Yes, the bike can make a big difference when it comes to power output maximization and fatigue-prevention over distance - but that has to be weighed against body efficiency, personal power-to-weight ratio with the bike factored out, and other concerns like ride quality and reliability over distance.  I was thrown initially into assumptions looking back at 2002, 3 and 4 data when I saw high averages at various distances on my old Schwinn Passage - which in it's last incarnation was quite light, and hi-end equipped.  No fenders, no compromises, and race wheels.  So, clearly, I need a race bike again for 2010, right?  

Those assumptions were questioned, however, when I watched my body weight drop off in early 2009, and my speed go back up to the same levels as those earlier years, but while riding a fully-fendered steel road bike with a rack and generator hub.  Having watts data would be interesting, to see if the amount of power I was generating to get "bike A" going those speeds was in an acceptable margin compared to "bike B".  My gut tells me that, at speed, the differences would be difficult to see.  Climbing?  Perhaps.  In the real world, however, put Levi Leipheimer on a fendered steel bike with a rack and a generator hub, and he'd be right there in the pack - no doubts.  He may finish slightly more tired than the next guy - but how do you measure that?  I'm fairly convinced personal fitness has more to do with it than the tools themselves do, in the end.  This is, of course, taking out the small percentages of advantage one rider may have over another with regards to shifting faster (ie, STI shifters vs. bar-ends) - but, we'd be splitting hairs, and that's arguably a true racers concern, in that last, heated sprint.  

For what I want to do, I have a clear picture now of what I need to do to make it happen - and very little of it has to do with equipment. That will not stop me, however, from looking at stacking some of the smaller percentages in my favor:  The same way I wouldn't run panniers during the time-trial, I would be foolish not to at least consider real road pedals and shoes, instead of SPD mountain bike pedals and sandals.  Maybe removing the fenders for the race if the forecast is dry, perhaps the rack as well.  Maybe, just maybe, looking at race wheels.  Maybe even looking at a complete component swap to the waiting Trek 450 frame-set.  They key being, in the last 100 miles of that 500 mile time trial, how will I feel - will I mentally know that I've done everything, assuming I have done everything right for my body first and foremost?  Yes, the right tools for the job are immensely important; but one must remember that the biggest factor is the engine.  I certainly don't need to spend thousands on a new bicycle to get what I'm after:  a finish at Tejas.

It does, sometimes, take thousands of miles to come to these realizations.  Would I change anything?  Doubtful.  Every mile, every friendship, every challenge - it's all been worth it.
Ten years in the books, xxxxxxxx to go....

Thanks for reading.