December 31, 2009

Where there's a will, there's a way.

After a lot of internal nagging, and hearing things like "I still think you can get a rack on that thing", my brain wouldn't let me be. Enough of the backpack, already - my back the main protestor to that effect. My shoulder is still recovering from a week of stress at work, and "hunching" the bag to and fro on the winter bike. There are several reasons I don't like having my back covered while riding, and shoulder tension is one of them. That's even with Camelbak's really solid 2010 design -- it's just not me, tho. I am still not sure how I tolerated having one on my back for up to 400K at a time, a few years back.

Logistically, it's very nice having one set of bags to work from during the week: IE, with the panniers on the Kogswell, and the Camelbak for the winter bike, I was constantly shuffling items back and forth between bags - things that can't be duplicated, like my security badges for work. Yes, as it was bound to happen, I arrived at work a couple times missing something I needed. Then, the problem of being used to twice the storage space and suddenly having to get something home that was too large for the Camelbak. Things like that, and the case kept getting driven.
Back into bike-geek-dom I fall, and the quest for panniers begins anew.

Ever since day one with the winter bike, I have been trying different racks and options to see if anything would fit. Truth be told, I was really missing my old Carradice SQR system, even if it was only one bag's worth of storage, kinda high and swingy with a full commute load inside. At least the mounting system didn't care what kind of bike you were using.
Rear mounted bicycle racks are simple devices, but they make a lot of assumptions. You need the right kind of bike to mount to, preferrably one with braze-ons. Even then, some headaches ensue. Combined with fenders, and sometimes you're looking at hours in the garage, looking for the best way to arrange things. Try all of this on a bike without any brazeons, a tight wheelbase, and disc brake mounts - well... I was surprised I was able to mount fenders, honestly. A lot of zip-ties, modifications, and long pauses for thought.

I tried several racks, including seat-post mounted racks - which, in my opinion, are compromised from the get-go. None of them, mounted "normally" offered enough heel clearance - the main culprit being the short wheelbase of the bike. Compared to the Kogswell, I needed to move the rack backwards about three or four inches to get what I needed - and that might as well have been a foot on a bicycle. If you can't get a clamp around something, or even drill into the dropouts and get it, it's not happening.

I then stumbled upon some interesting solutions from a few companies, namely "Old Man Mountain" and "Tubus" that use plates of aluminum and long quick-release skewer to solve the problem. I simply took this a step or two farther, and came up with a solution, finally.

In the hands of patient engineers with CNC machines, the results are worth paying for. In my case, I set out to accomplish the same task, and managed to do so for about six dollars in parts. Sheet aluminum, about 1/4 thick... well, that's what the label said -- it's more like 2.5mm thick. I couldn't find anything thicker at my local hardware store, and didn't feel like scrounging. My garage, sadly, doesn't have much in the way of junk or scrap laying around -- most of it's already been turned into other weird projects. So, I bought new. I also rummaged the servalite bins, and got some nice fender washers and assorted hardware for the task. I love those bins. I spent another 30 minutes looking through things I didn't need.

Back in the garage, I set out to re-create - custom for my interests - the "plates" that OMM and Tubus use for mounting a rack via the QR skewer on a bike. In my case, the most expensive part of the project was the QR itself -- background: the bike here is a Redline Monocog, and the steel plate that the rear dropouts are made from is already really thick compared to a regular bike. The bike comes spec'd with a rear hub that has a solid, threaded rear axle: no problems. The wheelset I currently have is a QR wheelset - and the stock 135mm QR is plenty long enough to make it through the dropouts and cinch down with plenty of threads engaged. But, I also run a chain tensioner, which adds even more thickness - and now the QR is at about the limit of safety. If I were to add rack plates to the mix, the QR would no longer be long enough. Sure fire fix, get a long lag-bolt of sorts - M5 - and use the QR axle ends from a non-QR skewer. Easy... but the hardware store didn't carry anything even approaching long enough. Hmmm... well, that got me to my personal solution: use the dropout plates to my advantage.

I had already drilled a hole in the drive side dropout plate to use for mounting the fenders, so I'd use that for the new rack and fender carrier there. On the non-drive side, I'd simply use the more-than-adequate disc brake tabs for mounting. The non-drive side turned out so sturdy and elegant (as elegant as garage-hacking goes) that I wished the drive side had the same disc brake tabs - silly as that'd look.
On the drive side, I didn't want to drill a second hole into the bike, so I utilized the one hole, and used the surface of the chain tensioner as a "gravity" support.
The pictures will outline all of this in visual detail.

I know that hardcore mountain bike riders the world over are crying foul - even a search on the web only revealed two other hits of commuters that have converted Monocogs to rack-worthy bikes. I know, I know. Purists. I'm the same way, and hassle as it might be, the nice part of this set-up is that I only need to sever a few zip-ties, cheap and replaceable - and remove a half-dozen bolts to free the bike from the add-ons, ready for a weekend on single-track. Hassle, yes -- but only during the winter, which is primarily the only time this bike will participate in daily-duty. It's still a wonderful multi-tasker.

The workbench is a snowy mess of aluminum dust and shavings - but it was worth the couple hours I gave it. The main rack was a purchase from Blackburn - just a simple rear rack, cheap. I only had to find a way to get it on the bike.

This is the seatpost, and forward rack-mouting solution I came up with. Using some bits from the parts drawer, I found an long-tossed aside Minoura fork mount. An accessory mount for lights, meant for front fork mouting, this worked well on the seatpost, with a solid metal strap for mounting. The end cap was removed, and a hole drilled through both side of the hard resin-like plastic - a long metric bolt through this new hole gave a secure place for the racks included straps, which normally would attach to brazeons on the bikes seat stays.
This should prove solid enough.

The drive side, finished product. Not as polished, true, as a purchased solution - but hopefully just as stout. At least, that's the hope. I have to make a few loaded test runs to see if my aluminum solution holds up. On the drive side, there is less dropout plate to work with, so I kept the single hole that I'd originally drilled for the fender, and used it to mount the plate to the bike (the right-most bolt). The center bolt holds the fender stays, and the rear-most bolt holds the rack. The "gravity" support is provided by the Surly chain tensioner. A few problems here: I can't change gear ratios, because the chain tensioner will move fore or aft, thus altering where the rack/fender mount sits - which could pitch the rack up or down on one side. Not a big deal in practice, because I don't plan on changing gear ratios anytime soon - but a limitation, yes. Nothing a little filing wouldn't solve, however. Thru the spokes you can see the backside of the non-drive side solution. I like this side far better, and I imagine it will hold up better than the drive side, if I had to choose. No drilling into the bike, just used the disc brake mounting tabs: obvious limitation, no disc brakes - ever - with this set-up, but hey: #1, V-Brakes are plenty. #2, running a rack and disc brakes is a very special set-up, to prevent the non-drive pannier from hitting the brakes during operation. The only solid, well-thought solution I've ever witnessed lies on my dream, do-all, money no object bike - the Tout Terrain Silk Road. TT makes two bikes I'd really like to have someday, but that's another post.

The non-drive side view of the C'dude rack/fender carrier (patent pending?).
Please ignore the jammie pants and house-shoes. I was comfy.
The plates themselves: I started with one plate, knowing full-well that a single thickness of this aluminum was not going to hold the full weight of my commute load. The only option in this case, since I couldn't find thicker stock, was to double up the plates. I started by making one mount, and then simply traced the shape and hole pattern onto the remaining stock and cut out another one. No lasers or plasma here, just good ole hacksaw and file. I'd then take the two plates and bolt them together temporarily, put them in the bench vise, and filed and Dremel'ed them until the shapes were identical and smooth. The finished products match each other, and the end look is pretty clean. If this two-plate, approximate 5mm thick solution doesn't prove strong enough, I can simply add another layer. In theory, the plated design "should" be stronger than a single piece of aluminum, but if that's actually true, it's purely by accident here -- I would have preferred a single, solid piece of stock, but this works.

..and the finished product. Heel clearance, fenders a little more managable, and probably only a marginal dent to the weight-carrying capacity of the rack itself. Time will tell.

Then came mounting my favorite tail-light for racks, from Busch and Muller - the Dtoplight XS. This is the battery version I retired from the Kogswell when I went all-generator. But, the Blackburn is not a "Euro" rack, and doesn't have the correct mounting plate. Solution, simply take when blackburn gave me, a little spare aluminum plate, and make a bracket.

Hard to file and take a picture on a camera with no timer, but whatever - you get the idea... metal in vise, file file file... Man, I would kinda love access to a full-on metal shop, welding equipment, etc., someday. The things I could do -- heck, ANY of us could do, with the right tools.
Remember, measure twice... cut once... file endlessly.

Here is it, installed on the rack -- you can see the supplied "single reflector" mount that is common on USA products - it's bolted to the homebrew bracket that supplies the "Euro" two-bolt, 50mm spacing required for the taillight. The tail-light doesn't weigh that much, so the two-bolt design - while superior - is really just to keep things level. The single bolt suspending everything from the rack platform is plenty.

And, finally, with panniers mounted: this now provides a couple advantages: there is no weight on my back - shoulder will be spared, layering and cooling, venting will be better since there is nothing laying on my back while I ride, and I can wear reflective clothing for better visibility. To that end, this now provides a familiar profile to traffic approaching from the rear. Instead of bike reflectors and lights and moving ankle bands, the two giant white reflective triangles give my bike more "girth" when viewed from an approaching car, and therefore usually provides more "respect". It looks like more of a vehicle, instead of a "dang bike".

Plus, the superiority of Germany's regulations for bikes shows in their reflectors, which in many personal head-to-head comparisons, makes CPSC reflectors look really wimpy.

I'll report back on how the rack supports hold up --
Initially, this looks and feels pretty solid.

Thanks for reading!

Coming soon -- how to dress for COLD commutes.

December 29, 2009

From the Archives: "The 400K - So Close"

As originally written: May 4th, 2002:

Well, the rookie Brevet season closes on this ride -- the 400k attempt! A REALLLY early rising time of 3:30am was probably the deciding factor - I should have gone to sleep a lot sooner than I had the evening before, but that's in the past now. It was a worthy effort, but in the end I came up short - not finishing.

After a brief pep talk from Bob Burns it was time to ride - 5am -- we headed out with a pretty good sized pack, about 14 people - which surprised me. Even a few new faces, but mostly people from previous brevets. We made our way thru the dark streets of Grandview headed for Paola - and I was feeling pretty good. Things were shaping up for a good day and the finish was on my mind. Then came 5th street, and the first sizable hill of the day: I shifted from the big ring to the small ring and my chain derailed off towards the inside of the bike. No biggie, I shift to the big ring to try and reset the chain, but it shifts off the outside that time.. Ugh. Unfortunately, there is (for some reason) no overshift safety stop on my chainrings - like on Shimano stuff - to prevent the chain from getting wedged between the crankarm and the spider, which is exactly what happened. The drivetrain stopped HARD, and I went down halfway up the hill. It was embarrassing and frustrating at the same time. The pack flew past, up the road -- and there I was, alone in an instant, in the dark, trying to get my chain unstuck from the position it was jammed in to. I had to REALLY yank to get it out, and the damage was done: a tear in my new ProLink saddle's leather (adds character, right?) scratches on the frame, and gouges in the soft metal of the crankamr on the drive side. So much for "pristine condition". Plus, after a lot of manipulation to get the chain free, most of the lube that should have stayed on the chain was now on my hands. That was no good - and I didn't have any extra lube with me. No gas station was going to carry the right stuff, either - so today was effectively trash what was left of the chain. Screw it - I was gonna finish.

With little more than five miles into the ride, I was not going to let this setback ruin my day -- however the warm-fuzzy and confident feelings I had only a few minutes earlier were gone, replaced by stress, dirty hands, and a chain that would remind me with every turn that it was in bad shape - probably a bent link or side plate. Click, clunk, clunk, clink, click, pop. Ugh.

Now came the daunting task of catching the pack - not something that was especially wise to undertake on such a lengthy ride - but I did not want to spend the entire day alone like I had on the 300k. I hammer as best I could into the chill of the pre-dawn air, which was thick with moisture and almost foggy. Then came unsurmountable bladder pressure -- I got to State Line and Blue Ridge Blvd, to the Amoco station there, which was not even open yet. I pulled in, went over behind the car wash, and took the longest leak I probably can remember. Two full minutes -- at least I was hydrated.

A few satisfying downhills later, and I transitioned onto familiar ground; Kenneth road over to Mission and south to 199th, then west. The sun began to make its way over the horizon, and birds were in song. I probably would have enjoyed it more had it not been for the earlier events.

Warbird, miles farther west, was already making his way through Spring Hill, KS, having jumped off the front of the group after about only three miles. He was having an excellent day and was enjoying the buttery smooth ride of his Trek 450, recently refitted. Good choice for this longer distance - there is no room for aluminum at these distances.

Finally, after nearly an hour of consistent riding and no setbacks I popped over the top of a hill near Antioch and 199th and caught a view - way up in the distance - the flash of a bright yellow riders jacket, and the flash of a steadily blinking taillight. I had made some ground back, and the target was set.

I ended up catching him before crossing the railroad tracks near 199th and Woodland Rd, however there was a little help from a passing train that had dropped the crossing gates and made the last part of my chase easy. Still, I was no longer last in line, and began to feel a little better about the situation. The train passed, the gates came up, and I was off again. As this point, all trust in my drivetrain was gone. Shifting was terrible, so I stayed in the big ring for the next 200 miles. For me, that is a huge deal - just being able to shift.
At least the rear was working.

Downhill on Webster, through familiar old Spring Hill, and onward to Old KC Road for a shot south. I was feeling much better at this point, getting past my mental woes from earlier and concentrating on the next task at hand, getting to the first checkpoint in a reasonable time and possibly catching the next rider up the road. Both would happen for me, despite getting a little lost on the way. New construction of a bridge over the railroad tracks and creek south of Hillsdale continues, so a detour is needed. We head east on 255th St., and get up onto US-169 highway --- yikes --- 169 highway takes us about three miles to K-68, then we're supposed to return west to turn left onto Hedge Lane, which is difficult to see when you're actually on the road itself, as opposed to looking at a map - but there's a new roundabout here, and I end up heading south on Old KC Road. Kinda confusing, the roundabout, and I continue south on Old Kc Road, ending up on the wrong side of Paola. I found Baptiste Road, however, retraced my steps east, and find the control with some bonus miles. Checked in at the control, and asked the counter-person when the first person (likely Warbird) had come through - only 30 minutes beforehand. I was not really losing that much ground, but I was not catching him, either. I refilled my Camelbak, had a V8, and it was time to go again. Butler, MO., was next, about 60 miles away.

The ride to Butler was pretty good - managed to catch two more people before hitting the checkpoint in Paola, and would swap positions with them a few times throughout the day. Their checkpoint routine was much faster than mine, and they were quickly gone again - but I ended up catching them on the road later on. About that time, on the road to Butler, shortcomings in the map and cue sheet would become apparent. I ended up on dirt, and lost - turned around, and finally found the correct version of Hedge Road after the construction south of town. Good road, but hard to stay on. Near Paola, it gets divided up, requiring jogs east, then west, then back again to stay on it. Once I had it figured out, I was in good shape - but I made some notes for later, as the route is an out and back. I was in good shape now, enjoying the morning, and feeling good and fresh thanks to my Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel mix -- finally figured it all out, nutrition-wise, and my system was performing well with the new formula.

Then, about 11 miles later, just before K-152 came up, I re-caught the two riders (a husband and wife tandem team, but on separate bikes for this ride) and passed them with hellos and such, enjoyed a huge downhill run across what I will call a valley -- K-152 is a cool highway; downhill into the valley (floodplain?) and then 12 miles of uninterrupted and flat pavement, and another huge hill climbs out of it on the other side. Very cool, very scenic: from either end, west or east, you can see all of it from the top of either hill.

About halfway through this valley is the little town of La Cygne, KS., and a Casey's general store! Time to cut this leg in half -- I stopped for a refill and a V8. Two riders passed me again. Oh well. I continued onward after this brief stop, up the hill that brings riders out of the valley, downhill, under US-69 highway, and then along the south edge of La Cygne Lake, and the big KCPL generating station there.

I was half tempted to follow the lake road around to those old railroad tracks that enter the plant, and have a picture taken -- but there was no-one there to take the picture... oh well. Maybe next year. Soon, I was back in Missouri, on highway "J" -- then a few more turns onto a nice flat road that leads to Butler, MO., and another checkpoint. And there is ALWAYS a line at this gas station. Ugh. I was on my way again, but not nearly as fast getting out of that checkpoint as I would have liked. Eventually, I was out of the control, and on the leg to Appleton City, MO., the halfway point. The sun was way up, the breeze was refreshing instead of hindering, and I was feeling good. The new saddle position was perfect, the chain seemed to be making less noise now, and there was lots of scenery. I was actually having a lot of fun. About 7 miles outside of Appleton City, I saw what I was waiting to see -- the good part of the out and back course if seeing who is ahead and by how much. The first of these riders was now coming up the road in the opposite direction, and it was Warbird! He was flying up the road, and we both stopped for a quick chat. We were both having pretty good days, mine considering, and we took a few minutes to exchange stories. His day was epic, he was way off the front, feeling awesome, the SE (Sustained Energy) was working perfectly, and there was a slight tailwind to enjoy for the return trip: something for me to look forward to, for sure. I recounted my chain woes, having to wait for a train, and various other moments of the morning.

Warbird went back across the road to take a quick nature break, and FINALLY after talking for about five minutes the following tandem was becoming visible on the horizon, working its way back west - fast. He'd been WAY off the front, for sure! The tandem flew past with a wave, and Warbird was hungry again - we departed ways, and I stopped for a few moments to watch him and the tandem become dots on the tops of hills behind me. I had to get the halfway checkpoint, already! About ten minutes later, Byron and a recumbent rider working together passed headed the other direction, waves exchanged. Warbird had put a ton of distance on the rest of the group, and had probably caught the tandem by then. Had I not had chain issues, I might have been somewhere in that mix, but that would have to wait for a day where all my stuff was together.

Got to Appleton City, checked in, and then while drinking a V8 and refilling my SE, etc., a older local on a Nishiki city-bike, complete with huge wire basket on the back, stopped by the Casey's store. We chatted idly about bikes, riding, commuting, etc., for about 30 minutes. I guess I was in no hurry, really. I was doing well, averaging about 15.5mph for the day so far, and was literally halfway there. -- 127 miles in the bank at that point. Still, I had to keep moving - I cut the chat short, and I was off again -- still feeling fresh, and heading back to Butler again. The tailwind was a nice change, and so was the elimination of my "virtual headwind" that had likely been created back when I fell in Grandview: the rear brake had been knocked off-center, and one of the pads had been dragging on the rear rim. Not enough to make noise, but I half-wondered why some of my descents were not quite as fast as normal. Yikes. I re-dialed them before departing, and all was good for a flying 200K return to home. The only real problem was the looming scepter of darkness that was only a few hours away.

I rode on, feeling great, however to my dismay I did not pass (opposing) anyone else coming up the road on the way back -- was I last again? What happened to the two or three riders I knew that were behind me? Apparently, there was some straying from the route here and there, unintentionally - directions or cue sheet mishaps - but it was making me second guess myself, and my progress thusfar. I didn't see nearly the amount of people I should have seen on the return route, nor at the checks - strange. Fourteen people at the ride start, and I had only counted three behind me, and four in front of me. Uh oh.

I still enjoyed the scenery, and after a while - and after many self-rechecks of the route - I was back in Butler, MO. waiting in line at the gas station behind some womna with a problem with her receipt or something. Again, WAY too much time wasted at an entirely too busy checkpoint. Finally I was out, card signed. As I stepped out of the store, there was Warbird's Dad - hey, cool! I shed a layer (which I'd regret later) and took a brief rest, enjoying the "assistance at controls only" portion of the RUSA rules. We chatted for a little bit, and then I was on the way again - refreshed mentally. The SE was still working well, but fatigue was on the horizon, and the extremely early hour of rising was slowly catching up as well.

I rode on, and sprouted wings for the flight westward - I flew down highway "J", and crossed into Kansas (finally!) - the final stretch of the ride was all in front of me now, burned on my brain. I hammered it across the levee at La Cygne Lake, and before I knew it I was back at the Casey's in La Cygne - another V8 stop, water; and realizing that this was probably "it" before nightfall. Taillight on, reflective vest on, time to go. I worked my way along the remainder of K-152 toward Hedge Lane for the journey north; tailwind, yes; headlight, check; sunset on my left, check. It was getting dark fast out here. Very different than commuting home under streetlights, riding after dark in the country was another ballgame entirely. At this point, I would find out later, the Warbird - after getting lost - was only six miles ahead of me, on the same piece of road that I was on at sundown! I wouldn't know it at the time, but I hammered as best I could under the load of the big chainring and nearly 200 miles in the hopper already.

Darkness fell like a wool blanket, and the stars came out to play. The rural sky was breathtaking, but the lack of sun and clouds was making for a quick temperature drop... and I had given my jacket to Warbird's dad. Mistake #1. After a full day in the sun, it was getting downright cold out here. Combine cold air, 14 hours on the bike, a 3-AM wakeup call, and the darkness - and you get one sleepy cyclist. It was starting to catch up, fast. I made it through the zig-zags of Hedge Lane, 343rd, Block Road, 313th, and Hedge Lane again, and back to Baptiste in Paola for the control: the last control of the ride before the finish. I was CLOSE... 42 miles from my car, and a legitimate finish in my first 400km brevet.

Little did I know that Warbird had been long lost - and at one point we were as close together as a single mile. I had been assuming that he was WAY up the road, as far as I knew he was finished and enjoying a hot shower at home. Instead, he's taken a right instead of a left, and was headed east again on 311th, away from Paola. We were a MILE apart, as I reached the same intersection and turned left. It never crossed my mind to wait a while at Paola, rest, maybe catch a nap - had I just waited a while at Paola, I would have - confusing as it would have been - seen him come in behind me. We could have ridden the last 42 miles together, and both our problems would have been solved. Instead, knowing he was ahead of me and still in chase-mode, I checked in fast, grabbed some supplies, and made my way back out onto the road. Despite the sleepiness and the cold creeping in, the next six miles would be epic.

I made the correct turn back up Hedge Lane, northbound, and realized enroute that Hedge Lane was the SAME road that I used to drive to for trainspotting so many years back - weird! I was here again, via 210 miles on a bicycle! Two totally different people, but the same person, pass in the night, years apart - at 287th and Hedge Lane. The distance between me and that old version of myself was far greater than the double century I'd ridden today. As I rode, a few times too often I found the thoughts of that past combining with sleepiness, causing me to drift across the road... not a good sign... STAY AWAKE!

I continued to K-68, and turned nervously and reluctantly back toward the Old KC Road detour onto US-169 highway. Riding a bicycle on US-169 is a dangerous prospect during the DAY, but here I was; tired, fatigued, riding on fumes, and rolling onto one of the most dangerous highways in Kansas, at night. In a construction zone. And it had JUST started to sprinkle rain. I'm, honestly, lucky to be typing this ride account. Thank goodness for TONS of reflective tape and a really bright taillight. I made it the three miles to 255th street and got off the highway onto safer pavement -- man, I wish they'd finish that Old KC Road bridge already. I think I had indentations in the bar-tape after that three miles. Surprisingly, I only got honked at once. I don't know if anyone else even saw me.

About 25 yards on the other side of the overpass after getting off on 255th street, my phone rang. I figured it was Warbird, calling to announce his successful finish, and to motivate me to do the same. It would have been a welcome call, especially after the horrific three miles that had just passed. Something to re-occupy my mind, instead of staring off into my headlight beam and being hypnotized into a slumber. Instead, Warbird was calling to announce his DNF -- he told the tales of getting lost, running out of SE, and bonking HARD. After 14 hours in the saddle, there is no energy in your system anymore - the only thing fueling you is what's in your stomach. If that runs out, you bonk FAST. He had ended up laying down in the middle of the road and sleeping after climbing three monster hills east of Paola, and then realizing he was totally in the wrong place. He was picked up, and driven in to Paola.

It's hard to explain what went through my mind at that point. I was within 30 miles of finishing. I was at 255th and Old KC Road, and the return route was very familiar to me. Hearing the new's of the WArbirds misfortune, however, somehow deflated me. If *HE* couldn't finish, what was *I* doing out here? I was cold, getting the chills from a cold night air blowing past my sunburned arms, legs and face, there was a slight dampness from a quick burst of light rain, I was beginning to fall asleep in the saddle, and I was beginning to enter uncharted territory, nutritionally: the SE had been working strong all day, but it seemed like I couldn't drink enough of it now. I just stopped, and asked Warbird to come get me.

I ended up sitting on the pavement and sleeping, at a Texaco at 255th and Old KC Road, for about an hour until he'd arrived. I then found myself stepping into his car for the 2nd time in as many weeks. I had achieved the last control... only one to go, the finish, and it didn't close until 8:00AM the next day! I could have stopped, slept, and just started again in a few hours with plenty of time to get to Grandview.... but none of those ideas popped into my head until the next day. I simply wasn't prepared for it, wasn't invested in it, and at that point I was simply "done". 218.15 miles, and no medal to show for it. It's hard to explain, or justify.

But, I do have a huge amount of personal satisfaction knowing that I achieved a personal distance record that day, and it will take a long time to better it. In fact, I won't even attempt it again until next year, at the earliest. I will be back, however, and I will finish each brevet - regardless of the conditions - because now I know what my limits are, and what to expect from myself. PLUS, I can enjoy a better time on the bike thanks to a recent purchase: a 1982 Trek 720 frame made of Reynolds 5-3-1 steel -- a true classic, and built for these kinds of rides. The Schwinn is history, and vintage steel will be my choice for distance riding, as it should be. Looking forward to that build-up already!

Now that I've broken 1,000 miles for the year, and it's not even summer yet, I'm happy with the season's events so far. I may not have finished officially, but I have learned volumes about gear, technique, fuel, and myself. This has been an awesome year so far.

Notes from 2009:

This is the first time I really stared the exhaustion and sleep-deprivation monsters in the face, and yet it would be a hard lesson to master - costing me my age group at a 24-hour race before it really sunk in that it was something to train for, like anything else in long-distance cycling. While I might have finished this ride had I been a little better prepared, it's hard to tell if I was ready to take those next steps that night. Being alone on a long ride can play on the mind even if you are WELL rested, so it's hard to explain.

One recurring theme in these first three brevet accounts is a discredit to RUSA and randonneuring in general: my constant references to "where I am on the road", "who is behind me", "who I passed", etc., is not really what randonneuring is all about, and I would come to appreciate that much more in coming years. At the time, I had been well steeped in competitive riding and amateur racing with Warbird and other club riders around the region. It was all too easy to take this "me vs. you" mentality to the brevet scene. Randonnuering is not a series of racing events, and while sometimes it's fun to "pit yourself" against other riders, its not something spoken aloud or bragged about. You ride against yourself, first and foremost - never against your fellow rider. Speedplay and friendly competition does happen, and it's fun and healthy -- but I've been the beneficiary of someone giving up their fast time on XX distance, because they passed me, saw I was in difficulty, and sacrificed to give me a draft. I am forever grateful for that, and have tried on many occasions to pay that forward. Sure, I'm always out to ride my fastest time, or achieve a personal goal -- but sometimes I've flushed that all just to have someone to chat with for a few dozen miles. Nothing wrong with that!

I am forever grateful to Warbird's father, Don, W0DEW, for coming along on these first few brevets. It was nice to see a friendly face at each control that first year, and I have some excellent photographs to cherish for years to come, including the one that graces the header of this webpage. He also passed on some common-sense tips that I still refer back to while on these long rides. My favorite, silly as it sounds, came on this very 400k ride, at the Butler control on the return leg: He took a long look at me after I emerged from the gas station after getting my card signed, and suggested that I "go back inside, go into the restroom, and wash your face." Initially confused, I did just as he suggested. Miles of crusted salt and sweat was removed from around my eyes, facial hair, and brow, and instantly my whole outlook changed. I felt fresh, renewed - like the entire journey to that point had been rinsed clean. I left that control feeling like I had started a brand new ride, and it was just that simple. I've taken an extra few minutes to wash my face at least once on every brevet I've ridden since then, and it's always his voice that reminds me.

A few weeks later, Warbird and I headed west to take part in Ride the Rockies, and it was a self-defining ride for me. After completing that ride without having to SAG, even on the hardest of days, I ended a journey that started in early April 2002, a journey that taught me more about myself than I think I've learned in any other time in my life. Three months, and probably 1,500 miles of self-discovery. I came back to randonneuring in 2003, and successfully completed all three brevets (200,300 and 400km), and went on to compete in my first 24-hour race that August. I'm still learning about myself today, and I think that's what I like most about rando-riding: you never really know what's next, no matter how many times you've ridden xxx kilometers. It's always a new adventure, and it pays you back.

Thanks for reading --

December 25, 2009

From the Archives: "Mama said there'd be days like this"

As originally written:  April 20, 2002.

(The 300K Attempt - An Epic DNF Tale)

It was with the highest confidence and hopes that I started this 300k ride - Warbird was there, the new fuel was on the bike and at the ready, everythin gwas tested and tightened, and the new raingear was at the ready.  I had thought of everything and was ready to go.  Byron was there, Dan Jordan was there, the field was big again -- a good turnout.  The sun wasn't up yet, but the temperature was 55ºF at the ride start.  It was gonna be a good day.  So I thought.

We departed, and I was with the lead group as we climbed and climbed up the first sections of road on our way to Plattsburg Road.  I was hanging with Bryon and Warbird and pretty much everyone, and was actually enjoying some time at the front of the group.  I felt good, strong, confident - not concerned in the least about the mileage that lay ahead.  I had my fuel issues licked, and was carrying enough for the full day.  No reason to worry.  

As we proceeded along Plattsburg Road, I felt good - enjoying conversations with several riders here and there and managing to hold up with the pack consistently.  On a couple occasions, I manged to even out-climb the 'bird.  It was fun!  Then 7am came... time to drink my first dose of "Sustained Energy" from E-Caps/Hammer Nutrition.  Came highly recommended by Byron himself after I'd told him of my problems on the 200K.  Went down smooth, and I had every confidence that it was going to do the trick and that I'd be able to maintain this pace all day long.  It was gonna be nice to be with the lead group this time out, instead of alone all day - I'd nearly planned on it.  It was not to be.

Almost exactly ten minutes after I'd consumed that first bottle, it was like a light switch.  I had a quick burst of energy, and it propelled me up a fairly steep rise, passing Warbird again -- I stayed off the front for a good 3-5 minutes, and then I slowly got caught by the lead group of Byron, Dan and the Warbird again.... and then the slower riders from behind began to catch me.  Then others, slower still.  Like a light switch, my legs quit working normally.  My pace fell off hard, and I found myself looking for easier gears as we turned onto highway "C" northbound.  I watched in dismay as the group started getting smaller and smaller in the distance.  I even kicked it up a notch a few times, putting the bike in the big gear and pushing to regain ground - only to fall back into the saddle again, inexplicably exhausted.  Nothing.  Maybe it was my "wall" .. I would catch them eventually.

Nope.  Still having confidence in my fuel choice, I continued each hour on the hour to consume one full bottle, even stopping at a gas station along the way to fill up on water to keep the game going - and with each subsequent bottle consumed, the problems increased.  I was tired - sleepy - didn't want to be there.  My concentration was slipping, I was losing focus.  My legs were still turning over and I never cramped once, nor did I feel any tell-tale hole-in-the-stomach bonk feelings; my legs just didn't want to "work" - and I couldn't push.  I found myself stopping a LOT.  I was at least fully hydrated - I had to pee on the side of the road at least five times on the trip north - which is weird for me at ANY distance.  I found myself looking at the odometer, and seeing 34 miles, and getting discouraged.  "I have 148 miles to go, and I'm feeling like this already?"  The 200k better than this.. what's the deal?  I was lethargic, tired, unmotivated on a physical level -- but my mental outlook was starting to change also.  For over and hour I'd WANTED to push and catch and work... but the body wasn't cooperating.  Forty miles.... what's Wrong with me???

I continued on, struggling, in top gear again - up the hills and coasting down.  Couldn't believe it.  I made it to the first checkpoint, got my card signed, and refilled everything -- confident that at some point, a magical transformation would occur, and my new fuel would propel me back to contention.  I drank a V8 to prevent cramps, another Byron recommendation that was working great -- no cramps the entire day, regardless of anything else.  But, that was just it:  nothing else was working.  I was eventually caught by some riders that were even farther back than me, which was only slightly encouraging -- after all, I'd been caught.
One or two riders stopped along side me for a bit, asked if I was okay -- "you were flying out of the start gate, you gonna make it?  You got everything you need?  Need any food?  Water?"  -- I was find on all accounts, and they continued on - leaving me easily as I must have been visually struggling to move forwards.  

I left the checkpoint - still mentally charged enough to continue on, instead of cashing it in and going home - and began the long haul northward towards Albany - and the headwind was getting worse.  I trudged onwards, wondering when I would start to see the lead group passing me in the opposite direction.  They were at least 30 miles up the road at this point.  The remaining slower riders that had regrouped at the checkpoint made short work of passing me as we all turned north onto highway "N"... and then it was me, alone again.  An hour passed, and I drank another bottle of my cocktail.  Ten minutes... pee break... more lethargy.  Getting worse.  I found myself stopping more now, for no other reason than to rest.  But rest from WHAT?  I wasn't working that hard, it seemed -- I was operating at a snails pace, so why was I so wiped out?

Stopping at the side of the road atop a small rise - again - the lantern rouge was passed on to me.  I was sitting atop a ridge on highway "H", and the final rider in the chain passed me, this one, too, asking if I was alright, if I needed food or anything.  I think I responded, but I'm not sure what I'd said.  Eventually I continued on.  Ended up passing them again at a confusing point in the road, but they quickly caught me up once again.  Now, I was the last one on the road. 
I trodded my way north for another couple hours, stopping three or more times to pee, and once to fix the Profile Aquarack seatpost waterbottle holder, whose fixing bolt had popped when I botched a remount and caught my shorts on one of the bottle tops -- ping!  Loose.  Glad I'd brought that small hose clamp -- that was a quick fix, but it was a mental blow.  Not only was my body failing, but now little parts on the bike were, too.  I didn't want to have to fix anything.

Then, after turning north onto Highway "A" - the final leg to Albany - I was passed (opposing) by the first rider in the lead bunch.  Looking strong and pedalling a big gear, he flew south without so much as a wave.  No exchanging pleasantries with the losers, he likely thought to himself (in retrospect, he probably didn't see me, but that was my mental state).  I trudged on.  Ten minutes later, another rider was coming up the road -- it was the Warbird.  We stopped, and he crossed over the highway to meet me, and I began to recount the events leading up to that point.  I started to question the fuel (finally, after 80 miles of suffering!?) and my ability to continue - but I was so close to the halfway mark - and I vocalized that I would like to try and finish.  Warbird offered to drive the route in reverse after finishing -- he felt great, strong, fast -- the fuel, the same I was using, was working great for him - and he was refitted to an older bike, also working great.  I was quite the opposite.  I agreed to his offer of driving the route backwards, and we separated again.  Me north, him south.

Fifteen miles later I was in Albany at the Casey's store control.  I made it to the checkpoint with 30 minutes left in the checkpoint window.  Wow.  Close... My confidence was slightly boosted that despite everything, I was still "in the running" for a finish.  I knew that turning south and getting a tailwind, that I could make the checkpoint back in Stewartsville with no problem, but as I filled my water bottle again with Sustained Energy powder, I began to doubt its effectiveness again.  I went back inside, bought two bottles of V8, a granola bar, and a bean and cheese microwave burrito.  I ate on the curb, rested for fifteen minutes - and, slightly refreshed, I carried onward.  I left the checkpoint, headed south - into destiny and fear territory.

Five minutes after leaving, the godsend tailwind shifted wildly - blowing straight out of the east now, violently -- a brutal crosswind.  It was no help, but only slightly better than a direct headwind.  I carried on, starting the mileage countdown to the next checkpoint.  My decision at the Casey's was beginning to show positive signs.  The burrito was working, and the V8 was working, too.  I was starting to feel better -- and no Sustained Energy had been consumed... interesting.  Time to make up some ground!  I started pushing bigger and bigger gears, standing up, and climbing better than before.  Things were looking up!

Right about that point, the first raindrop hit me squarely on the back of my left hand.  Heeeere we go.  The rain was in the forecast all day, but the winds had blown most of the instability out of the air -- what was supposed to start happening at about noon was now occurring at 3:45pm.  We had been lucky most of the day, but my luck was quickly running out.  I should have been much farther south than this.  

First it was my rain jacket... rather "windbreaker".  This thing was NOT waterproof at all, and barely water "resistant" as advertised.  After about a half-hour of continuous, hard rain and road spray, the fabric was fully saturated, and the wet fabric was sticking to my arms, making the wind all the more unbearable.  The temperature began to drop rapidly.  What was once nearly 60ºF was now approaching 45ºF.  I was getting cold.  I continued onward, riding it out - not having consumed anything since Albany except the Accellerade powdered sports drink that I'd had in a Camelbak with me all day, for hydration - I was feeling fine, and fresh.  The Sustained Energy seems to have been the wrong choice for me, personally, but I wished I'd found out earlier.... or, rather, paid attention earlier.  Self inflicted, certainly.  I would have been much closer to home instead of way up here by myself in the rain.  

About another hour into the rain, my "water proof" shoe covers began to seep through.  I felt the first icy veins of water and squish in my socks around my tired toes, and I began to get chilled.  The temperature dropped a little more.  The rain was relentless.  A strange popping sound at each pedal revolution ws giving me fits for about 30 miles, and I found out eventually that it was a little plastic cosmetic "cap" under the saddle nose of my new saddle that was pinching at the fabric of my rain pants with each pedal stroke - thusly ripping a series of small holes in the inner thigh area of them, letting water in.  I got a little bit colder.  The temperature seemed to drop slightly again, and the clouds thickened more.  The wind was howling.  This was a full-on storm now.  Discouraged, I stopped at a church on the side of the road, and sought shelter behind it - out of the rain and wind.  I stood here for about an hour, drying out slowly, and ate my second granola bar from the last checkpoint.  I almost had decided that this was where I was going to wait for the Warbird, but the temperature was still dropping and I was not really getting any drier.  It was roughly 37ºF now (based on temperature records analyzed the next day based on time), and the rain was coming quicker.  Could I call my Dad?  Would he come out?   Worth a shot... I pulled my phone from my back pocket -- it was dead.  I had been out of the PCS service area for so long that the looking-for-service function had sucked my full charge to zero.  Who knows HOW long it'd been dead, but it wasn't doing me any good now.  It was on me.  I decided to leave the church -- the farther south I got, the less time I'd have to wait for my ride, and the warmer I'd stay by moving.  I was not making the finish in this condition.  I began to shiver, deeply.  

I ventured back onto the bike, which had blown over in the wind, ripping the bar tape on a rock and bending the Aquarack a little more out of place.  The hose clamp at least held.  At this point, cosmetics weren't even a concern.  The only things on my mind were warmth, home, quitter.  Over and over.  Part of me was convinced that I should finish the ride regardless, to at least get the medal for everything I was going through - and I was frustrated at myself for considering quitting.  The other half knew that the clock wasn't going to cooperate forever, and quitting was the safer option - the the temps guaranteed to drop with the setting sun, and nearly 25 miles to the gas station at Stewartsville from the church, I was gonna be screwed if I didn't keep moving.  I mounted the bike, trying to shelter my hands from the cold rain by grabbing then ends of my windbreaker's sleeves, and started on my way.  I was not going to make it.  I went about two miles up the road where I saw a farm house.  No one home.  Another three miles, another house, no one home.  I carried on another ten miles, and ten I felt it, plain as day:  thump thump thump.... I looked down, flat tire.  I stopped, tossed my spare tube, my fingers blue and stinging, and used my inflater kit to air it up.  It sorta worked - kinda squishy, but rideable.  Mounted up, and started to pedal... and I got about 200 yards before I was on the rim again.  This is stupid.  I stopped, and I just knew it was hopeless:  but I had a patch kit.  My seat bag had been sprayed with rain from the tire for hours now, and everything was soaked  - was it even going to stick to the tube in this wet?  There was no way, but I began to undo the patch kit and unmount the tire again... no matter.  My blue fingers were useless, and I fumbled the open patch kit into a puddle.  I just deflated.  My shoulders dropped.  My jaw hung open.  Rain, and silence, was all I could hear... rather, I was almost absorbing it, standing against the wind with my bike upside-down.  This was not good.  Sure enough, the patches wouldn't stick to each-other, must less a wet tube.  Time to walk.  I remounted the disabled tire, flipped the bike over, and headed south - Look cleats clomping and slipping against the pavement.  Another mile, another farm house... but no one home, again...  does anyone actually LIVE out here???  

I even figured at this point, rolling on a flat tire would be faster than walking, so a few times I just mounted up and rolled down some hills to make up time, tire and rim be damned.  Twelve miles to Stewartsville, and it was going to be dark in the next hour.  There were no cars in sight to flag down, no occupied houses among the few I even came upon.  I hadn't seen anyone in over two hours.  I walked, and walked, and walked until I reached the next major intersection, at Missouri 6, and highways H and J.  There I stood.  Surely, there would be a county sheriff or someone patrolling a highway like this.  I waited, and waited.  The sun began to get lower.

The only shelter I could find from the wind was the stop-sign, a 6"x6" wooden post.  It was not enough.  Thankfully, the rain was letting up a little.  I was completely alone.  There was no-one out here but me.  No one crazy enough.  I was hoping the Warbird would make it soon, but I knew he was still on a bike at best - and hours away from me.  Could I survive this???  I looked for a ditch to lay down in and get out of the wind - I was already drenched, the wet ground would make no difference.  I was sleepy, shivering deeply, almost uncontrollably.  Hopefully, someone would see my flashing red taillight if I kept the bike leaning against the stop-sign post, but would Warbird spot it?  Would he be searching this far north?  

About 15 minutes later, when the shivering was at its worst, and I was starting to think about my family, my wife, my options, a maroon minivan pulled up to the intersection from the north, and I practically leaped in front of it.  I must've looked pretty bad, because the passenger window came down slowly.  I asked them if they were going to Stewartsville, or if I could use their phone.  It was option two, and I dialed 911... I got connected to DeKalb County dispatcher, and the very helpful lady dispatched an EMT to me while I was on the phone.  I thanked everyone profusely, and the van - and family inside - left.  I don't blame them.  Who was this nutjob in spandex standing out in the rain, anyways?  I don't know who they were, but they quite possibly saved me.  If I was still able to ride, the cold might not have been so bad, but everything I was wearing was soaked - I might as well have been standing in the rain, naked.  The wind was still howling.  I wasn't going to make it.  The sun had finally squeaked out the last of it's light, the temperature dropped to about 35ºF, and it started raining again.  I stood there, leaning up against that post for another, eternally long, 20 minutes before the calvary finally showed up, a volunteer EMT from Maysville.  I had been in the rain and cold for 4 1/2 hours.  It was hypothermia, for sure.  My cold chest foretold a low core temperature, my fingers and lips were numb and bluish, my toes hurt, I could not stop shaking, and I was drenched despite my best efforts to keep dry - my barriers to the rain proven useless.  The truck had a strong heater.  We shared stories, and I warmed up, slowly.  I was literally chilled to the bone, cold to the touch, like my pilot light had been blown out.  

We finally arrived at Stewartsville, and as I'd watched the road pass quickly under the truck as we went south on highway "J", I was realizing that I would have had to walk or ride that whole way - and it seemed unreal, impossible.  I knew I made the right choice making that call.  I thanked the driver over and over as he unloaded my bike, I shook his hand, and he left.  Finally, shelter.  I propped the bike up against a short cement wall, with my taillight facing up the road - hopefully for Warbird to see - and went inside to a heated c-store paradise.  I even got my card signed, despite the fact that I was already DNF'd for taking the EMT ride - I didn't care.  Even if I'd stayed on that bike, I wouldn't have made the control on time.  It was officially closing at 21:00 hours, and it was 20:46 when she signed it... After a CAR ride there.  HAd I managed to fix the flat, I would have ridden on into the darkness for no reason at all.  Too much time had passed. I didn't care.  I ate another microwave burrito, two granola bars, some Gatorade, and some hot chocolate - and waited for the Warbird to show up.  

And an hour later, he did.  I was never so happy to see him in my life.  His car's heater was strong, too.. and I sat inside the car while he loaded my bike onto the roof rack, and soon we were headed back to Perkins.  Again, the same thoughts crossed my mind, as the lightning flashed and the rain pounded intensely against the windshield:  I would've had to ride all that way back, in this darkness, in this rain, on this narrow highway - we both kept mentioning how feeble a bicycle taillight must look at 65 MPH in a downpour like this.  I wouldn't have made it, even if everything had gone right.  I have no doubt in my mind as I write this - I know the limits of the human body, and this kind of exposure, in drenched clothes with no insulation - it would have spelled doom for me.  I was happy to have DNF'd on this day.  No question.  Even the Warbird, having finished hours earlier, was recounting how miserable it had been in the last hour, riding through driving rain with no leg warmers, no jacket - and at his full steam pace, if it was THAT bad... yikes.  

I filled the Warbird's tank with gas when we finally got back to town, and thanked him immensely.  Ha has no idea how huge I owe him for that night.  A good friend - the best. 

After stripping off what I legally could after finally getting into my car with the heat cranked, I began my drive home.  You know that throbbing feeling you get in your toes and fingers after you've been out in the cold for a while?  I had that feeling in my head, back, everywhere.  Scary.  I need a few things before this ever happens again:  Rain?  Gore-Tex, or similar.  Fuel -- well, I have a few emails to fire off to help answer that, but I have a feeling that Hammer Gel might be a better choice for me, supplemented with Accellerade in the Camelbak - which worked better than anything else today.  I'm removing that Aquarack, because I won't need it to carry extra powder, and it's a piece for breaking so easily.  I've removed that plastic cap from the bottom of the ProLink saddle - the rainpants are toast.  I'll get a good rain jacket, and call it good.  

An hour or so later, I'm sitting in my house, on my couch, recounting the events to the wife.  I was home.  A hot shower, flannel pajamas, warm socks, a warm bed, and I was out like a light.  What a day.  

Stats?  140 miles... I dunno... my bike computer died in the rain, too.  

Notes from 2009:
Yes indeed, this was my worst day on a bike EVER... still is.  
A couple of things, though -- a little prevention goes a long way, and I always feel really dumb when I read this story.
READ THE LABEL.  Hammer Nutrition is a good company, with good people, smart people -- and their products are superior to just about anything else available in engineered nutrition.  BUT, you HAVE to read the label:  On every Sustained Energy tub or packet, you will find a little warning label that reads:  Sustained Energy should not be (they might even say "NEVER") combined with any product containing simple or refined sugars.  
While I had not technically done this, I was still doing it in my stomach.... for hydration, all day long, I had been sipping Accellerade from a camelbak, which contains Sucrose and Fructose.  In short, I'm a stupid person.  I learned, though.  

I ended up finding the best cycling rain jacket money can buy, figured out precisely the above, and would end up coming back to try the 400K.  I would also eventually learn to not use finite inflater cartridges to refill tires, store seatbag items in plastic baggies, and carry more than one tube.  In fact, for a long while after this I carried three.  I also learned the value of fenders, and carrying a few small items of clothing that can retain body heat without a lot of bulk.  Finally, silly as it may sound - after that day I always carry an emergency space blanket.  Had no-one shown up, that would have made the difference.

Lessons... hard lessons... but, lessons learned.  Since then, because of preparedness and clearer thinking, I haven't had a truly bad day on the bike since.
Well, at least not on a brevet.

Thanks for reading.  

December 24, 2009

From the Archives: "The Liberty 200k" - My first brevet.

As originally written:  April 6th, 2002:

Nerves, Nerves, Nerves -- there I was, straddling my bike in a Perkins parking lot at 6:50am with a cold wind blowing all the heat away form my body, waiting for the start of my first brevet.  In attendance were local legends Byron "The Grim" Rieper - a recent RAAM competitor; Dan Jordan - a multiple RAAM rider; then organizer Bob Burns; and more.  The Warbird and I were the youngest people there.  The average age on this ride was similar to the average age of a RAAM participant, about 51 years old.  It was a good feeling, and at the same time I kept wondering why no-one my age besides Warbird was riding in this thing.  I would find out.

As the group rolled out, I began to relax a little.  I was privledged enough for a short while to hang with Byron and Warbird and a group of three tandems, which was a hard group to hang with for long - I decided , wisely, to let them advance up the road, knowing that over a short time they would probably slow down a little.  Realistically, I was not prepared for their pace - and I knew how much distance lay ahead.  I was eventually proven right, but it was making me a little nervous to be alone in such unfamiliar territory - way up north of Liberty, MO., someplace I'd never been even in a car before.  I became very good at following the cue sheet, and after that it was a piece of cake.  The only thing that was tough was the distance, at that point.  And the hills. 

Hills, hills, hills.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think being on a bike would be this hard.  MS-150 training rides, Johnson Drive, even the pain of Ogg Road passes quickly once you climb it - but this ride was NUTS for hills.  I had never seen so many in succession from the seat of a bike.  If the MS-150 training ride difficulty scale applied here, the toughest being a "5", this ride would have measured a "15", easily.  If I had seen the elevation profile of this ride ahead of time, I would have respectfully bowed out.  Instead, I was transformed into a hill-climbing freakshow of a sniveling idiot.  It was hell.  But, more on that later....

As I rolled on highway "H", heading northeast, the wind gently pushing me along, the lead group began to pull away slowly and gaps began to grow.  I was unofficially fifth on the road, but the gap from me to the sixth rider was growing pretty fast.  The majority of the group back behind me was already familiar with the pacing required for this kind of ride - they were not in a hurry to catch anyone.  Like them, my thoughts of catching the Warbird and the tandems quickly faded without much argument.  Let them go -- pace!  I was soon alone on the road, pedaling comfortably.  This was a fairly easy section of road, so I had no complaints.  I simply followed the turns and enjoyed the tailwind - which I also knew wouldn't last.  I was going to have to turn south at some point.  

After maneuvering along through some very scenic parts of Missouri, and along Smithville Lake near Trimble, MO. and highway "W", I had to pee BAD.  There was a stop coming up in Edgerton, MO., at the intersection of highways "B" and "Z", which I took full advantage of.  I rolled into the gravel lot of the tiny gas station, quickly took care of business, and was back on the bike - refreshed.  Maybe I was actually drinking enough water this time?  I usually never get the "urge" while on the bike.  Hmmm...

Rolled south on "B", to "E", and then a turn west.  Then some of the hills came:  BIG hills, as I struggled through Camden Point, MO., that made me suddenly very glad I had recently switched to a 38 tooth inner ring.  If I'd still been using the factory 42-tooth, I'd have had some real problems.  Some of the hills also had me thinking about my 23 tooth maximum on the rear cassette -- do I need a 26 back there?  Sure, I can always stand up, but this was getting tougher by the mile.  Onwards to MO-371, and more hills, some sharp and steep, others going on for a mile at 7-8% grade.  Drink more... the pain will pass.

Finally arrived at Casey's on MO-92 in Platte City, MO., where the first group of cyclists were enjoying a well-deserved snack, and getting their brevet cards signed.  There was the Warbird, sitting on the curb, munching on Fritos - staring off into the distance.  "Bonk", he muttered ... not good.  In the midst of his successful efforts to stay with Byron and the tandems, he had completely wasted himself.  the most satisfying thing for me at this point was realizing that despite the slow-down of the last 15 miles, I was only about 5 minutes behind this first group.  Not bad -- but time to rest and load up.  Halfway done.

After a 32oz. orange juice, a package of Twinkies, and a bag of Fritos, I was full -- but of the wrong stuff.  Warbird, at this point, had decided to lay down on the sidewalk and was soon completely passed out.  Unreal!  FAST asleep, snoring.  So, I sat, and waited.  And waited.  Not complaing, mind you - because it felt good to sleep, and I was tired of riding alone.  Slowly but surely, other riders began to roll into Casey's.  And we waited.  And Warbird slept, oblivious, for the next ten minutes.  Then, POW -- he was awake.  After a quick stop indoors for him, we were off again - just like that.  The pace was decidedly slower, and my problems soon began.  Sure, too much time off the bike was a big factor, but the food choices I had made at the Casey's replaced my muscle fatigue with stomach and side cramps.  I was suffering, and it was not going to go away for a long time.  Plus, my new gloves were giving me nerve shocks up my forearms - something I didn't have a problem with using my old gloves, so maybe it was time to switch back.  Not today, tho.  Weren't doing me any good if they were at home.  

This is where the map failed us:  As I led our little two-man group north on Mo-371, we simply passed right by our turn.  We ended up rolling underneath this over-the-road conveyor belt that fed a rock quarry or cement plant, something like that, near highway "K".  It didn't look familiar at all to either of us, so we stopped to check the maps.  What had led us to highway 371 previously was highway "E", but it had turned into highway "U" after crossing over I-29.  So, on the way back north, following the cue sheet and looking for a sign for highway "E", well, we never saw it because it wasn't there.  Three extra miles added onto an already long day, and it was a LONG three miles back to the turn, into the increasing headwind.  Plus, some unexpected hills - I was pretty hacked at myself.

Finally we were there, and we turned east and out of the growing headwind for the moment.  But those hills were waiting in Camden Point.  We climbed and we climbed, and my pain increased.  Neck, shoulders, arms, not to mention my legs - all revolting from the 80-some miles logged so far, and there was much more to go.  We proceeded on "E" to the junction of "EE", and a turn north

The tailwind was nice, but "EE" had some seriously big hills, one after another.  One person nearby had suffered mechanical difficulty on the way up one of the bigger climbs, and Warbird  stopped to assist while I continued on - but he wasn't gone for long.  We trudged onward, slowly making our way north for the mother of all roads.  I had thought at this point I had seen the worst of the hills, but it was gonna get really bad over the next 12 miles.  

At the end of "EE" we turned east onto highway "Z".  We had a nice crosswind now, and the clouds were beginning to thicken - plus the temps were dropping again, which was odd.  "Z" lasted about four miles, and then was "F", across a neat old bridge, and then north to MO-116.  This particular stretch of road was just flat brutal.  This is where it was just rollers, continuously, for about seven more miles.  Bad hills, HUGE.  Johnson Drive is nothing compared to this road.  Maybe it was the wind, or the mileage at that point, or my overall pain situation, but it was very hard to complete this section of road without complaining.  From here until the end of the ride, I was in my small chainring.  In fact, I had only been in the big ring for a total of about 15 miles, if that much, earlier at the beginning of the day - and only on the flatter sections.  Now, that big chainring might as well have been on a chain around my neck.  I didn't even need it there.  At some points, I was really wishing for my old 30x26 triple chainring combination, back before I discovered how "un-necessary" it was.  Ugh, I was eating those words.  Sure, the Warbird would have finished an hour ahead of me, but i would have been a lot more comfortable.  My legs screamed in protest.  We're talking pure glycogen depletion:  not enough liquid, not enough food, and more hills than I'd expected.  It was a losing battle - the only goal now was to finish.  

MO-116 seemed to go on forever -- we were on this highway for nearly three hours (it seemed) before we arrived at a gas station in Plattsburg.  At one point, at the top of a particularly nasty hill, we both just stopped and put our feet down.  The Warbird's suggestion - the first time I'd ever heard him even mention such a thing:  "how 'bout a breather?".  "YES." - I had replied without hesitation, stopped, pulled off the road, and lowered my head onto the handlebars to rest my neck.  Milepost 94.  We had 41 more miles ahead of us, and I was contemplating using my phone to call someone.  Someone was gonna have to come get me.

Then we got caught.  A lady and a guy, rolling slowly along, the same two that we'd passed at the intersection of "F" and "Z", about ten miles prior.  They rolled on, and we both watched them suffer up the very hills were had yet to face.  We could not rest forever.  After some energy gel and self-dialog, we rolled back onto the road.  And then the hills came again to haunt us.  There I sat, in my saddle, in my 38x23 gear combination, cranking to the point of finding every creak in my bike - and then shifting only down into my 19-tooth cog on the false flats.  I was wasted.  This was no roller coaster ride - the roads were generally going uphill the whole time, just steeper in some places.  It was nuts.  Finally, retribution came when we passed across US-169 highway a few miles later.  What was previously a very nasty road was now a freshly paved and grade-relaxed highway with a shoulder - johnson County, KS., style.  The next five miles into Plattsburg were much, much better.  So much better that the Warbird was escaping up the road again - and I just could not chase him.  But, I slowly picked off the two riders that had passed us up previously, and soon was in town - to find Warbird waiting at a Conoco station just before highway "Y".  We stopped for about 40 minutes, bought more food and drink, and chatted with other riders as they stopped -- some that had been stopped there for a while, also.  It felt good to be off the bike.  

Everything still hurt.  My abdominals, obliques, back, neck, arms, legs, ankles, wrists, big toes - everything had its own brand of pain associated with it, even my freaking ears hurt.  I was just numb from it all.  I just wanted to lay down.  Plus, I was starting to discover that since last year's MS-150, I had lost a little body fat in some key areas -- my backside being one of them.  My saddle was killing me.  My favorite Flite TransAM saddle was my worst enemy now.  The pain was tolerable for now, but was getting worse, even in the face of my marvelous shorts I'd recently bought.  Time for a new saddle that more closely mimics my trusty, but ugly, Specialized Body Geometry Comp saddle.  Heck, maybe I should just witch back to that seat!  For now, I have a Selle Italia ProLink on order, which looks like it might solve the issue.  My neck pain was intolerable - I am reaching out way too far ahead for the handlebars, and the result is me actually hunching up my shoulders to reach them.  A shorter stem is a solution, and I've got that ordered as well.  The longer reach to the bars was also making me slide farther forward on the saddle, which might go to the saddle issues I was having -- if I slid backwards, the pain went away, but I'd only end up sliding forwards again.  Hopefully the new stem and seat combination will help make this a new bike for me.  Unfortunately, both of these upgrades will increase the weight of the bike, but I don't care anymore if comfort is the payoff.  Speed is not longer the issue.

Okay, back on the bike:  We rolled to highway "C", and the dreaded turn south.  Into the wind.  And it would be like this for the rest of the ride - the next 22 miles.  At least "C" was a decent piece of road... the kicker came at the jog onto Plattsburg Road, southbound.  This was pavement???  I think not!  This was the crappiest road I'd ever ridden on.  It was bad, bad, bad.  We stopped for a pee break, and then continued onward.  It was crappy and rutted and chucked for the next six miles, until Clay County maintenance took over south of 162nd street, and the pavement smoothed out nicely.  There were still hills, but we didn't care much.  It was grind, coast, grind, coast, grind, coast, grind, coast - ad nauseum for miles and miles.  The scenery was okay, but the sun was getting seriously eclipsed by thicker clouds, and so taillights popped on, and soon, headlights, too.  Then we felt a few drops.  Ugh.  Heeeere we go!  Milepost 116.  

Onward, south, through the light rain, we FINALLY began to hear the symphony of civilization from I-35.  We were getting close.  We reched the first traffic light in nearly 32 miles, and turned onto the outer road along I-35.  And more hills.  They came one after the other as we slowly crawled back into Liberty city limits.  A few hairy residential turns later we were looking up once again at the huge Perkins American flag, waving in the rain.  FINALLY!  I rolled up to Warbird's car, and kissed the window glass.  We were done.  I looked at my bike computer's clock and it rolled over to 6:00pm.  Eleven hours.  Nine hours, five minutes rolling time.  Not the fastest of rides, but considering how poorly I felt the 14.5 MPH rolling average was more than satisfactory.  

Unfortunately, doing some post-ride assessment revealed more than the source of pain in my saddle - it revealed that I didn't drink enough, didn't eat enough, and I stayed off the bike WAY too long at stops.  Compared to some ideals from the Ultra-Cycling website, I should have consumed about 420 calories per hour, and I had only taken in an average of 205.  Gels and Twinkies are not enough for next time.  Time to read up!

For all the pain and suffering, this was a good ride.... I survived, and in the words of Byron Rieper himself - finishing IS everything.  The 300K is in two weeks, and hopefully my changes to the bike and my slap-in-the-face nutrition findings will pay off on that ride. Cya!

Memorable quotes:  "Dude, it's only 25 miles longer than the MS-150's first day."  I remember running that through my head at mile 90.

Thoughts from 2009: 
I have to grin at myself -- over the eight years that have passed (more or less) since I rode the Liberty-Platte City-Liberty KCUC route, nothing about it has changed:  and I LOVE that.  a few roads have been repaved, as happens - but the area is still largely empty, and traffic hasn't really increased that much.  It's a great area to ride, and I love going up there.  Now, my writing style and my ability to recount details has improved over time.  I've been giggling at my inability to correctly estimate how long I was on "X" road, compared to how long it FELT like I was on "X" road, or how "ridiculously steep" (or not) some of the hills REALLY were.  At the time, I hadn't ridden anything quite like it.  Hey, perception is everything, right?  

Fit notes - I was getting close to making a major turn-around, from weight-weenie, low-n-aero roadie super-star wannabe, to well-fit randonneur;  but it would take another year to get inside the comfort range I enjoy today.  The shorter stem would end up helping, but the Pro-Link saddle was quickly retired, and I came to find out that my "hated in this post" Selle Italia Trans-Am worked terrifically if I had it set up correctly, and with the shorter stem and better overall fit.  Still, the aluminum Schwinn Passage I was riding on this first brevet would be completely retired eventually -- but I still ride the same saddle today.  One thing I can say, if I can sneak in a mini product review:  Selle Italia makes saddles that LAST.  Little else has lasted as long in my cycling arsenal.  Saddles, and much else, are really personal matters - choose carefully, and be patient.  A good fit is essential - and the rest falls into place:  you might find that your current seat is brilliant at mile 50, but atrocious at mile 150.  Check your fit first, before you run out and buy another one.  Consider your shorts, too.  Don't be afraid to make modifications to a bike in the name of comfort, regardless of component weight.  None of that lightweight race stuff matters if you're not fit properly - you'll end up slowing down anyways from fatigue.  

Nutrition and hydration would be a repeated theme after this ride for a long time, something I'd started to learn at the century level before this particular ride; but it would take even longer to figure myself out for hydration and eating enough - but not too much - for longer distances.  It's a lesson I sometimes re-learn, even today.  Some people are instinctive - others almost need someone yelling at them to eat and drink on long rides.  I'm somewhere in the middle.  

I was wise to do research on websites but initially I bought in too much to certain "ideals".  So, one lesson I had to learn and I can pass on here:  listen to yourself more than you listen to others, and always consider your sources.  You can get a LOT of well-intentioned advice at shops, out on the road, on the web, maybe even some from this website, concerning long-distance riding - but at the end of the day, you have to go out, ride long, and just try different foods, powders, drinks, shakes, bars, gels, sandwiches, and see what works for you.  Miracle powders really do work, but not for everyone -- fig newtons, the same -- and there are some riders I know that fuel exclusively on McDonalds, and they are strong all day.  Others stomach's turn if they smell pizza during a ride.  Experiment.  Find out who YOU are, and use what works.

Finally, having ridden this route a half-dozen more times since this maiden brevet, yes, it's still a tough one - but not nearly as bad as I make it out to be above.  Don't let this account talk you out of trying it - back to perception, comfort, and nutrition - a lot of how I was viewing the later portions of the route is a direct reflection on how I was feeling when I rode it.  If you're fueled right and hydrated well, your bike fits well, and you don't go out of the gate like a Cat-5 racer, you can finish ANY brevet you start and finish with a smile.
Every journey begins with a first - errr, pedal stroke... If you've tried a century, and you've gotten to enjoy (yes, that's relative, too) longer periods of time in the saddle, come out with us in Spring 2010 - and you'll start to explore the next frontier of cycling, and learn a bit about yourself in the process.  

Thanks for reading!  A couple more "blasts from the past" to come...

December 23, 2009

Winter Break Projects

As you might notice, regular-readers, some slight cosmetic changes to the blog this week were migrated in this morning:
The side bar has been cleaned up a tad:  the old "Team c'Dude" photos have been removed individually and replaced with a slideshow, to save space.
The Rando and '08 R-12 blog post links have been combined into one links section, for easier chronological reading - old to new.
I've added a "search" widget, also, which is proving really handy.  I'm approaching my 400th post, so it will help.
Next, I'm going to be filling in some of the "blanks" for randonneuring posts:  missing are my maiden-voyage brevets from 2002, including the oft-mentioned account of my worst day on the bike ever.  That title still stands, but there's no post about it, so that's coming soon as well.  You'll see three back-to-back posts from 2002, highlighting some of the original lessons-learned from those first journeys beyond the 100-mile marker.  They're on paper, so just a little typing and they'll be online finally.
Finally, I've received a couple requests to post a "how-to" article on cold-weather riding and commuting - mainly how to dress, and how to get your mind above the elements, so look for that in the next couple weeks, as I take a break from work and the saddle.

2010 looks to be interesting - so stay tuned:  another weight-loss challenge, overall fitness challenge, more brevets, a possible 2nd R-12 run, and the Tejas 500.
Lest I forget, thanks - as always - for reading, and I hope you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season!

December 22, 2009

Happy Birthday & Celebrating Number Four

As webmaster for KCUC, I decided to cross post this thing here for the commuterDude audience as well:
We wanted to take a brief moment to congratulate one of our own:  Spencer Klaassen, the KCUC permanent's coordinator, is celebrating a birthday this week, and has also very recently finished his FOURTH R-12!

What IS an R-12, you might ask?  This is a special Randonneurs USA award that is no small feat.  Riders can begin a quest for R-12 at any time during the year, but it requires you to ride 12 consecutive months, completing at least a 200K brevet or permanent in each month.  Now, anyone living here in the midwest - take a look at the forecast a few weeks ago and you can see how difficult this might be.  Finding holes in your personal schedule, finding the right routes, planning ahead, and having the fortitude to forge ahead when the forecast didn't play out; all hefty requirements to get the R-12 checked off.

Read more at RUSA's R-12 page, download the application sheet, stick it on your refrigerator and start keeping track.  This coming year, 2010, you can take some of the guesswork out by simply following Bob's brevet schedule - if you look, you'll see that you can nearly get seven-in-a-row right out of the gate, just by attending the brevet series that stretches into August.  Many events are "double" starts, having a 400K and 200K start at the same location at the same time, so you can pick your goal -- Super Randonneur, or R-12 (or both).  

Tips and tricks for a successful R-12?  Plan early in the month: ride the first weekend of each month, if you can.  If weather closes in hard, or something comes up in your personal or family life, you have the rest of that month to reschedule a new permanent and "save" the month.  Bonus randonneuring weekend?  Get two months out of the way by looking for months that transition over a long weekend or holiday, i.e., December 31st to Jan 1st.  If you're off work, ride a 200k both of these days and knock out two months worth of your R-12 requirement in 48-hours:  excellent practice for a multi-day event.  Now, that method can be risky... what if the weather looks bad on the 31st, for example?  How many months are at risk if you have to "start over"?  You get the idea... plan ahead!  All in all, in the coming year where our national mileage credit holds massive importance for P-B-P 2011, this is a great year to set an solid goal like the R-12 for yourself, and help your fellow riders in the process.

 Spencer for all you do - from scouting out new routes, planning Fleches and Darts, coordinating countless permanents, and everything else you do out on the road for us rando guys - thank you, congratulations, and happy birthday!

Visit for more, and see the links at right to join the KCUC mailing list, if long-distance is your thing!

December 17, 2009

Rolling Loud - but with purpose.

A followup to the post" Blazing a New Trail":  I've had a longer amount of time on the studded tires now to make a few more observations, so I'll take a short opportunity to share those now:

Noise, and rolling resistance.  Yes, and yes.  

Noise?  Keeping in mind that on the Nokian Mount and Ground W160's, the studs are arranged in two rows that are about a centimeter off from the centerline of the tire - compared to other studded tires models that have studs closer to center -  things could be louder for sure.  At the maximum sidewall pressure of 45 PSI, it is possible to ride along on the center section of the tire without having the studs "engaged" all that much - but there is still noise, because keeping the bike centered on the tires at all times while cornering and pedaling is impossible in practice.  Some of this noise is created by the open and raised tread design creating air-pockets between the tire and the pavement, but some of it is stud chatter, for sure.  The result is a satisfying buzz as you ride along.  I've qualified this as "satisfying" as opposed to "annoying", because no matter the effect of the noise there is no getting around the fact that it's noise with a purpose.  After last week's successful "rubber-side-down" icy trail commutes, I find it hard to put black marks on the tire's reputation simply because it makes a little more noise than another tire while riding on dry pavement.  Part of it is indeed my own fault:  while mounting and remounting tires is not a gigantic hassle, it does fall down low on the priority list when the garage is cold, and the body is weary from riding home in the cold.  Spending any extra time in the garage after a winter commute tends to negate the maintenance time savings of using a single speed, after all - tire changes included.  In this sense, a spare wheelset would be REALLY nice.  It is also, partly, Kansas-weather's fault:  as shadowed sections of trail thaw more slowly than sunlit sections, the studs necessity tends to extend several days after a snow event - and with each passing day more and more of the trail becomes bare again.  Since the sections that are still covered over are generally long and still treacherous for normal tires, I have elected to keep the studded tires in service until complete clearing and melting occurs.  Contrary to conditions in Finland where the tires are made, and most northern-tier states, midwestern winters are fickle with many freeze-thaw cycles.  If I lived in a state where it snowed and then stayed below freezing for weeks at a time, this issue with noise probably wouldn't even be relevant.  On ice and snow, they are muffled nicely - with only occasional audible hints that the studs are working.  

Stud wear?  Perhaps a week is too soon to tell, but carbide is very hard material indeed and holds a nice edge.  So far, with probably 120 miles on studs, I can not detect any smoothing, shaping, dulling, shortening or other wear on the studs themselves.  For those that haven't seen studded tires in person, or have not seen good pictures on the web, the studs themselves are not sharpened to a point - the tops are rounded off slightly, and the edges of the studs are sharp.  Think of a tiny cylinder with a slightly domed top, and the edges where the sides of the cylinder meet the top "cap" is where the sharpness of the material can be felt.  This gives traction by an "edge effect".  Instead of forced traction by using the weight of the bike to drive a spike into the ice, this design allows a little slippage before engagement.  Further, this edge ends up being much easier to keep when inevitably riding on bare pavement because only the domed area contacts the dry surface (unless cornering hard), and overall it provides more biting surface area against multiple directions of force.  My assumption is that once the slightly domed top wears flat, the edge might begin to dull - but the nature of the material suggests this will take a lot more use to actually see.  Multiple seasons, indeed a possibility.  My only additional concern, something that pure trail-riders wouldn't need to worry about, is the harsh nature of chemical treatments our fair city applies to the roads primarily for the benefit of automobile traffic.  My commute isn't all-trail, so I have several miles to ride through this white dust and salty-sandy residue - and I can see the chalky results clinging to the tires every day.  Will this eventually affect the studs?  Plausible - but, so far, I can't see any evidence of this.  Something to keep an eye on. 

Rolling resistance?  While not really apparent until I remounted the "normal" tires for today's commute, suddenly reducing nearly 300 grams of rotating weight per tire and putting a smoother tread to the ground made it seem like I was flying - even though I was still riding the same, speed-limited, single-speed bike.  Again, this is not something to hold against a studded tire - it's simply an observation.  The benefits of sure-footedness on ice and snow far outweighs any negatives.  Yes, the tires are heavy - yes, they can feel sluggish once the snow and ice is gone - but most of that is only because once the snow and ice is gone, I automatically want to start riding flat-out again - and you can definitely "feel" the tires fighting against you as you attempt to increase speed.  Descents are slower, cornering is slower, and climbing is more of a push - but this all must be balanced against the notion that when these tires are used as intended, they are brilliant:  and you won't be doing ANY of those things quickly anyways when the trail conditions warrant the use of the tires.  

So, all-in-all, merely some observations - and motivation to either get that extra wheelset, or to go ahead and get those "normal" tires back on the rims no matter how cold it is in the garage.  Silver-lining?  It probably provides a slightly higher margin of "training" during the off-season.  If the switch to "normal" tires this morning is any indication, I can imagine what riding my regular road-bike with 28c tires at 105 PSI will feel like come springtime.

Any changes to my initial conclusions?  Not really: still worth every dime - no doubts - but in the guise of giving a properly well-rounded review these points do bear mentioning - even if they really shouldn't be a big surprise.  After all, you can't put 160 hunks of metal into ANY tire and not expect some sort of outcome.  

Thanks for reading!  See you out there!

December 12, 2009

Late, Late fall commute pics

Just a couple shots from a commute this week - if you can dress warm, there is still some good riding to be had. A lot of those "same ol' trails" look very different after a snow - so ride slow, and enjoy.

Inbound, on the way to work: I took advantage of a half-day to take some day-lit shots. Although the sun angle still produces a lot of shadowing, it's better than trying to take pics in the dark. This shot is rather unremarkable, unless you click on it and blow it up. The main reason I took it is not for the picture of this building at center, but for the three sets of tire tracks in the snow on the left. All distinctly mine; one set being from from Wednesday morning, another from Wednesday afternoon, and a third from Thursday afternoon. There's no Thursday AM set, because I had taken my bike onto the bus that morning. I took this shot on Friday late AM. No-one else had ventured onto the trails besides me, save for a half-dozen or so joggers, dogs and hikers, their foot & paw prints scattered about. That made me feel pretty good. With the warmth of that day reaching above freezing, however, the remaining patches of snow revealed that a lot of riders had gotten out and ridden that afternoon. Another good indication that studs were a wise choice, the other tire tracks I witnessed were visibly "all over the place" - where mine were straight and, well, boring. Studs? Yeah, there's a difference. While most of the snow had melted, I had to remind myself that the shadowed patches that remained still had ice underneath them, like this section shown above did.

(Upon close inspection, I might stand corrected -- there is a faint, random line that appears to be a bicycle track, but it's light and erratic, hidden in the footprints, which also might be a good comparison of studs vs. normal tires - see if you can spot it, and more importantly how wide they came out of - or into - that next corner.)

The end of a long work week, and a nice day. It got up to 38ºF on this ride home, and you can see most of the leftover snow from the AM ride in had already melted. I was alone with my thoughts, my camera, the buzz of my tires, and a nice sunset.