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...

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