December 25, 2010

Preparedness is a family and friends affair

While it's arguably a valid subject at any time of year, winter in the mid-west often has me thinking of survival techniques and general safety.  Granted, suburban Kansas City is fairly benign when it comes to real, honest wilderness extremes.  I'll grant you that:  this isn't Montana, northern Ontario, or the Mojave desert - that's certain.  However, it's surprising how quickly in this age of expansion and construction that I can find my self utterly isolated while out on a bicycle ride, and that's the motivation for these thoughts.

Bicycling for recreation generally leads to riding in groups for motivation and friendly competition, but longer distances and commuting tend to weed out some of the crowd.  Often times you can find someone to ride with - but not always.  In fact, a large percentage of my mileage each year is spent in complete solitude and this is the norm for many commuters and long-distance riders.  Even when commuting a short distance to work, through town, I can find myself out well out of view and out of ear-shot on the county trail system.  Traffic is the "natural enemy" of the recreational cyclist, which can put you in isolation on-purpose while looking for that perfect, quiet route.  You can be off the beaten path yet still very much "close to town" in any of these situations.  Add in the harsh conditions of winter and you can begin to see the potential for less than ideal scenarios to arise. 

I don't want to further this culture of fear we already live in.  (Too late?)  We all already know that bicycling is an "inherently dangerous outdoor activity".  Society at large has "taught" us through various "scientific" studies and "research" that we're constantly at risk of dying some horrible death, or at least moments from being injured no matter what we're doing.  Wear a helmet.  Wear sunblock.  Ride smart.  Check your tires.  Don't over-tighten.  Grains of salt.  What I'm talking about here, however, can be a legitimate concern:  crashing, bonking, getting lost, running out of water, having more flat tires than supplies to fix them, having a major mechanical problem during a ride - they can happen without warning at the best of times for the most well-prepared rider.  Despite all that, bicycle riding is fun and the benefits far outweigh the risks.  You can't foresee every problem - nor should you get bogged down trying to.  Any cyclist should have the knowledge and skill to fix flats, fix minor mechanical issues, and get moving again -- but there are other things you can employ to stay safe that don't involve your gear or your bike at all.

The scenarios are as endless as your imagination - but don't get so hung up on them that you find the need to prepare and pack for anything possible.  Carry the same things you always carry - but know how to use what's around you if needed.  Can you make a splint?  Can you make a fire?  Do you need to?  Do you know how to get back to town?  Can you walk?  Will you be okay if you have to simply stay put?   Sure, sure - the chances of anything major are very slim; but the majesty of a long solo ride through beautiful scenery can hide the dangers that await you if something goes awry.  Paranoid?  Yes, perhaps I am - but consider that I might be paranoid enough for both of us, and take heed.  I've been on the bad side of scenarios like this, so being prepared may prevent you from having to endure the same.  Simple orienteering, light survival knowledge, knowing your limits, knowing how to effect your survival without technology.  Remember, this has nothing to do with equipment so much as it has to do with employing your mental preparedness and knowing that you have a safety net in place.

There are plenty of outdoor survival resources available on the internet, so I won't delve into that subject here.  Further, you know the things already touched on in the post about winter clothing, so this post is a mild extension that talks about something we often forget as cyclists:  Having that safety net in place.  Assuming you have already made all the other preparations necessary to enjoy winter time (or ANY season) riding, you should always have a system in place to monitor your safe return.  Many a survival story has unfolded simply because of lack of communication.  It's a hard nut to crack:  feeling independent as a adult and as a cyclist, an adventure-minded individual not having to be accountable for your activities has to take a backseat here - even if you tell only one person, just communicate.  That's the hardest step.  

In this day and age, there's almost no excuse.  Social networking, email, text messages, GPS tracking, mileage tracking websites, or the simple buddy system work marvelously and should be taken full advantage of.  Make sure the person you have for your safety net is responsible, someone that will check their messages or is ideally already in that habit as part of their job or lifestyle.  The people in your safety net don't need to be on-call, or the person that will pick you up if something happens - make that clear.  They don't even have to be cyclists.  Family is an obvious choice.  If it's a friend, have an up-front conversation with them over a beer or coffee, and set expectations.  Don't put too much burden on your contact people.  Let them know your ability, your limits - and make it a big envelope so as to avoid confusion:  setting boundaries so that if you go out for a ride and expect to be back at 2:30 and your contact person doesn't have an email from you at 2:45 they don't hit the panic button and send out the National Guard, for example.  

If you are already in the habit of posting your ride results to a social network, have that be your conduit.  "Headed out for a quick 50 miles to Smalltown and back".... then, later,  "an awesome ride today".  Simple, succinct, done.  Be creative - but make it transparent, easy, effortless.  The trigger mechanism for your safety net should be something to the effect that if you haven't been heard from by sundown, then someone out there starts to try your cell phone, and so-on.  Even if it's a false alarm, it builds a network of accountability that could potentially come to your aid someday.

Plan a route:  Often times I am hard on myself for not being spontaneous enough - but as the miles get longer and longer in the course of training, it becomes harder to simply meander:  I have to have a route planned, something to stick to even if it is a loose plan.  It's very hard for me to simply "go out and ride", or "show n go".  When it comes to riding solo, however, this is a good thing - and any route plan should be communicated to your network as part of your "departure" message.  Include an image of your route or a list of towns you expect to hit.  No-one has to look at it - but it's there if needed.  If you are spending an hour plotting a route on your favorite mapping website or program, share that link with your network.  Don't think of this as being tied to the route, however - you still have freedom.  Even if you decide to meander during the ride and take a side-road, everyone still has an excellent general idea where you intended to be, and there isn't a search-party in the world that will just "stick to the map".  Even if you don't know the route - have a general direction of travel and communicate it.  "Headed to Cycleburg", should be enough:  your network knows where you live, and there are only so many ways to get from your home to your destination and back.  If the worst should happen, they can figure it out.  If you decide en route to alter your plans, however, be sure to communicate!  Update from the road, "Headwinds stink, turning north to Geartown."  Stay connected. 

Technology is catching up.  Only a few years back I had to get in the habit of turning off my cellphone during longer rides to conserve battery, and I was constantly in and out of coverage areas.  These days, phone run-times are longer and coverage is better.  You have to try a LOT harder to get truly isolated around here.  Is any of this a real issue then?  Probably not --- but it is remarkable how isolated you can feel only a few miles from town when nobody in a car will stop to assist you while you fix a flat tire.  Being hot and sweaty on the side of a road in frigid temperatures isn't apparent at all to someone flying past in an automobile - they'll just think "crazy biker", and keep going.  While there is still a lot to be said for the kindness of strangers, you have to be realistic.  Blow a tire on a rural downhill, drift off the steep shoulder and into the brush below - you can be mere feet from the road, yet completely invisible to passing cars.  If you have a $1.00 reflective mylar emergency blanket in your seat-bag, you may never need it --- but you'll be infinitely glad you brought it should that rare, rare hand be dealt to you when you're miles from home, with a double flat and jammed chain, in the rain, 30 minutes before dark.  Make sure your phone is "findable" by enabling GPS features (if applicable).  Keep your phone turned on, call for help - if GPS isn't an option, one of the first steps search and rescue will use involves triangulating your signal.  Even if YOU don't know where you are, the professionals have the tools to find you.

Finally, the obvious "safety in numbers" - the original social network:  ride with a friend.  Try to plan something - riding with friends always trumps riding alone, from many angles.  The same rules apply, though -- make sure family or friends know where you are headed, especially if the conditions are questionable.  Never assume that someone else in the group will do this for you.  Redundancy is good.  Event riding can be a good thing - especially if it's well supported.  There will be sweepers, roving SAG, and course marshals that will make getting lost a difficult prospect.  However, even in those situations there can be miscommunication and crosstalk - so at least make sure someone in your network knows where you're headed on that special Saturday morning.

There is no "off season" - but safety is always in-season.
Ride safe!

December 24, 2010

'dude, reMixed

Often times the mental side of randonneuring gets the better of us all.
Some would argue this sport makes you a little bit "off".
I would agree.

Wait for it....

November 30, 2010

There is a void in ultra-cycling

I'm almost a month late in reporting this, but I felt it relevant to at least catch up and pay my own respects in these pages to one of ultra-cycling's greats.  It is with a heavy heart that I share the following link:

I have been in a "news hole", quite literally focusing every last nerve and neuron towards work and other commitments, barely keeping up with the even the weather reports.  Quite literally, I don't know WHAT is going on.  Living under a rock?  Indeed.

Today, however, I took a brief respite from such things and started shopping for a goal for 2011/2012, something I usually do after an injury has altered my cycling routine like it has this year.  That move sent me instinctively to the UMCA's website, and the front page news literally stopped me in my tracks, dropped my jaw, and misted my eyes.  

The only, however trite, analogy I can think of:  this would be like losing Lance Armstrong for many cyclists.  Reading his accolades is humbling.  Having stood on the roadside, watching him fly by like he was out for a 40-mile club ride was a real thrill:  that was the closest I'd get to this man.  Literally and figuratively, anyone that has ridden a bicycle with aspirations to ride long (200+ miles) and fast, maybe even attempt The Race Across AMerica (RAAM), has probably looked at Jure Robic's race record, and like me, probably just thrown up their arms in defeat.  We are not worthy.

Year after year, Robic was (and will probably remain) THE subject of conversation when it came to the Race Across America - and it simply won't be the same without him.  I don't know if we'll see someone approach that race with the same dominance that Robic brought.  It's not a tag that should be used lightly, but I don't think anyone would argue associating this word with Jure Robic when it came to long-distance cycling:  Legend.  

Rest in piece - your memory will be honored by the retelling of your many heroic rides and seemingly super-human accomplishments.  We will not talk of filling shoes... in my opinion, it can't be done.

I humbly extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jure Robic.

November 20, 2010

Of small things, big things someday come.

I came across this sign today during errands:

Now, let's give ourselves a moment to examine the initial reaction you may have had to this. Is it the same reaction I had? Perhaps... maybe not:
Yeah, I was instantly thinking "boycott".

Many of us go to that extreme almost instantly. As cyclists, our rights are always under fire... it's natural to get defensive. Things often get larger than ourselves as we see bicycle bans that encompass entire towns or stretches of road. Think St. Charles County, MO., think Blackhawk, CO., think 83rd Street in DeSoto, KS. Translate this across the "internal combustion line", and think about Cassoday, KS. This paradigm can apply to bicycles, motorcycles, to bow-hunters, to gun rights, to chewing gum in movie theaters. It's about common courtesy, at its core - but it can get out of hand quickly. Are these small towns really "anti-cyclist", or is there something simpler here?

The establishment that posted this sign probably has no opinions or thoughts on how bicyclists use the roads around their town... or maybe they do, now, after the fact. They may not have anything against exercise, or alternative transportation. Let's definitely assume this point, however: whoever posted that sign did NOT spell out "bicyclists not welcome".


I spoke to the manager working the store shortly before I took this picture and asked a lot of questions. I was wearing plain-clothes and had my kids with me. Nothing about me said "cyclist". I was even very careful about indicating I even knew what a "cleat" was. With my sweat-stained ball cap and hoodie, I might as well have come in from a nearby small town, and just wondered what the sign meant. But, even talking to me as a "probably-not-a-cyclist" individual, I could hear the disdain and frustration under her tone and in her choice of words.

I won't try to repeat verbatim what she said here, but the point was that cleats tear up linoleum. There were themes of "courtesy", and "how would they like it if..." rhetoric that touched on whether or not said cyclist would want someone walking across their new floors with screw-in soccer cleats on, things like that. There were lines drawn that made sense: even at the golf course, the pro-shop says "no spikes". There should be a difference in the real world, sign or no sign? She knew enough to debunk what was clearly already a topic that had come up, probably from a cyclist defending their footwear: I know anytime I walk around on concrete that "recessed cleat design" really doesn't mean that much, and her old floors apparently evidenced that.

"But, it's just a c-store...who cares?" you might wonder.

I went there, mentally, also... but let's consider this for what it is. This isn't a big-chain, corporate type of establishment. This is a small town, locally run and owned business, which happens to have a small amount of support from the gasoline company that supplies the pumps and fuel they also sell. This is, really, "home" for the people that probably spend most of their waking hours either at the store, or doing something to support it.

Let's think about the economy. Let's think about how it has really affected small-town America, small-town Kansas, and small-business owners around the region. This particular store used to make and sell really decent barbecue, and last year had to stop. The equipment they invested in for that effort still sits, un-used, inside: a probably sad and daily reminder to them of a dream that didn't quite work out. They may still be paying off that equipment. Probably stings.

Let's think about the fact this store maybe isn't seeing as much business as they'd like. Right down the street about 3/4 of a mile is a larger, corporate-maintained, franchised gas station and c-store right off the main highway. They may not have made the best choice in location, but it probably is still the choice of many of the locals. Still, they might have liked a taste of the highway traveler's dollar over the past few years, and that can't be sitting well.

Regular maintenance still has to be done, cleaning, repairs, and all on a tight budget. The roof might leak and need to be fixed. Light bulbs. Coolers on the fritz. Then, the floor starts to show wear. As a concerned owner, you'd bend down and look at that floor and see that the markings are clear. Frustration sets in - that it's not in the budget, or that the floor was supposed to last "xx" years and it hasn't. The money to keep replacing tiles just isn't there. How do you control that expense? Can you afford to turn away a customer in this economy? On a summer weekend, they probably see as many cyclists as they do farmers and locals. What to do?

It probably started mentally, then verbally... now it's a sign on the door. It probably starts discussions where the owner would have sooner liked to bite his tongue and just say "thanks for your business"... but, that frustration is still there. Maybe it starts arguments, threats from alpha-cyclists akin to "never shopping there again" are shouted. More frustration. Is the argument worth it? Sure, it doesn't say it now, but maybe the words on that sign will read "bicyclists not welcome", eventually.

Maybe this is already circling the forums that I no longer subscribe to, or someone else's social network page. I don't know... but I actually (as if you couldn't tell) tend to side with the shop keep on this one. I know what the economy has done to me, and my family. I know what I have had to say "no" to, what I've had to wait to repair in my own home and on my own bicycle because the money wasn't there. I don't like it when someone meat-handles something I worked hard to build/fix/maintain. I know a lot of us are like that. That's not unusual -- but, I know enough about myself that running a c-store, constantly letting the unknown masses into my pride and joy, the store that supports my family, and seeing them mess it up - however tiny, however un-intentional... I personally could not handle it.

Un-intentional: I don't believe for a second there is a cyclist on earth that intends to mar linoleum on purpose. Cleats are part of the package. However, I would also note that I don't believe there is a cyclist on this earth that wouldn't look at this sign, and because of what we generally go through as cyclists, not instinctively go on the defensive. It's inevitable. I would caution against that, here. Perspective: someone on the morning radio applauses questionable behavior towards cyclists, or a major c-store chain airs advertisements that put cycling in a negative light, or a congressman tries to take a road away - YES: fight, scream, pound the table, write, call, email, stand up and speak.

For the Stilwell Grocery at 199th and Metcalf; folks, let's see this for what it really is - and either kindly slip the shoes off, or spend the $12.00 on some rubber cleat covers. The fact we're riding bicycles for sport or recreation indicates that we, however small, have some expendable income - and certainly the time. You'll save their floor, you'll help a small business stay open in a larger sense. You'll maintain a good relationship with a familiar oasis at the end of a long stretch of road: for all of us. It shouldn't matter that there's another c-store 3/4 of a mile away: boycotting is not the answer here. Courtesy, understanding, and partnership is.

Supporting a local business is important. They have effectively opened their "home" to us, their restrooms, their ice machine and water dispenser, their front porch and picnic tables. Yes, we are paying them for drinks and chips - but I'm not sure that's the point. Let's remember how often our rights as cyclists are at risk, and extend them their right as business owners to set some guidelines. I don't find their request here terribly unreasonable, even if it does add a small step to my ride routine.

And, don't over-react: this is not so much an "anti-cyclist" thing as it's an "anti incosiderate people" thing.

Think about it.

Thanks for reading.

November 15, 2010

MoBike/PedFed announces two new FREE classes!

The Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation has two FREE classes scheduled for November: These are great opportunities to gain some skill and knowledge in a very easy and comfortable environment.

FIX-A-FLAT, November 18th, 6:00 p.m., KC North Community Center.
Learn some full-proof methods of fixing flat tires at home or out on a ride.
Details and registration:

BIKE SKILLS, November 20th, 11:00 a.m., Tony Aguirre Community Center on the Westside.
Get some practical riding experience in this clinic. You'll practice the essential riding techniques and even learn some emergency maneuvers. Bikes and helmets are required.
Details and registration:
(Published with permission)

Brought to you by:
BikeKC, a program of the City of Kansas City

Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation
Mid-America Regional Council

November 10, 2010

Thank you, veterans

Politically, it's been an interesting year for cycling in a lot of regions of our great nation. Bike bans, riders rights, advocacy for civil projects, interpretations of laws, and ultimately - last week - voters at the polls, making tough choices that affect us all.

What does this really have to do with veterans? Well, that should be clear; we've all heard the "thank a veteran" rhetoric, and it's relevant today, tomorrow, and yesterday - regardless of context. When you bed down tonight, or tuck your children into bed, somewhere there is a soldier standing a post. Whether it's an analyst sifting intelligence in an Army data-center, someone on a patrol in Afghanistan, or the streets of Baghdad; whether it was Tet '68, or the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula, or on Omaha Beach, or at Cold Harbor, or Valley Forge, there is a relevance to how we live our lives today.

Something as simple as the freedom to ride a bicycle across state lines without so much as a thought for papers or credentials, to ride on public roads, to breathe deep of free air and exercise the mind and body - yes, it's relevant. The right to vote on issues that take away some of those rights which cyclists enjoy? Exercise it. Write. Call. Email. Get worked up. Get passionate. Talk about it in the taverns and bars, and take it to the polls every chance you get. Educate people around you. Talk. Teach.

I can't think of a better way to honor those that served this country than to hang up the car keys for a day and ride a bicycle to work: Yeah, here in KC there is rain in the forecast; consider it a tiny bit of personal sacrifice to honor those that sacrificed everything.

Counter to that, maybe it's a day to fire up the most gasoline-inefficient SUV and drive that to work - by all means. That's American, too, and your choice. Obviously, part of the motivation within these pages is to perhaps pull you away from doing that EVERY day, but I do respect that you have that right and privilege.

For me, the "fight" to convince people otherwise is still a worthy one.

Happy Veteran's Day, everyone.

September 30, 2010

Ya ever have one of those years?

I have.  
And you know what?  Who cares?!?!

This morning, I rose early and rode the streets of suburbia to my job - enjoying now how each day the sun rises later and later, each morning commute turns into a miniature "night" ride.
Orion, my favorite constellation, is up now - directly overhead in the last hour before dawn, and with the dry, cool air in place it's spectacular.  Along 137th street, no cars, utter silence save for my tires and the wind in my ears, I let go of the handlebars and sat back, stretching in the saddle hands-free, and looked up.  Right as I did, perfectly in the center of my field of vision a bright shooting star arced across Orion's belt from west to east, and the light pollution that normally shields the details had lifted just for a moment to reveal the sparkling, ghostly remains of the trail - hovering like magic dust in the black sky.

It's amazing from whom I grasp inspiration.  It's shocking sometimes, the things that finally resonate - and sometimes more shocking where the revelation comes from.
I won't get into a lot of detail here, because... well, because.  BUT: something changed today, while I was at work in an totally unplanned, impromptu meeting with someone with whom I've worked for a long time, but hadn't ever really TALKED to, ya know?  Words I heard, and how I interpreted them... it made a difference.  For some reason, today, I was really listening - because this person really didn't offer any pearls of wisdom that were immediately relevant to my current situation, it was him, relating HIS story to me, and how he'd manage to use what happened to him in a positive way.  It made a lot of the things I'd been going through seem really tiny.  Hard to explain... but if you've been there, you know.

Heck, this may not last... I know myself, and people are people with things like this:  sometimes we get inspired, times are good, attitudes are solid - but we forget.  We need that little reminder.  That slap in the face, depending.  So, today, I got what I needed.  

Today, on the ride home from work - cool breeze, dry air, birds still singing, leaves not quite changing yet... but aching to... I took off with the wind at my back and loved every minute of it.

Car coming down the hill on the road that kinda wraps around the office buildings.... that tiny, thin grey line between "yeah, I should stop... but, I have room and time...."
I hammered it.  Granted, not my finest performance - but that, along with how hard things have been, doesn't much matter either.  

I stood on the pedals and told a few hills how I felt about them, and then looked back in appreciation of Newton's 3rd law.  You see, the hills - love them or hate them - always give something back.  It's what you DO with it.  

The flats?  Bliss.  Deep in the hoods, jersey collar flapping against my neck, tempo... how that leg??   Hmmm.... you know, not bad today.  
Granted, I don't want to smoke all my reserves and re-injure anything... bah, just pedal.
The smells of the bike trail... fall... ah, fall...  a campfire sounds good again.

I get home along my new, scenic bypass:  my last north/south road is currently under construction, so I have been adding about two miles to get around it and still avoid the throngs of rush-hour... only to find that all this time, I really should have been adding those two miles, regardless.  Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is definitely NOT a straight line.... assuming shortest and best are equated.  Even after constructions wraps, I may just keep using the bypass.  It's like, "I've lived here HOW long, and this was always here?"  (facepalm)

I arrive at the driveway... out of breath?  Check.  Legs sore?  Check.  Injured part of leg sore?  yeah..... but not as bad as last week.... stretch, stretch, stretch, massage.
I find my kids in the backyard, tossing the football around.... BONUS.  I remember that football practice this week got moved a night, so this time we can play because we WANT to.  I've never been much for ball sports... but there is something downright Norman Rockwell perfect and very satisfying about tossing a ball back-and-forth with your kids.  

All in all, even with things at work being probably more intense than I found myself harpin' about last week, this was a very good day.
Attitude?  Yes... it matters.  I usually suck at it... but it doesn't take much to turn it around if you WANT to.  I've found a pile of new reasons to want to, just today.

It's amazing - what was simply "routine" two days ago, it was all there... but, today I noticed.  

Keep your eyes open, and your head up.

Thanks for reading!

September 24, 2010

Age sucks.

I'm holding my head a little higher lately, taking some things into control.  Creating music.  New fervor at work.  A return to school.  Push-ups.  

I'm fighting back. 

Being injured makes you feel old.  Headed back to July 7th, kick-boxing - my cross-training program came to a bitter halt when I side-kicked the 150lb. heavy-bag incorrectly, landing my left foot's big toenail firmly into the leather seaming on the bag.  The bag won.  They always say, make sure the seam is at the front... I knew this, but the bag had rotated, and I wasn't paying attention.  I didn't hold back, landing a hit that immediately sent feedback to my brain that something bad had happened.  Thankfully, I was jacked up on adrenaline and endorphines enough to push my toenail back down into position and tape it in place quickly enough that the nail-bed didn't start to heal over.  So, the nail was saved and has since grown back to full recovery - but, my ankle.  Maybe I don't give myself proper leg-strength credit, but I imagine that kicking the bag hard enough to cleanly separate the big toenail 3/4s of the way off might also have twisted something.  Ever since that night, the back of my ankle - specifically the Achilles tendon - has hurt, a lot.  Daily.

Initially, I thought it was plantar fasciitis - but, either that part healed, or I was wrong.  The Achilles tendons right near the base of the heel have been a struggle, however, for the last eleven weeks.  Regular routines of stretching and massage have helped, but it's been frustrating.  Each morning, after a full night of immobility, that first weight-bearing movement getting out of bed literally seems to re-tear them, every morning.  Although, over time, over the last three weeks, it has gotten better.  My weakening Shimano sandals had begun to offer less and less support, and finally the fore-strap failed on - you guessed it - the left foot.  I was sad to see them go, super-comfortable in the early days and simply perfect for commuting and utilitarian in the last couple years, I don't think they were doing the ankle any good when they started to fall apart.  Having since switched to my "weekend shoes" full time has helped things along.  

As a last-straw, it seemed that any compensation I was doing to save the ankle began to translate to my calf becoming very, very tight while riding.  Initially nervous that it was my IT-band, I ended up being wrong on that count as well - thankfully.  Still, it makes me nervous, the tightness being so close to the knee.  I think things are progressing, finally; continued massage and stretching have begun to loosen things again.  The weird thing is, it's like I'm 2nd-guessing everything:  the bike fit, the way I pedal, the way I do or don't point my toes during the pedal stroke - seriously, overthinking things I haven't thought about at all in a while.  

The bike fit?  Okay, that's dumb -- enough time and mileage has passed, and the injury didn't occur while riding.  It never hurts while riding, even when sprinting or hammering a climb... or slow, totally wrong-geared mashing out a climb.  No issues.  So, that's not it.  Don't touch anything.

The pedal stroke?   Overthinking.  Just pedal.  Easier said than done... when the calf tightens up, it makes me naturally want to alter this detail or that - for better or worse.  The best medicine:  don't compensate for it - just pedal.  Trying to keep that in mind.  

The whole thing, however, solidifies my R-12 bail-out decision of a few weeks back.  I completed the July 24th permanent on the Border Patrol route, and really didn't have any complains in the ankle department, though I was very mindful of it.  Recovery afterwards was the same as it ever was.  There is a good chance, however, that whatever subconscious compensation I've been doing to keep the ankle out of risk, it's migrated to my calf - perhaps.  Or, perhaps as the ankle heals it simply can't bear the strain - thereby transferring tension to the other end of the muscle, where it meets the knee area.  Still, it's been limited to muscle tension, not tendon pain.  I need to make sure it stays that way.  Maybe it was partly subconscious, but the injury didn't affect the July 200K, so I don't see where it would have affected the now-we'll-never-know August or September rides... but, I'm certain it wouldn't have HELPED.  Stress, planning, and just flat running out of time killed the R-12... but it's probably better, for my ankle's sake, that I made that decision before it was stubbornly made for me.  It'll be out there,  I'll be back.

I've gone easy on the ibuprofen, barely touching the stuff - and only taking mild doses before bedtime.  I do need to reinvest in some of Hammer Nutrition's Tissue Rejuvenator supplement, but financially it's been out of reach lately.  Just being careful, and trying to be my own best sports-masseuse have paid off so far... just a few more weeks, I really hope just a few more weeks.  So, to avoid "burn-out" since I'm still car-free these days, I've adopted a plan of riding "soft".  Which immediately makes me feel like i'm giving up.  It's hard to get past... but, geared lower, and riding slow.  Painfully, guilt-producingly, slow... for at least a month.  I need to perform consecutive rides that do NOT produce the calf tension that I've felt at some point near the end of every commute, and nearly every recreational ride I've ridden since late August.  This stuff simply HAS to heal.  It HAS to.  Mentally, spiritually, I just don't know if I can let go of the bike quite yet.  As might be apparent here, I've clearly not sought a doctor's professional advice on the subject because I'm afraid of those dreaded five words:  "no riding for _____ months". 

"Well, I don't have a car, doc"... and even if I did it quickly becomes a matter of "don't tell me what I can't do."  Yes, perhaps that attitude will someday put me in a hand-cycle, or a wheelchair.  I just remember those long months off the bike back in 2006 after the Tejas 500 attempt... caused by, yes, ankle pain.  It seems that my Achilles Heel is literally my Achilles heel.  To be clear, though, the pain I've been experiencing these last eleven weeks is NOT the same pain, nor is it in exactly the same location, as the pain from Tejas '06.  But, it crossed my mind more than a few times - I've been very mindful.  Could it be over-use?  Hard to tell - but really, it's just not the same circumstances at all.  I just know that as I age this is going to be the thing to care for and watch.  

It's completely silly, I know ... but the first time, in 2006, when my ankle grounded me I have little doubt that it was somehow for a reason, and that reason was keeping me close to home when my Dad's health was failing.  I don't look at that injury as frustrating and I don't care that I didn't finish that race, or that I lost ride time... I look at it from the perspective that if I had been out in the country on a bike somewhere when that last phone call came in, if I hadn't been able to get there that last time, I never would have forgiven myself.  That injury gave me the best last month with my father I ever could have hoped for, and the weird thing is that I can't remember the pain *I* was feeling at the time... but I do remember his.  I can't help but wonder if this injury is trying to tell me something, too.  I've been listening.  Maybe I'm just sad that he's not here.  That's okay, too.  I do miss him.  There; I said it.   

 I've been surviving, enduring, I've been on a randonnee of life.  It's all relative, it could be worse - of course.  And I say that because I know there ARE people going through FAR worse that I will ever have to endure... but, darn it, I'm tired.  I'm frustrated.  Sometimes I feel lost.  We all go through these things.  It shows.  It's been a roller-coaster since June of 2007.  I've never worked so hard, I've never struggled like this mentally, spiritually, financially.... and it shows.  I used to write ride reports with such VIGOR and LIFE... man, even about the shortest commutes.  I used to inspire people to ride, and I'm not so sure that's still the case.  I used to pour over maps and plan and plan, I used to race, I used to drive cross-country to do rides, and I used to attend all the local haunts and pub rides and such.  Good times....  good friends.  The best.  

I've been gaining the proper perspective lately, though, trying my best not to become isolated - talking about things, listening to friends.  
I have no doubt that I'm making things harder on myself than they really are.
Perhaps I set my personal standard too high... frustratingly out of reach for the only one really keeping score... me.
Why did I start this blog?
Why do I organize rides?  Why DON'T I anymore??
Why DO I ride so far, so long with no real destination, so fast when no-one is chasing me? 

This post took on a weird tone, I know ... no need to worry.
This is kind of therapeutic in a way, just typing out randomness like this...  not sure what any of it means, or where it's going.
I'm not even sure if anything in these last few paragraphs has been bicycle related... but, hey.  I'm paid up.
Does any of it make sense?   Probably not.
I'll read this in a few years, and probably wonder what I was drinking.  
To be clear, I haven't been.

So, let's stop this dribble and get back to healing.
Life, slowly, surely, is getting better all the time.
It is, after all, up to me.. and it's also up to me to let certain things go, like the negative stuff.
I can't control everything.  That's okay.

Thanks for reading.... as always.
I'm sure we'll return to normal programming eventually.

I'm not going to put any additional pressure on myself, but I am looking towards 2012 for a return to more active participation in some of the things I used to love.
I look to be ready for big changes, in my professional and personal life.
There is a massive list of things I've not been able to do over the last 4 years, and one-at-a-time, I'll check them off.

Thanks, if you're still out there, for reading -- it's appreciated!

September 15, 2010

UPDATED: Bike America Swap Meet, Saturday and Sunday

Bike America, Overland Park, is hosting a swap-meet adjacent to their Overland Park location at 95th and Nall.

Dates and times:
SUNDAY SEPT 19TH FROM 11:00 A.M TO 4:00 P.M.

Details from their website:

UPDATED: Details from me:
I will not be in attendance this weekend, so this post is strictly informational.

September 10, 2010

Traffic Skills 101 class offered in KC!

Post yanked from Eric Rogers, via
Think you know all there is about riding in traffic?
You'd be surprised!

Traffic Skills 101 is an intensive, on-bike class designed to help you safely and confidently bike in traffic. The two-part series is on October 2nd and 9th, 2010.

Whether you are an aspiring bike commuter or a seasoned cyclist, this class will give you invaluable knowledge and practical bike handling skills. This is the first time Kansas City has seen this class in several years, so don\'t miss this great opportunity.

Space is limited, so sign up today: HERE

Traffic Skills 101 is offered by Eric Bunch, a Licensed Cycling Instructor with the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, a partner in the Car Free Challenge.

September 8, 2010

I will never be the same.

This was another one of those weekends of self-discovery - although I didn't know it when I left the house.

That's my rig on the left, then Noah's, then Randy's LHT.

Fully packed up: sleeping pad, camp pillow, light fleece sleeping bag (50+F), tent, ground cover/tarp, tent poles, three pint cans of PBR beer, camp fuel for the stove Noah built me, three fresh carrots, oatmeal, coffee, filters, various vitamins, allergy pill, salt/pepper, change of clothes, spare shorts, camp hat (full brim), skull cap, light jacket, sunscreen, tortillas, can of refried beans, taco sauce packets snagged from Price Chopper. All of this was fit into my normal daily-use Axiom Monsoon dry-bag style panniers, and into a compression stuff sack that I lashed (cross-frame supported by the tent poles) to the top of the rack. Reflective triangle clipped to the back of that - road-ready. The food items were held in a 6-pack sized Thermos-brand soft-sided zipper-close lunch-bag style cooler which took up the lower half of one of the panniers.

The last piece of information I received before leaving the house was that a massive majority of the folks that RSVP'd had to bail, which is understandable on a holiday weekend, and I can deal with that. I think my days of organized rides exceeding 50 people or more are in the past. It's been that way for a while now, for me. It's just more fun with a small handful of people and a loose plan.

The majority of the route is visible here: least the interesting parts.

The amount of mental processing happening in my head while riding this route sorta put me into overload. I'm recalling as much as I can, but most of it I will leave unspoken here. The pictures will speak for me. Other portions, well, I'll tuck those away for posterity. I know that's not typical fashion for me or for this blog - but, really: the amount of information I was taking in, the amount of recollection I've got bouncing around in my head would rival a 400km brevet ride report in length - and most of the memories happened over maybe five total miles of space.

That's the power of "adventure-biking", for a soul (my own) that was clearly starved for it. That may not be a completely accurate label for what we did, and I struggle with that. It's also been termed "under-biking", which is also correct. I feel like I stood at the edge of something, considered it, and simply threw the rule book over my shoulder and went forward. The bike is only a tool, really, if you strip it all away. It's up to the rider to say "yes" or "no".

I am infinitely glad we said "yes", when Randy asked.

Noah really said it best, at the end of the day: this is one of those rides that only deepens the relationship you have with your bike. I don't think anything could have prepared me for the feelings of accomplishment I pulled from the weekend. The "never done that" list was checked off, over and over again.

I rode on gravel (ok, I've done enough now that it's not "new")
I rode on rail-bed / rail-trail / whatever-you-wanna-call-it.
I rode a minimum maintenance road.
On a road bike.
with 28mm tires.
with fenders and a rack.
with nearly 40 lbs. of camping gear.

Later, I made a fire without matches.
I prepared hot food over said fire.
I ate well, compared to last-years Clif Bar fest.
My beer was still cold after nearly 4 hours of riding, and it tasted terrific when I unpacked it at the campsite. (I love that little cooler)

I'm a bit late in posting and I'm trying to keep this succinct, valuable, entertaining. Okay, as much as that's possible with someone that thinks like I do.
Because I'm a little late posting, I'll try not to repeat photos my comrades have already included on their sites -- check The Dirt Bum's post, and KC-Bike's post for more!

So, here's the rest of my version of the story in pictures, with some details behind the images:

This is the milder section of rail-bed / rail-trail / maintenance road that we hopped up onto from approximately 239th and Victory Road. After hearing something whizz past above our heads, which clearly wasn't a train, I took a chance and climbed up the embankment that would lead me to the tracks above - expecting to see just that: tracks. Instead I saw tracks and this path that seemed to just go forever. We all agreed and after seeing nothing indicating a trespass or otherwise, we headed south. This part was nice, almost groomed. It got worse, slowly degrading to big hunks of railroad ballast - which my 28mm tires were having fun negotiating... er, trying to dig through to the bottom, more like. Still, stayed upright.

This was the first of our detours and scenic routes that would eventually put us at Hillsdale Lake without really spending more than a couple miles at a time on any major road. The car-count for the day was ridiculously low. Similar to the Louisburg Cidermill ride of last month, it was really neat taking the "other" way down, instead of just mindlessly following Old KC Road *again*.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I think we're somewhere on Woodland Road here, south of K-68, where the pavement starts back up for a short time. My smile keeps growing and growing. Heck, look at the beaming faces behind me. Even with the headwind here isn't a care in the world, no clock ticking, no deadlines. Just ride.

Low shot. I like the way the bumpy road manipulated the image while the "shutter" slid closed on my camera phone. As it was demonstrated to me the next day, this is an interesting quirk of most camera phones, something that produced a weird effect on my spokes and rotating tire, but yet makes the rim label perfectly legible. I like this shot.

Noah, making his way east on 271st street. You can see how far west the valley stretches, and Hillsdale Lake is straight back there, slightly to the right. At this point, we're actually riding away from the campsite on Randy's scenic spur. There was a special road he wanted to show us. I've touched on this before: gravel isn't exactly new to me, but I'm still very much a roadie. Over the last couple years, the percentage of miles on gravel has increased. This year, it's probably tripled - and most of that has been in the last 100 miles or so that I've ridden. What I was about to see, however, would change me forever as a cyclist in only two short miles.

Doesn't look that bad, does it? Sure, there's a little grass starting to show between the tire ruts here. I kick myself - I shoulda taken more pictures of how it actually transitioned from decent, to bad, to holy-what-happened-to-the-road?!? I will make a trip back here and do just that, someday.
This is the literal "edge" that Noah and I stood upon, and leapt...

This is the part where I repeat a few pics from other posts, but they're worth repeating in my opinion.

After traversing some rather tenacious mud/clay mixture, my front and rear fenders are absolutely jammed with mud. With the uphill grade and rocky surface, I can't quite get on top of the gear and get moving. Literally, full-stop. I nearly blew out my left leg trying to half-pump myself up the hill. Shortly after this, I'd finally wise up and remove the wheels to clear the mud, which had set up like epoxy inside my fenders. That first clean-out lasted about 150 feet, as more mud lay in waiting on the other side of this hill, and the process repeated. I just started laughing at one point. Eventually, my face hurt. I couldn't stop smiling.

Coming down the other side, assuming I have these in the right order in my head, the smiles continue. I didn't quite get ALL the mud freed, so I'm getting a really good resistance workout here, my tires sounding like they're on electric assist. This descent was rough, and at times I honestly was waiting for something to break - especially my minimalist rear rack with the 38 lbs. of gear strapped to it. Nothing budged. BIG smiles!

On the other end of all this, I let out a holler as the maelstrom gave way to manicured county-maintained gravel again. How quickly things become relative: the gravel felt like smooth pavement, and the pavement felt like cheating.

This is later, on 271st "street". A tad easier, but there were some "foot-down" sections, no lie. At one point, I seriously went into a Phil Liggett/Paul Sherwen tirade about how nutso the organisation had been for putting a stage race on in these conditions. I think Noah was ready to punch me. I'd officially gone giddy, threw down a brisker pace through this section (once I recovered from almost falling over), cleaned some stuff that I was sure was going to put me in the bushes, and used the term "easier" at the end. Must've been the sunshine getting to me, or the ticks. Yeah, I came home with a few - but nothing a little bug-dip mixed with sunscreen wouldn't fix for next time.
I like this shot, the way nature is just closing up behind us.

I have to say -- I don't want to get all historical and weepy, but you all know I love history. I couldn't help think for a few moments, trudging across landscape like this on foot, or with a oxen-pulled wagon. This was hard-going, exhausting work at times - and that's on modern machines with things like pedal bindings and low gear ratios. Trying to dig out a loaded wagon from the clay we rode through, under a hot sun, 150 years ago? Our forefathers were stout folk. They were on trails before "trails" were cool. Us? As bad as they'd be for cars, we were on roads that maybe only a decade ago were probably still driveable without engaging "4-Low". In the grand scheme, we had it easy... but, man what a fun lesson.

Someday, I want to pick a destination and just draw a straight line to it - and have THAT be the extent of the route planning. Now that I know what's possible? Heck, yes... just GO.
With all the fencing and property lines out there, sure - I'll stick to roads... but my definition of road is a lot broader now.

Later that evening, camp is set, and the bike rests. What a day...

Thanks, Randy! Thanks, Noah!
That first beer that night was raised to both of you.
Best weekend of riding in a long, long time.

Already looking forward to more of the same, oh yes...

September 3, 2010

Camp on

Deets at THIS wicked-awesome site.  
This wasn't an R-12-killing deal - but it helped seal the deal, I'll be honest.
Once the die was cast on flushing the rando stuff for a while to avoid burn-out, it was an easy choice to flip the weekend plans around, free-up Sept 4th, and still get in some kind of riding.

Burn-out.... mentally, I'm completely toasted.  I'm not going to get into what I do at work or why it's better/worse than anything anyone else does.
I'm no fool.  It's a job, and it's good to have a job or two right now.  I'm thankful I have a job.
BUT.  Time served, seeing what I've seen, going through the changes over the last decade:  It's not good for my soul.
It's become so pervasive and hard to look past that even cycling ridiculously long distances isn't even enough to clear the head anymore.
All I can do lately is ride home, be thankful I have the health not to have to crawl into a car in this gawdforsaken traffic around here, get home, and hug my wife and kids.
...and try not to scream.
I'm bitter, I'm hard to live with, my whole body aches from tension and stress.  Do I do some of it to myself?  Absolutely.  That's my flaw.
I need a long, long, long vacation.  Sure, they could arrange that FOR me.  I can't risk anything like that, nor will I.  The vacation I need will be on MY terms.
That vacation largely might involve working at my part time job on a full-time basis.  I won't get rich, but I'll sleep better.  Ah, plans.  
Honestly, I'll do what's right for the family -- I can tolerate a lot of crap, clearly... but it just gets old sometimes.  

Wow, dude - like your job much?   Yeeeeesh.    NO worries:  I ain't goin postal or anything stupid like that.  
In ten years, who's gonna care?  Not me.  I'll be far happier in a far shorter period of time, if I'm smart about it.

Destiny - it's mine.  Financial assistance in in the works, enrollment counselors are calling me, the resume is up-to-date, and certifications are in progress.
That pile of paving stones in the corner isn't going to turn itself into a pathway... I have to get my hands dirty.  It's on.

So, with that departure from cycling and tiny peek into my professional life over with... it's almost long weekend time:

This weekend, I get the impression that it will be pretty easy to unplug and forget.  
Email will be off.  Phone will be off.  The only reason I'll even have it with me:  emergencies, the camera, and the music player.
If anyone starts talking about work, I'm just going to get up, politely excuse myself, and walk/ride somewhere else.

SUPER excited -- photos and remotes posts to come.
A great way to unwind from what's been a hellish month at work.
I look forward to doing pretty much absolutely nothing with a plan tied to it.
I want to see stars.
I want to hear distant train whistles.
I want to watch a plane fly over.
I want to ride my bike.
I want to sleep outside.

all guaranteed.

More to come.

August 30, 2010

Pressure's off.

Well, loyal readers - I pulled the drain plug on the second R-12. I hate typing that: you gotta know that much about me - but, this was the right choice. Too many things started coming up that made me have to make choices that I didn't want to make. Not that I owe exhaustive detail on this, but the kicker was September itself - a lot of family holidays and kids sports games eliminated weekends. Those are easy choices: I refuse to put my cycling goals ahead of rooting for my kids on the sideline, or holding a video camera at a recital - my life, and my cycling, will be around when they are grown: but they'll never be this age again. The only other open weekend houses my wedding anniversary. 'Nuff said. Without the family, the R-12 means nothing.

I pulled it off in 2008 with much more careful planning, I'll be honest. The weekends were easier and there was less happening at work - but I was on it. Heck, even earlier this year was easier than the last six weeks have been. With more kid activities this year and more stress with new responsibilities at work, something had to give. Trying to plan the rides, reschedule after reschedule, missing opportunities to ride with other rando guys at the last couple brevets of the year - it was becoming just another stressor, instead of the fun and release they're supposed to be. Finally, last minute over-riding priorities finally conspired to make this - todays August R-12 requirement - fall through in the twelve hours prior to launch.

So it goes. I do not consider the first six rides of 2010 a 'waste'. I still finished them, still had a blast, still rode some great routes with some awesome people. That's worth plenty...and at the core, the rides I've shared with friends - rides of any length, to be clear - they're worth more to me than a medal. I can toss all the medals and ribbons into a box and chuck 'em all in the attic, and I've still had an awesome time riding.

But, yeah... I'll still pursue randonneuring. It's the niche I fit in to, and I love it. ...and I'll probably start up another R-12 run after things calm down. In better times and with better planning, it keeps me focused on staying active, staying fit - but hey, pressure's off for now.

Instead, today I rode to Baldwin City, KS and back - something I haven't done in years, but this time on probably five miles worth of gravel, taking roads I'd never considered before last weekend's gravel 40-miler. Not a bad day.

Fitness, the route, I don't think that today's 200k would have been a problem - but we'll never know. I'll be back. Couple things I DO know I haven't done in a while: a 400km and a 600km brevet. And, the grandaddy 1200km....
Goals are good - you know me. No announcements yet, but focusing on an SR series for 2011 wouldn't be a bad thing.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

August 27, 2010

Two up.

A busy lifestyle can be hazardous to your health.
I've been busy.  REALLY busy.  As a result, I've been eating like crap.  
Stress?  Probably.  
Eat like crap, feel like crap.  Garbage in... you get the idea.  I feel horrible lately.

Time to wise up.  

Actually, it's time for a mini-vacation.
A vacation from the ordinary... road, that is.
In pursuit of R-12 number 2, this time I head north to Weston, MO. via KCK and Leavenworth.  This route is a bear, hill-wise... at least, it is compared to what I normally ride.  Especially when compared to my commute, which is effectively flat.  So, if I recall correctly there is something like 6,000 ft. of climbing on the menu.  That oughta loosen the legs a little!

Only five days after that it'll be September 4th, which puts me in Liberty, MO for another 200km ride to Platte City and back via Edgerton, Camden Point and Plattsburg. 
It's a great route - the first route I ever rode as a brevet, and still one of my favorites.  Hilly.  Yes.  Probably another 6-7K feet of climbing spread out over countless rollers. 
That one is an organized, official brevet -- visit the KC Ultra-Cycling for more information on registering if you wanna come out.
One of my favorite sections of that Liberty route would make a killer time trial:  Plattsburg Road from highway C to I-35.  Only if they could close the road to cars, though.  Still... shudders.  
"Favorite" is a relative and subjective term, however... while I do love this particular section, it's a downright evil way to wrap up a 200km ride.  

I digress.
400km in a five day window plus commutes makes for an interesting challenge, and while I don't want to make it official or try to stretch myself too thin (too late?), that will make for a nearly 350 mile week.
I think, however, and I know I've said this a dozen times or more in the life of this blog -- it should kick off a nice metabolic shake-up, just in time for fall. 
I managed to get most of the way to my goal weight this season, and there is still cross-training to be done to help hone things -- but it's been a good year.
Now, all I have to really do is start eating RIGHT again, and find another way to deal with stress at work instead of visiting the corporate cubicle candy fairy.  
Come holiday season around here there's enough candy in convenient "snack size" in this joint to start a Mr. Bulky franchise.
Beer?  Octoberfest?  C'mon.... just a TASTE.  Yeah, I'm not giving up on anything - but I am limiting myself to single servings within any 24-hour period and ensuring I stay active.
This combination of efforts, I hope, leads to a fall/winter 2010/2011 wherein I *don't* gain a ton of weight.  With age, it's just too hard to work it off the following Spring - so it's time to eat right and stay active all year.  That won't always mean cycling, but there is a lot out there to do.  Combined with a return to advancing my personal education, kid stuff, and maintaining two jobs - well, I certainly won't be sitting still.

So, stay tuned for two ride reports for the 2nd R-12 run, editions seven and eight, nearly back to back. 
The calendar pages are getting thinner, and thoughts will soon turn to challenging weather, careful planning, and crossed fingers.
I don't see myself with the budget or means to travel to warmer climes if something blows in - and what a bummer to have to flush potentially 11 months of rides come December!
These summer-time brevets and permanents have been harder than the first R-12 run from 2008, and I expect that trend to continue in the last quarter of 2010.
Honestly, not even October is a "gimmie"... we'll see.  Not that I didn't "earn" the 1st R-12... regardless of weather, I still had to pedal all 1,500 some miles of it.  But, this year - it might be a stretch to assume I can get all 12 rides in the same general geographic location.  

Hey, look.... December 31st is a Friday, and January 1st is a Saturday.... a mid-winter three-day weekend with back-to-back 200km permanents may be in store... wrap up the whole thing in 48-hours time!
Heck, I may schedule that NOW.  

Thanks for reading , and stay tuned!

August 23, 2010

No excuses.

There are far too many excuses in my life.
It's too far. It's too hot. There won't be any showers. There's nowhere to park. My tires are too skinny. My tires are too wide. I don't have fenders. I have fenders. I have gears. I don't have enough gears. I have too many gears. It's the wrong geometry. I don't have this, that, the other.

Honestly, I need to adapt a new mantra: "don't have excuses... have reasons."

Reasons are legit - excuses are, well, excuses. "You can't compete in a technical mountain bike ride on a racing bike shod with 23c tires" - that's more of a "reason" to have a mountain bike, lets say. Just about everything else I can think of, I can debunk: You can't time trial on a mountain bike? Sure you can... you just won't be as aero as the guy with the TT bike. You're still riding a bicycle against a clock. Simple. I've heard myself say I can't ride Dirty Kanza, because I've got the wrong bike... as if there were such a thing. At the time, perhaps I just didn't know better.

In this world of niches within niches, it's actually become more difficult to "just do" anything. There is an advanced and specialized piece of equipment for just about everything you can involve yourself in these days, and for many it can turn any would-be endeavor into an excuse festival. Sometimes it's better if you DON'T know about gadgets and gizmos. What you don't know can't hurt you... but what you don't know can't hold you back, either. Skipping a camping trip because you don't have the correctly-rated sleeping bag, for example. So it goes, to my discredit, I default to the formula that because I don't own "x", I can't do "y".

There are innovative people in the blogosphere that have come up with really cool stuff to solve unique cycling problems... and sadly, I'm not one of them. One of my favorites in this category is Kent Petersen, and if you haven't read his blog - you should. Can't afford fenders? Can't find just the right handlebar bag? Fine... make your own. Kent does this. I tend to stare blankly at the wall, and wish....which eventually leads to making excuses. I once stood in the garage and mentally talked myself out of riding a 600km brevet, on the notion that I couldn't carry enough fig newtons. A LOT of that is confidence, yes. This I know. No matter how many ridiculously long rides or strings of long rides I do, there is still a tiny part of me that screams "you can't."

This brings me to this weekend, and gravel roads....vs. my brain. 'nuff said? Perhaps.

In uncharacteristic fashion, instead of defaulting to my pile of excuses for not going on a ride that I REALLY wanted to do, I instead just suited up, sent a text message to a friend that knows the territory, and headed south on Murlen Road. Upon reaching 175th Street, instead of turning left or right, I went straight. Straight to where the pavement ends.

Backtracking a little, I don't really know WHY I still have this hangup surrounding my "road bike" vs. gravel. Thinking back to the bike-camping trip I took last year and the awesome gravel ramble Randy led me on, I did a 15-miler on mostly gravel and had a decent time. No falls, no nothing... but, perhaps I chalked it up to something else. Maybe I forgot the feelings, maybe I didn't spend enough time to truly get comfortable. I remember feeling relieved to get back on the pavement, though.

Earlier than that, Ort and I once tore up a fairly hilly and lengthy chunk of gravel road while taking part in the 2006 Lone Star Century.. a short-cut to head-off a sizeable peloton. A short-cut that didn't pay off, but led instead to fond memories and countless smiles and stories about "that time when we..."

So, let's call this latest run a "re-education".

The first few miles, a little tentative. I found myself trying to stay in the tire ruts. I found myself braking on downhills. When an oncoming car approached, I tensed up and came to a stop near the ditch. I had images in my head of being perfectly balanced right up until the moment the car would pass me, wherein I'd lose footing and fall right into the path of a tire. I found the first concrete deck bridge a relief. I stopped after crossing 191st street to take a photo...

...but it was really to take a break. In retrospect, look how perfect that gravel is! These things take time, though.

Finally, a mile-long section of pavement between 207th and 215th streets.... odd, but there it is.
Gravel started up again at 215th... "ride loose..."

By the time Randy caught up to me at 223rd street, I would stop a couple more times to relax and reset. I think Randy catching up to me was a good thing... some of the personal pressure was off and I could observe the riding style of someone that had far more gravel under their wheels than pavement. His riding style typifies relaxed, patient, confident... I took notes, took a following position, and adjusted. A few miles, and I was settled a bit. "This isn't so bad...." Even a dog darting at the road didn't faze me much, and eventually I was doing things the same way I'd do them on pavement: grabbing a bottle, taking a rolling picture, the like.

Taking a rolling picture was probably not the BEST thing I could have been doing, though I'm happy with the results:

Here's Randy rolling south on Somerset Road near 250th Street, right before crossing the grade of the Union Pacific RR.

Seconds before I took this picture, I was fumbling with the zip-lock baggie, blind, inside the back pocket of my jersey. Inside that same plastic baggie are my credentials: driver's license, insurance cards, debit card. In the process of getting my phone out to take a picture, I inadvertently and unknowingly removed and discarded my driver's license and insurance card out onto the road behind me.

Still, I managed to pull off the requisite half-panda head-shot.
Actually, if I squint hard enough I think I can actually see my DL and insurance card sitting on the gravel behind me... ok, maybe not. (I really tried, just out of curiosity, but they're lost in the pixelated image noise.)
I.. am... Sparticus.... muahahahahahaha!

A Traditions, or Century Farm - basically a farm or piece of property that has been held by the same family since staked. Something to be proud of.

Randy, and the 100-year-old bridge.

Yep, and it didn't hit me until later on when reading up on about this one, which was built ca. 1910. Wouldn't it have been weird if the day we rode here was the bridge's birthday? Hard to tell, tho... on these smaller bridges, the actual year isn't usually posted... at least not anywhere you can safely get to it. Welders and iron-workers often leave their marks on things... but I wasn't about to go swimming to find out: a three foot long gar was trolling about in the grim waters of Wea Creek, while we watched... like an evil, tiny submarine...

From here we continued east on the road in the background, which curves a bit and goes up a wicked little hill, popping us out at New Lancaster Road for the final jaunt south to K-68.

I'm told, upon reaching the highway, that I need to someday just keep on riding south on the other side of the highway. I may have to do that someday...

The traffic count multiplied probably six times over in the next two miles that led to the Louisburg Cidermill. I don't know if I've been here since maybe 2006... at least, not that I can remember. Maybe it was '07? A while. I was happy to find that not much had changed. I visited the restroom, grabbed a cold Lost Trail Black Cherry Soda. This is where I discovered my DL and insurance was missing... and my mind raced for a few minutes.

At least I don't NEED it, technically... although riding without ID crossed my mind, and I absorbed a couple tips from Randy, which reminds me that I really need to invest in a Road ID. It's a long overdue purchase, and I'm doing it tomorrow. I'm out here enough, I deserve it.

The ride back, I thought about the two places where I'd taken my phone out of my pocket to take a picture, and Randy and I planned to scan the roadside for the discarded cards. My worst fear was that I'd fumbled them at the bridge on 267th street, and they'd fallen between the boards, into the creek... and probably into the gar's maw. Hmmm... fish for dinner...

My only regret for this ride is that I didn't have as much time as I needed to turn it into a true "ramble". I had started off in the right spirit, slow and easy, stopping, taking pics, and enjoying. I still ended up enjoying, but dinner plans had been pushed up since I'd left the house - something I found out luckily enough while exchanging texts with the wife when I discovered I'd lost my DL. Time to pick up the pace a little... and, certainly, no more photos on the move lest I lose the rest of my stuff.

We still found time to stop along the way, and checked out another old bridge that someone was lucky enough to have as part of their private drive. This one had a larger structure, and was really interesting looking... more here.

After that, I picked up the pace a little bit and before long we were back at the railroad tracks where I'd fumbled the cards... and sure enough, there they were. The DL has a nice divot pressed into it from where a truck ran over it, pressing it into the gravel upon which it had rested. Kinda neat, having a scar with a story... even if you are just a driver's license.

We had to leave at 4:15pm.... and it was nearly 3:00pm when we'd left the Cidermill. Upon reaching 183rd Street, I looked at the clock one last time and honestly wasn't sure if I'd make it. I bid farewell to Randy, as this was his "exit", and started to work my way north in earnest. There was a lot of gravel to be covered still, and whether I had the legs or not had yet to be seen.

The phone rang in my back pocket at 3:57pm... and while I normally stop to take calls I choose to answer, I knew who it was, and what they were wondering - so I took it on the fly. The wife promised a change of clothes, a cold bottle of fresh water and an open garage waiting for me. I was at 173rd Street, back on pavement, and hammering. I don't know if I've ever transistioned from bicycle, to shower, to car in such fast time. I hit the garage at 4:07pm, I think, and left a trail of cycling gear behind me as I made it to the shower, did the best I could, dressed, and met the family in the car in record time. Shortly after that, dinner.... ahhhhh....

Not a bad afternoon, I must say...

So, verdict? Is there more gravel in my future? Absolutely. This was my longest foray onto the rough-stuff yet, and I'm beginning to get hooked. The history, the lack of traffic, the bridges... it's like I blinked and didn't realize I was still "in town". I indeed plan on making gravel a bigger part of my riding. Sure, I've lived here a while. Sure, I've ridden here for a while. Sure, it may be that I've probably ridden a large percentage of just about every possible paved route leading to and from the neighborhoods I've lived in over the years of my cycling.

But, there's more to discover... and the bike underneath me never even flinched at the idea.

No excuses. Get it on.

August 21, 2010


I like a "recognizable brand", so I put the old webpage banner picture back up.  It's more representative of the kind of riding around here, and there is a long history to having that picture around.  Makes me smile when I see it.  The other one was kinda cool, also a picture that makes me smile when I see it - but the foray into graphic design gave it a little too edgy of a feel, and this blog is anything but edgy.
So, I changed it back!  

The Liberty - Avenue City brevet went of this morning without a hitch, but I was not in attendance.  I trust my gut:  too many things happening this weekend that hinged on the wife having easy access to a car, and that notion that is always there - self-imposed, I might add - that the car is wasted sitting in a parking lot, 40 miles away, while I ride... well, it's never sat well with me.  I suppose that makes me a pretty good partner in marriage... she never has to say these things, it's me that internally freaks out and adjusts plans.  When I have solid transportation of my own for bicycle transport, the Avenue City route will still be up there.

To keep R-12 going - a reasonable goal - I have scheduled some time off work during the week about 2-weeks from now... maybe a little less than that.  I'll be turning north, and riding the WMGM 200km permanent.  This is a tough one, quite hilly, but beautifully scenic - looking forward to it, as I haven't ridden it since December of 2008.  Back then, it was an exercise in time management and almost - by three minutes - cost me a re-do.  I have fond memories of that ride, because I was not in the best of shape, it was cold, I was tired, and up against the ropes of time... and barely managed to pull it out.

So, this weekend it's football practice (which I just returned from), mowing the grass, fixing a couple things, and hopefully still managing to get out on the bike for a while.  It's warm... ok, almost hot.... but quite a nice, clear day.  Might as well ease away some miles in slow, easy, fat-burning mode.

Thanks for reading!

August 18, 2010

Number 7, on deck

This time, for R-12 run #2, we're headed from Liberty, MO to Avenue City, MO - which is close to St. Joseph near US-169.
It's a tiny, tiny little "town" that seems to have slipped into obscurity... not much there on the map, but I like it that way.
Hoping to see some nice countryside, and see/ride with a few familiar faces along the way.  

I've had "doubts" about finishing this R-12 run.  
I've already GOT one -- so what exactly AM I doing?  Sometimes, honestly, I don't have the foggiest idea.

With regards to other rides, I'm finding I'm doing the same thing I did in 2008:  saying "no" too much.  As a result of having very little free time, transportation issues, and a guilty conscience, I'm saying "no" to a lot of fun looking rides.  I haven't done anything for the August edition of DSR.  There are a couple neat opportunities coming up in September and October, and I already fear that I'll say "no" to those, after having invested the time into more than 50% of this R-12 run.  Even for the R-12 itself, I can't experiment with different routes or new scenery because I don't have a way to GET anywhere.  This weekend is an ultra-rare exception, and until I get my own car - well, I'm taking the chance and going up north.  

I know, car-free, etc... it's the right thing to do, but in this town?  Okay, I'm going to say it:  I need a car.  I won't use it that much, and it'll probably just sit in the driveway and rust... but I need a car.  The way life is, even in better times, I can't ride four hours to participate in a 200K.  I can't ride a 200K to participate in a 200K in Topeka, no matter how badly I want to.  Yeah, car-pooling... but, when riders of brevets and permanents often finish hours apart, it's hard to tell the family that you can't come home because "Joe Rando" (your ride home) bonked at the halfway and is limping the last 50 miles.  I can't sit in a Perkins that long when I know I don't HAVE to.

The only ACTUAL organized ride/event I've participated in this year was Sunflowers-to-Roses (S2R) last weekend... I rode the last three miles of it, only because it was on my commute route to work.  Granted, it was kinda cool and I forgot what intersection or part of town I was in; it seemed like I was on the MS-Ride or something... cyclists stretched out behind me, and in front of me... I haven't experienced that in a while, and in retrospect I should have ponied up the entry fee and just ridden the whole thing.  Hard thing to do on a weekend where you've worked 13 hours, and that Sunday morning is the only time you'll see the wife and kids... the decision there was more than financial.

Work is getting nutty, and kids fall sports are going to be in full gear very soon.  School has started up, and schedules are ever tighter.
Seems the only thing on the calendar is trying to figure out when to get in the next five rides before the weather turns.
Which, really... just thinking about routes and dates is like taking a miniature vacation every month.  Even if it ends up being just another scenic trip to Pleasanton, KS., it's something to look forward to, to plan for, to help keep the weight and stress from getting the better of me.  As the wife tells me, it's good for me... and she's pretty much always right.  In a roundabout way, I have little doubt that my monthly rides are good for her, too:  makes me easier to put up with.

And if that wasn't enough, R-12 is a goal... and sometimes just sticking to a goal is enough. 
It's cheap, it's healthy, and it clears the head.  What else SHOULD I be doing?

Can't think of anything... so, ride it is.  

With a new vista over each hill on this before-unseen route coming up in a couple days, I think it will become clear - the answer to "why".  
Even if I can't express "why" in words.

Stay tuned for a ride report and some photos... within which I'll probably rediscover the reasons why I love randonneuring and hopefully convey those feelings in 50,000 words or less.

August 6, 2010

It's coming...

Cue dramatic music...

The 2nd not-so-annual commuterDude cycling garage sale! Oh, baby!
It's not "virtual", it's real, and really in a driveway and really near a garage.

Rearranging said garage last weekend I caught myself... "where did all this stuff come from?!"

For some reason I once again found a whole lotta bike stuff to unload, and I don't have the energy or spare time to c-list it all and try to arrange deliveries with all that's happening with life and schedules. It's a hassle for the buyer, ultimately.
Plus, I missed the big annual swapmeet at El Torreon (Spanish for "The Torreon"), so I have to kinda goof this together.

I'm working on inventory right now, and will publish a list to those that are in, or will be in, the Kansas City area on the date of the event. Lists are available via email, so feel free to pre-RSVP if you like.

Swap-meet style pricing. Priced to move. The owner is on vacation, and we've gone crazy. No reasonable offer will be refused. Do you have a job? Do you have 99 dollars? Then, you're approved! Oh, whatever. You get the idea!

Timeframe? I'm not in a hurry... are you?
No, really - I'll pick a weekend before life gets really nutty, and post it here.

Pre-sale to friends-of-the-show, so watch your email.

It's hot, go drink something.

August 5, 2010

Where did summer go?

I guess, officially, it'll be hanging around for at least another six weeks - but, still:  the kitchen table is loaded with school supplies again, and people are already wondering when the public pools will be closing.... didn't they JUST fill those up??  Time flies when you are:  

A) having fun
B) busy as ever
C) getting older
D) yes

and, so I find myself in August again, somehow - and riding a bike back and forth to work, looking MIGHTY sharp heading out of the office in the afternoons in my blaze yellow and tight pants.  I finally succumbed to the self-imposed modesty police, and started wearing baggies on the walk into the building.  I can't wear them while riding without having them randomly un-mount my frame-pump for me - usually at the worst possible time, like when crossing an intersection, or climbing a hill.  I may just suck it up and stick the smaller "mountain-bike" pump into one of my panniers, and save the frame-pump for the weekend tight-pants rides.  I dunno.  I can deal with the looks from people, but I can feel the human resources noose tightening lately at work, and I'm not in the mood.  It's a blessing in disguise, really:  I like the way baggies feel on a fast downhill, even though they tend to be awfully warm in weather like we've had lately here in KC.  Rivendell was marketing some "MUSA" pants at one time, but I can't afford their wares, generally.  I'm still saving up for that wicked-awesome Boure wind-vest that has the back pockets.  Among other things.

Hot.  And Humid.  Yeah, yeah.... compared to Florida perhaps it's not that bad, but it's been cooler in recent years until a few weeks ago.  I don't think we've touched 100 quite yet on the official thermometer at "the airport", but the digital readouts around my house say otherwise, and the heat index was barely OUT of the 100's earlier this week.

Still, I'm smiling --- good riding lately, despite the morning mop-up after arriving at the office.  Six weeks, however, and thoughts will turn back to knee warmers, perhaps.  It can still get hot in September around here, but there is always that mystical 24-hour period where summer finally folds and throws down the cards.  It'll be 102ºF when a front will move through, it'll drizzle for three days, drop to the mid 50's... and that'll be all she wrote until Winter comes.  Watching it happen is pretty cool.  Watching the leaves change afterwards is better.  Watching both happen from a park bench along the local trails is something special.  The warm glow from an Octoberfest ale in the garage afterwards wraps it up nicely.  

... it's the thoughts of which that keep me cool on these hot, bright, sweaty summertime rides in the plains.

Stay thirsty, my friends.