May 23, 2010

I can't feel my chain!

This was to be the big test - the longest ride since the BG Fit I'd had done a month ago.  After the 75 mile "Good Day Off" ride that I had a few weeks ago, I was a little nervous about knocking off 600K - and since I missed the 400K, also, it made sense to stick to the shorter distance - if you can ever really call 125 miles a "short ride".  There were back issues, tightness, and a nagging shoulder that until only a few days ago I finally managed to get worked out with a couple steam room and self-massage sessions.  FINALLY, things were falling into place.  

The nine riders that showed up for the 600K rode past me down K-32 in the early morning light as I was still making my way to the KCK motel where the 200K would start from.  Part of me really wanted to be out there with them, but - patience.  I arrived at the hotel, and was pleased to see about the same number of folks unpacking for the 200K ride, so at least I wouldn't be riding alone.  Robert on the recumbent, Kent F. was there, and two new riders Gary and a lady whose name I didn't catch riding a brilliant pink Waterford, plus a few other faces that I didn't recognize.  A good crowd!

The weather was simply magnificent.  After enduring weeks of rain and late-March-like temperatures, something finally broke overnight.  The wind had shifted around to the south, and the temperatures were already in the 60's.  Nice!  The sky was clearing out, too -- it was going to be a really nice, sunny day.  Far better than riding in the greyish haze that'd been the norm for the last month.

The one thing that the fit has definitely provided was more power to the ground - seemingly.  On the longer distance, the 75 miler, I noticed that I was able to maintain speed on the flats for longer periods of time.  My average speeds, even with the winds staying out of the north and northeast in the mornings, had been increasing.  The unknown was whether or not this was some kind of fluke, and things would even out after 80-90 miles and I'd slow back down like I always seem to.  The key was to try and not go out too awful fast.

Well, that's always optimistic.  I'm nothing if not predictable:  I will probably ALWAYS go out too fast.  I don't know why.  Queue the usual speech from Bob Burns, a few questions, and we're off.  South on 78th Street, partially shielded by trees the south wind didn't feel that strong yet - but it didn't matter.  The hills were there, and I was finding my usual way of warming up - climbing.  I like climbing.  I'm not the best at it, but I like it.  I was not alone.  I'd later meet them and go through formal introductions on the road - something I'm always a little slow about:  I tend to start most rides without saying much at all.  Mike, from St. Louis area, is a good climber.  Lean, muscular, tall (from my perspective, but not as tall as Kent F.) and fit, riding a Scott C1r, he'd turn out to be a welcome companion today.  Mark, the Navy guy, riding an Indy Fab Club Racer (tigged steel, very nice) and a wearing a hard-earned California Triple Crown jersey was a powerhouse on the flats:  more on that later.  Rounding out the lead group was Kent F. on his steel LeMond, and Gary - a first time brevet rider - on his olive green LHT, joining me in the "fender'd touring bike" category.  The five of us must have had the right breakfast, and the slight cross/tail wind along K-32 helped matters, as we spun along at 22 MPH on the board flat terrain.  Things were looking good, but I couldn't help having the thought "you're going too fast" rifle through my head every ten minutes.

Edwardsville, Bonner Springs, and Loring Road... all came in a flash and were gone.  Finally realizing (doy, dude, you ain't THAT strong) that I wasn't going to make any miracle breakaways, I settled in next to Mike and we chatted it up, still flying along at 22 MPH or so alongside the railroad tracks.  Mike talked about board-flat brevet routes in St.Louis and western Illinois, and I was reminded of MV24, and how flat that ride was.  In an instant as we turned west on Loring Avenue, the word "flat" left our vocabulary, and I was shown that Mike's game was indeed climbing.  Probably 20 lbs lighter than me, and on a much lighter bike.... sure, sure, it shouldn't matter, but it crossed my mind or half a second:  give me a Roubaix S-works and SRAM Red...  nah:  give me more time to build fitness on this new fit and drop another ten pounds, more like.  Mike was agile and spirited on the long climbs, spinning a beautiful cadence and making headway.  Kent F., tall and lean as well, joined him.  I held my own, but it was a humbling moment.  More work to be done.  I spun out my own rhythm, "Ullrich style", and eventually joined back up.  Mike and Kent would make me work for position on more than a few occasions today.  Good training!

The three of us rolled down the big hill on 158th street, avoided a confused-looking dog that was literally just wandering along the middle of the road - no interested in us at all, just walking along - and finally flattened back out along Golden Road, with a freight train rolling along in the adjacent field.  Green grass, water still standing from last week's heavy rains, sweet smells on the breeze and the feeling of warm sunshine on my arms... I needed this ride today... feeling good.  

Linwood, KS., and the first control - a control that comes too soon, really - and only an hour and five minutes to get there.  Not bad... not bad at all.  Too fast.  Slow down.  Cards signed, drinks, a short rest, and the five of us were back together again for the next leg - the long leg to Ottawa, KS.  K-32 west is generally all uphill, and the crosswind was growing a bit.  I took point and pulled Mike and the group for a few miles as we made our way to the "fun turn" at 222nd street, the first turn south, into the growing wind.  

Ugh.  The speedfest would come to an abrupt end as we turned south, and Mark chimed up..."now the fun starts!".... yeeehaw!  Whipping wind, steady at 20+ MPH already and the day was young.  Gusts.  Trees in song, powerlines whisting.  This was going to be a long leg.  Despite the thoughts of slog and suffer, we stayed smart and grouped up - five strong, me, Gary, Mark, Mike, Kent working together and taking long pulls - as long as we could stand.  Mark, the diesel, showed the value of big shoulders and a slow, strong cadence:  it reminded me of drafting behind Byron R. back in the day.  Just a big machine...   Kent, long and lean and strong - consistent.  Mike... the high cadence metronome... good pulls all around, and I tried my best to keep the rhythm up when my turn came.  One at a time, the southbound landmarks came:  Eudora.... check.  

Eudora... nice little town:  the construction finally complete, it was the first time I'd seen the little town for what it was - and I wouldn't mind living out here, actually.  We crossed K-10, and saw a couple sign-boards outside the local high school announcing that Graduation ceremonies were to commence at 1:00pm.  We joked to each other that if we kept up a good pace we could make it back in time.  Yeah, right.  It was just crossing 9:00am, and there was a lot more road to cover, most of it into the wind, before reaching the halfway point. 

DG-460 and the beginning of the hills... check.  The Kansas River watershed is huge, by the way...  US-56...check.   Getting closer to Wellsville, KS., and a Casey's, which would be a good spot to top off bottles.  DRINK!  

On a few occasions, I thought how easy it would be to do what I usually do after trying too hard to stay in the lead group:  drop out.  Fall back.  Find my own pace.  Today, however - maybe it was me, maybe I was enabled by the improvements the fit was yielding - I banished those thoughts, and took another pull at the front.  On a couple occasions, I got nervous that I'd gone too much:  first, my left knee started to smart a little.  Uh, oh... I kept pushing, and actually said a few words to the heavens about it.  It was interesting to me, and kind of an omen, that the pain started up in exactly the same place that I remember Ort's knee giving way, just north of crossing the Kansas River near Eudora.  I still feel badly about that day - I feel badly that I gave advice that might have made matters worse - and I feel empathy in a big way, because if something would happen that would take me out of the bicycle game, I don't know if I'm strong enough of a person to find another outlet, to cope, to be able to do without something that has molded me as a person, and has helped me deal with life.   I wondered about Karma... I questioned a lot, just in a few seconds while I pedaled and considered what my left knee was telling me.  In a few miles, the pain faded - never to return.  Later, the right leg did something similar - but it also passed... growing into the fit?  Passing another wall?  Who knows... but I asked for a break, quietly, to myself, and to Whomever might have heard me.  For those confused, I'll be clear:  I may not have demonstrated it directly in the past - but I know the talents I've been given, the health, the will, the strength to ride; they truly are gifts.  I don't take them for granted, not for a second.

We made it into Wellsville and paused at the Casey's there, shocked to see other riders... not just any riders; riders that were decked out in reflective gear and equipment that are only appropriate if you are a randonneur.  They were 600K riders.  Ughhhh.... these are guys that started an hour ahead of us, and here they were, fixing a flat that looked to be giving more problems that the norm.  We offered up help, but they were making it work.  It was hard to leave them - thoughts of how much time they had lost, how far they had to go -- man.  We never should have seen them, no matter how fast we five had been riding so far.  Reluctantly, we carried on.

K-68 finally came, marking the last time we'd have to deal with the strong headwinds directly - a quick ride west on the highway shoulder, the Casey's at Ottawa, and we'd be home-free to enjoy a strong tailwind blast back north.  With more of a crosswind than a direct headwind, we were all feeling pretty good about the ride so far.  Mike even remarked at one point - a reference to a anicdote from a Lance Armstrong book - about how he was feeling so strong he "couldn't feel his chain!"  I was feeling pretty darn good, too... come to think of it, the bike felt really smooth and so did the legs.
 PSSssss.....fffftttt....fffftttt....ffftttttt.....   ugh, flat!  Kent became victim to what was probably a slow leak, and eventual low-pressure pinch flat on one of the highway shoulder's many pavement joints.  We all stopped and took advantage of at least the opportunity to rest a little, while Mark and Kent made quick work of the tube change and tire inspection.  Ten minutes, tops, and we were rolling again.  
Back to business, the little rest apparently took more out of me than I imagined... funny thing about rest:  stay off the bike too long, and it's hard to get the same pace back.  Like a freight train throttling up, I slowly advanced up through the gears until I was maintaining a good pace again, but Mark was on point and was hard to stick with despite the good draft from his wide shoulders.  Eventually I was reeled up by Kent, and the two made their way up the road.  About mile 58, the first difficulty of my day, I felt a little tired, a little weak, a little hungry.  I still had the feed-bag method employed, tiny handlebar bag with treats inside, but I hadn't been eating regularly - call it the heat, maybe the pace.  I took out a quick snack, even though we were very close to the control, and took in some water.  Might as well drink more:  the heat was coming up quicker now, and there was no sense saving water with the control so close by.  Something inside me angered a little, though... anger at myself.  Instead of being complacent and being satisfied with my place on the road, I found myself asking myself something to the effect of "what, you're giving up?", and upping the RPMs.  After a half-mile, I'd found a wheel again. 
Ottawa!  Casey's!  Cheese pizza, a 5hr. Energy shot (one of my brevet regulars now, instead of caffiene so much), and a Mtn Dew (whaddid I just say about caffiene?).  Water, water, water.  I'm not sure what the temperature was at that point, but it was far hotter than it'd been in months.  MANY months.  Humid, also.  Bottled were filled, and I relished in Powerade Zero and water from the bathroom taps (who pays for water??, as Danny C would say).  Drink, drink, drink.  I've had far too many personal disasters with hydration, and for me it's water, water, water and more water -- 32oz. Zefal Magnum water bottles, available at most bike stores at least via special order, or Nashbar.  Nothing is bigger, unless you want to wear a hydration pack, or you're lucky enough to have 3-pair of waterbottle bosses on your bike frame.  Drink often - and don't get behind.  On these longer, warmer rides I've gotten into the habit of looking at the clock and making sure I'm drinking at least a sip every ten minutes.  I almost think I need a watch that beeps at me, until it becomes an engrained habit.  In fact, I think my phone has a chime feature..... hmmm.... might be good in training.
After 15 minutes or so, the 600K riders that we'd left back in Wellsville pulled in.  Whew... they're still inside the time checks, but a long day was awaiting.  From here they'd continue west, to Emporia, KS., and then north to Junction City.  Yeesh... again, that feeling that part of me wanted to follow them... but I still hadn't crossed into unknown territory with my fit on the bike, so I was nervous about the return trip at the 200K level - forget 600K today!  Working hard as a group, we'd managed to stay somewhat together and average 16.8 MPH to the halfway point, which was pleasing considering the headwind.  The big question was not IF, but WHEN on the return trip I'd pay for it.  Sure, we'd have a tailwind - but you still have to pedal, and there are the hills to consider.  80 miles?  90?  When would I begin my usual 200K limp homeward... my usual permanent and brevet finish condition?  The payment for going out too fast would come due, surely, and I was ready for it - I can solo.  More than half the first R-12 run was earned that way, after all.  But, with the fit changes would I hurt more, or less, this time?
After everyone was filled up and ready, I emerged from the Casey's to find my bike moved, and someone elses in its place - but more interestingly, I saw a Cateye Strada wireless computer, white, laying on the ground... "hey, someone has a computer just like... waitasec...."  Glancing at my handlebars, my computer was missing... IT was the one laying on the ground.  "What the...  c'mon!"  At some point, my bike did what it's done on three other occasions:  gotten into a wreck of some kind.  Without me on it.  More than likely, the wind caught it and it rolled backwards, pitched the front wheel, and tipped over - this time pushing the right brake hood inward a smidge, and popping the computer off the mount.  Also, another scratch on the rear derailleur.  Fine.  Nice.  These are the kind of mental thorns I don't like - totally not neccessary to deal with.  Check everything, is everything tight?  Are the brakes centered?  Anything cracked?  Loose?  What failures will reveal themselves, and when, on the rest of the ride??  Ugh.  All was seemingly well, and nothing in my seatbag was long enough to reach the brake-hood binder bolt, so it'd have to do in its new spot.  Carry on. 
It had gotten noticably hotter since we'd gone inside.  Wow... especially without the cooling effects of the headwind, we really noticed and remarked about how warm it'd gotten.  Most of us, within a few seconds of those remarks, took an extra drink from our bottles.  There's no time like the present to acclimate to the Kansas heat!  Not content to just let the wind push us back home, the speeds came up again.  18....20.....23MPH... uphill.  Dodging rumble strips and pebbles and debris, we all got into individual rhythms and pedalled along the K-68 shoulder, feeling good.  Looking around at the scenery, it was a perfect day... I love it out here.

Another thing I will say about Mike, from St. Louis; he's a model randonneur.  I find myself going into head-down mode and pedaling away, oblivious - maybe that's because I find myself alone so often, that I don't remember how to behave when I'm in a group.  I start conversations late, forget to say "hi".   Mike was obviously the strong-man of the day, physically.  More than a few times, his orange jersey would often start getting smaller and smaller up the road ahead of me.  Climbing, flats, whatever -- he is a strong rider.  But, he's not the kind of rider that CARES that he's strong:  at every corner, sometimes just at little turn-offs or driveways - and sometimes just in the saddle - he'll stop, put a foot down, and wait for you.  I dig that.  Sure, part of me wanted to chase him down and catch him outright, just to see if I could - but it was nice that he'd lift up on the gas, and wait for us to rejoin him.  A class-act.  The intersection of K-68 and Tennessee Road was no exception, and as our group of three - Kent, Mike and I arrived there, we stopped and waited for Gary and Mark to catch up.  While we waited, though, someone approached us from the corner farmhouse there - the resident, on foot, crossing the road - and put me in a place I haven't been since back in February '08, in Texas.  The "randonneur zone".....(cue creepy four-note piano music)...

"You some of them "preveyers?" she called out.

"Yup... oh, and it's a "B"... "Bre-vet"", I answered.  Since I was the one that spoke, she latched on.  

The next four minutes or so, I'm not exactly sure what happened.  I politely explained what it was the sport entailed, where the word "brevet" came from, and what it meant, and what we were working towards as riders.  At some point, I was asked if I liked it out in the country more than I liked it in Olathe, where I'd told her I was from.  (of course I liked it more, yes)  We briefly touched on bicycling as pure recreation, or as transportation... well, that latched me in deeper because I commute - and I'm proud of that.  Then she brought up resource use, and whether or not we as riders ate more or or less food than normal on rides like this, than on a typical day.  From there, however, there was a sharp left turn into late-night talk radio territory.  It was like I blacked out for a second, literally  asking to myself "how did we get HERE?" -- she started talking about how you can hear the radio waves, and how things out in the country bounce off things, and if she knew my name she could tune into my energy and maybe converse with me on a subconscious level.  Wha???  I noticed right around that point, that there were mumbles about "uh, we have to keep moving", and one by one Mark, Mike, Kent and Gary all started to roll away.  Uh, guys?  I was trapped in a black hole of confusion and conspiracy theory, locked in conversation with someone that had been exiled to the edge of reason and sense... but I can't be rude, can I?!  I took the first escape route I could... as she mentioned that my friends had left, as if I hadn't noticed.... the clock was ticking, and "while I enjoyed our conversation, it doesn't look like my friends are going to wait for me"... like a fish that had just been caught and released, freedom!!!  I sprinted to catch them, for fear of being consumed by some sort of Art Bell granola-powered vegan tractor-beam.

Rejoined, we all had a good chuckle about what I'd gotten myself in to, and proceeded to really relish the first taste of the monster tailwind that had strengthened since we'd come down the road last.  The sun was high, and so were our gears... it was hammer-time.  Before I could blink, we were clearly not taking the return trip "easy".  On much longer distances, the smart randonneur uses the tailwind to conserve energy for those times when they won't have the help, like on a loop route.  Today, I think we all knew that it was a rare treat, that the worst was over, and that we were more than halfway finished.  Today, we were going to work, and use the wind as turbo boost.  Warp-drive, more like.  23mph.... 27...... 32MPH..... TOP gear.... something the Kogswell seldom sees, but I'm glad its there for days like this, rare as they are.  Mike sets a hard tempo, and the hills are coming fast - but I'm feeling gutsy, so I try to keep pace, but MAN... he's a hard man to catch.  It's only when he lets off the pace a little that I can bridge up.  There's so much tailwind, there is zero benefit from drafting, so catching a wheel... it doesn't even matter.  We're FLYING. 

 I finally manage to pass him climbing the hill near the intersection of DG-1061 and DG-460 (roughly 159th street), and we proceed to enjoy the long downhill that takes us back into the Kansas River watershed.  Right in the middle of a sentence, Mark BLASTS past us on the left.... and I mean, like a jet plane passing a Cessna.  Mike and I were "cruising along" at 28 MPH+, seriously, in high gear, and Mark just dumped the gas from behind us, hammering down the hill.  I let out a holler and jumped up on the pedals to try and answer, and got close... but in a flash Mike is on my left, as I fall into the saddle, spent.  But, we're both nearly on top of Mark and right as I drop back into the saddle, my computer blinks over 40 MPH.... JUST for a half-second.  !!!!!!   I've never been a sprinter....I've never top-gear mashed out that kind of number before, on a flat?!  Okay, Okay... at this point, the tailwind is HOWLING at gusts to over 30 MPH.... I had help, but MAN what a feeling!!!  Mike confirmed his computer blinked over to 40.5 MPH when he passed Mark... but, Mark... like I'd mentioned earlier in this post - what a monster:  even after that fly-by he managed to take point and hold it at near 30 MPH for the next five miles, and Mike and I stayed on for the fun.

...and only because of Kent's flat tire and my conversation with the lady at K-68 did we miss graduation back in Eudora by 20 minutes.  NOT BAD, considering how far fetched it sounded to make it back here that fast.  In fact, Mike posited that we'd made the last 12 miles in something like 25 minutes.   Duuuuuuude.

The fun wouldn't last forever, though -- traffic and a few turns in Eudora slowed the pace, and stiffened the legs, and the run across the Kansas River was a little slower, and then the hills pitched back in as we approached K-32 from the south for the turn east towards Linwood and the final control.  Turning east, while we still had a little bit of a tailwind as the gale took on more of a southwest slant, it was not as much of a boost as before.  We made it into Linwood in good time, and I noticed myself having a little bit of a buzzing head and fatigue... ugh, dude... DRINK DRINK DRINK!  The Linwood control was a flurry of air-conditioning, rest, drink grabs, face washing, and more drinking.  In the power-fest of the run back north, I'd let myself slip a little.  Typical.  

I spent the next five miles drinking.  And drinking.  And drinking more.  32 oz, one full bottle, just to start to feel better.  Kent and Mike took point while I silently suffered through trying to rebuild my hydration base while riding along, still at 18+ MPH most times, buffeted by crosswinds.  Even as the road pointed north again, I just didn't have quite the push as before - but I found that inner fire flaring up again... "get on it, man... push!"... and so it was.  Gearing down, I spun up the longest, steepest hills of the day.  While I didn't catch Mike and Kent I didn't completely falter into limp-mode, either.  Reaching the intersection of Loring Road and Loring Avenues, there they were waiting - so I stopped in, and waited too for Mark to catch up.  Admittedly, his monster pacemaking on the flats and downhills didn't translate well to these hills, so we hung out a bit and let him catch up.  Only a few more miles to ride.

More flat, more tailwind... angled, but there.  Mike and Kent were still strong, and started to up the pace yet again.  At this point, I was content to just sit, spin and enjoy the railroad flybys and scenery... but, something in my gut wanted to dig deeper again, so I shifted and tested my "new" legs again.  Sure, I was a little tired, but the push was still there - why not use it?  Each mile I complete quickly will be one less that I have to lumber through when I finally DO crack.  Despite a few brief moments where I figured I'd lose them, I always felt pretty connected - and when they'd gain a little ground, I'd spin up and latch back on again, even took a couple more pulls for good measure.  Eventually, though, I'd be caught out by the last of the hills on 78th Street, the final road before the finish.  Mike is just too good a climber, and I made the mistake of starting off in the wrong gear, losing momentum and adding burn to the legs.  Oh well... it's a personal test, NOT a race.  I managed to get a little bit of rhythm back, but it was too little, too late - but I still managed to keep Mike and Kent within 1/4 mile of me, which - considering ALL this time I'd actually been a part of the lead group on a 200K for the first time in ... uhhhhh.... I don't know!..... I was really, really happy to take a "podium position" in such strong company!

We all signed in at 3:21pm, from a 7:00am start... not bad!  Eight hours, 21 minutes total time, and a rolling time of 6 hours and change --- turns out this is my 2nd fastest 200K time.  Again, not bad!  

Fit notes?  Welp, let's consider this case "closed":  not only did none of the previous month's post-fit issues come out to bother me, I felt really strong all day.  The knee "noise" at mile 30-ish came and went, and as I type this I can see no evidence of issue.  The usual fatigue that comes on in the last 20 miles at this distance wasn't there, and if anything it should have been worse because of the higher effort and pace.  Any issues I experienced, I'm fairly sure they were hydration based -- once I was back on top of water intake, the issues faded.  Wrists, back, shoulders, arms, neck, legs, ankles -- no problems.  Saddle area, no issues.  Even the out-of-line right brake hood that was tweaked from the bike falling over at Ottawa, it didn't cause any problems - I put it back in place once it was back in the garage at home.  Hand numbness, nope.  The upper back issues that popped up on the 75-mile ride, I think the handlebars rolling upward a few degrees fixed that - not even a hint of an issue today.  I figure, if things feel this good at the 200K level, the 300 shouldn't be an issue.  400?  We'll see... that's long enough again that it might bring new issues to light, but they should be minor tweaks.  
Am I happy?  With a ride like today, how could I NOT be happy?  Great weather, great company, and the best I've felt on a bike at this distance in a long time.

Songs from the road:   i.e., Stuff stuck in my head... no iPod here, by the way:

"Stylo" by Gorillaz  (the rhythm for the tailwind drama)
"Dominoes" by The Big Pink  (substitute "Miles" for "Girls" in the lyrics.)
"The Letter" by Joe Cocker  (one of the best soul breakdowns EVER laid down)

Thanks for reading!


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