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.