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...


Chris said...

Sure looked fun, sorry I had to work until dusk...would have been a nice trial on the Atlantis.

Apertome said...

Great post. I am loving reading all their posts as well. It's so cool that three of my favorite bike bloggers got together and did this phenomenal ride.

I've ridden quite a bit of gravel, trails, etc. Sometimes on my LHT, sometimes a mountain bike. I know the sense of accomplishment you're talking about. Sadly I haven't done enough of this lately ... I hope that soon I can get out and do it more. What an awesome trip that must have been.

kG said...

Ah, the Atlantis would have been brilliant on this stuff - for sure! There's aways "next time", and I tihnk some of these roads will still be a hoot when the leaves fall, the temps fall, and the bugs go to sleep. Extended Cidermill loop, anyone??