August 30, 2011

Friendly competition

In a far better showing than a couple Monday's back when, after a long weekend, I mistakenly showed up at the Monday ride start on a TUESDAY night (doy), I was happy to see a large gathering grow at the local Monday Night ride.  Bumped into both members of the Scruggs-Train (tandem couple), and a lot of the usual suspects that I saw out a couple months earlier.  I really want to try to make this ride more often.  The group energy is just addicting, electrifying!
I also love the "bike show" aspect.  I don't nearly have the retro-grouch factor like I used to.  While I have my personal likes and preferences, I can geek out harder than most over what the engineers are able to do with advanced materials and design software these days.  Yet, toss a brightly polished all-steel touring hub on my desk or the latest photos from the NAHBS and I'll probably still pick neo-retro over anything carbon.  The great thing about the start-line parking lot at any "welcome" ride or multi-staged ride like this is the gigantic range of equipment.  Tandems, recumbents, old tourers, new tourers, racers old and new.  Campy to Simplex, Shimano to SRAM, MAFAC to TRP and everything in between.  Granted, it's like this at ANY organized ride - but I don't do very many so it's always a rare treat seeing (for example) Douglas full-custom carbon equiped with SRAM Red lined up next to near-mint mid-80's Panasonic steel with downtube Shimano 600.
It was a good ride - I was feeling pretty good considering how stiff my legs had felt after a weekend hike/run of about 8 miles.  Not sure what came over me there, only that I'd wanted to just get out on a long walk - and, as is typical - bit off more than I probably should have.  This was mainly a ride to shake out the cobwebs and start ramping up for my next rando ride, and maybe to push the HR up a little to hopefully translate into faster-at-distance.  While I'm defintely leaning more towards "randonneur" rather than "ultra-racer", I think its still important to "train" faster than I plan to ride the longer events.  This usually - with proper rest - translates into slightly faster overall performance and a good endurance base.  Whether this eventually translates into a more-successful Tejas 500 or a good showing at my first-ever 1,200km grand randonee, who knows ... but it's fun to stretch the legs and play "racer-boy" every once in a while.  Speed... it's only what you want to make of it, personally.  Same as equipment, I don't lose sleep over numbers the way I used to -- but I do know for myself that using the group rides to chase someone faster than I am and build some fitness always yields more enjoyable randonneuring later.
I didn't start out with any giant plans - only to ride how I felt; but that always changes with that first "pass" on the road.  This time, it was the 'Hilsen -- ridden by a super-nice guy that has SAG'd more people off the roads on average weekends than anyone else I've met in recent years.  I've bumped into him on numerous occasions lately - at the Sonic in Louisburg during our bike camping trip after he'd offered to sag-in Gene, and then at the shop after he'd picked up someone with a messed up rear wheel on a bike trail ride.  I've taken to possibly nick-naming him "the guardian", as I'm sure he's saved a lot of folks from a long walk home after flats or mechanicals.  He's a strong rider on the bike, and it was neat to be part of a miniature lugged-steel, tan-sidewall paceline as we jockeyed back and forth along Mur-Len, then 167th, and then Ridgeview - even though I was sucking wind quite a bit on the flats while he tucked in and dished out a strong tempo off the front.  Without my usual self-paced solo 30-mile warmup, I wasn't quite prepared and regret not having taken a good turn.  Finally, things started to click for me a little south of 187th street and the first real uphill.  I stood up for the climb, and that was about it for the group element of the ride -- I found myself alone with my sights on a lone jersey or two -  up the road near the high school at 199th.  The fast bunch...which had left about a minute earlier and had made good time... could it be?  Target acquired!

HA ...turned out to be a recumbent... I'm not THAT fast.
Part of my building-speed approach, thought, is to try and start a little bit behind the fast bunch and try to bridge up - but that doesn't always work well when I'm not fast enough to really keep any of them in-sight.  So, I guessed on the route:  I rode west on 199th and out of habit I climbed up and over the railroad bridge at Ocheltree, headed towards US-169 instead of turning left and taking Woodland Road south to 207th.  I ended up heading south through Spring Hill to 223rd, then back east under the new railroad bridge and back north again on Woodland, adding about five miles to the route and ruining my chances of seeing anyone else for the rest of the ride -- ah, well... it was a nice evening, cooler temperatures for once, and clouds that indicated a change in season is on the way.  High cirrus, reflecting the fading suns rays in brillant shades of orange and pink. 
Finally, zig-zagging my way back to the route at 199th and Lackman, tussling with the headwind, I began to see the shapes of bikes and bright jerseys on the road ahead - I didn't really know if they were from the Monday group or not, but I chased anyways.  A "good-for-me" average, and feeling spirited enough to continue to try and push to maintain it, I caught up to the pair of riders at about 167th and Lackman just in time for the turn back west to Murlen, and just in time to catch the last images of the giant red disk of the sun dipping behind the trees.  Finally back to the parking lot in the fading light where most everyone had already left for burgers and beer at the tavern across the road.  There was a lingering grouping of about seven of the fast pack still hanging around in the parking lot, sharing stories.  Good enough for me, even though I knew they'd been there for probably 30 minutes.  I stopped in to eavesdrop on the latest stories while I cooled down before rolling home.  Talked to a couple of riders that'd made the fast bunch, their first time out at this Monday ride - and they'd had a good enough time to make plans for next week already.
Home, shower, and food -- feeling good from the effort, knowing I've added a little "ompfh" to the arsenal for when times get tough on the longer rides.  Next time, however, try to stick to the route.  Yeesh.

To Captain 'Hilsen, the Guardian... thanks for the pull... I'll pay it back next time out!  Cheers!
Thanks for reading!

August 20, 2011

"I'll have the number-two, super-sized."

Definitely NOT calling this a streak, or the "run for R-12 #2", (updated 10/14/11, ok, yes I am) but it feels good to be back into a rhythm. I had those same "why am I doing this?" feelings rush over me Thursday night while I was laying out the jersey and packing the seatbag with the weekend kit... and then I just took a deep breath and muttered to myself quietly.

"you're doing this because you can, and because you WANT to..."

That's about all the motivation anyone should approach randonneuring with, I figure. I've tried very hard to catch myself before I get too worked up about things, and lately I think workstress has made it more difficult. The tension in my left shoulder from self-induced pressure and stress is a reminder that I take things at work far too seriously. I need not take that same approach with riding. If this turns into another R-12 run, that would - obviously - be great. I have to walk this line carefully: it's good to have a goal and very little of importance should be pursued without considering the steps you'll need to take to make it happen - but it's also good to remember the reasons you started in the first place. It's not like we're putting a man on the moon by the end of a decade, right? This is a small, small personal goal. Not taking it seriously is a relative term: I'm serious about my riding, yes... I just have to be careful not to be so serious that it turns into its own stress factory, like I've been known to let happen. Packing paralysis, garage-door jitters, clothing conundrums, talking myself into and out-of rides before they happen. Let go... but, keep thinking about what I might like to achieve, too.

Part of making things easy on myself is taking my hard-earned vacation time from work and using a few random days as mental health breaks. Using these days to get in my longer rides takes pressure off -- I have no clock to worry about, the kids are in school, the wife at work, the calendar clear. Getting home by "xx:xx" is not a concern, so I don't worry about things like pacing. I can smell the roses a little if I choose, take pictures, chat with some locals - whatever. I can gear down, or gear up... and if the fitness is there, I can conversely decide... "you know, I think I *can* make it back by 2pm at this pace", and decide to push a little harder. With the "weekend ride" in the bag on a Friday, I get the entire actual weekend to chill with the fam.

Coming off of a really good return to longer-distance riding last month on the Princeton Roundabout route I was feeling confident about tackling the Border Patrol 217km. It starts very close to home, so I could start plenty early and still get in a fair amount of rest beforehand. Yeah... right. Bedding down at about 10:30pm, I was already under the gun - but the late-night round of rather intense thunderstorms kept me on the edge of sleep for a couple hours, so it wasn't the best rest I've had. The alarm rang at 3:00am... whoooof. Still, I bounced out and started to get ready.

Breakfast... hot shower to rouse the spirit... shot of whiskey to calm the nerves... (no, not really)... shot of 5-Hour Energy to awaken the nerves... (come to think of it, maybe a shot of whiskey every now and again... focus, dude)... dressed, jersey pockets packed, reflective gear on, Road ID around my neck, bottles, tires to pressure...and garage open... out into the pre-dawn air.
Nice... no rain. Just wet pavement. Gotta love fenders...
The thunderstorms from only a couple hours earlier were well east now, and cool, humid air was all that remained.

I rolled up to the start control, ended up being about 10 minutes early. The rules for permanents are different from brevets in that riders need a time-stamped receipt from each control. In this case, my ride started at 4:00am so I needed to purchase something and get a receipt for 4:00am or slightly later, to prove I was there. For those unfamiliar, this is what officiates the completion of these rides and qualifies you for awards like the R-12 - as the day progresses, you get receipts from each control along the route, along with c-store clerk initials on the route card. You turn that into your organizer after you finish.

I always find it interesting who is up at certain hours while the rest of the "normal" world sleeps. In this case, I suppose you can't call anyone "normal" if they're up at 4:00am for a bike ride, so I'm pretty sure I fell nicely into this rag-tag group of folks that were gathered in front of the 7-Eleven. A guy, just turned 20, lean and tall in a leather jacket, tousled thick brown hair, working a cigarette and spinning a yarn, looking like a post-punk throwback - stray dog that he'd found only a few hours earlier in Kansas City by his side; "Carey", he'd named her; a really soft, well-mannered, collar-less mixed breed dog that was very interested in whatever it was I was fishing for in my seatbag, or my back pockets, and seemed to like the smell of fresh sunscreen. He was chatting up a 30's-ish gal in a worn sundress-looking top, greenish and yellow, tired jeans, also smoking, her arms laden with costume jewelry and her voice laden with story after story of what she'd experienced in her extra decade, to help relate back to the 20-something her take on what he was going through in his life. In between was their mutual friend, the 7-Eleven clerk, taking advantage of what is probably the hardest hour of the overnight shift with a smoke break and a talk. And here I come rolling up in bright yellow, reflective, and tight clothes. Strangely, they took me right in -- and for ten minutes or so while I waited for 4:00am to arrive, it was just like shooting the bull on a smoke break at work, or hanging at a bar after close. From 50 ft. away, the grouping probably looked a bit curious. The things that go on, while the rest of the neighborhood sleeps. Sleepwalkers.

Clif-Bar for later, receipt, and I was off into the morning air - southbound.

With every passing mile, the headwind seemed to get stronger. This is one of the benefits, and curses, of any north/south route this time of year. I have to remember to not be in a hurry on the way down, to save energy to enjoy the trip north. If you're completely wasted, even the tailwind boost on the return leg doesn't help. It's still a hilly route... something else I was noting in my head, compared to the ride from last month.

Aubry Bend will never be the same. Approaching the curve near between Pflumm and Quivira on 175th street/179th street, I see the lights and silhouette of the new Blue Valley high school and middle school complex. It's giant... probably the largest construction the county has seen since the economy turned in 2007. I was sad to see the old farmhouse go, sad to see the old well capped off... but there you have it. I suppose time marches on... so, take pictures, folks. My only concern is what this does to the rest of the area - from a riding standpoint, from a scenery standpoint. I sometimes take this as a long route home, and I wonder how "fun" that will be with the traffic from two schools added onto what we're already seeing from the nearby soccer and football parks. Not to mention, the noticeable increase in aggregate truck traffic heading west to support the new BNSF intermodal complex construction taking place now. Yes, the wide shoulder is still there - but there are state highways with less traffic around here. 175th street... just like 159th street before it.... is slowly slipping off my list. I'm actually sad.

At 4:30AM, however, it's simply perfect... and the lights from the school merely a landmark. I gawk at it as I slip by silently... sighing in one breath, and marveling at the sheer size of the project itself in the next.

The first big hill on Antioch... needs a better name... Blue River Mound, maybe? Arboretum Pass? While not as brilliant a job as I've seen some pull off, I felt pretty good compared to previous climbs. At the top, a possum eases across the road in the darkness, sniffing about. The storms leftovers still littering the street - twigs, leaves - but at least the new pavement checked "potholes" off the list of stuff to dodge on the way up the grade.

Shimmer, by Fuel, flows through my head for some reason... I wonder if it was on the overhead at 7-Eleven?

Through the sleepy streets of Stillwell, under what is (I *think*) the last small town 4-way stop blinking-red-light in Johnson County. Metcalf, the old highway... let's take this as far as it goes, eh? For a moment I ponder creating a route with absolutely no turns - a permanent route that comprises the entire length of Metcalf, end-to-end, and then I remember the northern part of the county and dismiss the idea. This route is about as close as it gets.

Finally, I see my first car of the day. I love early morning ride starts!

I see Orion rising, for the first time in months... summer is almost at a close.
Below the giant constellation, I can see the orangish flash of lighting echoed in the tops of the thunderheads that rocked the county only a couple hours earlier, way off in the distance. Lightning, and the only thunder is the roar of wind noise in my ears as I cut through an ever-increasing headwind. I startle a raccoon in the ditch, and he runs off into the adjacent cornfield.

On to Louisburg, KS., a quick nature break and water refill while I can get it.

Rutlader, KS. and sunlight beginning to show in the sky, I remember the camping trip a few weeks ago, and smile.
I content myself with the headwind, which has increased, with the "could be worse" notion of having the back of my bike loaded with panniers and camping gear. The headwind isn't so bad all the sudden. Of course, then I think how cool it would be TO have all that gear on the bike, and pull off a long ride. Hmmmm.

The highway... I'm thinking about scouting out a better way to get around Middle Creek fishing lake... I wish they'd built a bridge over the lake to allow Metcalf to continue through... but I'm five decades too late for that county planning meeting. Even though there is a big shoulder, and traffic is light, I still don't prefer this section of road. Part of me thinks of Jingo Road to the west and how well received the gravel addition would be.

Sleepwalkers, by the Wallflowers, dances in my head while I pedal... only three miles of highway shoulder, but it always seems to take forever. It's definitely a landmark in the route... just getting past it is a good check-mark.
359th Street, the old Drexel interchange - on to Jingo road, to continue south on the old US-69 alignment towards La Cygne.

I dance with darting dogs at 391st Street, and again past 399th... they are spirited, but no match for my big chainring.

Over my left shoulder, a terrific bright red sunrise. Birds in song on the telephone poles.

At La Cygne, after the majestic downhill from the eastern edge of the Marias des La Cygne river valley and a burst of bright yellow warblers, my stomach growls for food. I fuel up with cheesy potato bites - but for the first time in years they don't sit as well as they have in the past. I hold them down, but feel "off" for a few minutes -- maybe I ate too fast. A girl in a minivan puts air in her tires near the edge of the building where I'm leaning, and asks if I'm "one of those bike riders that's trying to get in a lot of miles". We chat for a bit about it - I always find it interesting, as she's another on a long list of people lately that, at first glance, I'd never pin for asking serious cycling questions - forget breaking the ice with a Lycra-clad bald guy in the first place. Bottles refilled, card signed, receipt - onward to Pleasanton.

...and the hills...

It's still early, but it's becoming warmer. The bugs are singing... birds chirping happily: Meadowlarks, Cardinals, and a few Wrens can be heard. Traffic is remarkably light coming off K-152, and I think I'm lucky enough to have missed any notion of rush-hour work traffic as I make my way along some of the only roads in and out of the surrounding farm communities. The Linn County highways that comprise the middle 50 miles of route are quiet, and challenging. I make my ways past familiar sights, mailboxes that have become mental check-offs for this section, one particularly interesting historic landmark sign, the Bryant A/C dealer, and of course the larger hills. I come to "Narnia Bend", and the intersection of routes 458 and 1095, east to Pleasanton only 6 miles.

I pass a green snake in the road, a few feet long... a first, I believe, for me. Later, a large vulture snacking on something dead in the road - unidentifiable, and smelly. I pass a box turtle making his way from one culvert to the other. Quiet roads, green fields, cows, horses. Only a few more miles of the southeast headwind, I remind myself.

Pleasanton; a quick stop -- restroom, water, card signed, receipt, and packing away the reflective sash and ankle bands. The sun is plenty high enough now. I'm pleased with the hour of the day and my progress into the headwind - I manage to check into Pleasanton at 8:58am. Anything "before 9" is good in my personal book for a 4:00am start. Sixty-seven miles in just under 5 hours, with breaks. I can live with that. My rolling average at the halfway is 15.7 MPH. I can also live with that, considering the wind and hills. More local interaction that comes as a surprise considering my attire... a gruff-looking construction worker asks me if I know where the IPC Concrete plant is, which I had to say I didn't and directed him inside to the gal at the counter, who I at least knew had been working there for as long as I'd been doing the rides down here. Maybe it was the reflective vest... like it's a secret society... have safety vest - know construction and materials.

Now that I'm halfway, it's all "downhill" from here.

Past the three most notable climbs, and though I'm conscious to reserve my energy stores for the hills towards the END of the ride, I still have a good time climbing these middle-route, tougher, climbs. I have gears to spare this time out, and manage to keep a good cadence and rhythm. Things are improving! A couple pounds lighter than the last time I rode this route helps, for certain - but hydration and nutrition notes taken during the Princeton Roundabout are also paying off. It's not AS hot today, but it's definitely still summer and my fluid intake is still a top priority. I've finally made that mental connection: hydration = feeling good. Drink!
Perpetuem Solids from Hammer Nutrition are along for the ride again - cheap per serving, they store easy, and they seem to work better for me than c-store fare between controls so I use them for "rolling fuel" only. Once I hit a c-store, I can change things up a bit. Things are working - and I'm beyond messing with it for the moment.

As I battle the last, long climb of this middle section, I think to myself all the times I'd ridden this route in the past couple years - and I think this is the best I've ridden it, hill-wise. A good day!

La Cygne... I'm back... a bit more of a rest here. It's hotter, all the sudden. The arm coolers get pulled on. Yeah, they still seem to work as advertised. Today, with the humidity slightly less than it was last month, they feel cool against my skin - when moving through the air, even better. The sun is brilliant today, so this will help tremendously to keep the core temperature down and sunburn at bay. Resupplied, I saddle up and ride east, making my way back up the edge of the valley on the last really big climb of the ride, on K-152, back to Jingo/Ullery Rd., and north - back on the "old highway". 23 miles to Louisburg.

This section always seems to take a long time on the return leg.
I have techno beat-box battles with roadside bugs.

"creeek, creeeek"


silence. I win.

The butterflies are hatching... Monarchs are everywhere, my favorites. There are myriad others that I haven't ever bothered to look up, but still think are cool. Yellow, brown, black and blue... wildflowers along the roadside are brilliant. With the oppressive heat finally lifted, and the recent rains, things are looking "alive" again. Grasshoppers are, for some reason, sunning themselves in the middle of the road as I roll along - and, unfortunately, my front wheel turns into something of a grasshopper Armageddon death-machine, as the odd 'hopper rolls the dice and jumps "out of my way" in the wrong direction. THWANG

Past the water tower, the old Drexel curve of ancient US-69 at 367th street, and finally the highway return section itself, and I'm at Rutlader Wildlife area once again. This is the biggest checkoff of the ride for me... make it here, and you're in the bag. Of course, there are still the hills waiting between you and the next gas station. Keep moving!

Back at the Louisburg BP station... finally, the hills are behind me - but the length of the route, the hills and the heat are catching up. I take a bit longer of a break here, remembering how much easier that last section was - even with camping gear - only a few weeks before. Of course, I hadn't ridden 100 miles to get to that point, either. Today was different. I slammed a full quart of lo-cal Gatorade, and soon regretted it as my system churned for a few minutes with the sudden rush of ice-cold liquid in my gut. "SIP your drink, moron," I thought to myself. The goofy feeling passed - another restroom break, wash the face, rinse out the cycling cap, some fig bars, some courage - and I was off, feeling fresh and human again. 22 miles to go!

The last few rides, this particular section of the Border Patrol had proven really, really difficult. In 2010, it was my last brevet/permanent before succumbing to injury and layoff. This is where I remember hydration becoming the biggest problem - cumulative from the entire ride prior to that point. Somewhere along Metcalf at 271st street is where things always seem to pay back on this ride. Knowing this, I kept drinking, kept nutrition up - keeping these things going and NOT caving into the "I'm almost done, should be fine" theory is important. I know I've done that a few times: almost done with a ride, so mentally I begin to forget the habits that kept the ride going. I end up drinking less, stop eating - not realizing that, if anything, I need to slowly increase intake of these things. Cumulative effects of the ride and the fact that your muscle glycogen is probably gone - you have to maintain inputs of fluids and calories or the consequences come quick and hard. Keeping this theory present in my head I make it to Stilwell Grocery, and I'm NOT (for once) compelled to stop and collapse. Smooth sailing. For the first time since beginning this route in '08, I continue on without the extra break here.

My only complaint, personally, about the ride - I could feel the early personal signs of dehydration coming on, so while today was 50-times better than I've done in the past on this route, I still need to make sure I'm fully draining the bottles between controls. Nothing got out of hand, no cramps - but I could feel the edges of it, kinda like late in the Princeton Roundabout ride last month. It's still hot - so stay on it!

Finally, I'm heading WEST on 199th. The promise of a tailwind on this route doesn't always play out - and while I was glad to have turned north out of the SE headwind of the entire first half of the day, the tailwind resulting only lasted until about 375th street when I'd noticed it was shifting (as forecast) out of the east. So, it's not a tailwind, but it's not a headwind either... so I suppose that was okay. Now, on 199th Street and for a good portion of the remaining miles, I'd actually have a good tailwind! YES!

That wondered goal of finishing before 2:00pm started to look possible... and for once I had enough in the tank to start pushing for it, so I did. The last dozen miles or so, instead of limping, I was finding myself in the big chainring - arguably pushing too large of a gear, but feeling good. My fears of running the last 10 miles on damage control while trying to navigate an endless hoard of school traffic from Blue Valley South was laid to rest... I sailed past the educational mecca as silently as I had earlier that morning and enjoyed 175th street the way I remember it best -- nearly traffic-free.

FFFEEEHVVRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr r r r

...except for that construction truck.

Finally back at the 7-Eleven, the final receipt, the final signature... and a little death metal, courtesy the clerk's boombox behind the counter... to round out a pretty good ride, in my estimation.

We'll call this a tentative "number 2"... with a Coke. Stay tuned for September's edition!

Brain-Songs: Revolution Solution - Thievery Corporation (feat. Perry Farrell)
Sleepwalker - Wallflowers
Get By - Talib Kweli
Shimmer - Fuel
Enjoy the Ride - Morcheeba
World Turning - Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon

7-11 out 4:01am
louisburg BP 5:40am
caseys out 7:23am
pleasanton 8:58am
caseys in 10:37am
louisburg BP 12:30pm
7-11 in 2:13pm

Thanks for reading!

August 19, 2011

Don't call it a comeback...

...mama said...  

Not officially calling this "number two"  (quiet Beavis)   yet, but chalk up another permanent/brevet finish - two in two consecutive months.
This time, the Border Patrol 217km (134 miles) was on the menu - ye olde favorite.  I'd forgotten how unforgiving that route can be!
A good day -- wet pavement after some energetic thunderstorms in the wee hours, but I stayed dry with clear skies -- stars giving way to brilliant blue.

Feeling good, still fresh surprisingly -- time to take a nice, long nap though.  Post coming soon!

Stay tooned, ace.


August 10, 2011

Review: Axiom Monsoon panniers, 3-year update

It struck me when skimming metrics on blog traffic and popular posts that the review I wrote about 2 years ago now is one of the most popular searches and hits on the whole site. Interesting... and answers my notions that it's not so much the doing of the commuting as much as it's possibly about what you do it WITH. Either that, or people are really interested in waterproof panniers on a budget.

So, the Axiom Monsoon panniers, sold in pairs, and available at this writing in grey, red, and yellow. After 3 years of year-round, nearly-daily use, it's safe to say that these are very well made. Just like I mentioned in the first post, I am pretty easy on my gear - mainly because I don't want to have to replace things too often. I haven't done any failure testing, haven't lugged around my bar-bells for hill training in them, haven't done things like leaving a pocket knife open in the bottom before packing them with beer or fish or broken circuit boards - just simple daily-duty... lunch, clothes, occasionally a laptop (which is actually heavy-ish and a good test). No splits, no failures, no issues to speak of, really. Good construction, good design - and literally, they have become the last thing I have to concern myself with on a commute. I like that. Beyond that, that same "no worries, pack-n-go" feeling extends to a few camping trips, with way more weight and gear than I commute with - and the results are the same. That's on bumpy minimum-maintenance roads, and lots of gravel. No bag issues to report.

The buckles still snap true, the edges are wearing just fine, the "rack-lock" swivel is still fine on both. A few observations, however: The rack hooks, which are coated with that "tool-handle dip" vinyl are a little haggard... but not bad. A dab of silicone fixes it, and that's about it. I still haven't found enough reason to swap in the factory-supplied replacement hooks (enough for one bag, anyways). The only complaint from the original review was mitigated with some silicone caulk and some long rectangles of PVC fabric cut from a retired rain jacket: the "waterproof zipper" concept is a tough one to swallow because zippers are pretty high-cycle, and coatings tend to wear off of high-cycle items. That's still the only low mark I'd give them, but the homebrew fix has held and works fine in practice. My phone stays in one of these outer pockets, and to this day I still haven't felt it necessary to double-up by putting the phone in a zip-top baggie. Finally, the bungee attachment system -- the hooks are great, still solid, but the bungees themselves are beginning to go "soft". The obvious repair is to un-knot one end, lift a little through, and re-tie, cut/melt the end. A hardware store visit would even be in order, if I wanted that super-tight fit back... but the load is still stable each day, even in bumpy corners, so it's a minor concern at this point. Let's be honest here, also: I have seen smarter attachment designs on panniers, and you pay extra for that - but the bungee system is simple, proven, and practically field-repairable. Absolute worst-case: Arkel - probably the premier touring pannier and bag company - sells a replacement hardware and mounting rail kit that would really make these bags "world beaters" for value and strength... but I'm not there yet, considering all I need is maybe 4 feet of bungee from the corner hammer-haven.

I've been promising this follow-up review for a while - and it's ... well ...pretty unremarkable. The wear from year-one to today is so subtle I didn't even feel it was necessary to take new photos, which is saying a lot. Even the areas that coated nylon tends to eventually show problems, like perma-creases you get from repeated use of the roll-top closure, are thinner, yes, but not perforated. Eventually, these things DO wear out... but I'm thinking that is more like 5 more years away, as opposed to "call me in 12 months". Basically, having gone into this thinking these were a budget-minded purchase, I am pleased to report one of two things: Axiom panniers are either some of the most well-made bags you can buy, OR, the pricier stuff simply lasts long enough for you to eventually be buried in. Either way, I think you definitely get what you pay for with these - and that's a lot of miles-per-dollar of camping, commuting, touring, or pocket-knife armed fish-fry beer runs.

Stay tuned for the ten-year review.... only partially kidding!

August 4, 2011

New "hottest commute" record

I'm all about extremes sometimes, when it comes to mileage obviously with the randonnuering.. but sometimes with commute "numbers".
Every commuter has them, and if they haven't been keeping track for themselves there is usually a co-worker or friend that asks "what's the xxxx you've ever ridden in?"

Rainiest, coldest, hottest, snowiest... etc. So, eventually, whether one admits it or tracks it, the question of extremes comes up.

For me, at this writing, my coldest commute is minus-9ºF, back in 2002. I can't fathom cold at that level with the way this summer has been... but it's all relative and gradual in nature. At the time leading up to that day it was slowly and slowly getting colder and colder each night, so my body adjusted. If it were to drop into the 50's right now, for example, it would feel absolutely frigid! Still, anything below-zero Fahrenheit is downright cold. That's -23ºC, after all. Celsius always looks more impressive when talking about cold.

My previous hottest commute was in 2006 with a high mark of 106ºF. I remember that whole week was quite hot, with temps well over 90 for days on end in the month of August. Ever since then, however, it's been remarkably "cool" each summer. In fact, I think it was 2008, we barely broke into the 90's at all if I remember correctly. This year, however, has all my old records beaten - even randonneuring temperature records.

Sticking with commutes, the last two weeks have approached the 100's for days on end. Finally, this Tuesday, the hottest day in over five years for a commute home in the afternoon, with the official thermometer topping 110ºF at Olathe Executive, and my probably-skewed unofficial home thermometer read 113.1ºF for a max temp. Just stinkin' hot, and my new hottest-ever commute by a good margin. For the KC-area at large, 8/2/2011 was the hottest in almost 30 years. I doubt I'll best that record anytime soon.

Hottest brevet? This year, also. The ride about a month ago, the last brevet post for July's Princeton Roundabout route out of Shawnee saw a high temperature of about 103ºF. For a full day in temps and humidity leading up to that maximum temperature late in the ride, I'm still surprised it went so well. Even the Tinbutt 12-Hour Challenge from '05 wasn't as hot as this last brevet was. My thoughts turn to cyclists in Texas and Oklahoma, where the Excessive Heat Warning is still raging on.

Hottest camping trip ever... also this year.

It's been a hot, hot summer. But, with today's passing "cold front" and rain, that acclimatization that helped make the negative-9 winter ride seem possible has also rendered the mid-80's today feel chilly by comparison to earlier this week. I can't minimize the fact that despite it being only a few degrees hotter than all the days leading up to it, Tuesday felt just wicked, furnace-hot. Combined with slightly lower humidity I ended the day pounding water and electrolytes to replace what had to be a couple of quarts of perspiration in only the hour it took to get home. It gives me a feeling of respect for the racers that will cross Death Valley later this year on the Furnace Creek 508. Can I take more? Sure! Bring it on! ... There might even been hotter days still ahead, but knowing that September is around the corner makes me feel good, too.

Ride smart and safe, everyone... thanks for reading... and drink lots of water!

August 2, 2011

Bike Camping - Summer 2011

For another angle on the story, visit Noah's KC-Bike Commuting blog.  It's usually far more photo-rich than mine, so check it out!  I'm still working on a good camera solution for rides... just need a better phone, probably.
These are always a great time - and so as soon as there was a date and a rough plan from Noah, I was all in.  Small challenges leading up to the event had me on/off with the overnight part, but I'm glad it worked out.  Bike Camping.  If you haven't done it, get on "the list" - which is to say, follow this blog, Noah's blog, join the DSR list.  There is nothing particularly special required to do these.  You don't have to be a rando guy or a commuter or a camper or anything.  Just be prepared to talk about gadgets, bike stuff, fishing, eating, life, nature, bikes, beer.  If you have a bike and a backpack, you're in.  If you've got a bike and a helpful spouse to drive your stuff to the campsite... you're kinda cheating, but you're probably in.  This isn't a "club".
We start our tale along an Olathe road where JDMitch, long-time reader, first time bike-camper, met up with me after a coffee-stop.  First notice, the Bike Friday with the Sturmey-Archer 3-speed internally-geared fixxie folding bike - complete with rear Wald basket and cooler, and front panniers.  20" wheels, beefy tires, and probably one of the more interesting bikes I've seen in years.  A technical marvel... and the rear hub alone gives me dreams of possibility for this year's "winter bike", OH yes.   That hub is what the ole' Redline Monocog needed!   We exchanged greetings and proceeded along towards about 159th and Lackman for the jaunt to the Overland Park Arboretum on 179th street.  There, we'd meet up with everyone else and begin the weekend.

We rolled up to see Randy Rasa's LHT (proprietor of TheDirtBum and Kansas Cyclist) near a park bench... in fact, he'd just arrived:  I think I spotted him along 179th street on the way in, panniers giving it away in the distance.  There were other cyclist about - I get the impression the Arboretum gets a lot of bicycle traffic along this popular stretch of road.  A thin, lean racer-guy on his Trek Madone, followed by a couple gents - one on a Cannondale - was enough of a timeslice to indicate how much restroom traffic and water-fountain use this place probably gets on a warm day.  

Did I say warm?  Hahaha.... uh, no.  "Hot".  
The Kansas City area, along with a large hunk of the midwest, is under the heavy thumb of a pretty decent heat wave.  I've lost track of actual numbers, but I'm sure records are falling and I know it's been reaching and exceeding 100ºF here in town.  I saw the "magic" 40ºC on a bank signboard just today... and I know those things are not THE most accurate around, but that's plenty warm.  My home thermometer is about the same, running a few degrees above what the "airport" temperature really is, but I like the shock-factor of those numbers after getting home from a commute.  Today my home thermometer might stretch to 45ºC, where-upon I will collapse in a heap of sweaty mess.  The only thing the cops will find is a cassette tape cued up with Midnight Oil's "Beds are Burning", steam rising off of it.  Personal hottest commute record may indeed fall today.

Noah and Richard showed up a touch later, Noah in typical style sporting a GIANT solar panel on his rear rack, charging this and that in the panniers below.
If ever there was a guy to follow out of town when the zombies come, it's this guy.  The next book I write will have a character based on him.  No really.  This, though, was the third bike-camp expedition - and per his admission, the lightest he'd ever packed.  

Richard was also a first-time bike camper, riding a rent-a-bike from his place of employment... a local company with a global presence that knows a heckuvalot more about bike culture than, say, the company I work for.  Packing lightest of the group with only a backpack on him, he was ready to roll out in style.  How he was going to survive would be interesting to see, considering just about everyone else in attendance had at least two full-sized panniers jammed with gear and rations.  No drama here -- not only did he survive, I learned quite a bit from his minimalist rig.  He's one of those guys where you can tell just from the first few sentences of conversation that he knows a thing or two.

The only two missing were Gene and Stephanie, and after a couple texts from Noah it was learned that a rash of flats was the culprit.  We rolled out ahead, knowing that they'd probably catch up to us.  The pace today was slow-to-slower.  Fully casual... I was looking forward to taking as much time as we cared to on the way out.  It wasn't as hot as it had been thanks to some morning thundershower activity, but the humidity was enough to hang your hat on.  Drink, drink, drink!  

We all rolled out and up 179th street's long grade to Metcalf, and then southbound towards Wea, Louisburg, Rutlader, and our final destination at Middle Creek State Fishing Lake, where Metcalf mysteriously slips into oblivion.  
Songs in head:  (and sometimes out of mouth...)
Elbow - Bones of You, & Mirrorball  
Bob Marley - Small Axe,Three Little Birds
Nature check:
Horses, a Donkey, and an Owl at 3am near the campsite.
Add in the usual squirrels, rabbits, and a wide array of birds like prairie warblers in yellow and some small blue birds, and it was a nature-rich trip, as well.
Gene's flat-fest woes continued later on during the ride, which, after hitting the BP station along Metcalf for resupply we adjourned to the local Sonic, and sat in the shade for a couple hours while we arranged to get Gene and daughter transportation to us for a final fix of the rear tire rim strip problems.  Some electrical tape was procured, and many tater-tots and cold shakes were consumed.  It was NICE.  We even got a visit from a guy on a nice Harley-Davidson who was paying particular interest to us, as he'd passed Gene on the road earlier and offered help.  Turns out I'd ridden with the guy before on a couple Monday Nite rides -- small world!  This particular Sonic will be part of my Border Patrol permanent-route return-leg routine from now on, guaranteed!
Flat fixed, on to Camp Swamp-heat...

Stephanie knows how to climb.  Wow.  She's part of the KSU cycling team, and it was a pleasure to ride alongside her.  I felt some of that competitive charge fire up on a couple hills south of Louisburg where, no doubt about it, it is quite hilly in places.  Mostly, however, it was to get enough of a gap from the group for a much-needed roadside nature break.  Two restroom trips at Sonic, and a third on the road, meant I was drinking plenty.  Feeling good, fresh, strong, once again - even with the laden bike.

Tents were pitched, and I watched in amazement as Noah's shelter came into form, as well as Richard's, who came with the lightest rig of the group - a single backpack - but was no less comfortable or well fed than any of us.  Less is more...

From then on in, it was relaxing time:  some dinner, some conversation, pondering a fire -- but the heat, well, it simply didn't happen.  Probably better, honestly, though it would have completed the image.  Noah's water purification rig was brilliant:  a Sawyer filter and bottle, a hand-actuated air-pump, the kind you'd use to pump up an exercise ball or small air mattress, and the nasty lake water was rendered clear and clean.  Tasted good... remarkably, like "water".  That Sawyer filter is on my shopping list, for sure. 

Later, to the lake where Randy and Gene, Noah and Stephanie, all cast in lines with decent results.  I may need to put fish back on my menu, and pick up one of those collapsible fishing rods while I'm out next.  Handy.  I was entertained enough just hanging out and watching the fishing, and the clouds... undergoing some moderate lifting that would eventually turn into a camping spectacle I hadn't expected.
An awesome sunset yielded a growing line of storms, rain in the distance.  We'd stay largely dry, but the rain eventually did come in for a bit.  Not until after we all gathered, silently, at the camp picnic table - stadium style seating if you like - watching and listening intently to the intense lightning and thunder show happening maybe only 2-3 miles to our north, passing west to east.  Amazing... surreal... dream-state.  Gentle rain began to fall, and we adjourned to our tents for the night.

I'm a light sleeper, apparently.  I got maybe 30-45 minutes total sleep - the kind that only comes when pure exhaustion finally makes it too difficult to lift your eyelids... only to have them snap open again by the next odd noise.  I'm not nervous about night-time or the outdoors... things like bugs singing, the occasional snap of a twig aren't reason for concern.  I'm talking about the "idiot factor".  There's one for every campsite, not matter how remote - and at approximately 2:30am, someone decided it was good time to cut down a tree.  THWACK, THWACK, THWACK... mumble, mumble, grumble... laughter...  THWACK, THWACK, THWACK!   Good lord.  Five or ten minutes later, I watched the pair emerge from the treeline with their "kill"... dragging it along the road back to camp for what I can only imagine was a monster bonfire.  It got me out of my tent long enough for another nature break, and a long stare into the now-clear skies above, the Milky Way, and the Big Dipper in full display.  Magic!   Tired.... Of the two "lumberjokes" the next morning Gene observed the next morning that "it's often hard to sleep during a campout... so, apparently some people don't even TRY."  Frustrating... but, part of the "public park" risk, I suppose.  Being too sleepy to fight it, I crawled back into my tent and fell asleep to the distant sounds of passing trains and a hooting owl somewhere in the nearby trees.  Not a bad soundtrack.  

The next morning, I was up like a shot at 5:15 with the call of the first morning birds.  Stretch, nature break (still hydrated, even overnight), and breakfast in bed. Pack, and hang out until departure time.  A nice morning!

On the return trip, the heat was coming on quicker than the previous day.  We stopped at the BP station again, refueled, and followed Randy's lead on a good gravel route north to "home".  Following Randy:  the best advice I can give anyone.  Just do it.  It never disappoints.
We jogged a bit out of Louisburg and ended up on Spring Valley road around 271st street.  Randy said "go slow on the downhill, there's a cool bridge that you'll fly right past if you don't."  At first, I was thinking of the term "hill" relatively... and we passed over a tiny trickle of water on a deck bridge which was kinda cool, but I hadn't expected a mile later the GIANT downhill, maybe 18% or better decline, with the old truss bridge at the bottom.  On full brakes, it was nuts... my road caliper brakes simply do not cut it with 30# of camping gear on the back, and they were merely "speed modulators" at best.  I overshot the bridge, where thankfully those that went down first had navigated to opposite roadsides.  I came to a stop about 30 yards or more too far, and had to back up.  Another personal case for a proper touring bike that can not only hold more, but takes stronger linear-pull or cantilever brakes!  The hill was so dramatic, so choppy, so fast, that JDMitch on the 3-speed fixxie, 20"-wheeled Bike Friday had one of his pannier bounce off the rack rails... and it was lucky that was as far as it went, as he came down the grade on full rear lockup.  Now, someday when it's drier... I want to climb that thing.   Whooof.  Nice hill!

We rolled on past cool thing after cool thing, Randy as guide... scenery unmatched along the old Metcalf highway route.  A cool wagon-wheel fence, and farm tractor mailbox holder.  Horses, cows, birds - past Chiles, past Bucyrus and the old high school building.. all smiles.
We all ended up back together at 187th and Pflumm, however, as - crazily enough after the rim strip redeux at Sonic the day before - Gene's rear tire refused to hold air anymore, again.  We even fixed it again, this time employing duct-tape - but it lost air again before Gene could even finish reloading the rear rack.  Gads... it was hot enough that the adhesive from the electrical tape had softened up, and slipped out of the way - exposing the spoke holes again, and causing the fourth or fifth flat on the "wrong side" of the inner tube.  It was a hard call, but why fight it... close enough to home base, I volunteered the SAGgin' Waggin' (a.k.a. da' VAN (said with attitude)), time trialed it home, and came back to lift him the final left homeward.

Gene, Stephanie, Noah, Josh, Richard, Randy... high-fives all-around:  awesome hanging out with you all!

All in all, like I said before, these trips never disappoint...  I had a great time, and I can't wait for the fall edition for a good camp-fire, cooler temps, and good Oktoberfest beer in the pannier.   YES.   

My advice for the week:  go riding, go camping, go gravel.... you won't regret it!

Thanks for reading!