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!

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