September 20, 2011

"I'm on a Road to Nowhere"

For a change of scenery this time, I turned my sights north.  North of the Missouri River, specifically - where things are "different".  Kansas City proper tended to grow south after its first century in existence and that's evident in the sprawl that eventually leaked over into Kansas and created the suburban paradise we enjoy today.  The northland has had improvements, too - yes - but some of the hillsides and vistas haven't changed much in 200 years.  Southern parts of the metro have seen farms and barns disappear, replaced by shopping complexes and housing developments - but up north, the farms still exist and thrive today.  The majority of improvements have been limited to the roadways;  the old section and farm roads were simply graveled-over, and then paved over.  Traffic has stayed light, and local -- so the roads themselves, though paved, haven't been "grade-reduced for safety", for example -- so, if there's a hill, you climb it on the same grade that nature used when it was installed.  It's hilly.  Quite hilly.

Contrast to Olathe and southern Johnson County... well, once you get far enough south of the river system, things are relatively flat.  There are bumps that most cyclists call "hills" simply because there isn't another name for them.  I live out where a lot of those hill-shaped obstacles are, and since moving here in 2005 - let's be plain - I've gotten soft.  I miss the days of living about 25 miles north of here.  I miss riding in Shawnee on a consistent basis.  There is no reason NOT to, but "the country" is so much easier to get to - as opposed to riding in traffic all the time, so when I ride I generally turn my sights south.  Excuses...  I've gotten soft.

Back in "the day", hill climbing was just simply the training that the Warbird and I did - over and over and over, because THAT's where we lived.  When we went up to Liberty for the first few big rides back in 2002, things were different - it was hard, but I think we were better prepared.  It wasn't about the hills so much as it was about the distance and the acclimation to extended saddle-time.  After years of riding where the hills aren't, I can really, really feel the effects of this last ride.  I think the estimates are conservative -- something on the order of 6,700+ ft. of climbing in 131 miles.  I think it's more than that.  The "issue" is that it's all in 1/2 miles long rollers -- just over and over and over.  (I love it, who am I kidding?)

There's people out there on their 4th R-12 reading this (maybe) thinking "gads, grow up."  I know, I know... it's just remarkable how one forgets certain terrain.  I mean, let's face it -- if I'm looking at a 1,200km ride in 2012, or a 48-hour race with a lot of climbing per lap, this is something I NEED to be doing... so, let's call this the "wake up call", shall we?  I'm well awake now!  This is what's been missing -- so, for some of my riding I'll probably turn my sights north now.

Still, it was a tough day for me.  
The ride report... in small, easy to chew mental hunks:

Summer is over.  JUST like that.  Wednesday last week it was in the mid-90's.  Thursday morning it was 47ºF.  Friday, steady rain in the forecast, no sun, and wind.  Compared to riding in 100F+ heat only a month before on the last 200km ride, this was going to be interesting.  The old adage:  pack everything.  The monster duffel bag is out of storage again!

We like wool.  Easing the blow was the notion that I also got to unwrap all the late-season wool stuff again.  It's a treat to wear on days where you're looking at 50's and rain, so I layered up - conservatively, so as not to overheat.  With this stuff, you don't need a rain jacket .. but for some reason I packed it anyways.  

The alarm bell rang at 3:00AM.  Gads... the ride didn't start until 5:00AM, but I had almost an hour drive ahead of me to get to the start location on time.  I instantly regretted planning a ride so far away from home and wondered if it'd been better to have driven in the night before and camped in the van with a sleeping bag.  The ride that has its first control only a mile from my house looked really good... because I could've slept for another hour.  Drag outta bed... crawl to the kitchen... liquid breakfast of Carboplex and Hammer Gel, hot shower, dressed, and off I went.  Yawning... a lot... as I drove.

I hit the parking lot at a smidge before 4:00am.... and the restaurant that was supposedly 24-hours was closed.  Grrrrf... so much for a hot breakfast send-off like I'd planned... 45ºF on the bank clock across the way, and almost a full flag of wind blowing across the parking lot.  Yikes... it's still supposed to be warm, right??  It's not October yet.... c'mon.  Mental... ignore it... I dozed off.... SNAP!  whoa... don't do that!  It's 4:15.... I doze off again... 4:19....   This repeats almost every 3-4 minutes until 4:50am, and with each alarming self-wakeup I notch the thermostat on the dashboard a little closer to the hot side.  A mild shiver.  What the heck?... chilly...  ugh.

5:00am... the restaurant doesn't open until 6:00am, so even starting late and using the first "gimme" hour (not recommended) to eat something hot wasn't in the cards.  I drive across the way to a just-opened C-Store (for some reason completely missing the freshly relocated 24-hour super-grocery behind me, which I noticed later in the afternoon!) grab a couple things, and get a receipt for 5:06am... close enough.  I park, unpack the bike, and proceed to forget everything in succession.  This starts a cycle of "shut van door, pack keys in seatbag, mount bike, remember something, dismount, unpack keys, unlock, grab "forgotten thing", re-lock van, pack keys, remount, roll five feet, remember something else, roll back, unpack keys...." for about five things:   my helmet, then my gloves that I left on the seat of the van after getting helmet, then the cue sheet, then my phone, and finally remembering all of my back-pocket bonk-rations for the day.  So used to getting ready in the garage and RIDING to the start, I'm completely befuddled by the cold, the dark, the new location... it's like I've never done this before, and thankfully I managed to remember EVERYthing within a few yards of the van at most, instead of at some unfamiliar turn 15 miles away.  The guys smoking by the dumpster waiting for their boss to unlock the back door of the restaurant must have gotten a kick out of that scene.  It was now 5:30am.... for cryin' out loud, let's ROLL already!!

Frustrated... tense... annoyed, even though it was all resolved... still yawning... and cold.   Good way to start a ride. 

Pedal... pedal... pedal.... holy crap?   The first few turns don't even require a cue sheet, I'm so familiar.  I can navigate Liberty, MO. by bicycle blindfolded -- but, I don't remember this hill... do I?  Good lord...  Yep, right road... houses look familiar... dude.  I stand up on the pedals.

That notion would continue for a few dozen miles as I re-familiarized myself with the topography.  I passed under I-35, and out of the eerie pinkish/orange vapor-lamp glow of the last streetlight within the city limits.... Plattsburg Road.  Now at least I couldn't see the hills coming. 

Good things about hills in succession... just exercise the zipper of your wind-vest; up... then down.... opposite to the grade at hand... and the chills of the early fall snap disappear.  Precious body heat to the rescue!  And, a bit of a rhythm develops... time to shake the cobwebs out of these legs and remind them where the work is done.  Oh, and drink... hydration went well this summer... but I remind myself to keep it up, even though it's not hot.  Easy to forget.

Drip... drip....drip.....   the first couple rain drops hit my face.... here we go.  Not even an hour in... 

Upon reaching the intersection of Plattsburg Road and Route C, I stop for a snack.  I keep walking the line between minimalist, and having some sort of handlebar bag mounted.  Today, where it would have made a lot of sense, I didn't have it mounted.  Buried under two layers, and fingers rendered clumsy by thick wool fingers, I found myself stopping to eat my 'tween-control rations.  I suppose that's okay -- stop, look around, rest a minute.  The standing-time adds up, though, and makes for a long day.  I fight mentally with the whole "eat on the move" philosophy versus the "smell the roses" philosophy... but the increasing rain reminds me I have larger concerns ahead.  The wool is working, and I have a tailwind for the moment - the stowed rain jacket stays put and I rely on the raised collar of my wind vest, and my new RUSA-logo'ed EU-compliant and P-B-P legal reflective vest.  Fifteen miles in, the sun has apparently come up because the sky has lightened, and nine-to-go until the first control in Plattsburg, MO.  Roll.
Highway C is quiet today... the notion that weekend traffic will be lighter is once-again dispelled.  On this Friday morning, the 'rush-hour' traffic will probably stay on the main highways and I'll be able to ride in the clear.  Here's hoping... this nine-mile stretch sticks in my memory as a pretty busy road.  Today the road is largely empty.  That's nice.
The rain is steady, and I slowly become soaked.  Upon cresting a couple hills, I can see my breath as vapor in the cooling air.  It lifts a little at Plattsburg, so I can do my control routine in the dry, which was welcome.  Stopping after being wet, though, leads to shivers.  Going to be a long day.  housekeeping attended to, I'm back on the bike and headed north - out of town.  Out of town of any kind for a while...
I had forgotten how empty things become north of Plattsburg, MO.  Before long, there are no cars, no signs of life - save for the occasional darting dog, but that even only happens twice in 15 miles.  The rain is constant now... not showing signs of slowing, no clearing in the distance -- just an endless sea of grey.  The only glimmers of color that remind me it's still "summer" come from wildflowers soaking up the rain on the roadsides.  There is a bird or two that sings out... it's not all bad out here.  Memories of harder times up this way dart in and out of my thoughts.  Memories of good times and good friends sharing those times up this way add to the interplay of brain waves, mixed with a constant din of music played from my internal storage.  The playlist is especially long today - an indication of how much I'm trying not to think too hard about what I'm doing out here.
Highway NN... and uncharted territory:  I stop here for another face-feed stop, trying to open a zip-top bag with wet woolen fingers proves mildly comical.  A few snacks... I consider donning the rain jacket, but am already too wet to have it make much difference.  "Nah."
A passing car makes a left turn towards town, the passenger gawking out the window - either in personal disbelief, or confirmation of my idiocy.  
I blurt out something from Monty Python, and aim my bike west towards ... well... nothing. 
The hills on highway NN are remarkable. 
I am treated to several historic cemeteries, some old farmhouses, and an old truss bridge that is slated for Missouri's "Safe and Sound" bridge rehab program next year... might be the first and last time I see that old steel-work on this route. 
"...what a drag, these hills are gettin' old...." to the tune of the 'Stones classic Mother's Little Helper.
I check off landmarks... highway K.... highway VV, with a laugh  (lots of letters at this intersection.... NN, VV, K, O, arrows pointing everywhere)
Right about the time I start playing the "I know I haven't made any turns but am I on the right road anymore??" game, the road comes to a T, and the correct turn awaits.  (whew)   .... the rain, having increased from "hmm" to "whoa" in the last hour, does not make happy-fun-time for bonus mileage.
After finally deciding (as if it would make a difference) to don the rain jacket, having another snack and generally considering my situation, I mount up for the journey north on Highway 31 towards Easton, MO. -- I catch a smell, a good one, as I pass through town - like a barbecue joint or something... but I don't see a storefront to match.  Roll on...
More hills.  Less stuff.  Another thing I forget about these northland rides is the scarcity of services between controls.  Unlike another couple routes I frequent where you're nearly guaranteed resupply of some kind every 20 miles (something I've gotten used to), this stretch was going to approach double that before I'd have a chance to get out of this rain.  That started playing on me at the intersection of US-36, where I'd make a decision.
The first of many decisions.  Let's see... turning around now would net me a century, right?  I haven't committed to anything, right?  Ugh... it's NOT that bad out here, dude... hang in.  Eat something.  Drink something.  Legs?  Still attached.  Sore... Stomach happy.  Brain weary.  The hanging mist from the truck traffic flying by in the heavy rain, my foggy glasses, all stood to represent the noise in my head --- "this is nuts," I muttered aloud, chewing on a block of something or other.  "suicidal..."   Carefully, I cross the four lanes of the highway to the opposite side... "there's gotta be a better way..."  (there isn't)... at least there is a shoulder.  Ugh... I swallow hard, take a drink, turn on the backup taillight to double my candlepower to traffic, and mount up.  It's only 2 miles... there's a good shoulder.... it's downhill for a bit... a slight gap in approaching traffic... hit it!
Hoping that my visibility would be in good standing on such a day, it frustrates me to no-end that people still drive their cars in the rain without turning on their headlights.  Wipers on?  Lights on!   C'mon, people, I'm wearing an awesome vest for ya here!
The only place on the road where shoulder disappears... reminds me of OK-51 on the old Tinbutt route in Stillwater, OK. where the road crosses a branch of the Platte River.  Not looking forward to riding in the lane on a major US-highway in heavy rain, I check my six for traffic -- I've got JUST enough time... SPRINT!!!  Safely back on the shoulder again after the long bridge, traffic roars past in a cloud of mist again...  whew.
The hills on highway Z are remarkable.
More mental music... I play the "maybe the wind is dying and I won't have a headwind for the return" game. 
I also play the "maybe the rain is letting up" game, and laugh when it actually starts to fall harder.  Could be worse....  more food, more drink.  Don't leave anything on the bike this time -- the forty-mile jaunt is taking a while with all my roadside breaks, and this is no time to run short of hydration or calories.
The road twists and turns...  more mental games:  there are no paved options, I haven't made any turns, haven't seen many intersections... but, for some reason on a brand-new-to-me route it's difficult to avoid that sudden rush of anxiety that comes with the realization that Missouri doesn't like to spend money on road signs.  Uhhhh..... where the heck is the next road?   Cue sheet... trip computer.... I shouldn't be there yet, oh THERE it is! 
Cosby, MO...  nice little town, and look - there's a neat old bell in front of that chur... POTHOLE!!!!!!   (bunnyhop)  The adrenaline rush takes me over the cool old Platte River bridge, and the next 4 hills. 
Stop raining...
(make me)
The last couple hills are teasing me... never gonna get there.... never gonna.... EUREKA! 
The Avenue City store, and it looks like I made it to the control still in sight of the lead group.  Two bikes are leaned against the building, taillights still flashing into the grey rain... and then I remember that I'm out here alone, and must be hallucinating.  I'm not, though ... the bikes are real:  a Raleigh M300 and a very nice Rodriguez touring model.  There are panniers everywhere, and inside are their owners enjoying the same respite from the rain that I seek.  As if there weren't enough walls of delineation between people as it is, the scene was a perfect tutorial on how to tell a randonneur from a tourist.  I was on target to get about the same amount of mileage today as they were, but I had barely anything with me.  Of course, they were coming across the country from Seattle!  We chatted for a bit while they wrapped things in the plastic trash bags they'd purchased, and I ordered a sandwich and settled in for a drying-out period.  This would be one of the longest control stops I'd ever logged.  I rolled wool gloves into newspaper, hung up layers over various air-vents near the bottoms of pop machines and coolers, and tried to fight the urge to sit down.  I figured as long as I was standing up, I wasn't quitting.  Halfway --- all I have to do is get back on the bike and pedal towards home.  I ate chips, drank hot coffee, ate a great sandwich, drank water - and finally, after almost an hour, started packing up for the return leg. 
Drying things out was only a mental maneuver.  The rain continued - but the layers closest to my body, under the rain jacket, were now warmer and drier than they were when I'd arrived. 
The return trip seemed to take forever... more of the same as the outbound, but more dream-like.  I don't know if the effort of the day was checking me out, or if the rain and the grey was playing tricks on my psyche... but I caught myself "waking up" after certain sections of road.  Never in peril - never startled awake by traffic or similar (thankfully), and truthfully and to be clear - never actually "eyes closed asleep"... but certainly daydreaming, and definitely unplugged for sections of the return ride.  I suppose this is a special place if you can manage it safely -- the miles are no longer occupying, discouraging, or daunting.. you just pedal, and eventually arrive.  I knew upon departure from Avenue City that I had until 5:30pm to make the last control, just under 40 miles away - so, for once, I took the computer's display off of "time", and onto distance only - just to mark the turns and show progress.  The clock no longer mattered.  Just ride.  Honestly, I'm lucky I didn't pass any turns - so much of the ride was heads down, I kept noticing things on the return legs that I simply hadn't seen on the way out... and therefore kept getting caught wondering if I'd passed a key turn.
Thankfully, no bonus miles!
I stopped a lot on the return leg, too.  Hydration was on-par, because a lot of breaks became nature breaks, too.  I'd eat, look around, marvel at the views... and the silence.  It was eerily quiet.  Occasionally, I'd hear a large farm implement or a big door close, perhaps a shotgun blast or similar (hunters?) way off in the distance, but little else.  Hey, wait, the rain stopped... cool...  when did that happen??  A car approaches, and stops - an older lady asking for directions.  We chat for a bit, and she drives away.  At least, I'm fairly certain I didn't imagine that part.
I stop again at NN and Y for a snack.  Having stared at the road for so long on this heads-down, grey, rainy ride - I notice a strange optical illusion occurring when I stare up at the clouds and their features... which appear to be racing away from me towards a central vanishing point, no matter which direction I look.  The air has weight to it, the silence feels thick... but open... the noises I'm making, like simply zipping up a jacket, seem so LOUD.  ...the dream state continues.  I have half-a-mind to check the ingredients list on my back pocket snacks... such strange goings-on!
I quietly slip past houses, farms, and gravel side-roads, inching towards Plattsburg once again, nearly seven hours after I'd left it that morning.  My rolling time was respectable - despite the rain and hills and slight headwind on the return I was still averaging 16 miles per hour rolling, but only just - but, my total time was adding up.  Never in danger of missing a control closure, but definitely taking the "tourists" approach to the ride today.  I hit Plattsburg and ducked inside to warm up and eat.
I spent a little time here, too, chatting with the locals behind the counter - or at least eavesdropping - and with an older gent that stopped in for a cup of coffee.  I ate, warmed up, hydrated, and tried to get my mental game up for the last 25 miles of the ride.  Once there.... and after realizing that I'd spent a simply GUILTY amount of time at the control (not as bad as at the halfway, though), it was time to go.  The amazing thing... 20-30 minutes of trying to build up the mental stockade was erased, utterly destroyed, in about 500 yards.  I came around the bend, felt the wind and the first few drops of new rain, and my heart sank.

Strangely and atypically, I allowed myself only a couple seconds of this pity party.  Internally, I told myself something to the equivalent of "shut up and ride", and did just that.  I got after it a little, instead.  Nothing earth-shattering or record-breaking, but I did work.  I started checking things off, and the usual suffer-fest that is highway C on the return route was done in good time.  Next up, Plattsburg Road.  15 miles of "I don't remember ANY of this" on tap.  The Liberty route that comes and goes via this remarkable road always makes me chuckle a little.  Every single hill seems different, a surprise, where's this come from?, etc.  Even on this umpteenth visit, it's remarkable.

Big ring fever strikes... I attack climbs instead of limp them.  I don't know where it's coming from, but it's there.  I channel good-ole 'Ort', from the '05 season... when you're tired of riding, just ride faster... Never made sense until now, and today the reserve tank would be squeezed dry from the effort.  In the last 10 miles of the 131 total I logged, I made up a couple tenths of MPH average.  I'm happy... but, I'm sore, and I pulled the threads out of one of my cleat bolts.  Oh well.

Cold, wet, exhausted -- I'm finally back at the van, back at the restaurant.  

Check, please.  

This was good training... and I'm looking forward to injecting more hills into my regular riding.  I'm happy with the average, happy with my clothing and food choices - perhaps the only criticism I'd give myself is spending too much time NOT moving... but I'm not certain I care there.  Even with the extended stops, this was certainly not my slowest overall time on a ride of this distance.  I'm already exceeding personal expectations compared to the 2008 run in that regard, so if I have a little fun and slack off at a control (especially when riding solo), so be it.  
Notes for next time I need to get that handlebar "feedbag" mounted up again.  The thick gloves, multiple layers, and rain made it risky to try and fish for food from the pockets as I rolled - too risky to fumble something else, like a cue sheet or phone, in the process.  So, we'll make that happen.    

Overall, a good finish ... but MAN... earned.  I'm beat.  

Songs in my head:

I don't wear headphones or earbuds while riding - I try to keep the mind open to frolic.  Just from exposure to the music l normally listen to, it's interesting what sneaks into my head when the music is actually turned off.
Some of these I heard last week, some I haven't listened to in years. 
Somehow, climbing a hill or just staring at the road, they pop in there.
I try to find good quality official videos - but often fail; where that happens I try to make sure the track is at least intact.

uh, zoom zip - Soul Coughing   (highway double-N became "double-M", which is a lyric from this song)
Mother's Little Helper - The Rolling Stones  (it is indeed a drag, gettin' old.)

Thanks for reading... stay tuned...

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