October 31, 2011

Chasing shadows?

Training.  It's a somewhat alien thing to me in practice, I have to admit.  I am starting once again to think about larger goals and with that comes the admission - like it or not - I'm going to have to train for those goals.  The slog of intervals, long indoor sessions between loads of laundry when there is snow on the ground, cross-training, carefully following the new dietary plan I'm now six weeks deep into, etcetera.  All the while, I have to come to grips with my tendency to go "all or nothing".  The same way it's personally hard to stomach missing a few days of commuting, I have to allow myself a few hiccups now and again.  Also important is staying injury-free.  Nothing sets plans adrift like an injury - so I have to remain vigilant with stretching and making smart choices.  I'm exhausted of worrying about things like "fit" and aches and pains... but the reason I do is because I still haven't figured out how to go through life without the bike underneath me - and being forced to figure out what that's like scares me.  Thankfully, those issues are fading.  Above all else -- patience.  Rest means rest, ride hard means ride hard... even if the results aren't immediately apparent.

I have spent the last few weeks stoking the mental fires with inspirational tales read from many other blogs, videos, documentaries - from Tejas 500 exploits to cross-state record attempts to P-B-P, to RAAM, to RAO, Furnace Creek, with a range including epic DNF stories as well as winner's tales; looking for patterns, tips, ideas, thought processes, catch phrases, and things to put way back in the subconscious to dig out later on - when times are low.  Among these is a recurring theme that shows my past approach to preparing for something like a 500-mile ultra:  I haven't done enough.  I see tales of riders "cooling down" before race-weekend with a 400km at a slow pace.  I see stories where riders head out for personal 24-hour runs to try and get 300+ miles with as few stops as possible, as check-points in a training season.  Sacrifice.  Things like my double MS-150 come to mind... overnight permanent rides... laps at Longview Lake at 3AM...  it's time to bust this stuff out again.  Showing up, paying the entry fee... sometimes that's the hard part:  committing... but I've done that before.  What I need to do differently is commit with both feet - jump all in... but, still, find that balance to ensure I stay sane... and that the steps on the way to the goal stay fun.

Commitment... no, I haven't committed yet.  I'm still leaving myself that "out" - but I have a loose timeline around that notion.  I know, personally, that if I haven't figured myself out by such-n-such date sometime in late spring 2012, then I'm simply not serious enough.  If some of those early training checkpoints reveal results that don't point towards a finish at the bigger goal, then I have the flexibility to push it out another year.  Progression.  Learn from the past. 

Interim goals are good for the big goal.  That was also a recurring theme in the stories I'd read.  This is also echoed from people I know personally that have tackled big rides successfully in the past.  Have "tiers" and extend them to training.  My secondary goal of achieving a 2nd RUSA R-12 is a good step.  Another interim goal of completing a full SR-series (200,300,400 & 600km rides in succession) is perfect.  The RUSA-oriented goals will help tremendously... but they "stop" around June and the big ride is in the fall.  Where I've fallen short in the past is filling that gap between early summer and "goal weekend".  Maybe trying to find a regional 12 or 24-hour race is a third interim goal, or keeping the R-12 streak going with longer permanents?  ... In any case, these "smaller" goals position myself for the bigger goal and provide a way to measure success if, for whatever reason, the big goal doesn't work out.  In this way, one can look at the whole year and NOT fall into depression if all the boxes aren't ticked.  Further, take that approach into the ride itself:  goal #1 = finish... #2... finish in less-than XX hours... #3... finish before someone else in my age group... whatever you like.  Even if I tank goals 2 and 3, the ride as a whole isn't a "failure".  Perspective.

The fun factor:  setting a goal to have fun is still a goal... slate-in fun, casual, recreational riding to force a slower pace and remind myself why I like riding to begin with.   This is easy... rides I'd normally do ANYway, but "use" them smartly to offset the tedium of "training".  Being serious about my goals for 2012 doesn't have to mean that I'm no longer having fun, or am no longer considered fun by others... not that I'm worried (ok, I kinda am), but I still don't want to take things SO seriously that I'm worried more about watts and weight than I am about friends and family.  Balance.

Technology... on the subject of watts, a lot of the stories I've read from winners of long events show a subtext of a strong, rigid training regime - complete with HR and power-based training goals, plus the expensive equipment to back them up.  I have to remember a few things:  what is MY goal?  Win?  Finish?  ... the latter, for sure.  I'm not certain I can keep things fun if I throw a lot of numbers into the game.  Hours at the computer, uploading data, comparing rides.  It's hard to hash out this thought process without flopping between "not wanting to really do the full effort" and still being "serious about my goals".  Will throwing a bunch of technology at my goals yield better results?   Better compared to what?  My gut tells me that training for efficiency, training to stay on the bike and moving, training to smile in the face of hardships, training for consistency, keeping myself healthy....  THESE things will ultimately yield a better event and a better me, rather than trying to measure and quantify every last detail.  Keeping it simple might entail just knowing how much nutrition I need per lap, remembering to hydrate - which are still things to consider seriously... but I think I have to draw the line on wondering how many watts I'm generating on that last roller after turn #3, for example.

Equipment matters... but it also doesn't matter:  another interesting theme, for every winner that crossed the line with top-dollar gear, power-measuring hubs and $1000 carbon disc wheels, there would be another winning story from someone that didn't mention equipment at ALL, wherein I'd come across a photo from the race and see them riding a bone-stock, middle-of-the-road bicycle.  This is important.  If I think for one second that my fenders are going to slow me down, I have to look at the rest of my training more closely.  I am not strong enough or fast enough to have the difference between finishing and not finishing be anywhere on the bike.  I'm reminding myself right here and now:  save the money, save the hassle, save the heartache... and just work harder.  Equipment that's worked for me in randonneuring works fine for whatever else I'm planning.  Sure... after 36 hours of riding those "fancy bits" might have put me ahead in my age group... but that's not the prime directive.  Run gear that supports a finish... and, conveniently, that's the kind of gear I already run today.

So, how does one become "serious" without being too "serious"???  Structured, but simple?
These are questions perhaps only I can answer.  Maybe the answers lie beyond 200km.  Maybe the answer is within the 200km... create the template, and run it - over and over - until you reach 500 miles... or 750 miles...

Above all else, though:  this time, don't be afraid to execute

An accomplished ultra-rider created a new ultra-cycling event for 2012 (Ultra Race News - Mt. Rushmore event) and summed it up best, indicating that a good, hard event will strip a rider to their absolute core, showing them themselves for what they are.  Maybe, at previous attempts, I was afraid of what I'd find... I think this time around, I'm more confident in the answer.

Clearly, I still have unfinished business... I'm not even sure if it has anything at all to do with the bicycle.  I still feel this unmistakable pull towards physical frontiers... distance, effort, suffering... and the smile that comes afterwards.  It's not about money, clearly... I've never won a dime riding a bike, and don't plan or expect to.  It's not about medals... they are merely "things", symbols of something I've never been able to describe about the rides themselves.  The Tejas 500 trophy... if that happens to be the goal I pick for next fall ...is also just a "thing", yes... but I want it because of what it might come to symbolize.  Partly, deep down, maybe the drive comes from not wanting there to be something out there that "beat me".  I will probably tackle the Knob Noster 200km permanent again even though I'd privately vowed that I would not, for this same reason.  Face the demons... remember my failure at the cave.... blah blah blah.  Maybe I'm making up for the things in life that DID beat me, things I can't go back and repeat.  Maybe I just like the challenge.  Maybe I don't know at all what the "why" is.  Maybe I am just chasing shadows.

Funny thing, though... this time, I feel like I'm catching up. 

October 14, 2011

Chasing Sunrise

Okay, enough twiddling about -- this marks the finish of the 4th RUSA randonee in as many months - so, officially, that's a "run".  1/3rd of the way to R-12 #2.
That makes it enough in the bank to provide motivation to get me through the traditionally tough months of November-February in the KC-Area.  Game on.

Woke up before my alarm, motivated, ready... ready to race against the sunrise to make sure I had as much time in the bank as possible before the promised NW winds turned the Border Patrol into a death-slog for the return trip.  After reading a lot of ultra-racing stories from a recently discovered blog I was mentally stoked with tales of "Scary Gary" and recent Nebraska cross-state records filling my head.  I'm not really sure what I expected of myself - but I wasn't going to dawdle much today if I could help it, at least not on the outbound leg.  After all - these rides are quickly becoming "training sessions", rather than THE events.  More on that later.

I rose to 57ºF on the thermometer, which isn't bad at all -- but, the northwest wind and the recent dry cold front that came with it created a downright chilly feel to the morning air, colder than last month's ride even with the rain being absent!  I ate, showered, and reshuffled my dressing scheme to compensate, figuring that I'd rather be comfortable early on and shed layers later.  This was a good move... I wouldn't actually feel motivated to remove the extra layers until I only had 22 miles remaining in the ride!

Today was mental -- I knew that the ride wouldn't really start until I was at the halfway point, looking back north.  I divided the course in half, and focused only on the first 67 miles that would take me to the turnaround.  At 4:01am, I shot back my usual pre-ride 5-Hour Energy, and headed south into the darkness.  The moon and Jupiter were paired up overhead, full and bright -- Orion was up also.  Jets passing overhead, and powerlines and signposts singing and clanging in the strong winds... which, for now, were helping me along.  I settled into a sustainable tempo and proceeded to hold it there - pausing to climb the Col Du Arboretum - for the next 25 miles, arriving at Louisburg at around 5:15am.  I took a little break here, as has become habit - refilled the one bottle I drained, a quick snack, and back at it.  As I have oft remembered too late, I was happy about my decision to don extra layers here despite the numbers on the thermometer.  The big hills south of town and the chilly downhills bottoming out at every creek crossing made it feel much colder than it really was, and I actually felt a mild shiver.

I am mentally reaching a good place with relation to distances on the bike -- I can't quite pinpoint the exact mental training I've been undergoing, but I can think about manageable sections of the routes, as well as the whole thing, and have a feeling of calm about it.  My hope is that this will translate when up against longer and longer rides next year.  Right now, however, my new approach has managed to "shorten" even the long slog of Metcalf from 199th to 359th from "22 freaking miles" to "only 22 miles"... if that makes sense.  Perhaps it's exposure, perhaps its just a mental trick -- but it's working well.  It's difficult to type this without sounding like I've lost my marbles... but even the Border Patrol route as a whole, now, seems "short".  Like I said, it's a good place to be before putting bigger brevets on the calendar - to get back to that point where you can actually be HAPPY when you mumble to yourself "only 100 miles to go..."

Not looking to wear myself out too much, but still trying to get to the halfway and start making tracks north before the strongest winds of the day came on was the primary goal.  Metcalf was over-with, and the highway section from 335th to 359th streets was checked off - afterwhich I stopped at the bottom of the exit ramp for a quick nature-break and a snack.  Making good time... Mounted back up, and proceeded to chip away at Jingo Road, marveled at the view of La Cygne power generation plant to the east, all lit up, and made it to K-152 in good time.  Big downhill... and checked in at La Cygne, KS at 6:52am... not bad... in fact, only 34 minutes shy of "beating the control opening".  Compared to brushes with control *closings* in the recent past, that'll do nicely!  I thank the tailwind... which, I was quite sure, would take a fair amount of that time back in the coming hours.  I would have been even earlier, but apparently the 7:00AM coal train was early today, so I ate part of my hourly rations while waiting for the train to clear the crossing.  I love trains, so it wasn't exactly a hardship having to witness a pre-dawn flyby.

More food, refills, restroom -- hydration going well -- and back on the bike.  
Thankfully, the sun was beginning to lighten the sky towards the horizon... a moment where I wished I had a good camera with panoramic ability...  the moon and Jupiter were still visible, but the way the light of dawn illuminated the scene was really cool.  Serene... Finally, on LN 1095, maybe 10 miles from the halfway point, the sun finally broke above the horizon.  Didn't quite make it to the halfway before dawn, but hey --- seeing the sunrise from the road, I'll take it any time.

Finally with the sun up, I could SEE things... including the remarkable fall colors of the hillsides surrounding the valley.  Reds, oranges, yellows... all afire in the early morning light and crystal clear air, and set against the brown and tan of the surrounding seas of crops.  Birds are singing, hawks are out for the morning hunt, an owl is heard, and a flurry of young deer gallop across the roadway only 1/8th of a mile ahead of me.  It's an awesome sight.. but I glance off to the right to make sure there isn't a buck gunning for me.  Apparently, word is getting out about cyclists and the deer are taking action.  At least in Africa they are... maybe the word isn't out stateside yet.  

I am treated to a "semi gravel" ride this time out, as Linn County seemingly is performing some road maintenance on 1095 lately.  In fact, it seems a lot of roads are benefiting from some much-needed maintenance this year, including 175th street closer to home.  Down here, however, the highway maintenance program seems more aligned with the "Texas approach", and the result is monster chip seal.  It's not the worst I've had - and with 28c tires, who's complaining? - but it was definitely gravel-esqe as a large majority of the aggregate hadn't settled in yet.  Interspersed were large sections of completely glassly and rubbery asphalt resurfacing, which was alarmingly smooth by comparison.  It was akin to riding in the rain and suddenly passing underneath a bridge or overpass, when the rain suddenly stops, but then picks up again on the other end.  Most of 1095 is like this now, but it's not bad riding.  

...Made up my mind to make a new start, Going To (Pleasanton-ia) with an achin'... in my heart.
Someone told me there's a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.
Took my chances on a (tourin' frame), never let them tell you that they're all the same.
The (sky was blue) and the (road) was grey; I wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today...

Later, after nearing the top of Paris Hill(ton) and passing the Linnville School site, a dog came tearing out of the woods and crossed the road in front of me, giving me a look that said "fear".  What the???  A dog running *from* a cyclist??  That's impossible... The only thing that would make a dog run from a cyclist is if there is something chasing the cyclist... or something back in those woods... IT'S GODZILLA!!  
I shift, and raise my pace...

More hills...more scenery... a nature break at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery gates, and then Flathead Pass (bonus points if you can figure out how I finally named this hill) reaching over the ridge and then dropping you down some perfect, new pavement as you approach Pleasanton, and the halfway point.  8:27am on the receipt, and comestibles.  

Brings me to... nutrition:
This year saw the return to more engineered nutrition on the bike.  It's a place I'd been before when consistent speed (as opposed to wicked fast racer speed, to be clear here) was more of a motivation for longer rides.  With my sights set on at least finishing another 600km brevet in 2012, I figured it was as good a time as any to examine a return to successful fueling strategies.  However, fuel on the bike is worthless unless you fuel correctly ALL the time.  Huh?

A little personal history, I've never been super healthy.  I like beer.  I like comfort food.  I like easy food.  I don't cook.  I'm also a vegetarian... but I'm probably the worst vegetarian you'll ever meet, in the sense that I'm not eating steamed vegetables and wheat-grass.  Where there are "steak and potatoes" folk, I simply just eat more potatoes.  With ketchup.  Added together, I don't eat well on OR off the bike.  

I've been doing some homework lately, specifically talking to a personal coach... now, now, now, hold on:  I'm not paying for this service.  My "service" comes from a friend at work that has competed professionally in the past in another, non-cycling, endeavor that taught her a lot about health, diet and training.  I'm taking this as un-cycling biased nutritional consultation.  We've discussed goals, methodology, and approach - and since the Monday after the "Mere Two-Hundred" ride, I've been following a fairly structured program that *seems* to be working.  Here's a general approach run-down:  85% of most everything is mental... and 15% physical.  Of that 15% physical, 85% is DIET, 10% is exercise, and 5% is genetics.  So, if you've been making excuses like *I* have, try eating better and see if the results change.  Give it a month.
To also be clear, this isn't "going on a diet" - this is diet in the strictest sense of "what you eat".  While portion control is important, too, this is more about fueling what you do - not about how much or little you should eat.  

The subject of protein came up.  Long story short (too late on THIS blog) I wasn't getting enough.  I bounced her information off of several endurance sports publications, and the general consensus was clear: no matter what scientific formula I applied, I was not getting enough protein.  Side effects?  Lethargy, fatigue, physical over-training issues, no performance gains, etc, etc, etc,... a laundry list of the kinds of issues that have plagued past distance rides.  I won't get all weird and preachy about this stuff -- but, I'm no longer going to half-(ahem) my approach to personal goals anymore, either.  Speed isn't everything - some of the best times I've had on a bike are when I wasn't worried about speed at all.  We've been over this.  Clearly though, the challenges I have nutritionally have translated into fatigue and slower progress at the end of long rides time and time again, and my goals haven't changed:  therefore, I have to change to meet my goals.  Even if I stop riding a bike I still need to treat my body better.

After three weeks of getting (though it was tough) the amount of protein I *should*, I have noticed a few things.  First: I dropped ten pounds.  Second: on hard days, I've managed to post near-record breaking commute times in the evening, into headwinds as opposed to breaking records only with a strong tailwind present.  Third: well, the third test was this ride.  So... back to it...

Nutrition on the road involved Hammer Perpetuem Solids, Hammer Gel packets, and two Honey Stinger Waffles (yum) that I was testing on this ride.  I noticed that I needed something in my gut every 30 minutes... the hunger I was feeling was real.  It never cascaded into a bonk, push was consistent - but I was compelled to listen to what my body wanted.  As a consequence, I went through my pocket rations faster than I'd wanted to -- but, thankfully, I'd packed more than enough.  At the controls, I "behaved" -- tried not to keep my feet on the ground more than 15 minutes a shot.  I don't think I took in enough non-pocket food to support the day - something I need to work on when in a hurry.  I tried not to just grab random junk food, but that led to not grabbing anything...which isn't good either.  Total control-grub ended up being a 1/2 can sized Pringles at Louisburg (when I really began to feel hungry), a single-pack of Fig Newtons and qt. of Gatorade at Pleasanton, and.... uh.... that's it.  
So, if I burned something on the order of 6,400 calories and took in (mathmathmath) 1,470 cals between pocket and controls... there's no way to completely replace everything you burn, that's impossible, and not even recommended...  but, I only took in an average of 147 calories per hour, then... and that's lower than I should be shooting for, technically.  It's a good enough reason to maybe stop into one of these cafe's that seem to keep opening up in these small towns... 

Crap, I said I wouldn't bore you with this... sorry! 

After leaving Pleasanton for the run back north, it was apparent almost immediately that the 17+ MPH average I built on the trip down was going to be destroyed in a matter of hours.  Passing the last of the trees lining the road leading out of town, I was treated to a full face of wind... and it was only to get stronger.  It wasn't even 9:00am yet... I was making good time... step on it.  I climbed up the back side of Flathead, made my way along Sugar Creek valley, just keeping my head low and moving my legs up and down.  

A few more hills, and a brief tailwind section to remind me how much fun I'd been having on the trip south, and I stopped for a quick nature break and photo on a short bridge.  

Somewhere on Linn CO. 1095 highway... pause.

I love the band of red in that hillside in the background.  Evidence here of the fresh chip-seal/tiny-gravel road surface, and you might notice the roadside foliage in the left of frame is a little "bent" in the breeze.  Windy...

It took longer to get back to La Cygne as expected - but not too bad.  Turning east, the brief taste of tailwind that would help get me back to Jingo Road was nice.  Checked in at 10:15am, card signed, receipt... and back at it.  Keep moving...  I soaked up the rest of the tailwind on K-152, climbed out of the valley, and hopped back onto Jingo Road.  Nine miles...

The Border Patrol is a very exposed route... there aren't many trees to block the wind on a day like this, so I decided to lie to myself.  "Nice tailwind today..." I actually muttered it aloud, as if it would sink in.  "Now you can make some steam..."  I tried to keep my cadence up, and enjoy the fruits of my manufactured "tailwind"...and by jove, it worked.  At least, it could have gone far worse.  I could have convinced myself that it was futility, and geared down... but I didn't.  I repeated; hydrate, fuel...pedal.  
I'm not sure I remember a time where I came off of Jingo Road quite so quickly...  unless there was a time warp.

The highway section was next, and I made quick work of it also... but, I finally paused at the Rutlader Wildlife area, just off the exit ramp, for another snack....
And if you think it wasn't windy, well... turn your speakers down:

After that video, I regretted the waffle... it was tasty, don't get me wrong... but I felt whipped for a bit.  Perhaps too much effort?  Perhaps it WAS the calories running low... who knows.  I still made it back to Louisburg in decent enough time, and paused to remove extra layers as the sun had finally warmed the air enough to my liking to shed them.  Packed up, snacked up, and ready... my old pal Metcalf awaited.  Why didn't I make this a free-route permanent, again?  

More brain-unplug riding here, I guess... before I knew it, I was back at 199th street and turning west.  The wind was there... but, I just worked through it.  Apparently my mental trick is shaping up to be simply this:  if I don't want to complain about it, I don't "record" it, either.  Pedal.  Drink.  Eat.  Repeat.  

...go that way, really fast...  if something gets in your way, turn.  

Antioch... 175th... a short rest at 175th and Murlen, where I just got overwhelmed with "whoa... tired...." and contemplated taking a nature break in front of about 15 houses.  I decided against it.  Three miles... you can hold it... (ugh). 

And... FINISHED.  

I knew the headwind would take a toll, but I'll take the result - a finishing average of 15.6 MPH, I can live with.  I held it in the 16's until just after Louisburg, but fatigue and that wind simply caught up.  I'm very pleased with this one.  It felt really good to get out, and despite a minor fit issue (which you are about to read about), I'm feeling pretty dialed-in.  

Pain?  The immediate ride-finish post prior to this one mentioned some pain immediately following the ride.  Ever since switching to the new shoes after the last 200km ride, I had a sneaking feeling this would come up.  There was a glimmer at the DSR ride, but I elected not to change anything before the big ride.  Cut to today, the pain is completely gone - less than 24-hours later - however, the fact that issues were there at all still indicates an issue.  If I'd had 200km TO GO at that point, that would have been bad.  

I set up the bike in the trainer and measurements confirmed the suspicion.  Not fresh, but it explained the pains.  Today, I feel GREAT.  A recovery session on the indoor trainer this AM seems to indicate that the problem is taken care of.  We shall see; with slow, easy commutes next week, stretching, and perhaps a 100km tune-up sometime before the NEXT 200km.  A lesson that when you change shoes (or ANY equipment), don't assume that you can eyeball it.  Set up the bike in the trainer and make sure.  I got lazy, basically.  The main goal here is just to keep things neutral.... I know I've mentioned this "fit" stuff a lot recently, but it never really comes up until a person rides LONG.  For most folks, none of this matters.  You can be "off" all over the place and never have a consequence... but slap 300 miles on it, and the millimeters make a difference.  Okay, enough of that issue.


For some reason today, I was stuck in the 60's and 70's;  
I haven't been listening to ANY of this stuff... but for some reason it all kept popping into my head, especially Led Zeppelin, which I haven't actively sought out in years.

On Linn 1095, right at sunrise, something put all three of these song into my head in succession, and in this order.
I don't know what did that, but it happened.

Going to California - Led Zeppelin  (if there is a soundtrack to this ride, this is it.  It came into my head as soon as I saw the sun, and it captured the scene, perfectly.)
Ramble On - Led Zeppelin  (and this one, I sang out loud.  With the falling leaves, and the autumn moon... it was also, just, so, perfect.)

Moon Shadow - Cat Stevens

Sample in a Jar - Phish  (this snuck in, in the last 10 miles...at least getting my brain back into the '90s)

Thanks for reading... stay tuned... November oughta be interesting...

October 13, 2011

I rode the wrong way

Another successful "finish" for a RUSA 200+km ride... ya'll better ask me if I want paper, or plastic... 'cause this one is in the bag.  WHOO!
Unfortunately, it was not without some difficulty... normally a summer go-to route, the Border Patrol was on tap this time to keep me close to home.
It heads south, on the notion that normally in this area in summer you are nearly guaranteed a nice, strong south tailwind for the return trip.
Today, instead, it was a howling NW wind.  Wow.  Still, happy with my average, happy with my finishing time.

A little UN-happy with my small revisit to fit issues that showed up late in the ride, probably due to some needed tweaking on some new shoes I'd picked up.
Getting everything cleanly transferred from old-to-new shoes (ala cleat placement) apparently didn't go as well as I'd hoped - so we'll try and get things dialed back in before the next long ride.
Tends to happen - and any time you switch to new equipment it's always an unknown on the first long ride.
Won't take much.  I absolutely refuse to get all anal about it, as I have in the past.  Everything was perfect on last months ride -- I'm just off a hair somewhere. 

Speed and consistency are coming.
Diet is working.
Pain will pass, things heal.  
VERY pleased right now...

Stay tuned for the full post.

October 11, 2011

Dark Side Ride: New Roads... new horizons...

Ah... the Dark Side Ride...   Words don't do it... you HAVE to come out with us sometime.
First off, BIG thanks to Noah for starting the ball rolling on this one and throwing together a GREAT route.  Thank the Maker for flippin' PER-fect weather conditions.  Thanks to Our Lady of the Devine Mechanical for shielding us from any roadside dilemmas.  A great turnout for what was only the 2nd DSR of the year.... maybe the ONLY?  Ugh... working on that.  Life has been interesting, and even scheduling the longer daytime rides has been tough --- we'll do better.  As they say, with absence.... so was the case.  I don't think I stopped smiling the entire ride.
Thanks to all that came out -- a great crowd:  "Crowbar", Noah Hack-Master D, "Double-R", new-rider Steve, "Wildcat-Al", "Raleigh-Richard", and yours truly.
Did I say the weather was perfect?  :)
We meandered around Lake Lenexa, which caught me off-guard in the dark...  it was one of those moments where I knew the route, roughly, but wasn't really paying attention.  That's a good way to get lost, I suppose... but it also makes for little surprises here and there.  The stunning visual of clear, still water extending to eerie lights on the dam in the distance, the bright dot of Jupiter and the nearly-full moon in the sky above... sporadic clouds... and some late-night partiers down inside the park hootin' at us as we passed.  I called back with enthusiasm...
Roundabouts and hills came next ... good conversation... and then came 83rd Street.
The theme this time out was punching through the old "barrier" on 83rd Street, a section of road that I (and may of us) had never ridden before because of a non-motorized vehicle ban that had been put in place back in 1999.  I remember when the ban was posted - I'd only had a road bike for a couple months, so I'd never ridden on 83rd street.  Back in "they day" it was THE way to get to Lawrence on the usual weekend club rides.  I even have a book called "Cycling in Kansas City", a joint publication by leaders of the KCBC and JCBC, that heralded that route as one of the best rides in the area.  It's always interesting looking up once-popular routes in that book and realizing that a few of them were (until recently) actually illegal ... of course, that wasn't the case when it was published (1996?).  I actually had the old Lawrence route bookmarked with a post-it note that read, in black ink, "banned". 
I won't get into the details of the ban here, but it was curious, finally riding on 83rd.  I'm not sure what I expected - I had initial reactions about it, perhaps a little mental pretension that I'd built up about it... but afterwards, talking about it miles later at the scheduled rest-stop on the western edge of De Soto with Randy, he was right:  there's nothing unusual about that road.  I could see how a lot of poorly timed traffic and inattentive drivers could cause a problem, but then I did a quick mental inventory:  There's nothing that makes 83rd any different than any of the myriad Missouri or Kansas rural highways I've ridden over the past decade.  I'm happy the ban was lifted - make no mistake - and again, I won't labor over why it shouldn't have been banned, or what really caused it in the first place.  It's history now.  But there was this distinct feeling of "uh....okay....?"  I will say this:  even with the moon barely lighting the scene I was amazed how pretty the outlay is... descending off of a ridge into a wide valley with farm fields on either side, the road gently curving a bit and then straightening out to a nice climb.  Not bad.  Now that I know I have a choice, I will probably opt for the same old lower-traffic routes I've taken all along, a bit farther south... but, it IS nice to have the choice now, instead of wondering why we "can't".   
I'd never ridden on "old" 83rd street through downtown De Soto, either... nice Main street... vintage Ford service garage, a barber shop, firehouse... not bad at all...
Wildcat-Al and I took turns shaking things up on the many climbs here and there, with Steve and Richard joining in the mix as well.  I forgot on more than one occasion about the "social" aspect of the ride, guilty of running up the pace on the slightest incline when I'd catch Al or Steve in my peripheral vision.  I suppose that competitive fire is still lit, somewhere down in my gut.  Not all bad... but, I tell ya:  if nothing else, even though I was experiencing some calf tightness that had come on recently, it felt really good to stretch the legs a bit and spike the heart-rate.  I'd forgotten how much of a goat Wildcat is!  Makin' me work and stuff... whew!
On that note, in previous, recent posts I have made excuses/complained that there aren't any hills in southern Johnson County... and that may be true, save for one or two, when compared to the continuous rollers of the northland - but, WESTERN Johnson County has some hills.  I think from a "training" perspective, I've simply been pointing my bicycle the wrong direction.  95th Street, 127th Street... I'll be visiting you again, soon.
Chatted up randonneuring with Steve on Kill Creek Road, heading south -- he's a slender, bearded gent riding a stately black machine, a daily commuter - fresh from finishing the local MS-Ride with the Cutter's team... which is not an easy team to hang with:  strong riders, all, as I recall from years past.  Just coming off his longest-ever ride from that weekend, it was interesting hearing the beginnings of "what's the next frontier?".... it sounded familiar, from back in the day... that's how it starts!  It was fun talking up the long-distance stuff -- helps keep me motivated, and you never know who you might "talk into it".  RUSA needs riders... 
Later in the evening, after more and more hills, the "short" 30-miler started to feel long... Looking back at the course, it certainly wasn't flat... not even close... but it was a lot of fun!  We spun out the last half-dozen miles at a much more relaxed pace, enjoying the scenery, the stars, the lights in the distance, late-night downtempo chill from Noah's streaming audio panniers... and were soon back at the start line.  More good convo in the parking lot afterwards, and then I continued the theme with KRBZ FM's usual Saturday late-night programming of electronica as my soundtrack for the drive home.  Windows down, cruise control... check.
Whooooof.... I slept well, once I got home. 
I love these things - and while absence may indeed have led my heart down a wistful path of "why don't we do these more often??", I have good feelings about the 2012 season.  Stay tuned ... this is certainly not the last DSR.  There's always November... which, if it happens, might be a "first".
Thanks to everyone that came out, and thanks again to Noah for making it happen!

October 6, 2011

Dark Side Ride: October 8th!

Cross-posted from KC-Bike Commuting - check it... got lights?  got gear?  got dark?  go!
First: Go read this. Go now! I'll wait.

What are you still doing here? READ IT!

Done? Good.

Next: Bring your bike, your reflective gear, your das blinkenlights and your helmet to the Wendy's parking lot at Woodland and K-10 Highway. We roll at 9:00 PM sharp, so get there early enough to prepare. If any of you eastern/central Johnson County folks want to ride to the start with me, I'm departing from 87th and Monrovia (Lenexa PD / City Hall) at 8:15 PM.

We'll be celebrating the fall of one of the most infamous bicycle bans in the country by riding through the very stretch of road that's been off limits to us human-powered two-wheelers for the better part of a decade. The route itself is about 30 miles with a mile and a half of relatively tame gravel. With a rest stop somewhere along the way, expect to get back to Wendy's at around midnight, but it might be earlier, depending on the general pace of the group. Bring enough lights and batteries for 3 hours of riding.

This is a no-drop social ride with re-groups as frequently as they're needed to keep us all together. Some of us at the front and back of the pack will be in communication via two-way radio to facilitate this.

See you there!