December 23, 2012

The Bitter End... of 2012


I maintain quite a bit of respect for those that have raced bicycles.  When I first dabbled with racing, I learned quickly how much I think (too much), and how that tendency can get in the way of being competitive in handlebar-to-handlebar conflicts on a twisty crit course.  I have learned that, in recreational circles, I can be a decent climber... but in the context of the battle-hardened Cat.3 group on their weekend “cool-down” ride, I am no better than a child on a BMX bike.  The level of fitness that comes with hard (and balanced) training, a disciplined (and balanced) diet, and a good team foundation to keep one’s efforts honest and on-track, amazes me.  

Considering the professionals, the Cat.1s, the U.S. Pros, and the International squads --- and, yes, fresh on the heels of writing an ethnography on the culture of doping in professional cycling, I am well aware of where some of the talent allegedly originates --- they deliver downright awe-inspiring performances.  I think, side-stepping the potential for unending discussion here, it’s unfortunate many professionals felt placed in a choice-less position regarding performance enhancing drugs - from where I’m sitting, none of them needed the help.  

It’s what they do, not necessarily how they do it, that amazes.  It’s not always about the GC guys.  I find it especially entertaining watching the exploits of the breakaway groups on long stage races.  They are riding distances often approaching or in excess-of 200 kilometers, just as I do each month; yet, witnessing the ferocity with which they can STILL manage to attack, and answer attacks, and the average speeds they achieve after 100 miles, 120 miles... it is remarkable!  Yeah, they’re supported, yeah they don’t have to stop... yeah, yeah, yeah.... but, I remember approaching the 200k with similar vigor -- but dissimilar results -- and I wonder if it’s possible again.  

After a long time of foolishly messing about with things that weren't broken, I finally feel like I’m back at a neutral position, perhaps able to stop “soft-pedaling” in fear of injury, and just start punishing the pedals again.  Why not?  I’m certainly not dead, and I’m definitely not too old.   I’m happy with my performances, from a finishing standpoint, but, my complaints lately seem to involve the last 30 miles of every ride, and its high time I did a thing or two about it.  Do what?  Heck, I dunno -- but, training smarter -- and eating better... ALL the time....certainly can’t hurt.  And maybe shutting the brain off a little -- all this “what to wear, what to pack, where to put it, what to eat.....etc, ad nauseum” .... I’m tired of worrying so much, and yet, I can’t seem to help it.  I’d just love, though I know it will take more than just thinking-about-it, to cross the finish at the next 200k with gas in the tank and spirit in the legs:  mainly I’d like to train for the “death slog” section that seems to tag along for at least a few dozen miles lately on my randonees.  This is starting to sound a LOT like New Year’s resolution stuff.

Should I complain?  No, probably not... but, that’s me, defined: whatever the pursuit, I tend to get restless in the face of apparent complacency.  Whatever the pursuit, “it” likely won’t EVER be “good enough.”  The whole point of this is self-discovery, pushing my limits, and coming away just a little bit stronger than I had been the day before... and often my excuses materialize around accessory concerns.  Point of fact, I should concern myself with riding more, rather than trying to figure out which new bag, saddle or shorts might “solve the ‘problem’.”  Therein lay the therapy within these pages - which, while it might seem boorish to the reader, it’ll definitely help me in the future, when, invariably, I will return to these pages looking for reasons why I rearranged things that had worked just fine in the past.

So, that over-with, and this semester over-with, on to the last ride!  It hasn't been even three weeks yet, but it feels like it’s been forever already... so, to the best of my recollection, here goes:  The December 200k!

December in Kansas... one never knows, and for a while the forecast seemed to promise rain - but, we ended up largely dry.  I had carried along my rain jacket, just to be sure -- it’s a forecast changer.  If I carry it, it won’t rain, you see.  

Terry, Glen and I met once again at the Princeton Roundabout start line in Shawnee, ready for action in the not-too-cold morning air.  It was going to be a GREAT day, with highs possibly reaching 50 degrees, but nothing more.... “perfect”, really ... not too warm, either, so layering and clothing issues wouldn't be a concern.  After some revelations on why I’d been riding around without a lot of powdered energy drink came up and smacked me in the chops recently, I started the day’s packing with the hope to eat more c-store fare... but, as it goes, I ended up carrying enough powder to handle the entire 200k.  Sometimes I need to ease into these things.  

Adding to the mental noise of packing the extras, my handlebar bag - which enjoyed exactly 2 rides before the mount started coming apart - wasn't along for this one, so I pulled out an old, giant saddlebag to stand in.  It’s one of those old “banana bag” style waxed canvas things -- huge, but not Carradice huge -- and it immediately became apparent why I’d stopped using it previously:  it’s a weird shape.  I ultimately managed to get everything I needed to carry squeezed into it, but yikes.  It struck me a few times that installing it might have been a step backward... but, we’ll see.  One thing I can say, set against the classic lines and steel tubing of the Kogs, it does look rather good.  The ultimate question will remain:  “does it save time at the controls?”  So far, without having to mess with toe-straps on the rear rack, it’s a hesitant “yes.”... but I think the handlebar bag saved even more time.  Perhaps there’s a fix for that yet.  But, there’s me worrying again... and really, I don’t need to start that malarkey until after the next 400k.

On food -- I've got some things to start messing with in training.  I haven’t yet tried some of the “leave the powder at home” tricks - like making your own sports drink while managing to avoid the Gatorade... the goal is effectively the same calorie and carb profile as Carboplex(Gain) - albeit not pure maltodextrin - by mixing together some random ingredients that can be found in any grocery store or gas station in the world, more or less.  Things like sugar packets and orange juice... the thought of which kinda makes me puke in my mouth a little, but, never know until I try, right?  That’s just one method designed to free the randonneur from having to carry around, in my case, what amounted to ten 80-gram baggies of CarboGain for an average 200km.  I can’t fault the stuff itself -- heck, it WORKS, and works well... but, I simply can’t carry 8 pounds of it on a supposed 1,200km ride.  I've managed to ride a LOT without worrying about how to pack nutrition, and I want to get back to that stage.  PB Crackers, Fig newtons, Powerbars, pizza, cheesy-potato bites, juices and good-ole water have carried me, and many others (including racers) across the miles... and that’s simply what I’m trying to get back to.  I’m stopping every 20 miles at a c-store anyways... might as well shop.  I don’t think the powdered stuff saves time... whether I’m buying something or mixing what I brought along, I have to use the restroom and get water, and dismount, and get my card signed... in ANY case, I’m stopping, and it’ll probably be 15 minutes no matter what I’m doing.  Finally, 300 calories per bottle works work great ... if I knew I was actually burning that many calories.  What I need to do reminds me of what the ‘Bird had done, back in the day.... and I know I've probably told the story before:

Somewhere along 199th Street, early 2002....

“How many miles have we gone?” he asked, finally coasting after what seemed like an eternity of hard tempo work.

“mmmm, 26.5...,” I replied, clicking through the views on my cycloputer.  “Why?”

“‘cause that’s exactly how long a PB&J sandwich lasts.”

It’s struck me that, yes - while I've managed to run into what FEELS like a bonk here and there, the truth is I probably have no idea what a bonk feels like.  Within a controlled environment, I need to rediscover how many miles that PB&J will get ME.  This also typified my general eating style, on AND off the bike:  I've been so nervous about running out of food that part of my fatigue and digestive discomfort might have to do with me taking in too MUCH.  How do I know unless I mess with it in training?  For this latest 200k, it would be no exception.  Plenty of powder, plenty of stops, and no danger of running out of anything might be called “preparedness”, but if the pangs of hunger NEVER appear, maybe THAT’S why I have trouble choking down real food at the controls.  Something tells me that if I was actually hungry, eating real food wouldn't be a problem.  It’s time to let some of the nervousness go, and re-find my limits.  I'd previously though I'd been on some kind of caloric deficit on many rides... but deficit compared to what?  If I've become more efficient while riding long distances, but have never adjusted my intake, how efficient am I, really?  I’m not suggesting knocking off a 200k on just 4 PB&Js and plain water.... but, hell.... could I?  Do I really know my limits?  This is why they call it “training”... and if 600km is the goal, it’s time to find out what’s what.

Back on the ride, Glen, Terry and I were enjoying the grunter of a climb, Col de 435, up towards Shawnee Mission Park, and feeling good.  A slight tailwind is a great way to start a long ride, and soon we were over the climb and past the park, well on our way.  The Princeton Roundabout is a great ride, scenic & exciting.  A rarity, we managed to roll from the start line to Kill Creek Road without putting a foot down... usually at least one stoplight at K-7 catches us, but this time we made it on all greens!    Feeling good, and soaking in the scenery and “new” pavement.... errr, gravel?.... on Cedar Creek Road, we advanced past the quiet houses and climbed the many hills heading west toward Clearview City, and on to Eudora... the first control.

The morning school rush in full effect, and commuters popping into and out of the Kwik Shop near K-10 always makes for a good time when dressed head-to-toe in cycling gear, shivering from the cold, wet morning air.  My “giant” seatbag reminded me how strangely shaped and cramped its designers had rendered it.  I missed my toe straps and slender seatbag with all the pockets immediately -- but, hey, this is why we try these things.  Sometimes I need that reminder.  Better or worse, and everything packed, we three loaded up on water and food, and fought traffic to get back onto the route, over K-10, and to points south.  This included one of my favorite parts of any rando route around here:  As soon as we rolled over the top of the K-10 bridge, and onto a more downhill pitch, we enter a school zone where traffic is limited to 30mph, and then 25mph.  When the wind is kind, it’s not difficult to keep up with traffic here - and today proved fun while we hacked it up, keeping pace with cars and buses and not getting in anyone’s way.  Clear of the city limits at top speed, we made our way south.

Glen and I chatted it up on DG-1061, talking about rando and food and training - stuff that’s gotten me thinking (case in point, many of the paragraphs above).  We marveled at the sight of a large structure -- one I still need to stop and take a photo of, but traffic never fails to put that possibility out of my mind, so Google Street View (tm) to the rescue -- near 1000 Rd.  I cannot find an article linking this image to its name, but I believe this is the building which used to house a Sinclair Gas oil pumping station; built in 1923 and operated until 1940, though I can’t find much else written about the structure, save for small mentions contained within a Eudora history webpage.  It’s a remarkably strong-looking building, reminiscent of structures one would see at an old military installation - yet, it’s sitting out by itself, in a field alongside the county highway.  It makes me wonder if the contractors who built the Sunflower Army Ammunition plant - not too far to the east - had been involved, somehow, or, if the building had served that very facility at some point.  As barns and silos from the same time period sit in disrepair, this concrete and masonry building stands fast against the prairie elements - and probably will for another 100 years.

We climbed up the rise where DG-1061 meets DG-460 and proceeded west, along another of my favorite stretches of road.  As much as I have tried this year to avoid repeating routes, I have to appreciate the Princeton loop.  It strings together a lot of my usual training routes and favorite strips of pavement, and it’s nice to hit the road without having to study the cue sheet every 50 yards.  If this post becomes something of a retrospective, however, it should be said that 2012 stands as one of my most interesting years.  I’ve managed to try more new rando routes than ever before, I’ve designed (though they aren’t approved yet) more new routes this year than in any other, I crewed and officiated on a KS cross-state record attempt, and I crew-chiefed for solo-RAAM - an amazing experience that (seriously) is still sorting itself out in my head - and while I haven’t been able to commute as much, as reflected in my lowest annual mileage since I began keeping track in 1998, it’s definitely been a landmark year for cycling, personally.  At the time, riding along with Glen on DG-460, overlooking the massive Vinland Valley, it hadn’t occurred to me I was riding the last 200k of 2012, but I think riding the Princeton route capped it off nicely, especially as events would unfold later in the day.

Another recent saddle adjustment seems to have at least minimized the clicking in my right knee which had begun in August, which is terrific.  For the first time in months, I managed to pedal along without looking forward desperately to the next stop --- not from knee noise or pain, but from “gentleman’s discomfort.”  It had me thinking, for awhile, that I needed to accept the need to find a new saddle - but, an extra degree of tilt, and order is restored.  Glen and I climbed Baldwin Pass and made the control, with Terry only a breath behind us.  Today, an Oatmeal pie for me.... tasty, but would I pay for it?  Coffee would have been good, too - but it slipped my mind.  The temps still hovered right near the “shiver” factor... so it was time to mount up and move out.

Ohio Road - the continuation of DG-1061 which brings us into northern Franklin County, stretches out - a blanket of fog and mist filling the valley before us and rendering the horizon a fuzzy grey... breathtaking.  A train-whistle, and an eerie stillness... “it’ll be hard to see the enemy today...” I warned, and then reveled in another long, fantastic downhill to Shawnee Road, and the leg westbound to Ottawa.  The last time I was out here, I’d already begun to be pummeled by heavy, wet snow.  Today was easy.

Small victories:  for the first time in a long while on this route, I rolled right past the Casey’s in Ottawa, to continue south to Princeton, citing “it’s only six miles.”  Ataboy.  More of that, please.  Well on the way to turning “it’s only six miles” to “it’s only 60 miles” again.... the mental formula for the REALLY long rides.

More small victories:  instead of destroying myself by trying desperately to hold Glen’s wheel on US-59, I backed it off about 5%, and let him slip away.  I need to be “okay” with this, also, as ammunition for the longer stuff... keeping something in the tank requires it.  Still, I made a game of trying to ramp that 5% back up with maybe a mile to go, maybe to bridge up before the control - but I quickly thought better of it.  The discipline to ride within myself, too, is returning... though I’m not as adept at it as, say, Terry... not quite yet.  With Glen along lately, it seems I have that “rabbit” again - which is great for training - but, I also need to keep myself sharp for those times when I’ll be alone.  Looking back on the ‘07 600km brevet, that had been the case for 33 out of 38 hours... I can’t always assume I’ll have someone to talk to, let alone to try and draft.  For that “death slog” avoidance, however, I do need to get back into a regular routine of pushing my own wall - and then, perhaps my natural pace will mimic Glen’s in the last half of these rides.

Princeton - food.  Those new Clif Bar Crunch granola bars are AWESOME, and work.  Next time, buy two more for the road!

Turning briefly into a slight north wind, we made our way to John Brown Highway for the long, uninterrupted 17-mile section to Osawatomie, KS.  I love this part:  though feared by many, depending on the weather, I love the solitude, the long vistas on all sides of the road, the inquisitive cows, and the sparse traffic.  Sure, in July heat it can be downright dangerous, and if the wind is in a poor mood it can seem desperately long - but it’s a great stretch of road.  With my cap pulled low, I settled in for the hour or so expected... “just one water bottle away from the next stop.”  I chimed.  We three settled into our individual rhythms, and got to work...and in a blink, the pavement change and the hills marking the western edge of Osawatomie (and the return to Miami County) were under our tires.  Long West-East section of the day?  Check.

Casey’s, more water and powdered drink mix... it’s too easy... I ended up bringing enough of it along to fuel the day, so darn it - I was determined to use it.  The oatmeal creme pie from Baldwin City had proven to work really well - packed with calories from questionable sources, yes; but, it’d worked.  Still, taking a quick lap inside the familiar c-store, I had trouble finding anything else in the same category.  It all blurs into a colorful confusion, and I end up grabbing nothing.  Practice... practice...  I don’t want a repeat of ‘07, where I’d carried so, so much powder, only to find myself sick of it.  Practice... re-find the courage to grab, as I’d done at Baldwin City ...ANY-thing, and eat it.

Trouble is gonna come.... to you....

Typical of the last ...ok, nearly EVERY time I visit the Princeton route, the last 30 miles present a massive hurdle.  I still have yet to figure out exactly what prompts it - as it certainly doesn’t happen to everyone riding with me, but - for me - it’s real.  The leg from Osawatomie to Paola is benign enough - nothing record-breaking, I manage to pedal along, without complaint, along the river and up the ridge that eventually lifts us to the east side of US-169 and the outskirts of Paola, KS.  I’ve been here more times than I can count, and it’s always been the same story in the last few kilometers to the control... that curved patch of multi-lane road leading into town just kicks my backside.  It’s not hilly...nothing remarkable, but the last 500 yards to the control... yeesh... it suddenly feels as if I’m on the final leg of a return from Boston.

At the control, I settle in.  Two laps of the giant-sized c-store here yields absolutely nothing of interest.  I run down my newly steeled checklist:  I’m looking for a cheese pizza.  Nothing.  Ok, fine.  Microwave bean burrito.  Nothing.  Oooo-k.  The vegetarian thing is rearing it’s inconvenient head again, as I pass plenty of meat-laden cold sandwiches, hot dogs on rollers, and the like.  Ugh.  There appears to be a lunch-counter/ice-cream “store-within-store” at the back, but I can’t get so much as eye contact from the girl cleaning up in the back - and the menu-board over head doesn’t look inviting anyway.  The notion of a hot pick-me-up to carry me the last 40 miles of the day evaporates.  A giant cave of a store, loaded with nothing.  Feeling the clock ticking really fast, I finally opt for a Payday bar and a Coke.  As I drop into the park bench outside the shop and unwrap my feast, I gaze longingly at the Taco Bell across the street.  Hmmm.... too late.  Time to move on.  Next time, knowing what I know, I’m getting a quick signature and receipt, and then heading across the street.  

As full of calories as I was going to get -- and still not convinced a lack of, or excess of, calories have indeed been the issue these last half-dozen Princeton runs -- I settled into a rhythm on Hedge Lane alongside Glen, talking about this and that, and watching the activity at a propane storage facility, a group of men venting, rather furiously, a large cylinder of gas from a long hose...  the gravel rocks of the parking lot underneath glowing red, and the hose emitting a roar like a jet engine, while they stood by nonchalantly chatting - as if all of this was normal.  Rather cool scene near the end of a long day in the saddle.  It was also along this stretch where we’d witness our own shadows for the first time that day, as the sun managed to break through the grey blanket above us... if only for 15 seconds or so.

Shortly after, Glen began to distance me up the road - right about the time we reached the railroad tracks near 287th street.  In fact, I’d already begun to crawl inside myself a little at this stage - and thankfully, Glen was in front of me at the time.  As he put his foot down at the stop sign, I had just reached him... and, as is sometimes customary, I began to attempt to trackstand, and advance forward at the same time Glen would have.... had it been a 4-way stop, which it wasn’t.  As a truck approached from the left... the truck which I’d assumed would be stopping next, giving us the right of way, I began to inch forward... and then realized that Glen wasn’t moving, so I stopped quickly - right as the truck whooshed through the intersection, continuing eastbound...  I’d forgotten about the “cross-traffic doesn’t stop” indications here.  Uh, wake up, dude!

Definitely back awake, we continued north - and by the time we’d reached the roundabout at K-68, I was losing ground again.  Nothing really hurt, I don’t remember any discomfort... I think, all-in-all, I was just fatigued, tired.  Terry caught up... I think... I don’t remember if he had left Paola early, or caught me from behind -- but I watched as he and Glen joined forces ahead of me, as we dropped downhill to pass over Ten Mile Creek and the BNSF railroad tracks south of Hillsdale.  I paused at 255th Street, having barely pulled them back to within reach, and thought for a second about taking another break - but then decided against it.  In retrospect, I should have.  Old K.C. Road lay ahead -- sure, we were already on it, but the section between 255th to 223rd streets is usually busy with fast-moving and unsympathetic traffic.  I normally revel in the chance to ride along the alignment of an old highway (this one is old US-169), and it’s a great road... when it’s quiet... but, in the last 10 years anyways it seems to be anything but.  I’d sooner take a gravel detour, lately...Columbia Road is very close by; but, I stick to the rulebook, and the route, as usual.  I know nobody is watching, and detours like this one are not only longer, they’re honest gravel -- but, I don’t mess around when it comes to keeping my streak of 200k’s going.  If it’s not a free-route permanent, traffic is just one of those things randonneur’s must endure.  So be it, Jedi...

Alone, I dropped back inside myself - not even really aware of the jerk-truck parade whizzing past at ANYthing but the now-state-law 3 feet clearance, and certainly not at the posted 45 MPH speed limit.  White-line fever, I pedaled out the only pace I could muster - which was pretty pathetic, even for this late in a 200k.  Clearly, the Payday bar hadn’t work -- or had become too much for the stomach to process.  I watched as the now two yellowish blips up the road grew smaller and smaller, and finally rounded a bend - not to be seen again for a while.  As I made my way and finally reached Spring Hill at 223rd Street and the new highway, I turned north on Webster without so much as lifting my head, and continued north through town... looking out from under my cap to see if I could see any sign of those yellow triangles adorning my mate’s bikes.  At 215th, a long gaze toward Casey’s... “what, did they engage warp drive?”  No sign... and suddenly...

“...hey, wake up!” from my left... Glen?  No... Terry.... what... Randy?!?  I must've looked a little confused, as Randy Rasa of Kansas Cyclist and DirtBum fame (and also a RUSA member) appeared from nowhere and took a position in front of me on the road.  Out for a late fall ride on this grey day, we stopped for a bit and chatted, and I asked if he’d seen anyone ride past, but he hadn't seen Glen or Terry... but, about that time, they appeared from behind over the crown in the road.  They’d stopped back at the gas station at 223rd, where I had been aiming for Casey’s at the north end of town... but, either way, we were back together - and had picked up a 4th!  Rolling again, we stopped for my quick nature break at Casey’s, and then headed north out of town.  

Terry was on a mission, and Glen was clearly still feeling strong - the two, after we mounted back up again, started advancing up the road just as before.  With a fresh shot of Hammer Gel in my gut, and more water to hopefully balance out the Payday situation... or whatever it was... and I was off, with Randy in tow for a few miles.  It was a good brain refresher, good to catch up, and the next few miles seemed to come a little easier as we passed Spring Hill High School and absorbed a little rash of traffic on the way to Olathe.  The road widened after 167th, and I began to feel better... nothing miraculous would come from my legs, but at least I was managing a more productive pace.  Finally, for the first time since beginning to feel down at Paola, I could begin to smell the barn.  I caught a red light, and used the opportunity to down another Hammer Gel, at 151st and Ridgeview, right by Olathe Karate Academy (where I do a fair amount of off-bike cross-training -- they aren’t compensating me, nor do they know I’m including their link here, but, hey - they’re good people, and it’s a local, small business.)

Apparently, I still have a knack for reading the weather.  Ever since having left Spring Hill the sky had begun to take hints foretelling rain... maybe even snow, had it been a dozen degrees cooler.  Sure enough, as the light turned green and Randy and I continued north, the rain began.  No sign of Glen or Terry, but it hardly mattered as the route transitioned to “in-town” mode - lots of traffic from local schools releasing, and the usual crop of Friday short-timers had taken to the streets for errands and home, Randy and I navigating the thick of it.  Finally feeling a bit more push returning to the legs, we bid our farewells as Randy peeled off for home, and I proceeded to chop up the rest of Ridgeview... inside ten miles to ride.  Catch Terry?  Catch Glen?  Bah.... just ride.  Legs feeling the squeeze of 125 miles, it didn't matter how fresh I’d have felt -- I wasn’t about to pull off a miracle run on the hills of Renner, and making matters worse, the light at 119th and Renner didn’t seem interested in letting me continue north anyways.  Three full cycles, too much traffic to even consider a “dead-red” move, I sat and waited for SOMEONE to show up and trip the sensors in my favor.  Finally... let’s get to work!

I started to count down the traffic lights.... and I basked in the glory of fresh tarmac near K-10... finally a fast downhill without having to dodge craters!  Lucky enough to have caught the green lights at the I-435 interchange near 95th street, I began the Lenexa Proving-Grounds roundabout party leading to 87th street, and... that a glimmer of safety yellow up there???  DUDE!!!!!  There wasn’t much kick left, but I suddenly felt like that guy that’s finally snapped the elastic and escaped the peloton to chase down the would-be breakaway artist...

c’mon light... c’mon light....C’MON!!

Free to fly now, no more lights for the final 2 miles or so from 87th to Midland Drive... and the finish.  I knew full well it didn't matter a smidge who would finish when... but, to have emerged from the funk, back into the game: nothing does it quite like a rabbit on the horizon.  Warbird trained... I have no thoughts, no hesitation... once I see my target, get.... it..... on!   Attaque!!  

Albeit an attack only in passion and spirit...for, in physique, it unfolds in slow motion... I shift down, stand, push, wince, then shift back up, falling into the saddle, only to spin the climb.... GADS!   But, it is done... the final climb, and now the descent to the podium..... er..... 7-Eleven, where I grab a chocolate milk.  Shaken... not stirred.


(What a ham.)  I rounded the final corner with a cheer, hoping to capture the attention of my counterparts as they had surely just arrived, but instead I managed only to startle a lady fresh from purchasing her cigarettes.  Sorry, ma’am.  Terry and Glen had been finished long enough to have disappeared from the c-store, so who knows who (or what) I’d been chasing up Renner in those final kilometers... but, hey, it got me there in fine style.  We met a few moments later, back where our cars had been parked, and reminisced on the day.  A tough patch with 30-to-go, yes... but I'd managed to fight on until the bitter end, and grab another finish. Not a bad way to wrap up 2012.  

I’m looking forward to January's ride, as I write this... the forecast temperatures look a bit forbidding, but my chin is high... only three months until Spring returns, and the spring brevet series... 90 short days... the toughest part of the randonneuring season has arrived... and, in my head at least, I am ready.

Get it on, indeed.

Songs in my Head:

All These Things That I Have Done - The Killers - For some reason, a song that I don’t know if I’d previously have admitted to liking managed to stay in my head for 125 miles, and it wasn’t a bad thing at all.  Turns out I know every verse, every nuance... so, on some level, it fits a formula that I like.  The reprise, even with its seemingly senseless repetition, peaks brilliantly - and as anthems go, it’s really well done.  With this single rolling over and over in my subconscious for 10+ hours, I left my iPod in the seatbag.  Just didn’t need it.

Roll Away Your Stone - Mumford & Sons - Honorable mention... for a mile or two, this one snuck in,  though it didn’t carry me as many miles as the track above, watching the video cements this band as perhaps one of the most important artists of the decade.  As if their studio works didn’t already capture the passion with which these gentlemen deliver a reel, this well-filmed live cut certainly does.  While the genre is certainly nothing new, these performers have brought it to a wider audience than previously thought possible, gathering fans wherever they play.  I’ve heard their songs on nearly every radio station in the city lately, proving definitively that you certainly can’t stick them in a neat demographic box.  If they aren’t included on someone-or-another’s “Best such-and-such” list in 50 years, I’d be very surprised.

As always, thanks for reading -- happy holidays, and happy new year!

December 8, 2012

18 and life

What a horrible title.
Skid Row was a silly, silly band.  

I digress...

18-in-a-row this month, finished yesterday at about sundown... achieving, barely, my silent, personal goal, set upon the 6:00am start time.  
That should have been way easy to get... and, so it was, helped along with Terry and Glen coming along for the late Fall funfest, and Randy of Kansas Cyclist pulling a u-turn and joining us for a few miles near Spring Hill.  An awesome day out, and great weather!  Yeah, it was foggy, and chilly, and the sun never came out, and it rained for the last 15 miles... yep:  that equals GREAT weather for December in Kansas!  No complaints!

Easy?  Perhaps not... I'm in the midst of another nutritional transition, as I come to grips with the notion that I am NOT an ultra-racer with a crew, and the thought of carrying a dozen pounds of carbo-powder for a 1,200km is not only as silly as Skid Row trying to play "serious music", it's completely impractical.
There will be a few servings in tow as "bonk rations", yes; but, I need to start re-experimenting with real food at controls if I'm to start stretching out the mileage again.  Yes, the powder has been something of a revelation for my riding this summer... but it was a RAAM-based revelation.  I didn't use a lick of the stuff on the 400k in April, for example, and did just fine -- I just need to re-establish that short list of what-works in my head, so I don't waste time doing laps at Casey's, trying to figure out what to munch on.

Note to self -- a Payday bar at mile 90 is NOT on that list.  HAHA.  More on that later.

For now, I've finished December's ride -- my 18th consecutive month -- and well on my way to R-12 award #3...  yes!

Full story coming soon... but, I have a research paper to write for a class that's wrapping up in 2 weeks... so these pages will be quiet for a short bit.
You patience will be rewarded!  

Thanks for reading!

November 21, 2012

The Ghost Town Tour

It's been a busy, whirlwind month, and - honestly - I'm beginning to wonder if a 3rd R-12 is really something I should be pursuing right now... much less a R-12 at a certain average speed.  I don't know if I care anymore how fast or slow these next 7 rides go (this month being number 5).  What should be a steady progression of training (for lack of a better term) has eroded to almost nothing, sadly - even the near-guarantee of getting some mileage via commuting to work a few times a week has dwindled to a barely ONCE-per-week rarity.  I overheard on a couple occasions how my riding counterparts had ridden 40 miles here and there in the days before... and it occurred to me that I hadn't ridden 40 miles in TOTAL to prepare for this ride since last month.  (No WONDER I felt like hammered dirt the next day!)  Sure, I survived...but, I'm not pleased with the situation - yet, it is what it is right now.  I don't remember a time in my life where I've been quite so busy, at least not in the last 5-10 years.  Yet, at least for my mental health, I still maintain the goal of riding one long ride per month; but, having lost some of the valuable "training" rides in between had certainly caught up in a big way this time out.  What I need to do, articulated very well after last month's ride:  stop thinking so much, and just enjoy.  I have to ensure that these rides actually provide a mental break from work and responsibility, instead of becoming "just another task".  Easier said than done - despite those personal criticisms, what started out fun - yeah, even as hard as it had been at times yesterday - still ended up fun.  It's best, I'm finding - yes, after all this time - not to enter the challenge of long-distance cycling with expectations of any kind.  Clear the calendar, relax, don't worry about when and where and how fast...  Just.  Ride.  Surely as I type it here, I will forget that simple notion on the next ride ... but, practice makes perfect.  I need to stop over-promising things to myself, to relax a little, because I am indeed, lately, treating my riding like every other deadline-oriented task... and that's not sustainable.

Back in St Joseph, MO., dark, cold... Terry, Glen and I mount up at Speedy's c-store, and start making our way out of town.  It's the first properly cold ride of the year, really, for most of us.  The Kickapoo Two, back in August, strangely started out chilly - but not like today.  Thankfully, the wind would be very friendly all day, and the steady dose of hills leading up and out of town helped kick-start the core temperature nicely.

Logistics changes this time, I've invested in a handlebar bag finally.  I say "finally" because - despite second and third-guessing its very installation - as soon as I started riding, it became a joy.  I've messed with these things before:  a long time back I purchased a very nice Carradice KlickFix Super-C handlebar bag... and I recalled its value instantly, today.  I got rid of the Carradice for a few reasons, but, really, I never should have.  Later, I tried a couple different variations of smaller tube-style HB bags over the years, but ultimately abandoned them for taking up too much handlebar real-estate because of their direct-to-bar strap-based mounting arrangement - which leaves the tops of the road bars almost the very least, it had always been sort of annoying - and I ride on the tops quite a bit.  This latest bag, from Banjo Brothers, has a similar quick release to the Carradice, so I can use all of the handlebar, but it sizes-in at a smallish 275 cubic inches.  It's not too big, but not too small.  There are seatbags I could install which would offer this capacity, yet, the handlebar design becomes infinitely more useful just by being in front of me instead of behind me.  During the ride I changed gloves, shed a jacket, got a snack, checked the cue sheet with it's built-in map pocket, all without stopping, or having to dismount, or having to reach to my jersey's back pockets (which is especially troublesome when colder weather adds gloves to my hands and layers to my back).   Further, with the back pockets free, my lower back doesn't feel today like it'd endured 13 hours of kidney punches, and my jersey didn't sag down to my knees after 40 miles - so, ultimately, it's improved rider comfort as well.  Further, I enjoyed much, much faster control routines not having to fiddle with packing and unpacking stuff strapped to the rear rack with toe straps.  It's paid for itself in one ride, in my opinion, and really wasn't all that expensive at under $60.00, shipped.  For the problems it has solved, that's a bargain.  This may ultimately progress into a larger, retro-goof style arrangement with a front rack - to solve some mild handling twitchiness - but, I don't know yet how much fiddling I want to do, because the rest of the bike is working well, and I'd have to do a fair amount of unbuttoning to integrate a front rack, move the headlight, remount the fender, re-route shifter cables (or swap to downtube shifters) ... yeah, just typing all that out, I'm not anxious to make all those changes... when really, I think I'd only realize a 2% improvement over how the bag functions today.  What is definite, however: I don't really see myself going back to riding brevets without some kind of handlebar bag arrangement installed.   

Back on the ride, I was busy NOT worrying about such things.  All of the preconceptions about the bag itself, which had me doing all the second guessing in the garage the night before, never popped up:  it'll handle weird, it'll be noisy/rattly/clumsy... no, not really... okay... cool.  Crisis averted... time to just pedal!

Along for the ride again were Terry and Glen - and I gotta say:  I'm really enjoying our trio these last few rides.  It's helping hold me to the R-12 plan, and riding with a group of friends makes the day go much easier.  Looking back, I know for a fact I would have finished far later and with much more difficulty (mentally) had I been alone on this ride.

Glen, with breakfast, and cold weather gear - hovering right around the freezing mark at 6:00am

We three rolled out of St. Joe without incident, thanks to the helpful guidance of Terry (a St. Joe resident)... I realized I have yet to try to navigate St. Joseph on my own... I've been led out-of and into that town by rando folks that live there, which beats getting lost and turned around, for sure. 

The first section of the ride offered amazing scenery (once the sun came up, of course) - as we meandered around farmland and at least three different conservation/park areas, climbing up and around the bluffs and weaving back and forth across the Interstate highway near Savannah, Amazonia, and Oregon, MO. - where we stopped for a break and a water refill at about mile 30... and encountered some of the nicest folks I think I've ever met on a ride before - a genuinely nice town, Oregon.

After mounting back up and enduring the shivers of having rested maybe too long, we descended a remarkably steep hill down to the Missouri River valley's eastern edge. You know it's quite a hill when, in an otherwise fairly hilly area, the highway department chooses to warn people about its presence with a large "HILL" sign.  That was a fun downhill, and I was glad we wouldn't have to climb back up - this being a loop route, instead of an out-n-back.  Although, looking back over my shoulder, it might have been fun to try it - just for another wicked descent opportunity.

We rolled through Forest City, MO, and then crawled northwest along the bluffs toward Squaw Creek and Big Lake, watching a train roll by, and seeing some neat, old brick structures standing watch over the valley.  It's an interesting area up there -- look for state highway 111, near US-159.  As the crow would fly, we were only six miles from White Cloud, KS, where we'd ultimately end up on the route, later - but it would take us 78 more miles to get there.  The Missouri River valley is massive, and it puts into perspective just how much water the Flood of 2011 involved.  We weren't exactly approaching the river itself at right angles, but, upon turning onto US-159 (which would take us across into Nebraska), it would take 10 miles to reach to other side of the valley on dead-flat roads - and evidence of the massive flood would begin to appear many, many miles from where the river normally flows.  A thick haze hung heavily in the air above the river as we approached, and the fields on either side of the road - a normally bright green feature of a fertile river valley - showed the signs of having endured a double whammy:  first, the Flood of '11, and then the Drought of '12, both conspired to leave the entire area east of the river covered in sand from the river, and largely dead.  It reminded me of RAAM in June, but in a different state; it was like riding across Arizona again.... staggering, and sad - these fields won't be the same for a decade, and I don't think anyone realizes the full toll quite yet of these last two years.

A distant railroad horn, a nature break, and reuniting with Terry along the way, we staged ourselves to cross into Nebraska... a first for me on a bike.  Crossing the massive river bridge was really, really cool - and, I'm not sure if it'll be the last time I get to do it, as a new bridge is being constructed slightly south of the old steel colossus currently on-duty - built in 1938, I suppose it's time for a redo... but, the bridge taking its place is the typical slab and beam design.  

Glen pausing for a photo, Terry on approach, along US-159, preparing to cross into Nebraska.   You can get a feel, here, for the vastness of the Missouri River valley plain we'd just traversed.  With big, blue skies everywhere, it had turned into a remarkable, gorgeous day.

The 1938 Rulo through-truss bridge over the Missouri... soon to be replaced.  Apparently, the new bridge project has funding for demolition of the old bridge, which is frustrating, as the old bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places as-of 1993, and would make a terrific bike/ped candidate.  I fear the big decisions have already been made.  This monster is pretty narrow, actually, which may be part of the motivation - but it will be a shame to see it fall.  As with many major river crossings - it's paired alongside (rust-brown, in the background) the Warren truss BNSF railroad bridge - its piers are original, dating back to 1887.

The new Rulo river bridge, under construction - the center span is still missing, but we watched over-sized trucks moving the massive steel beams through Falls City, NE. a bit later, on their way to be bolted into place above the water.  Crossing the river may be rendered easier, but it certainly won't be the same.  I feel privileged to have ridden across the Missouri on the old bridge in the shadow of its giant steel trusses - but next time, it might be on this thing. 

The signs speak for themselves, obviously - but, once across the river, we stopped again to celebrate the crossing and catch up on our history.  Having read "Undaunted Courage" by Stephen Ambrose, I was thrilled to ride this route - we had been passing Louis and Clark Trail signposts all morning, and finally reached one of their campsites, here, at the river's edge.

So cool to hit a state-line crossing on a bike - I can't describe it.  This shouldn't be a big deal, since I live within 10 miles of the KS/MO border, and cross it all the time - but this is different.  With this, I've officially ridden in all my regionally-connected states now: KS, MO, IA, TX, OK, CO, IL and now NE.... hmmm... what's next??  Something tells me Arkansas brevets would be something special.. and probably fairly tough.

After reaching the river and taking a quick break, we climbed out of Rulo onto the big Nebraska plains, heading west to Falls City for the first control, about 60 miles in.  Subway awaited with real food and a comfy place to sit.  Terry suffered a wallowy tire here, a mystery flat in the making - yet, changing it revealed no issues with the tire or tube, at least nothing apparent; good news.  We packed up and headed through town to catch Nebraska State Hwy 8, which heads ever further west into the plains.  Looking at maps, pre-ride, Nebraska looks interesting for riding in general - and KCUC's own Spencer K. has taken up the task of RBA for the Omaha region, offering a multi-day brevet tour in the far western sand-hills of this giant midwestern state...and after being surprised more than a few times by the state's scenery, it's got me thinking about 2013 already.

We meandered around the edges of some neat hills and bluffs marking the myriad creeks and streams which crisscross the region, and with that we ended up on something of a bridges tour.  In addition to the Rulo Missouri River bridge, we crossed the Big Nehama River on a nice structure, which was probably the best example of all the smaller bridges we'd ultimately cross on the trip south and east, back towards the river.  Props to Spencer, intentional or not, for designing such an interesting route!

The next section entailed a long stretch without any services to speak of besides pop machines, but plenty of turns and an information control tossed in to keep riders on their toes.  We reached US-75 at NE-8, and shed a few more layers as the warmth of the sun began to take a good hold of us, and noticed the tiny anemometer atop a nearby utility pole spinning happily in the indicated SE wind.  We'd have to push a little bit for the next few miles on the highway, but, we had a good shoulder to enjoy, and traffic remained light.  Cake... 

At this point I think the sandwich from Subway (rather, my ingredient choices) began to fight back - gut tension, a bit of lethargy in the legs... the protein again?  (sigh)... nothing to do but shove through it, but my speed began to drop - even before the turn south - and I started to suck air.  I don't really feel like I'd messed with the nutrition formula this day, however the addition of Clif Bars and the double-cheese sandwich may have thrown me for a loop, somehow.  Hammer Gel and my liquid Carbo Gain mix had been working well, so I eventually employed only those items - but for a while, it seemed the addition of any protein simply slowed me down.  Things could have been far worse, however -- the highway was forgiving, the wind wasn't bad, the temperature perfect, and the scenery vast and interesting - with a giant wind farm about a mile to our west, towering above the surrounding landscape and oscillating slowly in the gentle breeze to the rhythm of my cadence.  Having been used to sitting on the same hunk of pavement for miles on end, I settled into a sustainable rhythm as I watched Terry and Glen advance ahead - but, I was glad Terry slowed after a couple miles.  We'd only be on US-75 for five miles, yet, I'd been looking much, much farther down the road than that.  I rolled right past the first info control without even seeing it -- and thankfully we had three potential info controls to pick from.  I don't even remember rolling back into Kansas... something I'd planned on taking a picture of.  Terry and I stopped for a nature break on a concrete pad siding which used to be home to a weigh station, which is where I sorta "came-to" and remembered what I should have been looking around for.  Whoof... thank goodness for Glen and Terry, or it would have become a bonus-miles kinda day.

A bit later, the tiny print of a roadside confirmed the turn east off the highway, and we rejoined Glen stopping for a break and recording the information to certify our passing.  So began the long, long section of Northeast Kansas county roads.

At first it didn't seem so terrible, but the glass-smooth pavement of the first 77 miles became a distant memory within only a few hundred yards as we rode east on 330th Road in rural Brown county (uhh, okay - ALL of Brown Co., KS is rural), and climbed the first of many deceptively steep hills.  It wasn't gravel, but it wasn't quite the groomed and pressed residential chip-seal I think about when I hear the term.  This stuff was more like don't-have-to-repave-for-20-years weapons-grade chipseal, and as Spencer would indicate later in the evening, it slowed us right down.  We rolled along amid an endless parade of fields, and quiet roads, finally seeing one car after about an hour... but that would be the only sign of life until we'd reach Morrill, KS.  As we approached Morrill, KS. from the north, riding three-wide on the desolate near-gravel surface, Terry quipped we three looked like drifters riding into town after a long stint on the trail, and my mind flew backwards in time 120 years in an instant... it was a brilliant moment!  We reached the slightly-smoother pavement of town, and rolled past a couple road workers who paused to consider us, one commenting on my "Randonneurs USA" jersey as I rolled past with an affirming nod: "team USA, yeah, man!" in the gruff and hardened growl of a worker who'd spent a lot of time out in the Kansas dust and wind.  In a day like ours, broken by so few human encounters, he looked genuinely happy to see us come by, if only for that fleeting opportunity to talk with someone besides himself and the stubborn pavement he'd been attending to.

Morrill, KS.  Home of a pop-machine, and a curious city engineer/dispatcher/manager/book-keeper/clerk/registrar who wandered outside to chat with us while we paused and I begrudgingly sucked down a Pepsi.  Apparently, there is no Coke distribution in NE KS., darn-it... within the swirling compendium of ways to define and segregate the human race, it must be admitted that yes, I am a Coke person.  Despite the "hey-you-forgot-the-carbonation" and awkward taste, it held some calories - and was had for a crisp dollar... I hadn't paid that little for a 20 oz. soft-drink in ages!

After mailing our info-control postcard and noting we hadn't seen a single car come through town off of K-246, the eastern terminus of which Morrill rests upon, we headed back out onto the county roads towards Reserve, KS., the next control, where we arrived maybe 45 minutes later - and, thankfully, a real c-store of some kind.  It hadn't really been too long in the "no services" section, yet, I still felt somewhat restored hopping off the bike and heading indoors for a spell.  A lot of mental math floated around in the room while the three of us prepared for the next section, and the push east to reach White Cloud... which would represent the longest "no services" section yet, though we'd pass through many towns along the way...eventually.

The stint from Reserve, KS. to White Cloud became another hard section, for me, mentally - it wasn't that far, yet it seemed as such.  Still low on push, I lagged behind my two companions for a short spell - once to answer a phone call, which was strange... I must've passed close to the one cell tower serving my carrier at about mile 105, and realized there I'd been riding in a coverage dead-zone for many, many miles.  I took the opportunity to check in with the wife, just long enough to see Glen riding backwards to find me on the other side of a hill.  It was nice to see him - but, I'd remain dangling off the back for the next seven miles, until - at long last - we reached the river again at White Cloud, and the smoothest, cleanest pavement I'd ever seen before.... K-7, in all its majesty.  YES!  

Looking left at K-7 and "Main" in White Cloud, KS., at river-level.  In the shadow of the surrounding bluffs already, the sun is dipping quickly.  As we paused here to add back a layer or two before the clear skies would steal the daylight's warmth, we watched a local in a pickup truck dragging a 25-foot long hunk of dead tree down the highway.  This is rural Kansas!  With hopes high, we pointed our wheels south into a dying breeze and onto glass-smooth pavement, for the beginning of the final leg.  We'd hit 200km before even getting off this road.

At last, the monster chipseal would become a memory.  Gloves were put back on, a jacket or two zipped up, and lights lit... we'd soon be cloaked in darkness, but I began to smile again.  Just in time for the last 38 miles and the improved riding surface, I could start to feel my energy levels rise... maybe it was mental, maybe I was smelling the barn early, but the Hammer Gel and continued intake of "mix", sans protein, seemed to be returning a positive effect.  Glen had definitely been the diesel, all day - but, I buckled down to help repay the debt of some wheel sucking and pokey-ness earlier on by taking the first leg of K-7 from White Cloud to Iowa Point.  I went into "single-speed mode", picked a low-cadence gear, and mashed out some tempo.  It wasn't rocketship fast, but it sure felt faster than the previous 40 miles!  We danced with some ambitious twilight deer just before reaching the edge of the next ghost town, and then again near Sparks, KS. - one deer running right in front of us as we each took long turns pulling the train home.  

The setting sun was gorgeous, painting the skies a brilliant orange/pink hue, the deep, steely tones of night coloring the skies above the river to our left as, one by one, the stars popped out, and a crescent moon worked its way to the western horizon amid the final calls of darting birds headed home, like us, as Glen set a relentless pace.  I'd been pulling from the reserve tank for miles - but managed to hang in thanks to his generous pulls.  

For the first time in a dozen miles, I began to feel more confident about the day.  I knew I'd finish, but the looped route always takes more of a mental toll for me, making it harder to gauge progress after the halfway marker.  Upon reaching White Cloud, I knew I'd finish the day...but, it'd become more a question of when.  Driven by the desire to try and make a date-night with the wife (an opportunity that had popped up in the days leading up to the ride) but frustrated by the NE KS section having taken so long, I re-ran the clock in my head more than a few times, which helped keep me latched to Glen's wheel.  No promises had been made, and there wouldn't have been any hard feelings (one of her girlfriends would have taken the movie ticket and accompanied her), but I still wanted to have my ride and enjoy a date, too.  I was thankful to be among friends here - had I been solo, I would have easily tacked on another hour of slog before reaching the finish.

Fanning, KS. found us taking a quick pitstop, more layers added, and a nature break.  I'd figured on a quick drink refill here, but the pop machine didn't have bottled water so I pressed on.  Even though it was a quick stop, I'd turned into a clock-watcher - yet, I knew somehow everything was going to work out...and managed a smile and a chuckle.  US-36 was next - dreaded, but manageable - and more unexpected speed.  A few final hills, and at least the highway section here was generally downhill, all the way in to to river crossing at Elwood.  

We traversed old K-7, and hit US-36 - another nature break and a check-in with Spencer, and we hit the highway shoulder for the dash to Wathena, KS.  This portion felt like riding in a bubble, of sorts -- Glen took point, and though I couldn't see my cyclo-puter clearly, it felt like we were flying!  I took the reigns somewhere around Blair, MO. - maybe a bit east of there - and tried to pay back the stellar pull until we reached Wathena, and a Casey's.  I hated to stop again... but I'd sucked down the last drops of fluid nearly a mile earlier, and knew myself --- once the wick is dry, it's all over... I didn't want to limp it in on this one.  Not after the hard work of K-7 and 36... it was only 9 miles until the finish, but I needed to top off the bottle, one last time, to make sure that final-mile bonk didn't happen.  Restroom sink, a quick mix and shake, right as Terry pulled up -- time to move!

Thank goodness for Terry, again!  The last few backroad turns past the Casey's were familiar from August - but not in the dark, and Terry led us down the right roads... back on home turf.  We popped onto old-36, drifted through Elwood, and started the climb over the bridge into Missouri.  With all the interstates and exit ramps coming together on the river's eastern banks, we all switched to urban-riding mode and started negotiating red lights and stop-signs, zig-zagging toward the finish at Pappy's bar and grill.  I could almost smell it.  The last two miles seemed to take an eternity... and my phone started to ring with texts... the decision point for the 2nd movie ticket was at hand, and I sat only a block away from the car!  Whooo!!!

Finished!... and lemme tell ya... it was VERY difficult to walk away from an inviting table and a cold beer with friends.  After checking in with a waiting Spencer, I begrudgingly left Pappy's, rushed to the car, packed up, and hit the highway for home - I owe the gents a cold beer for the pulls and the patience... but my evening had become managed to the minute.  Committed now, I made the driveway in record time, showered, and made the date night with 15 minutes to spare... and thank the maker for the fancy movie theater!!!  Beer, food, push-button service, and a thick, comfy chair... YES!  Recovery food, AND a show?  Check.  Though, honestly, next time - I'd prefer not to be in such a big hurry on a ride day.

This was a tough one... the next ride is a question mark on weather, and distance goals... but, I think speed goals of any kind are out the window.  Nobody's watching, and - yeah, perhaps I give up too easily - but, seems to me that trying to rush all the time sorta defeats the mental reset these rides are supposed to provide me in an otherwise VERY busy life.  Time to hold onto that notion... the next ride, I might even leave the cyclo-puter at home.  

Songs in my head:

Uhhh..... not many.  
I put in the earpiece after Falls City, and that seemed to help during the rough spots... but the brain was otherwise occupied, it seems.  

Stay tuned... and, as always, as this webpage sails past the 100,000 hits mark, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for reading!


November 17, 2012

White Cloud 250km finished

This one oughta be good --- improvements, steps backward (maybe)...
But all I all a great day with great friends, but the ride itself
swung from death slog to fully awesome over what seemed to take 400
k's worth of effort.

More to come...

Next time I get the notion to ride a ride of any length, perhaps I
should clear some time in my schedule to ... I dunno ... Maybe ride a
commute or two in the weeks leading up to it. Lordy, Dude.

November 1, 2012

Fall Foibles

It's November 1st, and that means bidding farewell to October - a month that found me sleeping later than I should have, and enjoying a few too many seasonal ales - and some Halloween candy.  All good things in moderation:  I'm not being as hard on myself as I've been in the past.  Dang it, I refuse to let an Octoberfest brew go un-tested on my watch... so, if October becomes the new February - well, I suppose that's okay.  We only live once - and while most would poo-poo exercise and healthy eating by dropping the exact same quip, I'd rather try to stick to moderation and ensure that my "one lap" of life remains relatively healthy.  I bravely face off with Fall and Winter in the midwest, and strap down some old habits that have been left flapping to tatters in the outflow of my slackerdom.

Someone of local blog-fame mentioned in the last year that clipless pedals stand as one of the biggest atrocities ever to befall adult bicycling.  Part of me is starting to believe that thought.  Surely as I enter the 2nd half of my 40th year, the signs of middle-aged-ness begin to materialize in the form of a recent handlebar bag purchase and a strong desire to try those SPD sandals again.  Along with that trend is a keen eye towards MKS touring pedals -- well made, aluminum, just as light as my SPDs, and with infinite foot positions.  All of these recent thoughts come out as a byproduct of a clicking right kneecap.  No pain - but, for some reason the clicking which started a couple weeks before the Kickapoo Two ride back in August has continued sporadically on every commute and randonnee since.  I've been patient this time around, yet, I'd decided to remedy the noise with an adjustment.  I therefore raised the saddle 3mm back in September, and waited for signs of back-of-leg tightness or hip-rocking, which never showed up - a good thing, meaning that I probably benefited from the change and have reduced some of the stresses at the front of the knee as a result.  A month later, the noise has lessened.  In time, the noise may fade completely - but I also think a little noise and joint popping at my age is probably just "normal".  

What I'm absolutely NOT doing is digging out the tape measures, levels, plumb-bobs and cameras, and over-analyzing.  I don't have time for that nonsense anymore.  The core of what has really happened here likely goes back to the whole "fit" thing, wherein since I'd become so gun-shy of injury I'd managed to modify my stroke into a "pull-only" sort of arrangement.  I hadn't noticed until entering the gym for cross-training, and hopping onto an exer-cycle with flat pedals.  With increases in resistance, I'd pull my legs directly up and off the pedals - much to the confusion of my adjacent gym-mates.   Back on the road bike, I'm pretty much soft-pedaling to a point where I notice my right foot occasionally "rattling around" inside the pedal binding.  I've modified my stroke so much, trying to compensate or protect myself, I'm barely pushing down enough to maintain contact with the pedal body!  One solution involves flat pedals, another involves not thinking too much and simply returning to a good stroke.  Bad habits to unlearn.  Regardless of the solution, this has created solid proof that I, given the opportunity and left to my own devices, can over-think things SO much, I can even ruin the simple act of pedaling a bicycle.  My therapist will be so proud!

No matter HOW I pedal, though, I'm not stopping.  My schedule lately has made it far too easy to grab the car keys instead of the bike helmet, but a new month brings a clean slate and the excuse to ditch all of these poor habits.  With a combined average of 15.875 MPH over the last four randonnees, I'm close to my goal of making R-12 #3 at 16.0 or better .... only a couple slightly faster rides needed to make that happen.  In addition, I find myself on a trend towards longer distances - all with eyes on 2013 and shooting for another 600km ride.  The October ride came in at 225km, and I'm planning on another new-to-me route for November which is listed at 250km... that sets up December for a 300k!  Weather will dictate... but, it seems like a worthy goal, and if I play things right I could potentially tackle the "Hell of the North" route and enjoy a tailwind on the return trip, which should be normal for December.  Sure as I type it, yeah....right...  let's just take things one month at a time, eh?

So, here's to November -- more commutes, less slack, and more new discoveries on the open road.


October 19, 2012

The Flint Hills 225k - Bazaar, indeed...

A picture, often, can be worth 1,000 words. , just south of Cottonwood Falls, KS., on K-177.   As far as the eye can see in any direction, there's just a whole lotta "nothin'"...which is really, something.

Taken by Glen, a few miles ahead of me at the time near Bazaar, KS. - the sky, the rain, the wind... it truly had been a "bizarre" ride.  But, I'd wager, in a good way.

So, there's two pictures.  That oughta save some time...
A smarter version of me would have taken even more pictures, yet, I found myself in - ha - bizarre states of mind more often than not, and simply spaced out the camera's role on this scenically epic ride.  I find myself with about a 1/3rd the free time I had enjoyed last October, and it has kept me away from the keyboard, and the bike, more than I'd prefer.  I still, however, make time to ride to work when I can, and ride these longer riders at least once per month.

It simply wouldn't be my style to let a ride pass by without having something to say about it, and this ride proves as no exception - in fact, if anything it deserves extra attention.  It has reversed my old notions about driving a long distance just to get to a ride.  Over the past three months, actually, I've been enjoying a very good run of such rides, each one seeming to raise the bar ever higher.  It's got me anxiously wondering what November will bring, if I'm brave enough to branch out to yet more unknown routes when the weather surely will turn for the worse - at least for the colder.

2:30AM, the alarm sounds.  

Good grief, what am I doing?  Why didn't I drive out and get a hotel room last night?

Live and learn, I suppose - but, life kept me in town Thursday night, so this was how it was going to have to play out.  At least the car had been packed, and I sat ready to roll.  I-35, K-68, and some roads that I'd never had occasion to drive on (K-268, K-31) strung together to reach US-56, and ultimately, under a canopy of darkness, thick clouds, and harsh winds, I reached Council Grove, KS. a little before 5AM - time for a quick power-nap, and prep for the 6AM start.
I pulled up into the parking lot, near Glen's RV (smart man), killed the engine, set the timer on my phone, and drifted off for a few minutes.

The temperature was near 50 degrees F.  Not bad for October... in fact, unseasonably cool by some standards - but certainly not "cold", yet, upon exiting the car to begin unpacking and dressing the sharp northeast wind stripped away any warmth I'd had.  A shudder, and a few layers saved for later appeared from storage.  The humidity and the 15-20 MPH steady winds rendered conditions a bit nippy.  

Glen and Terry stirred, and eventually our three routines found us around a table inside the Short Stop c-store, sipping thin coffee and waiting for the "gun."  Receipts and final prep, and we made the first of only three left turns on the entire course, southbound on K-177 into - for two of us - the unknown.

K-177 is a great piece of road.  It meanders generally south and southwest from Manhattan, KS. at US-24, through Council Grove, ending east of El Dorado, KS at US-54.  The majority of what we would ride sits on the National Scenic Byway plan, surrounded by protected prairie land - land that hasn't been divided, plowed, or developed... ever.  I had been looking forward to trying this route for a long time, but the first part would remain a surprise until the end of the day thanks to the late sunrise.

The late sunrise would create one of the more interesting rides I've had in a long, long time - and it makes me wistful for scheduling another Dark Side Ride - something I've been horribly lax in doing, another casualty of a far-too-packed schedule this year.  In stark contrast to the last few DSRs, which normally take place fairly close to town, the first hour and a half of the Flint Hills 225 brought us out of Council Grove under a canopy of thick clouds on a night very close to the new moon.  Without any nearby towns to cast the usual orange glow of light pollution across the cloud deck, the result instead felt similar to riding a bike with a thick blanket over one's eyes.  The eerie bluish cast from our headlights appeared to project an image of a passing road onto a featureless, black backdrop ahead of my front tire.  Only the very rare passage of a car from either direction helped define the landscape - and sheer expanse - of the emptiness around us as we rode south with a stiff tailwind.   I can't wait to come back to this route on a cloudless night, just to witness the night sky under such conditions... but, "riding in the black box"  proved spectacular enough, and otherworldly.

The tailwind would HAVE to be paid back... this I knew.  The forecast was sketchy:  rain, wind, clouds all day, possibly a tailwind shift... but who knew?  At least for the first portion we stayed dry, watching the black finally yield to some vague purplish blue from our left side as we approached Strong City and Cottonwood Falls, KS., about 25 miles in.  

After a quick stop at the Casey's in Cottonwood Falls - nearly a necessary stop, as we'd pass nothing at all until the halfway point - we rolled out onto the prairie as the sun (which we still hadn't seen) rose and gave us a better view of our surroundings.  

Amazing scenery abounds on this route.  Again, I wished I'd taken more photos - but the images are indeed burned on my mind.  Climbing a hill towards an old stone schoolhouse, seeing the other side of that hill yield to giant expanses of untouched prairie colored a golden hue with fall's first touch, the wind whistling us along at 20+ MPH towards our destination as we danced with the railroad - the engineers acknowledging us as they passed with a couple of quick horn blasts.  Simply an amazing day.

The best part of the day unfolded near the halfway - still dry at that moment - rifling west alongside railroad tracks with an ever increasing tailwind, and seeing a wide strip of black clouds spread out ahead of us... the biggest signs that our "luck" with the weather had been about to run out.  Brilliant cloud-to-ground lightning, still too far away to hear the thunder, lit up the sky ahead.  An incredible scene.

Later, near El Dorado Lake and the halfway, the clouds, lightning and thunder met us and unleashed a hard, cold rain for our final 8-10 miles to the control.  It was nice, after summer's drought, to get a little rainfall during a ride like this.  Thankfully, it cleared up right before we reached the Casey's in El Dorado, giving us a chance to dry out and perform our usual control routines for the journey back.  Nothing quite like trying to wrestle wet wool gloves back on!

The return trip was something of a mind-game.  We thought for a while at the halfway that the wind had actually shifted in our favor, a miracle - yet, when we finally turned the corner and proceeded out of town from the control, the wind was indeed in our faces, and strong.  Just part of the game, I tucked under the brim of my cap, and pedaled it out.  There's just no other way to get home than to pedal.  The byproduct becomes a lot of heads-down grinding, with occasional glances to one side or another to see landmarks or to follow the call of a nearby bird.

The last few rides I've been able to hang with Glen R., pacing and exchanging pulls - but this time out, I don't know if I had tendered my on-board fuel TOO much - knowing the stops were few and far between - or if I had been using the wrong off-board fuel at the few controls - if I'd used up too much gas enjoying the tailwind by pushing it - or if it'd just been an off day, but starting about the time the rain came, I couldn't bridge-up anymore.  The 2nd half of the ride became a solo-mission.  The three of us, Terry, Glen, and I, had never been too far apart - we'd regroup at each stop - but, we were far enough apart to avoid seeing each other at all, most of the time.  While I've spent far more miles alone than I have with others, I spent a few miles being frustrated with myself for not being able to keep pace.  This, in turn, made some of the sections harder than they should have been, mentally.  The wind hadn't been THAT bad, and the terrain seemed to be forgiving in most places - yet, I remember having a rough time on the miles between El Dorado and Cassoday.  The skies a relentless grey, the wind stiff and cold, the bike feeling like it'd been lubed with tar and my legs full of lead, I struggled.  

Back at Cassoday, I felt stiff and heavy - falling into a bench across from Glen and letting the relative warmth of the surrounding store breathe life back into my body.  Terry arrived shortly afterward, and we three got ourselves back together for the next leg.  The same pattern unfolded again as the miles progressed - we'd chat for a bit, smile, laugh (all in all, it really was a GREAT time) - and then separate into our own rhythms on the road.  More content this time with the pace I was able to muster, I enjoyed the scenery and wondered about the clouds that still dominated the skies around us while occasional raindrops dotted my handlebars, only to dry away.  Strange day, weather-wise.

Terry ended up with a flat tire somewhere along the way, calling me to let me know (phone service?  bonus!) that he'd be a little behind, but was okay.  I took the opportunity to unload the jacket, as I'd become too hot - which began a comical routine wherein over the next couple of hours I'd wear, and then retire, the rain jacket off and on as the weather changed - passing pockets of showers, cold rain, drifted along the same route we pedaled.  With the wind, the lack of sunshine, and the effort of the day - often times I'd feel chilled, but then would become too hot - also, I'd upped my fuel intake to try and recover some of my pace, which worked.  I never caught Glen on the road, but never ended up being too far behind him at the next stop, either - but it also meant more nature breaks on the roadside.

Back at Cottonwood Falls after what'd seemed like an eternity, I found Glen waiting - not quite ready to roll - and I took advantage by trying to rush my own routine, but then we both ended up waiting to make sure Terry made it in after his flat.  It ended up being a fair amount of time resting, but it ended up being a good thing for me.  I stretched, ate, relaxed, readjusted some layers and warmed up.  Locals were overheard talking of more rain heading in from behind us, so once Terry came in, we three took steps to get moving again.

A few miles north of Strong City, the steady rain foretold came to be - jackets back on to preserve core warmth, we finished the last 20 miles in the wet.  The portion of the route we hadn't been able to see in the dark earlier that morning proved worth the wait; more rolling hills and open prairie as we marched back to Council Grove.  The route offers a reminder of how generally flat it is, saving a few larger hills until right at the end of the route as we rolled into Council Grove's outskirts.  Finally, the last turn and the short leap to the final control.  

Finished!  Glen in just over 11 hours, me about ten minutes back, and Terry another 7-10 minutes behind me.  We rested for a bit, celebrated the ride's end in style, collected cards and receipts and packed up in the rain for the drive home - making for a long, long day... part of what made this feel more like a 400km than simply "another 200".  

But, I will be back -- I don't think, honestly, there is a more beautiful route available in this area:  miles for mile the best views and roads possible.  Maybe a little warmth, less rain, more stars, and a favorable SW wind for the return would have been nice - but hey, you get what you get, and it's never all that bad by the time I finish.  Sure, it could always be nicer, easier, drier... but I think that's what ultimately made this ride so worthwhile.  

Thanks for reading - and to Glen and Terry, thanks for riding along!

Stay tuned.