May 30, 2012

RAAM Training weekend photolog

Over the long Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Alex Shnyra, and crew members (me), Alice R., and CC headed west to the Colorado border to attempt to break the long standing UMCA Kansas W-to-E cross state bicycle record of 25 hours and 50 minutes.  Although we ultimately did not break the record, the trip was no failure.  With 25-30MPH sustained crosswinds and higher gusts, and 105ºF heat at one point during the day, I think we had a very rough time of things - and it prove excellent training for RAAM in a couple weeks' time.  Shynra never faltered, never got discouraged despite having been punished by the wind all day long, and most of the night as well - and even though we'd decided to call it around sundown Saturday night, and no longer actively pursue the record, we never quit.  Alex finished at the Missouri/Kansas border on K-68 with a total time of 30 hours and 12 minutes, and, considering the conditions, that's a huge accomplishment.  That's 420 miles, roughly, in 10 hours less time than RUSA gives riders to finish a 600km brevet.  Not bad...and with a goal of approx. 300 miles daily for ten days in June, we're on-target.  Here's the weekend in pictures.... enjoy, and stay tuned for RAAM!

Thunderstorms, thankfully, happened Friday - not Saturday during the ride, yet, they made for interesting driving conditions on the trip west.
Tornado-warned storm, near Alexander, KS.
The backside of the storm, after clearing it.
Sunrise at the KS/CO border
Colorful Colorado - looking west at the border, on K-96 highway
CC, team mechanic, readies the bike

Alex and Alice preparing for the task ahead

Looking east, into Kansas... the thought of crossing the entire state is overwhelming to me... yet, I want to try it someday!
The ride covered two time zones, technically - very cool!

Not sure what the building houses, or where we were... somewhere along K-96, there's not much out here.

Alex, making his way east with wicked cross/headwinds.  The expanse of Western KS, all around.
Alice mixing nutrition.  Note the wind's effect on the tree in the background.  A rough training day.

At Ness City, KS. a quick chat and water push as the temperature climbs

Dighton, KS., and another hand-up.  The motorcycle in the foreground shadowed us for a while, cheering Alex along.  They were travelling in the same direction, and couldn't believe that we'd make it to Missouri before them.  We did.

The task of officiating such a ride with the UMCA requires meticulous records.

Dighton, KS... this was to be a shot of the bank temperature, but I caught the time instead.  It's 102ºF, and not even noon.

A section of train, sitting alongside K-96.
An interesting minimum-maintenance road, looking south from K-96 in western KS, near Scott City.
More of the vastness of the plains
Shoe change - comfort is key!
The night shift, nearing dawn on US-50 west of Emporia, KS.

The battle-van in night-mode livery.
Old US-50, west of Emporia after sunrise on Sunday.  No sleep breaks logged, Alex pushes on.
Williamsburg, KS., and the first real tailwind in over 350 miles!

Dr. Shnyra on the home stretch.  K-68 highway, approaching Louisburg.  You can almost see the finish if you squint!
 Congratulations to Dr. Alex Shnyra and crew on a terrific cross-state ride.  We didn't smash the record, but there's always next year.  Looking forward to a strong showing at RAAM 2012 -- Stay tuned!

RAAM update

Though it's not one of "my rides", I'm still involved in the effort, and still took some photos - which I'll get around to posting here tonight, most likely. 
Finally getting caught up on the blog!  Though the last post took weeks to write, it seems... .five minutes here, ten there, and finally got to hit "upload" this morning. 
I'll pre-warn -- the RAAM coverage will largely be on the Twitter and Facebook companions to this page.  I'll likely report photos that don't make it onto the social media stream, but the sheer size of the effort would take volumes to express in the fashion I've become accustomed to chronicling a ride, and I don't anticipate having the energy to perform such a task.  Still, it's a life-changer, a monumental task for rider and crew - so not saying anything at all wouldn't be right.  I'll have notes, and perhaps a paragraph of two for each photo - but that's where the line will fall.  I want to be timely, not wordy, for that one.

On that note, stay tuned...  Things will happen quickly:  I have another 200km ride on June 9th which will cap off my 2nd R-12 run, and then I'm on the way to Oceanside, CA., where I will enter "RAAM-mode", and not stop until we reach Annapolis, MD., ten days later.  Race coverage will be top-notch from the race organization - visit and surf around;  you'll see live rider progress, videos, crew interviews, and daily race updates as the event unfolds.  Their media team is nearly as large as the rest of the volunteer pool, so it ought to be good - and far better than any Twitter action I can muster, especially after a few solid days of crewing.  We'll see, and I'll do my best -- but job #1 is getting my rider to the finish.  If I miss a few posts, so be it!  

Thanks for reading!  Getting to be an exciting summer!

The Hashbrowns Ride

From May 18th, 2012 - another riveting 200km ride report!
WMG Memorial - Olathe to Weston, MO

In my attempts to break up the monotony of continuous 200km+ bike rides over the course of 12-months, I vowed - on this 2nd R-12 run - to try and revisit some old routes, and add in some new ones.  To that end, I looked at the permanent route offerings, and came around to the W.M. Gates Memorial 200k, which I’d created with Spencer’s help back in 2008.  The last time I’d ridden it, actually, was also sometime in 2008... I believe December, when Noah and I tackled it last.  With hindsight having fallen well out of view, and without me re-reading any of the old posts about the route, I self-questioned with a hearty “how hard can it be?”, and signed up.  I’d just come off a successful 400km ride, after all, so I felt strong, trained, and “agile” (insert Al Pacino voiceover here).  

It would be foolish of me not to insert something along the lines of the importance of training for hill-climbing when attacking a hilly route.  I like hills -- I don’t, honestly, know why - but I always have had an interesting relationship with them.  Over the years, however, my ability to viciously attack them has weakened slightly - simply because my normal commute and choice of training circuits don’t really suit climbing development.  Compared to last month’s 400k, and most previous month’s 200k’s - I have been light on the climbing.  The WMGM Route would serve as a reminder to introduce a more balanced routing into my riding.... a) because I really do love hills, but b) because I love them more when I can master them.  I think the cue sheet is incorrect... it indicates 6,200 feet of climbing in 127 miles, but I’m fairly certain that the real number lies somewhere north of that figure, if only by perception.

5:00AM.... 7-Eleven... my old friend.  I frequent this place often enough in stretchy pants and neon shirts that I’m practically on a first-name basis with the early-shift staff.  After the usual clock watching, and a very neat sliver-of-a-moon moonrise to the east, I went inside and performed the usual receipt and signature routine, polished off a chocolate milk, and threw my leg over the top tube for adventure.  Once again!  We ride!!

Moonrise (the small sliver above the third streetlight from the right)
Not even the wind was on my side - and I knew it.  Perhaps subconsciously “okay” with the Karma that would have me slowly paying back lots of double tailwind and otherwise uneventful riders this last year, I entered into this ride knowing full-well that the odds were stacked.  The hills would be challenge enough, but the entire trip back home on this north/south-oriented route would be into a strong southerly headwind.  At least it was warm - so, really, I had little to complain about.  The skies were clear, and hopes ran high as I rolled through residential side streets on the cue and enjoyed - while I could - the mild tailwind that would help for at least 100km of the journey.  Food was in place - a ClifBar, the chocolate milk, and pocket brimmed with other options for along the way, and my steady supply of Carboplex powder.  Along with it, sunscreen, “sun sleeves”, and plenty of water and electrolyte tabs, for, on top of everything else, it was to become properly warm this day... moreso than any other ride, commute or otherwise, since last summer.  It seemed this would be my first distance ride above 75 degrees since perhaps August the previous year!  However, I have a track record of doing fairly well in the heat... but, that’s after a period of acclimation; which I hadn’t had yet.

Renner Blvd, Road... whatever incarnation you happen to experience, it’s the same slice of pavement which runs nearly unbroken, north/south, from county line to county line.... as long as you don’t count the I-35 corridor, which cuts it off.  It has a few names... Renner, Mur-Len in Olathe’s city limits...The Proving Grounds, however, also coined by Noah of fame -- alhough for different reasons than I cite here, the name still sticks.  Where Noah hearkens to the remarkable automotive suspension-proving potential of the circuit of endless roundabouts which lay between 95th and 87th streets in Lenexa (and I don’t disagree), the road as a whole serves as a proving grounds for cyclists, as well.  There are questionable sections of pavement which test bike handling skills.  There are unfortunately-placed traffic lights at the bottoms of steep hills, which test your braking prowess.  The pitch of some of the hills are simply staggering at times, honing the power climber we all aspire to become, and, yet in other sections the hills are marvelously spaced to allow a rolling-hills tempo training run in others.  There are miniature mountain passes, wicked curves, fountains, shaded sections and exposed ones, and the whole thing takes on a different flavor if you turn around and ride it in the opposite direction -- it’s a great road for automobile, or bicycle... but, MAN.... the unprepared will curse it and give it unpublishable names when the winds blow wrong, when the temps are high, and when the legs grow weary.  Such good training!

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words... and since my last 200km post was about 5,300 words, I suppose I’m glad I started taking more photos on rides.  My fingers are killing me.  So, I’ll toss some pics in here, a few short captions, and we’ll be up to speed!  Whoo-hoo!  It’s remarkable - I find myself very short on time lately, with RAAM preparations, house activities, and work --- even though it’s “summer” and homework is absent, I’ve taken on a lot of other stuff - and the byproduct is writing these ride accounts several weeks after they take place, lately.  I hope not to continue that, but the photos help bring me right back to the action - so I’ll leverage them, keep the posts shorter (ha!), and hopefully stay on top of things, so I’m not writing posts about the last ride the night before the NEXT ride... which is happening.

Another interesting observation:  I bumped into Warren T, finally meeting him (I think I’d met him at night, during a DSR...but it’d been years) during Bike Week a few weeks ago, and he made an accurate assessment that posting volumes across blogville have slipped a little, with such powerful, succinct and mobile-capable micro-blogs like Twitter.  I’m also guilty of this --- and as I slap things on Twitter from the road, I have found it makes the blog posting suffer.  I don’t have immediate plans to cease either activity -- but, when Tweeting the ride, part of me gets the sensation that I’ve “already posted about it,” so I don’t rush to the keyboard to write a larger post as a result.  There’s gotta be a balance -- because after a decade online here at this URL, I don’t really want to just slice everything down to an “@” symbol, and call it “good enough.”  We’ll see.

After the thrill ride of Renner Rd, I hit Holliday Drive at the river, and proceeded west.  Another difficult part about this ride are the number of turns.  It’s difficult to get into a good rhythm when you are constantly managing intersections on the way out of town, and on the longer sections of road the hills have the same effect of breaking up pace, unless one is just super strong.  Meandering along the river, and then crossing it on K-7, then negotiating a highway interchange and constant shoulder condition issues and railroad tracks on K-32 make it difficult to just “settle in.”  I continued my push north, eventually reaching 86th street.... only to pass it, by maybe a mile.  The road sign which had once made the road move visible had been missing, and - not remembering what to look for - I blew right past it.  I realized my mistake when I started to recognize landmarks from the KCK-to-Ottawa 200km route, and remembered that I shouldn’t see ANY of those on this route.  I looped back, and - remarkably - passed it AGAIN on the return, reaching the traffic light at 88th Street.  Another U-turn, and I was back on course - feeling a little silly.  

No matter -- 86th street has a way of making riders forget their foibles and worries.  It’s hilly, and sorta makes Renner look flatter somehow.  After wrestling with hills and a couple roadside, trashbag surfing dogs, I made it to Parallel Pkwy, and the first control.  After a quick refuel, I was keen to get moving again before the legs seized up too much.  I hadn’t climbed this much in years on a route, and I’d been hopeful not to find out the painful way that I’d been ill-prepared.  Keep moving!  Next was Georgia Ave, and then Wyandotte County Lake Park.... did I mention this route was hilly?  Yeesh.

Upon entering the park, I caught up with another cyclist out for a morning ride - and it turned out he was involved with an upcoming ride called “Bike the Dot”.  It offers (if I recall) 20,30 and 50 mile (approximate) loops around Wyandotte County, starting at the Ag Hall of Fame.  Registration is still open -- it’s only a few days away, so hurry.  A good cause, and some great riding scenery!

We parted ways, and I continued my march north, past Wolcott, past Lakeside Speedway, and onto K-5 heading to Lansing and Leavenworth.  K-5 is a remarkable road... my only wish would be a little less traffic.  It’s scenic as all get-out, hilly, technical, fun, and not your typical Kansas highway.  Imagine, if you are familiar with the reference, Mission Road between 159th and 191st Streets (for you locals), but, extend it out to perhaps 12 miles.  Constant fun - but challenging.  Past farms and houses, around bends and under a canopy of trees, I finally exited the highway at the Veteran’s Association Hospital in Leavenworth, next to the Leavenworth National Cemetery, where the namesake for this tough route rests in peace.  (Hi, Dad)   

Considering the bridge, on the KS side along the bluffs
on Espanlade St., Leavenworth, KS.

Eventually I was faced with crossing the Missouri River on K-92, which - normally - is a nice ride across a glorious bridge.  This day, that bridge had been reduced to one-lane for both directions for refurbishing by the state.  I knew this in advance, having emailed a few interested parties about the possibility of joining my ride, Randy of Kansas Cyclist pointed me to the information that the bridge had once again been “under the knife”.  Uh oh...  I made a few calls, and it sounded do-able - but I was leary of risking my R-12 by riding up there, only having to turn around again.  I know now, especially as I write this now, with only a couple days left in the month of May, I wouldn’t have been able to get another ride in had this not worked out, but, thankfully, it worked out fine.  It’d been a bit hairy, yes -- the arrangement involved temporary traffic signals at each end of the bridge, queuing up traffic while one direction at a time, in succession, would cross the bridge.  I watched a couple cycles to examine how things might unfold, and then took my place at the front of the next line.  
Traffic was surprisingly accommodating, perhaps knowing that aside from I-435 (which isn’t bicycle legal) and the bridge at Atchison, KS., (which is 40 miles out of the way), I didn’t have any other options.  Still, I didn’t dawdle - upon receiving the green signal, I gave it my all and sprinted the ¼ mile or so across the river to avoid holding anyone up.  It worked fine, and soon I was turning onto the MO-45 Spur highway for the next leg of the ride.

The temporary traffic light before the bridge...
time to sprint!

If I could take back my previous statement about not being able to find a rhythm on this route, this represents the portion wherein riders can.  MO-45 Spur is pan-flat, as is MO-45 which it connects with, and these two roads are difficult for different reasons.  The winds can have a dramatic effect on how cyclists perceive these two sections of the route.  On the way north, with the growing tailwind, it unfolded as a terrific ride -- and more on the opposite effect a bit later, eh?

Pan-flat MO-45, and RR tracks, looking north

 Weston is surrounded by hills, so after reaching Beverly, MO., and crossing underneath MO-92, one climbs steadily until reaching the intersection of Highways 45, 273 and route JJ... or, as I call it, “Route [handclap] Dyno-MITE!”  

Hashbrowns for breakfast -- peppers, mushrooms, onions, melted cheese, toast and jam.... dude.  Good, hot, fast, and cheap.... kinda like me.  BOO YAH, breakfast is served.  Team Ride-to-Eat in the house!

After finally ingesting perhaps half the giant platter of hashbrowns and the same amount of toast and jam, I washed my face, got refills of ice water from the waitress, and stepped outside into the growing late morning heat and wind.  First, more sunscreen came up on the menu - but, not for my arms, as I pulled out
the “sun sleeves” from my back pocket, and pulled them on.  I got the same strange feeling I remember from last summer when I first trialed Specialized’s Reflex-Sun arm coolers/sun shields:  normally something performed when temperatures are far, far lower, it seems backwards and completely ill-advised to pull something onto my arms when it’s hot and sunny.  Confirmation, however, would come quickly.  On the first couple of downhills running out of Weston, as I bid the small town farewell, revealed how remarkably well these things work.  First, any sweat they wick from your arms is dried very quickly, and the evaporative cooling effect is remarkable.  My arms acted as heat exchangers, of sorts, and I believe my core temperature stayed relatively low as a result, while the ambient temparature continued to climb.  Second, I don’t have to worry about sunscreen on my arms - working it into my arm hairs, dealing with the road dirt and bug collecting that usually follows - and the end result is a cooler core and no sunburn on the arms.  The material is such a brilliant white, it becomes almost difficult to look at it directly on a sunny day.  Strange, but effective.  They also make “knee coolers”, but I’m not sure I’m ready to take that step.  Aside from the benefits of some compression, my legs don’t seem to be as exposed during the heat of the day - shadowed by my own body.   

The Battle-Axe, at MO-45 and 45 Spur

The reward - The Weston Cafe, breakfast

Headwind.... I knew I’d be paying back some of the ease of the trip north with a growing headwind in the afternoon hours - but I hadn’t expected the wind to be quite so vigourous.  As I made my way back down MO-45, I met with a wind strong enough to neccesitate downhill pedaling.  So much for an easy trip back to Beverly.  The road flattens out, and the remainder of MO-45 and 45 Spur unfolded as a heads-down, in the drops, keep-on-spinning exercise in patience.  Finally, the pesky bridge construction waited at the end of the headwind slog - and another sprint across the river - this time, uphill.  

Looking west, toward the Centennial Bridge on MO-92
Traffic, same as before, behaved rather well -- I was waved ahead by an older gent driving a Mercedes, the rear window of which had been slathered with United States Marine Corp stickers.  I gave it my all, and with the uphill slant and headwind/crosswind at play, I left a fair amount of myself on the bridge itself.  For the same reasons as before, I hadn’t wanted to hold anyone up - despite their understanding - yet, I hadn’t considered how tired the effort was rendering my legs.  The nearly endless hills of K-5 still waited, and 86th Street, and Renner.... and the day was beginning to show already.

The first treat was Wilson Ave (if I recall the name correctly) at the bottom end of 2nd street after meandering south through Leavenworth.  Much like most riverside cities, the bluffs and cliffs and elevation changes throughout the town make for some very interesting (and steep) roads at times, and getting out of town becomes quite the chore.  At this point in the ride, I was beginning to appreciate having a wider cassette on the rear wheel.  Ever since the Knob Noster 200k a few years back, and the giant wall of a hill I ended up walking, I’ve run a 12-27 9-speed rear cassette.  Proudly, that 27-tooth ring is usually the cleanest part of my drivetrain - but today, as the Leavenworth hills and the headwind began to collect their weighty taxes, I contented myself for being prepared by having the bail-out gear.  It even crossed my mind that a compact crankset may well be in my future... and, yes, as I age perhaps a little push is leaving my muscles (I still think I have some strong years left if I stay focused and continue to eat right off the bike), but more and more evidence towards keeping my cadence higher, instead of punishing my knees with low-RPM grinding sessions - and the compact drive would only help that end, and extend even further the bail-out potential.  When I hear about challenging 1200km rides like the Endless Mountains and P-B-P, the idea of carrying around the “traditional” (racing oriented) 53x39 crankset starts to make less sense.  A triple would make even more sense - but, for the sake of elegance and simplicity, I’ll probably swap over to a basic, touring-style 110bcd, square taper, 50x36 crankset - in polished silver.  Until my existing BB starts to show signs of folding, however, my 27-tooth rear cog is a ride-saver on days like this one.

Ward Memorial Building, Dwight D. Eisenhower VeteransAffairs Complex, Leavenworth, KS.  One of 38 historic
 buildings on the property 
 K-5 began to show its evil face around the Lansing prison complex.  Nothing but long, steep, exposed hill after hill - for miles.  The wind even had a strange component:  I never really think about the wind (headwind or otherwise) when on a hilly route, as the hills themselves sometimes block the breeze while I climb.  The only unfortunate byproduct develops as an inability to coast on the following downhill.  This day, however, the wind was somehow managing to crest the hills, slowing my progress on the way up AND the way down - so I was moving forward, but at an extra-slow pace.  I knew it was bad when, even though I just mentioned how happy I was to have my 27-tooth cog, I reached down for the shifter to see if perhaps I’d brought along a 29 or 32-tooth cog as well, only to find I was indeed already in my easiest gear.  Ugh.... just keep pedaling!

Eventually, however, as the “just keep moving” plan plays out, I rolled off the last hill on K-5 and back onto the flatter section which parallels the railroad tracks while approaching Lakeside Speedway near Wolcott.  At this point, finally crossing off ot K-5 and onto old Wolcott Road, to pass under I-435 and back onto much quieter back-roads, I began to grow tired.  I’m not sure if it was a bonk, the beginnings of a bonk, or just fatigue from the last 25 miles of hills and wind on a full stomach of hasbrowns, but I was beat - and hot.  Finally reaching a nice pull-off, I stopped and got off the bike (the first time in a while just stopping mid-route) for a good 15-minute rest.  I ate a Clif-Bar from the seatbag stash, and collected myself.  Wyandotte County Lake Park was next, and then I’d be back at the QuikTrip control again, practically “finished” with the ride.  Normally I feel strong enough, and confident enough, when the halfway point of a ride arrives, I know I will finish -- this day, however, that “in-the-bag” feeling would still lie many miles down the road -- in fact, I don’t think I felt like I’d finish until only 7 or 8 miles remained.  It had been working out to be a tough, tough day of training.

I summoned some courage to throw my leg back over the top tube, and continued until I reached the QuikTrip control on Parallel Parkway again, where I spent even more time just standing in the shade and drinking liquids.  I hadn’t felt cramped quite yet, but the heat had been unexpected - er, my reaction to the heat, that is.  In retrospect, it never broke 95 degrees (F), yet, I hadn’t really even commuted to work in anything approaching “hot” this year - and combined with the hills, and the relatively low humidity which worked with my technical clothing and the strong winds to dry me out, the effects felt quite real.  I must’ve hung out at the QT for 30 minutes, just drinking, and staring into space, waiting for the sensation of a full bladder to indicate I was ready to get moving again (after emptying it, of course).  That moment came, and then it was time to wrap things up. 

 86th street took another notch out of my belt, hill after hill -- yet, this time (compared to K-5), even with the wind, the refueling and rest at the QT control served me well.  The climbs came easier, with more of a rhythm and sensation of strength and control, as I slowly made my way back to the Kansas River and K-32.  Back on the flat-lands near Edwardsville, I became motivated to continue shoring-up the bank of hydration and energy, so I stopped again for some hydration solution and a restroom break.  No sense rushing -- despite not yet feeling confident in a “guaranteed finish”, I knew I had plenty of time left on the route card to finish.  I eventually made Bonner Springs, K-7, and the final river-crossing of the ride.  On the bridge, while I pedaled along steadily and admired the river, I was overtaken by a racer-clad, light-travelling cyclist headed south toward 43rd street, and I guess I had “easy mark” written on my back as he flew past me, in the drops, without so much as a shoulder shrug to acknowledge my existence.  Ah, well... I suppose I can’t expect everyone to wave and chat, now can I?  (sigh)

Not my first choice in hydration, but it works
 The hardest part of the day came up, after reaching normal backroads again and leaving the state highway system behind for good.  I enjoyed a train fly-by along 43rd street - I believe the only time I’d ever witnessed a train on those particular tracks, and then more railroad action along Wilder Road and Holiday Drive as I rolled toward I-435, and the inevitable, and foreboding, turn south on Renner Rd (85th St).  Why, oh why - as the route designer -- had I chosen Renner Road as the return route, after all the day had levied?  This, admittedly, marked the point wherein I knew, upon successfully reaching the top, that I could finish the ride.  My performance on the hills thus-far hadn’t inspired self confidence that I’d make this beast without having to get off (fall off?) and walk up.  Shift, shift. shift, shift...... here we go.....

And, success.... In the shortest gear available, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting, I wrangled my way to the top of The Renner Wall, and after an eternity of waiting for the road to level out, I stopped again to rest.  Yikes... I made the mistake of looking farther north along Renner, and I considered the stack of hills yet to come, the heat, the wind, and the time of day … “ok.... NOW it’s in the bag.”

With that, I climbed where I needed to, and made it to another unplanned stop at Midland Drive (the start location for the Princeton Roundabout route) where I confirmed hydration with another restroom break and water refill.  Enough dawdling around... I departed quickly, and climbed over I-435 on Renner (Renner Pass?), past Shawnee Mission Park, past 87th, and got nicely dropped into the carnival of roundabouts, one by one checking off the miles to the end.  Traffic started to fill in, and I began to forget how difficult the day had been by wrestling with traffic on the final miles back to the finish, which finally came at 5:08pm.... just a few minutes shy of an even 12-hours.  With the extended rests and the inevitability of a long rest at Weston, what with the good eats and inviting chairs, I’m not sure what my time would have been like on a similar route with different controls, but, it is a finish - and I’ll always take that, even if this rests as my longest 200km in recent memory.

Train fly-by, on 43rd Street in Shawnee, KS.

As I slowly sipped on a recovery chocolate milk at the local 7-Eleven store and replayed the day in my head, I smiled -- far hillier, far hotter than any recent ride, and I managed to finish with nearly 2 hours left on the route card to do so, and I knew that rest and patience would yield a body and legs more prepared for the same later on this summer.  Good training.... for what, exactly, I still couldn’t tell you... because *I* don’t know.... but, I like the idea of getting ready for something; even if I don’t know what that something will be.  

That wraps up #11 for this R-12 run.... one more left..... and R-12 number 2 is a success!  Very excited... cautiously.... but, I feel good about it.  The next route will be simpler, flatter, closer to home, and with company to share the experience - so, stay tuned for the next one, coming up in about a week already!

...and, I’ll work on getting it posted in a more timely manner, as well...

Road grime, and the clean leg under the sock.  Ewww.
The Timeline:
5:00am 7-11
7:38am QT kck
9:43am Weston IN
10:13am Weston OUT
12:40 K-5, wolcott rest in shade
1:25pm QT KCK
2:28 edwardsville
3:51 shawnee, midland dr & renner
5:08pm finish

Songs in my Head:

Safe Side - James McMurtry
Go it Alone - Beck

...noted from the 400km ride, I might have had an easier time on the hills near the end had I employed the earpiece technique. The songs were very few, as my brain stayed occupied with how hilly things were and how tired I'd become. A little mental crutching would have been helpful, but, alas, the MP3 player stayed at home on this ride.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!!!

May 21, 2012

May 200k in the books, June makes 12!

Friday, May 18th... a day that made the 400km from April look EASY.
Full post to come, quicker this time - but, it's a finish, and checks off May as "number 11" towards R-12 #2.... 
ONE TO GO!  Stay tuned... 
Plus, with classes finally wrapped up, time to get into a steady commuting routine again - if only for a few weeks before I leave town for Race Across AMerica, that is.
So, so much more to come...

May 17, 2012

The April 2012 400k Report - Open Road Adventures!

The April 28th 400km ride loomed as my longest ride in years.  I hadn’t ventured beyond 300km since 2010, and hadn’t visited Iowa since 2009.  Sure, sure - my recent steady diet of 200 kilometer rides would help things - not as if I’d been sitting around doing nothing by commutes, after all, so I entered into the event without much trepidation.  The forecast looked good, even the winds hadn’t looked terribly awful for once, and I’d actually achieved a decent night’s sleep the evening before.  This was a big one in a lot of ways:  I looked forward to accomplishing my goal for the day of not being alone (riding with people is far more enjoyable than riding solo), I looked forward to just eating “whatever” at the controls (now back to (and liberated by) my Carboplex fueling strategy), and looked forward to checking off #10 towards R-12... with only a couple days to spare in April.

Thank goodness, the Perkins in Liberty has finally come to its senses.  Twenty-four hours of operation on the weekends, for a couple years now, meant that I could get a quick bite before the ride and look forward to a hot meal afterwards - something I missed by a scant 30 minutes on the last Liberty-to-Iowa 400k in ‘09.  Little else on this earth feels quite as nice as a soft restaurant booth, nor tastes quite as good as a hot breakfast platter, after a full day’s riding.  No matter the hour, my reward for the day would be waiting.  

While the atmosphere changes constantly with the clientele, when I walk into our Perkin’s before a ride I feel like I’m walking into a bar full of old friends.  All familiar faces - some I’ve ridden with briefly, some I’ve ridden with for days in total - all sit, conversing, eating, signing forms and waivers and filling out checks for the entry fees.  Bob collects them all, while passing out maps, cue sheets, brevet cards, all packaged in zip-top baggies.  Though we only take up a small section of the restaurant, our busy and vibrant sea of neon safety yellows and oranges, set against colorful jerseys from far-away lands and rides, transforms this hum-drum eatery into a bustling hub of cycling energy.  Rod, Jeff, Alex, Danny, Spencer, Jack, Ralph, Don, Karen, Ron, Glen, Billy (I’m getting better at this name recognition thing, eh?)... and several more whom I forget, sadly.  For a 400k, a great group.  Soon, plates cleared and checks paid, we all headed outside to ready our bicycles for the task ahead.
Compared to the rest of the group, it appeared I’d get the award for having packed the lightest.  I repurposed a shoe bag (which had been included with an old Specialized shoe purchase) as my rear rack trunk.  Spare summer gloves for later when it would warm up, and a lighter head cover inside, and the whole thing rolled up like a burrito and lashed to the rear rack with toe straps.  It works - but, I’ve been kicking around either a larger seat bag, or something purpose-built for the rear rack -- yet, most trunks and saddlebags prove too large... and someone once spoke truth when they observed that “the only problem with a large bag is the desire to fill it.”  I have this problem... so I need to constantly check myself - do I REALLY need it on this ride?  I’ve long-since matured to a seatbag kit which remains compact, yet allows the repair of nearly everything reasonably field serviceable.  Compare this to once-upon-a-time when I’d packed a spare cassette for a 600k, among myriad other things I should have left at home.  The only reason I’m considering a more traditional bag involves speed at the controls.  Where most folks can stop, unzip a bag, find what they need, zip it back up and get moving again, I have to undo two toe straps (the loose ends of which are usually woven in and out of each other to keep the long, extra strap length out of the spokes while riding), unroll the bag, fish around (or deposit a discarded layer, depending), re-roll the burrito, and redo the straps onto the rack again.  As a result, when added to the rest of the usual brevet control routine, I’d consistently be the last one ready to roll out on this ride, despite feeling like I’d rushed.  Even a homebrew zippered pouch would shave off a minute or two of fumbling with my effective and minimalist - yet clumsy - current system.  Someone up in Alaska actually made a custom rack trunk specifically for the Tubus Fly rack I’m running, but they’ve since hung up their operation.  If anyone knows someone that makes a small trunk bag, 11”x4”x5”, with a simple, single compartment, let me know.

Though sometimes I’m not as good at it as I could/should be, being able to move around and chat with different folks in the group during the first hour of the ride represents the best part of randonneuring.  As we made our way out of downtown Liberty and onto the twisty expanse of county route H, conversation ebbed and flowed throughout the constantly changing group.  Groups formed, fell apart, changed, re-formed as the miles passed.  As the sun came up, the usual distances between groups began to grow and everyone started to fall into their respective paces, not helped much by poorly timed traffic light encounters and varied hill-climbing skills as we skirted north of Excelsior Springs, MO.  After a quick detour around some road construction -- okay, through it -- we were free to roll north, into a slight headwind, for the long run up to the first control, 72 miles away.  

Before the first control, however, is Cameron, MO., and the Burger King I remember having stopped at on the ‘09 ride.  After riding for a while with Karen and Glen, our individual paces began to show, finding me alone after about 30 miles of riding.  The faster group of Jeff, Alex and (a third rider) were well out of sight, and the trailing group with Danny and Spencer were equally out of sight behind me.  Suspended between packs, I started to wonder if this would be another repeat of 2009...and, so, to honor that notion, I stopped for breakfast at the BK.  Always a treat - and as I’d nearly finished my mini-control routine and began to stuff the last bite of egg and cheese into my maw, Spencer, Danny, Rod G. and Ron pulled in.  I hadn’t really assumed they’d stop here, and I’d begun preparing myself to ride alone for a while - but, I was happy to see them, and slowed my rush to get back on the bike again.  Riding with a group is far more enjoyable than riding alone... did I already say that?

For the mental game of “checking off turns”, this route exists as especially challenging.  At one particular point, one rides 30 miles before a turn comes - and even then, the turn is more of a natural curve in the road.  Most of this lies between Cameron and Pattonsburg, where the route stretches ahead of the rider, seemingly, forever.  Sometimes I like that, other times I don’t.  This time out, however, staying with the group helped ease things along nicely.  When the headwind grew to its peak, I sat alongside Jack R. and chatted for perhaps an hour, maybe more, as we both tackled the wind on the way to the first control.  The conversation helped take the mental edge off the slow pace and buffeting wind, proving again that riding with a group is far more …... ok, you get the idea!

Finally, we arrived at the control.  With my control clumsiness, I felt a bit like a fifth-wheel sometimes -- no fault of anyone else in the group -- but, my routine has been largely formed on solo rides with no reference points.  I did my best to stay focused, organized, and purposeful while stopped.  At Pattonsburg, everyone managed to have a good sit-down, and I had plenty of time to take care of business - which involved preparing a bottle with Carboplex, consuming a giant cherry and cream cheese danish, and updating my position with a text message to social media.  Despite this, the biggest hiccup remained with the toe-strap burrito-bag rack situation.  At that point, the sun had risen higher and the temperatures with it, warranting some layer removal.  Since my back pockets were still full of Carboplex baggies and other on-road rations, the only place to stash clothing remained the most annoying and time consuming.  After an otherwise brilliant control, I ended up the last one from the parking lot by perhaps 2 minutes, while the rest of the group advanced up the road.  Motivated to not repeat my 2009 solo adventure, I finally saddled up, made a sprint of it and caught back on.

Happily back with the group, the smells of spring charged into our noses by an ever-increasing headwind, we six paddled upstream, northbound, on the majestically quiet expanse of US-69 highway.  An interesting example of how the Eisenhower Interstate plan selectively managed to kill off a lot of small-town America in lieu of a national “oh crap” military conduit system, US-69 still sits relatively close to the interstate which replaced it, and as a result nearly all traffic, even a large majority of local traffic, uses the faster I-35 route, which keeps US-69 very quiet, and perfect for cycling.  An interesting side-note, I find it frustrating that as America builds and advances and wishes to go ever faster, even the old US-highway system has begun to bypass itself of late.  Looking at a map of eastern Kansas represents a prime example, especially with two derivatives of the same “corridor 69” network, US-69 and 169.  Towns like Pleasanton, Trading Post, Humboldt, Welda, will all probably be just fine in the grander scheme of things, but they have been bypassed again in the last decade by improvements to the Federal highways which used to run right through their hearts, due to the demand of highway users and commercial interests to enjoy Interstate-like speed and efficiency.  Contrast to northern Missouri where the two systems serve the same towns almost equally, leaving the US highway usable by car and bicycle alike, the Kansas system leaves the old highway network splintered and broken, leaving cyclists almost zero paved options between small towns.  Certainly inevitable, it is no less saddening to see such good bicycling touring routes over-layed and cut off by 70 MPH, non-Interstate super-expressways.  Bicycle-legal, sure... but enjoyable?  Hardly.  Northern Missouri... at least with regards to my experience on US-69 north of Pattonsburg... is quite a pleasure.

Bethany, Eagleville, Lamoni, IA. all came in quick succession, as we all took turns pulling for a couple miles at a stretch (except for Danny (hahahah!).  Finally, we made the Casey’s at Lamoni, IA., the last control before the halfway point, still a few miles north and east from there.  We’d caught up to Alex and Jeff, the “fast bunch” -- Alex getting ready for RAAM and Jeff just being fast in general -- on their way back from the halfway, about an hour ahead of us - which, really, was fine by me.  I knew for sure that I’d enjoyed a nice breakfast break at Cameron, and the six-pack (as I had started dubbing our collective group) would stop again at Lamoni on the return for a sit-down lunch at Subway.  I wasn’t so sure if Alex and Jeff were enjoying the same “tourists” approach to the day, so only being an hour down hit me as good news for our groups’ pacing.  Alex and Jeff would, however, ultimately finish a remarkable 3 hours and 45 minutes ahead of us, proving their determination and strength at distance.  I’d argue that our group had a better time - but, hey, who’s to say?  Fast, sometimes, is fun, too.  Easy for me to say...

The road from Lamoni (past I-35) to Davis City, IA. is amazing -- hilly, scenic vistas over every rise, gorgeous expanses of green in all directions, and picturesque farmscapes and majestic barns dotting the horizon, with little roadside stops selling Amish treats in certain places, and extremely well-made Amish furniture in others.  We shared the road  with a couple horse-drawn carriages here and there, too - terrific country up there.  Making quick work of the post-card drop at the turn-around control, we turned our bicycles south and west, finally able to enjoy a tailwind!

After our lunch at Subway, we made our way through the rest of Lamoni, and headed south to begin the last half of the 252-mile journey.  The weather was simply stunning -- warm, but not too hot, lots of sunshine, and birds of all types in song.  I blundered a little at the control in Lamoni on the return, however, forgetting to fill up my water bottles.  Thankfully I realized this before reaching the “bail-out” c-store at US-69 and I-35, right near the Iowa/Missouri border.  I pulled in for a lightning-quick top-off, and was back with the group again after another sprint-catchup maneuver.  Whew... glad I’d looked down, as I would have been out of water well before Eagleville - a town with no services.

The day marched onward.  We’d made decent time on the way up, reaching the halfway point perhaps an hour before I’d calculated we should have.  Full of strong riders, we’d made good time against the wind, and the new tailwind would only serve to add time into the bank, not that we’d been in a terrible hurry.  We made Bethany in good time, made another quick stop - each of us preparing for the setting sun.  Music players came out, layers, reflective gear, and food and drink were consumed for the leg back to Pattonsburg.  

Quick sidebar on music players.  I’m a recent, reluctant convert here.  For the longest time I’ve held the strong belief that earphones and cycling don’t (and shouldn’t) mix.  I believe in the context of commuting this combination can be dangerous, so I’ve always abstained, keeping both ears open and my senses available for traffic - subtle changes in tire pitch, cars approaching from odd angles from parking lots or side streets, faster cyclists passing me on the trail, similar.  Naturally, I took this belief into randonneuring as well.  As alluded to in previous, recent posts, however, I’ve been changing my opinion.  A very large part of randonnuering remains, indeed, mental.  While I still struggle with the notion that I am somehow recently taking the “easy path” by using a technique to occupy the mind and prevent fatigue onset, I can’t dispute the success of the last 70 miles of this ride for me, personally.  It’s impossible to tell if it had been the music making the difference, or, that I was simply on-form; but, having a steady stream of familiar music fed to my brain seemed to have a compression effect on the long expanses of highway, especially after dark.  Note however - and this is vitally important - this music was delivered at a ridiculously low volume, and through only one ear.  I wasn’t alone, and it was notable that everyone had taken the same approach of keeping our traffic ears open and free, either through a specific stereo-to-mono earphone, or by simply taking the wire snips to the left earbud on a traditional headset.  I didn’t see anyone riding with both earbuds in.  This, combined with the low volume, revealed in many cases the music to be merely a suggestion, the audible gaps often filled with wind noise or conversation with the rider next to me.  The part of my brain which would normally begin wondering about saddle pain, knee position, miles remaining, time of day, time ridden so-far, remained firmly occupied “singing along” with the “suggestions” being delivered through the right earbud.  As a result, many sections of road which I remember being nearly unbearable during the 2009 edition simply whizzed past this time without much thought.  Again.... better training, more familiar with the route, more familiar with myself??  Lots of variables... but, the music certainly helped guarantee my finish, and my good mood.  Considering I was still easily able to pinpoint approaching cars from any direction, and was still able to hold conversations with those around me without pausing the tunes, I think it worked well.  In fact, it worked SO well, that on several occasions while stopped, I’d forgotten to pause the player - thinking momentarily in each case that the c-store or restaurant happened to be playing a song I really liked over their PA, or that a song was simply stuck in my head - finally realizing that I still had the music playing.  Will I do it on commutes?  No.  That’s just me, though.  For my commute routine, it just adds complexity to a pretty short ride.  For rides longer than 200k, however, this trick remains on my personal menu going forward - and I’ll probably still only use it in the last half of any ride.  Approaching cities and higher traffic volumes, however, it’s easy enough to pull the earbud out and let it dangle until I’m back on low-traffic roads again.  Results will vary.  Everyone is different - and, for some reason, while my hearing has dulled in certain frequencies (most annoyingly for me, right on some people’s speaking timbre) it remains one of my sharper senses with regard to pattern changes.  For some reason, I can sense “car back” before some people with helmet-mounted mirrors can announce it.  So, I’ve always been super-hesitant to hamper my hearing on the bike.

Back on the ride, we slowly approached the final control before the finish -- though, it would be no major amount of relief.  At that control, after all, there still remained 72 miles to the finish.  The sky began to dim a little in the final few miles before Pattonsburg finally came into view - but not due to the sun set.  Sunshine fell out of view, and clouds began to dominate the skies overhead as a few rain drops colored the roadway.  Mmmmm, awesome.  I hadn’t ridden a brevet or permanent in the rain in … ok, nevermind.  I guess I’d completely blocked out the March ride there for a second!  So be it... no sense panicking, with wool in tow for this perfect-for-wool day, I didn’t give a second thought to my last-minute decision to leave the rain jacket behind in the van, hours prior.  The rain picked up and continued for probably 20 minutes before we arrived at the Pattonsburg control, where we checked in, made some adjustments, ate some food, checked the radar, and headed out again quickly.

Still firmly partnered-up with the group, the rest of the ride would begin to slip into darkness over the next section, the sun finally slipping out of sight - yet, we were making great time, overall.  The tailwind, though diminished slightly, still highly preferred over the alternative, helped us along nicely as I chatted with Danny and Karen.  Otherwise, as tends to happen when the sun drops after a long day on the road, quiet fell over the group in longer intervals.  Each of us would drop into our own thoughts, and then someone would blurt something out loud, starting it up again for a short time.  After hitting Winston and “surviving” the overlay of US-69 and MO State Route 6 (the busiest part, traffic wise, of the entire ride), Danny and I paired up for a bit and chatted over a few dozen miles on the last leg into Cameron, MO. - and a planned stop at Burger King.  

This was a nice, relaxed stop --- but, not for the reasons we’d have liked.  Staffing was low, and service was tedious... but, eventually, we all had a hot meal in our stomachs, and - though longer than most would prefer - a nice sit-down rest.  Pleasing to all, especially to me, was the time:  personally, on the 2009 ride, I didn’t make Cameron until nearly 11pm - and now, with hot food coming, it was only a bit after 9pm!  Bonus!  (Last time out, the Burger King had closed by the time we rolled into town.)  Food in, well rested and indoors for a short time - all good things.  We each wrapped up the remaining steps in our re-mounting routines, bottles filled, bladders emptied - just a little bit after Jack and Billy, who had been just out of reach for the last couple of stops, pulled in to get a meal of their own.  I still felt a little odd leaving them there, again, just the two of them - but, they insisted they were doing ok, and so our potential group of eight would remain a group of six for the finish - only 45 miles distant.

With Cameron behind us, we each knew about what time we’d finish - and I started to look forward to my hot meal at the Perkins back in Liberty.  We pressed on, over some perfect pavement (I don’t remember the road being quite so nice back in ‘09, but maybe that’s just representative of my frame of mind at that point in the ride, back then).  The group generally stayed together, sometimes stretching apart, sometimes coming nicely back together.  Another milestone down, we crossed MO-116, along the same parallel as Plattsburg, MO. - which told me we had at least under 30 miles left.  A good sign... until a bright flash lit up the sky.  A few expletives rumbled through the group, mimicking the distant thunder that followed.  Uh oh.  Still, it could have been far worse - all the forecasts promised the storms (which were to have held off until after 1am, but whatever) would remain below severe limits, so fears were minimal.  After a few rain droplets began to fall, Lawson, MO. came into view - and the overhangs of a closed gas station.  We stopped, regrouped, and took another look at the radar for good measure - as rain jackets, stowed after the brief shower near Pattonsburg had ended, came back out again.  

As we headed out into the shower, after a brief rest and consideration, I must restate the continued love-affair I maintain with fenders and light wool gear.  No rain jacket... and, any colder, I might have been wishing for it, yes … but, I remained comfortable and happy throughout the last 25 or so, wet miles into Liberty.  The storm stayed calm - there was some lightning, but no nearby strikes - and everyone remained upright and safe, with the typical randonneur overkill reflective vests and strong taillights.  My thoughts turned, a couple times, back to those that were farther back on the road, and what laid ahead for them - but, it was nice to finish.  At about 1:25 or so, we rolled up into the Perkin’s parking lot, and quickly headed inside to a warm booth.  Menus, hot chocolate, food.... a great way to wrap up a ride.  Honestly - the worst part of the ride was the drive home afterwards - where the heaviest of storms collided with my departure... I should have stayed for a longer meal at Perkins, and a nap!  Emails came through the following day, however, and we learned of the safe passage of all riders eventually making it back to Perkins - some wetter than others.  All in all - a terrific, terrific 400km brevet.  

What can I say in reflection?  The training, the string of 200ks, all seemed to work out nicely -- sadly, I’ve let enough time pass in posting this report, that any memory of bad things, things to change or adjust, have faded.  Even pausing to think, I can’t come away with anything but positive thoughts for this one - my longest ride in 3 years, coming away without any remarkable soreness.  (knocking on wood) --- that’s a great feeling.

Stay tuned for the next one --- which will come very, very soon.

Thanks for reading!