May 30, 2012

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!!!

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