June 24, 2012

Training Wheels

The last edition of this second R-12 run wrapped up in good company, with Karen W., Gary D., Glen R., and me enjoying classic conditions for the Border Patrol route from Olathe to Pleasanton, KS. and back.  Winds began calm, but were forecast to increase as the day grew long, which would promise a tailwind-assisted blast back north once we made the 70-some miles to the turn-around.  Another group, not riding for credit, would leave the eastern part of the county about 30 minutes ahead of us, just out for a good training ride along much of the same route -- and we wouldn't even see them until much, much later in the day.  

For once, I elected to start this ride at a decent hour, and on a "regular" riding day.  With part of the family out of town, I became open to schedule the ride for a Saturday date, and a 6:00am start!  WHAT???  So un-Dude-like... but, small wonder I normally ride solo.  This was a treat -- no need for headlights, no need to too-early an alarm bell!  We gathered, checked in, and started our march south bound along the US-69 corridor.  

It was training time, in more ways than one.  Along for the ride, as I mentioned, Karen and Gary turned out to both be RAAM veterans, from back a few years.  So, with my rookie RAAM crew chief debut on the horizon at the time, it was a terrific opportunity to soak up the brain-gravy of these two superb and accomplished riders.  Gary finished RAAM as a soloist in 1983, rider number 18 (rider numbers are a lifetime assignment), and Karen holds rider number 41.  Looking down the list of solo rider numbers on the RAAM website, it is remarkable how many of these folks I know personally, or have at least ridden with on a few occasions.  It's humbling, indeed.  Even more remarkable, to think of the accomplishment of riding such an event over 20 years ago, without some of the technological advances we enjoy today -- I'd argue that finishing today is (as if it is possible to comprehend graduating the difficulty of the world's toughest cycling event) easier than it had been in the early years.  Granted, one still has to pedal the bicycle, but with GPS, vitamin concoctions, engineered nutrition, laptops, tablets and smartphones - at least some elements of the race are "easier".  The bulk of the 200k would be spent theorizing and discussing RAAM method and technique, along with horror stories and cautionary tales.  Worth gold, all of it, and with my RAAM adventure only days away, the timing was perfect.

We made Louisburg in good time, freshened up a bit, and then continued over the rolling hills towards the highway section which would lead us to La Cygne.  I still can't wait until Linn County ... or extreme southern Miami County (whichever it is) ... decides to pave Jingo Road from 359th to 335th.  Many times I've said it... this section of highway should just isn't my favorite.  Soon, however, we were back on smaller roads and enjoying the day unfolding before us.  La Cygne came quick on a wave of conversation and good times, and with it - food.     While we refilled and ate, we learned that the eastern group had only come through perhaps 30 minutes before us... we weren't doing too bad, but we weren't really focused on catching them, either.  It was getting warmer, and hills lay in wait up the road.  No sense rushing.

I had, despite the heat, decided to go back to my tried-n-true chocolate milk routine at the controls.  The WMGM ride last month proved very difficult and taxing, and I can't help wonder if some of it was nutritional in nature.  Instead of worrying about the ambient temperature's effect on my ability to digest diary products, I went back to what had worked so well on the 400km ride.  Interspersed with Carboplex, a 16oz chocolate milk not only tasted great, but also provided a shot of protein, some carbs, and a smidgin of sugar.  So, so good... smooth... and effective.  The payback, however, came about 10 miles after leaving La Cygne, where I began to feel a little stomach lethargy.... but, it had been quick to pass, and power lifted once again.  Close call... or perhaps it was just the heat... but, the resulting energy and "full" feeling was undeniable.

One, two, three... the big hills between La Cygne and Pleasanton checked off, one by one -- and, a bit of a challenge with each as I found a strong climbing rabbit in Glen.  Astride his tech-filled Pinarello steed, and a strong rider, I found it difficult many time to hold his wheel while the grade increased underneath us.  Excellent training opportunity... and, many times, I was bested.  Sure, sure - that's not what randonneuring is about, but hey... a bit of friendly competition never hurt anyone, and I love a good hill-climb throwdown.  Not since riding with DMar or Staatz had I gotten such a good thrashing.  Love it!

Shortly before arriving back at the Pleasanton turnaround, confirmation of our position was confirmed by riders flaying back north with the promised tailwind.  Steve B, Steve G., and at least one other rider were making great time coming back north along the otherwise cyclist-free route.  Steve G. hollered about extra water waiting for us at the c-store back in town, and with a few waves and smiles, that was that.  They'd be finished, showered, and enjoying a cold one hours before we'd be finished for the day.  Indication of my increased desires to resume actual "training" for rides, for things like... well, RAAM.  Yeah, it's a distant, distant goal ... and, really, possibly one that will never come to pass - for many, many reasons.  I'm still very much on training wheels when it comes to ultra RACING.  Much as I tire of referring to "the good ole days", there was a time when I took the speed and competition of riding far more seriously, and not regarding sleep deprivation, I had managed fairly good showings at the handful of races I've tried.  Tejas still lingers as unfinished business... but, with each passing year I become more and more satisfied with myself, and not so concerned with what I HAVEN'T done.  Looking at the gap the earlier group had grown, their speed and conditioning -- and knowing that I am overweight, under-trained, and undisciplined with regards to diet... well, I'm a long, long way off from even considering RAAM - even team RAAM, or RAW, or even Tejas again.  Perhaps the fire is dying... perhaps with age I am genuinely "okay" with "just" randonneuring pursuits.. as if that was the same as arm-chair quaterbacking.  It looks and sounds a lot like justification as I write it out, here in print... but, I feel no pang of anxiety, no self-doubt, no angst towards that which I have tried and failed.  Perhaps, then, that is the best indication that I *am* ready to start a long, steady ramp-up to competitive form.  If I already have the gift of going long... perhaps just another 10-15% effort towards speed and diet would get me there.  Perhaps, now in my 4th decade, I am finally comfortable enough in my own skin to no longer NEED to do an ultra race to prove something... perhaps it's time to finally do it for fun.  That, generally, guarantees the best showing.  I'm here to say, however, no matter what the next decade holds... I'm okay with whatever.  It's taken a long, long time for me to arrive at a place where that truth exists... where I don't "need to"... I can simply "want to".  Still, I am also very much aware, and motivated, to not simply "give in" to age and retire to an easy chair with my memories.  I still want another 600k.  I still want a 1,000k.  I still want a 1,200k... possibly in Paris.  To think that I wouldn't also want to, someday, return to Tejas and come home with a trophy is foolish.  It is inevitable, really; this bicycling thing - after all - is what I do.  But, regret, anxiety, anxiousness... those feelings are gone.  When I go back, it will not be about reconciling the past... it will be about realizing a refreshed goal, for new - more realistic - reasons.  Compared to those "good ole days", this time around, if it does happen, it will be for fun.  

Finally, the tailwind would help push us along the road home - back at La Cygne and with the hills behind us, we fueled up once more and began the steady march back along Jingo Road, back along the highway section - at speed.  The only problem with a tailwind, as Glen posited as we turned north, is the heat.  Suddenly the heat of the day became much more apparent in the vacuum of the tailwind, but spirits remained high and conversation brisk.  

I've said it before, and I'll say it again --- riding in a group is a lot more satisfying than riding solo.  I am proud of my ability to maintain my own pace and keep myself motivated and cared for when completely isolated - but for sheer good-times, nothing beats the group element of randonnuering.  As the miles ticked by, the smiles remained intact.  Finally reaching Louisburg, then Stilwell, and even on the seemingly endless slog along 175th street, desperately looking for that last turn north to the finish, it remained a fun ride.  Along Murlen, we played tag with a rider out for a spin on his A. Homer Hilsen Rivendell bike (such a gorgeous machine), and finally made the parking lot for the 7-Eleven store... and, finally, R-12 number two for me!  Such a good feeling!  

Thanks for sharing the ride, everyone that came along... and for the RAAM advice... there was more than one occasion where I pulled quotes, information and thoughts from our conversations during this ride.  I look forward to riding with you all again, and sharing the post-RAAM stories that I now hold.  June 2012... what a great month this has been!

Stay tuned... the 'dude isn't done riding yet.  That's for sure... R-12 #3, anyone?  Why not?  :)

Thanks for reading!!!

June 22, 2012

RAAM wrap-up

Race Across America has proved to be the experience of a lifetime -- never before have I had so much to organize, think about, coordinate, execute upon; on such little sleep or food.  I made lifelong friends in a short period of time, tested myself and watched others do the same - and, above all, watched the exploits of a truly talented cyclist unfold before me.  Unfortunately, accidents do happen.  It's a part of RAAM, and a part of cycling.  While climbing Wolf Creek Pass in the Colorado Rockies, between Pagosa Springs and South Fork, my rider suffered a fall.  While negotiating the steepest part of the climb, in traffic, and with nasty shoulder conditions, his front wheel got into something - and, as part of the maneuver to right himself he fell sideways and landed directly onto his left hip, breaking it.  This ended Alex Shnyra's RAAM bid, and was heartbreaking for the team.  It could have been much, much worse... a motorist and two motorcyclists witnessed the incident and helped block traffic, while the team and an official worked to get him off the mountain and to hospital, where x-rays confirmed the result.

There is simply too much to relate here... my brain is still decompressing after almost 1,000 miles of pavement covered, the blur of towns and hotels and gas stations, and every conceivable gravel pull-out between the Pacific Ocean and Wolf Creek Pass.  The only things I can say -- the team was brilliant.  For a group of non-cyclists and an Ironman triathlete, led by someone (me) that had never really led a team before, I think we did a fantastic job, and I am immensely proud of having gotten him to the mountain.  Nine solo riders dropped out before Alex's fall, for non-accident reasons.  We rallied to make the time cut-off at Durango - one of the most intense and stressful (yet, rewarding) moments of the ride.  We climbed nearly all the race's climbing - Wolf Creek Pass represented the last mountain before reaching Alex's preferred flatlands of eastern Colorado and Kansas, and we had made up 6 placings on the way to the top.  The plan was working... but, as I said... accidents happen.  I'm glad Alex survived largely unscathed -- yeah, it's a broken hip, but surgery went great, he has a rod in place, and is already up and walking around back in Kansas City... and we're forming plans and lessons-learned for next time.  It may be next year... it may be 2014, or 15... but it is certain:

This is unfinished business.

Out of over 1,000 photos, I tried to find one that typified the event --- but it was not easy.

This one, I like -- but doesn't scratch the surface.
Arizona, the desert... and while many focus on the Rockies as the "real climbing", trust me.... Arizona has more, and it is worse.  
The only reward for the climbs is delivered as long, endless, torturous sections of pan-flat desert road, triple digit temperature, and wind.  
This was the beginning of another such section.  This would mentally level some people... but Alex never complained.  
He is a giant... and he will be back.

June 9, 2012

R-12 #2, complete!

That about sums it up.
Today, Karen W., myself, Glen R. and Gary D. headed out onto the
Border Patrol route for my last of 12 rides in succession towards RUSA
R-12 award #2. The day unfolded brilliantly, and after roughly 10
hours, the finish. Of course there is more to tell, but the hour
grows late - and a larger task than blog posting lay ahead. Thanks to
everyone that came out!

Stay tuned... The adventure is only beginning!