August 25, 2012

Where have all the cowboys gone?

Even the wife - who could really care less about professional sports in general (much less professional cycling) - texted me this morning as the news crackled across her morning drive-time talk radio.  She knew I'd be interested, and she was right.  

For over a decade, I have been a conversation magnet for cycling... maybe not so-much in recent years; to a fine point, not since Armstrong retired.  This time around, people were not flocking to my cube to talk about the breaking news.  What has changed?  

It remains safe to say Armstrong had done more for cycling in the United States than anyone before him, perhaps even Greg LeMond.  Without going too far down the pathways of my personal experience and history, I was still too busy being apathetic and out of shape when LeMond was winning his Tours de France, and while the United States was enjoying it's "golden era" of bicycling in the 70's and 80's, I was merely taking for granted the pristine Schwinn Varsity Jr., American-Made, which I spent many hours cruising the neighborhood and bike trail upon.  The time I speak of, for me, happened later; after the Chicago Schwinn plant closed and after cycling took a dip as a mainstay in American culture.  Fast forward couple years after I started riding again as an adult, after the weight came off and after the news broke in 1999 about a new winner, an American.  In the years that followed, the bicycling industry spun-up into a technological frenzy - an arms race of sorts - which witnessed a spike in recreational cycling in the U.S. from 2000 to 2005, to one point where a large publication called cycling "the new golf."  Hearing that the man who - in my eyes - had been responsible for such a spike in American cycling (at least racing) culture had thrown in the towel with regards to USADA accusations of doping left me confused, annoyed, and - yeah - sad.

Maybe I shouldn't care so much - but I do.  I still want the dream to be real... if it indeed was a dream.

Upon reaching the office, I was greeted with an instant message from a co-worker asking for my thoughts on the matter - and, I found myself more prepared to answer than I'd realized.  I'm not convinced as quickly as many.  There are two sides to this coin:  either he has admitted to this alleged activity, or he has stepped down from the fight with dignity.  Only the individual can decide - until the USADA comes up with their evidence and pursues the stripping of his seven Tour titles with the UCI - which must agree with the decision.  It will take time for me to understand why, on reputation and record, anyone would back down from this fight - no matter how baseless.  I think the most frustrating leftover, far more than possibly having to try and remember who really won in Paris from 1999-2005, remains the fact Armstrong gave up.  No matter the odds, it is sewn into the fabric of modern civilization for a person to fight for their good name, if questioned or dishonored.  Baseless accusations or not, the effort should still be worthy -- and, knowing this, I know there can likely be only one reason for his capitulation.  Only Lance knows for sure.  Honor and dignity, however, are as much about realizing when to bow out gracefully as they are about triumph and persistence.

I do not want to, however, go on-record and hold Armstrong up as honorable for his decision - but, I still struggle with trashing him completely.  The tide has ebbed and flowed - it was cool to follow Lance, then it was cool to hate him.  People bought US Postal jerseys faster than they could be manufactured, and again with Discovery Channel, and - every July - non-cyclists at work constantly asked me "how'd Lance do today?"  I loved cheering for him, too - but, as is the case for many of us - it became harder to cheer after his retirement.  The media almost scolded us for doing so.  Multiple marital issues, a questionable foundation, an abrasive personality and attitude both on and off the bike; all the negative news came to the forefront.  And now, this.

I never considered myself an Armstrong fan as much as a cycling fan.  I've - ironically - always liked George Hincapie better, maybe Laurent Jalabert.  But, in my world, where I never knew how to throw a football, shoot a basket, hit a home run, or jump a hurdle -- I knew how to ride a bike, and in a time when I couldn't cheer for myself, I had an American winning the Tour to cheer for.  Armstrong filled that need, and for that, I am grateful.  Nothing will change the elation, the screaming in joy at the television as he'd cross the line after another time-trial victory.  The battles between Ullrich and Armstrong play out in my head as some of the finest moments in sport.  That was real.  I'm thankful that his impetus helped elevate cycling coverage in the States from sketchy internet radio and text updates to the live HD television coverage we enjoy today.  I don't want to be a blind supporter, or a hopeless fan-boy - but I don't want to discount Armstrong's accomplishments, either.  Let's assume for a second that EVERYONE was doping (and, yeah - most will say they all were), and it really was a level playing field during the Tours he'd won.  He still had to pedal.  He still had to use his brain, and team strategy, to win.  And win he did.  Over and over.  It was never a game of milliseconds, either.  If you think it's just "riding a bike", and doping somehow renders ANYone super-human and able to win a three-week bike race, fine:  try it.  The foundation MUST be there - and while this ordeal has already left a dark asterisk next to seven Tours' history - I don't really care if he doped or not.  It is not the drugs that won the race.  I still, no matter how uncool it may be, want to believe a few simple facts on the matter:  he was an athletic anomaly in his teens when he was winning triathlons.  He developed into a terrific cyclist - enough to win the World Championships, the youngest professional to do so at the time.  He was strong enough to beat his particular brand of cancer - and his specific medical case would have outright finished nearly anyone else with the same diagnosis.  He fought back, experienced a new level of suffering through chemo and radiation and surgery, and took that experience into his post-cancer cycling career, where he began to best his rivals on the premise of hard work and knowing how to suffer more than the next guy.  Is it really so unimaginable he'd have been able to win so handily?

I think, in a way, that's Armstrong's point: whether there is an admission waiting, or evidence that will eventually either exonerate him of, or confirm, the accusations - he still had to pedal, as everyone around him did.  IF they were all doping, heck, even if only the top 5% of the GC contenders were, then he still won against them.  Take all the performance-enhancing drugs AWAY, then, you would have the same result.  Cycling - clean OR dirty - still has an eventual winner.  The USADA can fight their fights, and I appreciate the premise of what they are attempting for the sport -- but, with the logic above (albeit, admittedly, blotchy on my part) in place, what's the point?  What's their motivation?

Still, I struggle - I want to stand up and cheer at the genuinely remarkable stories of athletic performance, and aspire to make myself a better person.  But there's always a sense of pause, especially with cycling, and especially now.  It's in the back of my head, every time I watch someone win.  I'm waiting for the same allegations to surface about Bradley Wiggins, this year's winner.  It's inevitable.  Somewhere in Italy, I'll bet they're writing the case, right now.  It sucks - but it's how this particular machine works.  It's just unfortunate that --- keeping in mind in either Wiggins case, or in Armstrong's -- neither athlete has ever failed a drug test.  The same can be said for Marco Pantani -- perhaps the most tragic example of the damage these anti-doping witch hunts can leave in their wake.  The "machine" has created this automatic reaction to outstanding feats of physical prowess.... instant doubt.  I, for one, am tired of it all.  OF COURSE I'd prefer a completely clean sporting culture - I even sorta get why someone would stoop to PEDs in the first place at the professional level, despite my disagreement with their use - and that's NOT a condonement.  As my old bumper sticker says:  Dopers Suck.  But, no sport is immune, from auto-racing to college wrestling. 

Drugs or not - people love and hate a winner.  This is the age we've created, however it leaves us in history's eyes:  we judge the military, our religious and political leaders, our friends, and our athletic heroes.  We judge their every move, demand to know their every motivation, and demand to expose every flaw - lest we observers be so perfect.  And we will ultimately pay for this.  I see this cynicism in myself, and I see it in my children - and I am ashamed.  I'm mad at myself that I held someone up on a pedestal, but I'm madder at the ones that forced me to question why I was cheering in the first place.  I - we all - need to cheer, to hold fast to our convictions and passions - on the hope that our kids might see us NOT giving up on someone who has come under pressure and doubt.  Instead of sheepishly tearing posters of "fallen heroes" down from the garage wall, I'd rather explain why I still have them up there, should anyone care to ask.  I would like to think that no amount of temporary fame or fortune would be worth the risk - that competition, personal sacrifice, and sport itself, are enough.  It's not that I need a hero so much as I need to believe in genuine, unquestioned human triumph over odds - and I need a world where that's okay to stand behind, without having to explain it.  Passionate idealism... that's me.  

So, why AREN'T people coming into my cube to ask about Lance this time around?  What changed?  It's hard to tell -- perhaps they have already made up their own minds.  Perhaps the media has decided for them.  And, honestly, perhaps none of this --- to me, or my family --- really changes anything, or matters at all.  The sun will still rise tomorrow.  I will still ride my bike.  I still think we need heroes - and if yesterday's are dethroned, I look with hope at the ones that might rise to replace them.  (Are you listening, Tejay van Garderen?)  I hope that those who do wrong are punished.  I hope that those who actually - all this time - have done right, survive - and that their stories would be told, to clear their good name. 

Meanwhile - since 2005, since my own adult maturation has lent me to holding my own head up for the things I have accomplished, I still like watching the Tour.  I still love bikes, talking shop, and getting excited in July.  But, in much the same way I abandoned big arena shows in lieu of seeing live music in small clubs, I tailor my search for heroism in smaller circles.  I cheer for the guys out at Longview Lake that continue to reach for the new high average speed.  I cheer for Mark Cavendish.  I cheer for Tinker Juarez, and Ned Overend, and Steve Tilford.  I cheer for Cameron Chambers.  I cheer for Kenneth Walker.  I cheer for the wife of a great friend, whom is taking on cycling with such fervor she may overtake us all.  I cheer for that kid in the Specialized commercial - because that ad represents EXACTLY where my passion starts... and I see my son in that ad.  I still remember and cheer for George Brett, Frank White and Dan Quisenberry, et al.... because you can't front on the '85 Royals, ever.  I hold up Lon Haldeman and John Marino.  I hold up my Dad.  I hold up Oscar Pistorius.  I hold up my randoneuring friends.  I hold up those that adopt and foster children.  I hold up those that work with children with special-needs.  I hold up my friends and my family.

Heroes don't have to be complicated, and neither does explaining them.  But, it's still - definitely - okay to have them.  It's still okay to believe in the dream.  Despite this situation's impact and weight, it won't kill professional cycling.  It won't kill the passion for sport... I can only hope it teaches a broader lesson, and cements behavior which dictates that - when given the choice - our future heroes would choose defeat and honor, rather than desiring to win at any cost and someday apologizing.  Only in this way, can this talk of doping and anti-doping become a thing of the past. 

Until then - let's keep doing what we do.

Thanks for reading.

August 24, 2012

Dark Side Ride coming ... that's no moon... it's a BLUE moon!

Borrowed from the pages of Noah over at KC Bike Commuting, check it out.... because, it's ON:
Although "Blue Moon" has several definitions, the one that seems most popular is the coming of a second full moon within the same calendar month. Since we had a full moon on August 2nd, we're going to get in by the skin of our teeth on August 31st. The last time we had this kind of Blue Moon was in December of 2009.
With that, we're celebrating with yet another edition of the Dark Side Ride.

Where: Meet at the Wendy's parking lot just north of K-10 and Woodland Rd in Lenexa.
When: Friday, August 31, 2012. We roll out at 9:00 PM sharp. Be there early enough to roll at 9.
Route: It'll be a surprise! Expect 20-30 miles.
A few things to note:
  1. Usually, our DSR includes a stop by a convenience store for the emptying of bladders as well as the purchasing and consumption of beverages and snacks. I have a feeling this route will not include such accommodations.
  2. We ask everyone to use helmets, reflective/hi-vis gear and to bring along lighting that's good for up to 3.5 hours of darkness.
  3. I have a feeling that Blue Moon might be available after the ride. It would only be appropriate.

I reiterate the need to make sure you carry enough water/food to last the duration of the ride's distance, as Noah has on bullet 1, above.
This is a new, fresh route - surprise!  

Very much hope to see you there!

August 21, 2012

No Reservations - the August 200k

At long last, I have broken tradition.  

After months of repeats on the "same ole routes" (for me), I hooked onto Glen R.'s idea of heading north, towards Nebraska on I-29 and trying out the "Kickapoo Two" route - so named for its crossing of the Kickapoo (Kikaapoa) Indian Reservation.  The Kansas Kickapoo people maintain their own traditions, history, culture, and language, all set within a small reservation which covers a five-by-six mile area approximately five miles west of Horton, Kansas (1), and this terrific route heads straight across its middle.  Originally laid down as a route by Spencer K., this gem of a ride covers 130 miles of beautiful and open Northeast Kansas starting near St. Joseph, MO., at Elwood, KS., and heading west to connect Wathena, Troy, Bendena, DentonEverestHorton, and Wetmore, KS. along the way, via a terrific, and eerily quiet, network of state highways.  The only "noisy" section sits in the first ten miles of the route, as riders trace US-36 from Troy to Wathena - but, compared to traffic on the routes I've been frequenting lately, it really can't be called "busy".  It has me considering, seriously, if I'll be frequenting my old haunts quite as often in the future.

I like it out here in the country, and in contrast to what's sadly repeating in southern Johnson County, up here in Doniphan, Brown and Nemaha counties you can still see a large chunk of the last 100-years' history scattered around the roadsides.  Old barnsabandoned homesteads, and legacy farmland still being worked.  The only thing missing, perhaps, are the criss-crossing of rail-lines.  Once the only thing connecting these towns, lines such as the long-gone Chicago, Kansas & Nebraska, and the St. Joseph & Denver railroad are only shadowy echoes on Google Maps satellite-view - the scars of 120 years of railroad right-of-way maintenance are hard to hide from space, even if the rails have been missing since the early 1980's.  Union Pacific acquired dozens of these smaller lines, and when the bottom fell out in the late 1970's many were simply abandoned and ultimately had their rails pulled up.  This leaves hundreds of miles of potential rail-trail hiding back in the trees between these towns - something which would spark new development, bed-n-breakfasts, businesses, and tourism.  At the same time, I -- and I think the residents -- like the quiet and peace of an area of the state that seems to move at a slower pace.  It's hard to tell on conjecture whether they'd welcome the change, but, it saddens me sometimes rolling through town after town - once proud & bustling with prosperity - now boarded up, run-down, and forgotten...slowly being reclaimed by the Kansas dust.  We passed two old Standard Oil filling stations, just standing, rusting on the roadside - the logos looking as if they were 1960's vintage.  Perhaps it is progress, and perhaps I'm oversimplifying - perhaps I'd flip the coin and then curse having to traverse a busier town on my piddly bike rides... but, perhaps there can be balance, too.  It's neat to see these reminders of a bygone era -- but, still, one must wonder "what if."  Union Pacific does continue to maintain at least one rail corridor through the area, however, and it was nice to hear the horns of a very long train headed north towards Hiawatha through Everest, KS., shortly before we'd arrived at the crossing along Kansas Highway 20.  The railroad, where it crosses, seems to boost the towns - or sustain them longer - because Everest looked larger, more active than its surrounding neighbors: it is those other towns which the Federal Highway *and* the railroad have bypassed, which look the saddest.

The only issue with with starting a ride a fair distance from home is the drive time required to get there.  While I didn't rise remarkably early, I still had to leave the house by 4:15AM at the latest to make a 6:00AM start up north.  It crossed my mind that it might be more adventurous of me to have tried to ride the bike to the start - but then I thought myself nuts and went to bed instead.  Upon arriving at the start after a star-lit drive, I was greeted by Dave and Glen, lit-up and ready to roll.  Shortly afterwards, Karen W. arrived; she, it turns out, HAD ridden to the ride the night before...from Olathe, where I also live.  Okay...perhaps it IS possible, but dang!  With the trip home, she'd be looking at a near-500km weekend, however, she is training for a 1200km ride so it's all part of her plan.

Slowly, more cycling headlights appeared over the crest of the west-bound Pony Express bridge leading into Kansas, signalling the arrival of the remaining riders, and we grouped up at the gas station for paperwork.  Spencer, Billy, Terry, Dave, Glen, Karen, and me.... not a bad turnout at all for a permanent ride!  The first section of the journey takes old US-36 highway before heading west on back-roads to Wathena.  Along the way, we enjoyed 2 or 3 miles of small gravel, then popped out onto the main alignment of US-36 for the jaunt over to Troy.  

At this point, I should mention the weather.  Definitely NOT typical August weather for the area, temperatures under a clear sky in the wake of a cold front dropped readings into the mid-50's for Olathe - which was unseasonal enough - but near the river at the start line, they sat 10 degrees lower still.  Along the jaunt to Troy, Spencer's bike computer (w/ thermo readout) finally bottomed out at 42ºF.  After a couple months of daily excursions into the triple digits, this was downright frigid by contrast, and cycling gear normally unseen for a few more months came out of hiding.  I sported the (IMHO) right fabric for the job - the new KC Randonneur's short-sleeved wool jersey, DeFeet wool arm warmers, some thin polypro liner gloves under my normal half-finger cycling gloves, DeFeet's knee warmers, Swiftwick wool socks, a thin Craft beanie topped by a thin cycling cap, and a RUSA (made by L2S of France) reflective wind vest.  The combination was aces - trumping my usual track record of being horribly overdressed and sweaty for the first colder ride of the year.  My only pause came with the wool jersey itself, as temperatures had been expected to rise to at least 80F later in the afternoon -- but, even that was offset by the chance of a thunderstorm, putting wool back in the 'essential' column.  Time would tell - I just hadn't wanted to get too warm.

It was a treat to see such a dramatically different part of Kansas from that which I've grown accustomed.  The giant microwave towers and impossibly tall radio and cellular structures told a story of the expanse of the land in the northern counties, and the long, uninterrupted stretches of highway punctuated the size of the farms they bordered.  From a cycling perspective, despite the history and the scenery and the back-story - the real magic of this ride could be felt through those very roads.  One example, 180th street, near Troy, KS., traces the alignment of one of those old railroads, as it exits town on what is briefly signed K-136.  It is along this road where I found mileage markers - big ones, in the neighborhood of "mile 280" , etc.  I believe, though I can't find confirmation yet, that we'd ridden on an old alignment of K-7, which enters Troy and then curves back on west what is now signed "195th Access Rd.", leading back to the alignment which K-7 follows today.  Old-road geek?  Yeah... sorry.  I find it interesting, and good riding, to find oneself on abandoned pavement once rated for truck traffic and high-speed automobile use.  I wouldn't mind coming back up this way and retracing the whole bypass, just for fun.  Especially notable here is the Mt. Olive Cemetery, which alone would be worth the return trip.

Leaving K-7 behind, we moved onto my "new favorite road", Kansas 20.  For nearly 24 miles, we'd only encounter two trucks... and I'm not sure it wasn't the same truck headed out, and then - later - back home... and two, giant John Deere farm tractors.  Assuming I didn't space out one or two, it's safe to say the traffic was extremely light - something on the order of maybe 1 car per 2 hours until we reached US-73 near Horton.  Along the way the group meandered around, conversations hooked on here and there, and then we'd rotate - against no particular schedule.  After everyone seemed sufficiently warmed-up, individual pacing took over and we began to spread out, as is natural.  Glen and Dave and I found ourselves off the front, working the hills of K-20 and taking in the crystalline skies, high-altitude wisps of cirrus clouds, soaring birds and calm, cool breezes served up on perfect pavement.  The sun at our backs, eventually some layers had to come off.  It was shaping up to be a marvelous day - just gorgeous riding weather.  I felt good, engaged, strong - though I'd become dogged by a clicking under my right kneecap - something that started off the bike, oddly - for the entire day.  Happening on each upstroke, there wasn't any pain or discomfort - just a loud "click", which I could feel if I'd take occasion to rest my hand over my knee while pedaling.  Strange -- and loud enough to hear clearly.  Even as I write this, there remains no evidence anything is out of place - so, I'll ignore it for now.  Still, it struck me that perhaps I should work on keeping the RPM's up - so, I figured with 32 miles in it was time to shift gears.  So much for that fleeting idea of riding this one "semi-single-speed".  

Detours on Nutrition:

Finally at Horton, I refilled with water and mixed up two fresh bottles of fuel.  Lately, for me, it's been 100% maltodextrin, purchased in bulk, and a GU Brew fizzy-tablet added for electrolytes and flavor, in beneficial bicarbonate form.  Apparently, my trusted "Carboplex" (by Unipro Nutrition) is no longer being made - which stinks - but I found a replacement by "Now Sports" called "Carbo Gain," off a tip from Alex S., from RAAM.  Same stuff as Carboplex -- but, there are pros and cons:  Carboplex was "instantized", which rendered the powder in such a way that it is flaked, and won't bond to its neighbors in the packaging.  The results are remarkable, as Carboplex almost dissolved instantly, as soon as it made contact with the water I'd mix it into - as fast as I'd pour it in, it would simply slip down into the water and disappear.  Carbo Gain, on the other hand, is cheaper - and as far as I can tell, it's because the instantizing step is skipped in their process.  It's still 100% maltodextrin, with nothing added - just like Carboplex - but the powder is made up of smaller particles, which is great - because a serving now takes up less space than before.  This is great for storage on my rides - but, when it comes to mixing, the powder likes to clump together: when added to a bottle of water, it tends to just sit on top of the water until agitated vigorously.  Not a deal breaker - more of an observation, and reminder to leave room for the powder when filling.  More precisely, fill the bottle halfway, add powder, shake, then top off with water.  Finally, the CO2 release from the fizzy-tabs helps the powder separate, and by the time I get around to drinking the final result, it's all dissolved.  Added bonus:  my dollars-per-serving compared to Carboplex have fallen with the discovery of this new powder: win!  Amazon has the Carbo Gain stuff in 8 lb. tubs for around $22.00, compared to Carboplex's $17 (average) for 2.6 lbs.  Not bad, and the savings alone puts the minor mixing weirdness in good perspective.  

Since this new powder takes up lass physical space per serving, it adds another win: since I could carry more volume - I actually did.  As opposed to running a big caloric deficit by the end of my recent rides, I finished this ride in very good shape.  The solution previously was always easy - just get a bigger saddle bag -- but I never did.  I'd try to make up for the losses by eating more at the controls... something else I never managed to get around to.  It's taken me a while to get past the wives' tale of keeping my hydration and nutrition separate - but, I finally feel like I've wised-up.  This system delivers about 300 calories per 25 oz. bottle, plus electrolytes, delivered with two good swigs every 15 minutes, I never felt hungry, never felt thirsty, and never felt any inkling of a cramp or bonk.  This is compared to about 210 calories in ONE 25oz. bottle, with only water and electrolytes in the other bottle, and random food at the controls including chocolate milk.  In the past, this ultimately put me WAY behind on calories between controls, but seemingly over-hydrated - as I'd have to make frequent nature breaks.  On this latest ride, despite the fluid intake being the same as usual, the nature breaks were almost nill - and the few I did take seemed to indicate good hydration levels.  Granted, had it been hotter, this might not have worked exactly the same - I might have needed a third, hydration-only, bottle - but, for today, I'm extremely pleased with the results and have a good template to repeat on future rides.  Over the past run I've tried munching between controls, tried Hammer Solids, tried all these things with varied success... but, I need to keep it simple for myself.  If I can drink it, I'll get the calories.  All in all, nutrition is up, energy is up, and my control routine comes away simplified.  The only off-bike food I consumed:  a 16oz chocolate milk at Horton on the way out, and a 16oz. Coke at Troy on the way back in.  If I get the urge for something solid, I can always do so -- but, even while I watched others eat real food at the controls, I just never felt the urge.  The math indicates I might have still been a bit off - so something resembling a light lunch at one of the controls might be in order.

On that note, and as the final observation for nutrition, I may add a Clif-Bar here and there to get some light protein intake as well as something solid to chew on.   A role previously filled by the chocolate milk, I've finally relegated it - officially - to a recovery-only treat.  After leaving the Horton control, and after the habitual 16oz chocolate milk had been downed, I immediately felt lethargic and leaden - a theme which has repeated over the last couple of rides, always in the first 20 minutes after each control where I'd consumed the dairy treat.  I watched the leaders, whom I'd previously been able to hang with, advance up the road - and it took that usual 20 minutes for me to burp a few dozen times and regain my push.  Not worth it anymore, I decided - so that represented the last chocolate milk for this ride (and probably any future ride), until I'd reach the finish at Elwood.  Summary... one bottle to rule them all?  Seems that way...and I'll test it again in September, for sure.  It's like the "old days" with bottles of Hammer's Sustained Energy.... but far, far cheaper per-mile, and easier to carry.

Back on the road, we proceeded through the Kickapoo Reservation on K-20, and enjoyed more of the same good pavement and rolling scenery.  Traffic picked up a little bit, with a high concentration of motorcycles out for a Saturday AM cruise - even got a wave out of a few of 'em, which was nice.  As we crossed the Delaware River toward the western edge of the reservation and neared the US-75 corridor, the fairy-tale zero-traffic conditions would evaporate for a while - though, things still seemed less busy than the myriad other highways I've ridden recently on my local routes.  The time on US-75 ended quickly, and we advanced towards the halfway control at Wetmore, along Kansas route 9, entering Nemaha County along the way.  We took a good rest there, and with Spencer close by the control officiating came easy - a postcard dropped, and Glen and Dave - who had stayed several minutes ahead  after Horton - had theirs signed at the local library: the only establishment open for business in town.  Proof that all you need for a good control is a park bench and a place to fill up your bottles, we set up shop at the city park, and sat for a bit - giving Terry and Billy an opportunity to catch up, as they were only a few minutes behind us.  Initially nervous about the prospect of a halfway control with absolutely no services, I rested easier -- partly because I was with a great group and partly because of my nutrition strategy, which only required me to find drinking water.  It's all a matter of being prepared, really - and with the excellent roads, the scenery, the mystique of the Reservation land, well - I have no reservations about returning to ride this route again, even if I am used to being pampered with a Casey's every 20 miles.

The turn-around, the approaching cloud cover, and the realization that our excellent pace had been helped with a slight tailwind altered the flavor of the return leg slightly - but everyone was all-smiles as we headed out of Wetmore, back onto K-9 eastbound.  The pace remained spirited, and not even a slight threat of rain catching up to us would dishearten the riders on such a terrific riding day.  The temperature had reached the forecast high of 79ºF, and the wool jersey - now my sole upper body layer - worked as perfectly as it had in the cooler temperatures of hours prior.  Landmarks came quicker, and I looked forward to the solitude and hills of K-20 again, on the leg back to Troy, KS.  Amid conversations about my recent RAAM experience, route design, and riding in general, I enjoyed nature's country - fields of cows, often skittish (or playful?), a majestic horse which came right up to the roadside fence to watch us pass by, and playful - non-aggressive for once - dogs giving chase from the other side of the road - including a gorgeous, smiling Irish Setter which came out for a good run with us; then watched a blue heron (or a crane, it was a quick glance) take flight from the low waters of the Delaware River as we crossed over its bridge; marveled at soaring buzzards with massive wingspans; songbirds finally singing happy in the wake of our recent crushing heatwave - evidence of which stood slumped like tired old men along the roadside, their brown husks rattling with thirst in the breeze; withered and parched corn and soybeans, stretching for miles.

On this return section I'd feel the tolls of the day - my lower cadence grinding earlier in the morning, though fun, had left me a little thin in the closing hours of the ride.  I never felt as if I were low on fuel or energy ... just tired, fatigued.  Adding to this, likely, as Dave and Glen settled into their established pace, I latched on and took a few pulls - and consequently overcooked things a bit for myself.  I managed to hang in, and eventually - as Dave dropped back to ride with Karen - it became Glen and me, trading hill work after the control at Horton.  I wavered between keeping up with Glen, and falling backward to join the rest of the group - a constant self-argument which got me digging into my own reserves on a few of the longer hills.  Try spinning it out.... no, that's not feeling good... ok, try standing and hammering... no.... steady pressure grinding?  Hmmm... Try as I did, Glen is just a good, strong, consistent climber --- exactly the right person to try and chase down on a good hill.  I'd slip backwards, sometimes Glen would slow up - sometimes I'd reach for another kick until fatigue won out.  This continued for a few hours, until I finally gulped my last drink within a few miles of Troy - which was about the point where I noticed Glen would get just a little farther ahead of me at each turn.  Good training... but it was time to stop for a refill and a rest.  Whoof.  This is one of many great things about the group ride:  there is always someone a touch faster... chase 'em.  Had I been solo on this journey -- I know myself -- I would've geared down and limped it in.  As long as I still have that inner fire that desires to close down a gap and chase, I know I'll reach my goals.  Sometimes, you just need that rabbit.

More small-town park benches and gas-station cafes.... I grabbed a Coke, some water, and let the batteries recharge a bit as the remainder of the group trickled in, only a few minutes behind Glen and me.  Fueled and ready, the last 15 miles or so called.  We were ahead of the rain, the wind was favorable, the temperature perfect - saddle up.  Back on US-36, traffic - and riding single file - took the foreground.  We stayed together and made quick work of the miles to Wathena, then peeled off onto smaller roads for the final push to Elwood and the finish, enjoying some time on the "old" US-36 heading into town.  

Ultimately back at the start line, NOW I could enjoy a chocolate milk, and a soothing (?) drive home on I-29... okay, that's the only part I'd change.  Now, rail service to St. Joseph?  Mmmm... wouldn't that have been choice?  Hindsight is 20/20, indeed - but, it might have been romantic to have ended this particular ride by hauling my bicycle up into a Kansas City, Clay County & St. Joseph (KCCC&STJIRR) rail-car for the journey home.  (sigh)  I wax on about an age I never experienced in the first place, though it still would have been a terrific alternative to driving.  It's a game of money, land rights, and corporate ridiculousness that I won't waste too many more keystrokes on, for this webpage, and history shows once those rails are pulled up, they'll not likely be back - as is the case here.  Interstate highways, however, in not too many more decades, simply won't be enough.  My impossible wish surrounds our forebears having exercised a touch more foresight in their time, as we, now, slowly approach an age where automobile ownership becomes less and less practical - and yet, our political leaders and financiers become less and less motivated towards a solution.  Electric rail-cars?  How green!  How today!  ...and that was in the 1930's!  Alas, I waste my own breath... but, it's my nature to hope, wish, and "remember".

I think that's part of what keeps me on the bike.  Even though these rides in particular are recreational in nature, I'm taking part in something that is almost - save for minor technological improvements over the decades - unchanged, and timeless.  In my wool togs, upon my steel-tubed bike, pitting sinew and calories against grade and wind - it could be 1912, 2012, or 2112... and I love that.  Be it pastime or primary motive, may cycling forever thrive.

So, 130 miles... 9 hours, 55 minutes total time... 16.4 MPH avg rolling.... and a big smile.

Thanks for reading, as always - and cheers.

August 18, 2012

Another one rides the bus

I dunno why I chose that title --- I just love that old Al Yankovic tune!

200+ km, finished!  

Excellent ride today, two-in-a-row now, on a new-to-me route up in NE Kansas, around US-36 near St Joseph, MO.
Spencer K., Billy C., Terry B., Glen R., Dave M. and Karen W.

First off... a full pleasure to ride with such a group.  1,200km vets, a RAAM finisher, a KCBC racer, and members of the St. Joseph club - a very strong bunch.  The terrain around St. Jo on which they normally train makes for a very solid and well-rounded cyclist, and it shows.  I enjoyed pulls, took a few and felt the burn (a GOOD feeling, by the way), and managed to hang-in, generally - though I over-cooked it a few times here and there.  Good training!  

I'm pleased with the results I've seen from a recent off-bike strength-training regimen, as well -- this being the first 200k since that program began.
I'm not not sure - because I have not weighed myself - if I have lost any weight, but I have lost inches and have gained strength where I previously had very little.  Does this help the bike?  Mmmm...yes: probably more than I realize.  This is all part of the "train for something, even if I don't know what that something IS yet" plan ... more like a plan to create the best "me" I can be, nothing more.  I got tired of hearing myself talking about it, and finally got "a round to it".  Four weeks is a good start -- I still have a long way to go, but that's the point:  it takes time.  Once of these days, there will be a smooth transition from my cycling jersey to my cycling shorts, and I might actually look like a "cyclist" - whatever THAT means.  Photographic evidence from today seems to indicate I'm on the right path, though, so I'm happy.

More to come -- something resembling a blog post for today's ride!
Stay tuned!  

I'm kinda diggin' this group-ride thing, and choosing new routes - even if it means driving a little to get there.  A great day out today!