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.

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