April 27, 2013

Leather, Canvas, and Aluminum-Gallium-Arsenide

  Checking in from the news desk this morning, instead of from the open road... where, arguably, I *should* be right now, heading north into a non-existent headwind toward Iowa and some terrific scenery.  Alas, another month of "what-happened-to-my-life?" has passed, and school/work/school/school/work has kept me off the bike since the 300k wrapped up; which, still - no matter how many times I think it was only a week ago, it's indeed been nearly a month already.  Still, the smarter money sat with skipping the 400km ride to Iowa today -- as much as I love that route and reeled in delight at the finally favorable forecast, I don't have the miles in me, and there is another factor to consider - which I'll address in a moment.

Not really lamenting here... seems like it, but all things are good, honestly.  My attentions have been temporarily diverted toward other, worthy tasks... but, in the narrow focus of this web-page it feels like I haven't been doing much of anything.

A few of my "2nd quarter" resolutions, however, should take care of things.  More riding - even if it's short duration.  More commutes, because I miss doing it.  Finally pre-riding a 100km route, for finalization of RUSA certification of such.  Putting a few more positive changes into the diet, as I finally creep below the body-weight plateau I've been hammering since December (yea!).  More posts about commutes... since that's the namesake of this blog in the first place, and since I find myself with good things to say about the former "drudgery" of commuting (it's all about attitude... and after months of driving, I'm approaching the activity with new eyes, lately).  All worthy goals... but, nothing too lofty.  On the rando front, I am still targeting a 600km ride in July to satisfy that month's R-12 requirement... so, perhaps a couple longer permanents in May and June are appropriate.  Time to keep that 300k streak going, perhaps?  We'll see.

On the equipment front, I have marvelled recently at some interesting taillights.  I've spent the last couple years in a technological holding-pattern, fat and happy with my 2010-vintage generator-based LED lighting system and associated solid-mode taillight.  I've always stood by Busch + Muller's design philosophy with lighting equipment after having invested in a generator hub over a decade ago, as they have never rested on their laurels.  Many thought the transition from halogen to LED across the bicycle lighting market marked the end for generator lighting - but, it only took them a bit longer to work out some bugs.  A smart company, B+M never looked at LED battery lights as a threat as much as an opportunity, waiting patiently for the right emitters and circuits to accompany their superior optical platforms.  Steadily, B+M has held pace and (in my observations) has consistently out-performed other companies' battery LED bicycle lights, simply through the use of optical reflecting and focusing.  Combined with the obvious world-killing feature of never having to charge or replace batteries, generator systems remain relevant, smart, eco-friendly, and an ultimately economical choice for bicycle lighting.  However, where B+M lathers the competition in the embarrassing bright bluish-white glow of their headlights, they have not quite met with world standards in the taillight department when it comes to the United States market.

Certainly as B+M is a German company, their first directive would clearly serve their immediate non-export markets - and, in their defense, B+M makes the best European taillights you can buy:  battery OR generator-powered (in this reviewer's opinion).  They have specific color, brightness, and distance requirements to satisfy for European road-worthiness, and during the darkest night, the heaviest rain, or the thickest fog here in Kansas, I have never been left wanting for more when it comes to B+M taillight products.  Above all else, B+M also consistently provides a feature that many other companies have long-since relegated to the antique-box:  the retro-reflector.  On that point alone, B+M will likely remain my go-to product as a primary rear light.  Equipped with a good reflector, if all else fails, a car with headlights will still see a cyclist on the road - and that's a fail-safe any rider can appreciate.

What has seemingly taken the place of smartly-integrated retro-reflectors in this part of the world, however, are brighter and brighter LED emitters.  The Race Across America (RAAM), in which I was a crew participant last year, had added rules which dictated the use of at least a 1-watt rear light for all bicycles entered in competition, a product that - even 12-months ago - was barely available.  If I recall, only two products had been listed on the recommended-product list, and phone calls to nearly every local bike shop along the route didn't yield a result until we'd reached central Arizona.  Barely a year later, most manufacturers have at least one offering which hits the "1-watt" market yardstick, with a few leaping to "2-watts."

I put the wattage figures above in quotes, as bicycle LEDs create the same consumer-friendly rating challenges that CFL and LED household lightbulbs do:  A 60-watt incandescent bulb truly uses 60-watts of power to generate its light output:  for the sake of argument let's say it's 800 Lumens.  A compact florescent light (CFL) will produce the same 800 Lumens while only using 13 watts of power to do so, and a household LED bulb will produce that same 800 Lumens while only consuming 6 watts of energy.  All three will light up a bedroom nicely, with roughly the same quality of warm white light - but, the efficiency of each is best told through how the light itself is created.  An incandescent filament actually glows because of the current passing through it, which heats it up.  The emission of energy produces visible light, but also waves you can't see, like heat - which are lost.  CFLs are slightly better, but still produce a spectrum of invisible waves and heat.  LEDs, while still producing some heat, are far more efficient and generally only throw out visible light waves in a very narrow bandwidth - so narrow that one needs specific LED emitters for specific colors - thus, far less power is wasted; yet some heat is always a byproduct of an electrical circuit.  So, while consumer packaging requirements are changing, and the term "Lumens" is entering the vernacular of the every-man lightbulb purchaser (despite having been on light-bulb packaging for as long as I can remember ANYway, albeit in very small print), the popular marketing benchmark remains wattage-based.  The discussion on watts vs. Lumens vs. Lux vs. candlepower is lengthy, but - the short story:  a true 1-watt LED would put out a LOT of lumens... so, rating taillight LEDs in watts isn't really an accurate rating, and not really an indication of how much power a device is really using to generate that output.  You can figure out how much your taillight uses with some math, but I won't bore you with that here.  The bicycle world tends towards tech-savvy people, however, and many packages are indeed headed in a Lumens-based marketing direction.  Having apples-to-apples figures helps buyers make smarter choices, and gives a better indication of a product's actual performance - and you can see that trend in the marketplace.  Just about every bicycle headlight manufacturer shows a lumen-rating on their products these days, which is helpful.  Taillights will likely follow suit, slowly.

During the night-time leg of the 300km ride last month, I rode with Del from central Kansas - a long-time bicycle tourer, he's keen on good gear by consequence of the challenges he pits himself against.  In keeping with this, he'd mounted Cygolite's latest offering - the Hotshot taillight.  MY review can be summed up in two words:  Good Lord.   I simply couldn't ride behind his bike with the thing on.  After some re-aiming, however, thanks to a narrow beam-width, the situation improved ... but, it's nearly comical how bright this taillight is.  I can't give a full review, as I don't own it (yet.), but, it's made my list as a potential candidate for a foul-weather beacon and backup taillight for longer rides.  It has a built-in, USB-rechargeable Lithium-ION battery, and a variety of settings for strobe/flash/solid modes - as well as the ability to vary the light output on steady-mode and speed-up/slow-down the flash frequency in the strobe/flash modes.. which, I think is a product-first.  Self-contained, small, and not too expensive at $40 MSRP - which, though spendy by taillight standards of 3 years ago, is a bargain when pitted against something like a Dinotte taillight set-up. Now, this is not to do Dinotte poorly - their taillight product is truly in its own class, is far brighter, and runs for far longer - but, instead should demonstrate the value of a product which places super-high output LEDs into the hands of a wider audience.  I may have to give the Cygolite Hotshot a try... but, perhaps only if I'm riding alone.  Short of being separated from traffic by biblical fog and falling bricks, I don't think there is any atmospheric condition this light couldn't punch through.  Just don't stare at it unless you want 30-minutes of floating purple dots.  Therein lay the only negative mark I'd give it:  it's a terrific way to get rid of wheel-suckers in a paceline.  This may not make sense to many, but, it's so bright on-axis I can almost "hear" it.  Wow.  Just wow.

One method to keep your drafting partners happy, should you use this bright of a taillight, involves hiding it from close-proximity view underneath a seatbag - like the included seatpost mount would facilitate.  From 20 feet back, the taillight remains perfectly visible for approaching traffic; yet, from 10 feet or less, your riding buddies won't be blinded.  This may not be practical for all applications, however, as I find for myself with one of my recent purchases.  Looking backwards through time for my forgotten successful approaches to longer distance randonneuring, I have recently invited something from Nelson, England back into the stable - namely, a Carradice bag.  Correcting an old misgiving, I've procured the smallest saddlebag they produce - the popular Barley model - trying to steer clear of the old adage that having a large bag inspires one to try and fill it (read: with stuff one doesn't need to carry along).  I've grown accustomed to travelling light on brevet, so emptying my back pockets remained the only real improvement I could make to my otherwise successful rando setup.  Now, my relatively heavy phone, a few discarded layers, energy gels and a couple bags of powder will all go inside the waterproof cavern behind me, improving rider comfort and eliminating the fatigue multiplier of having a close collar, sagging jersey, and tender lower back after mile seventy.  The back pockets will remain free for quick eats, discarded layers that haven't made it to the bag yet (but will at the next control), the cue sheet and tiny iPod perhaps.  Returning to a bag also yields faster controls: a couple of buckles undone, toss, and go.  Reverse to add layers later - instead of racks, carefully rolled bundles, and toe straps.  That latter system has worked well - but, it has proved time consuming and limiting.  Now, I can carry along the extra layer I'd been wishing for these last few rides, without worrying about where to put it.  Weight penalty is negligible.  I'm honestly not worried about weight.  I have more to lose from my midsection - so, I'll soon negate whatever I've added to the bike, and the added flexibility will more than compensate.  After toying with camera bags and rack trunks, and repurposing this-n-that for various trial runs --- even partially finishing a Kent Petersen-inspired campaign-sign, duct-tape and zip tie rack box --- I decided on Carradice:  I know their stuff works from past use.  They make a handsome, bespoke product, which I appreciate.  Aesthetically, it keeps with my lugged-steel, knuckle-dragger mojo.  It has smart features which I don't have the skill or patience to replicate.  Finally, I got a good deal on it.  The only mistake I see is having sold off the one's I've had in the past -- but, again, those older ones were too large for what I needed to do, so, forgetting my tendency to make poor financial decisions, this has ultimately become a wise purchase.  The Barley model is perfect -- big enough, but doesn't invite the kitchen sink.  Good to have one of these in the stable again.  Review coming?  Probably not... I envision the bag doing what it had done in the past:  it disappears behind me, is three-fold faster at controls than the stuffed back pockets and clothing-roll routine I've used for the last 2 years, it's waterproof, durable, and will provide decades of reliable use.  That's Carradice - and, in my opinion, it's worth every bit o' quid the conversion rate yields its proprietors.

Leather saddles.... yikes.  I've tried twice with Brooks, and have been left unsatisfied afterwards.  That's no fault of Brooks - each of the two times I'd trialed the fine leather saddles (B-17 and Team Pro), it became a gut-wrenching ordeal letting go of something so gorgeous... but, they proved too expensive to hang on the wall.  Afterwards, I simply put my trusty Selle Italia Flite T/A back in place, and rode on.  Lately, however, over the past 18 months or so -- either I'm changing, or the saddle is.  While the pain has been mild so far, I have transitioned toward reappearing saddle sores and numbness - where previously there had been none.  Photographs also seem to indicate a clear change in saddle profile shape, very slow - but, still, it's there.  A few tweaks, spaced 6 months apart, did yield some improvement - but, the last four brevet-distance rides have left me wondering if 12 years on one saddle is too much.  I have again thrown my hat into the leather saddle ring.  First, I like the IDEA of a leather saddle... that knuckle-dragger's mojo again ...but, more than looks, I appreciate offerings from companies like Brooks because of their staying power.  If you rode a bicycle in 1918, and it had a B-17 on it, you can dust yourself off and start riding again in 2018 with the same saddle (in theory, of course... though if one should live so long, it would indeed be possible, but only assuming the 1918 Brooks had fallen into disrepair.)  My biggest complaint about Selle Italia (my current saddle's manufacturer) is the constant churn of product and design, and, while they could be applauded in some circles for marching ever-forward and advancing the art, being unable to hit their webpage and simply purchase a new-in-box Flite Trans-Am hurts more than the saddle sores my old one has created.  The designs they, and many other companies, offer today depart too far from that which I am familiar - so, I need to start auditioning saddles that I know I can obtain ten years from now -- either via replacement parts, or as complete saddles... (or, purchase two of them when I find the right match).  Further, oft-discussed on many blogs elsewhere, leather saddles have long been the randonneur's choice, and while I don't always follow the trends, if it is ME that has changed, and not my trusty Flite, then perhaps trying a few variations of leather is a good choice now - even if it hadn't been before.  Combined with a 6-month, no-questions, no-problems guarantee, I have partnered up with a popular internet shop near the Gulf of Mexico to begin the process of mount/ride/tweak/repeat.  I figure I have six permanents to figure out if this latest --- and possibly the most-drastic ---- change to my bicycle equipment will work out.  So far... I copy Steve W.'s assessment of his recent leather-club membership:  "Why did I wait so long??"

I'm hopeful, if not a little leery of the break-in period... so, I'm keeping the manufacturer and model in the bag for the moment.  If I do end up trying multiple models and makes, look for a comparison post in the future.  While saddles are ridiculously personal items, and most forums posts concerning them therefore nearly rubbish, I tend not to read saddle reviews...at least not the "this feels amazing!" sections.... so, I'll try to offer readers the courtesy of not gushing too much when I find "the one."  

For now, thanks for reading ---- good things to come!

April 13, 2013

The Windstorm Tour - Oak Grove 315km

     When I first started riding longer than weekend-club-distance rides, like the local MS-150 and the Summer Breeze Century, and was in good enough shape to hang with the racers at the Tour De Shawnee back in its heady long-course days, the efforts involved would often leave me sore for a couple days.  After my first MS-150 weekend, I was limping around for the better part of a week.  After my first 200k, Bob's hilly Liberty route with the Warbird, I wanted to die.  As time has passed, however, I've gone through a steady progression of improvement and have learned how to recover faster, how to stretch, hydrate, and get back in the saddle sooner to avoid stiffening up.  Over the past few years I've been able to enjoy the fruits of commuting to work, followed by riding a weekend 200km ride in around 10 hours, followed by arriving home to mow the grass or attend a kickboxing class later that evening.  It's, literally, no-big-deal anymore -- not to brag, simply to indicate that time and practice provides these benefits to runners, triathletes, and cyclists everywhere as each gains experience.

Now, I'm very aware that some of the ease in recovery can be linked to my love/hate relationship with average speeds, which has faded a little with each passing year; largely since I'd begun to equate pain with hard efforts as I focused more on "how far" rather than "how fast."  Since, subconsciously, I would obviously like to avoid pain, I'd tender my efforts on the bike accordingly - resulting in lower average speeds.  Leaning more toward enjoyment and fun, things like intervals, long chase-downs, and extended high-tempo pulls began to slip into the background.  As a result, I'd arrive home with gas in the tank and spirit in the legs for the following week's commutes.  This year in particular, however, the efforts have come harder, the hills steeper, the conditions harsher, and the "rabbits" more inviting.  This time out, as a result, it wasn't until Monday afternoon that I was able to descend stairs without wincing, and on Sunday I'd basically been reduced to riding the couch, drinking water and trying to rub the burn out of my legs.  I don't know if the Oak Grove 315km "Windstorm" brevet had been as hard on the other 18 riders who started it - but, man... I think I felt better after the 600k in '07.

This latest ride had proved harder than the distance indicated.  I need to provision that statement as not being a complaint ... but, rather, an indication that I'd pushed myself out of my comfort zone to truly race the clock, because we had to.  That's not a complaint, either ... even if it might have been during the effort itself.  Looking back, rushed for time or not, the resulting training will pay back dividends.  I'm back into a region where I may actually enjoy some performance gains after I rest a couple more days and also wait for a particularly nasty saddle sore to heal over. It was a tough, tough ride - and all the more satisfying because of the level of difficulty.  I'm still a little sore, though, even writing this a week later.

I've obviously gathered up a larger sense of accomplishment over the last few days since the brevet.  My immediate post-ride entry (below) smacks of the usual downtrodden woe-is-me attitude of a rider at odds with the reasons he rides in the first place.  I've heard stories from other attendees and have witnessed the finishing times - and while I'd beaten myself a bit for not being able to finish with the group I had back in 2010, how unimportant that really is in the grand scheme of things must be mentioned.  This isn't racing, though I admit I still quietly bring a fair bit of that to the parking lot when I start these things.  It's not personal - not against anyone but myself - but, that urge is still there, and when things don't go to plan I tend to get grumpy - despite the other portion of my reasoning still trying to limit pain and effort.  It's a mental tug-of-war that likely represents a common struggle among randonneurs that have begun to finish rides slower than they had in their past.  I haven't yet learned how to be truly "okay" with just riding and to consciously ignore statistics.  Maybe I'm destined to have one foot in both realms... a frustrated cyclotourist, chasing ghosts and shadows.  Maybe that is what defines me... and, as long as I can still - eventually - smile and laugh about it, maybe that's all perfectly okay.  I'm thinking so.  All sarcasm and rhetoric aside, I like where I am, lately.  Both life, and the riding, have been terrific.

Complaints?  No... not really.  But, MAN.... as rides go, this one was tough - no matter who you'd ask.

I'm running late... a little miscalculation, and maybe a longer shower that I'd really needed to wake me up, and I found myself nudging the cruise control a few MPH faster with each passing minute as I motor toward Oak Grove, MO.  I like being at least 30 minutes early for these rides, but it was already ten minutes to ride start and I hadn't gotten off the highway yet.

The wind was strong enough to slam closed the rear door my car as I began to unload the bicycle... right into my lower back.  Ouch.  IT.  IS.  WINDY.  ...and the sun isn't even up yet.  As I unpacked, Glen R. appears, ribbing me about the misuse of the term "epic"... I correct him... It's the Bob Burns curse... not MY fault!

Either way, only two weeks have passed since we'd all cleaned the excess snow from our bicycle frames, and here we were again, this time with gusty winds coming from very unfavorable directions.  Part of me quietly wishes this were a P-B-P year.... how well-trained we'll all become by the time August arrives, if this keeps up!

Eighteen other riders gathered up, reflective vests and taillights... Bob speaks, the pre-ride announcements... laughter, head-nods, cleats click into pedals... we're off into the predawn darkness.

At least for the opening 10 miles, a tailwind... and WHAT a tailwind!  Foolishly, I find myself out front - but the smile is too wide to ignore.  After months of being bundled-up and fearing any sort of effort that would rob me of body heat or reserve energy, reeling along at 26 MPH with hardly any effort in the mild spring air felt amazing, and I squeezed it for all it was worth.  Andrew R. from St. Louis joined in, and over hill and around curve we chatted and grinned while the miles vanished behind us and the dark sky yielded to a growing pale-blue haze.  We turned onto Highway FF and enjoyed a diminished cross/tail wind which would help us the rest of the way to Higginsville, and the first control.  With birds singing and green finally eclipsing brown in the vast farm fields, the strengthening crosswind barely registered on the "be careful" meter.

As the clamor of our talkative peloton ascended the next hill, a rafter of wild turkeys leaped from still-bare tree branches and sailed sluggishly like Airbus'es across the highway above us... a rare sight.

The opening 27 miles of the ride proved outstanding, followed by a fast control -- this time, I managed my control time better by eating my Casey's hashbrown and drinking my orange juice while in the checkout line, which had grown around the corner with reflective vests, bobbing helmets, and cheerful conversation.  I ended up, to the confusion of the checkout gal, paying for empty packages... but, it saved oodles of time.  Before long, we were back in the saddle, Glen R., me, and a couple others, continuing east.

The fun of the morning started to catch up.  By the time we turned out onto Highway 20, after passing through Corder on another tailwind rush, I started to feel the grumpiness creep up; and, I foolishly let it take over the conversation in my brain as I watched the faster pack drift up the road.  I couldn't catch them, and logic screamed:  "just let 'em go!"   I ignored the voice.  The frustrated cyclotourist fought back, unchecked.  I tried three times to bridge, but every time I'd look up to check my progress I'd find myself out of steam, and just out of reach.  If I can JUST latch on, the draft will take care of my recovery.  Instead of calming down and waiting for the following group to catch up to me, I started picking myself to bits.  I rode like I'd been inside the final 10 miles of a 40-miler, instead of the first 40 of nearly 200.  The casino pit boss cleared his throat, reminding me of the debt I'd already accrued.  The following group caught up, and passed me... and I couldn't even latch on to riders right in front of me.  With the burn of Wednesday and Thursday's cross-training still present in my legs at the ride start, the efforts of 30 minutes of failed rabbit-chasing dealt its heavy hand, and I folded.  The house always wins.

By the time I reached Marshall, I was ready to quit - and nearly did... but I was in limbo:  I hurt.  The tightness in my quads from an hour+ of hard leg-work on Thursday felt horrible... totally ill-advised and against my own rule on training hard before a long ride.  I didn't know if I wanted to, or even could, continue.  I knew I didn't want to fight the same cross-headwind all the way back on MO-20, and through Corder and Higginsville... yikes, that'd be 80+ miles, for nothing!  I'd come too far, yet hadn't gone far enough for it to "count".  For the first time in years, I started to mentally go over the story I'd use on the phone, quietly wheeling my bike to the east side of the Casey's building, out of sight from the others.  Even Danny C. nearby couldn't cheer me up - and after seeing him in the starting parking lot and chatting briefly during the opening miles, I'd so desperately wanted another chance to ride in his group.  I went over the people I could call, how I'd start the conversation.  It'd still be good training, I thought.  With an uncomfortable smirk I even said it, out loud, to myself.  Yeah...Yeah... I'm done... it's okay... but then I felt shame.  I was embarrassed to admit that maybe it just wasn't my day.  I'd have to sit, and maybe catch a nap, while the last riders would still come into Marshall and likely stop right here...and find me.  I wondered if I could get to the BACK of the building, far from sight.  Spencer would have to come through... I wouldn't be able to convince him, surely.  I didn't want anyone to tell me that I "could".... because I knew they'd be right.  As much as I wanted to justify it to myself, I began to run out of reasons.  No blood.  All limbs attached.  Spencer came, and went - along with a guy from Colorado, whom I'd ridden with on the 400k last year (name slipping) - and then only Glen, who'd been messing with his rear rack mount to fix a squeak, and I remained.  At least I was in good, familiar company... but, I had a problem even beginning to talk about how I felt.  Everything I previewed in my head ended up sounding like a hollow excuse if I were to say it out loud.  Instead, I steadied Glen's bike while he wrenched on the rear rack clamp.  Steven W. and Del pulled up.  I bought some food, ate it, and as Glen packed away his multi-tool and Steven and Del threw their legs back over their saddles, I trundled around the corner, grabbed my bike, wheeled it out, and lifted the dead meat where my leg used to be over the saddle, too.  I shook my head at myself.  You had your chance, 'dude... now, suck it up.

   I don't know exactly what it was that put me back in the saddle, but, I'm glad that I followed Glen R., Steven W. and Del out of that Casey's parking lot, and continued to head east.  Glen was strong, and quickly made short work of highway O - leaving Steven W. and me and Del behind, but, we made-do.  I ultimately came to the conclusion that the best way to get the burning sensation out of my legs was simply to continue using them.  I was going to hurt, either way... might as well DO something while I'm hurting.  With a slight push from the violent wind on occasion, we drifted slowly toward Slater, MO. - not a control, but a welcome stopping opportunity.  A couple yards of navigational oddness entering town, I found the Casey's store that I'd remembered from 2010 was gone.  Boarded up, closed, abandoned.  I became nervous.  Already on personal eggshells, I knew that I couldn't ride the next few hours to the halfway without filling up with water. Right about then, a Kansas City Southern locomotive sounded its horn, crossing the grade nearby, which drew my eyes south... to the brand-new Casey's which had been built to replace the old one.


The rail-crossing clear, Steven, Del and I made our way to the shiny new C-store, where we found the tandem of Karen and Greg finishing up their stop.  Restroom, fuel, fluid.... time to move out.

If there was a time I'd wished I'd recorded a video of a brevet, for personal posterity as well as internet interest, it would have been the closing 50 miles of the March 23rd, 2013 200km ride.  If there is a close second, it was the section of this Oak Grove 315km brevet, April 7th, 2013, from Slater, MO., across the Missouri River floodplain to Glasgow, to Fayette, and back to Slater.  Just a 30 second snippet would have been enough.  The wind-noise alone, thinking about this section in my head right now, nearly gives me chills.  I don't know how to describe it, but it reminded me instantly of Alex S.'s cross-Kansas UMCA record attempt last May... except, this time, I was in the saddle, dealing with it - instead of in the support van.  That alone puts Alex's ride last year in the best perspective for me... I'd only need to endure the crosswind assault for 120 more miles:  Alex had shoved through it, alone, with only 20 minutes of fitful rest, for 30 hours and 400+ miles.  Respect.

  Heads down, leaning sideways into the gale, we pedaled - more or less keeping in contact with one another, though the wind was too strong for any draft benefits.  Time seemed to stand still - even though logic dictates the minutes always pass at the same rate, no matter what, it seemed as if we were going nowhere.  Dust, sand, trash, leaves all dashed across the highway, trees leaned over... what few trees stand here.  We were straining, panting, huffing along, working our butts off... and a glance at the computer would reveal only single digits, no matter the gear.

The Missouri River finally in view - O, the joy! - we carefully crossed over the bridge, fighting with the handlebars in the violent cross winds lashing over the concrete barriers at its edge, and descended into Glasgow, MO., curving south to meet the wind head-on... which, strangely, was far more tolerable than the crosswind had been.  Now, the hills I so fondly remembered from 2010 sat ahead of us - with the wind, this smaller middle section between Glasgow and Fayette would prove perhaps the toughest part of the day.

We could see the yellow-tinged outline of Arlys ahead of us, dismounted, walking her bike up one of the many hills.  Her visage a picture of composure and patience, she smiled and waved with a "hi there" as Del and I climbed past... I barely had the heart to pass her.  Here I was complaining, and it was clearly a tough day for everyone out here - not even to the halfway point, and the ride was itching to count its first victims.  In retrospect, we should have stopped, rested with her, offered something... anything... to help her out, get her back in the saddle.  I regret that, but I get the impression that she'd have politely refused.  When she caught up to us at the halfway point, she was in, out, and back on her bike in almost no time at all - not looking tired, defeated, or even tested.  She was riding her ride.  Respect.

The worst approached.  There's always at least one, and this ride - while largely flat in my estimation - does have a few good grunters to climb here and there.  The baddest of them sits at the T-interestion of Missouri Routes AA and E, between Glasgow and Fayette.  I've retraced this route on several mapping programs, and for the life of me I can't figure out WHY this hill is so nasty.  Could be that it sits near the 95-mile marker on a particularly tough route...but, the elevation profiles I ultimately get from the software (even with zooming in and trying to map only the hill itself) well, they have to be wrong.  Anyone will testify, it's gotta be at least 10% at it's end, if not more.   Del and I, having distanced Steven W. by a half-mile, both ceased talking with a quick "oh, wow" and a flurry of scampering chain noises and shifter clicks.  Using the entire road to even zig-zag the grade, I thank goodness there wasn't any traffic here.  At the top of my cassette, in the smallest ring, standing up and pushing with everything I had, my efforts BARELY yielded enough forward momentum to avoid falling over sideways.  No-one dare unclip here.   Del and I rounded over the top with audible groans of pain, and I collapsed into the saddle -- having finally pushed my still-tight legs hard enough to completely eclipse the pain I'd brought to the ride start from cross-training.  Whoooof... now I'm stretched out.  Yeeesh.

The remaining climbs nearly unmentionable by contrast, we continued to the halfway at Fayette for a well deserved rest.  As we rolled into town, Dave M. was the first in sight, heading back west, then Gary D., followed by Spencer and Glen and company, already on the return leg.  Who knows how long they'd rested, but we weren't as far behind as we'd thought, and our spirits lifted.

Still, I had totally lost track of riders.  Literally scattered to the winds, and myself - mentally scattered.  I was surprised to see Terry's bike leaning up against the Casey's wall, as I'd thought he'd been just behind us the whole time.  A few minutes later, Andy pulled up and dismounted right outside the window where Steven, Del and I decompressed and ate.  ...and I'd thought he was WAY ahead of us...  we hadn't passed anyone, that's for sure, save for Arlys - who came walking in a few minutes later.  Normally a skill of mine, I had no idea anymore who was where.  Heck, where was *I*?

An hour passed.  Food consumed, we turned around for -- unbelievably, despite the trial of the outbound leg -- the HARD PART.  Even though the opening crosswinds had taken a hefty toll, technically they had been from the south-southwest.  The return would include a slight headwind component, and as the day would wear on the forecast told of a true west wind shift in the making, which was actually GOOD news -- at least one could tuck into a headwind, but the crosswind was making everything hurt.  Terry long gone, Arlys, too, we started to pack up and mount up.  Andy, only 30 miles from his home in Columbia, cashed it in with plans to keep riding east.  Having been dropped off at the ride start, there was simply no point in returning to Oak Grove... and no-one could fault him for that logic.  Hotel rooms in Columbia, a city I've yet to visit, started to sound like a good idea.

What more can I say about the return leg?  Windy.  Horribly, horribly windy.  Every ounce of energy we delivered to the ground spat upon and punished by an unforgiving pressure gradient intent on dumping trillions of cubic feet of air into the region:  fuel for the next day's promise of thunderstorms and rain.  No thoughts spent on the last mile, or the next... only the now.  Push, pull, push, repeat.... the amazing scenery in the bluffs and hills along Highways E and AA sat like postcard snapshots on my mind's canvas, briefly, fleeting, blown to dust in the galeforce, 30 MPH torrent.  The angered ghosts of Canada and the desert southwest mingled, tugged and sang through whirling spokes and around steel tubes, danced through mesh toe vents, and frolicked along the folds of jerseys with the beating sounds of fifty geese on the wing.  Heads hanging from tired scalenes and stretched trapezii, sweat turning to white powder instantly, food turned to energy, to motion, and then to moisture and heat, barely a vapor remaining to mark our passage, Del, Steven and I counted off tenths of miles - the only reasonable measure of progress our small caravan could hope to calculate.

AA begets MO-87, MO-87 begets MO-240, and the constant river.  The crosshead wind made for a tenuous river crossing, front wheels darting around in the unpredictable gusts and whipping vortices, we rode the center-line of the road, balanced on the edge of a giant knife dividing the breath of the plains between the sky above and the water below.  MO-240 is such an un-interesting moniker for that highway, for that day.  It may as well have been a road to salvation, for the only thing in my head aside from the barely-perceptible music I had put there at Fayette via earbud took the form of a red-white-and-blue park bench outside the Casey's in Slater, MO...a world and two-dozen miles ahead of us.  We came upon Arlys again, off the bike and walking along the shoulder.  Tough gal... the wind would have to try a lot harder to keep her from moving forward, even if it meant walking the occasional grade to spare the legs.  Del and I slowed as she re-mounted, if you count slowing down from 10 MPH, of course - technically, we weren't going fast enough to call any reduction in pace a "slow down."  Arlys was invited to try to get a draft, assuming I'd heard Del correctly at the time; but, it didn't work out.  The day was taking its toll, and even I - with multiple shameless attempts to find some sort of sweet spot in Del's wake - was unsuccessful at finding any portion of the road the wind couldn't reach.  It seemed to come at us from everywhere, and all of it against our progress.  As we neared Slater, and the grain towers and buildings came back into view, we made one, final turn toward town - directly into the full, exposed gale.... apparently, as hard as the last 25 miles had been, we had been enjoying some kind of shelter, for now the wind immediately felt as if someone had grabbed a huge volume knob, smirked an evil grin, and cranked it to "11".  The increase was so marked, it surprised Del and I both.  Barely double-digit speeds became steep-climb speeds.... 5, 6 MPH.... sometimes less.... we crawled the final two miles to the Casey's, mentally on our knees.  I let out a laugh, simply because I didn't know what else to do... the force was just plain ridiculous.  I thought briefly about what it might be like to randonneur on the Atlantic coast during hurricane season, and it occurred to me that we were probably still 10 mph of wind shy of tropical storm criteria.  Holy crap.  I suppose that, yes, it could still be worse... but I wasn't about to say it aloud.

As Del and I pulled up to the Casey's store, we spotted Terry's bike leaned against another nearby gas station front about a block away.  Probably not a terrible idea for a change of scenery... every control on this route has a Casey's sign above it.  At least we're consistent.

  Screw the park bench... Del spots tables inside, and it's so calm and quiet without the wind tearing at our eardrums, it's almost creepy.  Chairs.  Food.  Coffee.  Sports drink by the quart.  Phones and forecasts, texts, Tweets.  Tick..... tick..... tick..... tick..... the clock on the wall will not desist.  It watches us like a warden during visitation hours - an impatient eye wandering back and forth between our conversation and the time, one hand steady on his service revolver as a reminder of who's in charge here.  It begins to become apparent, as brief, pointless checks of my average speed had begun demonstrate a consistent downward trend.  Factoring in the hour rest at Fayette, and the smatterings of 20-30 minute breaks in between, our chances started to look "interesting."  Lazy vultures of self-doubt and frustration had left for a little while, but began to appear again, circling over my head, waiting for their opportunity to pick away at the rotting carcass of my will to finish.  The halfway had been in the bag, sure; yet, I continued to teeter along the white line of mental fortitude, drunk on a haphazard cocktail of comparisons to past accomplishments, motivational catch-phrases, abject denial, and high anxiety about a relentless ride clock that didn't give a rat's tail if I finished with credit or died in a ditch.  Despite the noise in my head, still I sat - numb from the wind and queasy from the Swiss cake rolls and coffee I'd carelessly guzzled down.  Racing the clock is useless if one can't muster the energy to stand up.  My long rule of not sitting down at a control was in tatters on the floor around my feet.

Steven W. rolled in, and joined us at our table.  We all quietly compared each other's assessment of the situation.  We look drained, spent... worried, perhaps.  Del is the best at our game of brevet poker, a constant motivator, deliverer of good words -- uplifting words; unfettered by obstacle, calm, optimistic, truthful statements which erase my doubt.  Though this had been only his second brevet, he spoke with the experience of a Sherpa:  the benefit of years of solo bicycle touring.  From five feet away, you'd never know that this wasn't his hundredth brevet... 'born for it' might be an understatement.  Steven W., well on his way to his first R-12, but only a RUSA member for as many months as he has permanents toward his first medal, has a calmness about him that paints a mindful, protective white-wash over the top of a seemingly impenetrable fence of willpower.  Suffering a bum knee, working toward his longest-ever brevet finish, and wobbling on the same line of stomach distress that I had begun to, you'd never know any of it.  He's not a complainer.  He's a do'er.

 I'm with the right crowd.

The math inevitably came out and took center-stage.  I'd checked out at this Casey's at 11:30am.  It was 17:21 on my latest receipt, which I'd received BEFORE I sat down.  The fifty-miles or so from Slater to Fayette and back to Slater had taken nearly six hours; and, with stops, that's an average speed of 8.3 MPH.  It wasn't enough, and we all knew it.  I allowed myself a few seconds to feel completely deflated, and then we all stood up, walked outside, and faced the music.  We could sit and complain about it, or get back on the bikes and do something about it - and the choice was still obvious.  Let's just ride to Marshall, MO., and see what things look like there.  There are hills between here and there.  I like hills.  I'll take hills over wind ANY day.  Today, we'd get both.

  While the three of us pedaled on, resorted to our situation and strangely comfortable with it, we grouped up and talked about saddlebags and storage, hope, headwinds, hot showers, hot food, and hotel beds.  Stories from other rides and other places took our minds off the grave realities of this one - finish or not, we still had to make it back to our cars, and at least it was a nice day.

Sort-of.  After the snowy 200k, we really didn't have anything to complain about... so we didn't.  Smiles replaced blank stares, and the hills were soon behind us.  We entered Marshall, crossed through the city park and over the small lake among folks fishing.  Nothing biting today, it seemed.  Didn't matter, though - it seemed that people were just genuinely happy to be outdoors, out of winter's grip at last.  Barely wanting for knee warmers, fingers exposed, life was good on the bike, in the breeze - on our way home.

After a bit of heads-down bonus mileage, whizzing past a clearly-marked turn on auto-pilot, we finally retraced our steps, found the route again, and arrived in Marshall, back at the Casey's where I'd quietly quit the ride many hours earlier.  I figured I'd just reset my personal, internal odometer here.  The miles to Fayette were gone.  The doubt in Slater, banished.  This was just a nice, 55-mile ride back to my car.  I hadn't done anything.  Fresh.  Ready.  Awake.  VERY awake.

Reflective gear appeared from bags and off of racks - even though it'd been much warmer than it had been in months, an unmistakable chill accompanied the westerly wind.  More than that... the sun had inched closer to the horizon, and the wind... after long last.... FINALLY had begun to weaken.  Flags slackened, leaves and trees suddenly muted.  Calm and inviting... the worst, over.  

tick...... tick....... tick......

The receipt read 19:41 hours.  I shoved the food into my mouth, drank the coffee, refilled water and visited the restroom to perhaps bid farewell to the stomach strangeness that had travelled along with me for the previous 30 miles or so..... wait.... no.... I haven't ridden yet today... remember? .. I'm fresh, and ready.  Yes.  The brain of a randonneur.... if you can't beat it, lie to it.

Depression, however, still scratched at the back of my neck.

Including whatever rest we'd taken at Slater, it had required - as far as the ride clock was concerned -- 2 hours and 20 minutes to travel 14 stinkin' miles.  6.08 MPH total average for the last leg.  OH well... been nice knowing ya.  At least there was plenty of April left to grab a 200k, and keep the streak going.  So far, most importantly, our complete ride average, including stops (about 14 hours, roughly, when we'd leave the Marshall Casey's and head west), sat at 9.71 MPH.  With the cut-off being 2AM Sunday, from a 6AM start on Saturday, that's 20 hours to ride the cue-sheet indicated 194.8 miles...requiring an average speed, with stops, of 9.74 MPH.  We were on the bubble... one flat, one more wrong turn... literally, NOTHING unplanned could happen in the final 55 miles.  We were below the red line, yes... but, something  - especially the dying wind - gave us hope.  There was simply no way we were going to have come this far, through the punishment of the windstorm, and not call it a finish.  We had to at least try.

Near-as-makes-no-difference, sixty miles in 6 hours was the task.  That may seem like a cakewalk to any cyclist reading this.  It's almost laughable.  Heck, I know runners that can pull that off.  In most cases, it would be easy-as-pie, but, after 136 miles of battle against hill and gale the three of us looked at maintaining a ten-MPH average with a raised eyebrow and a heavy sigh.  We were all completely toasted.  I don't know about my partners, but my legs felt like shredded jerky.  I hadn't been able to ride that fast since hour one, it seemed - but most of the time had been wrapped up in lengthy - arguably well-deserved - stops along the way, just to get a break from the tireless wind.  Now, without the wind, maybe there remained just enough push to make it.  It was a grim reality, certainly.  For us, though, despite the trials of the day, it was time to get to work.

In 2008 I became very familiar with clock management.  If it's one thing I know how to do in a pinch, it's gain back time.  I do it in traffic.  I can do it at work.  I've pushed too many rides to the edge of being official, down to mere minutes... I think every randonneur has been there.  Sure, I'd rather not... but, these are the cards we're dealt.  You can fold, or call.  Commitment.  Until the clock would read 2:01AM at the hotel desk in Oak Grove, MO., this ride was not over.

Highway 20 loomed... 24 continuous miles of nearly arrow-straight, manicured concrete slab brain-job.  Taillights on, headlights blazing into the growing darkness, we still faced a modest 6-7 mph headwind.... but after the previous 14 hours, it felt like a tailwind-charged time-trial.  Music in my right ear, I grabbed two fists-full of handlebar drops, and set the tempo.  I'd been flat useless all day... time to give these guys a draft.  In the darkness, I couldn't see my speed - but I didn't care. There was little I could do about it other than opening up the taps full-stop and with the hope that something would come out.  It might be undrinkable rust-water.... but it was moving.  I knew, though, that I was faster than 10 MPH... that was all that mattered, and I wasn't about to soft-pedal.  It was all going to get laid out, on that road, right then.

For fun, I pretended the giant, alien-like harvester-combines working the fields under bright worklights had given chase against us... like that Rush song, 'Red Barchetta'.....  my uncle by my side, the shining car became a bike, and I high-tailed it for the old narrow bridge.... 

After about ten miles, the effort began to sink in... back it off 5% or you'll burn out, I thought to myself.  I'd accidentally grew a small gap back to my partners, so I coasted back to reality.  Hopefully, it would be enough, but as the 1st hour of our frantic recovery pace elapsed, we'd proved fast and consistent enough to begin building a small buffer.  Now we could maybe get a flat, or stop for a roadside nature break... but man, we'd be pushing our luck.  Del took point, then Steven, and we kept up a mildly disorganized rotation --- now in our fifteenth hour of work, things got a little fuzzy, so calling it a well-oiled paceline would have been a stretch.  With my stomach issues finally in the past, Steven unfortunately began to suffer a similar fate - but his pace remained driven.  When we reached the intersection of MO-20 and MO-23 near Alma, MO, however, his pace slipped.  We had to stop... a new c-store, something new since I'd last ridden the route in 2010, appeared, and we took advantage.  21:33 read the receipt, more fuel... I dare not bonk, not now.  Barely 4.5 hours, and 40 miles to ride.  We'd recovered our overall average to 10.74 MPH.  I'd never been so thrilled by a 13MPH performance in my life, our estimated average since leaving Marshall; but, clearly fatigue and the comparatively timid headwind presented very real factors.  We were finally making up time.  We also learned that another rider had stopped there within the last 30 minutes.... I pointed at Del, excitedly... a rabbit, perhaps?  Impossible... certainly we weren't CATCHING someone?

Business attended to, we mounted back up and continued west on MO-20, then through Corder, and into Higginsville.  Another frantic moment, I had gotten slightly ahead again in my haste, and had forgotten where the next turn sat.  Even though my cue sheet was at hand, I'd become turned-around, uncharacteristically confused somehow, but Del and Steven -- only needing to look at their sheets because of my second-guessing - confirmed my error, and within a half-mile the lights in my head came back on.  No, no, 'dude... no more bonus miles, remember?

As we rolled up to the Higginsville Casey's and dashed inside, I saw what I'd feared -- the cash register was being counted down, floor mops were out, door mats rolled... it was 10:57pm, and Casey's closed at 11pm.  How lucky were we?  Yeeesh.  As we made our final purchases and received signatures on our brevet cards, the lights were turned off.  Dang.  Even though the control wasn't closing until midnight, which we'd beaten handily, there would have been an issue getting a signature anywhere else in a town that had long since rolled up it's sidewalks for the night - and the prospect of having to complete the last 27 miles back to Oak Grove with empty water bottles, disaster.

All good... now, we had three hours to ride 26.8 miles... still a tall order in our condition; but, having no more c-stores between Higginsville and the barn was a partial blessing.   At least I wouldn't be tempted.

Del proved the more consistent of our threesome and began to distance Steven and I after a few miles - but, thanks to his VERY effective taillight, we could still see him cresting hills ahead of us.  With more of a relaxed but purposeful tone to our pedalling now, the thought of the ride being in-the-bag seemed more like a reality.  Even if we'd have been outside the time windows, though, what a night!  The clouds had moved on - and with the sun gone, and the wind only a memory, the stars of the rural night sky stood out as perhaps the best reward of all.  Just a beautiful evening for a bike ride.  The conversation far lighter, shoulders dropped, it turned into a traffic-free night-time cruise, with only brief reminders from the muscles and saddle-areas of what we'd been through.

We danced with a baby rabbit along Highway D, while slowly climbing a hill... a neat moment...

Just a stitch before 1:00am, we crossed back over I-70 at Bates City - five miles was all that remained, but it would still take the better part of 30 minutes to limp it out.  It would have to be a quick trot, but we could have effectively walked to the finish, if we'd had to.  With 199 miles clicking over on my odometer, and with a genuine hollar, the Econolodge sign rose into view from behind the last hill.

Final scribbles onto the backs of brevet cards, handshakes, smiles, and the best motel lobby instant "coffee-drink" I've ever tasted.  1:22AM.  Thirty-eight minutes to spare over a span of 20 hours is almost nothing, but, I'm proud to call this one a finish.  I think we all are.  We received news that the previous rider (possibly Terry B.) had finished at 1:00am on the nose... had this been a 400K ride, we might have actually surprised ourselves by catching up and building a good finishing group.  I began to second-guess some of my extended rests, but, really - we had needed them.  It is what it is.  No regrets.  Though I'd prefer not to run so close to the cut-off, sometimes it makes for an especially memorable ride.  No doubt, the wind had made this one tough 300k.  That's two tough rides in a row for the KCUC group.  Whoof.

On the back of the brevet card is a small check-box to request a medal.  Now, sure, I think all of that is handled online now at RUSA.org, but, still, I placed a confident check in the "yes" box.  With the 200 and 300k's spoken for, I have a feeling 2013 will be remembered for a long, long time.  Any 300k that takes nearly a 400k's worth of time to finish has GOT to have a good story.  There you have it.

Glen, Steven, Del, Gary, Terry, Spencer, Rod, Jack, Joe, Andy, Andrew, Mark, Karen, Greg, Danny, Arlys, Dave... anyone that rode, because I know I forgot some names here, no matter the outcome, cheers.

Thanks for reading....as always...

April 7, 2013

The longest miles

The KCUC 300km(+) ride is done... And, like so much overcooked bacon,
so am I. I had pushed the under-trained barrier too far this time,
got cocky and went out too hard, and broke my own rule and
cross-trained the week-of the ride, starting the ride sore and tight -
feeling like I'd already ridden.

The Midwest springtime continued the trend, with sustained 25 mph &
gusty cross/head winds all day. Though temperatures were pleasant, and
we stayed dry, the constant wind reduced my pace to single digits for
hours - putting me at risk of running out of clock. Had the wind not
died around sunset, literally, I would have ridden for a DNF. I ended
up with a great group of three - sort of a repeat of the 200k
snow-ride - which was great - but we were all toast. No drama, we
finished with a scant 35 minutes to spare. We might as well have
ridden to the moon... Wow. Just wow.

I will take the finish, make no mistake - but, it was a long, long, tough day.

Still great moments, but lots of low ones, too. I'll take it... Time
to recover, and reassess some things.

Stay tuned...

Del, Steven -- thanks for hanging with me. We earned this one, big time.

April 5, 2013

Snowpocalypse 2013 - A 200k Tale

   I struggled coming to the keyboard for this latest ride report, for the March 2013 brevet - the first in the KC Ultra-Cycling Spring series.  Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my long-suffering perspective towards weather conditions and how they affect my ride when I find myself out in the elements.  It's taken the better part of a decade to reach a point where things like wind direction, temperature, and precipitation chance no longer hold the importance they once did.  It has been a roller coaster, year over year, on what I've been willing to endure.  Statements like "I've already done that ride this year" when it comes to 10 hours of rain and wind can often be heard as I prepare for the coming weekend, watching the forecast notes with the eye of a frustrated editor - looking for any error, mis-step, or subtext of doubt in the forecaster's tone.  This latest ride would be a true test of all these things; yet, as I sit here and write this I hold only positive memories about what SHOULD have turned into a 12,000-word epic story of suffering and trial-by-nature.  My, how things have changed.

In the month leading up to KCUC's first 200km it appeared that the "Bob Burns curse" would rear up it's mighty head once again, as it had in 2009: with a steady string of 200k's under my belt from 2008, resulting in my first R-12, I found myself motivated to continue that streak, especially  after a particularly trying 200k that February.  Unfortunately, March in Kansas City is something of a dice-roll when it comes to weather.  One year in particular, the March ride started with 27ºF on the thermometer, and cloudy misery.... but two weeks later, at the 300k, it was a near-record 90ºF.  The first couple KCUC rides often become exercises in rapid acclimation and clothing sorting.  This February the area had already seen near-record snowfall.  Almost two feet of snow in as many weeks made me thankful I'd already checked off February early that month.... but, the March ride was near the end of the month...  would it be a repeat of 2009, where 8"+ of snow cancelled the 200k, and put my supposed 2nd-R-12 in the dust bin?  March 23rd loomed... but, more than that it was the realization that only eight days remained in the month, and in the balance lay the fate of my current streak.  The forecast began to look sour, unpredictable, nasty - as the 72-hour window of probability closed on forecast confidence, even the forecasters were puzzled. Quite literally, the sun went down on Friday night, March 22nd, with too many question-marks, too much doubt.  I didn't sleep well.

Lying awake at 4:00am, steadily hitting the refresh button on the browser in hopes of the latest forecast notes, I didn't need my alarm to wake me for ride-morning.  In the pale glow of the computer monitor, I ate breakfast as if I were going riding, drank my coffee, and took comfort in what I'd read: the coming snow storm which had prompted the Winter Storm Watch for the entire riding area had been upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning, but, storm timing confidence had improved in our favor, but only just: it looked like the panic was for nothing!  Despite the storm still on-track to impact the area, the precipitation would start as rain and continue until sundown before changing to snow... long after we'd all be off the roads, and at home enjoying a well-deserved hot-shower.  Worries began to fade...but, I'd wait until I'd see the parking lot.  "If nobody shows, I'll wait to continue my streak next week."  I slugged down the last of my coffee, and got dressed.  So much for a nice, sunny and mild brevet... after February's wash-out and headwind battle with Terry, I needed a break from "weather"... but, at least I'd be used to the conditions.  Looking back, it occurred to me that I hadn't ridden with exposed fingers or knees since September.  Even the August 2012 ride started in almost record cold.  Weird year... I'd completely forgotten what sunscreen smelled like, and how my bar-tape felt.  Looked like I'd be waiting until April for that.

I'd get no free pass at the ride start.  I figured for a low turn-out, but I'd been wrong:  a throng of randonneurs occupied a complete row of parking spaces at the start line, so I queued up and visited Bob at the "registration desk" (Bob's van).  At least there would be more company!  I don't grow tired of repeating this:  I'm personally proud of what I've accomplished on the bike, considering many of my R-12 rides have been completed solo, with the exception of the last 12 or so... and it's these last 12 that stand out:  riding with company is very fulfilling, makes the miles pass easier, and - somehow - makes it easier to complete the journey.  The only problem with too large a group is missing the opportunity to chat with everyone in attendance as the miles inevitably put distance between groups - but, I'll still take it over solo-riding, any day.  With all the familiar faces in attendance, and several new ones (always great to see!), I'd be spoiled for choice on ride partners... on the assumption I could keep up with ANYone:  I still hadn't ridden but twice since the last permanent, so in addition to the weather concerns I remained mildly concerned about my own fitness.  Unpacked, suited-up, and ready to roll... I made one last restroom stop, and then lined up with the others for Bob's announcements and start.

Spencer, Karen and Greg on the tandem, Gary D., Glen R., Steven W., Rod G., Jack and many others whose names escape me - or whom I hadn't yet met - gathered for the send-off, and soon we poured out onto the route with just a faint glimmer of grey-purple in the morning sky. At least for the first section, the wind would help us along and keep the chills at bay in the moist air, holding just above freezing.  The climb over Renner Pass (above I-435) took care of the rest of the warming-up.  Glen and I paired up (no Terry this time - the smarter of our usual trio checked off March when it'd been slightly warmer and drier earlier in the month), and made our way down 87/83rd street toward the eastern edge of Desoto, KS., zig-zagging back and forth between clumps of riders, with "mornings" and "how-ya-beens" echoing up and down the packs.  I love the group ride feeling!

With roads mostly dry, we descended safely into the Cedar Creek valley and enjoyed the scenery and quiet country road feel, navigating along old K-10 and over the old Cedar Creek truss bridge toward the next couple of decent hills.  Gary D. and I paired up for a bit and grunted out the early climbs, steel-vs-steel, and then Rodney G. and I chatted for a few miles on ultra-racing in Texas.  The pack ebbed and flowed, and old K-10 soothed us toward Eudora, and the first control.  

This is the part where the pack begins to really spread out.  Differing control routines, timing for grabbing that strangely suddenly-needed restroom break, comfort-levels surrounding eating on the fly vs. eating in the c-store; amid a flurry of ballpoint clerk signatures and the rustling of plastic baggies the well-oiled machine of Spencer and the tandem pack is back on the road in a flash, as I gulp-down the last of my orange juice and watch them disappear over the K-10 overpass heading south.  I have been careful, cautious, patient... I know my fitness level isn't there yet, and I'm not going to try and prove anything.  The entire opening 40 miles would be an exercise in restraint... I know I *could* catch them... but I most definitely SHOULDN'T.  Not today.  

Glen and I paired up and hit the road with at least one other rider in tow, and started chipping away at the Douglas county road system leading toward Baldwin City - only 16 miles away.  I welcomed the tailwind, but I could already feel that *really* old 30-35 mile warm-up mini-wall coming into my legs, as I finally switch gears from commute-distance mode, to rando-distance mode.   Hard to explain for the non-distance rider, but these physiological milestones sometimes cause more problems than others.  Once past this one, it would be smooth sailing to the halfway mark - I hoped.  I still had the 75-85 mile wall to look forward to, and the unknown impacts of a very, very lazy winter cycling season.  The pack fully thinned out now, thanks to the first control, it would turn into a semi-solo effort as traffic often dictated a single-file approach to riding until we'd turn west toward Vinland.  The weather was cooperating - not even a hint of the coming storm lay visible to the west, and a gracious tailwind for this normally-challenging section of exposed country road.  I made my own predictions, aloud, about another 12-hour day.... not frustratingly so, as I'd often done in the past, but more of a personal acceptance that no matter how long it would take, it would be a finish.  Stay positive...  I reminded myself of how lucky we'd ended up, collectively... the remnants of "Snowpocalyse" 1 and 2 remained visible in low ditches and culverts which had remained shielded from the sun for weeks, but the roads were dry and clear, save for random patches of sand and salt.

Baldwin Pass... whatever name one wants to give it ...another worthy climb leading up and into Baldwin City, KS, and another control.  Despite having very little saddle time over the winter, a steady stream of cross-training has come to yield unexpected benefits.  The high-intensity training that I pretty much never get in the saddle comes on heavy and thick during kickboxing classes, and the cardio benefits have helped my riding stay out of the redline, with more control over breathing and heart-rate.  Granted, I'm still careful to leave enough in the bank for the remaining 100 miles or so after the early hills had come and gone - but I'm quickly feeling a return to the days when I didn't have to worry quite so much about maintaining reserves.  Still, Glen - despite having a similar winter, saddle-time wise - proves strong and consistent and leads the climb with ease.  Baldwin City control - on fresh pavement:  time for a quick in-n-out.

Control routines sometimes get the better of me, but with people pouring in and out of the c-store and the sight of bikes leaving the parking lot and heading out, I'm focused - yet calm.  I know the lead bunch will remain out of reach until I build up the cruising speed I'd enjoyed last summer -- that tentative secondary goal of an R-12 average speed of 16.0 or greater (rolling average) is a distant memory at this stage -- but, I'm wary of standing around too long.  As quickly as possible, Glen and I are back on the road.  This is one department where a handlebar bag solution might come in especially handy - a benefit I hadn't considered, it might afford faster controls by simply allowing one to "dump and go" - adding nutrition and supplies back to their appropriate pockets while rolling along a straight section of road, instead of having to carefully insert things back into pockets and having to fuss with tight seatbag zippers while standing still... and not moving forward along the route.  If I can get my latest handlebar bag mounting brackets repaired, it might be a welcome addition on the coming 300k... but, I'd still really prefer more of a front-rack set-up and a "real" handlebar bag.  I keep flip-flopping on this subject:  I love the clean, minimalist look of an unladen lugged-steel bike, but I can't deny that stuffing everything into a large seatbag sometimes takes more time than it should.  Any semblance of weight-consciousness or aerodynamic efficiency is surely lost by the time I figure out "okay, which pocket can I stuff this extra layer into??"  I'd be willing to bet against myself:  my finishing times wouldn't suffer from having a big, boxy handlebar bag.  They might even improve.  Still, I wait.  I'm a bit of an OCD-ist...(noooo, really??)...so, right now, it's cost standing in my way.  A good front rack - purposely for a fork like mine which lacks the appropriate eyelets or braze-ons, relocation of the headlight, extending and re-stringing the taillight wire, rerouting the bar-end shifter cables (or switching to downtube shifters), picking the right bag, arranging a decalleur:  doing up a front baggage set-up, for me, becomes nearly a full front-end rebuild and would approach $400, all told.  For now, I'm good... and for the longer rides I'll likely just use one of my commuting rear panniers for extra clothing, etc. -- but, when it comes time to refresh the headset and shifter cable housing, I'll probably take the opportunity to go to a "real" rando frontbag setup, and upgrade the headlight in the process.  Aside from this truly accessory concern, I have no complaints - but, perhaps midway through a possible R-12 #4, I'll have a chance to see if it really makes a difference, instead of just wondering.

Onward to Ottawa.  

Glen and I mounted up and rolled out onto the main drag which continues south out of Ottawa across the elevated plains - the road I happened to be embarking upon the last time the clouds opened up with unexpected precipitation.  Today, dry with a nice tailwind helping us along, and slightly warmer temperatures than the previous hour.  Not bad.  Although, things could have been better as we rounded over one of the many rollers along the way, as some model or another of silver Buick crossover SUV, sitting at a cross street, decided not to look to their right to see us coming along the otherwise empty country road.  Out she pulled, Glen hard on the brakes, and me aiming for my portion of the road where the SUV and I would ultimately intersect... had she not seen me at the last second, that is.  Direct eye contact seemed to get my message across, although, as she proceeded to slow down to a near stop behind me, blocking Glen's path again, I'm not certain she got the message.  She then advanced up the road perhaps a 1/2 mile, and turned quickly into a driveway - where a waiting garage swallowed her up, the door dropping to conceal her license plate before we roll within eyeball-range again.  Ah well... we still know where she lives, I suppose... but, no harm, no foul.  Sometimes these things happen... however, I'm still a bit puzzled, as Glen and I had been both wearing the new, bright orange and reflective RUSA vest, ankle bands, and my headlight was still switched in the "on" position.  Strange... although, I probably deal with this scenario more often on commutes than I realize.  Of course, those aren't empty country roads.  Drivers out here often fall victim to the "there's-never-anyone-out-here" effect... all the more reason they should look twice, for the sake of anyone, not just bicyclists - but motorcyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers.

Glen and I shook off the encounter after another mile or so, and got back to work on the long stretch of Shawnee Road, and Montana road which followed.  The rare treat of a double train fly-by at the crossing south of US-59 highway gave us the opportunity to rest for a few moments, as we made our way over the industrial chip-seal on the outskirts of Ottawa, KS.  Soon, we were making our way through downtown Ottawa with one other rider in tow, whom I didn't get a chance to meet officially.  The lead group having stopped at the McDonald's in town, Glen, our mystery guest, and me briefly managed to get ahead of the pack - save for one, lone green hammer off the front... assuming I hadn't lost track of him.    For once, with the favorable wind, the US-59 section didn't feel quite like a suffer-fest - although, it was still largely uphill to Princeton and the halfway point.  With Glen and mystery-guest making good time, I settled into my solo pace and enjoyed the scenery - the fields were finally taking on a greenish cast, the first hint of Spring!  

Double container-train fly-by north of Ottawa, KS., captured by Glen R. -- this is a good "before" shot.
Dry pavement... just another nice day on the bike.

Princeton, KS.: the halfway.  I ended up ordering a cheese pizza, which - by way of mis-communication ended up being a giant-sized to-go pizza, and not the mini-personal size I'd anticipated.  The fast crowd from McDonald's caught up in rapid style, and was in and out before I could blink, and everyone else had quietly slipped away to the open road, so I donated the leftovers to the c-store staff after taking a few slices for myself.  They help us out every time we come through town, so why not?  Control duties taken care of, bottles and stomach filled, Glen and I found ourselves alone, saddling up for the second half of the 200km... the much-dreaded second half, where the payoff of the tailwind would be paid back.

The interesting bit...

As Glen and I saddled up... after finding myself immersed in the usual, relaxed, heel-dragging  control routine ...we rolled out from under the shelter of the c-store complex, and back onto the shoulder of US-59 for the 1/8th mile-or-so segue to John Brown Highway.  As soon as we cleared the northern edge of the building, we were greeted by a stiff northeast gust, requiring a little redirection from the handlebars.  Glen let out a bellowed laugh in reluctant confirmation of what we'd both had in the back of our minds for 60+ miles:  the second half of this ride would indeed be interesting.  

Already prepared for some mental toil, I'd popped the earbud of my mini music player into my right ear at a volume barely perceptible over the now-constant wind noise, and as we turned east for Osawatomie, I bid Glen a farewell and good luck:  I knew his pace would out-step mine in a hurry, and the noise rendered conversation nearly pointless.  It was time for 17 miles of heads-down slog on the John Brown's elevated, exposed, tree-less expanse.  I'd begun to wish I'd had the foresight to mask my bike computer's speed readout with a square of electrical tape - so, instead, I just ignored it.  

"Just remember to take a drink once in a while, and you'll be there in less than a full bottle," I thought to myself, but quickly realized that somehow - mentally - this section has turned into a real favorite.  Only one stop sign breaks pace about 3/5th of the way across the east-west stretch, but John Brown is an otherwise smooth cruise across the plains - at times reminiscent of the expanses of the Flint Hills byway, only with more driveways and cross-streets.  After discovering a mild dehydration headache at Princeton, I turned up the frequency of sips from my bottles, and began to feel refreshed - finally.  Typical of a tailwind-assisted cruise with a group, I'd slipped behind on hydration at some point - easy to do, also, on such a cool day.  Without even a hint of protest from the legs, however, I pushed along in an efficient gear ratio and took the opportunity to gaze at the open fields to the south, and the rows of curious livestock to the north.  Just another day in the saddle...

The task of pushing the pedals paused by the approaching stop sign, and the appearance of Bob Burns over my left shoulder in his van, checking on riders as they worked the route.  A thumbs-up, and a few words while I put a foot down briefly.  I'm in limbo between riders - another solo mission with which I'm intimately familiar:  no longer afraid of what my own, restless mind will sometimes do to unravel a well-laid plan.  It's taken years to hone this edge, and though it can sometimes still be dull and rusty - depending on the week I've had - removing the surface corrosion is usually quick work.  I've lost track of how many miles it has taken to achieve this level of personal comfort and composure; but, I'm proud of myself:  the mere thought of which would have previously been subject to instant dismissal.  I still have so much to learn - but less of it is about myself now.  Granted, I've only been truly tested a handful of times - and much of it has indeed been bicycle-related - but, being able to go through self-inflicted hell and emerge on the other side with a smile has come to better define the fabric from which I'm woven.  Though I could push harder to catch Glen (yeah, right), or relax a bit and wait for the folks following me to catch up (more likely), I am content to continue alone in my own, silent bubble.  I'll eventually, no matter what it takes, get where I'm headed.

The pavement smooths slightly, announcing arrival in Miami County... a few steps closer to the next Casey's.  No-one behind me, no-one in front of me - that I could see, anyways - I make my way over the last couple hills and past the eastern terminus of the Flint Hills Nature Trail, and into Osawatomie, KS.  Zig-zags and a stop-light later, I'm at the c-store, Glen close by, and another threesome of riders packing up and preparing to roll out again. What had been driving the main pack of the tandem and Spencer started to gain more attention from the scattered riders behind them: namely us:  despite having enjoyed dry roads and fairly mild temperatures, the stiff northeast wind was feeding SOMEthing to our west.  Mutterings and rumors had been rustling backward through the thinly-stretched peloton of randonneurs concerning where, when and how much for a couple hours now.  Fleeting radar images on electronic devices followed by eyes training along the western sky - looking for clues... that Winter Storm Warning was still out there, and it felt like we'd been getting away with petty larceny all day.  It was nearly 2:00pm... thoughts of false alarms and needlessly packed rain jackets started to edge closer to reality.  If I had a dime for every time I'd needlessly taken my rain jacket along for a 200km ride...

"They were saying on the radio that it wouldn't really start until around 5:00pm," came the herald.  

A passer-by walking inside the Casey's to pay for her petrol repeating a recent forecast she'd heard gave the departing threesome comfort, and was answered with near dismissal - rightly so:  we'd all be finished riding and packing the cars for home by five!  No worries... we'd have all pulled off the perfect crime.  I tumbled inside for a quick restroom break and bottle refill for the leg to Paola, and the final control.  Maybe this one was in the bag after all?

The more interesting bit...

Timing is everything, sometimes.  No sooner than the lady with the weather report had bid us farewell and Glen and I (er, Glen waits on the Dude to hurry the freak up), began to prepare to roll out did both Glen and I witness what appeared to be a raindrop splotch on the pavement near our feet.  Moments later, I'd have sworn that something wet hit me on the nose, then the glasses...  Hmm... precursory rain?  The splotches became more numerous... then became noticeable in the air, on our faces, on my bike saddle and computer display.  Uhhh.... what did that lady just say??  It seems everyone within earshot got a shock, as the "rain" began to immediately take on a more solid feel, and the unmistakable sound of sleet began to tip-tap on the surface of our reflective vests, and against the window of the Casey's.  

Glen and I began to roll out of the Casey's, again with the nervous chuckle of a cyclist slowly realizing that his luck had run out.  I let out some sort of misguided curse in the direction of Gary Lezak (a local weather forecaster) as we emerged out onto 6th street heading northeast.  The sleet slowly intensified, but, Glen and I had both had far worse.  With zippers pulled higher, caps lower, we pedaled along the railroad track and tree-lined county road, headed for Paola.... wondering how the other three that had left only minutes earlier were thinking.  It was 2:00pm.  The precipitation had arrived not only early, but in frozen - instead of liquid - form.  Something in the forecast must have changed, but there was little to be done about it - and, with road surface temperatures well above freezing, the precipitation was merely a nuisance, and melted on contact.  All in all, it was just another rainy ride - with perhaps a little bit bigger teeth.  Fenders, wool, rain jacket now justified... we just had roughly 50 miles to go.  Heads down, into the strengthening headwind, Glen and I soldiered onward.  

As we emerged from the tree-lined section of 6th street, which begins to slope uphill and curve toward more to the east, the strength of the wind and the ferocity of the falling sleet literally surprised Glen and I both.  As I naturally slowed down during the steady climb, Glen pulled out from behind and began to eat up the pavement ahead of us, gunning for Paola - and shelter.  If we could just get the last control, there would be a little time to wait things out... but, then again, this was the very beginnings of a winter storm - the entire metro area under a warning, with most of the warning's wording focused on travel hazards unfolding as the afternoon would yield to evening.  Clearly the timing had changed ... and it crossed my mind that the arrival of sleet, instead of rain, meant a colder layer of air had moved into position sooner than expected.  The only choice was to move ever closer to the finish, before something else surprised us.

With the northeast headwind gusting above 25MPH and the sleet intensifying enough to reduce visibility, I reached back and switched on my foul-weather strobe (a tiny, but bright, Road ID "Firefly") to supplement my taillight and reflective gear.  The precip was coming straight into our faces along this stretch of road, and even with the cycling cap in place I found it necessary to use one of my fingers to clear my lenses as I rode... thank goodness I'm a glasses-wearer anyways!  Exposed skin began to chill as frozen precip made stinging contact at high speed, and then melted.  Awesome...

Clearing the railroad crossing on Hospital Road, the last couple miles came into view and we arrived at Paola in short order.  The bikes of the previous threesome leaned against the windows under the overhang, and images of cyclists warming up indoors invited me to take a break.  This is a big c-store, but I can never seem to find what I want in Paola, food-wise.  Rain is usually no big thing, and everyone remained in good spirits.  Despite the frozen precip, it seemed that temperatures had been holding - but being damp brought a chill to the air, and the wind certainly didn't help.  My thoughts turned to the riders ahead of us... wondering where they were, what they were seeing... how they felt.  I then thought of the scattering of riders behind us... ugh.  Unfair.  The brave riders that had come out for their first-ever brevet... this wasn't typical.  Finally I settle on a 4-pack Mounds candy bar --- which I never remember, but always seems to work well.  To keep windburn and biting sleet at bay, I smear a finger-full of lip-balm over my cheeks in a thin layer, right below my glasses-line and around my chapped nostrils - the result of hours of sniffle-wipe-repeat.  35 miles, maybe, remained.  Steven W., another local R-12 chaser looking for his first award, and Omar and Del, both on their first brevet (Del, an experience cyclo-tourist, this was nothing new, aside from the time-windows and brevet card routine, and Omar:  his longest ride ever was in-progress, having passed his personal-longest at the 62-mile marker back in Princeton!)  The sleet began to mix with snow, but appeared to be thinning out already -- maybe we'd still get lucky.  Hints of shivers entering my knees, we agreed to stick together as a group for the last segment, and mounted up.  Here we go...

Grimaces turn upward, somewhere on Old KC Road.  Amid our new group of five, conversation takes the edge off the weather happening around us... the miles pass quickly...

We put the illusion of thinning snowfall into the "ok-nevermind" folder as we approached Hillsdale, KS., in heavy snowfall.  The entire landscape began to change... the greenish-brown shoulder growth, now brilliant white, and fenders worked overtime as the instant-melt snowfall on the road started to lean toward slush.  We all began to notice that the wet streets had begun to show the faint outline of tire rows leftover from passing car traffic.  Not a good sign.  We could only guess about the temperature, but I'd begun to feel an unfamiliar tightness and numbness in my fingers - a feeling that wool gloves normally banish to impossibility; yet, in the constant onslaught of falling snow, which would melt on my glove liners and seep through the seams into my woolen fingers, the temperature of the moisture on my hands was overcoming the wool's insulation capability.  Either I wasn't working hard enough to get warm blood out to my fingers, or it was beginning to approach the freezing mark:  another milestone the forecasters had apparently gotten wrong.  It's possible my wool gloves, which I'd purchased in 2004, had perhaps reached their end... although I'm not sure what I'm basing that upon:  I know that washing them in the wrong detergent can strip off the oils and lanolin that give wool it's unique properties, but, since the original purchase I've been using the "correct" detergent for all my cycling gear, wool or otherwise.  Maybe that bought me a few extra years of use - but, they're still old gloves.  As long as it's above freezing, I've had zero complaints... but I was quickly reaching a point where dry gloves would have felt fantastic.  Freezing cold water won't feel great, no matter what - but I certainly hadn't ridden to this point before.  My feet, on the other hand (no pun intended), felt fine, reinforcing my old wool vs. new wool theory.  I know things could have been worse -- but, still, for me -- if it's wet, it's wool!

(new military surplus wool glove order placed...might as well update them every 9 years, eh?  Not bad for $5.00 a pair.)

"This is actually kinda cool", I thought, as we continued north toward Spring Hill, KS on the old alignment of US-169, but, as we turned east again and emerged from the old-growth tree corridor, the snow seemed to increase in intensity, the wind had extra bite, and the shoulder of the road began to confirm that Glen had been here only moments before... uh, the snow is not supposed to stick to the roads until after sundown, right???   oh, man...

A predetermined target of the Casey's on the north end of town is set, and with Glen on a mission to finish NOW, our group fell to four riders.  The c-store's open arms and indoor warmth breathed life back into numb limbs.  Chemical warmers came out, extra gloves were pulled from bags, and store pegs.  I squeezed mine out with rolls of newspaper and napkins, knowing it wouldn't last - but it would help for a little while.  Outside, the grey of the pavement began to take on a distinct white.  20 miles-to-go.  I'd ridden in snow before.... on a Redline Monocog mountain bike equipped with Nokian studded tires set to a low pressure.  I'd even brevet'd in snow and sleet... but only in 10 mile bursts, and never when it stuck to the road.  This was new. This was potentially dangerous.  The snow continued to fall hard and fast, and a trip to the restroom confirmed how much of the wet, heavy, clinging midwestern-style snow I'd been carrying in my helmet, on my cap's brim, on my sleeves and legs and shoes.  

Snow-hat!  Inside the Casey's in Spring Hill, KS., the remains of small icicles
on my facial hair confirms it must have been slightly below freezing at this point.

Our group remained up-beat.  Quitting was never muttered aloud.  No-one complained.  No-one dared invite the domino-effect of negative brainwaves to begin chipping away at bravery, courage, and the will to finish.  So far, even with my better judgement beginning to tap me on the shoulder, it wasn't THAT bad.  Narrow tires still managed to find pavement, and even out-of-the-saddle climbing had been forgiven.  The farther north we'd ride, the farther into the suburban grid we'd get... onto streets still dusted with the remains of road salt and grit from previous snow events.  We'd be fine... once we get off the country roads, smooth sailing.  
Laughing at ourselves, we walked back outside, brushed the 1/2" of snow off our saddles, and mounted up.  

The white shoulder line was invisible now, the curb barely perceptible.  Taking the lane.... assuming I knew where it was... our foursome advanced to 199th Street, taking each curve with increasing caution, as little hints of fleeting grip began to remind me of my limits.  Cutting through the sloppy slush and snow now covering the roadway, spirits remained high -- but the pace, though still slowed by fatigue, the wind, and the conditions, remained consistent.  We were riding on borrowed time - must... get... to Shawnee...

It was time to check off the remaining turns along the way... within 17 miles.... 16..... 175th Street approached, marking our entry into Olathe, KS... another milestone on the march to the finish line.  But, Del's rear tire sliding around wasn't because of the snow... it had lost pressure.  The dreaded flat!  As he flipped his gorgeous Soma steed upside down to free the rear wheel, he waved us ahead - but, it wasn't happening.  Not today.  Heck, I don't like leaving a rider alone on a hot summer's afternoon, much less during an honest-to-goodness snowstorm.  It was break-time... and the cameras came out for a few minutes to capture what I would shake my head in disbelief at the next day.  

175th and Ridgeview Road, if you had told me this is how
things would have looked at 7:00am, I would have gone home.
I'm infinitely glad I hadn't!  Note; the road conditions had improved slightly
just north of 175th, as we began to see the benefits of residual road
treatments from previous weeks, but, the snow was quickly overcoming them.
The trees in the background indicate the visibility and intensity of the snowfall,
which was bucketing down in large, wet clumps - sticking to headlights, water bottles, and
everything else.  A crazy way to end a "spring" ride!

After a undetermined amount of time - because strangely none of us were in a terrible hurry, despite the worsening conditions, Del's flat was fixed, and we were in motion once again.  The snow was heavy and wet enough to clog my SPD cleats momentarily as I remounted, attempted to get traction, and roll forward to clip in.  I love SPDs -- it didn't take much to get clipped back in - just like thick mud would behave, the snow just sorta moves out of the way, and the pedal engages.  Our tires, however, were beginning to struggle for grip in sections - and the only real solution, strangely, was to throw more speed and momentum into the mix.  Though slow by normal bicycling standards, our group remained consistent and focused, and soon Ridgeview opened up to four lanes, the pavement improved, and so did the density of leftover ice-melting salts.  Still, the snowfall rates were downright record-breaking, as I'd read the following day, and despite the treatments, the pavement was simply too cold now, and the snow too fast and heavy.  Aside from tracks left by cars.... and what appeared to be the fleeting ghost of bicycle tracks left by Glen, way ahead of us at this point, the pavement was otherwise stark white.  Passing traffic was more than kind to us --- something I consistently find whenever conditions get really nasty.  They probably thought we were insane, or just really unfortunate, everyone giving us a wide berth, and the same, open-mouthed, wide-eyes, "are-you-freakin-nuts?!" look.
We may have created as many memories for them as we had for ourselves!

At one point, Steven W. and I rode along in the white-out conditions, side-by-side on a quiet road, the sounds around us muted by the snow-filled air, washed over by a certain sense of calm.  I wasn't sure if I'd dare use the cliched term or not, but it seemed - even beyond the variations in personal relevance - that we had achieved "epic."  

I checked my theory with Steven...   "yep.  I think we're there."


The hopes of clearer pavement in the residential grid never really panned out, but we all managed to stay upright and incident-free.  The only negative outcome of traffic's kindness toward us came in giant waves of slush and snow thrown by tires drifting out of their lanes and into the deeper snow at the center of the road... hopefully not intentional ...but thank goodness for the cycling cap, again... and remembering to keep my mouth closed when cars would pass.  As we continued northward toward the 10-mile marker, Bob's van once again showed up over my left shoulder, with the window down -- looking for the usual thumbs-up in these weird circumstances.  He had some riders already piled inside the passenger seats, likely the riders that had been behind us on the route, where conditions had certainly worsened far quicker than expected, to the point of being unsafe.  My hat goes off to these riders - many who had been on their first-ever brevet:  simply showing up at the start line, with a winter storm warning flown and an uncertain forecast, displays a tremendous amount of bravery, the kind that defines randonneuring spirit.  I hope they return, with heads high, because I think I speak for everyone:  nobody thinks poorly of those that DNF.  We've ALL been there, and a quick scan of these pages will prove that for me, as well.   I can only hope they are rewarded with the next ride having superb weather, and clear roads!
Cheers, to all of you that came out - finish, or no finish... 85% of the residents of the metro area didn't even want to go out and DRIVE A CAR in that stuff... and still, we rode as far as we did.

As Omar, Del, Steven and I continued along Kansas City Road, and ultimately made the last turn on Renner, marking six miles to go, it became nearly comical.  I would flip-flop between focused, heads-down pedaling, to moments of laughter and self-disbelief.  The strange thing is, for me, as poor as the conditions had become, they completely distracted me from "problems" I seem to suffer at the tail end of every ride -- and, specifically, "problems" I have in the last 15 miles of THIS route.  My saddle felt terrific.  My legs felt strong.  I was climbing out of the saddle at mile 100, mile 110, 120, and 123.  I wore a smile, to the point my face hurt (or was that the sleet?).  Hydration?  Perfect.  Nutrition?  Perfect.  I can't really explain it... but I do know, as if there were any doubts, that when things are "perfect", weather-wise, I think too much about things I shouldn't be thinking about.  It was a great, great ride... and its taught me a few things about myself, that when things really ARE bleak - and not self-manufactured or amplified - I still manage to come out with a smile, and a completely whacked sense of humor - just for good measure.  It's been a long time since I've enjoyed such personal clarity at the end of a long ride.  I mean to say, quite seriously, I still get quite a lot of satisfaction from each and every permanent or brevet I finish.  I can recall moments from almost all of them -- but, this one will remain special, above the rest.

Needless to say, my tone in these closing sections would likely be different had we not finished - but, a few minutes before 7:00pm, after a challenging final five miles as everyone began to find their limits, and the pure act of pedaling for nearly 12 hours began to sink in, we finished.  As we all, as Bob had cautioned us, white-knuckled the rear brake lever on the normally 40+MPH final descent down Renner Pass, trying to stay loose and stay upright, as the final gusts of wind and snow-in-the-face yielded to the warm comfort of the final c-store lobby, I was nearly overcome with emotion and had to squelch myself to avoid letting out a primal bellow of achievement and scaring the customers.  It was "only" a 200k - but, man, was it something else.  

Seriously, though.  If it's not above 45ºF and bone-dry during the April 300k, I'm going home.  

Congrats to ALL riders that started this truly epic journey!
I think we might have made a little local history - and I won't be surprised to find this story falling out of my mouth in 10 years time, while we pass the miles along some other road somewhere.  I look forward to that.  

Thanks for reading...
...and to Glen, Steven, Omar and Del, thanks for sharing the miles!