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...

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