Especially considering I hadn't started a brevet with exposed knees and uncovered fingers since last October, watching the forecast for this latest ride proved to be a smile-widening experience. Even the morning forecast low in the upper 40's couldn't get me down, with highs showing in the upper 70's and the promise of a tailwind return. Sweet! Even the thought of riding the "same old route" didn't bother me - a clear contrast to the last R-12 run, I hadn't ridden the Border Patrol 217km route ... ok, since February: but, with the rain and double headwind, that one (in my mind) doesn't count. Prior to that, however, it had been a long time embarking upon this home-turf run. The bonus: three others came along for the ride!
We rolled out a couple minutes after 7AM, onto busy suburban streets, dodging cars and SUVs and school buses as the morning commute unfolded around us. It felt weird to ride on a Monday, but, somehow rewarding. No matter what would happen, I wasn't sitting at a desk. Can't beat that!
With a steady rush of traffic on 175th, comprising the first eight miles or so of the route, we all settled into a silent rhythm. It proved difficult to hold a conversation over the constant din of 55 MPH flybys, so we all just pedaled and took in the lush scenery north and south of the busy thoroughfare.
Soon, we turned south, into tranquility - Antioch Road and the first climbs of the day, leaving the traffic snarls behind, and greeting the countryside. For once, maybe it's the cross-training, the dietary changes, the attitude... or perhaps it's the new saddle (more on that later)... but, Antioch's hill didn't seem quite as steep, and I didn't feel quite as winded as the last time I'd ventured out that way.
We caught sight of a blue heron taking flight from a small, secluded private pond... an awesome sight, but too quick for cameras.
We made our way through Stilwell and onto the long stretch of Metcalf through Louisburg - Glen taking point and making short work of the run to the Miami County line. The slight headwind didn't prove too daunting, and for once I was managing to hold Glen's wheel as we ate up the road toward Louisburg, chatting away and enjoying our surroundings. Glen and Arlys weren't far behind, but the day would unfold as a game of cat-n-mouse control leapfrogging instead of a true group event.
8:50 AM, Louisburg, dash-n-go and a bottle refill. The morning sky gleamed brilliant blue above us... it was going to be a great day out!
...which is probably why I remember so little about this ride... which prompted Glen to start asking what kind of weather challenge would befall us, later on down the road.
Hmmm.... SOMETHING interesting would have to happen, or there'd be nothing to write about!
The sun and temperature rose higher, and Glen and I played gravity-tag, enjoying the long downhill into La Cygne, KS. for the first control. After months of slog, weird weather, chills, impossible headwinds and other challenges, it felt amazing to uncork, and just ride for the sheer enjoyment of it.
|No complaints! An awesome morning - at La Cygne, KS.|
Departing the control for the halfway to Pleasanton, there was nearly nothing to worry about... again, makes for REALLY short posts and boring reading; but, that's okay by me. Still engaged in control cat-n-mouse, we kept in touch with Arlys and Terry as they'd pull into the controls only a handful of minutes behind Glen and me. The temperatures were nearly perfect - not too hot, or cold. Sporting the short-sleeved wool KCUC jersey, I'd never been more comfortable. Adding to the comfort, the new saddle felt good... but not quite "perfect." Surely, a few millimetric tweaks would be needed, and I began to wish at a couple points that I'd brought the right tools for the adjustment job, instead of the short, compromised repair tools in my bag.
Finally, having a Carradice bag behind me again -- just like I'd predicted -- put the icing on the improved cake. No more squeezing items into a cramped (though still large by most standards) seat bag and struggling to get the zippers closed. No more worrying about where to put shed layers or extra bonk rations. Even better than I remembered from the last time I'd ridden with a good saddlebag, having a saddle with bag loops creates a much more stable load - compared to the seatpost quick release I'd used years before. Since I'm not using the saddlebag for commutes, the QR feature isn't really missed. The bag, as a result, sits lower, closer to the bike's center of gravity, and the rear rack on the bike serves perfectly as a saddle-bag support for the load. I can't even tell the bag is back there while riding, or climbing out of the saddle - and the added flexibility and ease of use at controls...priceless. It's not the "end-all" front-rack, decalleur & handlebar bag I've often dreamed of, but compared to what I'd been doing it's perfect. Perhaps the best part: no more stuffed back pockets on my jersey. Combined with the improved comfort of the saddle, rider enjoyment has gone up considerably. I honestly don't have a single thing on my equipment wish-list now. Maybe I can finally just get to the business of riding the bike? That's a good feeling.
|Lunch in the shade. Glen R. pulls up a seat, and enjoys the gentle breezes under a shade tree in Pleasanton, KS. at the halfway mark.|
With only a few short miles of a crosswind to deal with, we departed the halfway at Pleasanton for the return trip to La Cygne, putting the last of the big hills behind us under amazing skies, tweeting birds, and light traffic. I didn't have any Superman-moments on the climbs, but felt better than I had in many rides - controlled breathing, and slightly more energy and speed. I don't want to sell-up the idea of the saddle being responsible here TOO much - it's all very, very individual, as most folks reading this will already know. However, my previous saddle had begun to hit me incorrectly in a particular area, ultimately resulting in some pain, and occasionally some mild numbness. While this was never problematic in a clinical sense, it did create a level of fatigue which would certainly cause a drop in speed and "push", depending. As a randonneur, I expect a certain amount of discomfort. It's inevitable - and I had become largely complacent about trying to adjust it out, especially in the aftermath of "the fit issues" of 2010 -- probably my obsessive personalities' all-time low point. After a couple small tweaks, I'd simply resorted myself to the notion that the saddle had just become old, broken-down a little, and no longer felt as good as it once had... but, it was still likely going to remain the most comfortable saddle I'd be able to find. So, about the same 30-40 mile marker into each ride, the pain would come and stick around... and so, I 'd just pedal through it. Life goes on. After a while of tolerating this, of course, here we are today: things reached a point on the Oak Grove 300k, after hours of seated deathmarch into a ridiculous crosswind, that I finally let myself fall over the edge into New Saddleville. Why I waited so long.. well, I'm just stubborn. I think it's a safe bet to assume that no cyclist prefers changing saddles. One never knows what one will get, and it's a hassle. So far, I've gone through the slow progression of small adjustments to arrive at a good location... one more tiny tweak may be needed, and the surface is slick (mainly because it's still new), so I'm sliding around a bit.... but, the partly-numb, partly-inflamed soreness area brought on by my old saddle is long gone, and I feel like I'm actually sitting on my sit-bones -- where I should have been all along. Always read that, always heard it... but, like I'd mentioned in previous posts: either I changed, or the saddle did, or a combination... at some point along the last ten years, I stopped getting the correct saddle support. Now, I can actually look to things like a 600km ride, and see it as a largely positive experience.
The last thing I'll say about saddles: the right saddle has almost nothing to do with price. It has EVERYTHING to do with personal comfort. If cycling hurts, it should hurt your muscles... NOT your body. If the stock saddle doesn't work, get advice from your LBS, your cycling friends, etc. It may only take the adjustment of your current saddle, but it may take a new saddle design, or width. Patience and persistence pays off. I have tried out $300 torture-devices disguised as carbon race saddles, and I end up with $30 rummage-bin saddles that I still hold onto today for beater bikes because they're so comfy for me. For the long-distance bike, though, I happened toward a randonneuring-style touring saddle constructed from very old-school methods (leather) based on many recommendations from my cycling peers and after reading posts from well-respected reviewers. I had been prepared for it NOT to work, based on previous experience with leather saddles; but, at this point, I really don't see myself sending this one back to the vendor for an exchange.
|Dude, captured at the home-away-from-home: Casey's General Store. The sun is out, and the smiles widen!|
Heading back toward Louisburg, with a tailwind helping along, Glen began to get away from me a bit, so I ended up managing a lot of this section as a soloist. The Border Patrol route, one of these years, will be redesigned - slightly... I'm still waiting patiently for Miami County to respond to my letter-writing campaign to pave Jingo Road from 327th to 359th streets, so, until they come to their senses, 3 miles of the ride takes place on US-69 highway. It's bicycle-legal, with a large, 8-10' paved shoulder, separated from traffic with rumbles... but, the good kind that don't extend all the way across the shoulder. Still, with 70MPH traffic nearby, it's possibly the least enjoyable part of the ride, in my opinion - there's simply no way around it, and it's never really too bad. It's a love/hate relationship: on the outbound, I don't like it. It's uphill, usually windy, and seems to take forever. On the northbound return trip, however, it's all downhill, and the wind has usually picked up... so I end up LOVING that part! Glen was really loving it... at times, I'd peer down and see 28 MPH of tailwind fury.... and Glen would still be slowly, surely, pulling ahead, making the most of his top gear. For all the seclusion and traffic-free tranquility that Jingo Road's eventual paving will someday provide, it won't quite be the same slingshot this highway section has proven to be on the right day. One sees the 70 MPH sign, and actually smirks at the fleeting hope that it might be achievable... just 20mph more wind, and a 54-tooth chain-ring... mmmmm ... remove the highway traffic, and it becomes the BEST part of the ride.
Back at Louisburg, it started to become almost "hot" - though none of us were complaining. Sports drinks guzzled and more calories on-board, I fueled up to ensure a good finish. I think I traditionally fall short in the last 25 miles of this route, because I keep thinking "I'm home" or something similar .. the home-turf phenomenon? I put the curse to rest with a couple Hammer Gel shots, a couple Fig Newtons and a bag of chips. Time to wrap things up. Even though Glen and Arlys again appear at the control only a handful of minutes later, they wave Glen and me ahead - insisting they'll slow us down. They're too hard on themselves, I think... sure, we hadn't ridden much with them, but they caught us at every control! Glen and I turned north again, and checked off the intersections.... 279th, 247th, 223rd. Re-entering Johnson County at 215th, I felt surprisingly fresh and nimble - energized by the warm air and seemingly effortless floating pace Glen and I maintained along Metcalf, I stood up and climbed on hills - even though it wasn't always comfortable, I pushed my limits a little bit - instead of feeling like I'd been on damage control. The fast downhill on Antioch was a thrill, and soon only 175th street and the short trip north on Murlen Road remained. 5:37pm for the finish, with Glen perhaps 6 minutes earlier, displaying that "smell the barn" last kick again. Not a bad finish - and much faster than the last few rides, for sure! A cold chocolate milk, and big congrats to Glen for wrapping up his first R-12 with this finish!
Yeah, not much "exciting", I suppose... but, I'll take it. Finally.... a ride that seemed to REFRESH the mind, rather than tax it. I could have just summed it up that way. Can't wait for the June ride!
In other news!:
I wanted to take some space and congratulate my son, officially in these pages, for having finished his first metric century this past weekend! 64 miles at a hard-earned 9.9 MPH average, on a hilly course with headwinds and some drizzle. Considering his longest-ever ride prior to this sat at 40 miles, it's a huge accomplishment - moreso considering the heavy, steel, converted mountain bike, flat bars, flat pedals and tennis shoes he'd used to finish the job. I'm giving him an opportunity later this month to help me chronicle the ride from his OWN thoughts - not mine. He's not confident with the keyboard quite yet, but I think therein will come an interesting innocence and perspective - most of the content might come from a transcribed, casual interview, but little will be done by me to fluff-up his words.
It's with some trepidation that I'm excited about some of his first questions, post-ride, though... normally, not something to be discussed immediately after a long, tough ride (which, for him at times, it had been very tough). His first questions involved what a couple months ago he'd seen me reading in American Randonneur about the P-12 program. Sitting comfortably in the car while I packed things up, sipping his remaining sports drink, I could see his wheels turning. He knew what he'd just accomplished, and was somehow smiling, and already thinking about the next one. Surely this will only last as long as it takes for him to tighten his fingers around his first set of car keys, but, if he's in, so am I. The timing is pretty good, too, considering it seems I've finally put the final touches on MY rando-bike for a while, it would appear there are several changes needed for HIS ride before our next outing... so the wrenches will remain warm in the garage. Sweeet. I love a good project bike. I have just the frame, too -- once saved for the wife (and never traded, sold, or discarded for the same reason...hung on that fleeting hope), there is a 48cm Bianchi road frame waiting to be let loose on the road again. It was graciously handed over to me by Cameron Chambers, once at Bike Source and now out in Colorado occupying the upper podium steps of the regional mountain bike racing circuit when he isn't coaching at Carmichael Training Systems. His wife had been using it for a while, and upgraded - so he offered it to me in good health, and I've had it ever since. The tape measure confirms my suspicions, and the parts are laying ready... its time has finally come.
The best part, perhaps? After a steady diet of Top Gear and Road & Track magazine, my son is becoming as much a car snob as me. For him to be able to tell his friends that he's piloting something red and Italian before he's even got his driver's license?? Dude.
So, stay tuned...and thanks for reading!