June 27, 2013

The White Cloud 250k, a Reversal of Fortune (Pt.2)

Continued from Pt.1:

... we pick up the action just west of White Cloud, KS., making our way into town on 315th Road, which would become Main Street in White Cloud, KS.

Along the final stretch of 315th Street, which runs east out of White Cloud, I remembered November having been particularly rough.  This, the tail-end of a seemingly endless leg of northeast Kansas chipseal backroads from US-75 to K-7 at White Cloud, isn't REALLY that long - barely 35 miles, all told - but the rougher-than-normal roads make it seem far longer.  In November, it was quite a mind-job being the first time we'd ridden it.  Now, time and space became compressed as I knew what to expect.  The anticipation had been worrying enough, however, that I'd decided to swap my recent-fave Specialized Espoir 25mm tires for the extra cushion of my trusty Panaracer Pasela Tourguard 28mms.  Not sure it'd made a difference or not, but I'd like to think it had.

After a slight uphill grade heading into town, Glen and I enjoyed a long, fast downhill to the river... well, I had been enjoying it until my empty water bottle ejected from it's cage, having wiggled itself mostly-free on the jarring chipseal which were were about to leave behind for good.  A quick u-turn up the steep grade, and recovery.  I'd have full bottles again soon enough, I remember thinking:  only a few miles to Fanning, KS., and a pop machine with bottled water, along an otherwise deserted stretch of ghost towns.  It was 4:00pm.  No worries.  With rising temps most evident during the hottest part of the day, however, water consumption was up... a big difference from November's edition, but, at least I'd been managing to drink enough, and I had packed a spare 20oz. bottle in my saddlebag, for good measure.

No worries, indeed...

In my mind, all things not really being equal, I still felt fresher and stronger for many reasons:  the anti-fatigue factor of the extra air volume in my tires, the nutritional goodness I'd been enjoying all day, the strength which simply didn't exist back in November, the sunshine and warmth, and relative lack of wind - all things aligned with Glen and I checking-off a respectable finishing time on this 250km monster-loop.  12-hours or less.  Glen knew it, and I knew it.  The only piece of the puzzle from November which had seemed to go off perfectly had been the K-7 paceline trio which had pulled Terry, Glen and me back from the brink of near-depression concerning our pace.  Today, we'd be even faster on the glassy-smooth run down to US-36, and then back over into St. Joseph for the finish.  4:00pm.  K-7 in sight at the end of Main street, the flowing river beyond it.  Thirty-five miles to-go, and our solid average of 16.5MPH - despite the bumpy pavement and occasional hilly section - seemed to indicate that once back on smoother surfaces, we'd simply fly.  Smiles couldn't have been wider.  We even paused for a moment to chat with White Cloud's local historian, who'd happened by as we coasted through town.

As I'd mentioned at the end of Pt.1, this is where the pictures stopped.  Glen, not really keen on stopping for a quick bite or a drink, made the turn south onto K-7, and I followed.  Initially, the speed DID go up - but, something was different.  Instead of the glassy-smooth asphalt I'd remembered, the surface showed signs of recent grading, with tell-tale, faint cross-hatch scratches running parallel to our path of travel.  Still, most of the pavement was in good shape - so it became a game of dodge and steer.  I do remember quite a few hunks of pavement missing off the edges of the road, but nothing terrible - so, maybe KDOT is just giving it a once-over close to town.  It shouldn't last long.  

With each passing yard, however, it seemed I had been incorrect in my assumptions.  The larger hunks of missing pavement still existed, yet, everything surrounding them had been subjected to deep grooving and grading.  Frustration set in.  In my personal realm of preparedness which exists to help guarantee success and enjoyment for my riding, I make a point to hit the state and county websites in search of road construction information.  If a route is closed, I don't have to find out the hard way - or at least I know what I'm up against, and what I can use as a detour.  This excursion had been no different - and, even searching later that evening after arriving home, I had found no record or mention of roadworks for this particular stretch of highway.  Still, there had been no sign of road construction equipment on, or alongside, the road -- so, they could have done this work months ago, and with the road still open to traffic, maybe they didn't feel it worth mentioning?  Quietly cursing whomever had been responsible, there remained no choice but to continue pedaling forward - but, the vibration and jarring, increasing in magnitude with each passing mile, began to echo through joints and bones - muscles tensed, shoulders tightened, and my speed had begun to drop.  Even with my "giant" tires and forgiving steel frame and fork, it was a beating.  Mere miles, which should have been dropping like flies according to best-laid-plans, seemed to take eons.  I switched to the gravel shoulder to see if the going would be easier.  Not much.  Glints of light in the sunshine reminded me that perhaps the shoulder of an old highway isn't the best place to ride, lest the break I enjoy from the pounding be at the expense of a spare inner-tube.  At least gravel tends to get out of the way when one's front tire hits it, as opposed to the continuous, unforgiving jabs of millions of miniature potholes.

I set my mind on Sparks, KS., one of the half-dozen ghost towns scattered along the western shores of the Missouri River; not because anything was there, but because I knew K-7 comes to a "tee" at a controlled intersection there, turning east slightly before continuing south.  Logically, if the construction were to end and normal conditions were to resume, Sparks made sense.  Just make it to Sparks... only.... gads... six more miles?!

Rattle rattle rattle RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE   R A T T L E  !!!

I started to bet with myself that my will would last longer than any of the myriad fasteners and bolts holding various things to my bicycle.  Besides having to shove both water bottles, now empty, into my jersey pockets for having tired of constantly having to nudge them back down into their respective bottle cages, I was shocked nothing else had fallen off the bike.  The grooves became deeper, sporadically changing direction all while whizzing by in such a way as to confuse the eyes.  There was Glen, similarly bouncing back and forth along the way, about 1/4 mile ahead.  What should have been an easy effort, the finishing touch on a nearly perfect ride, left us both wishing we were back on the heavy chipseal we'd left behind only a few miles before.  Iowa Point came and went, and Sparks was next.  As the intersection approached, I stretched a hopeful gaze to the left, looking for any signs of improvement ... but, it was not to be.  We turned east, only to find the torturous conditions continuing.

Time to set the sights on Fanning, KS. - the next town in line, and the one - most importantly - with the soda machine, and water.  At least we could get off the horrid road and rest with a cold drink!  The miles continued, each one multiplying the effects of the ones before it, reducing Glen and me to vague human-shaped bags of pulverized guts.  Standing on the pedals because it was more comfortable than sitting, I finally saw Glen point his bike toward the opposite side of the roadway... we'd arrived.  Fourteen miles, roughly, of relentless pounding - and a rest - and, just in time.  After having diligently consumed the last of my water miles ago, working to stave off the heat of the day, I'd been looking forward to hitting Fanning's soda machine for at least an hour.  Glen had been way ahead of me, money in hand, feeding the patient monolith a few shiny coins.  cla-chungk-ting.... cla-chungk-ting.... depress button, a slight hum, and ....


uhhhh....  hello?  

There are few sounds as uniquely recognizable as the satisfying "thunk" of a cold plastic bottle falling into the dispensing slot of a vending machine, and those muffled internal shuffles and rumblings that precede its arrival represent the very essence of human anticipation - just 1.5 seconds of patience seems too much to ask of us, knowing that our ice-cold liquid prize is finishing its mythic journey to the magical portal of freshly-vended flavor, mere inches from our eagerly extended hands.  Conversely, there is nothing more disheartening than the sheer emptiness one is left with when pressing the vending selection button produces nothing more than the echo of hollow silence.  Gutted, saddened, broken - we've all witnessed the labored shuffle of a person walking slowly away from an uncaring vending machine, empty-handed.  Strangers point and laugh, a child lets go of her balloon, and our victim raises his eyebrows in sorrow, hopeful to shed a single tear had he not been left so, so dehydrated... WHY?!?

I'd rarely seen Glen exhibit anything other than a cheerful disposition and patient demeanor for the hundreds of miles we've shared together over the last couple years, but as his hand repeatedly pressed each vending button in succession, each with the same non-result, cracks began to show across his normally calm facade.

Sold out.  Every.  Last.  One.

So much for THAT plan.  Defeated, we instead retreated to a shady spot alongside a nearby building, and took advantage of the extra water and bonk rations we'd brought along.  Thoughts crossed my mind, but, instead I took advantage of the rest and tried to envision how far we sat from Troy, KS., south of US-36, and - uncharacteristic for me - off the route.  It had to be done, and since our speed had dropped so dramatically since embarking upon K-7, it turned out we were no longer in any kind of hurry.  Good thing, too:  both Glen and I had gone from top-of-the-world to absolute mush in less than 15 miles.  The temperature had risen to above 90ºF, first time this season for either of us on the bike in such heat, the pavement had taken its toll, and I had been out of water precisely long enough to feel the tell-tale beginnings of difficulty.  Seven miles, though -- surely we could limp that.

Limp we did.  Heading out of Fanning, we endured more pounding until finally reaching the top of the one remarkable hill on this stretch of K-7, where smoother pavement finally resumed.  The damage had already been done, certainly, but at least we could ride along without fighting for balance and sanity.  More climbing as we moved from the "new" K-7 onto its old alignment, heading toward US-36 and, beyond it, Troy, where a c-store, drinks, and air conditioning waited.

Cruelty, thy name is incline.

Why must every c-store in every little town be at the top of some impossible grade, when I so desperately need it not to be?  Delirious, I (at first) think I see a teenage girl covered in splatters of mud - which turns out to be real.  A strange sight, apparently from playing around in a nearby creek or something, who knows - yet, that is the sight that greeted me as I dismounted next to the Troy FastLane c-store.  Next to it, park benches and generous shade, which is where I found Glen.  Ninety-three degrees now, per his computer.  Removing my helmet, the signs of early dehydration are apparent in the deep dents across my brow from my head-cover.  Normally, these marks will bounce back and the skin will smooth out after a couple minutes, but the skin doesn't behave this way in a dehydrated state.  For me, anyways, this represents one of the early signs of trouble.  Another trick, hold out your hand, palm down, fingers straight.  Try to ignore the constant shaking (or is that just me, from all the coffee?).  With your other hand, pinch some skin between your thumb and forefinger, right above your middle knuckle, and gently pull it upward, then release.  It should, ideally, rebound quickly when you let go.  If it is slow to rebound, this is another sign of dehydration - at least on a dermal level.  Time to refill the tanks.  If you wait for a headache, you're already past this stage.
Of course, it's different for everyone.  If you have no idea what your personal dehydration signs are, well... good:  probably means you're drinking enough!

Not the worst I've had; yet, considering how good I'd felt upon arriving at White Cloud, it proves how fast hot weather can work on a cyclist when fluids are not replaced.  Didn't take long to get to this stage - flushed face, skin depressions remaining in place 10 minutes after removing my helmet, general wiped-out feeling.  Find some shade, rest, cool-down, let the HR drop, and DRINK.

6:49pm on the clock.  Wow... we had taken nearly two hours to cover 18 miles.  Granted, it shouldn't matter, and with the time we had in the bank we were certainly not in any danger of missing a cut-off, but, this last section should have only taken an hour - possibly less given our performance leading up to White Cloud.  Such is life, I suppose - but, the original notion of vanquishing the November performance will need to wait until KDOT comes to their senses.

As Glen and I wrapped up our rest, topped off bottles and mixed drinks for the last push back to St. Joseph, only 16 miles back to the start from here - yet, who knew how much we really had left in the legs after the punishment of the previous hour.  Glen had felt nauseated, and I just felt plain weird - a combination of an hour of hard vibrations and essentially running out of water and willpower.  We both felt off, proving that it doesn't take much - usually just one little thing - to mess up an otherwise good ride.  Right around 7:00pm, we pushed off.  The best part of the last leg on US-36, compared to November's edition:  the sun is still up, and is at our backs.  More than plenty visible, and with a good shoulder, Glen and I turned onto US-36, and put the hammer down.

A couple of good exchanges between us, we pushed with as much as we could muster - and before we knew it, we were knocking on the door of Wathena, KS., roughly halfway across the last leg.  Neither of us felt terrific, yet we made good time.  Bobbing and weaving the back-roads between Wathena and Elwood, KS....

sidenote..... I need to scour the maps for a town called "Jake" in KS, MO, IA or NE... the "Blues Brother's" permanent route depends on it!  
...we approached the turn up onto US-36 underneath the shadows of four ultra-light aircraft, slowly making their way south about 200 feet above our heads.  It was a cool moment, and reminded me that patience is an absolute virtue on these rides.  I don't think that directly correlates to road speed, but to the mental state I sometimes get into when things aren't going well.  Sure, it was bumpy - sure, we flushed our goal of a sub-12 hour finish - but, it was still a terrific day out on the bike, a bit of adventure, and a good story.  The delays on K-7 likely spared us the brunt of St. Joseph rush-hour traffic, honestly.  The last few miles of this route takes riders over the Missouri River on US-36, and past a couple entrance ramps joining 36 to adjacent highways nearby - which can be dicey.  Today, instead, hardly any traffic awaited us.  Slowly, legs beginning to protest, we checked off the last few turns and rolled up to Pappy's at roughly 7:30pm.

Ice cold beer.


What else is there to say?

With some distance between today and the ride, I'm simply chalking up to another one of those interesting elements that will probably make 2013 one of the best cycling years of my adult life.  Out of all this weirdness -- snow, high winds, the heat that will surely come later this season, and the ridiculous roads we endured this time around... it all makes for some pretty good memories.  More fodder for the I've-had-worse-files (which are bursting at the seams with six months of 2013 still left to go!)... I doubt I'll complain about "bad roads" any time soon, that's for sure.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned....

Kicking off R-12 #4 with a 600km ride in Iowa?  Yep.

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