July 28, 2013

The right attitude

After the last couple of weeks since the Iowa weekend, I've clearly
(last post) come to a boiling point with regards to my riding. And
while it remains premature, and it may well be, to say "it's all
fixed," the successful 200km ride finished last night certainly helped
point my feet in the correct direction.

I appreciate the folks that offered encouragement and advice while I
bounced off the bottom of my own canyon; but, that's exactly the point
I'll make here... I fall, but I usually bounce - and perhaps I bounce
higher that I had been before the fall itself.

Yesterday I rode the Princeton Roundabout route, and had a terrific
time. I gave myself a comfortable goal of 12 hours total to finish -
no pressure. In fact, going forward, my only real goal will be NOT to
set any aside from completing the ride within RUSA's constraints.
Therein, should I finish quicker: great! Yet, should I need all the
time, I don't get unnecessarily depressed over a goal not reached.
There lay the very precepts of randonneuring itself: the ride should
be enjoyed, but still finished within a reasonable timeframe. I had
created within myself a pressure based on benchmarks no one else had
enforced. Sure, I like riding with company - but their pace is not
always my pace. Being okay with that is the sign of a confident
rider; not a weak, slow rider. Strong riders complete rides at all
speeds - and, as difficult as it is for me to let go of this concept:
speed isn't important. Sigh.

That actually feels good to type.

Now that it doesn't matter, it seems I knocked off on of my best
rolling average speeds in months yesterday. The tone had been set in
June with Glen, until we hit road construction. Getting the bike
saddle back where it should have stayed prior to Iowa proved perfectly
cozy all day yesterday, which inspired my performance. Having rotated
the handlebars upward, creating a more comfortable cockpit, yielded
benefits which vaguely reminded me of how I used to sit on the bike a
decade ago. Comfortable, yet poised for tempo. By racing standards
my speed was modest; but, these are standards I will no longer aspire
to or drone-on about, as much as I admire them. I not a racer, and I
was never going to be one. I am much more comfortable in my own skin
as a "strong tourist." Consistency... Ha... That will take some more
rides like yesterday.

As will control time efficiency. Definitely in the tourists camp for
this category, I enjoyed far more stops and photo breaks - which I
will post later - capturing a train flyby, wondering exactly where
that cool, old concrete arch bridge was hiding is Osawatomie, as well
as the Adair cabin and other sights. Stopping to gaze up into the
deep blue skies while a hawk (or eagle?) whistled and screeched with
joy while soaring on thermals hundreds of feet above me. Stopping
along Cedar Creek to finally snap a few pics of that cool old truss
bridge. Watching some deer, as they watched me. Stopping to pet the
tiny, enthusiastic dog that decided to chase me when I decided all he
wanted to do was play. Stopping on a side road off the John Brown
highway when the rain started, to lay down, face up, and just let it
fall on me, instead of hiding under the brim of my cycling cap.
Chatting with a local farmer about how Ottawa is getting too big and
busy while enjoying a breakfast sandwich at McDonalds (cheers, Klink).
Chatting with a local cab driver in Paola, who gave me her card with
the offer of a ride home should I ever need one. Basically, I kept a
cool head and calm demeanor about the clock - comfortably staying well
clear of the control closures... Yet, rode fast enough to make up for
it, yet, somehow never felt rushed. I didn't tape over the speed
readout like I'd planned... Instead, this time, not consciously
decided, when I saw a number I didn't like, I shifted up a gear and
pushed harder... And guess what, Gates? My body didn't explode and I
didn't run end up wishing for reserves at the end of the ride. Hmmm.
How hard I push at mile 50 may not have anything to do with how tired
I feel at mile 100. That's me getting out of my own head ... Ride for
NOW. Later will come, whether I worry about it or not. Enjoy.
Smile. Pedal hard.

While this is dangerous business for someone pursuing R-12 consistency
on the last available weekend in July, it worked out - and with no-one
to hurry me along at the controls, I just took my sweet time about
things (not saying that's a bad thing - to be clear, *I* am the one
rushing to stay with people, they have never rushed me).

More to come... For now, feeling good!

July 26, 2013

The Iowa Weekend

And now.... A few pictures and some words about the big weekend up in Iowa, July 13th, 2013!
As time passes, I'm hoping that some of the other details about the ride will come flooding back to my brain.  This might be an indication of how rough things might have become for me, late in the day on Saturday the 13th.  I can usually recall sights, smells, sounds, and conversation from rides like they had just occurred a few minutes ago... but, this time, aside from some exceptions, there remain gaps in the portion of the ride I participated in (the first 410km).  The photos will likely help my memory, but, there is so much to cover - in mileage - the post, had I remembered every detail, would quickly become a chore to read (and write).  As much as I enjoy writing... well, I need to get back to riding, too!  For now, enjoy!

410km, roughly, in random pictures and captions....
Abbreviated, yes... but, at this point, it's probably the only way I'll be able to memorialize this ride:

The highlight (at least from my persepctive) of Madrid, IA. - the Flat Tire Lounge.  It's a bicycle bar, no kiddin'.  CHEAP draws, and great atmosphere.. right off the High Trestle Trail.  I wasn't lucky enough to make it to this spot on the route before it closed at 2am, so I'm really glad we'd decided to pay it a visit during the evening on Friday, after arriving in town!  My goal next time is two-fold:  okay... three... #1:  FINISH 600k.  #2:  See the High-Trestle Trail bridge lights ablaze (reach it before midnight), and #3:  arrive early enough to enjoy a beer at the Flat Tire.. and maybe close 'er down.  A GREAT bar, a great town, and a great trail system.  Central Iowa is just the business when it comes to cycling culture, and I had no idea, really.  I'll be back!!

Glen R. chatting it up inside the Flat Tire as Terry B. looks on; we four KCUC brethren talk shop and tactics for the big ride.  Tales from the vaults mingling in the humid air amid the clamor of thirsty trail users.... MAN, I can't help wonder how many hundreds of cyclists would flock to the trails in Kansas if there were even one "Flat Tire Lounge" located along their lengths!  If you build it, they will come... indeed!

Terry and I prepped our stuff, and laid things out for the morning - a process that took surprisingly little time compared to ride prep I've performed in the past in a hotel room.  I guess that's the byproduct of meticulous packing, and not bringing along too much stuff.  This was a big deal, but, I really only needed to have stuff ready for day-2 upon reaching the hotel room again, some 20 hours later.  Aside from that, the general kit remained the same as for any other ride.  The cue sheet was thicker, but, that was about it!  Not bad, and a big step forward for me.  Terry and I settled in, while Glen and Gary occupied the RAAM-wagon mobile command center RV out in the parking lot.  The sun dipped while we watched the last 50 miles of the latest Tour de France stage unfold on television.  Lights out.

After a surprisingly good night's sleep, my alarm stirred us, and we began the morning's activities.  Shower, food, roll the bikes outside, check in with the RBA.  Find Glen's missing gloves... ultimately find mismatched glove, turned inside out, it fits.  Check.  That's resourcefulness!

The KC crew, with David M. hiding behind the camera (booo!)
I felt fresh and ready... mainly because I hadn't crawled onto the bike yet!
Reflective gear anyone???  Check!
From L to R, Terry B., Gary D., me, and Glen R.

The sun begins to paint the eastern sky pink and blue, while Greg Courtney (Central IA RBA) gave pre-ride information and details of the route, weather, safety briefing, etc.  Just a few minutes before 6:00AM... the start cometh!

A shot from Glen's camera along Lincoln Highway, maybe 5 miles into the ride, Gary D. enters the frame at left with his orange safety vest, the Minnesota kit gent and the red Camelbak gent are pacing up for their 300k, maintaining a good pace, and I joined David M. for a few miles' worth of chat before our two routes would separate.  Way ahead, only visible if zoomed, are the faster 200km riders, eating up the road.  Sadly, we'd pass them only a few miles later, with one of the group suffering a flat; a real shame, as they had been setting a monster pace - two young women with tri-bikes, and a third strong guy.  

Thumbs-up shot, on the road to Maxwell, IA, and the first control - somewhere along route S27.
It's almost too warm for the vest, but the sun won't come out!

One of the last photos of me from Glen before I'd lose the ability to hold his wheel after Polk City, mile 45, roughly.
After the Maxwell control, Glen and I catch up to Terry, effortlessly pedaling away -- seriously, the guy makes it look easy!  Overcast, muggy, and warm... heck, it beats freezing temps and headwinds!  Genuine smiles, after a spring of hard Kansas City training starts to pay off!

I can even tell by my body language in the photo above that something isn't quite right - arms locked, back arched... I wouldn't really begin to feel the results until nearly the century mark, but I'd been continuing a rotation of pedal 10 times, slide forward, push self backward with knees and arms, repeat.  After a few miles, Glen and I would leave Terry behind, and ultimately, Glen would begin to pull away from me.  It was beginning to shape up like a typical 600k... few companions, if not solitude... I had hoped to be able to hold together with one or two guys the entire day, yet, I remained motivated to make that person Glen.  What it created instead was a more-tired me (and frustrated, especially after having done well at White Cloud in June).  I began to settle in to the idea that I'd be alone for some hours.  Gary?  Whooof.... LONG gone at this point, he'd passed us on the road to Maxwell, and wasn't around when we finally arrived.  He keeps it moving!

There was a lot to see after Maxwell, but I neglected to reach back for my camera for any of it.  Some of the sights will stay in my memory - truly unique and outstanding.  Passing a little time involved diagnosing a rattle on Glen's bike, which ended up just being some loose cargo inside his rack trunk -- frustrating, however; gosh don't I know that feeling!  After miles of really nasty "diamond-pattern" grooves and grating along K-7 only a month ago, can't really blame either of us for being paranoid about random rattles, though;  I think we're both still waiting for something big to fall off our bikes.

After reaching Polk City along a long, LONG stretch of open rural highway, we crossed Saylorville Lake - an experience in itself, as the bridge is marked with wind socks and warning signs about the potential for strong crosswinds!  Thankfully, the wind had been light  - but traffic and proximity to the guard-rail filled my head with images of my smartphone/camera twirling off into the drink below.  LONG bridge, too!

My usual view of Glen R., the strongman, super-diesel atop his fresh new rando-stallion.   Based on the time-stamp, I think this is somewhere between Maxwell and Polk City, but, not 100% sure.  Always a great riding companion, but, ultimately my road speed and control times would extend into the realm of the impossible.  Hard to bridge up to what you can't see!
Glen started to make good time on me, and Terry was also up ahead - having left Polk City quickly to give us a constant rabbit up the road, of sorts.  He was convinced that we'd be able to consistently catch up to him, as we've proven in the past - but, for me, it wouldn't last much longer.  Glen and I made Granger, IA. together, but after turning south into the SE head/cross wind, he began to eat up the road ahead, leaving me unable to answer.  Still sliding forward and readjusting, it never occurred to me to check the saddle angle markings themselves for evidence.  This part sounds weird, but it's a pretty real thing:  my favorite bike shorts also happen to be the slipperiest - made from very smooth Lycra - and on a fairly new leather saddle, sliding around in them was something I'd grown accustomed to.  Apparently, after about 1,000 miles, the saddle surface roughens enough to negate this issue... but, this day, I kept sliding forward, ultimately riding along on my tender bits - which began to cause issues.  That kind of discomfort creates the inability to push the pedals as hard as I would prefer... and the results were beginning to show.  In my head, I figured I was just having an "off" day.  I started to apply the usual "wait fifteen minutes" logic... but after an hour of waiting, I started to wonder about my chances.  Adding to my mental situation, watching riders with which I can normally keep pace begin to disappear into tiny neon-colored dots, miles up the road, began to eat away at my good mood.  Ugh... too early to feel this way.... keep pedaling!

One of the highlights of the ride, we then navigated onto the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which is a converted Rail-Trail, covering over the old Milwaukee Road - which, the RRVT folks have a great website which covers the history far better that I can here.  It's - honestly - a GREAT trail, and one of the best I've ever ridden.  The other "best" comes later in this same ride!  Amazing riding up here... for real!

Dallas Center, IA. depot, restored!  Bikes, bikes, bikes... I couldn't BELIEVE how busy the trail had been, and this is a trail that requires a day-pass purchase, enforced by wandering wardens looking for your tag/pass.  Our ride registration handled that part for us randonneurs.  The pavement, bridges, and old trestle structures were all in terrific shape, and the fun continues for 89 miles!  You could do nearly a 300km ride on the RRVT, and never need to mess with a lick of road traffic, save for the occasional at-grade crossing.  BLISS.

The Raccoon River, I trust?  Glen snapped this photo... and, weirdly, I barely recall passing this neat waterfall scene, complete with folks fishing and dipping their toes.  My brain may have already been on its way to check-out.
After a few zig-zags through Dallas Center... where I think we may have stopped at a non-control Casey's for a water refill... I can't remember...

If memory serves, I have a picture of Glen and I stopping at a water fountain, and chatting with a couple of local trail riders who'd been saving a special upper-cut to the face for whichever weather forecaster had uttered "light winds" the evening before.  The winds had been anything but light!

We continued once again onto the great RRVT, for another 10 blissful miles.  Hundreds of riders - no kidding - hundreds... the trail was packed, but everyone was courteous and well-paced.  With a slight benefit from the SE wind, and a bit of wind-tunnel effect created by the tree-lined right-of-way, I began to try and make up ground on Glen and Terry.  At some point, again, I had lost track of them - but I knew they'd likely be just ahead, maybe just around the bend.  Occasionally, zipping along the trail at 23 MPH (! FUN !), I thought I'd caught glimpses of Terry's reflective triangle... or was it Glen's?  Who could tell, but, I might have been gaining?  Foolishly, as often happens with me, I chose not to just settle in and ride to the next control - for some reason, it escaped me that if I could "see" them (if that bobbing neon yellow triangle about a half-mile ahead WAS either Terry or Glen), then I'd meet them at the next control in ten miles, where we would ALL have to stop.  Instead, my ego chose gears that my body couldn't.... well, you know the rest of that one.  In the blur of shadows and riders passing the opposite direction, amid the occasional overheard tune from someone's iPod speaker system (perhaps a good headphone alternative... one of the 300km guys was jamming on some tunes that way!), I tried like a moron to bridge up to someone, anyone, to maybe salvage a draft, and keep someone in arm's reach should I miraculously recover from the growing pain and mental stupor I seemed to be drifting into.

Perhaps it's my defining characteristic.  Perhaps this is a reason to get into really good shape, and race masters?  Pfffff-shhhyeah.... as-if...   But, that "all push, no brains" mentality maybe isn't the best for rando... although, it had worked for Jure Robic.  Since we're tossing around metaphors I can't possibly back up, I will say that it felt a lot like that highly improbable gap closing, that last-ditch effort by a lone racer in Le Tour, desperate for the sweet taste of the podium steps... peloton breathing down his neck, he never looks back... but just focuses on that bobbing neon-yellow safety triangle affixed to his worthy "opponent."

Silly games....

Redfield, IA. Casey's... after a while, these places all begin to look exactly the same.

Evidenced by the photo above, we all joined back up at the next control.
It had taken every last yard of the 9.8 mile long RRV Trail section to confirm I'd indeed been chasing Terry.  Who knows how long he'd been on the trail before I'd given chase, but I was proud enough for being able to knock off a dead-flat personal time trial to bridge the gap... no matter how stupid of a move it really was.  Sometimes, I just have no patience.  I should become a for-hire tandem stoker, and just leave the thinking to someone else.  Yeesh.

Within seconds of each other, Glen, Terry and me - all rejoined at the Redfield Casey's for powder, water, food, and rest.  Eighty miles accounted for.  A bit less than 300 to go... and I was whipped.  Clearly, I had come to the event with a 200km rider's mentality.  Worse things could happen -- at least I'd begun to grow numb enough to no longer be in too much discomfort, pretending that's a good thing, somehow.

Next, the leg to Audubon, IA, 48 miles distant.  Terry, confident that we'd catch him again, (ha!) mounted up after a quick stop, and started on his way.  Other 400km riders came and went, too, as I operated in a bit of a haze.  I do remember someone hollering at one of the 400km riders, a younger gentleman on a gorgeous burgundy Trek 520, who had begun heading the wrong direction from the control... who knows how long it would have been before he'd have realized his mistake, but we got him turned the right way 'round.  Before long, Glen and I mounted up, and headed out, too.  It was about 20 miles until the next town with a c-store -- the route on day one proved very forgiving, services-wise, with stops (controls or otherwise) evenly spaced almost every 20 miles on the nose.  It made for easy planning!  It would take, however, only a fraction of that to lose Glen's wheel again.  Time to settle in, and start to ride with my brain instead of my ego.  I smiled to myself, and started to just pedal what I could reasonably manage.  Still convinced that nothing was amiss with the bike, I also came to the conclusion that stuff was just going to hurt... deal with it.

Glen, making headway as the giant expanse of central Iowa bids farewell to the myriad small towns, and expands into endless farm fields and rolling hills.  Bye, bye, Glen...at least for a few hours.

The next 20 miles would begin to collect on my mind as some of the most scenic and satisfying of the entire journey... although, I was drifting in and out of mental acuity at times.

For example, I don't remember this at all.  This photo comes from Glen, somewhere along this section of the ride.  I'm not sure WHAT I was thinking about, or looking at, when I drifted past this grave marker (?), which is curiously positioned RIGHT at the edge of the small culvert/ditch separating the highway from the field in the background.  Is he buried in the ditch???  Weird... and, there should certainly be a story behind Mr. J.E. Moss's headstone placement.  Me?  I didn't even see it.  Thanks, Glen, for this photo!

More information on the photo above:  J.E. Moss was a Civil War veteran from the area, and these markers are found around the land he'd originally owned, which was sold to the state for used in the construction of the Lincoln Highway.  More information can be found here , here , and here.  The Lincoln Highway?  It was America's first transcontinental route, I believe opened or declared completed in 1919.  We rode along this magnificent road for quite a few miles, and I didn't know much about it until arriving back home.  Pretty cool... and it gives me a great idea for a future self-supported cross-country tour route.

Eventually, I did pull the camera back out for a few shots of my surroundings... the expanse of Iowa overcame my senses, and I recall just coasting and thinking "wow" as I stared off to the horizon in all directions.  No traffic... no others riders could be seen...  just the open road, and me.  Sometimes, this is exactly how I prefer life.

Staying chipper, somehow - maybe a bit slap happy.  This is the road behind me... 

...and this is the landscape to the south...

...and to the north...  trust me... the photo doesn't do justice to the scale of the landscape... those trees are a lot farther away than they look.  It seemed like I was completely alone, isolated, dropped onto a ribbon of highway in the middle of a giant farm tract which never seemed to end, and isn't broken by fences, phone-poles, or mile markers.  The road just seemed to go on forever.

More of the same, the sun begins to burn off the clouds of the morning, as the day turns to afternoon.  My smile here is larger because I'm squinting a bit more than usual:  a byproduct of not having worn my usual cycling glasses - which provide more eye protection.  The other half of that smile is the result of some honest hills.  Hills have long been my friend - a challenge each time, and far better than the monotonous act of pedaling along on a flat for hours at a time with no break.  Do I like hills, or do I like coasting??  I'm good at both.  Iowa's hills are far longer than the grades I'm used to in Missouri and Kansas... which was a good thing!

The forward-looking companion to the shot above, you can see the road extending straight west, off to nothingness, with a few hills tossed in for fun.  This stand of trees would be the closest any of us would get to shade, save for the rail-trail sections.  Exposed during July's heat and humidity... an extra layer of challenge.

The next dozen miles covered, I inched closer and closer to the turn-around control at Audubon, and some food and drink.  Hydrating well-enough, I felt alright -- but I knew that I hadn't had to take a nature break in a very, very long while.  Still sweating, however... no headache, no cramps... all good.  I took a few more swigs from my ever-lighter water bottles, just for good measure.  Despite growing discomfort, I knew I was at least getting the hydration thing right.

A few more miles pass, and I come upon a rider changing a flat tire on the edge of a small creek overpass -- I signal for a thumbs-up, but there is no response... heads-down, tube and tire in hand, he clearly had things in order.  He had been on the opposite side of the road, also, which meant only one thing... I now knew exactly how far ahead the faster riders had been.  Whoof... but, really, I suppose it wasn't too terrible, considering.  At the time, I maybe had another 3-4 miles to the control... in only 128 miles, however, the fast bunch was still eight miles ahead... probably more, without the flat.
A mile later, Gary D. and another rider flew the other direction with big smiles and waves... which I returned.  Gary D. is showing the kind of form that I remember seeing from the Warbird... focused, with no concerns for the distance itself... just one speed:  hard.  My phone is ringing again, with the caller-ID showing "wake up."  I have to ride my own ride, especially at this point in the day... the point where I'd normally be signing my card at the LAST control, I was still just 1/3rd finished with the ride.

Another mile, and here comes Glen, over the hill joining the small loop that would take me through Audubon, to the control, and then back out of town on the same road.  Glen looked good, fresh, smiling... but, he also indicated that he certainly felt like he'd just ridden 130 miles, for sure.  None of it was "easy", no matter how much the case it appeared to me.  We chatted about the day a little, and what the rest of the route held in store for us.  I quietly hoped to catch up to him and maybe ride the night section with a restored group, but I knew better.  Even if Glen had taken a very quick stop at the Casey's I'd still yet to reach, he was at least 30 minutes ahead of me.  The good news involved Terry still likely being there, so Glen and I parted ways, and I continued into town for the next signature on my card.

Upon arriving, Terry had just begun preparing to depart - which was a bit of a bummer.  Too prideful, I refused to ask if he'd mind sticking around for a few minutes, for I knew I wouldn't have been able to hold his wheel anyhow.

Sunrise on Sunday, Ralph R. and Dan P. from Springfield making their way toward their official 400km finish.  We're only a few miles outside Ames, and though we all commented how strange it was to see the sun rise, set, and then rise AGAIN on the same 400k, it was still a good time.... but, no lie, Iowa holds one tough event!

Glen brings it home -- and with a quiet nod to the Tour de France stage winners, he points out the tiny manufacturer's logo on his jersey as he crosses the line!  Awesome... and while the day was hot, the wind was stronger, and the sun unforgiving, his pedal stroke looked strong, his spirits remained high.  It's a finish... and, if I'm not mistaken, his first 600k!

Gary D. in a great shot - flying by at speed, he refused to coast to the finish, it seemed -- focused and driving the pedals, no matter how tired he said he might have been, he looks as determined at mile 375 as he had at mile 15, nearly 36 hours earlier.  Strong, strong rider.  Make no mistake... that's a single water bottle strapped to an old Astro-Daimler frame, with original running components, 27" wheels, and old-school 52/42 front gearing, and a 5-speed freewheel in back, with 13-24 teeth range on the cogs.  This guy is cut from the old cloth, and there is no catching him.  While it seems I am chasing EVERYone these days until I get my diet and focus back on track, this guy is quickly becoming the guy I need to chase.

Terry B. bringing it home!  600km in the bag, with shadows growing long - the smile says it all!

Proof in the numbers, a snapshot of Glen's trip odometer, back at the parking lot in Ames after completing day-2's two-hundred kilometer leg.  600km, signed and sealed!

For me, the day became night - the controls became fewer and farther between, and the goal of making it to the Flat Tire before closing time began to evaporate as the sun dipped and the stars and blinking lights of the region's communication towers filled the darkness.  Everything had begun to hurt, even the arches of my feet and my jaw bone... but, I joined up with Dan P. and Ralph R. from Springfield, MO., and we three haphazardly traded pulls and mainly just kept each other company as the hours unfolded.  Miles of endless highway, long, flat sections of road passing by underneath us while the hemisphere slept.  Dancing headlight beams in a sea of black.  This stood out as one of the best parts of the ride for me, despite the sometimes demoralizing headwind, which remained until probably 1:30 in the morning, making it seem as if we'd never reach those red blinking lights on the horizon -- which probably belonged to some other city besides Ames, but gave me a target, nonetheless.

I made the information control at 12:30am, two hours off the schedule I'd hoped to keep.  A nice bench, and a cold drink.  Three riders, alone in the darkness, surrounded by silence.

My total pace was cripplingly slow.  There were brief moments where I felt strong, climbed well - but they didn't last.  Ralph began to experience unbearable foot pain, and while Dan had the best push out of all of us, it was simply a long day on the bike for everyone.  My issues had radiated out into every limb and joint, and so I caved and finally started caffeine and ibuprofen to hopefully improve my mood and condition.  Somewhere in the dark, I quietly quit the 600k... all I wanted to do was get off the bike, and lay down.  Things that had gone numb began to sing with alarming nerve twinges which caused me to shudder, and the thoughts of a long recovery seemed to confirm that continuing for another 200k would only make things worse.  The thoughts of hitting every last control, and finding none of them open, began to depress the spirit.  No Flat Tire, no High Trestle Trail lights on the bridge, no hot food... ugh.  Every third and fourth-level goal, vaporized.  It took three hours to cover 30 miles to Madrid, and by then, it was nearly 4:00AM.  The last 23 miles took until 6:30AM.  I was done riding, and nobody was going to tell me anything to the contrary.

It was a great feeling, though, to see Gary and Glen burst forth from the RV with thumbs-up and cheers -- even if I was too out of it to show my true appreciation.

Hotel achieved, I showered, ate, and got 15 fast minutes of sleep.  Decision time.
Everything was sore, my mind scattered... but mainly loaded with the word "can't".
Glen and Gary rolled out, then Terry... which left me with my thoughts, and we pretty much know how THAT is gonna go.  I got as far as suiting up and riding from the hotel to the I-35 overpass, maybe a half-mile...

Nope.  Gave it a shot.  (sure you did...)
The wind, the full sun, and the remaining pain - yeah..., for me, in that moment - it wasn't worth it.

As it is said, it is what it is.  I still had a very memorable 400km!

Another hour of sleep, and then a days-worth of regrets and "shouldas", just to get it out of my system, but it was really cool getting to see Terry, Glen, and Gary finishing their ride!

As for riding in Iowa.... I am SO glad I went up there!  It really ended up being a great ride because of the time I'd spent with friends, and having the chance to ride with some folks that I usually only get to read about.  It was a great weekend, and I can't wait to head back up there someday.


I am starting to see a pattern, unfortunately - a pattern that needs to be broken.
I wrote about 1,000 extra words here, all self-examination and rhetoric, and then deleted it all.
It's for me to read, maybe a year from now... certainly 6 months from now.  But, I clearly had a lot of personal, internal dialogue to unload -- and the keyboard just happened to be right in front of me.
I have since taken those concerns and questions to where they belong:  home, with my wife.
She knows me better than I know myself -- and that's the best way to sort it out, because it's only bicycling-related on the surface.

For now, no matter how often, or how infrequent, I may post here:  know this:

I'm fine.
Life IS truly good.
The streak will continue.
This (whatever "this" is) is temporary.

Those friends and family that are always made aware of my plans will continue to be made aware, for safety-sake.

However, I can't ride to create drama that might keep these pages interesting.  I swear, creating drama is not what I've been doing... everything you've ever read here is very, very real and captures the moments as they occurred.  But, subconsciously, something is going on ... self-sabotage?  Fear?  Burnout?  It's only beyond 400km, apparently... but I know the barrier isn't physical.  But, even at the 200k level... every once in a while, "something" always seems to happen.  It's not normal for someone of (forgive me) my intelligence and capabilities to keep repeating silly mistakes and foibles, and taking stupid risks with formulas that have worked in the past.  Making saddle adjustments the week before a big ride???  A history of getting dehydrated easily, and having a few beers the evening before a 600k???  If anyone should know better.... good grief.  I honestly don't get it, and it concerns me that I can't figure myself out.
I either need to learn to accept my limitations and say "no", or stop creating excuses and do what I set out to do.  Assuming I even want to.  Sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, I will be here, and I will be thinking about riding.  It's just what I do.  But, I need to reaffirm that I'm really okay doing it for ME.

The stories are beginning to blend together, same routes, same situations, same outcomes.
Only by stripping away all that I have used to hold myself accountable will I truly know if I am riding for the right reasons... only when it is good enough to ride x-number of miles without telling anyone about it will I know.  Would I still ride, even if it didn't "count"?

I love riding my bike ... the rest is just accessory.

To do list:
Put tape over the speed readout on the computer.
Stop thinking, and just pedal.
No drama.
I know how to eat, drink, and prepare.  Just execute it, and start enjoying yourself.
If something adjusted feels good and doesn't hurt -- don't.  freaking.  touch.

I need to find out... do I really have the inner desire to ride farther than 400km?
Is having done X in the past GOOD ENOUGH?
Is it okay to leave a DNF out there, and never go back?  (Tejas)
Am I letting my automatic self-comparison to the accomplishments of others -- even my own past accomplishments -- stand in the way of my own enjoyment?
Get out of your own head.
Is blogging therapeutic anymore, or does it actually CREATE the stress of feeling like I "have to", instead of feeling like I "want to"?
Am I, therefore, holding the shovel responsible for the hole I'm trying to crawl out of?
Am I already out of that hole, and just too stupid to realize it?
Get out of your own way.


If it isn't fun, it really is time to hang it up.

For now, I need to stop trying to prove things to everyone else...sometimes I fear I have crossed the line from "sharing" to "bragging" when I do well, and just out-and-out complaining like a whiny child when things don't go well.  I don't want to be that guy.

I hope to look back on this post and have more answers than remaining questions.

Until then, in all seriousness - because you certainly don't have to:   thanks for reading.

I love riding my bike.
For now, that's what I am going to do.

July 23, 2013

Flashback to RAAM - a short edit

Came across some random-ness while cleaning up my hard-drive.  Man... it was like riding on the moon... at least for Alex!  Geoff and I were too busy trying to stay awake in the van!  Thinking about how humid it's been on commutes this week in KC, riding through the high-country in Utah with maybe 2% humidity is sure a contrast.  The headwind is a little more... dangerous, however.  Good times...

I've decided I need a follow-car for my commutes, with roof-mounted stereo system, please.  Volunteers?

July 16, 2013

Post Iowa Check-in

Just a quick post prior to a larger post with photos.  First off, officially, I posted a DNF for the 600km I'd signed up for.  I finished 410km, roughly, and made it back to the hotel after sun-up on Sunday - which, at 24 hours plus, makes for one of my slowest 400km rides, and may indicate the toughness of the day.

Recap and notes... let's get this part over with:

I knocked out the equipment preparedness like a champ, but, physical prep wasn't so hot for me this time... Heck:  this year.  No sense hashing it all out in print, but I've yo-yo'd on body weight all year (this moment in time being one of the higher swings in recent memory), haven't ridden much, and even signing up for 600, well, even the wife asked (afterwards) what I'd been thinking.  As far as packing, though, perfect.  No issues with the bike, no issues overpacking or taking along too much stuff.  I need to step back, however, and get back to work on ME.

Saddle issues that aren't the saddle's fault:   The saddle turned on me somewhere around mile 100, which ended up being the result of uneven bolt tension or just me being hasty during the last adjustment.  I thought I'd had it nailed after White Cloud last month, but after having zero-saddle issues on that June ride, I elected to slide the saddle back on its rails about 2mm for better knee placement over the pedal spindle.  Upon re-tightening the bolts, I put the angle exactly where it had been previously, or so I'd thought.  I don't know exactly what I did, but, when I put the bubble-level on the saddle after arriving home yesterday, it was NOT level.  Instead, it was pointing slightly nose-down!  "What the???"  This wasn't apparent to the naked eye, but it was definitely apparent to my gentleman-bits after 100 miles on the first day, and the sliding-forward sensation I'd experienced earlier in the saddle's life was back, bigtime.  The only thing I can think is that I'd gotten the angle close, but then gave it one more tweak...but turned the bolts the wrong direction...and never rechecked to see if it was level.  None of my commutes or training rides after that had been long enough for me to notice any problems.  Who knows, but it's fixed now.  Another reason to maybe RIDE A LITTLE before a big event, just to make sure?  Gawd, I feel dumb sometimes, and I really don't know how this slipped past me.

Riding a little?  I crossed 1,600 miles with the completion of the 410km first section of the 600km event.
That's about half normal for me for this time of year.  Mathed-out, I started the 600k with 1,300 miles logged for the year.  
840 of those miles are permanents or brevets, which leaves only 460 miles of commutes or other rides in six months time. 
That nearly equates to having ridden to work only 20 times this year.  Don't be surprised if I suddenly change the name of the blog from "commuterdude" to "guy that drives to work and then rides long distances" dot com.  Catchy.

Hydration.  So nervous to UNDER-hydrate, I guess I swung the other direction and OVER-hydrated.
The resulting fluid retention made for some interesting pains and swelling, wherein I went from not peeing at all, to peeing every 10 miles when I switched to straight water at the halfway, to dilute away the electrolytes I'd seemingly over-consumed.

Calories.  Nervous to bonk, ate too much.  Cramps, bloating, discomfort.  Hashbrowns on a ride.  They don't work.  They really never have worked.  How come I always forget this when I smell them?  

Handlebar issues?  Hands cramping and numb after mile 200 had me wondering about many things, and it turns out I should have paid closer attention here, also.  This change, however, happened very slowly over time - rough roads, impact jarring, etc., my handlebars had rotated down a few degrees, which amplified everything else in turn.  I raised them back up to get the hoods and bar "flats" nearly level again.  MUCH better... but, it's something that apparently didn't bother me too badly at 200km and below.  It's also possible that the saddle angle causing so much sliding forward kept my arms far more involved than normal, so it might not have been the handlebar's fault at all... but, the more level position does indeed feel better now, so I'll give it a whirl for a few rides.

But, do I regret going?  No.  
I don't even consider it a "failure."  
I had -- despite all the issues above -- a good time!  I know... sounds hard to fathom, but that's mainly because I'm not normal.
I stopped having enough "fun", however, to warrant continuing the last 200km.  At that pivotal juncture, the pains I'd experienced had begun to cross over into the category of "won't heal in two weeks."  At this writing, things have improved... but, I know I'd made the right choice.  Continuing would have pushed me farther over the edge, and simply wouldn't have been smart of me.

My only REAL regret is that I should have seen this coming, and I should have - therefore - signed up for the 400km ride, instead of the 600.
The difference being, had things gone EXACTLY the same I would be writing this with a 400km finish and July's ride would be in the bag.  If I'd felt fresh enough to ride the last 200km, I totally could have... and only the 600km would have been "unofficial".  Big deal!  But, I would have come home with SOMEthing other than training notes.  Minor setbacks, though.  I found the wall, pushed on it, and I think it moved a little bit.  Issues have been corrected, my forehead has been slapped, and I'm ready to move forward.  Still a couple weeks left to get July checked-off.  Still half-a-year to get back into a good commute routine.

But, as Glen reminded me:

Only if it's FUN.  Otherwise...what am I doing ANY of it for??

That proved to be a good test.  After letting Terry, Gary and Glen head out without me on Sunday morning, after I'd showered and grabbed about 15 minutes of sleep, I was still torn and conflicted.  I hemmed and hawed about continuing, and finally got myself together and suited up in fresh gear for day-two.  I rolled the bike outside, lifted a tired and half-numb leg over the top tube, and clicked in.  As I pedaled out of the parking lot and onto 13th street, the wind in my face, a clear sky allowing the sun to punch right down into the lower layers of my skin, and pain welling up quickly, I asked myself:  "ok...are you having ANY fun right now?"

It was "no."

But, I tell ya:  despite the DNF, it was great to be back on the ragged edge of long, unknown distances again.
I hadn't had the stones to sign up for anything longer than 300k in years, and even though doing so this year proved a mite foolish, I don't see any reason I can't do a 600 with better preparation.  I nearly pulled it off without much preparation at all, and while I cannot recommend that approach, apparently it's possible.  WITH proper preparations, things like 1,000km suddenly seem tangible... but, one thing at a time here.  

No, this was not a wasted trip, at all, and I have a bucket full of memories to share.
The Iowa group puts on a stellar event, the scenery is top-notch, and the route, the people, the traffic, the trails... riding in Iowa is like a dream.
Hanging out and talking shop with the guys over a cold one, the RV road-trip there and back...great times!

What an amazing weekend!

Stay tuned for a photo dump and more notes...

July 6, 2013

So, what do you carry?

   As I button up preparations for next week's Iowa Randonneur's 600km brevet, updating the seat-bag contents post seems timely, and partially prompted by a recent social media exchange.  The seat-bag list, something I'd posted on here a long while back, needed updating anyhow.  Even some of the items listed on that old post weren't included from my original "master" list from the first couple years of randonneuring, which includes now-deleted items like spare Lumotec halogen bulbs, an emergency rain poncho, and spare AAA batteries.  Those items are possibly still valid for a lot of folks, but it's amazing how my thinking and technology have changed over time.  LEDs have rendered light bulbs (for bikes) obsolete, and the rain poncho kinda makes me chuckle at myself... oh, how so afraid of rain I used to be.  The spare AAA batteries come from a time before I'd discovered the joys of generator-powered tail-lights, though I technically still carry 2 spare AAA batteries inside my fender-mounted backup tail-light.

Probably the best thing I carry along is a fortune cookie slip from many years back, which came to me after dinner, a few weeks after DNF'ing the 400k in 2002.  It's yellowed and crunchy, but I finally laminated it with shipping tape, and it remains a permanent fixture inside my seat-bag repair kit.
Good advice, lest I forget it out on the road somewhere.
The main lesson to myself, and echoed by the phrase I still utter when preparing for a longer-than-normal ride from the Warbird concerning the inability to pack a spare bicycle, is that resourcefulness weighs nothing and takes up zero space.  I don't need to carry a spare cassette, for example... that's silly to say, but, it's something I indeed packed along for the 2005 600km brevet... a brevet I never started, because I talked myself out of it in the garage after not being able to pack enough stuff.  (No, really.)  I had suffered quite badly from packing-paralysis after a couple personally remarkable DNF's in my early rando years, and for a while I got into the bad habit of buying ever-larger bags to carry an ever-increasing (and unnecessary) list of spares, parts, and tools.  A back-up rain jacket?  A spare chain?  You'd have thought I'd been preparing for an unsupported solo tour of southern Asia... not a (in retrospect) fairly benign local ride with reasonable distances between c-stores.  This, however, is how we learn... we can't discover "up", until we "fall down."

Cheers... as the waitress pours another round of bottomless coffee... it's 3am...

So, here we are - coming on 12 years since those first nervous discussions about riding a "bruh-vay", I still know that I have much to learn.  The list will change again, surely as I discover new frontiers... the 1,000km.... the 1,200km.... an over-seas 1,200km.... many frontiers left to discover!

For now, here's the latest iteration of the seat-bag list for ME, the 'Dude, and - specifically - not "you."
I say that for a lot of reasons that might not warrant mentioning, but, like saddles, shorts, gloves, and riding preferences, it's personal.  YOUR list should match your gear, your experiences, your knowledge and your ability to think in the field.  It's mind over matter - but the matter still matters, and how a problem looks and feels at mile 30 compared to mile 300 will help you realize that some problems can be overcome with ingenuity... others require a very specific item or tool.  Above all else, if you can't see the solution to a problem it immediately becomes difficult to visualize the finish of the ride itself... breathe... relax... think... know that you CAN... and execute.  There are reasons to quit, and there are excuses to quit... remember why you started... and know that you can overcome and finish.  The rest is just noise.

Ok, enough "fine-print".... 

Spares / Fix-its:
»  Three 700x28c tubes; unboxed, individually wrapped in zip-top sandwich
         bags, & secured with elec tape
»  Presta to Schrader valve adapter
»  Presta valve extender
»  9-speed SRAM® Power-link©
»  Four (4) small zip ties
»  FiberFix® emergency spoke
»  standard spoke nipple, brass
»  small safety pin
»  two Park® Super-Patch kits
»  three Park® Tire Boots
»  Spare shifter cable
»  one SPD cleat bolt
»  one 5mm allen bolt (rack or fender)
»  spare frame pump washer/cartridge insert
»  two post cards (for infor controls)
»  ballpoint pen
»  $10.00 emergency cash; combination of bills and coins for vending machines
»  2 spare ziptop sandwich baggies

»  Crank Bros® micro chain tool
»  5mm Allen wrench
»  4mm Allen wrench
»  Quik-Stik® tire lever, cut to shorter length

»  Single serving Clif Shot™ energy gel pack
»  single-serve Hammer "Fizz" electrolyte tablet

Medical / Comfort:
»  tin of Lantiseptic©  30 x 7, 5mm size
»  one anti-diarrheal tablet
»  four benadryl
»  two antibiotic ointment packs
»  extra sunscreen
»  Chapstick
»  Emergency space blanket
»  one strike-anywhere waterproof match

»  MP3 player & single-earbud from 
»  three small "lucky rocks" that kids & I picked up on bike trail once, and a Japanese coin from the Warbird
» the aforementioned Chinese fortune cookie slip

Clothing (specific for rides extending past dark, or known weather changes):
[Specifically for this 600k, mainly for rain and overnight chills] - 

» spare reflective ankle bands  (losing one is not a good reason to DNF or get DQ'd)
» Craft thin head-cover
» full-finger thin wool gloves
» Walz wool cap 

Nearly everything on the lists above has a story behind it.  
Three tubes?  Because once, in 2002, two wasn't enough.  Two patch kits?  Same reason.  A frame pump instead of CO2 inflators?  You can run out.  It happens.  Sure, someone MAY come along with a pump... but that's not a guarantee one can hang their hat on.  No matter what, you have to approach preparedness as if you will be the last person on the route.  

I have a lot of "that-one-time" parts, also:

SPD cleat bolt?  It didn't happen to me... but it really would have helped that guy I was riding with that one time.  Spare 5mm Allen bolt?  Same deal... didn't happen to me, but it would have fixed Greg & Karen's rear rack on that one 300k.  Who knows... the parts you carry may not be for you, but someday they might be.  There is something satisfying about fixing someone else's problem, too... we're all in this together.
Greg and Karen's issue was ultimately fixed with a couple zip-ties... but the SPD cleat issue was something that involves enough force and pressure, only the "real thing" would truly fix it.  In his case, though not ideal, he simply just "flat pedaled" it the remaining distance.  It's an example, however, of something one never thinks about completely changing the tone and feel of a ride.  

Spare frame pump washer and insert?  That did happen to me... upon loosening the cap to flip the cartridge from presta to schrader operation, a premature cycling of the pump piston shot the innards off into the grass beyond the ditch we'd been standing in to fix the flat.  Amazingly, I was able to find it... but one little mistake rendered the frame pump useless.  I'm extra careful now, should the switch from presta to schrader (rare) ever be needed again... but, I'm covered.  Further still, if the rubber washer suddenly decides to crap-out, I've got a fresh spare.

The strike-anywhere waterproof match and space blanket are an homage to that one "worst day on the bike" in 2002.  If I ever get caught in the rain on a cold night alone, I know that I can probably build a shelter and get a fire going.  Probably never need to, but it's a good skillset to have:  whenever I start a fire in our fireplace, or go camping, it's a great opportunity to practice pulling dry tinder out of a soaking-wet landscape, and getting a fire going when you've only got one shot at it.  Further, and keeping with the above, one also never knows when you'll come upon someone that's having a far worse day than you are.  You can quickly become someone's hero while you wait for the "bus" to arrive.  On REALLY long rides in the future, I plan to add an "airplane" size bottle of whiskey and a chocolate bar to my kit... master-guide style.

The mental stuff goes a long way, too.  It's not superstition.  Coming across a small trinket, a note to yourself, a small heirloom ... any of these things can snap you out of panic, worry, and anxiety, and get you focused back on the here-and-now, and a solution to a problem.  Anything that reminds you of why you are there, what you're going, how you've had it worse in the past, and maybe bring a grin to your face.
Music, I have come to appreciate it's power over me.  It's not automatic; sometimes it stays in the bag... but, if things start to become less-than-fun, music goes a long way... and consequently, I end up going farther, too.

Safety pin... what if something on your clothing is bugging you?  What if something rips?  Never know.

The SRAM power-link combined with the Crank Brother's micro chain tool will fix any broken chain.  If the resulting chain is too short to thread thru the rear derailluer, simply convert to a single speed, right there, and disable the rear shifting by undoing the cable and securing with a zip tie.  If you can ride a 600k at all, you can ride the remaining distance with one gear, whether you've done it before or not, and whether or not you have to walk the steeper hills.  You'll finish, you'll have fun, and you'll find out a lot about yourself in the process.

More on that Crank Brother's micro chain tool:  it's not available as an individual item.  I bought a complete Crank Brother's seat-bag tool, and took it apart to get JUST the chain tool I wanted.  The rest of the tool is sort of awkward and compromised, so I use real Allen wrenches in my kit instead.  The chain tool, however, was designed to fold flat against the 5-piece pocket tool it came with, so - by itself - it's practically flat and easy to pack.  The chain pin breaking leverage once provided by the attached pocket tool body is gone, however, so I use my separate 5mm Allen wrench for that function.  If you can't find the tool you want on the shelf at the local bike store, fashion your own... which is sorta what this involved.

Valve extender.  While I run Mavic Open Pro rims and can use the shortest presta valve tubes without any issues (and that's what I pack), the person that is riding with you may be running 60mm deep-dish rims, and starts getting flats.  You can't donate a tube to his cause if he can't get it inflated.

Spare cash.  Though I learned on the last ride that one can't always count on vending machines, sometimes one can't count on reaching a control before it closes for the night.  On the recent April 300k, we pulled up to the last control quite literally as they were counting down the cash and sweeping the floor.  We got lucky.  Still, with a little meandering one can sometimes find a vending machine in front of a store... and that may be the only chance you get at a refill on your bottles, or some calories.  On long, remote rides, cash is king.  Make sure your bills are crisp, vending-machine friendly bills.  Carry coins, too... sometimes those small towns don't have the "fancy" vending machines that take dollar bills.  In a pinch, a dollar bill makes a great tire boot.  A quarter can double as a flat-blade screwdriver for Look pedal cleats.

Always be ready to improvise.  Remember, most c-stores have basic tools, duct tape and some lubricants.  Even motor oil is better than a dry chain after a rainstorm.  Donate the left-over to the store staff:  they all have cars, and someone will need it.  Apply with a "Q-tip", slowly, one roller at a time - don't pour!  

Zip ties & electrical tape... they can fix almost everything.

I am deeply humbled by the fact that many people have mentioned to me that I have inspired them to ride, and have given them good advice along the way... but, I've got my inspirations, too:

MY litmus tests:  
Spencer Klaassen, local rando-hero and finisher of many 1,200kms and beyond:  on two separate occasions his bicycle frame broke during an event - once on a local 200k perm, and once in Australia on a 1,400km brevet.  On both occasions, he finished.  Roadside sticks, a frame-pump used as a frame-tube splint, electrical tape and pump straps, bits of Coke can used as shims and bracing.  The ONLY thing that I've ever known to get Spencer to make a phone call involved his bottom bracket completely disintegrating during a ride... and, honestly, you can't fix that in a ditch.  Even then, he started walking toward the finish before realizing he wouldn't make the cut-off time.  Spencer is an extreme case... quite literally, the guy doesn't know how to spell "quit."  

It doesn't always have to be extreme, though:

Ort of Texas, barely 60 miles from the finish of a particularly difficult, rainy 600k, suffered one of the nastiest flat tires I've ever read about.  The thing literally started falling apart and tearing, bead-to-bead.  Unwavering, he patiently fashioned the ugliest, gnarliest duct-tape & electrical tape tire boot fix, and rode it to the finish.  Far from perfect, but WAY better than a DNF or a long walk.  It may appear impossible... but remember... breathe... relax... think.... is it REALLY that bad?  Try stuff.  Finish.  

Also, remember.... even though you are riding a complete bicycle, you are really riding a collection of spare parts and fasteners... never forget that you can use parts from somewhere else on your bike to fix something broken.  Noah fixed someone else's threadless stem that'd started slipping during a Dark Side Ride once by donating one of his four stem faceplate bolts.  Technically, you only need two... and his technically oriented mind knew this.  If the guy you're riding with suddenly loses rear derailleur function due to a stripped cable pinch bolt, replace it with one from a fender stay, and secure the fender with zip ties. It doesn't always work out, but remember that your spare parts don't stop just because it's not in your seat-bag.  And --- note to SELF --- don't be timid about unbuttoning parts from your own, pristine and well-maintained machine.  Someone else's finish is worth it, and you can make things right again when you finish.  For the OCD guy in me, that's difficult to remember sometimes!  For me, I try to think of all of these things before REALLY raising a sweat about a roadside break-down.  ANYTHING is possible... however weird and improbable it may seem.  Finish.  

Spokes are a booger.  They are long, and you usually have to carry at least three to cover all the varied lengths between front and rear wheels.  Two FiberFix spokes will fix ANY of them - even someone else's - and don't require cassette removal if something lets-go on the drive side of the rear wheel.  They are infinitely reusable.  Mine paid for itself immediately in Texas on a rough-road 200k, where a Mavic Ksyrium spoke let go.  Usually a proprietary nightmare, the FiberFix worked perfectly on the "boutique" wheel, held it perfectly true, and allowed me to finish the last half of that 200k.  GOLD.  Absolute GOLD.   Get one.  

The best way to prevent 99% of roadside issues is to routinely maintain your ride, check things out, tighten, true, clean, inspect, replace before it's needed.  Cables should be at least "season-new."  The chain should be new enough that you won't exceed its service life during your event.  Chainrings and cassette should be inspected every spring, and replaced as-needed.  Tires should be the same rule as the chain:  make life easy, and run fresh rubber whenever you are able.  Make sure your patch kit isn't dried out.  

Of course, none of this means anything if you can't take it along with you in a practical fashion.
As lengthy as the list above is, it all, literally, fits into a standard cycling cap.  If I remove the spare tubes, the post cards and the space blanket -- the bulkiest of the items -- everything, literally, fits in the palm of one hand  (prove it?  okay.).  I can probably add the tubes and such in one hand if I balance it carefully.  The clothing additions, of course, are not shown... because they aren't always needed.  Below is the "no-matter-what", any-distance kit.

The complete kit will fit into a medium seat bag without any issues.  I ultimately put everything into a larger Jandd "Tire Bag", which has enough leftover space for three baggies of "mix" powder, and my wallet and brevet card.  Finally, recently, I've upgraded to a Carradice bag, which carries the same kit, but had room for more food and extra clothing without having to resort to toe-straps and rear rack lashings.  
From 50km to 600km, the kit doesn't change:  I just might carry a little extra food, and a change of clothes for weather changes.

(I like that particular photo of the smaller Carradice bag, as it really gives you an idea on size with the saddle for reference.  It's not THAT large, honestly - it's the smallest Carradice makes.  It handles everything nicely with just a smidge of headroom, and doesn't tempt me to try and take things I don't really need.  In 2007, I used something much larger from Carradice, the Super C saddlebag) and almost stuffed it to capacity.  My, how far I've come.)

You don't have to carry everything... you don't even have to carry everything *I* do, as some TRUE minimalists would still consider my kit to be excessive.  But, for me, it's really trim, compact, and purposeful.  I could get everything in my back jersey pockets, and carry no baggage at all.. and really, that in itself might be a good test:  if you can't fit it in your jersey pockets, you probably don't need it. 

Your mileage may vary.  

Preparedness shouldn't be paralyzing... remember to have fun.  Being prepared is a large component of KEEPING it fun when the going gets tougher.  No matter what you carry, or how far you go, remember:  

You are carrying far more with you than you realize.

and... above all else...

...you can finish.

Have fun out there!