August 29, 2013

A return to consistency? Let's not get crazy!

A lot of things have happened since 2010, but let's not go too far down memory lane today.  I don't have the energy.  A tough, tough commute home tonight in the heat - and I finally feel like I've pushed myself to the wall, personally.  I haven't paid attention to perceived effort, and have ignored the advice of ye olde "never do two hard days in a row," specifically with the same kind of goals in mind as I've brought to the permanents and brevets lately:  push myself.  Ride hard.  Ride lots.  Today, the bubble sorta popped on me... just didn't have the juice today, all things being equal.  Instead of a generalized feeling of malaise or fatigue, it was definitely in my legs - right in the correct places.  Used, good sore feeling... but, definitely out of push for the afternoon.   It.  Felt.  Amazing.  

I think I'm finally just approaching a point where I'm systematically shutting off the noise in my head, the self-doubt, the anxiety and worry... about a lot of things, not just the bike.  It's a great place to be - as if there were doubts.  

Baby steps -- I have been eating 'clean', as the kids are calling it these days.  Not depriving myself, but trying very hard to eliminate that which is artificially derived or processed.  Good food - healthy, delicious food... and drink.  I haven't weighed myself in over a week... bracing myself for (hopefully) a surprise on Monday morning.  Willpower.  On the bike, I've hung up the car keys ... at least for the last few days.  Today marks the fourth day in a row of riding to work.  That seems like starting over, but it's a step.  Once upon a time I was over 100-deep into a ride-to-work streak, maybe more - can't remember - but, it all came unravelled shortly after about May 2010.  

Before then, despite increased after-work activities, I was consistently riding to work on the days I could.  Consistent.  After May 2010, yikes... my mileage log entries are reserved mainly so I remember how long I've had a certain part, what the weather was like, and how much time I have left before I have to think about a new cassette, chain, tire, whatever - but, after May 2010, looking back at the mileage log reveals a TON of information about my state of mind.  Holy hell.  The notes section, normally blank, ballooned into mini-blog posts (you're welcome, I won't even post an example here) talking about millimeters of this and degrees of that, as I nitpicked and analyzed until I -- quite literally, in some mild respects -- had something of a minor breakdown or disconnect.  At work, stresses reached an all-time high, financially my family was in something of a crisis (from which we've since recovered), and I was not dealing with it well.  I put on a smile (at least, I *think* I did) at work and at social gatherings, but everything fell down.  Dark Side Rides, gone.  Weekend fun rides, gone.  I even picked up something of a stutter, ranted, went off on unrecoverable tangents... brain-dumped and chat-dumped on people until my jaw hurt and my fingers ached.  Yikes.  IF you were one of those people - thank you, and; wow... sorry 'bout all that. 

It was a dark time....   

LOL.... ooooo-kay.  

Things have improved.  Cognizance is a big part of this - and there is still work to be done.
But, I haven't ridden to work more than 2-days in a row since August of 2012.
I hadn't ridden to work more than 3 days in a row since April of 2012.
The last time I was really consistent was July 2010.  
2013, then, has proven - mentally, spiritually, and professionally - as something of a rebirth year.

 I never really quit, and I never really stopped riding the brevets - at least periodically, if not on a streak of the 200km variety - and I'm glad for that.  I could have just snapped and sold off the bike at any point - but, I'm glad I didn't.  While this blog has been dominated with randonneuring-style posts and such, it's really, REALLY nice to be commuting to work again this week.  I feel fresher, sharper, and tired in a good way... 

...which makes me ask, briefly -- with a doctor's appointment tomorrow AM, and a heat advisory in effect (or at least imminent), do I listen to my body, and give it a rest tomorrow?  Or, do I call it an excuse, defeat my own resistance... and ride?

'till the morning.... I ponder... with a smile.  

Heck, maybe I'll just ride slow... "five-in-a-row" has a nice ring to it.

August 25, 2013

August, and everything after.

It's that time again, kiddos!  Ride report time!  Yea!

This time out, I traveled north toward St. Joseph, MO., and just west to Elwood, KS. for the Kickapoo Two 209km ride, so named as it crosses the center of the Kickapoo Indian Nation Reservation along its route between Elwood and Wetmore, KS.  A terrific route, full of wide open sky, big vistas, glacial hills, river valleys, old railroad beds, and small towns still holding onto life on the big NE Kansas prairie.  It's some of the best riding in the region, in my opinion - and when I lay in bed at night and dream of riding, it's often the wide open spaces along routes like this one that I think about first.  Good stuff, worth the drive.

August... hot, muggy weather is usually the norm in Kansas and Missouri, but, this year?  It's been interesting - and almost a year to the day since last year's visit to the Kickapoo Two route, a year that saw a start in record-low temps almost near the freezing mark, we began the ride with cooler-than-normal temperatures and low humidity... it was almost chilly!  I decided to tough things out, so I left the arm warmers in the car - but it was strange enough to again have to pack such things in August.  Proof, the old adage about randonneuring when you start a ride far from home:  pack EVERYTHING!  You really never do know!

Thank goodness for time stamps... the photos below are in chronological order, far as I can gather.  Many of them stand on their own merit and take the mind down memory lane without much effort - but, I'll still add some words here and there.  I tried a few new things along the way, and ended up having a terrific time re-finding some of my boundaries with regards to calories vs. mileage, effort vs. recovery, big gears vs. small ones, and the like.  Especially in light of my post prior to this one, I'm moving forward and playing with things that I haven't shaken up in a while, just to see what's what.  Complacency doesn't yield gains - and while most would remain content settling into a cozy rhythm... well, it's just not my style, I guess.  Besides being good for the soul, it's also fairly logical to assume that  - even in something as seemingly finite as mathematics - occasionally there arises a better (or just different) way of doing things.  Yes, it's still "just" riding a bike - but, the smaller accessory concerns do add up.  I'll get to some of that stuff in time, below.  

Because of the low light, and the fact that the route begins on US-36, which is slightly busier than the surrounding roads which make up the rest of this route, there aren't many photos from the early miles - once off the highway and back on the small roads, we stop at Troy, KS. - not a control, but a perfectly-placed stopping point on the road west.  Like most small Kansas towns, it's got a great story - despite what it looks like today.  Buried under concrete and asphalt lay a rich tale, some of this is highlighted on the historical marker I snapped farther down this post - another epiphany of the new, personal attitude adjustment, and the ease of which I can extract the camera from the new saddlebag, I finally got a picture of it - and many other things along this ride - despite having passed it maybe eight times now, between this route, and the White Cloud route which finishes along the same stretch.  I'm happy about that - because each shot really can say 1,000 words... and you all know *I* usually say way more than that.  Hah.

Despite the proclamations of the previous post, I am who I am - and that's ... wait... Popeye?  Robin Williams... ugh, what a horrible film...   (--see? already happening.)

The dude writes how he writes... wow, third person?  really?  Dude....  

OKAY... You get the idea.  Heeeeere we go!



After Troy, KS. and a quick break, we headed out onto old K-7 into the growing sunlight of an awesome August day.  Last time out I had a feeling this was the old alignment of K-7, originally sweeping right past Troy on its western edge, and searches for old road maps confirmed it.  One of these days I'll put together a links-list of old map research sites, for those interested - but often it's just Google to the rescue.  I find the Google Earth time-travel option especially helpful here.  We rolled past the grand old Mt. Olive Cemetery - est. 1856 - after realizing - as time inevitably marches on - the county had just finished removing the old sweeper curve from the intersection of 180th and Last Chance Rd., which is one more progression toward the old highway slipping further into obscurity.  I get hung up on this stuff because I love history... and I find it interesting that in some places you can actually see - clearly - the old wagon wheel ruts of the Santa Fe Trail, and on satellite view you can easily follow 150 year-old railroad alignments, the tracks and locomotives of which are long gone; but, in other places you can't even tell where entire towns once stood, or - to wit - the old alignment of this highway.  Old K-7, just a couple short strips of pavement that go "nowhere", for me - somehow - still hold a tiny bit of mystique.

In the shot above, mystical highways behind me, I decide "it's time" - into a headwind, and up a gentle gradient of 2-3%, I ramp up the cadence and shift up through the gears to begin working on tearing myself down a bit.  Glen provided the shot above of me making some headway before turning west onto K-20; which is quickly becoming one of my favorite roads.  It's a good mix of hills and long flat sections - time to stretch the legs and find out how long those zebra-cakes from the Troy c-store will last.

Near the intersection of K-20 and K-137, after a nature break and catch, Glen and Gary are now close-at-hand - and after a couple more attempts to keep my pace slightly higher than normal, the zebra-cakes begin to fade.  We group up here and there, approaching Everest, KS.  Another shot from Glen's camera, highlighting the effectiveness of the neon ankle-bands, RUSA reflective vest (which is quickly becoming too warm), and the bag-mounted reflective triangle.  Overkill, perhaps... but I like the idea that I stick out like a road-worker, and the up-n-down motion of the ankle-bands is hard to ignore from the rear.  The clouds and haze of the morning are beginning to burn off, and the first big beads of sweat are rolling down my back - largely the vest's fault, I suppose.  It's a great morning for August... not too hot.  Traffic?  What traffic?  I love this highway!

With the Horton control in the bag, Glen (at right), Gary (L) and I continue on K-20 West into an ever-growing big blue Kansas sky.  Fresh tarmac would be downright brutal on a typical August day, and reminds me of the fresh black pavement of Oklahoma 58, down west of Stillwater on a 12-hour race.  This August day, however, is forgivingly mild - the grass is green, the trees singing, and tires humming.  We approach the Kickapoo reservation boundary on this last section of K-20 - the entire length of which this route traverses.  Again, a great road - terrain for everyone, very scenic, lightly travelled, and great pavement!  NE Kansas is the stuff, man!
Gary and Glen on point, west of Horton - we begin to make our way back onto the open prairie under perfect skies.  I'm feeling good after a SUPER-tasty cherry Danish at the grocery store in Horton, and a cold Cherry Coke.  Something else I've been trying on lately:  chewing gum.  I don't think it really does anything other than give me something to do, but it's something I recalled from the Badgerland playbook, many years back now.  It tastes good, and my breath stays minty fresh, just the way my lady likes it.  One or two good hills, though, and I find myself trying not to suck it down my own windpipe.  Maybe it was a breathing control thing?

I wish I knew more about this house along K-20, west of Horton.  There are a couple old houses out here on K-20, both west of Horton, but east of the reservation - both abandoned, and likely tied to the surrounding land in some fashion.  This one is constructed in a style typical of perhaps the late 1900's, maybe as new as the 1920's - and, considering, looks to be in decent shape.  The other - below - is older based on condition alone, but is also more basic in its design.  Either way, some mystery is good - it makes my mind wander in a good way as we slip past.  The route is full of interesting sights like this, each with a unique story we may never know.  

Big sky, endless horizon -- randonneuring in NE Kansas is a feast for the imagination and senses!  I adore roads like this - ribbons of pavement that stretch to the horizon, seemingly forever.  K-20 doesn't last quite THAT long, but it's a terrific road... I mean, just look at that view!  One thing I hadn't considered until JUST now while typing this:  the controls are already sparse - so careful timing and planning would be essential - but, imagine how the sunset & stars might look out here on a Kickapoo Two night start ride??  Ooooo, baby...that's a good idea... hit Wetmore at 6pm?  Maybe the Dinner Bell Cafe would be open...then, depart eastbound with the sun setting behind you?  Wow...

The "other" old farm home, a bit further west - as Steven W. had commented on social media, even the tree is dilapidated.  I need to dig into the archival maps and such to see if Brown County will give up some of its tales.  Old deed maps and farm section ledgers should reveal a name... but, sometimes it bears leaving to the imagination.  With the silent gaze of a tireless watchman, Glen, Gary and I slip by under its consideration.  Most would deem it unworthy of such attention, but, part of me hopes it will remain in some state of preservation for many more years.  Along with a vast collection of run-down barns and other scattered homes and buildings between towns, it's a snapshot of what life was like for the people that helped build Kansas.  

Kickapoo Reservation water tower, along K-20, heading toward US-75.  Almost in the same breath as my thoughts on the previous farmhouse photo, and considering our passage across the Kickapoo reservation having read the history - the harsh reality - of our government's Indian relocation program, the old houses, barns and buildings out here surely don't tell the real story.  For that, one would have to dig deeper, look harder, and ask a lot of questions of those still living here today.  Memory, oral commentary, and history - the essence of real time travel.

It only took a scant seven miles to cross the reservation, and I couldn't help but suddenly hum a few bars of a Midnight Oil tune.  I'd like to think I would have gotten on nicely with Wendell Phillips.  If we knew then what we know now.

Over-the-shoulder shot from Glen, still on K-20 and still feeling good --- Steven W. is only a minute or so behind, just beyond that hill.  Checking my position in the photo, I'd recently rotated the handlebars up a degree or two, which had the effect of raising the brake hoods up and back perhaps an inch.  The results are pretty good, shoulders still dropped, slight bend in the elbows, and while my back is angled about the same as before, I don't feel like I'm falling forward onto my hands as much - and my gloves don't feel like they get too tight, as a result of that effect.  Positive changes - and it doesn't take much.  I'm not nearly as timid about making these smaller adjustments nowadays - if they make sense.  The new saddle, my age, changes in flexibility -- randonneuring can uncover lots of small issues that don't show up on shorter rides, and the position you have always ridden in may not work anymore after a few years.  It's especially important when you swap in a new component, like - in this case - the saddle.  Fine tuning takes time, so patience is important.  The most important element is being able to finish rides of this length without injury-linked pain.  Soreness is normal - but, you don't want the bike to hurt you.  Once you get to where you can ride pain-free (relatively), but you're down to smaller comfort-based adjustments, you're on the right track.

The Post Office at Wetmore, KS... one of the few things open upon our arrival a few minutes after 11:00AM.  It's still, in my opinion, a town worth visiting - and it appears something of a renaissance is at hand:  many buildings are taking on a museum-esqe appearance, with refreshed and restored art-deco signage appearing (see shot below).  I either hadn't been paying attention on the previous visit, or some of the signs are indeed new.  Inspired turn-of-the-last-century masonry at top right, above, on the post office is only a hint of the kind of architecture of small-town Kansas, and it's worth preserving.
Looking southeast down main street, if the Chrysler-Plymouth neon art-deco signboard (40's era?) is an original or a restoration doesn't matter as much as its being in place and in good nick.  Looking down the way, an old, restored Texaco sign rises above the concrete.  If Wetmore is in the process of creating a kind of time capsule, they're on the right track.  These kinds of things, though touristy and criticized by some as not "real" business, can create renewed economic stability in an otherwise doomed city.  If it creates revenue, boosts employment, retains residents, preserves architecture, and keeps small-town Kansas alive for a few more decades, it's a good thing.  If this is their direction, it will take several more years to realize - but, watching new kitchen equipment being delivered to the Dinner Bell Cafe seems to confirm that things are growing, not shrinking, for Wetmore.  Granted, we were only in town for 20 minutes - but, the impression provided encouragement, despite the streets themselves being largely deserted.

As we left Wetmore around the gentle arc of K-9 highway (which, I come to find extends far into western Kansas - and has me thinking of a deep, east-to-west 400 or 600km epic route off into the big prairie beyond Wetmore someday) we pass another example of this little town that refuses to completely let go of its heyday:  This old Standard Oil gas station, positioned how they always had been, straddling the corner of an intersection, still stands more or less intact, though occupied by RVs.  The logo style is original, and aligns with Standard's 1947-1961 branding - and the draw, design and corrosion of the steel pole it rests atop seems consistent as well.  Only the separate torch flame cap is missing, as are the electric lights that would have illuminated the sign from both sides at night, welcoming travellers in Oldsmobiles, Packards, and Buicks to top off with the midwest's finest premium ... maybe, just maybe, a few hearty cross-county cyclists would stop in for a cold Coca-Cola... in a glass bottle... for a nickel.  It's a very neat town for the history buff, this.

Quite spent after attempts at reeling in Terry for miles and miles on K-20, Glen catches us pair rolling into the King Super c-store at K-20 and US-159/73 at Horton.  A welcome stop, more food (this time a blueberry Danish and another cold Cherry Coke - tasty!).  Steven W. would roll in only a few minutes later.  The heat felt hotter... though it never really achieved typical August levels, it was enough to inspire cold water down backs and over sun-baked heads while we rested in the sparse shade.

Later on K-20, one of many curves and jogs, overlooking endless fields of green under terrific skies.  Gary and Steven are on their way - head east, young men!  

More of the same amazingness... the views are simply stunning out here -- inviting white gravel stretches north from the next highway curve.... wonder what's up that way??  No time for detours... talk of Pappy's in St. Joseph after the finish fresh in my ears, we're all motivated toward the next target of Troy, KS... hopefully before our water supplies run out!

Seconds later - Glen, a pause from pedaling to absorb the breathtaking scenery surrounding us.
A note on visibility - this is an example of a good reflective package that works double-duty:  Glen's rig sports a large, RUSA-branded reflective triangle, which is quite effective at night and remains visible during the day.  Immediately below the triangle is a large red reflector, also.  Note the strip of yellow reflective tape on the rear fender; low on the bike and fairly perpendicular to the road surface - positioned to reflect maximum light back to its source.  The rear fender is a great place to stick reflective stuff, either with a reflector built into a fender mounted taillight, or with self adhesive.  Ankle bands are also in use.  A light-colored jersey, with yellow as a main background color, is also a good choice.  On such quiet roads, arguably a cyclist without any of these items would remain visible - one would tend to stick out simply by being on the road - but, at night, or in low light, these high-vis accessories offer great piece-of-mind.  Note the bright point of yellow up ahead -- the largest real-estate for visibility remains the body itself, and Steven's solid hi-vis yellow jersey is hard to miss, even at a distance.  Rando, touring, or commuting; high visibility t-shirts, jerseys, or vests are relatively cheap, and very effective in a variety of environments.

Panoram of K-20 eastbound - two great, old barns can be seen, and a lone, old tree standing guard over the landscape, as Steven, Gary and Glen advance toward the horizon.  This has the same segmented "Mars-rover" effect, which I corrected with some editing software, best I could -- taking panoramic shots with the camera phone produces strange results while in motion - duplication of roadside crops as they fly by, and stretched clouds.  

A bit later, compared to above panoram, we pass the old barn under partly cloudy bliss.

Following Gary, I figured it was a good time to photo-document a point I'd made in my previous post about equipment really not being all that important.  This is certainly not to say that Gary's bicycle is somehow inferior to something brand-new and purpose-built, mind you -- in fact, in many ways Gary's choice in bicycle is more appropriate for the task than perhaps even my trusty Kogswell.  It should indicate, however, that one does have options.

Astride an old Astro-Daimler frameset, on a Brooks saddle, with a basic Blackburn rear rack and inexpensive rack trunk, spare tire (from the 80's!!) lashed with a leather toe strap, a AA-powered taillight, fenders shod with a huge strip of reflective tape, standard-issue $5.00 RUSA ankle bands, and basic Adidas touring shoes with 2-bolt cleat fixing points.  Zooming in, one will find a 126mm spaced ball-bearing hub laced with 36 spokes, 3-cross, to a strong box-section touring rim, finished with a 5-speed rear freewheel driven through the stock 52x42 crankset, modern KMC chain actuated by the stock Suntour rear derailleur via stock downtube-mounted friction shifters.  The resulting rear wheel has almost no dish, rendering it very resilient - almost to the same degree as a fixed-gear wheel.  The 5-speed ratios are spaced close-enough for smoothness, but not so close that one is weighted down with redundant gear choices.  Infinite trim, friction shifting eliminates concerns about indexing, chatter, or what happens if one needs to swap in a spare wheel.  One would need to spend many hours pouring over the Velo-Orange catalog to replicate much of the running gear here, and a modern iteration of the sweet lugged construction of Reynolds 5-3-1 tubing would, these days, set you back at least $2,000 from any of the myriad custom builders around the country.  In total, this was all had for a song at a garage sale, once upon a time.  If an equipment concern has been holding you back from trying your hand at randonneuring, touring, gravel, bike-camping, or commuting, don't let it.  I've echoed this sentiment in the past, and Gary's steed is simply another fine example:  you needn't spend thousands to enjoy the fruits of cycling.  Watch garage sales and online classifieds carefully and patiently - your initial buy-in is cheap, and if the bug doesn't bite you aren't ruined financially.  Even if all you do is clean up your purchase, you can possibly even make a profit reselling it.  A mid-70's to mid-80's steel touring or relaxed racing bike, in the right size and found at a garage sale, is really a custom $4,000 randonneuring machine in disguise.  Add lights, refresh that which is worn out, and ride it until it explodes.

Gary is a super-strong rider, and of late has been talking about upgrading to something more purpose-built to further enable his riding and to fix a few fitment issues.  However, this is after a couple years of 200, 300, 400 and 600km finishes - he's gotten his money's worth from this bike, and, as strong as he is, it may actually be holding him back.  Heaven forbid... just getting close enough for this photo almost took everything I had, and represented the longest I'd been able to hold his wheel all day.  A few seconds later, he was again steadily pulling away.

K-7, the last push to Troy, KS. - it's warm and dry, and I'm out of water at this point - but, hydrated well enough it's a non-issue.  Terry and Gary well ahead, I tune into the sounds of my surroundings and enjoy a slight tailwind in the Glacial Hills.  In solitude for a few dozen miles, I had resorted to playing some tunes in the earbud again - but, strangely, I decided to turn it off after maybe 30 minutes.  I'm not sure what that is about - but, perhaps it's a good sign, that mentally I'm far more engaged in my surroundings now than perhaps even two months ago.  No distractions needed, I stuff the earbud and wire into my back pocket, and listen for birds and anything that might pop into my head.  I'm still thinking a nice open-air radio would be better than the earbud...but, maybe I don't need the tunes at all anymore?

Low-angle self-shot - full sun, clear skies, and the promise of cold drinks at Troy driving my pedals.

Along Old K-7, mile marker 224 still standing in the roadside weeds and grasses - forgotten by time.

The tall oak sculpture at the county courthouse in Troy - shot by Terry B.

Plaque detail from above.  Artist Peter Tosh has created one large carving of this type for every state in the county - or, is at least in the process of completing that goal.  Troy represents his work for Kansas.

Historical Marker, along US-36 east of Troy, KS.  Another place where I finally decided to stop and get a photo for once!

Finished strong at about 5:08PM, back at Elwood - and then proceeded to Pappy's in St. Joseph to round out the day with a cold brew and good food.  Did I mention is was worth the drive to St. Joe for these rides?  Yep... ahhhhh.....

As promised.... drum roll:

The boring post-ride notes, with some embedded tips/tricks/approaches to various rando-related topics:

The biggest lesson here for me, and anyone advancing through seasons of brevets could potentially back this up:  what worked last year may not work at all this year.  Don't be afraid to change the formula, experiment - if it doesn't work out, switch back, and maybe try something different next time.  If things ARE working, probably no need... but, especially when it comes to nutrition, step one:  stick to the plan.  Step two:  don't be timid about changing the plan if it stops working! 

For me, nutrition-wise, I started the ride with the usual cocktail I've called the "mix", in heavy rotation since last year's RAAM.  Consisting of about 80g of Carbo-Gain maltodextrin powder and a single GU Brew electrolyte effervescent tablet per 25oz. bottle, mixed with plain water.  The resulting "mix" contains a good electrolyte profile of bicarbonates, to prevent acidosis in the bloodstream, and roughly 300 calories of complex, long-chain carbs, with roughly the precise amount of liquid water to allow clean digestion AND provide a surplus for hydration and sweat replenishment.  This is terrific for supported events, as we used it for Alex last year (modified ingredients for his individual needs, and using an electrolyte source other than the GU product).

I would often start rides with two complete bottles of "mix", and would then replenish each at controls as I'd drink through them.  This worked pretty well for a while, but, the last six months or so I have been teetering on the edge of taking in too many calories while riding.  Explained:  the "mix" is designed to be the sole caloric vehicle for the rider.  Occasionally, usually before a period of rest exceeding 30 minutes, real food can (and should) be added.  In MY case, I decided not to carry as much powder along with me, and to eat more real food at the controls.  Unfortunately, I forgot about the "less powder" part, and kept a modest rotation of "mix" in play, just to keep things "topped off."  The result was bloating, gut cramps and general lethargy.  Sometimes my head is really thick in some places, and thinner in others - but, it took me a while to realize that I felt much better while riding when I would JUST eat at controls, or JUST drink the "mix."  For the last three rides since Iowa, I have tried a progressive experiment:  on the July 200k, I simply halved the amount of "mix", putting it only in one bottle, and leaving the other as plain water.  Things improved markedly.  For the next ride, I began to also wonder if I'd been taking in too many electrolytes, and perhaps not enough of others that are missing from the GU product (compared to what, I'll get to.)  I then halved the GU brew component, and - even under hard efforts in hot weather - didn't cramp.  I also noticed more predictable nature break intervals with no indication of retention or excessive toxicity - to put things politely.  Now, I know I can't ride on plain water alone, but, I began to wonder if the expense of the bicarbonate-based GU tablets had been worth it, and re-examined my previous go-to in Hammer's Endurolytes:  which is the "what" I'm comparing the GU to.  Still, as a matter of backup plans, and the GU not taking up a lot of space, I'm still carrying some along in the saddlebag - but, plain water in both bottles, food at controls with supplemental items in "as-close-to-food-as-possible" form, like Bonk Breaker energy bars and Hammer Gels, remain in the saddlebag also, for on-road intake, as needed, and endurolytes as conditions warrant SEEM, so far, in this short timeframe, to be working out pretty well.  The "mix", nothing wrong with it at ALL, to be clear - but, I needed to choose:  either real food, or "mix" - but not both.  That was proving to be too much.  If I reach a point where food isn't available, or I can't find anything I want to eat, I can carry a couple baggies of "mix" as a stand-in.  In practice, however, I'm still not keen on carrying oodles of baggies for fuel - no matter how consistent it might prove.  At the end of the day, I prefer variety, and a lighter load on the road.  So, this ride was to be the first return to, aside from one bottle at the start, on control food only, and plain water.  If nothing else, I won't miss the sticky hands, bottles, and bike frame after rides... nor will I miss the pre-ride prep of scoop, measure, bag, repeat.  I'll keep a few on hand, but six baggies will last five or six rides, not five or six controls.  And, epiphany... on a REALLY hot day, plain water really goes down well - even compared to just water and GU Brew without the maltodextrin.  Imagine that.  Added bonus on a hot day:  a squirt of water down the back, over the head, onto the quads.... AHHHHH.  I've missed that.  So, this is the new "plan", for now.  

When it comes to simplifying and demystifying some of the nutritional tricks of randonneuring, it helps to keep things simple and try to do experiments like this in controlled environments, on familiar routes, and when you know you're in good health.  There are enough variables in play with food!  The market is loaded with TONS of sports-related nutrition, and a lot of it is terrific stuff, but, it helps to know what you really need.  Sometimes it's McDonald's fries, sometimes it's Sustained Energy...  play around, and don't be afraid to "mix" it up (he,he).  But, make sure it's sustainable for you:  will you get tired of that same-ole energy bar on a 600k?  Variety can be a ride-saver - shop the aisles, know where everything is at the c-stores you frequent, though we all know they are all quite different sometimes, even within the same franchise.  It takes time to key in to your body's signals, and figure out what it's hungry for... even for the supposedly "experienced", like me.  Keep track of your no-no's list, also:  there will be mistakes.  Just drink plenty, and the bad times will fade, the next control will come, and you can switch back to that which works well.  Keep it simple, repeatable, and flexible.  There is nothing wrong with powdered, engineered nutrition other than the need to carry and mix -- but, look at the 80's:  there's nothing wrong with bananas and water, either.  Find your inner rando, and ride to eat.

The Scattered Observation's Bonus Photo:
A recent training ride finds this, an old, repurposed schoolhouse (?) along 191st street west of US-169 in southern Johnson County, KS.

Thanks for reading!

August 21, 2013

The Silence of the Cynic

The August permanent is in the history books, so to speak, and I'll likely carry some fond memories of this one in particular.  A great day out, with great people!
I want to thank Glen, Steve, Gary and Terry for coming out and sharing the miles with me -- I had a terrific time!  Already looking forward to September's edition!
I took a lot of photos along the way, so the ride report is probably going to materialize as a photo-dump with captions, pending free-time for typing... less and less of that these days.  

Not having the free-time, though, might not be a bad thing -- it should afford me an opportunity to rethink and retool some things.  While this blog has received small followings for its literary feel and flowery expositions on the "mystical" world of randonneuring, it's also come to my attention there isn't quite enough talk of equipment, technique, planning, preparation, nutrition and other such tangibles as I'd used to provide - unless one goes way back into the archives.  Still, those archival entries on what to wear, what to bring -- some are approaching a decade in age, and much in my arsenal (mental and physical) has changed, rendering it worthy of a revisit.  At the very least, some "demystification" is in order.

Moreover, this is interesting timing.  Retrospectively, I have been in something of a rebuilding period since early 2010.  There have been extended episodes of burnout, or something resembling it.  There have been senseless acts of breaking that which didn't need fixing.  There have been frustrated rants and tales of "impossibly difficult" permanents.  Amid this confusion and chaos lay the tale of a cyclist now very much aware of the situational irony surrounding his attempts to avoid middle-agedom, juxtaposed against the slow road toward its acceptance.  While cycling has represented the vehicle, what I've been going through has almost nothing at all to do with the bicycle.  Of late, my excuses have been placed aside and old lessons have been re-learned with new eyes and ears... and legs.  While focused on clawing ever so slowly toward being "back", I, instead, hidden between the blurry lines of two years worth of hastily-written ride accounts, find myself poised to move ahead.  This path still has many miles to be walked... but, I'm on the path all the more, and it goes only one direction:  forward.

A few things I will remain cognizant of:

I remain humbled by the notion that anyone reads these posts at ALL, and - ever as always - I remain thankful for your time and for your having read what I've had to say.  
While there are "ups" and "downs" in randonneuring and commuting, much of my writing focuses on the "downs".  My brain tends to catalog and record the negative aspects of life, moreso than the positive.  I'm working on this... have been for years now.  I've been a cynic... a passionate, bitter, cynic.  I'm not saying I enjoyed being that person, but, it is true - and I'm owning it.  One of the most popular posts I've written - by total hits - involves a full-on rant about some local cyclists who had run a stop-sign.  Therein, I completely trashed a specific group of local riders, up one side and down the other, as if I had the right to adjudicate over anyone's behavior other than my own simply because I'd paid a few bucks a year to have my own URL.  Stupid.  Immature.  Regretted.  It's certainly not a representation of how I feel these days - yet, I don't like how those older posts have branded me.  If I was focused on getting hits, I wouldn't care - but, I do care - and I hate that one of my lowest personal moments at the keyboard continues to somehow be popular: but, it surely it may remain representative of an ongoing problem in the cycling community, and when people search for it, my old post shows up - regardless, it's still got my name on it, and I don't like the guy who wrote that piece.  I'm tempted to delete it - because, in many ways, it's no longer relevant, and it does nothing to advance bicycling.  Strongly opinionated and passionate, I chose to criticize people... not just their actions.  Whether this remains a problem in cycling or not, and whether or not my opinions make any difference at all (doubtful), how I voiced things only served to further drive a wedge between groups of riders.  That helps nothing, and while cliquishness may never change among bicyclists, my commentary is just noise and isn't the solution bicycling needs.  I am not apologizing for having an opinion, nor for being passionate - but, instead for how I'd chosen to use both.

"Never apologize for your opinion" .. yeah, yeah.   Ok, if I was being a complete toolbag, I owe everyone an apology.  I was, so I am.  If nice guys finish last, then I am proud to hold the red lantern here.  Sorry, honey... for this same reason, we're never going to be rich, either.  So be it... Jedi... 

While the motivations have been different, I seem to have been doing this same sort of thing to routes, hills, and sometimes whole areas.  From the perspective of new cyclist, or a potential randonnueur, my negative and/or dramatic slants on routes, hills, or nutrition paint a grim picture of someone solely interested in self-torture, not of someone participating in a worthy pasttime and having fun.  At the very least, in the hopes of attracting attention to something, I often create something a bit off-putting - and I forget that people probably don't appreciate things the way I do.  Sometimes when I say a hill is "awful", the subtext truly is "awfully good!"... because in the same breath that I remark about how stupid a hill might be, I can't wait to climb it again.  There is a terrific poem written by Henry Rollins called "The Iron", forwarded to me by a good friend a few years back.  If you read that, and substitute the word "hill" for "iron", you'll see my point.  I freaking LOVE hills.  They never lie, they tell me exactly what I need to hear when I need to hear it, and they give back everything I put in.  There are those dramatics again... but, my subtextual assumptions have given some routes a bad rap.  MY fault, not the route's.

I often can't help it - the dramatic flair comes naturally, and comes from that same passion for cycling, its culture and its history; yet it echoes with a desperation to quantify personal worth by amplifying that which I have overcome, as if riding the distances alone wilts as somehow not-good-enough.  Cycling for me remains, despite all accounts, extremely rewarding.  It's fun, or I wouldn't do it.  It's worth it, or I wouldn't come back, month-after-month.  Cycling makes me a BETTER person, not a worse one.  It can do that for you, as well -- but, it will not turn you into the same kind of blithering fool I've made myself out to be here, nor - I sincerely hope - will it turn you into a bitter cynic.

Let this act, then, as a disclaimer of sorts -- what I say or write, when I say or write it, must be taken with these grains of salt.  The severity of a hill-climb in these pages always has much more to do with my gut, my mood, or my level of fitness than it has to do with the gradient itself, assuming it's not somehow based in the love/hate scenario described above.  What I write about having been so terrible on one day has also passed benignly under my wheels on another.  Hills are not "evil", nor are headwinds, particular routes, nor areas of the region in which I ride.  Everything is what it is.  Some days I can handle it, other days I cannot.  No, riding these distances isn't for everyone... but, it IS possible for everyone.  Time and passion are the only requirements ... not some superhuman ability to overcome mythically-steep hills and bicycle-eating pavement.  It doesn't matter what I'm doing with MY equipment - one doesn't need anything special to perform these rides, and no-one need spend tons of money.  Some of the most talented riders I've shared pavement with have outperformed everyone around them on garage-sale bikes costing less than fifty dollars.  No matter what happens, no matter how poorly I have often painted scenarios in the past, it's never - EVER - the route's fault, the weather's fault, the bike's fault, the organizer's fault, the hill's fault... you get the idea.  

It's all, simply, just ME.  

Perception, however, remains powerful.   Akin to the 'rebuilding' I'd mentioned above, my writings reflect the meandering and sometimes painful process I've gone through over the past few years.  I've had a terrific time getting here, honestly I have... looking back, I'd not trade a single moment, not even the "horrible" ones.  These are, after all, what define me.  What you've witnessed often in these pages are the experiences of a man who has always possessed a wacky, yet, salty and sardonic sense of humor; someone who looks at life sometimes as if he's looking through the eyepiece of a movie camera, or as if he's writing a screenplay.  Despite being the product of an artful background and possessing a boundless creative slant, churned in melodrama and basted with decadent layers of adjective, my words here are - and have always been - true:  but, they are told through MY eyes.  Perception and unbiased truth are not equal.  

It must be emphasized, plainly, that your mileage - indeed - will vary.  

It bears positing, then; if I have somehow, through the course of my dramatics, steered you away from randonneuring - or even away from riding a certain route, or from riding in a certain part of the region - let me invite you to reconsider.  If this has been the case, please, accept my apologies.  Whichever route we might be talking about here, my reality remains apologies.  There are embellishments, amplified perceptions, almost mysticism invoked upon routes, climbs, others' abilities... but, remember:  this is basically dramatic non-fiction.  Truth?  Yes... always; but, any rider, on any given day, will traverse the same terrain with completely different perceptions.  In fact, it's impossible for your experiences to mirror mine, or anyone else's, for that matter.  Forget what you know, and just GO.  You owe it to yourself to ride every ride in the RUSA catalog, and decide for yourself.  To ignore these routes as supposedly "too difficult" is doing yourself a disservice, and does a disservice to those that have put in countless hours of design, pre-riding, and approval to get them on the books.  Ultimately, in either case, I take full responsibility for those disservices if they originated in these pages, and I apologize to all parties if I have swayed, or given even a moment's pause, against either.

To those scratching their heads, attempting to decipher what I'm on about here, it should also be mentioned that none of this may have ever entered your mind, and rightly so.  I still don't think that this blog casts a shadow over ANYone's decision-making process, as it shouldn't - but, the feedback I've heard is legitimate.  That is the only reason I'm writing this - it is certainly not a heady, misguided assumption - and I don't intend for it to come across as a pity-party.  I've ridden a lot, have a lot of experience - but, I'm supposed to be sharing that experience without turning into something which might exceed its face value.  I realize that I'm the one doing the introspection here, the timing of which may prompt said confusion - but, the tipping point happened in Iowa: a ride, to be clear, I remain exceptionally glad to have attended, regardless of the outcome or credit.  Its importance in my journey cannot be underestimated - I get a feeling that the crossroads I reached shortly after that ride is now safely behind me.

To my loyal readers:  ride.  get out there.  ride something new.  If you want to know the "real deal" without the dramatics, email me.  Seriously.  It is never going to be as bad as I've written it.  Hills are hills - you can either climb them, or you walk them.  No big deal, right?  This is how we grow as cyclists and athletes - focus on the fact that you CAN finish, no matter what horrible tale you may have read here or elsewhere.  Ride what you can, walk or detour around what you can't - get back on, and ride again.  Don't worry about speed.  Worry about time.  Just make the controls, and enjoy the day, the road, the view - and the finish.  It shouldn't be as complicated as I've often portrayed it.  It's not -- that kid on the BMX bike, that gal on the TT bike deep in the tuck and hammering, the guy on the fat-bike headed deep into gravel territory, those guys at the Tuesday Night World's, the pair of laden touring bikes marching toward a distant horizon, the hard-worker on the beater-bike headed to the office, that family on the bike trail, the smiles of the Wednesday Night pub-riders, and that randonneur out on that country road with his bags and his camera:  we're all riding a bike for roughly the same reasons.  We love it.  THAT is all bicycling should be.

As I slowly learn to write with encouragement, and not with discouragement and self-loathing, the tone of the posts may take on a different flavor - but that's part of the point here, and it's a positive change.  I have a responsibility - as a RUSA member - to give back to the sport by growing the sport.  I have a responsibility to those who take the time to design routes and to those who officiate their results.  I have a responsibility to myself, ultimately, to try to avoid slipping into cynicism, and letting myself and my attitude slip to the level of that which might frustrate me.  If that means pulling back the adjectives a bit, and focusing more on how I am dealing with things, instead of how "things are dealing with me", it's a change I need to make.  Those energies will instead be focused on route design, to help build the catalog.  Photos, to help give an unbiased view of what long-distance cycling is REALLY about, and what's waiting out there for potential riders.  Challenges and opportunities will arise, but the energy will be directed toward solutions, without spending time on regret and woeful "shouldas."

This, finally, will not change what I do every month.  I will ride.  I hope you do, too.  Open invitation - if you want a RUSA riding partner in the KC area, and you're timid about trying a new route alone, let me know.  If it jives with my schedule, and I need a ride for that month yet, chances are we can put something together.  Riding together is more fun, remember?  Don't worry about who's faster than who, or anything like that.  To you, and - most importantly - to myself:  Less talk, more do.  Just ride.  If you ask me, I'll probably tell you the truth:  it's a great route, and you should do it.  Everything I've ever ridden deserves that very statement, because it's true.  I've been a little too critical, a little too cynical.  

As Clarice Starling once challenged a certain criminal in a famous movie based on a terrific book, "why not turn that hard-edged observation on yourself... or are you afraid?"  

In the film, Starling's question is met with displeasure, and a markedly unnerving threat.  The younger me would have likely responded in a similarly defensive fashion.  
My reaction today?  You know... she's right.  I should.  I have, I am, and it's not for pity.  This very exercise makes me a better person.  Attitude is everything... and, a lot of the time, my attitude has sucked.  Finishing is everything, also... but, I had too often forgotten the importance of the journey.  I'm a work in progress.  I'm not supposed to be perfect.  That isn't what this is about.  I have made huge strides in these areas over the last six months alone, however - and I'm proud of who I am.

Yeah, this seems a bit eulogistic in nature - but, these are things that I needed to get off my chest.  Should there suddenly be a giant chasm between posts, know that all is probably well, and I'm probably out riding somewhere.  If not, I'm busy being a great dad, husband, friend, student, employee and person... the best I know how to be.  I'm not going anywhere.  There is no sunset to ride off toward.  There remains much to be done, on and off the bike, in this life - same as always.  The time for apologies is past.  The difference between then and now?  

I'm not afraid anymore.

Thanks for reading

August 2, 2013

Flipping the coin - the July 200k

The Distance Diaries is written before a live studio audience...

Well, technically, I got my "600km" ride for July... just in two, completely unrelated hunks.  He,he... so, that sorta counts, right?  Ok, maybe not - but, THIS ride certainly did count for credit for my July R-12 contribution, and right on the wire of the last available weekend.  Good job cutting it close.  I suppose after the personal debacle in Iowa and the resulting nothing-to-sneeze-at 257 miles logged, I could have just flushed the streak and started over in August - but, "R-25" has a nice ring to it... even if, technically, it's "R-37"... whatever.  I'm sticking with contiguous tracking, so R-25 it-is... and it's in the bag, baby.  The result is a renewed me, and legs that are beginning to feel alive and awake on the heels of a 550 mile month, which - consider I hadn't ridden that far year-to-date until April this year - is a big jump for me, despite a few years back that number was quite normal.  May and June saw perhaps 350 miles, this still remains one of my lowest mileage years on the books, yet I don't necessarily feel any fresher or more-rested as a result.  Still, things are coming around - the extra load feels good, perhaps the body weight will fall in line as a result, and stress will taper off with more commuting consistency.  In short, though much remains to be done, it feels good to be refocused.

Thanks in large part to a flexible RPC, and the miracle of emails on portable devices, I was able to schedule this last-minute effort to get a RUSA permanent on the books with the Princeton Roundabout loop.  A long-time favorite, one I can ride cue-sheet free on autopilot, and with plenty of stops and things to see along the way, the Princeton route is an easy go-to at only a dozen miles from the house.  Packed up and ready, I ate a good meal Friday night, rose early, and made the start line with calm winds, clouds, and high humidity - typical July, though, much cooler than normal at about 55ºF.  Not a record, but close - it felt weird to pack arm warmers in the brevet-bag, but I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the temps after a few weeks of typical July weather.  

Finally settling on just the reflective vest and a wool cap, the combination proved perfect - slight chill, but not bad - and after warming up on the long climb over I-435 to Shawnee Mission Park, I was cozy.  Still surrounded by darkness, I made my way south and west into the heart of Shawnee, KS., over K-7, and beyond toward the Cedar Creek valley and old K-10 highway.  

The morning was swampy - but, full of magic.  Maybe it was the recent brain-dump and self-analysis - but, everything seemed alive:  smells, sights, feelings.  After coming to grips with my proverbial "failure at the cave," it seemed like I was on alert for anything remotely interesting, to reinforce the reasons I climb onto a bicycle.  Granted - while most are pedaling tempo and chatting, I'm still - most often - usually the one staring off at some random bird, bridge, or railroad opportunity, so this isn't really unusual for me; yet, things seemed more relaxed, sharper somehow.  Saddle comfortable after adjustments, handlebars, etc., everything was going well.

A small herd of deer gallops across the old highway about 100 yards ahead of me - I seem to have interrupted the morning meeting...

Speed, also, seemed spirited.  I'm not going to worry too awful much about speed - only time - and this ride became a good opportunity to make good on some self-promises I'd stored up from previous trips around the big loop.  The first along the way, one of my favorites:  the Cedar Creek bridge, one of the last of the old school bridges left in Johnson County, KS., and interesting in its own right as a hybrid Pratt/Warren Truss design.  I stopped here for a natural break, and a photo break - never sure when I'll venture out this way and find the road closed for the inevitable bridge replacement -- which has already happened just west of this on the same road - though I can't find anything on BridgeHunter to support it, Camp Creek is crossed where the road gradually widens and heads up-hill out of the valley, capped by a slanted, modern concrete deck bridge.  It would have made for a visually interesting journey to have two old bridges so close together, but, the Cedar Creek bridge's twin has long since been replaced - and it may have happened prior to BridgeHunter being launched, so there's no information about the original bridge... but UglyBridges has a listing for its current incarnation.  Boring.  :)

(I like these websites, clearly - thanks to Randy Rasa for turning me on to them a few years back.  Their sister webpages UglyBridges and LandmarkHunter are go-tos for anyone riding a bicycle looking for a destination - and a call to your local tourist board, visitor's center or county office can help, too.) 

The Kogs resting on the west end of the Cedar Creek bridge, approaching dawn.

Structure detail, showcasing the beefy, '50s vintage steel beams, plates, and rivets.  Decades of dead vine growth fills the void inside, and the surface is a time-capsule of various highway department paint inventories - basic bridge green, deep rust-red, safety yellow, and grey dancing with various stages of surface oxidation.  Kogs waits patiently for the next leg of the ride, in full rando-trim.

Content with rest, I packed the camera/phone and saddled back up for the tedious climb out of the valley.  Always a grunter, I don't have any stats on it - but it sure feels plenty steep, and always leaves me wanting for more gears.  Two weeks distant from aching feet, tender knees and nerve issues, the climb feels good, planted, engaged, able.  Healing is a good thing, and the recent adjustments have done me right.  Kill Creek road comes and goes, and the hills to DeSoto give way to the long stretch of the old highway passing through Clearview City, and along the northern edge of the Sunflower Army Ammunition plant.  Still highly restricted and monitored, it sits like a ghost on the prairie, guarding its secrets carefully behind a double fence line and constant warning signage.  Finally, after years of hesitation and worry about being suddenly questioned by private security guards, I turn south on the entrance roadway leading to the main gate of the giant 9,000-acre+ facility.   

With the sun just out of frame at left, the iconic quad water towers of the Sunflower Ammunition plant are set aglow in dawn's splendor.  Overgrown, decayed, abandoned - save for the parked vehicles out of frame at right near the main gate   (private security or monitoring teams, no doubt) - the even hanging around for a few minutes gave me a mixed feeling of the ache to explore, and the sense that I need to leave - soon.  Apparently, there remains an old, 19th-century stone house which had been occupied by the owners of the land the plant ultimately occupied - but, since it lay inside the plant boundaries, it's seldom been seen.  I'd love to be on that short list - but definitely not without permission.

Somewhere along the road to the Douglas County line and the first control, coyote crossing!  That was interesting... 

I made my way to Eudora, checked in and had some food - a banana and OJ.  Sits nice, burns easy, lasts, cheap.  I transition south along the Douglas County highway system, over to Vinland, and then up and over Baldwin Pass into the next quick control at Baldwin City on US-56.  After Baldwin City, south further still, down into Franklin County - where I began to realize that this part of Kansas looks suspiciously like Iowa... hmmm... maybe I should pay more attention to things when I ride, eh?  Still, this area has a unique flavor that I've always liked -- lush green hills and big fields, divided by a few roads here and there, which still follow ye olde grid pattern, so it's easy to navigate.  As the humidity and haze of the morning begins to burn off, the western skies began to take on a darker cast - and the slight chance of rain foretold began to look more like a guarantee.  

Panoramic shot of the intersection of Iowa and Shawnee Roads in Franklin County, a few clicks south of Baldwin City, KS.  The big, open sky is crowded by growing thunderstorms to the west... which is my next heading.  With the wool cap still in place, and the reflective vest kept at the ready, it's not a bad thing.  Riding in the rain has a certain quality to it which I've always found enjoyable, and the faint rumbles of thunder are inviting, not repellent.  Always a weather geek at heart, I much prefer being outside during thunderstorms - advisable, or not.

The rain would come and go, but remained light enough to enjoy, and the road curled south and west toward Ottawa and the US-59 corridor.  I lost a race with a railroad crossing on the final run into town - a race I don't mind losing for the fly-by which follows.  After the gates lifted, I came upon the road to K-68 being closed - so I followed the signed detour for a few blocks and then rejoined the route.  Tired of the Casey's routine, I meandered over to the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail for the scenic option through town (part of the course options here) and emerged on 23rd street, almost right smack across from the local McDonald's. 

 "THAT is what I want... no more c-store food!"

Now, I know.. "Dirty Ron's" isn't really THAT far from c-store food, but at least it's hot and made to order... more or less.  Being a vegetarian, it's also not some place I usually frequent for anything other than a fries and shake... (yes, I know they have salads... vegetarian and healthy are not the same thing  ha!)  So, yes... I DO have fries to go with that shake, ladies.  


OH... food... hot, BREAKFAST food... THAT I can get down on.  
It's 10:30am... perfect... I won't have to pull a Michael Douglas on anyone this day...
(what a horrid film, honestly...get it together, man!)

Thank goodness for custom ordering, I pick up a couple eggwhite meatless cheese McMoofins, one for now - one for later - and a small coffeeeee.  CHECK.
The next leg to Princeton will be a joy, because I don't have to spend the next six miles wondering what they don't have for me to eat.  I don't know what it is about that particular c-store, but they honestly never really have anything that looks good to me when I get there, and certainly nothing hot.  The thought of pizza.. well... yeah, no.  

McD tasted SO good... and I don't know if I'll pass through Ottawa again on this route without stopping.  I can't for the life of me imagine why I'd been in such a hurry on all the other Princeton rides.  Yummy... and, looking back on the next few miles, it burned slow, steady, and satisfied the legs as much as the taste buds.  Clink... maybe you're onto something... cheers.

What can I say... US-59... Princeton, KS... the trip south was nice with a slight tailwind, and the spattering of rain kept things nearly fall-like on the short hop south.  I decided to get my card signed, refill some bottles, grab a Coke, and consume the other eggwhite McStuffin' on a bench in the air conditioning.  Ahhh.... the stinging reminders of the day's humidity stinging my eyes, I finished up, washed my face, and packed up for the leg to Osawatomie - 17 miles of the John Brown Highway... a road I've grown to love.  

Typical of the last couple of runs on this loop, the tailwind fun of the morning was about to yield to a cross/headwind delight, which would begin chipping away at my decent average speed (see, see how difficult it is for me to let go?  hehe)... but, I wasn't worried.

Worrying about speed is a trend I hope to change... as I've said here a few times in recent posts; however, worrying about it and ignoring it are two distinct approaches.  I will still strive for performance - it's who I am.  That performance may pale in comparison to lots of things, including my past self... and, specifically, worrying about that is precisely what I hope to avoid.  If I can improve on the previous hour, the previous visit to a route, or the like - great... but, slowing down is a sign of fatigue, nutrition, hydration, discomfort... and it happens.  It's nothing to get down about, and that's the other side of the coin I hope to focus upon, going forward.

The miles unfolded on the John Brown, and the sights of the countryside took me in.  More dark clouds overtook the sun, which had peeked out briefly, and steady rain had begun to fall.  Atop the ridge near Texas Road, I stopped, rested the bike, and - checking traffic carefully - laid down near the edge of the road in the damp grass.  Just maybe a minute of rest... eyes closed, the rain just fell on and around me... so... peaceful...  a few deep breaths, I'm up, saddled, and back at it.  

It's impossible for me not to compare, improve, strive... despite the haste with which I'd executed a few weeks prior.  Right then, arms slack, nothing wiggling forward, knees feeling good, legs engaged, good pacing... things felt great.  Maybe still sliding forward a bit.... but hey... no real complaints.  Nice place to be, tempo, my own rhythm... yet, faster than usual, I remained driven by the good food in my gut and the desire to push myself...something I hadn't felt in a while.  

Chatted with a friend that I ran into on the bike trail this week, talking about food/nutrition concerns, and it struck me that I do quite a bit of writing about sights, sounds, feelings, smells, and birds... but not very much - and only occasionally - about what I've eaten, what works well, what doesn't.  I keep meaning to do that - but it's true: it doesn't make for very interesting reading... so, perhaps just in the follow-up notes at the tail end of the post itself, like I used to do with songs in my head, etc.

Onward to Osawatomie, KS., a town with a rich history when it comes to the Civil War, specifically the abolitionist movement headed by John Brown.  I took a few moments this time to snap some photos - not an exhaustive set, but the beginning of a habit I hope to establish -- five minutes here and there for a few pics, and a short rest from pedaling. 
These are the latest, from the western edge of town - where I arrived feeling pretty fresh, but still wanting a break:

The layout and construction of this home certainly looks old, yet the marker here doesn't say much about it, other than mentioning the original cabin was moved to the memorial park, which is about a mile away, further into town.  Still, the old growth tree, the lap siding, the period construction, and the no trespassing signage seem to indicate this building has a good story behind it.  

Historic marker detail.  Osawatomie may be simply another quiet, small town, long bypassed by interstates and adjacent highways - but life here, only two lifetimes ago, had been anything but quiet.  RIP, Frederick.

Seventy-seven years to the day, and eighty years old when I rode past it last weekend.   I'm certainly not the only one that has ridden or driven past without a second glance - but, I'm glad that I stopped this time.  I sincerely hope that I make a point to ride past here on some summer day in 2033.  G-d willing, I'll be 61 years old.  I actually just put it on my Google calendar.

A stop at Casey's in Osawatomie - longer than I'd planned, but in keeping with my overall ride approach on this outing.  It was nice to sit in the shade for a bit, and take my shoes off.  A lingering issue from the ride in Iowa, my feet ached again.  I'm not sure if it's an increase in activity sans-shoes (kickboxing and karate activities are all performed barefoot) which has perhaps changed the arch in my foot slightly, or perhaps the inserts in my shoes are due for a refresh - but, there is a feeling of the arch supports sorta feeling like a golf ball under each foot, and the sense that my feet are sliding toward the outside of the shoe.  It's interesting... but not crippling.  So many little complaints in the contact areas of the body, though... the three things that every distance cyclist should have worked out:  feet, hands, backside... all have been challenges since Iowa, but, with things adjusted back now, I'm thinking it's likely temporary.

I left Osawatomie probably 20 minutes after arriving, general laziness being the order of the day, I still found myself with plenty of clock to play with and no particular place to be after the ride.  I checked in with the wife via text message, whereupon I received my marching orders for the evening... 

"hurry home... I have a gift card for Garozzo's... mmmmm.....  :) "

Gosh, I love that lady.

Motivated by the promise of a quality recovery meal at McDonald's prices, I saddled up and pointed the bike into the northern breeze, under crisp blue skies and interesting-for-July cirrus wisps and stratocumulus.  

Shadows replaced by sunshine, the course took on a new feel - and the dry air provided a terrific cooling effect on my skin as I cycled into the slight headwind.  An awesome afternoon shaping up!  I enjoyed renewed vigor in my pedal stroke, driven by my new philosophy on speed management and the promise of a glass of red accompanying fine pasta and pesto circling in my head.  No headphones needed today - my head in the right place, songs of energy and promise echoing across my cortex, and a constant smile.  I stop at the intersection of 327th and Old KC Road, the decision point of the old back-door to Paola, right across from a car dealership and near US-169.  I remember, ages ago, driving down here with the Crowbar, when US-169 didn't curve east and the car dealership was barely off the blueprints, with the original highway zipping right past it.  A hawk or eagle - far too high up to determine - soared over my head, screeching in delight and circling without a care on rising thermal pockets in the post-frontal air, barely needing to flap its glorious wings.  A black car stops across the way, the driver door opens, and a gent with a spray can marks a turn for the following day's Cidermill Century... 

That'd make a great recovery ride... 

I decide I've lingered long enough, and start heading east.  Only a few miles from Paola, and the last control -- and, invariably, another chance to sit down longer than I should.  He-he... it's almost becoming a guilty pleasure, this ride and all the breaks.

A pause along 327th, opposite Hospital Road south of Paola; tempted by another potential railroad flyby, and the opportunity to ditch the wool cap in lieu of  the summer headcover, more appropriate for the rising temperature and sunshine.  Another shot of my constant companion, the Kogs.  With the recent adjustments, we're a solid couple again.

A stem's-eye view under gorgeous skies.

More of the same, the blues deepening as the phone-cam struggles to handle the cloud-filtered sun.

Paola comes quickly, as does the usual grind up into town on the Hedge Lane bypass off of 319th street -- it's all uphill, but I always seem to mistake the necessary grunt for fatigue.  It's hard to see the grade, but it's there alright.  Ugh.  Finally at Park Plaza 66 and the last control.  With only 45 miles or so to ride yet, and oodles of time, I grab a Coke, some Pringles, and chat with the ladies working the counter as they bombard me with questions about the route card, the timestamps, the route, and other questions they've seemingly never had answered.  It's a great thing, educating non-cyclists about what we're doing out there - putting a human element to the perception that we're all whacked-out health-nuts just itching to get into someone's way.  Proving again how big of a deal the whole "Lance thing" really was in the news a few months back, we stumble over the road of doping and racing culture - and I revel in the opportunity to defend commuting and randonneuring in general, as it becomes clear the local community doesn't appreciate the stop-sign running and general lack of respect that seems to have been a sporadic issue in Paola, and certainly everywhere in the larger scope of the extended KC-metro.  I won't soap-box here, and I tried not to be too heavy-handed about it... but, generally speaking, I still feel that commuters and randonneurs represent 'the right way' of riding behavior, and maybe the little conversation I shared with the c-store clerks will help non-cyclists realize that one apple doesn't have to spoil the whole bunch.  I'm always surprised to find - though Paola isn't a truly small town anymore - that most of the curiosity in what we distance-riders do comes from folks that one might assume uninterested.  Sometimes I prefer the anonymity of the rampant suburban culture in which I live... but sometimes I wish I received more questions from folks in Olathe about it.  There remain far too many instances of cyclist running intersections and traffic lights, bullying trail users with too much speed and lack of simple courtesy, and spending more time on their track-standing skills than on common courtesy, and I feel like we all suffer for that.  If my time in Iowa taught me anything, it showed that it certainly doesn't have to be this way.  We will forever remain at war with motorists, and will forever suffer the inequities of low funding and down-voted cyclist's rights, should we never change our collective ways.

The shadows began to shift further into the adjacent ditch as I made my way north towards Hillsdale and Spring Hill - the evil scepter of Old KC Road separating me from the home-stretch.  I enjoyed another rail fly-by on Hedge Lane, then negotiated a busy roundabout at K-68, and then pushed up the long grades of the old highway to Spring Hill, and Casey's again called my name.  Restroom, water, and a quick foot stretch again.  

Ouch... gotta work this out, this new thing with the feet.  Are my shoes just shot?  More commutes and maybe some new inserts first... definitely before the August ride.

Onward to Ridgeview and the run up to Olathe... it's suburban traffic-light time!

For most, this is usually the portion of this particular loop that, mentally, takes the longest.  The increase in traffic flow which occurs in just a scant five miles from 199th street to 159th street along Ridgeview, much of it along roads that haven't yet been widened to accommodate the additional loads, quickly begins to wear on the mind after transitioning away from hours and hours of light traffic, and long, uncontrolled stretches of open country lane.  And, that's without road construction.  Huh? 

Upon arriving at 175th and Ridgeview - the unofficial marker at the edge of Olathe - I started laughing.  Ahead of me lay familiar orange signs, and the clear markings of uneven pavement and rubble.  Yep.  

This image actually comes from the Iowa weekend, at about mile 140 on highway N46, about 15 miles east of Audubon, IA.  It was at this point that I also started chuckling, because back in June on the White Cloud route, we encountered very, very rough pavement indeed on K-7.  Twelve miles of it on K-7, then about 7 miles of it in Iowa, and now, on Ridgeview, only about 2 miles worth.  It's a half-smile, because, honestly, after K-7's torture back in June, at least Glen and I were "trained" for the nasty pavement grading.  Three for three in July!  What awaits us in August... who knows... 

I put my head down on the bars, took a deep breath, and muttered "three for three...", and then clicked in.  Ugh... And, not quite as rough as K-7, but rougher than the Iowa treatment, at least it was only advertised to last until about 164th street... no problem.  Honestly, the road needed it - Ridgeview from 175th to 164th is narrow and the edges near the dropoffs were becoming crumbled and dangerous in places - so, at least from a cyclist's perspective, it will ultimately be a much better road.  Construction season... ahhhh.... at least, one small section at a time, all of my favorite routes are getting fresh pavement!  

159th street, then 151st... and a pause at the lights again.  It's the stop-n-go of this section that elongates the distance, but I barely have a reason to care -- still smiling, and knowing that the ride is effectively in the bag, I try not to think too much about the coming hills on Renner - one of the cruelest finishing stretches in the area, which reminds me vaguely of the routes I cut my teeth upon up north of Liberty, MO.  

Bob Burns really knows how to prepare a guy for rando... trial-by-fire style:  Plattsburg Road, the final 15 miles from highway C to the finish in Liberty on either the old 200k or the Hell of the North 300, still, for me, hold the trophy as the cruelest finishing section in rando.  Just when you think you're finished, all those hills - none of which you can remember from the morning - come back to laugh in your tired, aching face.  Even with fresh legs, Plattsburg Road, north-to-south, is nothing to sneeze at.  Heck, nearly anything north of the airport qualifies... the last 20 miles of Ride with the Devil is particularly evil to the unfamiliar.  In the words of one of the riders that joined me for my old "Dirty Harry .44" hill-training ride, many years ago:  "sweet murder..."
Gawd, I love the hills...reminds me, I'm far overdue to host a local ride, Dark Side or otherwise.  Like I'm not busy enough, right?  Maybe...

I reach the roundabouts, pass under I-35, and hit the QuikTrip at Santa Fe and Ridgeview.  I remember telling myself, no matter what, that I was going to stop here the next time I'd ride Princeton - and there I was.  It's especially busy, this particular store, so I rush in, grab a banana and a water refill -- hydrating perfectly, I actually needed the full refill on this hot, dry day! -- I snarf down nature's candy-bar while I fill bottles, and I'm quickly out in traffic again, headed for the final stretch.  Maybe eight miles to go, it seemed silly to stop - but, as it would turn out, I'm glad I had.  

Soon I turned onto Kansas City Road (which may, on some old, old map, connect with "OLD" Kansas City Road, south of Spring Hill...maybe the original highway alignment, perhaps, before the Federal highway system?  Another traffic light, at 127th street (Harold), and I quickly give directions to a lost delivery driver in a white van next to me at the light (lost?  Ask a cyclist...).  I soon turn north onto Renner Road, and brace for the coming climbs.  At first, I feel strong - but, the fatigue of the day quickly materializes.  I have been pushing bigger gears than usual --- more of my old school methods, which I maybe never should have abandoned.  My knees are sore.. but not injured.  My quads feel engaged, but used.  My feet, holding up - but achy.  For the first time in hours, I start to gear down a bit, the grades are too steep to continue the grind - and, really, the extra effort would only net me a handful of minutes, tops.  At this point, why stress it?  All the extra stops, the long stretches of good tempo work that reminded me of getting down to business a decade ago, the Warbird in my ear on the two-way, announcing the next hand-up... what a stellar day I'd had!  Record-breaking, hardly... but, for me, something of a turning point.  I metaphorically fell down in Iowa... got back up, dusted myself off for a couple weeks, adjusted, and now... well, maybe it's still too early to tell.  In fact, I know it is still too early.  I'm not "fixed."  But.... I know I still have that fire.  With careful attention, and keeping to this recent return to my old "big gear" methodology... perhaps there's something to it that I somehow lost track of.  

I didn't finish feeling destroyed.  I was tired for the effort, and very satisfied with the rolling average speed - and the total time, too.  The best of both, perhaps?

Finishing... it feels good, and I have July checked off.  The streak lives.
Finishing with a smile? really doesn't matter WHAT I do, as long as I can smile about it.  What a fun day out!

Stay tuned... 

Next time on The Distance Diaries, the 'dude and company head to NE Kansas, for the Kickapoo Two revisit... a new August tradition?  Looking forward to it!

Food notes:  Instead of two bottles filled with "mix", this time out I opted to carry less, and mixed two full bottles for the start line only.  Afterwards, it remained one bottle of mix, and one bottle of plain water.  The diluted results seemed easier on the stomach, and, considering I am eating real food at the controls more often, it's doubtful I needed the calorie load from two full bottles anyhow.  Bloating, discomfort and gas on recent rides may have been the results of too much carbohydrate, and not enough pure water to aid digestion and provide hydration.  This time out, the plain/mix combo seemed to work well, so I plan to repeat it in August.  Bonk Buster energy bars are far more palatable than Clif Bars, easier to chew and swallow, and pack smaller.  I enjoyed a few of these on this ride, in addition to natural purchases like bananas and orange juice at the controls.  Contrast to previous rides, I avoided candy bars like mounds -- yet, I still had a Coke at Paola, Osawatomie, and Princeton, and the results remained good each time.  Pringles worked great, though I couldn't eat them very quickly.  The McDonald's egg-white delights w/o canadian bacon were pure magic, yet, I know I likely won't be able to plan on that luxury for August, and certainly not for every ride.  However, if I see a McDonald's before lunchtime enroute, I may stop and buy a couple for the road.  They tasted terrific, and the "real food" texture and flavor cut through the blandness of the usual c-store fare and energy bars.  In a world of microwave sandwiches at c-stores, I suppose I could muster up something close-to-spec, but, I'm nervous about the preservatives and artificial-ness of those high-shelf-life products.  I know, like McD is any better... but at least you can watch them crack the egg open back there.  I won't fear stopping for a real meal, however, that's for sure -- the results, mentally and gastronomically, are tangible.
I felt better after this ride than I have in a long, long time.

Control time management -- I need to affix some sort of small handlebar bag, even if it's just a tiny, modified stem bag, like I'd done a couple years back.  Being able to stop at a control but bring the purchased food along for consumption instead of eating curbside might go a long way towards conserving clock -- after all, the c-store controls are often not the interesting places to stop... those are out on the course.  So, lingering at a control, despite benches and air-con, might be something to avoid in the future.  Something to practice - but, with a group, do as the group does... if I can't eat that fast, I need some way to take it along so I can stay connected to the rest of the riders, should that be my goal.

Also inspired by Steven W., I need to figure a way to integrate a small speaker into the forthcoming tiny handlebar bag, for the iPod... in lieu of the earbud.  Way out in the middle of nowhere, there's really no reason to keep the music private, and a high volume isn't neccessary when the speaker is only a foot from my ears while riding anyhow.  Safer, too.  My amateur HT has an FM receiver built in, but the antenna is far too weak to work much outside city limits... so, MP3s will probably remain my go-to... but I need a small, non-powered mono speaker to fit the bill... and may have to make my own.

Thanks for reading!