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!

1 comment:

Randy said...

Enjoying the pics!

Not sure if the Morning Grange is an old schoolhouse or not. Could be. But a couple old maps I consulted showed the schoolhouse on the south side of 191st. Don't know the history of the grange...