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 apiece...so, 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.
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.
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.
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:
|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.
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 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.
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? Always...it really doesn't matter WHAT I do, as long as I can smile about it. What a fun day out!
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!