November 30, 2013

well... THAT'S odd...(The November Ride Report)

First off, even typing the title (the parenthesized bit) gives me a smile and a shrug of personal disbelief:  it didn't SEEM like I'd checked off November upon finishing this great ride; but, sure enough, one ride to-go and this year is history already.  I'm still on the fence about a December edition - but, especially after conversing about it at work with a close friend ... yeah, it'll happen.  This "rando" thing... this "commuting" thing --- surely on the latter, no - I don't do it as often anymore as I'd ideally prefer; however, that embodies idealism in general - and if it's "only" once a week, that's a GOOD thing, not something to asterisk with "well, I *used* to ..."  Streak, no streak... riding a bicycle still holds value:  slow, fast, plain-clothes, kitted-up, fixed, free, touring, racing, shopping, pubbing....once a day, once a month:  doesn't matter.  

It's what we do.  

Be proud of it; and, if the mood strikes, saddle-up.  If not... dream big, and long for Spring.  There's nothing at all wrong with that.

   Ever since I was a child, thanks to my parents and friends, I quickly started to develop a sarcastic sense of humor.  No, really.  (ok, just stop it.)  While in the early stages of teenhood, we'd often head out on a road trip to Grandma's house, in far flung southwest Missouri - and, along the way out of town on US-71 we'd pass by the signs for Peculiar, MO.  

"well... that's odd.... "   

   No response... not even once.  Either my parents and sister simply couldn't endure the spine-tingling horror of another one of my groaners, or they simply didn't hear me . . . but, it's always been something of a personal inside joke, that particular town's name.  It's a nice little place, and like a lot of towns around here it's actually not so"little" anymore; but, I have to wonder from where the name had originated.  Maybe I should research it... or maybe I should just continue to smile to myself.  Either way, when I started looking for an east-west route to complete my personal "master-plan" of permanent routes that start relatively close to my home-base, Peculiar, MO. ended up sitting in just the right place for roughly 200km of fun-ness.  The route's name, said with that long-forgotten western drawl of a cowboy-type trying to describe somethin' he ain't-never-done-laid-eyes-on-a'fore, became the perfect moniker... even if the route itself isn't really that strange at all.  In fact, it's terrific... only the towns along the way are "strange", perhaps, and hold unique stories of their own... stories of a part of west-central Missouri that time has neglected, of a strong railroad gone-under and the economy that went with it, and of a regional highway network that stole the rest.  

This is the story of The Mighty Peculiar.

The first truly cold ride of the year was upon me..although, for November in eastern KS/western MO., it could have been a LOT worse.  The bag-of-plenty packed, bike at the ready, I headed off into the darkness for Peculiar - and the promise of a hot breakfast at the 24-hour Denny's there.  I've really taken to planning my routes around services like this one; it just makes things a lot nicer for riders.  Heck, this one is centered around the Flying-J travel plaza: with a few small, inexpensive motels nearby, and hot showers within the travel plaza itself - cleaned and maintained via a reservation system for professional over-the-road drivers - it's an oasis of randoneering wish-list items.  Sure beats changing clothes in a cramped bathroom stall, and eating yet another ClifBar after a long day in the saddle!

So far, so good -- Terry sat waiting for me in his truck, fresh from St. Joe, and - honestly - it didn't feel too cold out...certainly the forecast gusty winds hadn't started yet.  Time to eat!

Soon, Gary D. showed up, and the food began to hit the table inside the warm, inviting Denny's.  Even on a weekday, things weren't too busy - we nearly had the place to ourselves upon arriving a bit after 5:15am, the coffee was hot and fresh, and the food top-notch.  Thankfully, any stomach issues were distant memories--- which, in retrospect likely had more to do with me possibly carrying around a stomach bug than the locale last month -- but, it was nice to eat hearty for the day and not end up punished for it.  Checks paid, we three ventured outside and prepared for the journey ahead. 

Third (maybe fourth)  month in a row, we take our sweet time preparing, reconsidering gloves/hats/windbreakers, and don't get our first receipt until about a quarter-after the intended start time of 6:00am.  The air was thick with moisture, cold... the coldest ride-start in months, perhaps in a year, really:  I personally started the ride wearing nearly everything I'd brought with me, including a warm-up layer that I'd intended to take off right before departure and leave in the car.  Instead, the biting, wet air prompted me and my companions to dress far thicker and warmer than originally planned.  We headed out, despite the light winds, braced for cold and puffing clouds of condensed breath from behind face covers.  Even after a few hills, my internal furnace hesitated a few times before truly kicking on and warming my extremities.  BRRRR!!!  As we turned west into a lightening sky, we longed for sunshine and kept a finger or two crossed for no changes in the forecast!

We ambled along on the new route, taking in the growing silhouettes of houses and barns as they appeared out of the darkness along the way, up and over slightly rolling terrain - a good, early warm-up for the first dozen-or-so miles of the ride.  We trailed along behind a school-bus making morning pickups, and then we had the country roads to ourselves while we quietly retraced the old MS-150 route, which used to start at various places, but, in its last years with the old Sedalia destination it had started off north of Peculiar on the same roads Terry, Gary and I pedaled along for this ride - a large part of my route intent.  for as much criticism as it'd received for being "too difficult" for the novice rider (hills), I have fond memories of the annual trek east, toward the promise of cold beer and good music at the old Sedalia MS-Ride overnight event.  

As Gary and I chatted away the cold, early miles discussing custom bikes, frames, racks, gearing and bags, the sun ultimately appeared and began to burn off some of the chill.  Terry only a second or two behind us, we three ate up the mileage - still chilly, but improving - as the wind began to turn up the volume knob, ever-so-slightly.  Expected, and partially welcome:  as the wind would increase, its direction would promise a speedy return trip later in the day!  None of us had enjoyed THAT for months... what a tough year it's been!

As we ate up the remains of State Highway "P", I got my first "cue sheet wake-up call" in a while... being a new route, well, sometimes there are surprises.  The first, a big "Pavement Ends" sign on the right side of the road... 

"uhhhh.... that's not what I remember...."  I muttered... 

Echoing their hesitation, my companions also slowed a bit, while I peered at my copy of the cue and down the road... was that gravel??  surely.... 

Well, no ... it ended up being fine, and I remember distinctly feeling much the same way during my last outing on this road:  the sign remains, but the road surface has long-since been paved over.  No worries after all!  I need to make a note of that on the cue.... ugh... 

Coming off the back-roads, we emerged onto the old "main drag" which had taken thousands of riders east, over the years, to the first MS-150 rest-stop along MO-58 highway.  Part of the reason the MS Society (allegedly) had elected to abandon this route and merge with the Topeka, KS. event involved complaints of MO-58 being too busy a road... and, I'll grant you, in the afternoons it can be:  today, however, light traffic...typical of the morning out this way, the route is designed to keep folks off the main highways (pending your start time) until "rush-hour" is largely over.  For us, it worked out nicely.    

As the cold continued to tug and chew at my fingers and toes, the camera remained nestled cozily in the front bag despite repeated notions to grab it an snap shots.  I already adore this route for its scenery:  the vast and rolling western Missouri landscape contains working and abandoned farms in such density, few miles pass without something interesting to ponder.  When warmer months bless us once again, I'll photo-document the opening miles more completely; but - future riders take note - the mystery is there for the discovering.  I won't, and shouldn't, take TOO many photos, lest I rob anyone of the joys of discovering that awesome old barn for themselves.  

Along route "O", after pushing up several rolling grades and enduring a bit of headwind, a break - and exposing fingers to morning, Fall air finally comes without the urgency to quickly re-glove.  Pictures - I'm learning - help me focus on the chronology and important bits, rather than rambling on - editor-free - about "notmuch."


Terry on approach - the 20-year paving plan of rural Missouri exercises the tires and punctuates the hills under the crisp blues and whites of icy-cold fall air, far above us.  The trees are only a few days bare, it seems - the Gales of November have rested, and the leaves are elsewhere.

"That Old Rock Island Line"
Along Highway "O", rural Johnson County, MO.

Looking longingly southeast along the abandoned Rock Island right-of-way, the remnants of a grade-crossing signal & wire box at left (no, not a ramshackle bookshelf).  Thirty-three years of overgrowth clogs any chance of exploration - even in the bug-friendly month of November, but all the steel remains in place - some just a few inches below the grass, some still exposed, and holding strong against time.  Someday in the next ten years, this will all be cleared to make way for the Kansas City extension to the famed KATY Trail.  Yep, it'll make a fine update to this particular route, as it will shortcut perhaps a mile here or there along the way to Chilhowee, MO. -- I'll update the cue by then, but at 216km there's no cheating the mileage on the Mighty-P anyway... trail or no trail.

  The skies a bright blue, wisps of high clouds and a roar from the northeast... a glorious sight, a B-2 bomber flies overhead - good time for a roadside break, Gary and I shed a layer and grab a snack from various bags.  We're greeted by a local farmer headed to the end of her driveway to get picked up by one of her hands, both off to rescue a calf that had gotten out.  Terry catches up shortly afterward, and we talk about .. well, how awesome the weather is proving out.  What a great, great day!  One at a time, we click back into our pedals, and let gravity do the work of getting us back up to pace... "how 'bout them hills??" the sign used to say, stuck in the grass alongside the highway - greeting and taunting MS-riders at the same time, teasing with "5-miles to lunch!" and "almost there!"  I glance occasionally off to the grass lowering beside the road... partially hoping to see one still there.  Has it really been 11 years since my first time out this way?  So many miles since then... and, like an adult returning to their childhood primary school desk - perhaps at a conference for their own kids - I think for a moment, have the hills shrunk?

Gary D., waiting eagerly for me to do whatever it is I have to do at the Casey's in Leeton, MO.  Once upon a time, this was the town for the lunch-stop on the MS-150 route to Sedalia, after some great rollers near Chilhowee.  Today, just another restroom stop - not even a control - on the way to Calhoun.

The Kogs, caught loitering.  Shhhh...!

We watch Terry slip by, undeterred and patient, with a confident and happy wave.  He's a relentless metronome of a rider:  strong, quiet, unwavering.  He's self-described as "not fast", but he always seems to catch up, only minutes behind us - no matter where, or what, or when.  We're all fairly seasoned as a group now, fast approaching the makings of a solid Fleche team one day, I'm sure, with some minor tweaks... which, basically, means we need to start riding like Terry.  Back on the road, Gary and I catch him up after a few minutes... but, it's a slow process, each of us seeming to ride within 2% of the other, on any of our previous six or seven outings.  Consistency is good!

Highway "J", headed southeast into Calhoun, MO.  A terrific stretch of road, on an increasingly gorgeous day.  Gary at the helm, we eat up the road and wander past yet another scenic farmstead as we approach the halfway point of the day's adventure.

Probably the only time of year when the plaid wool and facial hair look appropriate, the obligatory "selfie."

The halfway control comes into view, and we all dismount for some good eats and a rest.  A sure indicator that I'm acclimating nicely to the chillier conditions, it's nearly HOT pulling up to a stop in the full sunshine and southerly winds.  We saunter inside, cards signed --- and, realizing that I'm indeed breaking new ground with this route, I proceed explaining to the confused cashier what the card is for, why it's okay to sign it, and just "what the heck we're doin'."  It's all received well, and before long the inviting food behind the counter attacks our senses - Gary and I begin ordering this and that, and check out with armloads of goodness.  


Biscuits, chicken strips, gizzards and livers... frog legs on Fridays!?  This is a well-stocked control.  Terry rolls up, and the scene repeats.  Food is stashed away in stomachs and in waiting bags for the road -- the next fifty miles won't have a lick of services, so, despite the chilly air, an extra 20oz. bottle of water makes its way into my saddlebag, just in case.  

We all proceed to pack up and lash this and that to the tops of bags and racks, second-guessing ourselves at least three times.  Is it warmer in the sun?  Is the wind increasing?  What's the temperature now?  Layers on... layers off again.... the first relatively cold, layer-heavy ride of the season proves again:  we're out of practice!  

Under or over-dressed yet to be decided, we roll out -- the wind at our backs!

(you have no idea how nice it is to type THAT!)

On the way out of Calhoun, the inevitable questions of earlier came to their answers, as sweat began to roll down my back as I pedaled along... yep, too hot... overdressed.
Unconcerned, I stop and begin the process of shedding and storing layers... almost too many layers for my ample saddlebag to handle - thank goodness for external lashings and d-rings.  Gary begins to shrink on the immediate horizon, and then Terry slips by - atop a hill, next to a farm gate off the road along highway "J", under a deep blue canopy of heaven - grass and tree limbs singing, and a distant hawk crying with joy beyond... man... what a great day to not be in a hurry... the thought was fleeting; but, honestly, after recent weeks and workstress - in a terrible hurry was the last thing I wanted to be.  It was like, standing on that hilltop watching Terry and Gary become distant dots on the horizon while I wrapped up my extra layers and took long gazes into the distance ... I finally understood the point that Spencer and a what I remember of a few guys down in the Texas LSR (Lone Star Randonneurs) club were talking about:

I flash back to February, 2008 - I'm on a great section of Texas highway shoulder, on the way to the first control, chatting it up with Ort of Texas and enjoying the mild weather... almost 600 miles south of the ice storm and freezing temps of Olathe.  Ort described the LSR scene, at that time, a part of which he'd only been a member for a few months; he talked of the guys now called the "K-Hounds" - a fast-but-friendly, hard-edged-yet-encouraging and well-drilled group of front-runners who'd polished their rando-routine to a high sheen.  From the outside looking in, it might have seemed to most that the entire LSR group would be tough to hang with... but, not so:  he went on to describe a polar-opposite group of LSR riders, serious in their pursuits, yet somehow more casual.  Sneakers and flat pedals, and a determined goal to finish ... but to finish and use ALL the allotted time to do so.  At the time, I was dismissive of the mere notion of riding slow and taking one's time on purpose - but, therein, I think I'd missed the point.  A finish is a finish... 8 hours, or 13 hours:  the ACP doesn't care, nor does RUSA.... so why do *I*?  Make no mistake... those tennis-shoe'd riders were indeed strong, and consistent, and able to time things JUST so... for maximum enjoyment and ride time.  After all, if one is out there to enjoy the day, and the day is as good as it is long, why on Earth would one be in a hurry??  

Meanwhile, I recall reading a ride report from a 600km event, written by our own Spencer - wherein, while my writing style had been busy outlining my struggles and hardships in great detail, HIS ride report mentioned only one, true issue during his 600k:  that (paraphrased:) on day three, sometimes a feeling resembling sadness would set in - because the end of the riding was drawing to its inevitable close.  I had never understood what he'd meant - not really - not until very recently.
Perhaps it's a convenient justification for me as I've noticed my average speeds leveling off, along with my anxiousness about those numbers, that my new motivation is to just slow down and enjoy -- but, after reaching the halfway and beginning to reap the benefits of a strong and growing tailwind, I found myself in LESS of a hurry... not quite so anxious to take maximum advantage of the speed assistance.  I took one more long look around, and then mounted up -- first motivated to catch.... then, more reserved.  The tank was full.  I felt fantastic.  No gut issues.  No saddle issues.  I just ... relatively-speaking ...became keen on enjoying the day itself, not worrying about what time it showed on the clock, nor what time I thought I might finish.  

For once, I just RODE.

State Route CC, a great ribbon of road in Henry County, MO., connecting not-much-of-anything to MO-13 to the west.  Hilly, scenic, rustic pavement... a treat to ride!

A bit later down the same piece of Route CC, the road pitching upward and around the bend - out of sight.

Still content to take my time... which is to say, "It's difficult to chase what you can't see," I took in the sights, smells and sounds of the route, meandering along Route CC toward the west and the bottom portion of the Mighty Peculiar loop.  Along the way I happened upon Terry taking a quick roadside break - but, Gary... gosh, who knew if I'd see him again anytime soon.  I seem to have, however, learned from my past shortcomings with regards to knowing the land, and landmarks, of a new route... compared to the Border Patrol route, for example; which I've ridden perhaps 15 times, and it wasn't until visit #10 that another rider had to point out a scenic marker that I'd never noticed before... despite it being maybe only 10 feet off the road.  Surely I'd missed some of the smaller, yet-to-be-discovered details on this new route -- but, for the most part, I don't know if I missed much, my head on a swivel as I rode past barn after barn.

Lone grain silo along Route CC

Looking north at the intersection of MO-13 and Route CC, a nice old house atop a hill

... and, looking south at MO-13 and Route CC, another fine example.

Along Route M, and typical of the 2nd half of the ride:  it's best described as "a whole lotta nothin'"
If you enjoy long, uninterrupted stretches of road, this is your ride.  It reminds me a lot of some of Bob's old routes, way up north of Liberty, and such.

Blairstown, MO., looking SW at Main Street and Route N.  Old telegraph office??
The old feed store, Blairstown, MO.  Aside from a few businesses clinging to life and a post office, there didn't seem to be much here... and certainly nothing a randonneur would call "services."  My favorite part:  the giant statement "No Water" hastily spray-painted on the side of the local firearms shop.  Errr, yeah... moving on, then...

Unfortunately, a lot of cars in various states of repair sat scattered around the town - and in this shot, they block all of the interesting bits of this site, the remains of an old corner gas-station.  The stonework appears to be in good shape, but it also appears some of it has been removed since my last visit.  Other items removed include the old gas pumps - who knows where they ended up.  The intersection of the tree in the background and the remains of one of the stonework awning supports is purely accidental.

The Blairstown Post Office.  I hung around town for perhaps 15 minutes, taking the opportunity to have a snack and shed yet another layer as the day warmed.  I didn't see a soul.

Highway N, west of Blairstown.  More of the same:  trees lining the road, rolling terrain, old farmsteads.  Good riding!
An old schoolhouse, perhaps?

The sunlit side of the schoolhouse.  Sunlight.... 10-12 hours of exposure in fall-like temps do wonders for acclimation, and, at this point, I had begun to take on a full sweat.  Another layer comes off.  Whoooof, and it's probably only in the mid-50's F.  
Highway N seems to stretch forever . . . long enough for me to think... "hmmm, did I miss the turn?"
The answer was "no".. I hadn't reached it yet; but, after stopping I got a good chuckle when I noticed the roadsign next to me reads "Lost Rd."  Good timing... It's one mile from the turn I'd been looking for.  So, if you ride this and you reach "Lost Rd.", take heart... you're not lost!
Highway ZZ, and more rolling hills.  If I'd had a permanent marker in my bag, I'd have been very tempted to add the word "Top", underneath the "ZZ" on the roadsign... but, we don't condone that sort of houliganishness around these parts.  But, heading north with a strong tailwind pushing us along, we did feel on "top" of the world.  The horizon far distant, and the afternoon's lengthening shadows coaxing more speed, Terry and I found each other along the way and traded road positions a few times.

Horses and a donkey occupy this farm near the edge of La Tour, MO. -- vive La Tour!

Along Highway M... no, a different one... south of Gunn City, MO.  Shadow Riders, Terry and I make our way to the penultimate control, thankfully only five miles distant as I sip down the last of my water.

Signs of a more prosperous time, an abandoned gas station in Gunn City, MO.

Moments from the East Lynne, MO. control, an old bridge 

Terry and I finally make the East Lynne, MO. control after the 50.4 mile jaunt from Calhoun.  Spirits high, but tired, we both take to the inside, get our cards signed and eat something while refilling our bottles.  Checking the sun angle once more, it seems we'd only have 30 minutes of daylight left - so, the regular glasses come back out of hiding, along with a few layers to put back on.  This time of year, when the sun goes away the heat quickly follows.  Finally feeling good after several ounces of water (slight headache coming on?), we mount up and start to make our way back out.  Gary?  Heck... haven't seen him.  Not even a glimpse on the horizon, and Terry tactfully and purposefully does NOT ask the lady working the counter how long it'd been since his passage.  Things like that, best to keep them out of our heads -- and he's taught me another solid lesson there.  After all, having that info... what good would it do me now?  Confirm the obvious?  Why mess with that... ride your own ride, 'dude.  Satisfied, with extra grub at the ready in the front bag, Terry and I saddled up for the last dozen or so miles to the finish.  Twenty, tops.  Breezes dying, heat leaving, and shadows growing very long... time to move out.    

My headlight beam lights the way as we are treated to an amazing sunset.  Perhaps 10 hours earlier, we'd witnessed a great sunrise, the same way.  Awesome day... fully played out from the bike seat.  Only a bit later, we turn off of Route K for the final few turns east and north, back to Peculiar, MO.  The landmarks of progress come quickly on this part of the route, by design: on the local roads instead of the highways, the finish is quiet and easy to navigate.  We cross highway MO-7, then some railroad tracks, then MO-291... check, check, check... the miles melt away.

Perhaps three or four miles out, the lights of the Peculiar, MO. truck stop are clearly visible as Terry and I check off the last few turns.  The evening sky is breath-taking, as are the last couple surprise hills - thrown in, just for kicks.

Photo of the day -- just look at that beaming smile.  Gary D., earlier in the day as we pause along Route "O".  His expression seems to last mile after mile, hill after hill - and it's infectious.  That attitude, along with his '80's RAAM pedigree and his no-nonsense approach to riding in general, it's a treat to share miles with this guy.  Schedules are changing, winter is approaching fast - so, it's hard to tell if I'll get the opportunity to spend as many miles in the immediate future as I have this year with "the boys", but it's been a real pleasure.  This image probably sums up how our little group handles rando... a little bit of "hurry-up," balanced with a smile and a good laugh.  Cheers, mates!

After 11 hours and some change (okay, a LOT of change), The Mighty Peculiar - no, we didn't break any records.  The weather was kind, and the miles came easy... easier for Gary, obviously: as we'd later discover he'd finished nearly 50 minutes ahead of us!  (And, yes, he's still riding that old, garage-sale acquired Astro-Daimler 10-speed!)  All in all, however, the wind was kind, and the temperatures for November???  Wow....!  What an awesome ride!  Note to self, however:  if I could have changed one thing, it might have been to add toe warmers for the first 30 miles - but, really, that's me searching for a complaint... aside from that, absolutely zero to complain about!  

Looking forward to December... yep... still on the fence.  I have to make sure I keep a close eye on the "fun meter," because - going back to a recent conversation at the office with a fellow cyclist, if it isn't fun, why am I out there??  Surely as the sun will rise and the midwestern plains-states weather will remain difficult to forecast, a rare, mild December week will materialize - and hopefully I get the timing just-so to enjoy the benefits.  Considering the KCUC crew in general already had a wintry, snowy ride back in March, maybe I'll get a break? 

Ha.... right.... 

Thanks for reading, as always --- and stay tuned!


Unknown said...

That isn't an abandoned gas station in Gunn City, MO. The owner actually lives in the building now, it's just not a store anymor. I grew up and currently live in the that town!

kG said...

Oh, awesome! That's kinda neat - and beats tearing something down. Wonder if he'll ever open it again?