February 24, 2014

Five Years Gone

It's turned out to be a far more active and interesting winter than I'd planned on.  Instead of, like years past, wallowing in the seasonal duldrums - well, okay, maybe some of that has been happening, and that's natural - I've been stepping back, having productive discussions with myself and friends, and have kept commuting at arms-length, as opposed to constantly feeling guilty about not doing it.  Combined with a sharper mental outlook on things, I seem to have maintained focused and have held my head a little higher lately.  This is all good news -- and since most of you read this blog for the CYCLING, I won't go into tiresome details here.  I'll save that for when you .....

(drumroll, please)

Come out this spring for KCUC's brevet series!

No, really.... we even have a few 100km rides this year!  Two-hundred-too-much?  We hear ya... come out for our metric rides!  
KCBrevets.blogspot.com   Do it.

(shameless plug complete)

...and share a few miles with me, perhaps.  To date, however - despite it sounding a lot like history-repeating - I have managed to get to my lowest personal weight since January of 2012, I have turned the occasional cross-training into an actual

habit that I now ENJOY (running), and I have also created the habit of behaving and eating like an adult, and like a true vegetarian - as opposed to the previous mode of "just happens to not eat meat, but will eat anything with complex carbs to excess."  The last nine months have found me down a terrific path -- not trying to brag, or profess that I'm somehow 'fixed' now ... there is a lot of work to be done, and I have to stay on track ... but, instead of just talking things up while doing the same old thing, the changes I had been afraid to make have been made and I'm better for it as a person.  I've found myself deconstructing a lot of the repeating 'opportunities' and such, with decent results.

  So, enough with the "yea, me" party.  That's not what I'm here for.  Part of this positive change involves no longer self-deprecating - nor self-applauding - my... uhhh... self.  My name is Richie Cunningham, and this is my wife, Oprah.

What the heck are we talking about.... OH!  Rides.  Shall we?  

The Knob Noster 200km report...

uhh, huhuhuh.... he said...   

 (or, "Five Years Later", the story of Neil Young's rise to stardom?  No, no, no...  good grief.)

The Grain Valley, MO., c-store.  Yes, that is a fully functional payphone between our bicycles.  I was astounded.  Thanks to a sleep-friendly 7:00am start, and winter's grip beginning to slide, we began our journey with growing daylight for a backdrop, and mild enough temperatures to reconsider and repack some unneeded layers.  Terry B. is back this month, inside getting the starting receipt and some tasty calories.  Compared to 5-years earlier, I was already excited just to have some company!

Grain Valley, MO. is a sleepy farm town which seems, now, a little closer to the city than it'd seemed a few years back.  It seems Kansas City has grown as much to the east along the interstate as it has to the south and west, back in my neck of the woods.  Before long, I'm pulling into McDonald's for my egg-white-dynamite and coffee.  BLAM!  Ride-ready!  No, that's not on the diet.  That's rando... and, like some of my riding partners profess, this really is the only time we can eat like this and get away with it.  With nearly 7,000 calories to be burned today, there's no possible way to eat THAT much.  I've tried, and measured.

Compared to 5-years-earlier, the temperatures were terrific... last time on this route, which I'd been scared to revisit due to some personal demons, the start temperature had sat squarely in the teens, and if I recall wouldn't even reach the freezing mark.  Today, by contrast, the mercury fell well above freezing and would only get better as the day would progress.  Terry and I enjoyed the long downhill leading out of town, and the energetic rollers leading to the first of only a few turns. 

 This is a great route for those that prefer long, unbroken sections of road that seem to flow together without the cue sheet screaming for attention.  I could hardly believe it when I looked it up, but, only EIGHT randonneurs have ever ridden this route since its creation in 2007, and only three people have done it twice - including me, now.  If you've never done this one, you owe it to yourself -- add some variety, and give it a shot.  Totally worth the trip. 

The first few reminders and evidence of my previous hesitation to retry Knob Noster sat in waiting while Terry and I chatted and exchanged places on the road.  In place of the usual browns and grays of a mid-western winter, the scenery remained painted in a bright, breath-taking white.  I don't know if I've ever ventured out on a long ride with so much snow still covering the adjacent fields and road shoulders.  Winter storms recently dumped upwards of a foot of snow around the region, and with temperatures only recently hopping above the freezing mark, much of it has stuck around for at least 20 days -- strange for the KC-area:  the normal process usually involves some snowfall, yes - but schizophrenic temperatures usually roller-coaster up and down while system-after-system rapidly pass overhead, alternating between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico; so, normally whatever snow does fall melts away within days.  This year, the whole Polar vortex thing and blocking ridges have kept temperatures in the 20's (F) or below for the better part of a month, until just recently.  Terry and I, instead of suffering to grab February's ride, enjoyed a winter backdrop, with warm, melting temperatures at the same time.  As I type this, the snow is long gone -- we had unintentionally timed things perfectly to capture the best of winter.

Corn Road... this thing is great:  Terry and I turned around a corner, and the grade began to increase.  If the mild temperatures hadn't stirred our blood, this early climbing would help.  Quickly advancing through my gears, the climb continued for a long while and lured us up onto a gorgeous ridge.  A quick gander at the maps reveals how much is happening in this remarkable region of Missouri:  We're not quite into the Ozarks, not quite into the Osage valley, not quite in the Missouri River Valley - yet, the topography and hydrology remains complex.  Over a century of active agriculture reveals irrigation channels carved by sweat and toil out of various branches of the Sni-A-Bar Creek, which winds and divides countless ridges and valleys around the area, while the Horseshoe Creek does the same, a dozen miles to the east.  Meanwhile, what must have been challenging for area farmers at the turn of the century has been since tamed by numerous small ponds, lakes, and reservoirs - all dammed-up and controlled.... so many projects, the resulting lakes don't even carry unique names:  Lafayette County Lake #23, and similar.  The entire landscape around Grain Valley and Oak Grove is littered with this small creeks, drains, ponds, dams, and agriculture terraces... if you want to ride anywhere in this area, you'll be out of the saddle at least a few times - the resulting vistas, climbs and descents are thrilling for the eyes, the soul, and the legs alike.  It's a welcome change from the comparatively flat landscape of sectioned tract farms in my home of Johnson County, KS.

A real treat and surprise lay waiting for me as we turned onto Hammond Road, marking my return to the "big one" that I'd been reduced to walking five years earlier.  Well, at least, the part of the hill that is over the top of the hill in the photo below:

Suddenly, it's not Missouri... it's France, it's spring classic training and trials, and I am humbled and thrilled to see my name emblazoned across the chip-seal as I negotiate the heavy grade of Hammond Road's easier western face.  My decision to perhaps finally upgrade to a compact-double crankset paired with a mountain-bike cassette and long-cage rear derailleur is nearly decided here, as I discover how much of my memory of this road had been real, or imagined and magnified.  Yeah... it's real.  But, I arrive lighter, stronger, and mentally ready.  With my smile only widening as I pass over the top of the chalk-written surprise, I stand, push, and deliver a bike-groaning performance.  I perform my bike maintenance with a goal of eliminating creaks and ticks of ANY kind ... and yet, Hammond Road immediately tells me, with each slow pedal rotation, where I might need a touch more grease.  Nothing else I can recall from my riding history makes a bike quite as vocal!  Palpable challenge!  The fear in my brain finally silenced; O, how I love this route - yet, I'd have to wait nine hours or so to get my shot at vindication on the eastern slopes I'd be flying down in a minute.

There's no denying, these hills don't mess about out here -- but they are not as impossible as I'd painted them in the past.  Seeded with a desire to justify my dismount and needlessly shameful walk up last time I rode here, I likely painted a false image of an impossible wall...but, these hills are not impossible.

Gear Ratio Discussion warning!
If readerInterest = False goto End of GearRatio

  If you're like me, still suffering from racer-marketing with the racy 53x39 crankset... well, my smallest combo of 39x27 for me made things do-able, but at a very lethargic cadence and a lot of muscle.  If you're even more of a knuckle-dragger and have a 52x42 crankset from the 14th-Century, then the task might be tough... but, again, not impossible.  Most of those older combos were supplemented with terrific 5-speed freewheels, often equipped with a 28 tooth... so, thanks to Sheldon Brown's gear-inch calculator, a 42x28 is only 1" away from a 39x27.... so, you're fine.  Fixed gear and single-speed?  Yikes... still possible... but, you're an animal if you can pull it off with anything taller than a 63" gear!  Compact or Triple?  Smooth as butter! 

Whatever you run, do it.  If you walk it, who cares?  Not me.

  I've got my eye on a bottom-bracket refresh this season... and I dunno.  As much as I love my 9-speed-era Ultegra crankset with it's 130mm bolt-circle (thusly eliminating anything smaller than a 38t ring), the real ding against it goes against Shimano for choosing a proprietary spindle interface.  Times like these, I really miss my old square-taper stuff.  Sure, I can get another Octalink BB fairly cheap, in addition to new chainrings... but, that same money would also pay for a super-smooth and tough SKF bottom bracket (which will be my last bottom bracket purchase, more than likely, with its 65,000 mile warranty), and a retro-sexy VO compact double.  I don't know yet.  However, it IS in my head... from a knee-health and overall efficiency stand-point, and also knowing that 1,200km rides like Shenandoah and Endless-Mountains may likely look at Hammond Road as a mere speed-bump, perhaps a compact is a wise choice.  Something will happen this spring, however:  mileage totals and physical observations both indicate I've pushed the current BB and 'rings about as far as I can without inviting problems.  

  I am one of those cyclists needlessly hauling around gears which I never use, like 53x12: the last time I can remember getting to that gear and NEEDING to be there sits at least 10 years distant, when a 25-35 MPH tailwind launched riders northbound on highway "J", north of US-36 on a 300k.  Quite literally, out of gears and pedaling steadily, a group of about four of us simply destroyed the miles at 40 MPH on the flat.  Yet... that's it.  Only in the rare instance such as that day would the 53x12 combo even come into play underneath me.  Something like a 50 or 48 tooth chainring instead, I still would have been in my top gear that day, and my cadence would have been higher - but it's not like a 48x12 is "small."  The rest of the time, however, that gear makes more sense for the other 99.999% of my riding.  I am lacking, however, the tiny gears for the big climbs -- or for "day three" when I just need a break from muscling up them.  I feel it makes more sense to carry around climbing gears I may not need, rather than speed gears I won't ever need... if I had to choose.  Granted, I still occasionally remind myself I'd used to do all this on ONE gear.... so, I am digesting that grain of salt as well, to avoid over-thinking this process.  I've got time:  my regular maintenance intervals remain pretty small compared to real equipment lifespan - so, I'll make my decisions quietly while I wait for the appropriate grinding noises to force my hand.

End of Gear Discussion!

crud....just pedal, 'dude.

Terry on the approach, as we arrive at Strasburg, MO.  This tiny town appears to just be hanging on - but, it persists, and each time I visit it seems about the same.  One unwelcome change, the small Strasburg Snack Shop on the other side of the tracks in the shot above is closed - and looks to have been converted back into a single-family home.  The overcast skies paint a dreary picture - but, the tailwind and mild temps are the real headline here, and Terry and I are eating up the miles with ease and style.

A long stretch on MO-58 awaits us, the old MS-150 route from the KC-area out to Sedalia, MO.  The atmosphere is very much like a weekend, despite it being Monday, thanks to the President's Day holiday.  The roads are quiet, traffic nearly a non-issue, as Terry and I enjoy the push of a strong tailwind from the northwest helping with the load.  Slowly but surely, the clouds of a passing rain-storm (which missed us by a few hours overnight) began to break, and a brilliant sun bathed us in warmth.  What a rare day for February!

The control at Holden came and went, with more layers removed thanks to full sun and warm air - and Casey's pastry consumed.  YUM!  No concerns, really, we mounted up and continued east and out of town.  Our average speed at this point was.... wait a sec.... what?

Tell me about the rabbits again, George...

It's not the first time, but, yes; the cycling computer stayed home for this ride.  I've done this riding naked thing, as some call it, before - yet, the results always speak volumes.  I'm a numbers guy, at work.  It had never occurred to me the damage I'd been inflicting on my riding by having invited the same analytical scrutiny to riding as I bring to spreadsheets and metrics while in the office.  Talk about sucking the fun out of a ride... and, yet, I couldn't have helped myself without stepping back and considering 'why.'  If I fly over every route, and nearly memorize every cue sheet... why are the numbers so meaningful?  If I'm after speed, viewing my average speed while rolling along, or being mindful of the tiny "pace arrow" on the display, shouldn't cause drama - but it nearly always does.  If I peek at a boastful average, I push harder...or do I?  If I catch a glimpse of a poor average, however, do I try harder... or give up?  
Do I allow those numbers... those facts, devoid of malicious intentions ...to affect my mood, my pace, my outlook, my fun?  Yes.  I do, and have.  Without the computer staring (taunting) at me, would things improve?  Possibly.  Would the numbers change if I didn't actually see them?  Possibly.  Still - over time, I've removed and reinstalled the cycloputer more than a few times; yet, I've never let things brew long enough without it to see if any differences presented themselves.  For now, the mount is in place - ready to take the computer, should I "need" it - for something unfamiliar, like that ride in Iowa back in July.  Despite good pavement markings, often I'd need a reality check to ensure I'd not slipped up or missed something.  Short of that situation, however, why worry about the commute when it's largely the same every day.  Why worry about where the turns fall on a route I've ridden a dozen times?  

Thankfully, the timing has lately become more favorable for this change.  As I prepare my son's first real road bike, the need for a computer arose - so, I moved my current computer to his handlebars, and picked up something from Cateye which may fit my needs somewhere in the middle of the road.  This model allows the user to de-select certain display modes, namely average speed, max speed, and any of the basic cycloputer functions between.  The result, even if I were to flip through the various views to check a stat, the average speed has been deselected... so I can't even catch a fleeting look.  Gone also is the associated pace arrow, deselected.  SO, now, if I run a computer at all I only have what I need:  two trip odometers and the time of day.  That's it.  As far as I can tell, this represents the best cycloputer I could have hoped for.  Current speed is still displayed... but only if I want to:  as a core feature, it can't be deselected - but I've found that particular stat less damaging, mentally, than the overall average.  Problem solved.  As long as I have the time of day, I can manage the control times.  The rest, as it should be, is seat-of-the-pants.  This may get me lost someday, but -- just like flat tires -- part of that is inevitable, and can be fixed - but, shouldn't be FEARED.  Now free to gaze at scenery instead of wrestling with mental math, I can already feel improvements.  I may need that average speed number at some point down the road -- but I'll worry about that if I get there.

Oh, it's the latest iteration of the Cateye Micro Wireless.  Amazon.

Highway "F" - where 58 jogs north, well East of Holden, Highway "F" takes riders south for a short spell.  Only 3 miles in length, this remains one of my favorite roads out here.  An old barn sits quietly by the roadside near the bottom of the valley, and traffic is very light.  This shot captures Terry.. a tiny speck on the right-hand edge of the road, maybe 1/2 mile distant.  Having left Holden a bit before I had, I spent a while slowly reeling him back in - but not so focused I couldn't stop for a photo or two.

The aforementioned old barn - just a few meters off the highway itself... which, 100 years ago may have just been a dirt pathway for this farm's private traffic... just a guess, but, it's unusual to see a barn so close to the highway.  The roofline and dull, unfinished barnwood whisper this old hay barn's age - yet, the large, colorful mural painted on the middle indicates someone still cares, and it serves as a strangely appropriate badge of honor for this old structure.  As we continue south and east, the sky above continues to deepen in rich blues under full sunshine.  Another layer comes off.

 Terry and I meet up near the turn for Highway "BB" after another mile or so climbing out of the valley here, and we meander and twist along the ridgeline overlooking the vast community of farms and water towers marking Warrensburg and other little towns to the southeast.  I remember from the last post loving this highway - and nothing has changed about that assessment.  Zero traffic -- as far as I can remember -- and amazing, long-stare vistas in nearly every direction, Terry and I pedal along on top of the world; at least this little slice of our world.

I pull another bite-sized chunk of goodness from my handlebar bag and toss it into my mouth.  For the first time in months, my take-along food isn't frozen.  The handlebar bag is here to stay.  I'm not sure if it will evolve fully into what I tend to envision as the rando-ideal single, giant front bag on rack layout, though it would be handy to access EVERYthing without dismounting; but, having the cue sheet, the camera, a couple discarded layers, and food right at-hand is transformative.  Part of my personal growth, I'm still self-confused about my previous flip-floppiness regarding front bags.  Yes, I do occasionally miss being able to wrap my full hand around the bar tops while climbing -- but, I make it work.  The benefits far outweigh this one, tiny compromise.  Just a small tube of canvas with a flap... that's it... but, it enables SO much.

Nutrition Discussion Warning!  Remember to chew your food.

The feedbag fare for this ride is comprised of Bonk Breaker bars, diced into 2cm square cubes and tossed in a ziptop baggie with an assortment of nuts and dried fruits from home.  The combination is terrific, and for once I feel perfectly fueled for every single mile of the day's journey.  I have intentionally passed up the usual Coke products from the last two rides, and anything which could be defined as more candy-bar than energy-bar.  The lack of a sugar spike from the soda seems to have resulted in a more even distribution of energy - big surprise, the sciency stuff really IS true.  I haven't taken to making my own home-brew energy bars quite yet; but the Bonk Breaker bars (available locally at Bike Source) seem to be as close to home-made as one could get on a store shelf.  All the ingredients are recognizable, they are vegan and gluten-intolerance friendly, and taste REALLY good.  There is nothing at all wrong with Clif Bars, but, these Bonk Breakers are a real winner.  The ability to consume them in bite-sized hunks makes eating on the move a LOT easier (thank's for the tip, Steven!), and not having to fumble with wrappers makes the small amount of extra pre-ride prep-time worth the effort.  Along for the day are Hammer Gels, which, I have discovered work best in the final 10-12 miles.  Employing this strategy, this is now the second ride in a row where I've finished a 200k with perhaps MORE "umpffh" than I'd enjoyed in the first 20 miles, as opposed to the usual deathmarch over the last dozen miles.  My nutrition seems to have evolved back to a real winning plan.  At the controls, this time mostly Casey's; I have taken quite a liking to their in-house "freshly made" (I don't doubt it, but I just haven't witnessed them actually being made) pastries, called 'flips' - turnovers, I call 'em.  Compared to my previous fare of Hostess (or equivalent) crunch 'donettes' in the little six-packs, these pastries taste better, can be consumed faster, are cheaper, and - to date - have provided the same sort of even, predictable energy - without stomach issues or lethargy - as the Bonk Breakers, despite certainly having quite a bit of sugar in them.  Supplemental to the on-bike food, again, these last two rides - while not fast - have not suffered from my usual "semi-bonk" feeling, which seemed to hang on for the first dozen miles after a control.  Again, things lately are working well.  It's certainly not health-food, but, it's working very, very well... so I'm keeping it going.

Stop eating!  wait... what?

As a matter of perspective, these are subjects I usually don't (re)figure out until each August.... so, progressions and positive steps, in February (?!?), my most-hated month?  Things are good, indeed!  I put (re)figure there intentionally - a byproduct of my personality, I tend to forget all this stuff, for some reason, over and over and over again - despite it being chronicled here.  This time around, I intend to actually retain this knowledge --- this exact nutrition routine for brevets probably reads word-for-word somewhere backward in my own archives... I'm sure enough of that, I don't need to look.  The difference now, clearly, is my attitude and perspective as I -- despite being old enough to know better -- continue to mature as a cyclist and as a person.  All part of the previously mentioned deconstruction process.  Often so unsure of myself in the past, I'd quickly hop on any passing bandwagon and forget my own discoveries --- I don't see that happening again.  I've managed to arrive back where I'm comfortable, and things are improving as a result.  My hope: all of this leads to positive posts with photos, friends, cool gear, great routes... and not so much about the (self-imposed) 'difficulty' of completing them.

Terry and I hit the city limits of Warrensburg, MO., and headed further east along highway "DD", toward the halfway point of the day.  Another terrific ribbon of pavement, "DD" awakens the legs with long, steady grades.  Traffic here is steady, but friendly, and enough of a shoulder exists to keep us out of their equations for the most part.  We approach Knob Noster State Park and I marvel at the depth and sweep of seemingly endless forest to our north while pedaling along with a strengthening tailwind.  The trip back home could have its challenges, but, that's rando!  Each time our little band of riders tackles the usual, inevitable headwind, we get a little stronger -- and while it's never our preference, the last few rides have gone just a smidge better than the one before - despite the headwind finishes.

After a quick nature break near MO-23, Terry and I opted to head south for a 1/2 mile, to the entrance of Whiteman AFB, to pick up a couple visitor's passes for a scenic side-trip.  We had time in the bank, and the forecast promised a weakening headwind... so, instead of facing the gale, we elected to wait it out for the hour or so it'd take.

A small (ok, actually pretty big) model of a Northrop/Grumman B-2 atop a display pedestal, and lots of flags surrounding the backdrop - a little photoshop trickery, and this could have been much cooler... but, hey.

My personal favorite of the day - recalling a childhood trip to South Dakota back in the 80's (at the height of the cold war), I'd only previously seen these at a distance.  The magnificent Boeing B-52 Stratofortress; quite a platform considering how many iterations has Boeing put it through since it's debut in 1955, this particular bird is a 52G.  Currently, the Air Force runs several of the G models, even though the improved B-52H was released a few years back.  Cheap to run, reliable, and relatively cheap compared to other bombers, the B-52 is currently slated to remain in service until 2040.  For a military aircraft, that sort of service record is un-real.  Amazing plane.     

Backward in history from the shot above, and sitting right at the gates of Whiteman, this Boeing B-29 Superfortress served during WW2, and - in essence - at least two of them were responsible for ending it; famous for having dropped the only atomic weapons ever used in actual combat.  I personally hope it stays that way.  Another herald of the previous photo and the insanely rapid pace of aeronautics and airplane design at the end of WW2, consider that the bird above was flying missions in 1945.  Only one year later, the B-52 design was complete (on paper).  By the time the B-52 was delivered, Lockheed had drawn-up and built the early prototypes of the famed SR-71 Blackbird - which, even today, looks like something from the future.  In the years between 1945 and 1965, the aerospace industry was moving about as fast as the computer industry moves today.

My personal "wish I coulda":  the A-10.  I won't get into why I love this plane here - but it's an amazing close-support fighter, riddled with technology - both passive and active.  Currently running the "C" variant, this is another highly-reliable jet, slated to remain in service until at least 2035, off of a 1970's design.  With the upgrades, however, this is anything but a '70's relic - and, had I gone in, this bird would have been my first pick.  It's not super fast or horribly sexy like an air-superiority fighter, no -- but, in so many ways, the Hog is just awesome.

The AFB behind us, photos taken, and wind feeling a little less intense, it was time to return to our point of exit of the route, and get on to the halfway control.  The Knob Noster Casey's... you will never find a more wretched hive of.... oh, wait... well, if I may, for a moment... does everyone in Knob Noster smoke cigarettes?  Holy lord -- from the time we arrived at the control, to the moment we left, I swear - somebody or another was standing upwind of us, out in front of the Casey's, suckin' down a cigarette.  That's all I've got to say about it.  Pastry, water refilled, restroom, a layer back on for the wind-chill effect, cards signed, and we are gone.  

Back out on MO-23, things felt terrific - the winds calmer, the sun bright.  Terry once again departed a couple minutes ahead of me, convinced I was the strong-man of the day... when, really, we'd been tied together for most of the ride anyhow.  The game began wherein I'd get a tiny bit of speed work by default, as I'd try to reel in the not-so-slow-as-he-thinks-he-is Terry.  Neon-yellow on the horizon... target acquired - time to work.  Okay... the February, I haven't ridden since the LAST 200km kind of "work."  Highway "DD" stretched beautifully ahead of us, and we enjoyed light traffic and thrilling, long downhills as we inched closer to Warrensburg again.  The landscape is punctuated by the sounds of rushing water; roadside gullies have begun to flow with fresh snow melt, as the fields breathe for the first time in weeks.  It's a great soundtrack, and reminds me a lot of riding alongside big creeks and rivers in the mountains of Colorado.  Peaceful, serene, and it sounds like spring itself shaking off winter's slumber.  February isn't so bad after all.  The headwind still presented itself, but, the forecast had been spot-on; it dropped from gusts near 35 MPH, to a manageable 10-15 MPH breeze - and with temperatures approaching the promised "upper 50's", the day had had become marvelous.

We ultimately made our way back around the bends and twists of route BB, then back to F, and finally the long haul of MO-58.  I took a few moments pause before embarking onto 58 highway once more, giving Terry another head-start - something to focus on, maybe... not sure why I needed the rest, but I took a few minutes to soak up the sunshine and stare off into the vastness of my rural surroundings.  Traffic had thickened, with grain trucks - now full - heading to their next destination, and cattle truck movements in full swing - back to the auction house at Kingsville.  A few close passes, but nothing un-usual; the bulk of traffic nice as ever, Terry and I rejoined forces and traded pulls along the long stretch of road, captured the control at Holden, and then got back to work once again - heading for Strasburg and the home stretch.... the home stretch which would include a tiny bit of tailwind for our finishing 25-or-so miles.

Shadows lengthen as we are clear of Strasburg, MO., and headed up highway "E" to the finish.  Terry on point here, we pass another farmstead and collection of old homes and rustic storage barns.  Compared to last time out, the added benefit of newly constructed services (a c-store and Sonic restaurant) gives us a logical place to stop, about 12 miles from the finish, for a quick restroom stop, to swap out sunglasses, & to get the lights and reflective gear ready for nightfall.  This is where the previously-mentioned Hammer Gel quickly prepares me for a well-fueled finish, instead of the usual pre-bonk slogfest.  

Over my left shoulder, the sun casts long streaks across the highway from behind winter's sleeping trees.  The heat of the day has nearly melted all of the snow we'd passed at the road's edge earlier in the day, so the landscape is practically brand new.  An small, abandoned and boarded shack at this corner slowly decays while the world flies by.

Now that I've figured out how to disable the "touch anywhere to focus" feature on the camera, perhaps future shots won't be quite so blurry.  Difficult enough to navigate with gloved hands, I suppose - this scene looked a LOT better in real life than it does here.  Great sunset, and the end of a great day... but, not quite the end of our great ride.

Terry and I rolled out into the dusk, prepared for night-riding and fueled-up nicely after the brief stop in Lone Jack, MO. 

(be sure to check out the Civil War battlefield site, right next to the route in Lone Jack, just south of the new services and the US-50 bridge)

Ahead of us sat the small roads, and all of the hills from the morning - waiting to finish us off, as our legs now had 115 miles or so in them.  Somewhere between not being quite warmed up yet in the AM, and well after "ok, I'm ready to be done now", the best part of the route waits to test its riders.  My nutritional finishing strategy in place, I beamed with confidence.  No butterflies, no hesitations or reservations about that hill on Hammond Road I'd had to walk five years before.  Just ride, and remember to breathe.  The night air felt crisp and inviting, birds finished their evening songs, and the sounds of traffic, behind us now, faded with the last of daylight.  Only the warm beams of our headlights captured our world now, which passed underneath us fast... faster!  The first of the long, fast downhills... almost scary-fast in the darkness, while thrilling at the same time!  I couldn't help but chuckle and hollar-out with excitement as the speeds certainly approached 50 MPH... without the computer, who knows, but WOW... concentrating all of my attention at the fringes of my headlight's reach, hands hovering above the brake levers while darkness screams past me at a million miles-per-hour.  I feel ALIVE at last.... 

The reflective stop-sign at the bottom of the valley marks our turn, and we haul down our speed for the next leg.  Up, up, up...back down... we traverse the valley floor, checking off the miles and smiling.  It's a perfect night.  Stars appear... lonely, silent red markers glow in the distance... our finish calling, but work to be done first... I almost wish for another 100km, so the night could last.

Another long climb - I feel energized, instead of exhausted.  I feel "back"... better than last month, better than the month before... better than five years ago...  I grin quietly, and stand on the pedals... that old rhythm begins a familiar burn in my legs, and my smile increases.

Checked off another one, I think to myself, as we crest the hill - and we curve around a few turns of flat roads before arriving at the turn for Hammond Road.  It's pitch-dark here now, and our headlights don't shine high enough to reveal any of the details I remember from the past.  The "wall" itself, looming ahead - surely my memory an optical illusion; there's no way it was THAT steep.  Yet, in the tiny amount of ambient light remaining, the darkness ahead of us seemed to be capped by a "roof"... I could see a parting in the tops of the trees marked by a distinct horizontal line.  It's not long, it's not even especially high... but, I catch myself looking UP at it.  Maybe I hadn't magnified any of it... rubbish.  It's only a hill, not a dragon.

  "SHUT UP, and DO IT." rang like a gunshot across my mind, and I stood up to gain speed before the grade became unmanageable.  Weirdly, I suddenly felt a bizarre drag on my wheels as I pedaled, as if I'd just ridden through mud... and looking down at the edge of my front tire, which the headlight illuminates just enough to see, it WAS mud... at least, a thin coating of what must have been sand and road treatment that had collected at the foot of the climb and had stayed wet with all the snow melt and runoff.  I hadn't noticed any of this from the fast descent earlier in the day, yet, I had managed to aim right for it on the return.  Whatever it was, it stole my attention and slowed my attack.  

Fair enough, foul beast... I shifted rapidly, no fooling about waiting to find the last gear in the cluster... I'd need it soon enough.  Remembering not to try and stand, I leaned forward and began to shove against the pedals, trying to use my entire leg, pulling on the backstroke, too.  I felt a sharp grade increase, as the hill seemed to pitch upward like an exponential curve with every advancing inch forward.  I pushed harder.  This must've been the tipping point where I'd begun to lose traction before -- but that thought only crossed my mind now, as I type this:  as the climb unfolded, my thoughts repeated a demanding mantra of various versions of DO NOT QUIT, and YOU GOT THIS.  I let out an audible demand for more from myself, and then pulled out the tactics:  if the pros had to do it in San Francisco, I'm doing it here -- I yanked against the handlebars and quietly hoped for no oncoming traffic as I zig-zagged to the left, hoping to ease the grade enough to maintain forward motion... all while not falling over.  I carefully pitched and rolled back to the right, shoving out all I could muster, diverting all resources to my legs.  My heart-rate... I could nearly feel it in my eyeballs.  I actively pushed air out of my lungs and sucked it back in... I need more POWER, SCOTTY!!!  Another pitch and roll, and I began to see a peek of purplish-black... the sky... the horizon.... NOT the blackness of the road in front of me... the last few feet, I'm in my own little bubble... I had energy to spare, but just.  I'm over.  I'm OVER...  I'm OVER!!!   YES!

and, exhale...

...Anyone who has taken that hill with fewer dramatics, my hat's off to you.  You're stronger than I am, and I'm okay with that.  THIS, was personal... you know, like "Ghandi II," which sadly never even showed up on VHS.  For me, however, that little hill is my Ventoux, my Alpe, my Koppenberg.  And this time out, I got it without putting foot to pavement.  Personal Win.

Gads that hurt...  I freaking LOVE that hill.     (HA... now.) 

As good as I feel about beating my hill, it hasn't escaped my attention how silly all of this is.  Yeah, I like a good story, a good drama.  This hill remains tough for me, but it's certainly not a reason to avoid this route -- because, seriously, while I held a personal grudge, walking a hill once in a while is NOT the badge of shame I'd once painted it to be; never had been, and never should be.  Not for myself, not for anyone else.  

 Sure as I am writing this, there is a local racer probably residing in Blue Springs, Independence, maybe Grain Valley proper, who has tamed that hill down to a non-event.  Heck, there's probably dozens of guys and gals that are trying to figure out what the heck I'm blathering about on this "Hammond Road" they know so well.  This is ME, only me... and your miles may vary.  Give the Knob Noster route a chance, because MAN it's a great section of road these last/first seven miles.

For me, though, in this moment:  same hill, same bike, five years later... I can't lie, it feels good.   

After such a crescendo and microcosm of personal triumph, what else IS there?  Oh...yeah.  I may as well have crossed the finishing tape, personally, but still more riding remained.  I stopped at the top of the hill - just on the short portion before the long descent on the western side begins, to wait for Terry's arrival and to catch my breath... also, good timing for a nature break in the quiet darkness.  After a few moments, Terry and I flew back down to what seemed like "sea level" in the valley below, and turned onto Corn Road again to wrap up the last half-dozen miles.  Another moderate climb, and then a terrific, long, fast downhill rush -- SO much awesome! --- to the short jog back to the last road, the road to the finish.  This final road has a few climbs of its own, and now, instead of feeling defeated and sluggish I dished out more spirited climbing and spinning along.  I can't remember finishing a 200km ride with so much left in the tank and such a good outlook; I felt ready to grab another permanent card and hit the route again for a nice, even 400k.  Such a great night... why not?  

Instead, coming to my senses, Terry and I finished strong, grabbed a cold chocolate milk for recovery, and called it a day.  Ahhhhh, success... and a terrific edition of February.  Things are looking up.  Maybe all I needed was a little shake-up, a little positivism, and to lay off the junk food for a while.  More, in this case, is better... and you can bet the new outlook and nutrition plan will stay well in place this time around.  It's the lifestyle I prefer, because I feel better all around - not just in the saddle.  I'm very much in touch with that now... and when "whatever" occurs that would derail me, I'm ready to face it.  Game on. 

This blog is about to get boring.  That's great news.

Thanks for reading!

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