I'm at a loss for words for this latest ride, and I'm not entirely sure why. I've uploaded photos, and have let the days slip by, letting the memories arrange and steep inside the cauldron of roiling thoughts and bubbling movie quotes and song lyrics... yet, nothing. Was the ride so dull? Has randonneuring become so pedestrian? Perhaps something else is happening... a quieting of the mind, real relaxation, or successfully zoning-out and just riding? I've no idea. None.
Out of the ashtray... into the ashtray...
January has come and is gone, and the theme of wandering ride date remains in place from December. Plans, yielding to broken plans. Cards in hand.... now what? Forecast watching.
Bitter cold, repeating.
|In brilliant red, the Border Patrol route cards sit and wait to be used. Socks and pajama-pants optional.
Perhaps this is the new approach to winter. I don'tmind putting on the layers for a long ride - it's more the fact one can't take very many things off over the course of the day, which gets old. I suppose I can squeeze a drop of solace knowing I don't have to worry about where to stow all those extra layers. Winter's drudgery has continued with "February" now on the calendar... time becomes short, and another last-week-in-the-month permanent takes shape. Total rides between permanents? One measly commute. This isn't going to go well, is it?
Hogwash.... it's a bike ride!
Cards signed, receipts gathered - the first purchase of the day in our never-ending saga of c-store rallying. I like the binding of the rules, the history, the tradition, the continued personal challenge - as these rides never really do become "easy", not really: one simply hopes to get faster. Will a day come wherein I will tire of the constant string of signatures, waivers, and receipts travelling back-and-forth via the postal service? Perhaps... but, for now, I can't imagine that day arriving. This is what I do. Getting the signatures never gets old, telling our story to a new attendant who's signing a permanent route card for the first time never gets old, the gawking "civilians", even the chatter among other cyclists remains interesting... trying to get them to see that it isn't so impossible; remembering how it feels to finish my first MS Ride, that first century... and mustering the fortitude to say to oneself, "let's keep going," when the legs beg for rest. Sometimes I need the route, the controls, the "need" for credit -- for fear that I wouldn't otherwise ride at all. For a brain like mine to be suddenly faced with no route, and nothing but time and possibilities... I don't know if I could handle it. While others ache for exploration and just ride where the road takes them...well, I am often envious; yet, NOT knowing where I'm headed and what to expect, for me, sometimes becomes more crippling than the strict confines of a set route. It's a personal fault, among many - I accept that. All-the-while, however, I can safely say that I have become FAR better than I've been in the past. Even while I feel those paranoid, nervous hands slowly releasing their grip on me, one of these days I'll figure out a way to have it both ways. Am I complaining? No... it's just winter blues. Sometimes -- and this time of year comprises the bulk of the "sometimes" -- I just question why I'm defending the streak in the first place. February... as I type this, with over a foot of snow sitting outside, and more coming....yep... I'm there. Even though I've gotten accustomed to the single digit temperatures, I'm just ready for some green grass and sunshine.
Regardless of the above, there had been no denying the comfortable feelings of being back in the saddle, back in the hunt, back out on the road in the darkness, back with "the crew." Yeah, it's winter... and yeah, sometimes it feels like I'm just going through the motions; but, the desire remains. Only when that desire grows cold will I consider hanging it up... and even then, I know myself now: it will either be temporary, or cycling will yield to something else physical. Rowing, running, whatever it may be... the cycle will repeat.
The hardest part was over: starting. Once moving and after a couple shallow rollers we each dropped into our own set pace - which was darn-near equal on 175th street, heading east toward the slowly lightening horizon. Hardly a car in sight in either direction, the morning ours to enjoy. A head of steam built up, the cold became a memory in mere miles. Conversation, coffee still warm in our guts, and smiles.
Gary becomes adventurous at the next turn, and continues straight: I can see the future, as I have seen it in the past: Jeff W., Alex, the Warbird, Bryon, now Gary... the true iron-horses of rando, and the stuff of Ultra-cycling: there is no clock, no computer, no cue sheet, no cars: just ride: hard, steady, consistent, and don't turn or stop until someone tells you otherwise. Plus, eating and drinking are for the weak. Now, go. He's becoming harder to catch with each subsequent ride I share with him, still on the old Astro-Daimler. There's only one decision to make if I want to catch him - and that's simply "try." This month, that spark isn't there.
We approached Louisburg as the daylight broke, this time passing the BP station which usually serves as a morning stop for restroom and a refill. The cold air tricks my body again, and despite bottles remaining liquid, they remain far too full for the distance already covered. No stop needed... and the scepter of strong afternoon wind from the forecast drives us to keep moving, so we can turn around and get as far north as possible before regretting having started the ride in the first place. No-one prefers a headwind finish for the umpteenth time in a row.
As the morning continued, we left the old highway and dropped down onto the new one for a few miles - which, normally a slog, went by fairly quick as we doubled-up and took to chatting on the road and enjoyed the light traffic of a Sunday morning on the usually busy stretch. We then learned the true direction of the wind while climbing up 359th street toward Jingo Road, where we'd rejoin the old highway again. While I often paint philosophical ramblings in various shades of sepia tone and grey about yesteryear, I am glad to be living in this time where old highways are left in place in this way, while completely new roads take the traffic. The resulting quiet roads left behind are great for bicycling and stretch out for seemingly endless miles - a randonneur's favorite: a personal criticism of a couple of my personally-submitted permanent routes is while they do have a certain "flow", there are far too many turns. It's taken time to hone such an opinion, but, these days, the shorter the cue sheet, the better the ride -- not from a navigation or complexity standpoint, mind you... simply because one can just unwind and pedal for long, uninterrupted miles between stops. Without progress and the passage of time, old US-69 today would be quite scary on a bicycle... dozens of cars waiting for us to climb each hill before determining a window to safely pass us... tempers likely rising in the process. Not to mention sharing a relatively small space with commercial trucks, no median, no shoulder... sometimes progress is good. It's a serious consideration for my recent ride submissions; more than a few turns per ten miles, and I usually forget about using a section of route altogether. This one, the Border Patrol, however, I remain proud of. There are turns, yes, but not many.
With Gary and Glen eeking out a bit of a lead while I discover my camera won't let me take photos with gloves on, and otherwise poking along, we arrive at the end of Jingo Road and the eastern ridge of the La Cygne Valley. With the headwind still announcing itself from the northwest, the descent isn't as thrilling as usual, but it still becomes a welcome break from pedaling, and despite being chilly, the wind feels great. Knowing the control is close, I decide I'm not a fan of "the back," so I work on trying to pull back Glen. Gary is gone... almost invisible, maybe already at the Casey's. As I get within 50 yards of his wheel, a Burlington freight bellows its presence to the countryside, and the crossing gates drop, ending my chase. Small hassle... I've always got time for a train fly-by.
|Of course, the control is on the other side of the train.
|...Glen's-eye view of my rabbit-chase ending, and I finally close the distance.
It had been a while since my last stab at the Border Patrol route, I always find a strong sense of calm upon arriving at the La Cygne Casey's. This ride proved no different -- food, water, layers removed... trying hard to keep moving, and avoid putting too much time on the clock. The promise of stronger winds became a strong motivator - but, it felt much better this month to not NEED to worry so much about the time. December's wind, frigid temps and stiffening layers behind us, we were flying by comparison and enjoyed a thick time buffer. Still... no dawdling.
I actually found myself ready to roll again before my counterparts! I'm not sure that's ever happened before.
Back out on the open road, the three of us singled-up for the quick jaunt over to the county highway which would guide us the rest of the way to Pleasanton and the halfway point: one of my favorite stretches of local highway, bar none. It makes the "drudgery" of some of the other highway sections all worthwhile, with sweeping vistas, farmlands, historic sites, terrific hills, and the old highway methodology of simply following the terrain... not just plowing straight through it. Once we turned south again, I settled in to enjoy the coming miles ... and, to be honest, reserve some energy for the coming hills - for I wasn't confident I'd been riding enough to be ready for them.
|Temps warming, layers shed, and onward to the halfway! Temperatures forecast to peak in the upper-50's, it was a great day to break out the wool gear.
One by one, the hills came - and I did end up using all my gears and a fair amount of muscle to negotiate them - but, mission accomplished: I didn't have to walk any... at least, not on the way TO the halfway point. I still would have to ride back. No time for worry; the gradient pitches downward, and we're treated to a fast, tailwind-driven blast down one of the steeper hills, good for 40mph+, and at least a mile of roll-out afterwards. Did I mention I love this highway?
Onward, a few more gentle rollers, the long grade up past Paris, KS. and the schoolhouse. I again work some mild tempo and start the rhythm of breath control vs. effort... I may not have any Tour de France "heroes" left, but sometimes I can still hear Phil and Paul in my head. While Gary and Glen doubled up and worked on the grade together while chatting it up, I - behind - shifted once, rested my hands on the wonderfully flat ramps of my freshly obtained VO "Corse" handlebars, and started the tempo of old. A tempo of a 'dude past.
...The leaders will have no idea of this move, Paul... Gates, former U.S. contender, has begun to lift the pace here, and he's taking advantage of the complacency the two leaders on the road are displaying. Goodness me, we may yet have a race on our hands today, Paul.
You're right, Phil - former time-trial competitor on the U.S. squad, he wears number 1445; this man dropped off the radar after the 2007 season - and just recently returned. This man - this consummate competitor - relocated to Columbia over the last few seasons and has been doing the difficult work, he has been studying with the best climbers in the world across the South American continent, seeking out their counsel; and now, you see the fruits of those labors here, on the roads to Pleasanton today.
And he knows now this move will be countered, Paul... look at the face of this man, now; focused - perhaps a touch of anger in those eyes, certainly some fire as well, he can't match the violent accelerations of the men he's pursuing, yet, he will try to grab a wheel - quietly - and catch them dawdling on this climb.
Indeed he will, Phil - this man is a true tactician, he knows his limit, he knows these climbs, and he will know exactly how much he needs to keep in reserve to catch-out the two leaders... Phil we could be looking at the surprise of the stage with this move; he's trimmed their lead now to only a handful of seconds, with only twelve kilometers to the finish.
Despite the mental cheering section growing inside my mind, the results looked more like a rookie testing his legs - but, knowing the futility of it all. As the road leveled off and the headwind began to dictate pacing once more, the brief threesome once again broke into individual pieces, with my piece farthest back. We turned east toward Pleasanton next, and the headwind switched to tailwind, one of the last treats we'd enjoy before heading back north and west. Distanced once more, I had trouble keeping Glen and Gary in sight - barely bearing witness to the aftermath of their passage: random collections of panting dogs wandering back home after spending it all on the pursuit; they'd each lazily watch me pass by - nothing left in their chase. Good... nothing left in my lead, either.
With Glen and Gary clear away, it was up to me to handle the rest of the journey to Pleasanton alone, along with the negotiation with Flathead pass. Considering the grade and length, I felt good on the way up. Usually, this climb demands tempo and rhythm be carefully served to risk overcooking oneself; and, certainly I was already out of gearing - yet, I managed things without expending too much. Was that... easier than last time?
Habits, however, remain difficult to break, and the list of things to-do at the halfway control contains perhaps more items than it should as I dart from one task to another - hoping to again prevent my companions from needing to wait for me. I figure, as long as I am not the last one ready-to-roll, my control time is somewhat respectable. Nearly everything that can be performed while riding should be - and yet I find myself headed back into the c-store for the restroom - things one simply can't rush. At least, not without consequence.
Goal attained, I have my helmet strap buckled and one foot clipped-in whiskers ahead of Glen and Gary, and we began to roll out of Pleasanton once more. A steady streak of crunch donettes emerging from the handlebar bag into my waiting maw, at least part of my plan is coming together.
Flathead pass became the decisive moment, once again, as Glen, Gary and I met the bottom of the steeper east face, each falling into our own climbing pace. Upon reaching the top largely together, the false flat took the rest of what I'd had to offer and fumbled it onto the pavement passing slowly under my tires. I watched as first Gary, then Glen, advanced and dropped out of sight on the descent ahead. Thinking my extra bulk might offer me a chance to catch them on the downgrade, I put a few extra strokes into the pedals on the way down - but, the gap had grown, and the headwind - strengthening - had made other plans for my hopes of inertia. No worries... Glen remained in view.... barely... and his orange vest became the proverbial carrot on the stick. Gary? That was it for Gary... my last glimpse, his lone figure, clear of Glen, disappearing around a distant bend - I wouldn't see him again until the end... and even then, with 50+ miles remaining, maybe.
Alone with my thoughts and the music in my right ear (hardly necessary for the day, but a nice treat), I fell into a hopeful rhythm to bridge the long gap to Glen's wheel, keen on trying a move before La Cygne's Casey's would come back into view. Alas, the wind and my lack of recent rides were conspiring against my desires. Far too many miles had passed to blame things on a lack of stored muscle glycogen - but thoughts turned to my choice of calories. Having started an aggressive.... I hesitate to call it a 'diet' .... nutrition change at the beginning of the month, I'd certainly taken in far, FAR fewer carbohydrates compared to months (years) past... so, today, operating on pure habit, perhaps the sudden return to sugars, bready-donuts, and various fruit juices had been throwing me for a loop. I was consistent, never hungry - yet, not fast enough to remain in contact with my - fitter, trimmer - ride partners. In the future, perhaps in February, I want to experiment with foods more in-line with the healthier off-bike nutrition I've adopted. More "whole foods", while they may not fit into off-bike fare, should provide better results on the bike: nuts, dried fruits, and - yes - if density becomes important, some engineered items: but, not the powders of old: things like the "Bonk Breaker" bars I've recently favored fall into the "packaged energy bar" category, yet, are strongly against preservatives and artifice. They're practically - if not legitimately - vegan. It brings to mind, also, Hammer Nutrition's vegan-friendly "Hammer Bar," also - so, barring price and stow-ability, perhaps a couple of each in the bag will provide a solid backup should I not be able to find anything suitable at c-store "X" along the way.
Yes, the packaged donettes of late do work... but, how will those calories present themselves when I ask my legs to work harder? Thinking like that should help me get to my goals, instead of just grabbing what TASTES good (ok, decadent, "ride-to-eat" foods), vs. smart foods which will burn clean and not weigh me down.
Shalom Hill... wow. This perhaps had been the climb I'd been fearing most for the return leg. The acceleration off of this hill on the outbound leg is always dramatic - a pure thrill ride - but, coming back up: wow. It never really apologies for being there, that's for sure. The run-up, maybe a mile or more long of a slow, steady false flat doesn't help matters, but, I can see Glen working the climb, maybe a half-mile ahead... maybe more... as I make my approach. Pursuit? The thought alone is banished for fear of using up too much before the climb itself. Glen and Gary both are solid climbers - I can't make up ground there the way I used to. In time, I reach the base - and, job done, without having to walk. Bonus. One more left.
I can't remember what I call the last climb... but, it's the longest of the three, and seems a bit like stairs, in the sense it levels off a couple times before pitching upward - which gives one a chance to recover a little while gaining altitude. The first part, however, I remember having to walk on one past occasion - and while this ride's climb wouldn't command too much attention, I did, in fact, manage to do it all from the saddle - despite teetering on the edge of coming to a complete stop at one point. The best part about climbing - love it or hate it - fast or slow - every time I crest a hill, I know: I'll be a little bit stronger for it, eventually. Flat routes are pure torture - give me hills!
Terrain aside, yeah... wind... with the climbs of the day effective checked off the to-do list, my thoughts turned back to wind, and remembering to just keep pedaling at a sustainable pace, with a good RPM. Still, as afternoon peaked and timed itself with my descent back down to the valley floor, the wind peaked as well. It never became stronger than it had along that final stretch of Linn County highway, as I emerged from the trees and out onto the open flood plain on the last mile to K-152. Surprisingly, there was Glen up ahead... nearly to the turn. Excuses, excuses - today became about finishing, not chasing. Peering out from underneath the brim of my cap every once in a while, I could see that I was neither gaining or losing ground to Glen - which was comforting and frustrating all at once. Thankfully, the last bit of highway to the control would take us due east, with a tailwind.
|...and, because it's downright HOT at the moment - the vest might come off, too. In January?! Great afternoon shaping up, tastiness loaded, bottles full, ready to get underway once again. Obligatory "face"
First around me came Glen, super efficient with his compact crankset and mindful gear choices matched to a tireless cadence, he effortlessly spins up the climb ahead of me. Gary, content with my wheel for the moment, hangs out until the climb is over, and we both turn onto the old highway. A little bit of chatting, and Gary catches wind of the rabbit ahead. Gently at first, then gaining speed, he finds Glen's wheel a 1/4 mile ahead of me, and the two begin to make pace together. Content with my goals for the day, any thoughts of a fresh chase or personal test are quickly tabled with the first few glances over my right shoulder, while I take in the scenery and bid farewell to the twin smokestacks of the big power company generating station. I toss a peace symbol to the breeze toward lower Michigan, and proceed to chip away at the miles ahead. A day like this can't be wasted on speed alone, I justify to myself. The finish will come.
Ok, ok, ok... that sort of thinking is what I'd resorted myself to, but, it's not as if I'd had a say in the matter. The fitness simply isn't there right now. I do, however, now have the ability to avoid beating myself up about it. Alone with my thoughts, the day becomes my own - and the ride goes on.
|The same shot as above, without my noggin spoiling the focus and view beyond.
The highway section is finished in short order, and the rolling terrain of Metcalf (the other part of old US-69) beckons -- enjoying myself, but moving slowly (yet surely), I check off the hills one at a time, munching on cashews and bits of Bonk Breaker bars along the way to keep the tank topped. Approaching Louisburg once more, this time the call of the small gas station there is too loud to ignore - and with one empty bottle, well, why not? I held out a little hope that I'd find Glen and Gary camped out on the north side of the building, but as I pulled around - empty. Despite being out of sight, they lingered only minutes ahead - so this really meant only one thing: the hadn't stopped. Gazing as far as I could up Metcalf, no orange vests in sight, the vote for a quick rest won out. Water refilled, restroom, and back to work. No worries.
The rest of the ride usually unfolds like a slow death... yet, this time, the final 20-something miles of the Border Patrol weren't too bad. Energy was consistent, hydration spot-on, and traffic mild-to-nonexistent. Once back on 175th street, I worked against the surprisingly easy wind - what I'd expected conjured up pictures of sheer battle with a northwest gale-force opponent, but instead, the wind had actually begun to fade, as the sun inched closer to the western horizon. A great surprise at the end of a great day of riding, I sailed to the finish with ease to find Gary and Glen waiting for my arrival.
|Gary and I pose for the "after" shot back at the 7-Eleven. Not really sure what the face I'm making is all about, but whatever... I've got a chocolate milk to enjoy!
Notes... since January 6th I've been involved of something of a weight-loss competition at my office, which -- for some reason, THIS time -- has sparked that willpower engine of old inside me. Basically, I think I finally arrived somewhere, mentally, wherein I am no longer afraid to suffer a little, and I can visualize positive change. ...or I got sick of hearing myself talk about it all the time. Pretty much, I think part of my psyche HAD indeed been "going through the motions", and despite still honestly enjoying the monthly long ride, there hasn't been much riding (or anything else) in between, and there had been - instead - a definite stress-compensating "food crutch" in use. Small wonder I'd become heavier and slower in the process. I'm not going to waste a lot of time here talking about what I'm doing or how -- none of that is important, and if you want to read me griping about it, there's plenty of that junk back in the archives - this certainly isn't the first time. I do sincerely hope, however, this is the last time. I already feel a ton better, though work remains to be done - and I'm mindful that once I reach my goals, I need to stay connected to the positive habits I've created over the last 5 weeks, and remember to STAY where I've landed, physically. I have a feeling everything - not just riding alone - will benefit from this lifestyle modification. I can't call it a "diet"... that implies a temporary fix; this is just the new "normal." I actually said "no" to pizza the other night, pizza that had already been ordered for the kids, sitting on the kitchen counter, smelling -- I can't lie -- pretty darn good. For me, that alone is a GIANT step forward. So, things are good, and that's all the space I'll give this topic... here or elsewhere ...but, if you notice a sudden upswing in the tone of future posts, well, there could be a connection. I've already set a few random, personal reminders in Google Calendar, to remind me of this particular epiphany over the next couple years. I hope I don't actually require them when they pop up, but maybe they'll snap me out of a relapse. In a few select ways, perhaps I've actually grown up a little. About time, dude.
Already looking forward to February 17th... wish it was the 16th ...for the next 200k.
It oughta be good... I head east to stare an old nemesis straight in the face.
Thanks for reading!