April 11, 2014

Perspectives on Princeton - the KCUC 200k, 2014

It's another finish, another March, another one in the books!

It never gets old, somehow; however, I keep finding less and less to come to the keyboard with as this year unfolds.  I'm definitely going to stick to the photo-post idea, however... each ride does deserve its mention - but, I don't know if I need to dedicate as much time to it as I used to; especially on repeating routes.  I feel a finality approaching, something akin to a new frontier opening while many chapters of struggle close.  Not really sure what that's about - where it's coming from - but, it's great.  It's almost as if I've said all that needs to be said, I'd rather be riding than writing about it, maybe.  What I'm feeling borders on feeling personally complete.

  Maybe after all these miles, at last I feel as if I've found what I've been looking for.  Just in the last six or seven rides, and with the difficulty of the last year in general... There is a feeling that Del G. best submitted in the last few miles of this ride:  "(after all we'd been through last March, with the snow), what can't I do now?  I can do ANYTHING!"  This shouldn't be confused with a sudden, brash profession of superiority or cockiness...it is, instead, a long-absent feeling of self-worth, confidence, and empowerment.  Invincible?  No.  Hardly.  This feeling reminds me of how I felt after the 600k in '07... it's a natural "high" that one can ride for months afterward.

   There remain big milestones to reach... Another 600, another SR series, a 1,000, a 1,200...a 1,400km... Touring...   Wow... So, so much could be uncovered even on a short tour!  Then there's a pull toward another 24 hour race, just to try it again - to push myself.  Tejas, darn it.  Not to HAVE to do it over, but because I still
want it.  I'm young.  I have time.  I'm not in a rush anymore to check all these things off.

Who knows - this is only the moment.  This isn't a declaration.

All I know is, it was terrific to see Glen, Steven, Del, Terry, Gary D., Gary F., Spencer, Rod, Jack, Mark, Bob, Robert, all the rest I'm stumbling over mentally, and all the new riders I met out there on the 29th.  It was a great day; my only regret surrounds the inevitability of different packs forming and splitting apart, and not being able to stay with all of them.  I ended up feeling strong all day, really enjoyed myself, and had a great time hanging out with Del and Steven again... and I'm definitely ready for longer distances, if only conversationally:  Del and I finished up at the last control in the midst of a discussion on tubular tires...and it seemed like we had been in the middle of a 400k, not arriving at the end of a 200: tons of conversation left to cover.  It wasn't a relief to finish, like my rides have gone in recent months; it felt instead like I was just getting warmed up.  A fella could get used to that.

Not sure if I should go down this road, but, one thing that has changed has been my weight; which isn't as important as the healthy diet I've adopted and the benefits I've enjoyed therein -- weigh, after-all, is only a number.  However, the change remains: big shocker, giant newsflash:  treating myself well seems to make the rides go well... "wow."  The result of cross training and a cleaned-up diet is, yes, weight-loss... but, I feel better than I remember feeling back in the much-storied "2003."  Enough wishing - it seems I'm finally "back."

Note to self:  STAY THERE this time.

As for the ride itself.... dangit, yeah, I'm sorta phoning this one in.  It's been JUST long enough that some of the details have become fuzzy.  Don't get me wrong -- it was a terrific time, but, I think that some of what I'd mentioned in the 100km post from 3/15 has happened here:  I felt SO good, the conditions were SO nice, the conversation SO engaging... well, there isn't much else to report!  Captions and bullet points, then.... sigh: 
Better than nothing?  Maybe...

As we start off, the long rise over the highway goes well to get things warming up, and it's nice - once again - to have a little tailwind assistance for the chillier portion of the ride.  Glen and I pair up and chat for a while about how 'done' we both have been regarding the cold temperatures.  It'd been a long, long, LONG winter season.  Heck, fall, too:  only recently with our local climate finally agreeing to it being Spring, we achieved the warmest temperatures since last October; and for the region, that's un-usual.  Usually, milder weeks will pop up between rounds of wintery precip - but this year, not so.  

Soon, Mark J. and I linked up and started talking about routes and such while pedaling out the miles of 83rd Street - maps, routes, ideas... I love the process.  The local catalog is growing, and that's a good thing.

Before long, all conversations take a back seat, as the earth drops away and we fly down the steep descent into the Cedar Creek valley.  Brakes confirmed as working, we all regroup and head through the picturesque forestland of this tucked-away paradise.  This is a great piece of road - probably my favorite part of this route.

With the sun coming up, and warmth coming quickly, riders cross the iconic Cedar Creek Bridge - one of the last "old" bridges in the area, tucked away in the shadow of K-10 and surrounding old-growth trees.  I could have done without the 34 degree (F) start temperature... heck, we ALL could have... but, with the promise of warm temps and this acting as an official "welcome" to Spring ride - It'll do.  I dare not utter the occurrences of twelve months prior!

Thanks to a smudged lens, this shot came out blurry.. so, I added some filtering to make it look as aged as the bridge we'd been crossing when it had been taken.  The result is sort-of romantic in a way, don't you think?

Steven W. nearby, Glen, Gary, Spencer, and more up front crossing the span - on the way to the first (only) really big hill on the course.  This road carries so little traffic, it's my hope the county never finds justification to replace this bridge for a long while yet; but, just up the road, its old twin has long-since been replaced.  Maybe time will tell - it always does, somehow.  The morning is crisp, the backdrop full of jackets and covered faces, still, while we wait for the sun to change things in our favor.

The hill that comes immediately after this bridge is one of the more challenging in the area - but, I've never really given it a nickname.  It's just a big meany.  It's the type of hill that looks intimidating as I round the bend and see it looming, each and every time I ride this route.  Closer inspection often reveals a fair amount of the "wall" effect can involve optical illusion - but, not so here.  It's perhaps steeper than it even appears.  I've tackled this hill consistently the past few outings by simply getting into the easier gear I have, and hammering it for all I'm worth, just to get it over with.  If I hesitate for even a breath, momentum is gone and I'm reduced to a painfully slow cadence and have to shove it out at the edges of my anaerobic threshold.  Chain-popping, knee-binding, frame-tweaking torture.... instead I attack, and try to stay on top of the gear.  It sorta works, and I'm shocked to find myself alone at the front... not really part of the plan, and almost too-bad this ISN'T a race... I haven't climbed anything with such vigor since ... (crap, again?)  2003.   LOL.  Sorry.

Only for a brief moment, I'm back on Renner Road, heading south - over I-435 - just like we'd done only a dozen miles before on this day... yet, I'm transported backwards in time a decade, astride an Ultegra-equipped Bianchi Reparto Corse road frame, made from Columbus EL-OS tubing... lugged, light, nimble.... the LAST of the great, major-builder produced steel frames of the era - Columbus' last offering proving that steel - executed correctly - is as light as carbon fiber, but SO much more "alive"....little else trumps Italian passion, no matter how unfounded; dark blue and chrome over pearl white, signed by the builder in paint and clear-coated... why, WHY, did I ever think it was a 'great idea' to sell that frame?  Why?  (sob)  - the dude, is a colossal idiot - 
...just behind me is Paul Fancher, local racing legend.  (I'll bet he's still destroying the Master's groups on the local crit scene, but not 100% sure)  ... the "Big German" and a fourth rider are struggling to hold my tempo up the grade - my moment to attack had come, and our lead breakaway had been a group of four just a bit too long, with a scant 5 miles to the finish-line - I had to make a decision, a decisive blow on this critical, feared-by-all climb.  Gritting my teeth, shifting once or twice, I lifted the pace until only Fancher remained locked on my wheel.  It remains one of my proudest moments from the saddle; actually succeeding in riding clear of a portion of the leading bunch!   I had been in rare company - but, from the gun, after chasing down the pace motorcycle, this last group of the four of us had taken turns setting the pace, and, one rider at a time, we'd whittled down the pack.... 12 riders.... then 10..... another hill.... then 7 remained.... 5...... then 4:  Paul, myself, the German, and one other remained by the time Renner Pass had come upon us.  Unfortunately, for me, my glory had been short-lived:  Paul's moment to attack came only a mile later during the one-lap circuit of Shawnee Mission Park.  Salt in the wound of an already exhausted rider, I had completely forgotten about the lap ... and it's many, many testing climbs.  I held onto Paul's wheel - just - and passing the Marina, I could feel my legs stiffening... then came the back side of the dam, at the west end of the lake.   Paul, taking a quick peek over his left shoulder, read my face too well - shifted, stood, and leaped forward.  Game over.  Another confirmation glance backward saw the gap growing, as I clawed for gears and scrambled for any reserves... anything to hold his wheel - but, the effort on Renner proved too much to recover from.  Rookie mistake.  Still, I managed to ride solo to the finish, holding off my pursuers - locked between the lone leader and the rest of the bunch cast like stones across the map of the course.  I finished only 2 minutes behind Paul.... an eternity by race standards... but, with third and fourth finishing 2 minutes behind ME, I still felt immense pride.  Too bad it wasn't REALLY a race... just the Tour De Shawnee, from the storied days of the police-controlled closed course and the torturous 47-mile long-route.  The front runners always treated it as a race - and this time, I was in the lead break.  I was soaring.... 

but, then Glen appeared over my left shoulder, after I realized where I was, and that I didn't necessarily WANT to be off the front on this - one of few - group rando rides.  Old 95th St. stretched out ahead of us, and the group began to recollect in time for the ride through Clearview City.  

The DeSoto control - fast, fast work by many:  I'm still amazed how slow I am, still, at the controls compared to other riders.  I suppose I still need to take some notes - but, I always end up the one being waited on!  I need to figure this out in a couple weeks time.  Maybe... I'm still torn between being spirited, and being a tourist, on such scenic rides.... in a way, it's almost wasteful to ride heads-down at tempo on a brevet.  There is SO much to see out there, and I've had my head down for far long enough -- but, recent healthful changes remind me of that taste for a good chase and a solid time.  Ugh.... quandry!

For today, I bask in a little of both.

The hazards of trying to snap pictures while wearing gloves results in another smudged lens.  I need to find a better solution for pictures during "full-finger glove season" apparently.  Still, I left these in - they're worth it, in my opinion.  Here, I tail Steven for a minute or two to admire his home-brew beer-can splash-guard.  It adds a touch of finesse to the high-class zoot his new VO stainless fenders bring to the road.  Further, the removal of his rear rack changes the look of his ride further toward the realm of full-custom rando-machine.  Well-thought-out additions and hacks throughout, it's a quality build-up.

While the fields remain brownish and the trees largely bare, the day has begun to moderate and the sun is high.  Up ahead, mere dots on the roadway, the pack of perhaps 25 riders peppers the stark landscape with neon brilliance as we all pedal west on Douglas County 460 toward Vinland.  This vista remains a favorite; inviting and daunting, at one glance.  Yeah, we don't have mountains - but ours is a great state.

An odd mix of NW winds and low humidity, tossed together with full sunshine - the morning became a comical exercise of zipper adjustments and confusion.  I'd become hot... then chilled... then too warm again, all within a span of a few miles.  Chilly arms, but the feeling of sweat rolling down the small of my back.  Strange weather, indeed... but, no snow = no complaints!

Steven and I motored along the long stretches of Douglas County highways, finally meeting up with Del G. farther down the way.  We make the approach to Baldwin Pass together, and ease our way up over the giant lump (running into Gary, too!) and then enjoyed the long downhill into Baldwin City, and the next control.  

The control is abuzz with cyclists - some from the fast group, taking their time - a few from the larger middle-pack, and then us stragglers rolling in time to watch most of the rest leave for Ottawa.  Ugh... so it goes!  Waves and high-fives, and the guard at the control changes over.  Restroom, water, glub glub, chomp chomp - pack away a couple layers, and we're off again - Del and Steven right beside.  The '13 Oak Grove Crew rolls again!

"Off to Ottawa we a-go... off to Ottawa we go.... hi-ho!  Slap yer ..."   wait, what?

Le Journal de la Mec.... Day 3.... 
The French press has been unkind... there is talk of deceit on the roads to Princeton, the foul stench of fast food thick in our nostrils, the fans aghast at those who ride fast and eat well... as we five silent randonneurs sneak past the McDonald's south of town - waving smugly at those inside whose faces we could not see... "let them eat their McMuffins, and listen to their "rock-n-roll"... while WE conduct missile drills... "   SOUTH, LADS! comes the cry - we've linked up with two strong riders from parts unknown  ... Gravel Mistress, and the Tall Cervelo.... we talk of Dirty Kanza, advanced freewheel technology, and conquest!  Our passage through town complete, our foes - caught with full mouths and resting cycles - behind us;  the press will write what they will, but they will also write of those who caught out the leaders and disappeared into the Brittany countryside - on to Brest!  on!  Tres bon!  

Dreams of P-B-P... it's never too early to dream.

The five of us, clear of Ottawa and I-35, and onto the gravel-strewn shoulders of US-59 to Princeton;  we form up, and Tall Cervelo takes point with a rock-solid tempo.  We fall-in, Gravel Mistress ahead of me, Steven and Del behind... the rotations begin, hesitantly:  we randonneurs, long relegation to solo riding allows dust to accumulate on our paceline skills, but we make do, and each take a turn.  That old fire, somewhere down deep, makes me forget the mileage yet to come, the length of the day compared to the brevity of my stamina:  a few miles pass, I peel off for the back of the group to rest for the next turn, and find the back of the group gone!  Crap - sorry guys!  Wisdom takes over, and I ease off the gas --- our new friends in black and orange begin to disappear up the highway.... FAST.  Strong, strong riders.... fare thee well!

Mere dots on the highway shoulder - they advanced up the road so quickly, by the time I had the camera out, they were nearly out of range.  Tall Cervelo and Gravel Mistress, almost out of sight here on US-59 southbound; the hallmarks of long, hard training - their form was spot-on, and tough to hang with!  Hope to meet up with them again one of these rides.

Same vantage point, but in reverse -- in neon colors, Del and Steven smartened-up before I had, and decided on a more tourist's pace for the rest of the long day ahead.  After all, our old friend John Brown was waiting for us.

Princeton, and our conquest came to an end:  full of food already, the Ottawa breakfast bunch hit the Princeton control, cards-ready... in, signed, out.  Wow.  In a flash, the c-store was full of cyclists, and then, silent again.  Del and I sat in our booth near the windows, just resting, while it all happened.  We ate our share, and then rolled around to the back side of the building for some sunshine... something that had NEVER occurred to me to do, in the umpteen visits I've made to this place.  Warmed up in the sunshine, we watched as Terry B. and Gary (no, the other one, Gary F.) pulled in for the stop.  After a long rest and some good stories, we all mounted up and started off for John Brown, sending stabbing glances toward the fidgety flags foretelling false tailwinds.  So much for forecasts - but, hey... it was getting downright WARM out here!  

Del, Steven, Gary F.  (I need a better nickname for this guy..... uhhhh.... )   and I made our way to John Brown Highway... 

Well, we'll tell a little story 'bout a man named Del;  a hard randonneur, rode his bike from here to hell.  Back last year when the snow came out to play; he stopped, fixed a flat, and we finished anyway... 
Princeton, that is...  Roundabout... two-hundred K...
Well, the next thing ya know, ol' Del's back on the bike.  He drove all night from central Kansas, quite a hike!  He yelled, "John Brown!  That's the place I wanna be!" , so we loaded up the bikes, rode to Osawatomie!
Kansas, that is... false-flats... chip-'n-seal....  
...the Princeton Roundabout! 
(cue banjo breakdown... )
(original song by some dude in Hollywood, re-purposed on the John Brown Hwy by the mind of Steven W., and finished after a couple weeks in my subconscious = sheer gold!)

With the lead pack well gone, and the day reaching its halfway point, the pace began to relax and we began to enjoy ourselves on the John Brown Highway, instead of forcing the issue.  For once, every miles of the long road felt pretty good - no bonks, no mystery resistance, no depression.  I think sunshine and NOT having a headwind made a gigantic difference here; but, after many many outings dreading this road, Steven remarked later, coming off the section, that it'd been the best he'd ever felt on that stretch.  Not bad!

Gary Two (maybe?) .. is up the road from us, here, somewhere along the early stretch of John Brown Road - as best as my memory serves, that is.  With the brown parchment landscape and the perfect blue sky - and my constant riding partners - I can't tell one photo from the next!  In order, Steven, Del G. in orange, and Gran Fondo... (maybe that's a good nickname?)  

A bit later, the eastern horizon comes into view atop one of many ridges.  John Brown, therefore, gives its riders an occasional strong notion of "never going to get there"

Over the shoulder, Del and Steven cry foul of not having signed a photo release waiver.  Too bad, people!  Gran Fondo is in teh background, riding his own ride --- he's only recently returned to the bike after many years away, and he works patiently on his form and pace.  No rush on such a gorgeous day, anyhow - so, it's all good!

John Brown is ultimately behind us, and we arrive on 6th Street, Osawatomie - and the Casey's.  We're back!  Only two weeks later - but the Casey's is much quieter today without the giant 100k pack in attendance.  Ron A., however, *is* here - out on his own 100k for the day, having needed to miss the 200 after a hectic week of business travel.  We chat for a bit, while he gulps the last of his refuel grub, and makes a phone call.  Before long, he is rolling north.  Bottles filled again, and a bit more chow circulating as we all consider the mileage remaining.  Gran Fondo arrives, only minutes behind us, complaining of a hurting knee.  Del goes to work getting him to talk about it, and off of the subject of quitting.  This is delicate territory:  I fear knee issues.... who DOESN'T? ... so it's difficult to tell if one is giving GOOD advice, or simply trying to prevent a DNF.  I struggle with this... even in the throes of "never say die" RAAM-crew training, we had been careful to diagnose and differentiate the REASONS to stop, as opposed to the EXCUSES to stop.  Where pain is involved, it gets complicated - because one becomes empathetic:  if MY knee was hurting, heck, *I'd* stop, too.... so, how can I talk someone into ignoring their instinct?  We talk of seat height, WHERE it hurts, level of pain, suggestions are made.

Fifteen minutes pass - Gary rests, refuels, keeps drinking, while Steven, Del and I discuss anything other than knees.  Before we know it, Gary is ready to roll again - giving it a try.  this is awesome news... a DNF is never fun to call in, and the decision must lie with the individual, but, for now, he's up for more.  We pack up and roll out once again!

The wind isn't bad, but it's there -- compared to recent weeks of training, personally, it's nothing.  I had begun to make a habit of getting out on especially windy days of late, purposefully hammering INTO the gale-force winds of a Kansas springtime.  30-35MPH with gusts, I don't even mount the computer - the numbers are meaningless here, and only damaging.  I hammer hard, making a point to relax the shoulders and arms, keeping my head low - but still begin able to see the road ahead.  Relaxing means more stamina... no wasted energy bracing muscles which will add nothing to the pedal stroke.  Just like in the Matrix... its mind over matter, mind over mileage.... there is no wind...

I pull the train for a few turns while our group rotates nicely along headed NW out of Osawatomie, toward Paola - and the last control.  Steven is a mule... he pulls for an eternity, uphill, catching us up to Terry B., and then getting us up and over the railroad bridge, and up to 327th Street @ Old KC Road.  We hit Hospital Road, and advance slowly up to the climb near US-169.  Our paceline.... ahem, MY paceline skills still need work, so, after a few un-intended drops, I make a habit of glancing over my shoulder to confirm contact with the group.... maybe it finally IS time to invest in a good mirror for the helmet - if for no other reason.

Paola... more sittin', more card signin', more rando-grub for the journey home.  It's a great day to be on a bike, and we end up in a couple short conversations with the locals inside between bites of food.  Terry B. pulls in, Gran Fondo seems good with the knee issue - and, in a snap of time, we are all mounting up again for points north.  Last control in the hopper, the ride is all but complete!

We depart the Paola 66 station, and the headwind greets us once more - but, it's tolerable.  Steven takes us up over the first, always forgotten little bump near the town Walmart and high-school, and then I jump on the front for some payback.  I've sucked wheel for too many miles this last year, so I start my new habit of checking over my shoulder every 60-90 seconds, and try to keep an even tempo.  We crossed the nasty RR tracks, passed the castle, the roundabout, and Hillsdale, negotiated the long climb away from Hillsdale -- paused for the cause along the way to water the bushes, and then we knocked out the rest of Old KC, finally arriving at Spring Hill, intact as a group - largely.  Gran Fondo's knee is the pits - but, he's muscling through the pain.  Steven, Del and I snarf a bit more for good measure, and talk about wheel building and spoke tension for a bit, and we head out once more.  GF is holding back, but plans to finish -- we wish him well, and depart - chasing down Terry B., who waved as he'd passed by a few minutes before.  He seems content to keep moving - even on the really long stretches.

With the ride feeling in the bag, the headwind becomes less and less of a concern... I'm not certain if it was dying off, or if we'd just chosen to ignore it.  We traded pulls here and there, made Olathe, then Lenexa.... and then we spotted two non-randos, at least - not part of our ride - up the road on Renner near 119th.... giving chase, just for fun, we were disappointed when they turned off right before we caught their wheels.  Curses!

The mood was SO high - thanks to Hammer Gel and terrific weather and conversation, that I barely remember the hills from Renner being their usual "problem."  I even took a penalty lap at one of Lenexa's many Renner roundabouts north of 95th Street.  Just for grins.  After a thrilling fast downhill, we finished together - more or less - at Shawnee, with a pace good enough to have been less than ten hours, had we not been so pokey at the controls.  Again, though... we got a full day's worth of terrific conditions, despite a chilly start - and why rush that?  

Great day out.... 

Thanks, to all that came out - and to Steven and Del for sharing the bulk of the miles with me.  always a pleasure... looking forward to the 300k!

Thanks for reading!

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