April 4, 2014

The Old KC - A Popular Populaire

Well, you'd been warned -- "this blog is about to get a LOT more boring."
That's sorta happened of late.  I've largely hung out a shingle here strung from the pegs of struggle, hardship, personal discovery, and self-loathing.  A lot of that has none-too-soon become water under the proverbial bridge.  Still, there remains much to share -- so, it's far likelier these pages will continue to amass, as opposed to the alternative.  Yet, sometimes I have trouble telling the GOOD story, as opposed to "whatever horrible thing" might have happened on the last ride.  The old saying goes "hope for the best, but prepare for the worst," So turns over my entire outlook on life... previously prepared for the worst and fully expecting it, I'm now focused on being prepared for the worst, but enjoying the NOW.  

To wit - this last ride went SO well, I'd nearly forgotten I'd participated in it until I stumbled over the photos I'd taken with the camera that day.  So, a quick post is definitely in order here -- to capture the essence of the great memories this ride produced --- sure, maybe they won't make for riveting commentary - but, hey, we can give it a shot.

Briefly grabbing the reigns from Bob and Spencer, our own Ron Alexander -- former Topeka perms coordinator turned OP resident -- came out and offered a few 100km rides to book-end Bob's usual brevet series this year.  I'm personally looking forward with great anticipation the August editions, later this year!  Even the cue card was unique, the usual boxes for signatures and time-stamps set opposite a nice write up
on the history of the route itself.  Even the front of the card had been tweaked; instead of the usual RUSA logo a depiction of an old Ford business sedan from the 1920s graced the card's cover.  Very cool!

A brilliant day on tap -- sunshine, and relative warmth, the parking lot at the local coffee hole began to fill to overflowing with eager cyclists.  As the start time approached, everyone had fallen into an interesting, repeating rotation between the start area where Bob Burns had appeared, and the trunks of their cars -- discarding additional layers, just waiting in the parking lot.  Even the promise of a bit of headwind couldn't erase the bright smiles cascading through the gaggle of bicyclists.  It's been a long, long winter.

It's such a good feeling - such an atmosphere of hope and the true beginning of the new year for many a randonneur.  Handshakes, smiles, laughter in abundance -- new friendships about to be made, old ones resparked after months apart -- some people whom one only knows to recognize with sunglasses, a helmet, and a high jersey collar - and the conversation between them launches from right where it'd left off the year before, or at least from the last email exchange.  Spencer is here, Bob, Jack, David, Glen, Gary, Terry, Mitchell, Steven, Ron, and a host of others the names of which I often forget... but the faces are forever in the backdrop of these rides.  Acquaintances cast in concrete and asphalt, cut with sweat and hardened with rubber, steel, aluminum, and carbon fibers.  An unspoken brother and sisterhood of cyclists that, somehow, are just a touch crazier than all the others - we randonneurs gather for ourselves and each-other in the same breath - these bonds do not tear easily; between welcoming those for which the day represents their first long ride, and in speaking fondly of those we can no longer ride alongside in body, the tendrils of randonneuring lore reach well beyond the here and now.  There is more happening here than meets the eye.

The gathering.  Sometimes the best part of the ride.  New friendships made, old ones reinforced.  The clicks of pedals, the hiss of air pumps, the steam from coffee against the sweet tinge of grease and oil and rubber.  Racks, bags, even bar tape are compared, scrutinized, appreciated.  Frames are gasped upon - "that gadget I read about" over there, someone running "those cool new tires" over there, and "where did you find that!" echo from back over there.  The parking lot mingle is priceless magic, and it seldom gets old.

More of the same, my new friend sips down the last of the morning goodness while bags are zippered closed, and Bob gathers everyone's attentions for the start.  The temperature, meanwhile, continues to rise!

Before long, the top of the hour had arrived, and the clutch of cyclists slowly made their way out onto Blackbob Road for the first of the ride.  I'm immediately impressed at the bike-handling skills of a nearby rider -- I think it might have been Cody (?) -- pulling off a sweet, sustained and lengthy trackstand on his road bike, while we waited for the first traffic light to change green:  no easy feat, as this light is never in a hurry.  The dude barely flinched, surrounded by less-worthy cyclists, us, all uncliped with a foot down.  Cool.

The route barely required a cue sheet -- my favorite kind, of late.  All familiar training grounds for practically everyone in attendance, we headed generally south and west toward Spring Hill, KS., and smaller groups began to form.  I fell in with a great group, a couple that had ridden TO the ride start from Weston, MO. ... which is (at least by one route I maintain which turns around there) a full metric century away on its own!  Impressive... showing up for a 100k ride with 100k already done, these guys must be getting ready for something big -- and they officially got the bad-ass of the day award, by a longshot.  Terrible with names as always, John, Cody (the same trackstand guy from above, assuming I got that part right), and a nice gal... uh.... darnit.... we'll just call her "the bad ass."

So, SO nice to take a draft from a big group, Glen and I - early on - paired up for some chattin' at the back of our group.  We justified that we'd earned our place at the back of the peloton, even if we only take our last couple rides together into consideration.  We got a good laugh out of that, and then took the front anyways to pull the group down 327th street, later on after passing through Paola later on.  Steven, too, appeared after a minute or so with his terrific-looking VO stainless fenders.  They look remarkable, and instantly got me to thinking:

Fidgetty sidebar:
Those fenders really transform a bicycle's look - all while being classically functional.  I'm very, very tempted to be a copycat and grab a pair for myself from VO -- very solid, very shiny.. but, interestingly, because of their curve, not blinding to follow - even with full sun overhead!  Still, I've got no good reason to get 'em other than curb-appeal... my old SKS fenders are still going strong, though riddled with tiny holes and leftover RTV smudges from over a decade of taillight wire routing, zip-ties, and alternative mounting arrangements as they've moved from bike to bike to bike with my formerly frequent stable alterations.  I suppose I'll wait a bit -- at least as long as it will take to figure out if those fenders should be part of a larger project.  Such as, while I laugh at myself restarting an old phase of "the grass is always greener under someone else's bike - even if it's one of my own bikes" problems.  My recent return to the saddle of the Trek 450 on occasional commute days may ultimately talk me into a full component swap between my two bikes.  The Trek seemed horribly under-utilized just hanging in the garage shod with studded tires... especially now with spring here.  So, recently, I removed the studded tires until next winter, and threw on the Paselas for a few days here and there... just to shake things up, and give the Kogs the occasional break from action. 
Crap.  Kinda like the blue pill vs. red pill discussion... sometimes, I wish I'd just leave well-enough alone.
The Trek is SO smooth: engaged; snappy, powerful, light; yet, somehow, still rock-stable.  While I've been sorta testing out the tires I'd posted about last time, I've had the old Paselas on the Trek... and, interestingly, the Trek feels better than the Kogs had with the same tires.  Granted, there's a lot going on here.... I need to make sure I'm not mixing up "better" and "different" before I grab any wrenches.  Still, there ya have it --- it's been marked enough for me to notice each time I switch bikes.  
I'm splitting hairs, yes -- but, there truly is something special about the right tubes and the right lugs in the right hands, no compromises.  The Kogs, after all, is still an outsourced price-point bike -- albeit a fancy one; and while the Trek began life in the middle of its manufacturer's lineup, it was still brazed by hand during a time when perfection spoke louder than profit for the big American frame-builders (to the ultimate demise of their steel production, sadly).  Opening the bottom brackets of each bike, and comparing the threads and the finishing on the tube joints --- which is ALL inside, concealed, and something most people wouldn't EVER see --- the Trek is clearly the winner:  you can see the brass, still shiny, no oxidation, perfectly filled - no gaps, very well-cut threads - CLEAN.  You can see the care, the temperature control, the skill.  The Kogs', conversely, the threads are so-so, but still strong; the tube ends aren't mitred (but, why spend the labor money to do so - no-one will see that!)  The brazing is there... but, there are small pits and voids visible, and some discoloration.  None of that will affect strength (under my legs, anyways), thanks to REALLY chunky lugs -- but, there you have it.  It's best covered up... the Trek, you could nearly showcase it.  It speaks volumes about how the rest of the build process had likely been treated, in both cases. 
 This all creates a chorus of self-directed questions.  Counter to my previous flightiness in this department, I'm carefully making a list of pros and cons before doing anything rash - but, the whole concept of the Trek as the main brevet and weekender, and the Kogs as commuter steed, is suddenly interesting.  My only reservation lay with the Trek's finish:  most importantly, a promise not to have it refinished remains as locked as my word and my handshake (neither of which I give lightly).  As if I would require such an agreement!  I cringe at the mere notion of losing the originality and gracefully-aged patina of the factory decals.  Yet, I equally fear the inequity of rust creeping in and ruining the dream as I would suddenly thrust the frame-set back into hard duty.  Nothing a fresh coat of internal Framesaver couldn't cure... but, tough choices: and, just because I CAN make a choice, doesn't mean I should.  There is nothing at all wrong with the Kogs - not enough, anyway, to warrant its relegation to commuting - thusly reversing the chain of command in the dudegarage.  For starters, I'd need a new seatpost (another mark against the Kogs, with it's super oddball 27.4mm seatpost (??), I'd want a new headset.... ugh.   Here we go!
Nothing to lose sleep over right now, because all of this becomes silenced when I remember I have a bicycle to finish for the boy!  Priorities = Problem solved... for now...   ...and, in reality, what do I really have to complain about here?  Not a whole lot... as I type and polish this for the blog, the 200km ride has already happened, and it happened on the Kogs:  complaints?  Nope.  That nagging "yeah, but if the Kogs was good......"   Yeah....    

Oh yeah.... 

Meanwhile, back on our ride...

A gorgeous day shaping up for the KCUC debut - arm warmers begin to disappear into back pockets, and unzipped jackets add a flapping accompaniment to our symphony of southbound motion.  Here on Webster in Spring Hill itself, John, Cody and company set tempo as the temperatures continue to moderate upward.  Not a cloud in sight!

Glen, heading south out of Paola on Pearl St., and the old, OLD US-169 alignment near 327th street.

Nasal check?

Behind Glen and me, Steven, Gary and the Weston bunch pace-up and chat away the miles under brilliant skies while warm breezes push temperatures ever higher - a terrific day for a ride, and the best was yet to come!

Speaking of 'new fork', it has proven difficult to find a builder willing to make JUST a fork - they usually want it paired to a frame, which is understandable:  it's difficult to match a fork to a frame one's never seen in person.  Iglehart, however, has created many great forks to pair with many great bikes over the years - this example mounted to a Gunnar frameset.  He's a good candidate for my business should I choose to update the Kogs - but, someone with a Big Grin may win the prize, because I'll get to wield the torch!

The melee invades the Osawatomie Casey's store!  More conversation bike-talk, amid water refills, laughter, and the snarfing of foodstuffs --- the temperature is right HOT, and bare skin comes out of winter hiding, to gather some rays and feel the spring breezes.  Great day - just need some leaves on those trees!

Coal train passes over the old highway as we make our way back north under blue skies, and with a full-power assist from a growing southwest wind.  At long last... a SOLID tailwind finish on tap!

Inspired by our new tailwind after refueling at Casey's, the pack once again splits apart on the roads northbound back toward Paola and points north.  Zooming along at 25MPH, nearly effortless, tires and bearings in full song... a proper reward for all the long, cold slogs into seemingly endless, spirit-breaking finishing headwinds.  The days ride, now measured in smiles instead of miles, becomes a long overdue treat for the spirit waiting in our legs.  We FLY north!  

I feel reborn.  Tempted and teased by faster riders just in-sight up the road, I shift a few times and begin to try and find the edges of my nutrition and strength.  First, I hammer up to the pack ahead -- then let off, drifting backwards and recovering the heart-rate; then repeat.  Yo-yo'ing becomes a game, and doesn't feel like "training" at all --- but, it's nice to feel benefits from all the running and cross-training I've added since the beginning of the year.  The wind direction absolutely helps!  I am torn between the chase and the promise of good conversation as Glen closes the gap to my wheel - so I ease up a bit more.  Why rush a great day like this? 

Hard to describe, however, the urge to push!

Old KC Road, just south of Hillsdale, KS., the temptation of the pack up the road is tangible - I linger between packs, take a few picks, and enjoy the sensations of freedom and speed, hands-free, sitting back and enjoying the pure pleasure of cycling.

Glen, enjoying the day as well, just 100 yards behind me.

Packs come together once more as we cross through Hillsdale, KS. and continue north to Spring Hill.  Old KC Road becomes a bit of a love/hate scenario on this six-mile hunk of pavement comprising the old highway.  Lake traffic, namely, granted the same rights to this scenic road as we are, yes, but always frustrated at our presence it seems - at least a few of them.  Pickups with boats and trailers zooming by, only inches away - despite the state law dictating a 3-foot rule (no really, look it up) for passing cyclists.  I always get a little confused by their frustrations, considering they could get home a LOT faster if they'd just go a mile east and hop onto US-169, with its 70MPH speed limit.  Whatever.

After sitting in on the long climb leading out of Hillsdale, I decide to get some personal work out of the way.  While my motivation was a little silly (getting upset about the traffic, really) and I should have picked a time with fewer riders around, I popped out on the left of the line I'd been sitting in, stood up, shifted, and hammered hard.  For the first time in a long time, I unleashed fury on the pedals and tested myself to see what I was worth.  Felt pretty darn good, and it certainly squelched the frustrations resulting from a few miles of being passed dangerously close by traffic on Old KC.  If nothing else, I was "done" with that road at that moment.  Sometimes taking a breath and counting to ten isn't going to cut it, and hammering it out won't get me in trouble with anyone.  Eyes down, both hands on the bar, dude... 

After doing a few cool-down laps in the Spring Hill Price Chopper parking lot, I rejoined the route at 223rd and Webster, looking ahead to see Gary and Glen motoring along together, so I briefly make chase and catch their wheels.  No more of this solo-nonsense for me!  Soaking up the goodness of the day, we angle up towards 199th street, over to Ridgeview... familiar territory, but somehow strange - none of us could recall ever feeling so fresh at this particular junction, seeing as - normally - we'd be 100+ miles in, not 50!  

Tailwind fever... that's all I can say about the rest.  With the heavy hand of mother nature firmly pushing us along at 27MPH on the flat, with little effort, there were nothing but smiles as far as the eyes could see.  The long, long stretch of winter seemed, finally, at an end.  

Glen and I played around with a finishing sprint, but ultimately it was Gary who caught both of us out... but, no matter:  coming to our senses, we all chilled out for the last couple miles, hit the Starbucks with a decent finishing time, and a great cup of coffee.  

What an awesome day!

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