May 1, 2014

Bicycle to Iowa? No problem!

  One can be fairly confident of their arrival into the very niche bin of lunacy we call randonneuring when the concept of riding a bicycle to Iowa seems more exciting and far easier than driving there in an automobile.  I've personally never been more in touch with that sentiment than I've been this year, and it's only just becoming May in a couple days as I begin to write this post.  As I stood in the Perkin's parking lot Sunday morning while the sun rose, chatting with Bob, Del, and my finishing cohorts Steven and Josh, it occurred to me how good I'd been feeling.  At the tall end, our group had finished five hours later than the first - yet, mentally, it didn't matter.  The wind, finally, wasn't center-stage in
my head ... even though it had indeed been there, and had played a large part in our finishing pace.  I was bummed that we seemed to have dodged every thunderstorm; yet, still elated to have enjoyed their light-show from a safer distance.  Mainly, however, I had been a bit sad the event was NOT a 600km.  Granted, the feeling didn't originate from a lack of challenge over the previous 24-hours.  Sore, yes.  Probably in need of a short nap and a good Perkins refueling, but, a sense of being a little bummed-out washed across me while I hoisted my bike onto the roof rack for the journey home.  Something akin to "that's all?"  

This mirrors the sort of feelings I'd experienced on the drive home from the 300k just a couple weeks ago.  I'd felt a longing to continue, to stretch the envelope.  To have spent those long hours on the bike and to not be weary of the experience represents a huge progression and positive step compared to previous years' rides.  It's a terrific feeling, one I need to nurture and harvest at the correct time.  2014 may yet hold some exciting challenges - yet, I'm still not making any announcements.  Mental chips have fallen into place after several 'off' years, and it would seem I've arrived in a place where the thought of riding another 200k at the end of 400 not only seems possible, it has become something to anticipate with good spirits.  Despite a few packing challenges when it comes to the weather lately, ride preparation has unfolded more smoothly; the pangs of anxiety occasionally overcoming the foreground of my mind have fallen absent.  Even while cycling along and considering the remaining mileage, current speeds and inevitable mathematics therein, I have been - overall - attending these rides with an uncharacteristic sense of calm.  The end of a brevet is no longer accompanied by a sense of relief.  Arriving home with some pain no longer creates stress about solving it - and I haven't touched the tools for anything short of regular maintenance for some time now.  

Right about now, the music should come up and the screen should fade-in and pan across a vast scene of an open plain bisected perfectly by a well-paved section of forgotten highway - while, from out of frame behind the camera, the whoosh of a bicycle and rider swoop in and begin to grow smaller in size... the image of a lone cyclist pedaling toward a distant horizon.

This year's 400km brevet is in the books, and already stands up as the most comfortable I've been at the end of an event of such length.  Granted, I didn't finish fast -- but, I'm still not sure that was my goal to begin with.  It's easy for someone to say "oh, yeah, but I *coulda* finished in XX hours, I felt so good... " -- and, true, in saying that, I'm sorta saying the same thing.  The training of the 300k a couple weeks back, and recent, tiny bike adjustments seem to have only improved my cycling experience lately - and I held up a couple shining moments throughout the day.  

The first, I caught Gary!  Nearly twice.  Sure, this happened in the early hours of the ride - when I probably shouldn't have been trying to catch anyone - but, I am who I am.  Despite exercising a conscious decision to avoid pushing too hard on the way out of Liberty along highway H, and the early miles of US-69 out of Excelsior Springs, upon reaching the quieter section of rolling hills between Excelsior and Lawson, MO., watching Gary D. once again advance slowly up the road at a seemingly impossible pace, the temptation proved too great.  I fell in with Del G., Rod and Joe for a few miles, but, ultimately determined my default climbing cadence to be problematic for pack structure.  I then pulled out to the left and fell into my own tempo, and after a few minutes it seemed my pace and Gary's nearly matched.  I knew it wouldn't last long, however: astride his shining new rando-machine, Gary displayed spirited riding confidence as he ate up the rollers; while I took a few distant pictures - mentally noting that each one would represent the last time I'd see him all day; yet, somehow, I managed to maintain the same gap after each hill.  Feeling frisky, with the consequences of early hammering beginning to fade in importance, I shifted once, stood up to get back to cadence, and started to attempt the elusive "Gary Reel-in."  For once, it worked!  Though I can't recall exactly, somewhere just north of Lawson I grabbed Gary's wheel and hung on for a bit before dropping back into reality.  Mission accomplished - though, since it had been his first ride on the new steed, and getting used to it will only make him faster - well, I'll take it with whatever asterisks are necessary.  

With the Gary business handled, it was time to hopefully fall back into a group for the tailwind-fueled party-bus to Iowa!  I managed to chat a bit with each passing gaggle; the tandem group, then Del's group, then Spencer's - personnel exchanging back and forth all the while as everyone settled in for the long haul to the 1st control, while we cleared Kansas City's northern influence and watched a quieter highway unroll ahead of us.  The chill of the morning air had faded, the sun bathed us in warm rays, and the birds sang.  The day couldn't have been better!  

Packs formed up and fell apart here and there along the way to Cameron, MO., where I found myself glued to Gary's wheel again, somehow, on the long run-up into town.  A group of us stopped for breakfast, then journeyed further north into scenic Harrison County, full of long vistas and historic farms -- and, unfortunately, the worst pavement I've ridden in a few years.

With breakfast put away, we pedaled on to the first real control at Pattonsburg, MO.  At this point, packs became individuals again, with a few exceptions up the road, and I ended up soloing much of this leg after our train splintered north of Winston, MO. - Gary missed a crucial turn along the way, then others began to spread out after waiting - fruitlessly - for the group to reform.  The massive tailwind, at least, made it easier for individual riders to make headway - so at least the drafting opportunity wasn't missed too badly.

After Pattonsburg, and a little bit longer of a rest, Steven, Josh and I grouped up and traded conversation and sunshine, as the thunderstorms which seemed to have missed us completely had stayed well to the south.  Working together, fending off various dogs and otherwise enjoying the nearly traffic-free grandeur of the old highway, we stayed grouped-up and re-met at each control and stop for the remainder of the day - a system that worked really well as afternoon became evening, and evening became sunset.  A few scattered sprinkles, a terrific light show from mother nature - and even a couple hours of stars overhead.  The roads remained nearly abandoned from Bethany, all the way back to Liberty - though I hadn't bothered to count cars, I'd bet we'd seen less than 25.  Steven's clever radio set-up allowed us to listen to the KC Royals game, as we made the Pattonsburg control twenty-or-so minutes before the lights were turned off.  From there, calming winds, another light show, and buttery-smooth pavement.  It was a great night on the bike - magical as ever.

Though the nasty weather promised by the forecast never really panned out (probably better that way), the goal of keeping close to one another proved valuable as the day had progressed into night.  It was nice to finish with a little "umpfh" back on Highway "H" headed back into Liberty - and while I hadn't wanted to take any chances at the 400k level, it was nice to think that I probably could have uncorked a lot more than I had.  Still, I seldom end up wishing I'd traded company for speed -- regardless of my best efforts, it's a fair bet I'd still not have caught anyone, despite having had 200km to do so.  An individual rider vs. a pack of five or six; yeah, unless I got lucky, spent no time at the stops, and they chose to simultaneously slow down, maybe.  Perhaps next time out I needn't be so cautious - perhaps the time to test myself is coming along.  Combined with attempting to find other ways to trim down control times, maybe I'll get a few new PRs in the coming months.  It's a tug-of-war, however... riding fast = heads-down = no scenery = little conversation = less fun = riding fast?  Can't have both, unless everyone else gets faster at the same rate.  I should really save the speed work for the solo days, especially on routes I'm already familiar with - no chance of missing anything that way.

Bob rallies the troops, minutes before ride start with the coming sunrise lighting the sky to the east

Steven, Del G., Gary D. on highway H, heading out of Liberty into the new day

Gary's magnificent new rando-steed

Along US-69, south of Lawson, MO., Gary is already chasing invisible rabbits, Del in the foreground proving more sensible, while I grapple with how sensible to remain

Ditching sensibility for a few dozen miles, this represents one of the shots titled "the last I'd see of Gary."  Shortly after I put the camera away, my reckless side elected to give chase

Frisky chase-face

Dilapidated structure along the highway, possibly an old service station 

Glorious morning skies and full sunshine

Rodney G. leads the train into Winston, MO., while Kier, Joe and I sit in and enjoy the tailwind/draft combo - Gary is again off the front, out of frame

Would have been a better shot had I remembered my bag being in the way - sorry Kier!

Nothing but open road ahead of us!

Pattonsburg, MO., and the first control - Joe, Keir and others rest up for the push to Iowa

Just inside Harrison County, an old barn looms like a watchman

Open plains and rolling hills - Iowa must be close.  Josh working the pedals here, taking it all in on his first brevet series

A short pause further up the road, more postcard scenery

Josh and I, ham-for-the-cam

Water-tower hunting in northern Missouri

Great pavement, slowly building clouds, and wind

Run for the border!  Hitting a state line on the bike is always a big deal

Josh cutting it up in the vast Iowa countryside.  We're only a dozen miles north of Missouri, but, this stretch of road still looks "different" somehow

Thumbs up for the halfway!  Postcards dropped, it's time to face the wind - which is pulling and vibrating the metal roof on the post office, while the flag is removed - the day's lobby business complete

Yep - Amish country

Curious horse considers us as we return and inch closer to Missouri - "107 miles to Kansas City" is taken as good news, though daunting to the uninitiated

Back in Missouri, Steven, Josh and I group-up for the second half of the ride

Signed 220th Ave, near Highway Z, midway between Bethany and Eagleville, the old, original concrete slab alignment of US-69 extends for a few miles here, north and south of the new road.  While it would be a tall order, with lots of meandering, there are long stretches of the old highway alignment still in use, largely as driveways for homes that didn't move with the road.  Most of the old highway, however, was lost with the construction of I-35, nearby.

An old flood control gatehouse or pumphouse near Bethany, MO.

A reminder of the day's tailwind, we're pushed along US-136 while the clouds continue to foretell bad weather and the sun begins to dip

Sunset, north of Pattonsburg, MO.

Just a few sprinkles is all we'd feel, thunderstorms all around as we settle in for the night-shift.  Lights on, men!

I'm encouraged and confident, feeling at the top of my game again, finally.  I remain focused on my diet, my cross-training, as I still have a little work left to do before I'm truly where I'd like to be - but, the time where I can leave the family for a couple days for a bike ride still sits a couple years distant.  The real randonneuring tests at the >400km level will always be there - but, as mentioned in the last post, I must remain vigilant to stay on-form, not slip as I had before.  It's so easy to do, also... feeling justified after such a long ride to eat carelessly, when that's not what I should be doing right now.  

So, for me, this year's 400k wraps up the brevet series.  As I finish writing this, it's officially a new month - time to switch back into 200km mode.  Still, I don't plan to fool around this year:  I'm still anxious to try my hand at some of the old fave routes, like the Liberty-Albany 300k permanent with all it's climbing: after reaching the top of a ridge between Pattonsburg and Winston, MO., I could see the rhythmic flashing red beacons atop the ever-growing wind-farm to the west... right about where the Albany route sits, and that would be neat to see from a bicycle, for sure.  Not sure if that will comprise the May or June edition.  It's not a "have to", yet it remains on my list of "want to."  More evidence that I may not be quite right in the head.

Train hard... even if you don't know what you'll use it for.

After June, however, it's a dice roll:  I have a mental plan arranged; yet, I'm not guaranteed it will actually work.  June will mark the 12th and final ride of my 4th consecutive R-12 series, and my plan remains: "keep going."  However, standing firmly in my way is a surgeon waiting to fix a torn rotator cuff I wasn't aware I even had until "that odd hitch" in my left arm came up in conversation during a routine doc's appointment.  X-rays and MRIs later, it won't fix itself, and the longer I wait for surgery --- despite feeling fine and not experiencing any life-altering pain --- the worse it will get, the more involved the surgery becomes, and the longer the recovery time drags out.  Sigh.... hand-forced, fixing it before it gets worse is the right choice... and, attendant to the notes about craning my neck and such, yeah; the pain in my left shoulder likely has little to do with handlebar reach, really.  Still... I'm stubborn.  Can I (rhetorical here, of course) ride my July 200k on, say, July 1st; go under the "knouyfe" (Paul Hogan style) a week later; take the full 6-8 week advertised recovery period (even though the doc says something about being able to ride again in four months) ; and carefully maintain something resembling "form" - to get back on the bike on August 31st to get the next 200k in line?  Something tells me the craziness of maintaining a silly ride streak is    N O T   worth a repeat injury... and, yeah, she's right.  The same craziness that has me spouting things like "only 100 miles to go!" also thinks this surgery and recovery will be a cake walk, and I realize I'm probably wrong here... but I *really* don't like it when someone tells me I "can't."   Baloney!  Watch me.  I'm planning on being wrong.  So, (lo-oooong exhale) yes:  the streak will be broken.  Technically, if I wait until September with no August ride... but, maybe I should just give myself a pass on this one, and chill out.  Maybe.  Still, I may push this out - with the boy's goal of riding the MS Ride this fall, I don't want to be in a position where I can't train with him... and, really, I'd much rather miss the fall / winter rides than the summer ones which sit just around the corner.  Gettin' old ain't for the weak, apparently.  I suppose, at some distant point, I'll have to learn how to exist without the bike - but, I already know I'm not terribly good at sitting around.

Stay tuned!  No matter what happens, the tone of the posts here won't degrade into a woeful pity-party while I count the days until I can ride again.  It may be quiet, but it won't be any of THAT dribble.  In the meantime, at least two more rip-roarin' ride reports to come while I wrap up R-12 #4.

Some notes:

Relax!  While it's nice to keep the sun out of the eyes, and REALLY nice for when it's raining, a cycling cap does sorta block one's vision when the visor is down.  If one wishes to see farther down the road, however, one has to look ... well, up.  Not a biggie, but, instead of rotating my neck forward by lifting my chin, I've developed a habit of stretching and locking my elbows and hunching and rotating my shoulders forward - which, at least limited to the left side - has been resulting in over-stretching my rhomboids (I think that's what they're called: shoulder-blade region).  During the first part of the ride, with the sun behind me as we rode north, I had no issues - wearing just a simple head-cover.  Upon turning back south, I pulled out the cap... and within 40 miles the pain began.  Pain caused by repetitive motion or injury usually won't right itself during the activity which causes it - so, I'm confident this is not fit-related.  It's simply a combination of the distance, and the poor posture I'd practiced.  Once I flipped the brim upwards, thusly saving it for when it might be needed, the pain subsided.  This same pain flares up occasionally at work, or while driving - so, it is certainly nothing new.  Nice to have been able to fix it.  Oh... and yes - ibuprofen might have worked, but, taking some (for me) generally results in more pain afterwards.  I don't agree with interrupting the body's normal reaction to exercise at the risk of minimizing the performance gains one might otherwise enjoy - but, it also isn't like anyone taking the stuff is BEHIND me these days, either.  Still, if I don't HAVE to take something, I don't want to. 

Lean forward - in addition to the notes above, being "more upright" shouldn't be something I'm attempting to take literally unless I'm willing to raise my stem another 3-4 inches.  Level with the saddle, if not a tiny smidge higher, will still put me into a semi-aggressive riding posture - which is OK - and doesn't cause any discomfort, even when riding in the drops for over an hour.  Again, I need to relax, instead of craning.

Eating well means riding well!  The Bonk Breaker bars have proven terrific once again, and a short-stack of blueberry pancakes at Perkins prior to the ride made for a terrific first half to the ride.  Not exactly eating healthy, no, but it remains appropriate for the activity level at hand.  Same thing goes for M&M's of various flavors mixed in with dried fruits and nuts - a tasty trail mix that was fun to eat --- which KEPT me eating well into the ride's later hours... which is when I usually stop, resulting in a lethargic finish.  Steven and I talked about this at length for a few miles and at some of the stops - the sensation that I'm just tired of chewing.  This makes it harder and harder to continue keeping the calories topped-off when the ride extends onward - which, for me, is why the Hammer Gel works SO well in the last 25-30 miles.  Even if it only exists for insurance purposes, it tastes great, doesn't take up any real space, and works.  Part of me thinks maybe I should just bring along enough for each hour of the ride - to enjoy this boost all day, but, I don't want to return to a scenario where I start to carry 400k of nutrition along with me.  There's a happy compromise in here somewhere, though.  This ride, though, and each ride since February, have enjoyed having the Hammer Gel along for that final kick to the finish.  Along with that, a couple doses of real food helped tremendously... the aforementioned pancakes were epic, the breakfast sandwich at Burger King was awesome, and the breakfast-anytime menu at Subway completed the trifecta of my secret weapon:  if it's for breakfast, I'll probably eat it.  

There ya have it for this edition.  
Thanks for reading!

Cue music, cue sunset, see ya... 

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