June 28, 2014

Multi-Ride Late Spring Wrap-up Mega-Post! (w/ June 200k report!)

It's too big!
That's what SHE said.  huuhuhuhuhhuhuhhhhuhuhuh.

I couldn't possibly keep putting off what has now become ... let's see ... at least seven rides now that at least deserve some sort of mention, and probably three that would warrant full-on posts, lavish and thick with metaphor and literary magic (right, let's not get carried away).  I had planned on waiting until my shoulder surgery to sit down and click away to publish a ton of new updates and ride reports, but, I'm told - in this instance, as well as in regard to many other 'plans' I have - that I'm fooling myself:  in fact i just tried to type one handed with my right hand, and simply the drop in words per minute has me frustrated and uninspired.  So, typing is added to the stuff that I'll likely get a break from.  So be it...

Spring is here!  Spring is here!  Life is Skittles and life is beer!  
But, there's one thing that makes life sweet for me... 
and only one thing that makes Spring complete for me...  

Riding.  Apologies to Tom Lehrer.

While I love nature, I have the unfortunate distinction of not really being able to able to nurture and control it the way - say - a professional landscaper or gardener.  Animals are one thing... plants and I sometimes have a misunderstanding.  Still, I have a few hearty flora here and there courtesy my home's old residents and the magic of deep bulbs and perennial growth patterns.  When this beauty blooms, I know the good weather is finally here to stay.  

- Family Training - 
Late May, 2014

My son is quickly growing,
and it's tough enough keeping him and his sister in shoes - much less bicycles.  Every time we go out for a ride lately it seemed his seatpost had again slipped down... until I realized the permanent marker I'd placed on the post the last time hadn't moved.  Yikes kids grow fast!  So, for the moment - his current steed fits well, and it's Italian, and it's fast, and it's red.  Yeah, baby.

Last year, he joined me on many fun rides - gravel, trail, pavement - all in preparation for his first really long ride of 62 miles at the 2013 Joel's Ride.  He absolutely killed it - and this year, he was up for more.  This year we elected to go for a shorter 42 mile version of the route - for one reason only, and a reason I couldn't argue with.  Yes - he had finished the 62 miler, on a heavy mountain bike, in 2013... but, we'd come in last by a large margin.  There is no shame in that - a finish is a finish, and it's pretty common ground for me in rando circles - so, like father, like son.  (yeah right.... he's got SO much more potential than I had at his age!)
This year, he elected to enjoy the ride for the entire package -- he knows he can do the distance, but, the distance is more fun with pizza waiting at the end!  Good man!  Beer waiting for dad, I could find no argument against shaving off a few miles in lieu of post-ride rewards.  

Still, after a lengthy winter and competing priorities - training was in order.  Keep it fun... don't burn the boy out, Dad!  

Fresh and ready, MCP and I took to Osawatomie - and lemme tell ya; it was worth the drive.  As much as I despise having to drive somewhere to ride I'm beginning to think it's probably worth the trouble.  Just getting outside the meaty grasp of the greater KC area proved enough to reduce the traffic counts to nearly nothing, and the scenery was right up my alley.  KNOWING the area, however, was another story.
With a plan to head out to Parker, KS. and back, the boy and I saddled up after the relatively short drive south of town, and headed toward 6th street - and uncharted territory for us both.  However, oddly - timing wise - as we meandered out of town on 6th we began to notice the dreaded orange diamonds of road construction ahead.  Ugh... really?  The signs and barricades blocking access to the big "Creamery Bridge" heading south on what had once been US-169 contained interesting and VERY specific wording:  "Bridge Closed June 1st and 2nd only."  Ooookay... for what?  Sneaking beyond the first layer of barriers for a closer peek, we then saw surveying equipment and folks in yellow safety gear and full harnesses hanging out and under the bridge deck structure... annual inspections.  Ah... okay, no worries.  There's another bridge that gets us out of town to the south, right?  Yeah... that's on the NEW US-169.  Not with the boy, no flippin' way.  Timid perhaps - but that's my job as a parent.  Heck, even if I was alone I'd much sooner choose gravel or some knee-deep water before I'd choose the "easier" highway option for a river crossing.  Back toward town we went.  

What should have gone smoothly turned into quite the adventure, and we ended up seeing a big part of Osawatomie as a result, including John Brown Park, the Adair Cabin, most of the southern neighborhoods, the UP railyard... up close...  and a dirt road which climbed up and over the river's levee, and down into the woods and ATV trails near the water's edge.  Here, deep off road on singletrack, MCP and I ran into some locals riding modified, race-prepped quad-runners - they stopped for a break, and we chatted, got directions, and got back on paved roads again.  Turns out, aside from the highway and the bridge that was closed, we'd have had to swim it, or ride many, many miles west or east to get across.  Ah well... let's go... somewhere else, boy.  (as it turns out, either Hedge Lane on the far neater small bridge on Indianapolis Road would have gotten us south of town, but, at that point, we just wanted to ride without stopping every 20 feet to figure out what we'd done wrong LOL)

After getting our bearings -- turns out the old man was wrong, and the boy had been right all along (but what self-respecting male parent takes his son's advice?  Probably happens as often as any self-respecting teen taking their parent's advice.)  Here, then, is the "other" bridge... called the 8th Street Bridge.  Check out the cool coffer dam, and resulting waterfall!  Did you spot the people fishing?  Cool place to be!

Finally free of the carbonite... er, town... of Osawatomie, we ended up continuing north on 8th Street, which turns into Plum Creek Road north of the town, then west on 335th, and ended up on the south side of the city lake and golf course.  Pretty cool!  I have to give props to Randy Rasa for having explored nearly ALL of these roads, blazing a trail of sorts for the rest of us.  It's taken years for me to finally catch up to the same sort of level where - slowly but surely - I've begun to prefer gravel to pavement, simply for the solitude and something other than the "same old road."  I doubt I'll ever fully get the randonneur out of my system -- at least not for a good long while... maybe after R-12 #10 when I can grab that new Ultra R-12 Award ...but, in the meantime, not ALL rides have to "count," and certainly not all rides need to be on pavement.  I've been missing out for far, far too long.  The great thing is, the boy doesn't know any better - I've not heard a single complaint from MCP about dirt, grass, gravel, railtrail, or chipseal -- some of that might have to do with steel, but I think a large part is that I'm not "poisoning" him toward one, single type of riding or terrain.  I want to expose him equally (as possible) to everything, and eventually he will either be a true all-road warrior, or will be able to choose what he likes best - which will help motivate his first bike purchase.  As I set my sights on 2015 and some real, tangible goals, I'm up for anything - so, I hope he continues to find joy in the activity, and follows... or leads... his willingness to try any kind of terrain without once thinking "this bike can't do that"  (like I once had) has already inspired me.  But, if not for those first shaky gravel jaunts with Randy a few years back, I might not have been so eager to just ride "anywhere" like this, and the boy's experience would have suffered for it.

MCP, coming off the 8th Street Bridge and looking confused on why I keep pulling the camera out.  He'll understand someday.  Overhead, threatening - but unorganized - clouds, which would provide us with a few cooling sprinkles off and on over the afternoon - perfect!

Heading north from Osawatomie's City Lake and Golf Course, after approaching from the south from the downstream side of the earthen dam which forms the lake itself.  Great roads hidden back in there!  Here, the boy begins to flag a bit -- ultimately taking a long rest here.  Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger... sometimes you're the ball.  "It's just not my day, Dad - but, I can keep going."  Ataboy!

After a jaunt west on marvelous 327th Street, we came upon Pressonville Road, which I remembered had a good connection to John Brown Rd to the south... and the Flint Hills Nature Trail, too... bonus!  Some time in the shade and some shelter from a strong south wind would be a treat.  Here, getting head start, the boy climbs up over the river on the fancy new bridge - endless sky above!  I caught up quickly afterward to help him handle the headwind's fury.

It's a gorgeous day - but, wow... I'm struggling, too, with the sudden clearing skies, rising heat (still one of the first really warm days of the season at the time), and punishing winds.  The boy takes the rise over the bridge, and then I take point for the journey across the open plain - our target, the next treeline... and shelter.  First, though, some choppy rural gravel that hadn't been too-well packed yet made for slower going.

The Flint Hills Nature Trail, heading northwest toward Rantoul, KS. - this is possibly one of the best sections, but I can't really say that too confidently, as I've not ridden the entire length of it yet.  Still, nestled alongside the southern bluffs of the Marais des La Cygne river and the river itself, the trail canopied by thick tree cover, well; it's pretty special.  All manner of wildlife scurry about back in here, and we spot deer and some un-identified small, quick mammals scurrying about as we ride.  Added bonuses of zero-wind and a 15 degree temperature drop don't hurt, either.

I wasn't able to spot its exact location on a map, so I invite you to ride the trail and check it out for yourself - high canyon walls cut into the bluffs by a tributary feeding into the river - and the trail resting atop an old trestle, stabilized and prepped for pedestrian, horse, and bicycle use.  The photo doesn't quite capture the scale - but, it's impressive.  

To extend our time in the shade and avoid the long, open stretch completing the journey to Rantoul, the boy and I start heading back -- not sure HOW I spotted this tiny guy, but, I did -- and the photo op called.  The heavily shaded, damp, and cool oasis of the quiet rail-trail almost creates its own unique ecosystem in an otherwise windy and dusty landscape of farms and cattle pasture.  Pretty cool - and definitely a "first" for me as far as wildlife sightings while on bike rides.

It's postcard perfect as we emerge back across Pressonville Road and hit the last leg of trail back to John Brown Rd., and Osawatomie again.  Not a big loop, not a long ride - but, good training, and a great time.  The boy was exhausted, maybe a little light on calories, maybe truly "not his day" - but, he admitted he was glad for the ride on the way home, right before he fell asleep.  

- A Moment for Personal Business - 

Probably no surprise that some of the best experiences I've been having lately have involved my kids - and this bike riding thing is just a small slice.  I hope this paves the way for them to someday share the same sort of experiences with their kids, and so on.  It's great stuff!

Shortly after that weekend, something clicked in my head - perhaps it was the looming surgery date which will certainly knock me out of contention for a while, but I'm not sure if I can really put my finger on it.  I don't think it's equipment-based "bliss", because - to be honest, I'm still doing little microscopic tweaks here and there based on time-soaked body feedback... as opposed to numbers and the "fit philosophy" du jour.  

My stance on "fit" these days:  If it feels good, you're probably good.  Listen to your body.  Period.  

Keep it simple.... and your worries will be simple.  Welcome to the new me.

Even for the long stuff, even for races, gravel, sprints, time-trials -- it really is that simple.  Cycling shouldn't hurt.... the EFFORT should.  

Moving on...

The bike right now, feels GOOD... and the riding is reflecting that.  But, again, I tihnk it has less to do with "finally being dialed in" on the bike itself... I think it's me.
SO, whatever this "thing" is that clicked over the last few months; it has thrown me forward -- not "back to something" -- but, FORWARD.  Yes, speed is back, endurance, power... all while ADDING weight to the bike, and a small amount to myself (which will always require my attention).  I've realized that the vicious circle of wanting and wishing and being grumpy stems from always trying to go BACK to something.  I can't.  Nobody can - though many try.  I'm not here to sell any books or anything like that;  much has been written and spoken about on the subject -- but, whatever I had "back whenever" is gone.  Passed.  THAT is normal!  Acceptance of that is the difficult part - and wishing to go back is fruitless.  Just ask Uncle Rico.  IF you want to "throw a football over them mountains over there," you simply have to pick it up and try.  Succeed or fail, one must look at anything as moving FORWARD.  Try to get better... don't try to go back.  To do so is to sell oneself short on what is possible - because what lies ahead may eclipse what has long passed in ways one never imagined.  Focusing on the past, therefore, can really hold a person back.

With this sorted for the moment, I have been riding like a man obsessed.  I can't erase the smile from my face - though temporarily screwed in the pains of the efforts at hand, the grin is always there, waiting to come back out.  I have come to love riding again - burnout is squashed, and potential is as high as the sky is blue.  Instead of riding along in "no-man's land", I have been pushing myself harder.  Instead of being woeful about "off" days, I have geared down, pedaled lightly, and enjoyed the scenery and wildlife around me.  I love the trail.  I love the long way home.  I love the new backroads I've discovered, and the new permanent routes I've etched upon them.  Life is terrific... and it has shown in the saddle.  Not the fastest, but not the slowest - and no longer interested in discussing plans in either direction.  Training?  Yes, I am... for WHAT?  Remains to be seen - but, new challenges, certainly.  Dirty Kanza - yes, it's come up.  I've been discussing it at length via email and in-person with my rando buddies... my team.  A few of our crowd ventured out for it this year - one DNF'd due to stomach issues, two others finished.  There was no gauntlet thrown, necessarily... but, when someone from my usual riding group tries something, it seems to become more "possible" --- as opposed to reading the usual, amazing reports from DK:  the champions, the hard men of gravel grind, mountain biking, road racing -- looking for their own personal challenge, accepting it, and then burying the needle with a sub-12 hour finish.... those stories, fully amazing, tend to make the ride (in my mind) seem impossible, at least improbable.  As much as I enjoy riding gravel lately... I am *not*, by any stretch or exaggeration, a "hard man" built for 200 miles of tempo.  

Not yet.

One 600km finish, dozens of other finishes on 200km rides and higher ... yes, I have a terrific BASE.  But, I have yet to erect the first timber of a truly great structure to adorn that foundation...much less have I the gumption of my rando companions to have signed-up, and then stepped up to the start line in Emporia.  THAT move alone.... (bow)  ....takes guts.

The same sort of ire which came from erstwhile discussions during long brevets which had ultimately led to me standing confidently astride my bicycle in Stillwater, OK., and then in Cleburne, TX., have ensued once again, and from there - anything is possible.  I see myself standing on the road in Emporia, for better or worse, to test myself at something truly unknown, scary, and personally challenging.  I will aim high, but I will accept a finish.  No...  I will finish.

The "need" to "go back" to Tejas someday -- of course, that's out there - and there is still that feeling that I might give it one more go... but the reasons will be different, less cavalier.  It won't be to correct some inequity from the past.  It will be to move FORWARD - and only if it were to take me forward would it make sense now.  But, to focus ONLY on finishing that which I hadn't in the past would prevent me from stepping into new challenges like DK, or Trans Iowa, or the Last Chance 1,200... or anything.  I didn't finish in the past... I failed.  Yet, while finishing may be "everything," to diminish the knowledge one gains from not finishing is to deny personal growth.  It's what one does with the knowledge - tactical, logistical, personal - gained from a DNF which propels one toward future finishes ... I've instead been letting these past failures hold me back, and have been using them anecdotally and excusatorily.  It's fear.  Fear of failure... fear of the lessons it might hold.  But, how else does one learn these lessons if not by failing?  How does one learn to walk, and then to run, without first falling down?  I've long since gotten back up and dusted myself off - yet, I've never really looked back at what tripped me up.

So ends much personal deconstruction.  I could stop writing - for good - right now, and feel terrific about it.  Whether or not I attain what I've long avoided may not be anyone's business except my own.  So, I lay down the crutches, remove the training wheels, take the blinders off my eyes, and swing the doors wide.

What happens next... it may not be anyone's business but my own.  

That's alright, too.

- Commuting Magic - 
June 1st thru 7th, 2014

The railroad trestle underwhich Prospect Road passes, somewhere around 167th Street's parallel, has long fascinated me.  The first time I saw it, decades ago, was behind the wheel of my old Buick with Crowbar in the passenger seat, heading north -- along this road we'd never stumbled upon before that night.  My fascination with country roads, trains, and the philosophical discussion the night sky inspires when mixed with youthful enthusiasm and good coffee predate my love for cycling itself - only the vehicle has changed.  Driving north that night, I remember the unnerving sensation created by parking where the road and tracks parallel each other, and the spookiness of an old, mechanical "wig-wag" light piercing the fog like a scene from Close Encounters, approaching at speed, and whizzing past us in a fury of diesel-powered cacophony.  Spectacular memory.
I had the darn'dest time trying to describe to Google what I was thinking, but finally came across a few photos depicting REAL locomotives (not models of them).  Being a KC Southern Line for the longest time - passing behind the former Richards-Gebaur AFB near Belton, MO. - there's little chance the one we saw that night was this Rock Island loco, but it could have been a Milwaukee Road, Union Pacific, or A.T. & Santa Fe -- but, as recent as (uhhh.... 1988?) - whenever we'd happened to be on that road, that night described above - the 1940's-era, early Electro-Motive Company (later bought by General Motors) prime-mover was unmistakable, with its iconic profile.  If you look close at the upper headlight assembly, you can see its twin beams canted to what would be the operator's left.  These lights, mechanically driven and timed to help reflect an approaching train's speed, would "wag" side to side as the train moved along -- one flood beam focused low and ahead for the engineer to see (later replaced by dedicated ditch lights), and the upper spot beam focused slightly up, to gain the attention of people at level crossings up to a 1/2 mile ahead.  The 2nd, lower headlight assembly is fixed.  To those used to modern, fixed train lighting, this old wig-wag, especially on a foggy night, is downright alien-looking .. and really cool, silently sweeping back and forth on the horizon long before one can hear the train itself.  What's interesting, and what prompted me to choose this particular photo:  the Midland Railway Historical Society located in Baldwin City, KS. has purchased this exact example for preservation; Rock Island #630.  This workhorse was purported to be in continuous operation since its purchase, ending life as a commuter train loco serving Chicago until Rock Island's demise in 1980.  Pretty impressive service record for a locomotive built in 1940.  For nearly 50 years, this shape and profile was what the American public knew as a train, after the steam whistles slowly faded from the countryside's soundtrack - and EMC's revolutionary Diesel-to-electric mode of tractive power is still in use today, constantly being improved and proven as the most efficient way to move freight and people.  Watching that mixed passenger & freight train with the wig-wag light pass us, whether it was an E5, E6 or E7, somehow I knew I'd likely never see one again.  Aside from the one at the Midland Railway, I was right.

Prospect Road, under perfect skies -- the long way home from work is often a visual treat... and look, ma!  No traffic!

Growing tired of the same old facade, I took to removing my usual facial hair.  Now, everything attached to my head and face look massive and weird - so, I've since decided to grow it back as quickly as possible.  The miniature power pole emerging from my helmet is for skitching off of any electric commuter light-rail I might pass, and is used to charge my phone battery.  No, not really.  Hey, Kansas City:  Dallas, TX. has light rail - and we don't.  Get on it.

More back-country magic.  It's difficult to believe that only a couple miles to my right, the rest of suburbia is jammed with traffic at this, roughly 5:00pm on a weekday.  For me?  Bliss - and the stress relief the ride home is supposed to provide.  Ahhh....

Later that same week, after a wild increase in humidity, the usual spring thunderstorms began to show up.  The aftermath of one stormy night in particular - complete with a reported 70MPH wind gust from the passing front - puts in perspective how devastating a hurricane with sustained winds of the same speed would be, if a short, 15-second burst of wind managed to topple so many trees in the area.  This one, the largest of the healthy trees I found downed, blocked the whole trail, and had to be at least 14" across near the trunk.  

A panoramic shot of the same to include the portion of the tree still rooted.  Nature's power isn't to be trifled with, and for those in hurricane territory (or typhoon), be safe and aware this year -- it's supposedly going to be a rough ride, with one named storm already impacting the eastern coast of the U.S. as I write this.  Thunderstorms are one thing - but, 70+ MPH winds, high surf, and endless buckets of rain?  I can only imagine.

- Joel's Ride -
June 8th, 2014

The big day - Joel's Ride - possibly one of the best "T-shirt" rides in the area, with pizza and beer served up afterwards -- wow!  If you haven't done this event, you should - I happen to know for a fact the guy that marks the route is pretty thorough, at the very least.  Here, MCP is putting his training to good use, slowly reeling in riders more than twice his age on the early slopes of Mission road south of 159th.  Flat pedals, tennis shoes - yes.  No excuses... get that rabbit!

There was far more talk, joking around, and laughter for the boy and I - and not too many pictures; but, later on in the ride he enjoyed another reel-in and catch.  No, competition isn't the goal here - but, he really wanted to push himself this year.  Push himself he did!

Proudly astride his Bianchi, we eat up the home stretch - earning that pizza.  We are treated to a fly-by of twin-rotor Chinook helicopters headed east toward.. well, who knows?  The characteristic "thump-thump-thump" of their powerful rotors matching our heartbeats as we approach the hillier part of the course.  Overcast, yes -- but warm and humid... a true late spring classic with nearly perfect conditions.  Last year, MCP and I chalked up a personal long-distance best for him, with 63 miles... but when we'd finished, most of the crowd had already packed up and the pizza had been long gone.  We still arrived to a very enthusiastic cheering squad that'd stuck around long after the (what they thought had been the) last rider had come through - which was AWEsome.  Goal met, however, THIS year we planned on ramping it up to get the rider's welcome-home cheers at the end,  AND that well-earned pizza treat!  And, get it we did - finishing in good time and in grand style, hacking it up with a father-son finishing sprint.  The pizza tasted terrific... and for me... mmmm, beer.  No complaints.  You've gotta raise money and hit the MS Ride to get treatment like Joel's Ride dishes out!  We will be back - bigtime!

- The Archie Bunker 206km Permanent - 
June 9th, 2014

Amassing more miles than usual for just the first couple weeks of June, Terry B. and I tackled my latest RUSA permanent route offering, The Archie Bunker.  The shot above, still waiting for my baby-face to grow some fuzz, I admire the sun for a bit... because we'd probably not see much of it for the remaining ride, with a 70% chance of storms looming.  We got lucky - because it should have already been raining at the ride start!  Despite the heavy ramp-up in personal mileage, I felt terrific, engaged, strong, and ready.  A terrific few weeks of riding have honed the edge!

Terry and I left the confines of Martin City (with it's lumpy main road under construction for some long-overdue improvements and widening) and began chipping our way south and east on this, my latest of four RUSA routes on the books for the KC area.  This one satisfies a different sort of SE KC flavor, as opposed to The Mighty Peculiar route.  Instead of retracing part of the old MS Ride route, this one heads out to Peculiar and south to Freeman, then meanders east past the extremely remote and scenic Amarugia Wildlife Preserve, on to Archie, MO., and finally out to Creighton, MO. and back to toss in some scenic and rolling terrain.  I love this route, and have already heard great things from the folks that have tried it out.  Win!  

Terry and I took advantage of the surprise dry conditions and chatted it up along the way, enjoying long stretches with low traffic - but with a fair amount of headwind in a few places; nothing we couldn't handle.  Despite having reportedly "not ridden in a while," Terry was - as usual - displaying his natural talent for consistent power and patience.  Hills, wind... bah!  Terry doesn't complain... he rides.  If there is one model for how to rando, this guy may well be the one to watch.  For every attempt I make at a speedy ride I tend to mess up and explode in the first 40 miles, and it never really matters how far ahead I think I've made it.... Terry, ultimately, finishes right with me - at the same pace he'd started with.  Consistency - thy name is Terry B.  As I age and begin to be less siloed in my thinking, and observant, it starts to make more and more sense:  If I'm going to finish at 15 MPH, why not just start at 15MPH?  What I do in the middle of the ride never seems to matter, for, even at 200km... it's still a long day.  Relax, pedal, and don't worry about the numbers.  Ya always finish "when you finish."

I had forgotten how beautiful Highway C out of Peculiar, MO. can look when traffic is light and the sky is the right color.  The first time I'd seen state route "C" was with one of my original cycling mentors, Mike N. of the Grandview / Bike Shack scene - when he took his wife, me, and a couple others out to Freeman from his place, years ago... crud, maybe 12 years ago now.  Wow.  Well, it definitely stuck in my memory.  Until riding it recently for this route's pre-ride, I hadn't seen it since.  Great route...

Possibly the best quote I've ever collected from a non-cyclist resident of one of the myriad towns I've ridden through while on a long ride happened at this first control in Freeman, MO.  As Terry and I unpacked and readied our credentials for the control, a couple - maybe early 50's age - wandered into the store, and engaged us in conversation the usual way:

    "Great day for a ride, eh?" 

    "Yep!"  Terry chimed, adding something about the rain that we'd missed, if I recall.  

    "Is it still supposed to rain today, have you heard?"  I asked, still wondering where all that rain (an 80% chance!) had evaporated to.

    "Rain?" the lady returned, and continued without any hint of sarcasm.  "Heck, it's not gonna rain:  you're in Freeman - the weather here is always perfect!"

    The laughter followed her into the store, and she wore the smile of someone genuinely happy about where she and her husband lived.  It was a really neat moment -- so, yes:  No matter what, I have it on good authority if you ride this route and pass through Freeman, MO., the weather will, indeed, be perfect!

Horse and donkey, along Missouri's rural highways

The first control at Freeman, MO.; always on the lookout for interesting stuff, this obviously caught my eye.  The iconic Willys Jeep - the real deal, restored, capable, and a lot of modern 4wd vehicles would have a hard time NOT tracing their roots to this little guy.  Not the most glamorous or well-appointed vehicles, no, but one of America's finest contributions to motoring.   I'd be remiss not to mention the Freeman Store itself, right behind me - and one of the controls for the route.  Excellent place - clean bathrooms, tables, and lots of choices... it's HUGE inside!

Interior shot.  Spartan, purposeful, simple.  A handful of baling wire and some pliers and you can fix or mend darn-near everything on the beast.  Check out all those gear and transfer box levers, extended from the transaxle hump like weeds. Seats dusty, leaves in the floorboards.  Awesome!

Spotty clouds along Highway O heading out of Freeman to the information control, Terry up the road a small bit - chasing sunshine!


Making our mark at the information control before continuing toward the Amarugia Highlands.  Sounds downright Scottish, dun'it?  All the more reason these facial-hair-free selfies are a bit... well, what was I thinking.  It's finally growing back to its old self!  Meanwhile, Terry tallies the time and mileage to ensure we're on the right track -- so far, the cue sheet is right on the money - hooray for me!  

Up on the high ridge on highway "W", one can see for a long, long way... in person, breath-taking view!

Welcome to Archie, MO.!  Check out the old stone corner marker for one of the properties on the western side of town!

A big barn keeps watch over Highway "A" on the outskirts of town

Like an alien spacecraft hovering on the horizon, Archie's uniquely-shaped watertower is visible for miles before reaching it.  The shape may have a purpose which I can only guess at:  possibly for wind-profile reduction, in response to a tornado which had swept through here decades ago.  I've never really seen one quite like it.

The same sort of estate drive markers I'd seen at the edge of town - making me guess that most of the land on the western edge of town had belonged to the same family once upon a time.  A proud country estate stands here, flying an American flag, and the "Don't Tread on Me" revolutionary-era flag below it.

Not "for sale" - just sitting out by the old driveway entrance of this home, a very cool and rare Studebaker sedan.

After getting the control handled at Archie, we made the run to the halfway out at Creighton, MO., along highway B.  Many years ago, the bridge just east of US-71 (now I-49) crossing the Grand River had been washed out or in disrepair - but, was rebuilt perhaps as recent at 2007, though I can't find much on it.  Since the previous bridge wasn't anything special, its replacement isn't documented on BridgeHunter.com or similar - so, it's a guess.  Google Maps, however, seems convinced that this bridge isn't actually there.  Still, we head east toward Creighton, on a terrific piece of road - challenging, scenic...  my favorite!

Clouds darken and thicken... could this be the rain they'd promised?  I should have taken more photos of the surrounding scenery - but I found myself too busy staring off into it, not thinking about anything other than soaking it all in.  You have to see this road!

The final run-in to Creighton, and the first few drops of rain.  Time to stow the camera!

Another quick shot as Terry hits the gas along highway "B"

When pictures fade, words must suffice... I suppose I can try to recall the rest of the ride.  After discovering perhaps the most dangerous and tasty rando-treat I've even eaten on a ride in my life at the c-store in Creighton (the Butterfinger cup - similar to a Reese's) -- yum.  Wow. Wait... I lost my train of thought for a second, because I was reliving the moment when I bit into that thing for the first time.  Why, oh why, didn't I take the BLUE pill?

As Terry and I ate, considered our layers and the winds and the coming rain, there was a calmness around - the air was indeed moving still, but,well - one had to be there.  All things taken into consideration, Terry decided to take the lead and head out a smidgen early.  A few sprinkles here and there... Hmmm.... 

If I pull the rain jacket out, it won't rain... and I'll be horribly sweaty.  If I leave the rain jacket in the bag... well, I'll be wet, yes ... and it's just warm enough to be comfortable; but just.  Decisions... I move the rain jacket to the easy-access external straps on the front bag, just in case.  As I rolled out of Creighton, back onto what was quickly becoming one of my favorite highways in the area -- the first few sprinkles started to fall.  For a moment, I thought... "hmm, maybe this whole line is just going to sweep under and past us..."

Then, the rain thickened.  Welp... we skirted the rain, which was supposed to have joined us since mile 1... that's fair.  Time to earn it back, I suppose!  Some fear the rain, and for good reason.  Reduced visibility, reduced traction (for the first few minutes anyhow), and relative discomfort.  For me?  I'm not sure what it is... but, it makes me want to order another (perhaps wool) version of the "Flandria" jersey I'd once worn.  I personally don't like adverts on jerseys, unless I become lucky enough to really have a sponsorship from them.  But, in the same way that some folks wear K.C. Royals shirts and K.C. Chiefs shirts... or, more to my liking, Sporting KC ...I totally understand the desire to don the colors of your favorite peloton squad.  At least around here, however, it's not as prolific as it once was, with many bike shops carrying only "ready-to-wear" logos touting the manufacturer of the garment itself.  No biggie... I still tend toward clubs I belong to (like RUSA), or basic solids.  But, Belgium, Flanders - whatever you wish to call it - certain regions of the world, certain countries, have a mark on cycling.  France has le Tour.  The U.S. Pro Tour and our unique, struggling cycling culture might prompt a USA jersey - after all, we have the Rockies.  Some choose the colors of their heritage, others where they reside, others where they aspire to reside... for me, Flanders:  the weather, the culture, the cycling community, cyclocross, Merckx, the punishing Classics races, the Koppenberg, the Vardberg... cobbles, pain, and history... Flandria!

Each time the skies open, it crosses my mind the legends of cycling's classics monsters, who - when others would bemoan the conditions - seem to find a smile underneath the mud, rain, and fluctuating temperatures.  This, often, is me.  The harder the rain falls, the more I find myself trying not to grin too widely in front of my counterparts.  Fenders help, yes - but, it is during these less-than-ideal times where cycling's best stories are written.  Think about it:  the last couple editions of Paris-Roubaix... when it's been largely dry...  yes, tough.  yes, fast.  But, dry?  It's just not right!

The hills of highway B are difficult enough without compromised traction, so I was glad the rain had begun to fall a bit more heavily before the faster downhills came along to wash the danger from the roads.  Excellent scenery -- when the hills become especially steep, be sure to look left and right!  As the rain increased, I eventually caught up to Terry - maybe halfway back to Archie - and proceeded to keep the gas lit, coming into Archie far faster than I'd hoped - and soaked clean through.  Whoof, what a rush!  A little cross-tailwind doesn't hurt, either!  Back at Archie, the process of drying off a little begins, as the rain starts to taper off.  Welp...maybe that was all we had been in for?  Not bad!  Terry pulled in shortly afterwards, and with things in order once again, we set off.

It was a long road back to Freeman, so Terry headed out first again.  Finally having the unknown of the rain taken care of, we could start to dry out and stow the gear we'd been dragging along all day.  It was a perfect time to reflect on a terrific route... even highway "A", which I'd envisioned being busy due to local reports from a friend in the area, turned out to be pretty darn quiet:  I guess it's all relative... sorta like when I recently drove through the heart of Houston on a Sunday afternoon and encountered some of the worst traffic I'd ever imagined.  Perspective, therefore, is worth quite a bit - another thing I think I'd been lacking.  Lately, the traffic back home hasn't seemed as 'unbearable' as usual.  Out there between Archie and Freeman on Missouri's backroads... well, I'm not really sure if I remember too many cars on this stretch, at least not until we arrived back at State Highway 2 (which connects to the larger town of Harrisonville).  Turning north onto highway "W" to make our way past the nature preserve again - well, it was magically deserted.  I stopped alongside a gravel turnout, grabbed a brochure left there by the Missouri Parks Department, a nature break, and back on my way.  I found Terry waiting alongside the next intersection.  

We passed by an old gent with a hoe, hand-trenching out a drainage gully on one side of his long, gravel driveway.  He had been wearing a coverall of some sort; long pants, long sleeves, and a dark color.  He stood rail thin, and from a distance, while he'd rested for a minute, he appeared to be a mailbox post - motionless against the backdrop of his far-reaching field.  At least 70-years-old, still taking care of the homestead chores in the sunshine, heat and humidity which had broken out in the rain-shower's wake - in those stifling coveralls, topped with a seed-company ball-cap.  His old tractor nearby waiting to take him home when he'd finished, he'd swing the hoe far above his head and threw it to the earth at his feet with an audible thump each time.  Focused on his work - or delirious from the heat - Terry and I rolled past without receiving so much as a passing glance.  Possibly a veteran, perhaps grandson to whoever first grabbed that land - but definitely a picture of the American prairie of the past, still hanging on in the 21st Century, he threw that hoe like a tough old goat.  We were only temporary in his world, yet, for me - while just being some old guy on the roadside to most - he seems to represent something permanent; something that can't quite be described.  I imagine I'll have a tough time not seeing him in my minds eye when I come back this way;  just a sun-dried farmer, face hidden in the shadows from the sun above his ball-cap and veiled behind the sweat of honest, hard work - while I doubt I'll know his name or shake his hand, he represents something that none of us should forget - something that can't be paved over, or bulldozed.

How this much can wash over me like bucket of well-water on a hot day, collected in mere seconds while whizzing silently past an old farm-house, well, I have no idea - it just does.  Call me "odd" - it won't be the first time.

As Terry and I continued back toward Freeman and drifted apart as we each found our pace, the day only seemed to improve.  The skies had begun to clear, the sun was out, and good food lay in wait at the next control.  Turns out our weather lady from the morning visit to the control was right-on... no rain in sight!  Rain jackets mostly dry, Terry and I shed a couple layers and packed them away.  Hard telling how long our luck might last - but, for the moment, things were just about as-advertised:  perfect!

The trek back up highway "C" sat in my head as something to look forward to - and while the wind was a little stiff toward the east, for the most part Terry and I were finished with any headwind issues.  I gotta say, this is a great road - but, it should be noted the time of day and week can play a part in this route's enjoyment factor, simply because of the growth and continued prosperity of Peculiar and the surrounding area.  With few other roads to fall onto, workday traffic can thicken here and there.  Especially nearing the Grandview and south KC areas around 5pm - well, it can get busy.  I recommend choosing a weekend ride date if you can swing it, for maximum enjoyment.  The back roads were terrific, but getting back into the start/finish on the Monday Terry and I chose would require patience.  For the moment, however, the roads of Peculiar remained quiet.  Terry and I rolled out of town onto highway "YY", and back toward Kansas... Into the first new raindrops.

The clear skies of Freeman hadn't lasted as long as we had hoped, and slowly but surely became displaced with thickening cumulus.  Eventually the gray overcast we'd become familiar with near Archie had returned in just a dozen miles.  I know just enough about meteorology be to be dangerous, and one thing was certain: whenever morning showers are followed by afternoon sunshine & high humidity levels, late afternoon or early evening thunderstorms are bound to materialize.  Thankfully, we would have just enough time to exit from highway YY and onto quieter country back roads before the real rain would begin.  

Perhaps 15 miles remained before we would be at the finish and back at the cars; yet, between us and the finish lay Prospect Road.  Not exactly what one would classify as a glassy smooth road, prospect has its fair share of potholes, sand, and broken pavement, and a couple of uncontrolled highway crossings for good measure.  Add in the ever increasing rainfall, Terry and I were in for a challenging treat.  

A flash of lightning, a clap of thunder and the rain began to bucket down.  I don't recall a downpour quite so dramatic in recent rain rides; and as the thousands of gallons of rain chilled the surrounding air, the layers from the morning were pulled back out of hiding to keep us warm.  

We continued north, carving the best line I could from memory to avoid the giant chuck holes now hidden from view by rushing water.  Still, Terry and I still managed to share a laugh or three while we made our way closer to home through sheets of rain.  The 'best' part involved crossing state highway 150 at the height of evening rush hour, at an intersection with no traffic control.  Dicey.

As we rolled back into Martin City, it occurred to me that I'd never had such a wet finish to any of my myriads RUSA rides.  A shower or storm, yes; yet each instance I had been fortunate enough to have the rain stop falling in the last few miles prior to the rides finishing.  Packing the bike onto the car and trying to negotiate dry clothes versus wet cycling layers is... memorable.  Terry and I finished in grand style, found a dry spot to change while we alternately packed our bikes - which (in my case) had been rinsed off all its lube and grease.  Wow.

A post ride coffee at McDs hit the spot, and warmed the core.  What a great ride, and still memorable a month later as I write this.  Also, it wraps up R-12 #4 for me.  Not a bad spring!

It's another one of those rides that typifies a recent edict... or at least a popular personal "phrase du jour": ride each brevet as if it was my last.  Why waste opportunities?  
Heck.... I tend to pump these rides up as magical or life changing.  For me, they have been - but they are accessory to a pretty darn good life.  One helps the other - and no matter what it is:  tennis, golf, woodworking, photography, cycling, parachuting... It doesn't matter:  having an outlet for that about which one is passionate makes life fulfilling and adds immeasurable substance to the fabric of our character.  

Perhaps some of the above are the post surgery pain meds talking?  Possibly.  It has taken me about three hours to write the last paragraph, after all.

- A commute PR -

If only a blip under the mark, I still managed to finally beat my old PR for an AM commute.  That feels good.  That feels like progress!

- Dark Side Ride - 
June 27th, 2014

Test 1,2,3..... Yes.  The DSR came back for the first time in..... Well, if I can't remember when the last one happened.... I just know it was maybe 2010, and I remember gravel on 127th street out west..... One never really forgets the DSR, eh? 

Darius, Amy, Jason, Gary and yours truly.  A small group, but a great time always.  The route is terrific if I do say so myself - very well received and definitely a keeper.  My hope is to hold another one of these before the year is out.... So if you missed it be sure to watch the DSR page on Facebook or the email list.

Why spoil the surprise with route details?  It really is something special.  The below photos are merely teasers to the fun and excitement.  There's really no way to display in images how much fun these short rides can be.
Stay tuned and come out and see us!!

Well, that's it for this whole catching up thing.  I sit here now, forced into the (not so) easy chair, patiently waiting for the pain of shoulder repair to subside so I can get back to work - but, embracing the chance to see if I can really handle a break from my pastime.  Can I do.... Ugh... Something else?   Running.  OK, jogging.    Although there is no evidence to indicate my injuries are cycling related, as far as a repetitive injury, and it wasn't a crash - so there is little doubt I'll be back...but as I eluded to earlier in the post, I could stop writing - and riding - now and be okay.  

A new chapter is starting, and its author just got back from running an errand to the grocery store for us on his bicycle.  I'm super proud of that, especially because it was his idea - and he was really excited to do it.

Its only the beginning.

Me?  Back to rest and healing - and a bit of a mental break.  Adieu.

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