April 20, 2015

Dusting off the Dude

Envelope stamp from local perm coordinator - KC-PRIDE, baby!
A post about fear, loathing, and a Mere Two-Hundred kilometers

It's been an interesting couple of months, and I've managed to grab March with a 200K... but, only after missing February... which killed the streak I had from December, which was really killed in January, come to think of it.  So.. ride number one, on R-12 #... uh, I dunno, IIRC this will be the start of run #5.  April is assured, because now, after long last... the ACP brevet series is NIGH!  

I love the spring series... even though I missed a great day on March 28th, which is when the 200k unfolded.  Still, more on that later on...(maybe) because what I really need to do is recall the events of the March 14th 209km permanent that I'd ridden instead, with Glen and Terry, up north of Liberty, MO. - one route which is becoming a fast favorite, A Mere Two-Hundred.

It's been JUST long enough, however, that I seem to have.... hahahah, who am I kidding. 
(fairy tale music....)
 If I think long enough, and hard enough... and maybe, with just a little magic, you can... 


Good grief... you know how difficult it is to be me, sometimes?  With a mind like a screenplay, well, this is sometimes what you get.  Trust me, it's easier to read this than it is to live it.  

Time to whisk you away to a magical place in my head, where just the right amount of beer begins the unstoppable flow of neurological energy (no, not urological... well, not right away, anyhow.) to allow the storytelling to begin.... sit back, crack a cold one, and prepare yourself for the journey. . .

A Mere Two-Hundred - the March 200k, and my "return" (?) to rando:

. . . I knew the day was going to be interesting when I suffered my first crash before the ride even started.

I arrived, packed the bike with plenty of time to spare, and proceeded to roll toward the Perkins building itself, up in Liberty, where inside Terry and Glen waited with hot coffee and the beginnings of their breakfasts.  Bikes all leaned up against the side of the building, and mine was to be next.  But, instead of just being NORMAL, I decided - quietly to myself - that I would just lift-hop the front wheel up and over the short curb, instead of dismounting and lifting it.  For some odd reason, I don't know if it was the glasses, a trick of the light, or just bad hand-eye coordination, but, I successfully lifted the front wheel up - no problem there; except that I lifted it about a foot too early, landed the wheel directly against the curb itself, and then - like in slow motion - proceeded to rotate forward, over the handlebars and onto the ground - denting the rear rack and my right shoulder.  Awesome.  
Sore, laughing at myself (but annoyed), and a bit shaken, I dusted myself off and went inside to jeers and laughter -- all in good fun, but, it must've been quite a sight from the other side of the glass from where Terry and Glen watched the whole thing unfold.  

So, that probably gives you a rough idea of how my outlook on the first 200km ride for me since December seemed to change for the worse before the ride had even begun.  Still, a hearty breakfast of blueberry pancakes and hot coffee eased my bruised ego into a state of zen, and once we paid and left the building it was ride time.  Of course, then ensued the day's running joke, where Glen would bring various pedestrian obstacles like curbs to my attention on a random basis, mostly at the controls.  Again, all in good fun - and in fact, some of the time I beat him to it.

The pre-dawn black along Plattsburg Road as we escape Liberty's city limits.  Glen on point, punching through the grim surroundings with pure candlepower and leg torque.
Over the shoulder from the shot above, Terry in the mini-paceline, as a lone car approaches.

I took a page from my own book of advice this time out, and instead let Glen and Terry set the pace.  Gravity aside, I stayed at the back or off to one side while we chatted away the morning miles under breezy skies along Plattsburg road.  I've missed the Liberty scene - changes happen very slowly up here, but, I have noticed lately that traffic in town has been on the rise.  Thankfully, not much has spilled out to these quiet country side-roads.  Keeping to the side, keeping it conversational, seemed to pay off - as I didn't find myself struggling to maintain contact in the morning's later miles.  At least, not as much.  This technique is opposed to hammering early and suffering the last 2/3rds of the ride.  I wouldn't know until later if this was going to work or not.

I try to prevent early the burn-out and late-ride death-slog typical of recent years by patiently sitting in and staying in contact with the folks that seem to have this part figured out.  Normally, I'd be a mile or so ahead, pedaling furiously to no good end, and consequently would be thrilled to be this close to a group, had the above shot been taken with 10 miles to go, instead of 10 miles in.  

Once again, I happened to somehow miss an entire bridge.  Thinking that highway NN had been closed a couple years back due to bridge construction surely meant that the old steel truss bridge I'd remembered would have become a memory.  At least on the outbound leg, I assumed as much - we crossed fresh pavement on a newer-wider bridge; but, later on in the day I'd find out I was wrong, by crossing the very bridge I though had been replaced.  Weird, the way consciousness seems to deactivate at certain points while riding along.  What ELSE didn't I notice?  Thankfully, it doesn't often involve major turns or route decision points.

Somehow, I still think my companions were a little off their game.  After the long, careful warm-up, I found myself beginning to advance up the road once we arrive at highway C, turning off Plattsburg Rd.  What had been steady conversation turned into silence, and I made my way toward the first control in Plattsburg, MO., jumping clear by perhaps three minutes or so - not much, but, it felt good, considering my long layoff.  Before long, we were back at it, and headed up highway Y toward the next turn.  

Highway Y is a great road - quiet, sorta of barren and yet very interesting at once.  

Some sort of dugout, storm cellar, root cellar.... foxhole?  Who knows, but it's still out there in the middle of this field along highway Y
Sometimes taking pictures slows me down, but the chase is worth it.

The clouds pretended to part and let a litlle blue sky through, yet it was sparse.  their progress was helped along by a considerable NE wind which definitely added some chill to the air - on a day which had been bookended by 70 degree temps, it felt far colder than it had been.  At some measure of solace, the sun angle was high and we'd nearly be guaranteed some sort of tailwind for the closing miles.  For now, turning onto highway NN, there was a bit left to go before we could call "halfway" achieved.  

At some point along highway NN, we all remembered a GIANT Great Dane or other kind of beast (friendly?) who had loped out from a roadside hour to give chase the last time we'd ventured along this route.  Now, none of us could remember where that dog had lived, but we knew we'd pass it.  While most dogs tend to be at about ankle-height when taking chase behind us, this guy was nearly above hip-level.  Yikes... eyes remained sharp, but, we cleared the length of NN without incident... which pretty much guaranteed he'd be waiting for us on the return leg, when we'd be tired.  

Arriving at the "T" at NN and MO-31, it was time for a rest and a layers re-think.  The wind still blew and the sun still remained hidden - but it felt warmer, so my layers came off, stashed to dry.  

The long, steady, nearly un-interrupted climb from Highway NN to US-36 on MO-31 through Easton, MO. is a booger.  LOVE IT.

We finally reached and crossed US-36; the hairiest part of the day - but, unavoidable due to it being the only crossing point for miles for a particular creek.  Waiting for a gap in traffic sometimes helps, especially before the shoulder disappears on the bridge crossing the creek itself.  Awesome.  A quick look over the shoulder, some mental math, and a sprint --- this time clearing the bridge and returning to the shoulder of the road only moments before someone in a light blue '90s Ford Taurus passes me within inches, either texting or being too vacant to realize he could have changed lanes like every other one of the 20 cars and trucks that had already passed me.  Bitter?  Yeah, I am.  When it comes to self preservation, you're either with me, or you are my arch nemesis and must be made an example of, while I mentally memorize your license plate & vehicle make and model.  Harsh?  I don't think so.  This stays in my head, eyes forward, hands on the bars, no reaction.  They don't get the satisfaction.  I don't retaliate.  Yet, I've seen hit, or have lost, too many friends on the roads to feel otherwise.  There are problems on our roads.  We're talking about living in a country where the women and men of the state highway patrol have to take special precautions during routine traffic stops because drivers have hit them.  With that happening, how can any of us feel secure?  Wake up & pay attention, drivers, or have your license taken away.  Choose.  It should be THAT simple.

Exhale.... ok, that out of the way, all mentally vented in the space of about 50m, I'm back into a tuck and rhythm on the remaining shoulder leading up to highway Z.  

Or, was it O?  Can't remember... we're back up in the part of Missouri where road signs are very costly decorations.  Small wonder... these are also my favorite roads.  The sort of roads where daily traffic counts can be tallied on one hand.  Bliss....

Hills, hills, and more hills.  Whiling away the late morning, not many cares - except maybe the time.  Might as well check and see how we're doing, since there has been a pretty consistent headwind so far.  

  whoa, what?

I'd printed off my own version sheet, as I've been playing with different formats lately for visual clarity and eliminating fluff.  It's a long progression, but, I'm really trying to get by with LESS... as opposed to creating more confusion with too many notes.  Part of this is preventing riders from needing to do too much mental math when it comes to control open and close times.  Instead of getting a generic cue with 0:00 as the start time, for example, it would read 6:00, and all subsequent control times on the sheet would update +6 hours.  Simple, and all formula driven.  So, glancing at the halfway control for Avenue City, I'd see the actual time we all needed to arrive by, instead of a start + xx:xx time.  The time read 12:00noon.  Cool.

Wait... noon?  My computer's clock read 11:30am.  WTF?!?!  How long had we been out here??  Panic set in, considering the distance remaining, and considering the quickest I'd knocked out 10 miles recently had been a few clicks under 40 minutes, not 30.  Something, however, clicked on inside my head.  I'm not going down without a fight.  A glance over my shoulder confirmed I was alone, already off the front - heck, no time to stop and wait.  If nothing else, maybe Spencer would understand if even only one of us made the control on time - the wind, the hills, the 16 minute late start after waiting in line to check out at Perkins... I really wanted that time back.  It had been me waiting in line... me... this was going to be my fault.  I shifted, stood, and started to push harder.  the relentless time-trial began, against the clock, the hills, myself.  this had to be do-able.  Upon reaching the next turn on the cue sheet, at least I had a better idea of the task ahead.  The turn for highway "O" came near Cosby, MO., at ten minutes into the rush... great... let's round up to six miles... six little, short miles in... the clock read 11:40 ... dmmit, 18mph average?  Was that right?  Impossible... I tried not to let my brain take over, and stood and pushed again.  Don't let the bad thoughts creep in... just don't... I know the best commute time I ever knocked out back in "the day", on moderately hilly Lamar in Overland Park, was 18 minutes... that was just about 5 miles... could I do another mile in the remaining two minutes?  Well, the voices were pretty clear... "are we going to cry about it, or get to work??"  

It was time for... LUDICROUS SPEED.
Jedi Hedgehogs, unfortunately, can't tell time.

Well, the work paid off.  JUST... but none of it mattered.  I dismounted, rushed inside, grabbed a bottle of Coke - almost rudely - from the cooler, aside which leaned a portly gent asking me if the clothes I was wearing were uncomfortable or not.  The explanation would have taken too long -- "...not today, please..." I thought to myself, tearing open my wallet while I asked to be rung up.  The lady behind the counter was more than accommodating, rang me up, and wrote "12:00pm" in the box on my card.  The receipt, unfortunately, read "12:05pm", even while she comforted that the time on the computer was always fast by at least a few minutes, the feelings of disappointment and frustration had been quickly replaced by exhaustion, elation, and a collapse into one of the padded chairs by the table near the front window, as I read aloud the time printed on the permanent route card itself:  "13:00".  Huh?  Yep... seven hours elapsed time, not six like my home-brew cue sheet told.

From a performance standpoint, maybe I ought to forget to update my cue sheet's time formulas more often - for I had reached so deep over the previous 10 miles, I was trembling while sitting and enjoying my hard-earned Coke.  Maybe putting myself behind the proverbial eight-ball was precisely the shove I needed to get back into a form that would have me considering slowing down to avoid arriving early.  On the other hand, perhaps these moments of panic and despair will have a marked effect on my nerves.  On paper, even according to my phone, I'd been late... already rehearsing my speech to Terry and Glen, who wouldn't arrive for a few more minutes, I felt relieved that I, instead, had an hour in the bank.  Yeeeeeesh.

Shadows!  Run!

Well NOW, with the wind at my back, heck... this would be cake.  Yeah, it's still plenty hilly, but, I wasn't in the mood to worry anymore.  Glen, then Terry, rolled in and the control routines began, and I ultimately found it appropriate to chuckle to myself about it.  what a remarkable day; falling over before even starting, then over-reaching to hit a time mark caused by a silly mistake.  Of course, Glen and Terry had no clue what I'd meant, as their cues had the correct time listed.  I just did this to myself.  Ah well. 

Quitters.  No, no, no... not US... the elastic on my aging DeFeet knee warmers had given up the ghost maybe 4 years ago, and yet, cozy as they are, I kept right on wearing them - only remembering why I seldom did anymore about halfway through a ride, when they'd begin to fall down around my ankles.  Ugh.  Too large to use as arm-warmers, and not really being tube-top season, I reluctantly tossed them in the trash.  I suppose that's ONE way to lighten one's load on brevets and tours.  I guess I got ten good years out of 'em.  Say what you will about "overpriced" cycling gear ... this stuff often outlasts my every-day clothing by at least five-fold, and when in full swing, commuting daily at the height of summer, they get just as much use.  I jot a reminder in my smartphone to order another pair upon arriving home.  New ones oughta last until one of my kids is ready to marry.  Yowza.

Back on the road after Avenue City, my first utterance while dropping comfortably off the back rang something to the effect of "well, that's it - I will not work any more today."  So it was the case for mile after mile, the markers coming more quickly on the return leg - partly mental, partly thanks to the tailwind.  We would eat up the miles in big hunks, but, everything does indeed even-out after 100+ miles.  The headwind and hills from the ride's first half almost guaranteed the 2nd half and the tailwind weren't to be fully enjoyed.  We still have to pedal, of course - but, it's a lot easier to digest at 24MPH than it is at twelve.

Terry and Glen rode as if they'd been launched from an aircraft carrier, hurtling up the road with amazing speed.  Legs toasted already from the false time alarm, I was happy to keep them in sight at all, taking nearly the entire trip back to US-36 to catch either of them.  Finally the long payback and monster-fun downhill from US-36, through Easton, and back to highway NN.  The landmarks falling faster this time, I took occasion a few times to just stop on the roadside and rest.  Photos usually resulted, like this one along highway NN, after catching up to Glen.

Expecting to see Terry in this shot, approaching from the distance.  I've finally fallen into a good rhythm, and caught up to Glen here... but, only because he'd stopped.

Glen fiddles with something during a quick rest along route NN

A tiny family plot right along the highway, just east of Castille Creek.

A bit farther east, a larger cemetery; likely connected to a county or community church, the building for which is long gone.

Terry and I paired up along highway Y, headed back toward Plattsburg, MO. - Glen way out of site up ahead.

Oh yeah... that bridge that I'd thought was gone.. it wasn't.  Cool!
Do you think I got a picture of it?  Uh, no.  

Fast or slow, steady or erratic (like me); these rides are equalizers.  I think I read this elsewhere, recently, how much of a conundrum riding these distances can create; where calories make one feel good, and happy, and the speed comes... but, then the brain forgets how it achieved that speed, I forget to eat, and then I bonk... repeat.  That statement describes a cycle is typical of many randonneurs, old and new - I don't think anyone ever reaches a point where every ride is predictable, every calorie perfectly placed.  That, honestly, would get boring.  If nothing else, of the rides that are fast becoming countless, it's never been boring.  Once off the front, fighting hard to make a time cut-off, now, I was struggling to bring up the rear - finally catching onto Terry's steady wheel for the haul into the last control at Plattsburg... and the promise of another rest on a comfy bench.  

Maybe they should remove these benches from these stores... I don't know.  Maybe make them off-limits to people in cycling garb, maybe charge a sitting fee of $20... something prohibitive.  While this route is difficult enough in hills to warrant the occasional rest, MAN... "sitting down for 1 minute" always turns into 10, then 15, then 20.  Time warp, every time; this time with such a good tailwind and decent performance heading north in the first half, we should have been finished in under ten hours if not for the long rest times along the way.  Sometimes, though, that's the randonneuring I really enjoy.  I'm not resorted to it quite yet, because speed still beckons; yet, it's nice to know myself well enough that I can plan to not rush, and still be comfortably inside the time constraints.  

After what must have been 30 minutes at Plattsburg, shooting the bull, negotiating with another restroom break, thinking about layers, downing another bag of chips, enjoying another long exhale while attempting to shake the cobwebs out of my brain, Glen and I stood up and walked outside.  Terry?  Oh, he's ever the smarter of us - already up the road quite a ways, toward the one place where one can rest and stretch out in a booth with good reason... the finish.  Glen and I, freshly fueled, headed out on highway C, a quick nine miles to reach Plattsburg Rd... and its traffic free asylum from the afternoon highway traffic which surely awaited us along route C... a route that has steadily become busier over the years.  

Thankfully, Glen and I hadn't too much to worry about.  Aside from the expected car or two, the one experience we seemed to avoid were the long queues of vehicles stacked up behind us on one of C's long, grunting rollers.  Late in the ride, I seldom have the gusto to climb them quickly, and I recall times when I could almost feel the drivers' annoyed stares boring into the back of my skull.  hurry up!  Today, no problems.  Glen's invigorated pacing, and me - often in TOP gear (50x12, currently) and spinning, our two-man-train headed south often near 30MPH on the flat, and simply crushing the hills on sheer momentum.  This run south stands high on my list of favorites, a new addition to the vault of happy-place memories of cycling... the distance in our legs all but vanished while we destroyed the kilometers like professionals on a breakaway.  Mere inches from Glen's rear tire, and perfectly in unison -- the terrain tilted up, and we'd shift -- three clicks down for me, maintaining cadence, then we'd stand almost at the same instant to throw the last few meters of ascent over the fence, falling back into our saddles, and click click click - back to top gear again, barely a MPH lost.  Absolute perfection.

Our thundering team TT closed out, and with perhaps 10 miles remaining, we finally bridged up to Terry along Plattsburg Road, where we finished as we'd started - all sort of yo-yo'ing off one another, chatting, pointing out things we'd missed on the leg outbound, and talking about what type of pie we'd be ordering at Perkins in a few short miles.  Even the slog of Liberty's outer road seemed to be behind us in less time than usual.  Not a bad day out.

Later, back at Perkins, food was consumed, recovery after a great day out, topped off with pie and completed permanent cards handed off to Terry for their trip home to St. Joe.  It was nice to finally ride without sleeves, without jackets all day, with free fingers to feel bar tape.  Sure, I could have chalked this one up as #4... but, I'm glad I waited a bit to dust myself off.  Now I can head into spring refreshed, no longer as concerned about the cold of winter and "overcoming."  It was finally time once more to just ride and enjoy, and with a full summer to look forward to, it's nice to be back.  

thanks for reading... stay tuned... Fer gawd sake, man!    stay toooned!    Aye!    /Scotty


Up next, a review of the MetroFlash Ignita headlamp!  yay!

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