|MO state highway 20... if this view doesn't say "never-gonna-get-there", I don't know what does.
For the hearty few, it says "reach..." Reach we did.
Phoning it in? Yeah... a little. It's been three weeks since the Oak Grove 322km brevet, and, well... it went pretty much exactly like last year's, with just a few minor changes.
Instead of trying to stay with the lead pack on the way out of the parking lot to the first control and destroying myself, I decided to hold back a little. Result? After a nice pre-dawn chat with Josh and a few others, we turned north on highway D, and I found myself alone - stranded between groups. This was okay, but, I kept feeling that undeniable urge to bridge-up. I was feeling good, yet, I couldn't bridge ... and, I didn't want to get caught, either. Not sure... but, maybe that fire won't ever go away. Not necessarily a bad thing. It did, however, confirm that my whole "feeling stronger and faster" sensation from the Mere Two-Hundred was either a fluke, or, it means I shouldn't measure my progress in a vacuum. I *need* -- if I'm to continue this pursuit of fun *AND* speed between controls, I need to chase people on a regular basis, like at ye olde Saturday AM rides.
The interesting parts: I'm heavier this year. I'm out of practice, not really up into any kind of streak at the moment -- I suppose I have three now, with this ride's completion, so that's good, actually! I'm still interested in getting back into that groove, and I'm already trying to sort out the remainder of the year as far as route choices. I've got one of my own still sitting out there, yet, I haven't ridden it for credit yet. Lot's of choices... all good ones.
Arriving at highway FF, still solo - and j-u-s-t over the hills I can see the taillights of the main pack, probably a mile ahead, maybe more. I'm at ease... I like it out here, and I'm okay being by myself. Sometimes, that's the best parts about brevets and permanents - the solitude lets the mind wander, and complex problems can be resolved more easily... sometimes, it is nice to simply coast through the breeze and take flight with the birds and sunbeams. That might sound a little "oochie-coochie-coo", but, seriously - that sort of thing is why I like working outside, playing outside, driving with the windows down nearly ALL the time when I do drive. It's important, and good for the soul.
|Panorama of the parking lot as Bob Burns lays out the day for us. There's talk of a detour, which we'd get details on later in the morning.
Reminds me - I'm very grateful and appreciative of the outpouring of support both online and offline regarding what I was elusively calling the "Beyond the Blog" project. This had been my run toward a position with a local non-profit serving the KC-area's bicycling and pedestrian programs and advocacy efforts. Sadly, but only on a personal note, the position was justly awarded to a far more qualified candidate - which explains my comment about that only being personal: for me, personally, yes: I was excited about the potential opportunity and a change in lifestyle and scenery, and being afforded the chance to make a living doing the sorts of things I've long wished I had more time for. Personally, that was a bummer; but, for Kansas City it's a huge, huge win. When considering the qualifications and experience of the person hired, I would have made the same decision. These were some big shoes to fill, and when weighing the future of Kansas City's bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and the sorts of efforts, events, and programs this organization runs - it's important to get the right person in that role; and that's exactly what's been done. For me, someday... I need to keep my eyes and ears open.
|Along the outer road east of Oak Grove, the traffic of I-70 to our left. Here, the entirety of the pack stretches out before me, and at least ten riders are already out of reach by a half-mile. The morning was crisp, not too cold, not too breezy - jussst right...
|On highway D heading north into the ever lightening skyway. They're up there... but I can't get 'em.
|...Yet, I'm not alone...
|Josh and I trade places on the road amid conversation, and the occasional dog.
|The sun's first appearance, just before hiding behind passing cloud cover. About a mile up the road, barely visible, are the fleeting glimpses of red taillights on the distant hill. Last year, I was right up there with them - this year, I'm just out of reach. It seems my change in approach hasn't really yielded anything other than a change in scenery and camaraderie. Even at my cruising pace, I'm not feeling any less tired. Perhaps it's just me, but, what was the point of "holding back", again?
|Still all smiles along highway FF - one of the hidden gems of the midwest, as far as riding roads are concerned.
Along the way to Higginsville and the first control, Bob Burns catches up to me and we chat for a while, car to bike. I feel like, for a brief second, I'm on a major event or race, like RAAM --- man, do I ever need to get back on the speed train if I'm going to tackle that one. Bob holds a perfect line about 2 feet away from my left side - he's used to seeing me up with the front bunch, and after catching me back by myself, his initial questions had to do with my mental state and how I was feeling physically. That aside, we chatted about "old man stuff", like my shoulder surgery and recovery from the summer before, and things along those lines. It was a nice diversion and passed maybe a mile of time before he headed up the road to check on the next bunch of riders, who were now seeming to be out of my sightline. Ah well... the day, at least the morning, was to be my own to enjoy. That was just fine by me, and I settled into a good, sustainable rhythm for the miles remaining to the first control.
I began to run control routines through my head again. Over the previous week, the local forum had been alive with discussion on reducing control times and generally reducing the overall ET of a ride like this - and I have to admit, I was in touch with that. Over the last few years, I can't really say things have been bad or anything even remotely like that... if it had been that way, certainly I would have dropped out of these kind of rides a while ago. Now, things had, however, become slower. Whether it had been the time spent at a control, or the time spent on the road between them - something had changed. For me, personally, some introspection seemed to point to a rough time period before and after the famed "bike fit" of 2010. Giant personal lesson there - if it isn't broken... yeah, that old nugget. Anyhow, it seemed that since then my speeds had dropped a bit. A lot of this wasn't the fit's fault - it was instead my constant fiddling with things after the fit session, and a sort of mental break whereafter just about anything relating to saddle height, cleat rotation, any sort of knee movement, foot pain, hand going numb, anything out of the ordinary was not to simply be ignored, but, instead tweaked and tortured until threads became stripped and anxiety brought to a boil. I really didn't like myself at that time, seriously. I was so busy justifying things and talking myself into and out of theory, it sucked all the joy out of the activity. I really, really, really, really wish I could go back in time and just have left well-enough good and alone. Can't do that, so, I live with the lesson.
However, it's hard to ignore a steep drop-off in overall ET on permanents and brevets - which became all the more frustrating, as the fit (in my mind) was to have improved them: it was too difficult for me to believe that I, alone, had already achieved my own personal perfection, and that getting a professional bike fit done was somehow going to prove me an idiot for listening to my own body in the years prior to it. I'm already approaching the point, here, of belaboring the past; yet, I now I've learned a good lesson from it, now. Having ditched those numbers, I'm back to the point where I have simply been listening to my own body's responses to changes and tweaks - if any have been made, of course, which lately isn't the case. The only really notable change, of late, has been the slow transformation of my body's response to the Gilles Berthoud leather saddle underneath me since April of 2013.
Noticed initially on commutes, the fine leather saddle has begun to finally break in - which, as expected, had taken about twice as long as my experience with Brooks leather saddles in the past. I have to say, I have long wanted leather saddles to work for me. I really appreciate the labor-intensive process and techniques applied in this last, traditional method of bicycle parts manufacturing. Plus, on a fine lugged steel frame, they just look "correct"; and, it's difficult to deny my soft spot for aesthetics. However, that trend is fading, and this ride would prove to be the last straw. Over the last month, during these changes I've noticed, the process with leather saddles unfolds: upon initially installing the GB Aspin, one sets it level. It's one of the few leather saddles that doesn't have a greatly exaggerated "dip" between the heel and nose, when new. For the longest time, this firm, level, straight set-up was very comfortable indeed. I didn't even have to make any adjustments at all for the first year. GB's leather, also, is very thick - thicker even than Brooks' Team Professional model (which I'd tried back in 2005?). Because of this thickness, it holds its shape far longer than most are willing to allow a saddle to break in. For me, it seems, the pre-break-in shape actually works perfectly for me, so this isn't a concern... but, the inevitability of any such saddle to break in and begin shaping my one's posterior, comfortable for most, becomes the point where my problems begin. In short, if I try leather again, it will be something with a designed-in cut-out. Apparently, despite its flaws, my old Selle Italia Flite T/A - with this cut-out - set the bar pretty high. When the break-in occurs, creating two nice divots onto which the rider's sit-bones rest, pressure on the perineum increases. This is mitigated by tilting the nose of the saddle downward compared to the overall front/rear leveling of the initial install. While this would normally cause the rider to slide forward onto the nose and cause more problems, the new sit-bone indentations are supposed to stop this from happening. At that stage, the riders "parts" are suspended above the nose instead of fully resting on it, thus preventing the pressure problems. In my case, I'd reached a point where neither the front/rear leveling or the raised heel (heck, even a dropped heel) position yielded comfort. Same as before, I found myself constantly wiggling around and re-adjusting myself backwards on the saddle - to the tune of perhaps every tenth pedal stroke. This resulted in a sore "area", saddle sores, and stiff and sore arms, neck, and shoulders. All of this, further, is happening within a scant few degrees of adjustment from one extreme to the other - on a Thomson seatpost, which is designed for very minute adjustments. While the Mere 200 only resulted in some amplified soreness, this 300+km ride would ultimately create a really bad abrasion in a not-so-cozy area. After a few weeks of negotiations between me and this prized saddle, I've given-in. So, yeah... one well cared-for GB Aspin saddle in "natural", for sale. I've done the majority of the breaking in for you - ready to ride. They simply don't work for me, and no matter how much I want them to, it's not worth the eventual suffering. Since the initial shape seems to work best for me, switching back to a saddle that holds that shape "indefinitely" makes sense, and so I'm back to a "plastic" saddle again. So be it. I either want a bike I can ride, or I want a bike I can hang on the wall... having both is seldom possible without compromise.
SO, back on the road, and the final couple miles to Higginsville, and the first control. With my new control routine practiced in my head, I rolled into town, passed through a new construction area, and then down the hill on MO-13 to the Casey's. To my surprise, I found dozen's of riders still there - maybe I wasn't so far behind as I'd thought? In any case, this was my chance to shine -- so early in the ride, in the day, there was little excuse to linger at this first control. Quite literally, I was in and out in perhaps less then five minutes - even with a quick OJ purchase. There was even time to overhear Bob and Steven W. exchanging information about the detour toward the middle of the route after Glasgow, MO., and the river crossing. Barely off the bike, I was repacked, fueled, water topped off, cue sheet flipped, and back in the saddle, tailing Gary D... one of the fast ones.
Gary is in that same camp - that rare, rare membership of riders who, when the going gets tough, they simply turn the gas UP. I've witnessed this so many times, to my mixed admiration and disgust at myself for not taking better notes: Dan Jordan, Del "Ort" T., The Warbird, and now Gary D. When the day seems long, and the legs tired... well, some slow down. These guys seem to get annoyed that things are dragging out, and so - somehow - they just decide to go faster. I bow to their seemingly endless power and potential - for, when the chips are down, they simply turn on "something" and begin to disappear up the road ahead of me. So early in this ride, barely at 30 miles in, Gary really shouldn't have had much to worry about or become frustrated with... but, upon turning east again after the control, we chatted for a bit, and then he simply stood up and caught the next rider on the road, and they two just started to make ground at a startling pace. There was no catching them... I shifted, tried to match, and nothing ... just nothing... frustrating. More personal evidence: if I want to be "up there", if I want to lower the ET of these rides, to push myself back into the "single digits" for 200km finishes (sub-ten-hours), then I need to work, and HURT a little on the shorter rides. I need to stop being SO concerned with maintaining a reserve that - time and again - has simply proven not to be there. I meter out the power so delicately that I simply run out of it - and the rides take as long as they do, still limping the last five miles, at least. Despite my fast control at Higginsville, the tires barely having a chance to cool off, today would prove no different.
Make no mistake, however: This is only personal frustration. Ultimately, was the ride "fun"? Was it a success? Was it a finish? Yes, to all. It continues to frustrate me, however, proof that I'm not quite done "trying"... when I *do* decide to make an honest attempt to bridge up to Gary and his companion, on the one section I think I have a chance to: highway V from route AA up through Corder and to MO-20, with a tailwind... Despite being in top gear, despite standing and trying to throw ever more power to the road, Gary D. is un-catchable. Whatever advantage I'm working to exploit toward his capture, he's up there doing the same... but with 10% more progress. Maybe now with the saddle issues and associated soreness and fatigue out of the way, maybe that's where I can find the extra "umph." Consider it a project begun.
|Reaching Corder, and the giant vintage boneyard. I still want to get up here someday and just wander the aisles and aisles of Detroit hardware.
|A tall, old tree along MO highway 20.
|An old farmstead along MO highway 20 - standing watch over the high plains between Marshall and Corder, MO. The size of the house seems to indicate a large family, and the level of decay makes me almost visualize a scene where perhaps a fresh coat of paint is being applied on a day not unlike this day, but, underneath my tires would be gravel or dirt, perhaps exchanging waves with a passing stagecoach. Who knows if it's really that old, but, it certainly makes my mind drift away from the seemingly endless stretch of road ahead of me.
|The modern counterpart to the dilapidated farmstead I'd photographed a few miles earlier, along one of the first "jogs" in the highway, indicating that Marshall, MO. is getting closer.
Marshall, MO., on this route, is an equalizer and divider. The strongest of riders seldom need to stop here, but, for me it's nearly a necessity. Water bottle long empty, at least my hydration routine was in play for the better - but, continuing on, despite the relatively short distance remaining to Slater, MO. (the next town with a Casey's) seemed out of reach without a refill. Maybe I don't need to drink AS much? Still, I stop - and my quick stop fast becomes extended as I stash away layers to dry and welcome those riders who had been close behind me. Josh and Steven arrive, and a couple new-to-the-scene riders, one whose name I forget, and the Curb Destroyer; a gent I'd emailed with back and forth concerning the 200k of the previous month. It was nice to put a name and a face together. Both these guys looked strong, traveled light, and though behind me at that moment, they had been smartly metering their efforts, and would be miles and miles ahead of us by the time the day was done. For now, we all exchanged stories about technique, tires, packing, food, this ride and that.... the sort of stuff that, often, makes "rushing" the controls seem foolhardy. Honestly, though, had I been seriously keen on shortening my ET I'd have been rolling already... but, this proves that conversation, people, and riding with friends far trumps overall time, so long as one finishes within the time. All smiles, Steven, John and I saddled up and headed out of town toward Slater.
|Heck, maybe it just takes me 70 miles to get warmed up, I dunno. The section between Marshall and Slater is one of my favorite roads - full stop. While I don't remember being especially tired or sluggish on the previous sections, I felt as if I were floating along above the pavement here on Highway O. The undulating hills, the seemingly endless vistas. We caught up to and passed a fellow rider here, a nice guy in a grey shirt on a really well-equipped all-road touring machine, big tires and disc brakes and all that. Awesome! Wish I'da stopped long enough to figure out who it had been, because only passing him seemed to miss the whole point of being out there. My bad. Here, with Steven close behind, and I think Josh ahead of us at this point, things are good - but, I'm regretting the foolish mistake of forgetting my riding glasses in the trunk of my car. Thankfully my daily glasses at least have Transitions lenses, or I'd have been miserable - but I did miss the full coverage at certain sun angles.
|Oh, there's Josh! Flyin' the plaid and bustin' out a solid pace under perfect skies.
|Ancient barn and some other random structures resting along MO-240. Right on the other side of those railroad tracks is the Missouri River, and sitting atop is a group of freshly painted Kansas City Southern locomotives. Still no leaves on the trees, but, at least the grass is greening up.
|Enjoying nearly fresh pavement along MO-240, our threesome approaches the run-up to the bridge across the Muddy MO., and into Glasgow, MO. on the other side.
|Finally making our way across the Missouri River... always bigger and farther down than I remember from the year before.
|On the detour, finally a chance to take the left turn onto the highway that everyone usually mistakes for the actual turn onto route AA, which is under construction this year. Highway 240, here, east of Glasgow, had been an unknown... and, aside from the flush of heavier traffic closer to Fayette (the halfway), it was perfect and amazing, IMHO. Here, it's the closest I've felt to riding the long, uninterrupted grades of Colorado in a long, long time. Yeah, I haven't ridden in CO in over a decade, but the experience is that changing. I am looking forward to doing a series someday with RMC, especially their 1,200k - which, arguably, is probably a better choice for my first than something like Last Chance. I love these long, "never-ending" climbs - I can get into a rhythm and just work. LOVE IT. Although I'd miss the stunning scenery along route AA, and the mother-of-all-walls climbs from AA to E, this section was a pavement-perfect, almost traffic-free joy.
|Courthouse in Fayette, MO. (I think)
|Heading back west on MO-240, after another long, long, too-long halfway rest at Fayette. Pretty certain, after having seen nobody else coming east, that we were dead-last on the road. There was little that could be done about that, so we just pedaled along, feeling really good (at least, I was; probably the best I'd ever felt on this return to Slater, which is normally something of a death-march!)
|Over the shoulder shot of Josh, the long, flat expanse of the Missouri River flood-plain nearly behind us.
|Small cemetery along Highway O, as we head back to Marshall, MO.
Hey, guy with dog along highway O. Do you really think it's a good idea to taunt bicyclists along what you refer to as "your highway"? After all, we know where you live.
|I think I was trying to take a picture of that large hawk/eagle taking flight, but, it sorta gets lost in the trees.
|Brick wall mural celebrating 125th anniversary of the Missouri Valley College in Marshall, MO.
|Just a postcard perfect restoration and example of the sort of American architecture one can find out on these forgotten highways. We take the counterclockwise one-way loop around Marshall, MO's. courthouse building stands proudly above the downtown square, looking nearly brand-new - a testament to the folks who maintain it.
Arriving back at the non-control of the Marshall Casey's store, the sky begins to darken and all the extra layers stashed earlier in the day come back out. We each get a chuckle, and it's easy to realize that some of it came from frustration. I had tried to make a good, steady performance on highway 20 that morning, trying not to blow myself up in the early miles. I tried and succeeded in executing a master-class control at Higginsville, hitting it at exactly 8AM, and being back on the road at probably 8:05. Some of the folks that had arrived at the control before me were still there when I left, it was downright "Dan Driscoll" Texas-style. I had tried to up my pace on some sections of highway 240, when I'd felt best. All in all, however, it seemed we had arrived at the Marshall Casey's -- if not at the same time as last year, certainly the same time as the year prior. I am having trouble, and seem to be blending the year I tackled highway 20 at sundown with Del G. and Steven W., and the year I tackled it with Steven W. and Josh... were those two memories on the same ride? I need to go back and look... but, my frustration stemmed mainly from memory of my first ride on this course for me, perhaps 2010, with Danny "the Colonel" C. and "that gal from Colorado", which was my last ride on my original "fit." I curse myself, quietly, for ever having done it, once more, as the memory of watching the sun set AT HIGGINSVILLE, still 30+ miles distant, after sitting down and eating and chatting with Danny and company for at least 30 minute prior to that. Yes, I once watched the sun set from the saddle... at least a couple miles along highway FF. I remember that ride ending before midnight, and while I remember being dog-tired from the effort in the closing miles, it was a great feeling, having left it all out on the course. I've been too conservative these last couple years - and I still struggle with whether or not that's really a problem. Honestly it isn't, never was, isn't going to be... but, I may not be able to have my cake and ... uh... hammer it into a nice, predigested pulp that I can drink through a water bottle nozzle during a high-speed 24-hour time trial. Yeah... that. Onna these days I'm just going to have to be okay with saying "sorry, boys, this one is personal..." as I shift and hammer up the road. The only real 'problem', if there has to be one, lay in the fact that later that day they'd end up catching me anyways (probably by the next control), so I need to stop talking and start trying.
After all the planning, all the chats online... we labored hard, and came into Oak Grove, yeah, maybe feeling a little fresher than last year... but, we basically had the exact same ET. I don't know if I'm at a place where I can laugh about that yet... but, it'll come. It's a finish, and it was a darn good day out. Who can complain about that?
|Steven W. takes point, Josh already up the road a bit, as we begin the night section on highway 20 heading back to Higginsville. His 2W taillight, visible during the DAY, is definite insurance against the "I didn't see him" sort of driver. If you don't see this taillight from behind the wheel... well, you won't be driving, because you'll either be legally blind, or dead... and if you're not dead, it'd be like Han Solo's sight coming back, where instead of a big dark blur you see a big (red) blur... and, that blur is Steven's taillight. This is the 2nd gen taillight, which has a wider side-to-side beam, and not so much of a complete omni-directional beam as my 1st generation version has. Either can be found online for around $30 - search for the Cygolite Hotshot.
|And, as the sky continues to darken... which tends to happen at nightfall ...Steven begins to pull ahead. I'm not sure if I was simply out of steam, or if the growing saddle sore right along my "middle" was beginning to make it more difficult to even sit much less pedal with any vigor. Later, upon inspection, I'd discover that I'd been bleeding into my shorts pad for who-knows-how long. It wasn't much, but, it wasn't a ton of fun, either. This sore would dog me for a week afterwards. On an otherwise great day, this was a real bummer - but, it's the sort of thing that heals, which means only one thing for randonneurs: keep going. Bummin' about it wasn't going to get me to the finish line. HTFU, Gates.
Somewhere along highway 20, in the darkness, with a long, long interval between passing traffic (which was seldom), I'd been SO determined - despite the pain, the leaden legs, and the self-frustration - that I simply didn't want to stop, for anything. For the first time in a lifetime of adult cycling, I pulled off a "pro-peloton" move. I answered the call of nature (#1, thank you) from the saddle of the bike, while coasting along a slight downhill grade at 20+ MPH. The call of nature had been screaming since six miles out from Marshall, I had already been dropped, and there was no way I was going to let up until I caught someone's wheel. Yep, I did it. Felt amazing. Just... I dunno, at the time, not the sort of thing I felt like bragging about, because it wasn't the challenge of doing it that drove me, it was the fear of being dropped for good by stopping to use a bush. Ultimately, I did end up catching Steven and almost Josh, right before we arrived at the best little c-store in the world at the crossroads of MO-20 and 23. Yay, me!
|Borrowed a shot from Steven W. (photo credit) here as well, just as a personal note. Saddle height, knee position, etc. seem good here, but my shoulders had been killing me ever since reaching Slater on the outbound leg, the byproduct of having made a minute adjustment the week prior, and now, every tenth pedal stroke had me fighting my inevitable slide-forward onto the nose of the saddle and right onto my "zone of pain". Not fresh, and the first real battle with on-ride saddle discomfort since before buying the GB Aspin saddle. These are great, great products - but, they just aren't for everyone; certainly not me anymore. I'm either just doing it wrong, or I'm not made right. I appreciate Steven taking this shot, even though he'd not have known how I'd end up using it - but, it's seldom I can see myself from the side like this, just to get a warm-fuzzy on how I'm sitting on the darn bike. Valuable stuff when considering changing saddles.
All in all, I always have a great time on this route. It's terrific, and I honestly want to try it as a permanent some-time, instead of always doing just the requisite 200k. If nothing else, it's a good test, and good training. As uncharacteristically destroyed as I'd felt after this one, I know it had to have been good training, and I appreciate that fact -- I can feel it now, in the weeks that have followed, even yesterday .... a bummer of a day, because I missed the 400k, the one from Liberty, MO. to Davis City, IA. and back, which is... no word of a lie, probably my favorite route for that distance... and, honestly, my favorite distance to ride, and additionally the weather was perfectly in line with my ideal rando day... a chance to use ALL one's resources... rain, some mild heat, humidity, a good headwind... I know, some folks wouldn't like to ride a ride like that, but I love a rainy brevet... it just seems, I dunno... more lofty of a challenge. I just enjoy it. But, combined with a persistent head-cold which had started on Tuesday of the preceding week, well, despite my efforts with zinc, vitamin C, antihistamines and nasal decongestants ... apparently I had no interest in waking up to my THREE alarm clocks that I'd set, and a wife who was trying to shake me awake, unsuccessfully. Maybe it was better that, in that woozey, head-cold dizziness, I didn't get behind the wheel of a car, or try to ride a bike 250-some miles. HTFU, again, I've had worse... but if I didn't wake up, well, there you have it. I'm really bummed that I have to wait a year to ride this again, and I am half-tempted to see if it, too, is available as a perm.
So, the 600k, then... I like that route, too, and - trained or not - I will be ready. I'm set to hammer out some longer commmutes this coming week, perhaps an overnight 200k or 100k (or both) to get amped-up and then taper off... a crash course. I'm looking forward to knocking it out, my first since 2007, and I'm not planning on over-sleeping that one.
I'd really appreciate it if this cold would just leave already, though.
Thanks for reading...
stay tuned... the 600 is coming.