June 21, 2015

"Back to Work" - Iowa revisited: a 400km report

  I've been at this game a long time, and it's both frustrating and humbling when I hear my own advice echoed back to me from someone who once had the same issues I had been suffering recently.  This website, thanks to readers like you, has been an internet fixture for nearly fourteen years now, and its always appreciated when I hear of someone who has been inspired to ride, or who has benefited from a piece of kit or advice - but, my own memory retention isn't the best, apparently.  While it might seem in these pages that I've got it all figured out, please... I don't.  I'm an expert on things for fifteen minutes at a time, before those notions are lost in the noise of a busy lifestyle.  Getting advice to stick and remain habit is a constant issue for me.  My personality is based on a long history with lower-than-average self esteem and high levels of self-doubt.  This lends extra credence to everyone else's ideas, even if I've never met them.  I'm easily swayed, and it's because I have a lot of respect for those around me who seem to have it all figured out.  For them they do... for me, I did, once.  A man my age shouldn't have these issues, maybe I'm not alone - what-have-you.  It is what it is, but, I definitely needed some confidence boosting, and a challenge-met.  After reflecting on my visit to Iowa this weekend (June 13/14, 2015), for the Iowa Randonneurs 400km ride, I feel like things are finally beginning to "click."  Somewhere along my personal journey I'd let things become WAY too complicated.  My appreciation for simplicity has grown with age and maturity... and I've kept this bike riding thing anything but simple these last few years.  


Getting online and professing all of this stuff helps me get it out of my brain, as you've all read before - but, often it's not the BEST outlet for me, personally, in the sense of time spent at the keyboard often becoming a self-affirming detriment used to talk myself into things that (won't) may work for me that I'd witnessed another rider utilize, and usually after a self-perceived negative experience.  Everyone has bad days on the bike - I've had my share, for sure:  but, changing everything is not always the solution.  I don't do anything "small."  So, this weekend, after coming to these sorts of revelations on a quiet, personal level, I've risen to a new level where I can simply consider and ask questions of others, while sticking to my own plan.  Instead of wallowing in a bad situation yet not doing anything to improve it, I've become more adaptable in the face of stomach issues, aches and pains, etc.  After all of this time, all of the suggestions, links to reviews and stories, pictures, and advice given, the best way I can sum up 13+ years of experimentation reads as follows:

It's a riders adaptability that makes a good randonneur, not their preparedness for every possible situation.  More on that later...

Speed doesn't matter.  Whatever speed one happens to ride, if it sufficiently gets them to the controls within the limits, is perfect for that rider.  If one wants to go faster, or slower, it doesn't matter.  While I have my own personal goals, it's no longer a point of frustration in the face of something I truly enjoy.  I'd been letting it diminish my accomplishments, as if simply pedaling a long distance hadn't been enough, if I hadn't done it at XX m.p.h., it wasn't a success.  Rubbish, Gates, seriously.  Now, this weekend I finally took off the leaden vest of excuses, and worked.  I may not be able to repeat it next time out, and that's okay - it was terrific training, and a terrific ride, regardless
of my speed - but, seriously, Josh and I worked hard.  For me, it'd been the first time in ages I just said "screw it" to the notion of holding something in reserve.  "If I truly run out of steam, I'll back off and recover and eat more, but I'm tired of leaving it in me, instead of out on the course like I should," I had muttered to myself at one point where Josh had begun to motor ahead, and I felt that heavy exhale building up, the one right before I give up and putter the rest of the ride home.  I'm absolutely NOT here to say "faster is better" or insinuate that "slow is bad"; far from it.  My meaning is simply that I, the "dude", need to ride my own ride to the best of my abilities.  Some days will be bad, others good... but, for me to resort to not trying?  To be so afraid of the bonk or the pop that I refuse to push on the notion that I'm getting older, or content to smell the roses?  That's all fine, but, when I complain and don't make positive changes... that creates the sort of wallowing self-loathing that traps me, and holds me down.  While I know this and write this now, and while I may forget it later, I'm aware of it - and I turned a corner this weekend.

Enough about self-discovery.... I think the points have been made, at least for me. 

On to the ride:

I approached the weekend activity with surprising flippancy, completely spacing out that I'd promised to give Josh a ride up to Ames, IA. until, literally, ten minutes before I'd planned to roll out of my own driveway.  Apparently, I'm out of brainspace, too.  

Packed, loaded, with bikes on the roof looking like pros, we aimed north and made Ames in decent time.  This is a great little town... I'd forgotten, the vibe, the fun, the countryside.  

We met up with Terry, in town for the 600k, and headed over to the Flat Tire Saloon for a quick pint and then to see (finally) the High Trestle Trail bridge with its iconic blue lights illuminated... mainly because we each knew how much of a personal challenge it'd been for each of us to see them during the ride itself, based on our arrival times at that milepost, somewhere around 235 miles deep into the event.  Walking the 2.5 miles from the Flat Tire to the bridge and back in shoddy flip-flops probably wasn't the smartest thing I could have done, but we agreed it was likely a good leg-loosener for the task waiting for us at 6AM the next day.  At roughly 11:30pm, we made it back to the car, then the hotel, and then to bed for a fast sleep.  Ideal?... mmm, maybe not, but - at least for me - it offered less opportunity for (over)thinking what lay ahead.  Alarms set, bikes ready to simply roll out the front door, we all zonked out, one by one.

The High Trestle Trail bridge, and it's unique lights.
It doesn't count unless you see them on while in the saddle.
Okay, not really.

The Start Line

The morning came early, yes, but not begrudgingly-so.  I popped up, shook out the cobwebs, and took a quick, hot shower to start the blood.  The forecast had called for the rain to hold off until early the next day, with maybe some spotty showers... no problem!  Perfect weather, I had smartly packed for once:  a wool long sleeve base layer, as a just in case... but nothing too ridiculous.  Summertime temps can be deceptive when one is tired, fatigued and wet from rain, but, it's June.  Confidence.

Apparently, I''d been drafting Josh before we'd even set off.

The couple dozen of us signed up and lined up, and RBA Greg Courtney laid out the details of the day.  I'd been looking forward to the chance to ride in some of the legendary Iowa thunderstorms -- famous for heavy rainfall and ominous features... yeah, not much different than a Kansas thunderstorm, but, different.  I hadn't had a good, late-night, rainy brevet finish in a while, and the temps were to be perfect for it.  Instead, we got an overcast and muggy... like, extremely muggy... morning, still with perfect temps, but, I started to sweat before we even headed out, burdened with the reflective vest - which is only a drag for me, personally, when the humidity is high.

Speeches done, the riders saddled up, and we were off and riding!  ...just in time for the rain to start!  

"Sweet... summer rain.... "

Rain, in the first degree ... mile three on the day, Josh and I making ground.
[Photo credit Joshua Stadler]

As we passed underneath I-35, Josh joined up and we paralleled each other for the run out of town and onto the Lincoln Highway section out toward Nevada, where we busted into some random German cycling discussions to gee-up the peloton with a little good humor. Our imaginary secret controls now involved identifying Berliner Industrial techno by artist and title, and having your papers in order, Fraulein.  

A bit later, the main group of 600km riders split off for points farther east, while we turned south into the slight, almost imperceptible, headwind, enjoying the endless vistas of Iowa farmland, rolling hills, and the sun trying to peer through the thinner sections of clouds.  Thankfully, I actually did get to see the sun for a while, casting a gleaming warm glow on the green fields, while Meadowlark and Red-winged Blackbirds sang and frolicked on the wing.  An epic morning!

John Mathias, who will probably get some sort of nickname from me one of these days along the lines of Kings of Hungary and Catholic Saints as from his namesake, possibly something along the lines of his stature, his calm manner, his nonchalant and comforting air; juxtaposed against his ruthless pace on the bike... this dude sorta looks like a pro on the move, one of the legendary hard-men of the well-drilled squads of old.... yeah, I paint a great picture:  that's easy to do when he joins Josh and I for some conversation, and then - having the look of a hungry athlete - poses that he'll check out the pace intent of the guy we can see ahead on the road, says goodbye and begins his tempo to bridge... which seems effortless and smooth.  A class act, it's been good to share my last two rides with him, if only for a few minutes here and there.  He's a gentleman, friendly and quick with a good story, and an inspiration to try and chase down.  

...and chase, I tried...

It was almost too easy... and I maybe shouldn't say that right away.  I've been holding back for so long, trying to keep things in reserve "just in case" (of what??), and as a result I've fallen deep into "no-man's-land"; that dreaded training no-zone where cyclists neither improve, or decline.  It's cruise control, and a bit of a challenge for those with tough schedules, often doomed to train alone.  So I've sat for many years now, to a point when opportunity to chase presents itself, the grunt simply isn't there to back up the desire.  This time, however, after a month of regular gym visits and runs (okay, jogs... and brisk walks at first), I've challenged myself a bit more than normal.  Precisely what's needed!  Josh and I talked about this on the ride itself, that running really hits the cardio hard, especially if you aren't used to it.  As a cyclist, I've thought "pfft, *I* can run."  Um, no you can't... not the way runners do.  So, while I wait patiently for the numbers at the scale to drop, I have successfully u-turned away from a dangerous path once again.  BP is down, other numbers are where they should be again... just want to work on the power-to-weight ratio a little more, and continue with the running; I've finally progressed to a place where running is still not easy, but, I can enjoy it and keep at it for longer now without feeling like I'm about to die on the sidewalk.  I have to think the running really salvaged what could have been just another c'dude tale of woe in Iowa.  I felt strong, engaged, and not one bit anxious - even when times got low, my self talk was positive.  This all feels good.

The gap to John and "other guy" wasn't growing as rapidly as I'd expected, mainly due to John's slowing the pace to chat with the other gentleman up the road.  Maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile distant, I ramped up my cadence a notch and settled in.  Doing an all-out sprint to attempt a bridge would've been a mistake, so I tried to use landmarks to gauge my leader's time gap.  I'd adjust a little more, and then take advantage of the climbs to close in a bit more.  At one point, the gap was small enough for me to pick out details and recognize just which name and face belonged to that brightly-colored jersey, of which there had been many in attendance.  I never managed to bridge, and as the information control began to sneak up according to the mileage, I focused my attentions toward not missing the next turn, which put harder effort into the backdrop.  Josh joined me at the info control, and we were a pair again, but, John and "orange" were still ju-uuust visible on the tops of distant hilltops from time to time.  That was fun...

By the way, did I mention it was


I dub this new humidity
level "Stallone-Humid".

With the the sun well-up in the sky finally, the reflective vest HAD to come off.  I'd made the right choice to wear one of my neon yellow summer-weight jerseys, instead of "light' wool for the chances of rain which hadn't produced more than 15 minutes of sprinkles in the first few miles of the ride.  For once, I hadn't over thought wardrobe, either, having packed just enough, not too much, and sensibly, my super-thin wool and polypro baselayer kept the wet 60F air at bay, but didn't prove to be too heavy.  Little had I known at the time, however, that I'd be wet all day long - not from rain, no, but from the 70F+ dewpoints and 90%+ humidity.  Even as the sun tried to burn off some of the fog and mist, the clouds kept things murky and the humidity from all the recent rains, including the morning refresher, kept everything sticky.  At least it wasn't 90ºF.  That would have been downright dangerous.  Normally a prolific sweat producer anyways, I was dripping and drenched.  With that, I took a long swig from my neglected water bottles.  This day wouldn't be about wind, or heat, not even hills... it would be about hydration.  Barely 8:00am, I must've lost a gallon already.  drink... 

At some point I remember saying that this blog post would be short and sweet... heck, that's just not my style, is it?  I am, however, going to try and use some structure here:

From the info control to Polk City, IA:

The highlight of this section was probably crossing the closed section of US-69 highway.  I imagine that the road we'd taken would have seen a lot more cars normally.  Instead, Josh and I enjoyed quiet cruising as we continued... uh... where's the sun???

Shortly before arriving at Polk City, the 2nd control of the day, the two fastest 600km course riders passed us by.  I was impressed, like big-time.  They'd not only ridden 10km farther then we had already, since the route had split, but here he was... hammering.  Hard.  Razor-thin, sporting a sleeveless jersey atop a yellow bike, the guy ("Action-man" in the above photo) was moving."  We'd later have it confirmed that he had finished the 600km ride (375+ miles) in roughly 25 hours.  He's either going to be a champion at P-B-P, or we had witnessed the final polish on his training for many of the summer UMCA events around the country.  Just lightning on wheels, this guy.  I need to go on a diet.  

Shortly after, a gal I'll call "Fast Orange" (my favorite hand cleaner, and the color of her jersey), passed us by.  Coming down into Polk, on a scenic vista, Josh yelled out from behind "Gates!  She's comin!  Go Go Go!"   All in jest, of course... mainly because I wouldn't have been able to hold her off anyhow.  Friendly, smiling -- beaming, more accurately -- atop her machine, she made it look way to easy.  Also on the 600km course, she would finish right as Josh and I were loading the car Sunday AM, I want to guess around 10:30 or 11:00AM, at the latest.  While I was happy enough to have finished an hour and a half faster than the last time I'd come up to Iowa, this fine cyclist effectively did 210 more kilometers than me and it only took her five extra hours... and that's only if she never stopped.  I don't think "impressive" quite gets it... you had to see her at the finish to believe it.  Her smile was just as beaming, her voice just as cheery, her posture fresh.  She'd rested for a couple hours after the first 400k, I believe... so far ahead of Josh and I, if we'd have driven the course, she'd have been the one in the airplane.  She looked exactly the same at mile 375 as she had when she'd passed us at mile 36.  Just a machine, I wish I'd caught her name!  She's in the same camp:  either ready to kill it at PBP, or to take names at the UMCA events.

Polk City... hashbrown sticks, a banana, and a chocolate milk.  yummy... Gotta Love Casey's, and you know they love us.

From Polk City, IA. to Redfield, IA.
Josh and I left the Polk City control in good time; 10 minutes nearly on the nose and we were rolling again.  We were making great time!  Leaving town we rolled across the Saylorville Lake dam and continued on to the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which would take us on the scenic and shaded route to the next control at Redfield.  Josh and I slowly began to split up, and I seemed to remember something similar happening the last time I was on this thing, when Terry was just ahead of me in 2013.  No matter how much effort I seemed to put forth the gap would never close - when I was feeling strong, so was he, and so on.  Josh, meanwhile, had thrown the hammer and was making fantastic time on the asphalt trail.  It wasn't long before I couldn't see him anymore, and I started to replay the remainder of the day as a soloist... ugh, would I have the discipline to stay on target?  Could I ultimately catch Josh again?  Right about then, he reappeared around the bend ahead of me... then became a little closer... occasionally turning his head around to look backward.  Oh, great, the pity catch.... LOL, I joked with myself.  Josh had other plans.  

I've gotta say, Josh is a joy to ride with.  He's witty, smart, tenacious, and tactical.  Matched with a strong work ethic on the bike and the ability to diesel out the longest stretches of seemingly endless flat, he's a good ally to have on a long ride, especially when things appear gloomy.

Slowly Josh crept back and ride next to me again, asked how I was doing, etc., and announced that he'd been thinking about the day and our tactics.  He was keen to maintain our goal of getting to see those bridge lights actually illuminated, and to have a pint at the Flat Tire to cap everything off.  All we'd need to do is work together, trade pulls, and use our strengths to help each other.  Even if the goal was only short term, and would only last as long as the remaining miles to Redfield, it was nothing I could argue against.  Josh ahead, me on his wheel, we began to accelerate and eat up the mileage remaining.  Without having had much saddle time, save for one 40-mile gravel ride two weeks prior, my usual "70-mile bump" was starting to happen closer to the 50-mile marker, which we'd entered.  I felt tired, fatigued, slow... I needed a rest.  Josh, however, wasn't having it -- no words were exchanged, but the pace he threw down was commanding.  Instead of dropping my shoulders and that last exhausted grunt before falling into the saddle and down into the single-digit speeds, I shifted into an easier gear and spun up the revs to match my leader.  It was time to work.  Before I knew it, we were out of trail, and rolling into the Redfield Casey's.

Thanks, Josh... 
While my pace wouldn't remain as consistent as yours later in the day, it sure helped having a wheel and a good word to keep me from mentally falling into my own trap.

Redfield's waterfall then....

...and now!

Redfield, IA. to Audubon, IA.... "The Gauntlet"

This section.... where to begin...
I'm not going to oversell it, but, if you haven't been to Iowa... if you haven't ridden in Iowa, do yourself a favor:  go.  See this route.  It's stunningly beautiful country, and this section represents (from my perspective) a kind-of "Flint Hills" portion of the day.  There are few buildings, a lot of scenic vistas, fields, livestock in the distance, and a lot of gooood-loookin' redish-tan gravel and dirt roads extending to the horizon in either direction away from Dallas and Audubon County highway F32 (aka 190th Road).  It makes "Trans-Iowa" pass through my mind at least three separate times.... and I'm probably looking at the GOOD ROADS.  In fact, I'm sure of it.  I saw at least one innocuous-looking path heading up a hill, and leaning over at a slight angle next to a tree was a faded yellow diamond-shaped sign which read "Gravel Ends."    


Okay, I'm used to seeing signs in Johnson County, KS. which read "Pavement Ends," and I'm pretty sure they're only there so the people with the expensive SUVs have fair warning that they might be about to receive a rock chip to their highly-buffed paint jobs.  But gravel ends?  Holy hell.  If the time had been in the bank... if only... just one little peek down that road would have been sweet, but I didn't chance it.  I get the impression that Iowa's backroads don't suffer fools kindly.  And, ever mile, there was another one heading north, and another south... each looking just as inviting.  

Even the pavement we trekked west upon for the brevet was in terrific shape for a lonely county road.  There were a couple sections outside Redfield where the elevation began the change, and the long steady climbs put me in the mood to work - but, something in my gut was "off", likely hydration.  The worst thing I could do was to run out of water, but, I needed to get back on track and fast.  I'd probably lost gallons of water, and tiny twinges of early cramping began to sneak to the surface as I pedaled.  Uh oh... 

drink drink drink ...

...and drink I did.  At least the heat wasn't oppressive, and the wind was graciously light - but, when the sunshine did manage to peek through, the humidity seemed to spike, like being in an oven, or when someone throws cold water on open coals.  For a few brief seconds, it felt searingly hot... but, the clouds would return and things would calm again.  Hill after hill, this section is a brute.  Solid performances at the controls all day, so far, but Josh and I were on the way to paying it all back.  So much for best laid plans for pacelining and working together - Josh was up the road, and though still smiling, I had begun to suffer.  
Thankfully, at least one good town lay between Redfield and Audubon... we rolled into Guthrie Center, and the Casey's there.  There must be a theme on, because after a morning of great controls times, all I wanted to do at this control was collapse.... like in 2013, but this time things did not seem as dire.  I simply needed to get hydrated enough to relieve myself (in more ways than one) so I could be sure I was back online, and comfortable.  It was difficult, though, watching Josh leave, and watching the 600k group come in.... and leave.... while I stood in the shade north of the building and drank my fill.  Better to spend the time here, getting things right, than to be uncomfortable, dehydrated, and slow.  Once righted, I set out.  

The road to Audubon.... and a whole lotta nothing....
More hills... and endless vistas atop each one; this road is simply amazing, but, most amazing things require some work.  Josh, likely miles ahead, was doing damage - but for me, the hydration still behind and slowly recovering had me out of the saddle and putting down what I could.  At one point, the heat reached a level of discomfort --- maybe I would have sweat the same either way, but, I stopped to remove the super-thin (but effective) wool & polypro blend Specialized sleeveless baselayer, leftover from the morning and the promise of thunderstorms.  It came off like a wet swimsuit - sticking to everything, and sopping wet.  Good lord I was losing a lot of moisture!  Looking down, the black fabric of my shorts crusted in a grey haze of salt deposits, confirmation that electrolytes were in use - but, I needed to replace them without slamming too many calories.  

If a picture is worth 1,000 words... maybe a video is worth at least 2,000?  Ah, who knows... but, why the heck not?  It's a great way to capture the day and my mood, if nothing else.  As opposed to rides over the last few years, when things would go bad and I'd simply wallow in it, on this ride I felt like I'd turned a corner.  I got outside of my own head, wrapped up ideas on what had really been happening, and planned to make corrections.  Remaining flexible on nutrition, mechanical issues, etc., is perhaps more a factor in rando than the bicycle itself.  Adaptability weighs less than preparedness... but a healthy balance of both is a great mix for success.  It's interesting also, you'll note the front bag and rack are missing, due to a particularly hard bump on gravel which broke a p-clamp during one of my 100km rides recently.  While zip ties are great, they weren't quite enough to avoid having to ultimately stop every 100 ft. to pull the bag and rack off my front tire again.  The interesting part, however, is how FREE I felt on the 400k without it.  I still had the Carradice bag in back, and there were a couple spots where I did miss the map case - but, simplicity seems to suit me, and I had far fewer worries when it came to packing.  For whatever that's worth.  Anyhow, notice that even in the throes of a pretty uncomfortable gut, which needed to be cleared, I managed to joke and ham it up a little.  Things aren't ever THAT bad.

...and, yeah... considering I'd ridden ONE 40-mile ride with John M. two weeks prior, and at least two weeks had passed before that since I'd been able to commute to work on the bike.... yeah... maybe I should get a ride or two under my belt before deciding "sure, I'll just go ride 260 miles."
Wow, dude, really?   Still, 64 miles past my longest ride in over a month, it wasn't the legs, the lungs, or my backside... it was just a temporary food issue, and I could deal with that.

Mistake #1:  the slow road back to my good solutions involved bringing along some carboplex mixed with Skratch Labs hydration drinks for some flavor and salts... but, in this case, even the light dose of Cyto-Carb (whatever brand of maltodextrin I'm using this week) had been proving too much for a tired stomach.  I had calories... I just needed liquid.  Humidity levels as they'd been, it might as well have been 100ºF... I wondered quietly about the heat index, just in time to descend through a relatively cooler pocket of air trapped between two hills.  Niiiiice....   the only thing on my mind was "drink", and not showing up at the next control with ANY water left in the bottles:  it needed to be in ME.  

This isn't from the ride, but is a shot of the High Trestle Trail before sunset; the haze in the air is thick, and seems like a lingering fog.  Occasionally, the sky would emit a single drip of water - maybe a handful, enough to trick me into thinking it had begun to rain, only to stop again.  Glasses would fog over if we'd stop moving.  Crazy.  I've also put this here because my camera seems to have lost a terrific panorama at the intersection of F32 and N70.  I guess that means I'll just have to go back next year!  Darn!

After a frustrating false alarm riding through a town that "should have been the halfway", I began to see the real Audubon, IA. up ahead... and after a few wrong turns and personal confusion (and almost seeing the entire town in the process), I rendezvoused with Josh at the Casey's, followed a few minutes later by Terry B., who had caught us.  Quick as you like, Terry was on a mission and made fast work of the control; where I was prepared to dawdle and wander again.  Still, the bathroom fairy hadn't yet visited, and I wasn't about to suffer for another 40-odd miles for the next opportunity.  Water, electrolytes - now in tablet form for more controlled dosing - and a small amount of food.  Calories seemed to be in fine shape, but the gut rock needed to leave.  So, after a few minutes, it did.  This, however, was after Josh had visited Albert the Bull and rode past the Casey's again, honking his horn and giving a look like "Gates, what are you waiting for??" as he passed.  It was time to attempt a reel-in, and it would have to happen soon or I'd be alone for the entirety of the last half of the ride.  

Audubon to Scranton, IA.

Bottles topped, mile 123 accounted for, I saddled up and headed out of town; this time with the orange Mavic jersey on my six, the guy that had originally been with John M., much earlier in the morning.

We exchanged a few words, but soon were settled into our own paces - and my sights turned to Josh and Terry.  I had eleven miles to catch up before the turn north, if I wanted to use that turn as a mental milepost of sorts.  Why not?  

Feeling better, stronger, lighter!  Stomach issues gone, hydration back in place - time to make up some time.  

The rest of the internal monologue aside, I worked my way back to Josh and enjoyed the scenery in the process.  Arriving at the turn, also, was our new friend in orange, a slightly older than us gent on a sparkling Calfee carbon bike - but, pacing as it is sometimes, we yo-yo'ed a bit on the road to Coon Rapids, and ultimately split up as he continued north while Josh and I hurried to refill bottles and rejoin the route.  

I felt amazing as we continued on, looking for the turn eastward which would mark the eventual slow return route to Ames.  At this point in 2013, I had spent an hour at Guthrie Center, and Audubon, AND Coon Rapids before being caught by my eventual companions - but this year, I was hours ahead of myself despite the slight difficulties prior to the halfway.  I felt alive, renewed, charged-up, and invincible again... the personal victory I so badly needed to get back on "the train" was unfolding right before me, as I continued to count the turns and landmarks heading east prior to sunset... and reveling in how far ahead of my 2013 performance I'd been.  I was feeling great!

Before sundown, at some point after Coon Rapids... I think...  we rode right past a nut farm.
Yep, it happened.

Gathering ourselves back together after our brief departure into adolescence took time.  Worth it.  

Joy of Joys... the controls were beginning to fall like dominoes.  
We made Scranton, IA. before sunset - amazing!  We ran into Fred, a super-nice guy and I think this year was his first series of brevets... fantastic work, and one of the best on-bike attitudes I've run into... all positive, encouraging and hopeful words.  We can all learn a lot from this guy, seriously.  I think we caught a mere glimpse of Terry departing the Scranton Casey's, as he was on a mission to make it to the next control - one of the biggies:  Ogden, IA., and specifically the Casey's store which closes at 11pm.  At mile 164, and... though I hadn't checked the time of day there, with the sun dipping and light fading (for June) it had to be something like 8:30pm, and that makes for a tall order for randonneurs:  make the 38 miles to the Casey's in Ogden in 2.5 hours... that's a 15.6 mph pace, do-able any day of the week... but, after 164 miles are in the legs?  It'd be close.  

Scranton to Ogden, IA.

Terry was off and running.  

Shortly afterward, Josh, Fred and I set out as well --- if we could catch Terry, maybe we could all work together (since randonneurs do that so well, you know... LOL) and make a good run at it.  Terry, though, was long gone... Josh began to do the math, and I could see it in his relentless pedal stroke... he is the first to profess that he isn't a good climber, but, on the flats I watched him catch Fred, pass him, and completely disappear in not-much-time at all.  With his high-powered taillight on full, it's not like I could have missed him... but, while Fred's taillight remained visible up ahead, Josh was already at Warp 3 and accelerating.  

For me, well.... I had no complaints.  The cloud deck had FINALLY moved east, the sky became full of stars, and Fred's taillight was within reach, but, we'd end up yo-yo'ing a bit here and there, as I continued to follow a short line of steady punishments from whatever it was in my stomach that wasn't appreciated.  I completely exhausted my on-bike supply of Tums... thank goodness for preparedness;  they'd only been in there for five years, and I finally needed them.  Whew.  Aside from that, the road to Ogden was riddled with math problems.  It didn't take long to figure out that I wasn't going to make the 11pm closing time, but Josh?  He had already taken my order, and was so far up the road - it seemed possible, and I began to look forward to a mini-buffet of water and stuff sitting on the sidewalk outside the darkened store.  Fred was about on the same page, and as I stopped to ... heck, I don't know WHY I stopped again, but at the intersection of some railroad tracks in Dana, IA., I decided to dismount for... man, I don't remember.  

The one thing I might admit to missing about the front bag... okay, two things... the map case being one, and then having hands-on access to everything I might need while still being able to roll along.  Secondary to that, even if I had to stop the front bag was easy to access without dismounting.  The saddlebag... well, unless I had something against which to lean the bike, it was an exercise in quick, one-handed maneuvers and clumsiness.  Still, I'm not so sure I need five pounds of front rack and bag to carry the small amount of kit I really need to carry along on most rides.  Maybe I'll have second thoughts, but I already have plans for the money I'll make from selling them... finally getting the Trek 450 dressed out in full rando triim, restored and powder-coated so it doesn't turn to dust underneath me.  

(If you're in the KC area, look up the KC Swap list on a popular social media outlet and you'll find it.  If you can't, and you're in the KC area, email me:  if you don't know how, scroll down until you can't anymore.)
As the hours passed, and I kept mathematically resetting my clock... "ok, now it's only 12 miles to Ogden... I think..."   it started to become apparent that I wasn't going to make the 11pm store closing... and I probably wasn't going to see the High Trestle bridge lights on from the saddle, and that pint at Flat Tire was looking impossible... crap.  More incentive to train... as if I'll never come back up here, PAH!  This is a destination, people.  

No, riding in Iowa is that good.  

Approaching Ogden, I began to get that same sort of feeling I had in 2013... the streets darkened, except for one lone bar, still open, only populated by locals.  That bar is, interestingly, called "The Lucky Pig", and it resonates just a little too easily with a certain '70's John Voight film... so, yeah... let's go in there and ask for water, dressed like I am.  There's always a strong - surely self-generated - "get out of our town" vibe, like in that movie Straight to Hell?  (what, you haven't seen that one?  Get a life!)  

Shut up, Willie!...  Let's go get a steak!

Is it just me, or does every-freakin' body look more awesome in aviator sunglasses?
Maybe it's the gun...  wish that dog would shut-up.

Josh stood waiting at the dark and obviously closed Casey's, and as fast as he'd pulled away from us, I full expected him to have been beaming with pride at his performance, while pointing proudly at the feast he'd procured and placed on the pavement next to him.  Fred rolled in a little after me, and reality sorta set in.  Apparently, Terry had been there only a few moments beforehand, and he hadn't made the closing time, either.  So, we all took pictures of each other, signed cards and otherwise verified to the RBA that we'd at least made the control time without issues.  

Fred and I exchanged photos, verification for the RBA of our passage through Ogden - the dark Casey's laughing at us in the backdrop - food, restrooms, air conditioning held captive behind security glass and uncaring lock and key.

It was unfortunate, however, thinking of the riders still out there, behind us... we didn't have anything to leave for them, either.  Now, I started to make calculations on whether or not I had enough water to make it to Madrid, which wasn't far away, but far enough away in this humidity (which got worse after sundown, as it often does).  I looked around town, after making a few preparations, after Josh and Fred had rolled out, for anything remotely resembling a water tap, a hose, a sprinkler... nothing.  Finally, after just about giving up and heading out onto the route, I turned down the main drag, past the bar - carefully -

...and yeah, they likely would have had water... but how bad did I want it?

...and about two blocks off-route, a stand of pop machines stood gleaming brightly under the orangeade glow of the streetlights.  It was so quiet, I could hear their buzzing salvation, the gentle hum of their refrigerant compressors, almost feel the cool, dry air pulsating out into the night... and a park bench next to them?!?   OASIS!!!

The Odgen, IA. oasis... may it stand for 1,000 years!  Three machines, no waiting,
and better odds of finding at least ONE drink in-stock.

I felt badly.  I felt badly I hadn't discovered these within shouting distance of Fred or Josh.  I felt badly that I didn't have the umpfh, or the extra cash, to buy a few drinks and bridge up to my leaders on the road with a godsend of refreshments... by the time I'd have caught them, we'd all have been at the next control anyways.  UGH.... and, how could I know how many bottles were in stock, still... trapped in those machines?  Would the next riders through town see these?  Will I have taken the last ones??  I emailed the RBA, thinking maybe if he'd get a phone call, he could tell the rest of the riders about it.  Who knows... In that moment, though, I felt exalted in the cold caress of chilled aluminum cans and plastic 20oz. bottles of water.  $1.75 was practically extortion, but they could have charged $5.00 each and I wouldn't have cared.  Nothing in the world sounded so sweet at that moment as the weighted ka-thunk of a vended beverage falling into the open portal at the bottom of the machine, and into my waiting, trembling, calorie-starved hands.  The pfft-crack of the aluminum tab opening echoed off downtown's alley of darkened buildings like a gunshot of pure refreshment.... and I raised the can up to let the first of the icy liquid hit my lips...  So, so, so good.... 

On full bottles and a nice charge of sugary calories, I set out for Madrid, IA., the penultimate control.

Not a bad night after all... but, I was glad to be out of Ogden.
A loud, lumbering freight train accompanied my escape from town, its whistle and horns announcing to the world that I was again on the move... do you hear that, Madrid?   I'm coming home...

Ogden to Madrid, IA.

Night had long fallen, and photos were pretty much out of the question... but, there was so much to see.  Distant freight trains, the constant, steady flashing of wind-generators and communication towers in the distance, and orangy-pink blotches of light pollution spotting the landscape to the east, to Ames... 

I love this section, for two great reasons.... ok, three...  maybe four.  Whatever.
Section one ... upon leaving Ogden, it's apparent that I'm up on some sort of ridge, and US-30 is way, WAY below me... drifting out of town on what I suppose is probably "Old 30", since it heads right through downtown - now bypassed by the new road - I begin to pick up speed on a magnificent, long, fast downhill.  Wind rushing by, I'm thankful to have since purchased B+M's slightly more powerful headlight, and having since aimed it slightly upward for a beam more parallel to the road surface:  in 2013, I remember having my hands at the ready, hovering over the brake levers, as I had long outrun my headlight beam.  This time, confident, I was able to see everything.  I almost want a sort of switchable bicycle "hi beam", but, honestly - I'm not complaining.  The B+M generator LED headlights are still more than plenty, and technologically still very relevant.  

I love this downhill... did I mention that? 

At the bottom, a turn to the right to cross the "new" US-30 alignment, and then, my next favorite part... climbing back up.  

The elevation change from Ogden, IA., down to the US-30 crossing,
and back up on the road to Woodward, IA.

It's such a good, steady climb - and I love that sort of thing.  Sometimes I question my own logic with climbing, but, I do enjoy it... and whatever I sometimes lack in pacing abilities on the flat sections, for some reason I can always make up a little time on the hills - if they last long enough.  Still, the struggle for power-to-weight ratio continues, as is often the case for the comfortable male cyclist in his early-40's; but I'm not done fighting.  I know the benefits go much, much farther than the saddle... and I'm tired of worrying about health in general.  Despite being fairly active, I can do a LOT to improve still.  For the moment, that's in the foreground, and it's working - slowly.  Better than nothing. 

Reveling in the long climb... which, at the measure above isn't nearly as long as I'd thought (certainly longer than the shorter, steeper grade of Kansas), I finally leveled out and experienced maybe 5 minutes of sporadic sprinkles, and passed a full family of deer watching me pass, standing right on the roadside.  My silent, watchful fans.  A mile later, the pavement passing under my tires became completely soaked with rainwater... I must have barely missed the full-on rain, just dancing with the passing clouds.  Nothing so energetic as to produce lightning and thunder, but good rain producers.  In my already sweat-soaked state, I was a bit disappointed that a good cleansing rain had missed me.  I needed a shower.  Badly.  My shorts had become pants-shaped sandpaper, choked with salts and grime, my legs covered with a thin sheen of sweat mixed with dust, bugs, and bits of grass and leaves, and the rest of me just needed the relief from the high humidity.  Oh well... it seemed, as the rain dance continued toward the entrance to the High Trestle Trail, I would have to wait for the hotel shower.  

Of course, that's when I started to get turned around.  Greg's routes are a treat, even for out-of-towners:  every last turn is spray-paint marked with easy-to-see arrows.... but, in some areas, local traffic, wear and tear, sand, etc., has rendered some of them nearly invisible over the years.  This series of routes is so well marked, I had only needed to look at the cue sheet a handful of times - and those were primarily to gauge the distance remaining to the next control.  Now, in the dark, looking for arrows - I drifted mindlessly through Woodward's residential streets, not really remembering where the trail entrance had been, despite having giant grain elevators as a landmark, every attempt yielded a dead-end.  Ultimately back on Woodward's main drag, I found the right path - but had easily lost ten minutes, and a lot of momentum.  Combined with the extended stay at Ogden, I was at least an hour behind Josh, hadn't seen Fred, and Terry was surely in bed at the hotel in Ames already.  The night is young, and I began to think about my fourth-level goal of beating the sunrise back to Ames, after having watched it from the road near Slater in '13.  

I passed over the High Trestle Trail bridge, and zipped along toward Madrid, and the waiting Casey's.  Upon arriving, I watched Fred pulling out onto to road to return to the trail and head for Slater, IA and the final turn toward Ames.  So, I wasn't completely out of the running, I suppose.  Still, I tried to manage my time at the Casey's choosing the right food and getting things arranged... but, I felt like everything was unfolding in slow motion, and I kept having to mentally shake my self by the shoulders to stay on-task.  I took a break in the restroom to finally rinse out my salt-impregnated shorts, but the heating element in the wall-mounted turbo-dryer was out, apparently... so, I was treated to slipping on some wet cheek-chillers.  Hell, at least they were clean.  MUCH better... no sense finishing this thing with any more pain and discomfort than necessary.  

One thing I learned in Madrid... as good as Nutella might be OFF the bike, it wasn't having the desired effect as energy food.  SO sweeet, it nearly turned my stomach... which delayed my departure further while I resorted to eating something bland and absorbent, like plain crackers, to stave off any ejections of the sweet gunk in my gut.  Maybe I'd still manage to turn some of that into speed.

Packed up and saddled-up, I headed back to the trail for Slater, waving a sad goodbye once more to the darkened silhouette of the Flat Tire Lounge...  I'll get that beer next year, bygawd... and it'll taste a damn-sight better than warm Nutella... 


Madrid to Ames, IA. and the FINISH!

The rest of the terrific Iowa rail-trail led us out to Slater, IA., and - next time, I really need to remember a few things and maybe look at a map.  I got turned around here in 2013, and the arrows just aren't visible anymore.  At this point, with the very early beginnings of bird-song beginning to break the long silence of night, my time was running out.  I knew there were at least 16 miles ahead until I'd reach the hotel.  All of my other goal levels lost, except for two:  "finishing" and "beating the sunrise" were still on the menu... why not get both?  Finally back on the right track heading out of Slater...

I can't explain it, but simply taking a left to head north isn't right... it's a bit more of an over-the-shoulder turn.

Anyhow, after finally seeing the shadowy remains of an arrow leading me out of town, I knew I was heading north and back to Ames.  There was hardly any tailwind left, but, at least it wasn't a headwind.  I jumped back into the big ring - very uncharacteristic for me for the last miles of a brevet, but I had nothing to lose and I've grown tired of leaving excuses on the road, leaving grunt in the tank... time to try and EARN something, instead of only phoning it in.  I began to accelerate.  The legs felt fresh, the road was flat; I jumped my speed up to 18MPH, then 20... a tiny flitter of doubt crept in, would I be able to hold this pace?   WHO CARES?  TRY!

I felt alive, awake, liberated, and ready to try and catch Fred, or anyone ahead of me - despite not seeing ANY taillights.  I was a man on the solo breakaway again, mentally; finally feeling at home on the saddle despite the recent challenges.  I've been waffling back and forth about getting the Trek 450 out of mothballs once again, and actually using it on the road... maybe I don't need 28s and fenders?  Maybe "big-ish 25s" are plenty... e.g. the Grand Bois 25mm tires are more like 26s....in fact, I think they are sold as 26mm tires, and are more like 27s... where the 28mm models I run now are more like 29... barely 30mm.  That's terrific for just about any road... but, for performance road?  Heck... I may be fooling myself again - meanwhile, under my legs, the Kogswell and I were working perfectly in unison and hammering for the finish.  Maybe the best thing to do is nothing.... having removed the front bag and rack, the bike felt sprightly again, nimble almost, as I threw the pedals over.

Ames city limits!!!!  I crossed over US-30, once again, and took sight of the first traffic light.... and a freshly painted arrow...  YES!!!  ...I had hoped the RBA had refreshed the in-town arrows, with all of the decimal-short distances between turns.   I liken this to the closing miles of the WMGM 200k, ok... all the miles of the WMGM 200k.  There's just a natural flow to it, but, documenting it takes pages and pages of cue.  It's frustrating, as a ride designer, and part of me thinks ... heck, maybe I should just be a pal and do as Greg has done up here, and spray-mark the WMGM 200?  It's on my summertime list.  

With no need to worry about getting lost or deciphering the cue sheet, I was free to fly, as Phil Liggett would quip.  I kept it in the big ring, chose my favorite rear cog, and stood up to deliver.  I killed it... HARD.  I wish I would have reset my computer to see what kind of in-town average speed I achieved.  I was blessed with clear intersections and green lights, and most importantly... no wrong turns.  Every arrow stood out like a blazing road flare, and I seemed to be always looking in the right place on the road surface at the right time.  My legs screamed, and I sucked in more air than a turbo-charged Volvo, and I was performing like I hadn't in years.  The "middle-aged tourer" mentality was gone.... I was in racer mode, even if my speed was more akin to the "Tuesday Night pub run" than to the Criterium Dauphine Libre.  For me, compared to years' past... I was working.  

Turn after turn, I tried to remember the numbers I'd seen on the website the night before.  Was sunrise 5:40?  5:38?  5:31?  I couldn't remember... and I didn't want to give up just because I watched the minutes click past on the computer display.  At every opportunity I peered through the trees to the east, looking for that big orange disk of the sun.  Daylight?  Oh, yeah... it was everywhere... civil twilight began to color the skies over Ames before I'd even made it to the highway crossing... but I knew true sunrise was not yet upon me.  

I collapsed into my saddle at one point ... no!   get up!

Another turn... another.... another!   WHERE WAS THE HOTEL???  

Completely turned around, when the final turn came at a traffic light I saw the arrow - and it seemed to point in the wrong direction... looking up, I saw the hotel, turned fast, flicked my head around for traffic, and crossed the lanes to the left turn island leading to the parking lot, and the front doors....   I hope those doors open fast... 

Barely braking in time to avoid a face-to-glass collision with the hotels automatic sliding entrance-way, and did a near-perfect pit-stop cyclo-cross style dismount, jogging into the hotel's air-conditioned and carpeted lobby, to the desk!  

huffing for air, I produced the card from the saddlebag, and handed it across the table to the staff member working.... 5:32 AM, she wrote... but I still didn't know if it was enough.  

Yep, it was enough.
It was.  

Whoo hoo!

Now, granted... I've finished 400km rides much faster than this in the past, but I'm not really concerned about that as much today.  I'm happy with my performance, because it was better than last time, I beat the sunrise, and I finished... because 2013's plan had been for a 600km ride... so, I didn't complete that brevet card.  This time, it counted.  That'll do.

Thinking about the performances of that rocket on the yellow bike, the girl in orange who crushed 600km and only took her a couple hours more than it took me to knock off 200km less.  Thinking of all the riders who finished ahead of me, yeah... that can get daunting and a bit depressing, but, I rode my own ride, finished my own ride - and honestly felt a LOT better, fresher, stronger than I have in years after doing so.

I may even feel better about this 400k finish than I do about my one 600k finish from 2007.  I think I'm finally starting to make sense of things in a confident way, and applying it.  I've removed the fear of pushing hard, and it paid off.  More focus on this will unlock the potential I know I possess, and as long as I'm smiling - well, who cares how fast I finish?  Sure, I'd like to do better - but, that's my business.  I regret nothing from this ride than perhaps also learning to keep moving at the controls and getting moving faster.  It worked great earlier in the day, but faded later.  I can work on that.  

What else can be said?   That's about it... I feel great, I'm excited about the rest of summer, and I'm excited to schedule my July 200k (or more... ) and see what I can do.  Sky is the limit... I'm clocked in, ready to work.  

Let's go.


Thanks for reading!

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