June 15, 2016

(Paved) Roads? Where we're going, we don't need (paved) "roads".

The month of May is coming to a close quickly, as I sit down on a lazy Memorial Day weekend afternoon for some keyboard time.  Let me make sure this goes on record before going any farther:  It's important to remember Memorial Day for its reasons, and it's not to be taken for granted how a simple bike ride becomes representative of the freedoms we enjoy in this country.  To travel widely from town to town, state to state, no papers - yes, it is only a peripheral byproduct of a larger cause, but on a personal level it certainly resonates.  It's a big part of what makes life rich and satisfying, being able to just "go" - the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle should always be so simple.   ... This, yes, from a guy who has far too often made this simple thing much too complicated.  One has to fall before one can appreciate the act of rising back up. 

This month has been quite productive.  I finally feel back in a place of familiarity, a place where fear is beginning to melt and yield to results and progress.  The tenuous 111km in April, the downright painful 225km at the end of that month (saddle slightly too low), all openers to a successful May charge.  Morning temps finally cooperating and making it easier to get back into a steady streak of commutes, and making logistical concerns on longer riders a little easier - we're quickly getting into the annual glory days of cycling here.

My printed calendar hanging in the garage hasn't been as full of ink as it is now.  In this day of technology, apps, and digital logging -- YEAH, I *know*;  heck, if you didn't REALLY think I was a true troglodyte, maybe this cinches it for youI log my mileage manually, with an ink pen, on a paper calendar.  

WHAT?!  That's ridiculous!  

Is it?  Maybe... but, I can't tell you how satisfying it is to reach the garage and to physically tick off a day's work with mileage, average speed, weather conditions, and my feelings on the day.  Ultimately, this does make its way into a digital log of some kind - sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly - but mainly as a backup, and as a way to keep track of tire, chain, cogs, etc. mileages for maintenance.  I prefer it, however - it has proven easier to remember to do once the day is done, and most importantly it provides a constant reminder that I need to DO something to fill that daily square.  It's motivation and confirmation in one, and I haven't yet met an app that does this as effectively.  ...for the way my mind works.  And, if nothing else, I never have to plug it in or reboot it when it freaks out and erases itself.  

Do something.  It's a pretty basic statement - but, linked to the calendar I've mentioned above, that has become my only real goal this year.  Just to DO something, ANY-thing, fitness-based and measurable, every day.  This has often been a brisk walk over lunch with co-workers, a run, push-ups, yard-work (like, hard-core manual yard-work such as reducing a bunch of downed tree limbs into a pile of size-matched firewood with a hand saw and a hatchet ... mowing the grass doesn't really count)The point, however, is that I've modified my approach away from simply trying to ride every day.  Sometimes, at this important stage in my kids' lives, cycling to and from work doesn't compute.  Sometimes waking up early doesn't compute, nor does staying up late, so I've adjusted appropriately to keep things positive ... not to be so down on myself for not riding, but to encourage the simple act of making every day an opportunity to get some sort of exercise logged.  It's working - as mentioned, May's calendar page is nearly full - and, a lot of it actually happens to be cycling-based, too.  

"Whatever you do, just don't do nothing."            - Daniel Swanson; April 2016

I do, however, have more things to put into play.  Now that this healthy habit of logging some activity daily has taken hold, it's time to add the dietary logging to account for the other 85% of the equation.  That's proving tougher - but, hey, one day at a time.   

So, all of that aside, let's get into the real meat of the May post -- the 100 and 200km offerings toward my goal of hitting one each per month in pursuit of those tasty RUSA awards on offer.

While April may have been a happy accident - what, with the April 10th 111km ride supposed to have been a 200k - I've found myself now with 2 months in a row with both a 100+ and 200+km ride logged for RUSA mileage.  Might as well keep this going!  Adding to the "perfect" plan-B, I'd signed up for the Gravel Worlds race in Lincoln, NE later this summer, so, turned out I needed some gravel miles, too (oh, for those playing along at home, plan-A would have involved not getting sick and missing key KCUC rides).  The platry 12 miles or so of gravel on the Border Patrol Express route are fine for the occasional road-bike venture onto the choppy stuff, but for real mileage and aspiration for things like GW and DK, one needs more exposure.  Local gravel hero to the rescue, we happen to now have two routes (and likely more coming) that are probably 80% gravel ... which, is saying something because with each passing year I am beginning to wonder how quickly that percentage will fall on otherwise identical routes, as Johnson County seems to have a mind to pave everything by the end of the decade.  Ugh.... stop!  It's fine, really, because it simply adds to the personal business case I'm writing - which strongly suggests I move somewhere else.

On to the riding....

The "Do You Feel Lucky" ride.... 130km of gravel, ridden on Friday the 13th (of May).  Well do ya... punk??  Josh and I met up at the start location and began the trek south on roads which were generally familiar to me at the time - John M., these routes' creator, and I had done a scouting ride on a large portion of them at some point last year, out to the Lousiburg Cider Mill and back - and a lot of the shorter training routes I've been running from the house lately have used MurLen/Renner to death, it seems.  If nothing else, it was nice to know the roads to get settled in.  This isn't going to turn into a gravel-specific training notebook or anything after this; I mean, honestly, I've been riding gravel for a long time - ever since Randy Rasa ripped off the band-aid of hesitation and led Noah and I out into the wilds on a minimum maintenance road a few years back, I've been hooked - but, still have been mostly a roadie.  I will say, this experience has me looking at my routes with a lot of scrutiny now, like my old Border Patrol route, which will be on the books a decade in 2018; the way I get into and out of La Cygne, KS. on that route seems really, really silly now, in retrospect.  Granted, I'm not sure I'd have been able to scope out anything different with 2008's eyes ... but, I'm certainly giving a lot of thought to re-designing and resubmitting that section in particular now that I've seen it from a different saddle, so to speak.  On another note - one should realize that A) I'm really late to the gravel party, that's clear, and B) I'm not a gravel racer... not yet, anyways, and not without some serious training and improvement.  The numbers you'll read, the personal notes on things inappropriately called "speed", are referring to the basics of physics, strictly the rate at which I cover distance.  Don't confuse this with "fast".  I had the pleasure of starting off the inaugural KCUC Gravel Series of 130/201km rides on May 7th -- yeah, it's primarily a rando thing, as we are primarily rando people, so, don't get all jazzed about this becoming another storied gravel grinder race; it's not.  BUT, it is good training for anyone with those aspirations, and so I was witness to a handful of DK-bound gravel racers showing up for the 201km distance and finishing REALLY quickly.  At least one guy I'd call a potential podium stander; young, ambitious, strong and fast.  Good lord... so, yeah, please make no mistake - this isn't me.  This is randonneuring... without the pavement.  That's my groove, and I'm cool with that - because, at least at Gravel Worlds it seems like that's the sort of rider who might have the advantage.


After a few miles of unavoidable pavement, Josh and I arrived at 191st & Renner and dropped onto the crumbly stuff for our first taste of the day.  Thankfully, the rains weren't quite as ridiculous toward the beginning of the month as they've been recently - while it had rained quite a bit a couple weeks earlier the gravel had drained really well.  Gravel roads, by design, are lower maintenance, overall, and with the runoff channels being so well-established, it takes a lot to get these roads out of shape - relatively speaking.  Josh and I got to talking about pavement on the Missouri side versus the Kansas plan, and there are pros and cons either way - yet, for a lot of these low traffic farm roads it seems like gravel was the best option.

After hydrating quite well and reaching the crossing of K-68, 
...or, as I like to call it "The Gawdforsaken Expressway of our Discontent"; it's taken only a short decade for this highway to change from "why is this highway here?" to "why is this highway still only 2 lanes?".  Still, I have fond memories of riding along its endless - but tiny - shoulder from the Missouri border all the way to the west side of Ottawa, with hardly any traffic to speak of.  Those days are certainly gone.  
we ventured onto the portion of the course of which I'd been less familiar.  On a fateful ride back in January I'd managed to accidentally ride a lot of the outbound route in reverse on the road bike, but, in the opposite direction things already looked and felt different.  I had memory of a thrill-ride descent which was now a seemingly endless climb, a rest leg tester.  I love it when roads emerge from behind the trees to surprise me like this.  Big slabs of bedrock peeking out from underneath the scattered gravel and packed ash served as stair steps on the way up from creek level, and finally we could see the next dozen miles stretching out ahead of us, the trees parting and opening up our view to brilliant blue skies.  Man, we got some great weather for this outing - the only minor concern involved a pesky headwind on the trip south, but, honestly we had very little to complain about.   

The rest of this post is likely going to be wrapped up in photo captions... I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  I'm running out of ways to make time for the whole bloggist thing.  As much as I'd LIKE to relate full-on novellas of my rides, sometimes the photo captions and social media threads will have to do.  I started drafting this post immediately after the gravel 200km ride mentioned herein, and is now June 8th - three weeks, roughly, and SO much more has happened SINCE that I have yet to post anything about.  I hope to have a LOT more time on my hands someday - but for now, yeaaah.... 
"Life is short...let's go for a bike ride!"   -- Keith Gates, right now.

So, that said ... here you go!  

Josh and I pausing at 311th and Somerset Road on the southbound leg.  Brief hunks of pavement served mainly to make me think something was wrong with my tires - which took a while to get used to.  More on that later, - Episode 2:  Noob-Alert!

Somerset Road goes on forever, and the party never ends... Josh, on point, hackin it up as the hills tumble one by one.

Yep, you guessed it -- obligatory over the shoulder headshot which will undoubtedly become the 2016 social media avatar, if I ever get this post finshed!  The state of things behind me opposite the photo above.  Nothing quite beats the Kansas countryside, and one certainly can't complain about the traffic counts.  #unlearnpavement , indeed!

"The Bicycle Fence" somewhere out there on the route.  Even if I told you where it is, good luck seeing it unless you have someone like Josh who doesn't get tunnel vision on fast downhills the way I had on the 5/13 ride... I never would have seen it had he not hollered at me.  To be fair, it's a FAST downhill that brings riders past this - so, maybe I can blame it on my first passage up this particular road.  Of course, once upon a time, I had logged 10 passes of my own Border Patrol 200km route before Randy Rasa pointed out an historical marker that I'd simply NEVER seen previously.... and it was only 10 feet off the roadway.  Widen your view, 'dude, seriously!

Josh checks things out while we take a short breather near the Bicycle Fence.  Gentle breezes and blue skies abound, but, it wouldn't last.  Out of frame to the left is a big expanse of blackening sky, as the thunderstorms forecast for later in the evening had begun to build up earlier than expected.  My first long ride on a bike without fenders in almost a decade, certainly I was setting myself for death an misery.  (Spoiler alert:  I didn't die)

Ask your doctor is more music is right for you.  Well, I am not really an Apple fan-boy, mainly due to their insistence on proliferating ridiculous proprietary connectors on the world, no matter how great of an idea they might be... don't get me started.  ANYWAYS, IMHO, one of the things that Apple gets right are the iPod Shuffle players -- you can't get much more "perfect" in my estimation.  Tiny, brilliantly simple to operate, hard to break, does the job, actually has highly-rated sound quality for a portable.  Add to this list, "fits inside a standard RX bottle", and you have my contribution to up-cycling.  Some circles of PE foam added under the cap and at the bottom, and I have a nice, sturdy, rattle-free container for my little mental-booster.  After realizing that most of my riding takes me outside the range of my favorite radio stations -- and, that nothing kills the mood like commercial radio -- I've gone back to making my own playlists and keeping this little fella on standby.  It works for me... but, I still don't always need it.  Good conversation with a riding partner goes a lot farther, I think.

The run to La Cgyne in the books, we refueled in the air-conditioned comfort of the Casey's and then turned our attention back north - bottles topped off and calories accounted-for, Josh and I mounted up and headed north out of town.  To our northwest, a dark patch of sky which continued to grow and expand ... but, for that moment the only real worries we had involved the gravel itself.  

Tires.  Once upon a time I thought I had things all figured out, and now this whole gravel riding experience has "ruined" me.  Higher air pressure is not better.  Thinner tires are not better.  Neither of these things, it turns out, are even FASTER... I knew this to some extent after some revelations courtesy the fine publications of Jan Heine, but, still - I only THOUGHT I knew what the "deal" really was.  Josh and I headed north along what had become New Lancaster Road, and ended up on some of the nasty kind of gravel roads:  the kind that had probably been washed out in a recent storm and had since been maintained by the county with a fresh scattering of bright white aggregate, none of which had packed or settled - and ALL of it on the hilliest part of the route, it seemed.  So came the sketchy mixture of noob gravelite versus crappy road versus elevated tire pressures, as the shoulder came up and the tension rose while my speed increased and I - magically - managed to barely stay upright as I white-knuckled the downhill from the right edge of the road to the left, desperately looking for a better line than the one I'd chosen, finding none.  Thankfully incident-free, we made it to the other side of this section of road intact, and wiser - whether we'd realized it at the time or not.  

We happened upon the New Lancaster General Store, only just re-opened from a full restoration by its new owners.  This would become quite a welcome stop on the next run of this route - more on that later. 

Back on pavement, at least for a couple miles, we ultimately crossed K-68 again and then began to look for some water along the roadside ... not yet having taken advantage of the services we'd just found a few miles before.  After a successful garden-hose refill from a local, we continued to make our way north and west as the skies above us continued to darken and swell with clouds.  

We made it to 255th Street, which I might end up calling Dinosaur Bone Road - for reasons I'll need to photo-document next time (later in June, I think) - and then onto the stairsteps of east and west route jogs meandering around dead-end streets and non-existent bridges.  We passed the bicycle fence (photos, above) and then arrived at a railroad crossing at 239th and Pflumm, a high point in elevation which laid out the rest of our ride for us.  We scoped out water towers and considered our hydration, remaining food, and the looming clouds.  Reaching the end of the gravel at 199th and Lackman Road, we were all smiles.  Questions about what the gravel became during a heavy rainstorm were left unanswered - and probably for the better, all considered.  I don't think either of us were in the mood to really test ourselves on the snotty peanut-buttery gunk that would have awaited us should the rain have started.  This day, as if the spirits heard our trepidation, the rain began to fall on us about 30 seconds after we crossed onto the pavement which would make up the remaining miles of the route.  Lucky us!

Josh and I enjoyed the cooling effect of the gentle rain, took on the first clap of thunder and the let the resulting downpour rinse off the day's sweat and dust, a perfect cap on the last two miles of the ride.  We pulled into the 7-Eleven looking every inch the gravel warriors we were slowly becoming.  130km in the books, and so many questions answered -- all with big smiles and hearty handshakes.  

... now, on to the 200km version of the same ride, with a guy who's DK-ready... 

No pressure, 'dude.

So, Steven W. - who would (spolier alert) go on to a brilliant 1st-ever personal finish at DK only a couple weeks later, and I ventured out for (him) one last tune-up ride on gravel before the big event.

In case you've been living under a (hah) rock, DK = Dirty Kanza is THE world's premier gravel grinder, and has set the bar for toughness on a bike for 11 years now.  Keep watch for the 2017 sign-ups, and "Find your Limit"....   (commuterDude is not a paid spokesperson, just a huge, huge fan of the event and what it and its organization does for cycling) 

Steven and I met up and headed out into the humid morning air, and for me - into a bit of unknown.  Steven, in preparation for DK, had logged this local gravel 200k perhaps eight times already, so I was anxious to see what he had to show me, and what the unknown-to-me parts of the course had on offer.  I have to be honest -- I'm still approaching the coming Gravel Worlds and next year's possible DK running (which will be my first time behind the handlebars instead of behind the wheel of the support car) with a lot of trepidation.  It's not equipment-based now that I have a working and capable gravel steed rolling - it's all still personal.  I have weight to lose, I have training to log, and personal fears to exorcise before hitting the Flints with attack-mode engaged.  But, I don't plan on quitting.  Quitting is not an option.  We're randonneurs.  We don't "quit".  

The first part of the course under our belts, Steven and I hit the Casey's in La Cygne and refueled quickly for the next segment ... and for me, it was into the unknown.  Once I get a route under my belt, it's no biggie... but, I think anyone might relate:  that first time seeing "the hill", or finally experiencing "that one rough section" can get inside one's head pretty firm and mess a person up.  I was a mess, my shoulders were tense, and my brain working overtime while I waited to see what was what.  Basically, the Olathe-to-Mound City 201km gravel run is about as much gravel as one can get out here.  Johnson County and even parts of northern Miami County Kansas are developing rapidly, and roads are being paved as a result.  I don't know the current state of lane miles "lost" to the paving crews each year, but, I know that routes like this will be less and less useful for true gravel training as the next decade passes.  I hope I'm wrong, honestly - because pavement only means one thing:  traffic.  I am really, really beginning to despise traffic.  I need to move.  Randy had it right.  

I've got a lot of road left to discover out there before I'm truly out of options, and this route was really only the beginning.  This route is - more or less - the same sort of journey my Border Patrol 213km permanent route takes, but is instead using all of the back roads and gravel to do it, and halfway'ing at Mound City instead of Pleasanton.  It's a neat, neat route - and it offers a view of parts of the Linn County countryside that I hadn't expected.  The shorter 130km version that Josh and I had ridden only a handful of days earlier barely scratches the surface of "remote" - but gets close.  Ease into things, and ride both routes, eh?  It's a good time!

Leaving La Cygne, I followed Steven's wheel as we rolled east for a bit on K-152, previously the only road that "mattered" heading into and out of the town, and then turned south and into the unknown.  Seeing all of this gravel and exploring all of these previously "verbotten" roads (from a pure roadie perspective) has opened up so much now - especially with a proper bike that can handle larger tires.  (oh yeah, tires....)   It's got me completely revamping my approach to riding and route design - because, really, these are all roads that a decent road bike CAN handle, carefully.  There's almost no reason NOT to explore, even when the largest tire one might be running is a 25mm.  Okay, THAT might be pushing it, but, one can always slow down and take it easy on the bumps for a couple miles.  I think it's far, far better than enduring high-speed highway traffic, for example.  I'm seeing things with new glasses, for sure.  Randy may have started this, years ago, but this recent stuff has certainly clinched it.  

Tires... speaking of tires, and "clincher", I'm also starting to see the light when it comes to tubeless and running lower pressures.  On the ride with Josh only ten days earlier, my tire pressure in my Kenda Small-Block-Eight tires had been set to about 70 front and 75 rear - against a wide sidewall rating range of 35-85 PSI of possibility.  For me, generally, this is already sorta low, considering my vast experience being limited to 28mm pavement tires, where 105 PSI on the sidewall was considered "normal".  After graduating to a more modest 80 PSI on those sorts of tire, the 70 PSI range for commuting and spirited road riding didn't seem too bad, since the tire volume (at 37mm marked, more like 35mm true width) was higher anyways.  It never occurred to me that I might have been simply slowing myself down and adding unwanted shock to my ride quality.  Also, the rock-hard tires (in retrospect) seemed to be the larger cause (in addition to inexperience) for the sketchy downhill on loose gravel the ride before.  On this excursion with Steven, before really talking about it and without doing much reading of any kind, I'd already lowered my pressure to a mild 60 PSI front, 65 rear.  That'd be alright... right?  

Ha, wrong.... As the subject approached tires and pressures, it became apparent that even THESE numbers were WAY too high.  After Steven had ridden this route a few times, and - importantly - once with John M., local gravel guy (okay, legend; sorry, John), Steven had come to learn that the best way to determine ones optimum tire pressure was to keep lowering it, ride after ride, by about 5 PSI... until you'd pinch-flat.  After that, add 5 PSI back and that's your number.  WOW.  Okay.... so, what would THAT be like???  So much to learn --- and, that's with tubes:  running tubeless tires, one can run them even lower, if it makes sense, but the possibilities become even larger when the tube itself is removed.  Counter-intuitively, this creates a ride that is FAR more comfortable, control on loose stuff increases dramatically, one's ability to find good lines and avoid trenching into the soft stuff goes up, AND one's average speeds tend to increase.  Too good to be true?  Um, yeah --- try it.  At Mound City, after this revelation on the road during discussion, I let a "couple seconds" worth of air (no pressure gauge) out of each tire, and thus far on the 2nd leg I was quite pleased with the results.  Lack of experience on this new-to-me section of the route factored in, it wasn't exactly apples-to-apples, but, the ability to pick my lines and relax on the chunky stuff improved right away. 


I'm not sure what kind of snake it was we'd seen, slithering toward the ditch as we approached - but, it was large, and didn't look like your normal Eastern Kansas "harmless" garden snake, for sure.  I wish I'd gotten a picture.

My first indication that cross training on gravel under mixed conditions would likely have been a good idea came soon after we hit the first shady patches of road along the vast Marrias de la Cygne floodplain we'd been traversing.  While the previous ride had taken place on largely granular and raised roadways, the heavily packed and often washed-over roads I found myself on hadn't fared so well in the recent heavy rains.  While largely "dry", the surface was covered edge to edge in a thin sheen of - well - peanut butter.  This, I realize, doesn't compare at all to anything a truly seasoned gravel or off-road rider would likely have seen.... but, to my new eyes, it was certainly not "regular old dry pavement" or even "regular old WET pavement" for that matter.  In an instant, self doubt and insecurity began to eclipse any actual traction any surefootedness I might have had going for me.  While I managed to remain upright while tracking Steven's lines, it took a while to get comfortable on the snotty stretches of road.  I had to exercise some trust in my tires, which never let me down despite a couple of very slight slides when exiting corners - and more than likely that had been caused by my tight shoulders and poorly distributed balance in those moments.  Relax!

I channeled advice proffered by Cameron Chambers a few years back when I'd worked with him at Bike Source: "just put your hands in the drops and throw it into the corners... it'll stick."

It'd take a few more miles before my virtual coach's advice would sink in.  

Steven and I stopped for a quick rest and adjustment along the route near.... wait, where the heck are we???
I'd have to look at a map, but I know that we'd just passed the "shady triangle" where Steven mentioned he'd rested in the past, but despite being on the route the whole area certainly felt remote.  We'd been close-encountered by a vulture and an owl, and had witnessed small rodents and at least one other snake since leaving La Cygne, and hadn't really seen any cars or trucks in some time... this was the wilderness that the pavement had been protecting me from all this while, I suppose.

Confused?  Ngghhrrraaaaarrrrr!

Steven and I continued on to the south, and soon I realized that we were getting close to crossing some of the roads which make up my Border Patrol route... but, it was a fair bet:  if we were to cross ANY pavement at this point, it'd probably be part of that route.  The slimy mud continued here and there, but, mainly the hills were coming.  I knew all too well, the big ridge that marked the edges of the river valley were coming - there was no getting around it.  Also knowing that we were NOT on pavement, another factor was clear - that paved roads are generally graded at some point, to relax the natural grades to benefit safety and convenience of the local through traffic.  The gravel roads, by contrast, tend to be steeper.  The game was on, and Steven had talked of a hill that he'd YET to climb without having to dismount and walk.  Yeesh.

The hill did not disappoint - and yeah, I totally ran out of gearing.  Steven, DK-ready, didn't have to walk it.  The rise to the pavement complete, we did a quick u-turn back onto gravel around the next bend near an old schoolhouse, and then paid back all of the elevation we'd just gained with a wicked-fast downhill rush, back into the valley.  Amazing --- fast, and a little scary... just how I like my downhills.  

More bends and twists, old buildings and barns, and soon the endless grass and wildflower shoulder trimmings gave way to cut grass and driveways, and the wilderness slowly became the outskirts of Mound City, and the halfway control.  

Casey's... it never fails to feel like "home."  Call us randonneurs what you might... heck, maybe I'm my own worst critic, but, we know how to party, c-store style.  Every c-store, after a few years of brevets, starts to feel like an old friend - I don't want to get too romantic about it, but it's nice.  Don't knock the Casey's.  Especially after XX miles of pretty much nothing and a lot of bumpy roads.

Pizza, Pringles, Chocolate Milk, and another second (or two) of air released from the tires... I didn't really know what my pressure was at that point, but, the tires passed the squeeze test and would prove to hold my weight.  If a little less air went well, then a little less than less would be even better (no drama - it was).  Onward to the north.

We made our way out of town and back onto the gravel goodness, and thanks to our route designer, the route back is slightly different which adds variety.  The way back seemed even more remote than the way south, and one section seemed like a mountain passage along the side of the big ridge holding most of the climbing - exciting!

Speaking of exciting, you ever wonder if the guy you're riding with knows something that you might not?  We transitioned back to a portion of the route that seemed a little more familiar to me, but, it was holding a downhill that I had no real memory of - climb-wise - from the trip down.  Steven clearly had remember it, and had begun to slow down as I rolled past him.... but, what I'd mistaken for maybe good wishes or notes on a nature break was probably more like "dude be carefullll (doppler effect)" as I whizzed past for one of my usual brakeless gravity fliers.  Little did I know, this hill was a bit of a steep one... and, growing ever larger in my field of view sat the sharp 90-degree left bend at the bottom, complete with line of thick overgrowth and trees beyond it.  Oh.  Oh, snap...

Trying to stay loose, low, and connected, I began to reach for the brakes -- just the rear, which was proving useless under the high speed and relentless acceleration at hand.  What can I say, yeah, I didn't die --- but the adrenaline rush was palpable and the white-knuckle rush was handled with a flurry of nervous laughter.  Big downhill at mile XX... yeah, noted.  Wow.

An awesome vista looking north across the rive valley south of La Cygne, complete with pond and cows and Steven on point up the road.  Blue skies, sunshine, and no traffic --- perfect.

A local relic for sale at the New Lancaster General Store, while we stop for a welcome liquids break - some Mountain Dew Throw-Back for me.  It's not beer, but it's darn tasty anyways.

Hittin' the old General Store at 367th and New Lancaster Road.  Stop in, won't ya?  Good folks here.

I'm really diggin' this new adventure, and it's already tripled my shopping lists... which is good AND bad.  

A quick inventory of the garage has me realizing that I've equipped myself quite well to never, EVER upgrade to disc brakes without major upheaval, for starters ... but, I suppose that's why the swap-n-shop culture is alive and well in the cycling world.  Someday... but, I already have a strong desire to come up with a one-bike-to-rule-them-all, because the already rampant parts duplication and issues therein are getting tiresome.  If I knew then when I know today... yeah.  That nugget.  Honestly, I can't get too hung up on equipment - although, it's SO easy to.  Having now come back from DK and the blizzard of equipment envy that ensues, I can't tell you how hard it is to look at one's own stick and think "nothing I own is good enough, modern, race-ready..."  It doesn't (or at least shouldn't) matter.  I'm not going to turn away someone offering to let me try out a Salsa prototype for a potential 2017 DK run, that's for sure... hint, hint?  

Steven and I rolled out of New Lancaster feeling pretty good and fresh, and chunked off the remaining miles in style, and I - once again, trying to change the sort of rider I am - managed to finish strong.  These are good signs.  

A couple weeks later, Steven successfully capped off a third-time's the charm DK finish - congrats, Steven!!!  I was lucky enough to crew for him again this year - but, I'll tell ya, he's a different rider, stronger, more assured, confident, calm, and consistent.  He's got a great year unfolding - and I'm taking notes.

It's taken WAY too long to knock out this combo post - but, better late than never.  Hopefully I can make the time to keep this going, as I'm already looking at June unfolding the same way.  I've managed to knock out a terrific 218km ride with Josh (the Stad-man) as of last week (June 10th) which proved, well... "Mighty", for sure.  Mighty hot, mighty crappy pavement, mighty ... Peculiar... I hope to have at least a photo post coming for that adventure, as it was a doozy.  After that, another 130km gravel run out of Olathe on the 26th to catch the "P-12" requirement for this halfway marker on the year 2016.  Wow, time flies... to think, only three months ago I was teetering on the edge of apathy and under-training... just a small push back in the correct direction, a few reaffirmed goals, and now here we are.  

Now, to get that waistline back in order... no blog posts on diets, I promise... 

Gotta go ride... stay thirsty, my friends; and thanks for reading!