December 31, 2017

It's Time to Fight Back.

Yeah, the year isn't over yet, but, I feel like it is.

After the success of the National Bike Challenge and enjoying a really good streak of rides to work, I felt like I was on top of things at the onset of Fall 2017.  Wrapping up the R-12 also helped - but, the shake-up of the full office remodel literally took the wind out of my sails.  I guess I don't handle logistical change well. 

I like my set-up.  I like my space.  It might all just be an elaborate "excuse" in disguise, but, I sorta get it now... why people don't ride to work.  It only took one little change, one obstacle, to really knock me off my game.  I have never had a shower or a locker room, but I always had space to hang things where nobody would see them, and was able to maintain a clandestine operation.  Nobody knew I even rode unless they happened into my cubicle and turned around long enough to see my stuff hanging up.  Now, it seems if I don't have a place to hang things up, it's a bit of a deal killer.  I ride, change clothes, and arrive at my desk ... where I now freeze - paralyzed.  The thought of reaching into my bag and pulling out a damp, sweaty pair of cycling shorts to hang dry for the afternoon ride just feels SO wrong considering my proximity to others.  I suppose if I was more of a prick and didn't care what my office neighbors thought, if I didn't give a rats about the potential for odors or how people thought about exercise gear hanging under my desk ... or the effect it has on the overall professionalism of the office environment (important to mention, it would be quite different if department heads and sharp-suited VPs weren't literally walking by my desk every 15 minutes).  Part of me just can't do it.

I'm so desperate to avoid being "that guy" that I'm not being myself.  

It sucks.  I hate driving.  I hate traffic.  I hate the Jekyll-and-Hyde effect it has on me.  I hate that my routine of nearly two decades seems suddenly so impossible to crack.  I'm angry that they enacted this change - and I'm not alone.  Everyone is on the same page - the private among us, those who needed their sanctuary and semi-solitude to think through tough problems and write good code are annoyed by the whole arrangement.  Visual and audible distractions far outweigh any perceived collaborative effect we might be gaining.  There are a lot of scowls, a lot of grumbles, and a lot of people trying to recreate their bubbles with noise-cancelling headphones and walls of carefully placed computer monitors ... leaning in close to recreate the cubicle walls they've lost. 

I need to figure this out.

I am running routines, simulations, scenarios... I am figuring it out, in my own way.  The same way I build bikes, write, navigate nearly everything I do; it begins in my head.  I millimeter, I scrutinize, I fuss and quake - internally.  Then I execute.  This will be no different.

Finally, winter.
There is snow covering the grass and streets, and single digit temperatures have tightened their grip on the area.  I'm not a fan anymore.  I'm almost thankful for a busy schedule and conflicting plans.  While I have done apparently incredible things on the bike in ridiculous temperatures and conditions, there is absolutely no part of me that wants to be "out there" right now.  I have learned not to fight this resistance, for within it lay the rest I probably need, the mental break I often won't afford myself -- the need to recharge the batteries and "live to ride another day;" in the springtime, during the ACP series when it matters more.  Instead, I have been running - dieting - denying myself the comforts of winter-time comfort foods and sloth for the same reasons.  I'm tired... probably finally tired enough to do something about it ...of existing in a typical middle-aged American male body when I know that of which I am capable.  I know I can probably run a half-marathon, right now... but I shouldn't because I weigh too much and will likely hurt myself.  I know I can ride another 600km brevet... but I'm so sick and tired of hauling my own unsatisfactory midsection laboriously up the climbs when I know my cardiovascular ability and technique could have me floating up the climbs instead.  I'm tired of being afraid of trying a SR600, or another 24-Hour race...  yet, I've been shopping for both.  I've been too lazy to do the work, and it's time to take the lazy guy inside me out back for a nice chat, mafia shakedown style.  The ten or fifteen pounds that were so "easy" to shed ten years ago are such a bastard now.  The beatings will continue until morale improves. 

Why am I dumping at the keyboard again?  Welp, it's how I get outside of my own head.
If I don't do this occasionally, winter "wins."

It's time to fight back.

I'm not at risk here.
I'm not standing at the precipice of a bottomless, black ravine of self-induced despair or hopelessness.
I've already turned away from that, years ago.
I just need the annual kick in the pants to make something happen - and that's basically what this is.
Step one is identifying the issue.

After the successful --- yeah, even though it was technically a DNF -- October Dart ride in Camdenton, I've been thinking differently.  I'm not bummed out that it "didn't count," because it counted far more than even I realize.  Instead of shying away from it, I keep thinking about how I can go back and do it faster.  Not because speed is the goal, but, because I desire to be better than myself.  That's really the only reason any of us crazies do these long rides... the lifers like me.  Yeah, we keep coming back because we love it; but we also keep coming back because we NEED it.  I look at the last ride not as a goal achieved, but as another mark that I already want to beat.  I'm not chasing you.  I'm pushing me.  It's not personal.

It's a beautiful overlook, Lake Niangua a bit after sunrise; but, it's also the beginning of probably the most difficult 20 miles of cycling I'd ever considered trying.  Instead of checking the box, determined never to return, I can't stop thinking about what it will take to go back and do it faster next time.

It's the same reason - among other things - that I have more variety on the radar for 2018 already.  Even though I am planning a tenth-anniversary running of the Border Patrol route in March, part of me never wants to ride that route again... because of how much I rode it in 2017 to grab this last R-12 installment.  I want to revisit the routes in St. Joseph - specifically the Ride with the Devil route, and other challenges that I swore I'd "never do again," like the WMGM Memorial and the Knob Noster routes.  Heck, part of me really wants to examine the possibility of the Boothby Challenge, which honors Seattle Randonneur Don Boothby who had unfortunately passed away before he'd completed his attempt.  While the "B-12" is unofficial, it sounds appealing - but, apparently the real trick is finding enough variety in 300km routes in the region to facilitate it.  We'll see...  something tells me the ole 200km mark is plenty; but, the key to enduring longer events is to push my limits.  Since it's unofficial it may be as simple as choosing a variety of R-12 routes, and riding to/from the start line.

Maybe I need to watch fewer ultra-sports documentaries... because, now, sitting here, it seems entirely possible to set a ridiculous goal like the Trans America race... but, I think maybe I should tackle something a bit smaller first.  It's New Year's Resolution time, so dream big, right?  Big things happen in smaller steps, however, so; first things first... I am using running to stay fit and shake things up.  I am starting to log my food intake again, and trying to make it a habit.  The pantry is getting a thorough clean-out and restock.  Time to behave - and eat - like an athlete.  

For now, I've set my sights on another R-12, and - with some careful planning - a full SR series and perhaps even my first 1,000km.  What about 1,200km?  I've been a RUSA member since 2002, but I'm among the big majority of riders who have never tried a 1,200km Grand Randonnee... the latest issue of Randonneurs USA magazine, in fact, has our president saying only 200 RUSA members per year ride a US 1,200km event.  I need to make it happen one of these years.

Nothing is official, because there are priorities that will dictate what I'm able to pursue - but, for 2017, I captured the flag of my city for the National Bike Challenge, and hit an annual mileage of about 5,300 miles - which is the highest mileage year I've had in twelve years, by 2,000 miles.  I don't own a power meter, so I can't quantify anything... but, the training data I do have and my Strava segment times indicate improvements from when I started logging in April.  I think it's time to dream big again, reach higher again, and test the limits.  It never really gets "easier".... but, I already know I can ride 200km over and over, so... what else can I do?  Can I do them faster?  Can I use the word "race" and mean it?  It's been a while since I tested my own comfort zone in this regard.  None of us should ever really get too comfortable when it comes to this sort of thing.  Yeah, let's do this... whatever "this" ends up becoming.

Well, that's all I've got for now, people...  I only dropped maybe ten posts this year, so I'll keep working on that as well ... maybe once per month, eh?  Goals are good... and that's what resolutions are for, right?  For now.... let's all relax, take a moment to appreciate what we've each accomplished, and enjoy the evening!

Happy New Year, everyone!

November 24, 2017

A new commuting challenge?

For the entirety of my bicycle commuting life I've relative ease regarding the logistics of handling clothing.  My personal preference is to ride in full kit and change into fresh clothing when arriving at the office, so, having a place to dry the clothes from the ride has always been a consideration.  To date, I have enjoyed a large cubicle with high walls and a bookshelf/cabinet arrangement, as shown in the photo below.  Repurposing the metal brackets normally used to hold up shelving, a simple clothes line arrangement emerges, made from small-gauge speaker wire and wooden clothespins.  out of frame sits a desk fan, and voila!  A self-contained closet for drying cycling layers. 

From the outside of the cubicle the contents are fully concealed, and since the office is well ventilated and low-humidity everything is usually dry within an hour of hanging, and then quickly put away for the ride home later in the day.  Smells?  Not likely - although, sometimes sweat stinks, it's usually when sweat-laden clothing is left to dry unventilated (put away wet) that the "funk" can arise.  So, quickly washing things once they reach home in the evening, trying to tender one's efforts in the morning, and quickly getting clothes out of the bag and onto a clothesline after the morning ride is critical to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention at work. 

For me, being able to fly under the radar is critical:  I don't want to be the guy that smells, or the guy that has a bunch of smelly cycling gear strung across his desk.  Due to a recent office remodel, however... this is becoming harder to avoid.

The old set-up - a luxury, for sure.  Contained, concealed, and comfortable.  I miss it.  A lot.

I have to wear the full kit and dry things at work.  I'm just too fast.
(this is actually a GPS app error (duh), which gives me a giggle every time I stumble across it)

Out of full visual context, it's difficult to envision what this shot represents; but, this is the underside of our new "wall-less" desks.  They are height-adjustable (motorized), and pretty nice, honestly - but, there's literally nowhere to hang my clothes anymore - at least, not in a concealed fashion.  The simple clotheslines deployed between the desk's underside supports works - but, the fact that I'm hanging clothes underneath is impossible to hide.

Now, in order to create a more open, collaborative, and energy-efficient workspace, the cubicles I've been using as a crutch for the majority of my riding-to-work life are gone.  In their place are open desks with very little storage space; and, well, it's been difficult to establish a good routine.  My neighbors - all non-cyclists - are really, really close by.  One has already commented on the clothesline under my desk in a less-than-thrilled manner, and, well, that puts doubt into my head.  Also in the entirety of my working life, I've only come across a small scattering of like-minded bicycle-to-work people.  One, "Crowbar" is nearly as consistent as I am.  The others - well, there's only perhaps three others in our building who sporadically ride to work.  Across the office complex, I can imagine that number is about the same per-building; maybe 4-5 per building tops at any given time; and that's only during the peak riding months for our area, based on the seasons.  For anyone to "understand" our situation is rare; so, I don't expect much understanding from building managers and co-workers.

Surprisingly, however, the facilities managers have offered up a large, pretty much unused coat closet, which is a decent option... for me.  If anyone else wanted to take advantage of it, it would start to get tight and crowded - but, it's better than nothing if someone really takes issue with my plan to continue hanging clothing under the desk.  But, as I tend to do - I try to plan for every scenario, and often worry about scenarios that never present themselves.  What comes naturally for minimizing risk tends to have me overthinking people's reactions before giving them a chance to react for real.  So, having said that, I just need to start showing up at the office, early, and hanging up my clothes... and handling fallout if and when it happens.  I already have a plan "B" and "C", but, I'd rather have my stuff nearby.

The internet, thankfully, is loaded with ways to get around some of the challenges I'm facing with regards to riding to work.  I've had to step out of the sunshine of my comfort zone and rethink some of the ways I've made a success out of bicycling to work.  I don't plan to stop.  It's a great opportunity to face the challenge and see how things shake out.  Workplaces need to understand the needs of those who don't choose the easy route of automotive transportation, and - from an advocacy standpoint - it's each of our jobs to support what we believe in.

So, stay tuned... yes, this blog was founded on commuting to work by bicycle, and while the last several years have focused on randonneuring, this topic still deserves attention.  I have a feeling that more of bicycling-to-work population has to deal with not-so-accommodating conditions, so, this just brings me in line with that majority.  If I come up with any groundbreaking discoveries or insights, look for them in future posts.

Until then... let's go ride; no matter the destination!

Thanks for reading!

November 19, 2017

A Year-End Round-up for 2017

It's been an interesting year... and a busy one, to boot.  In fact, I think this is the whopping 8th post of the YEAR.  That's... well... light.  With my return to school and - well, all the RIDING - I haven't had much time for writing about cycling.

I have just done some housecleaning on the site, however, so it at least appears that someone is minding the store.  It was a little sad deleting some of the dead links from the sidebar, and nice to see that some things never change.  I've updated the parts and shops area, and added some new notables:  namely Dill Pickle Gear, which makes some great bags... and while I don't own one yet, I had the pleasure of meeting the owner/creator/maker on a ride this year, so I had to put up the link.  She's good people, these are amazing bags, and there you have it.  Check it out.  I also added links to Chain-L, which I've been using for a few years now with great results - both on and off pavement.  Finally, added in the link to Specialized tires, which have been underneath me for a lot of miles the last few years with terrific results.  I really hope they stick to the formula, because it's been working for me really well.  Lastly, I updated the rando-tales links list... mainly the archive list... with the latest ride reports, which admittedly aren't extensive because of the aforementioned lack of time.


I will say this.  Only a few credit hours away from actually holding a legit college degree feels REALLY freaking good.  It's only the first step in a couple more years of hard work, but, a worthy challenge.  It's a lot like a brevet... just an especially long one.  Once I'm finished writing seemingly endless research papers and such, I really don't see this blog going bye-bye.  In this day and age, really, it's becoming a little rare... yeah, probably because "nobody blogs anymore" and social media has completely absorbed all content and everyone has assimilated to short-attention-span-theater and YouTube.. .but hey, I'm still here.  I write.  I like it.  I like the process.  We're here, and we're stayin'.

Oh, speaking of YouTube - as I blow my own business case out of the water - check out the Global Cycling Network.  If cycling was "cool enough" to have an actual TV show or something on Netflix, this would be it.  I, honestly and truly, REALLY hope these guys go big and actually end up on Amazon or Netflix or Hulu.  It's THAT well done, very well produced, thought out, written, and edited.  This is one YouTube web-hole you need to fall into this "off season".  Cycling news, how-tos, even stuff on long-distance, racing, climbing, tech reviews, training videos to help pass long hours on the trainer... it's all here.  I'm not affiliated with GCN in any way, I just stumbled onto it earlier this year.  They just crossed 1 million subscribers, so it's really becoming a "thing".  Really, it represents the best of what YouTube can and should be for all avenues of interest .. and for us cyclists, it's a big win.  Treasure it!

Okay... The National Bike Challenge.
So, that (apparently) was exactly the shot in the arm I needed.
Back in April, sorta languishing on commutes to work and such, I stumbled into the National Bike Challenge, updated my Strava profile.

Yeah, about Strava.  You're reading this site, after all, so you might already have your own opinions about what the site is and what it represents.  It's "too competitive", it's "full or racers", "everyone cheats"; I've read and heard the criticisms, too.  But, I will say this:  just try it for yourself.  Not only is it a great way to see what your friends are going and might give you some good ideas on routes you might not have considered - but, if you are tired of being stuck in the same old average speed category, you can use Strava's unique bit of segment-based competition to your own advantage.  Now, it's abundantly clear: I'm not going to post any KOM conquests anytime soon, BUT, if your goal it to simply become faster than YOU, Strava is a terrific motivator.  Strava will track your personal progress across various segments and you can spend some quality time on your next commute or training ride and try to best yourself.  It's that simple - if you want to get faster for your own goals -- not just for the sake of numbers -- then Strava is a terrific way to make it happen.  The age-old disclaimer:  *I* am not what I would consider to be "fast"; BUT, after a summer of using Strava to track my commutes and brevets for the National Bike Challenge, I am faster than I was in April.  That should be the only real goal - be better than we were yesterday.

Back to focus on the National Bike Challenge, I don't think anything has motivated me quite like this for several years now.  From the first of May to the end of September, I logged nearly 4,000 miles in commutes and other rides, missing a few scattered days here and there, and successfully captured "#1" for Olathe, KS., USA... out of a whopping 12 riders, yeah... but, still.  Whoo-hoo!  I must say, a certain #2 competitor certainly gave me a bit of panic here and there during August and September - it was close, but, therein lay the advantage of occasionally jumping into a competition such as this.  It pushed me to ride more and farther than I otherwise would have, and combined with the Strava-based segments and pushing my own, personal envelope, I have had a pretty productive cycling fitness year - probably my best in a decade.

Part of my successful National Bike Challenge campaign had a lot to do with randonneuring, too.  Daily commutes and quick rides around the neighborhood to gather daily points aside, it was really my monthly 200km excursions that racked up the tally.  Having started last November on a particularly windy day with Terry B. from St. Joseph, MO., I've also successfully managed to finally get R-12 #5, just last month.  So, all in all, yeah -- I'm pretty darned happy with 2017, all told.

Strangely, however, I find myself back in 2008 or 2009 with regards to the monthly ride becoming a bit predictable - at least from a scenery perspective.  Weirdly, it was the fender's fault.


Yeah, well -- proving the value of the SKS fenders that I purchased nearly 12 years ago (geez, really?  2004?!  Yeah, I checked.), they finally bit the big one... partially, on a gravel detour back in January.  Yeah, I was riding gravel on the road bike again... so what?  LOL.  While the issue was quickly fixed with some zip ties, it did afford me the chance to realize that I had a LOT of zip-ties, electrical tape, duct tape and holes in those old fenders - so, I took the opportunity to upgrade to some nice fenders from Velo-Orange.  I'd made some modifications to the SKS front fenders, however, to allow the bike to fit on a traditional fork-down roof rack tray ... and the VO fenders, well... they're longer.  Much longer.   This, for practical purposes, is terrific.  They maintain a longer wrap around the circumference of the wheels, and therefore manage to block a substantially greater amount of spray.  Not really keen to ruin what these new fenders are quite good at just to make it easier to put on the car, well, I haven't really had a good way to get the bike to and from remote ride locations.  Yeah, I need a fully-upright roof rack tray ($$), or a trunk-mounted rack ($)... or, ideally, a hitch mounted rack ($$$)... or, I could just HTFU and ride to the start locations of remote rides, right?  Yeah... in the heat of the moment with my schedule, the latter doesn't often work out - so, I generally don't.  Maybe I should.  This is a ridiculous tangent... but, all told, I ended up riding the same old route (the Border Patrol) over-and-over this last run.  For the NEXT R-12, I really do hope to introduce a bit more variety into my monthly excursions, for sure.  Blame the fenders.

Maybe you should HTFU and remove the fenders, dude....  GASP!  What, but, that, hey, you can't, just, mmm, you, hey....


You can take the dude off the bike, but you can't take the dude off... what?

So, YEAH!  R-12 Number Five!  Feeling good... proof that you're never too busy to completely overwhelm yourself.  Seriously, I'm pretty certain that if I hadn't maintained some sort of streak over this time period of returning to school, I would have gone properly off the deep end.  Cycling burns off the crazy.  We need it.

Speaking of crazy, I must mention: some of the BEST riding I had this year involved a complete DNF on a 200km RUSA Dart ride out of Camdenton, MO.

Since a couple folks are in the process of submitting ride reports to RUSA on this particular ride, I will not spoil the drama here, but will only mention that it's pretty hilly out there.  Like, OMG... and especially so when the pavement ends.  Yeah.  More underbiking - with nearly 130 miles scheduled and only 30 of it on gravel, it was a bit difficult to justify taking the gravel bike out; but, there were parts where I'd wished I had.  Particularly telling is the first photograph, below.  This is Tunnel Dam road, high above the Niangua River.  Pretty cool.  To our left, a massive dropoff down to river level.  To our right, the Tunnel Dam powerplant - and this, little more than a service road, is our passage through the area.  The interesting bit involves the elevation changes in the next couple of miles.  Looking at the photo, notice the two utility poles to the left of the road, and immediately to the right of the second utility pole is a small arc of roadway.  Gradients of 28% in segments, and an average gradient of 11% for the next 20-some miles -- all on loose, marble-like gravel, on 28c road tires:  the numbers only provide a vague sense of what we endured.  It was epic good fun, and a bit frightening at times, too.  Gnarly switchback gravel descents, climbs that looked like sheer walls, and very little traction .. and, for some reason, nothing but smiles after the heartrate and breathing settled down.  It's probably the best ride I've ever taken part in, even if it didn't "count."  What was to be my 12th consecutive month for R-12 ended up being an epic DNF, and so, a week later I ventured out on the Border Patrol route again in cold and windy conditions to grab #12.  Worth it.

Considering how much the typical camera tends to flatten images and seemingly lessen the variations in terrain, this photo is still surprisingly lumpy.  At times it seemed impossibly steep, and there was indeed some walking - up AND down - the hills.  We only saw two cars in this section of road - and the lack of traffic meant the gravel was largely unpacked and quite loose.  The bar has been sufficiently raised - the hills on the Border Patrol route a week later were practically a non-event.

Steven W., perhaps a touch crazier than the rest of us, tackling another in an endless string of choppy, loose gravel climbs on his 650B fixed gear.  Spencer K., an hour behind us on team #2, also rode this monster route on a fixed gear.

Another great shot, looking back down one of the hills; I believe Gary D. snapped this one - the scenery is breathtaking.  So were the climbs.   
In 230-or-so kilometers (130ish miles), one participant recorded over 11,000 ft. of climbing.  That's a lot, especially considering the steepest of it was on unpaved roads.  The paved sections were no less hilly.  By comparison, though the RUSA webpage doesn't make it easy to categorize rides by the amount of climbing they contain, but a quick web-search reveals one ride in the Sierra Nevada mountains boasting 15,000 ft. of climbing; but, on paved 6% average gradient mountain pass roads.  Now, maybe I'm biased, but as certainly as 200km rides go, this one could rank up there as one of the toughest in the country.  Likely there is someone in Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Idaho, Alaska that can claim otherwise ... but, man, this one was a brute.  I can't wait to try it again and make it count.  I also don't think a single ride has inspired so much post-ride analysis and discussion, at least not in our circles.  I have, mentally, spent thousands of dollars in upgrades trying to beat this route.  Better brakes, better tires, different gearing; all of which require a different frameset... these are the rides, the one's that really push the envelope, that we remember and make us rethink everything.  It should be noted, of course, that the only thing I'm really going to change is ME.

For now, I'm wrapping up this post and switching back to homework mode, leaf-raking mode (hey, upper body training!), and long-sleeved riding.  November is half over... ugh... so, I'm also eyeing the calendar and looking for ways to work in the next 200k.  All in a day's work, eh?

I sincerely hope to knock out more than eight posts in 2018... heck, maybe I'll yet break ten posts for 2017!  One per month, just like the long rides, is probably a reasonable goal - but, priorities remain in place.  We're still here, still out there, and that - for now - is good enough.
Let's go outside!

Thanks for reading!

October 10, 2017

2018 is gonna be huge! ...and some training primers...

Yeah, I'm pimpin' it early... cause I'm excited about it!

While the official schedule won't come out for another couple weeks, you should mark your calendars for 2018 and make your randonneuring dreams happen.  Yes, you, long-time-reader!  

Something that has been requested by riders for a while is actually gonna go down.
Memorial Day weekend 2018, we're looking at five events starting at the same time from the same hotel.  This event works a lot like some very successful events in Iowa and elsewhere around the country.  You will be able to ride 200, 300, 400, 600 or 1,000km distance, all starting and finishing at the same hotel.

Well, okay, so what?  ... what the heck does THAT mean, really? 

Unless you've ridden the longer distances, it's hard to see this benefit immediately - but, it's all about logistics.  For example, (although the precise routes and details are YET to be finalized, so do NOT take this as law as you read this, no matter when you're reading it:), if you were riding a 600km on that day, to complete your SR series, you would start and ride a 400km loop from the hotel, hitting the usual array of pre-determined controls - like on a normal ride - but, you'd end up back at the the hotel, which acts as an intermediate control; where you can then take a shower, a nap, change clothing, refill your bags with supplies, batteries, etc., before heading out on another loop - this time of 200km, ultimately finishing again back at the hotel - to complete your 600k.  The hotel acts as the start, and some number of intermediate controls depending on the distance, and then the finish.    

In short, it's amazing:  it renders the planning process for the longer distances MUCH easier.  No worry about drop bags, what to pack, no need to pay for multiple hotel rooms on a longer, stretched-out loop, and a bit of a familiar stop to punctuate the goal you're undertaking.  The 1,000km, in this example, would simply add another couple of varied loops.  Those big distances that have never seemed tangible just became easier to imagine.

So, mark your calendars and watch the site for coming details.

The full Audax KC schedule should be out later this month, offering up the usual fare of 200, 300, 400, 600km rides, a Fleche, the aforementioned Memorial Day brevet series, and - yes - even more!

While I'm a creature of habit and KC is sorta my "home turf", I am branching out and very excited to see some new territory out there in, 

DO NOT forget about the highly-regarded Nebraska Sandhill Randonneurs, either... ALSO run by our tireless RBA, Spencer K. - yes, he runs TWO regions. 
The stories I have heard coming out of the Nebraska Rides are borderline legendary.
The 2018 schedule is out there now -- so, if you don't mind a short drive to where the traffic isn't... get up there, and explore!

2018 is going to be huge... 

But, how do you GET there? 


Maybe you're reading this and wondering how we ride all these ridiculous distances.  Well, as you might have gleaned from my last post, it is a journey, a progression.  Start slow and low.  Try 50km... that's a little over 30 miles.  Yeah, it doesn't sound like it should be a big deal, but, then try it faster.  Then, a little faster... 

But, rando isn't about speed....? 

True... but, one training philosophy suggests riding harder at shorter distances as training for longer distances at moderate speeds.  As you add distance... ramping up from 50km to 75km, and then 100km... inevitably, you'll dose out the same effort over more miles.  If you can ride a reasonably fast 50km, then you can conceivably knock out a respectable 100km time without worrying too much about the dreaded clock.  Granted, the RUSA time limits are generous... but, the idea is to move from "finishing" to "finishing comfortably", or, with time in the bank.  That translates to time for sleep and sit-down food stops during the longest distances.  The foundation starts at much shorter distances, you see.  

Extend this idea to Ultra, and you can see the point --- Ultra goes beyond rando and gets competitive, so the goals begin to introduce speed AND distance.  Randonneuring enjoyment, however, CAN coexist with some speed training.  You end up adding time into your bank, and that's more time for mechanical issues, food stops, or just enjoying the scenery on your terms - and not the clock's.    

There are tons of resources out there on how to ramp up to a century ride, and they translate and extend very easily to 200km.  But, training programs are very personal.  Research and see what works for you and your riding style, and adjust.  I am not "fast"... not in a strict racing sense -- but, building up endurance is not, conversely, about long, touring-paced slogs to build saddle time.  Remember to ask around, get lots of quality rest, eat smart, ride smart, and be safe.  Ask your doctor if randonneuring is right for you...

After you achieve the 200km mark, simply rest, recover, watch your nutrition and advance to the 300km level.  If you're like ME... maybe the first 400km is a big stretch, even after achieving the 300km level.  It IS possible to come off the local club rides and grab a 600km the following spring... but, don't look that high up the mountain yet.  Sometimes it takes a couple of years to reach a stride, work out inevitable bike fit issues that only crop up after a dozen hours, etc.  Remember, it's a journey, a progression.  Focus lower, at 100 and 200km for now... that's six months until March 2018's first 200km ride... that's do-able.  

If you've been thinking about it and find yourself with questions, hit me up in the comments, check the web, surf the RUSA site, hit our Facebook page.  We're here to help!  

Let's go long in 2018..!

October 8, 2017

Is Randonneuring Dying?

I only say this up front, because I have (in the past) personally fallen into a burn-out trap which subconsciously had me thinking along the lines that - because I have traditionally had limited riding days available - if a ride was not going to count for RUSA credit, it wasn't worth riding.  I think, personally, I've missed a lot of great riding because of my attitude.

But, I also think too much.  (Noooo, not you, Dude!)

This, in some ways, makes me a rando-snob.  People don't ask me cycling-related questions, EVEN when they see I've ridden to work, because they know what I do "for fun", and they immediately assume they aren't going to be on my same wavelength.  I've somehow, unintentionally, isolated myself in a place where I'm "unapproachable" and "weird"... and nobody wants to be like me. 

So... let's grow the sport... (crap)

Lots of bad behavior to un-do on my part.

How do social isolates find OTHER social isolates?  These equations don't solve!

When I approach this same concept from a "community" perspective I feel a conflicted sense of responsibility.  I am a social outcast and lone wolf - like many randonneurs... yet, I genuinely want MORE people to discover the freedom, personal satisfaction, sense of accomplishment, and genuine thrill of riding LONG.  In that same breath, however, I - again, like most of us randos - am fully content to spin out 200 miles in complete solitude and not think anything of it.  I have dropped out of pace-lines JUST to be by myself.  This is a weird sport, this.  My behavior certainly doesn't encourage growth!  
How the heck did I get here?

GETTING to RUSA-land is a process.

We've often tossed around ideas on how to build the club, grow riders, and keep RUSA relevant; yet, to do that I have to remember where I came from.

It was 1999.
I didn't plan to be a randonneur.
I honestly thought that 100 miles was "THE" end-goal.
Warbird and I trained... and trained... and trained.  The MS-150 was a big success as a result, and it was happy days.  

But, that itch was there... did we have to wait for the big club century to ride long?  What if we went farther?  Who are these "idiots" riding DOUBLE centuries??  Seriously?  

"Those guys are crazy...."  

...and yet, I'd find myself secretly wondering if *I* could do it, too.

Then Warbird met the "Grim" Rieper.

He rode a 200 and 300k, and came back to me with tales of epic, awesome rides, endless days, challenges  ... the kind of rides that rattled bottle cages apart and destroyed morale (and backsides) ... and yet... it all sounded amazing.

When I rode my first 200km from Liberty to Platte City and back (thanks, Bob, for making it "easy" - pfffffft) I had no idea that I'd STILL be enamored with it almost two decades later. 

I talked it up, wrote hundreds of thousands of words about it, posted pictures, and tried to make it sound amazing and romantic.... and some riders came.

...BUT, I have seen far too many riders join RUSA and then slip away.  I feel, sometimes, that I didn't do my part to help support and keep them there.  Do we really have a "community"?  Am I doing enough?  Is it even UP to me? 

I need to start doing my part again, and start holding some of the shorter rides that ultimately started to build a community.  People came out and tried 50km, with coffee and jokes and good times - and some showed up for their first 200k.  Some stuck around, some slipped away.... honestly, like Everest (if you'll forgive that lofty analogy), people train and train and train, and then summit; but, it's not something the spirit or the body can often allow annually.  

When one does something HUGE, it's just "done" - and that's normal.  

Some folks join, ramp up, qualify, ride P-B-P, and never ride another rando event.  Box checked.  Done.  Same with Ultra-Cycling.  You train, you ride Furnace Creek or RAAM (I wish), and it's "done".  Forget completely about cost and time... assuming THOSE things were free, most would not come back year over year.  Many can't.

... but, a strong community of "lifers" like myself can help make those journeys possible.  

I need to start making appearances at the local club rides and mix it up with racers and people riding their FIRST road ride EVER - and everyone in between.  I need to show up in the RUSA jersey with the weird saddle bag, and answer questions and talk, and make people realize that it is possible.

I can't expect people to flock in when I haven't even propped open the door.

Yeah, we're a strange bunch... and, it's hard enough riding 100km for the first time when you have to show up to a dark parking lot and try to mingle with a bunch of "weirdos" you've never met.  Rides of ANY distance become SO much easier to digest if "my friend ____ is gonna be there!".... you know?  

Rando isn't dying on its own... heck, it's not dying at all.
But, I can't complain about low ridership and not make the time to try and change things.

Of course, my time limitations are real.
I have high hopes - but, here I am on another weekend morning doing homework and (ahem) typing THIS... instead of mixing it up at the local show-n-go ride.  One of these days the time will present itself - and you can be sure I'll be out there as ambassador for RUSA and Audax K.C..  For now, maybe these posts are enough?  Maybe the Instagram posts are enough?  Maybe... maybe... and I know for every one of "me", there's another RUSA lifer in KC that is fighting the same fight.  We may not ever be as big as San Fran, or Seattle...

...but, OH baby... the thrill of completely running out of route cards at the registration table at the Spring 200km, because we suddenly had 50 walk-ups?  dude.... 

I think we can do this.

Randonneuring isn't dying.
We won't let it.

Let's go ride  

July 31, 2017

Bonus Miles and a Day in the Sun

     It's already been three months since my last brevet or permanent post, and I'm happy to report that my current R-12 streak is still in place, as well as a pretty solid streak of commutes to work- the most consistency I've demonstrated in years.  Most of the complaints I've had over the past couple years about myself being too slow or not understanding how I "ever used to do that" are beginning to fade.  Hard work, consistency, and some minor diet changes are really all it takes - no magic formulas here.  I just lacked the motivation, for a long time, to do the work.  Sure, I was still managing to ride... but, never fully satisfied with myself.  I tend to be that way - hard on myself to a fault, unsettled, dissatisfied, hungry but frustrated.  I've sorta been figuring myself out lately.
So, that's the "me" update ... yay, boring:  let's get to the rides, Jack!  

Along State Route C, Cass County, MO., south of Peculiar.  Blue skies, a pond, light breezes, full sunshine, and a twisty decent on the horizon.  Game on!  (from 7/29/2017 Archie Bunker 202km)

   I've been stacking up the miles on the National Bike Challenge, also, which has provided a lot of motivation.  I'm not going to catch the 80-mile-per-day averages of the big leaders, and certainly not the 400km A DAY of *THE* leader, but at this writing I'm happy to be in the top 1,000 riders in the country, 20th in Kansas, and first in my city which is nice!  Even if it has been a really short ride around the neighborhood to log a couple miles to maintain a streak, the motivation of a good contest can't be beaten, and the monthly randonneuring helps the monthly totals, for sure.  

  For May, I logged another pass at the Border Patrol 217km route, and then did it again in June - but slightly faster.  Yeah, life is still really busy, so sometimes I have to default to the closest, most-accessible route I can ride.  It's better than the alternative, and while the roads are sometimes the same the ride is always a little different.  June felt really good, and I was able to match my best time from six years ago... so, the whole "get back what I had" is beginning to work.  I still have a lot of work to do to achieve another HOUR of time savings, however, to match my best-ever time on that route (from 2008); and another notch of work altogether to grab the fastest-ever time of 8 hours and 00 minutes ET (including stops) from a local hammer back in 2015.  Can it be done?  Yes.  A lot of it, for me, involves simply implementing lightning-fast controls... but, a lot of it will require more serious speed work, and maybe a double tailwind.  LOL... "cheating?" ...maybe, but hey... if taking advantage of a tailwind is "cheating", we're all screwed.  For the record, I don't think this guy had a tailwind... nor does he need it.  He's just plain fast.  All I can say is, on my own terms - as the one who designed and submitted that route to RUSA back in 2008, it is a worthy goal to try and post the fastest-ever time on it before its tenth anniversary on the books as a RUSA permanent.  If I can do that... I might be ready for a return to Tejas.  That's not an announcement... one stepping stone at a time, people ;) ...that's only to say, I'd consider myself reasonably "fast" if I can pull it off. 

This time, however, things took a small step backward in July - sorta like last year at this time.  The heat has been pretty brutal, but not as bad as I remember reporting from last year.  The heavily-stacked July 2016 series of rides from the end of June right into a hot 100k and a very hot gravel 200k simply punched my time card, for real.  I was smoked.  I barely, barely managed to call it an official finish with only 8 minutes left on the clock that day, and it took weeks to recover from the heat exhaustion and fatigue. 

This year it wasn't as hot, AND it was paved ... but, the heat was still a factor and I suppose I got behind on hydration a bit.  High humidity and my sweat rate conspired to effectively squeeze me out like a wet towel on at least four occasions on the 202km Archie Bunker route, which I rode to from home for some bonus miles.  The crystal blue skies dotted with fluffy clouds, light traffic and favorable return winds made for a terrific day out, all told -- but, the stomach issues arising at mile 50 and lasting until beyond mile 100 put the squeeze on my progress, and some control times dragged out while I tried to re-hydrate, cool off, and stretch things out.  Still, compared to last year my fitness seems to have allowed me more of a buffer by consequence of being faster while moving than I might otherwise have been.  For the times I spent at the controls, I was able to push harder on the road - despite some pain and cramping.  That's - for me - "progress", because without the training improvements from last year, I'd likely have been down to a serious time crunch.  Instead, despite feeling like I was running seriously behind I managed to hit the finish with over and hour and a half to spare.  That's WAY better than I'd fared in the past under similar circumstances, so I'll take it.  

So, the streak remains in place -- nine down, three to go to grab R-12 #5... which has eluded me for quite a while now.  Overall goal puts me a "halfway" to the personally coveted "Ultra R-12"... basically, that's 10 R-12's.  I can do that.  Yes.

Taking a break and a pamphlet at the Amarugia Highlands Conservation Area, NW of Archie, MO.

Overlooking State Route W after climbing up onto the Highlands.  I think I should get some more brightly-colored cycling accessories.  Ri-iiight.  I'm smiling, but, this is where the stomach issues began.

Processing electrolytes much?  It's widely known that one simply can't replace electrolyte imbalances while actively sweating like a mess, like I tend to do, so one simply has to drink what's possible without over- or under-doing it, and trying to find the sort of balance that keeps sodium in the body.  Here, at the halfway, visible evidence that I was losing the battle.  Post-ride analysis indicates I was only taking in about half of what I'd ideally needed to avoid the problems I'd experienced.  Sometimes the same lessons do need to be learned over again - but, somehow, I was still faster than usual under the circumstances.  I can live with that, and make the right adjustments for next time.

Dropping back into the Blue River valley toward Martin City, MO., and the finish.  I still had to ride home afterwards, and while it wasn't personally popular at that moment, at least the clock would stop ticking in my head and with the sun's power gone and the temps dropping, my legs finally stopped cramping on anything resembling a climb.  All-in-all, I was pleased because while, no, it wasn't a ten hour finish, it wasn't a five-minutes-to-spare panic finish, either.  I possibly made it all the way back to the driveway with time left on the brevet clock.

Next month, I can't wait to get up north and ride with some friends and catch the 2017 solar eclipse from the bike on what should be an epic, awesome 302km brevet up in northeast Kansas and southern Nebraska.  Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

June 17, 2017

Retrospec... what the heck is that?

This has probably been a really long time coming, so better late than never.
A few years back I had some Dirty Kanza aspirations, but no bike.  

Alas, I've been ever fond of the concept of under-biking ... the smile on my face in some of the photos from that post are clear indication that pavement isn't "everything", and even recently this post has been mentioned and re mentioned in social media.  It had a profound impact on me, and very, very few of my personal rides on the road bike don't involve at least a little gravel or light off-road.  But, DK demanded a bit more respect and attention... at least, more tire volume and mud clearance than my traditional road bike allowed.

Keeping with the advice of The Dirt Bum, our sage guide for the post mentioned above and purveyor of all things that make good sense, I sought out a low-cost entry into the world of gravel bikes by way of a tip on about the brand "Retrospec", and specifically their model called the AMOK, now on version 2.0: a basic, no-frills cyclocross bike with the clearances and rugged simplicity an event like DK seemed to demand.  The local garage sale scene would have also been a great place to start, but, at the time and the price -- which was (for whatever reason) FAR lower at the time of my purchase than Amazon lists today - it was hard to ignore the value.  Essentially, I was getting a 4130 CroMo 'cross bike for far less than I could have likely cobbled together on my own.  Done.  That was April of 2015.

In short, it's all been money well spent, even if only for the frame-set.
The frame is solid, stiff, responsive, predictable, and yes, probably a lot heavier than it need be; but, it feels and looks purposeful.  It certainly doesn't feel "cheap", which is an indication that a lot of price-point bikes (save for weight and tech) have come a long way in the last decade.  

Wheels, however -- one gets what they pay for.  Considering my investment, the wheels could have been in pieces when shipped and I would have been happy.  Overall, this is usually where off-the-peg bikes tend to suffer most; likely the reason the best money one can ever spend toward the upgrade of an existing bicycle is toward a wheel set.  The hubs are house-branded - loose ball bearings with retainers and poorly-designed seals which either drag too much or let too much water and dust into the hub body - take your pick.  The spokes are straight-gauge, traditional J-bend at the hub flanges, and the rims are no-name with a semi-aero profile, about 23mm wide, to allow easy adaptation of larger tires.  However, they ultimately proved their price-point:  after a few thousand miles, the rear drive side spokes (which were laced only 2x instead of my preferred 3x) began to let go, around the same time the hubs began to demonstrate knocking and wear.  After a few rebuilds and replacement of spokes to little avail, they've since been retired.  Initially I'd been using them as backup wheels for the studded tires I'd bought - finally once again having a frame which would accept big, meaty, studded winter tires for commuting.  For daily riding, and many of the gravel brevets I've enjoyed atop this bike, I'd adopted my old standby road wheels for the job - a generator hub up front (because it's me.) and an older Shimano Ultegra hub in back, laced 3x to Mavic Open Pro rims.  This is the part where the forum posts go wild -- yes, I'm probably 12 kinds of crazy and stupid for running such a "spindly", "roadie" wheelset for gravel... but, c'mon.  I'll allow you to exercise the "I told you so" if I ever end up dead in a ditch because of my wheel choice - but, again:  it's me.  #1, they are in the garage already... and #2, seriously, if I could even approach affording Chris King or HED or anything else "bomb" for my rides, I probably wouldn't have picked an bicycle purchase in the first place, right?  Right.  Let's keep this real.  The only real takeaway here:  buyer beware with wheelsets supplied with ANY complete bicycle purchase, unless you are shopping the top 10% of available bikes.  If you reach a certain price point, the included wheelset is likely something pretty special... but, if you don't see names you recognize on the rim and hubs... sock away some cash for a future upgrade.  This is where the internet trading market is terrific:  finding anything with a Shimano logo, Sun rims or Mavic, Alex or similar, will usually yield a better platform than most no-name wheels out there.  My Ultegra hub, now in daily duty on the Retrospec, is approaching 40,000 miles of trouble-free service, compared to the couple of thousand I got out of these "house label" wheels before the problems began.  Most folks buying this sort of bike, fairly, may never exceed 3000 miles in the bike's lifetime... so, they are equipped appropriately.

Tires:  Having nothing to compare to, the included Kenda Small Block Eight 'cross/gravel tires (in 700x35) were pretty darn good - albeit noticably slower then the road tires I've been used to: that was fully expected.  It wasn't until I finally burned through the tread and changed to the "Trigger" model from Specialized that the comparable flaws in the Kenda became apparent.  It was hard to ignore the Specialized's improvements in rolling resistance and comfort, even in a slightly smaller 700x33 size (though Specialized sizes, compared to other industry players tend to run bigger than the sidewall indicates).  Currently I'm maximizing frame clearances and running the Specialized Trigger in a 700x38mm size... again, the forums will ignite with cautions about running a wider tire on a narrow road rim, and of these concerns I am fully aware - but, I'm also intending an eventual wheel rebuild before too much longer, likely switching from the current Open Pros to Mavic's wider and stronger A719 rims.  

Yeah, I still don't run disc brakes... It's not a political thing, it's a frame thing.

The stock headset was "okay", but quickly started to pit - partly expected from another one of the no-name parts included in the build.  Since - again - the initial value was so high with this purchase, it was easy to justify the $30 or so for a FSA "Pig" DH headset with roller bearings.  WAY overkill for my purposes, but hey -- I like it when I can pre-load a headset and not have to touch it again.  Ever.  I generally classify headsets in the "buy it once" column, and prices for really good ones have come down in recent years. 

On that note, I'd opted - as a bit of a builder - to order the Retrospec as a single-speed configuration, after confirming they simply used the same cassette rear wheel as their multi-speed offerings, but equipped with spacers and a single cog, sans-derailleur.  This gave me the flexibility to spec my own rear derailleur and cassette and give myself a bit of an upgrade out of the gate.  For these I chose the venerable Shimano Deore mountain/touring long-cage rear mech, which has a massive wrap-up to handle big cassettes (granted, I'm still running in the 9-speed range so... this keeps it cheap.)  I opted for a 11-34 rear cluster, giving a lot of gear range for my desired 1x9 set-up --- although, I'd end up experimenting a LOT with front chainrings over the 24 months since my purchase.  After running a paranoid-of-climbs 34t front ring (and finding myself in the 11t out back all the time), I moved slowly up through 36t, then 39, and finally landed on 40t being my Goldilocks chainring.  With good chainline in the cruising gear and more climbing gears than speed gears, things are just about perfect now.  I've made some other small changes here and there - namely swapping out the supplied handlebars for some of my fave Soma Hwy One road bars.  The supplied canti brakes have been upgraded to Tektro's CR710 model, which have worked out nicely - offering better modulation and adjust-ability compared to stock.  The stock saddle was (as most stock saddles) wretched and made from nails and evil... so I swapped on a Brooks C-17, and life is amazing again.  Yep, again, it's "me" - so mild upgrades here and there over time are all part of the plan.  Start with a good backbone, and you'll get a great bike.

As far as bikes go, this one has proven out as one of the most versatile I've ever owned.  
The geometry is very comfortable, and I could easily swap in my regular road wheels and tires and ride a 400km tomorrow without many gripes.  I have a problem with multiple bikes in my stable... see the upgrades above, and you'll understand.  I like a single bike, one chain to lube, on set of tires, one saddle, one set of measurements... so, getting this bike as comfortable as the Kogswell - which has been the sole bike for a long time - was paramount; but, now that I'm there I am finding things that this bike does better than my road bike... and so, fleeting notions about making THIS the sole bike have come and gone.  Instead, I've used it as an opportunity to keep miles off the "good bike" and use this as the jack-of-all-rides that aren't brevets.  I've ridden rail trail, paved trail, have commuted, have ridden gravel at distances up to 200km so far, and lots of stuff in between.  Further, because it's heavier and obviously has higher rolling resistance, when I do ultimately jump back on the road bike, it feels light, quick, responsive, and fast.... and it's really none of those things compared to modern race bikes.  I'm not sure it's supposed to be - but, the Retrospec has provided a terrific training platform and has removed a lot of barriers to some great riding, be they snow, gravel, mud, dirt, single-track, and more.  

Other suggestions -- any old road bike will do.  A lot of 70's and 80's road bikes have terrific all-road geometries, and few realized their full potential.  With loads of tire clearance, one can (again, see Dirt Bum's site) come up with a great gravel solution.  But, there are solutions like the Retrospec which can fit the bill, too.  Yeah, it's no Specialized, Trek, Scott, Ridley, or Canyon.... but, you don't have to let a tight budget stifle gravel road enjoyment or all-road adventure.  Just know, while you should always support your local bike shop, there are options available to help you get out there now, getting dusty and putting a smile on your face.  Enjoy! 

Last year on a particularly hot and brutal gravel 200km ride.  Enough salty, sweaty brine to ruin a pair of bike shorts, but the Retrospec did great and got me home.

Before adding the rear derailleur, I enjoyed a few hundred miles on the stock single speed arrangement.  Note the highly-versatile rear-facing, long horizontal dropouts with position-adjusting bolts/chain tensioners and derailleur hanger.  Importantly, the dropouts are thick, the welds and tube joints are consistent and clean, and the entire frame is straight and tracks well.

Yeah, I tried that leather saddle on this bike, too.  I guess I'm just not a leather saddle guy, after thousands of miles of trying.  Here, as commuting duty became more of the focus, the fenders and rear rack were added, as well as the rear generator light.

Rear rack riser in view here, made from some aluminum stock.

On the Flint Hills Nature Trail, enjoying some miles fender and rack-free.

A wide range cassette to smooth out the sharper gravel road climbs out there.

Don't be afraid of this sign... it's where the fun starts!

Taking a break on a gravel metric century last summer.

Generator light mounted on the fork blade with some aluminum stock, to keep it out of the streak of tire debris; Josh on point as we rack up the dusty miles.

Approaching sundown on the evening commute home from work.

Gravel road exploration yields some of the best scenery and old buildings.

Bar tape wear... I just can't bring myself to change it out yet

Stormy weather?  Just ride... it can take it.

April 14, 2017

Leavenworth - Oregon - Leavenworth 300k: "This is what we do."

"The weather and wind (and route) just are.  You can either handle it, or you can't."   
- Les Stroud

I chose to preface this post with this simple, and one of my favorite, quotes; said at least a decade ago during one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows, Survivorman.  Les, the show's creator and host, is right.  I say this in the context of randonneuring to make it plain --- everything I've written here in these pages over the past fifteen years has been written from my own perspective. My perceptions are my own - and shouldn't be taken to prevent you or anyone else from trying this great, great sport I love - endurance cycling.  There is nothing "hard" about this sport - not really -- if you are ready, prepared, and smart about it.  Further, "ready" and "fast" aren't the same thing.  I'm not fast.  In the 20 years of serious adult bicycling I've enjoyed, I've only been truly "fast" for maybe 5% of those total miles.  It's not a requirement.  Seriously, the roughly 9.5 MPH total elapsed time requirement to make the controls of a RUSA-sanctioned brevet or permanent isn't something you "can't" do.  Sure, like anything else - train.  If you want it, work for it.  BUT, none of this is impossible, and while I tend to mentally have my own struggles from time to time, and I do tend to dramatize, but I've sometimes unintentionally painted a picture of something a bit "too hard"... maybe I'm compensating, call it whatever... but, the people I look up to (some of whom I am lucky enough to ride with) do some truly difficult things.  *I* do not.  I'm not fishing for complements or validation - though perhaps I once had been - but, I'm lucky enough to have the health to do what I love, and that's about it.  If it's ever "hard", it's because my lack of nutritional discipline or fitness or mental state in a given moment has made it so.  It really is up to me, and you, because when you boil it ALL away... it's just a bike ride.  Yes, yes... it IS, SO MUCH MORE... but, maybe you get my idea here.  Don't over-complicate, OR over-simplify.  Just try it.  You might hurt for a few days... but the memories you will pull from years from now are worth the temporary discomfort.

I want to encourage ALL of you to read this post quickly, then grab your credit card and go to and join up.  In today's world of annual music service contracts, pay-to-play apps, and wireless bills, RUSA is a still a real bargain.  Commit.  Join the club of one of the most satisfying physical things you will ever, ever do with your spare time.  It's truly rewarding, and I can't wait to share some miles with you.  Don't sweat the small stuff.  This VERY ride, I finished alongside a young dude on a really, really nice Cannondale machine, and right next to us was a long time friend riding a bike he'd literally pulled out of a dumpster back in January and revived as a fixed gear.  The bike you have right now is probably just fine.  Let's do this!

Okay... the magic of a brand new route.  What more can I say?

The journey in photos and captions, because .... let's face it:  It's nice outside, and while I've already gone for some interval training this morning, I just think time behind the handlebars is better for me than time behind the keyboard.   (Interval training??  yep, time for me to get serious again... I don't need wider tires, I need a narrower ME)

I love the idea of tracing out old highway alignments if they're largely intact.
This Audax KC (formerly KCUC) 300km brevet would take us along big expanses of K-7, all the way up into Nebraska.

As much as I'd been looking forward to it, I found myself running late.  First indication of a potentially tough day, I'd arrived with a scant 7 minutes to unload the bike, prep everything, sign in, and roll out if I was to leave with the group.  I shoved food into my face while making final closures on various leather straps and such while Spencer rounded up a full parking lot and made the route announcements.  Ugh, I hate being rushed but I'd done it to myself.  My usual habit of arriving at least 30 minutes early to a distant parking lot had vaporized, but I wasn't going to let it set the tone for my day.  It had already been a tough week ... I needed this ride for a lot of reasons.

My only regret came in the first three miles and involved me not asking a ton of questions of the rider pictured at right in the first of my shots, below.  Steel frame, VO fenders, loads of braze-ons, larger tires, front rack, front bag, wicked track-stand skills -- and power.  The dude was gone after mile five.  Pretty much what appeared to be my ideal bike... the Kogs is great, make no mistake; but, for me it represents a decade-old approach.  I'm using it as-designed:  rear bag, 28mm tires w/ fenders; but, the whole paradigm of what I'd now prefer in a rando bike had shifted to have the bag up front, a lower trail, and tires about 5-7mm wider than I can fit.  Someday... and, really, truly, as I mentioned before:  I don't need this... I do need to work on my current bike's engine, but, it's always a treat to see what other folks are running - and I'm always guilty of gear-envy.  This guy was a strong rider, however - the sort that could have had one of his brakes dragging or a couple of cinder blocks inside a pannier and it wouldn't have slowed him down a bit.  It's very motivating - thus my return to tracking caloric intake and pushing myself more on the bike.

Steven W. at left on his fixie with two fast guys whose names I hadn't caught, passing under the orange glow of streetlights on Santa Fe Trail Drive heading north out of Leavenworth in the ride's early miles.  

Over the shoulder, the glow of headlights from our 17-strong pack of randonneurs pierces the early morning darkness.

Headed up the "trail" toward "Eight Mile House", located about eight miles along the trail northwest of Leavenworth.  There isn't much on the web about this house, but what I could find indicates it was a tavern and hotel of sorts located about where the Ft. Riley and Old Oregon trail branched apart from one another.  It's still here, right beside the road which follows the original trail alignment pretty darn closely.  Here, Paul T. and I count dots of red taillights stretching up the highway as the rising sun illuminates the front of the structure.  Sadly, my photo is a little blurry, but you can get more detail here and here

Up on a big plateau, Steven W., Dave M., and Adam (R-to-L), with Paul up ahead on the road, then Karen & Greg on the tandem, and on and on we stretch, enjoying a wicked tailwind express northbound toward Atchison, KS.

Yeah, the token selfie.  Why not?

Old barn along K-7 near Iowa Point, KS.

It's always a bit exciting to cross a state line on a bicycle.  Without much fanfare we cross into Nebraska, and K-7 comes to an end.  Here, I'm enjoying the tailwind perhaps a little too much - burning the candle a bit, I focus on trying to reel-in an unidentified threesome of neon-colored "dots" on the road ahead, which seem to be inching closer.  I'd come to regret this move a dozen miles later.  One thing I need to remember:  when I ride hard, I need to remember to EAT and DRINK.  Just meters from the back wheels of Gary, Adam and Steven, I popped as soon as the road turned and exposed me to the crosswinds coming from the river valley.  So close... but, typical mistake of trying so hard to bridge I didn't keep enough to stay connected.  It's all in good fun... it was satisfying enough to have gotten close enough to identify my targets!

Crossing from Nebraska into Missouri along US-159 at Rulo, NE.  The view is still impressive, but, I still miss the old steel girder superstructure of the original bridge we once enjoyed crossing here.  The full power of the tailwind we'd been enjoying became apparent as the road turned us into it as a crosswind, and my caloric reserves (which I worked in vain to restore, all too late).  Steven and I managed to drop into the river valley together but soon became separated - then, Paul caught us and smartly organized us into an echelon to battle the winds as we continued toward the halfway control, still a dozen or so miles distant.

The halfway control, a true oasis.  I don't think I thanked Paul and Steven for their help in getting me there, as - right near the turn from Forest City onto the climb to Oregon I began to feel the needed assistance from the calories I'd been trying to add; despite a bite from a Snickers bar almost turning my stomach.  For a dozen miles before that point, I'd felt like dirt, couldn't pull a gel out of my bag - much less two other riders into the wind.  I owe a lot to those I've had to draft in time of personal miscalculation and having ridden myself into a hole.  Lots of other things going on there - which I understand now, in retrospect - and can learn from; but nutrition, in the tough moments of a ride for me, is sometimes more complex than it should be.  

Looking back, there were things I'd have changed about my first control in Troy... like, maybe EATING SOMETHING.  I think that change alone may have made all the difference, but, alas... I still made it.  Somewhere about the time Spencer, Dave M., and Joe E. passed Paul, Steven and me along the expanse of US-159 on the MO Valley, however, the mental thorn got shoved pretty deep.  As I dropped off all of the wheels ahead of me, a resounding "you can't finish this one, pal" washed across my mental foreground.  It's important to understand and remember that those moments happen to all of us from time to time, and that they're temporary.  For some it can happen on a 100km, for others it only happens on the toughest 1,200km rides... but, it's temporary.  First, stop the negative thought, smile and realize what you are doing may not be "fun" at that second, but is still genuine FUN... then, take some positive steps... a gel, some water, tell yourself a joke, take a short roadside break to stretch, wait for another rider... and give the solution at least fifteen minutes to work.  Keep moving if you can... it'll pass.  Even when I think I can't, I still can - and want to - finish.  It's not really the wind, the weather, or the route... it's usually just "us", and that's okay.  We recover, we bounce back, and we keep trying.  The good AND the bad make both the ride and ourselves better.  Take it in.  We can handle it.  This is what we do. 

The 275 Grille in Oregon, MO. is such a great little restaurant.  I'm glad they were there, and the food and service was terrific!  Sitting for at least an hour felt good and was needed.  We were blessed with TONS of time in the bank after making the halfway control in six hours, but getting back... yeah, it was going to take the time back.  I shifted my brain into tourist mode as we mounted up under terrific sunny skies.  Paul, Adam, Steven and I left the comforts of Oregon, and headed out of town on quiet roads and beautiful pavement.

Steven W. on his fixed gear machine, enjoying the weather (and the remains of our tailwind fun) along US-159 north of Oregon, MO.

Paul and Adam at center on the open road.  I always get nervous at the prospect of so many highways miles, but up here away from the city and between small towns, the traffic is very sparse and consistently friendly.  Good, hard-working people up here, usually with a wave, a smile, and lots of passing room.  We appreciate that!

Old barn and purple fields

So much time seemed to pass between stops now that the wind took center stage.  After completing the loop up to the information control, we crossed the big Missouri River valley and crossed back into Rulo, NE., where I stopped in for a photo and a water bottle refill at a local bar.  A cool feature, part of the old steel bridge which used to provide the river crossing here had been salvaged and welded into the initials of the bar here, just out of frame at right.  Out of frame to the left waited Adam at another small local bar, whom I hadn't seen immediately.  Mounting up again, I rode maybe a tenth of a mile, and stopped again.  A smart rider, Adam was waiting for a few riders to show up here to help handle the wind.  While rando can often be a very individual sport as the miles inevitably spread people apart, there is nothing in the rules about being resourceful and sharing some pulls into a strong headwind.  I was happy to dismount and rest a bit, as we waited for Steven W. to catch up, also.  

Some historical markers near the river.  The history along this route is rich and plentiful.

Rack 'o Fries:  Steven W's bike and some last minute caloric load as we prepare to "pay back" the tailwind from hours earlier in the day.  Our eventual finishing time, I feel, doesn't do complete justice to the consistency of the two riders I ended up with for the last half.  We all traded pulls and took plenty of breaks, sitting for food at each opportunity we found - control or otherwise.  We spent SO much time off the bike, that - really - our *rolling* time on the finishing leg wasn't as abysmal as I'd originally assumed.  I can account for at least an hour in Oregon, another in Rulo, another in Troy, and at least 30 minutes in Atchison at the Dairy Queen there.  All told, no - we're not wicked fast riders - but, we also didn't NEED to be.  Consistency, persistence, good food, and a positive attitude are all that's needed for a successful finish, even if the wind is unfriendly.  Our little contingent had this on-lock.

After long hours of doing good work, we found ourselves back on the Santa Fe Trail heading back into Leavenworth.  Sometimes it just boils down to keeping the pain down and the pedals moving - but I will say, it was SO NICE to be back in the hills.  Flat roads... people say they like them, but, man... especially with wind, I don't.  Give me some good climbs, and the miles fall so easily.  After dark?  Heck... that's my favorite time to ride.  I wasn't in a terrible hurry, and even here - late in the ride and definitely the last three on the road, I didn't care.  The hard work of the day, despite all the long rests and breaks, we were still enjoying a buffer of over two hours to finish with a scant 10 miles to the end.  No complaints!  

After March's solo run at the R-12 requirement, it was nice to ride with some good friends again, and to make some new ones.  Thanks to Steven and Adam, and ANYONE else's wheel I might have borrowed over the course of April 8th's 188 or-so miles.  Can't wait for the next one!  For me, this checks-off round 6 of my hopeful fifth R-12.  Halfway, baby!

Now, remember:  go join RUSA, check out the website of your local rando club, and go ride!
You won't regret it!

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!