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 RUSA.org 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!

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