May is in the books, and with it a new personal best for monthly distance.  At 345 miles, I surpassed April’s then-best total of 330 miles.  This is actually the first time since I started really tracking miles in September 2011 that I achieved two consecutive best-ever months – obviously a promising sign.

Not bad considering I was not only “competing” against the month in which I did my full PST ride, and first/second-ever half-centuries, but also because I was actually out of town for close to half the month.  Fortunately, as previously noted, my Dad rules and really facilitated this strong month for me.

Certainly enjoying these better-weather months.  For most of my cycling “career”, it was cold weather and short days.  The last couple months have been wonderful, and I’m looking forward to more personal bests in months to come.

First of all, I’ll be clear.  The definition of “hill” will vary from rider to rider; and I fully realize that with my current (but improving!) level of fitness, what I consider very tough is warm-up material for strong experienced riders.  Similarly, dependent upon fitness, skill, experience, equipment etc, different cyclists will refer to different levels of incline as “incline”, “ascent”, “climb”, “hill”, etc, etc.

But, without wanting to get all philosophical and abstract here – and trying not to sound presumptuous beyond my gray old age of several months as a cyclist – I imagine that the abstract concept of the hill doesn’t much change from rider to rider.  That is, just as artificial intelligence is always defined as “something machines cannot currently do” – just as one’s view of wealth is typically a little beyond what they have – just as a “big boat” invariably starts at a size just a few feet bigger than what you have now – so the concept of the hill is something challenging, something that’ll push you, something that’ll make you work, that’ll raise the heart rate and the breathing, fire you with vitality, lure you with the siren song of ever-higher crests for just a little more effort and work.

I described in this post my vow to turn my weaknesses to strengths.  I recognized in myself a decent ability to ride over long distances with favorable terrain, but a big weakness in anaerobic fitness, in the ability to climb hills, fight strong wind, etc.  I vowed to integrate much more of these conditions into my training than has been the case, as that’s the only way I will get better.  By “turn weakness to strength” I referred not only to ability, but to mindset – that is, I intend to work sufficiently hard to shore up this area that I will come to actually embrace hills and wind.

Jon Jones, the current light-heavyweight champion of the UFC, has said “I [am] comfortable being uncomfortable: A lot of people, once they feel uncomfortable, will simply stop whatever they’re doing.  But I believe in order to succeed at anything, you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”  Faced with this self-assessment from someone else, two routes are possible: dismiss it as clever-sounding but ultimately empty drivel, or choose to find value and meaning in it.  The latter is me; Jones’ statement resonates with me, especially in regards to cycling.  I think he has it right.  In order to succeed, you need to work at it until you’re comfortable being uncomfortable.

Recently I’ve mobilized my plan.  I’m tackling harder routes during my rides, and seeking out tougher terrain.  I’m trying to find routes that will push me, challenge me, make me work, and gradually push me up to the next level, where I will seek still-harder challenges.

As a result, I can truly say I no longer hate hills.  I still don’t love them – yet.  But I feel gratitude for them, because I know that they are essential tools in my quest to become a “strong cyclist”.  Hills don’t have emotion or vengeance; they are what they are, and if you approach them with the right mindset, they are passages through which you can travel and emerge on the other side closer to your dreams.

Take it from the abstract to the tangible.  Today I returned to a route that I first took about a month ago.  The mix of pavement grades, hills, open riding where you are prey to wind, and distance makes this a very tough route for me.  In fact, the ride a month ago was one of my two hardest rides to date, period.  I didn’t full-out bonk during that ride, but I was very close.  I was pushing extremely hard and stopping much more frequently than normal.  At the end, I cut the course short by a few miles of what I planned and made a beeline for the house, happy to arrive alive.

Fast forward a month, in which I’ve lost 15-17 pounds and become a little bit stronger & more experienced rider.  Returning to this course seemed a logical way to gauge my progress.

The wind today was less favorable than it was the first time, and during stretches I was certainly working hard.  There was a time or two when it crossed my mind to bail out and just double back toward home, but I stayed strong and fought through.  It certainly wasn’t “easy” today, but I’m very happy to report that it was much less tough than last time.  I stopped only about as frequently as normal, and I arrived home much stronger than the first time.  I even tacked back on the extra few miles I’d lopped off of the first run, including another ascent on by-then-weary legs.

Always a work in progress.  Again, to my earlier point, the concept of the hill, I think, remains, unless you are one of the very few elite super-stud riders who can shrug off any amount of climbing like water off a duck’s back.  “The hill” is always there, just at the edge of your abilities and comfort level, but beckoning you in to make you better.

Below, an assortment of miscellaneous pictures from today’s ride.

Katy Dreaming

May 26, 2012

In one of my first posts on this blog, the January 9th “Prairie Spirit Dreaming“, three key points were established.

The first is that I had two major cycling goals for 2012:  accomplish my New Year’s Resolution of riding the full Katy Trail (~240 mile cycling/pedestrian trail across much of Missouri), and work up to that by cutting my teeth on the (currently) 51-mile-long Prairie Spirit Trail (PST), which starts a mile from my home.

The second point is that I named my intended timelines.  My goal was to accomplish a round-trip (two days) of the PST by June 30th, and accomplish the Katy by end of year.  My internal timeline for the Katy was roughly Octoberish.

The final salient factor established is that I wanted to make a point to NOT give the Katy very much thought or planning until I had successfully achieved the first goal.  Biking the full, 100-mile round-trip length of the PST over 2 days was an aggressive enough goal, and I wanted to put the horse before the cart in successfully accomplishing that before allowing myself to dream about the Katy.

I’m of course thrilled to have successfully finished the PST ride, on a very difficult (due to weather) April 28th-29th weekend.  Having accomplished the first of my two 2012 cycling-related goals several weeks ahead of time, the “dessert” in that equation is that, while I retain a strong love for the PST and will ride it frequently, I can allow myself to move on and dream of the Katy Trail.  And that’s exactly what I’ve given myself permission to do recently  🙂

The official Missouri State Parks website for the Katy is here.  An excellent resource website for the trail is bikekatytrail.com.  Similar to the content on the excellent bikeprairiespirit.com, bikekatytrail.com is a wealth of info on length of the trail, elevation, towns along the trail, services available, ride reports and photos from previous riders, and much more.  Just as I did with the Prairie Spirit, it’s an exciting thing for me to digest all the information I can, from bikekatytrail.com as well as many other sources, about this adventure I’ll be undertaking. Logistically it’s a much bigger undertaking for me for several reasons, with a correspondingly higher number of factors that need to be considered, so there’s a lot to learn.

I don’t have any firm date or really firm timeline in mind for the Katy.  The time period I’ve had in mind all along was sometime in October and that’s likely to be the case.  It’s not the summer when it’s very hot, it’s not yet very cold weather in the fall, the changing foliage is going to be beautiful, and it should be a wonderful time to ride.  The exact timeline will of course come into narrower focus as it nears.

Similarly, I don’t yet have an exact plan as to the number of days.  The trail is roughly 240 miles long, so an average pace of 60 miles a day would be 4 days, while 5 days would be just under 50 miles per day.  I’ve currently done three half-centuries and expect that they will have become much easier for me 4+ months from now; so I don’t expect to take longer than five days.  The likely plan would be to take a week of vacation and start the trail ride on probably a Saturday, maybe a Sunday; ride 4-5 days, finishing late in the week; and have a couple days to rest up before returning to work.

At this early stage, the above represents the sum of my organized thoughts around the Katy; but I can say with certainty that I am very excited about the upcoming adventure and will allow that enthusiasm to energize me in the coming months!

Yesterday (May 19th) I rode a round-trip on the contiguous 17-mile portion of the Flint Hills Nature Trail (FHNT) from Ottawa to Osawatomie as the foundation of a half-century ride. The original, and optimistic, plan was to finish this round-trip, then connect with the Prairie Spirit Trail (which conveniently begins less than a mile from the Ottawa intersection of the FHNT), take that to Iola, and overnight there, returning Sunday. However, both dehydration and very heavy wind cut that short. More about that in a moment.

The Flint Hills Nature Trail (FHNT) (website here) is a 120-mile rail-trail (akin to the Prairie Spirit Trail) in northeast Kansas. When fully completed, it will apparently be one of the 10 longest bicycle trails in the country. The trail is currently under development, with disconnected portions being in a ready-to-ride condition right now. Once again I’m fortunate as an Ottawa denizen, as the longest (I think) contiguous portion of the developed trail runs 17 miles from Ottawa to Osawatomie, beginning about a mile from my house.

I’d never been on this trail before. As with just about everything good in life (ok, slight exaggeration?) I first learned about the trail from the great folks at bikeprairiespirit.com. I’d read passingly online about it, but I educated myself on it through the bikeprairiespirit site and the official FHNT site linked above. I scouted out the start of the trail some weeks ago, but hadn’t yet made it out. Finally I did Saturday.

The trail is a lovely one, which I would describe as being a slightly “wilder” cousin to the Prairie Spirit. The surface is similar but slightly less maintained at this point in time. I could see myself volunteering in the future to help maintain it. Most critically, at least in the contiguous 17 miles, there are no trailheads – a change from those of us spoiled with the wonderful PS Trail. This along with my poor planning hydration-wise was to doom my plans for a longer ride. I packed, for the first time, a second water bottle, but left it empty when setting out from home. I’m not 100% sure what I was thinking, but the idea was basically to use it “if I needed”. However, having not been on this trail, how could I have known in advance whether I would need it? Poor planning.

I rode the full 17-mile contiguous portion of the trail, taking ample pictures along the way to document this new exciting terrain. These appear below with descriptions. I rode the 17-miles back to complete the round-trip into Ottawa.

There were a number of cyclists on the trail, of varying levels of “seriousness” (judging by style of dress, bike, gear, speed) and one walker.

After returning from that 34-mile portion, I was feeling ok but went downhill quickly. I’d brought only 21 ounces of water for this nearly 4-hour (clock time, not rolling time) trek, which for my size is about a quarter of what I should have brought. With no trailheads, there was zero opportunity to refill, unless I stopped at one of the few houses alongside the trail and knocked on the door.

I refilled my water at a c-store in town, drank a good amount, rode up to Pizza Hut and had a quick lunch. Shortly after leaving Pizza Hut, my body started to rebel. I got on the PS Trail and went a few miles, but a combination of the earlier dehydration, which snuck up on me, and the very strong 26-mph direct headwind which was unpleasant even in the tree-lined PS Trail, was just too much after ~40 miles of cycling. I began to face that there was no way I’d make it to Iola in these conditions. Chalk it up to learning and to very tough conditions for my fitness level. I turned back home and contented myself with only my third-ever half-century ride.

As a postscript, I referred back that evening to the good folks at Hammer Nutrition, for a study I’d previously seen on hydration – effects of dehydration, how much to drink during exercise, etc, and I took these ideas with me on another 46-mile ride this morning, with significantly better results. This (Saturday) ride was an excellent lesson for me, which I will retain. Now, I drink a small amount of water every single mile, period, with the intent to portion it appropriately on a per-hour basis.

Below, the pictures from the Saturday FHNT ride. I’m already very fond of this slightly “wilder” trail, and looking forward to doing it again!

Above: The start of the contiguous trail from Ottawa toward Osawatomie. Doesn’t look welcoming, but I’d previously read on their site that the gate is closed but the trail IS open. There’s a little rocky side-entrance just off-camera to the right, which gets you on the trail.

Above: In the first couple miles you come up to this blue-painted overpass. I’m not sure if this is I-35 or something else.

Above: Same overpass, picture taken on the return trip.

Above: The local artists apparently like to ply their trade at this overpass also. It wasn’t pleasant seeing this right out of the gate, a couple miles into the ride, but from this point on, all’s well. It’ll be nice when this is cleaned up.

Above: There were maybe half a dozen or so of these little half-gated crossings at intersections with gravel roads running perpendicular to the trail.

Above: One such intersecting road. Beautiful open farmland to the cyclist’s right.

Above: Took this picture to show how strong the winds were this day. Note especially the trees/bushes in the lower half of the photo. Very strong winds from primarily the south.

Above: This stately large rock stands guard over this portion of the trail.

Above: Very representative section of the trail. Unlike Prairie Spirit, which is in most parts a fairly wide single-track, much (not all) of the FHNT has grass and stuff growing in the middle as shown above, creating a true double-track. In places the trail peters down to fumes, in places it’s a nice wide single-track like PS Trail, but large stretches of it are very similar to the above.

Above: A beautiful old red bridge the rider encounters a few miles in.

Above: Shot from atop the bridge. This was a nice place to relax for a second and look around.

Above: I love the old branchy vines hanging from this portion of the bridge. Lends the place a really cool “place time forgot” kind of feel.

Above: The trail has perhaps a half-dozen of these short bridges spanning water or recessed land below, with only a small “lip” at each side serving as a rail…

Above: …and it has 2 bridges like this, with NO rails of any kind. Both are short, and without major worry, but one of them is longer and higher up than the other, inducing in me a fear of sailing right off if I should hit a rock or something.

Above: Beautiful view of the early morning across wide open space. The trail at this point (I’d roughly guess this is the halfway point in the trail) opens into this big wide-open space, almost like a big gravel parking lot, with the trail stretching off toward Ottawa and Osawatomie from different corners.

Above: A better view of that “parking lot” portion. Very distinctive part of the trail which is at basically its midpoint (of the current contiguous 17-mile portion).

Above: Like Prairie Spirit, the FHNT has sections that are fairly open and free from the tree canopy that predominates. The above picture is taken from one such portion and looking toward an even more open portion. Beautiful stretch of the trail.

Above: Probably my favorite picture of the bunch. This is trail riding!!

Above: The trail peters out into a short, steep, rocky whimper here emptying onto (I think) John Brown Highway. This represents the end of the 17-mile contiguous portion of the trail.

Above: Look back at my bike from that rocky ending of the trail.

Above: A shot of where the trail, in some condition, picks up on the other side. I started to go over to check out the condition, but a fairly intense-looking dog (I think it was a dog!) was watching me from this opening when I first arrived, so I let him be 🙂 Will check this out in a later return trip.

Above: A final shot looking back down toward the end of trail, having now brought my bike back a little way.

Above: A beautiful look at rolling Kansas farmland on the return trip. There were several such vistas available to the rider, including a very beautiful one that was more prevalent on the return than the first half, and which I regret not stopping to photograph.

Above: Don’t roll over this portion 🙂 This stuff was to either side of the trail at one point. Some kind of shattered glass/hard plastic door or window. Excellent cleanup project for someone who will give the trail some TLC.

Above: Don’t roll over these either 🙂 This little guy almost found himself right under my wheel as I made good speed on the return trip, but I saw him in time and avoided him. I did see a couple turtles on the trail, and heard very lovely symphonies of birdsong for pretty much the entire ride.

Style continues to evolve.  See this post, this post, and this most-recent post in which I discuss my discovery of Hammer Nutrition.

After completing some more research, I’ve arrived at what I think will be my in-ride nutrition plan for a while.

Below are all the Hammer products I currently own:

They are Endurolytes, Perpetuem Solids, and Hammer Gel.

The initial plan, derived from the excellent documentation and guidance on Hammer’s site, is to have a packet of Hammer Gel slightly more often than once per hour for the first couple hours in the ride; from that point till the end of the ride let the Perpetuem (which contains both carbs for energy and protein for longer workouts) be the primary source of fuel, with Hammer Gel augmenting it slightly more often than every two hours; and an Endurolyte capsule (moderates fluids in the body, replaces electrolytes lost during exercise) approximately every hour.

I’ve started using this plan today, on a half century ride which I’ll write up shortly, and with good results.  Based on assessment of today’s ride, I think I will take both the Gel and Perpetuem just slightly more often than the original plan.

I referred in this post to the accomplishment of my weight-loss milestone #1 (losing for 3 weeks in a row for the first time in months), and named the next logical milestone (losing another few pounds to achieve my lowest weight in roughly 7 years).

Happy to announce that I’ve accomplished the latter, in aggressive fashion.  At my recent biweekly weigh-in, I’d lost 8 pounds since the previous one 2.5 weeks prior, and smashed through a weight floor I’d hit two or three times but hadn’t been successful at transcending.  I left behind a “decade” (10-pound range) that I’d been mired in for several months, and left behind by some 7 pounds a narrow 7-pound channel I’d been in for months. I’m now at my lowest weight in at least 7 years, if not more.  I’m feeling and seeing it in all kinds of ways, and have been very gratified to receive a number of comments.

The following images are meaningful to me.  The first is a graph of my weight, per week, since I returned to losing weight in roughly August 2011. The narrow 7-pound channel I was treading for months shows very dramatically, as does my recent escape from it.

The second is a shot of the receipt (saved as motivation for me) representing the end of my cavalier nature toward food – whether it be sugar, fattening food, or portions.  This is a breakfast of a gaudy 3 sausage biscuits, plus a mocha frappe (large, of course) bought for breakfast at McDeath (HT to HB for the moniker) on 3/24/2012.  The very next day I began my current “sobriety” from sugar and return to healthy eating in general – see this post if you’ve not read it – which continues to today. 8 weeks “sober” and rollin’.

The next major milestone will be roughly 17 pounds from now.  At that weight, I will have lost 75 pounds from my top weight, and I will have accomplished my initial goal which I set when I first resolved to lose weight in summer 2009.  I believe I’ll have only perhaps 15-20 more pounds to lose from there to be in very respectable shape.

My Dad Rules

May 19, 2012

So I spent the first half of May out of town on combined business and pleasure. I spent a good portion of that time staying with my parents in Florida.

Imagine my surprise when my dad, under the unspoken implication that we were picking up something for my mom for her birthday, guided me (I was driving the truck) to a local bike shop (Open Ride Bicycles) to pick up a bike he’d recently ordered!!

He had picked up a Specialized Crosstrail, essentially identical to my current bike.  His purpose was twofold:  to provide a bike for me to ride during my 3-to-4-times-yearly visits to my parents, and secondly, he is starting to ride the bike also!

My heart warms beyond words at both realities.

So I’m delighted to report not only that my beautiful Papa is starting to ride the bike (he rides most days now), but that I was able to get in roughly 150 miles of cycling in Florida, while I’d counted on zero!

I biked mostly on a couple local trails in their hometown.  Following are a few of the small number of pictures I took during one ride, down by the local river (the St. Johns).  The bike is his, obviously, not mine, but it’s a spittin’ image 🙂

Fueling the Machine

May 12, 2012

So I recently took another big step forward toward becoming a “dedicated cyclist”, another step in the evolution of “my style”.

I give a layman’s view of my approach to in-ride nutrition in my “The Strategy” post here and a further update to it in this post.  I’ve now refined the method further, and have used it on several 25-30 mile local rides here with good success.

As you read widely about any new hobby, you become exposed to all kinds of tricks of the trade.  In my case, it was thanks to the very entertaining Commuterdude blog that I first heard of Hammer Nutrition.  It was in this post that he enthusiastically gushed, “E-Caps WORK, Hammer Gel WORKS, Sustained Energy WORKS”.  I’d never heard of these products before, but I sensed they were in-ride nutrition.  C-dude being a true recent “hero” of mine, I set about educating myself.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fueled in large part by my first-ever full Prairie Spirit Trail ride, I recently set new personal best mileage benchmarks for daily, weekly, and monthly ride distance.

On Saturday, April 28th, the first day of the PST ride, I rode roughly 55 miles – my first-ever half century, an exciting milestone.  This surpassed my previous single-day high water mark of 41 miles on April 8th.

The week ending April 29th was my furthest-distance week, at 128 miles, surpassing my previous best, which was 104 miles on the week ending 4/8/2012.

Most satisfyingly, because it is indicative of consistent effort on the bike, the month of April was by far my furthest-mileage month to date.  I put in 330 rolling miles in April, more than 50% better than my previous best of 210 in January 2012.

Much of May is spent out of town on business and pleasure, so I’m not expecting of myself to surpass these numbers right away; but they stand as my current targets to surpass for daily, weekly, monthly mileage.

I Woke Last Night to the Sound of Thunder
How far off, I sat and wondered…

I woke on Sunday morning around 5 AM.  Clean up, pack up the bike, go to the complimentary hotel breakfast at 6, then hit the trail.  But when I awoke and walked to the door, the sound of thunder was an ominous portent of the day ahead.  Sure enough, looking out, rain was falling.

Above:  The view from my hotel room shortly after waking up.

Not much to do, really.  I’d known when I left that unpreferable weather was a possibility for today, so now it was time to reap what I’d chosen to sow.  I ate a beautiful big breakfast to provide a solid base for the day, packed the last couple things in the bike, and was off.

I’d like to mention that a friend of mine, Mr. T.V., extended to me a very generous offer to come pick me up and drive me home if weather prevented the completion of my ride.  This would have been quite far out of his way, and the offer was reiterated a couple times.  I’m most grateful for this kind offer, and glad for both my and his sake that I didn’t need to take him up on it!

Above:  She’s all packed up and ready for the return.

By the time I departed, it wasn’t raining.  Good, I thought.  Looking over weather forecasts at breakfast, I was tentatively confident I could make it to Garnett before the rain got going, where my plan was to then stop for lunch, hopefully wait out the rain, and return.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

The Rain
I made it perhaps 15-16 miles before the rain resumed.  Just south of Welda, it started.  I pulled into the Welda trailhead for some shelter, but it was clear by the sky’s appearance that it wasn’t just going to pass by.  I could either wait here in Welda for a considerable time, pushing my Ottawa arrival time to later evening, with no guarantee how long before the rain actually stopped; or, just push on. I chose the latter and got going.

Above two pictures:  From the Welda trailhead.

Naturally, I hadn’t packed any rain gear of any kind.  See “reflections” at story’s end.

On I rode, through unremitting rain.  The tree-lined canopy that covers much of the path was a small help, but only in the early going.  Within minutes, I could feel that basically every part of me was wet.  I continued to stop periodically for rests, and to eat my then-current nutrition (I’m upgrading in this area since this ride, see more recent posts), which was a whole wheat bagel torn into bite-sized pieces eaten at intervals.

The trail quickly went from not-great to positively bad, with the ceaseless rain.  Small puddles were everywhere, and the consistency of most stretches was reduced to a wet, sluggish beach-sand quality.


Welda to Garnett is roughly 10 miles.  With my normal 10-MPH pace slowed to probably 7-8 by the sloggy trail, I was hoping to have “only” an hour or so in the rain.  Garnett became the shining city on a hill that I pinned my hopes to.  Pull into town, get out of the rain into some restaurant or other, have a bite to eat, allow the rain to blow over, and head back out energized.

Garnett – Hi…and Bye
To my dismay, this plan fell apart a few miles outside town.  Stopping for a quick rest from the hard work of pedaling into the muddy trail, I dismounted and for the first time since the rain began, got a look at the bike.  What I saw was utterly horrifying:  the entire back end of the bike was coated – coated – in wet muddy sand.  I don’t exaggerate to say this stuff was over a quarter inch thick in places.  Opening the panniers was not to be recommended, not only because the dirt-coated zippers resisted, but because everything on the outside – rain, dirt, mud, etc – just fell into the bags, getting into everything.  The worst part, I realized immediately, wasn’t the fact that the bike was coated.  It was the implication this held for my own back.  In the steady rain I’d long ago failed to feel much of anything except unremitting wet.  But now, reaching up to my back, I realized I was covered head to toe, along my back and legs, with this same sloshy wet muddy mixture.  We’re not talking a little water and dirt – I looked like I’d slid down a muddy hill lying on my back, and digging my shoes and socks into the mud on the way down for good measure.  Right away I realized, I couldn’t go into any restaurant like this.  Going in soaking wet was going to be bad enough, but permissible – but this, wasn’t happening.  I was crestfallen to realize I would have to continue straight through, with only the in-ride nutrition and no proper lunch.

The next several miles are a blur of rain, occasional thunder, pedaling more or less without cessation (you couldn’t coast any distance in these conditions; a descending grade was a little easier but only a bit), and sand covering everything during another rest break.  My in-ride nutrition, the aforementioned wheat bagel, which lives in my handlebar bag, was now a sopping nasty bloated waterlogged disgusting clump floating in the water gathering in the handlebar bag.  I did have more in the panniers, necessitating fighting the sandy zippers and the invading mud, and I had a couple of Post shredded wheat “biscuits”.  During the remainder of the ride, I consumed those tasteless things interspersed with sandy bagel pieces and sandy water drunk from a sandy water bottle.  It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds!

And yet, I’m not complaining.  My first full PST ride, something I’d been awaiting for months, and it was glorious. I was well aware that it was likely that none of my hopefully several future PST rides would be this difficult again.  Factoring in my physical fitness, the terrible weather, the poor preparations – I’d picked a heck of a time to do this, and I was setting myself one of the hardest challenges I could have with this route.

Richmond – God Bless Richmond
I began to visualize Richmond’s trailhead as the new Beacon of Freedom, as I regretfully rolled right past Garnett.  I’d already learned Saturday that Richmond was my favorite trailhead.  I remembered the stone bench in the restroom, and I remembered the now-ironic story of Mr. K in Iola, who told a story of waiting out a wicked storm for quite a spell in that restroom.  I saw Richmond as being the end of the “dreadful phase” of this return ride – it was fairly clear from the skies and the earlier forecast that the rain would be letting up about my arrival time there, and I knew I’d be able to use the trailstop to sit inside the restroom, having some more food, rinse my clothes, bike, and myself, and leave somewhat recharged for the final ~15 miles.

I was able to execute this plan, to my great relief.  The final few-miles climb into Richmond, in this weather, was not fun; but upon arrival, it was time to put the worst behind me.  I locked myself in the restroom (I hadn’t seen a cyclist on the trail all tour, and there wasn’t going to be another fool like me in this weather), washed my clothes in the sink and dried them somewhat well with the hot-air dryers, rinsed the bike off via Camelbak by way of water fountain, and hopped up on the stone bench to let a couple friends know I was ok and to have some bagel & shredded-wheat “biscuit”.  Outside, the rain had actually cleared 10 minutes or so before my arrival, and it seemed likely to remain clear till I got to Ottawa.

I allowed myself to take my time in the Richmond stop, dry off, wash off at least minimally, and recover some strength.  At last, I set off for home.

Ending on a High Note
A few miles outside Ottawa, I got my last major surprise of the trip – this one a pleasant one!  Pulling up to stop at a couple benches on the trail, a couple gentlemen whom I saw approaching me southbound from Ottawa caught up to me and stopped to talk.  How are you doing, how far have you come on the trail, what’s the weather like down south, etc.  These two gentlemen do the roughly 20-mile round trip to Princeton several times a week, and have gone much further on the trail.  They were the first cyclists I’d seen on the trail all weekend, and it was nice to see they had a similar fondness for the trail shared also by myself and Mr. K.

Imagine my surprise when one of them knew my first AND last name, and had been following my blog!  So, Jim and Bill, thanks very much for reading the blog, it was great to meet you, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again on the trail!

I arrived at my house somewhere around 4 PM.  Tired, weary, extremely hungry, but also elated.  Again, this was a goal several months in the offing, and I could hardly have picked a harder set of conditions for its success – but I’d stuck with it and made it.  My first half century, followed by my second half-century.  My first full PST ride.  A few wonderfully friendly cycling friendships begun.  Not bad for a weekend’s efforts.

Reflections
In which I share my random thoughts, lessons learned, things to remember for future times, etc:

Obviously, it’s preferable not to undertake a trip like this if the forecast for rain is highly likely.  If you’re hellbent on doing it, rain gear is a must.

Two words – bicycle fenders.  This would have saved me much grief.  I’m not in a tremendous hurry to add these, but I will do so.  Will be very useful for longer rides.

My in-ride nutrition has evolved over time, and I’ve been fully aware that this process continues.  My current habit of eating small pieces of wheat bagel is better than nothing, but it’s not ideal in various ways.  Since the time of this ride, I’ve made some progress in exploring other options, see future posts.  For this ride, it was fairly ungainly to carry a full package of half a dozen wheat bagels in the panniers.

Starting now, pizza is my official “special ride” gift to myself.   I had pizza in Iola and pizza again in Ottawa upon my return.  I’m not eating pizza very often these days, with the focus on healthier eating, so I’m primarily going to reserve it for only special bike rides.  All future PST rides will include at least one pizza stop  🙂

The bottom line – I cannot WAIT to do the full trail again.  I recently watched a YouTube video to the effect that everyone has “two selves” – an “experiencing self” and a “remembering self”.  More about this, possibly, in a future post.  Basically, my point here is that while most of this ride was actually hard and unpleasant, I come away from it with only very positive feelings, great memories, a terrific sense of accomplishment, and an eagerness to repeat this route many times in the future, no doubt under less-adverse conditions.

Want to close once again with a shout out to bikeprairiespirit.com.  It’s been a fantastic resource for me over the past many months, both in building knowledge about my planned undertaking as well as to fuel my enthusiasm for the journey.  I was thrilled to meet Mr. K in Iola and Jim and Bill on the trail, and would love to ride with these guys in the future.

My next major cycling-related challenge, the final one for 2012, is to bike the full Katy Trail (only one-way, not round-trip :)).  I turn my focus to that, and this blog will reflect it.  But, Prairie Spirit retains a very warm place in my heart, and I hope to return for this full route again very soon.  I’m making it an official, stated goal to ride the FULL trail (roughly 100-120 miles depending upon the progress of the planned extensions) within a single day sometime in 2012.