My RUSA P-2 (June 2013) ride: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

June 14, 2013

A MUCH belated writeup of my second RUSA ride, which I completed on Saturday, June 1st. Another 100-km (62 mile) ride along RUSA’s Old KC Road route, same route I took for my first successful ride.

Happy to report that this ride went extraordinarily smoother than that first adventure, which I fittingly titled “Survivalfest”.

If there was a theme for today’s ride, it was surely that there was much new in my style of riding.

First, I’ve taken to wearing a sort of “fanny pack” on long bike rides (i.e. anything over maybe 40 miles or so, and not just the RUSA ones).  I’ve borrowed one from a friend, Linda B (yes it is blue!) in order to try it out and see how I liked it; the idea being that if it met my needs as anticipated, I’d return it to her and buy something similar.

Here it is:

Bike-Bag
To call it a “fanny pack” is really a disservice; it has a TON of storage space for stuff.  It really is a handlebar bag or even rack bag on a belt. I consider it almost more like a construction worker’s or machinist’s belt than a “fanny pack”, considering the wide range of things I’m able to store in there. I wear it around my waist, with the buckles facing front and the compartments facing back.    I utilize it similarly to a cyclist’s back jersey pockets; I keep stuff stored back there and can reach around for it in-ride.  I can store a bag of Combo’s (a new favorite in-ride snack to augment calories for the longer rides), several packs of gel, several tubes of Perpetuem powder, and a banana very easily in the main compartment; those side compartments can store “spent” Perpetuem tubes, things like ibuprofen or electrolyte pills, and also my air pump.  The front zippered compartment there can handily store the control card and pen (on RUSA rides), a cue sheet, and a couple other things.  All of it fits very comfortably around my waist and I do not notice the weight or dimensions at all while riding.

I first tried the pack on a 36-mile ride on May 30th, with excellent results.  On that ride, instead of fueling with my usual Hammer products, I fueled pretty much exclusively on Combo’s snatched from this bag during the ride.  The size and dimensions of the bag allow for a very natural reaching motion to retrieve something from the main compartment.

So, I also wore this bag on today’s RUSA ride, and again it worked perfectly.  I’m going to buy myself a basically identical bag and return this one to Linda B.

Second new stylistic aspect of this ride was in fact that nutritional approach.  I did carry Combo’s in the bag; and although I didn’t retain them as the MAIN fuel source (Hammer was still the main source), I did augment the Hammer products periodically with a pretzel-and-pizza-cheese-flavored barrel snack from the bag.  This was something I put in place as a direct result of lessons learned on the May “Survivalfest” ride.  Looking back and assessing that ride with objectivity some days later, I realized the cause of my suffering was vastly under-hydrating and under-fueling from a caloric perspective.  I created this new plan for 50ish+ mile rides; today was its first trial run, and it worked wonderfully.

Yet ANOTHER new aspect is that I undertook this ride on a different bike from that of the May ride.  I’ve not even posted about this bike on the blog yet, and I won’t go off-topic here, but basically it’s a Trek DS 8.2, a hybrid bike (and, also blue! In fact I’ve named it Blue Nexus Z).  It’s comparable to the Specialized Crosstrail that I’ve ridden most of the time, but I greatly prefer this bike.  Again I’ll spare the full details for another time.

So, roughly 10 days prior or so I’d scheduled this ride for June 1 with the route owner, my friend & rando mentor Ron A.  The extended-forecast predictions for the day ran the gamut as it neared; rainy, not rainy, windy, not windy, wind from the north, from the south, from the west, cloudy, you name it.  I continued to watch with interest as the day approached and the forecast grew in reliability.  As it turns out, I was fortunate; the last few days here have been VERY windy and in many cases quite rainy; today was not rainy and, while some wind, it wasn’t excessive.

I decided upon a 30-minute earlier ride start than last month, so 7:30 AM this time.  Alarm rang at 4:20; got out of bed and fixed my normal morning green drink.  First of month, so I weighed in & updated blog with it, then proceeded to get everything packed up.  Learning from my first ride, I brought along a lot more stuff in the car than I was likely to use – for example, a few zip-loc bags even though I would almost certainly not need them from rain, etc.  The idea is that I can make a last-second call to take/not take something on the bike, and whatever I don’t take can just stay in the car.

As with last month’s ride, I stopped in to IHOP for a pre-ride base-building breakfast.  Same as before, Simple & Fit 2x2x2 plus Swiss Mocha Coffee.  Loooove this breakfast before a good long bike ride.  Servers there are getting to know & recognize me.  Roughly 6:40 I got moving, stopped briefly by a friend’s house to pick up my air pump which I’d left with him, and drove over to Walgreens for the ride start.

I made my pre-ride purchase (a bag of Combo’s, to be used on a future ride!) with a receipt time of 7:33 AM.  The cashier was interested in how far I’d be going and wished me luck.  Nice guy.  Went back to the car, stashed that receipt for later retrieval (and threw the combo’s in the car as I already had some in the bag), took the bike off the rack and finished packing stuff up.  Put on “the belt”, loaded water bottles, etc.  7:40 AM I started pedaling.  As kG would say, GET IT ON!!

Another change from my normal ride routine occurred in the first few miles:  Pandora decided to turn itself off after roughly 2 songs.  This, despite the fact that I’d recently upgraded to their “pay version” in order to avoid commercials and minimize interruptions (see my summary of lessons learned on the first RUSA ride here).  But, for whatever reason, the app turned off a few miles into the ride.  Then, I inadvertently tore my earphone from my ear reaching for my water bottle, losing one of the foam earbud caps.  Nice.  Nothing to do but remove the other earbud and just wind the cable around the handlebar, and complete the ride without music.  I’ve VERY rarely ridden a bike more than a few miles without music (when riding solo, that is – not with others), but I found I really liked it a lot. I was able to tune in more to the ride itself – which, to be fair, sometimes I deliberately have the music there in order to help avoid, but on today’s ride it was very cool.  The early-morning sounds of birds, babbling streams I’d ride past, wind rustling the trees and grasses, cars approaching from a distance and finally passing – it was, for me, an un-typical way to experience a bike ride, and I liked it.

First couple of miles were hard work for me.  I find that whenever I ride a bike, and whether hilly or flat, windy or not, it seems to take a few miles to really wake my legs up & open my lungs up – the first few miles are always pretty tough for me.  Fortunately I know this about myself and never overpush it in that time.  I just gradually work into it and patiently wait for my body to get in sync and enter “cycling mode”, knowing full well that at some point not long later I’ll be flying down the road, all senses sharp and clear, legs and lungs working together, exalting in the synesthetic swirl.

Once again as mentioned in May, the Old KC route is very easy to remember, and I didn’t need to refer to the cue sheet (though of course I brought it). Black Bob to 175th; to Ridgeview; to 199th; and on.  The miles and turns ticked off on my way to Old KC Road for the meat of the ride distance.

Wind today was out of the WNW; at ride start it was roughly 9-10 mph and would build to around 15-16 by the end. I was interested to see how this would be experienced during the ride.  Since the route moves basically SSW for its first half and then returns NNE, the wind would rarely be a direct head- or tail-wind; instead, it would always be sort of with you and sort of against you.  I was curious to see which half of the ride it would hinder more and help more.  I speculated the first half would be easier, since you’re primarily going NNE on the return and the – now stronger – wind would be coming out of the WNW.  However, within perhaps 8-12 miles of today’s ride and picking up the wind at various points, I started to suspect that it might actually be slightly more helpful on the return – which was just fine with me. This did turn out to be the case; while the wind seemed to paradoxically help me in BOTH directions (even though it didn’t actually shift), it did seem to help slightly more on the return. Like most cyclists, I suspect, I’d rather battle wind early in the ride and then have it with me later, especially since “later” tends in most cases to be stronger wind.

Early in today’s ride I marveled at the fact that cycling really is a skill.  This will sound self-evident to many readers, and perhaps over-obvious to some; but in the context in which I mean it, it has recently come as a revelation to me.  What I refer to most specifically is longer-distance cycling; anything over a consistent maybe 25 miles.  Over those distances, and certainly moreso the further you do ride, it’s not simply about sitting on the seat and pedaling; there is a WIDE range of different skills that come into play, skills you get exposed to on the road, or from books or online, or talking with other cyclists, and which get honed and sharpened with experience.  Some of the skills are purely physical or athletic; some are entirely mental; and many fall in between.  To steal an analogy from a show I once saw, asking what makes cyclist A a better rider than cyclist B is much like invoking the batting average in baseball and asking why a .350 batter is better than a .300 batter – you can list 10 different things and all of them, the .350 batter is a little bit better than the .300 batter. This is an excellent analogy to cycling.  Anyway, the relevance of all of this to me and this ride is that, while I’m most definitely not vying for any batting titles yet, I’m certainly becoming a stronger rider this year than last, and I can feel and perceive the growth in my skills in various aspects of the pursuit.  It’s a really cool feeling.  Many of those came into play in this ride in order to deliver a smooth and enjoyable performance.

Continuing to build from the lessons learned on my first Old KC Road ride, I did stop for a short break at the midway point of the south leg (so 1/4 of the way through the ride – roughly 16-17 miles in).  There’s a gas station there on OKC Road right by Hillsdale Lake which seems perfectly placed from a rando perspective.  This is the same place I stopped – with absolutely nothing left in the tank really – on the return leg of the first ride.  Today, I arrived feeling strong; just wanted a short break to stretch my legs and refuel.  Which I did – a gel pack, 2-3 bites of a banana I’d brought, re-jigger my water bottles and drink some more, and shortly back on the road.  I had enough water for the remaining 16 miles to the Osawatomie Casey’s that I didn’t need to refill here at the gas station.

So, back on the road and feeling good.  Grabbing a combo out of the bag every now and then to augment some calories.  Making very good time (for me – speed on a bike, of course, is a relative and personal thing).  Just south of the traffic circle on OKC Road, there was construction which detoured traffic off the road for a mile or less.  The entire road ahead was torn out, a large crater left in its place with heavy machinery around.  I took the detour and soon enough got back on the road.  I knew that this was the start of what I’ve termed “the difficult part” – the rolling hills become a little longer, a little steeper and overall a little harder here for maybe 5-6 miles.  On the first ride, I handled them well on the first leg but was dead on the return.  This time I hoped for better, obviously.  I could gauge my improved situation this ride as I rode through Paola.  This town has a variety of hills and grades which, on the first ride, even on the way DOWN to Osawatomie, tired me out a little.  By contrast, this time I was feeling very strong and playing through my gears on most of the climbs.  I could tell the improved fueling/hydration plan I’d put in place was working.

Arrived at the Osawatomie Casey’s at 10:10 AM, 44 minutes before the control closed.  I’d gained ~15 minutes over the first ride in control arrival time; and that despite taking a short break on this ride while riding straight through on the first one!  Again an encouraging sign.

Another weakness I’d had on the first ride was a fairly sloppy control procedure.  Reasonable enough, being my first successful RUSA ride; but I’d mentally replayed my routine there and identified some areas for improvement.  In randoing, the clock keeps moving even when you aren’t; so it behooves you to (all things being equal) make quick work at controls and return to the saddle.

I did get through this one MUCH faster than the first time; I didn’t note a total turnaround time but it was probably 50% quicker.  Got the card signed, bought a pack of gum for future rides, refilled water bottles; ate half of the remainder of the banana, went through fuel & hydration routine, a quick nature break, and soon I was back on the road for the return leg.

This is where the real story would be told – because on that first ride I had arrived in Osawatomie strong and feeling good, but things went south shortly thereafter.  I knew that if I could make it through “the difficult section” on this ride and arrive at that gas station feeling pretty good, the ride would be well in the bag and my adjustments could be considered a success.

Not much detail to share on that return portion through the difficult stretch. I handled the rollers quite well.  MUCH better than the first time.  I was riding in slightly lower gearing here on the return than on the first half; but not much, and I still felt plenty of push and energy.  I paced myself well and just kept making good forward progress.  A short diversion around the construction zone, up a couple of gravel and dirt-pack hills which jarred every bone in my body, and back onto OKC road past the traffic circle.  I knew this meant the most challenging climbs were behind me.  Somewhere around 15 miles into this return leg, I said out loud, “You are doing GREAT, Billy!”  I was on cloud nine with how much more smoothly this ride was going versus the first.

Once again I arrived at the gas station near the lake; took a short rest, finished the banana, stretched the legs a bit, went through the fuel and water bottle routine, a final nature break, and pretty quickly saddled up for the remaining ~16 miles to the finish.

The final ~16 miles flew by without too much to comment upon.  There were various points along the way where I distinctly remembered how I felt – and how much I was suffering/struggling – on the first ride, and by contrast how much stronger I felt this ride.  By the last 10 miles or so I was definitely getting a little tired, but I was still rolling pretty strong and felt like I could do 90 miles if I wanted/needed to.  That last section is harder in some ways (some short little climbs on tiring legs) and easier in some ways (you can mentally check off the turns every couple miles).  175th/179th was one of the sections I referred to above – on the first ride I was just totally dead on this section (I stopped to take a break, in fact, with only a few miles to go), while this time I was FLYING along in the bike’s top couple of gears, turning over the pedals with high RPM’s.  Feeling free to throw all my energy out now, a few miles from the finish.  Feeling on top of the world!

Soon enough I was back on Black Bob Road for the final few miles to the start/end control.  There was a small construction situation on this road within eyesight of the control, which set me back several minutes; but I was too elated to care.  Gradually it was my turn to get through the condensed-to-one-lane bottleneck, and I was through and turning back into the Walgreens parking lot.  I got my card signed at this closing control at 1 PM – an hour fourteen minutes before it closed.  This meant that I bested my first ride’s time by a full 50 minutes, as I squeaked into the closing control there with 24 minutes to spare.

My purchase was a chocolate milk, the time-honored recovery/reward drink of rando’s everywhere following a successful outing.  I was so dead on the first ride upon arrival at Walgreens, and didn’t feel much like “rewarding” myself besides, that I didn’t indulge in the tradition; but this time I did, sipping it in the car on the way to lunch, and I think it was about the best thing I’d ever tasted.

Another RUSA ride successfully complete, and I could hardly have been more content with how the ride went.  The streak extends to two months 🙂  Long way from acquiring the P-12 award, but I’m going to get it.  So I’ll ride again in July, if not earlier – exact date and route TBD.

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