I’m definitely a randonneur now

June 30, 2013

So I got in a so-called “bonus” RUSA ride for June.  “Bonus” from the perspective of purely wanting to pursue the P-12 award – and therefore getting in one ride per month minimum.  But, I’ve decided that I really wanted to start building up my RUSA “portfolio” and going after some of their annual and lifetime mileage awards; and a single 100-km ride per month isn’t going to get me there anytime quick, so I’m making it my intention to ride a lot more frequently as time goes on.  Plus, RUSA is very good for me in other ways.  I’ve discovered that for me, as my mentor Ron A has also said is true for him, the discipline needed to continue staying at a fitness level to do frequent RUSA rides is a good countermeasure against complacency and poor nutritional decisions.  For me this is very true.  RUSA is a beautiful thing, and I love it.

So, on Saturday June 29th I rode the local 110-km “Cardinal Cruise” route.  This is a different route from the Old KC Road route that I’d done for my first two rides.  Ron A has temporarily closed the OKC Road route due to construction along its course; but, even if he hadn’t, I’d already decided to try this other route anyway.

While the OKC Road route starts at 151st & Black Bob (Olathe) and goes south and west, south and west via Spring Hill, Hillsdale, and Paola to Osawatomie and back, the Cardinal Cruise route starts at 199th and 69 Highway (Stilwell) and goes north and west, north and west, to Eudora via Spring Hill and Gardner, and returns.  At 110 km (about 67 miles) it’s a few miles longer than the OKC Road ride.

The route is similarly easy to remember – which, as we’ll see, would turn out to be a good thing! – as there are only 5 turns on the entire path.  All turns are north and west on the way out, and south and east on the way back.  The meat of the ride distance – about 40% – is on 199th street.

Weather for the day was pretty hospitable to a bike ride.  Temps were pretty mild, especially given our recent hot weather – the start of the ride was around 66ish degrees, and didn’t rise much over maybe 85.  The wind was a factor.  It was a fairly strong and building wind out of the north/northwest.  It was something like 11 mph even at the ride start (7 AM) and gradually built to 20+ mph.  This meant that the first half I’d be fighting into this building wind, but should benefit well from it on the return.  Again, as with most cyclists, I’d prefer it this way versus having a good tailwind to start and then fighting wind later.

This was my first indisputably “big boy” route that I’ve ever done.  Relative to my current fitness, the hills on 199th are no joke.  There’s none of them that is an absolute killer, it’s just the number and depth of them.  I got a little nervous but also a little excited driving through this rolling terrain on my way to the ride start.

My day started at 4:15 AM with the alarm.  Woke up, fixed my normal green drink and enjoyed a small cup of cereal for “breakfast 1a”.  Finished my bike prep, packing up my stuff etc, showered and dressed.  Left the house around 5:50, and drove to McDonald’s for “breakfast 1b” – one Egg White Delight McMuffin. This is a menu item I’ve recently discovered; it’s surprisingly healthy for “McDeath”, about 250 calories, and tastes quite good.  I went this route versus my typical pre-RUSA-ride IHOP breakfast.

I reached the starting point – the Shell station at 199th and 69 Highway – at about 6:50 AM.  Good timing for the 7 AM start.  Went in, picked up a bag of Combo’s for a future ride (I had mine for today in my belt bag), got the receipt and control card signed, and it was time to roll.  Finished up the bike prep, locked up the car and pushed off a few minutes after 7 AM.

Funny note here – this would be my third successful ride, and it would be done on a third bike!  First ride was with “Baby”, my Specialized Crosstrail; second was with “Blue Nexus”, my Trek hybrid; and this ride would be with Storm, my 2011 Roubaix.  I’d FINALLY, very recently, gotten Storm all set up again for riding.  She now had 28cm tires instead of the stock 23’s (I feel MUCH more comfortable with this size), and I’d overcome some challenges with her handlebar bag, which is where I carry my water bottles.  All of that had gotten worked out over the past few days; and, with 2 spare tubes and 2 air cartridges in the underseat bag, Storm was ready to be introduced to randoing.

I eschewed my normal style of listening to Pandora on the ride.  I brought headphones in case I decided to do so later; but initially I wanted to just focus on the ride, especially with these hills.  Also, 199th doesn’t have the greatest shoulder on earth so I wanted to stay alert to the traffic in order to react.

I rolled over the first couple hills, nothing grand but certainly enough to get the blood flowing.  Storm was also flowing; what a beautiful machine.  I thought to myself with a smile that this was her very first rando ride, on a path that I’d like to hope will one day take us both to Paris (her full name is Storm Paris for this reason).  But that’s a long, long way off and these are early days.  Next PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) is 2015 and I would have to make MASSIVE, massive progress between now & then in order to seriously even hope to do that ride.

It was about this point, though, that I realized with horror that while all my other prep was fine – I had my control card, my credit card, all my fuel and spare tire supplies etc – I’d somehow left the cue sheet in the car!!  Keep in mind that I’m, as previously admitted, pretty directionally/navigationally challenged (more navigationally than directionally); and I’d really only somewhat casually looked over the route sheet a few times prior to heading out.  Now, I had the choice between doubling back, losing that time and mileage (and those hills) and getting the cue sheet; or just trusting that I remembered it well and pressing on.  I had faith in the latter, after calling to mind all the turns and distances, and pressed on.  I wasn’t as much concerned about the first half of the ride; but the second half, when I’d be more tired and the route was obviously opposite of what I’d committed to memory, was when I thought I might hit some trouble.  But I felt good to go.

This blog exists to preserve my own memories and impressions as much as anything else, so I won’t lie and say I was flying through with ease.  This hilly start on 199th was testing me; and I thought of quitting after a few miles.  The old demons of negativity were whispering to me “you’re not ready to tackle stuff like this.  Go back home, practice a while and maybe one day you can do it.”  However, two main things kept me in the game.  One was the knowledge that friends and family were watching my ride and were aware of it.  More will probably be said by me on this topic in a different post.  I didn’t want to cut the ride short to something like 12, 16, or 20 miles and have to explain that I didn’t want to go on.  The second thing is that randoing has definitely developed my character.  The first 2 RUSA rides I tried, as I’ve previously chronicled, I basically gave up fairly early in the rides.  In both of those, what beat me wasn’t so much the ride itself or the conditions, but fear.  The fear that “there’s no way I can do this, look at the clock, I’m behind pace already, and I have all this wind to contend with, it’s just not gonna happen”.  I talked myself out of both those first rides.  I’ve grown in resolve since then, and I’ve adopted the stance that a ride or route may in fact beat me; and it may well happen one of these rides; but, I REFUSE to let fear beat me. Also running through my mind was a quote I recently read from Audax Club Parisien – the organizers of Paris-Brest-Paris – whose mission statement says: “A PBP participant must permanently believe that to quit is the worst thing that may occur.”  This is the randonneur’s credo in a nutshell.  I pondered the gravity of these words as I weighed the decision to bail out.  The worst thing that may occur.  That means, absolute last resort.  The ride tearing you to shreds is preferable.  I have become a randonneur now at heart, because I buy into this.  I rode on.

199th actually exists in two “parts” on this ride. You go for about 8 miles, at which point you actually turn at a crook in the road to continue for about another 5 miles.  In my opinion, the first 8 miles are a little bit less hilly but obviously longer; the 5 miles are shorter but a little more hilly.  At least, longer and deeper hills.  I worked through these two sections in pretty good time and relatively good shape, overcoming my initial doubts, and made my turn onto Gardner Road, which also isn’t pan-flat!

3 miles later, another turn onto Main Street / 175th street.  This road takes a fork after a couple miles, wherein sticking to the left keeps you on Main (which you don’t want) and to the right stays 175th.  I took my first break shortly past this point, in keeping with my normal rando procedure of stopping every roughly 16-19 miles.  No dilly-dallying, just a short break to get off the bike, stretch, and go through hydration and fueling procedures.  I ate a few bites of the banana I had with me, rejiggered water and fuel, and in a few minutes was back on the road.  I was still feeling pretty tired.  I actually hadn’t ridden the bike since Sunday – which can be both an advantage and disadvantage – but worse, my week nutritionally speaking was horrendous, and I was feeling it.  Again another reason RUSA is great for me.  If I keep myself to riding frequently, it’ll serve as a MAJOR disincentive to eat poorly and sabotage myself.

Past this point in the ride the landscape becomes very rural very quickly.  The road stretches out ahead for miles and miles, with some rolling hills, wide open vistas, and houses – often farms by this point – stretch further and further apart.  Fortunately, traffic does likewise, leading the cyclist to just enjoy the ride such as he can.  It’s a beautiful route, this one.

A turn north onto Edgerton Road.  This road reminded me very much of Shawnee Road, just north of Ottawa, on a route I ride often.  The grade, scenery and overall feel was very much the same.  The last three roads on this route are pretty easy to remember because you’re on them for 4, 4, and 4.5 miles until the midpoint control.  Edgerton onto 143rd, then to 2200 road.  Again I don’t mind admitting that somewhere in here – I think on 143rd – I considered again quitting.  A buddy Mr. C lives not far from here, and if I called him and asked him to get me & drive me back, I think he would.  But the same reasons enumerated earlier kept me on the bike.  I knew I was going to be pretty darn tired by ride’s end, but I was going to make the ride beat me if it could – I wasn’t going to beat myself.

The wind was starting to get seriously old.  Again, it’d been building all morning; and coming from the NNW, which is the exact direction I’d been heading all morning, meant it was in my face the whole time.  The wind can be very demoralizing on a longer ride, and play all kinds of mind games with you, making you think you’re more tired than you really are, when the truth is, if you can stop and take a short break, or better yet your planned route takes you away from the direct headwind, it’s immediately better.  In my mind more than once this morning played the thought that I was involved in a negotiation with the wind, an agreement; YOU get to have your way now and tire me out, but you’d better hold up your end of the bargain and help push me along on the second half.

I actually DID stop and take a short break a mere few miles from the control, on 2200 road.  I was making good time and was getting a little tired (and sore – Storm’s saddle was a little less forgiving than the Trek), so I gave myself the luxury to stop. A couple cyclists headed the opposite direction – the wind at their backs! – asked if I was ok as they rode by.  Soon enough I got going and pushed the final few miles into the control at Eudora, KS.

I bought a pack of gum, saved the receipt, and got the card signed 33 minutes before the control closed.  Not terrible – I was pretty content with it.  I realized that I had plenty of time in the bank and an anticipated MUCH easier ride back with the wind not only not against me but with me, so I allowed myself to take longer here to rest than was necessary for control-related activities.  I ate half of what was left of the banana, rejiggered my Hammer fuel and water (refilled the bottles here) and hit the restroom.  A couple folks here remarked what a beautiful day it was for a ride.  In general, I get a lot of curious looks at breaks and controls, which is consistent with what I’ve read on other rando blogs.

After a few minutes I was feeling a lot better and jumped back on the bike for the return.

As hoped for, the wind did uphold its end of the bargain, as I made (for me) MONSTER speed back for the next several miles.  I was still, however, pretty tired out from the ride and decided to take a small unplanned break just after turning back onto 175th, about 13 miles or so after the control.  There was a very appealing little hill off the side of the road; I leaned the bike against it and laid down for a couple minutes.  Drank lots of water here and just relaxed.  Definitely the most tranquil time of the day for me  🙂  The sun was shining, the birds were singing, sounds of mowers and tractors in the distance, a radio was playing from a nearby work shed…very peaceful.  I could easily have fallen asleep; but knowing I had a mission to complete, I got back on the bike and pressed on.  I made good time on the roughly 6 miles back to a Shell station on Gardner road (not the starting control – different Shell station).  I pulled into here to take my final break of the day before tackling that “hilly section”.  Still making good time, I again allowed myself to linger for a few minutes, drinking plenty of water (I refilled my water bottles here again) and fueling up before heading out.  A lady here asked me how far I was going and was incredulous to hear I’d gone 55 already with another 15 to go.  A young girl commented as she walked into the store that it was a nice day for a bike ride.

By and by it was time to tackle the remaining hilly section – a couple miles on Gardner road and then 199th.  I saddled up and pushed on.

Now at this point I’ll also note that while I think I did fine this ride from a fueling/calorie perspective, I’m quite sure I underhydrated.  I’d developed a dull headache earlier on (before the midpoint control, as I recall) that never became a real beast but was always sort of there; and later in the ride I would start getting some cramps.  This is a note mostly to myself that I STILL need to improve in this area.  I drink a LOT of water on bike rides, and I often find that anything short of a LOT is not enough for me for longer-distance (50+ mile) rides.  Note to self to consider adding – nay, DO add – yet another water bottle cage to the bike and bring another full bottle for 50+ milers.  The extra weight is pretty negligible – less than 2 lbs – and is very well worth it.

Anyway, I’m happy to say that there’s not THAT much to say about those remaining 15 miles of relative hilliness.  I think I’d built them up in my mind to such an extent that the actual experience wasn’t as much as I dreaded.  I carefully chugged up the hills, not wanting to throw away my legs, and often coasted down the other sides.  Even in this fashion I was still making good time.  The only alarm bells started ringing just a few miles from the finish, when I did, in fact, start feeling outright cramps in my legs.  First my left quad, and then, as I drank aggressively to quell it, my RIGHT quad starting acting up. I kept the option open to take a small break by the road and stretch them out/rest them, but it never came to that, although these cramps certainly made the finish interesting.  Definitely need to hydrate still better in the future.

Finally the Shell station control came into sight, possibly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.  I rolled into there and locked up the bike, threw the helmet and stuff in the car, and went in for the purchase & control card.  I didn’t see any chocolate milk (probably overlooked it) but that morning I’d spied a Starbucks iced coffee (coffee/milk mix) that looked miiighty good, and so I grabbed this as my recovery/reward drink.  The same guy was there who signed my card that morning, and he asked me how the ride went.  Nice guy.  Card signed with 57 minutes to spare in the control, and a third RUSA ride in the books!

Definitely some takeaways from this ride, mostly positive, some “learning opportunities”.  I’m very glad that I stuck it out and resiliently fought off quitting.  This was my first time tackling a route this difficult, and it was a kind of eye opening experience, of what is “out there” waiting for me.  The ride engendered in me the same sensation I’ve described before on these pages – a resolution to eat and drink as cleanly as I can (I mean throughout the week, not just in-ride) in order to achieve the best fitness I can in service of becoming a stronger rider.  The importance of regularly going to the gym came to mind, in order to continue to add muscle to both burn fat and improve the strength-to-weight ratio and recovery, which will help.  I did well from a calorie perspective, but not from a hydration perspective.  Carry more water, and/or refill more often, and DRINK the water.  It’s amazing how often these lessons have to be relearned, but from my reading I’m not unique in this regard.  But I am in fact learning, and I’m becoming a stronger rider.

I’m certainly planning to ride in July to keep the P-12 streak going.  Exact date and route unknown; but it’s fairly likely that I will (gulp) return to tackle this route again for the July ride.  Till then…

Thanks for reading…

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