My RUSA P-3 (July 2013) ride: Two guys, two bikes, two phones: all’s well

July 12, 2013

Got July checked off early for my continued pursuit of the RUSA P-12.  Another couple cool things along with it:  I got to finally meet and ride with Ron A, my rando mentor with whom I’d corresponded a good deal; and I finally got my revenge upon the RUSA course that led to my starting my RUSA career a sad 0-2 with two DNF’s (Did Not Finish).

The ride was last Saturday – July 6th.  The course was Wander to Welda, a ~63 mile ride on my beloved Prairie Spirit Trail from Ottawa, KS to Welda, KS and back to Ottawa.  Again this was the course that I tried unsuccessfully to do, before I was really ready to join the ranks of the randonneurs, in late 2012 and again early 2013 (here and here).  I assured Ron at the time, who didn’t know me from Adam, that I was going to eventually be successful in my randonneuring pursuits; so it was a cool kind of full-circle thing that he rode with me today.

The ride start time was 6 AM.  Ron and I each had other plans for later in the day and wanted to knock this ride out early.  We met at 6 AM at the starting (and closing) control, the Short Stop / Phillips 66 gas station on Main in Ottawa.  Ron had a hike to get here, from up north; I was the lucky one, as I live a mile from the control!  I was slightly overdressed in terms of machinery, riding Storm Paris, my Roubaix, with her freshly minted 28cm tires.  Not a conventional choice for this kind of trail, but I was interested to see how she – and 28cm tires – would handle.

It was good to finally meet Ron in person; we shook hands and wasted little time in going in, making our purchases (gum for me, Ron getting a candy bar for later in the ride), getting cards signed, and we were off.  It was a beautiful start to the morning.  Just getting light out, and quite overcast, which it remained for much of the day.  Humidity fairly high to start and roughly 70 degrees.  It would rise to a high of around 90 for the day.  A wind from the south, which would be a headwind at the start, gradually building in strength but providing a tailwind after the turnaround.  As I’ve mentioned before, on 75% of the trail there’s ample tree cover and wind (both head and tail) has only about 20% the effect it typically would.

Ron and I rode the short ~1 mile paved segment of the trail in town, heading south, and shortly the pavement turned to packed gravel, which is the trail’s predominant surface for much of its remaining 60 miles (of which we were going ~32 and then turning back).  I’d warned Ron several times that he was a stronger/faster rider than I was and would have to be patient with me, and by the grace of God he was 🙂  He revealed himself to be a very gracious and good guy during the day, and I took an instant liking to him.

We were making good time on the trail as we swapped stories about past bike rides, other riders we know, the origins of our interest in cycling and randoing, etc.  The surface of the PS Trail is deceptively tough, and as I’ve said before, sneaks up on you.  Over 5-10 miles, it doesn’t feel all that much more difficult than riding on the road; but after 12, 15, 18 miles, suddenly you realize it is taking some effort out of you.  The surface doesn’t allow for much coasting – which is to say, essentially NO coasting.  If you stop pedaling, you quickly stop moving.  So rolling speeds on the trail are typically a good 10%, if not 20%, lower than on regular pavement.  Regardless, we were making very respectable progress, and both quite happy to have the company of the other.  Having someone to chat with and pass the miles with makes most bike rides easier, and that goes double on this trail.

One thing was clear from the outset – we were the first ones on the trail this morning.  This was confirmed by the amazing number of spiderwebs we rolled through as we made our way!  It was truly sensational.  At several points we had to brush them away from faces, helmets, arms; once I looked down to see a strand of web stretching from my water bottle (in my handlebar bag, where I carry them) to my handlebars, and with a spider still on it crawling around!  Crazy.  We saw exactly one person on the trail – a jogger (or walker) on the paved part of the trail in Ottawa.  This was to be the only person we’d see on the trail until very close to the end of our return.

Passing the first town, Princeton, about 8 miles in, we continued on to Richmond and my favorite trailhead. It’s my favorite trailhead as related here, a story I told Ron while we took a short break here.  My rando style at this point is still to take a short break every roughly 16-19 miles (and occasionally more often if I’m getting tired toward the end), so Richmond at about 15 miles in was a convenient break point.  We stretched our legs for a bit, refilled water and so forth, and got moving again.  As we pushed back, I noticed something that I won’t comment upon here, but it’ll appear later in our narrative.

Next segment of the ride, for a short 3 or so miles, is the easiest part of the trail heading in either direction.  Leaving Richmond and heading south, you pass through a little tunnel underneath the highway, emerging with the highway on the other side of you, and shortly thereafter you are BOMBING along a very generous down-sloping grade. There are no true hills on the PS Trail, but there are certainly grades, of varying length and climb.  This little stretch is a FAST portion, in which you can make extremely good time with almost no effort.  Then, though, comes your opportunity to earn it, as the roughly 6-7 mile stretch from there into the town of Garnett is a decent little climb.  Ron and I continued to share stories here of past adventures, our similar backstory that led to a love of bicycling, and family; we continued to make decent time while putting in some work on the climb.  Ron unselfconsciously continued in his mentor role to me, dispensing many pieces of advice and insights which I soaked in.  He’s been in the game a while and put in well more bike miles, in well more conditions, than I have, and I was & am fortunate to be able to benefit from his experience.

Soon we rolled into Garnett.  As I’ve mentioned before I really love this little town, and always love riding the bike to or through it.  When riding solo I will frequently stop here, but on this rando-paced ride and with a fellow rider accompanying me, we pressed on to Welda.

Around here we had perhaps 5 raindrops hit us; and it was clear from the trail surface that this area had just experienced a little rain shower which we had avoided.  For a stretch of a few miles, it was suddenly really steamy, humid, from the moisture.  The trail was slightly softer from the rain, but fortunately not enough to make any real impact; riding on this trail when it’s wet can be very hard work, like wet beach sand.

The stretch from Ottawa to Welda is the least favorite on this trail of both Ron and myself.  I’ve previously referred to it as the Bermuda Triangle of this trail.  At about 7-8 miles, it’s not long at all; but it is SO deceptive.  Every single time I’ve ridden it – maybe now a dozen times in all, maybe a little less – this stretch has seemed much longer and much tougher than it appears to be.  To look visually at the terrain as you’re pedaling, it doesn’t seem any tougher, steep, etc; to look at an elevation map, such as those on the excellent site bikeprairiespirit.com, it doesn’t seem like this stretch would be, at any rate, tougher than the stretch into Garnett from the north; and arguably it ISN’T tougher, but, bottom line, both Ron and I have always found it to be mysteriously a grind.  Fortunately, having someone to share the miles with did make it a lot easier, and while we were working (I more than Ron, as he, despite his modesty, effortlessly rolled along), we weren’t experiencing as much suck as we normally do riding this stretch alone.

We rolled into Welda on really good time.  We took down the info for the information control at the turnaround, noted our time of arrival (8:38 or 46 minutes prior to control close), and continued the very short distance to the Welda trailhead for another short break.  There we reconfigured water, took our nature break, etc.

Now it was here that the tenor of the ride was to change or at least the tone of the next chapter was set.  Shortly after our arrival in Welda, I looked down to my handlebar bag’s front pouch, where I keep my cell phone, to see if any texts, calls, etc.  One problem:  no phone.  The pouch was empty.  Horrified, I remembered what I’d seen as we departed Richmond:  the phone seemed not as stable in the pouch as it should have been, but with a mental shrug I thought “Meh, it’ll be fine.”  Now, here in Welda, it was not fine.  I stood there horrified for a few seconds saying “Oh no.  Oh no.”  Telling Ron what happened, I checked and rechecked pockets, my belt bag, etc, hoping I’d somehow moved it and forgotten it. Nope.

Unsure exactly what to do, my first thought was that there was no recourse but to just double back and look for it.  We were going to turn around here anyway, which was good, but my fear was that I’d need to just let Ron go on while I rode very slowly and deliberately on “my side” of the trail looking for the phone.  Soon I hit upon a better idea:  contact the cell company to ask them to ping my phone and tell me if they could locate it.  Ron generously let me use his phone, but after seemingly minutes of navigating through touch-tone menus, I was no closer to talking to a human.  Suddenly a much better idea hit me:  I’d been tracking my ride with online ride tracking software, as I always do.  So I just needed to log into the site, check my ride, and wherever the thing stopped advancing, there’s where my phone lay.  Not getting a great internet signal in Welda and getting impatient, I called my dad to ask if he could log on and check my ride.  He answered the phone with “Do you know where your phone is?”  Huh. No, this is why I’m calling, I said – why do you ask.  What I thought he relayed to me turned out later to be slightly misunderstood (by me), but basically a guy way back in Garnett had found the phone at an intersection of the trail and a road, called a couple of the contacts in it, and given them his address.  My dad relayed this to me, and I to Ron.

With a major shot of adrenaline fueled by fear of the unknown in terms of who had my phone – which contained much work related stuff and much personal stuff I didn’t necessarily want someone running through – we both set a hot pace back toward Garnett.  It wasn’t wise on my part to throw away so much energy blasting back at that pace, and certainly wasn’t considerate toward Ron, for which I later apologized profoundly.  Fortunately, his patience with me wasn’t stretched to the breaking point by this, for which I’m grateful.

We reached Garnett in simply amazing time, which is good because we’d (I’d) burned up a lot of time in Welda trying to nail down what occurred.  Upon reaching Garnett, a confusion that I had about the address dad had given me led to a little more lost time, but fortunately, Ron was on the money and found the house.  The funny thing is that when he first knocked on the door (I was further up the road knocking on other doors), nobody answered.  I was crestfallen to hear this when Ron and I came back together, but at his suggestion we both rode back to the house.  This time, as we were walking up to the door, before we even knocked or even said a word, the home owner opens the front screen door and hands me my phone!  I shook his hand, thanked him profusely, exchanged a few words, thanked him again and we got on our way.  We still had another 25 miles to go and, thanks to my panicked dash back from Welda, we’d thrown away a lot of energy.

We returned to Richmond at a more appropriate pace.  That little climb back into Richmond is one that we both hate – not terribly steep, but just a grind, especially on this surface.  I was starting to seriously feel the effects of my adrenaline dump now – a consequence that I anticipated and somewhat dreaded.  Anyway, by and by we did reach Richmond, where (lest I die) we stopped again for a break.  Ron rode a short way off the trailhead into town to look for a place to get a snack, while I went through my usual trailhead routine – water, fuel, etc.  After a few minutes Ron returned, having found a place to get frozen candy bars and a popsicle (if I recall correctly).  We got moving again, with roughly 15 miles remaining.

The remainder of the ride was fairly hard going for me, and again I thank Ron for his patience with me.  I announced a time or two that I needed to drop the pace a little bit.  I was feeling the effects of the earlier exertion and adrenaline dump; and, un-awesomely, my legs started BADLY cramping up around this time.  Fortunately I was able to suppress that by drinking water aggressively, but the rest of the ride the legs remained right on the border of cramping.

It was around this stretch – somewhere between Richmond & Princeton – that Ron, unfailingly cheerful and optimistic, gushed “two guys, two bikes, two phones – all’s well”.  Bing, I said to myself.  Blog title.

I was chagrined to tell Ron at Princeton that I needed to stop again for a short break – this was only 6 miles down the trail from our last stop.  I told him if he WANTED to go on, I wouldn’t blame him – I felt badly for needing a short breather.  But I was feeling pretty frazzled and needed to marshal my strength for the final stretch.  A great guy and good friend, Ron wouldn’t hear of it and betrayed no impatience with me at all, stopping with me as I recharged.  Pretty soon we got going and covered the remaining miles back to Ottawa.  All along the way, Ron’s enthusiasm and kind words of encouragement bolstered me, something I’ll always remember and hope to pay forward someday to some poor schmo who is self-effacing even as he rides 70 miles (once our “bonus mileage” was thrown in).

I won’t say I was disappointed to leave the gravel part of the trail behind and ride the ~1 mile on pavement – with tailwind! – back to the Short Stop closing control, visions of a chocolate milk recovery/reward drink dancing in my head.  We each bought a chocolate milk there and got our cards signed at 12:10 PM – 38 minutes prior to control close.  Factoring in the MINIMUM 30 minutes, if not 45 or more, that were lost to the “phone incident” plus bonus mileage, we made very good time for the route.

Another successful ride in the books and a crazy narrative of a bike story for the memory books.  It was good to check off July for the RUSA streak and was excellent to meet Ron and ride with him.  I look very forward to sharing more RUSA rides with him in future, on this or other routes.

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