Another in the “slightly belated post; here’s a quick blurb; a longer writeup is coming soon” tradition.

In an earlier post (here) I discussed the Ixon Core headlight I’d received and gave a small review. I mentioned there that I had ordered as a second / support / backup headlight, the Light & Motion Urban 550 commuter light.

That light did arrive (a few weeks back by now) and I’ve used it a few times.  In perhaps a week or two I will give my thoughts on it, compare and contrast with the Ixon Core, etc.


Little belated post here, as I have been out of my usual routine recently attending to a family matter.

But, wanted to drop a quick post to say that myself and my long-time riding buddy Mr. V. participated in the Kansas City BikeMS ride on the weekend of September 13th and 14th.

For me this was my second year; Mr. V’s first.  We had an AWESOME time.  We’re planning to return once again next year.

I got in about 110 miles for the two days combined – 73ish and then 37ish.  Mr. V got in his first-ever century ride on the first day, logging 100 and change, then riding the same 37ish with me on day 2.

A slightly longer writeup (not my usual epic wordiness, probably) with several pictures will follow in a few days, when I have a little bit more time.

12 weeks till weigh-in!

September 10, 2014

Subject says it all.  Twelve weeks to go till I again allow the scales to indicate my progress (or lack thereof) since I resumed working very hard to get into shape.  I can already feel in all kinds of ways that I am losing weight and getting into better shape, but I’ve stayed faithful to my original plan and not stepped on the scales.  Nor will I for another 12 full weeks.

I am the tailwind

September 10, 2014

Pre-dawn start to ride
Flecks of rain fall diagonally toward me, passing through my headlight beams
Fresh coat of water covers the streets from passing rain last night
Will it open up on me this morning or will I ride free? Time alone will tell, but I’m goin’
Lungs and legs open up a mile or two down the road
This never gets old, and I hope that it never will
Spray of water off both tires as I wind my way through dark wet streets
Now I’m back near the start
Gliding along in pace with the winding stream of taillights ahead
A wave of sleepy people starting their day, moving forward in time and space into their routines
Make the final turn into the parking garage just as “Streets” by u2 swells up in the headphones
Right here I realize:
*I* am the tailwind.

This weekend I FINALLY reached a milestone I’ve been looking forward to for many, many months.

As previously documented in these pages, I suffered a strange “meltdown” / “alienation” from the bike, from riding,from randonneuring, back in Autumn 2013. Riding the bike – whether for RUSA credit or not – began to feel like a chore, a job. My fitness was falling apart. Like Mr. Anderson in The Matrix, I was trying to live two lives. In one, I was an endurance athlete, riding 100-km+ (62+ mile) timed bike rides on a fairly frequent basis, and ostensibly at least STAYING in shape, if not improving. In the other though, I was still consumed by my addiction to sugar, to abysmally bad food. I was eating healthy some of the time – some days or some parts of the day – but then awfully other times. That doesn’t net out to zero, not at the rate I was going – it’s a downhill slide. By now well documented, and I am very much about positivity now (having finally picked that up from Ron A), so I won’t dwell further.

That dreary backdrop is necessary to provide the setting for my eventual return to randonneuring. Even as the wheels fell off (fortunately, not literally – bad metaphor for a cyclist), I knew that “one day”, I would figure it out and rise from the ashes of the mess I’d made. I knew that I would return to randoing, BUT, crucially, I also knew that there was no way I was going to attempt it until I knew I was ready to do so, and ready to STAY with it.

Between October 2013 and May of this year, I attempted and completed zero RUSA rides. In May, finally I got in one – and I completed it, in fact in quite good time (for me, relative to my history). But I could tell that I wasn’t really “there” yet, and so I attempted no more beyond that.

FINALLY, after much hard work recently, I’ve gotten back into randonneuring shape, and gotten my head into rando mode. Finally I started to want it again. So last week I pinged local route owner extraordinaire, Ron A, and asked if I could ride this (past) Sunday. Pemission given, pre-ride paperwork completed, control card in hand. We’re doin’ this.

The route I selected was a local one created & owned by Ron, named Cyclone 102. Starting in Ottawa and working its way northeast to Gardner, it is a 102-km (about 64 mile) ride. The 102 plus the local school (Ottawa Cyclones) yielded the route name. I returned with this route for two reasons: One, I have the intention to ride as many varied RUSA routes as I possibly can before I hang ’em up, and I have never ridden this route so it’s new to me. Two, it was symbolic – this is the last route I signed up for prior to my long dormancy. I scheduled with Ron to ride this in November 2013 and then, basically reaching my nadir, had to concede to myself that I just simply wasn’t ready (and truth be told, at that dark place, I wasn’t interested any more) to ride. I turned in a DNS – Did Not Start. So ended phase 1 of my RUSA career.

So, to get back to business and pick up where I left off, felt good. And it was important.

I’ll summarize the entire ride and say definitely, I’m Back. This ride felt absolutely fantastic. It exorcised a lot and surpassed any expectations I had for it. Granted that conditions were, if not supremely optimal, then close to. Conditions don’t get much better for a bike ride. And still, I couldn’t have done this 4 weeks ago. And most likely, I couldn’t have done this (this performance level)  at any point last year, even during my strongest cycling period – despite the fact that at THAT time I was a good dozen+ pounds lighter than I am right now. My FITNESS right now, and my cycling ABILITY, I believe surpasses what it was last year; or if not, it’s knocking right at the door.

The night before, I got stuff ready. I always did enjoy this aspect of the hobby, and now I take it more seriously than I did then. Load up my belt bag with fuel for the ride (some Gu gel, Chex mix, a banana). Air up the tires. Clean, oil, re-clean and re-oil the chain. Stock belt back with not one but two spare tubes and two air cartridges.  From now on, we’re PLANNING success – we’re not planning to fail or aimlessly wishing for the best. Charge up the dual headlights and install them on the bike (first hour or so would be pre-sunrise). Set aside helmet, gloves, reflective yellow jersey, reflective ankle bands. Clothes. Go to bed and get a decent night’s sleep – although I didn’t rest fully as well as I’d have preferred.

Start time was 6 AM. Opening control was the Casey’s in Ottawa – a mere mile from my house! So I woke around 5 AM, showered, drank a little of my patented green drink mixture, put the bike on the rack and threw the bike stuff in the car, and drove to McDonald’s for breakfast. Egg White Delight plus small sugar-free-vanilla iced coffee. I got there later than I intended, so I had to somewhat wolf down the breakfast. Then drove to Casey’s for the start.

Got to Casey’s a few minutes after 6; by the time the bike was unloaded, item purchased (pack of crackers for later in ride if I needed/wanted it), card signed & receipt acquired, it was around 6:15 by the time I actually started riding. Cued up Pandora in the headphones, cued up Endomondo to track the ride. Tunes started — we’re off. Quick look around parking lot, turn on headlights, out into road.

The course for this route takes the rider gradually north and east, north and east, north and east, through LeLoup, Wellsville, Edgerton, and to Gardner for the turnaround control. Though I’d not ridden the route, I was familiar with large stretches of it; the first roughly 14-15 miles trace a local loop that I’ve ridden many times. The first “new” territory for me came at the turnoff from Shawnee Road onto Vermont Terrace. Up a little climb on a bridge/overpass, and gradually curving around en route to Wellsville.

By a few miles in I could feel the difference between this ride and virtually all the RUSA riding I did in 2013. I’m a stronger rider now. Once the endurance miles really come online for me, I’ll be set. Good tunes streamed through Pandora – “Arena” by VNV Nation which is one of my absolute 5 or so most favorite bike songs came on early as I was ascending a little climb on Montana Road; by turns (roughly chronologically), Angels & Airwaves “Heaven”, The Cure “Lovesong”, some song by Depeche Mode that I didn’t know but found very cool, Nine Inch Nails “The Great Below” – all streamed over invisible airwaves into the experience. The miles ticked off fairly effortlessly. My double headlight beams carved a path into the very foggy (and chilly!) morning as I ate into the landscape. Up some ascents, a couple rollers, some long flats or semi-flats. Just feeling very strong and really loving being back to randonneuring.

I recall Angels and Airwaves “Young London” playing (with its chorus of “suit up boys, let’s ride, it’s the weekend”) as I rode down the main streets of quiet little Wellsville, which at this hour on this day seemed to be a town everyone forgot to open for the morning. I always love the feeling of riding a bike from one town to another, separated by stretches of long,quiet, quintessentially cycleable roads. Arriving in the next town, riding through their streets, seeing the townfolk go about their day – love it.

A mile or so into the northern run on K-33, I stopped to take my traditional 25%-of-the-way-through pause. About 16 miles in (actually it was about 19). Stop for just a minute, stretch the legs a bit, have a gel, munch a few bites of the banana, maybe 1/3rd of it. I needed only probably 3 minutes here (I don’t mess around much during rando ride breaks) and was soon enough back on the bike and pushing for Gardner.

A few stretches on K-33 and Highway 56, each with some small rollers, then onto Edgerton Road. Another familiar road for me, although I don’t THINK I’ve been south of 175th as on this route. On this route you approach it from about 3 miles south; some other local RUSA routes I’ve taken Edgerton road north of 175th. Anyway, a few miles on it, then onto 175th for about 4.5 miles. Probably the hardest part of the ride for me. There are no MONSTER hills on 175th (not in this portion anyway) but there are some respectable grades and some respectable rollers to test the legs. Keeping in mind that by this point in the ride I’d gone about 30 miles, which is starting to get to the upper limit of MOST rides I’ve taken the last several weeks, I was battling a little bit. But even the worst battles on this ride didn’t compare with even fairly TYPICAL stretches of a lot of rides last year. Again, I’m getting a lot stronger, and it’s very gratifying. I continued to push hard on this section, keeping myself hydrated and fueled, and continued making, for me, very good time.

“Aeroscope” by VNV Nation, another awesome song by one of my two favorite active bands, was playing on Pandora as I pulled into the Quick Trip in Gardner that represented the mid-point control and the turnaround. I chained the bike up to a table outside, went in, grabbed a little bag of pretzel bites, and got card signed and receipt obtained. Offhand I don’t even recall the arrival time, but I know I got there with plenty to spare. Refilled my water bottles, took a few more bites of banana and another gel, watched with bemusement the puzzled and possibly pitying looks on the faces of a couple little kids in a truck parked nearby as I went through my routine of suiting up gloves, helmet, etc. Restarted Pandora (California Gurls by Katy Perry, first up) and started off.

The ride back is SOMEWHAT of a blur for me now, but that is a good thing and not a bad thing. I was VERY much in the zone, and just feeling great. Tunes were still flowing, I continued to keep myself hydrated and keep the Chex mix rolling to keep the legs happy. Continued making, for me, very good time. Life was good. I recall some Michael Stearns coming onto Pandora during this stretch, some Tangerine Dream, “With or Without You” by u2.

Upon reaching Wellsville, with now maybe 15 or so miles to go, I stopped and took my final short break. Hydration check in C-store restroom – all’s well – drink a little more water, finish the banana and have a final delicious Gu gel, stretch my legs a little bit and we’re off. At moments like these I cannot help but reflect on the path taken – not THIS route’s path but the longer arc of my cycling life. For the longest time, I was doing well to knock off 8, 10 miles. I distinctly remember being very proud when I could consistently do 10 miles in a day. And this was in FLAT, FLAT terrain – main roads of Ottawa, Kansas. Now here I was, 50 miles into a reasonably hilly ride, which I was knocking out at pretty fast pace, and I was thinking thoughts like “only 15 miles to go”. It is all relative. I’m quite sure that at some future point I will embark on rides of a length such that I will think to myself “only 75 miles to go. This one’s in the bag”, such as I see on the blogs of some very accomplished rando’s. Such feats seem borderline extraterrestrial to me now – but, what I am capable of doing now would have seemed that way to me 3 years ago.

The final 15 miles was also pretty uneventful. Legs were talking to me a LITTLE bit during this stretch, but really not much. I was somewhat dreading the very final miles on Montana road. There are a couple climbs there that – objectively, relative to others on the ride, are not that bad or at most are just “more of the same” – but they are a little tough on legs that can already smell the finish. Still, I soldiered on with good pace down Shawnee Road and onto Montana for the last several miles and a few climbs. A headwind – not strong but “present” – greeted me here, but I welcomed it. Conditions during the ride were almost textbook to this point, so I felt obligated to have a LITTLE bit of resistance from the weather. Those last few climbs on Montana were dispatched pretty strongly, although the FINAL mile on that road seemed to go on forever, as I was looking forward to turning off that thing and making the town-line sprint for the last maybe mile or so to the closing control.

I did finally reach that turn though, and turned west for the push to the Caseys. Just a couple minutes, up a little incline and down, loop around…I’ve ridden my bike on this stretch many, many times. Into the parking lot, put the bike back on the car rack. Buy my coveted chocolate milk – combination of post-ride recovery and celebration drink, a nice little reward; get card signed, ride completed. Card was signed at 11 AM. Officially a 5 hour completion time on the nose – which is to date my fastest RUSA completion time. Given that I didn’t actually start pedaling till 6:15 or so, and took a few minutes to put up the bike and get the card signed, I actually finished the ride in just over 4:30 – which, for me, is quite fast. A very good omen for future growth.

In all, a terrific ride on another great Ron A route and a wonderful way to return to the pursuit that I never stopped loving even during my long absence. I have never finished a RUSA ride as fast; I’m pretty sure I have never felt as good during a RUSA ride (only one other comes to mind that was fairly close), and I KNOW I have never felt as good post-ride as I did this one. Within just a couple hours I was almost fully recovered. Typically in the past I’ve been pretty whipped and stay that way for a day or so.

Great start back on the rando road. My thanks as ever to route owner Ron A for his flexibility and quick responsiveness; if there’s a better route owner in all of RUSA I can’t see how.

RUSA P-1 for the new streak, check. Till next time…

Gone for a Spin

September 6, 2014

From the time I began riding the bike (as an adult – not counting “the kid years”), I’ve been solo most of the time. I’ve gone out for several rides with my friend Mr. V (of our shared Katy Trail 2012 and 2013 tours fame), but until VERY recently, he was essentially my only companion (save one-and-a-quarter rando rides with my friend and mentor Ron A). Much more often, silence, or more typically Pandora internet streaming radio, has been my riding companion. I’d never gone out for any organized group weekly-type rides and, to date, have only participated in two organized events – RAGBRAI 2013 and BikeMS 2013, July and September 2013 respectively.

Fairly early on in my immersion in the hobby, I’d become aware of one local bike club, the KCMBC (Kansas City Metro Bicycle Club). I’d also become aware of a calendar of local weekly rides held by a few different groups. One of the better-known of these was the weekly Spin! Pizza Rides. These are weekly spring-through-late-summer rides originating from each of a few local Spin! Pizza locations (each location rides on a different day of the week) and which attract fairly large turnouts.

However, as interested as I was to participate in such rides, my cycling fitness (and a fair amount of self consciousness and natural introverted nature) kept me from experiencing them. I “famously” at one point intended to ride one of KCMBC’s calendared rides, but then pre-driving, in car, the route prior to (see post here), realized that my bike experience and training up to this point simply hadn’t adequately prepared me for what was needed. I chose not to ride; and that awareness – that these rides were for “the big leagues” and I was far from it – formed an albatross around my neck that endured for a long time.

Recently, though, a couple of things coalesced to break through the ice and allow me to peer into this other world.

First, a couple months ago (in fact, it was the Fourth of July), I went out on a 50-miler with Mr. V, a friend of his Mr.S (whom I now consider a mutual friend), and Mr. S’s brother who was in town visiting. Of all the dozens of bike rides I’ve been on, this was easily in the top 10 in terms of most enjoyable. Something about the collegial aspect of riding with a few buddies, just enjoying the outside, the various aspects of the ride, conversations flowing, riding as a pack, the occasional “breakaway” from the pack with ensuing chase, etc – I just soaked it all up. I LOVED that ride. I knew right then that, as much as I enjoy riding solo, I also have a real love for riding amongst a small group. Suddenly many of my favorite posts from the blog of local rider Keith G – whose gift for language has allowed him to wonderfully capture & express the essence of the group ride – acquired new vividness and new color for me. Keith writes well enough that, even not having firsthand experienced this, I was able to get a fantastic “feel” for it through his words – but, having now lived it, I instantly loved it. I knew right away that, although my fitness is STILL (and certainly was then – 2 months ago) not quite enough to hang with any random pack on any random ride, I wanted to incorporate much more group riding.

I realized that most likely, the biggest part of that was going to begin in the spring versus this year. A lot of group rides close down for the season soon; and, I knew that the graph of my improving fitness wasn’t likely to significantly intersect the timeline of this year’s rides.

But, that brings me to “change agent #2”. Not long after that July 4 ride, during a morning gym workout with Mr. V, he suggested we check out the next Spin! Pizza ride. He was familiar with them as I was, and knew my reticence to attend. But, my fitness was somewhat coming along then (although it’s accelerated a lot the past 5 weeks, versus that time), and I was interested in the challenge. Again, important to understand – in this context, by “challenge” I mean as much psychological and social as purely physical & cycling-related. So without giving it a great deal of thought (“sometimes when you think long, you think wrong”), I agreed. Let’s do it.

The Spin! location nearest us goes out on Monday evenings at 6:30. They have both an “easy route” and a “hard route”. The former is about 12 miles and slower paced, for less advanced or more casual riders; and the latter is about 20 miles and faster paced. I chose to dip my toes into the “easy route” end of the pool.

The first ride was also a sort of revelation for me. I enjoyed it immensely. It wasn’t overly SOCIAL – I still am introverted and it’s not natural to me to just introduce myself and start talking to folks – but, I still thrilled with the group dynamic. From a route perspective, it was about perfect for me at that time. Not too easy, not too hard. It was a great first ride for me.

Mr. V and I rode with this Spin! group each of the next few weeks, always the easier route. Gradually the easier route became easier and easier for me – very gratifying. We also recruited another buddy of mine – Mr. J – to join us for a couple of these. He loved it also.

A couple weeks ago Spin! held their last ride of the season. This day neither Mr. V nor Mr. J could make it. I decided to head out on the harder route, on a very hot and humid day. I ended up deciding to abridge the route down to an “abbreviated long route” – turning off with another rider a little early and heading back to the barn. I was a little tired (been pushing very hard lately with exercise and improved eating), and I’d gotten what I wanted to know out of this ride. I was able to hang in with most of the pack on the harder ride, and feel pretty good that I could have finished that route well-faster than dead last. I was heartened.

I’m fairly saddened that the Spin! rides have shut down for the year; but in another sense I like it. I got a very good taste of the group ride, of riding with a pack, of the kind of terrain and routes that are involved, of my ability therein, etc. Now my sights are on the spring return – of Spin! and also of other group rides. My plan for 2015 will include a LOT of group riding – at least one to two per week on the average, possibly more. More organized rides too, of the sort that I bailed out on long ago. I’ve found that these rides tickle various aspects of bike-related itch that I’ve only recently come to find that I had, and I am really looking forward to immersing myself in that aspect of the hobby.

I intend to emerge from the winter into the Spin! and other rides as an entirely new man. Can’t wait.

Different Places

September 3, 2014

Approaching the top of a relatively steeper climb in the first half of today’s ride, a couple of side streets up ahead of me another cyclist curved off of his road and onto “mine”, entering the path ahead of me and joining the climb, in the same southerly direction. I was finding my lower gears about this point and starting to grind up the remainder, and seeing his lithe figure ahead slashing from left to right as he drove into the incline, widening the gap, triggered an intuitive chase response. In that very-familiar instant in which you inventorize your legs and your lungs for the pursuit, I realized I probably wasn’t catching this guy. It’s ok, I told myself. He & I are at different places in our rides. And, judging purely on his physique versus mine, we are probably at different places in our fitness.

Different places. That’s really the essence of cycling, isn’t it? It is a multi-level metaphor for what lies at the heart of the passion.

On the purely physical, there is obviously movement. One of my favorite aspects of cycling versus, say, walking or running – you can just see more stuff, get more places, faster.

In the context of mental presence, cycling has an uncanny ability to transport you to different places both within the context of THIS ride and within the broader context. The Verve song “Bitter Sweet Symphony” has the line, “I’m a million different people from one day to the next.” I very often feel this is a good characterization of the variety to be had in a single bike ride.

If we can forgive ourselves a hoity-toity foray into the philosophical and spiritual, the bike also has a preternatural ability to facilitate the transport of your soul, spirit, whatever you like, to different places than our workaday reality, and not infrequently, to different places than you were aware existed or were accessible to you. In the challenge, in the grind, in the pain, in the work, you find a toughness you didn’t know was there, and you find a hunger for more that you didn’t suspect you had. You find aspects of yourself and your relationship to the world which you can apply to many things off of the saddle.

This evening, in that brief fight-or-flight moment of decision – to pursue or not to pursue – I relaxed and let my ride unfold, as they are wont to do, almost with a will of its own. Roller after roller, sweeping curved incline after fast downhill, my fast-improving fitness was written on the canvas of two wheels on pavement. This ride, glorious as most of them are, was a reassuring reminder that my riding style continues to expand, with more tools appearing in the toolkit. One thing is for sure: I’m on my way to a different place.

Wake up after heavy, deep sleep. Good rest. Don’t feel much like riding. Know I should. No two days off in a row.

Check weather. BIG rain last night. More today? No, first few hours look clear.

Quick shower, dress before I change my mind. Out on bike.

Roads damp but not wet. A little headwind.

Ride to “McDeath” for breakfast biscuit & coffee. Older townsfolk sitting around catching up. Small town, slow pace. As I eat, I think. The 1000. Can I do it? Will I be old? Will anyone know? Will they care? *I* will know. But will even *I* care?

As I eat I look around. Do they see my heart? Doesn’t matter if they don’t. I think one guy might, through eye contact.

Time to go. 16 miles today? 30? 56? 26 was the original plan, but I change the planned route to ride into 15 miles of headwind. 30-miler will do.

A few miles in I am free. This is what I love. Bike, lungs opening up, music in headphones. Moving forward in multiple dimensions.

Riding easy. Pushing lower gear. Make today fun. Leave a little on the table.

Katy Perry on Pandora. Others can laugh if they want – “Roar” is a great song. My spirit soars with the melody. I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar.

Into one of my favorite climbs now. Take a drink of water? No, don’t disturb the flow. I descend into a DEEP, deep synth wash coming into the headphones. Now I merge into everything. Now I know why Vinny writes. Now I know why I ride. A 2-3 hour outing, to capture just a few short, yet timeless jewels like this = very well worth it.

Rise out of the saddle to lead an imaginary group of imaginary fading fellow riders, late in a hard day, up another climb. The future. This really can be me.

The emotions. I understand why others burst into tears after a major athletic accomplishment. I burst into tears sometimes just watching it.

Stop at next town. Rest legs. Drink some water. Now a mild tailwind for the return, although the headwind has been pleasant enough.

The return. The debate about extending the distance. Choices. Decide to stop at the planned 30.

Decide to stop & pick up notebook to capture slices of the ride in words. Carry notebook in future!!

Arrive at Subway for lunch. Lot left in the tank. Future days, future days. For now I got out of this outing what I wanted, and I got what I needed. THIS is why we ride.