RUSA P-1: 9/7/2014. Cyclone 102 route. “Picking Up Where I Left Off”

September 9, 2014

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…

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