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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As anyone who knows me in personal life can attest, when I get into something I go full boar.  I want to become the very best I can at something, or dedicate huge amounts of time to it, or see/hear/read all there is to experience about that thing, etc.

Cycling but more specifically randonneuring is no different.  I’ve had a passion for the sport ever since first learning about it, and despite my recent “abuse” of randoing – which I deeply regret in several ways – I still retain the love of randoing, and I cannot wait to return to it.

I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to what LIFETIME goals I should set for randonneuring.  So these are the goals that I don’t intend to accomplish in 2014, or the next 12 months (which, today being 12/28, are basically one & the same), etc.  Instead, these are things that, as I look back as an older man years from now at my randonneuring “career”, I want to be able to say I accomplished.

Keeping with my “all in” kind of approach, I, more subconsciously than consciously, ask myself, “Self, what is/are the highest MORTAL accomplishments that you can hope to achieve in randoing?”  RUSA, the governing body of randonneuring in the US, offers a wonderful range of awards, for different “kinds” of achievement – annual mileage, lifetime mileage, consecutive-months mileage, variety of rides, variety of US states, etc.  The “bling hound” in me would love to win every award RUSA offers – and I’d love to make that happen.  But, when we speak of CONCRETE, actual goals, I retain as the criteria that they be big-dream, stretch goals but yet “mortally achievable”.

Switch pursuits on you to give a metaphor – I’m a big chess fan and former very active player.  In one interview, chess grandmaster Edmar Mednis said of his lifetime achievement that “the ultimate goal of every chess player is to become world champion…but that is really reserved for a very very few…so the substitute goal for most of us is to become grandmaster because that is the highest ‘normal’ title you can achieve.”  That sums up what I look for in my lifetime randoing goals – big-dream goals but arguably the highest “mortal” goals you can shoot for.

After some internal haggling about what constitutes “mortal”, I’ve arrived at my Big Four randonneuring goals.  Remember, these are lifetime goals, not what I intend to do in 2014.  I’m not likely to accomplish any of these in 2014.

Here, then, in ROUGHLY ascending order in terms of difficulty, are my targets:

  1. Win the P-12 award.  This, again, is the award given by RUSA for 12 consecutive months (doesn’t have to be 12 months in a calendar year) of a 100-km (“populaire length”) ride.  This was my initial RUSA goal, and I was 6 months into it prior to my “hiatus” this year.  When I return, this is definitely a goal I want to look back on years from now and have ticked off.
  2. Win the R-12 award.  The relative difficulty of goals 2 and 3 are debatable, but ehhh.  R-12 is the same as the P-12 but represents 12 consecutive months of a 200-km or greater ride.  There are a good number of people who have won the R-12 but it’s still a small % of RUSA’s overall membership.  It’s a deceptively difficult award to win, and especially if you live in a state that experiences a true winter!
  3. Win the “super randonneur” award for riding “the series”.  Ok, first off, this is actually an ACP-sanctioned, not RUSA-sanctioned, award, but I’ll spare my non-hardcore readers the details.  RUSA administers the award in the US, succinctly.  This is an award given to a rider who completes “the series” of rando-length rides within a calendar year – that is, a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k brevet (group rando ride) within a calendar year.  For my imperial-units friends, that’s about a 124-mile, 186, 248, 372-mile rando ride in a single year.
  4. Win the “K-Hounds” award.  This is the highest annual-mileage award RUSA offers. Once again sparing my readers laborious detail, this is an award that riders created and moderated (but which RUSA acknowledged & recognized) until this year, but starting in 2014, RUSA will begin administering and formally distributing this award. This award is given to riders who complete 10,000 RUSA kilometers in a calendar year.  Unless my semi-hand-count of the K-Hounds website fails me, only roughly 70 riders (I think I counted 71) have ever won this award since its 2006 founding.  I know for a fact that more riders have achieved each of the other 3 honors I name, so I consider this the most difficult of my 4 lifetime goals.  If accomplished entirely via 200-km rides, this would mean basically a 124-mile RUSA ride every single week for a calendar year.  That’s damn impressive.

When you consider that ~70 riders have won the K-Hounds award, then even if you make an assumption that all of them have won the awards associated with my other 3 goals (it wouldn’t shock me at all if there were a few who had done only 3 or even 2 of them, though), this means that only about 0.75% or fewer of all RUSA’s 9,230 (all-time) members have achieved all four of these.  Very ambitious goals, indeed.

No clever summary here to this post, except to say that obviously I have much hard work ahead of me.  I’m animated, though, to start working toward these very respectable targets.  And like Mednis, the chess grandmaster quoted earlier, once I do achieve all of them, I can – and will – feel very good.

I betrayed randonneuring

December 3, 2013

So, I’ve not posted in quite some time.

First things first: as much as it pains me to say this, I let November in my aspirational P-12 streak go by without a successful ride; AND, I am taking a short hiatus from randonneuring.

Following are some excerpts from an email I sent to Sensei Ron A, my friend, mentor, and RUSA route owner, forming the outline of my mea culpa.

I think that taking a small break from randoing is the right thing for me at this point, and I don’t regret THAT, but I do regret my own failings which led up to it…I’m quite convicted that I betrayed both myself and randoing itself…

Basically, not long after RAGBRAI my old fitness-related demons started really plaguing me. I was somewhat aware of it at the time, in stretches, but looking back it’s fairly clear. My bike-related fitness was getting worse, and worse, and worse. Riding the bike began to feel like a chore. Randoing often seemed almost impossibly difficult, which accounts for [my struggles with rando rides since then].

[Most succinctly], I betrayed first myself, through allowing my fitness to decline and decline and decline, and then I betrayed randoing, by continuing to do it when I had no business doing it, and failing quite a lot along the way. Ultimately you, too, were let down [by my inconsistency]…I can say that *I* am somewhat offended by my flippant approach to [randoing during this time].

So, there you have it.

I’ve cooked up basically a multi-month plan. The first few months are going to see me stay off the rando road for now, focusing ONLY and INTENTLY on losing weight. Eating good & healthy, going to gym or other workout 4-5 days a week (both of which are underway and have been underway), and taking only shorter (12-25 mile) bike rides, for fun and for weight loss.

Following this, and once I’ve accomplished a key body weight goal, I enter phase II of the return: continuing to eat healthy (obviously), I take the focus less off of gym/working out – reducing this to 2 or at most 3 times per week – and put the focus more on riding the bike. Longer and more frequent rides, building up to closer to rando distances. I do this for a period of a few weeks, a month, or so.

FINALLY, with both of those things done, now I’m at a point where I’ve gotten much closer to my ideal body weight, I’m in good shape and much stronger than now, and my base mileage rides are under me preparing me for endurance riding – THEN I return, with vigor, to randoing. No divided attention with poor eating habits and/or trying to lose weight. THEN I resume where I left off.

Life, as Jethro Tull said, is a long song. It’s a phrase that’s been in my head often the past couple weeks as I wrestled with this situation. I regret several aspects of this situation – but as Sensei Ron has often reminded me, “That’s in the past. It’s over.” No gains can come now from just regretting it. Now’s the time to work hard to right the ship, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I’ll still continue to ride the bike, as mentioned, and I still love cycling, so this blog will continue apace. Only distinction is, reduced randonneuring-related content for a little while. But count on this: I’ll be back 🙂

Prior to this weekend I’d not yet attempted a RUSA ride in October to keep the P-12 streak alive.  This was due to a combination of our early-October one-week-long Katy Trail ride, my recovery from that, and my recent and by now well documented battling with malaise regarding basically all things fitness.

With the calendar quickly burning down October’s remaining embers, it was becoming important to schedule something.  This weekend was the last one of the month, so, unless I wanted a nighttime finish to a route (which I’ve done but prefer to minimize till I get better bike lighting) or wanted to take some vacation time from work, it HAD to be this weekend.

With my thanks as always to the flexibility of Sensei Ron A, the route owner for several local 100-km routes, late in the week I scheduled another jaunt on Wander to Welda for Saturday morning, with a 7 AM start.

It was with a fair amount of trepidation that I started the ride – my evening-before eager anticipation notwithstanding – precisely because I’d really ridden very little lately (well, since the 500+ Katy Trail ride that had quickly receded three weeks into the rearview mirror) and hadn’t gotten in a successful RUSA ride in the past five weeks. I wasn’t terribly confident of my fitness level with so much inactivity and poor eating lately. Regardless, as chronicled above, I had really four choices:  get a successful ride this weekend, get a nighttime finish route early next week, take some PTO from work, or, least palatably, see my five months of work toward the P-12 slip by the wayside.  So, we ride!!

This was my first ride this year (first since spring that is) wearing leggings.  Even during the Katy Trail ride, I braved some cold-start mornings without leggings, partially due to my assessment of the forecast, partially due to wanting to maximize packing space & weight on bike.  However, with a 42ish degree, pre-sunrise start to this ride, and a day that looked to be largely overcast for most of my ride (though it actually ended up being sunnier than that), I relented to the elements and rocked the leggings underneath the shorts.

Familiar enough preride routine for me – woke up, had my usual breakfast plus green drink, scurried around and got my bike and belt bag ready, showered and out the door by 6:50 for the short mile-ish ride to the starting control on Main Street.  Purchased a small bag of Cheez-Its (a recent substitute for my in-ride eating, replacing Chex Mix, which I am fond of but quickly got sick of on the Katy Trail) and got receipt and card signature right at 7.  Turn on bike lighting for the first several miles of the trail, and we’re off!

Pretty early on I could feel that the Katy Trail ride definitely added to my leg strength and stamina.  I’ve ridden this Welda route now several times and so have a storehouse of experience to compare/contrast each new ride with.  I felt stronger at essentially every single point in the ride than I believe I ever have on this route, which was EXTREMELY encouraging given my abysmal fitness habits lately.

My phone’s battery has been very unpredictable lately, and at a minimum runs down fast; so, I chose to run neither my standby Pandora nor ride-tracking app Endomondo on this ride.  For music, instead, I brought an iPod.  The upshot of this was that, unusual for my rides, I had no direct feedback on a mile-by-mile basis on my speed.  Since I could perceive I was riding pretty strong, I was ok with this, and I liked the freedom of just glancing at the phone’s clock at rest points.

Early on in the ride I could tell there was an organized run happening on the trail.  Just south of my Ottawa start was a drink/gatorade station set up in a familiar layout common to group runs/group races.  At first I assumed it was a standard “mere 5k” (says the guy who has run one 5k ever), but fairly soon I could tell the runners I was passing were a different breed.  For one, most carried small Camelbak-style backpacks.  For two, they had started pre-sunrise, which is unusual in itself, and most had small headlamps on their heads.  For three, just the build of these folks told you they weren’t your average 5k weekend warrior turnout.  Immediately I recalled that the evening before, shopping for groceries at Wally World, I’d seen a guy in the checkout lane wearing an “Epic Ultras” jacket, i.e. the ultramarathon group.  Remembering also that they had organized at least one run on the Prairie Sprit that I could recall, earlier this year, I quickly put two and two together and concluded that like myself, these folks were out for a big challenge today.

My suspicions were confirmed at Richmond, as I recall.  A couple volunteers there had some tents set up, a fire or some heating elements, and were getting stuff ready to receive the runners. I’d passed the lead guy just south of Princeton, about 5.5 miles back, so they would start rolling into Richmond fairly soon.  I think that I saw signage here to the effect that this was a 50-mile run (which would be Garnett & back to Ottawa).  I’d later learn that they actually had two groups this day, one running 50 miles, the other 50 km’s (31 miles), which was Richmond and back.  The latter group’s start time, I would learn, was 8 AM, so presumably I’d seen none of them on my way south.

I took my usual short break here in Richmond.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the restrooms were unlocked AND the water on – I expected neither.  I took a short break to rejigger fuel, water, and a short health break.  As mentioned above, I know how I typically feel when I roll into Richmond on this route; this time I felt a lot stronger, and it showed in my turnaround time.  I didn’t feel the need to take even my customarily short stop; instead I got in and out in several minutes, continuing to Garnett.

Again, my Katy Trail experience clearly built up some muscles and some resilience. I’d texted friends on day 2 or 3 of that ride that I was starting to develop “that steel trap feeling” in my legs, and it reprised here on this ride.  The climb into Garnett is not overly taxing, but it’s a climb, a longish upward grade, on a more-difficult-than-asphalt surface.  I completed the entire climb in a gear higher than I normally would, and generally just kept pressing forward.

The wind was strange today – ostensibly from the west and then later shifting to the northwest, at a respectable 12-15 mph, I nonetheless felt it pretty strongly on the open stretch north of Garnett. I experienced it similar to a direct headwind even though ostensibly it wasn’t.  I reached the Garnett station, taking another short break, mostly to refill water, assuming Welda’s water would be turned off.  A quick turnaround and I again got moving.

The climb to Welda was similar to the Garnett climb – routinely one of my least favorite stretches of this ride, today it was no picnic either but I just kept churning forward, in higher gearing than I typically would.  Nonetheless I was relieved when that short 7ish miles was done and I took a short break in Welda.  I arrived about 9:50 AM, which for me is a pretty solid pace on this route.  I had by this time ZERO concern about the return, as once again I arrived at Welda feeling much fresher than I normally do.  After my usual control/break routine, I turned southward for the return back to Ottawa.

Once again the wind actually felt like it was coming from the south, at least for half an hour or so, and I was making good time back to Garnett.  I stopped there again for a short water/fuel/health break.  About this time some of the runners were arriving in Garnett, with some others having made it through and turned back.  I stopped and chatted with one of the volunteers for a short period, but, while not wanting to be impolite, cut it somewhat short so that I could resume and finish. Given what was around the corner, I’m really glad I did that.

The next 10 miles to Richmond was nothing spectacular – passed many runners (some going each way) and once again generally felt stronger and fresher than I typically would at this point in the ride.  The few miles into Richmond, as return readers will know, are probably my least favorite on this route; and such was the case again today although I just worked my way through it and arrived a lot fresher than I usually do.  At Richmond, too, several runners were in the process of arriving or having just come through, so there were several more runners to pass.  As I had leaving Garnett, I high-fived several of them as I flew by 🙂  I had & have immense respect for these folks and their achievement on this day, whether this be their first ultra or their 20th.  Also I’ll note – with NO disrespect, quite the contrary, HUGE respect – that there were at least 2-3 runners I saw whose physical dimensions would totally belie the accompishment they were tackling.  Huge respect from me for taking on this challenge.

Anyway, my ride, which had so far been probably the least difficult of my Wander to Welda RUSA outings thus far, was about to take a major hit.  Roughly 2 miles outside of Princeton, my rear tire skipped over a rock or something and I IMMEDIATELY felt the sickening feeling of a flat tire.  I hopped off to feel it – yep, dead as three o’clock.  From fully pumped to dead flat, instantly.  For many if not most riders this would be less traumatic than it was for me – I’d only practiced changing a tire once or twice and had never had to do so mid-ride, alone (without a riding companion), and certainly not under RUSA timed conditions.  I felt terrible.  I pedaled on for a short while in basic denial, but at a short bridge, I pulled over.  There was no question of trying to push on to Ottawa without changing it – I was still a good 9ish miles out.  Resigning myself to the slowness I knew I’d essay in changing the thing, I more or less wrote off finishing timely and just started working on it, not in any particular hurry.

Making a long story short here, I did take a LONG time to finish it, working my way through my memory of how to do it.  My first in-ride flat, and what a time for it.  I triumphantly replaced the wheel on the bike, aired up the new tube with my air cartridge (which was also my last one, so if I got another flat I was done), and checked the time on the phone.  I expected to be essentially mathematically eliminated, but the time stood out to me as if in 3-D.  It was 1:05.  I had about 40 minutes to finish the remaining 9 miles.  For me, on this course, for the LAST 9 miles of the day (i.e. when I am already pretty tired), that was going to be a nailbiter, but it was doable. This again, incidentally, highlighted how much stronger I was on this ride.  Normally the last 12ish miles or so of this route I am DEAD and just counting down miles till I can get off the bike.  Instead, now, while I WAS tired and the legs weren’t as fresh as at the start, I could feel I had enough left to make it.  So I set off.

As a sidebar, the necessity of changing the tire in-ride without someone holding my hand was very valuable.  I now have total confidence in my ability to do so again as needed in the future so, while I don’t invite any more flats, I no longer fear them as I did prior to this weekend.  Just gotta make sure I carry a couple spares and a couple air cartridges.

I had to pace myself.  I could assess my energy reserves pretty accurately and knew that if I tried to sprint to the finish I might run out of gas.  So I rode with purpose but not at 100%, and allowed myself to coast a pedal stroke now and then to catch a breath.  Passing several more runners along the way, I was focused dead ahead and just focused on finishing my water bottles, on staying calm and just finishing.

Round the final curve in the gravel (well the penultimate curve), back on the highway for a short jog of some couple hundred feet, then back onto the FINAL curve in the gravel before it gives way to pavement.  I knew the by-now 14ish mph almost-direct headwind was waiting for me, and I cursed that.  I knew if I’d had a tailwind of the same speed the finish would be a slam dunk.  Instead, that last mile or so on pavement was a long slog on tired legs into the wind.  Passing the final group of Epic Ultra volunteers trailside, I asked as I passed, “what time do you have”?  The guy had 1:40.  I was only a very short halfish mile away from the control, although I had a couple turns (navigating traffic plus crossing the main road in town) to make and had 8 minutes to get my receipt and card signed.

Rolling into the parking lot, I parked the bike, took off the helmet & smoothed down my helmet hair, grabbed the card and dashed inside.  Heading back for my usual postride chocolate milk, I didn’t even have the nerve to waste the time to look at my phone.  I headed to the counter, paid, got the receipt and signature.  1:45 PM.  I had THREE minutes to go until the control closed.  Crazy.  I walked back out, breathed a LONG couple sighs of relief, packed up the chocolate milk and pedaled over to Subway for my normal post-RUSA-ride lunch.

Here’s hoping I don’t have this close a call, on a RUSA ride at all let alone one that endangers the P-12 streak, again.  This reinforced my commitment to getting in a ride very early in the month and at least getting the month checked off.  And, I’m happy to report that post-ride, I felt the same familiar feeling I do after virtually all RUSA rides:  “Man, I can’t WAIT to do this again.”  If I wanted to extend this already-long post further, I could expand on this further, but suffice it to say that I feel good that this ride went a LONG way toward breaking my recent self-imposed exile from healthy habits in general and riding the bike in particular.

Six months are under the belt for the P-12!  Six to go.  Lord willing, April will be the final month in the streak and I’ll qualify for the RUSA P-12 patch in May. Can’t wait.

Till next time…

So in late August I suffered from, as chronicled in recent posts, a fairly epic burnout from cycling.  It was varying parts physical and psychological / mental and, as is often the case, these varying dimensions cross-multiplied synergistically and with deleterious effect on my bicycling.  Quite suddenly cycling felt like a “chore” to me, a “job”, and something that I, to be frank, just dreaded doing.

After a successful but very short streak (which I didn’t do a great job of chronicling in these pages) in August where I ramped up my rando riding (I successfully finished rides on 8/11, 8/14 and 8/18), my “other life” of really frightful eating caught up to me and just dragged me down.  That’s an abyss I’ve already discussed at some length here, won’t ever relive again, and don’t intend to discuss much now.

Fortunately it was short-lived.  Some encouragement, wisdom and support from Sensei Ron A and my friends and family helped; and finally I decided I’d done enough torturing of myself with food as well as self-beratement, and I drew my line in the sand and returned to the good path nutritionwise.

Then, yesterday, I returned to the dream.  Randonneuring.

There was a recent article in American Randonneur, the quarterly newsletter of RUSA, in which an accomplished rando was asked how he managed to keep a positive attitude even during the rough stretches of long rides.  His basic answer was that he continued to remind himself that, whether it was sunny out and 75 degrees or cold, windy and rainy, he was living the dream and was doing what he’d chosen to do.  Browsing recently through some photos taken on my phone of a couple of the rando rides in August, I completely concur.  It occurred to me that – sorry, this sounds overly sappy but it’s just being honest – I have RARELY in my life felt more content than I was in that very short span of time when I was doing these long rides every few days,  building up my RUSA “resume”, and progressing with cycling and with my fitness.  I texted Ron A that even though these pictures were only from a couple weeks prior, it felt like it was years ago, so far had I been beaten down psychologically.  But in that moment I reminded myself that yes, for me, this IS the dream.  I’ve wanted to get into randonneuring since basically the day I learned that it existed and started to educate myself.  I worked hard to get into the shape where I could do the entry-level (still damned impressive IMO) RUSA distance of 100 km (62 miles) under RUSA conditions.  I looked forward to the day when I could FINALLY start my rando career rolling, start building a “resume”, start working towards various annual & lifetime awards RUSA offers. And when I finally got there, it was every bit as fun as I thought it would be.  Again, I’ve rarely in my life BEEN more content.

I realized it was so foolish to throw this away for the sake of some cheap-thrill terrible food that savaged my soul, my spirit and my body.  This wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing, and I knew it.

Fortunately I am back “clean” now; and with it, the entire mindset has flipped 180 degrees as if overnight.  Cycling no longer seems like a “chore” but rather it’s what I found many months ago that I had a deep affection for; and happily, yesterday I returned successfully to randoing with a completion of the Wander to Welda route.  I’ve now ridden this route for 6 of my 10 successful RUSA rides; soon I will diversify out further, although the choice of 100-km local routes is a short list.

The ride surely wasn’t easy; it was a HOT mother of a day, topping out at 100+ degrees.  The bank clock in town read 100 when I finished the ride.  I felt great and was DOING great for the first roughly 47 miles; the last 15 were sheer hell.  I dialed back on my hydration just when I needed to really up it due to the growing heat of the day; and I suffered mightily as a result.  I definitely went into dehydration territory, and despite crawling to the finish (yes at a trailhead rest I thought of Julie Moss – Google if ya don’t know) and then drinking very aggressively for the afternoon & evening to rehydrate, I didn’t really feel “normal” again till this morning, after an 8+ hour sleep.  But, as I told a friend this morning, I DID in fact recover (or at least, I’m nearly back to 100%) and I learned some lessons & emerged a stronger rider.

And, this ride was notable for three other important reasons.

One, relating to heat – I’ve now put the really hot months in my aspirational P-12 streak behind me.  June, July, August and September are in the books.  Now I’ll have 1-3 mild months, 1-3 downright cold ones, and end on a couple mild ones.

Reason two – I did in fact extend my P-12 streak to five months.  I rode once in May, twice in June, three times each in July and August, and now added September to the streak.  Five months down with seven to go.  Of course, my intention isn’t to magically “stop” after 12 months.  I intend to knock out a 100-km RUSA ride every month for as long as my fascination with cycling holds.

Reason three – I earned my RUSA 1000-km award!!  Harkening back to a much earlier post, I set the goal to win this award (given to riders who ride 1000 RUSA kilometers in a calendar year) this year.  At that early point, I intended to do it “only” (quote-unquote) by doing my one ride per month for the P-12 plus a couple additional rides (since I started in May not January); I didn’t at that time envision ramping up and trying to do 2, 3, 4+ RUSA rides in a month.  But that’s the plan now. I’m very gratified and excited to have earned this award – my first RUSA award of any kind (I will receive it in 2014 of course), and now want to continue to up my mileage for the year.  I HOPE to achieve a 3000-km award for this year; although that will be pretty aggressive. We’ll see what comes; but to have achieved my 2013 goal with nearly four months to spare is wonderful.

No randoing for me till, at earliest, midweek the week of September 16th – so roughly 9ish days away.  But, soon it’s my intention to return to at least one RUSA ride per week if not more.

And I am VERY content to be living the dream once again.

On a recent ride with a buddy on a fairly hilly course, he remarked that he was “being lazy” by not gearing down into the hills and instead just muscling up them.  A brief exchange followed in which I differed with him: since staying in a higher gear and standing to climb is harder than gearing down – MY normal MO – you’re actually being the opposite of lazy, I told him.

I instinctually, and without intention, look for “patterns” or “trends” that can be woven together for blog writeups, and I divined a parallel between this moment in this ride and my RUSA ride earlier this morning.  I again rode the Wander to Welda 100-km (62 mile) RUSA route, and in so doing ticked off the fourth month in my pursuit of RUSA’s P-12 award.

The parallel, then:  anyone who has read these pages knows that I’m always doing battle against one or more factors on my longer (say, 50+ mile plus) rides.  If it’s not hydration, it’s fueling.  If it’s not fueling, it’s something else.  However, magically “simple” (a VERY relative phrase) are the rides where all the elements come together for me – through focus and never accident.  I like to, what I refer to as, “slam dunk” a longer ride.  What this refers to is that no 60+ mile bike ride is easy (for me, anyway), but if I pay attention to ALL the fundamentals – proper hydration, sufficient fueling, breathing, building in downtime at rests, stretching properly, bike at least reasonably well maintained, etc – I naturally enough give myself the best chance to make things as “easy” as possible.

The reference to making it tough, then:  Focusing on all these things, for me anyway, is not easy.  One has to be vigilant.  Reading the online blogs of various rando’s, and talking in person with a few of them now, I KNOW it’s not only me – it’s a common “cry of the rando”, to quote kG.  It’s not every ride that you get it perfect, even with practice. One’s humanity and fallibility shows up all often on long bicycle excursions.  Riding long distances (whether that be, for you, 30 miles, 60 miles, 120 miles, or 300 miles) is not simply about sitting on the saddle and riding.  It’s about putting as much of the elements of a successful ride in your favor as possible.  The “tough” part, then, comes in two forms – mental, and physiological.  Mental because it’s difficult to consistently keep all the plates in the air; physiological because – possibly surprising to those who don’t ride as much – after a while it’s just not pleasant to keep reaching for your water bottle, drinking, replacing it.  Keep reaching for food in-ride, chewing it down and swallowing it.  As the miles pile up, all of this stuff becomes less palatable.  Proper breathing, proper pacing, stretching on-bike and at breaks – all of this becomes MORE important, not less, as the ride progresses and yet becomes tougher to do.  Therefore, consistent with the “nothing is easy” mantra of my former manager BL, you can choose to either “make things tough by making things easy”, i.e. lose sight of some elements, which is easier in the short stretches, but in the long run will lead to a tougher ride; or you can make things tough in order to make things easy – keep consistently doing the right things pre-ride and in-ride (and post-ride) in order to make things go as smoothly as possible.

Today’s ride for me was a case of the latter, minus one important ingredient:  I should have brought a banana to eat over a few break stops, as has become my habit on RUSA rides.  I was missing it, not horribly but missing it, later in the ride as my muscles were registering complaints.  A good potassium injection is a magical elixir for a good long bike ride.  I won’t make this oversight again.

No particularly long writeup today, as I’ve done this route now four times in a row and covered most of the terrain-related notes fairly well.  Instead, unusually for me, I grabbed a few pictures which will form a visual log of the journey.

The start time was 6 AM, at the Short Stop gas station about a mile from home.  Rising at 4:15 with the alarm, I had my normal breakfast and veggie drink, packed up my belt bag, did a little final bike cleanup and chain cleaning/reoiling, hit the shower and was out the door.  Buying a bag of Chex mix at the gas station, I saved the receipt and got the card signed (same dude who’s been there the last 3 times, and who wished me a good ride again) at 6 AM and was off.

It’s staying darker later in the morning, of course, so I had the lighting system on for the first few miles.  I also donned a couple new purchases for me – a reflective yellow cycling vest, and reflective yellow ankle bands.  These are actually required of randonneurs to wear if riding pre-sunrise or post-sunset; but it’s just prudent to use them anyway and they’ve become part of my normal bike riding wardrobe now.

Once again I found every single spiderweb along the course, and they were many.  I passed a few turtles on the trail, a few rabbits and a squirrel, although no deer today.  I made good and steady time to Richmond, taking my first break here.  Avoiding the “time warp” that hit me at this trailhead last time, I made quick work through the rest, rinsing off the road grime and spiderwebs, rejiggering water and fuel, and pushing on.  For the first time on this route, I did NOT stop in Garnett, instead feeling good and pressing on to Welda.  I reached the info control at Welda at 8:42 AM, which was a mere 4 minutes slower than my best arrival time thus far (the July 6 ride with Ron A).  At Welda I added a new wrinkle to my rando habits:  after taking care of the info control aspect of the card, rejiggering water and fuel, etc, I set an alarm on my phone for about 7 minutes hence, and laid down with my legs up on a bench to relax.  Setting the alarm keeps you from lounging around longer than you really want to, while at the same time providing the freedom to just allow yourself to relax and get ready for the next stretch.

Back on the road again, I now had a slight tailwind (cross tailwind, from the SE) with me for the return. The stretch back to Garnett was fairly easy, and this time I did take a short stop in Garnett.  Enough to hit up the restroom, water & fuel stuff, and get moving again.  Roughly 24ish miles remaining, and at this point I started counting them down.  I once again stopped in Richmond, where I again, after taking care of all necessary stuff, laid down, setting the alarm for about 9 minutes away.  This was a wonderful break and recharged me for the remainder.  While the final 15 miles were not easy (a 62+ mile ride is still hard work for me), the confidence I’ve developed from past rando rides and, certainly, RAGBRAI, empowered me to just keep enduring, and keep doing the right things – eating, drinking, breathing correctly, watching pacing. Make it tough in order to make it easy.

Passed by the Princeton trailhead without stopping; the remainder was largely downhill both literally and figuratively, and I’d dropped into “let’s just get this thing finished” mode.  The final 8 miles to Ottawa weren’t overly taxing, and once again I rejoiced in finally getting off the gravel part of the trail for the 1 paved mile in town; and then in getting off the trail entirely and seeing the control just ahead.

Locking up the bike and grabbing control card, I went in, grabbed my customary reward / recovery drink of chocolate milk, paid & got the receipt and card signed.  This turned out to be my fastest overall finish time of my thus-far four Wander to Welda rides, albeit by only about 5 minutes.  Threw the chocolate milk in the belt bag, rode over to Subway, got an Italian BMT on Italian herb & cheese bread (my new favorite Subway menu item, this thing is gooood), sat and savored the rewards of another successful RUSA ride even as I began my post-ride recovery.

Four months into the P-12 award streak, and 8 to go.  I’m guessing September and October will be not overly difficult from a weather perspective; probably even November; then, I’m sure I will have some fun times keeping the streak going in December, January and February.  Something to look forward to!

Below, some pictures from today’s ride.

20130811_RUSAP4_001Above: Storm Paris at the starting control, circa 6 AM.

20130811_RUSAP4_002Above:  The aforementioned reflective ankle bands.  Getting my rando style on!

20130811_RUSAP4_003Above: One tree that had fallen across the trail.  This one was passable to the side…

20130811_RUSAP4_004Above: A contented and optimistic looking rider 🙂

20130811_RUSAP4_005Above: ….but THIS one completely covered the trail like a fence.  I had no saw or ax, and it was too heavy to move, so I passed through by climbing through that large gap with the bike and continued on.

20130811_RUSAP4_006Above:  The newborn day.

20130811_RUSAP4_007Above:  A nice vista to the trail’s east a little north of Richmond.

20130811_RUSAP4_00820130811_RUSAP4_009Above:  At my favorite trailhead, Richmond trailhead.  Break #1.  Storm Paris behind me ready to resume.  Feeling good!

20130811_RUSAP4_010Above: The iconic Beachner Grain depot trailside as you enter Richmond.

20130811_RUSAP4_011Above: The lovely stretch of the trail just north of Garnett, entering town. The trail is wide open here with no tree lining for a while, maybe a mile or so. Garnett Lake and park to the east.

20130811_RUSAP4_012Above:  Garnett trailhead.

20130811_RUSAP4_013Above:  Victorious pose or crazed baboon?  Neither, just an overhead shot in the Garnett trailhead restroom on the return trip from Welda.  Feeling goofy and giddy 🙂

20130811_RUSAP4_014Above:  From one of the couple of bridges you cross heading into Garnett (or in this case, out of Garnett, as this was on the return).

20130811_RUSAP4_01520130811_RUSAP4_016Above:  Storm Paris on the bridge, ready to knock out the remaining ~20 miles!

20130811_RUSAP4_017Above:  The reward / recovery drink.  Chocolate milk and Subway sandwich, baby!!

20130811_RUSAP4_018Above:  The before and after.  ~63 miles, 5 hours, 2400+ calories burned, 1 chocolate milk, 4 months into P-12 streak 🙂

Day two of my two-day Wander to Welda RUSA weekend twofer.  Day one is posted here.

Day Two – Sunday, July 14th

Character building ride for me today, just continuing to strengthen my randonneur spirit.  I candidly was apprehensive about riding again.  This route is still pretty tough for me, and here I was attempting to do it for the *second day in a row*.  I looked within myself for the go/no-go decision but couldn’t escape the randonneur’s Prime Directive:  the rider must absolutely believe that quitting is the worst thing that may occur.  In my mind that goes just as well for a DNS (Did Not Start) for a ride that you’d committed to doing, as a DNF.  This overriding principle is totally unambiguous, leaving one choice – ride, and if the ride stops you, it stops you.  But give it what you got.

A word of preface – those looking for a ride report featuring a blistering finish time should look elsewhere.  In fact, should look no further than my friend Ron A – but more about that later.  For myself, I did ride today and finished within control times, but, weary from two days of big (for me) miles and difficult terrain, I didn’t set any speed records.

Start time was again 5:30.  I’d rehydrated and recovered pretty well yesterday and, while understandably a little tired, I felt like I could go this morning.  Intended wake-up time was 4:00 with the alarm, but rolling over around 2:30, I flipped on the TV, saw that the verdict had come in in the George Zimmerman trial, and watched the coverage for about 70 minutes.  With insufficient time to get back to sleep and catch Z’s, I turned off the alarm and got moving.  At least I’d have a little bit more time freedom this morning versus yesterday.

Normal morning routine – my “juice bar” of green drink, coffee with cocoa, and water.  Ate some breakfast, packed up the belt bag, final bike prep, and jumped into the shower.  By about 5:20 I was on the road to the starting control, the Short Stop gas station.

Same dude was in fact working there as was there yesterday morning, and last week when Ron & I rode.  By now he definitely knew the drill, and asked me if I was riding again today.  Yep.  Picked up another bag of Chex mix & saved the receipt, got the card signed (5:30 AM for both) and was rolling by about 5:35.

Almost identical conditions to yesterday.  About 70 degrees to start, wind for the day almost identical, and lighting almost identical.  Again first couple of miles were pretty dark with my anti-spiderweb shades on; by about 4ish miles in I could see very clearly.

My hydration and calorie approach yesterday served me very well so it was reprised today.  Banana in the belt bag, 3 bottles of water (one with Perpetuem), all of which were drunk from very liberally between stops/refills, and Chex mix in the bag.

As with yesterday, first stretch passed without much to report.  I rolled into and through the town of Princeton en route to Richmond for my first stop.  Along the way, I once again found every single spiderweb – and once again there were LOTS.  At one point I felt what I still think was a bite on my stomach, and spent some seconds making sure nothing was still alive and crawling around there.  At more than one point I saw a live spider crawling around on the bike on webs that I’d captured as I rode through.  It was pretty funky.

I reached Richmond at pretty good pace – very slightly slower than yesterday, I believe.  However, here I hit an odd time warp.  A combination of feeling slightly cavalier about my ability to crank out ride time when I needed, plus needing to take some time here to really wash off my face, arms, bike helmet, etc of spiderwebs, left me rather unexpectedly in a time hole – or at least, with NO time in the bank.  Looking at the clock prior to pushing off, I was shocked at how long I’d been at the trailhead – it seemed much shorter.  I was essentially “on pace”, but not ahead of pace.  This lit a fire under me and I took off for Garnett at decent speed, running over and over various finishing time scenarios in my head.

Once again the first few miles outside Richmond were fast, although today they seemed not AS fast, which only added to my concern.  I don’t want to overtalk this – I wasn’t panicked or anything, but I was aware that I needed to pedal with intention and to get in and out of my future breaks quickly.

The climb up into Garnett was tough, as usual, but I am clearly getting into better shape – despite having ridden yesterday and therefore being doubtless more tired than if I were fresh, I felt strong during the climb and just grinded through it.

Reaching Garnett, I again took a very short break, to recover for a minute or so from the exertion of the ascent, before continuing to Welda and the turnaround.  Still drinking plenty of water (a gallon or more by this point) and taking in appropriate calories, I felt good – just wanted to give the legs and lungs a second to rest before going on.

Just as I was 15 seconds away from getting on the bike, a cyclist flew past from the north, the direction I’d come from.  In the quicker-than-conscious-thought timeframe that impressions arrive in, I thought “man, that looked a lot like Ron.”  The guy saw me, said “good morning” which I returned, and then he called out, “Bill!” and quickly slowed to a stop, doubling back. It WAS Ron!  He’d decided this morning to ride the route.  Talk about setting a pace – he’d left the opening control 40 minutes after I had and reached Garnett about 5 minutes after I did.

I was thrilled to see him again.  I turned off Pandora, now having gained a riding partner, saddled up and we rode off.  Ron had in fact been hammering it and flown up here from Ottawa with no break and in fast time.  He needed to get home to take care of some things, so initially our thinking was that if he needed to leave me behind and I couldn’t keep up, then he should do so; but quickly he decided he’d ride with me to Welda.  He knew I would take a break there, and he would just turn around and continue.  I was happy to be able to talk to ride with & talk to him again, and happy to have someone light a fire under me in terms of pace for this Welda grind.

We both made decent time into Welda.  I’m quite sure I slowed him down a little bit, although I like to hope not all that much – he often dials it back a notch on this stretch, and I was pushing it a little bit to keep up with him.  We talked about the Tour, about my back-to-back Welda days, about some older bikes he recently bought and is building up; but mostly we talked about awards, RUSA awards.  Ron’s been in the game longer than I have and has picked up a lot different rando (RUSA and non-RUSA) awards, and we talked about our mutual motivation to keep pushing ourselves through these rides, driven largely (certainly not entirely) by the interest to pick up these items.  At this point I’ve no rewards yet from RUSA – my control cards are the closest thing, and we talked about scrapbooking and preserving those – but it was inspirational to talk about a subject we both like and to look forward to starting to write my own name in the book of randonneuring accomplishment.

The grind to Welda isn’t easy, and during a couple open stretches we hit a determined headwind; but soon enough we made it there.  As per the plan, Ron and I bid farewell and bonne route; he split off back north while I continued to the trailhead to go through my routine.  It was just shy of 8:30 – about 25 minutes before control close (for me, that is – he had left 40 minutes after I had).  Exchanging texts with him later I learned Ron kept up his possessed pace, turning in the fastest 100-km ride time he’d notched in quite some time. A beast.

Now with some time in the bank, I nonetheless moved very purposefully through the control.  I was still feeling good and wasn’t getting tired yet; but I knew that the cumulative miles of the last two days, the fast-for-me pace I’d set from Garnett to Welda, and the absence of a fellow rider to take my mind off the struggle the remaining 32 miles were going to result in feeling tired eventually.  I restocked water, fuel, etc, and had about 1/3rd of the remainder of the banana (I’d taken a few bites back in Richmond).  I soon got back on the trail and was happy to now have the wind at my back.

The section between Welda and Garnett was, as usual, quite a bit simpler than the same stretch heading the other direction.  The last few miles up into Garnett is a climb, but I worked my way through it.  Once again I took a short stop in Garnett to recover.

From here I started feeling the fatigue set in.  I had about 24 miles to go, and the time situation was such that I was going to finish on time barring a MAJOR mechanical issue; so I allowed myself to take a couple of different unplanned breaks on the way back to Ottawa.  I was feeling more and more weary as the ride wore on and needed to allow myself to rest and recover.  I had my usual rest stop at Richmond, where I rested a good while, talking to a couple who had ridden down from Iola and were en route to Ottawa, and I ate most of the rest of my banana.  Leaving there, the intention was to get into Ottawa (only about 14 miles away) in one stretch but I was pretty tuckered out and let myself take a couple small breaks.  Just a mile or two north of Richmond I received a very painful bee or wasp sting, to the inside of my right pinkie – which was awesome.  I let a couple very choice words fly.

The older version of me would have gotten very down and critical of himself for needing to take a couple breathers in the final stretch; and I’m not saying I am FINE with doing it – but I wasn’t feeling like a failure.  This was a very tough two days I’d attempted, and I had done really well. This was a route that just a few months before had caused me to quit on myself, not once but twice, and here I was successfully doing it twice in a weekend.  I was at the same time setting a new personal record for mileage in a two-day stretch, at about 130 miles.  And most importantly, I was able to sufficiently remove emotion from the equation to zoom out and view it in its proper context:  I’m getting stronger and evolving.  I’m continuing to go to the gym and getting stronger; I’m continuing to eat and drink quite clean and healthy; I’m continuing to lose weight (this morning I weighed in below 184 pounds for the first time since starting to drop weight 4 years ago); I’m continuing to become a better cyclist; I’m on my way and I’m getting there.  The words of the unfailingly upbeat Ron A, from last week and this morning too, were a thread in the tapestry of support.  In older days I might have beat myself up for being less than incredible; today, I realized that I’m in fact doing great and continuing to progress.

After deliberately allowing myself enough break time that I would arrive at the control in time albeit without tons to spare, I finally did roll into Ottawa.  Getting off the gravel part of the trail and onto the paved part was great; turning totally off of THAT and seeing the control dead ahead was even better.  It’s a very funny thing, ending a long timed bike ride like this; you’re working, struggling, working, struggling, thinking of the end; and then VERY suddenly, the ride is over.  You’re turning into the parking lot.

I locked up the bike and went in.  This time a DOUBLE chocolate lowfat milk from Nestle (the small difference in calories and sugar wasn’t a concern), paid, got the receipt and got the card signed. It was 12:02 (although receipt said 11:59) – 16 minutes before the control close.

As I did the last two Wander to Weldas (last week and yesterday), I took the chocolate milk over to Subway, where I frequently eat after a bike ride, ordered and sat down to decompress.  And let me tell you, that chocolate milk recovery / reward drink may have been the most awesome thing I’ve ever tasted.

RAGBRAI coming up next weekend through the following weekend, so it’s pretty likely I am done with RUSA rides for July.  I’ll pick up again in August – as early as feasible – in continued pursuit of the P-12.

Thank you for reading!

So, with no particular obligations or plans for this weekend, the idea struck me to do the Wander to Welda RUSA route – same I did last weekend with Ron A – on both Saturday AND Sunday of this weekend.  There’s a certain symbolic satisfaction in this – I still am sheepish/embarrassed about my 0-2 start to the RUSA career on this very route, so now, I’m making a small statement to return and complete it twice in one weekend. It’s also a good statement/test for me because, of my four RUSA rides prior to this one, only one of them didn’t leave me fairly useless from a cycling perspective on the next day. So to do this tough route two days in a row is, for me, big.

Day One – Saturday, July 13th

So, I once again got the control cards from Ron A, one for each day. A planned 5:30 AM start time each day – super early. For a 100-km ride, that is. Lots of established rando’s start at 3 or 4 AM for a 200-km ride, and sometime soon that’ll be me, but not yet 🙂

Woke up at 4 AM with the alarm and went into my normal morning routine.  First what I humorously refer to as my “morning juice bar” – I make a cup of coffee with a dash of hot cocoa, my normal green drink which contains V-8 and several fruits/veggies, and a bottle of ice cold water.  Sat down and worked through that fairly quickly while eating my normal breakfast cereal.  4:50 it was time to make final bike/equipment prep – fill belt bag with Hammer products plus control card and credit card for c-store purchases, fill water bottles, clean & lube chain, top off tire pressure, double check presence of spare tubes and air canisters in under-seat bag, etc. This time I threw a banana in my belt bag, which has become my normal MO for 55+ mile rides but which I did NOT do on last week’s RUSA ride, and which doubtlessly would have saved me some of my leg-cramping grief at the end.

Showered and dressed and was on the road by about 5:25.

Opening control was again the Short Stop gas station, about a mile from my house.  Arrived there around 5:30, went in to make a purchase and get card signed.  Same clerk was working who was there for my/Ron’s ride last week and remembered me.  I explained I’m a glutton for punishment 🙂  Didn’t mention that I also plan to ride tomorrow.  I wonder if the same dude will be there tomorrow too.

My purchase represented a new experiment for me.  Prior to today my solid-food fuel complement to the Hammer products for very long (50+ mile) rides has been Combo’s, in the belt bag. And while these are really good tasting, and good fuel for the bike, they become progressively less palatable to chew and eat as the miles stretch on.  For those reading who haven’t ridden long miles on a bike, it might not be intuitive but there’s something about the act of chewing and swallowing solid food while you’re churning away for mile after mile that becomes arduous and a real act of will.  It becomes harder to do, which CAN be bad if you need that to get the calories in.  I’ve found Combo’s problematic in this context.  After some few dozen miles, I just don’t want to chew them up thoroughly and swallow them down.  I’ve started considering replacements.  First I was considering Cracker Jacks, which on the whole looked to be decent bike fare, but their sugar content is higher than I’d like to be taking in hour after hour.  The nutritional content of Chex mix looked pretty solid, and their much smaller form factor seemed likely to be CONISDERABLY better than Combo’s later in rides, which turned out to be the case.  A fair amount of sodium, yes – you wouldn’t want to eat a lot of this stuff every day – but for fuel for long rides, and on which you’re going to drink a LOT of water and need sodium to balance, this is what the doctor ordered.

Made the purchase, got the receipt (5:34 AM) and card signed for the same time, and was rolling at 5:40.

Conditions were very similar to last week’s ride.  At 5:40 the sky was getting light but it was still pretty dark. The first mile or two on the trail were fairly dark, as I was wearing my shades to fend off the multiple spiderwebs that I knew to expect.  It was about 70 degrees to start.  Wind for the day was very similar, too – started around 8-9 MPH from the south, gradually building to maybe 12-13.  So a growing, but not substantial, headwind on the ride up and then decent tailwind on the return.  Again, with the tree cover on the PST, neither head nor tailwind is a MAJOR factor unless it’s really blowing.

This time, riding solo, I had Pandora going, my usual MO.  Ride tracking software, check.  Also I’d brought with me a “thank you” gift – a few small gift cards, to McDonalds, Dairy Queen and Subway – for the guy who returned my phone last week, making the title of this blog entry possible.

First several miles were pretty unremarkable, but I mean that in the best way.  It was dark, and I was again proven to be “tete de la course” as I found every single spiderweb along the trail.  At least last week, Ron had cleared maybe 50% of them and I’d cleared 50% – today it was all me.

I was feeling very strong and riding strong.  This past week I’ve been eating and drinking very clean, getting in bike and gym time, and the body is responding.  I’m going to make a post on this point sometime in the next couple days.  I was noticeably stronger/more comfortable on this ride, even, than last week on the same route.

Those who’ve read much of my blog at all know my bogeymen during long (50+ mile) rides is making sure my in-ride calories are sufficient and in-ride hydration is sufficient.  Otherwise, toward the end I tucker out a little and not infrequently border on leg crampiness.  With the intention from the get-go to do two straight days of this route, I knew I needed to be much smarter today.  Drink, drink, and drink more.  Bring the banana as I usually do and eat that.  So, in this first stretch I was drinking LOTS of water.  I had my usual two bottles in the handlebar bag – one with Perpetuem – and a third bottle in the frame.  The design was to drink basically a full 2 bottles of clean water plus a Perpetuem bottle every 16-18 miles for the length of the ride.  Chex mix to balance.  I was gratified very early to realize that my suspicions about the Chex were right on the money – MUCH easier to munch, and I knew that even late in rides this would be very accessible.

Nothing major to report for the first stretch – just drinking lots of water, munching Chex, listening to tunes, and riding through many spiderwebs.  After roughly 4-5 miles the sky had gotten light enough to see perfectly clearly even with the shades on.

I rolled into Richmond, about 15 miles in, and took my first break.  Still feeling good, in fact very good.  When I’m on top of my game in terms of calories and water on the bike, I’m feeling great.  Took a short break here, took about 2-3 bites of the banana, rejiggered water and fuel & took a health break, and back on the road.

First few miles outside Richmond are, again, my favorite section in terms of ease – you just fly along.  I made note this time of a particular mile marker that, on my return, would tell me I was very close to Richmond, because this section heading BACK north is a grunting grind, and I liked having a landmark to look for to tell me when the suffering was almost over 🙂

Soon enough, those few “miracle miles” passed and it was time for the 5-7 mile climb into Garnett.  Still drinking great and munching Chex occasionally, and riding strong.  In Garnett I took a very short break, just to rest up briefly from that ascent, and set the stage for the 7-8 mile grind to Welda.  I got back on the road (trail) after just a couple minutes and it was on to Welda and the turnaround.  The guy who’d returned my phone to me lived just south of the trailhead but I wanted to make sure to make Welda and back in good time, ensuring a successful ride, before peeling off to his place.  Plus at this stage it was not even 8 AM!  Didn’t know their morning routine and didn’t want to wake anyone.

The 7-8 mile “Bermuda Triangle” climb up to Welda (well, after an initial down-sloping-grade out of Garnett) is always a toughy and it was today too.  Fortunately I know exactly what I’m getting into and it’s just head down, find a gear and grind through it till you get there.  It was a few miles north of Welda that I saw a LARGE snake of some kind – a good 2, maybe 3 feet – partially in the trail sunning himself.  I stopped just past him and walked back a bit to get a picture, but this alarmed him and he crawled off into the grass and out of sight.  From the “flora and fauna” perspective, earlier on the ride (in fact, same Welda stretch) I’d seen a turtle right in the center of the trail; and half an hour earlier had been QUITE startled by a deer who bounded out into the trail ahead of me – I missed the first part of his leap as I was looking down at my bike, so to look up and see this huge, graceful animal in mid-air landing on the trail was startling.

I made it to Welda in good time.  Passed the information control at 8:32 AM – 22 minutes prior to control close – and proceeded the short distance to the trailhead for another rest and reset.  I made efficient use of time here, getting in and out in about 10 minutes after eating roughly half of the remainder of the banana, a little Chex, and rejiggering water.  Still feeling good, although I was feeling the effort of the ascent from Richmond.  Back on the trail for the finish.  It was good to have the wind at my back on the return, although that inevitably means it’s hotter, because you don’t have a breeze cooling you off.  I had a really good sweat going.  By this point I’d drank well over a gallon of water.

The Welda-to-Garnett stretch is a whole lot easier (typically) than the reverse.  That was the case today, particularly with the usual prevailing wind from the south.  I made very fast time back into Garnett.  I peeled off the trail to deliver the gift.  The guy was VERY surprised and almost speechless for a few seconds, as he clearly didn’t expect to see me again or for this to happen.  I’d taped up the cards with a note in an envelope, which I handed to him, so he didn’t know what exactly it was till I’d ridden away – all the same, he was very appreciative and we talked for a few minutes.  He mentioned that they also had a nicer smartphone as I do and that if they lost it they’d be lost themselves; and that he’d previously lost a phone and it never was returned or seen again, so he knew how I felt last week. His wife was there this time (she answered the door) and we all talked for a minute or two.  Really nice people.  I shook their hands again, he assured me I could stop in whenever, and I got back on the road to knock out the final 25 miles.

I’d been planning to take a short stop there at the Garnett trailhead, but leaving his house I felt strong and just kept going for Richmond.  Still drinking lots of water on the way, I benefitted from the nice 5-7ish mile downhill from Garnett with fast time.  Eventually the short but somewhat grunting climb into Richmond had to arrive, and it did. Once again, just put your head down, find a gear and work through it.  This was going to be the last challenging part of the route, I knew, and upon arrival in Richmond, it would proverbially (and almost literally) be all downhill.

I made respectable enough speed during that ascent, and soon reached Richmond.  There was a Specialized Sirrus parked there on my arrival, and soon I heard water running in the restroom, telling me its owner was in there freshening up.  I was going through my break-stop procedures when he emerged.  As is customary on trails – a routine I enjoy and appreciate – it was incumbent upon each of us to ask where the other had come from, how far they were going, etc.  This was an older gentleman, very nice and engaging, who it turned out had grown up in Ottawa, moved away decades ago, and was back now in town to ride the trail with friends – who, due to their different pacing, were well behind him to the north, so he was waiting for them.  He regaled me with many stories of his childhood, providing a glimpse into the idyllic small-town past of Ottawa, which is still quite like that.  Nice little hometown, and it was very cool getting this glimpse into its past.  By a funny coincidence, this guy grew up just a few houses down from where good friends of mine, Mr. & Mrs. O, currently live!  Truly a small world.

We ended up talking for a good while, and I truly hated not being able to talk longer.  I’d explained early in the conversation the nature of this timed bike ride I was on and that I needed to get going.  Had I been on a JRA (just riding around) ride, I would have stayed and talked till his friends got there and possibly beyond that, as they took a rest stop there too.  But, I needed to get going. Just before I pushed back, he mentioned that after this trail, they were all going over to ride the Katy Trail!  This is a passion of mine, so I SO much wanted to stay and share my experiences (confirmed with him that he’d never been on it).  I assured him it was a beautiful ride and that he’d love it.  With that, I got going.

I frequently get a little weary late in my RUSA rides, but today was for the most part an exception.  My superior hydration strategy and the banana were helping.  This last stretch I was a LITTLE weary because, after all, it’s a long ride, and I did reduce my drinking a little here (when it was hottest) which I shouldn’t have.  Plus shortly after leaving Richmond I felt like some meteor had rained down and created a crater in my stomach.  I was ready for lunch.  So the first couple miles was a little work, especially after cooling down for a while talking at the trailhead.  By this time in the day it was pretty darn warm, and with the lack of headwind, I was really dripping sweat.  But it’s a special reward of bicycle exertion!

I did take a short break in Princeton, just because I could.  It was clear that, timewise, I was not going to turn in an amazing time due to the conversation in Richmond, but nor was I in any realistic danger of missing the cutoff.  The possibility of a flat entered my mind, but even that wasn’t likely to present a major issue. So I stopped in Princeton, finished off the banana (I’d had a few bites of it back at Richmond also), got my water bottles set for the final stretch, and got going.

The last 8ish miles home were fairly uneventful. Again I was drinking a LITTLE less than I should have, but it didn’t have any big impact.  I could tell I was weary, and was ready for the ride to be over. I was very mindful that I was planning to do this all again 17 hours from now, and wanted to get home in good form, rest and recover.

I made it to the closing control at 11:45 – 33 minutes prior to control cutoff.  So I’d gained about 5 minutes over the RUSA pace from the Welda turnaround, despite the lengthy talk at Richmond.  I was quite content with this.  I bought the time-honored post-ride recovery / reward drink – chocolate milk, and MAN was I looking forward to drinking that – got my receipt, card signed, and it was on to Subway for lunch and to savor the chocolate milk.

Another good RUSA ride in the books, much better form (with the extra hydration, the banana, the Chex) than I have typically done, and as I write this on Saturday evening I’m feeling good.  Ready to get a good night’s sleep and do it all again tomorrow!

This ride was significant in one other way:  if I now, hypothetically, do only one RUSA ride per month for August through December, to continue after the P-12, then I’ll end up with 1000 RUSA km’s for the year and qualify for the 1000-km medal, i.e. I’ve now completed my two so-called “bonus rides” that I alluded to much earlier in this blog.  Of course, it’s my intention to ride a lot more often than once a month, but anyway…

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.

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…