In near future I’ll make a broader post about winter cycling gear; but for now, just a brief review of one component that I recently bought, the Craft brand neoprene cycling booties.

Riding in colder temps, the cycling shoes we all use, whose well-ventilated design is great for summer, are a detriment. Feet very quickly get cold even in 40 degrees, let alone 30, 20, or lower. Thicker socks certainly help, and a good pair of wool socks is indispensable. One inadvisable thing would be to layer multiple pairs of socks; this leads to compression problems with the feet and symptoms basically identical to being cold; besides which, the cold soon permeates the extra pair and your feet are just cold anyway.

The solution favored by many riders who insist on continuing to ride in the cold season – commuters, randonneurs, or just those hardbitten fools who love to ride – are cycling overshoes, or cycling booties.

These come in a variety of materials and designs, but the basic idea is the same: cover the entire foot (shoe and all), add another layer of wind protection, and insulate against the cold.

After reading a bit on various options, I decided to go with the advice of friend and local endurance rider Keith “Red Leader” G, and pick up a pair of Craft neoprene booties.

Below is a picture of me wearing one on a recent ride (the yellow ankle band is something I wear atop them; it is not part of the boot).

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First thing for the prospective buyer to be aware of is: BUY LARGE. Meaning, larger size than you need on paper. There are sizing charts out there for translating your bike shoe size to size of overshoe/booty; and, one piece of advice you see everywhere is, “buy larger than this indicates you should!”. I heartily second that. After referencing such a sizing chart, I bought the next size up; however, the ones I received are still quite tight. If I had it to do again I would have bought yet a larger size.

The shoes work great for me. I’m still fine-tuning my wardrobe for winter riding, but currently I wear these in anything less than probably 36 degrees or so (depending on ride distance). I’ve worn them down to nearly single digits (with a good thick pair of wool socks in that case) without feeling cold. My feet did feel “chilly” by ride’s end when it’s been that cold, but they never felt outright cold, or uncomfortable. This would never be the case with straight socks and cycling shoes.

Full disclosure, I DO think that, for me personally, if I were riding a prolonged distance – let’s say 25 miles or more – in 20 degrees or colder, I think my feet would be a little cold. Probably still not COLD, but, cold. So these aren’t a magic bullet. They do insulate your feet, they do hold in warmth and add another layer of wind protection, but they aren’t a fireplace. THIS winter specifically, I think there’s no likelihood that I will ride far enough in cold enough temps that I’ll need more; but, by next year, I expect to be up to doing long rides pretty routinely and for such outings, would possibly want – and need – more.

The shoes “fasten” in multiple ways. There’s a velcro strap across the foot bottom (somewhat visible in below picture); a zipper up the side/back (visible in picture above), and another velcro strap that closes across the top of the zipper.

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The shoes being quite tight on me as mentioned, it took me a short while to work out an easy way in and out of the shoes, but I’ve got it down pat now, as follows:

After putting on bike shorts, socks, leggings if appropriate, etc, I put the neoprene booty on one foot. I first zip up the zipper and fasten the top velcro; then, grasping it firmly around the top, pull it over my foot like a boot-style slipper. With the bottom velcro left open, I’m able to “peel back” the rubberlike shoe, bunching it around my ankle, to fully reveal my foot. I then put my shoe on that foot, tighten it up like normal, and then, grasping the “toe” portion of the neoprene covering, stretch it out and over the toe of the shoe. A second or two of adjusting the back and sides (especially over the ratchet strap on the bike shoe), and the shoe is well fit. I simply close the velcro on the shoe bottom, and then repeat with the other foot.

Upon arriving home after the ride, I take them off in exactly the reverse order. Undo the bottom velcro, pull the shoe back (toe portion first) to give some slack, unbuckle and remove bike shoe, then undo top velcro on Craft shoe, unzip and remove from foot.

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For comfort while riding I give these a 5 of 5.

For secure snug fit, also 5 of 5.

For protection from cold, probably 4 of 5. Again, depending upon your precise mileage and temps, these will be hugely useful in a wide range of conditions.

For weight efficiency, 5 of 5. The shoes do add weight, of course – they have mass – but it isn’t noticeable, and especially not for the value they add. Picture a lightweight, flexible, quasi-rubber set of slippers atop your bike shoes – that’s what these are.

For safety, I give them 4 of 5. Each shoe has a small reflective strip down the back (visible in picture #1), and the very tops of the boots as well as those “circles” on the shoes in the picture below are semi-reflective. I personally always wear the yellow reflective ankle bands in anything other than broad daylight, so those combined with these shoes = great awareness to following cars that you are there.

Winter here this year has been pretty mild, and I’ve not been able to really test these in LOW LOW temps and/or for longer mileage. But with my ride distances slowly creeping up, I am hopeful of another couple of good really cold days for me to test these guys for some distance.

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Did someone say snow?

February 23, 2013

Mentioned in my last ride report that it would likely be the last ride for at least a few days, as all the weather forecasts were for a monster storm here in Kansas (and indeed the entire Midwest).

They weren’t kiddin’.  When all was said and done, we got roughly 10 inches of snow here in Ottawa, the great preponderance of which fell in the course of 7 hours.

Had to take the opportunity to frame my bike in this tsunami of snow.  Keep in mind, I don’t have a kickstand on my bike; in the pictures below, the bike is just standing arrow straight in the snow (leaning against a mountain of snow in the first picture).

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Above:  My beloved Prairie Spirit Trail, the paved portion running through Ottawa.  Completely buried in close to a foot of snow with drifting.

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Above:  My boot-adorned foot in a typical footprint.  Felt like the training montage in Rocky IV just tromping around in the snow, sinking each footfall way down and then hoisting it back up.

I’m itching to get back out and ride, so I look anxiously outside every 30 minutes or so to see if the roads appear bikeable yet  🙂

It IS winter…right?!

January 27, 2013

Being the weather hawk of a cyclist that I am, I’m constantly having a look at the extended 5- and 10-day forecasts.

We’ve had a few really solid bike riding days here in eastern Kansas the last week or two, and the next 10 days look the same (if a little bit windy – which is ok too – strengthen up the legs & spirit).

A “I see it but still don’t believe it” published high in the mid-70s for Monday, a decent Tuesday, somewhat decent Wednesday, colder Thursday with some chance of flurries, and then – as we go to press – beautiful bicycling days (given the time of year!) for the next 5 consecutive days. Highs mostly in the mid 50s, lows barely dipping below freezing, mostly sunny – sensational string of weather for the height of winter in Kansas.

See you out there!

In a blog post from 5 weeks ago I said:

The dreams I have in mind [over the next couple years] would have been unimaginable to me 2, 3 years ago; and even now they are monumental and difficult to reach; but that’s exactly what dreams should be.

That certainly applies to a goal I set in early May of this year.  Following my first successful Ottawa-Iola-Ottawa ride (over two days) on the Prairie Spirit Trail, I concluded my writeup with this:

Prairie Spirit retains a very warm place in my heart, and I hope to return for this full route again very soon.  I’m making it an official, stated goal to ride the FULL trail (roughly 100-120 miles depending upon the progress of the planned extensions) within a single day sometime in 2012.

At the time I wrote that, I did intend for it to be a real goal, something I was really shooting for; but it’s fair to say that at the time it seemed nearly inconceivable to me to be able to do it. I’m delighted to say the big day has arrived and I was able to check this one off my list, netting my first full century ride in the meantime.

Meteorological necessity was the mother of urgency.  While I would have loved to get fitter for another 6 weeks before attempting this, the days are getting shorter and colder all the time.  I’m not the fastest rider; I average around 12 MPH rolling (maybe less on the PS Trail) and less than that with breaks, so a 100-mile round trip including breaks and lunch spans most of the daylight hours.  In addition, most of the trailheads along the route actually close in mid-October i.e. in the next couple weeks.  So with my planned Katy Trail ride next week, this was going to be more or less my last chance to do this in 2012.

As with my first trip, I told very few folks about my plans prior to leaving because of the decent probability of failure. I began to watch the weekend weather forecasts a few days ago and Saturday was shaping up nicely.  It turned out to be colder than I expected, but the rain that drifted into and out of the 5-day forecast stayed away.

In the past couple days I’d drawn up my fueling plan in terms of what I needed to bring, exactly which trailheads to fuel up and in what ways (Perpetuem, Hammer Gel, supplemented with Endurolytes and armed with 2 packs peanut butter crackers).  I’d reviewed and re-reviewed this fueling schedule from various perspectives and feel confident in it, so I wrote down the stop-by-stop instructions for what to take so as to minimize confusion on the bike and brought this with me.  As they say, first you plan the work, then you work the plan.

I headed out from my house at around 6:30 AM to ride the one mile, in town, to the Ottawa depot, the conventional start of the trail.  I was wearing not only leggings, which I first broke out on this ride, but also for the first time since spring, a long-sleeve shirt.  It was around 35 degrees.

The plan was very simple and straightforward.  Roll into Iola by 12:30 or so (5 hours rolling time plus an hour or so of breaks, stopping briefly at each trailhead for hydration, restroom, fueling as needed etc). Eat a modest lunch at Pizza Hut (love that Iola Pizza Hut) for around 45 minutes, then start back.  Probably make it back a little slower since I’d be more tired, so maybe 6.5-7 hours of clock time for the return.  This would put me back in Ottawa somewhere around 7:30 or 8 PM – if I was fortunate, with a little daylight left.

The first 25 miles were knocked out strong.  Stopped briefly at Princeton and my beloved Richmond (always have fond feelings for this trailhead after my first adventure chronicled here) and up into my “adopted hometown” (I swear I will move here one day) of Garnett.  This is just a charming little town which I always absolutely love to ride to or through on the bike.  Stopped at the train depot there, took care of things in a workmanlike way and kept rolling feeling very strong.  I was cognizant of putting time in the bank to buffer the slower return leg that was likely to ensue.

Next was the roughly 8 miles to Welda.  I’ve ridden various distances on the trail many times now, and been to Welda maybe 4-5 times, and I swear, this 8 miles is the Bermuda Triangle.  This HAS to be the most misleading 8 miles on the entire trail.  It has never once felt to me like “only 8 miles” – it seems to go on and on.  The fact that much of it is fairly steep (relative to the PST as a whole) is certainly part of it; but it is less dramatic elevation change than Richmond-to-Garnett and somehow seems to be much tougher.  I’m not sure why.

Anyway, made it into Welda starting to really look forward to lunch and already have some pangs of doubt about my plan.  I could turn back here and turn in a very credible 65ish mile ride.  Going on to Colony, which would put me a mere 10 miles from Iola, and then turning back would seem just silly; so if I was to bail out, here was the time.  I pressed on, determined to see the plan through.

I worked my way through the trailheads in Colony and Carlyle.  In the latter I was delighted to see an abandoned wasp nest on a small bush near the restroom.  When I was a little kid I used to find & collect these abandoned nests and always found them very cool.  I got a picture of this one.

Made it into Iola roughly 12 noon (didn’t note the exact time).  I’d made good time with a roughly 12 MPH rolling average and approximately an hour worth of stops.  In Iola my phone battery died – long story – so the full 100-mile trip which I’d hoped to capture on Endomondo was abbreviated to 52 miles.  This also meant no Pandora for the entire return ride.

Doubling back north-bound off the trail to ride the 1/4 mile to Pizza Hut, I noted a respectable (and cold) wind hitting me from the north and west.  This was going to be against me on the return, particularly in the open areas in the first 18 or so miles.  Wasn’t relishing that thought.  After knocking out my lunch in a contented but very tired sort of daze, it was time to get going again. I was pretty tired and gave serious thought to staying the night in Iola and returning the next day, but for various reasons I chose to just continue with my mission.

The return ride was considerably tougher on me than the first half. For one, I was obviously more tired. Two, being now phoneless, I had no Pandora to occupy my thoughts, which for me means my entire mental experience is filled with “wow, I am tired…wow I still have a long way to go…man it’s cold out here…man this ground seems softer than when I rode up here…man, this is a tough challenge” etc.  Time can draw out like a blade, to quote Shawshank Redemption.  And not least, it was in fact colder out than I anticipated.  Granted that I’d been studying the forecast, but I underestimated the effect of it staying VERY overcast all day long – the sun never truly came out – and that, combined with riding in sub-40 degree temps for most of the first half and then the cold headwind for the return when it was above 40 and below 50, meant I never really warmed up.  This was to be a constant test the entire way back.

The return for me is somewhat of a blur, and was certainly slower-going than the first half.  I needed many more small breaks to regather my energy, and I coasted for a couple tire revolutions every several minutes. For stretches I was feeling vaguely nauseous, which I attributed to my stomach working through all that I’d dumped in it – a couple portions of Perpetuem, a few Hammer Gels, lots of water, and now Pizza Hut cheese-bread which it was working through.  All this while constantly pedaling on fairly jarring terrain.  My body was serving my demands as best it could, but it registered some complaints.

I again stopped at each trailhead, and continued following my fueling plan.  At some point (I think at Colony) my stomach started to ask for some more solid food, and I obliged with a few PB crackers. My bike & I took shelter from the cold wind in the bare-minimal Colony restroom, harkening back to my refuge in the luxurious-by-comparison Richmond restroom on my April trip.  At Richmond on today’s ride, I also again took refuge in there, locking the restroom behind me & my bike and running the hand warmer a couple times to warm up.

I began to work out a plan of eating a couple PB crackers at each trailhead through my return to Ottawa, which I did, plus a couple at an unscheuled stop or two.  This helped with evening out my stomach, obliging it with some solid food, and keeping fuel stores supplied.  80% of the ride from Iola to Ottawa consisted of finding a balancing act between taking in enough fuel to keep myself going through the second half of the ride, versus trying not to cavalierly continue dumping stuff into my stomach which already was under siege.  It was a give-and-take that never became easy but in retrospect I’m quite satisfied with my handling of it.

Another consequence of being phoneless was that it added to the feeling of being out of time and out of the world.  There are no clocks at the trailheads, and with the poor weather, I saw less than half a dozen folks on the trail all day long.  I distinctly remember thinking during my April ride that I might as well have been riding a cycling trail on Mars, as out-of-the-world as I felt, and this day was exactly the same.  No measure of time, not seeing anyone for miles, not seeing or hearing traffic or the “real world” for long stretches – it was a strange experience.  The fact that the entire day was heavily overcast meant that I couldn’t accurately guesstimate time of day from the sky.  I had to roughly guess at each trailhead how much daylight I had.  Particularly as the end neared, this became another source of, not panic but certainly discomfort, as my slower pace made it seem inevitable I’d need to make some choices regarding dark riding versus highway finish.

The “darkest miles” of the ride for me were the roughly 18 from Iola to Welda.  This was where I was battling the nausea/fuel dilemma; much of this section is on ascending grade; and there was generally little to lift my spirits.  At Welda a little spark of life and enthusiasm entered just as I was setting off toward Garnett, as I realized I had put in right around 70 miles – my longest ride to date.  Still a long, long way to go, though – 32 miles left.

At around Garnett (halfway from Iola to Ottawa) my energy and my spirits picked up a little more.  I began to glimpse the finish.  I was 75% of the way through the ride and was well on the way to prevailing in the fuel/nausea tightrope I’d been walking.  Judging from the sky, I thought there was about a 90% probability it’d be dark before I reached home, but I wanted to at least reach Princeton prior to then, when I could pop out on 59 Highway to finish the 9 miles home, a stretch I’ve ridden perhaps dozens of times.

For much of the ride home, through the challenging (to me) conditions, I was employing various strategies I’d read in cycling writings and particularly randonneuring writeups – one of which is, just tick off the miles and the landmarks.  Having no access to my exact mileage, I couldn’t tick off mileage; but I could focus on just reaching the next trailhead strong, following my fueling strategy there, and moving on.  Richmond was up next, where as mentioned earlier I took a few minutes to warm up with the hand-dryer in the nicest restrooms on the trail.  For a minute or two earlier this day, I’d actually considered taking a short nap here on the way back if I got tired enough.

Leaving Richmond I felt stronger still than I had in Garnett.  I was more tired, but could definitely smell the finish now.  These were “my towns” – I’ve ridden to or through Princeton and Richmond many times on the trail, and Garnett a number of times also.  It’s much more “familiar” and comforting to me than the more-foreign stops at Welda and especially Colony, Carlyle and Iola.

Just ~7 miles to Princeton, at which point, I kept reminding myself, I could hop onto the highway if needed, or if I stayed on the trail, the 9 miles from Princeton to Ottawa are pretty easy, the opposite of the long ascent you have at ride’s beginning if you’re traveling south from Ottawa.

By a couple miles outside Princeton, I realized the daylight hadn’t greatly changed in the past hour or two and it started to seem likely that I’d be able to finish before dark.  But it wasn’t till I actually checked out of Princeton, after emptying/mixing in my last drop of fuel, that I actually felt certain that I’d have daylight to reach home.

The final 9 miles were mercifully pretty easy on me.  I was certainly tired, but the gradual downhill grade combined with the fact that I could now aggressively knock out my remaining fuel gave me wings to finish.  I kept reminding myself of how big a challenge I’d posed to myself and what an accomplishment this was for someone who not very long ago rarely rode more than 20 miles at a stretch.  At each trailhead – for example, Princeton, I’d remind myself “Man, I’ve already gone more than 90 miles today.”  Reminding myself of the hurdles I’d already overcome helped me at once to continue as well as provided some comfort to me, some permission to myself, to be as tired as I was feeling.

I did return to Ottawa with some daylight left.  I felt triumphant leaving behind the gravel for the final paved couple miles of the trail.  The northerly/northwesterly headwind had died down considerably, so that I had smooth riding for the couple paved miles back to the house.  I arrived home roughly 7:15 PM, about 12.5 hours after I’d started pedaling that morning. Texted friends and family, hit the shower, and grabbed a celebratory dinner.

Now I’ll take a deserved few days off the bike to rest up and prepare for my major cycling-related goal of 2012 – the Katy Trail.  We set out for that on Wednesday morning.

Post-ride thoughts and “plus/delta”:

  • I’m really glad I wrote down the town-by-town fueling schedule.  This helped minimize confusion on the bike, which most definitely would have vexed me on the second half.  It became an instruction manual: “I prepared this in advance and checked it many times, so I just need to do this and not overthink it”.  I will duplicate the logic of this on the Katy Trail.  On the same paper I’d written down the town-by-town stops on the PS Trail and their mileage from one another, courtesy again the wonderful website bikeprairiespirit.com.  I’ve ridden the trail many times and know the mileage by heart; but I suspected that as the ride wore on, I would welcome the freedom to just glance at a paper and know where I stood versus trying to work out the math, and I was correct.  I’ll also do the same on the Katy.
  • The phone battery dying was obviously not awesome.  More could be said here, but suffice to say that the manner in which I use the phone on the Katy will be different, so I expect not to have similar issues there (and of course I’ll be riding with Mr. V).  However, on any future ventures that are really similar to this one, I’ll need to adapt my gear accordingly.
  • I was pretty darn tired on the return.  Again I can forgive myself for this.  It’s my first ever century, and is a full 50% (or very close) longer than my previous top ride which was 70 miles.  I’m also, while losing weight and getting fitter, still not in great shape, so I fully expect that should I attempt this ride again next season (and I plan to, in April or May when the trail is open again), it should be much less difficult on me.
  • Alluded to it just above, but the thought occurred to me a couple times during the ride that it was borderline foolish of me to tackle this challenge.  The Alanis Morissette lyrics to “You Learn” entered my mind somewhere around Richmond:

I recommend biting off more then you can chew to anyone
I certainly do

With my previous best ride of 70 miles – which I’ve only done very recently, only done twice, and which far exceeded my previous best of 55 miles – doing a full century today was definitely borderline biting off more than I could chew.  I say this not so much to scold myself – I felt confident I could do it and I did do it – but to remind myself that future challenges should stretch me but with maybe a little more reasonable increments.

All said and done, I was and am very content and pleased to have knocked out this goal that I set 5 months ago and which seemed almost unimaginable to me at that time.  At the same time I knocked out my first-ever century ride (one of the major benchmarks for any cyclist) and set a new personal daily record for distance.

With the trailheads closing very soon, I don’t anticipate doing any more really long rides on the PST for another 6 months, which really saddens me.  However, it represents another thing to really look forward to with the dawn of the 2013 cycling season.  I’ll definitely plan to do another PST-100 ride in April or May!  Next challenge will be to finish stronger and improve on my total time.

About a week ago, the author of one of the cycling blogs I follow, the Early Morning Cyclist, posted an entry called “It’s over, dammit. It’s over“:

Yesterday, I wore my long cycling leggings for the first time since last spring. Even after two hours in the saddle, the ice in my water bottles had yet to melt.

Meanwhile, I don’t even know where the rest of my cold-weather cycling clothes are stored at the moment.

I’m simply not ready for it to end!

Now it’s my turn to face the music.  On yesterday morning’s ride, in which I set out at 50 degrees or lower, I wore my cycling leggings for the first time since probably March.

I started tracking my cycling activity on September 1st, 2011, although I only really dedicated myself to bicycling very early this year.  So I’m very much a baby in this sport, not having under my belt numerous cycling “seasons” like most guys have whose chronicles I follow.  For all intents and purposes, my riding started in the so-called “off-season”.  I do remember well the delight I had when this spring arrived, the daylight stretched out, the days got warmer, and riding further, later and warmer went hand in hand.  Cycling in winter is fun, but cycling during spring and summer beats the snot out of it.

Until just now, having had only one cycling “season” under my belt, I haven’t known the disappointment of the shortening days, the realization that the opportunities are increasingly scarcer for the precious long rides in not-really-cold temperatures, the resignation to the fact that I’ll have to wait till spring to ramp back up again.  But now, sadly, I can say that I, too, know this regret.  It’s been very obvious lately that the days are shortening and getting cooler; but as Mark alluded to, it really becomes reality when you have to break out the long clothes for the first time in 6+ months.

Later this blog will see a retrospective post from me on “this year in my bicycling life”, so this post is not that. What it is, is a postcard I’m sending to the warming, welcoming, waxing weather of spring:  we will meet again, and I wait longingly for that time; till then, wish you were here.

The Greatest Fuel

August 24, 2012

I’ve believed since discovering them that Hammer makes the best fuel for endurance exercise. And they’re definitely great.  But on this evening’s ride, I found something even better.

Got in a good 27-mile ride this evening, on a new route suggested to me by my friend Mr. O.  I was a little weary at the end of a hard-working week and the first 10 miles or so were very challenging – some hills (nothing outrageous but more than my legs wanted to climb without protest) and a respectable headwind, plus a smattering of rain and sweat-dripping humidity.

After roughly 13 miles I began to find a second wind and settled in to enjoy the ride.

After a brief stop at a favorite break location, I turned back north for the final ~9 miles home, on Highway 59.  Glancing off beside the shoulder, I caught an unmistakable glimpse.  The American flag, or some portion thereof.  My folks raised me right; I can still hear my mom telling me as a child, “You should never let the flag touch the ground.”  A flash of thought passed in which I was annoyed with whomever allowed this to happen; I hope they somehow weren’t aware it occurred. With alacrity I stopped and retraced the short distance to pick it up.  To my joy I found it wasn’t a tattered part of a flag as I first suspected; it was a full, beautiful flag – a fairly large one, mounted on a wooden stick.

Beaming with pride, I mounted the flag between my handlebars and cables such that it could fly out to my right side as I made my way home.  This was truly the best kind of fuel for a weary rider – I could most assuredly feel a surge of strength from the flag, flapping in the wind as I pedaled, brushing against my arm.  I felt very humbled to live with the freedoms I enjoy, represented by this symbol I carried, ensured by the sacrifices of so many.

Many cars passed me, in both directions, on the ride home.  I like to speculate as to their thoughts at this sight – a guy riding along the side of the highway on a bike bearing a fairly large American flag which flapped happily along beside him.  I hope it brought a smile to many faces.

As I entered my traditional edge-of-town haunts – what I sometimes think of as “re-entering the real world” from a long ride – I passed by gas stations, restaurants, a Wal Mart.  I could feel the surprised glances of shoppers and pedestrians as I passed by – or was it in my imagination?  More than once I wondered, in this highly polarized time, at a fever pitch of political wrangling, was it possible for a proud American to simply ride his bike through a small town holding a flag without it being interpreted as a political message?  As a challenge?  As a threat?  As some deeper meaning than the simple pride in country which increasingly seems to be ebbing into the pages of fondly remembered past?  I managed to weave through my normal “fly-by” points and arrive home without getting my ass kicked…maybe there’s hope yet.

[Postscript – Making this post, I read that it’s traditional to burn the flag if it should touch the ground.  I wasn’t previously familiar with this.  I take this stuff seriously and am going to do some reading to decide upon the proper disposition of my new gift.  Till then, it resides cheerfully beside my bike.]

I Woke Last Night to the Sound of Thunder
How far off, I sat and wondered…

I woke on Sunday morning around 5 AM.  Clean up, pack up the bike, go to the complimentary hotel breakfast at 6, then hit the trail.  But when I awoke and walked to the door, the sound of thunder was an ominous portent of the day ahead.  Sure enough, looking out, rain was falling.

Above:  The view from my hotel room shortly after waking up.

Not much to do, really.  I’d known when I left that unpreferable weather was a possibility for today, so now it was time to reap what I’d chosen to sow.  I ate a beautiful big breakfast to provide a solid base for the day, packed the last couple things in the bike, and was off.

I’d like to mention that a friend of mine, Mr. T.V., extended to me a very generous offer to come pick me up and drive me home if weather prevented the completion of my ride.  This would have been quite far out of his way, and the offer was reiterated a couple times.  I’m most grateful for this kind offer, and glad for both my and his sake that I didn’t need to take him up on it!

Above:  She’s all packed up and ready for the return.

By the time I departed, it wasn’t raining.  Good, I thought.  Looking over weather forecasts at breakfast, I was tentatively confident I could make it to Garnett before the rain got going, where my plan was to then stop for lunch, hopefully wait out the rain, and return.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

The Rain
I made it perhaps 15-16 miles before the rain resumed.  Just south of Welda, it started.  I pulled into the Welda trailhead for some shelter, but it was clear by the sky’s appearance that it wasn’t just going to pass by.  I could either wait here in Welda for a considerable time, pushing my Ottawa arrival time to later evening, with no guarantee how long before the rain actually stopped; or, just push on. I chose the latter and got going.

Above two pictures:  From the Welda trailhead.

Naturally, I hadn’t packed any rain gear of any kind.  See “reflections” at story’s end.

On I rode, through unremitting rain.  The tree-lined canopy that covers much of the path was a small help, but only in the early going.  Within minutes, I could feel that basically every part of me was wet.  I continued to stop periodically for rests, and to eat my then-current nutrition (I’m upgrading in this area since this ride, see more recent posts), which was a whole wheat bagel torn into bite-sized pieces eaten at intervals.

The trail quickly went from not-great to positively bad, with the ceaseless rain.  Small puddles were everywhere, and the consistency of most stretches was reduced to a wet, sluggish beach-sand quality.


Welda to Garnett is roughly 10 miles.  With my normal 10-MPH pace slowed to probably 7-8 by the sloggy trail, I was hoping to have “only” an hour or so in the rain.  Garnett became the shining city on a hill that I pinned my hopes to.  Pull into town, get out of the rain into some restaurant or other, have a bite to eat, allow the rain to blow over, and head back out energized.

Garnett – Hi…and Bye
To my dismay, this plan fell apart a few miles outside town.  Stopping for a quick rest from the hard work of pedaling into the muddy trail, I dismounted and for the first time since the rain began, got a look at the bike.  What I saw was utterly horrifying:  the entire back end of the bike was coated – coated – in wet muddy sand.  I don’t exaggerate to say this stuff was over a quarter inch thick in places.  Opening the panniers was not to be recommended, not only because the dirt-coated zippers resisted, but because everything on the outside – rain, dirt, mud, etc – just fell into the bags, getting into everything.  The worst part, I realized immediately, wasn’t the fact that the bike was coated.  It was the implication this held for my own back.  In the steady rain I’d long ago failed to feel much of anything except unremitting wet.  But now, reaching up to my back, I realized I was covered head to toe, along my back and legs, with this same sloshy wet muddy mixture.  We’re not talking a little water and dirt – I looked like I’d slid down a muddy hill lying on my back, and digging my shoes and socks into the mud on the way down for good measure.  Right away I realized, I couldn’t go into any restaurant like this.  Going in soaking wet was going to be bad enough, but permissible – but this, wasn’t happening.  I was crestfallen to realize I would have to continue straight through, with only the in-ride nutrition and no proper lunch.

The next several miles are a blur of rain, occasional thunder, pedaling more or less without cessation (you couldn’t coast any distance in these conditions; a descending grade was a little easier but only a bit), and sand covering everything during another rest break.  My in-ride nutrition, the aforementioned wheat bagel, which lives in my handlebar bag, was now a sopping nasty bloated waterlogged disgusting clump floating in the water gathering in the handlebar bag.  I did have more in the panniers, necessitating fighting the sandy zippers and the invading mud, and I had a couple of Post shredded wheat “biscuits”.  During the remainder of the ride, I consumed those tasteless things interspersed with sandy bagel pieces and sandy water drunk from a sandy water bottle.  It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds!

And yet, I’m not complaining.  My first full PST ride, something I’d been awaiting for months, and it was glorious. I was well aware that it was likely that none of my hopefully several future PST rides would be this difficult again.  Factoring in my physical fitness, the terrible weather, the poor preparations – I’d picked a heck of a time to do this, and I was setting myself one of the hardest challenges I could have with this route.

Richmond – God Bless Richmond
I began to visualize Richmond’s trailhead as the new Beacon of Freedom, as I regretfully rolled right past Garnett.  I’d already learned Saturday that Richmond was my favorite trailhead.  I remembered the stone bench in the restroom, and I remembered the now-ironic story of Mr. K in Iola, who told a story of waiting out a wicked storm for quite a spell in that restroom.  I saw Richmond as being the end of the “dreadful phase” of this return ride – it was fairly clear from the skies and the earlier forecast that the rain would be letting up about my arrival time there, and I knew I’d be able to use the trailstop to sit inside the restroom, having some more food, rinse my clothes, bike, and myself, and leave somewhat recharged for the final ~15 miles.

I was able to execute this plan, to my great relief.  The final few-miles climb into Richmond, in this weather, was not fun; but upon arrival, it was time to put the worst behind me.  I locked myself in the restroom (I hadn’t seen a cyclist on the trail all tour, and there wasn’t going to be another fool like me in this weather), washed my clothes in the sink and dried them somewhat well with the hot-air dryers, rinsed the bike off via Camelbak by way of water fountain, and hopped up on the stone bench to let a couple friends know I was ok and to have some bagel & shredded-wheat “biscuit”.  Outside, the rain had actually cleared 10 minutes or so before my arrival, and it seemed likely to remain clear till I got to Ottawa.

I allowed myself to take my time in the Richmond stop, dry off, wash off at least minimally, and recover some strength.  At last, I set off for home.

Ending on a High Note
A few miles outside Ottawa, I got my last major surprise of the trip – this one a pleasant one!  Pulling up to stop at a couple benches on the trail, a couple gentlemen whom I saw approaching me southbound from Ottawa caught up to me and stopped to talk.  How are you doing, how far have you come on the trail, what’s the weather like down south, etc.  These two gentlemen do the roughly 20-mile round trip to Princeton several times a week, and have gone much further on the trail.  They were the first cyclists I’d seen on the trail all weekend, and it was nice to see they had a similar fondness for the trail shared also by myself and Mr. K.

Imagine my surprise when one of them knew my first AND last name, and had been following my blog!  So, Jim and Bill, thanks very much for reading the blog, it was great to meet you, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again on the trail!

I arrived at my house somewhere around 4 PM.  Tired, weary, extremely hungry, but also elated.  Again, this was a goal several months in the offing, and I could hardly have picked a harder set of conditions for its success – but I’d stuck with it and made it.  My first half century, followed by my second half-century.  My first full PST ride.  A few wonderfully friendly cycling friendships begun.  Not bad for a weekend’s efforts.

Reflections
In which I share my random thoughts, lessons learned, things to remember for future times, etc:

Obviously, it’s preferable not to undertake a trip like this if the forecast for rain is highly likely.  If you’re hellbent on doing it, rain gear is a must.

Two words – bicycle fenders.  This would have saved me much grief.  I’m not in a tremendous hurry to add these, but I will do so.  Will be very useful for longer rides.

My in-ride nutrition has evolved over time, and I’ve been fully aware that this process continues.  My current habit of eating small pieces of wheat bagel is better than nothing, but it’s not ideal in various ways.  Since the time of this ride, I’ve made some progress in exploring other options, see future posts.  For this ride, it was fairly ungainly to carry a full package of half a dozen wheat bagels in the panniers.

Starting now, pizza is my official “special ride” gift to myself.   I had pizza in Iola and pizza again in Ottawa upon my return.  I’m not eating pizza very often these days, with the focus on healthier eating, so I’m primarily going to reserve it for only special bike rides.  All future PST rides will include at least one pizza stop  🙂

The bottom line – I cannot WAIT to do the full trail again.  I recently watched a YouTube video to the effect that everyone has “two selves” – an “experiencing self” and a “remembering self”.  More about this, possibly, in a future post.  Basically, my point here is that while most of this ride was actually hard and unpleasant, I come away from it with only very positive feelings, great memories, a terrific sense of accomplishment, and an eagerness to repeat this route many times in the future, no doubt under less-adverse conditions.

Want to close once again with a shout out to bikeprairiespirit.com.  It’s been a fantastic resource for me over the past many months, both in building knowledge about my planned undertaking as well as to fuel my enthusiasm for the journey.  I was thrilled to meet Mr. K in Iola and Jim and Bill on the trail, and would love to ride with these guys in the future.

My next major cycling-related challenge, the final one for 2012, is to bike the full Katy Trail (only one-way, not round-trip :)).  I turn my focus to that, and this blog will reflect it.  But, Prairie Spirit retains a very warm place in my heart, and I hope to return for this full route again very soon.  I’m making it an official, stated goal to ride the FULL trail (roughly 100-120 miles depending upon the progress of the planned extensions) within a single day sometime in 2012.

This weekend I accomplished several cycling goals and personal firsts.

I finished my first-ever half-century and then, the next day, my second half-century.

I did this via my beloved Prairie Spirit Trail.  On January 9th I posted on this site my intention to bike this full (51 mile) trail, stay the night in Iola (trail’s end) and bike back the next day.  I’d already had this plan in mind for weeks prior to that.

This was the first of two major cycling-related goals I had/have for 2012.  The second is to bike the full Katy Trail by 11/30/2012.

Finally, this weekend, I accomplished the PST ride.

I won’t lie and say it was easy for me, or even that I enjoyed the majority of it.  It was certainly hard work.  But I’m elated to have done it, and despite struggling bigtime through it, can’t wait to do it again, hopefully in the next couple months.

Prep Work – Friday April 27th
First, I bought some small panniers for the bike.  Picked these up at BikeSource Kansas City, where I’ve become a regular of late buying this or that knickknack for the bike.  Also bought a nicer pair of cycling gloves than I’ve had up to this point.  The image below, from the start of the ride, shows the panniers, as well as the new handlebar extenders I’ve added to the bike.

I started to get a stirring in my brain around Wednesday or Thursday of this week that I might do this ride this weekend.  I’d not yet made the firm decision by Friday evening, but I needed panniers for the future anyway, and this size is what I had in mind, so I picked them up.

Reviewed the weather situation.  Weather.com hour-by-hour forecast is your friend, and (sad as it may be) one of my most-frequented sites on the net.  We got some decent rain on Friday evening, so I had some trepidation about the softness of the trail.

The plan would be to bike to Iola Saturday, stay there, bike back Sunday.  It looked like Saturday’s weather would be  decent – a moderate tailwind (which you don’t really feel much on the trail anyway due to the windblock served by trees during most of its length) and almost no chance of rain.  Sunday seemed much more dicey.  Rain was in the 50-70% range.  But, to quote the movie Back to the Future, “I figured…what the hell.”

I enumerated, more subconsciously than consciously, several challenges/hurdles that needed to be overcome/open questions to be resolved if the ride would be successful:

  1. Weather.  Would the trail already be TOO soft from the rain from Friday?  More fit, experienced riders wouldn’t concern themselves with this based on Friday’s rain, but having previously ridden the trail when it was softened by rain, I knew it was hard work for me.  Further, what would Sunday bring weatherwise?  For those not familiar with the surface:  a good hard rain turns large sections of the trail into more or less the texture of wet beach sand.
  2. The weight of the bike!  Conventional cycling wisdom is that prior to utilizing a “touring” setup (panniers, at a minimum) you should perform a couple test rides with fully-loaded panniers prior to doing the real deal.  With my visionary planning, that was out the window.  I got the panniers Friday and hadn’t ridden a foot with them.  I knew the bike would be several pounds heavier with the panniers and their contents, which in turn would equate to higher exertion for myself, particularly if the trail was wet/soft.
  3. My hands.  I’d been having issues lately with hand pain and numbness – see this post.  I’d taken steps to address it, including the handlebar extensions and new gel-padded gloves, plus a different riding posture, but still hadn’t taken a particularly long ride yet with this new “stuff”.  There was the concern that I might get 20, 30 miles into this PST ride and experience hand issues, particularly numbness.  This could be a show-stopper.
  4. The distance itself.  My previous best daily distance was just over 40 miles.  I’d never gone more than 13-14 miles at a stretch on the trail!  I’ve been primarily a “roadie” who frequently goes 22-28 miles in a day; now I was executing a plan which would see me do two consecutive 50-mile days, on terrain which is, even in good conditions, more challenging than asphalt.
  5. Mechanical difficulties.  I have only a very rudimentary knowledge of bicycle maintenance.  Developing an issue within 15-20 miles, by highway, of home, when you have a good friend who lives in your hometown, is one thing; developing the same issue 30-40-50 miles away, possibly out in the middle of nowhere on a trail, is another.

Having tossed these considerations around my head, I realized that by and large, I was about as prepared for them as I was likely to be for some time.  In other words, if not now, why not now, and when?  I had a sense of adventure about pulling off this long ride with very little specific planning in terms of date.  I went to bed Friday night still not 100% sure, and decided to see if I awoke with the fire to go ahead.

Summit Day – Saturday April 28th
Woke up around 5 AM, feeling ready to do this.  After my usual smallish breakfast (cup of cereal, coffee, water), I packed up the panniers from a checklist I wrote up.  Following established wisdom I was careful to distribute weight pretty equally across the two panniers.  In addition to my usual gear, I brought a second extended-life battery for my phone; a change of clothes to sleep in Saturday night and which would be my under-clothes for Sunday’s ride; drivers license, credit card and $20 cash; toothbrush & toothpaste; ibuprofen; phone charger; a total of 6 whole-wheat bagels (which is my primary in-ride nutrition), and a couple Post shredded wheat “biscuits”.

I hit the road around 7 AM.  I rode the short mile from my house to the “unofficial” start of the trail, the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, took a few pictures, and started off.

First I’ll give major props to the wonderful reference site BikePrairieSpirit.com, run and maintained by “Timon of Athens”.  This is a wonderful resource for those interested in the trail, planning a trail ride, etc.  I’ve explored pretty much all the content on the site and memorized much of it, but it was nice to refer to during the ride.

A couple of my concerns, enumerated above, were answered fairly early.  The weight of the bike was surprisingly not a big factor.  I imagine that because I’ve lost a few pounds over the past few weeks, that the total weight of the bike with panniers wasn’t all that different from the total weight I’d been hauling just some weeks ago. And the panniers weren’t so full that they truly affected the handling of the bike in any noticeable way.

The trail, while a little bit soft for my preference from the previous night’s rain, was pretty easily passable.

Prior to this trip the furthest I’d gone on the trail was roughly 13, 14 miles – to just north of Richmond, as you can see on bikeprairiespirit.com’s excellent elevation map. So today, as I briefly rested at the (first) trailhead – Princeton trailhead – and continued on, I was soon in all-new territory to me. I’d never reached the Richmond trailhead and certainly nothing further south.


Richmond quickly became and remains my favorite trailhead.  I was interested in the range of facilities and amenities available to the rider in the various stops.  Ottawa’s trailhead is fairly basic, with some tables and (I think!) water fountains.  I’ve only stopped there once or twice, since I live here in town.  Princeton’s trailhead is quite nice, I’m guessing possibly the largest in terms of area, with several nice tables, benches etc, restrooms, water fountain, etc. But Richmond had them all beat with flush toilets, motion-sensor toilets and sinks, hot-air hand dryers, a large stone “bench” inside the restroom, water fountain, etc.

Richmond was going to play a starring role in my return ride, which I couldn’t have suspected at this early point on Saturday…

Heading south from Richmond the rider encounters a very pleasant downward grade prior to the run-up to Garnett. This was the “freest” time I felt on the ride, either day.  Flying along at a good speed, little pedaling resistance, just enjoying the day.  All-too-quickly, however, this downhill dash terminates in a respectable ascending grade into Garnett.  I was working hard during this portion, but enjoying the effort and the sweat on the brow.

Garnett – My Go/No-Go Point
Garnett is roughly the halfway point on the trail.  The plan was to stop here for lunch, rest up, and continue on to Iola.  I average only around 10 MPH on the bike, so with breaks and “smell the flowers” moments, I guesstimated I’d arrive in Garnett around 10:30 AM.

I did arrive in Garnett somewhere around 10:20ish.  I rode around town for a short while, trying to decide where to eat.  I was familiar with some of the choices as a result, again, of TofA’s excellent PS Trail website. After a while I landed on Tradewinds Bar & Grill on 5th Ave.  I was still early for lunch – they open at 11 – so I stopped for a rest near the town square.

I spent my meal eating quickly to placate my building appetite, and just generally high on life and feeling great about this adventure.  When I set out this morning, I identified Garnett as the go/no-go decision point. At the halfway point, it meant that I would get in a 50-mile day no matter what.  If I decided to go ahead to Iola, I would get the full trail and two consecutive half-centuries; if I decided it wasn’t time and headed back to Ottawa, I’d gotten a good solid ride anyway. But before arriving in town I was sure I would continue.  I was having too much fun not to. Food at Tradewinds was solid and service was good.   I got a burger and fries – nothing but the healthiest choices for me dontcha know – and after the waitress kindly topped off my Camelbak with ice & water, and after a couple patrons asked after my origin and destination and wished me luck, I headed out.

The Second Half
From Garnett there’s another downward grade before the climb to “the high country” of Welda and Colony.  I was getting a little weary by this point in the ride, and the descent from Garnett didn’t feel nearly as exhilaratingly free as the one from Richmond.  I passed through Welda and headed on to Colony.  Around the 35-mile mark – halfway between Welda and Colony – I was getting a little fatigued and looking forward to the long descent that I knew followed Colony.  Welda and Colony trailheads were fairly basic and minimal.


The last 10 miles or so of the trip seemed to take the longest to me – this, despite the fact that elevationwise, I knew that I was supposed to be descending!  I was getting fairly fatigued out of Colony and ready to reach Iola and get a room.  I passed through the tiny but charming dot on the map that was Carlyle, with its correspondingly minimal trailhead, and pushed the last few miles into Iola.  I arrived in Iola around 3:15.

{photo taken in the evening because I forgot to get the trailhead photo when I arrived}

Iola – Beautiful Iola
At Iola I stayed at the Best Western.  To say it’s conveniently placed is an understatement – you can almost literally step off the trail into their parking lot.  As I broke through the final trees and into Iola, I was delighted to see some re-emergence of civilization.  A Wal-Mart.  A Pizza Hut.  A Taco Bell.  My hotel.  It was a beautiful thing for this weary rider.

The room at the hotel was nice and pleasant. Clean, well managed, comfortable. They were fine with me wheeling my bike into the room with me. I will most definitely make this my destination on future trips.

After relaxing with a nice hot bath, exchanging texts with friends who were very supportive and enthusiastic for my accomplishment (I should mention that I’d only mentioned, fairly passingly, to two friends that I might do this this weekend, and nobody else had any idea), I took a short nap before dinner.  The moment I saw Pizza Hut at ride’s end, I knew that was the destination for tonight’s meal.

At Pizza Hut, I got one of the first unexpected surprises of the trip.  A gentleman who had noticed my bike chained up outside and my cycling shorts and gloves asked if I’d been riding the trail.  I said yes and, inferring he was a cyclist, invited him to join me.  Imagine my surprise to realize it was Jay Kretzmeier, a regular poster on bikeprairiespirit.com!  It was wonderful meeting him and talking with him for a time, exchanging our mutual admiration for the trail and talking cycling in general.  Jay is my mirror image in some ways – while I live in Ottawa and did Ottawa-Iola-Ottawa over two days, and will again, Jay lives in Iola and has done several roundtrips to Ottawa, always staying in hotels at the edge of town as I did, and returning the next day. It was terrific to meet Jay and have a chance to talk, and I look forward to our paths meeting again.

Part II posted shortly…

I already knew I was riding. I knew when I started the car for work this morning that I was riding this evening.  Weatherwise it looked like the worst day of the week – lots of wind, rain, thunderstorms – but after 2 days off the bike I was starting to get edgy.  It wasn’t a question of if I’d ride, it was what route & how far.

Pondering this question – which route to take – suddenly it hit me that with all the road miles I’d gotten in lately, I hadn’t been on my beloved Prairie Spirit Trail (save for the occasional 1- or 2-mile transit on the paved portion here in town) for quite some time.  That settled that.

Read the rest of this entry »

Weather has been unseasonably nice in Kansas City the last few days.  Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, I had come down with a cold+ear infection combo which laid me low for over a week during this time, keeping me off the bike.  But, knock on wood, I am gradually coming back to 100% from that and have eagerly returned to riding.  

A second, welcome factor is the recent time change, which basically has given an “extra” hour of daylight at the end of the day, which can be conveniently utilized for cycling. 

As a result of these favorable conditions, I’ve logged 64 miles in the past 5 days.

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