But I am just a pilgrim on this road, boys
Until I see you fare thee well
-Steve Earle, Pilgrim

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Aurora & Pancakes

I drug myself out of bed at 4:00 on Saturday to ride the Hound Dog 124K with James Doggett at 5:00. I am not sure why James wanted to ride so early. I would have preferred a little later start and not have to have lights and reflective gear. I got to the Fast-N-Friendly a little late. James was ready to go and headed out while I went in to get my card signed. I caught up with James before Kansas Expressway and rode with him until Hazeltine Road (FR 115) when I pulled away with the first hills.

The ride out was uneventful. I did not even get stopped by any trains on the multiple rail line crossings. There was still water flowing across the low-water crossing on FR 178 from the recent rains. There was also water encroaching on the edges of Zell Road, which had recently been chip and sealed. About the time I got to Billings, I began to think about breakfast. Usually I do not stop to eat on these short permanents, but I needed a reward for getting up so early. I did not know of a breakfast place in Aurora, but thought I would ask the clerk at the Casey's. Then I remember R & K Smoked Meats in Billings and planned to stop when I got back.

I passed James about 15 minutes out of Aurora, so I was about 30 to 40 minutes ahead of him depending on how long he stopped in Aurora. I had been pretty quick because I would be stopping longer for breakfast. When I got to Billings, I stopped to take pictures of three former gas stations along the street northwest of the rail line. The rail line bisects Billings from northeast to southwest, and US 60 parallels on the southeast side of the rail line. US 60 is where all the business activity is now located in Billings. It appears that US 60, MO 14 or both may have been located on the northwest side of the rail line at one time because of the former gas stations.

I found that R & K was closed, so I went to Petros Family Restaurant instead. Unfortunately, Petros allows smoking throughout the restaurant. They have a pretty good ventilation system, and there were not many smokers, so it was no too bad. They have killer cinnamon and raisin pancakes which is what I ordered. I had hoped to see James ride by while I ate breakfast, but I was only there about 25 minutes. As I left Petros, I saw a new sign for R & K further south on US 60. Looks like they moved. I was so distracted trying to cross US 60 to Petros that I missed the sign earlier.

As I was riding north on FR 57, I was passed by about 15 cyclists heading south. I said hi to several I knew. I was back in Springfield at 11:24, which let me stop by the farmers market on Commercial Street before it closed at 13:00. I bought some broccoli and patty pan summer squash.

James heading into Aurora

Former Gas Station #1 in Billings

Former Gas Station #2 in Billings

Former Gas Station #3 in Billings

Leaving Petros; R & K across US 60

Flooding and Chip & Seal on Zell Road

Low Water Crossing on FR 178

BNSF Train at FR 156

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Edwardsville, IL, 600K: Continuous Forward Motion

John Jost, the St. Louis Region RBA, offered a full brevet series last weekend starting in Edwardsville, IL. I still needed a 200K and 600K brevet to complete the series for the year, so I drove up there Friday evening with the idea of riding one of those two events depending on the weather and who was riding. John had told me earlier he was only going to ride a 200K because he had to do the bag drop for the 600K. He had also told me there should be four or five 600K riders.

A storm front came through Springfield before I left, and I caught up with it around Rolla. There was no rain after Rolla, but I expected it to come through during the night while I was sleeping at the Innkeeper Motel in Hamel, IL. However, it never did having stalled out west of the Mississippi River.

The ride started at 4:00, so I got a 2:45 wake-up call. I was on schedule until I decided to stop at McDonald's to get some breakfast. They were not serving breakfast yet, but since I was there, I decided to get a milkshake. I ordered and then waited in line behind another car for almost ten minutes until I bolted because it was getting late.

When I got to the start, I learned that John had decided not to ride the 200K and was only going to take a short spin. There were two riders signed up for the 400K and four riders for the 600K. John said one 600K rider was pretty fast, two were methodical and one, Toshiyuki Nemoto (RUSA #1918), might ride through the night. I was hoping someone was planning to ride through the night because that had been a successful strategy for me last year on the Rochester, MN, 600K. Based on my familiarity with the route, my plan for the 600K was to ride the first 200K in ten to 11 hours; the second 200K in 12 to 13 hours; get a couple hours sleep in a motel or along the road at a store; and finish up with the time remaining, hopefully between 35 and 37 hours. Talking to Toshi, he told me he was a slow rider and would ride through the night if necessary. Although I was concerned about the weather (potential for rain and a strong south wind), I decided to ride the 600K. Then I had to hurry to get ready to leave. I started shortly after the other riders, and in the rush I forgot my camera, riding gloves and cap. I only regretted not having the camera.

Shortly after we started, it began to rain, but the rain only lasted until Pocahontas (24 miles). The wind had also picked up from the south to SSE, but not enough to cause much delay. I was a little concerned that I had not seen Toshi who was still ahead of me. Maybe he was not that slow. I knew that the two methodical riders were behind me because they pulled into the c-store at Pocahontas as I was leaving. The c-store is not a control, but I always stop to pee. Both riders were long-time randonneurs: Johnny Bertrand (RUSA# 2) and Steve Wyatt (RUSA# 747).

I rode solo to the first control in Breeze (51 miles) arriving at 7:51 and the second control in Okawville (78 miles) arriving at 9:50. Both times were well within the pace I set for riding the first 200K. I caught up with Toshi in Okawville. George Jarad, who was riding the 400K, was just leaving as I arrived. I left Okawville before Toshi, but he caught up with me when I stopped at the c-store where the route crosses US 57 (111 miles). I left before him again, and he came in right behind me at Markham Lane c-store (132 miles) where the route begins the long pull south to Vienna, IL. We bought water and ice at the c-store and rode together down to Belle Rive where John had arranged for Miles Stoneman, the Marion Illinois Region RBA, to have food and water next to Wilkey's Cafe, which was usually the control but was closed for remodeling under new ownership. Miles took some photos of me and Toshi that are included at the end of the post. After a short break to eat and drink, we headed out again. This is the toughest time of the day for me because it is the warmest time. I perceived I was slowing down, and my stomach was bothering me. However, we made it down to the control at Thompsonville (166 miles) in good time (17:33). We were still on a 5-hour pace for the third 100K.

John had set up a detour out of Creal Springs because the usual route involves riding about 15 miles on a gravel bike trail that was too soft because of the recent rains. The detour was on roads that Toshi had ridden several years ago when the overnight control for the 600K was in Anna, IL, rather than Vienna, IL. We put on our night riding gear, turned on our lights and headed out of Creal Springs. I followed Toshi since he seemed to know where he was going. About half way to Vienna and just before I-24, Toshi suddenly made a left turn, and I asked if this was our turn. He said “I think so.” I hoped he was right because we dove down a big hill. This was the toughest part of the detour because it was mostly big rollers, and the road was really crappy with potholes and poor patch jobs. It is tough to build up speed to mount the next hill when you are trying yo avoid the pot holes and raised pavement. We made it to the control in Vienna (211 miles at 22:09) in one piece and decided to get a room there for showers and a couple of hours sleep. We had been talking about stopping in Anna (233 miles) or Murphysboro (258 miles), but we were tired and had made good time. We were only slightly under a 12 mph pace, so I felt good about a longer stop even though we had not ridden at least 400K.

While I went to the motel to get a room, Toshi stopped at the McDonald's next door. Just before I got back to the McDonald's a tour bus had disgorged all its passengers, so I went back to the room and got my bike ready to leave after we slept. I then went back to McDonald's, ate, took a shower and went to bed. We had asked for a 1:00 wake-up call which would allow about two hours of sleep. I laid awake for a while waiting for some indication of cramping in my legs from the loss of too many electrolytes. The cramps never came, and I fell asleep. We rolled out of bed when the alarm went off at 1:00. The wake-up call was about ten minutes late. We rode away from the motel about 1:30. There were some good climbs on the way to Anna, and when the few cars and semi trucks passed us from behind, we always seemed to be on an up hill with a car coming the other way. How does that happen?

After we passed through Anna and began the climb to Alto Pass, Toshi told me he was getting sleepy again. I told him I was doing fine because I had taken a caffeine tablet. We stopped while he dug a tablet out of his bike bag. After we began climbing again, I slowly pulled away from Toshi until I could no longer see his headlight because of the curve in the road. As I was climbing the steepest part, I saw a bike headlight coming up behind me fairly quickly. I thought maybe the caffeine had kicked in and Toshi was reinvigorated, but it end up being Tom Gee (RUSA #246) who had been ahead of us the entire previous day and had slept in Anna. After saying good morning, Tom continued on his way.

When I got to the top where it was flatter, I started running into clouds of bugs that were swarming over the warmer asphalt in the cool morning air. I had to breath through my nose so I did not swallow them. A few larger ones found their way into my helmet, and I had to shake it to dislodge them. I made it to the Pinkneyville control (283 miles) at 7:29 and had breakfast at McDonald's. I began to get sleepy as I left town, and I stopped at the Mueller Hill Cemetery (285 miles) for a nap. There were only two trees in the cemetery, but they provided a nice shade. The wind was blowing quite strongly so it was cool in the shade. I tried to sleep, but a bird started scolding me from the tree. After about 20 minutes I got up just as Toshi rode into the cemetery.

The road out of the cemetery headed east, and the strong cross wind slowed us down. After about 15 miles, we turned to the northeast, which was much easier riding. In Coulterville (305 miles), we stopped at a c-store and ran into John Jost, his wife and Johnny Bertrand who had abandoned because of the heat. It did seem hot, particularly when the wind was at our back pushing us along. I mentioned I was having trouble with my stomach, and Johnny suggested I try eating yogurt, which the c-store did not have.

The road out of Coulterville headed due north, and we really took off with the wind at our back. On the flats I was doing 18+ mph without pedaling. If there had been the same 30+ mph south wind (gusts up to 56 mph) on Saturday as we headed south, I would have packed it in and gone home! I stopped at a small grocery in Lively Grove to see if they had some yogurt, but they did not. We arrived at the Okawville control (326 miles) at 11:58. Our slowest pace at 9.5 mph was along the section between Pinkneyville and Okawville. I was trying to figure out what to eat when I saw that Toshi had some Ramen soup. That sounded good, so I bought some, and it settled well in my stomach. Steve caught up with us just as we were getting ready to depart.

The first section out of Okawville was a little slow because of the cross wind, and it was getting hotter. Once we turned north again, our pace picked up. We stopped at the McDonald's in New Baden for a yogurt parfait. It did seem to help my stomach. I will have to remember that remedy on future rides.

We ran into two vicious dogs after Summerfield. Toshi was ahead of me and they chased him and then me. One of them got close enough that I sprayed it with Halt! to no effect. Finally, I outran it. We stopped again at the c-store in St. Jacob (355 miles) for another short break. The sky had begun to cloud up, and it looked like it could rain but never did.

The final seven road miles west into Edwardsville on Fruit Road were slow again because of the strong cross wind. The sun had also come out again. I arrived at the Edwardsville control (375 mile) at 16:55, a few minutes after Toshi. I was still bummed about forgetting my camera. I got a motel room a few exits west of Edwardsville on I-270, ate dinner and slept until 4:00 before driving back to Springfield. I was only an hour late getting to work, and it was a long day.

Overall, the ride went very well. I planned the pace of the ride and was able to stick to it so that I was not totally exhausted at the end. I also left enough buffer time (3 hours) that I could have dealt with unforeseen problems like flat tires. It was a big help to be able to ride with Toshi during the night from Creal Springs to Vienna and then from Vienna to Alto Pass. Not only is it safer to have a riding partner at night, it provides me a psychological boost to keep up the pace. Some day I hope to make it over to Ohio, where Toshi lives, to ride a brevet or two. Now all I have left is a 200K to complete this year's Super Randonneur series.

Toshi provided me a link to his photos. The following photos were taken by Miles Stoneman at Belle Rive.

Ralph arriving at Belle Rive, IL

Toshi and Ralph taking a break at Belle Rive, IL

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Riding a 400K Through the Night

The brevet season is well under way with many randonneurs now riding 400K and 600K brevets to qualify for the Paris-Brest Paris (PBP) 1200K Randonnée this fall. On Friday, Dan Pfaff and I drove up to Grandview, MO, for the 400K that started at 20:00 that evening. There was also a 600K brevet that started at 18:00. Bob Burns, the KC Region RBA, scheduled the evening start so that the 600K riders could experience a start time like the 90- and 84-hour riders at PBP. We got there too late to see the four 600K riders off. There were two other riders for the 400K: John Grunzke from Arkansas and Gary McDaniel from Kansas City, MO.

It was cool and damp with a fairly strong north to NNE wind, so I put on almost all the clothes I had: wool jersey, arm warmers, knee warmers, and gloves; RUSA wind vest; cotton jacket; cap; and wool and gortex socks. After Bob sent us off at 20:00, we were soon delayed by a train about two miles out. We crossed lots of rail lines getting out of the metro area and a few scattered throughout the countryside, but this was the only time we had to stop for a train. We did have several near misses by a minute or less when trains passed behind us. The hills soon warmed us, and I shed my arm warmers and fingered gloves.

Just before Spring Hill, KS, we stopped by the side of the road to pee. If we had ridden two more miles we could have done it the civilized way at a c-store where the route crossed K-7 Highway. We almost missed the turn at the roundabout where the route crossed K-68 Highway. It is a five-legged roundabout, and the first turn after K-68 was marked “Paolo”, which was out destination. Gary, John and Dan turned. As I started to follow them, a car headlight flashed on the sign at the next street that said “Hedge Ln”. I turned back to check it out, but only Dan turned around when I yelled out to stop. We waited for the other two and then discussed which way to go. We headed down the road marked “Hedge Ln”. The other road would have gotten us to Paolo, but it would have added about a mile to the route and there was more traffic on the other road. Also by the rules, we would have had to turn around and re-enter the official route where we left it. One reason I was able to verify the correct route was because I had prepared a map, using Microsoft Streets & Trips, that had more detail than the que sheet. We arrived a Paolo just after 23:00, about three hours after the 600K riders.

When we left Paolo, we had some problems getting back on Hedge Lane because it does not cross US 169/K-7. We had to pick it up on the other side of the US 169/K-7/Baptiste Drive interchange, and one of the street signs was not the same as the que sheet. Later, we also missed the turn onto East K-152. There was a stop sign, but the road continued on straight. The street sign was on the left-hand side of the road and was much more obvious when we got back to the intersection after riding about a mile south. The La Cygne (pronounced “luh seen” by the locals) Generating Station on K-152 was well lighted as we crossed the reservoir dam in the dark. It was very obvious when we crossed back into Missouri because the road pavement was really crappy compared to the Kansas pavement.

We got to the Butler, MO, control at 3:46. As we were riding through town we saw a rider with taillight ahead of us. We thought maybe we had caught one of the 600K riders, but the rider turned off the route before the control. The 600K riders had been at the control a little more than three hours ahead of us. We stopped for breakfast at the McDonald's in Butler, but had to sit outside on the downwind side because only the drive thru was open. We had some problems getting our order through because the clerk did not understand there were four customers.

Between Butler and Appleton City, MO, the sun came up. Because the sky was overcast, it just gradually got lighter. Unfortunately, there was not the spectacular sunrise we deserved after riding the entire night. We reached the Appleton City control at 6:02. The 600K riders did not pass through Appleton City on their way to the Weaubleau, MO, control, so we could not ask about them. We headed back to Butler arriving at 8:41 and had another breakfast at McDonald's. We were able to sit down inside this time.

When we headed back, the wind was still out of the north to NNE, so we knew we would have a tougher time with the mostly west and north route. The low point of the ride for me was when we crossed the dam at the La Cygne Generating Station. The dam is about two miles long, and the wind was howling across the reservoir. By this time, the lack of sleep was also catching up with me. I began to drag behind the others, and it seemed to take forever to get across the dam and then climb a steep grade before swooping down a long hill into La Cygne. I needed to rest a while, so John and Gary went on.

After we left La Cygne, I kept falling asleep. I figured out that I should not stare at the road ahead. I needed to be constantly looking around to stay awake. I also ate some Clif Bloks with caffeine which helped. After we turned north again off of K-152, we encountered several hills we did not remember riding south in the dark. With the wind at our back during the night, that part of the route seemed fairly flat. The same was true for some of the sections north of Paolo we would ride again later. We got to the Paolo control just after 16:00 and ate at the Taco Bell where I slept for about ½ hour. Dan woke me up, or I probably would have slept for hours. I found some expired caffeine tablets in my bag before we left Paolo and took one even though it expired June 2010. I think the expiration dates are mostly advisory.

We arrived at the Grandview control a few minutes after 21:00, and called Bob so he knew we had made it back. We got something to eat a couple of exits down US 71 and drove to Clinton where we slept in the car in the Wal-Mart parking lot until about 4:00. Unfortunately, we hit a deer after we resumed driving, and it damaged the grill and front right lights on Dan's SUV. We assume the deer was killed, but we did not go back and try to find it.

Overall, it was a good learning experience riding a route at night that I had not ridden before. We got misplaced a few times, but by paying attention to the que sheet and map, we got back on track fairly quickly. I also learned some lessons for dealing with sleep deprivation.
Dan getting his bike ready

Bob Burns, KC RBA, & John Grunzke

Gary & John into the wind & fading light

Dan riding out of Grandview, MO

Waiting for a train in Grandview, MO

Appleton City, MO, control

Dan riding through Appleton City, MO

Barn north of Appleton City, MO

Missouri barn

Butler, MO, birthplace of science fiction writer Robert Heinlein

Butler, MO, control

La Cygne Generating Station & reservoir

Welcome to La Cygne sign at the top of the hill
Sun broke through about two hours from the end of the ride

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Afternoon Mash to Marshfield

Due to other commitments, Dan Pfaff and I altered our normal morning ride routine and rode the Marshfield Mash 112K permanent on Saturday afternoon. We left the Kum & Go across from Sam's on East Sunshine at 13:00 with a slight wind out of the south. We were making good time until we got to the rail crossing on Farm Road 253, which was blocked by a train on the siding. We waited about 10 minutes, and one train passed headed for Springfield. We could not hear the locomotives on the siding start up, so we assumed the training was waiting for another train out of Memphis. With the recent flooding along the Mississippi, the rail traffic is probably backed up. Since we were running out of time to get to the control in Rogersville, we decided to take an alternate route that is about 3.5 miles longer. We got to the Rogersville control right at the closing time. It is only 14.1 miles to the Rogersville control. The time limit is one hour and 32 minutes, which does not leave much time for delays.

The remainder of the ride was uneventful. It got hotter as we rode out, but began to cool on the way back. The big climbs were mostly in the shade, which was nice. The wind also died, so we did not have a headwind. The animals were enjoying the sunny day, and the wildflowers were in bloom. 

Heading back on Hwy KK




Panther Valley

White Oak School: seems to have been converted to a barn

Monday, May 2, 2011

Neither Rain Nor Hail, Etc., Etc.

Dan Pfaff and I skipped the nice weather on Saturday and rode the Hound Dog 124K permanent on Sunday. It was the first day of  May and time to ride our monthly 100K in pursuit of the RUSA P-12 award. The sky was clear when we left Springfield at 7:00. I was concerned about flooding in some of the low areas because of the recent heavy rains, so I brought a map in case we had to find a detour or two. The low-water crossing on Farm Road 178, west of Republic, did have about two inches of water flowing over it, but we had no trouble riding across it. Overflow from the pond and drainage ditch on Mill Street, east of Billings, covered all but about a foot of pavement on the crown of the road. We had a north wind that helped push us over the hills on the southbound segments.

The sky was completely overcast by the time we reached the Aurora control, and rain started to fall just as we were leaving. Soon, we were also being pelted by raindrop-size hail that pinged on my steel bike frame. The hail only fell for about 10 minutes. We made a stop in Billings for hot chocolate. We were fortunate in that the north wind stopped blowing for much of the ride north between Billings and MO Highway TT. The rain continued until we reached the control in Springfield. A good training ride for adverse weather conditions.

 Dan at the Aurora control unpacking his rain jacket

 Dan riding into Springfield