Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Last Chance, Part II: It's Kind of Like Your Parents' Walk to School

When last we met, I'd just hit the sack after a long and at times demoralizing day in the saddle riding from Louisville, CO to Atwood, KS. I apologize in advance that the remaining installments of the story will involve fewer photos: as with food and drink, apparently, fatigue makes me forget I have a camera.

Day 2: Atwood to Atwood via Kensington, KS
218.6 miles
14.8 mph average
18:35 elapsed time

Upon waking after 4 1/2 hours of sleep, the first thing I noticed was how good I felt. My legs were not especially stiff and, more importantly, my left knee had not locked up as I'd feared it might. Starting slowly with a cup of coffee and a quick bite, I packed my gear for the day slowly and deliberately, not wanting to forget to replenish or replace anything.

Fog clung to the road for the first sixty miles, giving the passing landscape a certain surrealness, especially while it was still dark. The ghostly shadows left me with a totally mistaken understanding of the topography, especially between Atwood and the first stores in Phillipsburg.

In a repeat of my misapprehension of the final climb into Atwood on Day 1 (you'll recall, I later learned it was mostly descent), I imagined that the ride out of Atwood was likewise mostly uphill, with just a short drop into the day's first town, Phillipsburg. This meant the promise of a relatively easy 30 miles upon my return that evening. As it turned out, the fog teamed with a stiff headwind to make a long downhill seem up (sensing a theme here yet?), a sure sign of the wind I would face all the way to the turnaround in Kensington. The fog also gave me insight into a peculiar Kansan habit. It seems that many Kansans have an aversion to using their headlights in the fog, meaning that cars tended to sneak up (devious, stealthy creatures that they are) and scare the hell out of me. This danger, which I did not perceive clearly at the time, led to at least one rider abandoning.

The first control in Norwood proved to be a major turning point in how I felt physically for the remainder of the ride. To that point, I had tried to get my calories primarily from liquid nutrition, but as the sun rose, my stomach felt worse and worse. The number one rule for nutrition on long distance riding is to let go of a diet that isn't working. Many riders carefully map out their calories (as I did) and stick with their plan until they are forced to drop out of the ride because of gastric problems or sheer fatigue. As I arrived in Norwood, I was contemplating this problem and wondering how best to proceed.

As I pulled up, I ran into Viktoriya Shundrovskaya and Alain Abbate, tandemneers from Florida who recommended the sub shop we'd all stopped at. I expressed doubt about eating more on top of what I'd been trying to consume along the way, but ultimately chose to follow Alain's simple advice -- "never pass up a chance to eat real food." As it turned out, my 8:00 am steak and cheese sub, the first of three steak sandwiches (among other things) I would eat that day, was the start of a whole new Last Chance for me, physically and emotionally.

This sandwich (and the others that followed) turned my entire ride around. I called Tanya from the sub shop and we chatted cheerily. When we finished, I headed back out into the wind -- not strong, but distinctly out of the east -- and rode on alone to Kensington, the ride's turn around point. It was on that leg, 47 basically flat miles, that I enjoyed one of the high points of my entire ride, passing other Last Chancers on their way back west. Seeing them succeeding, exchanging waves and words of encouragement, I felt some of the strongest bonds of camaraderie of the whole adventure.

 Guy Oldfield manning his pie-equipped Kensington outpost.

Come Kensington, we were expected to mail a postcard confirming our passage before turning back towards Atwood. I didn't expect to find much beyond a post office and so was very pleasantly surprised to meet Guy Oldfield, a former Seattle International Randonneur and now a member of clubs local to DC, manning a table across the street from the post office. On arriving, I signed in and collected myself while he dropped my postcard in the mailbox. In addition to water, Guy had laid out a terrific spread of homemade pies from a bakery in next town over. Returning from the deli across the street with a roast beef sandwich, I passed half to Guy and we enjoyed a short meal and good conversation, a welcome break in the midst of a long day with myself. No matter how good the riding, no matter how happy you are to be alone with your thoughts, like real food, one shouldn't pass up the opportunity for some company once and a while.
Rolling out of Kensington, I saw with relief that the flags were still blowing west, offering the promise of a tail wind on the way home. Though it wasn't strong, that promise was fulfilled: despite trending generally uphill, the return trip took 1h15 less than the way out. For the most part, the ride back was uneventful - true, it was the only stretch of the entire 750 miles that I (and, it turns out, others) ran into trouble with passing trucks, but that didn't last long. Another steak sandwich in Norton, another Mountain Dew in Phillipsburg, and in the last light of day I began the final climb back up to Atwood.

Rising out of Phillipsburg towards Atwood and the setting sun.

Riding through the dark, you have the sense that you are going much faster than you actually are. The fields seem to fly by. On the night of Day 2, this progress was countered by one of the clearest skies I've ever seen, immobile above me as the road passed quickly away. Aside from a few farmhouse windows in the distance, there was no light to dim the shining of the stars, which stood out with crystalline brilliance against the chill night. With the Milky Way overhead, I rode quietly over the last rises of my day and down into Atwood, to dinner and to bed.

On a break in Kensington, KS.


jle said...

You are so smart, Stephen. Abandoning a nutrition plan that isn't working is the height of intelligence, and not everyone does it, especially when they're tuckered out! BTW, you were not the only one on this ride to abandon "biker" nutrition (liquids, gels) for rancher breakfasts and the like.

One of our randonneur colleagues asked about nutrition yesterday on a mountainous ride that started at 3am. The response (from Catherine Shenk) was to go for "real food."

Oh, and your prize comment has to be, "Like real food, one shouldn't pass up the opportunity for some company once and a while."

So true!


Mindy - Rims said...

Good stuff! I continue to enjoy reading these posts

Post a Comment