Friday, July 6, 2012

Kansas dirt: beautiful and brutal!

Friday, July 6. Paola, KS to Osage City, KS. 66 miles of riding in 5:34 hrs  ending in 102-degree heat.

What can I say…God it’s hot!! Up at 4:30 AM so I could leave by 6 AM. Coffee…fresh cantaloupe…bowl of granola w/ Almond milk – breakfast complete. Then I loaded the van with all the gear, threw the kit on and was ready to face another day on the surface of the sun. Judy stayed back at the motel to do a workout. Rolled out into a pretty nice morning with a temp of about 75-78 degrees. I mean it actually felt cool at times, but I’m sure that’s because the afternoon temps have been hovering at 104+ all the way thru 6 PM or so. So anything in the 70’s feels cool.
         Was hoping to hit the dirt and gravel today in a big way – and boy did I! Not more than 2-3 miles west of Paola my road of choice turned to gravel, and then it just went up and down and up and down for miles on end. Felt awesome to be riding all alone on the KS gravel so early in the morning past all this wonderful farm country scenery. You just get such a completely different ride than when you’re on the pavement with traffic. I mean hell, I was really only about 2-4 miles off of Rt 68, just a tad south actually, and it felt as though I was a million miles away from everything.
         So what I’m doing here is finding combinations of long straight roads that will generally parallel the paved main route that Judy will be driving. This rather than just dig myself deeper and deeper away from main roads what with this crazy heat and humidity that I have to deal with. But I also have to consider Judy doing support for me, and I don’t want to have her driving gravel all over hell’s half acre trying to find me on these desolate gravel roads. What’s more, it’s so bloody desolate out here in KS that I also have to consider the route based on the trend of the interstate – as most all of civilization and campgrounds and motels are just off of I-70 40-50 miles to the north or south. Deviate too much off of that trend and you’re in no-man’s land in a real big way. But like I said, just 2-4 miles north or south of a state route like 68 and you feel like you’re way the hell away from everything.
         Anyway, the morning ride was just this amazing experience cruising up and down the gravel in KS farm country. Now when a pick-up truck would go by, that was a different story. It’s just so dry out here, with no rain for weeks and weeks, that the dust is insane. I’d have to pull out this washcloth sized rag and cover my nose and mouth because the plume of grayish-white lime dust was just overwhelming. A big pick-up pulling a trailer – and I had several of those today – can lay down a plume that is virtually so thick I could not see the road in front of me. But honestly, the trade-off was so worth it in that riding those backroads felt amazing.
         As I said yesterday, KS is NOT flat – except on I-70 and a few of the other interstates that criss-cross the state. Even a large state route like SR 68 has some nice, long rollers. The gravel roads – shit, they’re just plain non-stop rolling, much steeper, and at times so thick with gravel that you’re in the little cookie, in the saddle, trying like hell not to spin the back wheel out with each and every downward pedal stroke. If you do climb out of the saddle you have to kind of hunch forward and hang your butt down over the back wheel to keep the wheel weighted and the traction positive. So needless to say, the speed on these gravel roads is low and the effort is quite high.
         Also had dog chases going on way back in these rural areas. In one instance I had one big dude come out at me. It looked to be like a Great Dane or something like that. Now this thing was the size of a freaking horse for God’s sake. Hell, one stride forward and this dude covered like 6-8 feet. So the dude just came barreling at me and I shouted: “NO” as loud as I could. And amazingly enough that did the trick. Another time there was this German Shepard looking dog that chased me. Now on this occasion, I was riding along and I heard this jingling noise, and at first I though it was my bike, but it kept getting louder and louder. So I looked back and there he was just flying towards me. This time I unclipped the right foot and shouted: “Get the *&%^$ out of here!” The dude literally stopped in his tracks and trotted back to the house. So I’m still unscathed in the dog attack dept.
         Probably ended up with a butt load of gravel mileage on that first stretch. So to meet Judy I aimed to the north with a gravel cross road and then took that back up to SR 68 and rode pavement back into Ottawa, KS for our designated meeting spot. Felt really good with 2.5 hrs in of almost all gravel roads. Put down 2 bottles of iced water, a coke, 2 bologna sandwiches, and I was on my way to the next section, this one probably about 30 miles plus to the city of Osage City. Again, just about 1 mile outside of the city of Ottawa I hit gravel. Now the main gravel road, Osborn, was a series of long and sweeping climbs, and then these brutal little steep guys with pitches so steep that I had to use the little cookie, and once, just once I damned near contemplated walking the bike up the crest of the climb.
         By then that cool morning had turned to 90-some degrees and the wind had picked up out of the southwest again.  When I’d stop to take a picture, I’d just start dripping with sweat due to lack of wind for ventilation. Had to kind of wipe myself down with the washcloth before I got the camera out of the plastic bag and the case to shoot.
Somewhere between 1.5-2 hrs into that section I was really starting to feel the heat, with the sun just reflecting off of the white lime gravel like a prism. Eventually went through both of my waterbottles. And then the thirst factor set in. You know: that sticky, cotton mouth feeling, those visions of ice water and Gatorade, the constant licking of the lips. It was swift for sure, and I was a bit taken aback about how fast the heat ramped up out there. My beautiful backroads on white lime gravel in farm country morphed into a journey through the Mojave Desert.
         I finally hit the road – Strump Rd -  that was to take me onto paved Rt 268 for a short stint and then I’d take a left back onto gravel again where I’d ride another 10-13 miles to finish up in Osage City. But it was as if the switch was flipped in me. Had to be all the climbing in combination with the heat and headwind, but man I was feeling really cooked having put in roughly 50 or so miles on gravel at that point. Bottles empty, feeling like toast, I stayed on paved 268 and took it to a little grocery store just to the south of Pomona State Park. Went in with my mouth feeling like I hadn’t drank water for the whole freaking day. Checked the cell to see if I had service in order to call Judy. Had 1G with 2 bars, and made the call. Told Judy to drive back east on 268 to meet up with me for water, Gatorade and coke. In the meantime I went in the little grocery and got a big quart bottle of Gatorade Blue Ice. I just chugged that thing Johnny on the spot.
         Remouted the bike and rode on expecting Judy in the near future to get me the rest of the fluids I needed. And sure enough she arrived about 5 miles later. She’s like a pit crew pro at this point, jumping out of the van, pulling out ice water and Gatorade and cokes like nobody’s business for me. I jumped in the van and downed everything. At that point I think I’d had 2 quarts of Gatorade, 6 bottles of water and 2 cokes. I decided to ride paved 268/31 into Osage City to finish the day – probably like 12 more miles. That way if I got into heat trouble she’d be right there in the van. Once I got going on the bike again I started to feel pretty good, and rode the rest of the way into the town with no more fluids or food.
         Passed about 5 riders riding east on that stretch, totally loaded down with gear, so I figure they’re doing a coast to coast ride. Gave them the thumbs up and shouted some encouragement to them. At least that had a tailwind. By that time it was 102 degrees, according to the time and temp sign in Osage City. With the headwind it felt kind of like a little blast furnace. Made it into Osage with 66 miles in the bag. Now I was hoping to keep pace with the rides I did through here last year on my recon mission, but God, even with towing that 75-pound trailer, I was a good bit ahead of what I’m doing now. On the pavement you can fly at like 13-15 mph – with a trailer. On the gravel, damn, it can range from a low of like 3 mph climbing the steep hills, to 17 mph descending down the steep hills. The average probably shakes out at about 10 mph. So there’s just no way I can match those 6-hour 80-mile days on the pavement from last year – and I had the same heat last year. On the gravel, wow, totally different story in this heat.
         So once again, it was motel time after the ride. We kicked around the idea of camping at one of the state parks down near Osage, but man, the idea of finding shade out here in KS at a campground, and then cooking dinner on the gas stove, and then me trying to work on the computer for 4 hrs, and Judy trying to take a nap in the back of the van – Nope! Ended up driving like 30 miles north to Topeka for a Super 8 motel. Judy is crashed out on the bed right now from dealing with the heat for 6+hrs in the van, and I’m enjoying the AC while I sit here at the desk on the computer. Subway’s just next door, so we’re covered there.
         This is going to be one tough stretch going thru KS if the heat sticks, especially doing the gravel thing. But I’ll try to keep on keeping on. If only I could start at 4 in the morning and ride the gravel for 2 hrs with a headlamp on… but that’s pretty stupid, so we’ll put that back on the shelf. Late………..Pete

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