Thursday, April 12, 2012

Springfield Missouri 300k - A Wet and Wild Pre-Ride

 During my extended stay in Arkansas the town of Springfield, Missouri, one-hundred miles to the north, has been my local region for randonneuring activities.  Since the beginning of the year I'd ridden four permanents, and a 200k brevet, mostly in the company of the small group of local randonneurs.  Ralph, the brevet organizer and owner of numerous permanent routes typically hosts a ride every weekend.  As I regularly joined in on these rides I was welcomed and accepted as one of the group.  As the 300k approached I was given the option to join the pre-ride, one week prior to the scheduled date.  Riding with the small group of riders I'd come to know was appealing to me.
There were three of us at the 6am start.  Ralph and Dan were my riding companions.  It was a cool 47 degrees as we started out in darkness from the York Elementary School in Springfield.  Our first control stop would be in Miller thirty-eight miles to the west.  After just seven miles we hit a railroad crossing with a stopped freight train.  It's a common event in the area.  Long freight trains pull into side outs to allow trains passing in the opposite direction to go by.  This process can block the crossing for as much as 30 to 40 minutes.  Fortunately, this time the wait is less than ten minutes.  Back underway, now in daylight, the sun has an immediate warming effect.  As the terrain changes from flat to very rolling the internal heat starts to build.  The hills feel good on the fixed gear.  Just the day before it was outfitted with an all new powertrain (see epilogue).  After riding some miles on the historic section of Route 66 we transfer to farm roads which lead us to the control.  While taking a short break I notice that Dan is running a set of radial laced boutique wheels with a low spoke count.  I mention to him that a broken spoke on one of the wheels would surely end his day.  I would later regret making the comment.
Ralph riding mustache bars
Dan with dark clouds ahead
 Back on the road we are headed for Jasper, thirty-three miles to the northwest.  The terrain is moderate with a light tailwind.  The skies cloud over as the thunderstorm threat predicated for the afternoon appears more likely.  The temperature remains comfortable.  We continue to make good time without working all that hard.  The area is quite rural with views of farm fields and there is little to no traffic.  We follow roads that are designated with letters "UU", "NN", "K".  They are flat and open to the wind, which for now is in our favor.  As we near the control I point out the dark clouds looming ahead.  Soon we see lightning off in the distance.  In the final mile to the control we begin to feel the first raindrops fall.  I expect that a thunder storm will blow through quickly.
Approaching control
At the point we are ready to depart the rain has picked up a little.  We all take to the roads with our rain jackets on.  Our next destination is Joplin, twenty-nine miles to the south west.  The terrain is moderate most of the way.  The rain steadily increases as does the wind coming from the west.  After about ten miles I begin to feel somewhat chilled, especially my fingers which are unprotected in short gloves.  Lightning and thunder explode around us as we continue without thought of seeking shelter.  Things go from bad to worse when Dan fails to see a pot hole that was filled with water.  The result is an immediate crash to the ground. Unhurt, he quickly gathered himself and resumed riding.  We were now dead into the wind and getting pelted by strong rain.  I was freezing cold and my hands were two blocks of ice.  When I saw we were approaching a convenience store I assumed it was the control.  I pulled in followed by Ralph and Dan.  As it turned out the actual control was more than a mile further up the road.  We were all happy to be here just the same.  Dan had a flat on the rear due to the crash.  After removing the wheel a broken spoke was discovered as well.  After repairing the flat the wheel was too warped to ride.  Dan would have to call for a ride home.  I couldn't help but feel like my earlier comment about his wheels put the jinx on him.  Ralph and I departed continuing to the proper control.  I was wearing every piece of clothing I had, including winter gloves.
Trouble ahead
We breezed through the official control quickly heading back out towards the east.   Thankfully the wind was now at our back. With the rain stopped and no headwind I quickly became too warm.  Ralph also complained about being overdressed.  Neither of us wanted to stop before the control in Pierce City thirty-two miles away.  This being another moderate section we thought we could survive being a little too warm.  We navigated our way on mostly flat farm roads and efficiently covered the distance to the control.  I removed a  layer of clothes, purchased a Snickers bar and was ready to start the last section.  With fifty-five miles remaining it was certain we would not make the finish in daylight. 
Ralph on the Rivendell
 This leg of the route featured continuous rolling terrain.  Nothing particularly big to climb just constant rollers for the next 25 miles to the town of Aurora.  For the first time in awhile I had the right amount of layers on.  The hills on this section are spaced just right for my gearing.  Dan and his wife pass by in the car on their way home.  He pulls alongside to wish us luck.  Before driving off he jokes that he still has an opening on the bike rack.  Two hours ago I might have taken him up on it.  As for now I'm having fun.  The hills continue to just before Aurora.  As we approach the town the skies are foreboding with flashes of lightning around.  It begins raining as we pull in to the convenience store at the junction of the K Hwy.  Although sunset is still over an hour away it appears quite dark.  We switch to night gear and once again I don the rain jacket.  We resume riding in the rain. 

The remaining 37 miles are over mild terrain.  Much to my surprise the rain ends after just a few miles.  The wind begins to die off as well, which is fortunate as we are traveling to the northeast.  With the clearer skies we enjoy additional daylight until almost eight o'clock.  The clouds blocked the full moon so once darkness came it was quite dark.  We made decent time over the flatter farm roads that would lead us to the town of Republic, and, finally the outskirts of Springfield.  The final few miles are on Nicholas Street, which is a slight upgrade to the Elementary School where the ride began.  We pull in at 9:34.  The ride took a total of 15 hours and 34 minutes.  Given the circumstances both Ralph and I were satisfied with that.  Although, more miles were ridden dry than wet the feeling of being soaked and freezing hangs with you for a time.  I would have a four mile ride back to my hotel.  I love commuting on a fixed-gear.


A first rate downtown bike shop
 I felt it prudent to perform some maintenance on the Jamis Fixed-Gear before the 300k.  I noticed the chain was not seating properly on the chain ring.  Just sort of riding on the top of the teeth instead of sinking in.  On closer inspection it was clear the ring was seriously worn and shark toothed.   Concerned about riding a long distance with the drive train in that condition.  I departed for Springfield ahead of schedule in search of a bike shop with the hardware I needed.  I went to Queen City Cycles in the downtown area.  I'd been there before and knew that they do a good amount of business with fixed-gear bikes.  It was a lucky day for me as they had what I needed in stock and were willing to install everything quickly.  Jeff, one of the mechanics, replaced the entire drive train; front ring, rear cog and chain.  I was pleased an impressed that they had a ring and a cog with the same tooth count, so my gearing would remain the same.  A five mile ride around the city streets with everything spinning smooth and quiet had me feeling confident that my machine was up to the task the next morning.
 This being my fifth trip to the city I began to notice things that were missed on prior visits.  I discovered that there is a significant bike culture there.  Near my hotel there is a combination bike shop and coffee bar.  The owner at one time rode PBP.  The city has numerous bike lanes and a police department that maintains a dialog with the local bike clubs.  Combined with the historic Route 66, which passes thorough the town, there is a lot for cyclists to enjoy.  I selected a vintage Best Western Motor Court as my hotel on this venture.  It was on historic 66 and played to the theme.  It was a fun to be temporarily blasted back in time.  I get the appeal of riding the famous roadway from end to end.  Embracing a time when things were a lot less complicated.  Sort of like riding a bike with only one gear.
A motel from another Era


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