I rode the full suspension Superfly back in January, and it was magical.
Here’s Trek’s release video.
What have I gotten myself into?
I’ve previously written of my affinity for the Gore Singlet.
Sunday, at the Gravel Metric, I wasn’t sure what weather conditions would be. Temps started around 50 and were to go up to 60. Sun was predicted, but there was a 30% chance of rain.
I ended up going with shorts and a short-sleeve jersey. Underneath, I wore a Gore Windstopper Singlet, and windstopper arm warmers. The singlet is comfy in most conditions. At 60 degrees, it’s still comfy (although much warmer, and I’d rather go into one of the mesh, non-windstopper) singlets). But starting out in the upper 40s to right at 50, I was cold when standing still in the singlet, and warm once riding.
The armwarmers were intended to stay on for the early, chillier part of the ride, and to come off as temps warmed up. As it was, temps just reached 60 before they plunged and it started raining…so my armwarmers never came off.
When it started dripping a bit, the water beaded up on my armwarmers. Even as the rain increased in severity (to the point of full-on dumping), the armwarmers were surprisingly water-resistant. My hands got soaked, my legs got soaked, my head got soaked…but my torso was comfortable and surprisingly dry, as were my arms. The armwarmers fit perfectly, and even with the rain and difficult conditions, they did not slide down or otherwise have any fitment issues. I cannot make any recommendations for changes–they were great. Because they’re windstopper, they are nicely ‘stretchy’ and comfortable for long-term wear. I’ve had them for about 10 months now, and they’re holding up perfectly.
I’ve had my singlets for about 8 months. I have 2 of them, and have been wearing them 3-4 times per week for most of that period (until the temps recently warmed up). They show no signs of wear either…and I run them through the washer after every use. It’s great kit.
I had my Gore Oxygen jacket in my hydration pack, and thought about stopping to put it on…but didn’t. By the time I realized it was really going to rain, my jersey was soaked (but I was still warm), so I didn’t see a point in putting it on. In any event, I was comfortable as-was. The armwarmers and singlet…they’re among my favorite pieces of gear. You may notice a theme here…my Gore wear. I love it.
Sunday was the 2013 Gravel Metric. It was presented by Axletree and Robots <3 Love, and sponsored by a host of organizations including (most importantly) North Central Cyclery, along with Salsa Cycles, Gore Bike Wear, Half Acre Cycling, Surly Bikes, Twin 6 and Clement Tires. This was my third Gravel Metric, having previously ridden the 2011 and 2012 events.
Since this is my blog, I’ll talk about my ride.
In 2011, the Gravel Metric was my first “real” ride. The Vaya, my first “real” bike, had just been built up. I went out and did some long-ish rides, but hadn’t yet ridden 60 miles in one day. There’s a stretch of gravel road near my house that’s about 2 miles long, and I’d go out and ride that back and forth, back and forth, and put in about 20 miles on that–thinking I was getting ready to ride on gravel. I showed up without a clue as to who I’d be riding with, or how I’d do. I remember seeing a guy I vaguely knew–his name was Paul–at the start. I remember seeing Tobie, as well.
Mid-ride, it started to hail, rain profusely, blow like the dickens, and drop lightning bolts perilously close. The roads turned to rivers.
At that point, I was riding near a guy I didn’t really know–Mattias. He was on a carbon fiber Roubaix, and I remember telling him that he didn’t have to worry about the lightning…it would hit me on my Ti bike long before it hit him on his plastic fantastic. At the time, I thought Mattias worked at the bike shop. I was wrong. In any event, I finished the race, exhausted but satisfied, and was hooked on gravel. Everyone I knew that didn’t ride bikes thought I was crazy for riding in those conditions.
Fast forward 2 years. I’m still on the Vaya. I’m still hooked on gravel. Non-cycling friends still think I’m crazy. Paul, of course, is BPaul–whom I now count among my closest friends. Tobie is Tobie, and similarly is among my closest friends. There were a ton of people that I only vaguely knew at that point who are now some of the most important people in my life. And Mattias–who I erroneously thought worked for the bike shop–now manages the Freeport Bicycle Company–a sister to North Central Cyclery. The world has gotten smaller.
In 2012, I came into the Metric prepared. I had been riding a ton…gravel and limestone throughout the winter, with a serious training regimen. I was only a few months into my existence with Celiac’s disease, and was still figuring out how that affected me. On May 1, I had started my own company. The night before the race, I received a very disquieting email related to my professional life. That threw my stomach into a shambles. All of my prep, all of my work, gone. I’d use a ‘down the toilet’ metaphor, but that would not really be a metaphor. The race was hot and dusty. I had no food in me at the start–as I couldn’t keep anything in me. I started too hard, and held onto the lead group for 5 miles, and due to a fortuitous start, I have a pic of me riding in front of Ben Berden.
I fell off the back of that group, and tried to latch onto Paul. He tried to pull me for quite a ways, but I couldn’t hold his wheel, and didn’t want to hold him back. I rode terribly. Miserably. I drowned in my own self-contempt. Rolling out of the final checkpoint, I was drained. Burned up. I had over 25 miles to go, the temp was over 95, the wind was atrocious. My good friend Chad G. managed to snap a picture of me rolling out of that checkpoint. This is what despair looks like:
I was looking down, praying that the pedals would keep turning over. I was hating life.
Fast forward another year.
This year, the Gravel Metric was something I looked forward to with relief. Last weekend was Almanzo–over 100 miles with about 7,000 feet of climbing. Coming off of that, 70 local miles with 2,000 feet of climbing sounded comforting. I am in far better shape, and have dialed the Vaya in to gravel perfection. I rode the Almanzo strong, and wanted to ride the Metric strong as well.
My usual photo disclaimer: I’ve found that I have to either ride a ride, or photograph a ride. I cannot ride hard and take pictures. Given that I’m a cyclist first and a blogger second, photos take a backseat to riding…so my only pics are at the start.
There was a healthy crowd at the start. More than 220, less than 10,000.
Chad Ament did an amazing job on the course, and Chris Jensen and Josh Arends gave pre-race instructions.
The neutral rollout was great.
We had wonderful support from DeKalb Police Department’s finest.
Here’s Tobie, leading the way.
And here’s a devastatingly handsome rider.
The neutral rollout continued down Route 23, left turn on Gurler. Wind was ESE, so we hit headwind immediately. 1 mile into Gurler, the ride went from neutral to on. I had ridden up to the front to make sure our escort saw the turn, and was at the front right corner of the group. It was not a good place to be. When the shark was jumped, the lead pack blew around me in one fell swoop, and I didn’t have a gap to get into. My hopes of riding the very front lead group blew up right there. (No worries. This turned out to be a good thing). I got into a group of strong riders, and held on.
We turned south on Lynch, and were rolling with a front cornering crosswind, at ~22mph. I knew that I had to hold on to this group to have any hope of a good finish. I rode within my limits, but pushed their boundaries. I took pulls, and rode clean. I rode well. We turned left on Harter, and back into the headwind. I was in a small cluster of 5-8 rides, including Caroline Mani–a pro rider from Clement/Raleigh. I was working hard. She was enjoying a pleasant ride in the country. I’d take a pull, she’d blow around me. She was a very, very strong rider. Her teammate, Ben Berden, was off the front somewhere.
Sidenote: on the course, Caroline came across someone who had a crankarm fall off their bike. Caroline stopped, grabbed a multitool, and fixed the bike, on the course. She was a true model rider–someone to model your riding after–and a true sportswoman. Her sponsors should be proud to have riders demonstrate that kind of character and kindness on the course. It was great to ride with her a bit, and I hope she eventually found some good chocolate.
On Harter, the gravel turns to dirt–and this year, the dirt had been partially plowed under. There was a crash somewhere in the lead group, and seeing that everyone was up, ok, and had a crowd of support around, I pressed on. (Don’t worry…there were still a lot of riders in front of me). We turned south again, with the head/crosswind. At this point, it seemed like no one wanted to pull…and we were only a little bit into the race. I found myself near Paul Carpenter–one of the strongest pace riders I know–and rode with him for a little bit, taking pulls (albeit not as long as his) at the front of a group of 7-10 riders. When we turned west and picked up a tailwind, I grabbed the front and dropped the hammer, first kicking it up to 25mph, and then dropping to a sustained 22.5-23mph. (Again, with a good tailwind). After 5 miles up front, we turned south again, and a little echelon formed for the 2 miles down Howison. We turned west, I pulled for a mile, and we turned south again onto Preserve. Somewhere around Howison, the group I was with imploded. I don’t know what happened. I remember Carpenter going off the front, and I remember thinking that it would be unwise to push that hard, this early.
From there to the park, there were a number of riders that I was around, but never for long. Particularly with the tailwind, I felt good and was pushing…and gobbling up riders at a good clip. Of note, I thought I knew the course, but I was wrong, and found I was wrong when I saw riders making a turn I wasn’t expecting. So like everyone else on the course, I found myself following the cue sheet. Fortunately, I had started my mileage where we were told to at the start, and the cue sheet was perfect. Ok–almost perfect. Notes on that below.
I came into the Shabbona State Park with a tail of riders, had my wristband punched, and lit out. The route in the park wasn’t what I was expecting, either…so I followed tire tracks and the trail markings. There was a group of people that blew around me early in the park, and I think they must have thought this would be a short jaunt, because I caught up to them and passed them after about a mile. The section in the park turned out to be nearly 4 miles, and was supremely fun. I lit out of the park onto Houghtby, with a tailwind again, and dropped the hammer.
There were other riders around, but again, no one going the speed I wanted to go, and no one giving any indication of wanting to work together. I wasn’t by any NCC guys, and as such I rode as hard as I thought I could ride, while holding things together for the remaining 33 miles. On Woodlawn (the out and back), I ran into the lead group going back, as I was going out, and I realized I wasn’t too far behind them. I also realized that there were not too many in front of me. At that point, I didn’t know why. I rolled Woodlawn, hammered Hermann, and then blazed up Locust.
If you did the GM training rides, you saw Locust and were ready for it.
When I was riding Woodlawn, it started to drip just a little bit. By the start of Locust, it was lightly raining. Just before Elva, it started to rain in earnest. The temp at the start of the race was about 50. By the time I hit Shabbona, it was about 60. By the time I hit Elva, it was 47 and raining hard. I had seen a few riders ahead, and buried myself in turning over the pedals…to the point that I blew past Elva. I realized my error within about 1/4 mile, hung a quick U, and headed east on Elva. The wind that had been pushing me all day was now my enemy. When first I hit Elva, I had the wind and the rain in my face. I thought about taking a break–stopping for a snack, getting some time off the saddle, cutting myself some slack. I decided against it. I heard my wife’s voice in my ears, urging me to get the lead out. I pushed as hard as I could push down Elva, tracking down and passing a nice gent on another Ti Vaya. The rain slackened as we turned left on Haumesser, and I had 2 miles of blissful corner/tailwind. He must have stopped for a breather, as when I hit Gurler, I couldn’t see anyone in either direction.
I pointed east on Gurler, and back into the headwind. On the last GM training ride, we had a tailwind on Gurler. A glorious, 15mph tailwind for 12 miles. I knew we would pay for it, and pay for it we did. On the day of the GM, it was steady headwind the whole way back into town. I looked down at my average pace for the day thus far…16.9mph…and vowed that I’d do whatever it took to hold that back into town. It may not sound like much of a goal, but after 60 miles, much of it solo, and into the wind on my old nemesis Gurler, it was a lot.
I did it.
When I hit 23, I thought about riding it in easy, as we would do on a group ride. But as hard as I had been pushing, someone else had been pushing harder, and to my rear I saw another gent. After my day, I was not going to be passed at this point. No one had completed a pass that stuck in the past 30+ miles…and it wasn’t going to happen now. I clenched my teeth and spun up to 22mph. As I neared the shop, I saw Tobie shout encouragement, and I redoubled my efforts. I blew into the parking lot and bore down on the finish line, nearly crashing into the results table.
The Gravel Metric isn’t a race. There are riders who are faster and stronger than me, who finished behind me. The Gravel Metric is an adventure ride. People who ride it slow and drink beer along the way win just as much as Ben Berden did at the front of the lead group. For me, the Gravel Metric is a milepost…a measuring stick. I rode it, and I rode it well. I pushed harder and dug deeper than I’ve ever done before, riding solo. I resisted the temptation to slack the pace and grab a group–even into the headwind. I resisted the siren’s call of taking a break for even a minute. According to the Garmin, I averaged right at 17mph on the day, with a rolling time of just barely over 4 hours. Since I didn’t stop for breaks, the only difference between rolling time and actual time was the time it took to get my wristband punched. I had originally thought (and FB’d) that my time was about 4:10…but seeing the actual start time and the Garmin data…just over 4 hours.
In 2011, I rode 63 miles in 5 hours and 23 minutes (rolling time) at an average speed of 11.6mph.
In 2012, things didn’t get much better (but I lost my Garmin data in the annals of time).
In 2013, I rode 68.4 miles in just over 4 hours at 17mph.
I’ll say it again–it’s not a race. But being able to compare against my own results from years past, and being able to see objective, undeniable, tangible growth–that’s rewarding. My Gravel Metric was my ride this year. I didn’t have any crutches, or anyone to fall back on. Regardless of how anyone else did, my ride was incredibly rewarding. Hard, but rewarding. What “position” you finished in is irrelevant–it’s how you rode. I rode well. Many others rode well, too. But I rode well.
Chad G. can stop reading now, because I’m going to go into hydration and nutrition. I’m going into these things for a few reasons. First, I recount them for historical purposes, so I can look back and see what does and doesn’t work for me. Second, I go into them because food and drink are the difference between a good and bad ride for me. I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 148 pounds. I have no reserves. What I take in during a ride determines how well I ride. It is what it is, and it’s the nature of my disease. I’ve come to accept it. (I’ve also come to accept that my wife, with her incredible nutritional support, has as much of a role in my ride performance as does all of my time training. If I don’t eat, I ride like crap, no matter how much I train. She is an amazing woman in all regards).
For fluids, in the 2 hours before the race, I drank two 16 ounce water bottles. During the race, I came prepared with a Camelbak with 80 ounces of fluid, and 2 water bottles. That would have been enough for just about any conditions. I was running Envigr8 in my Camelbak, and electrolytes in my water bottles. The Camelbak ended up being more than enough, and I ended the ride with about 10 ounces in my pack, having never touched the water bottles.
For food, I had my normal protein shake for breakfast (same one I have every day), along with a banana and a turkey sandwich for breakfast. About 30 minutes before the ride, I ate a second sandwich. 15 miles in, I had a gel. 25 miles in, I had a bar. 40 miles in, I had a second gel. That’s it.
I know some did the ride and got lost. If you got lost in the state park, I suppose that’s understandable. I didn’t know the route through the park, but found my way. I did know roughly where Houghtby was, so I had a clue of what direction I should be ultimately headed. I think we can do better with course markings in the future (although we had the course marked and apparently, some of the markings were stolen).
If you got lost on the roads, dude…that’s your own fault. The cue sheet for the roads was perfection. Every mileage increment as dead-on. Every road was marked. Some were hard to see, sure…but if the cue sheet says that a road is 1 mile away, and you ride a mile and come across an intersection of some sort, stop and see what it is. Any road that didn’t have a permanent road sign had a temporary (and highly visible) sign installed. The route was amazing–the best ever for a Gravel Metric, and an incredibly diverse ride for Northern Illinois.
My Gravel Metric 2013 was uniquely awesome, and uniquely mine. I will now go back to sucking for the rest of the year. If you missed it, there’s always the Gravel Metric 2014. There’s also the Night Bison 2013, and a host of other rides to come. Come and see us.
Meters, that is.
Longtime readers may recall that I’m running a powermeter on the Madone. I ran it on the Ridley, as well. For a period of time after the install, I was fervently monitoring wattage, both when training and when on group rides. I would fret over the numbers incessantly. On group rides, I would start to pull back when I hit power output numbers that were “excessive”, so that I wouldn’t “burn out.”
I was doing interval training, based on power numbers, trying to hit some pretty aggressive goals. And I was shredding myself. Objectively and subjectively, I was actually physically harming myself. I felt like crap, and my blood tests reflected it. Of note, I’ve never trained with a “coach”, but rather was basing my efforts off of popular instructions on the web, and things like The Time Crunched Cyclist.
I’ve gone quite a while without really looking at the power numbers. My power meter has been relegated to two basic uses: 1) monitoring wattage when on a trainer, to make sure I’m challenged; and, 2) the occasional glance after a big sprint, just to satisfy my curiosity about peak wattage. I rode, and trained, a lot this winter and spring. A majority of that riding was on bikes other than the Madone–bikes without power meters. I’ve come into this spring and early summer stronger than I’ve ever been on a bike. I’m not dominating my group rides or anything–I still struggle to hold on to a strong group–but for me, I’m doing well.
This leads back to today’s subject. When I got a power meter, I thought it would be an amazing, life-changing tool to use. For me, it hasn’t been. When I train “by the meter”, I find myself frustrated and depleted. Maybe it’s training too hard, maybe it’s disease, maybe it’s just weakness. Who knows. But it isn’t helpful. When I ride “by the meter” on group rides, I psych myself out. When I don’t know what my wattage is, I ride harder on challenging rides. It reminds me of when I started riding and wore a heartrate monitor. I’d do a really hard part of the ride and my heart would be racing…and I’d start freaking out about MHR and THR, and not enjoy the ride. Too much data.
At the end of the day, the power meter has not been a useful tool for me. Truth be told, I’d rather have a regular, non-‘power’ crank on the Madone. On solo rides, I’ve found that riding based on rate of perceived exertion is more effective for me (while maintaining a challenge). On group rides, it’s a matter of holding the group’s pace, and dropping in a little sprint now and then. For the riding I do, wattage is irrelevant. On rides like Almanzo, I’m not riding to win–wattage doesn’t matter. I was riding to do my best. On the group rides, similarly, you’re riding to stay with the group (and hopefully to lead every once in a while). For some, power meters may be helpful. For me, it has not proven to be, thus far.
As you may have seen, on Friday, a group of 4 of us drove up to Spring Valley, MN for the Almanzo. I’ve previously written about my Kuat NV 2 bike carrier here, which I updated here and then updated here. Those were all on the 2 bike carrier.
To transport 4 bikes, Kuat makes a 2 bike add-on carrier. Tobie had one, so we bolted it on my Pathfinder and headed north.
The conversion to a 4 bike carrier took all of 3 minutes. Seriously. The plastic top cap had to be removed, and then there were 4 bolts that had to be tightened down.
These are the 4 bolts that hold it on:
So it is a very simple job to extend the 2 bike carrier into a 4 bike carrier.
The functionality of the bike carrier is identical as a 4 bike carrier as well.
It was rock steady with 4 bikes on it, at some relatively elevated speeds, in a pretty decent rainstorm. It worked perfectly (and was holding a good $20k in bikes). I cannot compliment the Kuat enough on its functionality and form–it’s awesome. Pricey, but worth it.
The 4 bike carrier was a bit big for everyday use…I was glad to pop the extension off and go back to my “little” 2 bike carrier. The 4 bike setup is just long and heavy–as required to make it sturdy and dependable. The only other minor bad news was that if you wanted to tip the carrier down (to permit access to the rear hatch of the car with bikes on the rack), the carrier hit the ground. Not a big deal, but a small annoyance. (If it didn’t tip that far, though, the rear hatch probably wouldn’t have cleared. I suppose that they cannot make it custom for every car…so it’s an annoyance I’d live with).
Again–no real complaints, and nothing but praise for the rack. It is highly recommended.
The Gravel Metric Route has been revealed!
Originally posted on The Gravel Metric - presented by AXLETREE.:
Our goal this year was to get back to basics. Keep it simple. Staying true to that, we opted not to make a fancy promo video and we chose to keep the route a secret until the day of the event.
Well, we’ve had a change of heart.
So, here’s a fancy video showing you the route. It shows the course, turn by turn, start to finish. Our generosity is boundless.
Created by Chris Jensen on a iZoopraxiscope (basics).
Rode it, finished it, much to say.
I don’t know where to start, and I have had thoughts about this kind of percolating out of my mind since Saturday. I can’t hope to do it justice in one blog post–for that matter, I can’t even get all of my thoughts about it into one post. It was an amazing event–one of the best events I’ve ever ridden.
Chris Skogen is an amazing guy. I don’t know him well enough to comment about him personally, but just from the way the event is put together, you can feel his love for the ride. Beyond descriptions of the ride (which will follow below), I can tell you a few other observations about Chris, that speak to his character.
First, we drove up on Friday night, and met Chris at packet pickup. He was standing outside the community center, shaking the hand of everyone who walked through the door. He seemingly knew most of the entrants personally–and was gracious to all he saw. We went in, signed in, ate dinner, and chummed around a bit…and when we left, he was still manning the front door. A ______ (relative, friend?) came up to him with a dinner on a plate, and told him that his mother insisted that he take a break to eat. What’s that tell you? He’s dedicated. His family knew his dedication to the event was strong enough that he not only needed to be reminded to eat, but that he needed dinner to be brought to him. He was committed to making everyone’s first experience with Almanzo a welcoming one.
On the day of the race, he announced the rules. They were simple–be nice. Be clean, and don’t litter. Don’t pee in front of others. Help each other. Have fun. And then we sang Happy Birthday to his son. It imparted the right feel to the start of the event.
Also on race day, perhaps 80 miles in, there was a reroute. How did we find this out? Was there a sign, or a race volunteer on course? No. There was Chris, standing in an intersection in the middle of nowhere, directing the reroute himself. It was amazing. He gave up his signature ‘end of race handshake’ position to stand in the country and redirect riders. And based on his Twitter, he did so well into the night (tweeting that he was still there around 8pm, and that he was driving the course in reverse around 10pm). He took that on himself.
I don’t know Chris. We’re ‘friends’ on Facebook, and I follow his tweets and pore over the Almanzo site, but I don’t know him. But I feel like I got to know a little piece of him by riding this event. And it was grand.
How was my Almanzo? Rockstar. 103.5 miles (and that includes a Preston detour outlined below). 6,8XX feet of climbing–call it 7,000. 15.8mph average speed. A crew of 4 amazing riders to hang with.
We lit out of DeKalb Friday afternoon, probably around 1:30 or 1:40. We made stellar time up to Minnesota, due to a small wrinkle in the space-time continuum, and due in no way to extra-legal speeds. As noted above, we did the pre-race check-in and spaghetti dinner (although I skipped the dinner and ate my gluten/dairy free meal in the room. I hope the volunteers didn’t think I was being a snob, but a dinner of garlic bread and buttered spaghetti noodles would put me in the hospital).
We headed back to the Country Inn & Suites in Rochester and settled down with 1.5 Liters of Maker’s Mark. No dent was made in the bottle. Bikes were prepared, strategy was discussed, jokes were made.
The next morning, we rolled out of bed, and enjoyed some fresh coffee from Joel. The hotel had a continental breakfast that most of our riders indulged in, and I did a double shot of my protein/vitamin shake mix. (Of note: doubling the Niacin intake on a sunny day is not a good idea. My arms burned pretty severely–to the point of almost blistering on my biceps). I also had a ham sandwich, some pickles, almond milk, and a bar.
I’m getting ahead of myself with this discombobulated post–who’s “We”? We was Tobie, Aaron, BPaul and myself. We were joined by Joel–a former DeKalb rider who is now a Minneapolis resident–he rides for the Twin 6 Metal team.
I was sporting my Vaytanium with ENVEs.
I had originally planned on doing 2 bottles and a Camelbak–as I understood that there was a water stop around Mile 40, and that was it…so I was planning on bridging 62 miles, in the sun, with 2 bottles and a bladder. However, on the race eve, I learned from Joel that there was a state park with a water spigot that we’d ride past around mile 65. That changed my strategy. Accordingly, I carried 2 bottles on the bike and 1 in my jersey.
Brief food and hydration note: I downed some water in the morning before the race, and downed a water bottle with electrolytes in the parking lot immediately before departing. I took 3 bottles. In the first 40 miles, I drank 1.8 bottles. I finished the second bottle, refilled both of those (with Gatorade from the grocery in Preston–see below), and drank about 16 ounces of Gatorade while stopped.
So pre-race, I drank about 40 ounces.
In the first forty miles, I drank ~36 ounces, and at mile 40, I drank 16 ounces.
Between miles 40 and 68 (the state park), I drank 1.5 bottles (30 ounces).
At the state park (mile 68), I finished a half of a bottle (10 ounces), and refilled everything.
In the last 35 miles, I drank 2 more bottles (40 ounces). So pre-race, I drank 40 ounces.
During the race, I drank close to 140 ounces…but never used more than 2 bottles in any 1 segment (i.e. I always had 1 full bottle in reserve). I was plenty-hydrated, and 3 bottles was the way to go. A Camelbak would have been unnecessary weight. For hydration, I used Skratch Labs mix on the road, and I used Vitargo Gnr8 in the 3 bottles I started with. GNR8 has some liquid calories, and Skratch has great electrolytes. I was pleased with the mix.
For food, I took a mix of gel and bars, and forced myself to eat something every 15 miles or so. I ate constantly, throughout the day. In retrospect, I wish I had some real food to eat around mile 50-60. But I made it on what i had. I carried food in the top-tube bag shown in the picture. That setup was perfect. If we were riding longer, I would have needed more storage for food.
In one pocket, I had a bottle. A second pocket had my CO2 and tools. My third pocket had my camera and a couple extra bars.
The Vaya was perfect–made for this ride. If it could be lighter and a bit snappier, I wouldn’t complain, but I gotta say that it performed wonderfully. The ENVE wheels were…well…something to envy in the conditions, and my 38c tubeless Bontrager CX0s rocked. I was sporting my normal gearing (50/34 up front and 11-32 in the rear), and never wanted for a higher or lower gear.
Tobie and Aaron were on their SuperMoots (Psychlo RX) rides.
BPaul was sporting the Steel is Real OG Vaya.
On some rides, I forget to take pics in mid-ride, so I snapped a few at the outset, to make sure I’d have at least a pic or two to show. So here’s the ride into town:
That’s Joel in the Twin 6 kit. He was sporting a shiny Ti-Fargo on 30c tires.
We didn’t want to be in the mad rush at the start, so we started mid-pack. There were about 1,000 riders in the 100 mile ride.
My race goals were simple: 1) finish the ride; 2) ride every hill (don’t walk); and, 3) stay together as a group. Going into the ride, I was confident that I’d finish.
We had on our North Central Cyclery kit, and I was surprised by the recognition we got. Sure–a lot of people know Tobie…but there were quite a few “Hey, you’re the NCC guys” comments made. People know the Gravel Metric, and are beginning to learn about Axletree. It was great to be flying the colors, and riding with guys that I knew were prepared for the day to come.
Shortly before the start, we moved up to mid-pack, and listened to Chris talk about the rules.
The route out of town was all on closed roads, with excellent support from local police and fire–it was orderly and fun. When we hit gravel, all bets were off.
Gravel conditions were
good great. As you can see above, much of the gravel was clean and hard. There was probably less than 5% paved. There was a good 10-15 miles of sketchy gravel, but much of that had at least one tire track that was pretty rideable. We started with a conservative pace that we could stick with, and that meant that we spent most of the day passing others. In the sketchy areas, you’d have to skip out of the good tire track into the loose stuff to make a pass, and then try to hop back into the good track. Our time spent riding crappy gravel all year gave us the confidence to pull that off. I saw a lot of riders trundling along in the one good track, not confident to make the passes.
At mile 20, I remember thinking to myself, “80 miles to go…I wish I was rolling into the finish right now.” At that point, I made a conscious decision to change my thinking–to enjoy every minute of the ride while I was riding it, and to not do a countdown. That was a great decision, and it significantly improved my ride experience.
By mile 40, we had done 2,733 feet of climbing, and were averaging 17mph. It was right then that we had a chance to do a brief (1/3-1/2 mile) detour into Preston to grab some water at the local grocery store. There had been a few climbs, but nothing too killer. There had also been some great descents. It was enjoyable riding.
Nevdal and Joel were unphased.
Shortly after we rolled out of town, we passed these ominous signs:
Which meant this:
And here’s me:
Some people took off their socks and shoes for the crossing. IMO, that was a waste of time. We walked through. With the sun and wind, our feet were dry within a pretty short distance…and those who doffed their shoes looked to have socks full of gravel thereafter.
Joel was kind enough to take a few pics of the “NCC Echelon” as we rolled through some woods.
That’s Tobie, Aaron, me and Paul.
And this is Joel.
BPaul in full-on Bike Warrior mode.
There was intermittent pave.
There was beautiful scenery.
And someone was excited to be riding gravel.
At mile 68, we hit the state park for the water spigot, and Tobie downed some Tobietillas.
There was a long, gradual grade out of the state park, and then back onto some rural gravel.
There had been some hard climbs, and our average speed had dropped to about 15.8mph. Over the remaining mileage, it picked up to close to 16.5 again, and then we ended back around 15.8. Here, we’re rolling along at 22mph. (Of note: top speed on the flat: 27mph. Top speed on a descent: 45. 45. 45.)
If you look closely, you can see my brain in this picture. (Or so says my wife).
That’s the last picture I took during the race.
We accomplished all of my goals–we finished, we rode everything, and we stuck together. Tobie and Aaron almost undoubtedly could have ridden harder and faster. BPaul and I were a good pair. Everyone had strong moments and less strong moments. In particular, one of us was having a hard time at one point in the ride, and I encouraged him to keep his head up, continue breathing, and grab some wheel. We all reiterated that we were sticking together–this was a no drop ride.
At that particular moment, I could have ridden faster if we dropped someone. (Don’t get your hopes up. See below). But I can honestly say that there was nothing I wanted to do more than hang with my guys–all of my guys–and have us all pull through together. I have been riding hard and training hard for months, in anticipation of Almanzo. I certainly wasn’t always at the front of the pack, but I paced myself well. I gave a strong rider a wheel when he needed a break. I’m really proud of that.
Somewhere around mile 85, we were rolling into a headwind and Tobie was in front of a large group (us and other riders)–with no one taking the initiative to go up front and take a pull. (Note, I’m not criticizing anyone here. NCC guys and Joel had been leading a pack for quite some time, and I don’t know what condition the other riders were in). That moment sticks out in my mind because I had the legs to jump out, go up front, and take a pull. It was probably only a mile or so until we turned and had a quartering tailwind again, but it sticks out. I rode well. I hung. I pulled.
We all pulled. We all rode well. We rode Almanzo, and I like to think we rode it Almanzo-style.
Don’t get me wrong–we weren’t peloton-ing all across Minnesota…and there were a lot of times when being in an echelon wouldn’t have helped at all. But we rode. Together.
At mile 90, we hit O_____ road. (Orion? Oriol? O-mygod? (Ed: Oriole)) That had a steep initial pitch with a hard climb. We geared down and hit it. I remember seeing two riders rolling up off the front. I grabbed my low gear and churned. I tried gearing up a few and standing, counting every pedal rotation. At home, I do that when training, and ride for 200 rotations and then sit for a few. At mile 90, on O-whatever road, I hit 78 rotations and felt my legs start to cramp. Rather than pushing into a cramp, I hit the saddle, geared down, and tried to spin pretty circles up the hill.
They weren’t pretty, and they probably weren’t circles, but I did it. And the rider who had a hard time just a few miles earlier? He was right there.
I distinctly remember around mile 90, I said, “hey, we’re at Waterman. 12 miles to home.” That, of course, was in reference to the distance up Route 23 from Waterman to DeKalb when we’re riding at home on our group rides…and it put the race in perspective.
I’m glad he was right there, because around mile 95, I felt shelled. Suddenly, it was hard to stay on the saddle. It was hard to pedal. I was canned-out. At that point, I started drifting slowly to the rear. And what happened? My buddy was there for me. I grabbed his wheel, and he pulled me for a while. Around mile 100, we hit pavement, and you could see the water tower in the distance. The end was near, and we all felt it. We picked up our cadence, and headed for the finish.
The most treacherous gravel on the whole course was in the last 500 yards leading to the finish line. We rolled through it in style, and crossed the line together.
Someone asked if I wanted my picture taken, and I said sure.
I briefly contemplated getting off my bike, but realized that I would have to lift my leg to get off the bike, and lift it to get back on. I decided to stay on the bike.
We rode. In style.
We finished. Together.
We put on a good show for NCC.
And I was proud to fly the colors.
The reserves I had in me to help a friend in the 80s were repaid in kind when I lost my umphhh in the 90s. That’s how you ride it.
So much to say. But this is long enough for one post. I’m really, really proud of how we all rode this race, and how much fun it was.
To the (very) few of you who recognized either me or the Vaya, thanks for reading. I appreciated the good will.
Remember: the Gravel Metric is Sunday. Come out and get some.
EDIT: One after-note. We rode with a lot of riders. I’ve done rides in the past, where some riders engaged in sketchy actions–not holding lines, cutting in pace lines, random braking and generally poor bike handling. I didn’t see any of that at Almanzo. Everyone we rode with rode admirably, and rode together. We weren’t in the lead group (by far), but everyone we saw was working together…regardless of team, kit, bike, or ability. I think that speaks to Almanzo’s qualities as well.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Google glass by now–essentially glasses with a heads-up display and microcomputer integrated into their design.
What about Google glass in the peloton. Imagine being able to get instant, visual updates from the coach. See your gearing, power output, speed, cadence, etc without looking down. Know how many seconds behind–or ahead–you are from the leader, your target time, or teammates. How about your coach setting a visual power goal instead of hollering over the radio? What about seeing the climb profile in real time? How about seeing the racer status bar normally seen on TV, in your glasses?
Essentially, all of the information available now in various forms, condensed into one location, in a visual format. Immediate information.
It’s a matter of time.