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.