107 riders, 105 bicycles, 111-miles of gravel, 14+ climbs, good times.
I printed out the elevation map of the 111-mile course and kept it visible in my cue sheet holder. Something about knowing how many climbs are left takes away a bit of the pain, mentally anyway, the legs still struggle, especially this early in the season.
I'm told there was 7950-feet of climbing for the day, but check the Rök site for updates on that.
The course consisted of loose gravel, fast downhills with off-camber areas with thick and sketchy gravel, smooth gravel with the consistency of asphalt, mud, snow, peanut butter, and all sorts in-between. There was probably less than 5-miles of pavement, and the wind was always working against us, or so it seemed.
The scenery included isolated farms and fields, horses, cows, chickens, dogs, tractors, road graders, lots of pick-up trucks, major appliances dumped in ravines, homemade El Camino's out of a Buick Le Sabre and Chevy wagon, woods with trees yet to show any sign of spring, but very few people other than the riders.
The start was promptly at 0730 from a golf course near/in Red Wing with no available bathrooms. My alarm was set for 0430 with a 0515 pick-up, with five of us car-pooling from MPLS to the start. Considering Kristin's birthday party the night before, I did very well not only in getting up, but throughout the race. The talk before the race was the weather - was it going to rain or not. A lot of people took the gamble that it would not, though I strapped a light rain jacket on the back of my camelback. Despite the darkening skies and the sound of distant thunder, no rain hit by the time we finished.
The below image at about mile 20 is the only one I took during the race, I didn't see anybody ride this, though there were a few tire tracks from the lead riders. During the crossing, my shoes got ice-cold water in them, which was really awesome and I was nothing less than thrilled about it.
The first check point was at mile 40, which Kmac and I rode in and out of, stopping at the gas station on the way out of town for a refreshment and use of the facilities.
The two climbs at about mile 60 you ask? The first one was tough, but I rode up without complaint. The second started rather abruptly after the descent from the first peak, which made it much more difficult than the first, though I pressed on in my easiest gear without putting a foot down, though I was crawling at parts. To this second peak I hereby proudly name the '2011 Ragnarök Suzanne Somers Thighmaster Spectacular.'
The big climb that starts at about mile 70 was on my mind, but I was at the top before I knew it. I had to convince myself the climb was over only after looking in all directions and having a birds eye view of the countryside. Piece of cake.
At mile 85 I stopped at a Kwik Trip and fueled up on a banana, frapachino, and water. I meant to keep the stop to about 5-minutes, but the train crossing a few feet from the station kept a growing number of us from moving for an additional ten long minutes.
After that I soon met back up with Kmac, previously haven beat the train, now on the side of the road finishing mounting her rear wheel. She got a flat and realized the rubber had also blown, so she used a cue sheet to reinforce the tire - after another stop to put in a bit more air, all was good mechanically for the remaining of the race.
The fourth to the final climb at about mile 90 was a staggering bitch of a hill. This particular "minimum maintenance road" was mud and dirt, though mostly mud, with a practically unrideable grade; this hill was more for 4x4's and motorcross machines to whip up and down, which I can imagine can be a load of fun. I walked up the majority of this one, the saving grace was seeing a group of people at the very top - turns out it's Skogen and crew, featuring about five riders not selected for this years Rök race. Kmac and I paused for a minute, she got a spare tube from the gang, and we pushed on.
The final three climbs of the race went by smoothly, sure they were work, but mentally I knew we only had about 15-miles to go, so just push and don't think about it. We soon grouped up with five others and finished the race nearly at the same time, and then of course quickly heading over to the clubhouse to book a quick round on the back nine - probably didn't happen.
I came across the finish with several other riders, 3h22m after the winner; holy shit was I slow, or is the leader that fast? A bit of both, I guess. I've been sick since visiting China a few weeks ago, but this ride may have cured me. I had fun, saw some unique scenery, met and talked to new friends, and physically have no complaints after 10-hours in the saddle. The only thing I could have asked for is improved endurance, which of course is better now than this morning, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.
Nick crashed early on, scraping his legs and hands up pretty good, and decided to ride back to the start, totaling 80-miles for the day. He's okay, but gets to spend the evening picking gravel out from his knees so he can recover for his trail running race next weekend in Highland Park.
Overall I rode the right bike, had the right tires, and wore the right clothing. Wouldn't do it any differently. Well, the STI levers are starting to bug me, especially on fast gravel descents, but we'll address that later...
Update - post from the cheering section. Love the hill climb photo.
Update - and a write-up from Martin, first place SS.
Update - Kelly's write-up for Salsa, where she now works - that's me hammering in photos 2-4.