Monday, May 21, 2012

2012 Almanzo 100: the (long) view from a 40-year old

First of all, please donate to the Almanzo 100.  Chris Skogen puts on one hell of a race, and there is no way it would be this rad if you were forced to pay a registration fee for it.

It's 5am Saturday morning and I'm doing all my best to try and figure out why my alarm is going off.  About 6-seconds later I realize it's Almanzo morning and I've got to load the bikes on the rack, eat something, and get down to Spring Valley, which is two-hours and ten-minutes away.

Sleeping Kevin and I ended up taking the long way down due to my GPS locking up, but we managed to get to the Spring Valley Kwik Trip for a pit stop and drink load before getting to the well managed parking lot, even giving Skogen a high-five as we went through and got a spot on the edge of the corn field.

I was happy to see the pre-printed cue cards in the embossed race packet.  Chris Skogen and crew take no short cuts in getting the race together and the packets are no exception.  This time the cue sheet was a double sided single card, which I thought was a great idea, though turned out tough to read on the bike.

Kevin and I went back about 75-yards from the start, which at the time was about a third of the way back in the field of riders though growing steadily.  There was a lot of energy and anticipation brewing in this large crowd of riders with about 15-minutes to 9am, the start time.

Irina walked by and took a few photos of us while we talked about her husband Nick Oswald, who was doing the 100-km gravel footrace that started at 5am and would eventually win the race 12-hours later, being one of the two finishers from the four that started.  Props.

The birthday song was sung for Jack, Chris' son, a few minutes before go-time.  A few of the rules were relayed over the bullhorn, especially the one about not pissing in front of any locals - this happened last year followed up by some upset correspondence, and rightly so.

So the start goes off and the usual adrenaline is pushing everyone faster than they should be going, as it tends to do - a bit too fast and furious for me - so I slow it down and decide the first small portion of pavement should be spent spinning and warming up - damn if I didn't forget my pre-race rolleurs.  Bummer to the rider a bit behind me who got a ruptured tube rolling out of the start, by the way.

The turn onto gravel came at mile 1.1 on 250th Street.  The cross wind was there but not as bad as it will be later on in the day.  I kept it easy, finding my pace for the first several miles.  There were some steep rolling hills in the first 10-miles or so, but even with a tailwind I wasn't feeling too great, but it was still early:

I started feeling better about 15-miles in, rolling through the gravel riding solo.  I met up with a few people, either passing or being passed, but nothing felt right.  Riding solo uses more physical and mental energy, but I seem to get a sort of sadistic enjoyment riding alone on these rides.  I did come across a tandem couple and started a drafting line with them for about a mile, but the next time I looked back they were long off my wheel and so I kept on pushing alone.

The gravel was fresh and indeed squirly in many places throughout the day, most of the long and steep downhills being no exception.

Chewie worked as a volunteer and stood at a few intersections at county roads to ensure all was kept safe - the second time I saw him he was smiling and yelling something at me as I rode by 10-feet away - I was headed south and couldn't hear a single word coming out of his mouth due to the strong southerly wind.  I continued on into the southbound uphill while I found myself crawling along, at first not realizing why I couldn't go any faster until I noticed everybody was going the same pace - the wind was slowing us to about 7mph.  The day was going to be a struggle.  

The downhill and sharp left at mile 34.5 has always caught me by surprise.  This time I've got my eyes locked straight ahead while rolling at speed while the near 160-degree turn to the left is invisible until too late.  I was lucky this year in that photographer Craig Linder was at the bottom of the turn pointing up county road 11 after seeing that I had no intention of changing my vector.  I have to say the photo doesn't do this descent-to-sharp-corner-to-steep-climb enough justice:

The town of Preston comes up after crossing a bridge at around mile 39.  I was drinking a lot of water up to now as the heat was turning up.  I decided at the start to go overboard and loaded up a 1.5 liter bladder on my back and two large water bottles on the frame.  Knowing it got to the mid 90F's the day before had me a bit worried and I did not want to face the chance of running out of water.  

I stopped at the corner on the edge of town and stocked up on water from the house well.  This is when I remembered I had two PB&J's in my jersey pocket and ate one of those with enough water to get it down.  Rollin rolled up, a bit bloody and bandaged below his left knee.  I asked him what happened but only got a part of the story because it was evident he wasn't bad and my mind wanted my body back on the road.

Bidding farewell to Rollin, I took a right and began the remaining 60-miles.  The next stop was in Forestville state park at mile 66, but not without the struggle of headwinds to the south and crosswinds to the east and west on this winding route along southeastern Minnesota, at times a mere 5-miles from Iowa.  There was a house at mile 61, just before Kava road, that had a "free water" sign out front.  I slowed down but saw about twelve people standing in line to the well pump.  I kept on to the park, guessing for a shorter water line ahead and knowing soon there would be welcoming shade from the burning sun.  The final three-miles into the park were brutally harsh as there was nothing to break the headwind but tree-less farm fields and the occasional barn.

I stopped at the park, filled up on water, grabbed a banana, and sat down with Akimoto and Chris, the latter having been there for 45-minutes.  I was feeling alright at this point, knowing I had climbed every hill so far, but knowing the two hills out of the park were nothing to laugh at.  I rested for 5-10 minutes before the three of us rolled out together, Akimoto telling me Hurl had rolled through 15-minutes prior - that gave me a boost knowing I couldn't have been that far back from the real riders.

The first climb up Maple road is on a paved road and Chris was soon pedaling out of sight.  The second Maple climb is on gravel and this is where I was left alone once again.  I continued the climb in the biggest cog I had, wishing for one or two more teeth, but pushing turn after turn nonetheless.  This last climb is where the wind kicked back in, not relenting for the next 4-miles due south.  This point is where some of the strongest winds were measured during the day, hitting 31mph sustaining and 41mph gusts in the 2-4pm timeframe.

I hit a wall riding this stretch after the park.  There was a small town coming up, or was my head playing tricks on me?  Riding westward while leaning over into the wind, the wheels were skipping, without warning, 2-3 inches to the north due to the gusts; I couldn't believe these riding conditions.  

I don't remember seeing this before, but there is a community center with a Pepsi machine outfront in Cherry Grove at mile 76.  Two riders were already sitting outside on the covered picnic tables and I was eager to join them.  One of them tells me there is a bathroom and cold running water inside as I dig for my stowed money.  I've got nothing but a 20-dollar bill and I end up begging for a buck-fifty, but I'm soon downing a cold Mountain Dew - thank you to the riders who gave me the dollar and fifty-cents.  I soaked my riding hat under the cold tap before putting it back on and sitting for about five minutes.  I'm really not feeling well and it wouldn't take much to get me to jump in a van at this point.  I roll out solo, but not before shooting this photo of the snapping flag:

Heading west again I suddenly have the strength of fresh legs and a new eagerness to finish this thing strong.  I ride with nobody in sight in front of me or behind me - this is what it's about as I push harder and harder on my cranks.  Several minutes go by before I scan my cue card for the next turn, which I see is at 171st Avenue.  The intersection up ahead approaches and I see it's numbered 161st.  No worries, another quadrant over and I'll be turning right.  I keep pushing hard when I notice the house number on the left reads 150-something.  The sudden notion that I missed the turn, am going in the wrong direction, combined with the realization that there are no tire tracks on this section of gravel was like a punch to the chest.  With the backtracking, I just put on an extra four-miles.  Shit.

The turn onto 171st comes up and leads into a ten or more mile stretch of tailwind, which at this point is very welcome.  Craig caught me in the Day-Glo Di2 kit at around mile 78 or 79 down in the drops, where you can also see the grass bending towards the camera:

Of the two climbs I knew were ahead, the one I was hoping was deleted from the manifest was the one around mile 91, Oriole Road, which sounds about as innocent as a road can be.  The right turn on Oriole is met with a sloping grade with a dozen people walking their bikes as far as you can see up into the tree covered distance.  I quickly jumped into my second easiest gear, turning a few revolutions, knowing that the peer pressure of seeing the others walking up this steep grade was going to reach out and push me off my saddle, just as it did last year.  Not this time I kept telling myself.  I shifted one last time and kept pushing one half-turn after the next - left, right, left, right, don't stop pushing.  I'm going 4mph but faster than the people walking.  The hill turns, softens out a bit, but soon heads up some more.  By the time I was two-thirds of the way up I knew nothing could get me off the saddle.  Riding up Oriole hill was certainly a personal victory.

This years start bypassed the county road 38 downhill into the quarry, and by the end of the day I was telling myself there was a chance we would also avoid the return climb.  I was wrong, and soon was  passing up a group of riders at the base of the climb, just past the quarry, who were dismounting to take a dip in the stream - no way, I'm too close to not climb this last hill of the day, and the sooner the better.

The last hill is a long one, but not nearly as steep as Oriole.  It was a struggle, don't get me wrong, but after conquering Oriole I wasn't about to let this one get me.  The climb takes a while to level out, but once it does is the moment you know the rest is flat with only five miles to go.  The finish was in a new location, so as I got within view of the safety net of the water tower in the distance, I was rolling past it about two-miles to the north and was a bit turned around.  I passed the man who I later learned was about to take 2nd place in the 100km foot race with about 4-5 miles to go.  He was walking on the left as I merely gave him a gentle wave as I passed, only supposing what he had gone through by this point in the day.

The final three miles were straight into the wind and this stretch was nothing to laugh at.  I kept down in the drops to minimize my profile and pushed as hard as I could, passing up two others on the way to the left turn and the finish.  Volunteers directed me as they held up traffic as I made the left turn, but just as I was expecting the finish line within view is when there's the surprise of getting to ride east a bit before turning again into the wind for the final push to the line.  

As always, Chris Skogen is at the finish to shake your hand, which is a classy way to say thanks to everyone for coming out to his event.  Chris asked me how it was and I said to ask me tomorrow.  Giving him an answer right then and there is like hearing somebody tell you they aren't going to drink again after a night of binging.  

Was the ride incredibly challenging and brutally difficult?  Yes.  Was the wind unrelentless?  Yes.  Were the  hills too impossibly steep to even be located in the state of Minnesota?  Yes.  Will I do it again?  Hell yes.

Check out the starting video by Paul Krumrich:

To all the riders who started: nice job; to the 389 who finished, I bow and take a drink of homebrew in your honour.

To the 275 riders who didn't show up to the race start without a pre-communicated warning to the race director: not cool at all.

To the riders who break down and decide the best place to fix their bike is to stand on the only rideable line in the road: come on, man.

To the riders who did not donate yet: do it now!

1 comment:

Robert FacePlant said...

Nice job on the Almanzo 104, Mark! And way to climb those hills!