It seemed like everybody signed up for the Almanzo 100 this year, and I was one of them. I was so captivated by the whole concept and the devotion/classiness of its organizer, that I arranged to have Hiawatha Cyclery be a sponsor of the event. As if a gravel century in the bluff country isn't challenging enough, The Weasel and I decided that the only sensible thing to do would be to bicycle to and from Rochester for the event (about 105 miles each way). When Almanzo's venue changed to the small town of Spring Valley, some 25-30 miles farther south, we opted to stick with the original plan of riding our bikes to and from the event. We would, we agreed, be foolish not to.
In the week leading up to our departure, a fellow named Patrick asked to join the ride to Almanzo. The three of us left the shop at 3:30 Friday morning, and set a brisk pace through the southern suburbs. Just south of Apple Valley (i.e. mile 20 from the shop) it becomes easy to find gravel roads to ride, and we did. Probably 2/3 of the miles we did that day were on gravel roads of varying consistency. We stopped for a delicious breakfast at Ole's Cafe in Northfield. My companions each ate two breakfasts, but I, being known for my small appetite and high level of restraint, ate but one breakfast. Patrick left us at roughly the halfway point, as he was staying in Rochester, not Spring Valley. The Weasel and I continued through a series of alternating left and right turns that had us heading east and south, respectively. The wind out of the west was stiff and unrelenting, and we found ourselves either being pushed along at 25 mph on gravel roads or fighting to hold a line in the crosswind.
We rolled into the parking lot of our hotel in Spring Valley just before 5 PM, with 133 miles on our odometers. We showered and ordered/devoured a pizza, then fell soundly asleep. A few hours later, our roommate for the evening, the distinguished Mr Chippolini, knocked on the door. He announced his desire to get something to eat, and The Weasel and I just happened to be hungry enough to eat yet another meal at the A&W across the street. Then more sleep.
At 5:30 AM Saturday, the alarm clock rang, and we arose and readied ourself for the race. But first, breakfast. We found a small diner downtown that had a breakfast special of two eggs, hashbrowns, choice of meat, and toast for $4.75. I don't understand how they can make money with such low prices, but The Weasel and I helped them make it up in volume by eating two breakfasts apiece.
We made our way to the high school, where the race was to start/end. We checked in and received our race packets. We chatted with friends, we dawdled, etc. Finally, the 350-ish(?) racers gathered at the start. I started toward the back of the pack, where I would remain all day.
I pedaled leisurely in the group for the first mile or so, but I quickly decided to start gaining ground on the other riders (at least some of them). My legs were sore from the previous day, but power output wasn't bad, and I started making my way past other riders. I was getting up a good head of steam when another rider cut in front of me, and I had to hit the brakes. Luckily, this coincided with the first stretch of fresh gravel. If I had hit the fresh gravel at speed, I may have had some difficulty staying upright. Soon, the group was getting thinner, and I found myself riding with friends at a comfortable pace. Soon I was rolling fast down a hill on hardpack gravel, when I saw several bikes in the ditch and one or two riders shouting at us to slow down because some riders had crashed here. Again, I slowed down and rode at a more social pace for awhile.
Approaching the 40-mile unofficial refueling stop of Preston, I was making good time as I went into town to fill my water bottles. I would have no more chance to get water, and I sure didn't want to die of thirst out there!
Getting back on the route, I was quickly reunited with friends, one of whom had his wife (aka support crew) waiting for him, along with an overabundance of food. I selflessly decided to help eat some of the extra food. It was a fun break chatting about dogs and bikes and food and what not. Then back on the road, riding again with the same group of friends. As we passed a cemetery, I stopped to chat with some who were having lunch there. Then my companions and I pushed hard to the 64-mile checkpoint, where we would get our cue sheets for the remaining 36 miles.
My legs were feeling better, and I was getting good power out of them, so I opted to not spend much time resting at the checkpoint. I rolled out alone, and would spend the rest of the ride, with few exceptions, riding alone.
As I rolled into the last 15 miles, my energy level was somewhat erratic, but mostly it was good. I was able to pass a half-dozen others in those last few miles, as they were out of steam and I still felt ok. I rolled through the finish line with a time of 9:21. This was more than 4 hours (!) behind the winners, but I didn't think it was too bad by my (admittedly low) standards.
After the race, we regrouped with friends at a pizza joint. I was half asleep as I tried to eat pizza and be social, but so was everybody else. Back to the hotel, and slept hard.
After back-to-back centuries, The Weasel and I were not terribly enthusiastic about retracing our route back to Minneapolis. We decided to shorten the distance by riding some 75 miles to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where we could catch a train for home. We were leisurely about sleeping in and eating breakfast, and we made the usual wrong turns and bad decisions, and soon it was looking more like 85 miles and a race against the clock. Also, we had a headwind all day. After pushing pretty hard, and keeping the screwing around to a minimum, we rolled into LaCrosse with about 30 minutes to spare to grab a burrito before we had to be at the train station to box and check our bikes. Funnily enough, while we were eating our burritos, a regular HC customer and friend, who just happened to be staying in a hotel next to the restaurant, swung into the parking lot (on his bike, of course) to check out our distinctive rigs, which he recognized from a distance. We had a fun little chat with him before we got on our way to the train station.
With the seven-mile ride home from the St Paul Amtrak station, we completed a Gentleman's Century for the day, for a grand total of approximately 330 miles. In hindsight, I wish I'd taken more pictures, but we were pushing hard to ride all those miles in three days, so there wasn't a lot of time or energy for photography.
I'd like to thank my traveling and riding companions over the weekend for the good company. And much credit is due the organizer and volunteers of the Almanzo 100. This is a first class event. The fact that there is no charge to participate is amazing, considering the high quality of the race packets and the amount of time that must be involved in putting it all together. I can't say it enough: this is a wonderful event! Thank you!