Chris Skogen, Gravel Ambassador, reviewing pre-race info
For the Midwest gravel junkie the middle of May means one thing...Almanzo. Mark it on the calendar and don't make any other plans for that weekend. Well, that's the way I feel. Yep, you heard me. Even if I had a free ticket to Hawaii, I'd turn it down for this event. The Almanzo event demands that much respect. It's rightfully become the biggest gravel event in the country.
Leaving downtown Spring Valley - New start/finish location this year!
This past weekend I had the privilege of riding in my fourth Almanzo event. My third Royal 162. The Royal has been an option for those that want to see a bit more of the southern Minnesota and the northern Iowa gravel. The route is essentially the same as the Almanzo 100 mile event, but also includes and additional 55 to 60 mile southern loop that crosses the Minnesota border and runs parallel to the state line in Northern Iowa.
Hittin' the gravel goodness
We exit and enter the Almanzo 100 route around mile 50. By the time we get back from the additional southern trek the course is full of Almanzo 100 riders. That's always fun seeing all the folks on the gravel. Plus you can put your cue sheets away since the course is full of Almanzo 100 riders.
We had a great crew of Royal vets and rookie strong-persons this year...
The Royal event has remained pretty consistent as far as size. Usually 50 to 100 folks sign up each year. While the Almanzo 100 event has continued to swell each year with close to 1000 riders lining up this past Saturday morning in downtown Spring Valley. Close to 1500 riders sent postcards in for both events. Yeah, the Midwest gravel thing is catching on.
Rick Blackford and Jason Gaikowski were all smiles - Mission Accomplished!
Let's be honest...if there's a longer option, I'm of the philosophy of "why not?!". If you're a masochist who loves to ride your bike, the extra 60 odd miles is just the ticket. The additional mileage is always worth it. Of course I say that now, but was often looking down at my Garmin after the 100 mile mark had ticked past last weekend and thought to myself, I could be relaxing at the finish line by now and drinking a cold beverage while cheering on finishers.
Heading towards the rising sun
The Royal started at 7 AM this year in downtown Spring Valley. The Almanzo 100 started at 9. The main drag of downtown Spring Valley was closed for the start. Chris got up and thanked us for coming, said his obligatory pre-race remarks, and then allowed us to sing Happy Birthday to his son.
Now I know I've said this before, but the gravel community is a remarkable group of guys and gals. The comradeship is palpable. Everyone is welcoming and supportive. The sense of competition remains, but everyone is riding for the right reasons. I have no doubt that any of my gravel pals would jump in front of a rabid charging canine for me. And likewise, I would do the same for them.
Beautiful scenery was abundant
The day before the event, most of Minnesota got dumped on by Mother Nature. I heard reports of close to 4 inches of rain in some locations. That's a lot of water in a short period of time for the gravel to absorb.
The gravel was a bit soft at the start, but looking on the bright side, the dust wasn't an issue! Dust can be dangerous especially during this event. On a few of the downhills you can get up over 40 mph and even close to 50 if you're brave and pushing it.
Everything is lush in Minnesota
The diversity of the winding gravel roads and elevation changes kept me clamoring for more.
The group was thinning out at this point
The gravel around Lincoln is great, but I've ridden most of the roads. And the gravel around Lincoln is more of a straight grid. The Minnesota gravel near Spring Valley reminds me of the backroads in southeast Ohio.
Mr. Eric Brunt - aka Skullcrusher - he crushed it, alright!
The morning was absolutely beautiful. I sat back and enjoyed the views and took a bunch of pics. If you're too busy riding the rivet, you'll miss out on one of best parts of the Almanzo experience...the sheer beauty of the countryside.
Leaders were settin' the pace
I was regretting not bringing a fender for the first 20 miles. Clammy chamios!
Drying out and becoming hardpack super trucker highway
The sun came out and dried the roads to smooth hardpack. The wind was out of the south, but less than 15 mph. Conditions were ideal! Way better than the first two Royals. Ugh...just thinking about the 2011 version makes me shiver.
Bridge out! Portage in!
Ok, so on to the "racing" recap. The group played along nice and kept the pace relatively subdued all the way till the water crossing. That's when a break occurred....or at least I think that's when it happened. Honestly, I dunno cuz I was too busy getting by ass kicked up to that point. Man, I'm outta shape!
You can't ride this one...just pretend you have hot foot...ahhhhh, refreshing!
After the water crossing the group splintered while some took their time to clean their shoes and cleats and others frantically crossed the water and wasted no time. I hopped back on my bike and briefly thought about chasing, but noted how damn fast the leaders were going and decided to settle in. We still had over 100 miles to go.
Riding some solo miles
I rode solo for a bit while taking in the scenery and eventually came across a rider down in the middle of the road at the bottom of a long gravel roller. This is something I hate to see, but it's inevitable during any bicycle event. People crash and get hurt. Unfortunately, it was my buddy, Charles Parsons.
Charles grimmacing in pain
Charles went down while trying to switch a cue sheet. Those pesky cue sheets will get ya every time. We need an electronic cue sheet that's powered by a dyno hub or a solar panel...maybe like a old Kindle with electronic ink. Then there would be no need to pull paper sheets out of cue card holders or ziplock baggies. I should patent that idea...hmmmm.
Steve Fuller is a machine!
Charles was in obvious pain. He was sure he busted some ribs on the crash. I'm no doctor, but after feeling a rib shift on light pressure, I knew we needed to get him outta there and to a hospital. A friendly local in a pickup soon drove by and was flagged down. He offered to take Charles back to Spring Valley and to a hospital. I loaded up his bike and wished him well.
Fresh gravel on several long stretches
We worked together and chatted about stopping in Harmony for a refuel.
Lots of tree lined gravel up north
Harmony was around 60 miles in and would be the one and only legitimate refuel the entire day. The next stop would be around 100 miles at a small tavern with no guaranteed provisions.
Sweet old wooden planked truss
We took an extended break in Harmony. Ice cream and plenty of fluids for me. Even though it wasn't that hot, I sure was losing a lot of fluids due to the humidity.
Northern Iowa gravel goodness
The crew was steadily clipping along throughout the day. I stopped at mile 83 in front of an Amish farm with a doozey hamstring cramp. Ouch...it stopped me dead in my tracks. It was gonna to be a long day. The lack of miles in my legs was apparent. You do the homework you get the grades. Don't do the homework and you get an F-daddy.
The guys didn't realize I stopped and kept on moving. It took a good 5 minutes for the cramp to subside. I ate some food and downed a bottle while getting some curious looks from the Amish kids. I waved, they didn't wave back. Ha! Eventually I got going again and to my surprise the guys stopped a mile ahead and waited for me. Class acts.
Berly and Ashley! - Best picture of the event!
We agreed to stop in Florenceville at the bar to top off bottles and hoping find a snack. We didn't even know which state we were in and had to ask if it was Minnesota or Iowa. I was sure it was Minnesota, but nope...Iowa.
Dandelions were in full bloom - ahchoo!
We chilled at the bar for 15 to 20 minutes and had some pop, water a chips. That's all they had for food. Steve manned up and had a Budweiser heavy. Stud!
Oasis - Thank you, Volunteers!
Jason, Steve, Ben and I took off together. We re-entered the Almanzo route and began riding through the traffic. Eventually I got dropped. Those fellas were haulin' and keeping the cramps at bay prevented any hard efforts.
Oasis strategically positioned across from a cemetry
About twenty miles from the finish I came across the above pictured Oasis. It was just what I needed. And by the looks of the bodies strewn across the grass, it was a savor for many riders. My bottles were running low and I needed something salty to snack on. Steve was there and was in bad shape battling cramps. We commiserated for a bit, refueled and got back to the task at hand. We needed to finish this mama-jamma off.
Mr. Skogen at the reroute - "First right, first right, right back on course."
Steve and I rode together for most of the last twenty miles. The wind was at our backs for the most part and all the riders on the course kept things fun.
The last twenty did have a couple monster climbs. Lots of folks walking and pushing their bikes. I managed to turn squares all the way up both and kept somehow the cramps at bay.
The body was ready to be done by the time I crossed the line. The knee was killing me and I was severely dehydrated, but it was a glorious day on the gravel!
Thank you to Chris Skogen, all of the volunteers and vendors, the city of Spring Valley, and all my ride companions. Kudos! See you next year!