This race for some, endurance ride for most is one of the largest, best run bike events
put on anywhere at any cost. How much do you pay to ride it? The price of a postcard and stamp(which can easily be stolen from your Mom)
A little background. I grew up on gravel roads as a kid on a farm South of Minneapolis. I rode them on BMX bikes, and some shitty 10 speed bike. When these first few gravel races started popping up(Ragnarok, Almanzo, Heck, etc.) I wondered who the hell would want to ride on shitty ass gravel roads. Then I started to miss riding on them, then I did start riding on them, now “racing” I guess…anyway…
I got my stuff together the night before, changed the tires on the bike to the Continentals, made a list of things I didn’t want to forget and tried to think about going to bed. My head was still racing when I climbed into bed about 1am.
The 4:30 alarm came too soon but I felt pretty good, the dogs and wife didn’t even notice me roll out of bed and gather up my stuff. I shoved everything in the back of the Suburban and headed on down to Spring Valley, MN. I made a quick stop at the Super America for some sausage, egg, cheese biscuits(2 plz!) and some coffee, then continued my drive on down.
Rolled in a little after 7am and got my registration all set. #188 for me. Got the bike out, made sure everything was cool, and hung out in the back of the Sub for a while. More people started to show up and I rode around a little bit to say hi to friends and eat a banana or two, thanks Trader Joes!
I mooched some sun screen as the stuff my wife sent with me was a zinc paste of some sort, I had to double check to see if it was stucco. When I rolled back up to the car my rear tire was flat, crap, I knew leaving that 18-25mm tube in the 35mm tire was no good. Quick change, checked the old tube, ripped at the stem. 2 mins later we are back in business but I wasn’t super confident in the rear the entire day and some of that newer gravel made it feel and sound like I was riding on flat tires.
The first 20 miles were pretty uneventful except for passing, spreading the group out, watching out for people pulling off to retrive water bottles or fix a flat. About 30 miles in I was still doing well but slowed down a bit from the faster pace I was at. At 40 we hit Preston. I made sure to drink a Coke, eat some things, and refill some water.
And…into the wind. Nice and windy to destroy everyone. Luckily I got some good wind training in SoDak earlier in the year, Almanzo had 20-30mph winds with some gusts, when I was in SoDak it was 35mph+ with gust reaching almost 60mph. I felt okay into the wind, not great because of the Sun beating down on us at this point. The Garmin said 96F, on the hot tar heading into the wind it felt like it. I was roasting.
At this point I happened upon my riding partner(Jen) for the next 50ish miles of the race, we pretty much dragged each other to the end. The next 20 miles weren’t too bad, we filled up at a house that had the garden hose out front and a bunch of cyclists hanging out. Thank-you houses and kids filling up water bottles! I wanted to hug you all. Well water tastes so good, that is one thing I really miss about farm living.
When we passed Forestville at like 65 miles or something there were a lot of people taking a break, one guy in a hammock that I wanted to flip out of it and steal the hammock. Next year maybe. Anyway, we didn’t stop in F-ville, just kept going.
We took turns bonking for the next 30 miles and waited for each other on climbs/descents. At this point there was no way I was going to drop my riding buddy. I would feel great for 2 miles and then like crap for 2. Watching the hundredths of a mile tick off was nice, those tenths of a mile tend to take a bit of time to go by at 9mph into the wind.
At this point my ability to do math was pretty much shot, talking was tough, but the legs were still turning and I wasn’t hurting too badly, I was just trying not to cramp up. We passed a lot of people resting in ditches, throwing up, stretching out cramps, waiting for rides, and trying to not die. We saw a guy hurting pretty bad, sweating, completely out of it with under 20 to go, someone was helping him out, making sure he had a ride back and placed him under a tree that we stopped at. I found out later many of my friends knew him and he did get back alright but dropped out of the race. It was a tough day out there for everyone, I was pretty much zoned out and in that just looking ahead mode.
The last 10 miles sucked, more hills, more wind, more heat. I was glad to watch the last few miles tick off and get to the finish line. Thanks Jen for dragging me to the end, you are a great riding partner.
Thanks to Chris “Almanzo” Skogan for putting on the event, Angry Catfish for the bikey shit you do for me, bottles, socks/etc. Rapha for the awesome kit/hat and cream, and GnarLube for keeping my chain clean and smelling like awesomeness. Neil for the frame bag, that thing worked perfect, Revelate and Banjo Brothers for other bags and cue sheet holder. Twin Six for some bottles, my Donkey Label Pack Animal is now heat molded for my iPhone and credit cards. Oh yeah, Surly Bikes, the Cross Check is an awesome bike, White Industries hubs and DT Swiss rounded out the wheels. Continental makes some confidence inspiring tires, 45mph sketchy downhills on the Cyclocross Speeds handled like a champ.
Good times, I will be back again.
TL;DR: Hot, windy, 100 mile gravel ride in Spring Valley, MN. It was tough, I finished.