Monday, May 25, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
We knew that the race up till this point had been easy, relatively speaking. Sure there were some hills, but the wind helped with those. What we were waiting for was the turn back to Rochester. We got a little taste of the wind between St. Charles and Chatfield and on to Spring Valley, but the valleys and hills were the highlight of that stretch. There is some beautiful country in Southeast Minnesota and we saw it from a bike seat. There is no better way to see it.
I could go on and on about the hills. We went from grinding up them in the lowest gear at 5-7 mph to white-knuckling it down at 30+ mph. We of course liked the downs but as the race went on, rather than purely enjoying the downhills, there was a voice in the back of your mind reminding you of the next grinding uphill.
There was a time cutoff in Spring Valley, 63 miles into the race. We had to be there by 2pm. We showed up at 2:10. We were hoping as we came into town that Chris would change that given the wind and the fact that there were still several riders behind us. Fortunately, that was the case. The new cut-off time when we rolled in was 2:30. We made it.
We checked in, got the second set of tulip cards and headed for the gravel rider's favorite restaurant: the gas station. The Kwik Trip in Spring Valley did brisk business that day as I'm sure just about every racer stopped there. After refilling water bottles and the Camelbak, enjoying some chocolate milk and a ham and cheese sandwich, we were on our way once again.
Anybody who rides longer distance knows that it can take many miles to get the legs again after stopping. Unfortunately, we wouldn't have a chance to ease our legs into it after our stop. We were now facing the full teeth of the wind out of town with no end in sight. It was incessant. I thought I was going to blow-up. The legs didn't have it anymore. It reminded me of the last few miles of the Fat Tire 40, except we had 40 miles still to go. Big D was riding strong and I was trying to get any draft off of him I could. The wind was too strong and we were going slow enough that it was hard to find the sweet-spot. That is to say nothing about the fact he was just about riding me off his wheel.
After a couple of miles, I needed to stop. I felt bad about that as Big D was riding well, but he was kind enough to comply with my wish. I needed my iPod. I needed something to drown out the howl in my ears from the wind. I needed something to take my mind off of 40 miles of wind and hills. I needed something so I could go inside myself. I needed some music.
Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, The Gaslight Anthem, Kings of Leon, Dire Straits, Steve Earle, Coldplay. I'd like to thank all of them for the last 40 miles.
The next 25 miles are a blur of gravel, wind, hills, music. We kept eating, drinking and pedaling. We met and rode with a woman from Rochester. We would ride together for a short time, she would stop to walk a bit, and then would pass us again when we would stop. We leap-frogged each other until the finish. Mentally, for me, it was helpful to see another suffering as much as us. That doesn't sound very nice, and I wish she wasn't suffering, but it was nice to know we weren't alone out there.
As we neared Rochester, our spirits rose, knowing we would finish this thing. There was even a short section with the wind; it was like Christmas morning. One last push into the wind on gravel and then pavement to the finish line, including a paved downhill at 35 mph. Hearing the cowbell and cheers after 11 hours on the bike was perfect. Shaking the hand of the organizer, Chris, after finishing was pure class on his part. Never at a race had I had that kind of appreciation for finishing 62nd out of 66. Again, pure class and it shows his love of cycling and in particular, the Almanzo.
A couple of beers (thanks Summit), a water bottle for finishing, a congratulations and thanks to pedalgrl, and a final thanks to Chris and we were off. It was a fun day in the end. I learned a bit more about how far I could push myself, both physically and more importantly, mentally. On the ride home, Big D and I were already talking about next year's race as well as other gravel adventures ahead.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
We picked up the race packets the night before, which by the way were excellent. It was the first indication that this race was much more than anticipated. Chris Skogen, the excellent race director, runs a very professional race. I only wish all the events that I enter were even half as well run. The most incredible thing is that the entry fee was $0. I could go on, but won't; just be sure I'll be back to enjoy Chris's attention to detail and his obvious love of cycling.
The night went by quickly. I'm sure the busy week contributed to me sleeping so well. We were up and off for some coffee and breakfast. We decided to pass on the pancakes that Chris was cooking up at his place (I know Dad, turning down pancakes is hard to believe). We got back to the hotel, ate breakfast and started to get things together for the race start at 8:00. I won't go into the details except we didn't cross the start line, just the two of us, until 8:10 or so. It involved leaking Camelbak bladders, tough to fit gear, and a broken seatbag I'm proud to say we were able to patch back together with a zip-tie.
The tulip notes got us through town without incident and soon we were on what we came for - the gravel. The course started with a prelude to the hills we would see later in the day. It was a relatively steep, long, and steady climb out of town. It was the first time of many that day when I would see 5mph on my cycling computer.
Once we were on top of the climb we felt what would turn out to be the good and the bad of the rest of the day: the wind. It was sustained in the mid to upper 20's mph with gusts up to the upper 30's mph, all from the NW. We knew what we were going to be in for on the return leg. All cyclists, runners, and cross-country skiers know that if you have a choice, you choose to start into the wind and enjoy the tailwind on the return leg. Unfortunately, we had no choice today so we decided to forget about the wind and enjoy the ride.
We enjoyed the wind all the way to St. Charles and then on to Chatfield. The bike set-up worked well and once again I can't say enough about the Crosshairs. It was comfortable, fast, efficient, and fun.
We slowly reeled in small groups of riders, but our goal was simple: we just wanted to finish our first gravel hundo. Because of that, we tried to conserve our energy and continued to remember to enjoy ourselves. But we weren't ignorant to the fact that once we turned back towards Rochester, the sh*t would hit the fan.
We started to get a taste of what was to come with the Westerly turn out of Chatfield. A little appetizer, so to speak. We were about 40 miles into this little adventure of ours and knew that the last 60+ miles would take a much bigger bite out of us physically. What we didn't count on was how big the bite would be on us mentally.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
It's hard to try to put down in words the Almanzo experience. I could just tell you the facts, try to describe the route and wind, try to explain the places we went - both physically and mentally, or some variation of the above. I've tried to package the race in my own mind these last few days without much luck.
The week prior is a bit of a blur. It was one of the busier weeks with a trip to the Cities for Mother's day on Sunday, a trip back to the Cities for a Bruce Springsteen concert with my brother (it was awesome, by the way), bike club responsibilities, work, Wife out of town, etc, etc. I only got on the bike once which was less than ideal. I spent most of the week in between the above responsibilities obsessing over the details with Big D. I guess just like any big goal that is upcoming the planning and anticipation is part of the fun.
Finally got the bike and myself packed Friday afternoon just before leaving for Rochester. I had decided to try to keep everything off of my back as I had done previous rides with an overloaded pack and it didn't turn out well. I had my water in a Camelbak bladder in my frame pack, my Endurolytes and camera in the top tube pack, Perpetuem in the water bottles, and Hammer Gel flasks in my jersey pockets. It worked really well and a system that I will repeat on future adventures.
We arrived in Rochester around 9:30 or so, just enough time to grab a couple of beers at Newt's bar downtown Rochester. They were tasty, but looking back, we should of been packing and preparing bikes for the morning instead. Oh well, it all worked out in the end.
Coming up: the start and the easy leg of the race.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Saturday, May 9, 2009
M was quite the helper today. She picked dandelions, washed her wagon, and helped her Mom plant flowers. She also helped me pick out the Mom's day present, card and wash the car. She'll sleep well tonight.
Almanzo is now only one week away. I can't wait. I got in a nice road ride today. It was a little brisk but was able to knock off 44 miles and felt really good.
Hope you enjoy the pics of our little helper.
The two green thumbsJRA
Friday, May 8, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Big D and I got in a final gravel ride today. 26 miles and we both felt very good. We are confident that we will finish this thing and still have enough in the tank to converse with the other nutjobs doing this race.
Big D's Almanzo set-up
We rode the upcoming Gravel Grinders ride/race loop. It is a mix of hills and flat, good gravel and bad. We're thinking the last Sunday in May will be the first ride/race for the Gravel Grinders. Should be fun.
Otherwise, got the lawn mowed. Man, that is not my favorite activity, but it's looking up. My in-laws are moving here and my Father-in-law has no immediate need for his riding mower. I say "rider" but this thing is just short of being a tractor. It is zero-turn, 50 or so inch cut. What takes me 1:15 now will take me 20 minutes plus some trimming after getting that beast. I can't wait. Looks like more riding time to me.
Mom came over for dinner. Nice to see her. She said she was missing us, and that is likely true, but it is M who she really wants to see. Wife and I are ok with that. Had a nice dinner.
Another pic of M:
Monday, May 4, 2009
Long time, no post. Sorry. Life is happening, but I want to still try to get something posted on a relatively frequent basis.
Big D, a veteran Blogger, reminded me that the posts don't all have to be fancy, great, or even good. It is a good reminder of why I'm doing this anyway - I think I know anyway. I have to remember that even though my Aunt Zula might read this on occasion, I need to write this more for M, Wife, me, and the baby to come.
So, without further delay, I am going to try to catch up one month of our life in one post in no particular order. Hang on.
- M failed her pre-school vision screen and needs glasses. We're glad we have good friends who are Optometrists. I realize it really isn't too big a deal and it is correctable, but if I had one good eye and it was possible to give it to her, I would in a heartbeat. Again, I realize it isn't too big a deal, but I can only imagine what parents of kids with cancer or other chronic illness go through.
- Training for the Almanzo is going well. No injuries, bike is ready, and I'm on the taper now. I have over 700 miles so far this year, about 275 miles ahead of last year's pace. Looking forward to the suffering. Less than 2 weeks now.
- Went to a conference in the Cities. The conference was ok, but the highlights were riding with the Twin Cities Bike Club and enjoying a Punch pizza and Boulevard Double-Wide IPA.
- We hosted Easter at our place. It works well to host since we are midway between my folks and my Brother/Sister-in-law. We had the usual: ham, potatoes, etc. Wife did a great job with it all. I was on-call so I was close to useless.
- Our Bike Club had its season kick-off banquet. We had a good turn-out, 63 members signed up. Everyone is excited about the year.
- We had Church pictures for the new directory. We got the "we try to be subtle but really we're not-so-subtle" hard sell to buy some pictures. We declined.
- M had her "Picture in the Fur" taken. They turned out well. We'll share once they are done.
- We looked at a house, thought about buying a house, and after too many restless sleeps, we ultimately didn't get it. It's for the best in the end.
- Wife hasn't had to travel in over a month. She's on the road tonight, but back tomorrow.
- I am thinking of starting a monthly gravel road race series. Details are yet to be determined, but will involve gravel roads (obviously), fun, food, and beer after the race.
- We had our first ultrasound and it looks like a boy...or a girl. I'm not sure if we are sharing this or not. Bottom line is that everything looked good.
- M got her first big-girls bike. I'm very proud. She loves to ride it. I'm very proud, sorry, I've already said that.
- We decided to have a lawn service come spray fertilizer and weed killer. We are thinking of having a sprinkler system put in. I'm not totally sold on it only because mowing the lawn is one of my least favorite chores and this will do nothing to decrease the frequency of that.
- M loved searching for Easter Bunny eggs and quarters(a family tradition).