Last year, I felt like I was prepared for the ride. This year, I knew I was. With some shifts in schedule and life, I've been more consistent and deliberate in my training. Add in the fact that I'm entering my fourth year of competitive cycling, and you can surmise that I'm getting the hang of it.
The lead-up to this year's Almanzo was filled with apprehension about the sheer number of riders taking the start line. A whopping 1,400 sent in postcards, and while I knew they wouldn't all show up, even if a third of them didn't, it would still be huge. And that, to me, meant dusty and sketchy. With that many people full of adrenaline, the race could conceivably end very badly, very early.
Our travel squad this year included a caravan of Schmidty and Corey (now dubbed Lil' Sprout and the Jolly Green Giant) followed by Berly, Ashley and I taking over Corey's Mint Julep Honda Element for the weekend. We were staying in a converted elementary school in Preston, and met up there with with Linda and Tim Kelsey, Dave McCollough, Jenn, and Mark Falloon and his family. The weather on the drive up was mild, but once we hit Minnesota, the wind picked up and it got much cooler...rain. As we pulled off the interstate to head toward Spring Valley, the rain really picked up. No dust!!
|The JGG and Lil' Sprout|
|Rain to the east, heading north|
|Wiper warp, steady rain into Spring Valley|
|The warrior princesses unloading at our converted elementary school accommodations.|
|The ever-gorgeous welcome packet. A thing of art and love.|
|Literal sign-in tent|
The guys headed off earlier so Corey could start the Royal, so we ladies took our time getting ready and stashing a cooler of water and goodies just off the road on course.
In Spring Valley, we wasted no time getting outfitted, and rolled to the start together, managing a spot quite close to the front of the pack mostly just by listening to directions.
|Berly and Ashley rolling to the start|
|The gravel goddesses of Sheclismo|
|Looking back down Main Street|
|Chris Skogen addressing the crowd|
We rolled through the streets of Spring Valley, including a fun moment of going around both sides of a traffic island that felt like the overhead shots of pro pelotons look, and we hit the gravel and were off. Got several early compliments on the kit, not recognized as local and bearing our "Women Taking The Wheels" boldly across the back. Damn proud of that bit of copy, am I.
|Miles and miles of bikes on gravel|
|Let's climb, eh?|
Luckily, the wind wasn't that bad, and so I was putting down a pretty solid solo average pace. Hard on the easy stuff, easy on the hard stuff. Rode past a dude rocking cut-off Wranglers with a can of Four Loko in his bottle cage -- "Mile 80, it's gonna get weird" -- that reminded me of Malcolm and Rhino. The miles were ticking by, and before long, I was at my stashed cooler in Preston.
At this point, I think my social nature was dying to override this solo ride action, and I was cracking all sorts of jokes about cyclocross on the muddy descent, telling everyone how nice and cold the water and mud felt on my feet, etc. etc. To virtually no avail. Finally, coming up the other side, some guys from Iowa start chatting with me about the dry 2012 season, and then we talk about the much more fun 2011 Jingle Cross. One of the guys is originally from Benkleman, NE, and was shocked to find out I knew where it was. We rode side by side for awhile, and then suddenly, the gravel got deep for the first time all day.
Folks were riding on the spongy soft side in the grass, and meanwhile, with the TransIowa gravel fresh in my memory -- along with the memory of Mark Savery floating past me on some really deep white rock on the Tour of Dirt Roads last year -- I just went for it, powering down the middle and past groups of riders. A few miles into it and I put myself in the running for Amazingly Snarky Statements of the Year by saying "Hey guys, this is a gravel race, not a grass race!" as I charged by. This prompted a couple guys to hop on my wheel, requesting a pull up to their buddies. Ha!
The gravel mellowed out and the clouds rolled in, and before much longer I was pulling in to Forestville, where I was met by Linda's darling support crew buddy, Ringo.
|Linda and RINGO!!|
We rode and chatted at a nice, comfortable pace, and the miles were going by super easily. A kid was selling "homemade Grandma cookies" at .25 cents apiece, tearing up his lungs giving his sales pitch to riders, so obviously we had to stop there. A few miles later, there was a raucous crowd, people lining the street giving high-fives, and a loud cowbell ringer offering free cold beer. Mile 76? Oh yeah, that's gonna happen. We split one...just the perfect amount of refreshing tasty calories.
|Beer break with Erin at mile 75|
The first rider fords the Root River at mile 81.5 during the Almanzo 100.
Following riders attempted to cross but many were knocked over by the thigh-deep, swiftly-moving water.
Eventually, race organizer Chris Skogen rerouted the remaining riders to avoid the river crossing.
We had a couple more big climbs, including the dreaded Oriole Road. Once we got to the top (where we spied a sweet cabin and camper in the woods and probably should've stopped to see if we could buy it), with 8 or 9 miles left and a wind that's steadily picked up, Erin catches his 7th wind.
|About where Erin hit his 7th wind and we decided to smash all the pedals to the finish.|
I flow through the park, completely alone again, and roll across the line in exactly 7 hours of ride time. Add in about 45 minutes of breaks, and I beat my time from last year by a full hour. I have no idea where this ranks me, but I don't really care. I had a great ride.
|Face after realizing I'd forgotten proper street clothes to change into after the race.|
|The beautiful Berly Brown, finishing with a huge smile on her face.|
Sunday, we dodged thunderstorms the whole way home, hoping our teammate Linda, running a 50k on the same course that day, would luck out on the weather.
|Trolling under a bridge in Omaha, dodging hailstorms.|
We made it home without hail damage, but I did get caught in some pouring rain while riding around to spin out the legs later that night. Warmed up quick with this little buddy waiting in the bed for me, though.
|Earl Grey. Whatta buddy.|