Standing in line for a porta-potty, I was shivering uncontrollably. It was 37°F and extremely windy. The weather forecast for Spring Valley, MN slowly changed over the preceding days – wind increased up to 30mph gusts and temperature slowly dropped. Ted and I didn’t pack well for a cold, windy day. He forgot his knee warmers and ended up cutting arm warmers to fit over his legs. I just had thin knee warmers.
Talking to native Minnesotans and looking around, everyone had full length tights and windproof jackets. That seemed smart. I felt relatively unprepared and slightly stupid. There wasn’t much I could do at this point. With about 20 minutes before the starting gun, Ted and I took off down the road for a warmup. Ten minutes later, we were at the start line, somehow feeling a lot colder than when we started our ‘warmup.’ The wind was pushing us sideways. We took a quick picture at the start and then heard the gun. We rolled out slowly with the giant group of cyclists (somewhere around 1000 registered), trying to stay upright in the wind. I was preparing myself mentally for a long, tough day. The Almanzo 100 is called “the granddaddy of all gravel races” for a reason, and we had about 100 miles to figure out why.
At about five miles in, the pack seemed to be spreading out which was good and bad. It was great to have a little more room and not feel so cramped and tight in a crowded group; but it was bad because the wind felt even stronger without anyone around helping to block it. As we sped past a goat pasture, all the goats ran after us making a lot of noise. Ted referred back to this ‘goat stampede’ several times throughout the day. The first hour seemed to go by fairly quickly. I pulled out my first of many Honey Stinger waffles, one of my favorite ride fuels. They are great on the bike energy thanks to having 7 grams of slow burning fat per waffle. (They are also excellent with a cup of coffee on any morning!)
It did not take long for Ted and I to wax lyrical over the scenery and the gravel roads. Minnesota is a beautiful state with lots to offer anyone who loves nature and the outdoors. But the gravel roads and farm country we were riding through were quintessential Midwest perfection. On top of ridges, we could see miles and miles of deep green pastures, well manicured fields, and pristine wood barns. My eyes continuously scanned the endless gravel roads spanning off in the distance like white ribbons. Though sometimes deep, the hard-packed gravel and dirt was buttery smooth and fast under our tires. It was almost enough to take our minds off of that relentless wind. Almost.
That damn wind would not stop and would not slow down. It would hold steady enough to force you to lean into the wind, then it would let up just enough to throw you to the side a bit, and finally gust up to 30mph and push you the other way. It was horrendous. I hate riding in the wind, but I had never experienced anything like this. Riding in a line of cyclists, I noticed how everyone was leaning a certain degree to the left, trying to counter its stronghold. It was actually better to be riding into a headwind, because it didn’t require any auxiliary muscles to stabilize your position. A headwind just meant putting your head down and grinding through it. The crosswinds were worse – my quad on whichever side the wind was blowing from would fatigue and ache from holding me up against the lean into the wind. It was crazy.
Twenty miles went by. Then thirty miles were behind us. A quick stop at the first aid station to take in more food. Then forty and fifty miles done. Ted and I both felt pretty good until sometime after the fifty mile mark. We were straight into a headwind for a while, and I momentarily looked back and could barely see Ted. Uh oh. I slowed up a bit and waited for him. He said he was fine; he was just feeling a little slower because of the wind. I told him we should latch on to a group that had just passed us; we pushed a bit to catch up and as soon as we got on their wheels, the wind seemed to disappear. It was a much needed respite, if for no other reason, just to have a few minutes of quiet. I turned around again, and Ted was off the back. Uh oh again. I slowed up and we lost the group ahead. He said he just wanted to ride his own pace.
For a long time, we rode this way – fifteen minutes of solo riding, then I would stop and wait for Ted to catch up. I didn’t mind. He didn’t mind. We have talked about doing Almanzo for almost as many years as we have known each other, so we were definitely going to finish together. It was too windy to hear the person next to you talk anyway. So we would chat each time we stopped and there were always a bunch of “Did you see that…” and “This route is so beautiful…” Somewhere around mile 60, there was an amazing aid station. It was a huge party stocked with any kind of food you could want – potatoes, bacon, M&Ms, hot dogs, beer, water, peanut butter filled pretzels, rice cakes, Cheez-Its, and the list goes on. It was amazing. I was craving salt, so I ate some baked potato chunks (in salt) and roughly five pounds of Cheez-Its. Ted nabbed a hot dog. We topped off our bottles and off we went.
Time went quickly and slowly for the rest of the race. Five miles seemed to take an hour. But then I would blink and my Garmin would jump ten or fifteen miles. I was trying to stay in the moment and out of the wind at the same time; that’s a hard task to accomplish. At mile 81, at a major road crossing, I met two women in an F-150 waiting to cheer for their husbands. They were from Kansas and were super nice. We talked for a bit, and when Ted rolled up, they offered him a hug. We knew we would be done soon enough, so he skipped the hug and we took off, knowing there was a huge hill at mile 91. The next ten miles were all headwind. When I reached the hill, the guy next to me said, “Moment of truth.” Then we rounded a corner and I saw it. I didn’t think it looked that big or steep, but everyone on it was walking their bikes. I pedaled my way up without much trouble. At the top, I got out of the wind behind some trees, ate the rest of my ProBar (thanks, Duane!), and waited for Ted. A few minutes later, he rolled up and said “Sorry I’m riding like a Grandpa. Let’s just finish this thing.”
So we did. The last several miles were awesome. We were about to finish something we had talked about doing for years. We rolled across the finish. There was no finisher’s medal or buffet waiting for us at the end.. just a spot in the grass where we could sit for a few minutes. It was all I wanted. We stared off into the distance for a while and didn’t say anything, too tired to think of anything to say. Then we got back on our bikes and pedaled to the car. We ate cold pizza in silence. No wind or anything else interrupted us.
101.30 miles. 7:48 ride time; 8:36 total.