I love to post recaps from WTFs that rode Almanzo. Let me know if you wrote something so I can share it here!
We laughed. We almost cried. We met some awesome people along the way. We were out there on the saddle for 7+ hours. We left nothing on the road. No shame. We came to do something incredible and we did. Strong. Simple.
At my lowest point of the ride, when I was doubting if I would--notice I didn't say "could"--make it to the end, I glanced at the farm field to my right, and noticed large grain elevators with the name "Sukup" on them. In my hysterical state, I converted this to "Suck it up". I saw it as a sign from the gravel gods. They sent the message to me loud and clear: "Stop your moping, you are in a beautiful place, doing what you love most, with almost a couple thousand kindrid spirits." Almost instantly, I changed my mindset.
I am proud to say that I only walked once. I climbed the hills that nearly killed me last year: Maple, Oriole, and a host of numbered county roads. We did the water crossing slow and steady, and it was no big deal. We put our heads down into the headwind, and into the brief but intense rain cloud that hit us on the plains. It may have taken us 11 hours to finish, but the absolute GEM of the day was the fucking brilliant sunset as we headed west back into town after 7pm. The sun was a low orange ball floating in a pink and purple sky, welcoming us back into civilization after hours in the country.
First off, I got a lot of help through friends and the bike community, especially the seminar that Natalia Mendez, Megan Barr and Loretta Trevino hosted weeks before the race for Riotgrrravel. Of course I knew I needed food, tools, a variety of bike tools and things to carry those things in, but they got into more detail. There were a few that I had to borrow or buy and thanks to our sponsor Sunrise Cyclery, through team Koochella, I was able to purchase with a discount.
At the start of the race I was greeted by friends and hugs, some of whom were Almanzo riders who came hours early to see the Royal racers take off. This made me feel very special! Chris Skogen announced we were about to start, “Do you know what you're about to embark on? If you don't, we should step aside and have a conversation.” The crowd of racers laughed, and we were on our way. I was overwhelmed by the fuzzy happy feelings. The first few hours went by quickly, and I kept yo-yoing with another woman. She looked familiar from other races. Women in the gravel scene are a minority – but not for long; we're working on this! (read: Riotgrrravel - look it up!). We finally introduced ourselves, and I remembered her name from a small list of women who have successfully completed Trans Iowa (epic 300+ gravel race). I knew she would be a solid riding partner. I just had to stick with her.
The next stretch of road was absolutely beautiful and peaceful. We were in Amish country, and we'd pass by fields being plowed by teams of four horses. The farmers and their children always smiled and waved, even from far off in the field. After all, their horses and plows were quiet enough to hear our bikes coming down the gravel. The sides of the roads were dotted with signs reading "Do Not Spray, Organic Farm," and I thought a whole lot about how good it is that these farming communities lasted long enough through the industrial agriculture revolution to make it to today, when their sustainable practices are valued once again. It was such a stark contrast to scenes from earlier, getting dusted by huge farming equipment that nearly took up the whole road, or to later in the evening, as the sun set and the giant tractors with bright headlights were still out in the fields, roaring away. As we passed through a small Amish settlement that was home to what appeared to be an Adirondack chair factory, a family out for a walk asked where we were from. "Nebraska!" I said. "Wow, really?!" answered the father, smiling broadly. It was a beautiful moment.
Quickly I was back on my bike and was passing Omar at the top of the hill. Sam had taken off when we pulled over to fix my chain so now I was on my way to hopefully catch and pass him. I did feel bad about leaving AJ and Zach behind me, but I know my strengths when it comes to hills and I knew this is where I wanted to push to regain some ground. Around mile 30 I found Sam on the side of the road. We gave a quick thumbs up and I kept pedaling. With my whole crew behind me now I realized I was doing this on my own.
At some point, I heard shouts behind us. I thought it was just my bad English and I misunderstood what was behind. I turned sharply and bouncing behind me were three excited horses!
I automatically took out my phone and photographed, and the picture turned out great. Probably the best thing that I have chronicled in my cycling competitions. I'll remember this for a long time. It is very symbolic, people on their bikes, and horses. All striving forward.
Team Sandwich Pace did a great job of checking in about when to stop and for how long, and making sure we were comfortable with pace and reminding each other to reapply sunscreen. Communicating expectations and checking in was key!
Kat put bike polo skills to good use when she swiped a water bottle off the ground while still riding to return it to its owner. (3-2-1 POLO)
Bri had never ridden a century. Or a gravel race. Way to get two birds with one stone!
Did you enjoy the race? Throw a little change in the red Solo cup. It's good party karma.
I appreciate this post from Luke, from Calhoun Cycles, asking bike businesses to donate to Almanzo, an event that is fostering excitement for biking.