This past spring, I was supposed to ride The Almanzo (100) gravel race. It’s a free-entry, unsupported, gravel race of varying distances. The day of the race predicted storms in the region, (which failed to produce). The other riders I was traveling with decided not to attend due to the forecast. I woke up early to see if I had ambition to rent a car and go myself. I woke up but was exhausted and decided, instead, to listen to my body, sleep in, and go on a cruise later.
I kept the Almanzo course cue sheets and thought I’d give it a try in the summer. I decided to make it an extra-long day by biking to Northfield from Minneapolis (40 miles), complete the route, and then bike back – roughly 180 miles total.
As I set out, I was optimistic. I was excited to attempt the course on one of my few free days. One fatal flaw I made (and new it was a risk) was testing a new saddle this day. I know – a 180 mile ride probably isn’t the best time to try out a new seat. But I figured it would be a true test (of my ass as it turns out, not the seat).
Leaving my place, I headed down the Midtown Greenway and towards Fort Snelling. I cut through the suburb of Eagan to catch Highway 3 to Northfield. I knew it would be a trying day when I hit Fort Snelling, and sweat was pouring down the inside of my glasses. See, I am not a person who sweats easily. I know it’s exceptionally humid when I do. My weather app verified it was 86% humidity.
I arrived at Northfield in a relatively good time. I paused to eat a snack, purchase some extra fuel, and refill my hydration pack. Ready to attack the course, I left Northfield. The ride was going well initially, but as time passed, my tush began to feel the beating from my saddle. Because of this, I was leaning into the balls of my feet. There was little shade, and the sun was relentlessly scorching my skin. I’m pretty sure I was crawling along at 3 mph at one point. I hadn’t finished much of the course – only about 30 miles – when I stopped to check my route and have a snack. I was in a foul mood but carried on.
Storms clouds rolled in bringing cool air with them, and the course managed to steer me around the rain. For a short while I had nature’s air conditioning, but soon enough, the sky’s bright ball of gas returned and was still accompanied by blistering heat. I was extraordinarily energy tapped, and if my butt could have talked, I’m sure it would have ripped into me like only a mother can. Realizing that I needed to concede to this course, I stopped in Cannon Falls to fill up my hydration pack before heading home.
As I began biking home, I saw a sign for my hometown (where my parents still live), “Hastings – 10 miles.” “Hmmm, should I?” I thought. “Nah, it’d be good for me to finish this ride.” A few minutes later, my mom called. (Is she telepathic?) My mom asked when they could see me. I told her I was on a ride and I’d call back later. I decided I would bike to the next town and see how I was feeling. When I reached the area and still felt like crud, I called my mom back. “Do you want to see me…now?” I asked. I suggested we meet at a restaurant off the highway not far from their house about 5-6 miles from me. I was sunburnt, sore, and tired. My dad noted how burned I was, and they concurred it was a hot day. Thank goodness for parents.
After I got home and showered up, it sunk in that, for the first time, I had not completed a route I set out to accomplish. I was bummed. I chatted with my cycling friend Richard who reminded me that many people would be elated with a 115-mile ride. True, but I’m accustomed to cycling longer distances, so it was still disappointing to me. Also, this was one of my last long training rides before my second DAMn gravel race, which I hoped to finish in less time and complete again this year. Nerves were already kicking in about a hopeful finish. Richard came through, reminding me to use this “failure” as a learning tool. What could I do differently? As we discussed, I realized my hydration and fueling plan was not a plan at all. Our chat led to lots of research and practice, which in the end, has served me well for long-distance riding. For that, I’m incredibly grateful for my friend’s guiding voice and, believe it or not, happy to have failed. After all, not every day is gonna be a good day.
If you are interested in attempting the Almanzo course on your own, I have a copy of the 2019 route on my Ride With GPS account. Thanks to the organizer, Chris Skogen, for your hard work and dedication in planning this event for so many years.
Without further adieu, my video of that day’s ride: