The 2011 Almanzo Gravel Race Series (AGRS) has come to a close. Six free endurance events on the scenic back roads of Minnesota offer something for everyone, from the competitive hammerheads on the sharp end of the stick, to those who are achieving a personal goal of riding 100+ miles, and sometimes just a group of friends out for a rollicking adventure.
April brought the Ragnarøk 105, and some still snow-laden climbs. May saw the Almanzo 100 dish up some horrible weather with temps barely above freezing, and an off-and-on (but mostly on) rain/sleet storm, with many hypothermic riders pulling the plug at the mile 40 town of Preston. By the time June rolled around, the weather had turned toward long summer sunlight, and the Dirty Benjamin delivered a beautiful day of fast, rolling prairie dirt in and around the sleepy, southwestern suburb of Chaska. The finish line was filled with high-fives, handshakes, and BBQ pork sliders as the calendar took a break until the Almanzo Gentlemen’s Ride, held in late September. On the same course that in May had demanded perseverance and a little bit of masochism to finish, there was nothing but astonishingly beautiful views of the changing fall colors around Spring Valley. The local A&W even stayed open an extra day to feed the famished riders.
One week later we were in the beautiful north country of Duluth to stare down another version of Jeremy Kershaw’s Heck of the North. The Heck is always a favorite since it doesn’t travel through any small towns along the way. You are truly in the middle of nowhere, and after a snowmobile trail, portions of the North Country Trail, and finally, the Moose Mile, you can’t help but laugh at the irony of the disgustingly named Pleasant View Road, just two miles from the finish, which is a ¾ mile climb and anything but Pleasant. Out of all the courses, The Heck du Nord, fully self-supported from start to finish, epitomizes “Adventure by Bike.”
Wrapping up the season was “newcomer” The Dirt Bag, an 86-mile high-speed sprint of a gravel grinder near Clearwater. The race brought brisk morning temps and a sense of elation and accomplishment at the finish line.
Some nearly 600 miles later, after all the early morning starts, a few that began with a real temptation to pull the covers over my head and hit the snooze button, I can only look forward to next season. Each race with its own local mix of gravel, seeing new and familiar faces, all like-minded punishers, testing the tank, and feeling the open space to ride.
These races are possible because of the efforts of the race organizers who dedicate substantial time, personal finances, and energy to put on stellar events like this. A big thanks to each of you, and we look forward to sleeping on your lawn again next year.