This past May, I had the good fortunate to ride the Almanzo 100 for the third time. For those not familiar, the Almanzo was a free gravel race put on by Chris Skogen through the rolling farm country of southern Minnesota.
To me, the Almanzo has marked the transition from early spring riding to full-on summer. This year I rode it with my cousin Jesse, and his friend Bryan. Both were newcomers to the event and this would be their first century on gravel. The ride started with the tradition of singing happy birthday to Chris’s son, followed by the full rollout of some 1600 people!
Riders as far as you can see.
There are really two factors at play in any event of this type; terrain and weather. Unlike the last two years of oppressive heat and wind, this year’s forecast called for mild temps and light breezes. The hills promised to be just as difficult, but at least the weather looked to be cooperating. Our plan for the event was simply to take the road as it came. Hills would be there, wind would show up at some point, and we would inevitably get tired. These factors would be balanced by gorgeous scenery, good food, and great people.
Riders started stretching out on the first real hill. The woods were just starting to green up, though they are well behind where they were the previous year.
Road conditions this year were stellar. Smooth, dry, near-hero gravel made up most of the course. The white line of the smoothest path was easy to see. The weather could not have been better; sunny blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds made for gorgeous views around every corner.
My bike setup for the ride this year was my Warbird Ti. Equipment-wise the bike was stock save for the Salsa Regulator Ti seatpost. Ultegra drivetrain components are stellar, and DT Swiss/Stan’s wheels roll super smooth. I have run the same basic bag set for years for this type of event. Revelate Designs Tangle and Gas Tank bags held my food and extras. Mountain Feedbags held my camera and other quick grab items. My spare tube and tools went under the seat. Three bottle cages and large bottles handled most of my water. I did carry a collapsible water bladder but never needed it. New to the bike this year was the Brooks Cambium saddle. I dig it.
Seen from above, you can see how everything is along the centerline of the bike. All of these pockets are accessible while riding, while keeping things tidy and in their place. I fill the spaces with different types of food to grab. Salty foods are in one spot, sweet food in another and so on. It sets up to be a rolling buffet of sorts. I’ve made it a habit on these types of rides to purposely carry more food than I need. Having extra available to share has allowed me to help a lot of people over the years.
While the temperatures stayed pleasant all day, the wind picked up over the last thirty miles. Whether real or perceived, it seemed to shift to be a near constant headwind. Our strategy of working together and pacing ourselves really started to pay off in the last third of the ride. Running a pace line and rotating through every minute or so kept our legs fresh and us moving forward.
Conversation dwindled off as we all started to show fatigue as we rode into the late afternoon. The white road stretched on as we slowly worked our way towards the finish.
The Almanzo 100 usually presented riders with two huge hills in the last ten miles. These are well-known to all who have ridden the course. I look forward to these hills because I like climbing, and these represent some of the closest things we have to mountain climbs in the state. As much fun as it was to go up them, the gravel descents were even better. I love the sensation of speed, hunting for traction around dry, dusty corners. The Warbird’s stable front end paired with an efficient, short, rear end worked equally well in both of those conditions.
We finished our day exactly as planned. We had a total time of ten hours, with stops about every ten to fifteen miles or so. Though we were all ready to be off the bikes, the ride could not have gone better. A day was filled with awesome riding and great people, a perfect day on the bike.
While the Almanzo is ending its run and won’t be taking place in 2015, I want to thank Chris Skogen for all the hard work he put into creating and putting on the event for so many years. You helped me, and thousands of others, create some great memories…and for that I thank you.
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My bike is my ticket to freedom. I grew up exploring my world by bike. Since then I’ve had the chance to ride all across the country. I’ve met amazing people everywhere I’ve been. These people keep my wanderlust and sense of adventure alive.