I am a Gravel Grinding, Century Riding, Crazy Biker!! On Saturday evening May 17, 2014 at about 7pm I completed what was probably the hardest event/day of my life. Completing a century ride (100 miles) is a pretty good accomplishment in its own right. But doing so on a 100 miles of gravel in the rolling hills of Southeastern Minnesota is a huge deal!
The Almanzo 100 is a free bike race/ride that starts and ends in tiny little Spring Valley about 2.5 hours South-East of the Twin Cities. Traversing 100 miles of mostly gravel roads with a total elevation gain of over 5,000 feet I finished with an elapsed time of 10:06 (that’s 10 hours). My actual riding or saddle time was significantly less at just under 8:30 – but the overall time is what counts.
Todd’s computer said we were burning 1,000 calories an hour, which is hard to replace. My Strava said total we burned 3,600 calories. Todd’s number sounds more epic – but either way it is hard to replace that many calories on the bike. I had several ups and downs related to fueling – not the never ending hills. Two significant ones were around mile 55 and mile 95.
Around mile 55, we were over the halfway point and about 10 miles to the next significant stopping place and where a friend had left me a drop bag. We were riding straight into a headwind and I was going about 8 miles an hour. Despite having had a large lunch in Preston at mile 40 I was feeling in the dumps. I was plotting my plans to quit at 67 and have my friend take me back to Spring Valley or Preston. I ate some food and drank some more and shortly after we turned out of the wind I got my spring back and felt a lot better and was hitting some 18 miles an hour. I was glad that was over and didn’t even think about quitting again after that!
My hydration/nutrition plan was to drink some water every 5 miles no matter what and to eat something every 10 miles. I drank a lot in between the 5 mile increments but I knew it wouldn’t hurt to drink more. I had 2 water bottles and a 2L CamelBak so I wasn’t really afraid of running out of fluid. I also had dropped Nuun Tablets into all 3 containers so that I was getting some electrolytes back into my body and not just water. My food really ranged – I had a variety of Gu packets, shot bloks, cereal bars, jerky, and more. We stopped at Mile 40 in Preston and had an amazing lunch, many thanks to Eric’s brother-in-law and family, Steve & Amy’s! That was a nice boost of calories and deliciousness! The only other place we knew that’d we’d be able to refill water was at the Forestville/Mystery Caves State Park. The Historic Forestville Site was super nice to let everyone refill water bottles, use the bathroom, and take a break. Many people met their families with food there. Carrie had left a dropbag for me at a picnic table off the road in the park and left some Ibuprofen for my back. It was greatly appreciated and probably helped get me to the finish! Banjo Brothers had a booth setup near mile 75 I think that included Oreos, chips, and other salty goodies and free Hams beer. I took a few sips of Todd’s and couldn’t imagine drinking any more!
Southern Minnesota is actually quite pretty with some great views while on top of the hills! Very pastoral and rolling hills kind of beauty. We stayed mostly in farmland but took a few trips into the woods, one of which was turning onto an “unimproved road” and at mile 81 included a creek crossing that only the most skilled mountain bikers were able to ride across. At mile 91 we climbed Mt. Oriole which again only the best riders were able to successfully climb while still riding their bikes!
The finish was pretty lonely and unexciting. I was pretty exhausted and was lagging as I noted above. A group of riders came by and I decided to try and latch on to the back of them. Unfortunately, for me the back rider was slowing down to mess with his water bottle and I didn’t realize it in time to jump around him. By the time I did, I couldn’t close the gap. After they dropped me I began to hope I wouldn’t get lost!! I hadn’t looked at my cue sheet all day and seriously thought I might need to do so to avoid getting lost. But I could see a rider or two in the distance as we left gravel roads and began the final – paved stretch to the finish and into the wind!! Fortunately, there was signage as we turned off the main road and hit a bike path into town. Knowing that we were close I picked up the pace and at least felt like I zoomed through the turns into the finish area!! Immediately after dismounting this dude came running up to me, kind of startling me and shook my hand! I was a little caught off guard but I do remember that race director Chris Skogen likes to shake every rider’s hand and says “Welcome Back!” It is a nice way to finish. I found my team, we enjoyed a celebratory beer and then some amazing steak at Steve and Amy’s!
This was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m sure a flat and paved 100 miler would be tough, but the hills were just never ending and brutal. Plus I may have been a little under trained!!
A few things got me through… Obviously, having teammates to catch up to and ride with off and on throughout the day made it hard to quit and knowing that my family was expecting me to finish. But most importantly, looking down at the sticker on my bike that said “I ride for Clean Water” reminded me often of the kids who suffer daily to get clean water. That reminder helped me reflect on my choice to suffer and the hope that I could help end their suffering. As I consumed liters of clean water throughout the day they yearn for an ounce of clean water.
Will you help me help them? $50 is all it takes to provide clean water to a kid for the rest of their life. In honor of my 100 mile bike ride would you make a $100 donation and change 2 lives forever? It is super easy just click here.
PS I’ll do a separate post with pictures!!