After a painful nine hour Ragnarok and an early DNF for no real reason at Trans Iowa, I approached this weekends Royal 162 hoping for some sort of redemption, and my goal for the weekend was to come out of the race not feeling like a total piece of shit. There was a lot to feel shitty about in the hours leading up to the start, with forecasts of strong winds and temperatures approaching 90. After arriving at the start, and I had just enough time to bum some life saving sunblock from Mike Johnson before lining up with the 50 or so riders tackling the “Longmanzo”. Alex pointed out that I was the only rider with a visible headlight and offered to hold on to it for me, but I was adamant about keeping it. Last year I finished in full dark, and my experiences over the past few months didn’t leave me confident that this year would be any different.
As usual, worrying about the weather and my lack of fitness disappeared within the first hundred feet of the paved roll out, by the time we turned onto gravel I was actually enjoying myself. After sticking with the main group for around an hour I settled into a more sustainable pace and gradually watched them disappear into the rolling hills ahead of me. I usually spend most of these events riding by myself, and assumed that I would spend the rest of the day solo. I passed Preston, caught and passed a few riders, and continued on by myself. Soon the wind picked up and I started cursing myself for not sticking with a group. Jeremy Kershaw rode alongside me long enough to introduce himself, then took off. He seemed to be settling into his own groove and I doubt I could have kept up with him if I tried. I fought a headwind by myself for the next twenty miles into Harmony.
The Harmony Kwik Trip is the only reliable source of food on route, and I enjoyed some ice cream, jerky, and a Mountain Dew before hitching my wagon to a group consisting of Jeremy, Charlie Farrow, and Tim Werts. Leaving Harmony we passed the world’s least accurate bank thermometer which displayed a total bullshit reading of 75. In addition to the heat, we were faced with winds so strong that each of us was almost blown off the road at least once. I was beyond grateful to be riding with other riders, especially riders who knew exactly what they were doing and helped keep me on top of my cues and shouted warnings of the large swaths of fresh gravel that seemed to appear in front of us every few minutes.
Rolling into the Forrestville checkpoint at mile 120 we refilled our bottles yet again and tried to avoid getting sucked into conversation with all the Almanzo riders we saw there. Charlie succumbed to cramps on the long climb leaving the park, and Jeremy, Tim and I continued on. I was feeling excited to be so close to the end and still feeling like I could ride, but I was also dreading the last few brutal climbs of the day. Oriole Road, an absolute beast of a climb in the last 10 miles of the course, was rapidly approaching and I was jealous of Jeremy, who hadn’t ridden this race recently enough to remember it. Tim suggested that we agree to all walk it together if need be, but somehow we all made it up. Tim stood up and road away from Jeremy and I as we struggled to stay on top of our lowest gears. With what seemed like one excruciating pedal stroke per minute I somehow reached the top, continued past the scattered clumps of Almanzo riders walking their bikes, and made for the finish. I’m pretty sure there was one more climb before the end but I don’t really remember it. The three of us finished in just under 12 hours and my headlight turned out to be totally unneeded!
Despite the heat, wind, and pain, I had an absolute blast this weekend. The Almanzo/Royal really is a special event, and I’m grateful to have been able to take part in it again this year. Thanks to Tim, Charlie and Jeremy for the company and motivation!