I love the Almanzo reason for a lot of reasons, most of which are pretty obvious: the course is gorgeous, the event attracts a good crew, and race director Chris Skogen has so thoroughly infused the event with his personality that every person who participates walks away feeling like they’ve made a new close personal friend. With these qualities, the exponential growth of the event isn’t too surprising. But the thing I love about the Almanzo is a little more personal – it’s how closely I associate it with my development as a cyclist. In 2010 the race was my first ever century, and my first race that didn’t take place on a miniscule loop of singletrack. I rode away from the Forrestville checkpoint genuinely unsure if I was capable of completing it. In 2011 I finished the inaugural Royal 162, and that was my first time riding over 150 miles, but the miserable conditions were a lot more intimidating than the distance. Each year I feel like my riding has made some modest advancement, and the Almanzo has been there as a barometer for my progress each step of the way. No matter what other races I sign up for, I’m confident that I’ll keep making the trek down to Spring Valley as long as I have the opportunity to do so.
Last weekend was my third Royal, but it also marked another first. This was the first year that I’ve actually felt like I ‘raced’ the event, instead of simply struggling to survive to the finish. Not struggling with hypothermia or heat stroke, combined with a few more miles logged earlier in the spring, left me feeling like I was capable of going fast, not just going. I’m still pretty slow and allegedly non-competitive, but I finished 160 miles in 10:41 and got 7th place, and I think that’s pretty cool. Lately I’ve been thinking of replacing my 7 year old Cross Check, and maybe at least writing down how much I ride on paper somewhere. I don’t discount carbon fiber as a material anymore, and I even thought about buying a heart monitor once! I still only care about long rides that barely resemble races, but I care a little bit more about how quickly I ride them. Looking ahead to the rest of the summer and beyond, it looks like I’ll have a number of awesome opportunities to test my limits. I’m beyond grateful that the Almanzo has been here to help me start down the path towards discovering what those limits might be.
In addition to the above quasi-philosophical nonsense, I learned some practical stuff this weekend as well. Beef Jerky really hits the spot when I ride in the winter, but not so much in the summer. And the phrase “steel is real” is always dumb but seems even dumber when you’re hoisting 25 plus pounds of it over your head as you scramble out of a river.
As usual I took no pictures, but here are some that are pretty spectacular.