Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yet another thing that trumps golf

The Almanzo 100 was Saturday. I rode it. The day, the course, the people, the challenge/s, the concept were all spectacular.
Four years ago, a guy wanted to host a race/ride that would showcase the local scenery & terrain, challenge riders, and be a conscious rebellion/counter-point to the high-fee event rides--thus, a free event. I believe four of the twelve completed the ride.

This year, there were over 400 signed up initially, and about 300 started the race. 268 completed it. That's crazy growth. One very dedicated man, with help from his family, friends, local officials, has created something truly special. There is now a 'race series' connected to this event, the AGRS (all gravel race series): the Ragnarok (in April, out of Red Wing); the Almanzo (May, Rochester/Spring Valley); Westside Dirty Benjamin (June, west of Mpls); Heck of the North (October, out of Duluth), plus the Gentleman's Ride (September, retracing Almanzo's route, but with Chris and friends able to participate this time).
The rules are simple: You are on your own. You are responsible for you. You are on you own. Help one another out. Be smart: bring food, liquid, tools, equipment, etc enough to get you through 100 miles and many hours of riding outside your comfort zone.

I am new to cycling. I had never ridden 100 miles at a shot (the previous weekend's 100 Miles of Nowhere for Fatty didn't really count). I'd never ridden on gravel. I was not a race favorite.

I sweat a great deal, which, over the course of long-distance exertion, makes me a strong candidate for dehydration. Or hypothermia, depending on temperature and wind. Sweating profusely causes saddle sores. Sweating profusely burns lots of energy, leading to bonking. Entering a self-supported ride was a stretch. I've been riding a good deal the past year, but that is relative.

I knew the mental component would play a significant factor: the unknown. CAN I do this? Do I have what it takes to finish? WHAT does it take, for that matter? WHAT's coming next? Not to mention, how my body would endure the hours of riding. That was another unknown. Hard to conceive what it would really entail--despite having biked 60-80 miles several times recently. If I weren't fighting uncertainty, I could logically assess what it all should/could mean. But that's what psychology does--my haze of doubt, unknown, fear, etc obscured my ability to clearly assess the realities.

I finished the ride. I came in under eight hours. I started at the way back of the pack, rather than getting caught up in racers' adrenalin. I figured I had plenty of time to catch/pass whomever I might. I must say that I passed a whole lot more people than passed me. I was the 140th finisher of 268. Not quite mid-pack, but I pedaled well and did my thing all day.

That being said, it was incredibly fucking hard. I felt like a salt-encrusted zombie (except for the brain-hunger) at the end. It was beyond me how all these other people were so spry.
The winners arrived around 5:15, two hours and 35 minutes before me. Wow. Granted, there were groups of fast-racers working together up there. And they were/are people who ride bikes seriously... I bonked at one point, not too far past Preston, I think. Mind started to quit--largely because of low blood sugar. But it was a fascinating feeling, to witness it (helplessly) while it was occurring. I'd packed way too much stuff and initially tried to self-carry it all (rather than take advantage of the drop-spot at mile 64), and this heavy, clunky bag swung against my back for many hours. It sucked.
Beautiful scenery. Gorgeous day. People were really nice, though most were doing their thing, riding as hard as they were able, or wanted. The gravel was really crazy. I've never played with it, so it was a non-crash crash course in riding on/over/through gravel. The HILLS were bonkers. Utterly fucking bonkers, and not only were they S T E E P: the descents were rough and on gravel. Quite scary. There were a handful of crashes over all. Even though I was prudent and started away from the front, I still got caught up in the early race adrenalin, AND, I certainly didn't help my overall time by losing so much time at the outset. Unsure whether my finishing time would have been much different had I been mid-pack (nor if that matters at all).

We were picking up speed and rolling out nicely when we hit the first descent, about three miles in. I'd begun passing people, making my way at a decent pace through the spreading crowd, and I was about to pass one more guy as we turned and started to roll downhill. I rode up on his ass, braked, started to pass but figured it was rude and I had 99 miles to go, no point rushing. That decision likely saved me, for the energy of passing gives a little burst of speed or acceleration, and, as it was, I found myself struggling to keep the bike under control as Mother Earth withdrew from us like the frosty virago she is. Seriously, a major introduction to how fucking steep the drops/climbs would be. And, just ahead, major carnage. Too many dudes at the front hitting it hard found themselves with no more road and too much momentum. Scary reminder/s of reality and risk. There were many more semi-perilous descents all day. A couple people wiped out hard along the way.

Suffering, alone.
Riding, riding, riding. Just trying to eat the miles in the swiftest pace possible, maintaining energy to get across the line. Fairly straightforward. Endurance=endure and time. Realizing more and more how freaking difficult it is to become a true cyclist--how many hundreds of hours and thousands of miles need to be spent to simply develop the muscle memory, stamina, experience to do it. And that's just the base level. To have more than one (slow) speed, or any actual skill--that's an entirely different, more complicated issue. I marvel at how many people just left me in the, well, dust, all day Saturday. Too, I caught and passed a great number of people, so I'm not horrible, but there were strata of competitive vs pleasure riders (perhaps not pleasure, per se); okay: racers vs riders.

In high school and college, being a football player, I was surrounded by lots of big dummies (not from Surly) who scoffed and mocked the soccer players for being effete and less-macho than the swollen, violent pigskin boys. I knew enough to appreciate how hard it was/is to run that much, and how much skill goes into the dexterity of good soccer. Cycling requires brutal stamina, merciless tactical acumen, yet the casual observer gets tripped up on the goofy costumes and the media illusions around Lance Armstrong's success.

I don't know that I could have pushed much more, or ridden any slower. I just go. Absent the uncertainty and worry, however, I think there would have been more efficient pedaling and mental focus.

We'll see how the Dirty Benjy goes in June. Going to be hot hotter hot, albeit less hilly.

1 comment:

  1. All I can say is you rock, J No! You couldn't have gotten me to ride that thing for all the kittens in the world. Ride on, buddy.