Monday, May 19, 2014
The Royal 162 is the big brother of the Almanzo 100 gravel road race created and organized by Chris Skogan. The Royal starts and ends in Spring Valley, MN. Along the mostly, and i mean nearly entirely, gravel roads, one can really take in the beauty of spring in southern Minnesota/northern Iowa. The gravel roads take you in and out of the valleys, along creeks and streams, thru Amish communities, and by many-a-barn. A great way to spend the day is about all I can say. The day started with a welcomed wake up after an in-and-out of sleep night. The sandwich and other snacks previously packed started the morning off right and the sun ensured a good mood for the bike ride to the 7:00 am start. Folks started approaching from all directions and it looked as if there would be more than 100 starters. Shortly after Chris' question, "Are you sure you know what you are getting yourself into?" he started the lead out through the town and onto the gravel. The flat start low pace allowed for the legs to stretch and get a bit warmed up. Some How-Do's were made to folks I didn't see at the start and after a few miles, the pace started to gain a bit and some thinning of the herd happened. I was chasing on with the lead pack for at most a mile and decided that was not gonna work out for my grand scheme of finishing. I eased up and rode with a few riders in a very unorganized way for the next 15 miles or so. Along the way, I was amazed that there were folks already out and cheering the cyclists! We passed a family with a number of kids cheering in chairs and ready for the long haul for when the large throng of Almanzo 100 riders makes their way through 2 hours later. So after twenty miles into it, i started to get into the rhythm. The climbing was finding it's pace and the day was feeling good. I ended up rolling solo through the Preston turn around mile 40. Flashing back on a number of the previous times I had made this turn, I was liking how I was feeling. I was thinking the 60 degrees and sun was what a guy needed to hammer out these miles. The wind at this time was picking up a little bit but it was not too bad...that always brings out the fear that it has been at the back the whole time. About this time, the Royal left the familiar roads of the Almanzo and embarked on its turn to Iowa. I was looking at the cue cards trying to pinpoint it based on memory but first of all, my memory has more holes than a prairie dog town. Second of all, I remembered some of the sights from doing the Alexander last year. There was some amazing scenery and things were rolling real well until about mile 70 when I flatted. It was a real nice place to get to tube replacing...next to a nice stream and shady. About 6 or 7 people by rode mostly in groups of two while i was working and each one asked if i needed help. Some quality camaraderie, am I wrong?? I got everything all wrapped up and caught up to 4 of them and we rode into Iowa and that was where the wind was hiding. Bam! That wind was an instant factor. There were a few initial breaks where the cues turned us out of the wind only to turn us right back against with the quickness. There was then a 7 mile slog against the wind. I was riding with 4 where only one other was willing to take pulls...as Q-Bert says, "!#@%#$!" I was getting faded from all that running against the wind like Bob Seger. There was then some quicker turns in and out of the wind which was like a false flat because a 5+ mile headwind stretch hit like Mike Tyson. Each of these stretches allowed for riders to be caught and also allowed for riders to drop. A few got away but a few did not. I finished that stretch well worked and riding solo. At the turn north, i fumbled with my cue cards to switch pages, and i came to a full stop on the gravel. My front wheel must have hit some funky spot or i just got funky and the Iowa countryside wasn't having none of it. I was fortunate though to have my arm warmers still on so my elbow got all scratched up but protected from the gravel bits. The hip to the brunt of the fall and it felt like it. Oof! The only thing to do when that happens is get up, gather the cue cards before they blow all over the place, and get to moving before everything tightens up like the Black Keys! This was the 90 mile point and the bottom of this cue card held the statement that at mile 104, the merge back to the Almanzo course would happen and that meant more folk to come across. Having company is a nice carrot so I pressed on like the full court. Entering the course was invigorating. That didn't last too long though, the wind was going on and each stretch was no joke but the goal was to get to Forestville at mile 120 and refill the water. I was hoping to see a few people and step off the bike briefly. I wasn't disappointed! There was a grip of folks out BBQing and having a good old time. I rolled up to the Tam Radish tent and it was going on. I got to say, "Hey!" and shake some hands. Lots of positive vibes going on there so that was a boost. I took a minute to fill up on some water and was there long enough to get offered a Hamm's and hot dogs. That Hamm's lived up to its name of the beer refreshing and the salty, meat bits broke the sugary energy blasts that had been downed for the last 120 miles. Good times but the urge to finish was strong so i got back on the whip and embarked on the climb up Maple Road...ugh. I always remember that one. After that, I whipped into the river crossing. It is amazing how refreshing that water is. I gotta say though, it was harder to navigate all the people taking their shoes off than it was to make it through the stream without tripping on rocks. With a refreshing feeling in the legs and much water in the shoes, the 10 miles to the wall of Oriole Road went by quickly. At the turn onto Oriole at the base of the hill, a quick assessment was necessary. There were people scattered all over the place and it looked as if parts of the hill were eroded and other parts were storing inches of gravel to be used to repair the damaged bits. Not much for a good line to be seen so i gots to climbing. Pedaling slowly passed folks walking there was a lot of look up ahead, look down on the line chosen, look up ahead as someone waking in the line, pass, look down at the line, look up ahead at a criss-crosser making his way to my line, look down and say on the left and pass. I made it to the top and took on the longest 10 miles of the whole ride and the final hill. Much wind was fought and all i was thinking was last climb...last climb. That came and had many more lines to choose from so making my way through the walkers was easier. With the last hill crushed, the wind tried to break me but none of it was had. The approach to Chris' outstretched hand was welcomed after 11 hours and 20 minutes. Looking at the Garmin details, I was on less than an 11 hour pace when moving, but then I would not have enjoyed that beer as much.