Sunday, May 18, 2014

Crushing Gravel Part 5: Turning Gravel into Dust at Almanzo

Almanzo numbers--mine is on the right

Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue.
Realize the strength, move on.
-Henry Rollins

Notice the Sukup label at the top of the bin
Somewhere between the miles of 50-65, on this year's Almanzo 100, I gazed out into the farm fields and began to laugh.  To my knowledge, no one was around to hear me.  It began as laughing at the universe for sending me a sign, and turned into laughing at myself for how pitiful I felt for a few miles.  What started this hysterical laughter--it may or may not have been only in my head--I wouldn't know since no one was around to stare and ask if I was alright?  At my lowest point of the ride, when I was doubting if I would--notice I didn't say "could"--make it to the end, I glanced at the farm field to my right, and noticed large grain elevators with the name "Sukup" on them.  In my hysterical state, I converted this to "Suck it up".  I saw it as a sign from the gravel gods.  They sent the message to me loud and clear:  "Stop your moping, you are in a beautiful place, doing what you love most, with almost a couple thousand kindrid spirits."  Almost instantly, I changed my mindset.  Yeah, the wind sucked, yeah, it was dusty with some fresh gravel, yeah, my elbow ached from a fall early in the ride and yeah, my hopes of beating last year's time was slipping away--but I was still able to ride, and wasn't that enough?

Wounds heal, arm warmers don't
So how did I find myself in this state of mind and what happened when I kicked myself out of it?  First, as always, I doubt myself before larger events.  I tend to go into them a bit jittery and run far too many scenarios over in my head.  This all, of course, drops away within five miles or so, but nonetheless, it's probably not the best way to start a long day in the saddle.  Second, due to my lack of mountain biking skills, I took a spill around mile 10 while turning hard left on a decent and hitting a thick pile of gravel dust.  I could blame the person in front of me and say because they too had difficulty, it threw me off, but no, it was my doing and it just proved I needed to work on my skills.  Third, with my adrenaline wearing off 30-40 miles after the crash, I began to get a bit shaky.  That kind of feeling of queasiness mixed with exhaustion.  

Although I hadn't trained as hard as I would have liked to for Almanzo this year due to crappy weather, I had knocked down two centuries and one gravel event prior to it so I knew I "could" finish the ride.  The question instead became "Do I want to finish?"  This whole thought process, mixed in with my fits of laughter, a cloud of gravel dust swirling around me making me look like pigpen from the Peanuts, took about three minutes.  I knew I'd feel like shit if I didn't complete it.  I knew there were friends and cold beer waiting for me at the finish line.  I knew there could be a whole lot worse conditions I could be stuck in.  So yes, I decided to keep turning the pedals over.  

Monica, Stu and Dan kept my spirits high when I hit Preston

Thank you Banjo Brothers for giving me fuel 75 miles in!
Regardless of the mishaps, the wind, the road conditions or the leg strength, there are very few experiences in my life which could top events like these.  From start to finish, to witness and feel the love and energy that goes into them makes me want to keep showing up year after year.  A thanks bigger than all thanks goes out to Christopher Skogen and all the volunteers, for once again putting on a stellar ride.  More thanks go out to Stu and Michelle Garwick for being so supportive throughout the day--your peanut butter and pickle sandwich almost topped your cheers and smiles, Mike for helping me clean my wounds (for some reason he didn't like seeing me spit water from my camelback on them), and Tyler and Dan for making me laugh multiple times.  

If you wish, you can read about my experience last year at Almanzo here.

Old riding friends, Michael and Andy, at the finish--the guy on the left got me into gravel riding.

Stu welcoming in Mike


  1. I stumbled upon your blog from Chris' Facebook. Great writeup. I would also like to pass on a sincere thank you to Stu, Monica, and Dan. Your generous fill up for a stranger (me) in Preston was amazing. Thanks so much. Have a great rest of the season and keep the rubber side down:)

    1. Thanks Steve! Yes, Stu and Monica are the bomb. I just can't wait to ride with Stu once he's off crutches.

    2. You guys were on a hot pace, I'm glad we could help. I have a picture of you, it isn't that great but I'd like to send it to you some how. Orange and black jersey?