Monday, May 16, 2016

Almanzo 100 Report: Ringing The Bell

Dave Roll's BMW packed and ready to......well, roll!
If you would have asked me last Thursday what I was going to be doing this past weekend, I probably would have told you that I had been thinking of a long bike ride starting on Saturday morning. That clearly wasn't what I ended up doing.

Things changed when on Thursday I found out that my partner in was going to be stepping in for a company that had pulled out of supporting the third checkpoint on the Almanzo 100 course. Originally, Ben had thought he'd hang out, take a few images, and do a bit of a photo gallery, maybe, for the site. Well, when the opportunity came up to be the checkpoint support, he jumped in and well.......I couldn't just let him do it alone! I got with Mrs. Guitar Ted, did a bit of reconnoitering, found a willing partner in "New York Roll", and on Friday evening we were piling 20 gallons of water on a shopping cart along with some other supplies to take up to the Almanzo 100.

This was also a unique trip because I took my son along as well. Jacob and I got up Saturday morning, got a hearty breakfast, and then headed home where NY Roll met us with his Beemer SUV and we loaded it up, piled in with him and his dog, Ella, and together we headed north. Before we knew it, we were rolling up on Cherry Grove, Minnesota. A small village just across the border from Iowa. On the way up, I learned that we would be joined in our efforts by Challenge Tire, the company that makes the Almanzo tire, named after this very event. So, after a total loss of support for this checkpoint only a few days prior, we were going to throw what we could at the problem and try to be a good representative of the sport for the riders. Could it be done? I was pretty anxious about it all as we arrived.

Not your usual checkpoint fare, perhaps, but Chris Clinton of Challenge Tire, (L) and Ben, (slightly cropped out here), had a good plan. 
We had a road sign! The Challenge Tire pop-up tents were making us "look official".
The whole feel and history of the Almanzo 100, and its attendant events, the Royal 165 and Alexander 380, were created with great care and passion by their founder, Chris Skogen. A couple years back, changes began to occur that resulted in Skogen eventually handing off the event to the Spring Valley Tourism Board, while the basic nuts and bolts of running the event were eventually handled mostly by Penn Cycle. Last year was the first year under the new arrangements and things seemed to go well.

I have had the honor of sitting down and speaking with Chris Skogen, I have ridden briefly with him, and I believe I have an insight into what this creation means to him, because I found many similarities to his thoughts about the Almanzo to my feelings on Trans Iowa. That said, I have always been derailed from my intentions to ride in the Almanzo by one thing or another. Still, I always held the event in high regard and cared about how it was growing. So, when the switch happened, I was a bit concerned. Yes....they all said they would keep it the same, but you know how that goes. This opportunity to help support the event was going to be a good way for me to get a feel for things on the ground. If there was one thing I remembered about what Chris Skogen felt about his event, it was in this quote from a story in Gear Junkie posted last year.

"What I tried to do was create the best possible cycling experience with the least amount of barriers."
While I wouldn't be able to view the entire event, I would get a good snapshot of it from Checkpoint #3, and I also felt that I was somewhat responsible for keeping that standard of offering the "best possible cycling experience".  Could we do that? Or, would we embarrass ourselves and let down the spirit of the event so carefully cultivated by Chris?

Things were lonely for a while. My son is anxiously looking for cyclist up the road. 
The 25mph-30mph winds were making the day colder and rougher than a day in May should be.
Ben had a great idea, and Chris Clinton from Challenge Tires had the grill. Ben had 25lbs of bacon and a big jug of Jack Daniels to give to the riders. We brought the water and bananas. Ben had candy and soda, along with the usual bike race beer selections. Somehow, some way, it all came together in a manner that actually looked fairly well planned out. Trust me. It wasn't. We were very fortunate to have everything fall into place the way that it did. Of all of the things we had gathered, I was most concerned about the water. I didn't think we had nearly enough.

Finally, riders started stopping at the oasis.
The morning went by, noon came and went, and yet we had not seen a rider. All we heard were the ripping sounds of the incessant wind, and the constant moan of a riding mower over in the cemetery across the street. My son, Jacob, was anxious to see some checkpoint action. He stood out in the intersection peering up the road to the East, thinking he was seeing riders, but he wasn't. Meanwhile, Ben and Chris developed a good system for cooking bacon, and the brats were amazing as well. Suddenly, NY Roll comes up with this brilliant idea- wrap a pickle in bacon. It was, in a word, amazing. I cannot believe I haven't heard about this before.

Then the first riders were spotted. Straggling, worn out, beaten by the wind, but moving. Support people handed up musette bags for the riders to replenish themselves. The bags were foraged in, and then discarded up the road, after which the support folks would run up the road to retrieve the bags. Jacob was disappointed none of them were stopping. He was impressed by seeing his first hand up, and thought that was amazing. Of course, riders eventually not thinking about a high placing began to stop, and then the stream of riders became fairly constant from about 2:00pm until about 5:00pm when the last bits of the Almanzo 100 for 2016 began to filter through.

Riders leaving the checkpoint were making curious comments about our sign as they passed.
Mid-afternoon saw a constant stream of riders in and out of the checkpoint at mile 76.
Late in the afternoon we started to break everything down.
In between those times we rang bells, hawked whiskey, handed out bacon, gave out over 200 cans of soda, lots of beer, but we never ran out of water. I was flabbergasted by that fact. I loaded up just over half the water we brought up to take back home. Amazing!

Everything else went over really well. The supplies ran low about mid-afternoon and Ben made a run to get some more stuff. Good thing he did it when he did, because we were in danger of running out of stuff as he arrived back at the checkpoint. In the end, Chris, Chris's wife, Ben, NY Roll, and myself all deemed the venture a success. Riders were very stoked and appreciative. Maybe we did actually "enhance the cycling experience" at the Almanzo 100 this year. It sure seemed that way to us. Oh.........and then the mower finally stopped after over six hours of mowing! 

My son, well he had a spectacular experience. He was helping fill water bottles, running around getting stuff for riders, and generally having a good time. We shared bell ringing duties and also blowing notes on the drop bar we brought along. Fanfare and ringing bells seem like a good thing to have going on to bring up the level of excitement for poor, worn out cyclists. Hopefully that helped as well. NY Roll was the whiskey man and he made many folks glad with his elixir. Bottom line- we had a damn good time. Hopefully everyone that came through did as well.

At the end of a long day.
We got everything packed up to go, and we said our goodbyes. NY Roll, Jacob, Ella the dog, and I made it home safely. I was pretty spent after having stood around out in that wind all day ringing a bell and cheering on the riders, but I was no where near as spent as they were. I saw good friends and met others that read the blog and websites I write for. I made a few new friends too.

Post ride response seemed to point to the fact that we had, in fact, enhanced the cycling experience for many. If that is true, we at least managed to come close to the standards set by this event's founder.

That's all we could really have hoped for. Thanks Almanzo 100!


Tim said...

Thank you for adding support for the riders. My fellow Gravel Grunt from Fargo (Ryan) commented on your encouragement, laughter, and all around class act as he was in the Royal 160. He now has a selfie with Guitar Ted. Thanks for giving of your time and your presence at a great event!

Guitar Ted said...

@Tim- Oh yes! Ryan, I remember him. That was great to have met him and so many others that afternoon. I am hoping he made a good finish. He looked to be doing well despite the conditions on Saturday.

Hope all is well in the NoDak.

Tim said...

Ryan said the wind was worse than the endless stream of wind that blows across the prairie. He finished in fine style, but completely exhausted.
Thanks again for all you do to promote a fine sport and a supportive community!

Chris Mack said...

sounds like you really kept up the tradition of checkpoint three. couldn't make it out this year but last year the third checkpoint really helped to keep me in the game. it could have been the whiskey but it was probably the excellent people. thanks for keeping it going!

Rich Karr said...

OMG - Grain Belt! I've been in TX the last 36 years and didn't know that beer still exists. My friends and I bought a salvage case for $2 in Wisconsin when I was in high school in the '70s. Came out of the can orange. We couldn't drink it . It became infamous to us as the worst beer ever. I'm just going to assume that quality problem was steel can related. Did they switch to aluminum cans?

Guitar Ted said...

@Rich Karr- Yes, Grain Belt, a Minneapolis tradition, was bought out by Schell Brewing, I believe, still keeping it all Minnesota, but yes- aluminum cans these days!

john said...

I really like the quote.

"What I tried to do was create the best possible cycling experience with the least amount of barriers."
A really good one for you and trans iowa and all of us...keep it simple.

Rich Karr said...

Thanks for the follow-up! I'm visiting Minneapolis in August and now look forward even more to the experience. You may have just inspired a road trip with a gravel stop in Iowa!