|Arrival at the Cherry Grove Community Center, a former school house, was a bit early.|
My son and I arrived in Cherry Grove a few minutes past 8:00am. The Almanzo 100 did not start until 9:00am. Riders probably would not begin to show up at our location until after 1:00pm, but I wanted to be there in plenty of time to help my partner Ben, who had driven down from Northern Wisconsin the day before. He had just texted me saying he was going to wait for a table to become available up in Spring Valley, the starting point of the Almanzo races. He would pick it up before he made his way on down to meet us. So, I was not really needed there that early. We'd have plenty of time to wait around, as it turned out. Meanwhile the curious local had left me and my son was off messing around somewhere behind the community center.
|Don't blink.....you'll miss it.|
As the minutes ticked away to 9:00am, all I was seeing were songbirds flitting by. Robins, Red Wing Blackbirds, and various other feathered creatures warbled in the grassy yards and trees. A dog yowled a lonesome call which reverberated off into the distance. The local cemetery is across the street and boasts of the former residents of Cherry Grove's past. Hundreds of the tombstones sticking up like uneven teeth out of the green gums of the Earth. Silence is a peaceful sound in rural Southern Minnesota, only occasionally broken by the odd agricultural vehicle, car, or truck coming through on Fillmore County Road #5.
|Ben Welnak, (L) sets out food and snacks while Jacob Stevenson, (R) cooks some of the 35lbs of bacon for CP#3|
It's kind of an odd thing. The Almanzo was at one time an unsupported event. Riders had to stop in the only "real" town on the route, Preston, and re-supply from there to finish the route which has a lot of climbing. However; in later years the Almanzo has developed into a route with aid stations. Then there are the folks trying to do the event as fast as possible.
|Essential fluids: (L-R) Pickle juice, Fireball whiskey, and Jack Daniel's. Oh, yeah, and soda, beer, and water too!|
At about 12:50pm, the leaders blasted through Cherry Grove, not stopping, as expected. We saw about 20 go through, but a surprising thing happened. A few of those later riders actually stopped for water, bananas, and a couple quick snacks. The day was turning out Sunny, hot, and we heard the gravel was pretty chunky coming into Cherry Grove. Perhaps this was putting a bit of hurt into the legs of these speedy fellows. I was positioned at the cross roads helping to wave riders through if the road was clear of vehicles. Thank you's were heard and the general attitude of gratefulness was felt from then on from all the riders I met that afternoon.
|Early riders into Cherry Grove take advantage of the offerings on hand. Not surprisingly, the bacon was very popular.|
|Once re-supplied, riders rode of to the West toward the finish of the Almanzo 100.|
|The caretaker of the Cherry Grove Community Center, Ross, (here in a salmon colored polo) with a plate of fresh asparagus.|
Ross also had another ingenious idea. He appeared out of the community center with a card table and a poster board. He asked if we thought it might be okay if he sat out the table and poster board and gathered autographs of the riders. We were excited about this idea and we were also dumbfounded as to why it was we hadn't thought of doing that before. Ross ended up getting two poster boards full of autographs which he is going to proudly display inside the community center this Summer.
|Business picked up from about 1:30pm all the way up to about 5:30pm at Cherry Grove|
Of course, I was gabbing my fool head off with lots of new faces and many old, familiar ones. Hugs were offered and given freely. Balvindar Singh, the only person to ever finish a Trans Iowa on a fat bike, was there and we talked for a while. (Thanks for the socks, Bal!) I saw Kate Ankofski and she was beaming. She gave me an awesome hug and made it through to finish later. Of course, I met John Ingham, as mentioned, and the joy in his eyes was palpable. I saw Northfield resident, Marty Larson, who was riding strongly. Tony, my riding buddy from here, also came by for a brief chat. There were so many others, and I am sorry if I missed you, but the afternoon was so busy I did the best I could do.
|Things were winding down along about 5:30pm.|
But as with Trans Iowa, or any good thing, there is a time for it to end, and the Cherry Grove checkpoint was winding down to a close at about 5:30pm.
We were condensing down towards the finish, but people kept streaming in, maybe not in the droves that they were earlier, but in smaller groups of twos and threes. Even without bacon and some pickle juice we were getting heartfelt thanks for being there. It was hard to be pulling down things while this was going on, but we were running out of stuff!
|A tuckered out Ben finally gets to sit down at the end of a long day.|
Earlier I had my picture taken with Joel Raygor, the father of Trenton Raygor, and part of the team that puts on the Filthy Fifty and the DAMn event. Joel was telling me almost everyone calls him "Trenton's Dad" now because Trenton has a bit of exposure as the race director of these two Minnesota based events now. Well, Joel was having a good time with that, and told me to be on the lookout for Trenton, but as we were closing up shop in Cherry Grove, and things were about to go back to being sleepy and peaceful there, I was wondering what had happened. I hadn't seen Trenton, and now it sure looked like I wasn't going to either.
|The last riders we helped at Cherry Grove head out to finish the Almanzo 100.|
It was a great way to end the Almanzo 100 for me. What a day! We were so glad for the great weather and the opportunity to serve the "gravel family" there. And Ross? He was also an integral part of the experience for the riders. Not only did he hand out that amazing asparagus, but he toted water out from the community center from mid-afternoon on after we ran out. He had a ball, by the way. What a great guy!
I was tired and beat, it was a really long day. Jacob and I were the last ones to leave, fittingly, at 6:40pm. Yep, it was "kinda late" late now. We left Cherry Grove just like we found it- a quiet Southeastern Minnesota hamlet on County Road 5 in Fillmore County.
Till next year........