Grab a Woolly approved beverage, this was a long ride, and therefore a long report.
At the end of the Strada Fango report I mentioned that Woolly Nate and I were planning on doing something that scared me a little, but I wasn’t going to say anything more until we actually accomplished it. That thing was the Royal 162, the middle child in the Wilderfest trio of siblings, the Almanzo 100 being the favorite child.
My attempt at the Royal started last year when Herr Woolly Starr rode Almanzo for the first time. She rode it on her mountain bike as her first century of any kind, let alone on gravel. At the end of it she said she was coming back next year, but if she was going to be on her bike for 11 hours, I had to be as well and I therefore had to do the Royal.
Now a few things. One, I was positive she wasn’t going to be on her bike for 11 hours again with all the riding she did over the last year. Two, I was positive there was no way I was going to finish the Royal in 11 hours.
But, why let details stand in between me and a new challenge. Honestly I was intrigued with a new challenge. While a gravel century is never easy, outside of inclement weather or catastrophic mechanical failure, I don’t have any doubts about my ability to complete one. Since I haven’t quite caught the bike racing bug yet to just try doing something faster than before, the idea of challenging myself to complete something I wasn’t sure I was capable of definitely caught my interest.
Being signed up for something that scared me, you would think I would prepare a little more. As far as riding goes it was a slow and steady increase in volume since the very abrupt end of ski season in early March. Had ski season lingered on I might have been in real trouble. A couple of gravel 50 milers, a jump to the Mammoth 100 a few weeks back, Strada Fango the weekend after that. At the end of the Mammoth I was worked over but not dead. Its pretty dang flat though. At the end of the Strada Fango I was also worked, but again, not dead, and it was very hilly. Moral of the story was I wasn’t super prepared, but I hadn’t seen any signs that it was going to be impossible yet.
Originally I thought was going to be riding alone. That also gave things a bit of a me against everything, what have I gotten myself into kind of vibe. After riding the Mammoth with Nate though he indicated he might be game. Then after Strada he was still game. We have matched up really well riding fitness this spring so I was pretty excited to have a good riding partner to share the adventure with. Someone to pull for a while when I was not feeling it and someone I could pull for a while when I was.
The week leading up to the event was one of gear prep. First up was rider clothing. As it turned out, the start of the Royal was colder than the start of the Birkie ski race. Isn’t that something? I wore my Woolly jersey all day, but it never saw the sun since I never took my jacket off. Everything seen in the picture was worn all day except the thin arm warmers and the short fingered bike gloves. Instead of the arm warmers I threw on a thin wool base layer. Yes, I had sunscreen on. Nope, it never saw the sun either.
As far as gear and food goes, my plan was to bring some stuff I knew I wanted, and then refuel at the gas station in Harmony around mile 60 and then if I needed anything else, hope they had it mile 120 or 130. I’ll cover the gas station food shortly, but in this picture I had: Cue sheets (never used them, the course on my watch was fine), 5 200 cal servings of Tailwind (2 Raspberry Buzz, one lemon, and two Green Tea Buzz) and I consumed all but one and they were great from start to finish, a small first aid kit (didn’t need it), small multi tool with pliers (didn’t need it), bottle of chain lube in an old sock, a bag of trail mix with cashews and caramel (awesome), electrolyte tab (didn’t use), fig newtons (usually good but I only had a couple), dark chocolate and nut bars (had one), some gus (didn’t have any thankfully), and some vitamin I, excedrine, and tums of which I only used the vitamin I. Not pictured is the contents of my saddle bag which contained a patch kit, spare tube, bike tool, a couple of quick links, CO2, and tire levers. I also had a small pump mounted to a bottle cage.
I also carried two large water bottles and two small ones. I ended up never needing the 4th bottle, but had it been warmer I almost certainly would have. In the end, over prepared, but that is better than under prepared. These are self-supported races and I try to live by the Boy Scout Motto of Be Prepared.
I was riding my trusty Salsa Warbird. I was going to bring some clip-on aerobars and decide if I was going to put them on Friday night or not. As it turns out I forgot them at home so just the stock Cowbell drop bars. I did change out my small chain ring early on in my ownership to a 33. I just needed a little lower gear for climbing than the stock 36 gave me.
|Bundled up standing in the sun on main street Spring Valley at 6:55 waiting for the start with about 30 others.|
Nate and I rolled into a very sedate Spring Valley compared to the start of the 100 the last two years. As we gathered at the start there were only roughly 30 of us ready to take on the miles, cold, and wind.
My plan for the day was to ride at an all day pace from the start. It was going to take me all day so no need to go too fast on the gun. With the howling wind and the generally northerly direction for the first 15 miles Nate and I opted to try to hang with the pack. It was a hot pace though. Too many watts to hang with a pack to save a few watts isn’t a good plan. My legs were definitely talking to me and we had only been riding for 20 minutes so this was a concern. Not alarming as I tend to warm-up slowly but still.
I eventually slid off the back with a few others by mile 10. Eventually Nate had to ditch his jacket and I caught him and we settled into our all day pace as the riders around us disappeared. Riding the 100 you can go a few hours before you find yourself alone on the road. We saw a few riders occasionally, but generally we had the road to ourselves within an hour or so.
We took two very short bio breaks with second just before Preston. I took a quick video to give folks a sense of the wind and countryside. In this case we were riding with the wind so it was kind of nice. We are at mile 36 here. Just down in the valley to the right of the road is where we will be a mere 81 miles later. The wind sound is actually pretty realistic and isn’t just the microphone on the phone being noisy, that is what it was like all day long.
After our quick stop we rolled on. Later, for the 100 riders, there would be a check point with water etc in Preston. For us, just empty road so we kept moving. Eventually we reached the point where we diverged from the 100 course and entered new territory for me. We took a left while the 100 riders would go another 500 feet and turn right. The same place we would reenter the 100 course some 55 miles later.
After the first 15 miles or so bucking the wind with a pack, we had been riding generally south and east for the last 3 hours. It was time to take our first foray into a north bound segment. Ouch. Eventually we got into a cool sheltered valley, but the exposed roads were a lot work to not go very fast. It was only a few miles though and then we were cruising south and east again to our final sign of civilization until we were going to get to Forestville at mile 122.
We rolled into Harmony and the Kwik Trip for a short break and refueling before getting on the road again. We found a few other folks also stopped and a few others stopped while we were there. I went endurance athlete purist here and ate 2 egg rolls while stopped, bought a cheese burger I stuffed in my jacket pocket for sometime later, some meat and cheese sticks, and a king sized salted nut roll. We were in and out of Harmony in about 12 minutes.
The nut roll didn’t make it more than a dozen miles after Harmony. The cheeseburger got eaten some 40 miles later. It was just as good as you might think a gas station cheese burger stuffed in a jersey pocket for 3 hours might be after riding 100 miles. It was delicious!
From Harmony we rolled south into Iowa. The border is poorly marked basically being when you cross State Line Road. A few miles south into Iowa and then we were as far away from Spring Valley as we were going to get for the day and also as far downwind as we were going to get. The majority of the rest of the 84 miles were going to be into the wind.
The first battle was the 15 mile stretch straight west through Iowa and into the wind. At first it wasn’t so bad, you got used to it. Then in combination with the hills it just got old. We eventually took a few minute rest stop in the “shade” of a few trees just a mile shy of making the turn to go north again. Here is another short video of us riding west into the wind in Iowa.
When we finally made that turn to go north it wasn’t really any better. The north west wind was still in our face, it was just blowing in the other ear. So just different. When we finally hit the next stretch to go east for a little while that was fun. We had a 15 minute stretch where we averaged over 18 mph.
Eventually after going through Granger/Florenceville we made the turn to go north and we were only a few miles from reentering the 100 course. Unfortunately it turns out there was a 2 mile 2% grade hill that was either super fresh gravel or straight into the wind or both. We did have an Amish carriage come flying down the hill towards us during this stretch. They slowed way down and pulled way over and waved as we rode past. Nice folk.
Eventually we made it back to the 100 course. I had been wondering what we might find when we got there. While we got a two hour head start, we had also covered an extra 55 miles. The conditions this year being somewhat more extreme I figured we might find some carnage on the road. We immediately started passing little knots of 100 riders. Some of them just plugging away, some of them clearly struggling. We said hi to most of them, sometimes getting a response, sometimes not so much.
Things generally start blurring together at this point. I was still feeling surprisingly good despite being solidly into longest ride ever territory. While the wind was definitely annoying it wasn’t getting in my head making me think I wasn’t going to be able to finish. I just sort of went into keep pedaling mode until we finally reached Forestville.
|Rolling through Iowa.|
We made our longest stop of the day here at about 15 minutes. I ate a few more mini salted nut rolls and chatted with a few of the aid station workers while filling my bottles. Pretty quick we were back on the road to bang out the remaining 34 miles.
I was mentally preparing myself for the remaining climbing. You get punched in the gut pretty good leaving Forestville with the paved climb and then two pretty gnarly climbs on Maple in the next 5 miles. We got through them without much issue though and pretty soon found ourselves rolling into Cherry Grove for the final aid station.
It was cool to meet Ben from Riding Gravel/Mountain Bike Radio. He and Guitar Ted of Trans Iowa stepped in at the last minute with the Challenge Tire folks to keep the Cherry Grove Oasis going. I continued to surprise myself with feeling good and wasn’t really in need of anything, but helped myself to some water and peanut M&Ms anyhow.
|The climb out of the water crossing.|
And then we were on the road again to the water crossing. Which was dry. Lame. Actually that was probably a good thing because I really wouldn’t have wanted wet feet. They were cold most of the day as it was.
We were almost in the home stretch now. Less than 20 miles to go seems like you are almost there anyhow. We had been on the bikes for 11 hours so less than 2 to go seems like nothing. We were passing more and more 100 mile riders on this windy stretch. All on our way to Oriole.
In my past two Almanzo experiences I’ve ridden every hill including Oriole. Early on in the day as I was struggling up some of the hills I was worried about being able to climb at the end of the day. As we approached Oriole though I was kind of excited to climb. I knew we had Oriole and then the climb by Deer Creek and we were basically home free.
I’m not sure how Nate felt but I could definitely smell the hay in the barn and once we were over the last two hills I was on the gas pushing for the finish. I definitely thought we could finish under 12.5 hours so I was pushing for that. Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely tired and my pushing was interspersed with some really tired stretches.
|Nate climbing away from the water crossing.|
And then we were done. It was semi anti-climactic. We had ridden 156 miles in just under 12.5 hours and we were just done. It felt good to be off the bike, but it was just sort of done. We joined Woolly Micah and Herr Woolly Starr for dinner and Woolly approved beverages at Rack’s Bar and Grill before poaching a shower at Forestville State Park and crawling into sleeping bags at Maple Springs Campground. By the time I got up the next morning Nate and Micah were both gone. I must have been more tired than they were.
Awesome. It was a challenge that we met head (wind) on. I’m honestly surprised with how well I came through the ride. I’m definitely interested in trying it again next year. Maybe with a whole herd of Woolly? Maybe something bigger someday too (Dirty Kanza anyone)?
I gotta get on my mountain bike and ride some single track. The Woolly is in awesome shape right now and I’ve got about 5 miles on single track this year. Tatanka 100 is coming up in July and I’m honestly just as concerned about riding that as I was about doing this so time to get comfortable on my mountain bike.