focused on the absurdity of our situation, now we are silent. Faces caked with mud and pain grimace through every pedal stroke. Still, every hill is a race won and every decent as thrilling as anything you’d find in the Alps. The rain, for all its soaked horribleness, actually increases the traction and allows us to zip down into the valleys. A worthy reward for the arduous climbs.
One descent goes down into a quick 180 at the bottom leading up a soul shattering hill. With no momentum, you must start at the bottom with nothing and work your way up. Many are walking, few are riding and on the side there appears to be a truck. As I bike up their cheering and jeering distracts my two friends and myself and we find ourselves in the care of the 29nSINGL crew. These dedicated hard men have made themselves a beer stop and graciously offer up a cold one. Usually I’m not one for beer during centuries, but I make an exception and take a swig. Most likely my best decision of the day as the beer somehow numbs the pain and emboldens the spirit. I wish them well and take off on my own.
Finally we pull into the first stop, Preston. At this point we’re just about as far as we’ll get away from Spring Valley. Highway 16 connects the two small towns and provides an easy route back for those who are looking for a way out of the next 60 miles or so of the glorious gravel. As soon as I pulled in, Preston is lined with well wishers (clean) and riders (mucked) all figuring out rides, food and support. Those who have the will to press on head right over the bridge and to the checkpoint. They rarely spend more than a few minutes in the town. I head left towards the local grocery store where I hear there’s hot food and many participants gathering to ride back via 16. As soon as I step into the cyclist crowded small town store I spot the fried chicken in the deli to my left. The bonk has made itself fully known and with wild abandon I attack a thigh, a drumstick and hotdish. Unfortunately, the hot food, warm store and good company do nothing for my body temperature. Now having stopped moving it plummets uncontrollably and I shake while pouring the warm water into my mug full of powdered mix for hot chocolate. My race is over.
Having run into my friend Greg and his lady at the store we decide that the
Aaron Smith: How did the Almanzo 100 get started?
Chris Skogen: There was a group of us in Rochester that were riding kind of regularly, doing a couple of local events around the area. A friend of ours moved to Mankato to attend school and I figured we should ride over and if we were going to ride over we should invite people. If we invite people we should race and if we race, we should race on gravel because it would be a lot harder and so it was born. [May] 2007 was the first one. Twenty people signed up, thirteen showed up and four finished.
AS: Started in 2007 and then?
CS: Did it again [in 2008] and 65 people registered in the second year, that’s when the Ragnarok started up. The pulse was starting to come about, just kind of word of mouth. Jeremy Kershaw came down to the race in 2009, he was from Duluth. He went back and started up the Heck of the North.
AS: And then that became the All Gravel Race Series (AGRS)?
CS: [The AGRS] came out of my desire to kind of unify these things. They’re happening in the same way, they’re all free, they’re all gravel and they’re all about 100 miles. It made sense to me to try and tie