• Posted May 22, 2017

This was my 5th Almanzo. It has always been a challenging ride that is fairly close to home. The gravel is fun to ride and the scenery is pretty cool.

The City of Spring Valley MN has done a great job of taking over the race after race creator Chris Skogen backed off after some burn-out and life changes a couple years back. We miss Chris' passion, but appreciate that his dream still lives on.

Since this is a FREE race, it is easy to back-out, and that is what a lot of folks did. Usually, there is 1000-1500 folks who start. This year with the rain, winds and chilly temps, I am guessing 250 started [ACTUAL 333]. 600-1000 usually finish, but I am guessing 50-60 finished the Almanzo 100 this year. [ACTUAL - 105 Finishers)


Usually Almanzo has had great temps and has been a short sleeve ride. 2016 was super-chilly and windy, CIRREM in February was actually WARMER than Almanzo. Lots of un-prepared folks dropped in 2016 due to the cold temps, wind and the mental gouge. Our buddy James Armstead kept saying "2017 cannot possibly be worse than 2016..."


The weather forecast has been spot-on for all my (rainy) races this year. 3 weeks out, it said "Rain". 2 weeks out, it said "Rain". 1 week out, it said "Rain". Even a quick check after my 7am alarm still said "Rain". So.. I planned for rain. Said 40 degrees, 15-18mph winds and rain all day. That forecast held true.


Riding in the rain has become my MO this year. I'm getting the nickname "Rain Maker" and friends are making race plans based on the races I am NOT doing...

Looking at the temps and all the other races in the rain this year (Land Run, Crushed Rock and Trans Iowa), I had brought everthing for cold wet weather.The only thingk I did not have was my Lake Winter boots which were still at the shop shop after I ripped the heel out during Trans Iowa. So for my footwear, I choose some thick wool socks, my normal cycling shoes and some medium Neoprene shoe covers.

I chose a helmet cover and my 45 North wool cap on my head. Two wool base layers, my Gore Bike Wear rain jacket and Primal wind vest kept my core warm. Gore-tex rain pants were a superb choice as was the Bar-Mitts that I dug back out of the Winter tub. I thought my Gore-tex Windproof gloves would be too warm inside my Bar Mitts, but they were just what I needed.


One of our buddies (name withheld) was getting ready in our RV. As I was dressing for a Mt. Everast climb, he was dressing like he was going out for a 20 mile gravel classic. His answer to the cold was embrocation cream (EMBRO) on his legs.

The Urban dictionary defines EMBRO as "A bro mixed with an emo usually cause he or she doesn't know which she wants to be."

While we chuckled at this definition given the friend were are talking about, Embrocation cream (as defined by is applied to bare skin and works as a chemical irritant: While cold weather causes your blood to retreat to your core and warm essential organs, embro redirects blood back into your lower extremities by stimulating blood vessels in your legs, letting you ride in relative comfort.

Let's just say EMBRO may get you by for an hour of two, but Mama Nature will slap you silly if you think you can endure 7-9 hours in these temps with only EMBRO protecting your legs.

Our M-BRO friend made it 30 miles before heading back to Spring Valley with Hypothermia shakes. On a good note, he was able to get cleaned up and made his way to CP#3 to cheer us on with the warmest wishes...


Took the Fat Bike this time. First time riding Almanzo on the Fat Bike and thought the weather conditions were well-suited for fatter tires. Plus, we needed some training miles on the fatty since we were signed up for Dirty Kanza in the Fat category in a few weeks. Pretty stock set-up. 1x11 with a 34t crank and 10/40 cassette. Full Revelate frame bag and 2 feedbags, with a Portland Design Works rear fat bike fender called the Mud Shovel. And as explained above, we chose to run Bar Mitts to keep our hands warm. The Fender and Bar Mitts were KEY to surviving the 100 miles in a comfortable manner.


Since it was raining, everyone was lined up under the awning of local businesses along on Main Street just shy of 9am. A guy in the Yellow Shrimp-Boat rain suit with the bull horn touted "4 minutes to the start"... Racers made their way into the street. There is a Color Guard and the Star Spangled Banner is sang shortly before the gun. This year was no different except the lady singing the Star Spangled Banner sung it from the back of the Penn Cycles Support van. The neutral start goes through about a mile until we get out of town, then game-on once we hit the gravel.

Tons of road spray. We'd like to see a little mandatory fender-usage if is it raining that hard. We cannot believe how many riders do not use fenders. Our back and butt remained free of grit and grime all day, which made the long day in the saddle much easier. Why spray yourself with grime for hours unless your into the S&M thing. Friends shouldn't let friends ride without fenders in the rain... especially on gravel.

While we like the wind break of riding behind someone else, the cold gritty spray was not worth the wind break. We had been in a pack for a few miles when the grit covered our body, glasses, and gps. We backed off and let the rain wash away the sins.


Mile 10 - Flying down Nature Road 21mph with 50+ others... Still riding wheels and dodging wheel spray. I heard the Pavlov beeps of my Garmin saying "Off-route Off-route Off-route". I briefly looked down, the Garmin was covered with mud and there were too many Almanzoions around me. Out speed slowed after the hill and I asked another rider if he was off-course and he said his was beeping too... (I Shoulda known better) Then We rode on a short stretch of pavement and we both commented "I don't remember this paved section"... (I Shoulda known better). About that time, folks were starting to pull over and a lead group of about 8 guys were pausing before riding up another hill. Some guy yelled "We missed a turn 3 miles back". Folks were still studying their cue cards and my Garmin said I was on-track again (I Shoulda known better). We turned around and rode back up the hill to 181st Ave which was on-course.

181st Ave was hard to miss as it was a HARD left (less than 90 degrees) on a bigger downhill. Still NO CLUE how the lead pack made the RIGHT turn, but the pack of two after MISSED the turn.

This screw-up cost us 18 minutes and and extra 4.5 miles. I had went from being in the front few packs to back of the middle pack. I've never seen 50+ lemmings make the same wrong turn. Oh well.. (I Shoulda known better)

Almanzo has not changed their course since 2013, but the new gpx file was labeled 2017 online, but when it downloaded it still was the 2013 data. So in the back of my mind, I was thinking "Well.. the course must have changed, and there is a discrepancy with the gpx files" No dice (I Shoulda known better).

181st Ave was the first major climb of the race. I had the tunes playing and on came "Celtic bagpipes" which sounded great as we were all climbing. A few riders commented on the song. The fat bike is still geared pretty low, I was able to spin up at a relatively good pace.

I was feeling good and picked up the pace and made my way through the ranks for the next 50 miles.


Mile 40-ish - This is the first of 3 stops along the route. Maybe a dozen support vehicles line the roads and many folks were calling it quits. The town of Preston is close and I guess there is a convenience store there, but I have never stopped by.

I had been drinking more water than I thought I would so I stopped to top off my hydration pack. Thanks to the volunteer who held the water jug over my bike so I could refill without removing the hydration pack from my frame bag. The big bottle of whiskey was tempting as well, but I passed.

I saw a buddy who had attempted Tran Iowa. We both laughed and commented how we are both a glutton for punishment. Not sure if he continued on or not.



I've learned that riding with others is nice, but it's also nice to ride at your own pace. Over the course of the ride, I met and chatted with at least a couple dozen cyclists. The BIKEIOWA wind-vest started some "Iowa conversations". I talked with several folks from the Twin Cities who chose this year as their FIRST year for Almanzo. KUDOS to them for sticking with their plan after so many had backed out. I talked to a guy (Drew?) from Minneapolis who grew up in Hampton IA which was 9 miles away from where I graduated High School. I chatted with a few Iowa Grads.

Krissy, James, Brett, Jeremy, Judy, Alex, Greg and Paul and some guys from Michigan were my other riding acquaintances for the day. Thanks to Judy and Paul for the navigation help for some miles as my GPS dried out. Good to Seen Andrea C from Iowa City out there crushing it

Paul ended up growing up in Altoona, but now lives in the cities and just got a job at Wells Fargo. We talked about the Wells Fargo bicycle amenities in the new buildings up there...

Those who know Krissy call her "tough as nails". She was also riding a fat bike and doing well. She is fairly new to gravel, but she's an old rugby player who likes the pain cave. I rode with her last year at the Triple Bypass in Colorado which she also did on a Fat Bike. She also did Gravel Worlds and Spotted Horse on Fat. Look out boyz. She knows how to ride.


My GPS (older Garmin 800) had spazzed-out for a 30-35 mile stretch. It never has failed me, but it appeared the water was affecting it this time. I had not used the zip-lock 'portion pack' this time since I didn't think it would be that muddy and the GPS had always been water-proof. This was the unit I had to disassemble after the Land Run 100 and clean the red dirt out with a dental pick. Maybe I didn't get a seal on straight. I'll check that out before the next (rainy) race.


Mile 65-ish - It was still raining when Paul and I rolled up. Some volunteers yelled "Fat Bike!!". Judy and Alex rolled up shortly after. Alex was hypothermic.

There were 3 tents (1 with food and water, 1 with a grill and 1 with a fire) There 10-12 people around the fire and a few more tending to the grill and food. The Penn Cycles Ambulance support van was there too.

Volunteers there said about 30 riders had already passed through already.

I was asked if I wanted a hot dog, and I said YES (without thinking of the consequences... luckily there were none...). The hot dog was grilled to crunchy perfection and wrapped in toast with a bit of cheese sauce. I washed that down with some warm chicken broth as I stood around the fire.

Alex was still shaking uncontrollably and was hanging it up for the day. Good choice Alex!

I filled up my hydration pack, ate a few chocolate covered graham crackers, a banana, downed a Coke and threw some bite-sized salted nut rolls in my vest pocket for later.

Paul and I decided to roll-out together as we were riding at the same pace.

THANKS Tam Radish !!


Mile 80 - This is usually the most rowdy of the stops. An Elvis impersonator is usually singing (he was not there this year), bacon is cooking and beer and Whiskey and other cocktails are readily available.

Mark Stevenson (Trans Iowa Race Director and co-founder of RidingGravel.comwith Ben Wilnek) was there to cheer racers as was my M-BROs and support folk. This was the second year Riding Gravel funded this stop!

I once again filled up the hydration pack, had a coke, some bacon, pretzels and chugged a PBR.

I then took a moment to admire Audrey W's Sprinter Camper Van before Paul and I rolled out.

This was the first time the rain had stopped since we started.

THANKS Riding Gravel!


We got to the stream as 2 riders were just coming out on the other side.

A few years ago, the stream had been raging. Every since it has been dry. This year a few warnings came out from the Almanzo crew stating "They were keeping a watch on the levels and may do a re-route if the levels got any higher".

The water was about 2 feet deep and the current was brisk. The rocks on the bottom were softball to football sized which made it difficult to walk and then my tires were dragging in the water and pushing me around a little. I got through, then Paul was behind me. We then saw Greg Gleason approach. Greg was leading the Royal 162 that had left 2 hours before we started. Greg is a past Trans Iowa winner and got second place this year. He was riding his Salsa Cutthroat fully loaded as he is leaving for the Tour Divide in early June. We chatted for a bit then off he went.

We waited another couple of minutes because we knew Krissy was close behind. Paul snapped a photo of her as she crossed.

The water was certainly cold, but not that much colder than our feet already were. We hopped back on for a long slog back up out of the valley.


Next up. The infamous Oriole Hill. The first 3 years, I was unable to ride the hill. Last year I succeeded as did I this year.

Oriole Hill is a Category 5 climb where you climb 250+ feet in a 1/2 mile. Speeds range from 3-5 mph.

The gravel situation on the hill approach has A LOT to do with your success rate. There have been some years where the gravel was so fresh at the bottom, your couldn't get enough traction to climb.
Most folks gearing is not low enough that they can push the pedals while seated. Once you stand up, you increase your chances of spinning out and losing your balance. There are some that ride the hill switch-back style.

This year the fatty (the bike, not me...) climbed straight up without missing a beat. I fast-forwarded a couple of songs to get one with a good beat for pedaling.

I stopped up top to wait for Paul (he said he'd probably be walking) when Krissy came rolling up. We stopped for a minute then decided to roll on slowly. Paul caught us in a couple of miles as we knew the finish was getting close.

The drizzle started up once again. I was kinda missing it.


After a few more miles of gravel, then we hit the final couple miles of pavement with a tailwind. We were cookin'. Paul looked a the fat bike and said "Man does that thing move".. We got a gap ahead of Krissy, Judy and another MN guy. We weren't trying to lose them, we were just enjoying the tailwind and smooth pavement.

A couple of turns and and onto a trail as we winded toward the Finish Line. The Finish Line came off the trail into the (muddy) grass and narrowed to where only one person could cross at a time. This was to ensure they captured bib numbers in orders. I came in hot and dang near slid into a post a couple feet away from the line.

Volunteers were under a tend and my support crew was there cheering and had a cold PBR waiting for me... (Actually I think Brett just gave me his next beer he had not yet opened.)

I high-fived Paul and we watched Krissy, Judy and a few others come across the line.

My GPS didn't capture the whole route as I lost 30 miles when it spazzed out. Plus I had the extra miles from the wrong turn. I'm guessing it was 106 miles total.

I finished in 50th place in in 9 hours and 17 minutes. After the initial wrong turn I wasn't so concerned with a 'race pace'. I just needed the miles on my fatty. #Success!



Back to the RV for a few more beers, a shower and warm clothes.

We usually walk back out the finish line to cheer on others, but hardly anyone was there and there didn't seem to be many more finishers coming across the line. So we walked back uptown to the Pizza Joint which was 30 mins from closing, so we ordered to-go orders and took them across the street to the local watering hole.

When we walked in there were 8 guys sitting at the bar. I wasn't sure if they were locals or racers as the street was pretty much empty of "race" vehicles. Once of the guys said "Hey - you were the guying playing bagpipes" and I said "Hey - you guys aren't locals" and we commenced to drinking PBRs for the next couple of hours. The group of 8 was from Michigan and they were on their annual "guys trip" to some new gravel race. They chose Almanzo this year and while none finished, they were definitely having a good time. A few were racing Dirty Kanza soon. Some raced it before and some were going to be support down there. So there was no shortage of conversations.

We talked about our Local gravel races and I think we have them talked into coming back for the Gents Race in April and we may go to Michgan for the Barry-Roubaix, which is the largest gravel race in the world held in Barry County Michigan in late April.


We like races like these. While we are not the fastest cat in the corral, we like the extra mental challenge and preparation tactics challenges it takes to battle the the rain, wind and hills.

Each time we learn something new. Each time we teach something new. Each time we experience something new.

I thought it was cool at CP#3 when I guy came up to me and said "Press-n-Seal on my helmet! You taught me that on your video series. Thanks!"

It was a great weekend with friends even though the weather was not optimal. We didn't destroy any gear this time and all the gear and the bike cleaned up nicely.

Bring on the next challenge as this cat ain't getting any younger...

RIDE SAFE and double-think the capabilities of EMBRO M-BROs






Related Sponsors

Yeah it's kind of an organic thing that developed over the last 5 or 6 years.

#5 - shovelfoot posted May 23, 2017

But Hey - You showed up and towed the line JonnyMohr ! That's more than most of the population. Glad the videos help! we've been wanting to make these videos for awhile now and have just set aside the time to do it! Keep on Pedaling!

#4 - bikeiowa posted May 22, 2017

THANKS for the Hotdog Shovelfoot! It hit the spot! I'll update the Race Report. I guess i was unaware of the sponsor at that stop.

#3 - bikeiowa posted May 22, 2017

Hey Scott,

I’m the press’n seal convert from the RidingGravel stop. Almost felt like I shouldn’t say anything because I’d bailed at the Forestville and was riding back with the Penn Cycle guys, but my head stayed dry all day. Just wish I’d have used fenders and made a couple of different gear choices - including a better plan for keeping cue sheets dry in that weather. But thanks again for making the videos after Trans Iowa, and for taking the time to do these post-ride reports. I find it really helpful to learn what works and what doesn’t from someone who’s been doing this a lot longer than I have. Have fun at Dirty Kanza.


#2 - JonnyMohr posted May 22, 2017

I brought and cooked the hot dog you ate. Glad you enjoyed it. FYI the stop (food, fire, volunteers) is sponsored by Tam Radish not Surly

#1 - shovelfoot posted May 22, 2017

Leave a Comment

You must be signed in to leave a comment.