I’ve put off writing this for two days. Part of me is just plain exhausted from the weekend and the days that lead to it and part of me simply doesn’t want the weekend to end. So here I am, lost in the middle of these two polar opposites. Tired. Hungry. Speechless.
Thank you! I had a great time. I had a wonderful afternoon and an even better evening on Friday and Saturday was beyond what I would have ever expected. To those that stayed in the yard on Friday, you’re welcome anytime. To those that didn’t, the same offer stands. I know the rain scared some of you away from camping, but for those that braved the elements, I appreciate it. I know setting up in the cold, wet darkness isn’t ideal, but your presence made my experience this last weekend that much better. To those that stopped by, but did not camp, thank you. I think we have a real opportunity to build a solid community of genuinely great people and your coming to the house makes that a reality for all of us.
The barbeque was delightful, even if I couldn’t eat as much as I’d liked to. The bike ride to the “Big Hill” was a pretty nice way for me to let off some excess pressure that had been built up by tying up last minute loose ends, so I thank those that came along and entertained me. The fire was there and so was the rain and fortunately , the two seemed to get an equal amount of time in the spotlight. The late night garage banter was priceless and I apologize for coming out occasionally to spout off about something that was probably no more than incoherent non-sense anyway. Friday night was perfect for me and I thank you all for that.
Saturday morning found me lying on the couch waking up every hour to ensure that I would not miss the alarm and sleep through the most important cycling event in my life. Thankfully, I did not sleep through it. I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm and decided that I had gotten enough sleep and that it was time to start the coffee and get the day rolling. I rubbed my eyes and walked into the kitchen to plug in the coffee pot. I peered out the front window to see if the help had arrived yet and I saw my mother pulling into the driveway. Shortly after that Matt showed up and then the film crew. We were right on schedule. Nice.
A few minutes passed. The Peace Coffee was nearly done. The baking powder, salt and sugar were added to the flour mixture and the eggs, water and oil were prepared. The griddles were fired up and the pancakes began to form. Some quick motion shots from the roof of the garage, a quick incident with a metal ladder and some errant power lines and we all seemed to be eating in the kitchen as Mom flipped away. I think Stevie Wonder was in the air as the chatter continued. I made a quick bicycle shaped pancake and then ran out the door to make the 6:30 opening of the registration table.
Once at the shop I unloaded the car and arranged the packets in such a way that they would be easily distributed. Thankfully, they were. I cannot express my gratitude towards everyone that printed the release forms in advance. This saved a ton of time and a ton of trouble. Thanks again.
With the majority of the packets handed out, I figured it was time to move my bike out from behind the car, put on my shoes and climb the steps to make announcements. The bike moved quite easily, but as I began to climb the steps I realized I had no shoes. The time was 7:47am. I was late to make announcements. I had no shoes and in short, I had no way of riding the group out. A quick call to my mother saved the day as she was still in the neighborhood and was able to stop back and pick up my shoes before heading over for the start. She arrived. My shoes arrived. The stairs were climbed and the announcements were made. It was time to ride out.
We all made our way over to the intersection of 5th Place and Civic Center Drive and we all waited to catch the light. It turned yellow….red….green….yellow….red….time to go! We were off. We rode east on Civic Center Drive until it tee’d and then we went right. We caught a red at Center Street, waited, took the green and continued east towards the rest of our day. We passed the prison. Talked about blind prisoners and navigated our way through government buildings and soccer fields. We crossed the tracks, the bridge and the completely empty four lane. We had finally reached Silver Creek Road! It was gravel time.
As the boys on the front did what they do best and accelerated toward the days first climb, I pulled off to the side and shifted into an easier cadence to wish the rest of the pack a great day. As I continued at a significantly slowed pace, I found myself at the top of the hill, still welcoming the trail of racers. It was pleasant there. The sun was crisp. The tail wind was encouraging. This is why I started this thing. The morning. The road. The countryside. The bikes. It was beautiful. It was happiness.
As the crowd thinned I turned and pedaled into the days first head wind. Greeting those that I passed, I worked my back to the car where I had asked Matt to meet me. As a racer I knew that the day had just begun for 87 people. As an organizer, my worries had just reached a brand new peak. I did not know what the day held for the riders or myself. I was nervous. I was tired. I was excited. I was terrified
My biggest fear as an organizer is an accident. I think about it all year as I prepare for this event. What if something goes wrong and somebody gets hurt? What if someone gets hit by a car? As I take the drivers seat and prepare to drive ahead to Chatfield, I am asking myself these questions and more just like them. My mind is racing. I start the car and Matt and I are off to the Southeast to arrange the days first checkpoint.
The long north/south stretch of pavement called County 10 is the perfect lead in to the rest of my day. It is quiet and smooth. Its shoulders, while rough and rocky, lend themselves to the beauty that is the defined grey tarmac. As 10 begins to curve and head to the west we turn left onto the short gravel section that leads to Territorial Rd and ultimately into the quiet village known as Chatfield. We make our descent and follow what I know to be a left onto First St. I park the car at the turn onto Bench St and Matt and I get out to stretch. It is windy. It is cold and there is no one to man the checkpoint.
This is the first time all day that I begin to truly worry that something will go horribly wrong. I hurriedly make a phone call to Alaina, the woman whom I’ve arranged to run the Chatfield time check. She assuredly tells me that she is en route and that her ETA is 26 minutes. I panic. I know that the lead group would be moving quickly. I assumed that their speeds should be around 20 mph with tail wind. We sit. We wait. I pace and Matt looks over the sheets from the registration table. He double checks the no shows and makes the according adjustments to the Chatfield sheets. We wait. I pace. Alaina and Kim arrive. I can relax.
As Alaina unpacks her things from the red Toyota Echo she has aptly dubbed Ruby, I begin to discuss the manner in which I would like things to happen. I show these wonderful ladies the record sheets. I explain where to write the jersey numbers and the times. I make a note about recording the people, if any that decide to call it quits. When I think it’s all been discussed, we all agree that to move back from the road and nestle in near the shiny reflection of a corrugated metal shed. The wind and the cold at this point are relentless and any attempt to eliminate either of them seems to be at the front of everyone’s mind. We relax. I pace. I remember. I want Alaina and Kim to drive the route in reverse when everyone I through the checkpoint. Just another way to make sure that no one is lying on the side of the road dying. (Remember, this is my biggest fear.) I explain to them my wishes and they agree. I grab a set of cue sheets and begin to describe to them the manner in which they can read them. I explain, “Just follow the tulips. Go from the arrow to the dot. For example, when you go to First St turn right instead of left. Wait? This says to turn right? The cue sheets are wrong! The Cue sheets are fucking wrong!” I panic. My heart rate increases. I pace. I panic.
I decide that it would be a good time to move the checkpoint to the corner in question. I tell the others that we have to move. I get behind the wheel and swing the car around in a very unprofessional manner. My apologies. I head back up First St to the corner of Territorial Rd. I park and send Matt up the road to see if we missed anyone. Alaina and Kim park Ruby. Kim decides she will head back down to the Bench St turn to ensure no one misses it. Alaina is getting something from inside her Echo and here comes the first rider! I panic. I scream to Alaina to hurry over. She runs. I run. The rider comes through and shouts his number as he leans to take the wrong right turn. Alaina shouts at him to go left. My heart sinks. I have failed. I have made a huge mistake. I panic. I pace. I wait for Matt to return. The rest of the lead pack comes through. We yell to go left and miss getting any numbers from this group. They are moving quickly. They are having fun.
Matt is back and there is a lull between the first group and those that follow. I finalize arrangements with Alaina and get back into the car to drive the remainder of the course in a last minute attempt to ensure the accuracy of the cue sheets. My mind races. I have driven this course countless times. I have poured over maps of the area. I checked everything twice, sometimes three times, and yet I still missed a crucial turn. What does this mean for the rest of the day? Is this thing going to bomb? Is this a failure? Is it over?
Matt and I turn onto Main St off of First and move towards the right turn onto Third St. Stuck behind a Buick we are forced to watch an elderly woman slowly make her way from one curb to the other. She is slow. I am in a hurry mentally and would like to be moving physically. She takes her time. I relax a bit. I am in a car and the lead group are on bicycles. I know the next turn off Third St onto Mangum Rd is correct. I know The next turn is correct. I can relax. Finally, the woman made it to here destination. The Buick moved forward and we were allowed to take our turn. I hurried past the beautiful brick home on the right side of the street. We moved down the hill and toward the bridge that empties you out into the wild again. We slowly passed the lead pack and I hit the gas to move ahead as quickly as possible. We passed the well kept houses and made our way to Magnum Rd. I slowed. We turned left and climbed into the unknown.
At this point I am incredibly nervous that I had made another mistake. I am not speaking much to Matt. I am waiting for the next hurdle I have created in my mind and I am looking forward to seeing if the sign is still there at the bottom of the hill. We descend. It is there, but will the riders be able to see it? Will it make sense to them? Matt suggests I pull some grass out from in front of it. I do. The grass is a beautiful green. It is wet. It breaks easily. There is a thick stalk that breaks pretty clean and the purest white substance oozes from its unwanted laceration. This is a painfully attractive detail in what is beginning to look like my day from hell.
Back in the car we made our way to the descent on 181st to Nature Rd. I didn’t see the round barn this time. I remember seeing it the first time I mapped the course and coming home to tell people about it. It is beautiful. It is part of a quickly evaporating minority. It is poetic. It is not on my radar. The Subaru seems to be guiding itself at this point. I am behind the wheel, but I am nowhere to be found. I turn the volume up on the radio in an attempt to clear my mind. It fails. It becomes unwanted noise. I am lost. I am scared.
Once in the valley we approach the falling sign that marks the beginning of the only minimum maintenance road along the course. The sign looks ominous. The overgrown aging buses and rusting cars along the side of the road seem to speak to the road. This is minimum maintenance. This is gravel road riding. This is Almanzo. For a moment I have no worries. I have examined the cue sheets and the directions to the checkpoint are correct. The river is beautiful. Peaceful. The green hills pressed against the bright blue sky are serene. In the valley there is little wind. Everything is okay.
As we pass over the wooden bottomed bridge and begin to climb out of the valley I begin to thin about the riders and what it will feel like to make this same climb o a bicycle today. I am relaxed. The radio is quiet. The canopy of the trees is only allowing so much light in and everything is calm.
When Matt and I reach the summit of Nature Rd I can see the wind ripple the grass as it moves across the ditch. The wind looks stiff. It is unrelenting. Things are no longer calm. There is one more valley to visit and then it is nothing but flats to Spring Valley. I try to relax. I try to joke. I drive. I am trying.
The Masons pavilion in the rock walled valley is there. I am not. I see the concrete and the wood. I see the bridge. I see the bubbling water as it makes its approach to pass under the bridge. I see blue bells. I see all of these things, but none of them register. I am still fighting the urge to consider myself a failure for missing the turn in Chatfield. I am at war with myself.
As we make the last significant climb of the day we see a woman running down the hill with two large dogs at her side. I slow to a stop and wave the woman over. She stops and pulls her tiny white headphones from her ear. She looks tired. I tell her about the race and that the lead group should be coming soon. She nods in agreement and we go our separate ways. With the windows up and the car moving again, I begin to make jokes. I tell Matt that the woman must be a little freaked out. We joke about the whole thing. I laugh. It feels good. I continue to drive. We can finally see the giant silver water tower that claims Spring Valley as its home.
There are signs in yards. There are things strewn about in the yards of the houses that line this year’s course. There are people milling about and cars moving slowly as if to allow their operator a sneak peak at some fleeting circumstance. It’s garage sale day. Two years in a row I mention to Matt. I had seen a couple of indicators when I drove the course the day before, but I never really knew we would be battling to masses for visibility. I turned the car around and parked on the south side of Tracy Rd. I made sure to keep the north side open for any support vehicles that might need to park. I got out, relieved to be at the half way mark. I pace. I laugh.
I was asked if I needed anything from the Kwik Trip. I requested a Red Bull and some bratwursts. I was hungry, but could not eat. I was tired and my body demanded sugar and caffeine. I speak with Nate about the checkpoint process and he reassures me that he is indeed a veteran and that he has it down pat. I agree. We wait. We look east toward the corner of Co Rd 1. We think we see something. False alarm. Just a garage sale patron. We look. Another false alarm.
In waiting for the first riders I speak with some of the people who have come to support their riders. I speak with some familiar faces. I see some I do not recognize. I speak with Elise. She tells me that my riding partner and friend from the Ragnarok 105 has broken his derailleur hanger and has decided to abandon the race. My heart sinks. I know what it is like to participate in events like this. I know the pains of giving up mentally and walking away. I know the hurt that settles on one’s soul in the days that follow. I feel bad for Ian, knowing that he has not given up, but rather been forced to withdraw. I know his drive and determination. We both shared a lot on the hills between Lake City and Red Wing. I know that a mechanical like this is devastating. I feel bad. I pace. I am quiet.
The first riders appear as they round the corner onto Tracy Rd. I can see them hug the right side of their road as they make their way toward us, toward the final stretch, toward the wind. The first riders look excited. They are ready to continue. They are quick. They are efficient. They make their exchanges with Nate and I and they are on their way. They know they have a lead. They intend to keep it.
Matt and I decided that we would help Nate get the first clump of riders through the checkpoint. As the next riders come in we hand out cue sheets and gather jersey numbers. These athletes are still in the hunt and you can see that as they meet their support crews and make their arrangements. The moves are swift. The efforts are precise. They are gone. Into the wind. Into the hurricane.
There is a long stretch of straight road between Spring Valley and Rochester. It is paved. It is US Highway 63. This is the fastest route for our return trip. I consider it. I abandon it. I am pressed with the fear that there are more errors in the second set of cue sheets. I am quiet. The radio is not. I demand noise. I demand music. We leave west on Tracy Rd and follow Charlie Farrow, Jim Palmer and another rider west toward the towering windmills. Careful not to pass and stir up dust, Matt and I wait behind these three thoroughbreds until we can jog our way north and west to continue the course ahead of the racers.
The moment arrives. I command the car to the north and we continue on out journey. The wind moves the car around on the loose rock roads. It tears across the newly greened fields and ripples the grass as though it were a sheet of silk. I am quiet. The wind howls outside the car. We are moving toward the finish. I am excited. I am nervous. I am afraid. I am happy. The day is almost half way through.
At 50th we move the car around the corner to the right. It is the next corner, Co Rd 117 that I am having doubts about. This is the only other note on the cue sheets that I have had doubts about. Is it accurate? Have I made another mistake? What am I going to do if it’s wrong? I tell Matt that if it is wrong, he will have to wait there until I can send someone out to sit with him. I cannot handle another error. Here comes the sign. What does it say? Co Rd 117. Turn right. The cards are on! The sheets are right! I breathe. I relax. I turn the music down. I am okay.
We make the left turn onto Co 15 and head north to Salem Rd. Left there and a right onto 70th Ave and all that remains is the last straight stretch of gravel. The winds are still high. The roads are drying off and the dust is picking up. We are almost to the finish line. We are almost back. A turn onto Country Club Rd and I am quiet again. I am uneasy. I am waiting for the first finisher. I need to see that someone was able to follow the remaining cues before I really begin to relax and enjoy what is happening. We pull into the parking lot at Bicycle Sports. I park the car. I stretch. I pace.
I wait. We wait. The prize table is assembled. The cars are moved and moved again and again to block the gale force winds. The coolers are filled with beer and coca-cola. The beer and soda is chilled. The prizes are examined again. The beer is examined. I eat a doughnut left over from this mornings breakfast feast. It tastes good. The sugar is nice. I feel good. I pace. I am anxiously awaiting the first rider.
The finish line has been drawn. The statistic sheets have been had a once over by me and I am explaining to my father the manner in which I would like him to record the results. He assures me that he is too is a veteran and that I need not worry. I agree. We wait. I pace. I am quiet. I am anxious. We wait. On my watch it is 1:30pm. I keep looking at it as though I am expecting it to change into a brick of gold or something. Not a minute passes before I look again. And again. And again. I watch the clock. I watch the sliver of bridge that we can see from our outpost. I wait. 2:00, 2:02, 2:05, 2:07. Finally! A rider.
Clad in green and white and silver this distant figure passes the gap between the trees and the building and disappears again. He will round the corner. I begin to ring the cowbell. He has arrived. I am elated. I am excited. I am relaxed. I am content. I am happy. I am here. Finally grounded. Finally able to breathe. Jesse makes the circle around the cars parked like anchors on the street and I move quickly to shake his hand. He looks tired. He says something about his stomach being in a wad. I offer a beer or a coke. I offer my deepest congratulations. He has won. He has fought the wind and won. He battled the hills and the gravel and he returned. He has accomplished so much in 6 hours and 6 minutes. He is the champion today. He is the crowned victor.
Of 87 riders he is first and he is rewarded as such, but more importantly he has given me something that I could never repay. He came across the finish line and told me, without ever mentioning a word, that anything is possible. He has shown me that despite my own best efforts to throw myself off track and assume that I have failed, I have not. I have created something out of nothing and without the continued support of the people who came out to ride the first year and the second and again this year, I can honestly say that this just wouldn’t exist. I sit back and smile. I see the bikes and the smiles and the laughs. I see the joy in the finisher’s faces and I relate, oh so closely to those that did not. I stop pacing. I stop worrying. I am not nervous. I am happy. I am content. I am excited. I cannot wait for every rider to return. To shake their hands. To see their faces. To share their experience. I am finally free. I am on top of the world. Thank you. Thank you all so much.