In 1983 Art Forum published an article in which Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) stated, "People pay to see others believe in themselves." I mention this because it is a phrase I have gone back to time and time again in working toward creating and maintaining the Almanzo 100. It has taken me a little more than a week and well over 1000 solo miles in the car to begin to decompress from the weekend of May 13th, 14th and 15th. As some of you may know, during the race I was participating in my own endurance event in that I had only had a total of ten hours of sleep over a four day period. I have poured every ounce of my life into this event and I have never really been able to comprehend just exactly what the whole thing means. This week I think I may have gotten a little bit closer to understanding.
What is Almanzo? This is a question I get so frequently. So often in fact that I have formulated my very own short answer, to which the questioner leaves with less than they came. The answer I give is this, "It's just a bike race". In thinking about that answer, reading the reports from some of those that rode last weekend and examining the photos from those that captured images during the event, I am afraid I might need to seriously reconsider my approach to the question that is, "What is Almanzo?".
You see, when this whole thing got started in 2007 I really didn't know much about organizing bike races. I had organizing nailed down in that I had spent the better part of my adult life to that point meticulously arranging things and making sure that everything was just so. Organizing was easy. Bike racing, however, was the complicated part. I didn't have a network of cyclists to pull from. I didn't have a giant resumé that would qualify me as the right person for the job. I was a nobody for all intents and purposes. A nobody with an idea that claimed that a race should and could be nothing more than that, just a race. A test of man against himself. A game played on a field where the only benefactors are those that show up to compete. I had no idea at the time what would become of all of this.
I didn't know then that to watch a man complete a task that had previously been insurmountable to him would end up being so gratifying. I have ridden in these events. I have ridden in a lot of events. I have fathered children, remodeled homes and even come close to death. I have lived a hard life and I have enjoyed the liberties of a soft one. I have traveled and I have stayed home. In my short 33 years on this planet I have been a witness to many things, but none so powerful as watching a man believe in himself.
For the sake of this article I will tell you that I have struggled with self-doubt for the better part my entire life and I do not believe I am alone in that. I have spent many sleepless nights asking myself questions like, "Is it all really worth it?" I have come so close, on so many occasions, to pulling the plug on this entire affair. I certainly have my shortcomings.
Fast forward to Saturday the 21st of May. A sleep deprived journey to the Great Northwoods for the Cheq 100 left me fighting to stay awake behind the wheel, making a wrong turn and ultimately showing up late as a DNS for the event. Barely making the start line as a witness for the race's grand departure, I quickly offered my assistance afterward to the event organizers. They politely offered me directions to the Fire Tower climb and said they would meet me there. They left, I left and again I was all alone with nothing but my thoughts.
As I made my way along the rocky, rutted and branch littered fire roads that lead to the highest point in the forest I again thought about the Almanzo and the role it played in the bigger cycling picture. It wasn't until I had been standing in the company of my organizing peers and watching the first riders approach the summit that it occurred to me; The Almanzo, like the Cheq 100, is about people believing in themselves. No more, no less.
Rewind, on May 14th, I stood in the cold rain and wind and watched as more than 300 riders from all different backgrounds take off into what were obviously miserable conditions. On May 14th I watched more than 300 riders believe in themselves. What is happening with grassroots cycling here in Minnesota and throughout the Upper Midwest is incredible. As an event organizer and rider I am a firsthand witness to the power that these events hold. As a human being I am a witness to the enormous potential that comes with believing in oneself. That is what Almanzo is. It is an opportunity for people to see the past, imagine the future, capture the moment and believe in themselves.
I am genuinely humbled by the way the last 5 years have gone. I am forever indebted to the riders that have come to Almanzo and believed in me when I didn't have the capacity to do it myself. I am grateful for the willingness of others to give up their time and contribute their efforts to making sure each event goes without a hitch. I am proud to stand at the finish line and offer my hand to those that complete. I am beholden to all for the opportunity to be a part of, rather than apart from.
Thank you to everyone that has made my Almanzo experience a heartfelt one.
*photo by craig lindner