You are responsible for you

I flew back to Minnesota last week for the 2013 Almanzo 100 gravel road race. Maybe it seems stupid to fly across the country for a free bike race, but since I started riding it in 2009, the Almanzo has been one of my favorite things to do. It’s hard, really hard. The challenge changes you, and you come out stronger. It’s also one of the most beautiful bike rides I’ve ever been on – it rolls past farmland and trout streams, under limestone bluffs and up hills, all almost entirely free of traffic. In January, I decided I would travel to Minnesota to test myself again and sent in the necessary post card.

Since my bike is in San Francisco, I looked into borrowing a bike, but decided to ride my 1983 Trek 500 because I wanted to ride a road bike.

1983 Trek 500

I was apprehensive about riding the old Trek because it has downtube shifters and I’d never ridden it more than 10 miles. My friend Ben had it checked out and was told “It wouldn’t be my first choice, but it should be fine.” He got me a new seat tube, and we put on my SPD pedals and the (nicer) front wheel from his 1980s Trek. I bought another water bottle cage and a frame bag.

The race almost ended for me on the first minor hill 5 miles into the ride. I shifted into a high gear to build up speed on the descent and bore down as I started climbing. Suddenly my legs were spinning freely: the chain broke. I thought I was done, but a fellow rider and total stranger named Andrew stopped to help, and he had a chain tool. He and my friend Garrick helped pop out a link and get me going again.

After that, I stayed in my small front cog to avoid any further problems. I spun out at about 25 mph on the descents but it was a good gearing for cruising on the rolling hills of the Almanzo. I rode conservatively, aware that I was making good time, but might not finish at all. In the end, I finished in about 10:35, my fastest Almanzo yet. Andrew was there at the finish and I was able to thank him again for helping me and allowing me to finish.

The #1 rule of Almanzo is “You are responsible for you”. This year, I learned that’s true – but you don’t ride alone.