That’s what Almanzo feels like to me. If you read anyone’s post or article about the Almanzo races, it’s what everyone talks about. Chris Skogan, the race creator and organizer has created a special event where you feel welcomed and appreciated from the moment you walk up to registration. It’s a great life lesson, make people feel welcome and appreciated and they’ll like what you’re doing…duh!

For me it started when I registered on Saturday morning before the race. As I walked down main street to the community building where it was happening, I passed at least three volunteers who all said hi or good morning and welcomed me. The girl at registration was enthusiastic, told me to have a good race and gave me a water bottle. The volunteer at the door asked me if I was all set when I left. I went to the town’s only motel and met my teammates. After final prep, we rode back to the start line and joined the crowd.

Hey look, there’s Andrea from Trans Iowa, so we chatted with her. The guy beside me had an interesting bike so I asked him about it and we traded some racing stories. Mad Ox spotted someone he knew so he went to wish them good luck. Skogen welcomed the nearly 1,000 riders and was overcome with emotion when he tried to express how special it was that the vision he had in 2007 when it all started had come to pass. His dad took over for him and told us all what this event meant and how Chris poured his heart and soul into it. Then we sang happy birthday to Chris’ son. Is this a race?

Yes it is, and we were off for 100 miles of beautiful scenery, great roads and nearly perfect weather. Here’s what the start looked like, Almanzo Start Line. This was my third Almanzo so I knew what to expect. The first section to Preston would be pretty fast and pace lines would form, dissolve, reform, breakup and come together again. I settled into a good group and enjoyed the scenery.

Coming around a corner I passed Dr. Dan the optometrist from Michigan I met at Cirrem in February. We rode together for awhile and caught up on each others racing activity. As we got closer to Preston, we got into the first real series of hills which splintered the 15 bike pace line I had been riding in. I ended up with two other guys, one about my age on a Salsa Warbird and a younger guy on a cross bike. The Warbird looks like an awesome machine. It’s owner told me he had 7 bikes and it was his favorite. 20 lbs, disk brakes, carbon fork, I want one.

The Warbird fell off and it was down to two as we pulled into Preston. I felt like I was on Survivor when my partner started talking about riding together for the rest of the race so we could work together. Too early in the game for alliances. I told him things would break up as we went through Preston and we’d see what happened. My wife was along the route in Preston so I refilled a water bottle and made a little detour to get the electrolyte caps I had forgotten in the car. The new water crossing outside of Preston created a traffic jam as everyone lined up to get across. Sure enough I lost sight of my pre-Preston partner.

The middle part of the race is not quite as scenic and you settle into whatever pace makes sense to you and just grind it out. Somewhere in that section I passed Nick from Iowa City and rode with him into Forestville State Park. He pulled off to fill his water bottles and I started the climb out of the part by myself. After the park, the hills start up again and keep coming until the end of the race. It’s also time to look forward to the water crossing! At mile 80 you cross a creek. It’s pretty cool, you start by heading down a minimum maintenance dirt road into a pretty valley. At the bottom is the stream. At my first Almanzo, there was a little water in it but we were already soaked and freezing so walking through some water was no big deal. It was dry as a bone during my second year but this I’d read it had about 18″ of water in it and it sounded like fun.

As I rolled up I saw a guy in the middle of the stream hanging onto his totally submerged bike while someone on the other side was trying to help him extricate himself and machine from the rushing water. The rain from the previous day or two had brought the water level up to about 36″ and it was moving. If your bike wheels got in it, the extra drag made it really tough to stay on your feet. This is what it looked like water crossing. A tow strap stretched between two trees helped but it was still a little exciting. Shortly after I crossed they rerouted the course and took the crossing out which was the right thing to do. It was a little too dangerous.

Shortly after the crossing I met up with Joe who works for QBP in Minneapolis. I told him every bike I lust for is made by his company. I pumped him for details on the Krampus and the Broadaxe because I want one of each. At 90 miles you have to climb the steepest, longest hill on the course. It is a (insert expletive here)! I stayed on my bike for the whole climb which was my goal. It helped that my Fargo has a triple and I unashamedly used the small ring.

I crossed the line with three other guys. We had formed a little pace line to help each other for the last 4 or 5 miles. Brad, one of the teammates rolled across shortly after me and while we were waiting for the third Wrecked’em on the 100 to come in, Derrick, our Trans Iowa buddy showed up! Brad, Derrick and rode the last 100 on TI together. It was great to see him and hear what he thought of his first Almanzo. Jeff rolled in and it was off for showers, beers and pizza. Matt, another Wrecked’em brother rode the Royal 162 and we ran into him at the pizza place so all the Wrecked’ems were accounted for.

Thanks to Mr. Skogan for a chance to hang out with my friends!