Here's the second installment of the Almanzo 2013 recap as Jeff Evans takes us step by step through his day. Enjoy!
by Jeff Evans
To sum up the feeling I had nearing the completion of my first Almanzo of the two I have now attempted, I would simply use the word “emotional.”
This race is something special, everyone knows the story by now, it’s free, grassroots, it’s hard, and it’s something to be proud about participating in. It’s riding and suffering for the sake of the sport, not for a cause, not to say “look at me I’m changing the world,” it’s just a simple indulgence of 1500 like-minded athletes and adventurers.
Last year in 2012 I was pushed beyond any limit I thought existed, right into a totally new world of “ultra-bonking.” This isn’t a hungry feeling, dehydration, or cramps, or headache, or nausea. This is what happens after you have been enduring those symptoms and fighting them tooth and nail for the last 3 hours, pushing into your 9th hour of riding. We clawed for every foot into the wind, grinding in our lowest gear, in our drops to get every advantage possible so we could try to hit 10mph. Miles did not “tick off,” they lingered, and teased us as the computers would not give you any good news.
During a ride like this you call a lot of things into question. Some are funny, some are tragic, and others are just self-destructive. Did I have the training? Yes. Did I eat a big enough breakfast? No. Do I want to be doing this right now? Hell No. It’s really hard to stay positive and optimistic when you’re pushing beyond what you thought was possible for hour after hour. You check in and out of awareness for your surroundings, you play games with yourself, you eat and drink like you just got off a deserted island, but none of it helped in the long run. With the body slipping into failure mode, my mind and spirit simply imploded, leaving nothing more to fuel the attempt at this thing called the Almanzo.
Sitting in the grass of some farmer’s yard at mile 86, I could do nothing but try and lower my heart rate, focusing on something/anything to keep me from acknowledging the complete mental/emotional breakdown I had just experienced for the past several hours. It took 5 minutes to chew one almond, I couldn’t squeeze my water bottle hard enough to drink for 30 minutes, I was destroyed and for a while pretty scared. After an hour and a half, I rode the next mile to a crossroad to get picked up by Tyler who finished like a rockstar, got in my car, and sped off to save my butt. Everything I thought I knew about riding a bike was called into question on this day, it was not a good ride home, or a good recovery period. I failed, I gave everything my body had and it was not good enough, I was ashamed.
Fast forward to this year… Long winters with no training don’t bode well for endurance fitness. Post-failure, I didn’t go into some movie montage of training to come back triumphant with grit and determination and fanfare and all of that. I let my fitness and preparation slip and slip and slip all fall/winter, not where you want to be. Coming into this year I did not think I could do this, and really fought with myself to keep from pulling out altogether.
I decided that I did not want to have my only Almanzo be a life shattering experience like last year, so I just blindly stayed committed to the plan to ride this with the crew. Just telling myself I have the legs, listening to my friends and family and instead of injecting self-deprecating doubt, I chose to believe what they were saying to me instead. This made a massive difference once the race kicked off and we hit the gravel.
Spirits were high, I was focused on the task at hand, and I just kept telling myself I belong here, I can do this… this is what I do, I ride bikes, it’s fun. All day we rolled over gravel, had some death defying descending opportunities, and of course, we got kicked in the teeth by veritable walls of dirt to climb. I walked them, better to finish than fail is all I told myself. “Finish this today, do it better next time.” Instead of being discouraged by others flying up the hills, I just stayed right where I had to be inside my head, “no shame, I will finish, that’s all there is to it.” Again, this wasn’t some intense montage type of talking myself through it, it was calm and thoughtful, almost deadpan.
This year we did “tick off” miles, 5-10 at a time before you’d realize you’re eating gravel for breakfast lunch and dinner. We of course ate sandwiches as well, which are far and away the best gravel century food you can bring. There comes a point where you just need real food. You can only take so many Gu packets and waffles, and shot blocks and what not. This year these food stops were not periods of desperation and dread for the next section. They were fun, I wanted to get back on the bike.
Throughout the day I just kept telling myself, “Hey, you are going to finish this.” I’d push a little harder to see how the legs felt, they felt great. I’d hang back off the group and just take stock in what I was doing. My mind was in a great place, my body felt great consider how horrifically out of shape I am at this point in time, and things were looking up.
When we got to the re-route around mile 80, where Chris Skogen himself was giving directions, I was nervous because I wanted to ride by the place where I had “broken down” last year, I needed this redemption. There was nothing we could do though so we rode on, and came to a tent serving beer, and of course as is CyclovaXC tradition, we drank Hamms and took stock in the work we still had to do. Tyler was really impressive on the day with his riding, however what impressed me the most and what really showed his sterling character was when the nice man offered him a PBR… and Tyler, without skipping a beat, asked if they had any Hamms. Good Man.
We rolled out of the beer stop in great moods, pedaling at over 20mph, and then I recognized where we were… there’s the farm, that hill that drove the final nail into my coffin, “I made it, I feel great, I’ve got this.” As I charged up that hill, the same hill that I could barely push my bike up last year, I pointed out the spot to the group, and then dropped back for a minute. Can’t lie, I got choked up thinking about the day and the feeling of overcoming doubt and bad attitude to actually do this thing. I was so grateful for all of the friends that I ride with, all of the positive words and reassurances, and just that this thing called cycling exists.
We rolled in to the finish and I got my handshake, although not from Chris who, as I mentioned, was on course doing the re-route. We quickly cracked beers, had some cheers and headed back to camp to eat anything we could get our hands on. I could not ask for a better feeling than the one you get recounting a race with everyone, knowing that people could have gone faster, climbed the hills, whatever, but it doesn’t matter because just to finish this thing was plenty, it was all I needed. What matters are the experiences, the lessons, the personal triumphs, and fact that we are all in this together.
What a ride, nothing in the world could have motivated me more for the upcoming season. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
More testimonials still on the way...