Biking Into Winter. Biking with Friends.

Saturday’s ride was full of fun, full of adventure, full of great food, and of course full of great conversation. Saris Cycling Group was our meeting point and there were about 8 of us there a little after 10am. We all grabbed a little coffee (we’ve recently invested in a 2.5l carafe), chatted, then headed out on Military Ridge Trail. We picked up 2 other riders on our way out and went westward into the great headwinds.

Since the ride was so last minute we weren’t expecting that we’d have more than 5-6 riders, but we had a nice group of 10! The two gentlemen on the ride were outnumbered with 8 of us chatty ladies, but they seemed to enjoy themselves.

Most of the group.
Most of the group.

Military Ridge was fairly dry with a few gummy spots where larger ‘cross tires came in handy. Everyone was either on a road bike or a ‘cross style bike. The headwinds all the way into Mt. Horeb were pretty intense. The pace was around 11mph until we got closer to the town, where there was more tree cover. The open prairie and marshy area outside of Verona can make for some tough riding. While the route is flat, you basically can’t coast due to the winds being always at your face. Needless to say, we earned our lunch.

The group debated a bit as to where we’d like to eat. The plan initially was to go to the Grumpy Troll, but others were interested in going to Sjolinds Chocolate House. We ended going to the Troll for lunch as they serve alcohol. Bloody Mary’s needed to be had after that ride!

The Grumpy Troll
The Grumpy Troll

The Grumpy Troll has a fantastic Gluten Free menu and fully stocked bar. We highly recommend stopping in! We have plans on going again, but with a trailer in tow to stock up on growlers.

Sjolinds ended up becoming our dessert destination. We had said goodbye to 3 of our ride crew as they had other commitments, but the rest of us were more than happy to spend a little extra time drinking hot chocolates and tasting all the treats Sjolinds had to offer. It’s basically a candy store for adults. Lots of high quality chocolates, caramels, cakes, pies, and delectables.

Checking out the treats at Sjolinds.
Checking out the treats at Sjolinds.

Once we had our fill of treats, we decided to head out. The ride back towards Madison was extremely easy. The tailwind was incredible and we were going 15-17mph vs. the 11mph on the way to Mt. Horeb. All was going really well on our way out. Lots of fun conversation and friendships being formed. Each of us came from different backgrounds, but all found common ground and enjoyed each others company. It’s always exciting to see a group of people mesh so well.

The only negative thing that happened during the ride is that Cassandra had a bad crash. She skidded out on one of the wooden bridges, hurting her right forearm and pelvis. Luckily after a few minutes of being curled up on the ground, she was able to get back up and walk her bike to the next nearest road.

Cassandra's road rash. It looks a lot less scary in this photo than it does now!
Cassandra’s road rash. It looks a lot less scary in this photo than it does now!

Luckily one of the riders, Jackie, had her significant other on the phone to come pick us up. George had met us in Mt. Horeb by car and joined us for lunch. We were very lucky that he not only was able to come pick us up, but also had a Saris Bones rack on the back of his car for bikes! It was a bit of a bummer to have to end the ride early, but the rest of the ladies stuck around until we were picked up and were able to finish out the rest of the ride.

We really appreciated the NO RIDER LEFT BEHIND policy. They kept us in high spirits while waiting to go home. It’s amazing how awesome of a group this was and we can’t wait to get back out there and see our friends again.

Cassandra ended up going to urgent care once we picked up the car. Nothing ended up being broken, but her right forearm is cut up pretty bad and really swollen. She also has a really badly bruised pubic bone. There are also some pretty gnarly bruises on her left inner thigh, lower left back, and on her bum. Pain medicine, ice, and lots of rest are keeping her from feeling too terrible. She can’t wait to get back on the bike!

Word of advice kids, don’t ride over rail trail bridges one handed! She skidded out and hit the side of the bridge while trying to put something in her vest pocket. Ouch!

Overall we’d say this ride was 100% AWESOME. Hopefully we can do this route again or something similar in the future. We have no shortage of rail trails in this area and have a number of small towns outside of Madison that offer great food options!

Welcoming winter by bike is a great way to stave off the seasonal slump, so get out and RIDE.

Check out some additional photos below of our adventure 🙂

Almanzo 100 Photo Dump

Keri and I finally arrived home from Minnesota. It was quite the weekend and we’re glad to be home. Since the hotels booked up pretty quickly in Spring Valley, where the Almanzo race series is held, we decided to stay in Rochester.

Unfortunately, Keri’s car decided to have some issues the day before we were supposed to leave, but I was able to get the Saris company vehicle and off we went! The drive to Rochester vs. to the Twin Cities is much more beautiful. It’s always amazing crossing over the Mississippi in La Crosse, and seeing a vast expanse of rolling farmland and trees.

Once we arrived in Rochester, we dropped our stuff in the hotel and grabbed some coffee. The Midwestern outside sales rep for Saris was meeting us there and we later got dinner. At dinner we went over our game plan for the next day. We had to be in Spring Valley and setup by 6AM because that’s when the Royal 162 riders were leaving.

The Almanzo actually has 3 bike races. The Alexander (which used to be the Nellie) is 385 miles over 3 days. The Royal which is 162 miles in one day (I suppose you could take 2 days if needed) and the Almanzo 100, which is the most popular, 100 mile option.

Setup by 6AM meant having to getup by 4:30 so we could get ready, pack up, and drive down. Setup was fairly quick and there were a handful of other sponsor tents in the expo area. Things didn’t really pick up until about 7/7:30 when the Almanzo lineup was about to take place. For having 1,000+ riders, we only had a handful of people who actually came to chat with us. Most of them were from Madison and were glad to see us there.

Eventually riders rolled up to the start on Main St. The event’s organizer, Chris Skogen, got up and said some words. It was pretty emotional because the dude has worked his butt off the past few years to make the Almanzo a successful event. To see 1,000 people show up to your hometown to do a gravel bike race is really something.

Eventually all the riders rolled out. There was a wide range of riders and different bike setups. It’s always fun for a bike nerd to attend such an event!

The rest of the day was filled with frisbee tossing, mingling with company reps, eating food, getting sunburned, riding bikes, drinking beer, and trying to escape the heat. Uneventful, but still a good time. We had all hoped that more locals and supporters of the riders would hangout and talk to us, but that wasn’t the case. Some of the Spring Valley folks didn’t seem to take too kindly to having a bunch of strange cycling folks in their city. I’m sure as the event evolves and changes, people will start to support it more and see what it does for the local economy. It really made us appreciate what we have here in Wisconsin. Not all towns are cycling friendly, but we’re pretty spoiled by the amount of cycling enthusiasts outside of our big cities.

Riders started returning around 3pm. It was a hot day and the route supposedly had 2 river crossings. One was somewhat unintentional as a bridge was out, but it was too late to change the route. A lot of folks looked like they had taken quite the beating and ended up in the shade with a cold Coke in hand. Once 4pm rolled around, we decided to call it a day. We had to drive back to Rochester and our outside rep had to head back to Wisconsin to setup some shop visits.

The drive back to Rochester was pretty as we took County Hwy. 1 or County Rd. 1. Nice rolling hills and gravel roads EVERYWHERE! Keri and I decided we definitely want to do the ride next year. We had both signed up to do it this year, but lack of time for training and other commitments sort of got in the way. The challenge seems great though and we love doing new events.

Once we got back in Rochester, we found a crappy pizza place that was grossly overpriced for what we got, but we were so tired we didn’t care. We got back to our hotel at about 6:30pm and I ended up falling asleep at 7. We were totally beat by waking up early and being out in the hot sun all day.

Overall we both had a lot of fun, even though there wasn’t much happening as far as the “race expo” goes. We definitely have some ideas on how sponsors can get better exposure and involvement next year and we look forward to making the trip again! Check out some of our photos below 🙂