This time it was decisive. What remained of the lead group at Almanzo 100 was rolling away from me and though I was calling out for more cowbell my legs were just not responding. And so, I was on my own.
This was not the first time that I had been dropped by this group. Oh no, not the first, but it would prove to be the last. I was on my onesie and it was going to be like that for many miles to come.
Now the funny thing is, I like people. Really, I do. I even like riding bikes with them. But the Almanzo is kind of a race and I guess I have a “thing” about racing. This “thing” told me to keep putting pressure on my pedals …as much pressure as I could muster for as long as I could muster it. And so, I kept pedaling.
Somewhere behind me people were having more fun than me. Although I knew that with absolute certainty, I kept pedaling. Deep gravel, relentless kicker climbs, headwinds, crosswinds …but never, seemingly, a tailwind. Although I was starting to come unraveled I also started to see things in a different way than I might have done in a group. Filtered through a haze of effort I actually saw the huge skies, the narrow river valleys, the woman shoveling shit with her three-legged dog by her side and even the plumes of dust rising from unseen roads off in the distance. By the time another rider caught up to me I had been on my own for almost 50 miles. By the time another caught up to me I think I had come to some to an understanding of what the Almanzo is really all about.
I often find myself questioning my decisions; wondering why my competitive instinct kicks in (which, by the way, it does exclusively on a bike). Maybe it would have been better if I had just sat up and waited for some of the truly fantastic people who I knew were just behind me, for example. Maybe I should have just put on a baggy jersey and not started in the front row. Maybe, maybe, maybe …maybe the grass would have been greener on the other side.
We all have different stories. Some of us came to Minnesota to ride, some of us to race, and some of us just to be with friends. Riding bikes …no, not just riding bikes, but believing deeply about the importance of riding bikes, is the thing that binds us together. That and taking the road less traveled. The road less traveled has led me to the best experiences of my life. This time it led me to Spring Valley for the Almanzo 100 and for that I am thankful. The (gravel) road less traveled helped me come to the simple realization that grass is green and that the best road is the road you are riding right now.