Where there is death, there is new life. That’s what I told myself when I sold my Masi Speciale CX to buy a Salsa El Mariachi. Selling the bike reknewed memories I had atop my black Masi, the best of which was the 2014 Almanzo 100. This is a race in southeastern Minnesota. Aside from the starting line, the course is entirely on gravel roads. A couple river crossings are included in the mileage. I raced in 2013. It was brutal. I wanted to ride again, but not the full distance. Rather than starting in Spring Valley, Minn., riding 100 miles and ending in Spring Valley, I took a different approach. The plan was to meet Audra in Preston, Minn., a town about 40 miles into the race. She would be there with my car and fly fishing gear. The rest of the field would be racing for hours while I was catching trout in the Root River.
Tony was my riding buddy for the day, just as he has been for many days prior. We were friends in college, then lived together for a couple years after school. Our apartment was always filled to the brim with bicycles. It was good. Tony lives in Mankato now, which is about an hour from Spring Valley. He met me there to line up for the start of the race.
Finishing was never the plan for me, nor did I ever consider it. While some in my shoes would give in to the atmosphere of positive cycling and want to finish the race, I didn’t. Nope. My finish line had a fly at the end of it. Everything went as planned and my Subaru, fly fishing gear and Audra were waiting for me in Preston, just as the town was celebrating their annual Trout Days. Preston is known as Minnesota’s Trout Capital. They even have a parade float to prove it.
A few sandwiches later, I was on the river and Audra was napping on the bank in the May sunshine. We set up camp near a bridge into town, just across the river from the Almanzo course. While I was fishing, cyclists sped by on gravel. Some, seeing Preston as a good halfway point on the course, ventured into the town store for food before embarking on the final 60 miles. The trout didn’t seem to mind the traffic.
The Root River greeted me with a caddis hatch. Bugs were rising everywhere. Warblers and swallows dined within inches of getting their wings wet. They didn’t seem to mind me standing in the river. I felt like a control tower in Top Gun, getting buzzed by hungry songbirds.
Brown trout were rising to the occasion. OK, that was a bad fishing pun. But they were. Lots of them, too. Water was still at spring levels and it was cold. Shallow summer runs were frigid torrents looking to topple careless fishermen. I was careful. I spied a riffle dropping into a slow, deep hole. Fish were rising nearby. The only problem: it was 100 yards downstream. I could A) traverse the rocky fast water of unknown depths in my hip boots (this was before I got waders), or B) cross the river via the bridge, then descend the opposite bank. B was the best option.
Upon stepping into the river near the hole downstream, I found myself in fucking paradise. Birds were singing. Fish were rising. The sun was shining. Wind was absent. This was also before I perfected my cast, which is still far from perfect. I could only identify a few types of bugs. Caddis was one of the types I knew. Thank God. It took me a bit to get close enough to the rising trout without spooking them. I was finally within striking distance. I wound my cast and dropped the bug right in the feeding lane of a hungry brown. The current carried my fly around a rock. Then splash! Fish on! The brown wasn’t anything big, but it was the first trout I ever caught on a dry fly. I was thrilled. Bike racing, fly fishing and sandwiches. Can you think of a better way to spend a cool spring Saturday?
This year will take me away from the Almanzo course. Another friend and I are looking to do a mountain biking and fly fishing trip on the North Shore. It won’t be the same, but it will be pretty fucking rad.