It’s the morning of the Slick 50 and I’m in CRC waiting for the ride to start. Chris Skogen walks in, and despite the fact that I’ve never seen him in person – the “Hundo” kit and way the other riders show their respect lets me know this is the guy. I introduce myself and offer a cookie which he graciously declines – another strike against my winter weight loss plan.
As the ride progresses it becomes apparent that Chris is no slouch when it comes to bike riding. Even with his wider tires, he keeps heading off the front with his Salsa Fargo and digging deep on the climbs. As we chat more, I discover just how much love Chris has for the sport of cycling and find out about his desire to share this with others. After the ride is over at Merlin’s Rest, Chris was kind enough to step outside and answer a few questions for the Musette.
MM: How did the Almanzo get started?
CS: There was a group of us in Rochester that were riding kind of regularly, doing a couple of local events around the area. A friend of ours moved to Mankato to attend school and I figured we should ride over and if we were going to ride over we should invite people. If we invite people we should race and if we race – we should race on gravel because it would be a lot harder and so it was born.
2007 was the first one (May). 20 people signed up, 13 showed up and 4 finished. I think at the time nobody really knew – including myself – what was going on or what we were getting into. The numbers weren’t really high so the times weren’t that quick because everyone was riding by themselves. Going east to west in a part of the state that’s generally pretty windy – a headwind for about 80 miles.
MM: Started in 2007 and then?
CS: Did it again [in 2008] and 65 people registered in the second year, that’s when the Ragnarok started up. The pulse was starting to come about, just kind of word of mouth. Jeremy Kershaw came down to the race in 2009, he was from Duluth. He went back and started up the Heck of the North.
MM: And then that became the AGRS (All Gravel Race Series)?
CS: It [the AGRS] came out of my desire to kind of unify these things. They’re happening in the same way, they’re all free, they’re all gravel and they’re all about 100 miles. It made sense to me to try and tie them together in a way that would encourage more people to come out. I was seeing more and more riders coming out to the race who otherwise wouldn’t. None of these are novel ideas really, the gravel racing is something unique to this part of the country, but it’s been around for ever. The people are coming out for a race that’s completely free, from fees and licenses. The only thing that we ask is that you are self supported and that you don’t take help from any outside source.
Basically it’s here are your directions, I’ll see you at the finish line.
MM: What is spirit of the Almanzo? Not necessarily just the Almanzo, but all of the AGRS races – what makes them so special?
CS: I don’t know what it is, honestly. Having been to other [more formal] races I think when you can take away the expectations from anything in life it allows everyone to enter in the same place and find common ground. There is something magical about it, and the guy who I do a lot of the work with [Matt from Em En Design] is an integral part of that. I’ll come up with the idea and then send it to him – he’ll rework it and then send it back to me. Then I’ll take a final look at it and make it into what we needed. It’s kind of funny how it’s all unfolded. I don’t know if I have any answers for how it’s taken off so much. I only get to see it from one side.
MM: You do the race every year yourself?
CS: I don’t, actually. The only one I don’t do. I rode out with the group last time on a little scooter and then kind of made my way back. That’s usually what I do, I ride out from the start and then ride back telling riders to have a good day and thanking them for coming.
MM: That’s classy.
CS: Yeah, I mean for me it’s like having x amount of people coming over to my house. I try and treat everyone who comes like they’re a guest in my house. That might be the thing about it that makes it special. I don’t see too many events where that happens. I want people to feel like they are apart of something, rather than apart from something.
MM: 700 + riders this year? Do you think all of them will come?
CS: Usually about 20 percent don’t, but life happens and that’s totally fine. We’ll see what happens.
MM: With so many riders, how have you managed to keep the race free from entry fees?
CS: Well, I’ve actually paid for it. In all the years that this has been going on I’ve probably put about $10,000 of my own money into it – but what we’re doing with Almanzo is above and beyond what needs to be done. With the packaging and preparation, I think that’s what had to happen in order for it to take off. I think people needed to see that it was possible to do that. It happened, so it must have worked.
MM: It’s obviously working, expanding even into the Almanzo Market this year?
CS: I’m a little nervous about the [Almanzo] market. I have a lot of experience in putting races together – I don’t have a lot of experience putting a market together. We’ll see how it goes and hopefully it all comes together well. We’ll just shoot from the hip like we always do and really, if you’re shooting with a shotgun your spread is larger so it’s not that bad of an idea.In the interest of expedience, the night before we’re going to have a party at Glynner’s Pub in Rochester where everyone can come and sign in. If more people come and get registered, Saturday will go a lot smoother.
MM: What do you think the impact of a event like the Almanzo is?
CS: Part of me likes to believe that we’re changing the way people race bicycles, but the other part realizes that people have been racing in the more traditional way for a long time and that’s not going anywhere. I tell you what – there’s a lot of money in promotion, and a lot of money is paid to people who promote events, but I don’t think you get with those events what you can get at Almanzo.I’d love to make money at it, but I will make my money any way I have to so that I can get more people on bikes and experiencing that thrill of being apart of something that’s, fucking, pretty amazing.I mean you ride a bike, you know it’s expensive.
MM: I work at a bike shop and it’s expensive!
Exactly, it’s time away from home, it’s time away from work. It’s eating out. So to pay 50 or 100 dollars on top of that, screw that. Even if it’s a charity event it’s still expensive and most of that money is just going to the promotion, the t shirts the advertisements instead of the charity. That’s not to belittle donations or charities, it raises awareness and that’s great, but I don’t think the money is going where the riders think it is. With Almanzo, I know where the money is going, and it’s going to putting on the best event I can.