And they're off.  The bicyclists take off from downtown Spring Valley north on Broadway Avenue to begin the Almanzo 100 bicycle race.  A squad car from the Fillmore County Sheriff's Office, left, and Chris Skogen in his pickup lead the pack of bicyclists. PHOTO BY DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
And they're off. The bicyclists take off from downtown Spring Valley north on Broadway Avenue to begin the Almanzo 100 bicycle race. A squad car from the Fillmore County Sheriff's Office, left, and Chris Skogen in his pickup lead the pack of bicyclists. PHOTO BY DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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As Chris Skogen climbed into the bed of his pickup to address the crowd as he has done each year before starting off the bicyclists in the Almanzo 100, he was overcome with emotion at the sight of the more than 1,000 racers in front of him, filling downtown Spring Valley.

"In 2008, this is what I saw," he said as his voice trailed off and he had his father, Steve, a former radio man, take over.

"What Chris meant was this was his vision," said the elder Skogen about the Almanzo 100 bike race that started in 2008 with just a handful of riders. Since then, it has grown every year with this year's event taking a significant bump in attendance and prestige.

The event, now called Wilderfest, that has grown to include two more longer bicycle races and three foot races over an entire weekend, included an expo in the community center Friday night and outside the center Saturday morning along with many other related activities.

Although bicyclists in the Alexander 380, a new race that covers 380 miles in three states, left in a downpour Friday morning, the weather cooperated this year after cold, wet conditions two years ago and warm and windy conditions last year.

Water was an issue this year, though, as one bridge on a county road was out, forcing bicyclists to wade through a stream with their bicycles over their heads and the water level was quite high in another area that is often wet.

The first rider came in a little after 2 p.m. to the finish line in Willow Park. The 100-mile race started at 9 a.m.

The races are unique in that they are free, self-supported races on gravel roads. The routes take participants through the back roads of Fillmore County south of Chatfield, west of Preston and to the Iowa line. The starting line this year was downtown Spring Valley. The event has been held in Spring Valley since 2010, but this was the first time it was centered downtown.

As Skogen quickly regained his composure before the race, he went through the usual checklist of items, including thanking the Spring Valley people that help with his event, along with the singing of "Happy Birthday" to his son, who always has a birthday near the annual event.

This year, he had more than 1,000 people in on the chorus.