Ride report: Distance Training #6 (3/20/2010)
After the challenging weather of this winter, our group of 29 riders (and awesome SAG driver Taryl) was treated to a first day of spring that was almost perfect for cycling. Today's official high in San Jose reached 74 degrees, and this 81-mile ride was an ideal example of the many things you can expect on the event in June. In fact, today was almost the perfect "average" day on AIDS/LifeCycle.
In June, you'll average about 80 miles a day. You'll average about 3,000 feet of climbing a day. The mornings typically will start out around 50 degrees or a little bit cooler, and daytime temperatures usually will warm significantly before cooling off again by the end of your riding day. And you'll travel through busy urban corridors, along picturesque rural scenery, up and over moderately challenging hills, and even places where the miles start to seem monotonous.
Today was a perfect opportunity to practice the many ways in which you need to manage your ride to respond to this multitude of conditions. Dressing in layers is essential to deal with temperature swings that can be as much as 40 degrees or more from morning till afternoon. Those of you who like city miles can get more comfortable with riding in the country, where shoulders may not be as wide and road conditions may not be as good. Those of you who like country miles, on the other hand, can get more comfortable with high-traffic situations and navigating complex lane configurations. These are all things that you'll experience in June, and you're ahead of the game if you learn now how to most effectively react to any negative feelings you have about riding in any of these conditions.
Road surfaces can get a little sketchy out there in the middle of nowhere, with bumps, ruts, and holes appearing out of nowhere. This is especially important on days 2 and 3 of the ride, where we spend much of our time on rural backroads of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Sad to say, but in these times of budget cuts, the standard of rural road maintenance in these areas just isn't what it should be, and we'll be dealing with long stretches of roads that have seen better days. And because chip-seal is very common in these areas, the vibration from the road surface can play games with your hands and the rest of your body, even when the road quality is OK. You need to watch for road hazards and call them out when you see them; holes and ruts can appear right where you might want to be cycling, and other cyclists behind you probably can't see the hazards in front of you. This is doubly important when you're cycling at high speed, such as going downhill, because the consequences of hitting an obstruction there can be very serious indeed. When you're going faster, leave more space between you and the rider in front of you ... just like you would if you were driving. You need time to react to any unexpected events.
Another part of today's ride that was almost just like June was the somewhat unequal distribution of rest stop locations. Rest stops can be anywhere from about 9 miles apart to about 25 miles apart in June, and you always need to make sure that you've got enough water and food to get you to the next rest stop. Check your route sheet to see how far to the next rest stop. (Yes, you get a route sheet every day in June, even though the route is usually marked well. The route sheet gives you other information that can help you better manage your ride, such as the elevation chart and rest stop locations.)
At 81 miles, today's ride was the longest ever for many of you, and congratulations are in order. Now that we're into uncharted territory, pay special attention to how every extra mile is affecting your body. Don't forget your basic lessons of nutrition, hydration, and (um, er) excretion; managing your body is another important key to succeeding at long-distance riding. Always have some type of energy on hand to use in an emergency if your body starts to run out of fuel before the next rest stop. Some folks like energy gels; others use "shot blocks," tablets, or other items; this is the time for you to figure out which ones work for you. A typical gel shot contains lots of caffeine but only about 100 calories; that's not enough to serve as a meal replacement, but it might be enough to get you those last few miles to camp or the next rest stop.
What's next? The ALC calendar is getting busy now. Next Saturday is the ALC9 SF Cyclist Expo and Roadie Training. Two rides will be held that day, but they're only 22 and 40 miles, so they'll be a piece of cake for us. (And if you've never done the Tiburon Loop, you should do it at least once.) After the rides, vendors will be on hand to sell items and gear you might find useful on the event, the ALC store will be open, and there will be the usual drawings for fabulous prizes.
Then, next Sunday is the second ride of the season down in Hollister. This 54-mile ride has a few moderate climbs but nothing worse than what we've done here so far. In the heart of San Benito County, this ride is also a perfect opportunity to experience rural roads very similar to those of the Central Coast, with all of the fantastic scenery but also with some of the challenging road conditions that you need to be comfortable with before setting out in June. Hollister is only about a one-hour drive from our meeting point in Mountain View, and you can even go outlet shopping on the way back home.
Our next Cat-3 Distance Training ride is in two weeks, on Saturday, April 3, when we'll do a challenging 90-mile ride all the way to San Francisco and back. This is another very useful ride because you'll get to experience about 15 miles of the traditional Day 1 route of the event in June, and you'll be much happier on Day 1 if you know in advance what this rather hilly part of the route feels like. This ride also introduces us to real freeway cycling; we'll be going on several short bicycle-legal parts of I-280, and this is yet another thing that you need to be comfortable with in June. (Better to have your freak-out now than when 2,500 other cyclists are around you!) This is a fun ride that always generates at least a few interesting stories; details and RSVP here.
(Edit, added after I sent the email version of this report: Construction on the Crystal Springs Dam Bridge has been delayed, so we'll be able to take a direct route in both directions. The route will be a little bit simpler and easier than the one that's posted now; I'll make the corrections soon.)
Just 78 days until we start our journey to Los Angeles! Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.