Upcoming rides I'm leading:
Saturday, November 19: Three Sisters and Wetlands Park, 36 miles

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Sage advice from Team Ventura

Whether you're a first-year or ninth-year rider, the fine folks down there at Team Ventura have assembled nine pages of tips and tricks for making your ALC week happy and successful.

Among the tips:
Get out of your bike shorts as soon as you get to camp. Put on something loose fitting and let yourself air out. After a day of riding, perspiration and Chamois Butt'r, your shorts are a petri dish.

Read it here. (It's a PDF.)

Crystal Springs Dam update

Good news for ALC9: Demolition of the Crystal Springs Dam will not begin until August, meaning that we will not need to take a long and hilly detour this year. The Chronicle reports:
Peninsula bikers and drivers face nearly three years of detours when a popular section of Skyline Boulevard is shut down this summer to clear the way for improvements to the 122-year-old Crystal Springs Dam.

To make it possible to work on the dam, the narrow, aging bridge above the dam is slated to be demolished in August, closing Skyline Boulevard just south of Crystal Springs Road. Cyclists and motorists who use the scenic two-lane road as it runs alongside the Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir will be forced to take a long, steep detour to get to the other side of the dam.

That detour happens to be mostly what we did Saturday for Day on the Ride: down Crystal Springs, then back up Polhemus all the way to Highway 92, and then down a bike path to meet CaƱada Road, and back to Highway 92.

Yuck.

Day on the Ride vs. Day 1


The internets are buzzing today! Yesterday's ride was either a refreshing change to an old routine, or a sadistic painfest that hurt the spirit of the ride by needlessly scaring cyclists.

The reality is that Day on the Ride had almost exactly as much climbing as Day 1 of ALC8. But there are some differences in how that climbing is distributed. Allow me to get nerdy for a few minutes and show you some pictures.

Here's the elevation chart from yesterday. (I know; you might not want to look at it ever again for as long as you live.)


And here's the elevation chart from Day 1 of ALC8:


Both charts are very similar at the beginning -- not surprising, since we rode an extended segment of the traditional Day 1 route yesterday. But the second half of Day 1 is different. On first glance, it almost looks flat! But veteran ALC riders know better. Here's a blowup of part of that "flat" section:

It looks flatter in part because it's based at sea level, not several hundred feet up.

Highway 1 between San Gregorio and Santa Cruz has countless short but annoying climbs. (The hill immediately after lunch, pictured above, is particularly noteworthy.) And many of them are steep enough that I need to use my lowest gears. Those hills might last only 0.2 or 0.3 mile at a time, but you take 100 feet of climbing here and 150 feet of climbing there, and pretty soon it starts to add up. There's just about as much climbing in the second half of Day 1 as there was in the second half of yesterday's ride! One thing that helps on the afternoon of Day 1, however, is that there's usually a reliable tailwind -- unlike yesterday.

Given the restriction that we couldn't use the Golden Gate Bridge this year, our route options for Day on the Ride were limited. (The Sawyer Camp Trail was also out of the running.) Short of forming a parade down El Camino Real or taking the "commuter route" full of stop signs every couple hundred feet, there just aren't that many ways to go down the Peninsula from San Francisco. (Don't even think about trying to go via Devil's Slide.) The need to have the two rest stops in the same location also made route planning more difficult, and it's always a challenge to find a lunch spot that's big enough (and available enough) to accommodate us.

And it wasn't a specific goal to have so much climbing in Day on the Ride; given all of the constraints on the route, that's just the way it happened to work out. Those of you who ride with me in Mountain View know that I'm not a great fan of climbing!

So the goal definitely was not to "scare" riders. On the other hand, Day 1 of the ride usually does have more than 4,000 feet of climbing, and you need to be able to handle that and still be ready to ride more than 100 miles the very next day. ALC is very doable, but it's definitely not easy.

Ride report: 2010 SF Day on the Ride


Although I didn't lead this ride (there are no actual "ride leaders" for Day on the Ride), I did design what one rider called today's "death march" route, so it seems fitting that I write something about my experiences today.

For my supporters, Day on the Ride is the last major pre-ride event, a day structured very much like an actual day on the event in June. We have fully supported rest stops and lunch, a whole vast contingent of very important roadie support along the route, and hundreds of riders on the route at once. These are new experiences for many riders, so it's often a wake-up call for folks to gauge their level of preparedness for the event in June.

Because we couldn't use the Golden Gate Bridge this year as we have in the past (new time-of-day rules that had nothing to do with us, I'm told), we had to ride south out of San Francisco, and ALC World HQ asked me if I'd like to design a route for them. I did, and with just a couple of changes, that's the 70-mile route that about 400 of us rode today. You can see the route sheet here (PDF).

Just as there's only one way northbound out of San Francisco (across the Golden Gate Bridge), there aren't many ways southbound either, especially for a group as large as ours. So we ended up riding a significant part of the traditional Day 1 route of the ride, climbing Skyline Blvd. and following it down much of the Peninsula. From there, however, we took a detour back down almost to sea level for our lunch stop at a park in San Carlos. (My original plan to have lunch at the scenic and historic Pulgas Water Temple was scuttled when the property was already booked for a wedding today. ALC staff worked wonders to secure Burton Park for us.) We then had to climb back up several hundred feet, and we eventually joined up with our outbound route to retrace it back into San Francisco.

All told, depending on your measurement tools, the day's total climbing was between 4,500 and 5,000 feet. That's a lot! In fact, only on Day 1 in June do we have that much climbing: almost exactly as much as we did today, which last year was on an 81-mile route. My pace for today was 12.2 mph, which is well below my pace on other recent rides, and that's to be expected on a route like this (especially with my well-known overly cautious descending technique, or lack thereof). So don't fret if you weren't up to your normal speed today; no doubt about it, this was a challenging route.

With those preliminaries out of the way, I was fascinated by how quickly I got back into the "rhythm" of the ride today. Much more so than in past years, Day on the Ride really did feel like a day on the ride. My rest stop routine was down pat, the route felt "big," and there were many other intangibles that I can't seem to put a finger on. But the result was that, despite the terrain, I felt emotionally comfortable (if not physically). For all of the times that I say that I get tired of doing the ride, days like today remind me that doing the ride makes me feel good. And now that I'm a fifth-year rider, another big benefit is that I know lots of people on the ride. It's rare that I stick with anything for five years, so this type of familiarity is rare for me, and it's refreshing.

One part of Day on the Ride that always seems to bother me, however, is the number of riders who don't follow the ALC safety rules. Some of this apparently happens because Day on the Ride attracts some folks who don't regularly participate in our training rides. This is a big deal, because (as our regular training ride participants hear every weekend) following the safety rules is essential to ALC getting permission to pass through the more than 50 jurisdictions between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Just one rider violating one rule in one town could be enough to put the future of the ride in jeopardy, and I have little patience for hot-shot riders who show up to ride with us once or twice a year and think the rules don't apply to them.

What did I see today? Riders three, four, and even five abreast, sticking way out into a traffic lane. Riders going through stop signs without so much as even slowing. Riders whipping out into traffic to get around other riders who had been stopped at a red light. (That last one really eats my craw; they can't wait another five seconds like the rest of us?)

That said, today wasn't much different from past Day on the Ride events in that regard. There's always a certain degree of rule-breaking. But that doesn't make it right, and with increasing hostility toward bicyclists in many places, it's more important than ever that every one of us ride safely to ensure the future of ALC. Don't be hesitant to politely call out other riders' bad behavior (I'll admit that I'm sometimes not very good at this), and if someone is riding really stupidly, don't be afraid to note their rider number and report it to a staff member or roadie. The millions of dollars that we raise for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center are at stake here.

One skill that you can take away from today's ride is reading elevation charts. Today's route sheet is probably very similar to what you'll get every day during the event in June. The 2,000-foot vertical scale is standard because the maximum elevation on the ride is 1,762 feet (Day 4, west of Paso Robles), and the 110-mile horizontal scale is also standard (Day 2, the longest day, is about 108 miles). This lets you judge rides on similar scales. Also, as I'm sure you learned today, even tiny undulations in the elevation chart can mean attention-getting hills that knock you into your granny gear. Practice eyeballing both the length of the climbs and their relative steepness. Using an elevation chart to know what's ahead is something that can give you a huge psychological advantage in June.

Finally, if you're at least a 12 mph rider, don't forget our third annual Altamont Pass Double Metric on Saturday, May 15. This 200-kilometer (125-mile) ride is an epic event, and it's the longest single-day training ride on the nationwide ALC calendar. (It also has only about half as much climbing as we did today!) To qualify, you need to complete a ride of at least 100 miles before May 15; if that's you, find out more here.

And if you're one of my supporters or potential supporters, we're down into the final weeks before the ride. I'm still about $1,500 short of my fundraising goal for the year, so I'd appreciate whatever help you can give to get me there. And if you can't donate yourself (or if you've already done so -- thank you!), then please feel free to tell your friends about this blog and the wonderful/crazy person behind it. You can donate here. As of Saturday night, we have raised just over $4.5 million in ALC9.

Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

2011 Altamont Pass Double Metric FAQ

Last updated May 8
What is a double metric century?
Who should ride the Altamont Pass Double Metric?
Is qualification required?
Is pre-registration required?
Must I be registered for AIDS/LifeCycle?
UPDATED What happens on ride morning?
Can I use the toilet at the nearby police station?
UPDATED What's the weather going to be like?
Will we ride if it's raining?
What's the route?
Is the route marked?
Will we encounter other events along the route?
How much does the ride cost?
How fast do I need to ride?
Can I really ride just 12 mph?
Can I bring bicycle lighting and complete the route after sunset?
What happens if I'm not riding fast enough?
Do I have to ride the entire 200-kilometer route? Can I take a short cut?
What types of SAG service will be available?
Are hotels available near the meeting location?
Got more questions? Email me. Items of general interest will be added to this list.

What is a double metric century?
A double metric century is 200 kilometers, or approximately 125 miles, of bicycling in a single day.

Who should ride the Altamont Pass Double Metric?
This ride is designed for AIDS/LifeCycle riders who desire an extreme challenge to mark the culmination of their training season. The longest day on AIDS/LifeCycle is only about 108 miles, so you do not need to do this ride to be ready for the event. However, many riders have found that taking part in the double metric helps make the longest days of ALC seem a little bit easier.

Is qualification required?
You should have completed at least a 100-mile ride before May 14. Otherwise, the jump in mileage might be too much, and you might not be able to complete the ride, or you might injure yourself just a few weeks before AIDS/LifeCycle 10. You don't need to tell us what century you've done, but please honestly assess your abilities.

Is pre-registration required?
No; but we'd really appreciate it if you did. This will let us give an accurate roster to the SAG drivers so that they can identify or locate you if necessary during the day. To RSVP, use this link to send email.

Must I be registered for AIDS/LifeCycle?
No; this ride is open to everyone who can ride fast enough and who agrees to ride according to our rules. If you're not yet part of ALC, perhaps this ride will persuade you to register for next year's event!

What happens on ride morning?
Our meeting location is next to condominiums (and a police station), so please be quiet and respectful when arriving. You should plan to arrive at the meeting place in downtown Mountain View by 5 a.m. so that you have plenty of time to unload your bicycle and sign in. Although you will park in the same place as we've done throughout the season, sign-in and warmup will take place one block away, on the other side of Shoreline Blvd., as shown here:

After you arrive, ride or walk one block west on Evelyn Street under Shoreline Blvd. into the large parking lot, where you will sign in and receive your frame and helmet numbers. After the safety speech, we will ride out past the parking area, so you can visit your vehicle if necessary before the ride begins. At sign-in, you will receive a frame number for you to affix to your bicycle frame, and a helmet number for you to put on the left side of your helmet. (This is separate from your ALC rider number.) The frame number will be important throughout the day for SAG drivers and other riders to identify cyclists who are part of this ride. Warm-up exercises and the route briefing begin at about 5:30 a.m. All riders must be already signed in, present, and attentive at 5:45 a.m. for a mandatory safety speech.

Can I use the toilet at the nearby police station?
Sorry, no; the police station isn't open for public access that early in the morning. Please take care of your restroom needs before arriving, and make sure your water bottles are full and ready to go.

What's the weather going to be like?
Early forecasts suggest that this year's ride could see the lowest temperatures of any year so far, with temperatures in the 50s and lower 60s through most of the day. We might experience light to moderate headwinds for part of the afternoon. There is a very slight chance of light showers. In short, could be just about anything. Past years of this event have seen temperatures above 100 degrees, but in 2010 we had a pleasant day in the 50s and 60s. The historical temperature data for Livermore on May 14 shows an average high of 77 degrees and a record high of 98.

Will we ride if it's raining?
Probably yes. We will cancel the ride only if there is steady, heavy rain on ride day or if there is a likelihood of thunderstorms or other severe weather.

What's the route?
You will receive a route sheet on the morning of the ride. We expect that the route will be mostly unchanged from last year. This year's preliminary route is here; the route from 2010 is here. Last-minute changes are possible due to road work (especially along Mission Blvd. in Hayward) and other unforeseen events.

Is the route marked?
No; there are no pavement arrows, signs, or other markings. There are approximately 65 turns on the route, so you will need to refer to your route sheet frequently during the ride; consider a map holder or binder clips. On some parts of the route, you will see pavement arrows of various colors and styles; these are for other events to other destinations, and you should not follow them.

Will we encounter other events along the route?
We know of no other organized cycling events that will be following our route on May 14. The rodeo that has taken place on ride day in Dublin during past years is scheduled for a different date this year. Also, there is no street festival in downtown Mountain View on ride day this year.

How much does the ride cost?
It's free! Our six rest stops are all at coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores, so you will need to buy or bring your own food and liquid. If you use any of the nonperishable supplies from a SAG vehicle, such as extra tubes, please consider making a small donation to the driver to help cover the replacement cost of these items. The SAG drivers also pay for gas, food, and water and are not reimbursed by ALC, so you are encouraged to help cover their costs if you are able to do so.

How fast do I need to ride?
This ride is designed for riders who can maintain an average speed of at least 12 mph on flat to rolling terrain. We love all cyclists, but the 12 mph pace is necessary to complete the route before sunset.

Can I really ride just 12 mph?
Yes! There will certainly be riders who are faster than 12 mph, but if you ride a steady 12 mph pace and do not take too long at rest stops, you can finish this ride in 14 hours or less. There will always be at least one ride leader at the back of the group, so you are guaranteed to never be the slowest rider. Here's some math: If you take half an hour at five of the six rest stops and give yourself an hour for lunch at one rest stop, and if you assume that you'll spend 15 minutes waiting at traffic signals and stop signs, then you need to average 12.2 mph to finish before sunset. Plan on going a little faster on flat terrain and a little slower uphill.

Can I bring bicycle lighting and complete the route after sunset?
Sorry, no. AIDS/LifeCycle rules require at least one ride leader to be behind the last rider at all times, so you can't finish on your own. This is for your own safety!

What happens if I'm not riding fast enough?
Each of the six rest stops will have an official closing time noted on the route sheet, timed to allow you to complete the ride within the 14 hours of daylight on ride day. This is to help you gauge your progress throughout the day and keep you on track to return to Mountain View before sunset at approximately 8 p.m. If you are in a rest stop at its closing time, you will need to resume riding immediately, or you can choose to end your ride there. In some cases, a SAG vehicle might be able to jump you to the next rest stop and allow you to resume riding, but this service is available only if SAG vehicles are not otherwise occupied with more important tasks.

Do I have to ride the entire 200-kilometer route? Can I take a short cut?
There is no official "short route" for this year's ride. However, there are several places along the route where you can skip ahead from 5 to 37 miles, and several BART and VTA light rail stations are on or near the route. If you decide to shorten your ride or leave the route, you must let a ride leader know, either in person or by leaving voicemail or a text message on a ride leader's cellphone. Phone numbers will be on the route sheet that you receive on ride morning. Also, if you skip far ahead of other riders, you will be out of the coverage area of SAG vehicles, so you will not be able to receive support. The SAG vehicles need to be available on the official route, so if you leave the route, you'll be on your own.

What types of SAG service will be available?
We will have several volunteer SAG drivers stationed along the route and at rest stops. Most will have basic supplies like water, ice, light snacks, and some basic bicycle equipment such as a floor pump and extra tubes. In some cases, the SAG vehicle can transport you to a nearby location if you are unable to continue riding. Please note, however, that the SAG vehicles are not a personal taxi service, and if you decide to stop riding, it is your responsibility to get transportation for you and your bicycle back to Mountain View or some other location. Please respect and thank our volunteer SAG drivers who are helping make your ride a success.

Are hotels available near the meeting location?
If you are coming from far outside Mountain View, you might want to consider getting a hotel for the night before the ride, so that you can arrive on time. Several hotels are available in a variety of price ranges within five minutes of the meeting location; any of the online booking services can steer you in the proper direction. Note, however, that the Pacific Euro Hotel, one block from our meeting location, is largely a residential hotel and might not offer you the experience you need in order to be ready to ride in the morning.

Ride report: Distance Training #8 (4/17/2010)


Go, riders!

Our group of 20 cyclists plus awesome SAG driver Gloria could not have asked for finer weather on today's 100-mile loop around the South Bay. From quiet foothill byways to crowded city arterials, we got a good taste of the many different types of riding we'll be doing in June, often all on the same day. Special congratulations to the many riders who completed their first-ever century today.

I've mentioned many times that ALC is a mental challenge as much as a physical one, and this ride drove the point home for me. Today's group was, by and large, a very fast group. Now that's generally a good thing; many of you finished the day at a pace of more than 15 mph, and that's quite an accomplishment, especially over such a long distance with a respectable amount of climbing to boot. And because everyone's mind works in different ways, I can only speak about my own experience. But perhaps your mind said some interesting things to you today as well.

Way back in January (it seems so long ago!) when we began this set of rides, I said that there would probably be a point where most of you would become stronger riders than me. Today was that point. Again, this is generally a good thing; it's a sign that your training has gone extremely well. But every year when this happens (and it always does, sooner or later, because I ride at about the same skill level year-round), I have to confront the reality that, give or take some minor variations, I'm as good a cyclist as I'm going to be. And if I have nothing to distract me while I'm traveling down that train of thought, I start to think: Why bother? Why am I spending my time riding into the wind on Santa Teresa Blvd. yet again? And why am I going to give up my vacation time to spend a week -- plus recovery days -- pedaling my bicycle more than a quarter-million times?

These aren't happy thoughts. Maybe they're not your thoughts, but maybe you've had similar ones, especially as we get into the late stages of the training season. I could dismiss them with images of unicorns and ponies and Rest Stop 4 shows and free ice cream in Santa Barbara, but that would be simplistic. When you registered to ride in AIDS/LifeCycle, whether it's for the first year or the 10th, there were reasons why you made the decision. Focus on those reasons, and keep them in mind as we approach the longest rides of the season, both here in Mountain View and elsewhere on the training ride calendar.

Here's a quick story from an ALC a few years ago. On Day 5, I was climbing a particularly difficult hill on Highway 1 between Santa Maria and Lompoc (a hill that's not part of the route anymore). I wasn't going very fast at all, but I nonetheless was quickly approaching another rider. Being the cheerful type that I am (uh huh), I politely called out, "Good morning! Coming up on your l--"

And then I heard the rider. Chanting softly, almost sotto voce. "This is for you," and a name. "This is for you," and another name. The expression on the rider's face was pained beyond belief, and the rider was struggling to maintain 3 mph on this mile-long climb. "This is for you," and yet another name. I silently and slowly made my way past the rider.

Remember your reasons for riding. They belong to you and nobody else, and they will give you strength in the final weeks of training and on the event in June. And resist the urge to compare yourself to other riders. There always will be riders faster (and slower) than you, and ALC isn't about being "better than," "as good as," or "not as good as" anyone else. Sure, we're riding as a group of 2,000-plus riders, but every rider is an individual story with their own fascinating history. The magic of ALC is how this large group comes together year after year in magical and unpredictable ways. And every one of us is part of that magic.

What's next? We've still got two awesome rides left. In two weeks, on May 1, for those of you not doing the Jonathan Pon two-day ride, we've got a challenging 110-mile ride to Gilroy and back. We'll begin by following the same route south out of San Jose that we did on our recent Coyote Valley ride, but this time we'll keep going around the west side of Uvas Reservoir. Then we'll head back north on the quiet farm roads east of U.S. 101 into Morgan Hill. The biggest challenge on this ride likely will be strong headwinds on the return from Gilroy to San Jose -- but with this year's wacky weather, anything is possible. I've thoughtfully grouped rest stops very close together on that part of the ride; they were very much needed last time we did this route. Details and RSVP are here.

And, don't forget, May 15 is the third annual Altamont Pass Double Metric, our 200-kilometer (125-mile) ride to Livermore and beyond. Total climbing is only as much as we did today, but it's still an epic ride that will be the highlight of your training season. Details and RSVP are here.

Next Saturday is Day on the Ride. This year's route is all-new (and is by yours truly!), a challenging 70-mile route from San Francisco to Redwood City and back with about 4,600 feet of climbing. Preregistration for this ride is required and costs $15, and space is limited; as I write this on Saturday night, only 279 more spots are open. Especially if this is your first year in ALC, I strongly recommend Day on the Ride because it gives you a good idea of what riding in June will be like, from route marking to rest stops to roadie support. But yes, that 5:30 a.m. meet time in San Francisco is darned tough for those of us down here! It's worth it, though.

We're just 50 days away from the beginning of ALC9. Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

Photos by Bob Katz

Saturday morning: Please be respectful

As I write this on Friday night, the monthly San Jose Bike Party ride is just getting under way, and this month's route passes through the heart of Mountain View in both directions, sending thousands of cyclists through the area, probably continuing long into the night, most likely with some type of police presence. So, when we meet tomorrow morning before 6:30 a.m. -- next door to the police station, incidentally -- another group of cyclists is probably the last thing that some folks -- including the police -- will want to see.

When you arrive in the morning, please be extra courteous and extra quiet. And when we depart on the nearby residential streets at 7 a.m., it is absolutely imperative that we obey all traffic laws and additional ALC rules precisely. Remember that when you're wearing any type of ALC gear, you're an ambassador for AIDS/LifeCycle, and our reputation -- and the millions of dollars that our beneficiaries rely upon -- depends on your proper behavior.

Thanks.

Another milestone


That's 10,015 miles, 721 hours and 58 minutes in motion on my bicycle (not counting stops) since June 15, 2008, because I support the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Thank you for joining me in supporting their mission to end the suffering caused by HIV and AIDS. Please help me reach my goal of $5,000. The ride begins in less than two months.

Getting ready for your first century

With our first 100-mile ride of the season coming up Saturday (and near-perfect weather in the forecast), many of you will be riding your first century ever. It's quite an experience, one that's unique for each cyclist.

My key piece of advice: Pace yourself. Even though our route is not technically challenging, don't start out riding as if you're doing a 30-mile day. Find a pace that's comfortable ("happy") for you, and save energy for late in the day when you'll need it (and, incidentally, when we might be dealing with some headwinds.)

Here's a random collection of links about people riding their first centuries:
  • Door County Century in Wisconsin.
  • Solvang Century, including many of the roads we'll ride on Day 5.
  • Death Valley, from a rider who knew when her body was telling her to stop.
  • And from way back in 1992, some clueless idiot succeeds despite not knowing the first thing about actual serious cycling and doing several stupid things along the way.

Overtraining, or when it's no fun anymore


This is the busy time of our training season, the time when most of us rack up the most miles in preparation for the event in June. But while high mileage might sound impressive (not only to you, but to potential donors), watch out for the dangers of overtraining. If you push your body way beyond its limits now, you run the risk of not being able to do your best in June.

Of course, the first question is, "How much training is overtraining?" Alas, that's a question that only you can answer for yourself. "Too much" cycling for one person is quite fine for another, and vice versa. But you probably can get hints when you're beginning to reach your limit -- most notably, when bicycling stops being fun and your training rides become nothing more than drudgery. A bad attitude about cycling can hurt your performance at least as much as physical issues!

Sure, when it's chilly and yucky outside, it's natural to think, "Yuck, I don't want to go out today." That's probably not the voice of overtraining. But when even a short ride for yourself starts to sound unpleasant, that should be a sign that you might want to think about dialing it back a couple of notches -- particularly if you've sharply increased your total distance in recent weeks.

When June 6 gets here, we all want it to be a magical week of fun for a good cause. If you're already burned out by then, you probably won't have much fun. Pace yourself, put yourself on track to peak your training in mid- to late May, and then be ready to do this for seven days in a row.

Ride report: Distance Training #7 (4/3/2010)


Go, riders!

Despite the ominous forecasts earlier this week, our group of 25 awesome riders was treated to a near-perfect day of January cycling. Only one problem: It's April. Temperatures didn't rise out of the upper 40s and lower 50s until near the end of the ride, when the sun finally came out for a while. Before that, we dealt with chilly winds, a challenging route, wet pavement, and poorly maintained shoulders that kept our super SAG driver Taryl more than busy today. Think about it ... you rode all the way to San Francisco and back today! That's quite an accomplishment.

No doubt about it -- today's route was challenging. In fact, it was very similar in difficulty to Day 1 of the ride, which is technically the hardest day. Historically, Day 1 is a little bit shorter than this ride, but it has a little bit more climbing, so you should take pride in knowing that you can already handle the most difficult route that ALC will give you. Of course, the next challenge is learning to tackle back-to-back(-to-back) long rides, and as your Monthly Spin newsletter pointed out this week, you should be working on that sooner rather than later. (Didn't get a Monthly Spin email? Check your spam folder, or contact your cyclist representative.)

We also had the opportunity to deal with a lot of other things that happen in June. The wet pavement along Skyline Blvd. was especially problematic; we had several flats and at least two blowouts. And the shoulders looked like they hadn't been swept since the waning days of the Eisenhower administration; gravel and shards of glass were seemingly everywhere. The combination made for a wet, sticky mess that quickly worked its way into tires, causing all sorts of woe. If you're not doing so already, consider using puncture-resistant tires.

Two brands that I've used are Specialized Armadillos and Continental Ultra Gatorskins (which I use now). They cost a bit more than standard tires (use your ALC discount!), but they can save you all sorts of grief and time on the road ... and if you're running behind schedule and fighting an upcoming rest stop closure time in June, those minutes saved could possibly mean the difference between being able to ride on and having to get on the sweep bus.

Our numerous freeway adventures seemed to go trouble-free today, and that's good. In June, we typically spend somewhere between 5% and 10% of the entire ride on freeways, so it's very helpful to be comfortable with riding in those conditions. If we're on a freeway for an extended distance In June, we usually exit at every offramp and then re-enter on the other side of the interchange; this keeps us from having to deal with merging traffic. That, of course, wasn't possible in the ugly cloverleaf at the junction of Skyline Blvd. and Hwy. 1; that's part of our traditional Day 1 route, and the interchange is usually well staffed with roadies to guide our way through the high-speed traffic.

And since this was again the longest ride ever for many of us, you might have noticed your mind behaving in different ways. Every extra hour in the saddle now is a new threshold, and it's just about impossible to predict how you are going to react. For me, I had a strange feeling around mile 72 -- I could barely remember the climb out of San Francisco that I had done less than two hours earlier. It was almost as if I was in San Francisco one minute and then back in Redwood City the next. I can't ascribe any special significance to this, but even for me, this was something unusual, and it took me a few minutes to think about the details of that part of the ride. The danger, of course, is that if I were to focus too intently on where I had been instead of where I was at that moment, I could have become distracted. So if something unusual happened in your mind today, whatever it was, be acutely aware of it, and think about how you can respond to it.

Finally, don't forget to eat and drink. Today's ride took a lot out of us; the reports I've seen of calories burned range anywhere from 3,500 to more than 8,000. If you don't carefully replace most or all of those calories, your body will not be kind to you. You need energy to recover, especially if you're riding the next day. And if you underconsume, you can send your body into a starvation response. With rides this long, we're quickly moving into the phase of training where, if you're trying to lose weight, you should put that goal on hold until after the event in June.

In my opinion, today's ride was the most challenging day of our Distance Training rides. Our three remaining rides are certainly longer, but they don't have nearly as much climbing. The focus for the rest of our training season is specifically on endurance and discovering what individual issues arise when we move into extreme-athlete territory.

In two weeks, on Saturday, April 17, we do our first century ride of the season. This 100-mile route will form a giant circle around San Jose, and except for one significant climb and descent in south San Jose, most of the hills are short and/or rolling. The wide variety of cycling conditions will give us another preview of life on the event in June, and we'll visit a few places that aren't on the usual circuit of club or social rides. Details and RSVP are here.

And registration for our third annual Altamont Pass Double Metric is now open! On Saturday, May 15, we'll ride 200 kilometers (125 miles) in one day. Find out more about this memorable event here.

Today's been a long day; your ride leaders were up as early as 5 a.m., and I'm just wrapping things up here at about 11 p.m. Our volunteer leaders (and SAG drivers!) put in these hours because they're devoted to the mission of AIDS/LifeCycle, and I offer thanks to all of the volunteers who helped make today's ride possible. Of course, we do all of this to make your preparation for the event in June as complete as possible, so your participation is the reason we're here. Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.