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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.

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