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Saturday, November 19: Three Sisters and Wetlands Park, 36 miles

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End of another season


Here I am again, just days away from my fifth bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. (This means that I've now cycled in more than half of all the ALC rides!) And thanks to all of you, I've raised more money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation this year than in any of my previous rides. Your support means a lot not just to me, but also to the many people whose lives are directly helped by your contributions.

This is the time when I reflect on the past year and look ahead to next week. And I think the best word to describe my frame of mind going into this year's event is raw. A lot has happened in the past year.

Because of that, my overall stress level is very high, and my threshold for annoyances, difficulties, and general bullcrap is really low these days. And that's probably not a good place to be just before the ride. Although the logistics of ALC are exquisitely organized, unexpected events happen every year, and part of a successful ride is dealing with the challenges that arise during the week ... and doing so with aplomb. "Practice patience" isn't just part of the ALC safety speech; it's an essential tactic to make the event happy for you and safe for everyone around you.

I've made many new friends (and one hugely wonderful friend) again this year, thanks to the ride. What I'm finding, however, is that my social circle is becoming almost exclusively filled with "ride people." That's not a bad thing in itself -- after all, I like ride people (I think I've even become one myself) -- but it creates a fundraising conundrum. I'm extremely grateful for all of the donations that I received from riders and roadies this season, but I'm also disappointed that I wasn't able to reach out to more people outside the ALC family. My personal life has become so consumed by ALC that I haven't had much time left to do much of anything else, and that's made it difficult to do fundraising ... especially when I've taken money that riders could have put into their own accounts. And my work has been responsible for an entirely different set of stresses, from a mass layoff to a boatload of other things I can't talk about here.

My role as a ride leader has again been gratifying, and it's clear that I derive great pleasure in planning the logistics of my training rides (including the apparently-legendary route sheets). On a ride such as the Altamont Pass Double Metric, my greatest happiness didn't come from the act of riding; instead, it came from the process of planning the route, organizing the event, and then watching everything come together on ride day to help more than 30 other cyclists (and our awesome roadies) get ready for ALC9.

Even though I criticize my riding style every year and promise to change, I really don't. I'm still very much a "determined" rider -- get on the road, get in and out of rest stops as efficiently as possible, finish the ride, and take satisfaction in a ride well done. That's all fine and wonderful, and it certainly gets me into camp early, but I continue to miss out on many of the tiny joys to be found along the way. The tradeoff is that I have less stress about making rest-stop cutoff times, but there's still a nagging sense that I'm missing something.

Why do I keep riding so hard, if not so fast? One reason might be the perception that I'm somehow a "fast" rider. Really, I'm not. I never average above 15 mph on a ride unless it's painfully flat. But I often feel like I have a (false) reputation to uphold, so I push myself to ride the same way -- as directly and efficiently as possible, perhaps to the detriment of my ability to enjoy the actual act of riding.

On the positive side, however, I've logged just under 4,000 training miles since the official ALC9 kickoff ride last October. That's more than in recent years, and I appear to have made it through the spring without getting sick like I did the previous two years. The result is that, physically, I'm probably better prepared this year for endurance riding. In fact, if I make it through the ride in one piece, I'm tentatively planning to attempt the 160-mile, one-day Ride Across Indiana in July. It's got less than 3,000 feet of climbing!

Oh, but there's that word. Climbing. My attitude toward hills seems to have worsened significantly this year, even though I deliberately put more hills into many of the rides that I led. But there are times when the riding just hasn't seemed that much fun anymore, particularly when the roads turn hilly and steep. I had a thoroughly miserable 50 miles (out of 104) on a recent East Bay ride because of the incessant hills that drove my average speed way, way down. Even though I was one of the first riders to complete the route, I felt completely awful at the end -- disappointed and frustrated, unhappy at my body's inability to better cope with the terrain.

For me, that's one of the dirty little secrets of AIDS/LifeCycle -- sure, many folks have been able to lose amazing amounts of weight by training for the ride, but not me. In fact, in my five years on the ride, I've actually gained about 40 pounds ... and not in the right places, either. I never expected that the pounds would magically melt away the moment I got back on the bicycle, but this outcome was equally unexpected. How did this happen? I clearly haven't been following the "proper" nutrition guidelines, and the huge amount of calories that we burn on long rides probably puts me into a weird state where my body tries to hang on to everything it can take in.

Of all the reasons why it might be time for me to take some time off from ALC, this is the most important one -- to give me some time to regain control of my body.

Finally, this will be the first ride during which my mother will not be at home in Florida nervously awaiting my phone call every night to hear that I've completed another day safe and sound. As many of you already know, my mother died shortly after ALC8. Every year, it was the same routine: "You don't really need to ride, you don't need to prove anything, just relax and take some time off, you're going to get hurt!" And on and on. But when I completed each of my four rides, she was genuinely happy for -- and proud of -- me. When I visited her in the hospital shortly before she died, she took great pride in introducing me to nurses and staff as her son who had just bicycled from San Francisco to Los Angeles. My father, who continues to live in the family home, also has supported my rides and continues to do so -- and he's an enthusiastic reader of this very blog. But I would be dishonest if I didn't acknowledge that something will be missing this year. I can hope that, somewhere, my mother is again looking over this ride and hoping that I will complete the event safe and happy.

So, with all of these things on my mind, I prepare to begin my fifth AIDS/LifeCycle odyssey this Saturday morning with orientation day, followed by ride-out from the Cow Palace at 6:30 a.m. Sunday. The week will be full of challenges -- both known and unknown, and I approach this adventure with the usual mix of excitement and trepidation. Thanks to everyone who rode with me this season, and best wishes to everyone for a safe and successful ride.

Photo by Dennis Soong

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