It's not an understatement to say that, in the five years that I've been leading training rides for AIDS/LifeCycle, today's 81-mile ride to Calaveras (Plus) was one of the most epic adventures that I've been part of. Between the recent storms, today's cold temperatures, and some unexpectedly strong headwinds for much of the day, our intrepid group of 19 riders faced countless challenges, both mental and physical, and many of us ended the day not in the best of spirits.
The day didn't start that way, however. All of us (well, except for one rider who suffered a broken spoke early on) successfully conquered the "hard" direction of Calaveras Road -- and that by itself is an accomplishment worthy of congratulations and respect. There is no climb on ALC as tough as the top of Calaveras Road (at least not anymore -- ask a veteran about Halcyon Road on Day 6 of ALC7 sometime), so even if you walked the last little bit before the summit, you still completed a very significant climb.
And the rewards today were absolutely magnificent; the Calaveras Reservoir was as full as I've ever seen it, and except for the mud on the road, the scenery was almost bucolic. Sure, we had a few flat tires -- not entirely unexpected given all the debris on the road -- but we made it into Sunol in relatively good shape.
However, that's where things started to
In advance of the "last" storm system for now, the wind picked up out of the west, right in our faces as we began to head down Niles Canyon (which, incidentally, was especially scenic due to the flooding). And the wind kept increasing as we traveled through Union City, Fremont, and Newark on our approach to the Dumbarton Bridge. By the time we reached the bridge ... wowza. I was having flashbacks to my windfest in Death Valley one month ago, almost to the day. I was down in my low gears and struggling to maintain 10-11 mph ... and I was getting cold, too, as the wind started to carry a definite chill.
The push through Menlo Park and up to Rest Stop 3 was quite difficult for me, and I spent much more time than usual there, debating whether I should pack it in for the day. I checked my nutrition, which seemed to be going according to plan -- in fact, my mood was generally OK despite the challenging weather -- but then I committed one of the cardinal rest stop sins: I just sat there. I didn't stretch or do any other type of exercise. And because the sun had gone behind the clouds and the temperature had dropped even more, my muscles began to revolt. As I prepared to get on my bike to head back out, the muscles in both legs spasmed at the same time. I did some impromptu massage, and to make a long story short, I was able to finish the entire route ... but much more slowly than usual, and by taking a lot of quick breaks off the bike to repeatedly tense and release my leg muscles to keep them active.
Why do I tell you all of this? Because it's important that you know today's ride was far more difficult than even I planned ... and if you had trouble, you certainly weren't the only one.
How does today's ride compare to days on the ride in June? If you don't count the weather and just consider the technical details of the route, it's about as difficult (and about the same distance) as Day 1, although the climbing is more evenly distributed on Day 1 than it was today. Add in the weather, however, and today felt a lot like Day 6 has felt for me in many past years. Even though I've always trained well, Day 6 has often managed to be a foul day for me: The day starts with a gradual 1,000-foot climb, our route around Santa Barbara is usually "lumpy," and by then the rigors of the week often have taken their toll on me. That said, however, I completed Day 6 of ALC9 in fine form and spirits, so it's just another of those things that is different for everyone, every time.
Although it wasn't really under my control, I feel like I should apologize for the unexpected difficulty of today's ride. Any time more than a third of my riders don't complete a ride, it raises a little yellow caution flag here at Ride Leader Central, because I want you to keep coming back for the rest of the season. No matter how many miles you completed today, you put forth a first-rate effort under challenging conditions. And if your training has suffered during the recent storms, there's still plenty of time to get back on track.
Speaking of that, our next ride is coming up quickly -- this Saturday, in fact! We're going back to the East Bay, and yes, there are again some challenging hills on the route. We're riding to the Cal State East Bay Hayward campus -- you know, that big building you see sitting on top of the hill as you travel through Hayward. But that's only the beginning of the climb; after we pass through the campus, we'll keep climbing all the way to the top of the Hayward hills, at about the same elevation as the top of Calaveras on today's ride. There's one important difference, though: I've thoughtfully placed a rest stop (with a Subway!) about halfway up the hill. You can find out more and RSVP here. And although the ride is listed as 89 miles, you can cut it to about 78 miles by hopping on VTA light rail ($2 cash) for the last part into downtown Mountain View.
A special shout-out goes to today's SAG drivers, who were unusually busy. Taryl was with us all day, and Dennis pulled double duty: He joined us after being a SAG driver for today's Sunnyvale ride as well. I'm sure the riders who Dennis transported are quite happy that Dennis was there for us!
Today's ride was epic, and you should feel proud of whatever you accomplished in these trying conditions. This is also a good time to remind yourself why you ride. Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.