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

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AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 1

As the kids say these days, oh em gee. I think it's fair to say that, in my six years of riding ALCs, today was my most incredible day of cycling ever.

My intent for today was simply to try to get ahead of most of the traditional Day 1 crunch of riders and perhaps have a clean portapotty or two. But never in my wildest dreams did I plan or expect what actually happened: At an average speed of 16.4 mph, I had my fastest day of ALC cycling ever (and on a very hilly route), and I was the 23rd person to arrive in camp at Santa Cruz!

It really wasn't supposed to turn out that way, honest. But by the time I got to lunch and found that I was way ahead of where I thought I would be -- and that the winds had become extremely favorable -- it was clear that I was going to have a special day. In fact, from after lunch to almost all the way into Santa Cruz, I saw very few riders, and there were long stretches where I saw no riders in front of or behind me at any distance along Highway 1 -- a solitude that is a rarity and (for me, usually) a blessing on this event.

Thanks to a good placement in Bike Parking due to yesterday's stupidly early arrival at orientation, I was able to get on the road fairly quickly. After a bit of a crush in the first few miles, things began to open up considerably when I skipped the Mile 6 water stop and climbed into the omnipresent fog along Skyline Drive. After our quick stint on I-280, I made my first stop of the day at the gas station just a couple miles before Rest Stop 1. Buying a quick snack gained me entry to the actual, real toilet (not a portapotty!), and I was soon back on my way and able to ride by RS1, which was a key moment in getting ahead.

This was my first year doing the Crystal Springs/Polhemus addition to the route due to the dam closure, and the extra little climb certainly made things a little more difficult than I recalled. But the 1.3-mile climb up Highway 92 to Skyline was relatively painless, mostly because there weren't very many riders out there and those of us who were there were able to maintain a fairly steady pace and not have to pass or be passed too often.

The descent on Highway 92 to the coast is always one of those things I don't particularly like -- remember, I strongly dislike big descents -- so I was quite happy that only one other rider came flying by me the whole way down. Not because I was particularly fast (in fact, Strava ranked my effort at 276th out of 282 riders total!), but because there just weren't riders out there.

At Half Moon Bay, I decided to skip Rest Stop 2 entirely because it was only another 10 miles to lunch. I did, however, take a quick toilet break at one of the state beaches along the way, where there were pit toilets with no waiting. This got me into lunch stupidly early, and I quickly had half of my turkey croissant and got back on the road.

That's when things got fun. By now, the tailwind had picked up considerably, and there were almost no other riders on the road. I started making (for me) amazing times -- cruising at 25 mph or higher on flat terrain, and even at one point setting my all-time record for my fastest speed ever on a bicycle: 32.9 mph. (Don't laugh; I told you that I dislike descents!)

By the time I rolled into Rest Stop 3, I was ready for a proper stop ... and ready to say hi to fellow ride leader Terri, who's working as a most helpful rest stop person this year. Bike parking was practically empty! Some pictures, some food (the other half of the previously mentioned turkey croissant), and some portapotty, and it was quickly back to the road.

In the next segment to Rest Stop 4, I saw only one other cyclist the whole time! And because today's RS4 is only about 5 miles from the end of the route, I saw no need to stop -- even though the highway signs telling me to "not get cocky / come in a ride a jockey" were almost intriguing enough to draw me in.

And then I looked at the clock. I realized that I might be able to make it into camp before 1 p.m. -- something unheard of in my book. I decided to open up and make even better time into Santa Cruz. After a bit of a slowdown in the city traffic the last couple miles, I rolled into camp at ... 12:45! And when I counted the bikes in Bike Parking, I was number 23. Eeek!

So I retrieved my bag, changed my clothes, and spent most of the next four hours greeting incoming riders until my ride to my hotel arrived. And that's where I am now.

Yes, yes, Chris, you gloat too much, you're probably saying by now. Well, maybe yes, just a little today. I'd never had a day like this, let alone on a day with more than 5,000 feet of climbing. But behind my gloating comes a strong note of caution. I know that I cannot sustain this pace all week long. In fact, I suspect that my effort today might come back to haunt me later in the week. Indeed, without getting too disgustingly technical, I seem to have acquired a small saddle sore that I'm currently nursing. And Day 1 is way too early to be having that! And my eyes seemed to become unusually irritated in the afternoon, most likely an unfortunate interaction between my contact lenses and my sunscreen.

And while I had so much of the route essentially to myself today, I often found that I was happier when trailing another rider of about my speed. Doing so tended to keep me in check and prevented me from trying to go even faster. By the end of today, I was actually feeling that I might have had a little too much solitude on today's ride ... and, for me, that's saying something!

So now I must hunt down a second dinner, try to turn off the adrenaline machine, and get to bed. My wakeup call tomorrow is for 4 a.m., and our ride-out is at 6:15. I'm also a little concerned about the possibility of light rain tomorrow morning, although the latest forecasts seem to suggest that we might just barely miss it. And once we do, every indication is that we will again have very favorable headwinds tailwinds for most of the day. Also, the Day 2 route from Salinas to King City was almost all-new last year, so I've never done it ... and having 50 miles of new ALC route to ride will be a rare experience for me.

Congratulations to all on your first day of ALC11, and I'll see you on the road tomorrow! And, again, giant thanks to all my donors. You're the reason why I do this. As of last night, the participants of ALC11 have raised more than $12.6 million to fight HIV and AIDS. And that's what this is all about.