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AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 2

I did say to expect the unexpected!

After yesterday's amazing weather and my most awesome day of cycling in six years of ALC, today was a far different story. By far, this was the worst weather I've experienced in six years of ALC. But I am truly one of the fortunate ones, for I was one of only about 400 cyclists who was allowed to complete the entire route. Why? After this truly bizarre June storm dropped much farther south -- and was much stronger -- than predicted, ALC officials decided to close the route at about mile 48 of 109. (Local media reported 0.24 inch of rain in Salinas today, which while not unprecedented is highly unusual for this time of year.) Those of us beyond that point were allowed to continue; the rest were evacuated to shelters (a church, a community college) to wait for buses to bring them the rest of the way to King City. (And the situation was dire enough that the local Red Cross apparently even showed up in one of their disaster vans to deliver hot coffee!) This was only the second time in ALC history that a day of the ride was cancelled.

Although I wasn't part of the evacuation, today truly demonstrates the magic of AIDS/LifeCycle. Year after year, the staff has to plan for countless contingencies, some likely, some very unlikely. Most of these plans are never put into action ... but when they're needed, it's amazing and awe-inspiring to watch people come together to do what needs to be done to keep everyone safe and whole, both physically and mentally.

Alas, there's not much I can tell you about today's logistics, or even many of the specifics of what happened, since I wasn't there. I've seen lots of reports on Facebook and Twitter, and most of what I "know" comes from there. So I'll try not to venture into unfounded speculation and stick mainly to what my experience was on today's wet, muddy, chilly, and windy 109-mile ride.

The day started easily enough, with an early 6:15 ride-out from Santa Cruz along a new route that greatly eased the pain of getting through the Monday morning commute, which was almost non-existent on our new itinerary. My mood was basically acceptable but not all that great; I didn't get much sleep last night, and the nonstop small hills around Santa Cruz never fail to at least annoy me.

I got into and out of Rest Stop 1, and it was shortly after that, around mile 23, where I started to notice the first sprinkles starting to fall. After turning onto very busy Highway 1, the rain began to fall a little more heavily, and a few minutes later it stopped again -- setting a trend that I would experience repeatedly through the rest of the day.

It seemed that I would regularly get "ahead" of the rain, and then every time I'd stop, that would be just enough time for it to catch up to me again. After I took a quick stop at Pezzini Farms outside Castroville, rather moderate rain began to fall as I approached Marina -- enough that I had to look up above my sunglasses so that I could see anything. I skipped the rest stop in Marina and proceeded directly toward Salinas, but things just got yucky there.

We ride on the shoulder of a road that passes through an agricultural area, and the shoulder is covered with dirt and mud from farm vehicles entering and leaving the highway. It had apparently rained somewhat significantly before I got there, so the shoulder was a wet, muddy mess that was covering the lower part of my bike. (Oh, and I should add that, although I brought rain gear and rain boots with me this week, I left them all in my suitcase this morning because I thought I wouldn't need them. So much for that.)

Again in Salinas, the skies cleared briefly, but by then I wasn't having much fun at all. I wasn't truly grumpy, but the rain and mud had soured my mood somewhat. The standard Salinas lunch of a turkey wrap (same as previous years, I think) again did not do much for me, although I had three bags of potato chips to replace all the salt that I was profusely sweating away through my multiple layers of clothing.

Within minutes of leaving lunch in Salinas, it began to rain again. And this was on a part of the route that was all new to me because it was introduced last year when I didn't do the ride. So my first exposure to cycling Alisal Road was not any fun at all: Huge agricultural vehicles were flying by at 50-60 mph, there was no shoulder, the road surface was cracked and rough, I was mostly by myself, and it was raining. In retrospect, I'd even say that the conditions were dangerous, which I suspect was a big part of why the route was later closed back in Salinas.

But the tailwinds were blowing strong, perhaps 20-30 mph, so I was still clipping along at a strong pace, and I again got ahead of the rain in time for a few miles of fairly pleasant cycling into the small town of Gonzales, where I used the air/water machine (low pressure, not a car wash!) at a gas station (50 cents, please) in a perfunctory effort to clean the worst of the mud and dirt off my bike and from the brakes and gears.

Rest Stop 3 in Gonzales was a highlight of the day, thanks to the Bridezilla theme that was cheerfully executed by Terri and friends (who must have been freezing in those outfits!). Oh, did I mention how cold it was by afternoon? Temperatures were only in the 50s, but the strong winds were making it feel much, much colder. I at least had a jacket, a jersey, leg warmers, arm warmers, and a base layer, but so many riders had only a jersey and shorts.

Just after Gonzales, however, the route returned to the one that I was familiar with from years past: a long stretch along River Road and Arroyo Seco Road that is visually deceptive, a slow, gradual climb that appears to be flat and makes you think you're running out of energy, even with today's tailwind. Soon enough, I had covered the 12 miles to the next stop, where one look at the dark, ominous sky was enough to scare me almost immediately back onto my bike.

But I was too late. Just a few miles later, the hail started to hit my helmet. It wasn't huge, and it didn't last long (some other riders experienced much worse, I hear), but it was indeed hail, something in which I've never cycled. (And all the more reason why the route was closed!) After the hail ended, it turned into more light showers that switched off and on all the way into Greenfield, where our fourth and final rest stop of the day was scheduled at mile 96.

The route to Rest Stop 4 is interesting. We have to go into town, then turn around and retrace our route for about a mile and then make another turn to continue toward King City. As I approached the junction the first time, a roadie was motioning me to turn right. I said that I wanted to go to the rest stop instead, and they motioned me to go forward. But when I reached the rest stop, there was almost nothing there! The crew had dismantled almost everything, and they were loading it into their trucks! And they had a message for the few of us who were there: Leave now and keep riding to King City.

This was when I first found out that the route had been closed, and only those of us at the front were being allowed to continue. (I later heard that staff had seriously considered closing the route to everyone. Given the conditions I experienced, that wouldn't have been an unreasonable call.) So I turned around and left without even getting off my bike. Cyclists were continuing to come toward the stop, so as we came toward them, we were shouting, "Rest stop is closed!" We also told the roadie at the junction what happened. (I heard that, after that, riders were being forced to turn at the junction and were no longer being allowed to head into Greenfield, taking two miles off their day. So only a very few of us -- far less than the 400 who were allowed to continue at all -- got to ride the full 109 miles.)

So, with just 12 miles to go and an ominously dark sky, I began to be even more motivated by fear. My performance went into overdrive, pedaling as fast as I could to get into King City before someone tried to prevent me from completing Every Friendly Inch of this epic day. (I was also more than a little motivated by the fact that I had been unable to use a portapotty at Rest Stop 4!) The tailwinds offered significant help, but the closer I got to King City, the more I could feel myself running out of energy. And with just a couple of miles to go, I knew that I was almost done (as I told Khang, who had been riding with me most of the way since Rest Stop 4). The final mile, on a numbingly poor road and then on a packed gravel path across the Salinas River basin into camp, had me down to a ridiculously slow speed.

But I made it. In fact, my average speed for today was 16.2 mph, which was a little slower than yesterdy's stupidly fast pace but (I believe) my fastest Day 2 ever. And under these conditions, too. Also, despite feeling down at lunch, I finished the day quite exhilirated, on a adrenaline rush from the challenging situation. Six hours later, I'm just beginning to return to something resembling normalcy.

After I promised yesterday to not ride hard today, the opposite turned out to be true (no surprise to some of you, I suspect). But most of that was because I was in my futile quest to stay ahead of the weather, even before I knew about the route closure. Again, this puts me in a situation where I really need to take it easier tomorrow. Fortunately, with a short route of only about 67 miles, this shouldn't be impossible, although I still plan to ride out right at the 6:30 a.m. route opening.

But again, today's real news is about all the other riders, especially those on their first ALC and who might have been strongly determined to complete the entire route. When I was part of the ALC8 rainout three years ago, I was devastated, so I can imagine what many folks feel like tonight. And we have to get up tomorrow morning and continue onward (some might say that we get to get up tomorrow morning and continue onward), because that's the spirit of what we're all about. So, everyone who was part of today's epic and historic AIDS/LifeCycle day is a hero -- the riders, the roadies, the staff, and the local community members who all did the right thing when it was needed. A lot of strong bonds were probably formed today, and we all have a new shared experience that will unite us forever.