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

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AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 5

This whole same-day ALC blogging thing is quite unusual. It's enabling me to have a conversation with many of you -- both on and off the event -- while the event is in progress, which is providing a fascinating feedback loop that appears to actually be helping me through the week. My ride today, while only 42 miles that were tough in places but not overly challenging, left me in very high spirits but definitely ready for a long rest tonight in preparation for our final two days.

Yesterday's observations about teams apparently resonated with many of you, both in public and private comments that I received. It's reassuring for me -- although it really shouldn't be much of a surprise, either -- to see that others often feel the same way that I do. And today was the biggest "team" event of all: Red Dress Day.

So how did I respond to Red Dress Day? Well, I chose the other "acceptable" option: Dress in Red Day. And through a combination of good riding and favorable conditions, I finished the route in just over 3.5 hours, making me apparently the 10th cyclist to arrive in camp, well before any of the camp services. Being 10th today, however, is at best a feat that comes with a giant asterisk: Many other riders were far faster, but they chose to enjoy themselves more at the rest stops and/or ride around Lompoc before heading to camp.

If I were to analyze today's performance, I would probably conclude that after yesterday's tough day, I again felt the need to prove something to myself, even if the accomplishment carried that giant asterisk. And, yes, as ever the outsider, I was more than happy to quickly get into and out of today's stops and share the road with only a few other riders. (Many of the truly fast riders that I saw were even less into the spirit of Red Dress Day than was I.) Just how not-fast was I? My pace today was only 14.5 mph, by far my slowest of the week.

Two things stood out on today's route. First, much of the route was new to me (and some of it was new to everyone this year) because I skipped last year's ride, so I had the rare pleasure of riding in ALC on unfamiliar roads. With so much of today's route on city and suburban streets, I was generally happy because I tend to enjoy such conditions. Second, on the parts that weren't new to me, I hadn't cycled on them in four years because ALC8 and ALC9 used the alternate, longer route through Solvang. So I hadn't been through Casmalia or Vandenberg AFB since ALC7.

And I can truly say, without boasting too much, that I could really tell how my cycling has improved in those four years. The hills that once gave me great grief, hills that I often couldn't conquer without stopping, today were hills that, yes, were noticeable hills but really weren't all that bad to me ... even the 1.2-mile "ant hill" up Highway 1 to Vandenberg. When I reached the top of that hill, the last big climb of the day, I was the happiest I'd been so far this week.

So it didn't take much for me to push on into camp far earlier than I had planned. When I arrived at lunch (which, today, was a mere 3 miles from camp), I found out that I was the 35th cyclist to arrive. (Incidentally, I left camp this morning in Santa Maria a full half-hour after route opening. Nearly everybody else had more common sense than I and enjoyed the route in other ways.) I quickly ate half the lunch, put the rest in my pack, and flew with a healthy tailwind for the final push into camp.

And there was almost nothing there. We had the one temporary rack for bike parking, but the gear trucks, shower trucks, and everything else weren't even close to arriving. When my gear truck finally arrived, I help the roadies unload the truck, not just because it was a big help after one of our roadies cut his finger and couldn't move luggage, but also purely out of self-interest to get my bag faster. (And, naturally, my bag was one of the last ones to come off the truck, so I did a lot of helping.)

Why did I want to get my bag faster? Because Adam (who rode with me in ALC9), my ride for today and the rest of the week, had arrived from Los Angeles and was waiting for me at the camp entrance. So, by about 1 p.m., we were checked in to our posh Motel 6 and ready for some much-needed rest and relaxation.

Of course, we couldn't stand to do just that for the next 16 hours, so we drove out to the coast at Surf to see the oddly-placed Amtrak station and the various military accoutrements (complete with a Vandenberg guard patrolling the train station and looking rather oddly at us more than once). And after a huge pizza at favorite local spot Mi Amore, it's back to the room to write today's entry ... and then off to bed because, yes, I'm quite tired after five days of this.

Today's short ride was just what the doctor ordered, not just because of how I was feeling yesterday, but also because today should give me the much-needed physical recovery to be strong for the rest of the week. I'm not planning to try for any speed records on tomorrow's 83-mile ride to Ventura. (I know; I've said that all week.) My primary goal for the rest of the week is to finish happy, since Day 6 is often when I've had my most severe outbreaks of grumpiness. If I get to tomorrow and decide that my pursuit of happiness calls for faster riding , then so be it ... but it might also be a day to enjoy our miles along the very edge of the Southern California coast.

Thanks for reading these ride reports and for being part of my almost-real-time conversation. If you've already supported one or both of my rides this year, thank you! If not, and if you're able to do so, I'd like to direct you to my fundraising page for this year's Double Bay Double 2. It's the same important cause: the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. And while it's not as long as ALC or nearly as big, it's a daunting challenge of back-to-back century rides, something that exceeds even ALC. If you're a cyclist who's interested in riding with us on September 29 and 30 from Mountain View to Marina and back, please feel free to check out the event website to learn about registration. As of today, there are only 27 cyclist positions left before the ride fills.

Check back tomorrow for my report from Ventura!