Today was a day just to ride.
By this point in the week, the routine has become, well, routine: Wake up stupidly early, eat a big breakfast, prep the bike, ride, ride, eat, ride, eat, sleep, repeat. The body becomes so conditioned to doing one thing (cycling) well that trying to do almost anything else (such as walking down a flight of stairs) becomes unusually difficult.
And by the sixth day, the terrain, rest stops, and other riders all seem to blend into one giant non-stop blur. Part of you is amazed that you're still at this and going strong on the sixth consecutive day, but part of you also wants it to be mercifully over as soon as possible.
So it was with hugely mixed feelings that I did my sixth day of ALC11. I rode respectably but not stupidly fast, and again by limiting my stops, I finished somewhere between 80th and 90th of all riders. But my average pace was "only" 15.7 mph -- a pace that many of my friends easily exceeded today. How? We had several giant descents. And while none of them really scared or terrified me today, I did take them somewhat conservatively, generally keeping my speed to around 25 mph or less. (My maximum speed of the day was only 29.7 mph, a far cry from the 50-plus mph I've seen elsewhere. That also kept my overall average pace way down today.) I've seen too many ALC ambulances to want to go any faster, but more power to those of you who are comfortable doing so safely.
The big surprise of the day was a new route into and through Santa Barbara. This was something I'd been stewing about for years: Our old route roamed around the foothills north of the city, with hill after hill after hill -- none of them particularly long, but some of them rather steep. Meanwhile, a nice almost-flat official bike route runs close to U.S. 101 most of the way. I have no idea why the flat route hadn't been used in previous years, but we used it today, and I liked it. Yes, there were a lot of traffic signals, but that type of urban riding (particularly at this point in the week) provides plenty of short breaks from sustained riding. Granted, not everyone liked the route; I heard one rider say, "Now I can say I've seen the butt end of Santa Barbara."
At the nicer end of Santa Barbara was, for the 12th year, the Paradise Pit, the wonderful unofficial rest stop put on by local residents. Sometimes I've skipped it, and sometimes I've visited only briefly, but today I skipped Rest Stop 3 (just 4 miles back) so I could visit the pit and enjoy some delicious ice cream.
I knew that massage therapists had been set up there in previous years, but I was too early last time and they weren't ready. Today, as I was getting ready to leave, one of the therapists was just setting up his table. I asked when he'd be open, and he said he'd be open in a just a minute and I could be his first client. Score! I got some much-needed work on my legs, which certainly helped me get through the rest of the day.
After Santa Barbara, the route was again familiar and was, honestly, a bit of a slog through a slice of suburbia that I don't find all that exciting. I reached the water stop at mile 70, where Thomas told me that I was rider #102 for the day. I hadn't really been keeping score till then, but that shocked me somewhat. Two years ago, when I last did the ride, I was "in the first 100" to arrive there! And that was when I was a bit slower than I am now.
Because I'm overly self-competitive and self-judgmental, I decided that could not stand. With only 15 miles to go, I decided that I would skip the final rest stop and ride directly into camp. Fortunately, it wasn't that tough a task (except for the condition of the bike lane on that part of Hwy. 1, which continues to deterioriate year after year), and I rolled into camp at about 2:15 p.m. with only about 60 more miles to go until Los Angeles.
Today was Ride With Chris Day on ALC11, and I was touched to see some of the green jerseys out there. (I'm sorry that I skipped Rest Stop 1, where super roadie Taryl was wearing one.) I saw a couple of you at rest stops, at lunch, or ride into camp at the end of the day, and that made me smile. The jersey was also quite the conversation-starter with my massage therapist at Paradise Pit!
I finished the day happy, which was my goal. Day 6 didn't make me grumpy, although I began to notice after riding that I hadn't eaten as much as I had on previous days, and I started venturing toward the realm of grumpiness. But returning to camp and cheering in riders, followed by a well-timed and robust traditional Italian dinner with Adam in downtown Ventura, put me back among the mostly cheerful, if a bit tired.
So yes, by this point, it's mostly just riding, and part of me just wants it to be over. But another part of me wants it to go on for a whole month. (I joked with some folks at lunch about doing the optional Day 8 ride to San Diego.) When I begin ALC week, I think of many things: the physical challenge, the community, the cause, the friends, the relationships. Year after year, I find satisfaction in many of these areas but not in others. And by this point in the ride, I begin to realize that I'm wired in such a way that I'm unlikely to ever find those things here ... or probably anywhere else. That sense of melancholy starts to permeate my view of the week and sends me down the road of unhappiness.
But then I also realize that I'm doing something that only a very small group of people can do, and I'm doing it with increasing ease every time I do it. More important, my activities throughout the rest of the year help enable others to participate in the ride and conquer their own challenges, whatever they may be. The ride helps me find meaning in my life in a way that nothing else does, and that's why I keep coming back year after year ... even when doing so forces me to confront my own inner demons.
Now, with just 60 miles of relatively easy (if a bit traffic-heavy) terrain left for tomorrow morning, the end of this magical week is almost here. My impending return to the real world begins to be a tangible thing, and that makes me sad. But knowing that we're less than two months away from the start of the DBD2 training season makes me happy. I want to ride strongly tomorrow, but I also want the ride to be over. I want to do this forever, but I want to go home.
It is with these mixed feelings that I prepare for the final day of ALC11.
(The bottom photo is of me today approaching the top of Gaviota Pass and was taken by Frank Adair.)