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

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AIDS/LifeCycle 11 epilogue

Me at the almost-empty Rest Stop 3 on Day 1
It's been two days since I've returned from ALC11, and this week certainly seemed like none of my previous rides.

What did I do the day after Day 7? I rode my bike ... another 30 miles. And I probably could have kept going. This was the first time that I ever went for a ride on the day immediately after ALC. I'm not exactly sure why I did it, but it felt right this time ... almost as if I had to prove to myself that I could do so.

And that was one of my big themes for the week. One of my tendencies is to think that I'm not "good enough" at things. Perhaps that comes from being immersed in this overachieving Valley of Crazy, perhaps it's my increasing distance and isolation from the young guns of said Valley of Crazy, or perhaps it's just my interesting upbringing. In the year since I started using Strava, I've been reminded with every ride that I'm at best just a slightly above-average cyclist in the grand scheme of things. And that probably bothers me more than I realize.

When I think I'm not good enough at something, I try to compensate. In the case of cycling, I compensate by cutting my rest stop time to the absolute minimum, allowing my elapsed time to keep pace with riders who are in reality much faster than me. And since I seem to have acquired a reputation in the ALC community as a "fast" rider, I've felt more pressure to uphold that reputation, even at the expense of missing out on some fun. As the numbers on Strava so brazenly point out, many of our Distance Training riders are actually (much) faster than me.

But being faster on the ride this year -- at least in terms of elapsed time, if not in-motion time -- meant that I also missed much of the spontaneous ALC community. During the ride, this didn't particularly bother me. After the ride, I began to lament the missed opportunity ... even though I might not have actually enjoyed becoming immersed in it. Riding into a thinly-populated VA Center on Day 7 was undoubtedly far less stimulating and rewarding than it would have been had I waited a few more hours for a larger, more welcoming crowd to form.

Like my Day 7 experience, I spent most of the week riding my ride and not anyone else's. That's a big change for me because I spend almost the entire rest of the year wearing my training ride leader hat. It's a role I deeply enjoy and treasure, and turning it off even for just one week makes me feel as if I'm letting other riders down by not always being there for them. I know that TRLs have no official role on the event, but I regret not being able to help more riders make it through the week. (I hope that my Facebook posts and blog entries helped at least a bit.)

The post-ride blues

So, yes, the post-ride blues are real. They haven't fully set in yet, but I can feel them on the way. It's always tough to return to the real world from the ALC "love bubble." People just don't behave the same way, and I normally get frustrated enough anyway when I have to deal with idiots.

I helped delay their onset -- and, possibly, minimize them -- by hastily arranging an impromptu group dinner Sunday night in Mountain View. Our group of 10 was fun and boisterous, and it gave many of us -- plus some of our supporters who didn't get to do the ride this year -- a welcome opportunity to get together and talk about the week.

Physically, I'm still waiting for my body to realize it's no longer being tortured. I was very tired for most of today, and I decided not to attempt a ride tonight. But I know that getting back on the bike is a key step in post-ALC recovery, so I hope to do so again very soon, even though my new employment makes that a bit more difficult for the time being.

If you're having a case of the blahs this week, understand that it's very common and you're not alone. Reach out to your ALC community for support, plan activities that make you feel good, and ease your body back into its normal mode of operation.

Some more random observations

-- Either the quality of Motel 6s along the route has gone down significantly in the past two years, my standards have risen, or a combination of both. I had unusually unsatisfactory experiences at all four (King City, Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Ventura), mostly involving poorly functioning air conditioners and sketchy non-ALC patrons. As a devoted ALC princess, I might have to upgrade my accommodations next year.

-- Not to get too overly personal, but I needed less butt butter this year than on any previous ALC. This seems to be a good thing.

-- For the first time, I did not take off my leg warmers during the entire ride. I switched between heavier and lighter weight warmers, but it never got hot or even too warm. And I used less than one bottle of sunscreen for the whole week.

-- Also for the first time, I wore a top base layer on most days, usually removing it partway through as temperatures increased. This made the chilly mornings far more endurable.

-- For every day of the ride, I was either in line to ride out immediately at route opening, or I was on the road within 10 to 15 minutes of opening. Even if you're not a faster rider, getting on the road early gives you generally more enjoyable conditions. And as we learned on Day 2, it made the difference for many riders between being allowed to ride the entire route and ending the day on a rain-soaked bus.

-- I made a concerted effort to eat more during the event, and I think this contributed greatly to my lack of a Queen B*tch From Hell day. My weight appears to have ended the event roughly where it began.

-- I don't usually get scared or terrified when descending; I take it slowly enough that I don't ... and if I do, I slow down. I think I might have given an incorrect impression in describing my descents during the week. That said, I still managed to hit 32.9 mph on Day 1 -- my fastest speed ever on a bicycle -- and exceeded 30 mph several times during the week. If I descended as quickly as everyone else, my average pace would probably be much higher, but I'm not feeling any such need.

The takeaway

I went back and read my ride report from ALC9. It's amazing how much of my conclusion to that ride report could just as easily be from last week:
The takeaway is that every day of this year's ride was my fastest ever for that day. I'm quite surprised and pleased.

... By hurrying through rest stops and skipping several entirely, I made my way to near the front of the group on most days. This happened early on some days, but it took me until past lunch on some other days. This put me among riders who generally outclass me in every way -- they're faster overall, they climb faster, and they certainly descend faster.

... But the upside was that I was able to ride solo for large parts of the route -- not seeing any riders in front of me or behind me for miles at a time. This was wholly unexpected, but it was my greatest pleasure of the week: being able to ride essentially by myself down the California coast, but still with full support if I needed it and a welcoming community at the end of each day. I never dreamed that I would find solitude on ALC, but I did this year, and that made all the difference in the world.

Also, spending the week with Adam (only for three days on ALC11, not the whole week) was a change from last year, when I stayed solo in all but one of my motel rooms. Last year I often felt disconnected from the ride, but this year I had an understanding soul to help me decompress after each day of riding ... and to gently prod me into getting up and getting out the next morning. I'm now convinced that the Princess Plan works much better when done with someone else.
Sure, my numbers have changed -- for the better -- in the past two years. But did anything else really change? Was this week really unlike my previous ride weeks? Can I ever find what I'm truly looking for on ALC? Do I even know what that might be?

Those are questions that, even if I knew the answers, go far deeper than a ride report. I might have to keep riding until I figure them out.

In the meantime, I'm registered for ALC12, and soon it will be time to shift gears and focus on this September's Double Bay Double 2. Thanks to all my donors, the Distance Training riders and leaders, the roadies, the staff, the volunteers, and everyone else who is part of this unique community. Thanks to all who read these almost-real-time reflections; I hope they helped you think a little more deeply about your own experiences during the event.

My adventure isn't over, and I hope you'll continue to join me.