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Ride report: ALC12 Distance Training #7 (3/23/2013)

Go, riders!

Well, that was certainly an interesting day, wasn't it? When rides start getting this long, it's almost guaranteed that something unexpected will happen. Our group of 22 intrepid riders had more than a few surprises today!

First on the list was the sudden (and, as far as I can tell, completely unannounced) start of road work on both sides of the Dumbarton Bridge access road. The milled-down pavement wasn't much fun, and the east end of the bridge in particular was no fun at all (Caution sign? We don't need no steenkin' caution sign) -- the big bump on the road caused two flat tires early in the day. I've got a query in to Caltrans to find out what I can about the project; two of our next three rides are scheduled to use the bridge, and if the whole frontage road gets torn up, I'll obviously need to change our routes.

Then there was the closure of Niles Canyon. Some of us waited up to half an hour at the entrance to the canyon to find out when we'd be allowed in after this morning's fatal head-on collision. I had quickly put together a backup plan that would have sent us up Mission Blvd. into Hayward -- but, just as I was starting to announce it to the group, the good-natured Fremont police officer on duty yelled, "Open!" and we were able to ride up the canyon ... and we even were given a bit of a head start ahead of the cars.

This type of incident, while rare, can happen on the event in June as well, so in a way, it was good for our training. Parts of our route can be temporarily shut down, especially when there's a serious incident. Hundreds upon hundreds of riders can back up quickly, and when the all-clear is given, it's just like another mass start in the middle of the day, with all of the associated crowding and danger. I've noticed over the years that event staff generally get a little looser with rest stop closing times when such holds occur, so don't stress out if this should happen to you during the event.

As if that weren't enough, we ran smack into the middle of a giant event at the fairgrounds in Pleasanton, complete with very heavy traffic and (as far as I can recall) the very first nasty, evil, Phelps-esque anti-gay protester I'd ever seen on a training ride. (Didn't see him? He was at the corner of Valley and Bernal just before Rest Stop 2 with his giant sign.) Although he clearly wasn't there because of us, I'm still trying to figure out why he targeted a hot rod and custom car show in Pleasanton.

If one is in a bad frame of mind at the time, encountering such a thing on a ride could be very disconcerting. I hope it didn't put anyone in a bad mood today; the bigger lesson to take away is all sorts of things could happen during the event to foul your mind-set -- poor weather, traffic, physical issues, and so on. During the event, it's very important that you let such things affect your mental state as little as possible, because once your mood has turned sour, it can be very difficult to rectify.

And then it got downright warm, much warmer than predicted, with temperatures in Pleasanton into the mid-70s. As the temperature goes up, it's important to take in enough fluids, including electrolyte replacement. In June, it's possible for afternoon temperatures to hit the 90s on some days (although this hasn't happened in recent years), so it's not a bad idea to do at least some riding in the heat before then to find out how your body reacts.

Then, as we descended into Milpitas, the winds came up, the skies turned hazy, and the temperature dropped ... almost as if rain was approaching (which it wasn't, of course). I started to mentally prepare myself for dealing with nasty headwinds all along the Tasman Drive slog through San Jose and Santa Clara. But fortunately, at least when I got there, the winds started to die down the closer we got to Sunnyvale, and by the time I reached Central Expressway, they weren't much of an issue anymore for the final 6 miles back into Mountain View.

Whew! Despite all of these challenges, everyone made it back to Mountain View under their own power. Super SAG driver Charles was helpful throughout the day, but he didn't need to bring anyone back, and that's always nice.

Just how much climbing was there on today's ride? Good question! I had predicted about 4,100 feet based on last year's ride along a similar but not identical route. But looking at the numbers reported in Strava so far tonight from our riders, I see a wide range: 4285, 4373, 3860, 3635, 3632, 3373, and 3861. (Ride with GPS claimed 4,610 feet.) We can't all be correct, so what is it?

Sadly, nobody knows for sure. But here is a very nerdy explanation from Strava about elevation correction and GPS devices. The takeaway is that elevation estimates are always just that: estimates. (This is also why ALC doesn't publish official elevation statistics about the event; everyone would get something different anyway.) Get a sense for how your own GPS device deals with elevation, compare your stats to the published numbers (mine or anyone else's), and learn how to translate among the different data sources.

Which leads us to our next ride: our first of three century-plus rides this year! Our route is the same as last year (pending, of course, any word from Caltrans about the Dumbarton Bridge), and it covers bits and pieces of many of our earlier rides with a few new bits thrown in for variety. We'll use a route down the east side of San Jose that hugs the edge of the foothills and, therefore, is somewhat rolling, and we'll experience one of the more interesting climbs (but not stupidly steep) and descents on the south side of the city.

It's a long ride with a healthy dose of urban mileage, so your pace might be a bit less than what you'd normally get out on the open road. But you'll also have about 11 hours of daylight to complete the route, so it shouldn't be a problem for anyone who finished today's ride. This is a classic ride, and it's an ideal first century, too, because you're never too far from civilization if you need it. Find out more and RSVP here.

Our century ride is important for another reason, too. It's time to start thinking about our 6th annual Altamont Pass Double Metric on Saturday, May 4. Unlike my other rides, this one has a prerequisite: Everyone must pre-qualify by completing a ride of at least 100 miles this season before ride day. I'm offering two qualification rides on our calendar: our century in two weeks, and our 113-mile Gilroy ride on April 20. To qualify, you can ride any 100-mile route that you wish, and it can be either with a group or by yourself. (We have this requirement to help ensure that, if you begin the double metric, you've got a reasonable chance of being able to complete it.)

Altamont Pass registration is going to open very soon, probably within the next week. And, as I've mentioned before, those who register early will be able to get a free commemorative T-shirt. So watch this space for details!

We're just a little more than two months away from the event. By completing today's ride, which was at least as difficult as most of the days on the event, you're making excellent progress. Congratulations to all, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.