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Ride report: 6th annual Altamont Pass Double Metric (5/4/2013)

Go, riders!

After six years of hosting the Altamont Pass ride, the one thing I've learned is that each ride presents its own unique set of challenges. This year's ride was no exception, but our intrepid group of 15 riders and six volunteers conquered the challenges and turned in excellent performances.

Each rider returned to Mountain View under their own power, and only one rider chose to get a lift between two intermediate rest stops ... although one rider started to head the wrong way down Altamont Pass toward Tracy! That would have been a lot of bonus miles.

Speaking of Altamont Pass, we were treated to something that had never happened before on this ride: backwards winds. The climb to the top (which, as you discovered, wasn't all that much of a climb anyway) was a little more difficult, but the descent was quite literally a breeze, thanks to the unusual winds out of the northeast. This also made our return across the Livermore Valley quite a bit easier than usual, although the rapidly increasing temperatures began to pose their own challenges as the day progressed.

Although no temperature records were broken, highs were running about 10 degrees above normal in the East Bay. If you haven't had much heat training this season (and, given our wacky winter weather, that's not surprising), you might have been caught off guard by how your body reacted to the heat. In my case, my fluid consumption went way up, so much so that I ran out of water just before the Hayward rest stop -- something that almost never happens to me.

Another thing that happened to me in the heat was that I found myself taking many more short stops than usual between the official rest stops. There's no shame at all in doing so. I also took care to replace not just water, but also electrolytes and sodium. I slowed my pace a bit; while it would be exaggerating to say that I went into "survival mode," there was a part of the afternoon where I simply wanted to get through the miles without damage, and I took extra care to listen to what my body was saying. It's rarely wrong.

On the event in June, we've been fortunate the past few years to have unusually cool temperatures. But it's entirely normal for afternoon temperatures to reach into the 80s or even the 90s on several days of the event. Also, just like yesterday, many days of the event pass through several microclimates. You can go from cool to hot to cool to hot again all in the same day, and you might even be taking your jacket off and putting it back on multiple times. Remember the lessons you learned yesterday, and put them into practice next month. (And take note that midday temperatures can sometimes be surprisingly cool despite a warm start: When we leave Paso Robles on the morning of Day 4, it can be bright and sunny, but it can be foggy and damp just 20 miles later as we descend to the coast.)

I also want to take a couple of minutes to thank all of our volunteers on this ride. We were extremely fortunate that we had nothing more serious than a couple of bicycle adjustments, shuttling one rider, and handing out lots of water and salt. I want to assure all of the volunteers that your presence was definitely needed and appreciated; it's impossible to overstate the sense of security that's present when you know that people are available to help if an incident occurs. (And, as Murphy would attest from several previous rides, the lack of support volunteers often happens precisely on the rides where they end up being needed the most.)

Trivia department: I can answer one of the questions about the two unexpected events we encountered along the way. The crowd at Quarry Lakes Regional Park in Fremont in the morning was the Western Pacific Marathon/Half Marathon/10K/5K.

But I am flummoxed by the cycling event we saw going the other way between Livermore and Pleasanton in the morning. I can't find anything about it online, and given that many of the participants had the same jersey and they had ribbons of different colors that suggested multiple routes, I would think that it would have been announced somewhere. Any ideas?

A ride of 200 kilometers is your introduction to the steeped-in-tradition world of randonneuring: long-distance, unsupported, non-competitive cycling. In this country, Randonneurs USA is the main organization in this sport that traces its origins all the way back to late 19th-century Europe: "The first recorded audax cycling event took place on June 12, 1897, twelve Italian cyclists attempted the challenge of cycling from Rome to Naples, a distance of 230 km." RUSA rides often feel much like ALC rides, with the same spirit of camaraderie ... but generally without the high levels of rider support we have. RUSA membership is a bargain at $20 per year; the quarterly print magazine American Randonneur is worth the price alone just for the ride reports and cycling tips.

Two randonneuring groups in this area are Santa Cruz Randonneurs and San Francisco Randonneurs; each offers a series of events year-round. But where my training rides stop at 200km, the RUSA rides are just getting started, with distances of 300km, 400km, 600km, 1000km, and 1200km -- the distance of the legendary once-every-four-years (next in 2015) Paris-Brest-Paris. Many ALCers are RUSA members, and it's not uncommon to spot ALC jerseys on their rides.

What's next for us? In past years, I'd be saying thank you and wishing you all well in June. But this year, thanks to the unusual schedule and the unusual weather, we've got one more ride on the calendar. On Saturday, May 18, we'll have our first-ever celebration ride. Because these are the Distance Training rides, it wouldn't suffice to get all suited up just to ride up the street to the next Starbucks. Instead, we're going to tackle one of the more challenging and incredibly scenic rides of the South Bay: the ascent of Highway 9 to Saratoga Gap. Then, we'll descend the west side of Alpine Road toward the coast and climb back up and over Highway 84. This ride is "only" 62 miles; there are really only two significant climbs the whole day, but that adds up to almost 5,000 feet of climbing. The good news is that there are no surprise climbs at the end of the day; we'll proceed directly down Alameda and Foothill to Loyola Corners with no detours. The meet time is also a comfortably reasonable 9:30, which means that you can take southbound Caltrain to this ride. What a treat! Find out more and RSVP here.

Congratulations on an epic day, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

Photos by Andrew Bennett