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Ride report: Saratoga Gap

Go, riders!

4,400 feet is a lot of climbing to do in any one day of cycling. It's even more challenging when the ride is only 48 or 53 miles. By comparison, Day 1 of ALC has about the same amount of climbing, but it's spread out over about 80 miles, and no single climb is as long as the one we did yesterday. This picture from Skyline Blvd. during yesterday's ride (click on it to see a larger version) shows just how high up we were; at the left is the Stanford campus, and in the center, you can see the Dumbarton Bridge crossing the bay -- that's the same bridge we crossed on last week's ride.

The 25 riders who took part in Saturday's ride were treated to some wonderful scenery, some great riding on roads that usually aren't part of our training rides, and a near-perfect 72 degrees in Mountain View at the end of the ride.

On the ride in June, there is no single sustained climb as long as the climb up Highway 9, so if you made it to the top, then you're making fantastic progress. Even if you had to stop a couple of times (like me), that's fine, too; stops give me a chance to stretch and take some more pictures. But we do have a couple of very long descents in June, similar to what most of us experienced on Highway 84 on this ride. Whether you like your descents fast or not-so-fast, it's good to build your confidence and skills so that you can ride safely on such descents when hundreds of other riders are around you.

And it's absolutely vital that your brakes be in good working condition and that you know how to use them properly on a descent. Be sure to get your bike tuned up before June, and don't wait until the last minute; local bike shops will start to get backed up soon, not only with ALCers but with other cyclists who start their training or recreational riding in the spring.

Did you experience any crosswinds along Skyline Blvd.? I sure did, and one of the strong gusts came awful close to knocking me over while I was on a short descent. In June, we usually have the benefit of tailwinds, but a few sections of the route are notorious for strong crosswinds. Bicycling magazine published a short list of tips on how to ride in crosswinds. Ignore the first two tips that recommend forming pacelines -- we don't do pacelines on ALC, remember? -- but focus on the "By Yourself" hints. For example:
Stay relaxed. If you stiffen your arms and back, you're more easily moved by the wind.

React to gusts by steering back to your line with your body, not your bar.
Another tip that I've found useful, especially on descents, is to keep pedaling. The downward force of your stroke reduces the effect of the wind's horizontal force. The physicists can explain it, I'm sure.

Now that our rides have become longer, there are three more items that you should consider bringing with you on every ride.

First is sunscreen. Now that spring is almost here (really!), the sun's rays are potentially more damaging, and you need to protect any part of your skin that's exposed during the ride. Every year in June, I see way too many riders covered in white zinc because the sun got to them. This is the time to be finding out what sunscreen works best for you, and where you can find that sunscreen in bottles that you can carry with you. I like to use spray-on sunscreen because it's much easier to apply, but many other folks like the old-fashioned, rub-on lotion. Either way, this is the time for sunscreen. (P.S.: Even when skies are cloudy.)

Second, and related, is lip balm. Sunscreen usually doesn't work well on lips, and chapped or burnt lips can be just as painful and dangerous. Lip balm also comes with an SPF, so again, time to start finding a brand that you like.

Third, and more fun to talk about, is the class of personal lubricants that we commonly call "butt cream" or "butt butter."

First-year riders are often reluctant to talk about this subject, but sooner or later, most of us will succumb to the need for products to prevent chafing in our tender manly and/or womanly areas. Although it's called "butt butter," we often apply it to other parts of our nether regions; again, it's a matter of personal need as to how you use this product. But even if you haven't felt the need to try it yet, it's another thing that you should explore before June.

Saddle sores and skin abrasion can erupt during consecutive days of riding, and the pain can be so bad that it can force you out of the ride. So we can laugh about butt cream, but it's a necessity for many of us when the rides become long.

What's next? The Cat-3 Distance Training series resumes next Saturday with a 76-mile ride around the south end of San Jose and into Coyote Valley. This route is always popular and features a wide mix of city and rural conditions, plus once big descent (Bailey Avenue) for those who are into such things. Total climbing on the ride is only about 2,250 feet -- about half of what we did this weekend -- so it's a somewhat more mellow day. There's a VTA light-rail bailout available to cut the distance down to about 40 miles. Details and RSVP are here.

Day 1 of the ride is only 13 weeks from today! Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

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