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My last training ride of the season

I really should be accustomed to radical shifts in the weather during springtime in the Bay Area, but a change of 50 degrees in just one week is stretching my limits. Where just one week ago we were pushing 105 on our brutal double metric century, yesterday the temperature never rose above 55 degrees in Watsonville, the approximate midpoint of our 78-mile ride from Hollister to Freedom and back. Thirteen intrepid riders braved the chilly winds and, yes, even the occasional light drizzle for a challenging yet scenic end to the season for many of us.

My goal for the day was to transition out of intense, heavy-duty training mode and settle more into a riding style that will be able to carry me the entire distance to Los Angeles. I gladly agreed to be the sweep for the day, and because one rider was having serious butt/saddle interface issues, I was able to ride at a much more comfortable pace than I would have done had I been riding solo. But even with that, my average speed for the day was 12.3 mph -- which was above the posted range for this ride.

There were three significant climbs along the route -- two of them on Carr Road in Aromas, a nasty road in poor condition with several short, steep pitches. The good news was that neither I nor the rider I was sweeping had to stop at all in either direction on Carr. And on the long, more gradual climb up Hazel Dell Road, the only reason we stopped was for a photo break. So even with my recent illness -- from which my pesky cough still lingers a bit -- I'm increasingly confident that I can conquer the hills of the ride, even though it might be a bit slower than usual.

Once we reached the summit of Carr on the return, the best part of the day was upon us -- the final 16-mile push, assisted by a very generous tailwind that's very similar to what we experience near the end of Days 2 and 4 of the ride. It's a nice feeling to be coasting along at 21 mph with very little effort, although it was probably the one time of the day that I slightly regretted being the sweep. Because of my upright riding position and my bike's excellent coasting design, this was the only point during the day where I really had to control my speed to stay behind the other rider, who is of slighter build than I and, therefore, didn't get quite the benefit of the wind.

And that wind did all sorts of strange things. When we briefly turned out of the wind, we had challenging crosswinds that had us leaning to one side or the other. And when the wind blew through an open-air farm structure alongside the road, it made a loud, startling eerie sound as if the aliens had just landed.

We rolled back into Hollister after almost eight hours and, after a bit of resting and socializing, it was back into the car for the 70-mile drive back to Mountain View ... a total of 500 miles for the month so far ... and the end to another training season.

Yes, that's it for this year. The next week is completely off the bicycle as I prepare for the ride, try to figure out how to pack everything, and get rested and eager to be back on the bicycle again next Sunday. I've racked up a total of 4,948 miles since last year's ride, so I've certainly put in enough time.

Although this is my fourth ride, I've got a whole lot of new things happening this year:

-- First and most significant, it's my first ALC on a true road bike. The difference is notable, in good ways and not-so-good ways, and it will be interesting to see how various parts of the route feel different. One thing for sure: I'll be controlling my downhill speed even more than before; this puppy could go fast, but I just don't feel any need to do so. Believe it or not, I still haven't exceeded 30 mph on this bike. During ALC in the past, I've usually topped out at around 32 mph, usually on the nice, gentle parts of Highway 1 on the first day -- not on the grand descents where some folks get above 50 mph. If you like such descents, more power to you. I'll be staying as far to the right as safely possible, and I'll try to give you as much room as possible, so please extend the same courtesy to me.

-- I'm wearing a Camelbak for the first year. This should help keep me more hydrated (and less raspy-throated).

-- I'm doing a total Princess Tour this year. In fact, I'm even coming back home on the first night of the ride. In hindsight, this turns out to have been a wise choice, because I hope to use the relative calm of the hotels to get as much rest as possible every night to help me finish the ride.

-- And, of course, there's the all-new Day 5 route, which will help make the ride feel different.

-- I'm coming home directly after the ride, on Saturday night, in a van with six other folks. But, alas, this is also the first year that there won't be anyone greeting and congratulating me at or near the finish line. (There's still time to change that!)

-- Finally, there's the big question of just how many folks will be riding this year. The staff is planning on about 2,200 riders, about 300 fewer than last year, but with the challenging economy, who knows what the actual count will be. I like the slightly smaller events (the ride was "only" 1,800 riders the first year I did it), but I'm sad that the smaller ride probably means less money going to our beneficiaries.

Last year, my ride was my most successful in terms of riding and overall health ... but it was also the least fun. I had not one, but two Queen Bitch From Hell days, and by the end of the week I had pretty much retreated into my usual shell -- to the point where I didn't even bother to stay around for closing ceremonies. This year, my mission is different: to focus more on why we're riding, taking advantage of the various activities along the way, and obsessing less about beating "last year's pace" on each day of the ride.

We ride for reasons that are intensely serious and personal. In this last week before the ride, take a couple of minutes to contemplate your goals, and consider how your performance on the ride will help support you in meeting those goals -- and support others in meeting their goals as well.

Photo by Bill Munk

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