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Ride report: SF Day on the Ride (4/23/2011)

This year's all-new route (by yours truly, sort of) for Northern California ALC Day on the Ride offered riders a little bit of almost everything that you'll see on the event in June. And for some of you, it might have been an in-your-face introduction to what changes when the size of your riding group increases from 50 to more than 400 other riders.

Trying to get 400 riders out of a heavily urbanized area is tough. Trying to do it with 2,500 riders in June is even tougher. Fortunately, we have San Francisco police support on Day 1 in June to get us through the first few miles of the route. We didn't have that luxury yesterday, and we spent more than a few minutes cooling our heels in downtown San Rafael while we waited to use a series of crosswalks that are a part of the city's bike route system. Although such things usually don't happen in June, they can. A couple of years ago, we had to walk about a quarter-mile because a promised police escort through a construction zone in Paso Robles was late in arriving. And the start of Day 2 in Santa Cruz is almost always heavily congested, as we share the road with Monday morning commuter traffic.

If things like this happen in June, the best advice is simply to stay calm and take it all in stride, since there's not really anything you can do about it anyway. If you allow yourself to get wrapped up in the tensions and emotions of the moment, you can easily put your mind in a bad place at the start of a day, and that won't do anything to make your ride easier or more pleasant.

About the route being "mine," I say "sort of" because the route parameters I was given (about 65 miles, start and end at Mike's Bikes, do White's Hill westbound but not eastbound, rest stop at Nicasio Cheese Co.) imposed some rather hefty prerequisites on where we could go. It didn't take rocket science to figure out that there weren't that many ways to get from Point A to Point B to Point C. And much of the route copied the metric version of the Marin Century, so it's not like the brilliant idea to climb Wilson Hill was an original thought on my part. But I hope most folks were (pleasantly) surprised by the return through Novato, which rarely if ever shows up on any training rides.

Of the three possible routes I submitted, the one we did was actually the easiest of the three, so be happy we didn't climb the Marshall Wall! Longtime ALCers might recall that this legendary climb actually was part of DOTR in the past ... when the ride was 100 miles long, making it an even more challenging day.

Yes, there was a lot of climbing on Saturday's route -- about 4,120 feet, according to Bikely. How does that compare to June? This year, I'm estimating that Day 1 will contain about 4,750 feet of climbing over a distance of about 82 miles, compared to the 64 miles that we did yesterday. Day 1 has by far the most climbing of any day on the event in June, and most of it comes in the first half of the day. Combine that with the excitement that you'll naturally be feeling on that day, and it's probably easier than you might think.

But with so much climbing at the beginning of a seven-day ride, it's vitally important that you pace yourself. Don't put all your energy into completing the 82 miles to Santa Cruz in your "fastest" time; the very next day is almost 107 miles, and you need to be able to cover that distance (and the rest of the week) as well.

One of the lines from our safety speech is the admonition to "practice patience" because "not everyone has the same skills as you when it comes to riding a bike." This works in both directions, and if you're a regular on our Mountain View rides, you might not have had much experience in riding among slower riders. In June, you'll see just about every pace imaginable -- from riders who finish the day and arrive at camp even before the camp services, to riders who bravely struggle to finish every mile they can and bravely give it their all to stay just barely ahead of the rest stop closing times.

When you pass slower riders, do so carefully and politely. A few years back on the ride, it was very discouraging to hear a few riders calling out, "Superior rider on your left!" That's not at all consistent with the spirit of ALC, and it's just plain rude. Remember that you have no idea why another rider might be riding slow or fast, but no matter how far they cycle, they've brought in at least $3,000 for our beneficiaries ... and that's what matters.

Speaking of just plain rude, we got to share the first few miles of yesterday's route with some of Marin County's "finest" cyclists as they blew through stop signs and traffic signals in San Anselmo and Fairfax. I've pretty much given up on cycling in southern Marin County, and these rude cyclists are one big reason why. (Rude drivers and generally overcrowded conditions leading to too many road-use conflicts are other reasons why, of course.) While the ALCers I saw were generally law-abiding, I heard from another ride leader that one of our riders was spotted urinating by the side of the road in Fairfax. There's really no excuse for that, especially in Fairfax where plenty of more reasonable options were readily available. Yes, emergencies can happen, etc., but there's a reason why the admonition about restrooms is at the bottom of the route sheet. In June, riders used to make a semi-regular habit of using farm fields as toilets, and that destroys our good reputation with the communities we pass through. Don't do it!

And if you're worried about having a slower pace on yesterday's ride, don't worry. I was about 2 mph slower than my recent usual pace, and that's not uncommon for such hilly terrain. Also remember that there's no point in rushing through each day of the ride; you'll have 12.5 hours of available riding time on most days, so approach each climb with an eye toward the long haul -- and getting all the way to Los Angeles.

For me, yesterday's ride was tinged with just a little bit of bittersweetness. Since I made the decision not to ride in ALC10 this year (for a number of reasons, all of which are about me and nothing else), my "day on" the ride was as close as I'll get to "the ride" this year. The parts of life on the ride that veterans often take for granted -- the sign proclaiming the next rest stop just ahead, the latex-gloved rest stop crews handing out fresh fruits and bagels, the portapotty lines and the conversations that ensue, the knowledge that you're extremely well-supported every mile of the day, the cheering supporters who randomly appear along the route, the offbeat outfits -- are all part of what makes AIDS/LifeCycle so special, and I'm going to miss it this year. My decision to skip ALC10 still feels like the right decision for me ... the decision I "had" to make ... but I'm honored to be part of the volunteer team that's helping you get ready for the event. This is the point in the season where I see riders approaching the peak of their training, and that's always gratifying.

Don't forget our next Mountain View ride on Saturday: our 111-mile journey to Gilroy and back. The forecast looks rain-free with moderate temperatures, but with perhaps a slightly moderate headwind to challenge us on the return. At 111 miles, this ride is just a smidgen longer than Day 2 in June, and it's got about the same amount of climbing, so this is a perfect opportunity to test yourself with the same 12.5-hour time limit that you'll have in June. Details and RSVP are here. And remember, now that our meet times are so early, please keep noise to a minimum when arriving because we're right next to condominiums ... and don't count on the restrooms at the police station being open so early. There's a 24-hour Jack in the Box on Shoreline Blvd. near our location, and the Starbucks on Shoreline north of 101 opens at 6 a.m.

We're just three weeks away from the fourth annual Altamont Pass Double Metric! Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.