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Countdown to 50,000

On top of Hoover Dam last month
I've added a new counter to the upper right corner of the blog. That's because I'm closing in on 50,000 miles of cycling since I bought a "proper" bike on June 1, 2004, and officially began training for my first AIDS/LifeCycle ride two years later. (I'm now on my third bike since then.)

When will I hit 50k? What am I going to do for the occasion? That's the type of thing that's almost impossible for me to predict, since I really don't know from one day to the next whether I'll ride or how much. The smart money says it will be in early July. And there just happens to be a 200km RUSA event in Santa Cruz in early July, but I'm not at all certain I want to do it; it's yet another trip mostly up and down Highway 1, and I get enough of that between ALC and DBD.

But maybe I'll think of something special, and maybe I'll be able to not do it by myself. In the meantime, one of the best ways to congratulate me on 50k will be to support my DBD2 ride to benefit the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

DBD2 get-acquainted ride (6/23/2012)

Date: Saturday, June 23
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep hills
Miles: 32

Double Bay Double 2 is coming up in just three short months, so let's have a pre-season get-acquainted ride. You don't have to be a registered DBD2 rider to participate; ALCers, Seismic veterans, DSSFers, and everyone else is invited. (What a great way to reconnect with your ALC11 friends!) Bring your questions about DBD2, and I'll do my best to answer them ... and then go home and register at doublebaydouble.org.

Our route today is not very long, but it's got a few hills -- none of them stupidly steep or long, but perhaps a couple that might be new to you. From our starting point in downtown Mountain View, we'll head into Los Altos Hills and check out the backroads for a few miles before going to Menlo Park for our rest stop and a counterclockwise trip around the Portola loop. After passing through the Arastradero nature preserve, we'll head back into Palo Alto where we'll do one last climb before our easy return to Mountain View.

Total climbing for this ride is about 2,000 feet. Find out more about DBD2 here.

This ride is Caltrain-friendly; the first southbound train from San Francisco arrives in Mountain View at 9:29 a.m.

Click here to RSVP now
RSVPs are recommended but not required.

AIDS/LifeCycle 11 epilogue

Me at the almost-empty Rest Stop 3 on Day 1
It's been two days since I've returned from ALC11, and this week certainly seemed like none of my previous rides.

What did I do the day after Day 7? I rode my bike ... another 30 miles. And I probably could have kept going. This was the first time that I ever went for a ride on the day immediately after ALC. I'm not exactly sure why I did it, but it felt right this time ... almost as if I had to prove to myself that I could do so.

And that was one of my big themes for the week. One of my tendencies is to think that I'm not "good enough" at things. Perhaps that comes from being immersed in this overachieving Valley of Crazy, perhaps it's my increasing distance and isolation from the young guns of said Valley of Crazy, or perhaps it's just my interesting upbringing. In the year since I started using Strava, I've been reminded with every ride that I'm at best just a slightly above-average cyclist in the grand scheme of things. And that probably bothers me more than I realize.

When I think I'm not good enough at something, I try to compensate. In the case of cycling, I compensate by cutting my rest stop time to the absolute minimum, allowing my elapsed time to keep pace with riders who are in reality much faster than me. And since I seem to have acquired a reputation in the ALC community as a "fast" rider, I've felt more pressure to uphold that reputation, even at the expense of missing out on some fun. As the numbers on Strava so brazenly point out, many of our Distance Training riders are actually (much) faster than me.

But being faster on the ride this year -- at least in terms of elapsed time, if not in-motion time -- meant that I also missed much of the spontaneous ALC community. During the ride, this didn't particularly bother me. After the ride, I began to lament the missed opportunity ... even though I might not have actually enjoyed becoming immersed in it. Riding into a thinly-populated VA Center on Day 7 was undoubtedly far less stimulating and rewarding than it would have been had I waited a few more hours for a larger, more welcoming crowd to form.

Like my Day 7 experience, I spent most of the week riding my ride and not anyone else's. That's a big change for me because I spend almost the entire rest of the year wearing my training ride leader hat. It's a role I deeply enjoy and treasure, and turning it off even for just one week makes me feel as if I'm letting other riders down by not always being there for them. I know that TRLs have no official role on the event, but I regret not being able to help more riders make it through the week. (I hope that my Facebook posts and blog entries helped at least a bit.)

The post-ride blues

So, yes, the post-ride blues are real. They haven't fully set in yet, but I can feel them on the way. It's always tough to return to the real world from the ALC "love bubble." People just don't behave the same way, and I normally get frustrated enough anyway when I have to deal with idiots.

I helped delay their onset -- and, possibly, minimize them -- by hastily arranging an impromptu group dinner Sunday night in Mountain View. Our group of 10 was fun and boisterous, and it gave many of us -- plus some of our supporters who didn't get to do the ride this year -- a welcome opportunity to get together and talk about the week.

Physically, I'm still waiting for my body to realize it's no longer being tortured. I was very tired for most of today, and I decided not to attempt a ride tonight. But I know that getting back on the bike is a key step in post-ALC recovery, so I hope to do so again very soon, even though my new employment makes that a bit more difficult for the time being.

If you're having a case of the blahs this week, understand that it's very common and you're not alone. Reach out to your ALC community for support, plan activities that make you feel good, and ease your body back into its normal mode of operation.

Some more random observations

-- Either the quality of Motel 6s along the route has gone down significantly in the past two years, my standards have risen, or a combination of both. I had unusually unsatisfactory experiences at all four (King City, Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Ventura), mostly involving poorly functioning air conditioners and sketchy non-ALC patrons. As a devoted ALC princess, I might have to upgrade my accommodations next year.

-- Not to get too overly personal, but I needed less butt butter this year than on any previous ALC. This seems to be a good thing.

-- For the first time, I did not take off my leg warmers during the entire ride. I switched between heavier and lighter weight warmers, but it never got hot or even too warm. And I used less than one bottle of sunscreen for the whole week.

-- Also for the first time, I wore a top base layer on most days, usually removing it partway through as temperatures increased. This made the chilly mornings far more endurable.

-- For every day of the ride, I was either in line to ride out immediately at route opening, or I was on the road within 10 to 15 minutes of opening. Even if you're not a faster rider, getting on the road early gives you generally more enjoyable conditions. And as we learned on Day 2, it made the difference for many riders between being allowed to ride the entire route and ending the day on a rain-soaked bus.

-- I made a concerted effort to eat more during the event, and I think this contributed greatly to my lack of a Queen B*tch From Hell day. My weight appears to have ended the event roughly where it began.

-- I don't usually get scared or terrified when descending; I take it slowly enough that I don't ... and if I do, I slow down. I think I might have given an incorrect impression in describing my descents during the week. That said, I still managed to hit 32.9 mph on Day 1 -- my fastest speed ever on a bicycle -- and exceeded 30 mph several times during the week. If I descended as quickly as everyone else, my average pace would probably be much higher, but I'm not feeling any such need.

The takeaway

I went back and read my ride report from ALC9. It's amazing how much of my conclusion to that ride report could just as easily be from last week:
The takeaway is that every day of this year's ride was my fastest ever for that day. I'm quite surprised and pleased.

... By hurrying through rest stops and skipping several entirely, I made my way to near the front of the group on most days. This happened early on some days, but it took me until past lunch on some other days. This put me among riders who generally outclass me in every way -- they're faster overall, they climb faster, and they certainly descend faster.

... But the upside was that I was able to ride solo for large parts of the route -- not seeing any riders in front of me or behind me for miles at a time. This was wholly unexpected, but it was my greatest pleasure of the week: being able to ride essentially by myself down the California coast, but still with full support if I needed it and a welcoming community at the end of each day. I never dreamed that I would find solitude on ALC, but I did this year, and that made all the difference in the world.

Also, spending the week with Adam (only for three days on ALC11, not the whole week) was a change from last year, when I stayed solo in all but one of my motel rooms. Last year I often felt disconnected from the ride, but this year I had an understanding soul to help me decompress after each day of riding ... and to gently prod me into getting up and getting out the next morning. I'm now convinced that the Princess Plan works much better when done with someone else.
Sure, my numbers have changed -- for the better -- in the past two years. But did anything else really change? Was this week really unlike my previous ride weeks? Can I ever find what I'm truly looking for on ALC? Do I even know what that might be?

Those are questions that, even if I knew the answers, go far deeper than a ride report. I might have to keep riding until I figure them out.

In the meantime, I'm registered for ALC12, and soon it will be time to shift gears and focus on this September's Double Bay Double 2. Thanks to all my donors, the Distance Training riders and leaders, the roadies, the staff, the volunteers, and everyone else who is part of this unique community. Thanks to all who read these almost-real-time reflections; I hope they helped you think a little more deeply about your own experiences during the event.

My adventure isn't over, and I hope you'll continue to join me.

AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 7

It's over, and my ride was a greater success than I could have possibly imagined.

I rode surprisingly strong today and rolled into a relatively empty VA Center in Los Angeles at the stupidly early time of 10:43 a.m.

How and why? Nothing special; just by skipping one of the three stops and by beating much of the weekend vehicular traffic mess through Malibu.

Just like yesterday, it was a day for pure riding. Although I began my ride 10 minutes after the official route opening, there weren't many riders on the road, and I quickly was either by myself or in scattered small groups. After making short order of Rest Stop 1, we were even more spread out.

But I stopped, quite a bit in shock, when I saw Ginger Brewlay and Team Ventura's "Mom and Dad" standing by the side of the road just after Rest Stop 1! They were a total surprise and most appreciated. After skipping Rest Stop 2, I was essentially by myself. And after a hasty lunch, I saw just a few other ALCers the rest of the way.

But I saw plenty of other riders because Pacific Coast Highway is an extremely popular cycling spot. It was strange to be back in the world of riders doing pacelines, not calling out, and not obeying laws. I smiled just a bit inside when a Los Angeles County sheriff's vehicle had three cyclists pulled over, apparently for running a red light.

After I woke up and discovered that my quads weren't bothering me nearly as much as they had on previous mornings (perhaps due to the wonderful massage I received yesterday in Santa Barbara), I was focused on riding strongly. A couple of the hills gave me pause, simply because I was feeling all climbed out by this point. But other than that, the 62 miles of the final day of ALC11 were over almost as soon as they began.

And as I got near the end, something interesting happened. After I took a self-picture at the Los Angeles city limit sign (which, sadly, is slightly marred by a blurry spot on the camera lens), I almost immediately checked out emotionally from the event. It was, for all practical purposes, done for me. As I rode the final 5 miles up the hill through Santa Monica, I was getting scattered cheers from the few bystanders who had arrived so early, and I was smiling in return and thanking them, but I was on autopilot.

When I rolled into the VA Center in past years, my emotions have been all over the map. I've been jubilant, I've been in tears, I've been relieved that it was over. Today, strangely, I didn't feel much of anything at all. I rode through the almost-empty welcoming line into bike parking, got my triumphant photo taken by a helpful volunteer, walked around for a few minutes, and then got a ride from Adam to his hotel room and a nice, warm shower. And then I drove home.

What a strange way to end such an incredible week! I'm not sure what exactly happened this morning. I knew that I had to be rested to return to work early Monday, and part of me decided that trying to drive back tomorrow would have simply left me stressed out and not in good shape to work on Monday.

Another part of me had probably gone into emotional overload and had simply shut down after seven days of so much intensity and so many people. I felt bad for missing many of you on Saturday afternoon, but I also realized that I'd be seeing almost all of you again real soon anyway ... and doing so after we've all had time to recover and can have more proper chats about our experiences.

And it turns out to have been a very wise decision indeed to come home tonight. Sitting at my front door, rather unexpectedly, was a Saturday FedEx delivery from my employer. I won't go into the details, but I'll note that it was good news, it was unexpected, and it really should not have been sitting exposed at my front door! Who knows what would have happened had I not returned until tomorrow and never known that something was supposed to be there. As I said earlier in the week, everything happens for a reason.

Now for the statistics. On every previous ALC that I did, I always brought along a reference card showing my day-by-day pace for each year. This year, however, I specifically didn't do that because I didn't want to feel the pressure of competing against my previous years.

Of course, as you know by now from reading this, that wasn't a concern. Here are my stats from six years of ALC, in average miles per hour by day:
Day 113.312.8*13.513.314.116.4
Day 214.514.
Day 313.211.913.612.813.816.1
Day 413.612.713.312.314.015.3
Day 512.
Day 613.^14.015.7
Day 713.312.313.213.914.215.9

* = Longer, more difficult route along upper Skyline to Hwy. 84
+ = Longer, more difficult route via Solvang
^ = Route truncated at 15 miles due to heavy rain

I am going to allow myself a moment or two of happiness over those stats! But I'll also quickly point out that I was on a new bike this year, which made a difference ... and this year's winds were generally very favorable, which also helped. But the overall trend shows that, although I might not make quantum leaps in performance from one year to the next, the seven-year trend (counting the year that I skipped ALC) is quite favorable and perhaps even satisfactory.

Of course, I don't do all this just so I can gloat over numbers. I do it because we're all working together to provide services and treatment to those affected by HIV and AIDS. Thanks to my donors for helping me reach my $5,000 goal this year, and thanks to all the donors for taking us above $12.6 million for ALC11. Your support saves lives.

What's next? We need to be very careful about the post-ride blues that often hit. Be sure to schedule activities that make you comfortable, with people you like. And take some time off the bicycle (and get it serviced, especially after all that rain and mud), but get back on it again soon and remember the feelings you had while riding this week.

And of course, I'll be back in late July with the Double Bay Double 2 training ride series. Watch for details soon.

It's late for me now, so I'll wrap this one up. I'll do a separate epilogue tomorrow or Monday, hitting some of my overall themes for the week and some final impressions and helpful tips that I can take forward into next year's ride.

Again, giant thanks to everyone who was part of my quasi-interactive conversation this week. It was a new experience for me, and it made the week much different than it had been before ... and much different than I expected. It's wonderful living in the future, isn't it.

P.S.: My story of the bungled Halfway to L.A. photo has a surprise happy ending! Unknown to me at the time, super ride leader Paul's mother took a cellphone picture of me at the same time the mystery rider was taking the lost pictures with my own camera. When I woke up at 2 a.m. today for no particular reason, the photo was waiting in my email inbox after she heard of my plight. What a pleasant surprise!

AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 6

Today was a day just to ride.

By this point in the week, the routine has become, well, routine: Wake up stupidly early, eat a big breakfast, prep the bike, ride, ride, eat, ride, eat, sleep, repeat. The body becomes so conditioned to doing one thing (cycling) well that trying to do almost anything else (such as walking down a flight of stairs) becomes unusually difficult.

And by the sixth day, the terrain, rest stops, and other riders all seem to blend into one giant non-stop blur. Part of you is amazed that you're still at this and going strong on the sixth consecutive day, but part of you also wants it to be mercifully over as soon as possible.

So it was with hugely mixed feelings that I did my sixth day of ALC11. I rode respectably but not stupidly fast, and again by limiting my stops, I finished somewhere between 80th and 90th of all riders. But my average pace was "only" 15.7 mph -- a pace that many of my friends easily exceeded today. How? We had several giant descents. And while none of them really scared or terrified me today, I did take them somewhat conservatively, generally keeping my speed to around 25 mph or less. (My maximum speed of the day was only 29.7 mph, a far cry from the 50-plus mph I've seen elsewhere. That also kept my overall average pace way down today.) I've seen too many ALC ambulances to want to go any faster, but more power to those of you who are comfortable doing so safely.

The big surprise of the day was a new route into and through Santa Barbara. This was something I'd been stewing about for years: Our old route roamed around the foothills north of the city, with hill after hill after hill -- none of them particularly long, but some of them rather steep. Meanwhile, a nice almost-flat official bike route runs close to U.S. 101 most of the way. I have no idea why the flat route hadn't been used in previous years, but we used it today, and I liked it. Yes, there were a lot of traffic signals, but that type of urban riding (particularly at this point in the week) provides plenty of short breaks from sustained riding. Granted, not everyone liked the route; I heard one rider say, "Now I can say I've seen the butt end of Santa Barbara."

At the nicer end of Santa Barbara was, for the 12th year, the Paradise Pit, the wonderful unofficial rest stop put on by local residents. Sometimes I've skipped it, and sometimes I've visited only briefly, but today I skipped Rest Stop 3 (just 4 miles back) so I could visit the pit and enjoy some delicious ice cream.

I knew that massage therapists had been set up there in previous years, but I was too early last time and they weren't ready. Today, as I was getting ready to leave, one of the therapists was just setting up his table. I asked when he'd be open, and he said he'd be open in a just a minute and I could be his first client. Score! I got some much-needed work on my legs, which certainly helped me get through the rest of the day.

After Santa Barbara, the route was again familiar and was, honestly, a bit of a slog through a slice of suburbia that I don't find all that exciting. I reached the water stop at mile 70, where Thomas told me that I was rider #102 for the day. I hadn't really been keeping score till then, but that shocked me somewhat. Two years ago, when I last did the ride, I was "in the first 100" to arrive there! And that was when I was a bit slower than I am now.

Because I'm overly self-competitive and self-judgmental, I decided that could not stand. With only 15 miles to go, I decided that I would skip the final rest stop and ride directly into camp. Fortunately, it wasn't that tough a task (except for the condition of the bike lane on that part of Hwy. 1, which continues to deterioriate year after year), and I rolled into camp at about 2:15 p.m. with only about 60 more miles to go until Los Angeles.

Today was Ride With Chris Day on ALC11, and I was touched to see some of the green jerseys out there. (I'm sorry that I skipped Rest Stop 1, where super roadie Taryl was wearing one.) I saw a couple of you at rest stops, at lunch, or ride into camp at the end of the day, and that made me smile. The jersey was also quite the conversation-starter with my massage therapist at Paradise Pit!

I finished the day happy, which was my goal. Day 6 didn't make me grumpy, although I began to notice after riding that I hadn't eaten as much as I had on previous days, and I started venturing toward the realm of grumpiness. But returning to camp and cheering in riders, followed by a well-timed and robust traditional Italian dinner with Adam in downtown Ventura, put me back among the mostly cheerful, if a bit tired.

So yes, by this point, it's mostly just riding, and part of me just wants it to be over. But another part of me wants it to go on for a whole month. (I joked with some folks at lunch about doing the optional Day 8 ride to San Diego.) When I begin ALC week, I think of many things: the physical challenge, the community, the cause, the friends, the relationships. Year after year, I find satisfaction in many of these areas but not in others. And by this point in the ride, I begin to realize that I'm wired in such a way that I'm unlikely to ever find those things here ... or probably anywhere else. That sense of melancholy starts to permeate my view of the week and sends me down the road of unhappiness.

But then I also realize that I'm doing something that only a very small group of people can do, and I'm doing it with increasing ease every time I do it. More important, my activities throughout the rest of the year help enable others to participate in the ride and conquer their own challenges, whatever they may be. The ride helps me find meaning in my life in a way that nothing else does, and that's why I keep coming back year after year ... even when doing so forces me to confront my own inner demons.

Now, with just 60 miles of relatively easy (if a bit traffic-heavy) terrain left for tomorrow morning, the end of this magical week is almost here. My impending return to the real world begins to be a tangible thing, and that makes me sad. But knowing that we're less than two months away from the start of the DBD2 training season makes me happy. I want to ride strongly tomorrow, but I also want the ride to be over. I want to do this forever, but I want to go home.

It is with these mixed feelings that I prepare for the final day of ALC11.

(The bottom photo is of me today approaching the top of Gaviota Pass and was taken by Frank Adair.)

AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 5

This whole same-day ALC blogging thing is quite unusual. It's enabling me to have a conversation with many of you -- both on and off the event -- while the event is in progress, which is providing a fascinating feedback loop that appears to actually be helping me through the week. My ride today, while only 42 miles that were tough in places but not overly challenging, left me in very high spirits but definitely ready for a long rest tonight in preparation for our final two days.

Yesterday's observations about teams apparently resonated with many of you, both in public and private comments that I received. It's reassuring for me -- although it really shouldn't be much of a surprise, either -- to see that others often feel the same way that I do. And today was the biggest "team" event of all: Red Dress Day.

So how did I respond to Red Dress Day? Well, I chose the other "acceptable" option: Dress in Red Day. And through a combination of good riding and favorable conditions, I finished the route in just over 3.5 hours, making me apparently the 10th cyclist to arrive in camp, well before any of the camp services. Being 10th today, however, is at best a feat that comes with a giant asterisk: Many other riders were far faster, but they chose to enjoy themselves more at the rest stops and/or ride around Lompoc before heading to camp.

If I were to analyze today's performance, I would probably conclude that after yesterday's tough day, I again felt the need to prove something to myself, even if the accomplishment carried that giant asterisk. And, yes, as ever the outsider, I was more than happy to quickly get into and out of today's stops and share the road with only a few other riders. (Many of the truly fast riders that I saw were even less into the spirit of Red Dress Day than was I.) Just how not-fast was I? My pace today was only 14.5 mph, by far my slowest of the week.

Two things stood out on today's route. First, much of the route was new to me (and some of it was new to everyone this year) because I skipped last year's ride, so I had the rare pleasure of riding in ALC on unfamiliar roads. With so much of today's route on city and suburban streets, I was generally happy because I tend to enjoy such conditions. Second, on the parts that weren't new to me, I hadn't cycled on them in four years because ALC8 and ALC9 used the alternate, longer route through Solvang. So I hadn't been through Casmalia or Vandenberg AFB since ALC7.

And I can truly say, without boasting too much, that I could really tell how my cycling has improved in those four years. The hills that once gave me great grief, hills that I often couldn't conquer without stopping, today were hills that, yes, were noticeable hills but really weren't all that bad to me ... even the 1.2-mile "ant hill" up Highway 1 to Vandenberg. When I reached the top of that hill, the last big climb of the day, I was the happiest I'd been so far this week.

So it didn't take much for me to push on into camp far earlier than I had planned. When I arrived at lunch (which, today, was a mere 3 miles from camp), I found out that I was the 35th cyclist to arrive. (Incidentally, I left camp this morning in Santa Maria a full half-hour after route opening. Nearly everybody else had more common sense than I and enjoyed the route in other ways.) I quickly ate half the lunch, put the rest in my pack, and flew with a healthy tailwind for the final push into camp.

And there was almost nothing there. We had the one temporary rack for bike parking, but the gear trucks, shower trucks, and everything else weren't even close to arriving. When my gear truck finally arrived, I help the roadies unload the truck, not just because it was a big help after one of our roadies cut his finger and couldn't move luggage, but also purely out of self-interest to get my bag faster. (And, naturally, my bag was one of the last ones to come off the truck, so I did a lot of helping.)

Why did I want to get my bag faster? Because Adam (who rode with me in ALC9), my ride for today and the rest of the week, had arrived from Los Angeles and was waiting for me at the camp entrance. So, by about 1 p.m., we were checked in to our posh Motel 6 and ready for some much-needed rest and relaxation.

Of course, we couldn't stand to do just that for the next 16 hours, so we drove out to the coast at Surf to see the oddly-placed Amtrak station and the various military accoutrements (complete with a Vandenberg guard patrolling the train station and looking rather oddly at us more than once). And after a huge pizza at favorite local spot Mi Amore, it's back to the room to write today's entry ... and then off to bed because, yes, I'm quite tired after five days of this.

Today's short ride was just what the doctor ordered, not just because of how I was feeling yesterday, but also because today should give me the much-needed physical recovery to be strong for the rest of the week. I'm not planning to try for any speed records on tomorrow's 83-mile ride to Ventura. (I know; I've said that all week.) My primary goal for the rest of the week is to finish happy, since Day 6 is often when I've had my most severe outbreaks of grumpiness. If I get to tomorrow and decide that my pursuit of happiness calls for faster riding , then so be it ... but it might also be a day to enjoy our miles along the very edge of the Southern California coast.

Thanks for reading these ride reports and for being part of my almost-real-time conversation. If you've already supported one or both of my rides this year, thank you! If not, and if you're able to do so, I'd like to direct you to my fundraising page for this year's Double Bay Double 2. It's the same important cause: the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. And while it's not as long as ALC or nearly as big, it's a daunting challenge of back-to-back century rides, something that exceeds even ALC. If you're a cyclist who's interested in riding with us on September 29 and 30 from Mountain View to Marina and back, please feel free to check out the event website to learn about registration. As of today, there are only 27 cyclist positions left before the ride fills.

Check back tomorrow for my report from Ventura!

AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 4

It's said that participating in AIDS/LifeCycle exposes your most raw inner feelings and emotions. And I've never attempted extensive same-day blogging of one of my ALC rides. For you, gentle reader, this means that you're getting exposed to both my physical journey through the week and my mental one. (Remember when I kept saying during our training season that the ALC challenge is as much mental as it physical?) This might be a good thing, or it might be a bad thing.

Today's bottom line: I finished a tough 97 miles in respectable time but not stupidly fast. Nothing serious happened along the way. But I fought grumpiness much of the way. And that's where the raw emotions come in.

I didn't start today grumpy, really. I slept reasonably well, I had a good breakfast, and I was in line for the 6:30 ride-out. My legs were somewhat tired and worn out from riding too hard this week, although they weren't hopelessly gone. But within the first 7 miles, I had settled into a deep funk. Why? Teams. I'll try to explain.

Because today is "halfway to L.A. day," many of the organized groups of riders wear their team attire so that they can get group pictures taken at the signs marking the halfway point of our journey -- which, incidentally, at 1,762 feet above sea level is also the highest elevation we reach during the week. Don't get me wrong: Teams are wonderful things, especially for all the fundraising they do. Some teams make me smile, but some others evoke a viscerally negative reaction in me. Which teams those are, and the reasons why I feel that way, aren't important ... and they're petty and immature anyway. (Besides, if you know me well, you can probably make some educated guesses that are spot on.)

So, in those first few miles today, several teams came flying by me in pack formations, all in their matching kits and all looking oh-so-wonderful. I began to stew inside, not because of anything they did, just because they are ... and because they were passing me so effortlessly. (I told you it's petty and immature.) And my sour mood began to affect my thinking. As Rest Stop 1 approached at mile 9, I was already in the mood to take a break, eat more than I would normally eat so early in the day, and try to chill out. But, I thought to myself, if I do so, then I'll just be hanging out with all these teams and probably getting even more grumpy. But if I don't eat and drink, I'll be even more grumpy on my way up the Evil Twins.

It seemed like a lose-lose situation. At the very last minute, as I was slowing to turn into bike parking at the rest stop, I changed my mind and decided to ride on through. I was still grumpy, but I stopped about half a mile up the road and had a bag of my "emergency" Sport Beans.

They say that everything happens for a reason. As I began my long, slow slog up the first Evil Twin, I slowly approach fellow Distance Training rider (and top 10 ALC11 fundraiser) Frank. We begin to chat about the ride and our training, I compliment him on his improved performance since last year, and he compliments me on the training season. Within just a few minutes, I'm not grumpy anymore. Had I stopped at the rest stop, I likely wouldn't have seen Frank until much later in the day, if at all. He enjoyed the downhill from the first Evil Twin while I stayed back in my usual conservative descent style, and I slowly approached him again on the second one. This time, I went ahead and took an action shot of him passing the sign proclaiming the 1,762-foot elevation, since he'd told me that he didn't plan to stop at "halfway to L.A." Now, my day was good!

The 9-mile descent to the coast is never one of my favorite parts of the week, again because of how I descend. Today, some rather stiff crosswinds on part of the descent made it even a little more hectic (although, with the clear skies, it was among the most scenic Day 4 descents I've ever done). But skipping the rest stop had put me far enough ahead that there were few other riders flying by me, and those who did generally called out politely, a vast improvement from what I experienced some other years.

After a few miles along the coast -- where the expected strong tailwinds had not yet materialized -- I finally took a rest stop at mile 33. While I was there, one of those teams started to arrive en masse, and yes, I began to get grumpy again. (I told you: really petty and really immature.) I cut my visit short and hit the road again for a fairly easy ride into Morro Bay, where temperatures were surprisingly warm. At mile 42, I took part in what seems to have become a Day 4 tradition for me: having comfort food at the Subway in Morro Bay and skipping the official lunch stop in San Luis Obispo. Really, by this point in the week, a meatball sandwich truly improves my mood, and it did so again today. (Plus, perhaps subconsciously on my part, it kept me from running into a certain team, save for two stray members, for the rest of the day.)

Today is both 97 miles and somewhat hilly, much of it in pesky, annoying hills that don't qualify as individual accomplishments but which add up and wear you out as the day goes on. Plus, as we went from inland to the coast and back again repeatedly, the temperature kept varying wildly, causing me to alternately shed and re-don the multiple layers of clothing I needed this morning when the temperature in Paso Robles was hovering in the low 40s. So I was somewhat worn out, although I responded by simply not trying to power my way up any of the various hills. My low gear can get me there eventually, and it did -- and my average pace for the day of 15.3 mph is, I believe, still my fastest-ever Day 4.

And I finished happy, not grumpy. The usual tailwinds into Santa Maria were out in force, and I got a pleasant surprise in camp when Paolo showed up and offered me a ride to my motel. So again, tonight I'm riding an adrenaline-fueled emotional high, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's 42-mile route to Lompoc, some of which will be new to me. I'm also looking forward to Adam, fresh from his most recent world travels, joining me in Lompoc to shadow us for the rest of the week.

But yes, today certainly exposed and laid bare some of my deep issues, in ways far beyond the ones I'm comfortable sharing here. It wasn't by any means a Queen B*tch From Hell day, not even close, and the feelings are the same feelings I have at some point just about every year during the event.

ALC's new motto is "You Belong Here," which I've said before resonates deeply with me. There just happen to be teams where I most certainly would not belong (and, I suspect, I really wouldn't want to do so anyway) -- and I'm well aware that some folks probably think of Ride With Chris in much the same way. Yet we've all done the fundraising and/or provided the roadie support, and we've all made the commitment to do this event, so yes, everyone here is a hero, etc., and is deserving of nothing less than respect and admiration. And although I can write about such things here, I still have those ugly feelings when it happens in person.

That's one of the big things that keeps me from enjoying the ride as much as many of you would like me to, and it probably is one of the big reasons why I ride the way I do. Check in again with me after tomorrow's Red Dress Day!

There was one true disappointment to the day, however. When I stopped at "halfway to L.A.," I actually got in line to get my picture taken in the traditional celebratory pose: standing on a rock, holding my bike upside-down and above my head, above an appropriate sign, with the ocean in the background 1,762 feet below. A helpful roadie took my bike and handed it to me after I stood on the rock, and another helpful rider offered to take my picture twice with my camera. But when I checked my camera at the end of the day, neither of those pictures were there. No idea what happened. Sigh.

AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 3

Again, just one day makes all the difference in the world.

Yesterday's storm gave way to a crisp, clear, breezy morning that allowed us to conquer the infamous Quadbuster in grand style. And although I earlier said that Sunday's ride might have been my best day ever of ALC cycling, today might have even surpassed that ... even though my pace today was (just barely) my slowest of the week so far.

There's really not much to say about today's route. I took it as a challenge to be conquered in the most effective way possible, and I did just that, reaching camp in Paso Robles less than five hours after the route opened in King City, 65 miles away.

But I did not do that by being an especially fast rider! Really! Many, many of our Mountain View Distance Training riders are far faster than am I, and this week's event has no shortage whatsoever of extremely fast riders. I do it almost entirely in the rest stops, getting in and out as quickly as possible (and, yes, occasionally skipping one). Incidentally, this is important in the sport of randonneuring, where everything -- including all off-the-bike time -- is part of the event's time limit. In a way, ALC is a lot like randonneuring because there's a fixed time limit to each day, and missing a rest stop or control closing time leads to "disqualification" (which, in the ALC case, is just a free ride to camp).

Doesn't that make me enjoy the event less? Not really. I still enjoy the rest stop themes ... well, except for one case today where I arrived only 7 minutes after the stop had officially opened for the day, but that was my fault. I just don't hang around and chat in the middle of a ride, because that's not my style anyway. Food, drink, pee, and go!

Again today, I didn't start the day with the intent of doing anything special. I skipped Rest Stop 1, but I almost always do that on Day 3 anyway because it's only 8 miles into the route and the next one is only 11 miles beyond. Quadbuster seemed easier than ever this year, and it occurred to me that I'd not done Quadbuster ever since I added Westridge (and Joaquin and Metcalf and Harder and ...) to our Distance Training rides. After those beasts, Quadbuster was a piece of cake! OK, not really, but I found that a slow but steady pace got me to the top without undue pain and in reasonable time. (But, to further cement the notion that I am not a fast rider, Strava ranks my effort on Quadbuster today as only 71st out of the 98 Strava riders who have ever done it.)

After Rest Stop 2 (where, yes, I did stop briefly), the tailwinds became more helpful than I recall in previous years. The next section of the route is mostly flat to gently rolling with a couple of small hills along the way. In the past, I recall going only 12-15 mph through there -- and making several "photo stops" that were really ways for me to catch my breath -- but today was a steady 16-18 mph and only one photo stop, and (I think) that was really because I wanted a photo.

The long, gradual, 7-mile descent back down to Highway 101 was, honestly, not much fun, mostly due to the deteriorating quality of the chip-seal on the road. By that point, however, I was far enough ahead that there weren't many other cyclists around me, so I didn't have to deal with being passed by dozens or hundreds of others who like to descend faster than I do.

I arrived in Bradley early enough to enjoy their local fundraising lunch (hamburger combo $6, for which I gladly paid $10 and told them to keep the change), and I quickly got back on the two-lane section of original U.S. 101 that heads 5 miles back to the freeway. I used to think that this was one of my favorite parts of the week, but again, the road surface has become very cracked and bumpy, and it's no longer nearly as much fun as it once was. (As an aside, shame on Monterey County for so badly neglecting the rural parts of the county in so many ways, not just roads.)

Also while at Bradley, I began to realize how early it was, and I started to do the math in my head about achieving something I'd never done on Day 3: arriving at camp before noon. I had about two hours and 25 miles to go, which was eminently doable. I decided to go for it! The new smooth, paved shoulder for several miles on the U.S. 101 freeway helped immensely, as did the tailwinds that were unusually strong for so early in the day. Where I used to bump and grind over the horrible, horrible shoulder surface at 8-9 mph, today I was able to easily cruise at 25-27 mph through the whole section. And that's what got me into Rest Stop 4 just seven minutes after it had opened for the day. Yet, in my promise to attempt Every Friendly Inch, I took the 1-mile detour to and from the rest stop instead of making the direct turn for Paso Robles.

Now, I was doing more math in my head. Was an 11:30 arrival at camp possible? Yes, it seemed, so I climbed the small hill (wind-assisted) out of San Miguel, and I was on my way. About halfway to Paso Robles, Matt (one of ALC's fastest riders) caught up with me, and we chatted for a while before it was clear that he was going just fast enough that I couldn't really keep up for any length of time. (I met him again in Paso Robles, though, when the traffic signals started to hold us up.)

Sure enough, I arrived in camp at 11:20. The gear trucks were just lining up outside. Bike parking was empty and not even assembled, except for one small rack that had been hasily put together for early arrivals. Camp services weren't even close to being open. From counting the bikes on the rack, it appears that I was the 21st person to finish (although Matt would have been ahead of me if he hadn't detoured to Starbucks instead of going directly to the finish).

In the early afternoon, I returned to camp to get my one free massage of the week. Although I mentioned my quads and my lower back, the therapist discovered that my neck and shoulders were hugely knotted, so we used most the allotted 15 minutes to work on that. One benefit of my early arrival was no huge wait for a massage; I got in just 15 minutes after I signed up. After that, I had to return to Bike Parking to find where my bike had been moved to (since our arrival rack had been only temporary). I looked in the first couple of rows and didn't see it, and I felt kind of bad when I asked one of the roadies if he knew where, as I put it, the "stupidly early" arrivals had been moved to. ("He's probably one of those riders," etc.) We finally found it, I inflated the tires for tomorrow, I picked up a yummy vanilla gelato cone, and now I'm writing this.

Why have I busted my butt three days in a row? Nobody, least of all me, knows for sure. I suspect some professional could make a bunch of money trying to analyze the situation. Am I having fun? Yes, in a way. For better or worse, I often approach big rides as puzzles that get to be solved. Camp logistics, rest stop logistics, routing -- they're all things where elegance and efficiency (not necessarily raw speed) appeal to me. So getting into and out of a rest stop is often fun for me.

But do I want to keep doing this for the rest of the week? Can I? Probably not. I like the solitude that comes with riding near the front of the group, but I'm also incredibly touched and moved by how many friends are on the event with me and how I keep running into them absolutely everywhere. As someone who often doesn't "belong," this year's ALC motto of "you belong here" resonates very deeply with me.

Tomorrow's route is 97 miles. That means that it's no day for leisure. But with 12.5 hours of riding time available, it also means that I don't need to attempt a fourth consecutive 16-mph day. After all, there are so many things to do tomorrow! And, believe it or not, I've never had one of the Pismo Beach cinnamon buns. Maybe tomorrow, but we will see.

P.S.: My first lost item of the week: my cap, presumably left somewhere in King City amid yesterday's chaos. It wasn't in Lost and Found, and the caps available in the camp store are only in small and medium. Not a big deal, but it does help keep the sun away while walking around in the afternoon, like today. Worst case, I'll get another one in Lompoc when I'll be staying across the street from an oh-so-classy Ross Dress for Less.

AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 2

I did say to expect the unexpected!

After yesterday's amazing weather and my most awesome day of cycling in six years of ALC, today was a far different story. By far, this was the worst weather I've experienced in six years of ALC. But I am truly one of the fortunate ones, for I was one of only about 400 cyclists who was allowed to complete the entire route. Why? After this truly bizarre June storm dropped much farther south -- and was much stronger -- than predicted, ALC officials decided to close the route at about mile 48 of 109. (Local media reported 0.24 inch of rain in Salinas today, which while not unprecedented is highly unusual for this time of year.) Those of us beyond that point were allowed to continue; the rest were evacuated to shelters (a church, a community college) to wait for buses to bring them the rest of the way to King City. (And the situation was dire enough that the local Red Cross apparently even showed up in one of their disaster vans to deliver hot coffee!) This was only the second time in ALC history that a day of the ride was cancelled.

Although I wasn't part of the evacuation, today truly demonstrates the magic of AIDS/LifeCycle. Year after year, the staff has to plan for countless contingencies, some likely, some very unlikely. Most of these plans are never put into action ... but when they're needed, it's amazing and awe-inspiring to watch people come together to do what needs to be done to keep everyone safe and whole, both physically and mentally.

Alas, there's not much I can tell you about today's logistics, or even many of the specifics of what happened, since I wasn't there. I've seen lots of reports on Facebook and Twitter, and most of what I "know" comes from there. So I'll try not to venture into unfounded speculation and stick mainly to what my experience was on today's wet, muddy, chilly, and windy 109-mile ride.

The day started easily enough, with an early 6:15 ride-out from Santa Cruz along a new route that greatly eased the pain of getting through the Monday morning commute, which was almost non-existent on our new itinerary. My mood was basically acceptable but not all that great; I didn't get much sleep last night, and the nonstop small hills around Santa Cruz never fail to at least annoy me.

I got into and out of Rest Stop 1, and it was shortly after that, around mile 23, where I started to notice the first sprinkles starting to fall. After turning onto very busy Highway 1, the rain began to fall a little more heavily, and a few minutes later it stopped again -- setting a trend that I would experience repeatedly through the rest of the day.

It seemed that I would regularly get "ahead" of the rain, and then every time I'd stop, that would be just enough time for it to catch up to me again. After I took a quick stop at Pezzini Farms outside Castroville, rather moderate rain began to fall as I approached Marina -- enough that I had to look up above my sunglasses so that I could see anything. I skipped the rest stop in Marina and proceeded directly toward Salinas, but things just got yucky there.

We ride on the shoulder of a road that passes through an agricultural area, and the shoulder is covered with dirt and mud from farm vehicles entering and leaving the highway. It had apparently rained somewhat significantly before I got there, so the shoulder was a wet, muddy mess that was covering the lower part of my bike. (Oh, and I should add that, although I brought rain gear and rain boots with me this week, I left them all in my suitcase this morning because I thought I wouldn't need them. So much for that.)

Again in Salinas, the skies cleared briefly, but by then I wasn't having much fun at all. I wasn't truly grumpy, but the rain and mud had soured my mood somewhat. The standard Salinas lunch of a turkey wrap (same as previous years, I think) again did not do much for me, although I had three bags of potato chips to replace all the salt that I was profusely sweating away through my multiple layers of clothing.

Within minutes of leaving lunch in Salinas, it began to rain again. And this was on a part of the route that was all new to me because it was introduced last year when I didn't do the ride. So my first exposure to cycling Alisal Road was not any fun at all: Huge agricultural vehicles were flying by at 50-60 mph, there was no shoulder, the road surface was cracked and rough, I was mostly by myself, and it was raining. In retrospect, I'd even say that the conditions were dangerous, which I suspect was a big part of why the route was later closed back in Salinas.

But the tailwinds were blowing strong, perhaps 20-30 mph, so I was still clipping along at a strong pace, and I again got ahead of the rain in time for a few miles of fairly pleasant cycling into the small town of Gonzales, where I used the air/water machine (low pressure, not a car wash!) at a gas station (50 cents, please) in a perfunctory effort to clean the worst of the mud and dirt off my bike and from the brakes and gears.

Rest Stop 3 in Gonzales was a highlight of the day, thanks to the Bridezilla theme that was cheerfully executed by Terri and friends (who must have been freezing in those outfits!). Oh, did I mention how cold it was by afternoon? Temperatures were only in the 50s, but the strong winds were making it feel much, much colder. I at least had a jacket, a jersey, leg warmers, arm warmers, and a base layer, but so many riders had only a jersey and shorts.

Just after Gonzales, however, the route returned to the one that I was familiar with from years past: a long stretch along River Road and Arroyo Seco Road that is visually deceptive, a slow, gradual climb that appears to be flat and makes you think you're running out of energy, even with today's tailwind. Soon enough, I had covered the 12 miles to the next stop, where one look at the dark, ominous sky was enough to scare me almost immediately back onto my bike.

But I was too late. Just a few miles later, the hail started to hit my helmet. It wasn't huge, and it didn't last long (some other riders experienced much worse, I hear), but it was indeed hail, something in which I've never cycled. (And all the more reason why the route was closed!) After the hail ended, it turned into more light showers that switched off and on all the way into Greenfield, where our fourth and final rest stop of the day was scheduled at mile 96.

The route to Rest Stop 4 is interesting. We have to go into town, then turn around and retrace our route for about a mile and then make another turn to continue toward King City. As I approached the junction the first time, a roadie was motioning me to turn right. I said that I wanted to go to the rest stop instead, and they motioned me to go forward. But when I reached the rest stop, there was almost nothing there! The crew had dismantled almost everything, and they were loading it into their trucks! And they had a message for the few of us who were there: Leave now and keep riding to King City.

This was when I first found out that the route had been closed, and only those of us at the front were being allowed to continue. (I later heard that staff had seriously considered closing the route to everyone. Given the conditions I experienced, that wouldn't have been an unreasonable call.) So I turned around and left without even getting off my bike. Cyclists were continuing to come toward the stop, so as we came toward them, we were shouting, "Rest stop is closed!" We also told the roadie at the junction what happened. (I heard that, after that, riders were being forced to turn at the junction and were no longer being allowed to head into Greenfield, taking two miles off their day. So only a very few of us -- far less than the 400 who were allowed to continue at all -- got to ride the full 109 miles.)

So, with just 12 miles to go and an ominously dark sky, I began to be even more motivated by fear. My performance went into overdrive, pedaling as fast as I could to get into King City before someone tried to prevent me from completing Every Friendly Inch of this epic day. (I was also more than a little motivated by the fact that I had been unable to use a portapotty at Rest Stop 4!) The tailwinds offered significant help, but the closer I got to King City, the more I could feel myself running out of energy. And with just a couple of miles to go, I knew that I was almost done (as I told Khang, who had been riding with me most of the way since Rest Stop 4). The final mile, on a numbingly poor road and then on a packed gravel path across the Salinas River basin into camp, had me down to a ridiculously slow speed.

But I made it. In fact, my average speed for today was 16.2 mph, which was a little slower than yesterdy's stupidly fast pace but (I believe) my fastest Day 2 ever. And under these conditions, too. Also, despite feeling down at lunch, I finished the day quite exhilirated, on a adrenaline rush from the challenging situation. Six hours later, I'm just beginning to return to something resembling normalcy.

After I promised yesterday to not ride hard today, the opposite turned out to be true (no surprise to some of you, I suspect). But most of that was because I was in my futile quest to stay ahead of the weather, even before I knew about the route closure. Again, this puts me in a situation where I really need to take it easier tomorrow. Fortunately, with a short route of only about 67 miles, this shouldn't be impossible, although I still plan to ride out right at the 6:30 a.m. route opening.

But again, today's real news is about all the other riders, especially those on their first ALC and who might have been strongly determined to complete the entire route. When I was part of the ALC8 rainout three years ago, I was devastated, so I can imagine what many folks feel like tonight. And we have to get up tomorrow morning and continue onward (some might say that we get to get up tomorrow morning and continue onward), because that's the spirit of what we're all about. So, everyone who was part of today's epic and historic AIDS/LifeCycle day is a hero -- the riders, the roadies, the staff, and the local community members who all did the right thing when it was needed. A lot of strong bonds were probably formed today, and we all have a new shared experience that will unite us forever.

An historic day for AIDS/LifeCycle

For only the second time in ALC history, today's route was closed mid-ride due to dangerous conditions. Most riders were held in Marina or Salinas after rain began and are being bused into camp. Those of us who left early and were near the front -- about 500 riders, apparently -- were able to continue, and I completed all 109 miles in very unfavorable conditions including rain, mud, unseasonably chilly temperatures, strong wind, and even a little bit of hail.

I don't have all the details yet, so there's a lot about the situation that I don't know. A full report will come later, possibly tonight if I recover, but maybe not until tomorrow.

AIDS/LifeCycle 11 Day 1

As the kids say these days, oh em gee. I think it's fair to say that, in my six years of riding ALCs, today was my most incredible day of cycling ever.

My intent for today was simply to try to get ahead of most of the traditional Day 1 crunch of riders and perhaps have a clean portapotty or two. But never in my wildest dreams did I plan or expect what actually happened: At an average speed of 16.4 mph, I had my fastest day of ALC cycling ever (and on a very hilly route), and I was the 23rd person to arrive in camp at Santa Cruz!

It really wasn't supposed to turn out that way, honest. But by the time I got to lunch and found that I was way ahead of where I thought I would be -- and that the winds had become extremely favorable -- it was clear that I was going to have a special day. In fact, from after lunch to almost all the way into Santa Cruz, I saw very few riders, and there were long stretches where I saw no riders in front of or behind me at any distance along Highway 1 -- a solitude that is a rarity and (for me, usually) a blessing on this event.

Thanks to a good placement in Bike Parking due to yesterday's stupidly early arrival at orientation, I was able to get on the road fairly quickly. After a bit of a crush in the first few miles, things began to open up considerably when I skipped the Mile 6 water stop and climbed into the omnipresent fog along Skyline Drive. After our quick stint on I-280, I made my first stop of the day at the gas station just a couple miles before Rest Stop 1. Buying a quick snack gained me entry to the actual, real toilet (not a portapotty!), and I was soon back on my way and able to ride by RS1, which was a key moment in getting ahead.

This was my first year doing the Crystal Springs/Polhemus addition to the route due to the dam closure, and the extra little climb certainly made things a little more difficult than I recalled. But the 1.3-mile climb up Highway 92 to Skyline was relatively painless, mostly because there weren't very many riders out there and those of us who were there were able to maintain a fairly steady pace and not have to pass or be passed too often.

The descent on Highway 92 to the coast is always one of those things I don't particularly like -- remember, I strongly dislike big descents -- so I was quite happy that only one other rider came flying by me the whole way down. Not because I was particularly fast (in fact, Strava ranked my effort at 276th out of 282 riders total!), but because there just weren't riders out there.

At Half Moon Bay, I decided to skip Rest Stop 2 entirely because it was only another 10 miles to lunch. I did, however, take a quick toilet break at one of the state beaches along the way, where there were pit toilets with no waiting. This got me into lunch stupidly early, and I quickly had half of my turkey croissant and got back on the road.

That's when things got fun. By now, the tailwind had picked up considerably, and there were almost no other riders on the road. I started making (for me) amazing times -- cruising at 25 mph or higher on flat terrain, and even at one point setting my all-time record for my fastest speed ever on a bicycle: 32.9 mph. (Don't laugh; I told you that I dislike descents!)

By the time I rolled into Rest Stop 3, I was ready for a proper stop ... and ready to say hi to fellow ride leader Terri, who's working as a most helpful rest stop person this year. Bike parking was practically empty! Some pictures, some food (the other half of the previously mentioned turkey croissant), and some portapotty, and it was quickly back to the road.

In the next segment to Rest Stop 4, I saw only one other cyclist the whole time! And because today's RS4 is only about 5 miles from the end of the route, I saw no need to stop -- even though the highway signs telling me to "not get cocky / come in a ride a jockey" were almost intriguing enough to draw me in.

And then I looked at the clock. I realized that I might be able to make it into camp before 1 p.m. -- something unheard of in my book. I decided to open up and make even better time into Santa Cruz. After a bit of a slowdown in the city traffic the last couple miles, I rolled into camp at ... 12:45! And when I counted the bikes in Bike Parking, I was number 23. Eeek!

So I retrieved my bag, changed my clothes, and spent most of the next four hours greeting incoming riders until my ride to my hotel arrived. And that's where I am now.

Yes, yes, Chris, you gloat too much, you're probably saying by now. Well, maybe yes, just a little today. I'd never had a day like this, let alone on a day with more than 5,000 feet of climbing. But behind my gloating comes a strong note of caution. I know that I cannot sustain this pace all week long. In fact, I suspect that my effort today might come back to haunt me later in the week. Indeed, without getting too disgustingly technical, I seem to have acquired a small saddle sore that I'm currently nursing. And Day 1 is way too early to be having that! And my eyes seemed to become unusually irritated in the afternoon, most likely an unfortunate interaction between my contact lenses and my sunscreen.

And while I had so much of the route essentially to myself today, I often found that I was happier when trailing another rider of about my speed. Doing so tended to keep me in check and prevented me from trying to go even faster. By the end of today, I was actually feeling that I might have had a little too much solitude on today's ride ... and, for me, that's saying something!

So now I must hunt down a second dinner, try to turn off the adrenaline machine, and get to bed. My wakeup call tomorrow is for 4 a.m., and our ride-out is at 6:15. I'm also a little concerned about the possibility of light rain tomorrow morning, although the latest forecasts seem to suggest that we might just barely miss it. And once we do, every indication is that we will again have very favorable headwinds tailwinds for most of the day. Also, the Day 2 route from Salinas to King City was almost all-new last year, so I've never done it ... and having 50 miles of new ALC route to ride will be a rare experience for me.

Congratulations to all on your first day of ALC11, and I'll see you on the road tomorrow! And, again, giant thanks to all my donors. You're the reason why I do this. As of last night, the participants of ALC11 have raised more than $12.6 million to fight HIV and AIDS. And that's what this is all about.

And just like that, it's time again

After a totally pleasant, stress-free, loving Day 0 orientation this morning in San Francisco, I am now officially oriented and am ready to ride out tomorrow morning at 6:30 on my sixth AIDS/LifeCycle.

What will this year's ride bring? Nobody knows, of course, but there is only one thing certain: As is the case every time, expect the unexpected.

Since the beginning of the training season last October 15, I have bicycled a whopping 4,839 miles to get ready for this ride. That's by far the most ever for me, but I'm still not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. In general, I've become a slightly faster rider in the past year. But ALC isn't a race, and the rigors of a seven-day ride make it potentially easy to burn out early in the week and have a miserable end to one's ride. Although I say it every year and rarely keep my word, I really do intend to take it easy this year and not feel the need to arrive stupidly early at camp. Besides, I will still pick up plenty of time with my randonneuring-style, quick-in-quick-out rest stops.

Giant thanks go to my many donors who enabled me to reach the $5,000 milestone again this year. You're the real heroes in this; I just pedal my bike and endure seven days of portapotties to motivate you.

This is my first ALC with a smartphone, which of course will include Strava. I've written before about the risks of riding too hard just to pursue a Strava ranking, and that's certainly a big risk here, especially with so many strong riders on the event. You'll be able to see my daily ride tracks on Strava from the link at the top of the page; they should automatically upload as soon as I arrive in camp at the end of each day's ride. (Update: It looks like Strava doesn't automatically make detailed ride data available to non-members, so I might have to handle this by hand, which probably means it won't show up until later in the evening.)

Also with the smartphone comes the nonstop temptation to blog, Facebook, check email, and do all the other real-world things that we try to get away from during ALC. I've used Facebook on past rides, and I've actually found it a great way to stay connected with one's friends during the event.

I'll try to post daily updates here in the blog each night. During the day, I'll probably show up in Facebook, but that will mainly be for the benefit of keeping in touch with my friends on the event. Don't worry; if anything significant happens, it will be here in the blog.

Some other quick observations:

  • Because I missed last year's ride, much of Days 2 and 5 will be new to me -- a treat I'm looking forward to.
  • I'm quite happy that Adam will be joining me in Lompoc and motor-shadowing me down to Los Angeles. That's historically been the part of the ride where I'm most likely to have one of my Queen B*tch From Hell days as the crush of 3,000 people begins to get to me.
  • I've already written at length about the amazing Ride With Chris jersey, and I still can't say enough in appreciation to all who made it happen. I will proudly and humbly wear it tomorrow morning for ride-out and again with everyone else on Day 6.
  • Yes, the weather forecast for Monday continues to look a little ominous. I'm still debating whether to pack my shoe covers ... which, if I did, would probably help ensure that it does not rain.
  • And yes, I registered today for AIDS/LifeCycle 12, to begin June 2, 2013.

  • If you'd like to support my rides at this point, I'd like to direct you to my fundraising account for Double Bay Double 2. This 208-mile, two-day ride happens September 29-30 and also benefits the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Not only am I a cyclist in DBD2, I'm also the creator and producer on behalf of Different Spokes San Francisco. DBD2 is a big deal for me, so I'll appreciate any support you can give. My DBD2 donation page is here.

    And if you happen to be in Los Angeles next Saturday, please come welcome me at the end of the ride, and hang around for the (new and improved) closing ceremonies. I'll be riding into the VA Center on Wilshire Blvd., and I'm guessing that I'll probably be there around noon or 1 p.m. There's a whole page with details and logistics for guests at closing ceremonies, so check it out.

    Now, my next tasks are to finish packing, and then somehow manage to get to sleep by 8 p.m. so that I can be up at 3:30 tomorrow morning for the ride to the Cow Palace. The adventure has begun, and the surprises await.