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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.