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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.