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Ride report: ALC12 Distance Training #5 (2/23/2013)

Go, riders!

Some rides are designed to be eventful and interesting. But this ride ended up being more eventful than intended. Our group of 26 riders plus two SAG drivers who were worth their weight in gold (more on this anon) conquered an extremely challenging hill, confronted surprisingly strong winds, took a couple of spills, and even had an unpleasant post-ride incident. The good news, however, is that everyone (as far as I know as of this morning) is basically OK: no ambulances, no hospitals, no doctors.

The interesting day started early for me. When I woke up before dawn and checked the weather, I was pleased to find that temperatures were generally in the upper 40s. But I also had lost three of our seven scheduled ride leaders due to illness or family emergencies, so I knew we'd be a little low in the leader department. (Also, several of our other regular riders backed out at the last minute due to illness. We missed you!) Then, when I started to take all of our supplies outside to load in my vehicle, I was shocked to find a fresh coating of rain on everything! While I had been getting ready, a very unexpected, brief but moderate rainstorm had passed through the area.

Would this affect our route to Redwood Gulch? Fortunately, super SAG driver Andrew had driven out to check the route, and he reported that the pavement in Stevens Canyon was its usual damp self but that Redwood Gulch was already starting to dry out.

By the time we started our pre-game activities at 9:30, skies were clear blue, but there was a bit more wind than we've had in the mornings so far this year. And we had many new faces to the Mountain View rides -- welcome! This gave us a small boost in the morning as our route was generally north to south. And soon enough, we were at Redwood Gulch.

This ride was structured to be similar to the beginning of Day 3 -- Quadbuster day -- of the event in June. Just like yesterday, Day 3 begins with about 10 miles of constant but gradual climbing to the main event, a 1.4-mile steep climb.

Quadbuster is, of course, not as steep as Redwood Gulch (7.6% average vs. 9.4% average), but it's also true that Day 3 is when many cyclists begin to feel the effects of multi-day riding, causing hills to feel more challenging than the numbers might indicate.

Redwood Gulch is more difficult than any hill on AIDS/LifeCycle. And there's not another hill nearly as steep on any of our remaining Distance Training rides this season! Strong kudos go to everyone who attempted the hill, regardless of whether you rode Every Friendly Inch or decided to cross-train part of the way. (And if you did part of it on feet instead of wheels, you might have even noticed that you were going just about the same speed as the cyclists!) One of the good things to take away from Redwood Gulch is that it helps you find -- and possibly expand -- your limits. If you didn't think you could make it up such a hill before, now you can. And if you took some breaks or cross-trained, then you can possibly aim to return later and do even better. (Or, if you're just as happy never seeing Redwood Gulch again in your lifetime, that's OK, too.)

After Redwood Gulch, the rest of this ride was designed to be much less eventful. What I didn't expect, however, were the winds that continued to strengthen as the day went on. They provided a nice assist as we traveled south to Calero reservoir (many personal records were set), but as soon as we turned east for the descent into Coyote Valley, those winds became potentially dangerous crosswinds.

And, yes, we had a rider go down on the Bailey Avenue descent. Super SAG driver Janet was on the scene quickly and transported the rider and bicycle back to Mountain View. They're OK, but the jury might still be out on the bicycle.

Then, after our next turn onto Santa Teresa Blvd., those winds became annoyingly strong headwinds that only became stronger as we approached the mini-hill at the border of the developed area of south San Jose. As I've mentioned before, headwinds usually aren't frequent on the event in June, but they can happen. Crosswinds can be a serious challenge on some parts of the event: a brief segment in the latter half of Day 2, but a more daunting segment of several miles on Highway 1 approaching Guadalupe near the end of Day 4, with little shoulder and high-speed traffic. (And those winds can make yesterday feel like nothing at all.) So even though crosswinds and headwinds generally aren't much fun, it's nonetheless a good idea to spend some time experiencing them before June gets here so that you'll know how your bike handles before it's surrounded by 2,500 other bikes.

The winds were waiting for us again after lunch in south San Jose, and the infamous Santa Teresa Slog certainly lived up to its name. Although there was only 12 miles until the next rest stop, more than one cyclist commented that those miles were especially difficult, despite the nearly flat terrain. And we had another cyclist go down in that segment, but there was just a bit of road rash and some minor bike damage -- that cyclist was able to finish the rest of the ride without further incident.

As we approached the end of our long day, we got a pleasant surprise as several of the folks from yesterday's Sunnyvale training ride rang the cowbells and cheered us on as we passed their meeting location. And our last riders made it back to Mountain View at 5:35, well before sunset but with an increasingly chilly wind. With everyone accounted for, the day was done.

But we had lost a couple of cyclists before we even got to Redwood Gulch. Some riders took a wrong turn early in the day and got way off-route. And then, to make things worse, there was a minor car-vs.-bike incident (again, nothing serious). Remember to always take a route sheet so that you'll have phone numbers to call if something goes wrong, or at least program those numbers into your phone before starting.

And to cap off our event-filled day, one cyclist drove home with their bike attached to their roof rack ... and right into the top of their garage.

Some days are just full of trouble. Despite the amazing scenery and numerous personal accomplishments, Saturday was one of those days. One of the truisms about the event in June is that many riders will have what we indiscreetly call a "queen b*tch from hell day" sometime during the week. (It's happened to me often.) You get to a point where you're mad at everything and everyone, you lash out at others (and yourself), and you're a generally unpleasant person to be around. On a training ride, this often isn't a big deal: You'll be going home in a few hours, and you'll be doing something else the next day. But in June, this can quickly spiral into a mental and physical state that's dangerous not only to you but to those around you. Angry riders can do stupid and dangerous things while on the bike.

An old ALC meme used to be "I'm a kitty, you're a kitty," often accompanied by cute/annoying pawing motions. The idea was to defuse any downward spirals before they became hopeless. Whatever your strategy, it's important to not ride grumpy. And it's equally important that you learn to detect your own early warning signs of getting grumpy and take quick action to address them. Improper nutrition is a common cause of grumpiness (it's happened to me many times), but it also can happen just by taking your mind into the wrong place. 

This is what we mean when we talk about the "mental challenge" component of endurance cycling, and that's why we'll be spending the rest of our training season on increasingly long rides. Even if you have a body that can pump out 100 miles with little effort, your mind is an equally important component in actually making that happen.

Our next ride is only 6 miles longer, and it has considerably more climbing (the most of any of our training rides this season), but I believe that it will feel easier than Redwood Gulch. Our ride to Pacifica has only a couple of steep climbs, and they're not nearly as steep as what we've done on our past two rides. Also, we'll ride about 16 miles of the Day 1 route, including a little time on a bicycle-legal part of I-280. (If you've never done it before, this is definitely something you want to experience now before being surrounded by 2,500 other cyclists.) This ride has about as much climbing (of roughly the same type) as Day 1 and is about the same distance, so it's a good way to gauge your progress at this point in the training season. Find out more and RSVP here.

A note to our riders who have been arriving on southbound Caltrain: Unfortunately, we've reached the point in the season where our rides have become too long to sync up with the train. Our next meeting time is one hour earlier, at 8:30 a.m. I hope you'll still be able to join us; start working now on alternate transportation arrangements.

Thanks to everyone, congratulations on making it through a challenging day, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.