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Traditional pre-ALC musings

With yesterday's 51-mile ride from Reno to Hallelujah Junction and back, and today's 44-mile ride from Carson City to Gardnerville and back, my training season has come to a close. I'll probably be on the bike a little bit this week, but only to make sure everything's still running OK after I give the bike a much-needed cleaning.

One week from tonight, I'll be in Santa Cruz at the end of Day 1 of AIDS/LifeCycle 12 (or, as they're apparently calling it now at ALC World HQ, "AIDS/LifeCycle 2013"). And I've already told a few people, so it's no secret, but this is probably my last ALC ride ... at least for now, and possibly beyond.

Eight years ago, I was not at all certain that I could ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles even once, let alone six times so far. I've bicycled every possible mile, with the only gap being the rain-shortened Day 6 three years ago. I've become a progressively better and stronger rider, so much so that I managed a first-100 finish every day of last year's event. And more important, thanks to you, I've raised more than $35,000 in vital funding for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

And I'm going to give this all up? Well, in a word, yes. Life changes, circumstances change, and people change. The event itself is still the same incredible, transformative epic that it's always been (it's possibly even better now), and it's entirely likely that I'll continue as a training ride leader. I'll also continue to organize and produce the Double Bay Double for Different Spokes San Francisco. (If this year's event reaches the 50-rider limit, I'm open to giving up my spot and driving a support vehicle so that someone else can ride.) So I'm not going away (yet). But I'm not the same person I was eight years ago.

While I can still pump out 200 kilometers in a day (and, this year, even turn in my fastest elapsed time), I can distinctly feel that my multi-day endurance is beginning to decrease. I did very few days of consecutive long-mileage training this year because I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Also, with just under 56,000 miles of cycling since June 1, 2004, it's increasingly the case that I'm growing more than a little bored of most of the places I can regularly cycle. (And some of the places I haven't been are simply too challenging to hold much appeal for me. One time up Mount Diablo was plenty for me.) When I lead training rides, I derive considerable energy from those around me, including many who are seeing new cycling territory. When I'm by myself, however, it's far more difficult to get excited about yet another ride up and down Foothill, Junipero Serra, and Alameda. (San Francisco folks can compare their own feelings about riding to Fairfax and back at the beginning and end of almost every ride.)

Another key factor for me is that, contrary to what you might expect, participating in ALC year after year causes me to gain weight that becomes tough to lose. I have consistently gained five to 10 pounds per year every year that I do the event; when I skipped the ride in 2011, I was able to lose those 40 pounds ... but they've started to come back. I could probably address this with a more rigorous training program, but I've steadfastly refused to get "serious" about whole-body training because, for me, it makes the whole thing even more like work and less like play. (To those of you who develop a tough training regimen and achieve great results, you have my respect and admiration.)

This training season has been particularly difficult for me. My "real life" has been unusually full of stress on several fronts, and it's been very difficult to detach from that, even while riding. This year's Mountain View training rides, while suitably challenging and successful, were appreciated by those who did them, but the growth in other Peninsula and South Bay training options left fewer riders (and ride leaders), making the logistics more difficult to manage, for a smaller group of riders. It's quite possible that the Distance Training rides have run their course (feel free to tell me if you disagree), and if I return for an eighth year of leading rides in the fall, I might take things in a different and interesting direction. (Yes, I've been thinking about it. No, I'm not ready to share.)

Then there's the whole matter of fundraising. After eight years of begging and pleading, too many of my friends are sick to death of me. And because so much of my life revolves around the ride, my circle of non-riding friends has become even smaller than it was before. As a result, much of my fundraising (about two-thirds this year) comes from other ALCers, past or present. I'm especially grateful for the donations from other riders, but I often feel as if taking this money is "cheating," even though it all ends up in the same pool anyway. I hope that some of the people who consciously avoid me now might reconsider that position when I don't have an upcoming event that wants their money.

So that takes us to next Sunday. I know I've said this many times before, but my plan is specifically not to be a seven-day speed demon. In fact, since this might be my last ALC ride, I'm seriously entertaining the notion about possibly riding a sweep bus for at least part of one day -- something I've never done before except in a rain-out. I might have longer days on the route so that I can experience more of the many sights along the way. (I've still never had a Pismo Beach cinnamon bun, although I'm not sure my stomach would appreciate it at that point in the week anyway.)

More importantly, I might ride more slowly so that seven days of consecutive riding might not harm my body as much as has happened in some previous years. On Monday after the ride, I have to be all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at work, and I don't have the luxury of a multi-day recovery period.

Also, I'm determined to make this year's ride be for me. Yes, that's a bit selfish, but I feel that I've earned it. This probably means little or no blogging during the week. I plan to ride with Strava just to keep my cycling history there complete, although I'm considering keeping the data private. I really don't want to feel any pressure to compete this year ... with anyone else or, at least as important, with myself. I probably will still try to put in a strong effort early on Day 1, mostly to beat the traditional fustercluck of the mass start out of the Cow Palace and up Skyline and 92 to the coast. But after that, all bets are off.

On Saturday, June 8, after I arrive in Los Angeles, we'll see how much of this actually happened. One thing is for certain: Something unexpected happens on every ALC ride. There will no doubt be many fascinating stories for me to tell. Thanks to everyone who has been -- and will be -- part of my ALC 2013 experience. See you on the road.

Ride report: 6th annual Altamont Pass Double Metric (5/4/2013)

Go, riders!

After six years of hosting the Altamont Pass ride, the one thing I've learned is that each ride presents its own unique set of challenges. This year's ride was no exception, but our intrepid group of 15 riders and six volunteers conquered the challenges and turned in excellent performances.

Each rider returned to Mountain View under their own power, and only one rider chose to get a lift between two intermediate rest stops ... although one rider started to head the wrong way down Altamont Pass toward Tracy! That would have been a lot of bonus miles.

Speaking of Altamont Pass, we were treated to something that had never happened before on this ride: backwards winds. The climb to the top (which, as you discovered, wasn't all that much of a climb anyway) was a little more difficult, but the descent was quite literally a breeze, thanks to the unusual winds out of the northeast. This also made our return across the Livermore Valley quite a bit easier than usual, although the rapidly increasing temperatures began to pose their own challenges as the day progressed.

Although no temperature records were broken, highs were running about 10 degrees above normal in the East Bay. If you haven't had much heat training this season (and, given our wacky winter weather, that's not surprising), you might have been caught off guard by how your body reacted to the heat. In my case, my fluid consumption went way up, so much so that I ran out of water just before the Hayward rest stop -- something that almost never happens to me.

Another thing that happened to me in the heat was that I found myself taking many more short stops than usual between the official rest stops. There's no shame at all in doing so. I also took care to replace not just water, but also electrolytes and sodium. I slowed my pace a bit; while it would be exaggerating to say that I went into "survival mode," there was a part of the afternoon where I simply wanted to get through the miles without damage, and I took extra care to listen to what my body was saying. It's rarely wrong.

On the event in June, we've been fortunate the past few years to have unusually cool temperatures. But it's entirely normal for afternoon temperatures to reach into the 80s or even the 90s on several days of the event. Also, just like yesterday, many days of the event pass through several microclimates. You can go from cool to hot to cool to hot again all in the same day, and you might even be taking your jacket off and putting it back on multiple times. Remember the lessons you learned yesterday, and put them into practice next month. (And take note that midday temperatures can sometimes be surprisingly cool despite a warm start: When we leave Paso Robles on the morning of Day 4, it can be bright and sunny, but it can be foggy and damp just 20 miles later as we descend to the coast.)

I also want to take a couple of minutes to thank all of our volunteers on this ride. We were extremely fortunate that we had nothing more serious than a couple of bicycle adjustments, shuttling one rider, and handing out lots of water and salt. I want to assure all of the volunteers that your presence was definitely needed and appreciated; it's impossible to overstate the sense of security that's present when you know that people are available to help if an incident occurs. (And, as Murphy would attest from several previous rides, the lack of support volunteers often happens precisely on the rides where they end up being needed the most.)

Trivia department: I can answer one of the questions about the two unexpected events we encountered along the way. The crowd at Quarry Lakes Regional Park in Fremont in the morning was the Western Pacific Marathon/Half Marathon/10K/5K.

But I am flummoxed by the cycling event we saw going the other way between Livermore and Pleasanton in the morning. I can't find anything about it online, and given that many of the participants had the same jersey and they had ribbons of different colors that suggested multiple routes, I would think that it would have been announced somewhere. Any ideas?

A ride of 200 kilometers is your introduction to the steeped-in-tradition world of randonneuring: long-distance, unsupported, non-competitive cycling. In this country, Randonneurs USA is the main organization in this sport that traces its origins all the way back to late 19th-century Europe: "The first recorded audax cycling event took place on June 12, 1897, twelve Italian cyclists attempted the challenge of cycling from Rome to Naples, a distance of 230 km." RUSA rides often feel much like ALC rides, with the same spirit of camaraderie ... but generally without the high levels of rider support we have. RUSA membership is a bargain at $20 per year; the quarterly print magazine American Randonneur is worth the price alone just for the ride reports and cycling tips.

Two randonneuring groups in this area are Santa Cruz Randonneurs and San Francisco Randonneurs; each offers a series of events year-round. But where my training rides stop at 200km, the RUSA rides are just getting started, with distances of 300km, 400km, 600km, 1000km, and 1200km -- the distance of the legendary once-every-four-years (next in 2015) Paris-Brest-Paris. Many ALCers are RUSA members, and it's not uncommon to spot ALC jerseys on their rides.

What's next for us? In past years, I'd be saying thank you and wishing you all well in June. But this year, thanks to the unusual schedule and the unusual weather, we've got one more ride on the calendar. On Saturday, May 18, we'll have our first-ever celebration ride. Because these are the Distance Training rides, it wouldn't suffice to get all suited up just to ride up the street to the next Starbucks. Instead, we're going to tackle one of the more challenging and incredibly scenic rides of the South Bay: the ascent of Highway 9 to Saratoga Gap. Then, we'll descend the west side of Alpine Road toward the coast and climb back up and over Highway 84. This ride is "only" 62 miles; there are really only two significant climbs the whole day, but that adds up to almost 5,000 feet of climbing. The good news is that there are no surprise climbs at the end of the day; we'll proceed directly down Alameda and Foothill to Loyola Corners with no detours. The meet time is also a comfortably reasonable 9:30, which means that you can take southbound Caltrain to this ride. What a treat! Find out more and RSVP here.

Congratulations on an epic day, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

Photos by Andrew Bennett