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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.