A matter of duty As usual, AIDS/LifeCycle took part in last Sunday's pride parade in San Francisco. But I was not there this year. I simply didn't want to deal with the hassle of getting up there early, hauling my bike, finding a place to park, waiting around for the parade to begin, riding about 1.6 dangerous miles filled with rail hazards at about 4 mph, and then having to head right back home with my bike. Moreover, there was no act of defiance to be had this year; since I changed employers, I no longer had to seek permission from my employer in order to be allowed to participate in the parade. (Screw that!)
So that meant that I also didn't visit the ALC booth at the post-parade festival to register for next year's ride. And because they're doing something to their website, online registrations for ALC8 won't be open until the fall.
I dropped an email to my friendly cycle buddy Jo, and she mailed me a registration form.
Tonight I filled out the form, paid my $75 registration fee, and put it in the mail.
The fourth time around, it again feels different. No longer is there any question about whether I can do the ride -- I've now bicycled Every Friendly Inch three years in a row, and even if some problem (mechanical, human, or otherwise) were to disrupt my ride next year, I've already met the physical challenge I set out to conquer. There's not much of a sense of adventure about the ride anymore, either -- I know what's coming and what to expect on the route and in camp. (If anything, I enjoy sharing that knowledge with first-time riders.) And now that I live here, I don't even "need" the ride to keep me connected to the Bay Area.
So why in blazes did I just commit to raising at least $3,000 (yes, the minimum has increased) and devoting almost every weekend for seven months starting in November?
Sure, there's the vitally important work done by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and I continue to strongly support them. But while their primary mission revolves around saving lives affected by HIV and AIDS, there's something else, too. My past three years of participation in AIDS/LifeCycle have helped me through some very difficult times.
Those of you who follow the details of my life know that my time in Fresno became progressively more unpleasant -- some would say "toxic," and not just because of the abominable air quality there. My head often ventured into some really bad places, and my body often followed. But there was one thing that brought me back to earth: the knowledge that, almost every weekend, I was expected to be in the Bay Area to lead a training ride, to help other riders conquer their own personal demons in their quest to ride every mile they could. ALC was a reliable constant in my life: something to look forward to, something for which others were depending on me. ALC also became my primary social outlet, allowing me to make new friends in the Bay Area and beyond. And when the time came to move back here, the constant presence of training rides (even during moving weekend) made the whole process seem much less traumatic than it's been in the past. Physically, more than 5,000 miles of cycling in the past year translates into an incredible number of calories; imagine what shape I would be in today (and what health risks I'd be facing) if I hadn't found a way to burn that much energy.
For all of these reasons, I feel a great sense of indebtedness to the AIDS/LifeCycle organization. And therefore, it never really was a question as to whether I would sign up for ALC8. But signing up for the ride no longer gives me the cold tinglies of excitement and anticipation; rather, ALC has become an important part of my life, and it's difficult to imagine not being a part of it.
So now, the third chapter of my AIDS/LifeCycle saga comes to a close. I will be back in the fall with a new rider number and a new blog (I'll post a link here when that happens), and I will again deeply appreciate whatever support you can give. I fear that our economy will continue to be extremely challenging, so I realize that charity will be more difficult for many of us. Your support will be more important than ever.
With an unexpectedly long 102-mile ride today, I've now reached 1,020 miles for the month of June -- a feat I didn't think possible, and one that I'm not likely to repeat any time soon.
I took off on the new bike this morning with the idea of riding either 40 or 60 miles, but I just kept on going and going until I'd made it all the way down to Morgan Hill. Then I made my way through San Jose and was nearly home at 85 miles, my goal already met, but I decided that I might as well go for the full century. And in reviewing my far-too-detailed notes, this is the first time in my "modern" (2004 and later) cycling life that I rode a solo century, one all by myself and with no support. In fact, it appears that this may have been only my second solo century ever, and my first since 1992 (when I went from south San Jose to Hollister and back).
And to make things even nicer, my average speed for the day was 14.7 mph, which was as fast as my Day 2 of ALC two years ago -- the day with the glorious tailwinds for most of the day. It appears that the new bike really does make a difference. (I still rode with the old pedals today, though. Can't change everything all at once.)
Here's the day by day. Columns are the odometer on the old bike, odometer on the new bike, miles that day, riding time, miles this month, and miles this year.
Clipless without incident I decided that today was the day I would attempt an actual clipless ride. So I pulled out the old bike and protected myself appropriately: long, thick sweatpants (with cycling shorts underneath, of course) and a long-sleeve cotton T-shirt -- just in case I should happen to fall again. (My knee is still bruised from that 2-mph fall last Sunday!)
I'm pleased to report that I completed a 15-mile ride, complete with some moderate hills in the Elena/Robleda area, without incident. It's still not second nature, though, and I'm still concerned that sometimes the shoe just doesn't want to unclip smoothly in one motion. I've already set the tension in that cleat to be as loose as possible (at least I think I have), so I'm not sure whether it's how SPD works or whether it's just me.
But the 1,000-mile goal is starting to look even more feasible. So far this month: 918 miles.
The 1,000-mile challenge? Through an interesting confluence of post-ride excitement, the new bike, and an interesting medical situation that's waaaay beyond the scope of this journal, I've been riding a lot lately. As of tonight, I'm now up to 876 miles this month -- for me, the most ever.
And that gives rise to an interesting proposition: Should I go for the 1,000-mile month? That's only 124 more miles in, what, six more days (although one day is probably off for the pride celebration). It's also worth noting that, thanks to all the fires, the air quality here is currently somewhat less than optimal, although it's nowhere near the horrible level of the Central Valley.
So if I could knock out a metric century on Saturday, for instance, that would take care of half the distance right there, leaving just three short 20-mile rides for the other four days. That's just enough to not be a cake walk, especially if outside events should intervene.
Don't laugh; you were there yourself at one point For those who care deeply about such things, I just took my first ride in clipless pedals -- installed temporarily on my old bike so as to minimize unfamiliarity, risk, etc. (Yes, really, I've done three ALCs without clipless.)
I made it joyfully around the block, coming to a complete stop at every stop sign, dutifully unclipping and then clipping back in (SPD for now, if you care that much about it). I came back into my parking lot quite proud of myself, came to a glorious stop, and then ...
Promptly fell to the ground on my right side. Enough to actually rip a(nother) small hole in the leg warmers I was wearing precisely to protect my legs from such an occurrence. No blood, though, so it counts as a win, I guess.
I'll add that this is my first actual fall in 24,000 miles on that bike. But I did learn a lesson today: Take a couple more careful test rides on the old bike before putting these pedals on the new bike.
Update: In an act of wanton defiance, an hour later I went back out again and made the same trip around the block -- this time without injuring myself. But it still seems that unclipping still isn't reflexive, and the cleat often seems to feel like it's "catching" on something as I unclip, which seems to be causing an almost-fall here and there.
I'm not going to gloat (much), but I just coped with my post-ride droop by ... buying a new bike! Suddenly I'm not feeling so droopy anymore.
Seriously, though, my poor bike had been through almost 24,000 miles, including three ALCs, and its prospects for surviving a fourth were uncertain at best. Now I have a whole year to learn how to ride this newfangled contraption that you civilized folks call a "road bike."
Every once in a rare while, someone takes a good photo of me. Unknown to me, it happened right at the finish line of ALC7 at the VA Center in Los Angeles. One of the riders took pictures of almost every one of the 2,500 riders as they crossed the finish line.
Here I am. You can click on the photo for a larger version.
ALC7 retrospective Now that things are beginning to settle down (even though my luggage still isn't fully unpacked), I can offer my random observations on this year's ride.
I finished in my best shape ever. Third time was the charm for me: no serious illness, no injury, no mechanical problems, and no flats yet again, for the third year in a row. I rode six of the seven days faster than I did last year, and I was in the first half of finishers each day. (It's not a race, of course, but you already knew that.) I'm increasingly viewing the ride as a chance to prove things to myself, and this year went well in that regard.
The event has become huge. With more than 3,000 people in camp, life can be tough for people (like me) who need to have time to themselves. Moreover, with so many people around, the lines sometimes became unreasonable, especially for breakfast. We're told to use the time in line productively -- to meet people and learn their stories -- but at 5:05 a.m., with a 6:30 ride-out looming, I didn't particularly feel like waiting 30 minutes for my food. On most days, I ended up eating a couple of cookies I snarfed from camp services the night before, and then proceeding to Rest Stop 1 for a couple of Pop-Tarts. If everyone did that, there would be serious supply problems, but it was my coping strategy.
The ride seems to be fragmenting. Very rarely did I ever find people to ride with at my speed. I'm a fairly slow rider by road-bike standards; I was around 13 mph on most days. I was passed "on your left" by hundreds of riders every day, and I passed only a relative handful of riders. I saw lots and lots and lots of "fast" riders, and I heard the stories of those at the back of the pack, but I almost never found the glorious middle to which I belong. My nature is that I worry so much about rest stop closing times that I need to stay well ahead of the caboose, just in case anything happens, and that causes me to often ride with riders who are above my skill level.
Camping is becoming less enjoyable. With campsites so big now, there's always going to be a small group of people who just aren't very "mutual." I encountered a neighbor who turned on a boombox in their tent, another neighbor who didn't start assembling their tent until after the 9:30 p.m. quiet time began, and another who sang mildly offensive songs at 5 in the morning. And that doesn't count the inevitable very loud snorers one always finds in camp. My two nights as a princess in hotels (in Paso Robles and Ventura) were much appreciated, and I believe they helped me put in such a good performance this year.
The event is now really an event. Perhaps it's because of a new executive director, perhaps not, but everything about the organization this year seemed more highly produced and elaborate. Signage was vastly improved, the stage presentation each night was much more sophisticated, and there was an unmistakable sense that we were part of something big. But that's both good and bad. Often absent was any sense that we were a ragtag group of cyclists teaming up to do "the impossible," and the "event-ness" of the whole thing often made the event seem less intimate than in previous years. Indeed, when part of the evening presentation is spotlighting a different rider each night and explaining why that person is riding, that's a sign that the event has become so large that such an effort is now needed.
A troubling sign of how "big" ALC has become: Two friends of mine cycled in ALC this year for this first time. Neither one wanted to participate in closing ceremonies in Los Angeles on Saturday. They just wanted to get home or to a hotel, to shower and decompress. To me, it's a failure of the ALC organization that highly motivated first-year riders (one rode every mile; the other tried and came close) weren't sufficiently motivated to hang around the VA Center for a couple more hours. I don't know what the solution is, since the ceremony can't be all things to all people. But I saw many other people who apparently made the same decision, and I really can't fault them for it.
The delicate question of EFI. I've now cycled Every Friendly Inch three years in a row, and conquering that challenge has deeply affected me. But it also seems that there is an increasing number of riders who have little intention of even trying to ride EFI. I understand that many riders run into difficulties -- physical, mechanical, or otherwise -- that prevent them from riding EFI, and the support services the ride offers are essential for such people. I also have only the highest respect for anyone who makes an honest effort to ride every mile they can, particularly if they're doing so under especially difficult circumstances. But I heard countless stories this year of riders who simply "wanted a day off" and took the bus for a whole day, instead of even trying to ride, even to just the first rest stop. Others apparently stayed so long at rest stops, just to socialize and/or have fun, that they had to get swept into camp.
These riders cost ALC real money. When buses have to be sent back and forth over the route to shuttle riders to camp, our beneficiaries lose precious dollars, particularly in this age of insane fuel prices. Again, when people have a real reason to be on the bus, I have no quarrel at all. But AIDS/LifeCycle was designed as an endurance cycling event, not a seven-day party on wheels. There are plenty of other fundraising events for people who don't even want to make the effort to ride every mile they can. And with registration now apparently capped at 2,500 riders, those who don't want to make the effort should step aside for those who do. I'm aware that passions run very strong and deep on this issue.
In short, I didn't feel the magic this year as I hoped I would. I do, however, feel a great sense of accomplishment, and I am deeply grateful for the dozens of friends I spent time with during the week, especially those from our season of training rides. I probably will sign up soon for ALC8, so please note that I would not do so if I didn't believe so strongly in the organization and what it does.
But it's different now. And I will be searching inside to figure out how I can make it work for me as I continue to help the organization on its quest to end HIV and AIDS.
I'm back in Mountain View, doing rather well ... well enough that I've scheduled a 33-mile "training" ride for this Sunday. I'm still obscenely tired, though, so I hope I'll have plenty of time to catch up on sleep before this weekend.
“Hello from Los Angeles, that's the sounds of risers arriving at the DA center at the end of lifecycle(?) 7 which I have just completed. Arriving every frenzy miles for the 3rd year in a row. I finished in fairly good performance in fact because I didn't stay outside the cock in the cruise. So once again I'm perhaps among the first hundred or so people here which means I should have a good spot in the profession at the end of the day. But that doesn't come until 4:00 so I should now got 3 and a half hrs to do nothing so I'm going to go find my friend and hopefully get to a hotel later today after the ceremony then relax and it's back to San Francisco tomorrow. Thanks for all your support. And that's it from LA. Bye bye.”
“Hello from Santa Maria it is 4:45 at the end of day 4 of ___ life cycle 7. I have completed 97 plus miles today and my average speed for the day was 13.3mi an hr. That compares to last yrs speed of 12 27 and two years ago of 13.7. However the course today was a little bit longer by about 2 to 3mi and it was a little bit sillier too because last year some riders did not follow the rules and hence we got banned from a jurisdiction and we had to take an alternate route it was a bit longer and a bit sillier. So we tried to not let that happen because what's happens when we get a place where there's no alternate that will be the end of the ride and I wasn't gonna let that happen. The wind as usual was extremely happy all afternoon long we had nasty cross wind I was on highway 1 not quite the gale force that we had last year but still enough to cost people to lean sideways and hang on for dear life and the semi trucks passed by. The sound in the background is because being in tent # I1 this year that means that tonight we are right next to the gear trucks and the gear trucks are playing their music to welcome everybody back into camp. It looks like we or rather I was in about probably the first third or the first half of the people finishing today. My tent mate Jeff went as far as lunch and took the bus in the rest of the way because his ankles are giving him great difficulty and we're hoping that he'll be able to ride tomorrow. In fact looking ahead to tomorrow it's our fun red dress day or dress in ray as ___ I'd say a short 22mi ride from here to Lampope(?) where we have the afternoon pretty much to ourselves. A chance to regain ourselves for the final 2 days of the ride. In fact we are now gone about about 350mi almost in 4 days. So things are looking good and I'm going to go find some dinner here in a few mins. As always ___ to see the official multimedia presentation of all we're going through and I thank you for your support.”
“Good morning friends and supporters. It's 8:40 in the morning. I'm ___ here I am at halfway to LA. If your looking for it on the map we're on state highway 46 between Castor Robles and the coast and it's the highest elevation point on that route of 1752 above sea level. We are out looking over Mora bay at this very moment. The sky is mostly clear. Its cool a little bit of a wind. Hundreds of people up here getting their pictures taken with their bicycles looking out over the ocean and we're about to begin a 9mi descent to the coast. We have a long day ahead of us. We have gone 17mi so far and we have another 80 to go. I'm not going to ___ long. I'm going to press on through. Look for another report tonight. Thanks.”
“Hello friend and supporters. That glorious sound you hear in the background is a sound of an air conditioner blowing in my motel room here in Passarobles(?) where we have finished day three of the ride, another sixty five miles today which puts us about forty seven percent of the way to Los Angeles. The day started out cold and windy and chilly. People had their jacket on and my jacket came off in the first two miles of the ride so my arm warmer is coming off later in ride and finely at the last rest up my leg warmers came off 3lot less of my body by the end of the day. Officially it currently eighty four degrees in Passaobels(?) here today. I think I went a little bit too fast today. I'm hurting a little bit but that's because two years ago my speed limit today was 13.3 last year it was 12.1 because I I was obviously hurting then today it was 13.6 so it got a whole lot faster, but probably faster than I was planning to go. We had a favorable wind going down hill a one point approaching thirty mph the bike started to wobble the road was bumpy I started losing control moving in air death of buying the pureval(?) farm and we hope to not have that happen tomorrow tomorrow is a challenge in that department because we climb the evil twin which takes us to be half way through LA the seen from”