545 miles in slow motion
San Francisco, Santa Cruz, King City, Paso Robles, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Ventura, Los Angeles. For the better part of seven days, I sat on a bicycle with over 2,200 cyclists and 650 volunteers riding from one part of California to another to raise money for HIV/AIDS services as part of AIDS/LifeCycle. In perspective, 545 miles is further than the distance from Boston to Washington D.C., further than Brussels to Berlin, further than Tokyo to Hiroshima. It is countless hills, steep descents, farm fields, supportive on-lookers, packets of chamois butter, potholes, water bottles, and sliced bananas. Based on this, my first year’s experience, it is also six inner tubes, one bike tire, and an entire bike frame long.
It is all worth it.
Along the way I tried to capture as much of the experience via Twitter for the numerous people who helped me raise $6,000 for HIV/AIDS services in California. I am incredibly grateful for all of the support and hope that my snapshots of the ride proved to be enjoyable for others as the ride itself was for me.
Halfway to Los Angeles
Day Zero (0 miles)
My journey to Los Angeles started a bit further north in Santa Rosa. Day zero required me to grab everything I would need, load it into a car, and drive down to Cow Palace in San Francisco for orientation the day before the ride was set to begin. Since the departure on day one is effectively at dawn I decided that it would be best to stay the night in San Francisco, rather than attempt the 60-ish mile drive that morning.
Orientation mostly covered legalese, rules, and guidance for the ride. Some of it conveyed from the ride director Tracy at the lectern, some of it conveyed in various video clips, but all of it made the level of professionalism and production support for the ride abundantly clear. After all the chatting was done, everybody got their wrist bands for the week. The wrist bands were to remain on you the entire week and help denote what food line you should be in, whether you were a cyclist, etc.
I took the unsolicited advice from my neighbor “put it on the hand you don’t wipe with.”
Between the end of orientation and when I finally went to sleep, I probably consumed 2-3,000 calories which I was sure to need the following day; a habit which continued for the next six nights.
Day One, Santa Cruz (82 miles)
My alarm went off sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 am.
The bus from the hotel was leaving at 4:30. Not sure what to expect, I pack all my gear up, and walk into the lobby where I’m greeted with a dozen or so cyclists already in their bike shorts and wind breakers.
Oops, guess we’re not changing at the Cow Palace.
I popped into a bathroom, grabbed clothes from my “day one” ziploc baggie and tried to bundle up as much as I could. It’s chilly and I hadn’t eaten yet.
The mood on the bus is a mixture of excitement and grogginess. Some of the boys behind me were joking about how Chamois Butter, the anti-chafing cream that will become a fixture of our everyday, sounds like a drag name. They laughed and imagined her sisters Cocoa and Almond. The thoughts of the Butter Sisters drag super group melted away when we pulled into the parking lot where 10+ big rented moving trucks are lined up for thousands of chilly cyclists to drop their gear off.
The opening ceremonies were an emotional introduction to both the importance of the ride and the impact of HIV/AIDS on the gay community in California.
The emotional roller coaster of ALC was just beginning.
The ride out was a dramatic swing in the other direction, my nervous energy offset by an intense focus on not running into anybody and keeping one foot clipped out to avoid toppling over at low speeds. Once we got onto the streets of San Francisco, everything would improve I figured. Sort of, well.. not really. While SFPD had closed down some intersections along the route out of the city, they hadn’t closed them all. The first few miles of our epic journey were spent in stop-and-go cyclist traffic as we hit stop-light after stop-light trying to escape San Francisco.
I imagine this is what rush hour in Copenhagen feels like, with far less shouting and cowbell.
The road started to open up as we made it to the western edge of the city, just in time for a bitter cold fog to envelop us. Those first few miles were spent anxiously staying in line, shivering, and wondering if the rest of the day would feel this easy.
With the first fifteen miles done by rest stop one, I was in good spirits and began the rest stop system I would follow the rest of the week: eat food while waiting in line for the bathrooms, grab more food for my bag, refill one bottle with powerade, the other with water, stretch, and then back on the road.
The morning remained fairly overcast as I continued on to rest stop two, where I followed the system once again.
As the day progressed however, we started hitting very unpleasant headwinds. I don’t ride with a bike computer or using a tracking app on my phone so I don’t know how much the winds were costing us, but they were clearly slowing everybody down. Somewhere before lunch time the sun came out, making the coast look absolutely stunning as we pushed along it.
Unfortunately however, I missed some spots with my sunscreen coverage. The inside portions of my upper thighs, the gap between my long sleeves and the gloves, and my lips. The burns on my thighs would make for some unpleasant riding the rest of the week, and then take a couple weeks to heal properly.
By early afternoon, my butt started to hurt. To be somewhat expected, having spent most of the day in a bike seat.
With the sun high in the sky, I rolled into camp in Santa Cruz sometime in the afternoon. Not having had any other indication of how close to the front or rear of the pack I was, the sea of tents already assembled gave me a pretty good hint.
My tent-mate Mike was “princessing” every night, so he had already gone to his hotel. He was however kind enough to set up the tent and grab my “green military bag” from the gear truck. When I arrived at the tent, I discovered that Mike and I might have different ideas of what “green military bag” means, so I hurriedly lugged the camouflage roller bag back to the gear truck and grabbed my olive green duffel (standard issue).
After showering in the mobile shower trucks, which I didn’t know were going to be our shower options, I trundled off to the food tent and discovered one benefit to eating vegetarian: the shortest food line.
I ate as much as I could and stuck around for the camp announcements, until the volume started to bug me and then I went off to my tent. Ear plugs in, I tried to sleep.
82 miles was the longest I had ridden to date.
Day Two, King City (109 miles)
I woke to my first alarm around 5 in the morning to hear hushed voices and zippers already bustling around me. My first morning in camp was just as educational as my first evening was. Struggling to my knees to get dressed in a tent which wouldn’t accommodate me standing, I fiddled my way into my bike gear, and then shivered out of the tent into the misty Santa Cruz morning. Everything I had eaten and drank the night prior was ready to come out; the bank of toilets by the tents had a line longer than my patience so I snuck off to another bank over by bike parking which turned out to be mostly empty. The days following I would make a mental note of which toilets were likely to be underutilized in the evening and the morning, even if it required a little bit more walking.
I have some difficulty eating right when I wake up, but I forced some oatmeal and a banana down my gullet, dropped my gear off at the trucks, and went to bike parking which was packed with people trying to leave. Topping off the tire pressure in my front and rear wheels, I got in line, stretching along the way to the exit.
My teeth were probably clattering by the time I started pedaling. I don’t have a lot of natural insulation, so the chilly morning air blowing into my bike clothing made for an uncomfortable departure from Santa Cruz. The city was mostly flat with one short but incredibly steep hill. While some cyclists walked up it, I dropped gears and powered my way to the top.
It’s a ride, not a race, but that doesn’t mean you want to sit behind slow-pokes all day.
The chilly clouds accompanied us to rest stop one on the border between urban and rural. More of the same system: food, bathroom, refill the bottles, apply chamois (butt) butter, stretch, and then I was off again.
Entering farmland the roads became abysmal. Gravel, potholes, uneven patches. The types of roads you would worry were wearing out the suspension on your car, except instead of a machine, the roads were rattling all of our spines. A few miles outside of rest stop one I could hear sirens in the distance. Eventually an oncoming fire truck would pass by me and continue down the column of cyclists to whatever mishap had occurred further back. I would hear later that a friend of a friend needed to go to the hospital and required surgery on their leg. There’s no telling whether that fire truck was linked to the same incident, but the sight nailed home the potential dangers of our trek.
Bouncing along, I passed the “fried artichoke stop.” An unofficial stop where hundreds of cyclists stop by and probably make this restaurant’s entire year. I zipped right by. Not a fan of artichoke, but even less so of lines. Onward to lunch!
Some miles later, a gentle downward sloping descent with a left turn at the end which was covered with sand and gravel caught up a cyclist just ahead of me. The bike slid out from under her and she lied there on her back with a couple other cyclists around her. I slowed while “moto”, a motorcycle-powered volunteer who helps mark the route, started to wave people to slow down. She was communicative and seemed more annoyed than anything else; what’s a little road rash? I continued on to lunch, reminding myself that gravel doesn’t give much traction to my narrow road tires.
I didn’t recognize anybody from my team at lunch, so I found a nice shady spot to eat and stretch. My butt still hurt. There was a television camera crew, and somebody was giving an interview about ALC. The sun was out and shirts were coming off. The park seemed like it was right in the middle of town, which made me wonder what these people think about the gays coming to their town.
At my friend Harley’s urging, I stopped by the medical tent to ask somebody to take a look at my aching hindquarters. I knew that they were pressure ulcers, but I was hoping for some relief. Nurse Sarah directed me to a tent like those we slept in, and asked me to bend forward on a chair so she could inspect my bottom.
My feelings of vulnerability were eclipsed by my desire to get fix the problem so I could finish the ride.
She was concerned that one of the pressure ulcers looked so close to opening this early in the ride. She applied some patches, mentioned “night cream” for later at camp, gave me some advice, and sent me on my way.
I decided that medical would have to take my bike away to stop me from continuing the ride. In the meantime, I would just have to be more attentive than usual to my rear-end to ensure nothing got worse.
Between lunch and rest stop three, the tailwinds continued to impress. I found myself riding separate from the pack with this one woman who I had seen earlier. Cranking over farm roads with a strong tailwinds, especially after that brutal day one, was a blast.
When we approached the “Otter Pop Stop”, another unofficial stop, my riding buddy and I didn’t even hesitate to keep on pushing. My heavy steel-frame road bike notwithstanding, I was probably pushing 30+ miles an hour rattling over those roads as we pushed deeper into the Central Valley towards King City.
I developed a couple more habits which I would continue for the remainder of the ride:
- Whenever you see somebody else drink, you drink. Usually I would get so focused that I might otherwise forget. You don’t want to be drinking when you’re thirsty, since that means you’re already getting dehydrated, not a good place to be when you’re riding all day.
- Whenever you see the “Rest Stop 1 Mile Ahead” sign, drain the water bottles. There’s no downside to putting more fluids in at this point, the bathrooms are just up ahead!
Before rest stop four, there’s a bridge over a river. The opportunity for a cool down on a hot day makes the river another unofficial stop, with plenty of skinny-dipping. Hot and uncomfortable, I considered taking a dip in the miles approaching the river. Then, as I generally did during the ride, my thoughts came back to my butt. I figured that if I was close to opening up skin at lunch, it might be worse by now. Considering whatever lovely bacteria floats around in a river, and then the thought of sitting on that bacteria for the remainder of the day, I decided to pass on by.
It sure sounded fun though.
Having stopped at every official rest and water stop, by six I was rolling into camp. A campground hidden away from the road, which was accessible to us by a foot path of gravel and sand.
My 100+ miles of riding were concluded with a little off-road walking.
Day Three, Paso Robles (63 miles)
Only sixty three miles? No problem! My butt was feeling better after the night cream and I had just ridden my longest ride ever at 109 miles, 63 was nothing!
Well, except for the mountain known as “quadbuster” on the ride, which we would be climbing after about the first eight miles of flat road.
Leaving King City took at least an hour, that same gravel and sand track we came in on, was packed with a solid line of cyclists walking the mile from camp to the road. Once we found asphalt I was delighted to learn that it was real road, not the combination of tar and craters we had been riding the day prior.
At the base of “quadbuster” I stopped into rest stop one for the usual. When I returned to my bike, a bike parking volunteer said that they heard a pop and I might want to take my bike to “bike tech” to get checked out. Taking a look revealed that both the front and rear inner tubes had exploded in the warm morning sun.
A delay of this nature was not what I expected, but better now than in between rest stops I remind myself. 45 minutes and $14 dollars later, I had two new tubes and I started cranking up the hill. While I passed people, some walking and some pedaling, all of us huffing and puffing up the hill, multiple lunatics in bike shorts sped down the hill in the opposite lane. Not satisfied with one mega-climb, these nutters were doing multiples.
Somewhere after that climb, and another little climb that followed, I ambled into rest stop two. I don’t remember much about it other than the little church and that it was hot. Too hot for mid-morning. I reloaded on fluids, snacks, and got back out onto the road. Perhaps 300ft out of the rest stop exit, I noticed that my rear tire pressure is way too low. A few expletives and a little walk later, and I made another visit to bike tech.
They checked the tire for debris, found nothing, and then replaced the rear tube and sent me out on my way once again.
I unzipped my bike jersey to get more of the cooling wind against my skin. On a stretch of road by myself a bee flew into my shirt, stung my on my side, and exited out the back, hopefully to die a miserable death. “FUCK” I shouted, sitting up to see the welt already developing on the tender skin underneath my rib cage.
The day was clearly going well.
At rest stop three, I stopped by the medical tent where they gave me a little cream to make my bee sting less obnoxious. I then made another stop to bike tech for yet another inner tube. The bike tech at this rest stop cleared the tire, installed another tube, and once again sent me on my way towards lunch.
ALC has stopped in a little town called Bradley for years. At some point the locals stopped leering at the gays on their bicycles, and instead started to use the influx of people as a fundraiser for the kids at their little school. They sell burgers and sodas, with a special “$100 club” wherein the kids will serve riders their lunch in an air-conditioned room in their little school. I heard that this year we helped them raise $20,000 which the school uses to sent kids from this little town to science camp, disneyland, and college.
Between the sun and another trip to bike tech, I was too hot to appreciate all of this.
My bottom lip was blistering from all the sun exposure, so I probably looked like shit too. At the entrance two little girls alternated between shouting “welcome to Bradley!” and “thanks for coming to Bradley!” in their bullhorn, I grumbled back onto the road angry at nothing in particular.
By rest stop four my anger had turned into a serious inward focus. I had started to develop a headache, which for me is usually the first indication of either dehydration or overheating. I didn’t have to pee either, which was concerning. I developed another one of the habits I would carry through the rest of the ride: do not leave a rest stop until you’ve peed. I hung out in the shade for probably 30 minutes, watching the ALC medical volunteers check in on how various people were doing, to make sure that everybody was remaining healthy.
At rest stop four, the roadies running the rest stop perform a different show each day. I think they do the show every 30 or 45 minutes. I was there long enough to see the show, in triple digit temperatures, and then to watch one of those roadies get back to work. Going from dancing around in the heat, to breaking up bags of ice and refilling water coolers, all in heels no less.
The entrance to today’s rest stop four was up this short but steep little hill, down which I breezed to start the last leg of the miserable and hot 63 miles. As I was leaving, another group of cyclists rounded the corner heading for four, and when one of them saw that hill he let out an exasperated “oh fuck you!”
I hated each of the ten or so miles from rest stop four to camp in Paso Robles. I also hated each of the steps from the gear truck, carrying my tent and duffel, to my tent site. I was so hot and tired that I dropped all my shit, grabbed what I needed for a shower and just left. After the shower, I was in a better mood, so I assembled my tent and headed off to schedule a massage. You only get one massage for the ride, and I had been saving it for day three, knowing I was going to feel like hot summer garbage.
After the massage I paid another visit to bike tech to get to the bottom of why I kept getting flats. It took us a lot of searching to find the needle-sized puncture but we couldn’t find what exactly had been causing it. We opted for a new tire and tube, bringing my daily total up to five inner tubes. While the tech installed the new tire, I helped some other techs set up their tent, as they were not staying in a hotel that evening like their princess-peers were.
At this point, I was a pro tent popper-upper.
Somewhere between first and second dinner, I was reminded that we did quadbuster that morning.
In the brutal heat with the sun cooking my brain, I had forgotten all about it.
Day Four, Santa Maria (91 miles)
I am become bicycle, pedaller of worlds.
By the beginning of day four, everybody had more or less gotten into a groove, myself included. As Harley put it “you become a cycling machine.” The kind of machine that says things like “on your left” when passing in the chow line.
Leaving Paso Robles was another epic long journey from bike parking to the starting line. Interrupted by one of the stubbled gear roadies standing atop his truck by bike parking and singing along with show tunes in his long white dress. So pretty.
The conversion to cycling-machine caused me not to remember much of the day, except for the arrival at the official half-way point where the photo above was taken. Atop a mountain with an absolutely stunning view to the west, hundreds of cyclists waited in line to stand at the edge, hoist their bicycle above their heads, and pose for a picture. I didn’t think twice about hoisting my steel giant of a bicycle above my head. It’s overweight and I’ve got weak arms, recipe for disaster, or at least a bad picture.
After speeding down the mountain into the cool coastal breeze, we rode along more busy highways as we plugged on into San Luis Obispo (SLO). At one of the stop signs, a local volunteer was rapidly throwing rubber bracelets on anybody’s wrist who would stick them out, thanking us for riding and welcoming us to their city.
“That’s SLO Gay”
Another fundraising lunch awaited us at some college campus, whereby a veggie sausage helped fund local STI testing and treatment services.
Despite Mama Harley telling me that the grass was full of sticker-burrs, I took my shoes off anyway. My butt wasn’t hurting, which meant something good or something bad, but I was in a positive mood, so I went with it, stretched my feet, wiggled my toes, and dealt with the sticker-burrs in my socks.
Later on down the road, we climbed a medium-sized hill and rode across a big chalk line which had “norcal” and “socal” written across it at the top. Five or six women stood or sat with decorations, cowbells, and streamers to welcome us to SoCal, and thank us for riding. That evening Mike mentioned that they had never decorated for ALC before; he stopped to take pictures.
All along the route people would come out, cheer, and thank us for riding.
After a couple hundred miles, that sort of thing really does help.
Eventually I found my way into rest stop four and decided to wait long enough to see a show. A wonderful Wizard of Oz musical number, the plot of which I missed, but the costumes were fabulous as per usual.
Shortly after leaving rest stop four, I was at camp again for my new evening routine of grabbing gear, dumping it in a field, showering, setting up a tent, eating, stretching, eating, and then going to sleep.
Any troubles I had with falling asleep on the ground with earplugs in, had all disappeared.
Day Five, Lompoc (43 miles)
The fifth day of the ride, also known as “Red Dress Day” was certainly a highlight. The overall ride is shorter, but everybody is dressed up. With the Carmen Sandiegos, flight attendants, waldos, mechanics, and other themed costumes abound, we certainly caught looks along the way. My favorite however were these two absolutely fabulous ladies who I ran into at rest stop one.
The jovial nature of red dress day was a good distraction from the two steep climbs along the way.
I found my pace buddy from earlier in the week and we set off from rest stop two towards the climbs. Winding our way along narrow roads we gradually climbed, passing others as we went, until finally I pulled away from her to really aggressively climb the last part of the first hill. Throwing both my weight and strength into the hill, nearing the top I heard a clank which I assumed was my chain bunching or picking up something like a rock or twig.
I continued on to the top where I waited for my buddy.
As she summited our first hill of the day, we continued on.
After the downhill, when I could resume serious pedaling, I noticed that under tension I was hearing the clanking noise again. It didn’t happen on every pedal stroke, but was audible when I was pushing strong into my right foot. I spent a mile or two looking at the sprockets by my feet, trying to see what was stuck in my chain. Looking from behind, my buddy didn’t see anything amiss either. As we approached the hairpin curve which starts the second big climb onto a busy highway, I pulled over: I had to know what this was.
The steel giant flipped over, I started rotating the pedals studying each cycle of the sprocket. Not seeing anything I followed the chain back to the rear hub and spotted the problem. I had sheared my bike frame at a weld point.
I let out an exasperated “fuck.”
“What is it?”
“I broke the frame. I’m done.”
Explaining what had happened, my buddy was more astonished by the situation than I was.
I flagged down one of the sweep vehicles, loaded my broken bike, and was taken to lunch. Along the way the two sweep roadies, from San Francisco and Atlanta respectively, were great company. I also got a chance to figure out why the sweep vans are so cautious and slow riding up and down the line of cyclists; turns out they’re checking out all the boys!
At lunch I made another visit to bike tech where I hung my bike on the rack and explained that I broke my frame.
“Fuck, another one?” was the lead tech’s response, before returning to his work.
I later learned that by this point in the ride, I was the third cyclist to break a frame.
I didn’t even know “breaking a bike frame” was a thing!
As luck would have it, InCycle the bike shop that travels along with ALC also brings along 40 extra bikes to rent to people along the way. While they didn’t have exactly my size, 61cm, they did have a 58cm which I was willing to make work.
My number transferred to a new bike and the steel giant hanging on a rack, I was able to ride the remaining miles from lunch to camp to finish out red dress day, wearing my breezy red sun dress.
Feeling pretty in my red dress
My teammates were as shocked as my pace buddy was: “you broke your frame?” While explaining what happened earlier, I stumbled into a theory: the brutal roads on day two could have caused a stress fracture, or it could have been the five or six times the rear wheel was removed and reattached on day three, but either way the excessive torque I put into my climbing finished the job.
Day Six, Ventura (88 miles)
The thought of “less than ninety miles, this should be easy” crossed my mind when I stepped into the extremely brisk morning air in Lompoc.
What kind of weirdo thinks things like that?
On the agenda for day six was the most dangerous descent of the entire ride. Hugging the highway, we would climb up to the peak of a mountain, and then drop down all the way to sea level. People have been seriously injured on this descent and safety was top of mind after all of the other shenanigans I had been through this week. With a lighter bike, accompanied by disc brakes, I made it safely down the mountain to the gorgeous coastline north of Santa Barbara.
As I made my way down the coastline, I came across two of my teammates. One dancing and giving the thumbs up to passing cyclists, to let them know things were handled, and the other changing somebody’s tire. A third teammate emerged from the brush, I assume after taking a leak as she was wont to do. Chatting with them I learned that the woods-pisser had helped change this guy’s tube, but done it wrong and it had almost immediately been popped. Fortunately the other two were close behind and offered to do a proper job! I was of no help, but stashed their trash in my bike bag and headed off to lunch in Goleta.
Calories ingested, butter applied, water bottles filled, and I was off again. Like with most other towns we rode through, Goleta was plenty of stop lights that prevented us from getting a good rhythm going.
Before I got to the city limits I approached three boys on the side of the road who asked “do you know how to change a tire?”
I pulled over.
I thought everybody on the ride would know how to change a tire, but i was wrong in that assumption. These three were riding together, and one of them had found some staples, and while he had all the equipment necessary, he wasn’t adept at using them. Fortunately he had some CO2 cartridges which are quite handy; pumping a tire up to 100psi with a little hand pump is a pain in the ass even on a good day, less so when you’ve got better things to do with your calories.
Once I had them sorted, I sent them on their way and followed shortly thereafter.
Less than five miles later I also found some staples, and for the first time in the entire ride, I had to change my own tire. It took me a little bit to figure out how to get the rear wheel off. Between the disc brakes, a different frame attachment point, and the fact that it wasn’t my bike, I took my time figuring how to do the swap without breaking anything. Unfortunately for me, this time around I didn’t have anybody with a CO2 cartridge handy, and had to hand-pump the tube enough to carry me to rest stop three, where I could use a real pump.
Between rest stops three and four, there was the (unofficial) ice cream stop put on by some local LGBTQ groups. There wasn’t much space to sit down and rest, so I scarfed down some cookies and cream, and got back out on the road.
Following further along the coast, my previous thoughts of “this should be easy” were wiped away by more headwinds. By the time I rolled into rest stop four I was pretty fed up with the wind, not that I could do anything about it. Since the rest stop was squeezed tightly between the road and the coastline, rather than put on the show, rest stop four hosted a “dance party” complete with DJ. Throngs of mostly shirtless men danced around much to my amazement. I not only didn’t feel like dancing at all, even if I had energy I couldn’t imagine dancing in bike shoes.
As I waddled by, the DJ asked the people that had been there for an hour or two to move along to camp because bike parking was full.
Pushing against the wind for another 10-15 miles for what felt like hours but eventually I found my way to camp in Ventura, right along the beach.
At dinner that evening, the ride director shared with us that there had been no incidents on the descent, and to send our thanks to CalTrans for street sweeping all the gravel and debris from the shoulder.
Following dinner there was a candlelight vigil along the beach, which took me a little while to understand. I had assumed there was going to be a bit more structure, and that one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were going to speak. Instead the vigil was held in complete silence, nothing but the waves the Pacific rolling in against the sand.
Before returning to my tent, I sat down in a patch of grass, stretched, and marvelled at this, my last night in camp.
Day Seven, Los Angeles (70 miles)
The last morning in camp was somehow cold again. It was always cold. Waking up and putting on cycling gear doesn’t do much to defend against those chilly coastal breezes but it was still cold.
There were news cameras again. I assumed they were interviewing somebody for a morning show that day. The arrival of ALC coincided with LA’s Pride weekend. Not to mention that there were a few thousand of us, which did tend to draw the eye.
At rest stop one I met up with my pace buddy and a few other people. We rode out together, our nerdy biker gang, and pushed towards Malibu.
It was during this stretch that I realized that I have explosive speed, and I can aggressively climb, but I cannot maintain a strong speed for very long; no endurance.
By the time we got to rest stop two, I decided to go my own pace. They were wearing me out!
More importantly, my team was going to meet up before the finish line so we could cross together. We ere scheduled to join up at 3, and I had more than four hours to cover a measly thirty miles.
Separating from that group probably didn’t make much difference for the pace anyways, because once entered Malibu the entire road dynamic changed. Stop lights, hills, close-quarters, and bad drivers. More so than anywhere else we rode through, Malibu drivers consistently drove like assholes. They did not slow down. They did not give any space. They definitely did not care.
On one occasion I had to brake sharply because somebody had parked too far into the shoulder and on-coming traffic from behind me did not give me any space. The descents, gravely farm roads, and stretches alongside US 101 did not even compare to how unsafe I felt riding through parts of Malibu.
I somehow managed to survive Malibu’s gauntlets and arrived at lunch very early. Although, when you wake up at 5, lunch at 10:30 doesn’t seem as unreasonable. With time to kill, I kicked off my shoes, sat in the sand, sat in the shade, and tried to waste as much time as I possibly could.
One of the teams, the wackos who rode fixed/single-speed bikes the whole way, stood by the side of the road at lunch and shouted “FUCK YEAH RIDER!” to cyclists making their way past. Like the dancing boys from the day prior, I marveled at how these people had so much surplus energy.
Harley, his friend Jens, and myself rode off from lunch into Los Angeles for the last 15 miles of ALC 2019. Taking our time, running down the clock until 3pm.
Despite best efforts, we showed up in the designated meeting area with a couple hours to spare.
Harley grabbed drinks from the store, Jens smoked a cigarette.
While we waited for more of our team to trickle in, other waiting teams lingered, all of us shouting and clapping at the cyclists passing us by. At one point a cyclist locked wheels with somebody in front of him and went over his handlebars. He stood up, shaken but fine.
I made mental notes to ride as carefully as possible to the finish line, since I didn’t want to eat pavement in the 544th mile.
Once the whole team was assembled we disembarked for the exciting last mile to complete our entire seven day journey.
It turned out to be one of the most boring of miles. Slowly meandering through a neighborhood before ending at the finish line. In contrast, the finish line itself was filled with throngs of people, an announcer, noise; the whole atmosphere was electric. I was too focused on the speed bumps, other cyclists, and not crashing to really take it all in.
On the other side of the finish line, we all crammed into a big bullpen to either park our bikes, or line up for bike shipping. I dropped my rental bike off and by the time I had found my broken bike in the parking area, I was able to join my team who had made it almost 20 yards in the shipping line! The “after the finish line” process took over an hour, standing in a parking lot wearing bike shoes with cleats ground down from 545 miles of work, sizzling in the hot sun of a windless downtown Los Angeles neighborhood. Added together with the waiting for the whole team we did in that parking lot a mile back, I ended up far more grumpy and drained than I would have liked.
After $75 taxi ride to my hotel by the airport plus a shower, I found myself slowly drinking a beer and eating again to recuperate from the day. I fell asleep by 8:30 and woke early to catch my 6am flight, first class back to San Francisco, and the first day in many where I didn’t need to eat thousands of calories, drink gallons of water, or pedal dozens of miles.
The flight back lasted 90 minutes, backtracking the route which I spent the previous 7 days riding.
It would be incorrect to say that I remember every mile from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I do remember most of them however. I can easily recall how my body felt or imagine the vistas seen along the way. I joked once or twice about how it all felt like summer camp for grown-up drama kids. A collection of mostly gay men, with a smattering of everybody else thrown in.
The effect referred to as the “love bubble” takes hold by day two. Embraced by the collective positivity and bound together by a challenging shared experience, everybody seems to get comfortable with one another almost immediately. I don’t know if that’s because of the type of people who participate in ALC or a result of the ride itself. It’s infectious and makes it impossible not to have a good experience, regardless of how your body parts are feeling.
The sun blistering in my lip slowly healed over the next couple weeks, around the same time it took my scorched upper thighs to peel and fade through various shades of red before leaving me with a distinctive cyclist’s tan.
My broken bike frame ended up being covered by a warranty, providing what I would call a “security deposit” on a newer endurance road bike. One which will hopefully survive a few more miles than the previous one.
I catch myself pining for the roads again. With the typical fantastic summer weather in Sonoma county, I yearn to get out there and ride somewhere, without having any particular destination in mind. The thought of riding fifty or a hundred miles doesn’t phase me. Aside from missing a road bike at the moment, I start to imagine what foods I would pack in my bag and which direction I would ride but the thought of “can I?” no longer exists.
I have not yet signed up for AIDS/LifeCycle 2020. I need to wait until closer to the end of the year to make sure it would work in my schedule, but the thought is already in my mind.
This year’s ride raised a total of 16.7 million dollars, of which my supporters contributed $6,000. Along the way, I tore through six inner tubes, replaced one tire, schmeared countless packets of chamois (butt) butter, and wrecked one bicycle frame.
Whenever I am able to ride next, it will be a challenge to top this, my inaugural AIDS/LifeCycle.
I can’t wait.